Practical Aspects of Matzoh Baking

Question:

Personally, I find the different terms used in reference to matzoh very confusing: On the one hand, I have been told that if one is working on the dough constantly, one need not be concerned if more than eighteen minutes elapses before the matzoh is baked. On the other hand, I have been told that if eighteen minutes elapses, the dough becomes chometz. And then I see a product advertised as “eighteen-minute matzoh.” I thought that matzoh that takes more than eighteen minutes is chometz. Also, could you explain to me the advantages of hand matzoh over machine matzoh, and if there is a valid reason why some people use only shmura hand matzoh for the entire Pesach.

Answer:

In order to answer all these questions, I must first explain the process of making matzoh. Although matzoh is the simplest of products, just flour and water, a tremendous amount of detail is involved in preparing it in a halachically correct way. We will divide our discussion into three headings — the flour, the water, and the manufacture.

The Flour Requirements

To fulfill the mitzvah of eating matzoh on seder night, one must be certain that the flour was “guarded” to guarantee that it did not become chometz.

It is important to clarify that there are two different halachic issues. The first factor is that one must be careful that the matzoh is baked in a way that it does not become chometz, so that one does not, G-d forbid, violate the prohibition of eating chometz on Pesach. This concern exists for all matzoh that one may consume any time during Pesach.

However, even if one is guaranteed that the matzoh is 100% free of any chometz, there is an additional factor required for the matzoh that is used at the seder: This matzoh must be made lishmah – with the specific intention of making it for the sake of fulfilling the mitzvah.

The Concept of Lishmah

There are several mitzvos that can be performed only with an item that is made lishmah. These include the mitzvos of tzitzis, tefillin, mezuzah, and matzoh. Thus, for example, the leather used in the manufacture of tefillin must be tanned specifically for the mitzvah of wearing tefillin. For this reason, when placing the hide into the chemical solution that makes the hide usable as parchment or leather, one must state that it is being manufactured lishmah. Even a small job such as blackening the tefillin straps must be performed specifically for the sake of the mitzvah of tefillin. Thus, one who repaints his tefillin must recite before painting them that he is doing this for the sake of the mitzvah of tefillin.

In a similar way, matzoh for the seder must be lishmah, meaning that it is manufactured with specific intention that it not become chometz so that it can be used to fulfill the mitzvah of eating matzoh on seder night. For this reason, before beginning work in a matzoh bakery the workers say: Kol mah she’ani oseh hayom har’eini oseh lesheim matzos mitzvah, “Everything that I am doing today, I am doing for the sake of producing matzos that will be used for the mitzvah.”

In addition, the preparation of the flour and the drawing of the water must be performed for the purpose of fulfilling the mitzvah of eating matzoh. This intention is referred to as preparing the flour and water lesheim matzos mitzvah.

Although the Gemara (Pesachim 40a) discusses that the flour used for the mitzvah of matzoh must be prepared lesheim matzos mitzvah, it is unclear from the Gemara at what stage the flour must be guarded from chimutz for the sake of matzos mitzvah. Among the early poskim, there are three opinions:

(1) From the time of harvesting

(2) From the time of grinding

(3) From the time of kneading

The Shulchan Aruch rules that it is preferable to guard the wheat from the time of the harvesting, but it is satisfactory to use wheat that was guarded only from the time of grinding. Other poskim require lishmah from the time of the harvest. In common usage, “shmura matzoh” refers to matzoh that was guarded from the time of the harvest.

Harvesting Lishmah

There is a dispute among rishonim whether an act that must be performed lishmah can be performed only by a Jew, or whether it can be performed by a non-Jew who is instructed by a Jew standing over him to perform this act lishmah. This dispute has major ramifications for many mitzvos, such as preparing hides to be made into parchment for writing tefillin, mezuzos and sifrei torah, and preparing hides for manufacture into tefillinbatim” and tefillin straps; or preparing threads for manufacture into tzitzis. According to the first opinion, hide that was tanned by a non-Jew for the sake of the mitzvah is not kosher for use. According to the second opinion, if a Jew stands near the non-Jew and instructs him to tan the hide lishmah, the resulting hide or parchment can be used for the mitzvah.

Similarly, there is a dispute whether a non-Jew may operate the combine used to harvest the shmura wheat, or must a Jew operate the controls that cause the combine to harvest the wheat. (According to some opinions, it is insufficient to have the Jew operate the controls of a regular combine, since the harvester, once it is turned on, continues to operate automatically. Thus, this is considered that the Jew harvested the wheat indirectly. Instead, the combine must be set up in a way that it cuts grain only when the stick is held in a specific position. Thus, the Jew is actually doing the harvesting himself by using the combine as his sickle!)

At times, it seems that matters were simpler when wheat was harvested by hand. A friend of mine, who was born in the Soviet Union, described for me how his father harvested wheat for matzoh baking with a hand-held sickle. However, even harvesting the wheat by hand under these circumstances creates its own interesting shaylah. Poskim rule that when cutting grain for matzoh in a non-Jew’s field, one should preferably not cut the grain that he himself intends to use for mitzvas matzoh (see Sdei Chemed vol. 7 pg. 377). This is because of concern that the field might have been originally stolen, and thus the matzoh baked with wheat from this field might be considered stolen matzoh, which is invalid for matzos mitzvah. There is a complicated halachic reason why this concern does not exist when harvesting wheat for someone else to use.

The Water Requirements: Mayim Shelanu, Water That Remained Overnight

The Gemara states that all matzoh used on Pesach must be baked exclusively with water that remained overnight (Pesachim 42a). One should draw this water from a spring, well, or river during twilight (or immediately before) and leave it in a cool place for a minimum of one complete night to allow it to cool down (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 455:1 and commentaries). Maharil contends that it is preferred to draw the water the day before the baking, rather than draw water for several days in advance (quoted by Be’er Heiteiv, Orach Chayim 455:7). The water should not be drawn or stored in a metal vessel, since metal conducts heat and thus causes the water to become warm (Magen Avraham 455:9). In addition, the water should not be drawn or stored in a vessel that has been used previously to hold other liquids (Magen Avraham ibid.). The latter vessel is not to be used out of concern that some liquid may mix with the water, and this may cause the dough to rise faster than it would otherwise. Many contemporary poskim frown on the use of tap water for matzoh baking because of concern that the fluorine and other chemicals introduced into the water may cause the dough to rise faster (see Piskei Tshuvos 455:7).

It goes without saying that one may not use warm water for making matzos, nor may one work in a warm area (Pesachim 42a; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 455:2). It is important to note that the requirement for mayim shelanu is not only for the matzos eaten at the seder, but that all matzos eaten the entire Pesach must be baked exclusively with mayim shelanu.

The Manufacture of the Matzoh

There are many halachos implemented by Chazal to guarantee that the dough does not prematurely become chometz. For example, one must wait a day or two from when the wheat is ground until it is mixed with water (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 453:9). This is because of concern that the flour is still warm from the friction of the grinding, and will therefore leaven too quickly. One may not knead the matzoh dough in a place exposed to the sun or in a warm area. One must be very careful that the heat from the matzoh oven does not spread to the area where the dough is kneaded or where the dough remains until it is ready to be placed inside the oven (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 459). Thus, a matzoh factory must be set up such that the kneading area is close enough to the oven to bake the matzoh quickly, yet be far enough away that it is not heated up by the oven.

Eighteen Minutes

Our original question was: I have been told that if one is working on the dough constantly, it is not a concern if more than eighteen minutes elapses before the dough goes into the oven. On the other hand, I have also been told that one may not pause once one begins to work the dough out of concern that it will become chometz immediately. And I have also been told that the Gemara and Shulchan Aruch state that one cannot wait more than eighteen minutes after the water is added to the flour. Which of these statements is correct?” We now have enough background information to address this question.

As strange as this answer may seem, all the above statements are correct. Shulchan Aruch rules that one should not leave the dough for even a moment without working it, and that dough left for eighteen minutes without working it becomes chometz. Furthermore, Shulchan Aruch states that dough that became warm from kneading will become chometz immediately if it is left without being worked on (Orach Chayim 459:2). Although there are more lenient opinions as to whether the dough becomes chometz immediately, all opinions agree that one must not allow any unnecessary waiting without working on the dough (see Mishnah Berurah 459:18; Biur Halacha ad loc.; Chazon Ish, Orach Chayim 121:16). Thus, it is a much bigger concern that the dough is worked with constantly, than whether it actually took eighteen minutes from start to finish.

Machine Matzoh

Although the use of machine matzoh for Pesach has now become almost universally accepted, it is educational to understand the dispute that existed among nineteenth-century poskim over their use for Pesach. When the first factories began producing machine-made matzoh for Pesach use, many great poskim were vehemently opposed to using it on Pesach. Their opposition centered primarily over the following three issues:

1. The economic factor: There was a major concern that the introduction of the machine matzoh would seriously affect many Jewish poor who were gainfully employed by kneading and baking matzos. Although the problem of Jewish poor is unfortunately still with us, it is doubtful that the increased use of hand matzos would have significant impact on their plight.

2. The chometz factor: There were major concerns whether the factories were producing matzoh that met all halachic requirements. Among the concerns: Does all the dough get cleaned off the machinery, or is some dough stuck to the machinery that remains in place for more than eighteen minutes? Is the dough being worked constantly, or is it left to sit after it has begun to be worked?

In the contemporary world, a factory for baking matzos can be planned and constructed in a way that a very minimal amount of dough adheres to the equipment, and mashgichim can supervise that whatever dough is stuck can be removed swiftly. One who purchases machine-made matzoh is relying on the supervising agency or rabbi to guarantee that the operation is run in a proper fashion.

3. The lishmah factor: There is another issue involved in the manufacture of machine matzos – is this process considered lishmah? Does the intent of the person operating an electrically-powered machine and his supervising the production make the matzos lishmah? The same issue affects many other halachic questions, such as the spinning of tzitzis threads by machine, and the manufacture of leather for tefillin straps and batim (or parchment). There is much discussion and dispute about this issue raised in the poskim, and it is still disputed by contemporary authorities. (See Sdei Chemed Vol. 7 pgs. 396-398; Shu”t Maharsham 2:16; Chazon Ish, Orach Chayim 6:10 s.v. Venireh de’ein tzorech; Mikra’ei Kodesh, Pesach II pgs. 11-17.) It is primarily for this reason that many halachically-concerned people today who use machine-made matzoh on Pesach still use hand-made matzoh for the seder.

Problems that emerge during the baking:

There are two common problems that can occur while the matzoh is being baked: A matzoh that is kefula (folded) and one that is nefucha (swollen). A matzoh kefula is a matzoh folded in such a way that the area between the folds is not exposed directly to the flame or heat of the oven. This area between the folds does not bake properly and thus the entire matzoh becomes chometz-dik and must be discarded (Rema, Orach Chayim 461:5). A matzoh nefucha is a matzoh that swells up, usually because it was not perforated properly (Rema, Orach Chayim 461:5 and Taz). Thus, while baking, air is trapped inside the matzoh. The matzoh looks like it has a large bubble in it. If the swollen area is the size of a hazelnut the matzoh should not be used (Mishnah Berurah ad loc. #34).

To avoid discovering these problems on Yom Tov, it is a good idea to check one’s matzos before Yom Tov to be certain that none of the matzos are kefula or nefucha. I can personally attest to having found both among the matzos that I had intended to use for the Seder. One should also verify that the bakery separated challah from the matzos, or else be certain to separate challah before Yom Tov. Under these circumstances, it is not permitted to separate challah on Yom Tov or Shabbos.

Is there an advantage in eating only shmura matzoh the entire Pesach?

There are poskim who recommend eating only shmura matzoh the entire Yom Tov. There are two reasons cited for this practice. Some are concerned that once the grain ripens, it can become chometz even while still on the stalk. By eating only shmura matzoh, one avoids this concern since shmura wheat is harvested before it is fully ripe (Biur Halacha to 453:4, s.v. Tov). A second reason for the practice of eating only shmura is in order to fulfill the mitzvah of eating matzoh the entire Pesach. Although there is no requirement to eat matzoh after the seder night, one fulfills a mitzvah by eating matzoh the rest of Pesach (see Baal Hamaor, end of Pesachim). One should strive to fulfill this mitzvah with matzoh that is made lishmah from the time of harvesting. According to both approaches, this practice is only a chumra and not halachically required.

The halacha is that one can fulfill the mitzvah of matzoh only by eating matzoh that is your property. Thus, one cannot fulfill the mitzvah with stolen matzoh. Some have the practice of being certain that they have paid for their matzoh before Pesach in order to demonstrate that the matzoh is definitely theirs (based on Mishnah Berurah 454:15).

There is an interesting dispute between poskim whethera guest at someone else’s seder fulfills the mitzvah with matzoh that is the property of the host. Sfas Emes (Sukkah 35a, s.v. Bigemara asya) contends that fulfilling the mitzvah requires that one owns the matzoh that he is eating — enough that he could sell it. Therefore, a host must give to each of his guests their matzoh as a present or they have not fulfilled the mitzvah. However, the universally accepted practice is to follow the opinion of the Mishnah Berurah (454:15), who states that one fulfills the mitzvah with borrowed matzoh.

We should all be zocheh to eat our matzoh this year together with Korban Pesach in Yerushalayim.

Pesach Shaylos

Unfortunately, many of the questions in this article are not going to be germane this year. There are a number of articles on the laws of the Seder, chometz, kitniyos, Yom Tov, the mourning period of the omer, keeping the second day of Yom Tov and other aspects of Pesach available on this website.

This week’s article is somewhat different from what I usually send. It is a combination of an interview I once gave for Mishpacha magazine’s Advice Line column and various actual questions I have received and answered via e-mail. Obviously, the answers are much briefer than those I write for an article, and may not be thoroughly explained.

Paying (for) a Visit

Question: We are a young married couple with one child, and we live in Eretz Yisrael. My parents and my in-laws live in the States, about a 3-4 hour drive from each other. As Pesach approached and we discussed plans to visit them, it became clear that one set of parents would pay half the airfare for our trip, while the other set would not pay toward this expense. We decided that we still wanted to visit and would pay the other half ourselves. However, we are undecided where to stay and how to divide our time for Yom Tov. Please help.

Answer: One family is paying for half of your tickets; the other side is not contributing. To the best of my knowledge, there are no obvious halachic guidelines for such an issue; it falls into the category of the “fifth Shulchan Aruch” – what we usually call common sense and, hopefully, good judgment. I am therefore offering you my personal thoughts and judgment.

At first glance, it does seem fair for you to spend some more time with the side that is putting up money. However, several mitigating factors must be kept in mind:

First, I am assuming that the side that isn’t paying is not doing so because they are stingy, but, rather, because they simply do not have the wherewithal. This brings up an important question: Should a family be penalized for not having the financial resources with which another family has been blessed?

Second, it is probable that the parents with more resources come to visit in Eretz Yisrael on occasion, while the financially strapped family probably comes rarely, if at all. This means that if you don’t go visit them, you may never see them.

These factors point to the fact that you, as a couple, need to sit down and have an open, honest conversation about the issue and reach a decision together. Although such discussions are not easy, realize that the making of a strong marriage comes through working through sticky situations together as a unit.

Try to depersonalize the discussion and really focus on the points that the other person is making. Sometimes it is helpful for you each to “plead” the other side’s perspective. Let the spouse whose parents are paying enumerate why the Yom Tov should be split evenly, and let the one whose parents aren’t able to chip in list the reasons why one should spend more time visiting the parents who are paying. Keep speaking until you reach a decision with which you are both comfortable.

I wish you much hatzlacha.

Pesach Cleaning

To: Rabbi Kaganoff 

Subject: URGENT – cleaning toys, pens and more for Pesach

Question: I just organized the toys today, without wiping any of them down. I did not see any crumbs, and even if there were, they certainly would not be edible. But I understand that anything that has a chance of ending up on our table during Pesach must be washed in bleach.

Please explain. I have limited time, energy and finances, and I don’t have the luxury of being able to waste precious time and energy on things that are not necessary.

Answer: I do not know the source of this misinformation. It sounds like what you are doing is 100% fine.

Bedikas chometz

Question: We are renting out our apartment for Pesach and the renter needs only one of our four bedrooms. Are we required to do bedikas chometz in the three remaining rooms?

Answer: If you want to avoid doing bedikas chometz in the other rooms, you can “close them off” by putting signs on the doors that they are sold/rented to a non-Jew and, therefore, not checked for chometz. Ask the rav through whom you are doing your mechiras chometz to sell your chometz in these rooms on the 13th of Nisan.

Yom Tov Sheini in Israel Shaylah

Dear Rabbi Kaganoff,

We have been in Eretz Yisrael for four years, and still keep two days. Essentially, it is still clear to us that we will go back to the United States. But we have no location picked out, no timetable when we intend to return there, and, aside from a few small items in my parents’ and in-laws’ house, we really have nothing in the United States.

Inertia is powerful, and who knows how long we will really be here. I cannot see how staying in Israel will work out financially or practically, but if the economy in the U.S. really collapsed, then, definitely, I would stay.

I know what different poskim would tell me about keeping one or two days of Yom Tov, and I could easily ask the posek who would give me the answer I want. Am I mechuyav to go through the sugya and make my own conclusion? Do you think we ought to keep two days this Pesach?

Thanks a ton!

Answer: The Chazon Ish (Yoreh Deah 150:1) explains that, in a situation like this, one follows one’s rebbe (which he defines there); if one has no rebbe, one can be meikil in a case that is derabbanan, such as whether to keep two days Yom Tov or not.

Another Yom Tov Sheini in Israel Shaylah

Question: My mother and sister, who are not religious, live in the United States. They will be visiting us in Israel for all of Pesach. We keep one day of Yom Tov. How should I handle their second day of Yom Tov?

Answer: Don’t plan any family activities that require them to do melacha, but don’t say anything to them about their doing work. In other words, you need not actively try to keep them from doing melacha that day, but also don’t do anything that would cause them to do melacha, since most poskim hold that they are required to keep the second day Yom Tov.

Question: What should I do about a second Seder for them? (They would have no interest in it and would find it a burden.)

Answer: Do nothing. You are not required to make a Seder for them, and I do not see any gain from attempting to have them attend or make a Seder.

I would like to clarify the difference between planning a family activity and arranging a Seder for them. In the first case, you would be causing them to do something that is prohibited according to most authorities. In the second case, you are not causing them to do anything.

Yom Tov for an Israeli Who Is Outside of Israel Shaylah

Question: My elderly father, who is not observant, will be having surgery during Pesach, and I will therefore be visiting my parents in England over Yom Tov. Since I live in Israel, this is generating many questions:

1. Can I do laundry on Chol Hamoed for my parents, since they will be unable to do it for themselves?

Answer: Do all their laundry before Yom Tov, and see that they have everything that they need for the entire Yom Tov. If they do not have enough clothing, purchase those items – preferably before Yom Tov, but, if necessary, they can be purchased on Chol Hamoed.

2. What can I purchase on Chol Hamoed? Can I buy something that could wait until after Pesach, but my parents would prefer to have it sooner?

Answer: As a rule of thumb, if they will use it on Chol Hamoed or Yom Tov, you may buy it on Chol Hamoed.

3. I read your article about someone who lives in Israel not doing melacha on the second day of Yom Tov while in Chutz La’aretz. If my mother would like a second Seder, or wants to light candles for the second night of Yom Tov, am I allowed to do it for her? My mom lights Shabbos candles but not Yom Tov candles. Since it is Yom Tov for her, can I be motzi her?

Answer: You cannot be a shaliach (messenger) for her to perform these mitzvos because you are not required to observe them.

Question: What about my making Kiddush on the second night/day for them? 

Answer: Also not.

4. I will be bringing with me my nursing baby, who is a kohen, as is my husband. Since I do not know people where my parents live, it will be difficult for me to find a babysitter while I visit my dad after his surgery. May I bring my baby to the hospital?

Answer: Try to find a babysitter for him. If you cannot find a sitter and would be unable to visit your father, then bring the baby along. [This is allowed since there is a very small Jewish population in the city where your parents live. The halacha would be different in an area with a large Jewish population.]

Dental Cleaning on Chol Hamoed

Dear Rabbi Kaganoff, 

Hope this finds everyone well.

Is it permissible to go to the dentist for a cleaning on Chol Hamoed Pesach? The dentist now has a dental hygienist in the office only on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. I am at work on those days and can’t leave to go to the dentist.

Answer: One should not schedule this dental cleaning for Chol Hamoed.

Conclusion

Four mitzvos of the Torah are called os, a sign of Hashem’s special relationship with us: Bris Milah, Shabbos, Yom Tov (including Chol Hamoed) and Tefillin. Because Chol Hamoed is included in this very special category, Jews should treat Chol Hamoed with great respect. Indeed, the Gemara states that disregarding the sanctityof the Yomim Tovim, including Chol Hamoed, is like practicing idolatry (Pesachim 118a with Rashbam). Some commentators explain that this includes even someone who fails to serve special meals in honor of Chol Hamoed (Bartenura, Avos 3:11). By observing Chol Hamoed properly, we demonstrate that we recognize and appreciate this special relationship between Hashem and Klal Yisroel.

Being a Good Guest

The Halachic Etiquette when Visiting Someone’s House

Many people answered the e-mail I sent out last week including some of my perspectives on the current situation. I apologize personally to each of you who responded for not being able to answer the many communications I have received.

Second of all, there are a number of articles on the laws of the Seder, chometz, kitniyos, Yom Tov, the mourning period of the omer, keeping the second day of Yom Tov and other aspects of Pesach on this website. Try using the search words chometz, kitniyos, matzoh, Pesach, sefirah or Yom Tov for the appropriate topics.

Third of all, I planned this article for the week of Rosh Chodesh Nisan way before I realized that most of us will probably not be able to be guests at other people’s homes for Pesach. The article still has a lot of value.

Since many of us will be guests at other people’s houses for the Seder or for some other time during Pesach, it seems like an opportune time to discuss the laws pertaining to being a guest in someone else’s house.

Some of these rules are fairly self-explanatory. For example, a guest should not bring another guest with him (Bava Basra 98b).

A guest should feel that whatever the host serves and prepares is in his honor. The Gemara explains, “What does a good guest say? How hard the host worked for me! How much meat he brought! How much wine he served! How many dainty dishes he prepared! And all this he prepared for me!”

On the other hand, what does a bad guest say? “Did the host work for me? I ate only one roll and one piece of meat and drank only one cup of wine. All the work he did was done for his wife and children!”

A STRANGE CONVERSATION

In the context of learning proper etiquette, the Gemara (Pesachim 86b) records the following unusual story. Rav Huna the son of Rav Nosson visited the house of Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak, where apparently Rav Huna was not known. His hosts asked Rav Huna, “What is your name,” to which he replied “Rav Huna.” They then offered him to sit on the couch, although everyone else was sitting either on the floor or on benches, and the couch was reserved for special guests. Rav Huna did not decline the honor and sat on the couch. Subsequently, they brought him a kiddush-sized cup full of wine, which he immediately accepted and drank in front of them, but he paused once in the middle of drinking.

Rav Nachman’s household, which included talmidei chachamim, felt that Rav Huna’s responses to their invitations were inappropriate. They proceeded to pepper him with questions about his behavior. (Since he had identified himself as a talmid chacham, all of his acts could teach a halachic lesson. However, they felt that he had not acted correctly; it was therefore appropriate to ask him to explain his behavior.) The conversation that ensued is the source of many halachos.

“Why did you introduce yourself as ‘Rav Huna?’” they first asked. Is this an appropriate way to identify oneself?

Rav Huna responded: “That is my name.”

“Why did you sit on the couch, when we offered?” They felt that it would have been proper for him to refuse the honor, politely, and to sit on the floor with everyone else (Tosafos).

Rav Huna retorted by quoting the now famous halachic adage, “Whatever the host asks you to do, you should do (see Mesechta Derech Eretz Rabbah 6:1).”

The hosts continued, “When we offered you the cup, why did you accept it the first time we offered it?”

To which Rav Huna replied, “One may refuse a small person, but one should not refuse the request of a great person.”

The hosts then inquired, “Why did you drink the small cup of wine we gave you in two gulps, rather than drink it all at once?”

Rav Huna countered, “The earlier authorities taught us that only a guzzler drinks a whole cup of wine at once, and that arrogant people drink a cup with three sips. The proper way to drink a cup of wine is in two swallows (Mesechta Derech Eretz Rabbah 8).”

Finally, his hosts asked, “Why did you not turn your face when drinking?” in their opinion, a talmid chacham should not eat or drink in the presence of many people (Gemara and Rashi, Bechoros 44b). To this Rav Huna replied that only a bride should be so modest; for anyone else, this is not considered modesty (Rashi, Pesachim 86b).

WHAT DID THEY MEAN?

In the course of this perplexing conversation, Rav Huna taught his hosts (and us) several halachos germane to proper etiquette that need to be understood properly. We will now dissect the conversation between these scholars to understand its underlying lessons.

1. He identified himself as “Rav Huna.” Isn’t this a conceited way of introducing oneself? Why would Rav Huna, a great Torah scholar and tzadik, have done this?

The source of this halacha (Nedarim 62a) reads as follows:

Rava pointed out that two verses seem to contradict one another. In one verse, Ovadiah says to Eliyahu, Your servant has feared Hashem from his youth (Melachim I 18:12), implying that it is appropriate to make a true statement about one’s spiritual accomplishments. On the other hand, Mishlei (27:2) declares, Someone else should praise you, but not your mouth. Rava explains that the pasuk in Mishlei applies when there are people present who can notify others that this person is a talmid chacham. Since the members of Rav Nachman’s household were unaware that Rav Huna was a talmid chacham, it was appropriate for him to bring this to their attention (Meiri; Maharsha). By doing to, he receives the benefits that he deserves, and people will not be punished for treating him disrespectfully because they did not realize that he is a talmid chacham (Rosh, Nedarim 62a).

It is noteworthy that when Rav Huna explained why he had identified himself as Rav Huna, the Gemara quotes him as saying baal hashem ani, which Rashi seems to explain as meaning, this was always my name. However, this is not the usual way in either Hebrew or Aramaic of telling someone one’s name or appellation. Alternatively, the words baal hashem ani can be interpreted as meaning, I am well known by that name, which implies that he was a well-known personage, although he was apparently unknown by the members of Rav Nachman’s household (see Meiri). Thus, he was responsible to inform them who he was, so that they not treat him disrespectfully.

WHY NOT SIT ON THE COUCH?

2. The hosts proceeded to inquire about his next act:

“Why did you sit on the couch when we invited you?” Apparently, they felt that it was inappropriate for him to sit on the couch, and he should have politely refused the honor. To this inquiry Rav Huna replied, “Whatever the host asks you to do, you should do.”

Did the hosts indeed want him to sit in the finest seat in the house, or were they simply being polite? Is the host’s offer genuine, or does he really prefer that I refuse the offer? It is not unusual to face this type of predicament.

Rav Huna answers that when the host’s intent is unclear, one should assume that his offer is sincere and do as he suggests.

There is a clear exception to this rule. When one suspects that the host cannot afford his offer and is only making it out of embarrassment, one should not accept his offer. This is referred to as a seudah she’ainah maspekes lebaalah, lit., a meal insufficient for its host (Rambam, Hilchos Teshuvah 4:4; also see Chullin 7b and Rashi).

DO WHAT THE HOST ASKS

Why should one do whatever the host requests?

Here are two interpretations to explain the reason for this statement of Chazal:

A. A nonpaying guest should do whatever the host asks him to do, since this is a form of payment for services rendered. In return for free accommodations, the guest should reciprocate by performing the tasks and errands the host requests (Bach, Orach Chayim 170).

In a sense, this parallels the modern practice of presenting the host with a gift. (One can find halachic sources for this practice in the Sefer Orach Meisharim 18:2.) The gift reciprocates the host’s kindness. However, the host often prefers different favors, such as babysitting, rather than a box of chocolates that his waistline can do without, or an additional bouquet of flowers that will soon wilt. Therefore, one’s reciprocation can consist of doing appropriate favors for the host.

In a similar vein, if one has the opportunity to reciprocate hospitality, one should do so (Orach Meisharim 18:2). However, neither host nor guest may specify in advance that the hosting will be reciprocal because of concerns of ribbis, prohibited paying and receiving interest on a loan (Rema, Orach Chayim 170:13), since the one who hosts first has, in essence, extended his hospitality as a loan to the other!

A DIFFERENT APPROACH

B. Courtesy dictates that a guest in someone’s house should respect his host and fulfill his requests as master of the house (Levush). Rav Huna ruled that not honoring the host’s desire to honor his guest challenges the host’s authority. By sitting on the couch and accepting the honor, the guest affirms his host’s authority to honor whomever he wishes in his home.

In many societies, turning down a host’s offer of a cup of tea or coffee is considered insulting. If one is unaware of local custom, one should follow Chazal’s instructions as Rav Huna did.

IF THE HOST HAS DIFFERENT KASHRUS STANDARDS

What happens if the host and the guest interpret the laws of kashrus in different ways? Must the guest follow the host’s request to join him for a meal?

If the guest follows a stricter halachic opinion than the host, the guest should apprise the host. The host may not serve the guest food that does not meet the guest’s standard, unless the food is obviously something he may not eat (Shach, Yoreh Deah 119:20). For example, if the guest observes cholov yisroel fully and the host follows the poskim who permit unsupervised milk when you can assume that it is cow’s milk, the host may not cook anything that does not meet the guest’s standards without telling him. However, he may place food on the table that is obviously not cholov yisroel. Similarly, if the guest notifies the host that he uses only food with a specific hechsher, the host may not serve him food that violates this standard.

Once a halacha-abiding host knows his guest’s standards, the guest may assume that the host is accommodating his standards and may eat whatever is served without further questions (Shach, Yoreh Deah 119:20). This is included in Chazal’s adage, whatever the host asks you to do, you should do, since it is offensive to question the host’s standards. Offending people is always halachically reprehensible, and certainly when they are doing you a favor.

PERSONAL CHUMROS

On the other hand, if the guest has a personal halachic stringency that he would rather not divulge, he should not violate his chumrah and he is not required to divulge it (Shaarei Teshuvah 170:6; Ben Yehoyada).

Generally, one should be modest when it comes to any chumrah (Birkei Yosef, Orach Chayim 170:6). One should also always be aware that taking on personal chumros may not be a good idea, and one should discuss the matter with a gadol prior to observing a chumrah. (See the important discussion on this point in Michtav Mei’Eliyahu Volume 3 pg. 294.)

EXCEPT LEAVE

Our editions of the Gemara Pesachim 86b have two Hebrew words appended to the end of the statement, whatever the host asks you to do, you should do. The additional words are, chutz mi’tzei, except leave, and therefore the passage reads, whatever the host asks you to do, you should do, except leave. It is unclear if these words are an authentic part of the text; they are not mentioned in Mesechta Derech Eretz, the source of the original statement. Some authoritative commentators (Meiri) take exception to it, and boththe Tur andthe Shulchan Aruch omit it. The Meiri reports that these words are an incorrect textual emendation added by scoffers and should be disregarded.

Nevertheless, other authorities (Bach, Magen Avraham, Ben Yehoyada) accept these words as part of the text and grapple with different possible interpretations.

What does this text mean? I found numerous interpretations of this text, including six different interpretations in one sefer (Ben Yehoyada) alone! Several of these approaches assume that performing whatever the host requests means reciprocating his favors, the first approach I mentioned above. According to these approaches, the words chutz mitzei mean that the guest is not expected to perform any inappropriate activity for the host. This would include the host asking the guest to run an errand for him outside the house. Since it is unacceptable to ask someone to run an errand in a city with which he or she is unfamiliar, the guest may refrain from doing so (Bach, Orach Chayim 170).

Nevertheless, if the host requests the guest to do something that he would ordinarily not do because it is beneath his dignity, he should perform it anyway (Birkei Yosef, Orach Chayim 170:5).

THE STRANGE CONVERSATION

We now revert to explaining the original conversation that transpired between Rav Huna and his hosts.

3. The hosts continued, “When we offered you the cup, why did you accept it the first time we offered it?”

To which Rav Huna replied, “One may refuse a small person, but one should not refuse the request of a great person.”

THE INCONSISTENT ANGELS

This particular rule of etiquette is based on a passage in parshas Vayeira. When Avraham Avinu invited the angels to dinner, they immediately accepted, whereas when his nephew Lot invited them, they initially turned him down. Only after he begged them repeatedly did they accept his invitation (Breishis 15:1-5, 16:1-3). Why did they accept Avraham’s invitation immediately and initially turn down Lot’s offer? The Gemara (Bava Metzia 86b) answers because of this rule — one may refuse a small person, but one should not refuse a great person.

This halacha has ramifications for other, non-guest situations. When someone is asked to lead the services in shul (usually called to daven before the amud), he should initially decline the offer, as a sign of humility. However, if a great person, such as the rav of the shul, asks one to lead the services, one should immediately agree.

TWO GULPS?

4. The hosts now inquired, “Why did you drink the small cup of wine we gave you in two gulps, rather than drink it all at once?”

Rav Huna countered, “The earlier authorities taught us that only a guzzler drinks a whole cup of wine at once, and arrogant people drink a cup with three sips. The proper way to drink a cup of wine is in two swallows” (Mesechta Derech Eretz Rabbah 8).

A reviis-size cup of wine, which is about three ounces, should be drunk in two sips; not all at once, and not in more than two sips. It is preferable to drink about half the cup each time, rather than to drink most of it and leave just a small sip for afterwards (Magen Avraham 170:12). If the cup is smaller, the wine is very sweet, or the person drinking is very obese, one may drink the entire cup at one time (Pesachim 86b, as understood by Magen Avraham 170:13). When drinking beer, one may drink a greater amount in each gulp, since beer is less intoxicating than wine; and this is certainly true when drinking non-alcoholic beverages (Magen Avraham 170:13). On the other hand, if the drink is very strong, one may drink it much more slowly (Aruch Hashulchan 170:9). Thus, it is appropriate to take small sips of whiskey or other strongly intoxicating beverages.

TURNING YOUR FACE?

5. Finally, his hosts asked, “Why did you not turn your face when drinking?” To this, Rav Huna replied that only a bride should be so modest. What is this exchange about?

A talmid chacham should not eat or drink in the presence of many people (Gemara and Rashi, Bechoros 44b). The hosts felt that Rav Huna should not have eaten in their presence without turning to the side, so that they could not see him eat. Rav Huna held that the halacha that a talmid chacham should not eat or drink in the presence of many people does not apply when one is eating a meal together with other people. However, a bride should not eat in a way that other people see her eating, even if they are all participating together in a festive meal (Tosafos, Bechoros 44b s.v. ve’ein). Therefore, Rav Huna replied that only a bride should be so modest; for anyone else, this is not considered modesty (Rashi, Pesachim 86b).

The halacha is that one should not eat in the street or marketplace (Kiddushin 40b); on the other hand, one should not stare at someone who is eating or at the food that he is eating, because it embarrasses him or her (Rambam, Hilchos Brachos 7:6; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 170:4).

As we see, Chazal had tremendous concern that a person act appropriately in all circumstances, and even more so when we are a guest in someone else’s home. Certainly, these are lessons that we should always apply in our daily lives.

Corona-virus Takeaways – One Man’s Perspective

This morning, I rather suddenly and perhaps rashly decided that I would put my thoughts on paper about the current world crisis. I take responsibility for these as my own opinions, although I believe that they are solidly built on Torah sources. Then again, I believe that everything I write falls under that category, and not everyone always agrees.

My first observation:

None of us has ever experienced this type of pandemic before. Indeed, the world has become much more populated and much more of a global village in the last few years. There is no question that technology has added hours to our days and years to our lives. Technology provides medical care for the ill, at the same time that it indirectly caused the spread of this pandemic to places unimaginable previously, and with unprecedented speed.

My second observation:

Most, if not all, of the worldwide crises that we have experienced in recent decades have been caused by man. Although there have been earthquakes, hurricanes, mine collapses, avalanches, tornadoes, and devastating forest fires, these are all relatively local crises, where people and nations distant from the catastrophe are not affected directly. Even the tsunami that killed hundreds of thousands of people affected only those near the Indian Ocean.

In contrast are man-made crises: Terrorism of all types has become and remains a worldwide dilemma, and the 20th century took us through two catastrophic world wars.

I do not want to enter scientific and political debate as to whether the crisis of global warming is manmade or not; even assuming that it is not manmade, it is not as acute a problem as the coronavirus is.

Although many may be to blame for how they have dealt with this crisis, no one serious blames mankind for intentionally creating the coronavirus. Without question, this is a direct communication to all of mankind from Hashem. The entire world may perhaps not have had such a direct communication since all the rivers and oceans split along with the Yam Suf. And yet, few people seem to be attempting to learn any lessons from this. Now and again, I read or hear of an individual Rav expressing his personal takeaways from the crisis, but I have seen and heard no response from a world leader regarding any type of ethical or moral response. Quite the contrary: Politicians have been acting as politicians, rather than as the statesmen whose true leadership we would like to see. I have seen no one act as the King of Nineveh did upon hearing Yonah’s castigation – or, more accurately, Yonah’s threat.

I want to focus on obvious lessons that Hashem is clearly telling everyone in the world.

The basic instruction in order to limit the virus’s spread is social distancing. No hugging, kissing, or even handshaking. Eliminate all social gatherings. Maintain a social distance of several feet. Of what does that remind you?

Around the world, people have been placed in social quarantine for fourteen days. Again, this is reminiscent of the laws of metzora, where the maximum time for someone who is a metzora musgar is two weeks. (Although the halacha is that for a metzora, “two weeks” means thirteen days, the association is there. Furthermore, the vast world of Bible readers who do not know about Chazal certainly associate this with two full weeks.) Aside from the prohibition of loshon hora, with which metzora is associated, Chazal have told us that there are many other social malpractices for which the punishment of tzaraas is a reminder and admonishment (see Arachin 16a; Midrash Rabbah on the verses of tzaraas).

My third observation

For whatever reason, I had tremendous difficulty remembering the name COVID-19, the official name of this virus. However, two fairly simple memory devices have helped me: The word kavod, כבוד, (COVID) – and the gematriya of the word cheit,sin, including its kolel (a term for gematriya enthusiasts) equals 19.

My fourth observation:

Do we need a crisis of this proportion in order to interact with our children on a daily basis?

My fifth observation:

All of life is so unpredictable these days (I guess that’s another lesson) that I’ll wait to see what tomorrow brings, and then we’ll plan. I say this in a country in which until this point, thank G-d, there is some degree of control regarding the spread of the contagious malady; in many countries, the medical facilities have completely collapsed or are in serious danger of doing so. A physician in New York City dealing with the crisis reported to me earlier today that medical supplies are critically low and running out quickly – in the country that many, if not most, people consider the epitome of world civilization and development.

To quote some of today’s news items:

“Hospitals across the U.S. are running out of the masks, gowns and other equipment they need to protect staff against the novel coronavirus as they struggle to take care of patients, say hospital officials, doctors and others in the industry… The Pentagon stepped into the breach by offering on Tuesday to supply up to five million respirator masks, as health-care officials and workers say the situation is dire. Administrators at the headquarters of the Providence health system are in conference rooms assembling makeshift face shields from vinyl, elastic and two-sided tape because supplies are drying up. Nurses from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, preparing for a potential shortage, have pleaded with friends on Facebook for any goggles and other gear they might have lying around. ‘I’m reusing my mask from yesterday,’ said Calvin Sun, an emergency-room doctor in New York City. ‘We really have no choice.’”

Perhaps we should have more of a day-to-day relationship with Hashem. As the Gemara states, the manna arrived daily for the Jews in the Desert, and then there was nothing to eat until the next day. When we have no idea what tomorrow will bring, our prayers to Hashem may take on greater seriousness.

My sixth observation – Hashem’s chesed #1

As contagious as coronavirus is, for the majority of people afflicted by it, its symptoms are generally no more serious than typical influenza, which strikes the world annually. If the virus spread this way were as deadly as the bubonic plague, AIDS, or various other maladies that have affected mankind, the death rate would be in geometric proportion to what it is. Assuming that this is a Divine message, wouldn’t we prefer this message to some of the alternatives?

My seventh observation – Hashem’s chesed #2

Assuming that Hashem needed to warn mankind of something, there is a lot of chesed involved in when and how he warned us. For example, it became a crisis after the tremendous kiddush Hashem of the worldwide Siyumei Hashas, all across the globe. Imagine if all of these siyumim had been forced to cancel! All that incredible kiddush Hashem would not have happened.

My eighth observation: The Economy

This crisis without question is destroying economies. What we do not yet know is whether it will set off a worldwide recession, or be a temporary blip that passes soon. Perhaps the answer to this question depends on how we react and respond to it?

My ninth observation: The Elderly

Coronavirus has proven much more lethal among the elderly, in which the death rate, I was told, is close to 20% of those infected. Some have stated that the slow response in some countries to the pandemic is related to their attitude toward the elderly and infirm, and perhaps toward the sanctity of life in general.

My tenth observation – Pesach hotels

I write this observation with trepidation, since there is an implied criticism of many of my very close friends, and I certainly do not consider myself worthy of giving musar to them. Among the many businesses that this crisis has decimated is the vast business of Pesach hotels. In Israel, a newspaper report anticipates a matzah shortage caused by the 13% of Israeli residents who are not going to hotels for Pesach this year because of the crisis. Apparently, because they will be home they will need to acquire matzos, which will cause a shortage.

I was raised in what today would probably be called a modern orthodox family – and Pesach was spent with family. We had a well-established practice that we did not eat in anyone else’s home on Pesach, unless we were spending Pesach in that home. Do we want our children to view Pesach as a family experience, or a social one?

I have other observations on the topic, but, as the old adage runs, not everything that you think should you say, not everything you say should you write, and not everything you write should you publish.

With my best wishes that:

  1. All of G-d’s children who are ill should recover.
  2. This crisis should pass quickly, and the economic repercussions should be mild.
  3. All of mankind should learn the lessons that Hashem wants to teach us.

When May I Ask a Non-Jew to Assist Me on Shabbos?

Photo by chopstix00 from FreeImages

While enslaved in Egypt, the Jews worked every day of the week, and one of the special days celebrated to commemorate our Exodus is Shabbos. Observing Shabbos includes not only keeping the mitzvos ourselves, but also knowing when I may ask a non-Jew to perform prohibited activity, and when I may benefit from work performed by a non-Jew on Shabbos.

Each of the following questions describes a situation that people have asked me:

Question #1: A non-Jew turned on the lights for me on Shabbos. May I use this light to read?

Question #2: It is chilly in our house. May I ask a non-Jewish neighbor to turn up the heat?

Question #3: There is a problem with our electricity — the lights have gone out, and my son is terrified. May I ask a non-Jewish electrician to repair the power on Shabbos?

Question #4: We left the air conditioning off, and it became very hot on Shabbos. May I ask a non-Jew to turn the air conditioning on?

Question #5: I did not realize that I parked my car in a place where it will be towed away. May I ask a non-Jewish neighbor to move it?

In general, a Jew may not ask a non-Jew to perform activity that a Jew himself may not do. Chazal prohibited this because asking a non-Jew to work on Shabbos diminishes our sensitivity to doing melacha ourselves. Furthermore, the non-Jew functions as my agent, and it is therefore considered as if I did melacha work on Shabbos.

One may not benefit from melacha performed for a Jew by a non-Jew on Shabbos, even if the Jew did not ask him to do the work (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 276:1). Thus, if a non-Jew turned on a light for the Jew’s benefit without being asked, a Jew may not use the light.

This article will discuss when I may benefit from what a non-Jew does a melacha and when may I ask him to do melacha.

BENEFITING FROM NON-JEWISH LABOR

In general, if a non-Jew does melacha work for me on Shabbos, I may not benefit from what he did until enough time has elapsed after Shabbos for the work to have been performed after Shabbos (Beitzah 24b; Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 325:6). Thus if a non-Jew baked an apple for me on Shabbos, I may not eat it after Shabbos until the time it takes to bake an apple. This way I receive no benefit from the work he performed on Shabbos and I am not tempted to ask him to do melacha for me at a different time (Rashi and Tosafos, Beitzah 24b).

However, if a non-Jew did work specifically for himself or for another non-Jew, I may benefit from his work even on that Shabbos itself (Mishnah Shabbos 122a). Therefore, if he turned on a light to see where he is going or to be able to read, I may use the light to read. There is an exception to this lenience that I will explain shortly.

The Gemara tells us the following story: The great Amora Shmuel was visiting a man named Avin in the town of Torin, when a non-Jew entered the room and kindled a light. Shmuel assumed that the non-Jew had ignited the light for Shmuel’s benefit, which would make it forbidden to use the light. In order to point out the fact that he was not using the light, Shmuel turned his chair around, with his back to the light, so that it was obvious that he was not using it. Shortly thereafter, the non-Jew returned with a document that he proceeded to read. Shmuel now realized that the non-Jew had kindled the light for himself and that he (Shmuel) was permitted to read by the light (Shabbos 122b).

Sometimes I may not benefit from work performed by a non-Jew even though he performed the work to benefit a non-Jew. This is in a case where there is concern that my benefiting from the activity might encourage the non-Jew to do more work than he needs for himself in order to benefit me. For example, if a non-Jew who knows me heated up a kettle of water because he wants a cup of coffee, I may not use the hot water. The reason is that, at some time in the future, he might decide to add extra water to the kettle that he is heating so that I can benefit (Shabbos 122a).

REMOVING IMPEDIMENTS

If a non-Jew did work that results in removing an impediment that was disturbing a Jew, I need not be concerned about benefiting from the non-Jew’s melacha activity. For example, if he turned off the light so that a Jewish person can sleep, one may go to sleep in that room. This is not considered as receiving benefit from a non-Jew’s Shabbos activity, since extinguishing the light only removed an obstacle and created nothing positive.

PARTIAL BENEFIT

Another instance that is not considered as receiving benefit from melacha activity is when I could already benefit before the non-Jew performed the melacha, and his melacha only makes it easier to do what I wanted. For example, if there is enough light to read, and a non-Jew turns on additional light, I may continue to read even though it is now easier to read. This is not considered as benefiting from the non-Jew’s melacha since I could have read even if he did not do the melacha (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 276:4). Similarly, one may eat a meal by the light that he provides, if one could eat even without the additional light. (Note that one may not ask the non-Jew to turn on the light in any of these instances.)

The poskim dispute whether in the above scenario I may continue reading after the original light burns out. Some contend that once the light has gone out, I may no longer read in the room since I am now benefiting from what the non-Jew kindled on Shabbos (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 276:4; Bach; Magen Avraham). Others contend that since I was permitted to read when the light was kindled, I may continue to read even after the original light extinguished (Taz, Orach Chayim 276:3). Mishnah Berurah concludes that one should follow the first opinion.

I once spent Shabbos in a kosher hotel for a family simcha. I arrived early for davening Shabbos morning, intending to learn beforehand, only to discover that the lights were still out in the shul. I assumed that the lights were set to go on by a Shabbos clock and sat down near a window to learn in the interim. Fifteen minutes before davening started, a non-Jewish employee of the hotel arrived and turned on all the shul lights. This involved two prohibitions: 1. Since the non-Jew was an employee of the Jewish-owned hotel, the hotel should not have arranged for him to do melacha on Shabbos. 2. One may not benefit from the work he did. Thus, it is forbidden to read in the shul if you need the light to read.

However, as long as enough light came in through the windows to read, I could continue to read using the artificial light, since I could in any case read near the window. However, I could not read anywhere else in the shul. Furthermore, once it would get dark outdoors, and I could no longer read by the natural light, most authorities would prohibit reading by the kindled light.

MUST I LEAVE HOME?

According to what we have just explained, it would seem that if a non-Jew turns on the light in a house because he wants to benefit a Jew, one may not benefit from the light — and would have to leave the house. However, Chazal ruled that one is not required to leave one’s house if one did not want the non-Jew to turn on the light. Although one may not benefit from a non-Jew’s melacha on Shabbos, one is not required to leave one’s house in order to avoid benefiting from melacha done against one’s will (Rama 276:1, quoting Yerushalmi). In all instances like this, one should tell the non-Jew that you do not want him to do the melacha.

WHEN MAY I ASK A NON-JEW TO WORK ON SHABBOS?

Under certain extenuating circumstances, Chazal permitted asking a non-Jew to do melacha that a Jew may not do himself. I will group these situations under the following categories:

I. Situations when I may ask a non-Jew to perform work that would be prohibited min haTorah for a Jew.

II. Situations when I may ask a non-Jew to perform work that is prohibited miderabbanan.

I. There are a few situations where I may ask a non-Jew to perform something that would be a Torah prohibition if I did it myself. I may ask a non-Jew to perform a melacha for someone who is “choleh kol gufo,” literally, his entire body is sick. This means that although the person is in no danger, his illness is more than just a minor annoyance but it affects his entire body (Shabbos 129a; Shulchan Aruch 328:17). For example, I may ask a non-Jew to drive this person to a doctor, to pick up a prescription, or to turn a light on or off. This leniency applies to someone whose illness affects his entire body, or who is sick enough to be bedridden. Later in the article, I will discuss the halachos that apply to someone who is not well but who is feeling better than the person just described.

CHILDREN

Since children often get sick and are generally weaker than adults are, halacha considers a child as choleh kol gufo (Rama 276:1) when there is a great need (Mishnah Berurah ad loc.). Therefore, if it is cold indoors, one may ask a non-Jew to turn on the heat for the sake of a child, and then an adult may also benefit from the heat.

Until what age do I consider a child a choleh kol gufo? Many poskim contend that any child under the age of nine is in this category (Shu’t Minchas Yitzchok 1:78), although other poskim are less lenient.

Halacha treats a child who is afraid of the dark as a choleh kol gufo (Ketzos Hashulchan 134:18). Therefore if the light went out and a child is afraid, one may ask a non-Jew to rectify the problem.

We can now answer Question #3 above: “There is a problem with our electricity — the lights have gone out, and my son is terrified. May I ask a non-Jewish electrician to repair the power on Shabbos?” Under these circumstances, one may do so.

COLD ADULTS

When it is very cold, one may ask a non-Jew to turn on the heat even for adults, even if this involves doing a Torah prohibition. This is because everyone is considered sick when it comes to the cold. When it is chilly but not freezing, the poskim dispute whether I may ask a non-Jew to turn on the heat for the sake of adults when there are no children or ill people around (Shulchan Aruch 276:5 and commentaries).

Thus, we can now answer Question #2: “It is chilly in our house. May I ask a non-Jewish neighbor to turn up the heat?” The answer is that it depends on how cold it is and who is affected by the lack of heat.

WIDESPREAD TRANSGRESSION

Another situation where one may ask a non-Jew to do melacha that is prohibited min haTorah, is when it is necessary to prevent many people from transgressing the Torah. For example, if one discovered that the eruv is down, one may ask a non-Jew to repair it on Shabbos, even though he will have to perform activities that would be prohibited min haTorah (Mishnah Berurah 276:25), such as driving his car, tying a knot, or carrying in a reshus harabim min haTorah.

II. Situations when I may ask a non-Jew to perform work that is prohibited miderabbanan.

SHVUS DE’SHVUS

Under certain other circumstances, Chazal permitted asking a non-Jew to do something that would be prohibited miderabbanan for a Jew. The poskim usually refer to this lenience as shvus de’shvus. In general, this is permitted in any of the following situations:

(A) If a person is slightly ill.

(B) There is a major need.

(C) In order to enable a Jew to fulfill a mitzvah (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 307:5).

I will now explain these three situations:

(A) Earlier, I noted that if someone is ill to the extent that the illness affects his entire body, or if he is sick enough to go to bed, one may ask a non-Jew to do something that would involve a Torah prohibition for a Jew. If the person is less ill, one may ask a non-Jew to do something that involves only a rabbinic prohibition, but not a Torah prohibition.

Included under this category is if the person is suffering from considerable pain (Gra, Orach Chayim 325:10; Aruch Hashulchan 307:18). Thus, someone who caught his finger in a door may ask a non-Jew to bring ice through an area without an eruv, if he has no ice in his house. Similarly if an insect bit him, he may ask a non-Jew to buy medicine to alleviate the pain.

Based on the above heter, may one ask a non-Jew to turn on the air conditioner if it gets very hot? Does this qualify as alleviating a great deal of suffering? And is operating the air conditioning considered a Torah violation or a rabbinic violation, for which we may be lenient because of shvus de’shvus?

This question was the subject of a dispute by the last generation’s poskim. Minchas Yitzchok (3:23) permits asking a non-Jew to turn on the air conditioning, quoting Levush who explains that once people are unaccustomed to the cold, halacha considers them to be ill even if it is not that cold. Therefore, one may ask a non-Jew to kindle a fire for them. However, he then quotes sources that contend that being too hot is not the same as being too cold. He concludes that someone who is accustomed to moderate weather suffers when it is very hot and humid and may therefore ask a non-Jew to turn on the air conditioning because it is shvus de’shvus bimkom tzaar (to alleviate suffering). Similarly, his mechutan, the Chelkas Yaakov (3:139) permitted having a non-Jew turn on the air conditioning because of shvus di’shvus bimakom tzaar.

On the other hand, Rav Moshe prohibited asking a non-Jew to turn on the air conditioner because it is benefiting from work performed by a non-Jew on Shabbos (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 3:47:2). Rav Moshe forbids benefiting even if one did not ask the non-Jew to turn on the air conditioning, but merely hinted, such as by telling him, “It is really hot here!” hoping that he catches the hint. Evidently, Rav Moshe did not consider this as a makom tzaar that permits benefiting from a non-Jew’s activity on Shabbos.

Thus, in answer to Question #4 — “We left the air conditioning off, and it became very hot on Shabbos. May I ask a non-Jew to turn the air conditioning on?” We see that the poskim dispute whether this is permitted or not.

(B) One may ask a non-Jew to perform an issur derabbanan in case of major need. There are three opinions as to how much financial loss this must entail to be considered a major need.

(1) Some rule that one may ask the non-Jew even if there is no financial loss, as long as there is a great need (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 307:5; Graz 307:12). According to these poskim, if one’s clothes became torn or dirty on Shabbos and he is embarrassed to wear them, he may ask a non-Jew to bring him clean clothes through an area not enclosed by an eruv.

(2) Other poskim rule more strictly, contending that one may be lenient only if a major financial loss will result (Magen Avraham 307:7). According to these poskim, if one discovered that the plug of one’s well-stocked freezer is disconnected, one may ask a non-Jew to reconnect it on Shabbos.

(3) A third opinion contends that major financial loss is not sufficient reason to permit shvus de’shvus unless there is some physical discomfort as well (Elyah Rabbah 307:14). We usually follow the second opinion quoted and permit a shvus di’shvus in case of major financial loss. Furthermore, we allow shvus de’shvus even if it is uncertain that a major loss will result, but it is a good possibility (see She’eilas Yaavetz 2:139). As a result, one may ask a non-Jew to plug in the freezer even if one is uncertain whether the food will go bad.

Note that the opinions I quoted above permit asking a non-Jew only to perform a melacha derabbanan to avoid financial loss, but none of them permit asking him to violate a Torah law. Thus, this would answer Question #5 that I mentioned above: “I did not realize that I parked my car in a place where the city will tow it away. May I ask a non-Jewish neighbor to move it?” The answer is that one is not allowed to ask him. However, one may hint to the non-Jew in an indirect way by saying, “My car is parked in a place where it might get towed,” as I explained in a previous article on this subject.

(C) I may ask a non-Jew to do something that is only an issur derabbanan in order to enable me to perform a mitzvah. For example, having a guest who is visiting from out of town, or a guest who otherwise would have nowhere to eat, fulfills the mitzvah of hachnasas orchim. (Inviting a neighborhood family over for a Shabbos meal may be a very big chesed for the wife of the guest family, but it does not qualify as the mitzvah of hachnasas orchim [Rama 333:1].) Therefore, if one realizes on Shabbos that one does not have enough chairs for all the guests to sit at the table, he may ask a non-Jew to bring chairs from a neighbor’s house even when there is no eruv. Other poskim are more lenient, permitting asking a non-Jew to bring any food or beverage that enhances Shabbos (Aruch Hashulchan 307:18).

Some authorities permit asking a non-Jew to perform a Torah melacha in order to allow the observance of a mitzvah. This is a minority opinion and should not be followed. However, there was an old custom among European Jewry to permit asking a non-Jew under these circumstances. This custom has halachic sources in the following Rama:

“Some permit telling a non-Jew to kindle lights for the sake of the Shabbos meal, because they contend that in order to fulfill a mitzvah (such as having a nice Shabbos meal) one may ask a non-Jew to perform even a real melacha that would be forbidden for a Jew to do min haTorah. Following this approach, many are accustomed to be lenient and command a non-Jew to kindle lights for the purpose of the Shabbos meal, particularly for wedding and bris meals, and no one rebukes them. However, one should be strict in this matter when there is no extenuating need, since most of the halachic authorities disagree” (Rama 276:2).

In conclusion, we have discovered that in certain extenuating instances, Chazal permitted melacha performed by a non-Jew, but that one should not extend these heterim to other situations. When using a non-Jew to do normally forbidden work, one should focus that one’s intent is not, chas vesholom, to weaken the importance of Shabbos, but, rather, to enhance kavod Shabbos.

When May I Ask a Non-Jew for Help on Shabbos? Part II

Photo by s s from FreeImages

Each of the following questions is an actual situation about which I was asked:

Question #1: My friend lives in a neighborhood that does not have an eruv. She arranges before Shabbos for a non-Jew to push the baby carriage on Shabbos. May she do this?

Question #2: “If this contract does not arrive at its destination ASAP, I could suffer huge losses. May I mail it as an express mail package on Friday?”

Question #3: “If a registered letter arrives on Shabbos, may I ask the letter carrier to sign for me?”

As I mentioned last week, the topic of amira lenachri what I am permitted to ask a non-Jew to do for me that I am not permitted to do myself, is very complicated and often misunderstood or misapplied. As I noted last week, these laws are not restricted to the laws of Shabbos, but apply to all mitzvos of the Torah, and, therefore, I may not ask a non-Jew to graft fruit trees for me, nor may I ask him to do prohibited work on Chol Hamoed (Moed Katan 12a).

As we learned last week, these are some of the factors that we must consider:

A. Is the non-Jew my employee or is he an “independent contractor”?

B. What type of benefit do I receive from his work?

C. Did I ask the non-Jew directly or indirectly?

D. If a Jew were to perform the work, would it be prohibited min haTorah or only miderabbanan?

E. Why do I want him to do this work?

F. Could I do the work myself, albeit in a different way from how the non-Jew is likely to do it?

Last week, we discussed the difference between asking directly from the non-Jew to do something that I am prohibited from doing, versus, hinting this to him. May I hint to a non-Jew that I would like him to perform a prohibited activity on Shabbos? The poskim dispute this issue. As we learned last week, the majority of poskim rule that, although one may not hint to a non-Jew on Shabbos, one may hint to him on a weekday (Smag). Thus one may ask him on Friday, “Why didn’t you do this last Shabbos? but one may not ask him this on Shabbos (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 307:2; Rema Orach Chayim 307:22). However, the poskim agree that one may tell a non-Jewish mailman on Shabbos, “I cannot read this letter until it is open.” What is the difference between the two types of hinting?

The difference is that the forbidden type of hinting implies either a command or a rebuke, whereas the permitted type does not (Magen Avraham 307:31). Telling a non-Jew to clean something up in a dark room on Shabbos is, in essence, commanding him to perform a prohibited activity — turning on the light. Similarly, when you rebuke him for not doing something last Shabbos, you are basically commanding him to do it the next Shabbos. However, one may make a statement of fact that is neither a command nor a rebuke. Therefore telling the non-Jew, “I cannot read this letter unless it is open” does not command him to do anything, and for this reason it is permitted.

However, if the non-Jew then asks me, “Would you like me to open the letter for you?” I may not answer “Yes,” since this is itself a command. (It is as if you said, “Yes, I would like you to open the letter for me.”) I may tell him, “That’s not a bad idea,” or “I have no objections to your opening the letter,” which does not directly ask him. I may even say, “I am not permitted to ask you to open it on my Sabbath.”

PUSHING THE BABY CARRIAGE

At this point, we can discuss our opening question: My friend lives in a neighborhood that does not have an eruv. Before Shabbos, she arranges for a non-Jew to push the baby carriage on Shabbos. May she do this? (See Mishnah Berurah 308:154.)

Let me address this issue with the following shaylah that I was asked recently: Someone moved to a community where the rav permits people to have a non-Jew carry the baby on Shabbos by arranging remizah (hinting) from before Shabbos. This means that one would tell a non-Jew before Shabbos, “I would like to go to shul on Shabbos, but I cannot leave the baby behind.” The non-Jew then responds, “What time would you like me to arrive at the house?” or “What time would you like to leave the house?” neither party ever stating that you have asked the non-Jew what to do.

Personally, I have strong reservations about using this suggestion, since, eventually, one will end up commanding the non-Jew directly, such as, if the non-Jew asks, “Do you need me to take the baby’s blanket along?” If you answer “Yes,” you have commanded the non-Jew, which is a violation of the halacha.

EXPRESS MAIL

At this point, we can begin to discuss opening question #2: May I mail express mail on Friday?

At first glance, it would seem that one may not send an express mail package on Friday, since you are asking the non-Jew to transport and deliver the package on Shabbos. You are requesting that he do the job as quickly as possible, making this dissimilar to the case of bringing the car to the auto mechanic or clothes to the dry cleaner on Friday. In this case, you are insisting that he do the job on Shabbos, which is prohibited.

A similar shaylah to our express mail case was asked in Amsterdam hundreds of years ago of Rav Yaakov Emden. The questioner wanted to ship precious stones by asking a non-Jewish employee to deliver them to the post office on Shabbos, reasoning that his non-Jewish agent was carrying items within an eruv on Shabbos and therefore not doing any prohibited activity. Rav Yaakov Emden prohibited this, pointing out that the non-Jew would have to fill out paperwork at the post office to send off this shipment, and this would be considered having an agent work for him on Shabbos (She’eilas Yaavetz 2:139).

Although based on the above analysis it would seem that one may not send express mail on Friday, there is a different reason why one may — but only under extenuating circumstances, as I will explain.

I may not ask a non-Jew on Shabbos to hire other non-Jewish workers (Shabbos 150a; Shulchan Aruch 307:2). Some poskim contend that although I may not ask a non-Jew to hire workers, which is a prohibited activity, I may ask him to ask another non-Jew to do something that is prohibited on Shabbos. The rationale behind this heter, usually called amira le’amira, is that asking one non-Jew to ask another is permitted because I am asking a non-Jew only to talk, which is not considered an activity (Shu’t Chavos Ya’ir #46, 49, 53). Other poskim contend that just as one may not ask a non-Jew to hire workers, which is just talk, one cannot ask him to do any other activity that involves prohibited work (Avodas Hagershuni). Mishnah Berurah (307:24) rules that one may be lenient in a case of major financial loss; thus, under very extenuating circumstances, one could be lenient.

This dispute is interesting historically because the two seventeenth-century Torah giants involved in this dispute corresponded with one another. The Chavos Ya’ir permitted asking a non-Jew to ask another non-Jew to work on Shabbos, whereas the Avodas Hagershuni responded to him that this is forbidden. One can actually trace the give-and-take of their halachic debate on the issue, together with their lines of reasoning and proofs, simply by reading the correspondence published in their responsa. It is almost as if we are privileged to sit in their respective batei midrash and listen in as they each give shiur on the subject!

The dispute has many ramifications, one of which is our case of express mail, since you place an order with one person, but a different non-Jew does the actual traveling and delivering. Thus, we have a case of amira le’amira, which is permitted according to the Chavos Yair. There is also another reason to be lenient: Since one is arranging the express mail delivery before Shabbos, the situation is a bit more lenient than the above-mentioned dispute between the Chavos Yair and the Avodas Hagershuni. Indeed, the Chasam Sofer (Shu’t Orach Chayim #60) rules a compromise position between the two, permitting telling the non-Jew before Shabbos to ask the other non-Jew on Shabbos. Biur Halacha (307:2) disagrees, quoting Rashba. Therefore, one should not rely on this ruling unless the situation is extenuating.

The story behind the Chasam Sofer’s responsum on this issue is worth noting. During the Napoleonic Wars, a battle took place in Pressburg (today known as Bratislava), where the Chasam Sofer was rav, in which much of the Jewish area of town went up in flames. It was very important to rebuild the neighborhood before winter set in, and there was concern that the non-Jewish contractors would not construct the Jewish houses in a timely fashion if they were not allowed to work on Shabbos. One of the reasons that the Chasam Sofer ruled that they could allow the non-Jew workers to work on Shabbos was that the Jews hired a non-Jewish contractor, who in turn instructed his employees when to work. Thus it was a case of amira le’amira, which the Chasam Sofer permitted if the contractor received his instructions before Shabbos.

SHABBOS PICK-UP

If I hired a non-Jew to make a delivery for me, he may not pick up the item from my house on Shabbos (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 307:4). Thus, if I contract with a delivery service, such as UPS, they must pick up the item before Shabbos.

Now we should be prepared to answer this last question.  What should I do if a registered letter arrives on Shabbos?

As explained above, I may not ask the non-Jewish delivery person to sign for me, even by hinting to him. However, I may tell him, “I cannot sign for this today because it is my Sabbath.” If he asks me, “Would you like me to sign for the delivery?” I may not tell him, “Yes.” However I may answer him, “It is fine with me if you would like to,” or “I may not ask someone else to do this on my Sabbath,” or “I do not mind receiving the delivery, but I may not sign for it.”

In conclusion, we have discovered that in certain extenuating instances, Chazal permitted melacha performed by a non-Jew, but that one should not extend these heterim to other situations. When using a non-Jew to do normally forbidden work, one should focus that one’s intent is not, chas v’sholom, to weaken the importance of Shabbos, but, rather, to enhance kavod Shabbos.

According to the Rambam, the reason that Chazal prohibited asking a non-Jew to do work on Shabbos is so that we do not diminish sensitivity to doing melacha ourselves. Refraining from having even a non-Jew work for me on Shabbos shows even deeper testimony to my conviction that Hashem created the world.

When May I Ask a Non-Jew for Help on Shabbos?

Each of the following questions is an actual situation about which I was asked:

Question #1: My car needs repair work, and the most convenient time to drop it off at Angelo’s Service Station is Friday afternoon. May I bring Angelo the car then, knowing that he is going to repair it on Shabbos?

Question #2: A gala Shabbos sheva brachos is being held at an apartment several flights of stairs below street level, a very common situation in hilly Yerushalayim. The kallah’s elderly grandmother arrived before Shabbos by elevator, intending to return home by using the Shabbos elevator (a subject I hope to discuss at a different time iy’H). Indeed, the building’s elevator actually has a Shabbos setting, but we discover on Shabbos that the Shabbos setting is not working. How does Bubby get home?

Question #3: My friend lives in a neighborhood that does not have an eruv. She arranges before Shabbos for a non-Jew to push the baby carriage on Shabbos. May she do this?

Question #4: “If this contract does not arrive at its destination ASAP, I could suffer huge losses. May I mail it as an express mail package on Friday?”

Question #5: “If a registered letter arrives on Shabbos, may I ask the letter carrier to sign for me?”

Many people are under the mistaken impression that one may ask a non-Jew to do any prohibited activity on Shabbos. This is not accurate. I know of many instances in which someone asked a non-Jew to do work in situations in which making such a request is prohibited. Our Sages prohibited asking a non-Jew to work for us on Shabbos out of concern that this diminishes our sensitivity to doing melacha ourselves (Rambam, Hilchos Shabbos 6:1). Also, Chazal considered the non-Jew to be my agent — thus, if he works for me on Shabbos, it is considered that I worked on Shabbos through a hired agent (Rashi, Shabbos 153a s.v. mai taama).

By the way, the halachos of amira lenochri, asking a non-Jew to perform a prohibited activity, are not restricted to the laws of Shabbos, but apply to all mitzvos of the Torah. Thus, it is prohibited to have a non-Jew muzzle your animal while it works (see Bava Metzia 90a; Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 338:6), ask him to graft fruit trees, nor  ask a non-Jew to do prohibited work on Chol Hamoed (Moed Katan 12a).

There are many complicated details governing when I may ask a non-Jew to do something on Shabbos and when I may not. These are some of the factors that one must consider:

A. Is the non-Jew my employee or is he an “independent contractor”?

B. What type of benefit do I receive from his work?

C. Did I ask the non-Jew directly or indirectly?

D. If a Jew were to perform the work, would it be prohibited min haTorah or only miderabbanan?

E. Why do I want him to do this work?

F. Could I do the work myself, albeit in a different way from how the non-Jew is likely to do it?

To show how these details affect a practical case, I will analyze the halachic issues involved in each of our cases mentioned above, starting with our first case — leaving the car over Shabbos at a non-Jewish mechanic. The important detail here is that I did not ask the non-Jew to do the work on Shabbos – it is prohibited to do so. Instead, I brought him the car and allowed him to decide whether to do the work on Shabbos. Is he now my agent if he works on Shabbos?

AGENT VERSUS CONTRACTOR

There is a halachic difference whether the non-Jew is working as my agent (or employee) or whether he is an independent contractor who makes his own decisions. If he is my agent, I may not allow him to do prohibited activity on Shabbos. However, if he is an independent contractor, under certain circumstances, I am not responsible if he actually does the work on Shabbos.

When is the non-Jew considered a contractor? If the non-Jew decides on his own when to do the work and I hired him by the job, he is a contractor. In these cases, I may give him work that he might decide to perform on Shabbos, provided that he could do the work on a different day and that he does the work on his own premises. (Under certain circumstances, the last condition is waived.)

What are examples of contractors? The mailman, the repairman who repairs items on his own premises, and the dry cleaner are all contractors. On the other hand, a regular employee whom I ask to do work on Shabbos is not a contractor unless I pay him extra for this job.

Thus, I may drop off my car at the auto mechanic before Shabbos and leave it over Shabbos, provided I allow him time to do the work when it is not Shabbos, either on Friday afternoon or Motza’ei Shabbos. Even though I know that the non-Jewish mechanic will not be working Saturday night and will actually do the work on Shabbos, I need not be concerned, since he could choose to do the work after Shabbos.

However, dropping off my car before Shabbos is permitted only when:

(1) He does the work on his own premises.

(2) He is paid a fee for the completed job.

(3) He decides whether or not he does the work on Shabbos. (It should be noted that some poskim prohibit doing this when the mechanic is closed Motza’ei Shabbos. Since I know that he is closed Motza’ei Shabbos, they consider it asking him to do the work on Shabbos, which is prohibited.)

In a similar way, I could bring dry cleaning in on Friday afternoon expecting to pick up the cleaned clothes Saturday night, provided enough time exists to clean the clothes before or after Shabbos.

We will now explore our second question:

An elderly woman cannot ascend the several flights of stairs necessary to get to street level. The building has a Shabbos elevator, but we discover on Shabbos that the Shabbos setting is not working. How does Bubby get home? Can we have a non-Jew operate the elevator to get her home?

Before answering this question, I want to share with you another story:

A DARK SIMCHAS TORAH SHABBOS

The following story occurred on a Simchas Torah in Yerushalayim that fell on Shabbos. (Although Simchas Torah outside Eretz Yisroel cannot occur on Shabbos, Shmini Atzeres, which can fall on Shabbos, is observed in Eretz Yisroel as Simchas Torah.) Just as the hakafos were beginning, the power in the shul went out, plunging the entire shul into darkness. The shul’s emergency lights went on, leaving the shul dimly lit — sufficient for people to exit safely and to dance in honor of Simchas Torah, but certainly making it more difficult to observe the usual Simchas Torah celebrations. The rav of the shul ruled that they could not ask a non-Jew to turn on the lights.

If any element of danger had been involved, one could certainly have asked a non-Jew to turn on the lights. But the rav felt that the situation was not dangerous, and therefore maintained that one may not ask a non-Jew to turn on the lights.

One of the congregants suggested a way to illuminate the shul. The same idea could get Bubby home! Before presenting his idea, I need to explain two concepts:

BENEFITING FROM A NON-JEW’S ACTION

If a non-Jew does melacha on Shabbos for his own benefit, a Jew may use the results. For example, if a non-Jew builds a ramp to disembark from a boat on Shabbos, a Jew may now exit the boat via the same ramp, since the non-Jew did no additional work in order to benefit the Jew. Similarly, if a non-Jew kindled a light so that he can read, a Jew may now use the light. One may use the light even if the non-Jew and the Jew know one another (Mishnah Shabbos 122a; Rambam 6:2; Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 325:11).

However, if the non-Jew gathered grass to feed his animals, the Jew cannot let his animals eat the leftover grass if the two people know one another. This is so that the non-Jew will not in the future come to do melacha for the sake of the Jew (Shabbos 122a).

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE RAMP AND THE GRASS?

Why are these cases halachically different? Why may the Jew use the light or the ramp, but may not allow his animal to eat the grass?

In the first cases, no additional work is necessary for the non-Jew to provide a ramp or light for the Jew. Once the non-Jew has built the ramp or kindled the light, any number of people can benefit from them without any additional melacha. However, cutting each blade of grass is a separate melacha activity. Thus, allowing one’s animal to eat this grass might tempt the non-Jew to cut additional grass for the Jew’s animal, which we must avoid.

So far, we have calculated that if we can figure out how to get the non-Jew to turn on the light for his own benefit, one may use the light. Thus, we might be able to turn lights on in the shul for Shabbos, or have a non-Jew ride the elevator up to the main floor and hopefully have Bubby in the elevator at the same time. However, how does one get the non-Jew to turn on the light or the elevator for his own benefit when one may not ask him to do any work on Shabbos?

HINTING

May I hint to a non-Jew that I would like him to perform a prohibited activity on Shabbos? The poskim dispute this issue. Some rule that this is prohibited (Tur Orach Chayim 307), whereas others permit it (Bach, Orach Chayim 307 s.v. uma shekasav rabbeinu). Thus, according to the second opinion, one may ask a non-Jew on Shabbos, “Why didn’t you accompany Bubby on the elevator last Shabbos?” even though he clearly understands that you are asking him to take the elevator with her today. According to the first opinion, one may not do this, nor may one ask a non-Jew to clean up something in a dark room, since to do so he must turn on the light.

However, the majority of poskim accept an intermediate position, contending that, although one may not hint to a non-Jew on Shabbos, one may hint to him on a weekday (Smag). Thus one may ask him on Friday, “Why didn’t you do this last Shabbos? but one may not ask him this on Shabbos (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 307:2; Rema Orach Chayim 307:22). According to this last ruling, one could tell the non-Jew during the week, “Why did you leave Bubby downstairs without taking her up in the elevator?” but one could not mention this to him on Shabbos.

PERMITTED HINTING VERSUS PROHIBITED HINTING

However, the poskim agree that one may tell a non-Jewish mailman on Shabbos, “I cannot read this letter until it is open.” What is the difference between the two types of hinting?

The difference is that the forbidden type of hinting implies either a command or a rebuke, whereas the permitted type does not (Magen Avraham 307:31). Telling a non-Jew to clean something up in a dark room on Shabbos is, in essence, commanding him to perform a prohibited activity — turning on the light. Similarly, when you rebuke him for not doing something last Shabbos, you are basically commanding him to do it the next Shabbos. However, one may make a statement of fact that is neither a command nor a rebuke. Therefore telling the non-Jew, “I cannot read this letter unless it is open” does not command him to do anything, and for this reason it is permitted.

However, if the non-Jew then asks me, “Would you like me to open the letter for you?” I may not answer “Yes,” since this is itself a command. (It is as if you said, “Yes, I would like you to open the letter for me.”) I may tell him, “That’s not a bad idea,” or “I have no objections to your opening the letter,” which does not directly ask him. I may even say, “I am not permitted to ask you to open it on my Sabbath.”

How does this discussion affect our dark Simchas Torah or getting Bubby home?

The congregant suggested the following: One could create a situation whereby turning on the light is beneficial for the non-Jew, and then hint to him that if he wants to, he could benefit by turning the light on. One may do this because the non-Jew is turning on the light for his own use, and the Jew did not ask him directly to turn on the light. Thus, if you placed a bottle of whiskey or a gift of chocolate in the shul, and then notified the non-Jew that the bottle or chocolate is waiting for him there, you can show him how to turn on the lights so that he can find his present. This is permitted because the non-Jew is turning on the lights for his own benefit, and you did not ask him, nor even hint to him that you want him to turn on the lights. You simply notified him that if he wants to put on the lights, he could find himself a very nice present.

The same solution may help Bubby return home. Someone may invite a non-Jew to the sheva brachos, and then told him that a present awaits him in the building’s entrance foyer. Does it bother him if Bubby shares the elevator with him while he goes to retrieve his present?

A word of caution: If one uses this approach, one must be careful that the non-Jew is indeed doing the melacha for his own purposes, such as to get the present as mentioned above. However, one may not ask the non-Jew to accompany you on a tour of the dark shul, and then he turns on the light to see his way. This is prohibited because the non-Jew is interested in the light only in order to accompany you on the walk, not because he gains anything (see Shulchan Aruch 276:3).

We will continue this topic next week…

As I mentioned above, the Rambam explains the reason that Chazal prohibited asking a non-Jew to do work on Shabbos is so that we do not diminish sensitivity to doing melacha ourselves. Refraining from having even a non-Jew work for me on Shabbos shows even deeper testimony to my conviction that Hashem created the world.

The Kosher Way to Collect a Loan

Although it is a very big mitzvah to lend money, some people are reluctant to do so because they know of loans that proved difficult to collect. Must you lend someone money if you are not sure it will ever be repaid? What do you do if you lent money to someone who seemed very honest and sincere, but now that it comes time to repay, he informs you that he is penniless? What may you do and what may you not do to collect your money? How can you guarantee that you get your money back?

Our goal this week is to address these questions.

THE MITZVAH OF LENDING MONEY

The Torah requires us to lend money to a poor Jew who needs it (Rambam, Hilchos Malveh 1:1). This is stated in the pasuk, “Im kesef talveh es ami, es he’ani imach – When you lend money to My people, to the poor person among you” (Shemos 22:24). Chazal explain that the word “Im” in this pasuk should not be translated as “If,” which implies that it is optional, but as a commandment, “When you lend…” (Mechilta). Poskim even discuss whether we recite a bracha on this mitzvah, just as we recite one on tefillin, mezuzah and other mitzvos (Shu”t HaRashba #18). Although the halacha is that we do not recite a bracha, the question itself shows us the importance of the mitzvah of lending money.

It is a greater mitzvah to lend someone money, which maintains his self-dignity, than it is to give him tzedakah, which is demeaning (Rambam, Hilchos Malveh 1:1). There is a special bracha from Hashem to people who lend money to the poor.

I should not become upset if a poor person returns to borrow money from me shortly after repaying a previous loan. My attitude should be similar to a storekeeper: “Do I become angry with a repeat customer? Do I feel that he is constantly bothering me?” Similarly, one should not turn people away without a loan, but rather view it as a new opportunity to perform a mitzvah and to receive additional brachos (Ahavas Chesed 1:7).

One should also lend money to wealthy people who need a loan, but this is not as great a mitzvah as lending to the poor.

Someone with limited available funds and has requests for loans from family members and non-family members, and cannot lend to both, should lend to family members. Similarly, if he must choose to whom to lend, he should lend to a closer family member rather than to a more distant one.

By the way, one may lend money to a poor person with the understanding that if the borrower defaults, the lender will subtract the sum from his tzedakahmaaser calculation (Pischei Choshen, Volume 1, p. 4).

WHAT IF I KNOW THE BORROWER IS A DEADBEAT?

I am not required to lend money if I know that the borrower squanders money and does not repay (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 97:4). It is better not to lend if I know that the borrower will squander the money and probably not pay it back.

THE RESPONSIBILITIES OF THE BORROWER

Someone who borrows money must make sure to pay it back. One may not borrow money that he does not think he will be able to repay. A person who squanders money and therefore does not repay his loans is called a rasha (Rambam, Hilchos Malveh 1:3).

The borrower is required to pay his loans on time. If his loan is due and he cannot pay them, he is required to use his household items, if necessary, to pay his debt (Nesivos 86:2; Graz, Hilchos Halvaah 1:5). Similarly, he may not make significant contributions to tzedakah (Sefer Chassidim #454). He may not purchase a lulav and esrog if he owes money that is due; instead, he should borrow someone else’s (see Pischei Teshuvah, Choshen Mishpat 97:8). He must use whatever money he has available to pay his debts.

It is strictly forbidden to pretend that he does not have money to pay his debts or even to delay paying them if he does have the money, and it is similarly forbidden for him to hide money so that the lender cannot collect. All this is true even if the lender is very wealthy.

COLLECTING BAD DEBTS

Most people who borrow are careful to repay their debts and do so on time. However, it happens occasionally that someone who intended to pay back on time is faced with circumstances that make it difficult for him to repay.

There is a prohibition in the Torah, “Lo siheyeh lo k’nosheh – Do not behave to him like a creditor” (Shemos 22:24). Included in this prohibition is that it is forbidden to demand payment from a Jew when I know that he cannot pay (Rambam, Hilchos Malveh 1:2). The lender may not even stand in front of the borrower in a way that might embarrass or intimidate him (Gemara Bava Metzia 75b; Rambam, Hilchos Malveh 1:3).

However, if the lender knows that the borrower has resources that he does not want to sell, such as his house, his car, or his furniture, he may hassle the borrower since the borrower is halachically required to sell these properties in order to pay his loan. (See Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 97:23 for a list of which items he must sell to pay his debt.) Furthermore, the lender may sue in beis din for the right to collect these items as payment.

(Technically, it is not the borrower’s responsibility to sell the items and bring the cash to the lender; he may give the items to the lender as payment. The lender must then get a beis din or a panel of three experts to evaluate the property he has received. If he needs to hire experts to make the evaluation, the expenses are added to the debt. Of course, the lender and borrower can agree to whatever terms are mutually acceptable without involving expert evaluation, provided that no ribbis [interest] prohibition is created. The vast subject of ribbis is beyond the scope of this article.)

The borrower is in a very unenviable position. He owes money that he would like to pay, but he is overwhelmed with expenses and he simply does not earn enough money to pay all his creditors. He knows he could sell his house or his furniture to pay up, but he really does not want to do that to his family. He should try to appease the lender in whatever way he can (for example, by asking for an extension) and he should certainly try to find other sources of income and figure out how to trim his expenses. But he should realize that he is obligated even to sell his household goods to pay his creditors. Someone who uses his money to purchase items that are not absolutely essential instead of paying back money that is overdue demonstrates a lack of understanding of the Torah’s priorities.

The lender may not enter the borrower’s house to seize collateral or payment. Some poskim contend that the lender may seize property that is not in the borrower’s house or on his person (see Pischei Choshen, Vol. 1, pg. 96). Furthermore, there are poskim who rule that if the borrower has the means to pay but isn’t paying, the lender may enter the borrower’s house and take whatever he can (Shu”t Imrei Binah, Dinei Geviyas Chov chapter 2; Pischei Choshen, Vol. 1, p. 100). One should not rely on this approach without first asking a shaylah.

If the borrower claims that he has absolutely nothing to pay with, the beis din can require him to swear an oath to that effect (Rambam, Hilchos Malveh 2:2).

A lender who feels that the borrower is hiding money or property may not take the law into his own hands to collect, but may file a claim in beis din. If the lender feels that the borrower will not submit to beis din’s authority, he should ask the beis din for authorization to sue in secular courts – but it is forbidden for him to sue in a secular court without first receiving halachic approval.

HOW CAN I GUARANTEE THAT I GET MY MONEY BACK?

As most of us have no doubt experienced at one time or another, it is not pleasant to be owed money that is not repaid. The lender is entitled to be repaid.

Is there a way that I can lend money and guarantee that I get in back?

First of all, the lender must make sure that he can prove the loan took place. This is actually a halacha; it is forbidden to lend money without witnesses or other proof because of concern that this may cause the borrower to sin by denying that the loan exists (Bava Metzia 75b).

All of this is protection only against a borrower denying that he borrowed, which is fortunately a rare occurrence. What we want to explore is ways that the lender can fulfill his mitzvah of lending to a needy person while making sure that the loan does not become permanent.

CO-SIGNERS

The most common method used to guarantee the repayment of a loan is by having someone with reliable finances and reputation co-sign for the loan. In halacha, this person is called an areiv. In common practice, if the borrower defaults, the lender notifies the co-signer that he intends to collect the debt. Usually what happens is that when the lender calls the co-signer, suddenly the borrower shows up at the door with the money.

There are several types of areiv recognized by halacha. The most common type, a standard co-signer, is obligated to pay back the debt, but only after one has attempted to collect from the borrower. If the borrower does not pay because he has no cash, but he has property, the areiv can legitimately claim that he is not responsible to pay. The lender would need to summon the borrower and the areiv to beis din in order to begin payment procedures. Most people who lend money prefer to avoid the tediousness this involves.

One can avoid some of this problem by having the co-signer sign as an areiv kablan. This is a stronger type of co-signing, whereby the lender has the right to make the claim against the co-signer without suing the borrower first.

The primary difficulty with this approach is that it might make it difficult for the borrower to receive his loan, since many potential co-signers do not want to commit themselves to be an areiv kablan.

ANOTHER APPROACH

Is there another possibility whereby one can still provide the chesed to the potential borrower and yet guarantee that the money returns?

Indeed there is. The Chofetz Chayim (Ahavas Chesed 1:8) suggests that if you are concerned that the proposed borrower may default, you can insist on receiving collateral – a mashkon to guarantee payment.

Having a loan collateralized is a fairly secure way of guaranteeing that the loan is repaid, but it is not totally hassle-free. There are three drawbacks that might result from using a mashkon to guarantee the repayment of the loan. They are:

1. Responsibility for the mashkon.

2. Evaluation of the mashkon.

3. Converting the mashkon into cash.

1. Responsibility for the mashkon.

When the lender receives the mashkon, he becomes responsible to take care of it. If it is lost or stolen, the value of the collateral will be subtracted from the loan (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 72:2). If the collateral is worth more than the loan, the lender might be required to compensate the borrower for the difference. (See dispute between Shulchan Aruch and Rama, ibid.) However, the creditor is not responsible for the mashkon if it is lost or damaged because of something that halacha considers beyond his responsibility.

2. Evaluation of the mashkon.

When keeping the collateral to collect the debt, the mashkon must either be evaluated by a panel of three experts before it can be sold (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 73:15 and Ketzos), or must be sold with the involvement of beis din (Shach), to protect the borrower’s rights. Some creditors find this step tedious.

However, there are methods whereby one can use a mashkon to guarantee a loan and avoid having the mashkon evaluated afterward.

When arranging the loan, the lender tells the borrower of the following condition: If the loan is not paid when due, the buyer agrees to rely on the lender’s evaluation of its worth (Pischei Choshen, Vol. 1, pg. 145).

An alternative is for the lender to tell the borrower: If you do not pay by the day the loan is due, then retroactively this is not a loan but a sale. At that point, the collateral becomes mine in exchange for the value of the loan. This is permitted even if the mashkon is worth far more than the loan, and does not involve any violation of ribbis (prohibited charging of interest), since, retroactively, a sale took place rather than a loan (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 73:17).

3. Converting the mashkon into cash.

PROPER ATTITUDE TOWARD THE MITZVAH

At times, lenders have asked me for a method whereby they can be certain to get their money back, and I have suggested the collateral method. Sometimes I receive the following response: I don’t want to be bothered with selling the mashkon to get my money back. If I think the borrower is a risk, then I would rather not lend to him.

Do we have the same attitude toward other mitzvos we perform? Do we say that we want to perform mitzvos only when they are without complications? Certainly not! However, the yetzer hora convinces us that lending money is a good deed that I need to perform only when it is convenient and when I feel like being benevolent, not when it is going to result in a hassle.

SHLEMIEL, THE BORROWER

Nachman once came to me with the following shaylah:

Shlemiel used to borrow money from Nachman regularly, and although Shlemiel always repaid the loan, he often did so long after the due date. Nachman wanted to know what he could do about this situation. He wanted to perform the tremendous mitzvah of lending money, but he wanted his money back in a reasonable time.

I suggested to Nachman that he tell Shlemiel that the loan was available, but only if Shlemiel produced a mashkon and agreed to the above conditions. Since my suggestion, Nachman has been zocheh to fulfill the mitzvah of lending money to Shlemiel many times, and not once has a repayment been late! Think of how many brochos Nachman has received from Hashem because he is willing to subject himself to the “hassle” of transporting the mashkon to a secure place and being willing to sell it should the need arise!

Why do people view loaning money as an optional “good deed” rather than as a commandment? The Chofetz Chayim (Ahavas Chesed 2:8) raises this question and mentions several excuses people make to avoid lending money. After listing these reasons, the Chofetz Chayim proceeds to refute each one of them. Simply put, the answer to this question is the old Yiddish expression, “Ven es kumt tzu gelt, iz an andere velt – When people deal with their money, they tend to act totally differently.” Truthfully, people find it difficult to part with their money, even temporarily. This is precisely why one receives such immense reward for lending. As Chazal teach us, “lefum tzaara agra – the reward is commensurate to the difficulties involved.”

How Does Someone Convert to Judaism?

When our ancestors accepted responsibility to observe the Torah, they did so by performing bris milah, immersing in a mikveh, and offering a korban. In the same way, a non-Jew who chooses to join the Jewish people is entering the same covenant and must follow a similar procedure (Kerisus 9a).

The privilege of becoming a geir tzedek comes with very exact and exacting guidelines. On a technical level, the geir is accepting responsibility to perform mitzvos. Through the geirus procedure, he creates an obligation upon himself to observe mitzvos (Birchas Shmuel, Kiddushin #15).

DEFINITION OF A JEW

To the non-Jewish or non-observant world, the definition of a Jew is based on sociological criteria. But to the Torah Jew, the definition of a Jew is someone who is a member of a people who are obligated to fulfill all of the Torah’s commandments. For this reason, it is axiomatic that no one can become Jewish without first accepting the responsibility to observe mitzvos (kabbalas mitzvos). This concept, so obvious to the Torah Jew, is almost never appreciated by the non-observant. Someone who does not (yet) observe mitzvos himself usually does not appreciate why observing mitzvos is imperative to becoming Jewish. This is why a not-yet-observant Jew often finds our requirements for giyur to be “unrealistic” or even “intolerant.” However, in reality, attempting to bend the Torah’s rules reflects intolerance, or, more exactly, a lack of understanding. The Torah Jew realizes that the basic requirement for becoming a Jew is accepting Hashem’s commandments, since a Jew is, by definition, someone who is committed to leading his life in its every detail according to the laws of the Torah.

DISCOURAGE CONVERTS

As we all know, when someone requests to be converted to Judaism, we discourage him. As the Gemara (Yevamos 47a) says, if a potential convert comes, we ask him, “Why do you want to convert? Don’t you know that Jews are persecuted and dishonored? Constant suffering is their lot! Why do you want to join such a people?”

Why do we discourage a sincere non-Jew from joining Jewish ranks? Shouldn’t we encourage someone to undertake such a noble endeavor?

The reason is that, even if the potential convert is sincerely motivated, we still want to ascertain that he or she can persevere to keep the mitzvos, even under adversity. Although we can never be certain what the future will bring, by making the path to conversion difficult, we are helping the potential convert who might later regret his conversion, when the going gets rough. Because of this rationale, some batei din deliberately make it difficult for a potential convert, as a method of discouraging him. As the Gemara explains, we tell him, “Until now you received no punishment if you did not keep kosher. There was no punishment if you failed to observe Shabbos. If you become Jewish, you will receive very severe punishments for not keeping kosher or Shabbos!” (Yevamos 47a)

I have used a different method of discouragement, by informing potential converts of the seven mitzvos bnei Noach. In so doing, I point out that they can merit olam haba without becoming obligated to keep all the Torah’s mitzvos. In this way, I hope to make them responsible, moral non-Jews, without their becoming Jewish.

I once met a woman who was enthusiastically interested in becoming Jewish. Although she was living in a town with no Jewish community – she was keeping a kosher home!

After I explained the mitzvos of bnei Noach to her, she insisted that this was not enough for her. She wanted to be fully Jewish.

Because of her enthusiasm, I expected to hear from her again. I was wrong. Perhaps her tremendous enthusiasm petered out. Alternatively, and more likely, she found a different way to consider herself Jewish, either on the basis of her grandfather’s Judaism, or a “conversion” that was more “flexible.”

Had we accepted her for conversion immediately, she would have become a sinning Jew, instead of a very observant non-Jew, which is what she is now. These are the exact issues that Chazal were concerned about. Therefore, they told us to make it difficult for someone to become Jewish, to see whether his or her commitment survives adversity. It was better that this woman’s enthusiasm waned before she became Jewish than after she became Jewish and had no way out.

The following story from my personal experience is unfortunately very common. A gentile woman, eager to marry an observant Jewish man, agreed to fulfill all the mitzvos as a requirement for her conversion. (As we will point out shortly, this is not a recommended procedure.) Although she seemed initially very excited about observing mitzvos, with time she began to lose interest. In the end, she gave up observance completely. The unfortunate result is that she is now a chotei Yisrael (a Jew who sins).

MOTIVATION FOR CONVERTING

We must ascertain that the proposed convert wants to become Jewish for the correct reasons. If we discern or suspect that there is an ulterior reason to convert, we do not accept the potential convert, even if he is committed to observing all the mitzvos.

For this reason, converts are not accepted at times when there is political, financial, or social gain in being Jewish. For example, no converts were accepted in the days of Mordechai and Esther, nor in the times of Dovid and Shelomoh, nor will geirim be accepted in the era of the Moshiach. During such times, we suspect that the convert is somewhat motivated by the financial or political advantages in being Jewish (Yevamos 24b). This applies even if we are certain that he will observe all the mitzvos.

Despite this rule, unlearned Jews created “batei din” during the reign of Dovid HaMelech and accepted converts against the wishes of the beis din hagadol (Rambam, Hilchos Issurei Bi’ah 13:15). There is much literature on whether these geirim are accepted, but, if indeed their conversion was sincere and afterward it is obvious that this is true, they will be accepted.

The Rambam explains that the “non-Jewish” wives that Shlomoh married were really insincere converts. In his words, “In the days of Shlomoh, converts were not accepted by the official batei din…however, Shlomoh converted women and married them…and it was known that they converted for ulterior reasons and not through the official batei din. For this reason, the pasuk refers to them as non-Jews…furthermore, the end bears out that they worshipped idols and built altars to them” (Rambam, Hilchos Issurei Bi’ah 13:15-16).

Because of this rule, we do not accept someone who is converting because he or she wants to marry someone who is Jewish, even if the convert is absolutely willing to observe all the mitzvos (Yevamos 24b). I have seen numerous instances of non-Jews who converted primarily for marriage and who agreed to keep all the mitzvos at the time of the conversion. Even in the instances where mitzvos were indeed observed initially, I have seen very few situations where mitzvos were still being observed a few years (or even months) later.

GEIRUS WITH IMPROPER MOTIVATION

What is the halachic status of someone who went through the geirus process for the wrong reasons; for example, they converted because they wanted to marry someone?

If the convert followed all the procedures, including full acceptance of all the mitzvos, the conversion is valid, even though we disapprove of what was done. If the convert remains faithful to Jewish observance, we will treat him with all the respect due to a Jew. However, before reaching a decision as to his status, the beis din waits a while, to see whether the convert is indeed fully committed to living a Jewish life (Rambam, Issurei Bi’ah 13:15-18).

However, someone who is not committed to mitzvah observance and just goes through the procedures has not become Jewish at all.

Jim was interested in “converting to Judaism” because his wife was Jewish, and not because he was interested in observing mitzvos. At first, he went to a Rav who explained that he must observe all the mitzvos, and certainly they must live within a frum community. This was not what Jim had in mind, so he went shopping for a “rabbi” who would meet his standards. Who would believe that there is any validity to this conversion?

CONVERSION PROCESS

How does a non-Jew become Jewish? As mentioned above, Klal Yisrael joined Hashem’s covenant with three steps: bris milah (for males), immersion in a mikveh, and offering a korban (Kerisus 9a). Since no korbanos are brought today, the convert becomes a geir without fulfilling this mitzvah. (We derive from a pasuk that geirim are accepted even in generations that do not have a Beis HaMikdash.) However, when the Beis HaMikdash is iy”H rebuilt, every geir will be required to offer a korban olah which is completely burnt on the mizbei’ach (Rambam, Hilchos Issurei Bi’ah 13:5). Those who have already become geirim will become obligated to bring this korban at that time.

Besides these three steps, the convert must accept all the mitzvos, just as the Jews originally took upon themselves the responsibility to observe all the mitzvos.

Preferably, each step in the geirus procedure should be witnessed by a beis din. Some poskim contend that the bris and tevilah are valid even if not witnessed by a beis din. But all poskim agree that if the kabbalas (accepting) mitzvos does not take place in the presence of a beis din, the conversion is invalid (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 268:3). Thus, a minimal requirement for proper giyur (conversion) is that the geir’s commitment to observe all the mitzvos and practices of a Jew be made in the presence of a kosher beis din. Any “conversion” with no commitment to mitzvos is, by definition, invalid and without any halachic foundation.

Unfortunately, some well-intentioned converts have been misled by people purporting to be batei din for geirus. I know of more than one situation in which people underwent four different conversion procedures, until they performed a geirus in the presence of a kosher beis din with proper kabbalas mitzvos!

KABBALAS MITZVOS

As mentioned above, kabbalas mitzvos is a verbalized acceptance to observe all the Torah’s mitzvos. We do not accept a convert who states that he is accepting all the mitzvos of the Torah except for one (Bechoros 30b). Rav Moshe Feinstein discusses a woman who was interested in converting and was willing to fulfill all the mitzvos, except the requirements to dress in a halachically tzenuah manner. Rav Moshe rules that it is questionable if her geirus is valid (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 3:106).

If the potential convert states that he/she accepts responsibility to fulfill all the mitzvos, we usually assume that the geirus is valid. However, what is the halacha if a person declares that he accepts the mitzvos, but his behavior indicates the opposite? For example, what happens if the convert eats non-kosher food or desecrates Shabbos immediately following his conversion procedure? Is he considered Jewish?

Rav Moshe Feinstein rules that, when it is clear that the person never intended to observe mitzvos, the conversion is invalid. The person remains a non-Jew, since he never undertook kabbalas mitzvos, which is the most important component of geirus (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 1:157; 3:106).

BEIS DIN

As mentioned before, conversion is an act that requires a proper beis din, meaning minimally, three fully observant male Jews.

Since a beis din cannot perform a legal function at night or on Shabbos or Yom Tov, conversions cannot be performed at these times (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 268:4).

CHILD CONVERSION

Until now we have discussed the conversion of adults. A child can also be converted to Judaism (Kesubos 11a). There are two common reasons why this is done: either when the child’s parents are converting to Judaism, or when a non-Jewish child is adopted by Jewish parents.

The conversion of a child involves an interesting question. As we explained above, the convert’s acceptance of the mitzvos is the main factor that makes him into a Jew. However, since a child is too young to assume legal obligations and responsibilities, how can his conversion be valid when it is without a legal acceptance of mitzvos?

The answer is that we know that children can be converted from the historical precedent of Sinai, where the Jewish people accepted the Torah and mitzvos. Among them were thousands of children who also joined the covenant and became part of klal Yisrael. When these children became adults, they became responsible to keep mitzvos (Tosafos, Sanhedrin 68b). Thus, in the case of giyur katan, the geirus process consists of bris milah and immersion in a mikvah.

There is, however, a qualitative difference between a child who becomes part of the covenant together with his parents and an adopted child who is becoming Jewish without his birth parents. In the former case the parent assumes responsibility for the child’s decision (Kesubos 11a; Rashi, Yevamos 48a s.v. eved), whereas an adoptive parent cannot assume this role in the conversion process. Instead, the beis din supervising the geirus acts as the child’s surrogate parents and assumes responsibility for his geirus. This same approach is used if a child comes of his own volition and requests to be converted (Mordechai, Yevamos 4:40).

CAN THE CHILD REJECT THIS DECISION?

Yes. If the child convert decides upon reaching maturity that he does not want to be Jewish, he invalidates his conversion and reverts to being a gentile. The age at which a child can make this decision is when he or she becomes obligated to observe mitzvos, twelve for a girl and thirteen for a boy (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 1:162).

CAN HE CHANGE HIS MIND LATER IN LIFE?

No. Once the child achieves maturity and is living an observant lifestyle, this is considered an acceptance of the conversion that cannot be rejected afterwards.

WHAT IF THE CHILD CONVERT WAS UNAWARE THAT HE WAS A GEIR AND DID NOT KNOW THAT HE HAD THE OPTION?

Rav Moshe Feinstein discusses the case of a couple that adopted a non-Jewish child but did not want to tell him that he was adopted. (Not telling the child he is adopted may be inadvisable for psychological reasons, but this is an article on halacha, not psychology.) Rav Moshe raises the following halachic reason why the parents should tell the child that he is a convert. Assuming that the child knows he is a child convert, he has the option to accept or reject his Judaism when turning bar mitzvah (or bas mitzvah for a girl), which is a time that the parents have much influence on their child. Subsequent to this time, he cannot opt out of Judaism. However, if he does not discover that he is a convert until he becomes an adult, he would have the option at that time to accept or reject his Judaism, and the parents have limited influence on his decision.

WHAT IF THE CHILD WANTS TO BE A NON-OBSERVANT JEW?

What is the halacha if the child at age thirteen wants to be Jewish, but does not want to be observant?

There is a dispute among poskim whether this constitutes a rejection of one’s conversion. Some contend that not observing mitzvos is not the same as rejecting conversion; the conversion is only undone if the child does not want to be Jewish. Others contend that not observing mitzvos is considered an abandonment of one’s being Jewish.

Many years ago I asked my rebbe, Rav Yaakov Kulefsky zt”l, about the following situation. A boy underwent a giyur katan and was raised by non-observant “traditional” parents who kept a kosher home but did not observe Shabbos. The boy wanted to be Jewish without being observant, just like his adoptive parents. The family wanted to celebrate his bar mitzvah in an Orthodox shul and have the boy read from the Torah. Was this permitted or was the boy considered non-Jewish?

Rav Kulefsky, zt”l, paskened that the boy could read from the Torah and was considered halachically Jewish. Other poskim disagree, contending that being halachically Jewish requires acknowledging the mitzvos we must perform. Someone who rejects the mitzvos thereby rejects the concept of being Jewish.

GEIRIM ARE SPECIAL

If a potential geir persists in his determination to join the Jewish people, the beis din will usually recommend a program whereby he can learn about Judaism and set him on track for giyur. A geir tzedek should be treated with tremendous love and respect. Indeed, the Torah gives us a special mitzvah to “Love the Geir,” and we daven for them daily in our Shmoneh Esrei!

Throughout the years, I have met many sincere geirim and have been truly impressed by their dedication to Torah and mitzvos. Hearing about the journey to find truth that brought them to Judaism is usually fascinating. What would cause a gentile to join the Jewish people, risk confronting the brunt of anti-Semitism, while at the same time being uncertain that Jews will accept him?  Sincere converts are drawn by the truth of Torah and a desire to be part of the Chosen People. They know that they can follow the will of Hashem by doing seven mitzvos, but they insist on choosing an all-encompassing Torah lifestyle.

One sincere young woman, of Oriental background, stood firmly before the beis din. “Why would you want this?” questioned the Rav.

“Because it is truth and gives my life meaning.”

“There are many rules to follow,” he cautioned.

“I know. I have been following them meticulously for two years,” was the immediate reply. “I identify with the Jews.”

After further questioning, the beis din authorized her geirus, offering her two dates convenient for them. She chose the earlier one, so she could keep one extra Shabbos.

We should learn from the geir to observe our mitzvos every day with tremendous excitement – just as if we had received them for the first time!

Feeding the Birds

Question #1: Was Mom Wrong?

“My mother always shook out crumbs in our backyard on parshas Beshalach. Although she was frum her whole life, she had little formal Jewish education, and all of her Yiddishkeit was what she picked up from her home. I discovered recently that Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasah prohibits this practice. So how could my mother have done this?”

Question #2: Dog Next Door

“We have an excellent relationship with our next door neighbor, who happens not to be Jewish, although I am not sure if that affects the question. They are going away on vacation and have asked us to feed their pets while they are away. May I do so on Shabbos?”

Question #3: In the Zoo

“How are zoo animals fed on Shabbos?”

Introduction:

Many people have the custom of scattering wheat or breadcrumbs for the birds to enjoy as their seudas Shabbos on Shabbos Parshas Beshalach, which is called Shabbos Shirah. This practice, which we know goes back hundreds of years, has engendered halachic discussion as to whether it is actually permitted. I will first explain the reasons for the custom and then the halachic issues and discussion, which we can trace from the earliest commentaries on the Shulchan Aruch to the recent authorities. I am also assuming that there is no problem of carrying – in other words, we are discussing scattering food within an area enclosed by an eruv.

Manna on Shabbos

To explain the reason for this practice that my mother taught me and that my mother-in-law taught my wife, we need to first look at our parsha. Moshe informed Bnei Yisroel that no manna would fall on Shabbos morning, and that the double portion received on Friday would suffice for two days. The Torah teaches that some Jews went to look for manna anyway on Shabbos morning, but did not find any.

According to the traditional story, Doson and Aviram took some of their own leftover manna from Friday, which means that they went a bit hungry that day. They placed this manna outside the Jewish camp, and in the morning they informed the people that manna had fallen. Their attempt to discredit the miracle failed when the people went to look and found nothing there. This was because some birds had arrived to eat the manna before the people would find it. To reward the birds for preventing a chillul Hashem, people spread food for the birds to eat.

Like the birds

I saw another reason for this practice, also related to the falling of the manna. According to this reason, placing feed for birds is to remind us that Hashem provided food for us in the desert, similar to the way birds readily find their food without any difficulty.

Birds sing

Others cite a different basis for the practice. According to this version, the reason for feeding the birds on this Shabbos is because on Shabbos Shirah, we commemorate the Jews singing praise to Hashem after being saved at the Yam Suf. According to this reason, the birds also sang shirah at the Yam Suf, and we feed them to commemorate the event (Tosafos Shabbos 324:17, and several later authorities who quote him). As a matter of fact, the Hebrew word tzipor is based on the Aramaic word tzafra,which means morning, and expresses the concept that birds sing praise to Hashem every morning (see Ramban, Vayikra 14:4).

There is a fascinating account transmitted verbally from the Tzemach Tzedek of Lubavitch, who heard from his grandfather, the Ba’al HaTanya, that their ancestor, the Maharal of Prague, would do the following on Shabbos Shirah: First, he told the rebbei’im of the schools and the fathers to bring the children to the shul courtyard. He then instructed the rabbei’im to relate to the children the story of Keri’as Yam Suf,how the birds sang and danced while Moshe and the Bnei Yisroel sang Az Yashir, and that the children crossing Yam Suf took fruits from trees growing there and afterward fed them to the birds that sang.

No local songbirds

Although I have not yet explained the halachic controversy surrounding this custom, I will share a difference in practical halacha that might result from the dispute between the different reasons. According to the first two reasons, one would spread food for the birds, even if one lives in an area where the bird population includes no songbirds. According to the third approach, in such a place there would be no reason to observe the practice.

Questionable practice

Notwithstanding that Jews have been observing the custom of spreading food for birds on Shabbos Shirah for several hundred years, there is a major halachic controversy about its observance. This is based on a Mishnah and a passage of the Gemara that discuss whether on Shabbos one may provide water and food for birds and other creatures that are not dependent on man for their daily bread or birdseed. The reason for this prohibition is, apparently, because this type of activity, being unnecessary for one’s observance of Shabbos, is viewed as a tircha yeseirah. I will explain this as “distracting exertion,” meaning that Chazal did not want us involving ourselves in what they determined to be unnecessary activities, since this detracts from the sanctity of the Shabbos day.

I have seen much discussion about the custom of feeding birds on Shabbos Shirah, but virtually all in Ashkenazic sources. It seems to me that this custom is either predominantly or exclusively an Ashkenazic practice. The only Sephardic authority I have found who mentions the practice is the Kaf Hachayim, who lived in the twentieth century, and whose work predominantly anthologizes earlier commentaries on the Shulchan Aruch. Therefore, his reporting the Ashkenazic authorities who discuss the custom does not necessarily reflect that any Sefardic communities observed this practice.

At this point, we need to discuss the background to the halachic question about the practice of feeding the birds on Shabbos Shirah.

The original source

The Mishnah (Shabbos 155b) rules that one may not place water before bees or doves that live in cotes, but one may do so before geese, chickens and Hardisian doves.

What type of dove?

There are actually three different texts of this Mishnah. According to one version, one is prohibited to water “Hardisian” doves (Rashi), which refers to a geographic location where they raised doves similarly to the way ducks or geese are raised as livestock.A second version prohibits providing water to “Herodian” doves (Rambam, Bartenura). This text refers to a variety of domesticated bird developed by Herod, or, more likely, by his bird keepers. (The Meleches Shelomoh cites a third text, which is not pertinent to our discussion.)

In a passage of Gemara relevant to the mitzvah of shiluach hakein, the prohibition against taking the mother bird and her eggs or young offspring, the Gemara (Chullin 139b) provides two texts and explanations as to which of these two types of birds, Hardisian doves or Herodian doves, is excluded from the prohibition. In the context of shiluach hakein, the prohibition is dependent on the birds being ownerless, and both Hardisian and Herodian doves have owners. (From the Gemara’s description, it appears that Herodian doves may have been a variety of parrot or other talking bird. We have no mesorah that parrots are a kosher species of bird, which is one of the halachic requirements for the mitzvah of shiluach hakein, but that does not preclude understanding the Gemara this way.)

In either instance, it is permitted to take both the mother and the offspring of both Hardisian and Herodian birds, because the Torah prohibits doing so only when the birds are hefker, ownerless, which these birds are not. The Gemara describes the large numbers of these birds that were raised, something that today’s breeders of chickens can only envy.

Although these varieties of birds were well known at the time of the Mishnah, by the time of the Gemara, these varieties were heading toward extinction.

Watering birds

Returning to the Mishnah in Shabbos, according to either text, “Hardisian” or “Herodian,” one may provide these birds with water on Shabbos. Our first question is why the Mishnah permits one to water geese, chickens and these doves, but not bees nor doves that reside in cotes. The Gemara provides two answers to explain why there is a difference.

The first answer is that bees and most doves are not dependent on mankind for their sustenance, whereas geese, chickens, and these varieties of domesticated doves are. The Gemara then provides a second answer that limits the prohibition to water, since it is readily available without human assistance. According to the second answer, there is no prohibition against feeding birds on Shabbos. The prohibition is only that one should not provide water to those birds and insects that can easily get their hydration on their own.

Feeding on Yom Tov

According to some rishonim, we find a similar discussion regarding providing food for animals on Yom Tov (Rashi, Beitzah 23b).

Dogs versus pigs

In the same discussion of Gemara, it quotes a beraisa (a teaching dating back to the era of the Mishnah) that permits feeding dogs on Shabbos, but prohibits feeding pigs. The beraisa itself asks why there is a difference, and explains that the sustenance of one’s dogs is dependent on the owner, but the sustenance of his pigs is not.

This leads to an obvious question: Both of these species are non-kosher, yet the beraisa does not prohibit feeding one’s dogs. It also does not say that it depends on whether he owns them or not. Rashi explains that since a curse was placed on any Jew who raises pigs (see Sotah 49b), Jews should not be responsible for feeding them, and therefore Chazal prohibited doing so. Although pigs are often domesticated by people who are not concerned about observing the halacha that prohibits raising them (Sotah 49b), Chazal expanded this prohibition and ruled that, even should someone own a pig, he may not feed it on Shabbos since the sustenance of a pig should not be dependent on a Jew (see Rashi, Shabbos ad locum; Magen Avraham, Machatzis Hashekel). On the other hand, one may feed dogs on Shabbos, since it is permitted to own a dog, particularly in a farm setting, where dogs are useful for herding sheep and other activities.

Only my dog?

In relation to this question, we find a dispute among early acharonim. The Magen Avraham, one of the greatest of the early commentaries on the Shulchan Aruch, rules that you may feed any non-dangerous dog on Shabbos, whether you own it or not. He understands that the Gemara meant that you may feed any animals that are dependent on man, and you may feed all dogs, but you may not feed any pigs, even when they are dependent on man, since a Jew is not supposed to raise pigs (Machatzis Hashekel).

On the other hand, other authorities rule that one may feed a dog only when it is dependent on a Jew for food (see Elyah Rabbah 324:11).

The halachic authorities note that there are a few instances in which it is permitted for a Jew to own a pig. One situation is when he received it as payment of a debt; another is that he inherited it from someone not observant. The halacha is that he is permitted to sell it, and that he may wait until he is offered a market value price for it. In the interim, he is permitted to feed it, even on Shabbos, since it is dependent on him for food (Machatzis Hashekel).

Based on this analysis, the geonim permitted feeding silkworms on Shabbos (Beis Yosef and Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 324:12). Similarly, some authorities explain that the Gemara’s discussion is only about feeding animals that one does as a matter of course, but that one may and should provide food to any animal that is hungry (Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chayim 324:2).

Which way do we rule?

The authorities dispute which answer of the Gemara we follow. The Rif, the Rambam (21:36) and the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 324:11) conclude that we follow the stricter approach, whereas the Ran and the Olas Shabbos conclude that the more lenient approach may be followed. Thus, according to the Shulchan Aruch’s conclusion, one may not provide either food or water on Shabbos to bees, doves or any other creature that is not dependent on man, while according to the Ran, one may provide them with food but not water. It should be noted that, in situations where it is permitted to feed the animals, one may even put food directly in their mouths (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 324:10).

Nextdoor dog

At this point, we can mention the last of our opening questions. “We have an excellent relationship with our next door neighbor, who is not Jewish, although I am not sure if that affects the question. They are going away on vacation and have asked us to feed their pets while they are away. May I do so on Shabbos?” “How are zoo animals fed on Shabbos?”

The second question is easy to answer. Since these animals are in captivity, they are dependent on man for food, and one is not only permitted, but required, to make sure that they have adequate feed on Shabbos. The first question may be a bit more complicated. These animals generally are not dependent on the Jewish neighbor, but this Shabbos they will be. I refer those who want to analyze this question further to a short piece by Rav Shelomoh Zalman Auerbach, quoted in Shulchan Shelomoh (Chapter 324), in which he discusses a related topic.

The custom on Shabbos Shirah

At this point, we should discuss our opening question, whether it is indeed permitted to feed birds on Shabbos Shirah. The Magen Avraham (324:7) mentions the practice of providing grain for birds to eat on Shabbos Shirah, and states that the practice is in violation of the halacha. This approach is followed by most of the halachic commentaries, including the Elyah Rabbah, the Machatzis Hashekel, the Shulchan Aruch Harav, and the Mishnah Berurah. However, there are some authorities who justify the practice. For example, the Tosafos Shabbos suggests it is permitted, since we are doing it not to make sure the birds are fed but to perpetuate the minhag. Thus, he posits, the ethical and religious intent renders the activity permitted. A few of the later commentaries – those who, in general, strive to justify common practice – are lenient, either citing the reason of the Tosafos Shabbos, or similar approaches (Aruch Hashulchan 324:3; Daas Torah).

Muktzah

An interesting additional halachic side point is that the early authorities discuss scattering grains, or specifically wheat, to the birds. In earlier days, when people owned farm animals and used grains as feed, these grains were not muktzah on Shabbos. However, most of us do not own raw grain, and, since we can neither grind it nor cook it on Shabbos, and we do not eat it or feed it to animals as raw kernels, these grains are muktzah on Shabbos (see Aruch Hashulchan 517:2).

Shaking out the tablecloth

Even among the very late authorities, we find a dispute as to whether one may feed the birds on Shabbos Shirah. The sefer Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasah (27:21) rules that one should not, following the approach of the Magen Avraham and the Mishnah Berurah. However, he suggests a way of fulfilling the custom without creating any halachic problem. His advice is to shake out the tablecloth after the meal in a place where the birds can eat the crumbs. He bases this on the ruling of the Eishel Avraham of Butchach (324:11 s.v. Gam), who says that, when throwing or discarding food, there is no requirement to make sure that one does not throw it in front of animals. The prohibition is doing extra work on behalf of animals that otherwise will be able to fend for themselves easily. Shaking out the tablecloth is not an unnecessary Shabbos activity.

Another suggestion is to spread crumbs before Shabbos, which allows the birds to feast on them on Shabbos without involving any halachic question.

On the other hand, Rav Eliezer Yehudah Valdenberg contends that feeding birds on Shabbos Shirah has an old, venerated history – he notes that he remembers it being practiced in the households of many gedolei Yisroel, without anyone questioning whether one may. He mentions the different reasons cited above why one may be lenient (Shu”t Tzitz Eliezer, Vol. XIV, #28). In conclusion, I advise each reader to ask his or her own rav or posek whether to follow the practice.

Conclusion

We should not conclude from this discussion that halacha is opposed to our taking care of animals. The Tosefta (Bava Kama,end of Chapter 9)states, “Rabbi Yehudah said, in the name of Rabban Gamliel: ‘Know this sign well: as long as you act with mercy, Hashem will have mercy on you.’” Sefer Chassidim #666 notes: If we are merciful to our animals, Hashem and others will be merciful to us.

The point is that when the animals can easily take care of themselves, we should be devoting Shabbos to our own personal growth and not become distracted from this goal. After all, Shabbos is our reminder that Hashem created the entire universe.

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