A Tefillin Shoppers Guide

Question: I am in the process of purchasing tefillin for my son. This is a major purchase, since I hope that he will use these tefillin for many, many years to come, and tefillin are such an important mitzvah. Therefore, I have been making a lot of inquiries as to what to look for. Unfortunately, the more questions I ask, the more confused I become. Rather than gaining clarity, I am hearing many unfamiliar terms such as avodas yad (handmade), devek bein habatim (glue between the compartments of the tefillin shel rosh), perudos (separated), and gasos batim (tefillin made from the hide of a mature animal). Could you please explain what I should be looking for in my search for mehudar tefillin?

Answer: Your questions are all very valid, and I am very glad that you have provided me the opportunity to explain these issues. Your quest is also complicated by the fact that because most tefillin are made in Eretz Yisroel, it is sometimes difficult for someone who lives elsewhere to find out all the details about their manufacture. However, I hope to present you with enough halachic and practical basics to assist you in your search.

First, we need to understand the basics of tefillin manufacture.

As we will see, many details of the halachos of tefillin are halacha leMoshe miSinai, meaning that they were taught to Moshe Rabbeinu directly by Hashem, even though there is no reference or allusion to these halachos in the written Torah. The Rambam counts ten such examples (Hilchos Tefillin 1:3, 3:1).

There are four places in the Torah where the mitzvah of tefillin is mentioned, twice in parshas Bo, a third time in parshas Va’eschanan,and a fourth time in parshas Eikev. Handwritten copies of these four sections of the Torah are placed inside specially-made cases, and this comprises each of the tefillin worn on the arm and the head.

COMPONENTS OF THE TEFILLIN

Tefillin have three major components:

  1. The parshios (singular, parsha). These are the parchments on which the sofer painstakingly and carefully writes the four sections of the Torah mentioned above. For the tefillin shel yad (arm tefillin), all four parshios are written on one piece of parchment, whereas for the tefillin shel rosh (head tefillin), each parsha is written on a separate piece of parchment.
  2. The batim (singular, bayis). These are the housing of the parshios. The bayis itself has three subcomponents: (a) the ketzitzah, the cube-shaped box inside which the parshios are placed; (b) the titura, the base on which the ketzitzah rests; (c) the ma’avarta (Aramaic for “bridge”), the extension of the titura through which the straps are inserted. In good quality tefillin, the entire bayis — that is the ketzitzah, titura, and ma’avarta — are all made from one piece of hide.
  3.  The retzuos, the straps.

Processing of the hide

Every pair of tefillin contains parts made from three different types of animal hide: the parchment on which the parshios are written; the thick hide from which the batim are manufactured; and the softer leather used for the retzuos.

The parchment, hide and leather used for making tefillin and all other devarim she’bi’kedusha (holy items) must come from a kosher species, although not necessarily from an animal that was slaughtered in a kosher way (Shabbos 108a; Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 32:12).

Tefillin must be manufactured “lishmah,” for the sake of the mitzvah. Practically speaking, this means that the beginning of each process should be performed by an observant Jew who declares that the production is for the sake of the mitzvah of tefillin (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 32:8).

Modern tanning of hide for parchment, batim and straps is a multi-stage process. For this reason, it is preferable that each step be performed, or at least begun, by an observant Jew, lishmah. Because of this, one of the questions to be ascertained when purchasing tefillin is to what extent an observant Jew was involved in the processing of the hide. This issue impacts on the question of machine-made vs. hand-made parchment and retzuos, which I will discuss later.

Manufacture of the batim

At this point, we will investigate the complicated process of making proper tefillin batim. The manufacturer of batim is generally referred to by the Yiddish term, “batim macher.”

Several basic types of tefillin batim are manufactured. The highest quality batim are called “gasos,” large ones, because they are made from the hide of mature (large) cattle. Their leather is high-quality and very durable. From the buyer’s perspective, these batim are well worth the higher cost. In additional to their superior durability, gasos batim have halachic advantages. Furthermore, they can be repaired easily, if the tefillin are damaged. These are the type of batim purchased by people concerned about doing mitzvos properly.

A modern innovation

In fact, gasos batim are a relatively new development, made possible through the invention of the hydraulic press. Until this invention, the tough gasos hide could not be worked into the form required for the shaping of tefillin. Today, a huge amount of pressure can be applied to the leather with a hydraulic press to produce the finest tefillin from the thick hide of gasos animals.

Gasos batim take several months to manufacture. Since the hide is very strong and tough, each step requires moistening it to make it malleable, forming it with the assistance of molds and a hydraulic press, and then allowing several weeks for the hide to dry.

Forming the separate sections of the tefillin shel rosh into four compartments is a delicate task. The hide must be bent and squeezed into separate compartments without tearing it. Although one internal tear does not invalidate the batim, more than one tear can render the bayis posul. For this and other reasons, one must be confident in the expertise, halachic knowledge and yiras shamayim of the batim macher.

The shin of the shel rosh

There is a halacha leMoshe miSinai that the tefillin shel rosh must have the letter “shin” on each side, a normal three-headed shin on the right side of the wearer and an unusual four-headed shin on the left side (Tosafos, Menachos 35a, quoting Shimusha Rabba; Rambam, Hilchos Tefillin 3:1). The commentaries cite many reasons why the left side of the tefillin must have a four-headed shin (see Smag, Smak, Beis Yosef, Bach). Some say that the four-headed shin is reminiscent of the letter shin as it appeared in the luchos (Taz 32:35).

There is a dispute among early poskim whether the shin on the tefillin can be made completely by placing the leather of the batim in a mold. According to the lenient opinions, one can simply take a mold, soften the leather, push the mold onto the bayis and press out the shin on the tefillin shel rosh (Or Zarua, quoted by Darkei Moshe 32:18; Beis Yosef). However, the accepted practice is to be machmir and form the letter in a direct way first (many rishonim quoted by Beis Yosef; Magen Avraham 32:57). This is done by painstakingly picking and pulling the leather until a kosher shin has been directly formed by hand. Only after the shin has been formed to the point that it is a halachically kosher letter is the mold applied to enhance and beautify it. This is permitted, since the minimum halachic requirements of the letter shin have been already met. It is worthwhile to clarify how the shin of the tefillin one purchases was made.

The dispute whether the shin may be molded takes us to a different discussion. Creating the shin through a mold is an act of “chok tochos,” indirectly creating a letter. Letters written for a sefer Torah, tefillin, mezuzos or a get, are invalid when written as chok tochos, but must be created “directly,” by forming the letter, not by scraping away around the letter. If so, why do so many poskim rule that the shin of the shel rosh may be created through a mold?

The answer is that the Torah never states that one must “write” a shin on the side of the tefillin. The halacha leMoshe miSinai merely states that there must be a shin on the side of the tefillin, without specifying that the shin must be written there. Therefore, the lenient opinions contend that there is no requirement to “write” a shin on the tefillin, and it is sufficient for the shin to be made in any way, even through chok tochos. As mentioned above, we paskin that the shin should be formed in a direct way first.

Tefillin must be square

There is another halacha leMoshe miSinai that the tefillin must be perfectly square (Menachos 35a). The rishonim dispute whether min haTorah both the bayis and the titura must be square, or only one of them. Since this matter is a controversy, and, furthermore, since some opinions require that they must both be square, accepted practice is that both the bayis and the titura be perfectly square.

The width of the bayis must be the exact same measurement as its length, and there may be no nicks, indentations, or bulges that ruin its perfect squareness. The height of the tefillin does not need to be the same as the width and length (Rambam, Hilchos Tefillin 3:1). As a matter of fact, some batim machers deliberately make tefillin that are taller than they are wide. This is so that the tefillin will fit properly on the arm, without requiring that the parshios be made very small.

Similarly, the titura is shaped so that its length and width are equal.

In order to get the four compartments of the shel rosh to form a perfect square, many batim machers paste the sections of the bayis together to help them hold together. Although there is much halachic controversy about gluing the compartments together, many prominent poskim in earlier generations permitted it (such as Yeshuas Yaakov 32:24; Shu”t Chasam Sofer Orach Chaim #5, however cf. Vol. 6 #68; Shu”t Beis Yitzchok, Orach Chaim 7:6; Daas Torah 32:40).

Other poskim permit gluing the compartments only if the paste is applied to less than half the height of the wall of the compartment and is not applied along the outside edges. However, since there are poskim who disapprove of using any paste, it is certainly a hiddur not to use any at all (Chayei Adam 14:4). These batim are referred to as “perudos ad hatefer legamri,” which literally means, separated completely down to the stitch, referring to the stitching on the top of the titura (which will be explained later).

Germane to this discussion is a well-known ruling from Rav Chaim Volozhiner. When asked whether pasting the compartments of the shel rosh together is permitted, he responded that he would not permit it, because the two gedolei hador of the previous generation, the Vilna Gaon and the Shaagas Aryeh, both contended that pasting the compartments invalidates the tefillin.

In earlier generations, when tefillin batim were made from much softer calf leather or even flimsier parchment, it was very difficult to make tefillin that would remain square unless the compartments were pasted together. However, today’s gasos batim are kept square through the stiffness of the hide and the pressure of the hydraulic press. Since the gasos batim are not dependent on paste to hold their shape, many contemporary poskim contend that one should refrain from placing any paste in the batim.

Why not glue?

What is wrong with gluing the compartments together?

The problem is that the shel rosh is required to have four separate compartments, one for each parsha. The poskim who prohibit pasting the compartments contend that glue makes them into one connected compartment, thus invalidating the tefillin. Those who are lenient contend that pasting the compartments together does not halachically make them into one compartment.

The compromise position contends that the compartments are considered separate, if they are pasted less than half way up and the outside edge is clearly not connected. This makes the batim noticeably separate, which they contend is all that is required. Ask one’s rav whether one should request batim in which no paste was used, at all.

The titura

The titura consists of two parts, the widening at the bottom of the ketzitzah (upper titura) and the flap that closes and seals the parshios inside (lower titura). In gasos tefillin, the titura is formed out of the same piece of leather as the ketzitzah. The lower titura is bent 180 degrees until it is directly beneath the upper titura. The gap between the two is filled with pieces of leather, and then the hide is shaved until it is perfectly square.

At one point in time, ordinary scrap leather was often used as filler, but this is rarely done today. Although batim using ordinary scrap leather as filler are kosher, it is preferable that the filler be hide that was tanned lishmah (Shu”t Minchas Yitzchak 6:1). This is standard contemporary practice.

Some poskim contend that it is acceptable to fill small nicks in the side of the titura with glue. Others feel that it is not kosher, lechatchilah, to do this, but that nicks should be patched with hide or parchment tanned lishmah (Shu”t Minchas Yitzchak 6:1; Shu”t Shevet Halevi 3:2; 9:4).

When the titura is completed and perfectly square, twelve holes are punched through it so that it can later be stitched closed. The stitching must also be square. Therefore, it is vital that these holes form a perfect square and that they are not too large (which may cause the stitching not to be square).

At this point, the batim are almost ready, except that they need painting and the parshios have not yet been inserted. One minute — we have not yet discussed the writing of the parshios. We also need to talk about the processing of the retzuos, the finishing and sewing of the titura, and various other hiddurim of tefillin. There is always next week, when we will continue this topic.

How Far for Bread?

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Question #1: For a Crust of Bread

“How far must I travel to get pas Yisroel?”

Question #2: Camp Bread

“When camping in the Shenandoah Mountains, we happened upon another group of campers who clearly were not Jewish. They invited us to join them for their meal, which we obviously could not. However, I saw that they made their bread on site by mixing only flour, water, yeast and salt, and baking it on a grill. If we had koshered the grill before they baked, could we have eaten their bread?”

Question #3: A Caring Host

“I usually purchase bread only from Jewish bakeries. We have an out-of-town guest visiting who brought a kosher specialty bread as a gift, which I am sure is not pas Yisroel. I don’t want to offend him, but may I eat it?”

Based on a posuk in this week’s parsha, the Gemara suggests that the prohibition against non-Jewish cooked food is min haTorah. Although this is not the halachic conclusion, it is certainly an appropriate time to discuss the laws of kosher bread.

Basic background

In other articles, I have discussed the laws of pas akum and pas Yisroel. Bread baked with Jewish participation, as described in those articles, is called pas Yisroel, and may be eaten without any reservation. Pas akum means bread baked by a non-Jew, without Jewish participation. Pas akum is subdivided into two categories, pas baalei batim, bread baked by a gentile for personal use, which is usually prohibited, and pas paltur, bread baked for sale. We should note that pas baalei batim is prohibited, even when there are no other kashrus concerns either about the ingredients or about the equipment used to prepare the bread (Avodah Zarah 36a). Furthermore, one may not sell this bread to a non-Jew, out of concern that he will in turn sell it to a Jew, who is forbidden to eat it (Toras Chatas 75:4, quoting Shaarei Dura).

However, there is an instance when one is permitted to consume pas baalei batim. If one is in a place where there is no bakery, and the only bread available is homemade bread, one may eat even pas baalei batim, provided one can assume that all the ingredients are kosher (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 112:8). Thus, we can now answer one of our opening questions:

“When camping in the Shenandoah Mountains, we happened upon another group of campers who clearly were not Jewish. They invited us to join them for their meal, which we obviously could not. However, I saw that they made their bread on site by mixing only flour, water, yeast and salt, and baking it on a grill. If we had koshered the grill before they baked, could we have eaten their bread?”

Since this bread was baked by a gentile for personal use and not for sale, it has the status of pas baalei batim, and would usually be prohibited, even if we are absolutely certain that all the ingredients and the equipment are kosher. However, if indeed no other bread is available, it is permitted to eat this bread.

By the way, if a Jew was there while they were baking the bread, he could easily make this bread into pas Yisroel by adding a charcoal or a piece of wood to the fire. In the case of a gas grill, a Jew could simply turn the gas flow down and immediately up again to make it pas Yisroel.

Must one use only pas Yisroel?

In the previous articles on the topic of pas Yisroel, we learned that, according to the Shulchan Aruch and the Shach, one may not use pas paltur unless comparable pas Yisroel is not available. However, the Rema ruled that standard Ashkenazic practice is to permit use of pas paltur, except for Shabbos and during the aseres yemei teshuvah. Both opinions agree that using pas Yisroel when pas paltur is permitted qualifies as a hiddur, observing halachah in a more exemplary fashion.

As I noted, most supervised, kosher commercially baked bread is pas paltur and not pas Yisroel, particularly those produced in factories. One of those articles also noted that it is very easy to make bread and rolls produced in factories into pas Yisroel, and that the hechsherim would make the appropriate arrangements if consumers would demand it.

How available?

As we just learned, all opinions agree that one may use pas paltur when pas Yisroel is not available. At this point, we need to define: What do we mean when we say that pas Yisroel bread is “not available”? If there is no Jewish bakery in my neighborhood, but there is one relatively nearby, is this called that pas Yisroel is “not available”? What if the nearest pas Yisroel is a twenty-minute walk, and the nearest pas paltur can be purchased at the supermarket next door; does the Shulchan Aruch require me to walk twenty minutes to acquire pas Yisroel, or may I use the more accessible pas paltur? Is the halachah affected by whether I have access to an automobile, and now a bakery that is a forty-five-minute walk can be reached in ten minutes by car?

How far?

Neither the Gemara nor the early rishonim discuss the question: What do we mean when we say that pas Yisroel bread is “not available”? However, the Gemara (Pesachim 46a) discusses a related issue. This passage examines three situations in which one is usually obligated to observe a halachah, but, under extenuating circumstances, Chazal relaxed the requirement. In the first case, a baker, who at the time of the Gemara was required to produce bread that is tahor, ritually pure, has only tamei equipment available. Using this equipment to produce his bread will render it tamei, which is not ideal in a situation when people are trying to be always tahor.

The baker knows that, in the direction in which he is traveling, a mikveh is available for him to purify his equipment, but it is four millin away (roughly between two and three miles, see below). Is he permitted to produce bread in the interim, knowing that what he produces will be tamei?

The halachah requires him to travel ahead to the mikveh and immerse his equipment, rather than manufacture tamei bread. If, however, the nearest mikveh is more than four millin down the road, he may stop now and prepare his bread.

A second case of the Gemara: Someone is traveling and would like to stop for the night. He knows that four millin ahead of him on the road there is a minyan. Is he required to push onward the four millin, so that he will be able to daven with a minyan, or may he stop, knowing that he will be forced to daven without a minyan? The Gemara concludes that he is required to travel up to four millin in order to daven with a minyan. If, however, the nearest minyan is more than four millin down the road, he may stop for the night where he is, even though that means that he will be davening without a minyan.

A third case: Someone is traveling and has no water with which to wash netilas yadayim for eating bread. He knows that he will find water within four millin of his travels. May he eat now, without washing, by wrapping his hands in cloth or by wearing gloves, or is he required to wait until he reaches the water so that he can wash netilas yadayim before he eats his bread (see Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 163:1)? The Gemara concludes that he is required to travel ahead up to four millin in order to wash before eating. However, if the nearest appropriate and available water is more than four millin down the road, he may wrap his hands in cloth and eat his bread without first washing netilas yadayim.

How far is four millin?

A mil is 2000 amos, or cubits, which means that four millin is more than two miles, and probably less than three. This range of distance is because there are different opinions as to the length of an amoh.

How long does it take to walk a mil?

There is a dispute among halachic authorities how long it takes for an “average” individual to walk a mil. Some contend that walking a mil takes the average person about 18 minutes, which means that it takes 72 minutes to walk four millin. A second opinion contends that it takes 22.5 minutes to walk a mil and 90 minutes to walk four. A third opinion maintains that it takes 24 minutes to walk a mil and 96 minutes to walk four. The different opinions in this dispute represent three differing approaches to explain a complicated passage of Gemara (Pesachim 95).

Many halachos are dependent on this dispute, including such questions as:

When does a fast begin?

How long must meat be salted to kosher it?

When does Shabbos end?

In how much time does dough become chometz?

Most, but by no means all, later authorities, conclude that the average person can walk one mil in 18 minutes and four millin in 72 (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 459:2 and Yoreh Deah 69:6).

Today

Of the three cases mentioned in the Gemara Pesachim, two are still relevant in our generation. Unfortunately, until we again have a parah adumah, we are all tamei, and therefore, the first of the three cases, the baker whose equipment is tamei, is not germane to us at the moment. But the questions about someone traveling and seeking a minyan, or water to wash for bread, are both very relevant and, indeed, are discussed by the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 90:16 and163:1).

Out of my way

Thus far, we have quoted the part of the Gemara that discusses someone who knows that there is a mikveh, minyan or water ahead of him in the same direction in which he is traveling. What is the law when the nearest mikveh, minyan or water is not located in the direction in which I am traveling? Am I required to travel out of my way to fulfill these mitzvos, and, if I am, how far out of my way must I go?

The Gemara’s conclusion is that he is required to travel up to one mil out of his way to reach a mikveh, minyan, or washing water, whichever is relevant to the question. Thus, someone who would like to eat bread, and who is in a place where he has no water with which to wash, is required to travel up to one mil out of his direction to wash his hands. However, if the nearest water is a mil or more distant and in a direction that is out of his way, he is permitted to wrap his hands and eat bread without washing netilas yadayim (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 163:1). The same rules apply to someone needing a minyan with which to daven.

At home

What is the law if someone is at home, must he go to daven with a minyan. The Pri Chodosh (Orach Chayim 163:28) concludes that he has the same law as someone who would have to travel out of his way to find a mikveh, minyan or water. In other words, he is required to leave his house, if the minyan is located within a mil of where he is.

Pas Yisroel at a distance

The same question can be asked by someone at home wanting to know how far he is required to travel to obtain pas Yisroel?

Although the Gemara does not discuss how far one must travel to obtain pas Yisroel, there are rishonim who compare the halachah regarding pas Yisroel to the other three situations mentioned in the Gemara. They reason that this Gemara provides a framework for understanding what is considered a distance at which one is required to inconvenience oneself to fulfill similar mitzvos. The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 112:16)follows this interpretation, ruling that if someone is traveling and there is pas Yisroel available further down the road, he is required to travel for as long as four millin in order to eat pas Yisroel, rather than pas paltur. If he would need to travel out of his way, he is required to travel up to a distance of one mil to obtain pas Yisroel, but no farther.

As we noted before, the Shulchan Aruch rules that it is permitted to eat pas paltur only when pas Yisroel is not available. The Rema is more lenient, concluding that it is permitted to eat pas paltur even when pas Yisroel is readily available. Thus, according to common Ashkenazic practice, there is no requirement to travel at all to obtain pas Yisroel. However, during the aseres yemei teshuvah and for Shabbos, when most authorities require that we eat only pas Yisroel, the rules above are appropriate. If pas Yisroel is available only by traveling a mil out of one’s way, one is not required to get it.

How far or how long?

At this point, we need to discuss a very practical issue. When Chazal required that I go one mil out of my way to get pas Yisroel, was this requirement based on time or distance? What if someone is traveling in a way swifter than by foot, be it horse, automobile, or camel? Is his requirement for these mitzvos determined by the distance he must travel to fulfill the mitzvah in its optimal way, or is it determined by the time it will take him to get there? In other words, did they establish that within a one mil radius of a Jewish bakery one may not use pas paltur, or did they rule that one is required to travel eighteen minutes to obtain pas Yisroel? The difference in practical halachah is major.

This question is disputed by later authorities. Some contend that if pas Yisroel is more than one mil distant from where I am, I may use pas paltur, even though I could get there faster by riding a horse (Pischei Teshuvah, Yoreh Deah 112:6, quoting the Beis Yaakov). Since, in my entire life, I have never traveled on horseback to acquire bread, this opinion would impact on me, regarding if I am required to drive an automobile this far when pas paltur is more readily available.

On the other hand, the Mishnah Berurah (Chapter 163, Biur Halachah s.v. berichuk), writing germane to netilas yadayim, comments that it is more likely that the concern is the amount of time the travel would take and the physical distance should not make a difference.

Being a good host

At this point, let us discuss a different one of our opening questions:

“I usually purchase bread only from Jewish bakeries. We have an out-of-town guest visiting who brought us a gift of a kosher specialty bread, which I am sure is not pas Yisroel. I don’t want to offend him, but may I eat it?”

This question has an early source. Several early authorities discuss the following case: Someone who is careful to use only pas Yisroel invited a guest who brought with him quality pas paltur that he would like to share with his host. The question here is that the guest would prefer to eat the bread that he brought, yet the host would not usually eat this bread, because it is not pas Yisroel. The halachic etiquette is for the host to be the one who recites the brocha of hamotzi for everyone at the beginning of the meal, and then he slices and serves the bread that will accompany the meal. This accomplishes that, when the host distributes an ample amount of bread, the guests feel comfortable eating their fill. Thus, to be a proper host, the host should recite hamotzi and serve the guest the pas paltur bread that he brought.

Now, we add another halachah to the question: When one intends to serve two types of bread at a meal, one should recite the hamotzi blessing over the better quality bread and eat from it immediately after reciting hamotzi.

The combination of all these halachos creates a conundrum for the host. If he follows his own usual practice, he would make hamotzi on the pas Yisroel, which is of lesser quality than the pas paltur that his guest provided. On the other hand, his guest is under no requirement to refrain from eating the better-quality pas paltur. Thus, the etiquette of being a good host should have the host reciting hamotzi over the pas paltur, something he would not usually eat.

The halachah is that, indeed, the host should recite the hamotzi over the guest’s pas paltur, and he is permitted to eat the pas paltur for that entire meal in order to properly accommodate his guest (Mordechai, Avodah Zarah #830; Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 112:13). This is notwithstanding his usual practice not to eat pas paltur. Since the halachah rules this way, in this situation, the host does not need to perform hataras nedarim before he partakes of the pas paltur.

Conclusion

The Gemara teaches that rabbinic laws are dearer to Hashem than the Torah laws. We see that there is a vast halachic literature devoted to the laws of pas akum, which was created by Chazal to protect the Jewish people.

Must I Toivel This?

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Question #1: The Vanilla Cruet

“We received a gift of a glass cruet, a salad oil dispenser, that we doubt we will ever use for that purpose. We decided, instead, to use it is a flower vase and were told that we do not need to toivel it. Subsequently, we decided that we might use it for soaking vanilla beans and alcohol to make our own natural vanilla extract. Do we need to toivel it?”

Question #2: Restaurant Silverware

“I have always assumed that caterers and restaurants toivel their silverware and glasses. Recently, I was told that some hechsherim do not require this. Is this true? Am I permitted to use their silverware and glasses?”

Question #3: The Salami Slicer

“I have a knife that I use for my work, which is not food-related. May I occasionally slice a salami with the knife that I have never immersed in a mikveh?”

Question #4: The Box Cutter

“Before I toivel my new steak knife, may I use it to open a box?

Answer:

After the Bnei Yisroel’s miraculous victory over the nation of Midyan, they were commanded regarding the booty that they had now acquired: Concerning the gold and the silver; the copper, the iron, the tin and the lead: any item that was used in fire needs to be placed in fire to become pure – yet, it must also be purified in mikveh water. And that which was not used in fire must pass through water (Bamidbar 31:22-23). From these verses, our Sages derive the mitzvah of tevilas keilim — the requirement to immerse metal implements used for food in a spring or kosher mikveh prior to use. According to the Talmud Yerushalmi (Avodah Zarah 5:15), the immersion of the implement elevates it to the sanctity of Jewish ownership, similar to the requirement that a non-Jew converting to Judaism submerges in a mikveh (Issur Vaheter 58:76; see also Ritva, Avodah Zarah 75b).

The Gemara (Avodah Zarah 75b) rules that, in addition to metal items, we are also required to immerse glass utensils, because both metal and glass are similar: they are recyclable. When they break, one can melt or weld the broken parts to create new utensils or to repair old ones. As a matter of fact, in the time of the Gemara, people kept broken pieces of metal and brought them to the blacksmith when they needed to manufacture new items (see Shabbos 123a). It is also interesting to note that this function is the basis of the Hebrew word for metal, mateches, which means meltable or dissolvable (see Yechezkel 22:22; Rashi, Shemos 9:33). In this characteristic, metal ware and glassware are different from items made of stone, wood or earthenware, which cannot be recycled in this manner.

Prior to dipping the metal ware or glassware, one recites a brocha, Asher ki’deshanu bemitzvosav vetzivanu al tevilas keilim. As we will soon see, this brocha is recited only when there is a definite requirement to toivel (immerse) an item.

Used without immersing

If, in violation of the Law, someone used an item that was not immersed, may one eat the food that came in contact with it? According to many authorities, this is the subject of a dispute between two opinions in the Gemara. Some early authorities (Baal Halachos Gedolos, Chapter 55; Or Zarua, Piskei Avodah Zarah #293) conclude that, indeed, this food is prohibited. However, the consensus of halachic authority is that it is permitted to eat food that was prepared using non-toiveled equipment (Tosafos, Avodah Zarah 75b s.v. Vechulan; Ritva, ad locum; Rema, Yoreh Deah 120:16). This is useful information when visiting someone who, unfortunately, does not perform the mitzvah of tevilas keilim. Although one may not use non-toiveled utensils to eat or drink, the food prepared in them remains kosher. According to most authorities, if the food is served in non-toiveled utensils, one should transfer it to utensils that do not require immersion or were properly immersed.

The halachah is that when I know that someone will use pots and other equipment that were not immersed, I may not ask him to cook for me, since I am causing him to violate the Torah (lifnei iveir).

A matir or a takkanah?

Why is it forbidden to use a utensil that has not been toiveled? There are two different ways to understand this halachah.

A matir

The first approach explains that min HaTorah one may not use a utensil that has not been immersed, similar to the halachah that one may not eat meat without first shechting the animal. This logic holds that when the Torah created the mitzvah of tevilas keilim, it prohibited use of any food utensils that require immersion, and the immersion is what permits me to use the utensils. I will refer to this approach as holding that tevilas keilim is a matir.

A takkanah

Alternatively, one can explain that, although the requirement to immerse food utensils is min HaTorah, the prohibition to use non-toiveled utensils is a takkanah, a rabbinic prohibition. The reason for this prohibition is to encourage people to immerse their utensils in a timely fashion. Chazal were concerned that if it is permitted to use utensils without immersing them, people would postpone, indefinitely, fulfilling the mitzvah.

This second approach appears to be how the Mishnah Berurah understood this mitzvah, since he states that although most authorities contend that the mitzvah to immerse utensils is min HaTorah, the prohibition to use them if they were not immersed is only rabbinic (Biur Halachah 323:7 s.v. Mutar). This exact idea is expressed by Rav Shlomoh Zalman Auerbach (Minchas Shlomoh 2:66:13, 14).

Notwithstanding the Mishnah Berurah’s understanding of this mitzvah, the Or Zarua,a rishon, writes that the prohibition to use non-immersed equipment is min HaTorah (Or Zarua, Piskei Avodah Zarah #293; A careful reading of Shaagas Aryeh #56 will demonstrate that he was of the same opinion.) This implies that the mitzvah is indeed a matir, its purpose is to permit the use of the utensil. If not, where do we have any evidence that the Torah prohibited use of a non-immersed vessel?

Rushing to immerse

Is there a halachic requirement to immerse a utensil as soon as I purchase it, or may I wait for a convenient time to immerse it, as long as I do not use the utensil in the interim?

We find a dispute among the poskim concerning this. Some rule that there is no requirement to immerse a utensil as soon as possible (Levush, as explained by Pri Megadim, Mishbetzos Zahav, Orach Chayim 323:5),whereas the Maharshal (Yam shel Shelomoh, Beitzah 2:19) explains that this question is dependent on a dispute in the Gemara (Beitzah 17b-18a). The Maharshal concludes that one is required to immerse the utensil as soon as possible, out of concern that one will mistakenly use it before it was immersed. The latter ruling is quoted by other authorities (Elyah Rabbah 323:12).

Better to borrow?

The Gemara (Avodah Zarah 75b) explains that the mitzvah of tevilas keilim does not apply to utensils that a Jew borrowed or rented from a non-Jew (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 120:8). The Torah taught that utensils that a Jew acquires require immersing, but not items that are not owned by a Jew. Furthermore, whether a utensil requires immersion is determined by who its owner is and not by who is using it. We will soon see another ramification of this ruling.

The poskim rule that, under circumstances when one cannot immerse utensils, one may transfer ownership of a utensil from a Jew to a non-Jew to avoid immersing it. Therefore, should a Jew own a utensil and have nowhere to immerse it, or if he does not have time before Shabbos or Yom Tov to immerse it, he may give it to a gentile and then borrow it back from the gentile (Mordechai, Beitzah #677; Shulchan Aruch and Rema, Yoreh Deah 120:16). Since the utensil is now owned by a gentile, there is no requirement to immerse it. Consequently, borrowing it from the gentile does not present any problem.

This ruling applies only to utensils that are owned by a non-Jew and borrowed from him by a Jew. However, if a Jew owns a utensil that he has not immersed, another Jew may not borrow or use it without immersing it (Tosafos and Rosh ad loc., both quoting Rashbam). Once the owner is required to immerse the utensil, no other Jew may use it without immersing it first.

Only klei seudah

The Gemara concludes that the mitzvah of tevilas keilim applies only to klei seudah — literally, implements used for a meal. This includes items used to prepare food or to eat. As we will soon discuss, there are some interesting ramifications of this law.

“Rav Nachman said in the name of Rabbah bar Avuha: ‘One can derive from the verse that one must immerse even brand-new items, because used vessels that were purged in fire have the same kashrus status as brand new, and yet they require immersion.’

Rav Sheishes then asked him: ‘If it is true that the mitzvah of immersing vessels is not because of kashrus concerns, then maybe one is required to immerse even clothing shears?’

Rav Nachman responded: ‘The Torah mentions only vessels that are used for meals (klei seudah)'” (Avodah Zarah 75b).

Rav Sheishes suggested that if the immersion of utensils is not a means of kashering a non-kosher vessel, then perhaps we have many more opportunities to fulfill this mitzvah, and it applies to any type of paraphernalia — even cameras, cellphones and clothing shears! However, the conclusion is that the mitzvah is limited to items used for food.

Kitchen or Leather?

Reuven is a leather worker who purchases a brand-new kitchen knife that he intends to use exclusively for this leather work. Does this knife require immersion in a mikveh?

Although this utensil was manufactured for food use, since Reuven is now the owner and he purchased it for leather work, it is no longer a food utensil.

The early authorities dispute whether someone who borrows the knife from the owner to use it for food is required to immerse it. The primary position contends that the borrower is not required to immerse the knife (Hagahos Ashri, Avodah Zarah, 5:35; Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 120:8). This approach understands that the halachic status of a utensil is determined by its owner and not by the person borrowing it. There is, however, a dissenting opinion that contends that since the owner himself would not be allowed to use the knife for food, even temporarily, someone else may not either (Issur Vaheter 58:89, quoted by Shach, Yoreh Deah 120:16). Thus, the latter approach requires that the borrower immerse this knife before using it for food. As a compromise position, some authorities conclude that one should immerse this utensil, but should not recite a brocha before doing so (Shach, Yoreh Deah 120:16).

However…

All this holds true as long as the owner, our leather worker, uses the knife exclusively for non-food use. The owner may not use it for food, even temporarily (Rema, Yoreh Deah 120:8). Furthermore, later authorities note that the Shach implies that, should Reuven decide to use the knife for food, albeit only once, he may not use the knife even for non-food use without first immersing it (Darchei Teshuvah 120:39, quoting Ginzei Elimelech; Sefer TevilaskKeilim, page 104, quoting Pri Eliyahu).

We see from this Shach a very interesting ruling. The halachah is not that food use requires that the vessel be immersed. The halachah is that a food utensil must be immersed before use – no matter what type of use.

This last ruling means that someone who purchased a knife that he intends to immerse, may not use it, even to open a package, before it has been immersed.

We can therefore answer one of our opening questions:

“I have a knife that I use for my work, which is not food related. May I occasionally slice a salami with the knife that I have never immersed in a mikveh?”

Although many people may find this ruling to be surprising, according to the Shach, you may not.

The vanilla cruet

At this point, I would like to discuss one of our opening questions, an actual shaylah that I was asked: “We received a gift of a glass cruet, a salad oil dispenser, that we doubt we will ever use for that purpose. We decided, instead, to use it is a flower vase and were told that we do not need to toivel it. Subsequently, we decided that we might use it for soaking vanilla beans and alcohol to make our own natural vanilla extract. Do we need to toivel it?”

This is an interesting question. I agree that if someone receives a vessel that is usually klei seudah, but one does not intend to use it for this purpose, there is no requirement to immerse it. Subsequently, the individual decides that he might use the cruet to process vanilla flavor, a use that would require immersing. (For reasons beyond the scope of this article, I would suggest not reciting a brocha, when immersing the cruet.) According to the Shach, once they decide to use the cruet for making vanilla flavor, not only do they now need to immerse it, but they can no longer use it for anything else. This is because a cruet is inherently a vessel that should require immersion. The only reason they were not required to immerse it until now was because they had decided not to use it for food. But once they decide to use it for food, they may not use it for anything without immersing it.

The salami knife

We can also now address a different question that was asked above: “I have a knife that I use for my work, which is not food related. May I occasionally slice a salami with the knife that I have never immersed in a mikveh?”

The answer is that, if this is a knife that was made for food use, one would not be allowed to use it for food without immersing it. On the other hand, if it is a box cutter, which is clearly not meant for food use, we have no evidence that one is required to immerse it. There are sources in halachah that state that an item that is not meant as klei seudah may be used occasionally for food, even by the owner, without requiring tevilah (see, for example, Darchei Teshuvah 120:70, 88).

Klei sechorah — “merchandise”

The halachic authorities note that a storekeeper does not toivel vessels he is planning to sell, since for him they are not klei seudah, but merchandise. Later authorities therefore coined a term “klei sechorah,” utensils used as merchandise, ruling that these items do not require immersion until they are purchased by the person intending to use them (based on Taz, Yoreh Deah 120:10).

In the nineteenth century, a question was raised concerning the definition of klei sechorah. When rail travel became commonplace, enterprising entrepreneurs began selling refreshments at train stations. (No club car on those trains!) A common occurrence was that Jewish vendors would sell beer or other beverages at the stations, which they would serve to their customers by the glassful. The question was raised whether these glasses required immersion and whether one was permitted to drink from them when the vendor presumably had not immersed them. Although it would seem that one may not use them without tevilah, there are authorities who rule that these vessels are considered klei sechorah for the merchant and that, therefore, the customer may use them (Darchei Teshuvah 120:70, 88; Shu”t Minchas Yitzchak #1:44).

According to this approach, a restaurateur or caterer is not required to immerse the utensils with which he serves his guests. Although most authorities reject this approach (Minchas Shlomoh 2:66:14), I have found many places where, based on this heter, hechsherim do not require the owner to toivel his glassware, flatware and other items.

Conclusion

According to Rav Hirsch, metal vessels, which require mankind’s mining, extracting and processing, represent man’s mastery over the earth and its materials. Whereas vessels made of earthenware or wood involve man merely shaping the world’s materials to fit his needs, the manufacture of metal demonstrates man’s creative abilities to utilize natural mineral resources to fashion matter into a usable form. Consuming food, on the other hand, serves man’s most basic physical nature. Use of metal food vessels, then, represents the intellectual aspect of man serving his physical self, which, in a sense, is the opposite of why we were created; to use our physical self to assist our intellect to do Hashem’s will. Specifically, in this instance, the Torah requires that the items hereby produced be immersed in a mikveh, to endow them with increased kedusha before they are put to food-use. This demonstrates that, although one may use one’s intellect for physical purposes, the product of one’s creative power must first be sanctified in order that we focus on the spiritual.

The Haftarah for Pinchas

This week is the next to last week that the Eretz Yisroel community and the chutz la’aretz community are still reading different parshios, still due to the fact that acharon shel Pesach fell on Shabbos. This means that in Eretz Yisroel the haftarah for Parshas Pinchas is not one of the three read during the three weeks.

In most years, Parshas Pinchas falls during the three weeks and, as a result, its haftarah is Divrei Yirmiyahu, the opening words of the book of Yirmiyahu, which is the first of the telasa deparanusa, the three special haftaros we read during the “Three Weeks” of our national mourning (Rishonim quoting Pesikta). This haftarah is usually printed in the chumashim as the haftarah for Parshas Matos.

Since in Eretz Yisroel this is one of the fairly rare years when Parshas Pinchas is read before the fast of the seventeenth of Tamuz, there the haftarah printed in the chumashim for Parshas Pinchas is read. The haftarah, which is from the book of Melachim and begins with the words Ve’yad Hashem, describes how Eliyahu admonishes the wicked monarchs Achav and Izevel. Since the Torah reading and the haftarah reading respectively mention the attributes of zeal demonstrated by Pinchas and Eliyahu, this haftarah is very appropriate for this Shabbos. Furthermore, the Midrash (Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer, end of Chapter 29; Midrash Rabbah on this week’s parsha) states that Pinchas was Eliyahu, thus providing another reason to read this haftarah on this Shabbos.

It is actually unclear whether the Midrash means that Pinchas and Eliyahu were the same person, particularly since other sources in Chazal identify Eliyahu as being either from the tribe of Binyomin or of Gad (Bereishis Rabbah 71:9), both of which are impossible if Eliyahu was Pinchas, who was a kohen. The Gemara may simply mean that Eliyahu exhibited the same personality traits as Pinchas, since both displayed tremendous zeal in upholding Hashem’s honor.

The haftarah quotes Eliyahu as saying to Hashem: Kano kineisi laHashem Elokei Tzeva’os ki azvu berischa bnei Yisrael, I have acted zealously on behalf of Hashem the G-d of Hosts, for the Children of Israel have forsaken your covenant (Melachim 1:19:10), an allegation Eliyahu soon repeats (ibid. Verse 14). According to the Midrash, Eliyahu accused Bnei Yisrael of abrogating bris milah. As a response, Hashem decreed that Eliyahu will be present at every bris to see that the Jews indeed fulfill this mitzvah. Chazal therefore instituted that there should be a seat of honor for Eliyahu at every bris (Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer, end of Chapter 29; Zohar 93a).

Indeed, Jews view the mitzvah of bris milah dearly, and have accepted to observe this mitzvah in extremely difficult circumstances. Since the mitzvah of milah is so dear, we celebrate it as a happy occasion even during the three weeks and the nine days, periods of time in which we otherwise are accustomed to mourn. For this reason, the mohel, sandek, and parents of the baby may shave or get a haircut in honor of the bris, and during the Nine Days we serve meat meals in honor of the occasion.

We should also remember that Eliyahu is not only the malach habris, the angel who attends the bris, but also represents Pinchas, the bringer and angel of peace.

Since the discussion for haftarah of Pinchas is fairly short, I am adding another short article about a different, anomalous kerias haTorah situation:

How can this happen?

Kwiz Kwestion:

Someone received revi’i, the fourth aliyah, Shabbos morning, and, later that day, received back-to-back aliyos?

This question is not at all theoretical. I actually experienced it once. How did this happen?

Explaining the question fully provides a bit of a hint at the answer. Ordinarily, the only time someone receives back-to-back aliyos is when there is no levi in shul, in which case the kohen who receives the first aliyah also receives the second aliyah, that usually reserved for a levi. A kohen receives the aliyah because kohanim are members of the tribe of levi, and the same kohen receives the aliyah, rather than spreading the wealth around by giving a different kohen the second aliyah because of a rule ein kor’in lekohen achar kohen “We do not call up two consecutive kohanim.” Chazal ruled that this is prohibited because of concern that someone will think that, after calling up the first kohen, they discovered a halachic problem with his status and therefore needed to call up a different kohen (Gittin 59b).

Now, as a kohen I can tell you that it is a very common occurrence that I receive back-to-back aliyos, one as a kohen and the other bimkom levi. But how did I manage to get revi’i without the gabbai making an error? A kohen always receives either the first aliyah of the Torah, maftir, or acharon. Now, since revi’i is never maftir or acharon, how could a kohen ever receive the aliyah of revi’i?

One Shabbos I attended a family bar mitzvah, where the minyan was only family members. Not only am I a kohen, but so are all my brothers and sons, as well as my nephew, the bachur habar mitzvah. Virtually everyone else in attendance at the minyan made in honor of the bar mitzvah was a kohen. The only non-kohanim in attendance were the bachur’s maternal grandfather, who is a yisroel, and a family friend who is a levi. Thus, the first three aliyos were: a kohen (one of the family members), the levi guest and the maternal grandfather, who received shelishi.

Now is where the fun starts. All other attendees at the minyan were kohanim, and yet we have four more aliyos, plus maftir to give out! What is a gabbai supposed to do?

Fortunately, this question is discussed by the rishonim, with a wide variety of answers. The Beis Yosef cites four opinions what to do for the four remaining aliyos.

1. Call up the same three people who were called up as kohen, levi, and shelishi, as revi’i, chamishi and shishi, and then call up the original kohen for a third time as shevi’i.

2. The yisroel who was called up as shelishi should be called up again for revi’i, chamishi, shishi, and shevi’i since he is the only yisroel in the house.

3. Call up children for the remaining four aliyos.

4. Call up different kohanim for the remaining four aliyos.

What are the reasons behind each of these approaches?

1. Call up the same three people again

Although Chazal required that we call up seven people for aliyos on Shabbos, nowhere does it say that one may not call up the same person twice. As we see from the case when the kohen receives the aliyah of the levi, someone can be called up twice and count as two people receiving aliyos. Thus, our best way to resolve this situation is to call up the same three people again, which avoids calling up two kohanim one after the other. We also avoid calling up a kohen for an aliyah that implies that he is not a kohen, except for the one kohen who already was called up as kohen. Thus, no one should make a mistake that a kohen has any problem with his pedigree.

2. Call the yisroel for five consecutive aliyos

At the time of the Mishnah and Gemara, there was no assigned baal keriyah, and the person who received the aliyah was expected to read for himself. The institution of an assigned baal keriyah began in the time of the rishonim, when it became a common problem that someone called up for an aliyah was unable to read the Torah correctly, thus calling into question whether the community fulfilled the mitzvah of kerias haTorah.

However, even during the days of the Mishnah it occasionally happened that a minyan of Jews did not include seven people who could read the Torah correctly. The Tosefta, a source dating back to the era of the Mishnah but not included in the Mishnah, discusses a case in which there is only one person in the minyan who is capable of reading the Torah. What do we do? The Tosefta (Megillah 3:5) rules that we call this person up to the Torah seven consecutive times in order to fulfill the mitzvah of seven aliyos.

Based on this Tosefta, some explain that since we cannot call up two kohanim one after the other, when we have only one Yisroel in attendance, we call him to the Torah for all the yisroel aliyos (Beis Yosef, based on his understanding of the Mordechai).

3. Call up children

Our practice is that we do not call a child up to the Torah because it is not a sign of respect that a child read the Torah for a community (see Megillah 23a). From this comment, we see that, other than this concern, a child may have an aliyah, even though he is underage to fulfill a mitzvah.

Therefore, Rabbeinu Yeruchem rules that, in the situation at hand, we should call up children for the remaining aliyos. Apparently, he considers this to be a better solution than calling up someone who has already received an aliyah. The only time we can give someone two aliyos is to a kohen when there is no levi in shul. Therefore, our only alternative is to suspend the community honor and call up children for the missing aliyos.

If there are no children in attendance, Rabbeinu Yeruchem rules that we cannot continue the reading of the Torah!

4. Call up consecutive kohanim

All the approaches we have quoted thus far contend that there is never any exception to the rule that one may not call up two kohanim consecutively. However, there are rishonim who dispute this assumption, contending that, when it is obvious to all attendees that the reason you called two kohanim consecutively was because there were no other alternatives, there is no concern that someone will think one of the kohanim has a yichus problem, and therefore Chazal were not gozeir.

The Rashba contends that when everyone in attendance realizes that there are only kohanim in the minyan, we simply call up consecutive kohanim. There is no concern not to call one kohen after another in this instance.

The Shulchan Aruch concludes that the halacha follows the Rashba, and, to the best of my knowledge, this approach is accepted by all late halachic authorities. Thus, we now have answered our opening conundrum: How did I receive revi’i, the fourth aliyah, on Shabbos morning, and, later that day, receive back-to-back aliyos?

Taking Care of the Ill — The Mitzvah of Bikur Cholim Part II

Question #1: Not a doctor

“If the mitzvah of bikur cholim is to see that the patient’s needs are taken care of, what am I accomplishing by visiting him in the hospital? I am not a physician, and my inquiring about the patient’s medical care is probably intrusive and counter-productive.”

Question #2: Is there a rabbi in the house?

“Why do people ask tzaddikim to pray on behalf of someone who is ill?”

Question #3: Visiting alone

“I was told not to visit a sick person by myself. Is there a halachic basis for this practice?”

Introduction

The Gemara (Sotah 14a) teaches that we have a mitzvah to follow in Hashem’s ways, and that this mitzvah includes the requirement to take care of the needs of the ill. “Rabbi Chama the son of Rabbi Chanina said, ‘How are we to understand the words of the Torah: “You should follow Hashem, your G-d.” How is it possible for a human being to follow the Holy One, blessed is He, when the verse states that ‘Hashem, your G-d, is a consuming fire?’ Rather, it means that we are to emulate Hashem’s attributes – just as he dresses the naked… takes care of the sick… consoles the mourners, and buries the dead, so should we.

Based on a pasuk in parshas Korach, the Gemara (Nedarim 39b) teaches: “There is an allusion to the mitzvah of bikur cholim in the Torah: When Moshe declares ‘If these people (Korach’s party) will die like most people do, and the destiny of most people will happen to them, then Hashem did not send me.’ How do we see an allusion to the mitzvah of bikur cholim in the pasuk? Moshe declared: If these people will die like most people do – if they will become ill and bedridden and people will come to inquire about their needs – the people will say ‘Hashem did not send me.’” Thus, the Gemara cites this week’s parsha as one of the direct sources in the Torah for the mitzvah of bikur cholim.

Last week, our article was on the topic of bikur cholim and discussed many of its basic halachos. This article includes a review of some of the basic laws and concepts of this very special mitzvah, but will primarily cover details that were not discussed in the previous article.

Every community should have an organization devoted to the needs of the sick, and it is a tremendous merit to be involved in organizing and participating in such a wonderful chesed project (Ahavas Chesed 3:3).

What does the word bikur mean?

Although the word “bikur” means “visit” in modern Hebrew, the original meaning of “bikur” is not “visit” but “examine” or “check.” The primary responsibility of the mitzvah of bikur cholim is to check and see what the ill person needs and to do whatever one can to meet those needs (Toras Ha’adam). Thus, a physician, nurse, nurse’s aide, or medical clown performs the mitzvah of bikur cholim all day long. If they regularly have in mind that they are fulfilling what Hashem wants us to do, they are rewarded for each and every time that they stop in to inquire about the ill and assist in his care. Each time a person visits an ill person, he fulfills an additional act of the mitzvah of bikur cholim, provided that the ill person appreciates the visit. However, one who performs the same activities while looking at it exclusively as a job, but not as an opportunity to imitate Hashem’s wondrous deeds, misses the opportunity to receive all this reward. In addition, constantly recognizing that I am acting like Hashem and fulfilling His mitzvos makes a tremendous impression on one’s neshamah.

There are two main aspects of this mitzvah:

I. Taking care of the physical and emotional needs of ill people.

II. Praying for their recovery (Toras Ha’adam, based on Nedarim 40a).

Taking care of needs

In addition to raising the sick person’s spirits by showing one’s concern, the visitor should also ascertain that the physical, financial, and medical needs are properly cared for, as well as other logistical concerns that may be troubling the patient. Often, well- meaning people make the effort to visit the sick, but fail to fulfill the mitzvah of bikur cholim fully, because they fail to check if the choleh needs something (Gesher Hachayim).

Visiting a child

The mitzvah of bikur cholim includes visiting a child who is ill (Yalkut Yosef, Volume 7,page 27). If the child is accompanied by a parent, one can accomplish all aspects of the mitzvah by visiting the parent and child in the hospital, seeing that their needs are being met and praying for the recovery of the child.

Praying

The Beis Yosef (Yoreh Deah 335) writes, “It is a great mitzvah to visit the ill, since this causes the visitor to pray on the sick person’s behalf, which revitalizes him. Furthermore, since the visitor sees the ill person, the visitor checks to see what the ill person needs.” We see that the Beis Yosef considers praying for the ill an even greater part of the mitzvah than attending to his needs, since he first mentions praying and then refers to attending to the other needs as “furthermore.”

The authorities note that someone who visits a sick person without praying for his recovery fails to fulfill all the requirements of the mitzvah (Toras Ha’adam; Rema, Yoreh Deah 335:4). Therefore, physicians, nurses, aides and medical clowns should accustom themselves to pray for their sick patients in order to fulfill the complete mitzvah of bikur cholim. A simple method of accomplishing this is to discreetly recite a quick prayer (such as “Hashem, please heal this person among the other ill Jewish people [besoch she’ar cholei Yisroel]”) as one leaves the person’s room. (A doctor in his office can recite the same quick prayer.) When wishing someone refuah sheleimah, what one is doing is praying on his behalf.

When praying for someone ill, always include a request that he get well together with the rest of the Jewish ill (Shabbos 12b).

Small illness

The Gemara (Yerushalmi, Brochos 4:4) implies that one should pray for the healing of even a relatively minor illness. To quote: “We should assume that any illness carries with it the potential to become dangerous.”

Just pray?

At this point, let us look at the first of our opening questions: “If the mitzvah of bikur cholim is to see that the patient’s needs are taken care of, what am I accomplishing by visiting him in the hospital? I am not a physician, and my inquiring about the patient’s medical care is probably intrusive and counter-productive.”

Aside from the advantage in cheering them up, which can certainly help in their medical care, visiting the patient and seeing him motivates one to daven harder for his recovery and that Hashem should give the medical personnel the wisdom to provide the proper treatment (Shu”t Yechaveh Daas 3:83).

Is there a rabbi in the house?

At this point, let us address the second of our opening questions: “Why do people ask tzaddikim to pray on behalf of an ill person?”

Anyone can daven on behalf of an ill person, and should do so; of course, this includes the ill person himself. The Gemara teaches that King Chizkiyahu was healed exclusively in the merit of his own prayer.

Notwithstanding that everyone can and should pray for the sick, the prayers of a great tzaddik have additional merit and can accomplish what the prayers of others cannot. The Gemara (Bava Basra 116a) teaches this lesson in the following way: “Whoever has an ill person in his house should go to a wise man, so that he can pray for mercy on his behalf, as the verse states, ‘The angels of death are the fury of the King, but a wise man will atone for it’ (Mishlei 16:14).”

Ben gilo

The Gemara (Nedarim 39b; Bava Metzia 30b) teaches that the most effective person to visit someone ill is one who qualifies as a ben gilo. The Gemara states that when a ben gilo visits someone ill he takes with him 1/60 of the illness. This means that the ill person is better, but the ben gilo may be affected. What is the definition of a ben gilo?

Among the authorities, I found three interpretations of the term.

(1) One approach I found is that a ben gilo shares a common mazel, meaning that he and the ill person were born under the same astrological sign (Rosh and Ran, Nedarim 39b; Taz, Yoreh Deah 335:2).

(2) The Meforeish (Nedarim 39b) defines ben gilo as a young person visiting someone young, or an older person visiting someone in his age range.

(3) The Meiri (Nedarim 39b) defines ben gilo as someone whose company the ill person enjoys. The company of someone the patient enjoys eases the illness, but it also affects the health of the friend seeing him so ill.

The probable source for the Meiri is a Midrash Rabbah (Vayikra 34:1), where it states the following: “Rav Huna said: ‘Whoever visits the ill removes one sixtieth of his illness.’ They then asked Rav Huna, ‘Then let sixty people come and visit him, and he’ll leave with them afterwards for the marketplace, completely cured!’ To this Rav Huna answered: ‘Sixty people can indeed accomplish this, but only if they love him as they love themselves!’”

Thus, we see the tremendous value of feeling empathy for the pain of the ill. (We should note that the Gemara supplies an answer to the question that was asked of Rav Huna that disputes the answer provided by the Midrash.)

Brocha for bikur cholim

One of the interesting aspects of the mitzvah of bikur cholim is that we do not recite a brocha prior to performing it. Why not?

There are many approaches to answer this question. I will here share some approaches mentioned by the early commentaries.

Patient may not want

1. One recites a brocha only prior to fulfilling a mitzvah which one knows is within his ability to perform. The patient may not want someone to take care of matters for him, or may not want to be visited. If indeed, he does not want visitors, someone who visits him does not fulfill any mitzvah (Shu”t Harashba #18).

Let me explain this approach in a bit more detail. There is a mitzvah that the ill be treated medically and properly. This is included under the mitzvah of the Torah of venishmarta me’od lenafshoseichem, you should be very careful to take care of your lives (Devorim 4:15). One would perhaps think that, therefore, I should recite a brocha on visiting the sick, since my goal is to help cure the ill person, and he is required to seek a cure for his illness. However, this is not sufficient reason to recite a brocha, since the patient is under no obligation to accept my offer to help. He may seek his relief elsewhere.

Not uniquely Jewish

2. Some authorities explain why we do not recite a brocha because the text that we say for birchos hamitzvos is: Asher kideshanu bemitzvosav, that He sanctified us with His mitzvos. They contend that we recite a brocha only when a mitzvah is uniquely Jewish (see Rokei’ach, quoted in Encyclopedia Talmudis,Volume IV, column 525). However, non-Jews also take care of the ill, so this mitzvah does not reflect anything special about the relationship of Hashem to the Jewish people.

This answer is reinforced by the fact that when fulfilling a mitzvah that is uniquely theirs, the kohanim recite a brocha that begins with the words Asher kideshanu bikedushaso shel Aharon, that He sanctified us with the sanctity of Aharon. This demonstrates that the text of brochos for mitzvos is because of the unique ability we have to perform specific commandments that we, as Jewish people or part of the Jewish people, can perform.

3. Prefer not

Yet another reason cited why we do not recite a brocha on bikur cholim is because reciting a brocha prior to observing this mitzvah sounds like we want the situation to exist (Raavad, quoted by Yalkut Yosef, page 24). We certainly would prefer that there be no ill people who require medical attention. This reason also explains why we do not recite a brocha on mitzvos such as nichum aveilim, consoling the mourners,and tearing keriyah upon hearing of the passing of a loved one.

4. Not time bound

Some rishonim note that all mitzvos upon which we recite brochos are those bound by time – meaning that there are times when we are obligated to observe the mitzvah and times when no obligation exists (Or Zarua, Birchas Hamotzi #140). Obviously, the mitzvah of bikur cholim can be fulfilled at any time.

How to visit

The Gemara states that the shechinah rests above the head of a sick person (Shabbos 12b; Nedarim 40a). For this reason, it states that someone who visits a sick person should not sit on a bed, a stool or a chair, but should wrap himself in his talis and sit on the floor. (The Gemara is referring to the time in history when a talis was the standard outer garment that a man wore. It does not mean to imply that one should put on a talis in order to fulfill the mitzvah of visiting the ill.) Alternatively, he can remain standing during his visit.

However, the Rema (Yoreh Deah 335:3) rules that when the Gemara prohibits sitting on a bed, a stool or a chair when visiting someone ill, it was referring to a situation where the patient is lying on the floor – in such a situation, one should not sit in a position higher than the shechinah. When the ill person is in a bed, one can sit on a chair that is no higher than the bed (see Yalkut Yosef, pg 28, quoting Rav Eliezer Yehudah Valdenberg).

Visiting alone

At this point, let us address the last of our opening questions: “I was told not to visit a sick person by myself. Is there any halachic basis for this practice?”

Before answering this question, I will provide a bit of historical background. Most of the earlier halachic compendia we have date to the time of the rishonim, about 700-1000 years ago. However, one of the major halachic works dates back earlier, to the era of the geonim, who were the roshei yeshiva of the yeshivos in Bavel (Mesopotomia, in today’s Iraq) and the poskim of all of klal Yisroel for a period of approximately 400 years prior to the times of the rishonim.

One of the geonim, Rav Acha’i, authored a halachic work, called the She’iltos, probably the earliest post-Talmudic halachic compendium. In one of his essays there, he discusses the mitzvah of bikur cholim as follows:

“The Jewish people are required to inquire about the wellbeing of the ill, as Rav Chanina said, ‘How are we to understand the words of the Torah: “You should follow Hashem, your G-d.” How is it possible for a human being to follow the Holy One, blessed is He, when the verse declares that Hashem, your G-d, is a consuming fire?’”

Rav Acha’i continues: “Therefore, one is obligated to go and inquire about the needs of the ill. And when one goes, one should not go alone, but with someone else.”

Thus, there is a halachic source for the practice not to visit the ill alone.

Notwithstanding this ruling of the She’iltos, normative halachic practice does not follow the opinion of Rav Acha’i.

The Netziv, a Hebrew acronym of Rav Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin, was the Rosh Yeshiva of the Volozhin Yeshiva in the late nineteenth century, at the time that it was the preeminent yeshiva in the world. He authored several monumental works, including highly original commentaries on the Torah, and on several halachic midrashim: the Sifrei, the Mechilta, and the Sifra. He also wrote what has become the standard commentary on the She’iltos of Rav Acha’i. There the Netziv writes that he is unaware of the source for the She’iltos ruling that one should not visit the ill by himself, and he is unaware of any other halachic authority who mentions this.

Among late compendia on the laws of bikur cholim, I found this question discussed in the Yalkut Yosef, written by the current Sefardic chief rabbi of Israel, Rav Yitzchak Yosef. Rav Yosef concludes that, since no other halachic authorities, including the Shulchan Aruch, mention a halacha that one should not go alone to visit the ill, one should observe it only when it will not prevent someone from fulfilling the mitzvah. In other words, if it will be inconvenient to visit the ill person with someone else, or the ill person would prefer to be visited by one individual at a time, or the only other person available may make the ill person uncomfortable, one should certainly not take along another person when visiting the sick.

Conclusion

People who fulfill the mitzvah of bikur cholim are promised tremendous reward in Olam Haba, in addition to many rewards in this world (Shabbos 127a). In addition to all the obvious reasons for the mitzvah of bikur cholim, the Kli Yakar, in his commentary to this week’s parsha (Bamidbar 16:29), offers an additional reason for fulfilling bikur cholim – to benefit the visitor. This influences the visitor to think of the importance of doing teshuvah. And this provides extra merit for the sick person, since he caused someone else to do teshuvah, even if it was unintentional. May Hashem senda speedy recovery to all the ill!

Taking Care of the Ill — The Mitzvah of Bikur Cholim

Those of us living in Eretz Yisroel, are reading parshas Korach this week, from which the Gemara cites a source for the mitzvah of bikur cholim. Those living in chutz la’aretz, can certainly find ample reason to study the laws of bikur cholim this week.

Question #1: “Rabbi,” asked Mr. Greenberg, “My neighbor, Mrs. Friedman, is having an operation. Is it appropriate for me to visit her?”

Question #2: Does Dr. Strauss fulfill the mitzvah of bikur cholim when he makes his hospital rounds?

Question #3: “My sister-in-law is hospitalized for a few days for a minor procedure. I should really visit her, but I just can’t find the time. Is it halachically sufficient for me to call her?”

Based on a pasuk in parshas Korach, the Gemara (Nedarim 39b) teaches: “There is an allusion to the mitzvah of bikur cholim in the Torah: When Moshe declares, ‘If these people (Korach’s party) will die like most people do, and the destiny of most people will happen to them, then Hashem did not send me.’ How do we see an allusion to the mitzvah of bikur cholim in the pasuk? Moshe declared: If these people will die like most people do – if they will become ill and bedridden and people will come to inquire about their needs (in other words, illness provides an opportunity for people to fulfill the mitzvah of bikur cholim) – then people will say ‘Hashem did not send me.’” Thus, the Gemara cites this week’s parsha as one of the sources in the Torah for the mitzvah of bikur cholim since Moshe specifically asked that Korach and his party not die in the manner that most people, where this a chance to achieve this important mitzvah.

Another allusion to bikur cholim is in the beginning of Parshas Vayeira, where is says that Hashem visited Avraham Avinu three days after his Bris Milah. Rashi points out that Hashem was performing bikur cholim, visiting and providing care for the ill. In the same way, by taking care of the ill, we fulfill the mitzvah of emulating Hashem’s ways, in addition to the special mitzvah of bikur cholim (Sotah 14a). Thus, physicians, nurses or other medical professionals should have in mind before every visit or appointment that they are performing two mitzvos, one of emulating Hashem, and the other of bikur cholim. Since we rule that mitzvos tzerichos kavanah, to fulfill a mitzvah requires being cognizant of that fact, any medical professional gains much merit by being aware of this every day and all day.

Every community should have an organization devoted to the needs of the sick, and it is a tremendous merit to be involved in organizing and participating in such a wonderful chesed project (Ahavas Chesed 3:3).

The Kli Yakar (Bamidbar 16:29) offers an additional reason for fulfilling bikur cholim to benefit the visitor. Seeing someone ill influences the visitor to think about the importance of doing teshuvah. And this influence provides extra merit for the sick person, since he caused someone else to do teshuvah!

The Gemara (Nedarim 40a) reports that when one of Rabbi Akiva’s disciples was ill, no one came to check his welfare. Then Rabbi Akiva entered his dwelling, cleaned it and sprinkled water on the floor (to prevent dust from rising), and the student exclaimed, “Rabbi Akiva, you have brought me back to life!” After this experience, Rabbi Akiva taught that someone who visits the ill is considered to have saved his life!

WHY “BIKUR” CHOLIM?

What does bikur cholim mean?

It is worth noting that although “bikur” means “visit” in modern Hebrew, the original meaning of “bikur” is not “visit” but “checking.” In other words, the actual mitzvah of bikur cholim is to check which of the sick person’s needs have not been attended to (Toras HaAdam).

There are two main aspects of this mitzvah:

I. Taking care of the physical and emotional needs of someone who is ill.

II. Praying for the recovery of the ill person (Toras HaAdam, based on Nedarim 40a).

I. TAKING CARE OF PHYSICAL NEEDS

In addition to raising the sick person’s spirits by showing concern, the visitor should also ensure that the physical, financial, and medical needs of the ill person are properly being attended to, as well as other logistical concerns that may be troubling him/her. Often, well-meaning people make the effort to visit the sick, but fail to fulfill the mitzvah of bikur cholim properly, because they fail to take care of the choleh’s needs (Gesher HaChayim).

Always cheer up the choleh (Gesher HaChayim).  This is included in attending to his emotional needs.

The visit is to benefit the choleh. In most circumstances, a visit should be short and not tire out or be uncomfortable for the ill person. Sometimes the sick person wants to rest, but feels obligated to converse with a visitor (Aruch HaShulchan, Yoreh Deah 335:4). In such cases, visitors think they are performing a mitzvah, while, unfortunately, they are actually doing the opposite. It is important to remember that the entire focus of bikur cholim is on the sick person’s needs and not on the visitor’s desire to feel noble or important. I remember my mother, a”h, having such guests during one of her hospital stays; although she kept hinting that she wanted to rest, they didn’t catch on and stayed put. They thought they were performing a kind deed, while, in reality, they were harming a sick person who desperately needed to rest.

OVERNIGHT CARE

One of the greatest acts of chesed is to stay overnight with a choleh (Aruch HaShulchan, Yoreh Deah 335:3; Shu’t Tzitz Eliezer, Volume 5, Ramat Rachel, #4). A similar act of bikur cholim and true chesed is to stay overnight with a hospitalized child to enable parents to get some proper sleep and keep their family’s life in order.

A person can fulfill the mitzvah of bikur cholim even a hundred times a day (Nedarim 39b). If one frequently pops one’s head into one’s sick child’s bedroom to see how the child is doing, or periodically drops in to visit a shut-in, one fulfills a separate mitzvah each time, so long as it does not become burdensome to the choleh. Similarly, a nurse fulfills the mitzvah of bikur cholim each time he/she checks on a patient, and, therefore, she should have intent to do this for the sake of fulfilling the mitzvah.

This applies even if the nurse is paid, because the proscription against being paid to do a mitzvah applies only to the mitzvah’s minimum requirement. Once one does more than this minimum, one can be paid for the extra time one spends. The same certainly applies to someone paid to stay overnight with a sick patient.

IS THERE AN OPTIMUM TIME OF DAY TO VISIT?

The Gemara states that one should not visit a sick person during the first quarter of the day, since one usually looks healthier in the morning and the visitor may not be motivated to pray on behalf of the ill person. One should also not visit a sick person at the end of the day, when he looks much sicker and one might give up hope. Therefore, one should visit an ill person during the middle part of the day (see Nedarim 40a, and Ahavas Chesed 3:3). Rambam offers a different reason for this halacha, explaining that at other times of the day, visitors might interfere with the attendants and medical personnel who are taking care of the choleh (Hilchos Aveil 14:5).

Thus, the ideal time for visiting an ill person is in the middle of the day, unless he is receiving medical treatment at that time.

Despite the above, the custom is to visit the ill person, regardless of the time of the day. Why is this so? The Aruch HaShulchan (Yoreh Deah 335:8) explains that the Gemara’s visiting times are advisory rather than obligatory. The Gemara is saying that one should visit the ill person at the time most beneficial for his care, which is usually the afternoon, either because this does not interfere with medical care or because it is the best time to detect the patient’s medical status. However, this is only advice and can be tempered by other practical concerns.

WHAT IF THE ILL PERSON IS RECEIVING SUBSTANDARD CARE?

In this instance, one should try to upgrade the choleh’s care without agitating him in the process (Gesher HaChayim).

WHOM TO VISIT FIRST

Usually, it is a greater mitzvah to visit a poor choleh than a wealthy one. This is because there is often no one else to care for the poor person’s needs (Sefer Chassidim #361). Additionally, he may need more help because of his lack of finances, and he is more likely to be in financial distress because of his inability to work (Ahavas Chesed 3:3).

If two people need the same amount of care and one of them is a talmid chacham, the talmid chacham should be attended to first (Sefer Chassidim #361). If the talmid chacham is being attended to adequately and the other person is not, one should first take care of the other person (Sefer Chassidim #361).

CROSS-GENDER VISITING

Should a man pay a hospital visit to a female non-relative, or vice versa?

The halacha states that a man may attend to another man who is suffering from an intestinal disorder, but not to a woman suffering from such a problem, whereas a woman may attend to either a man or a woman suffering from an intestinal disorder (Mesechta Sofrim Chapter 12). This implies that one may attend to the needs of the opposite gender in all other medical situations (Shach, Yoreh Deah 335:9; Birkei Yosef, Yoreh Deah 335:4; Aruch HaShulchan, Yoreh Deah 335:11 and Shu’t Zakan Aharon 2:76).

There is a famous story of Rav Aryeh Levin, the tzaddik of Yerushalayim. He was once concerned that a certain widow who had been told not to fast on Yom Kippur would disobey orders, he personally visited her on Yom Kippur and boiled water for a cup of tea to ensure that she drank. In this way, he fulfilled the mitzvah of bikur cholim on Yom Kippur in a unique way (A Tzaddik in Our Time).

However, some halachic authorities distinguish between attending to a sick person’s needs, and visiting, contending that although a woman may usually provide a man’s nursing needs and vice versa, there is no requirement for a woman to visit an ill man (Shu’t Tzitz Eliezer, Volume 5, Ramat Rachel, and Zichron Meir pg. 71 footnote 24 quoting Shu’t Vayaan Avrohom, Yoreh Deah #25 and others). Other authorities contend that when one can assume that the woman’s medical needs are provided, a man should not visit her, because of tzniyus concerns (Shu’t Chelkas Yaakov 3:38:3; Shu’t Tzitz Eliezer, Volume 5, Ramat Rachel, #16). Instead, the man should inquire about her welfare and pray for her. I suggest asking your rav or posek for direction in these situations.

II. PRAYING FOR THE ILL

The Beis Yosef (Yoreh Deah 335) writes, “It is a great mitzvah to visit the ill, since this causes the visitor to pray on the sick person’s behalf, which revitalizes him. Furthermore, since the visitor sees the ill person, the visitor checks to see what the ill person needs.” We see that Beis Yosef considers praying for the ill an even greater part of the mitzvah than attending to his needs, since he first mentions praying and then refers to attending to the other needs as “furthermore.”

Someone who visits a sick person without praying for his recovery fails to fulfill all the requirements of the mitzvah (Toras HaAdam; Rama 335:4). Therefore, physicians, nurses, and aides who perform bikur cholim daily should accustom themselves to pray for their sick patients, in order to fulfill the mitzvah of bikur cholim. A simple method of accomplishing this is to discreetly recite a quick prayer (such as “Hashem, please heal this person among the other ill Jewish people [b’soch she’ar cholei yisrael]”) as one leaves the person’s room. (A doctor in his office can recite the same quick prayer.)

MUST ONE PRAY FOR A SICK PERSON BY NAME?

When praying in a sick person’s presence, one does not need to mention his name, and one may recite the prayer in any language. The Gemara explains that this is because the Shechinah, the Divine presence, rests above the choleh’s head (Shabbos 12b). However, when the ill person is not present, one should pray specifically in Hebrew and should mention the person’s name (Toras HaAdam; Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 335:5). If one cannot pray in Hebrew, one may do so in English or any other language except Aramaic (see Taz, Yoreh Deah 335:4).

[Incidentally, since the Shechinah is in the choleh’s presence, visitors should act in a dignified manner (Shabbos 12b; Shl”a). This includes both their behavior and their mode of dress.]

Why must one pray in Hebrew when the ill person is not present? Rashi explains that in such a case, when one prays for an individual, angels have to transport the prayer to the Divine presence (the Shechinah) – these angels transport only prayers recited in Hebrew and not those recited in Aramaic (Rashi, Shabbos 12b s.v. Deshechinah). However, when praying in the presence of the sick person, one may pray in any language, since the Shechinah is nearby and the prayer does not require the angels to transport it on high (Shabbos 12b).

MAY ONE PRAY IN ENGLISH FOR THE ILL?

This explains the difference between Hebrew and Aramaic. What about other languages? Do the angels “transport” prayer recited in a different language?

To answer this question, we must first explain why angels do not transport Aramaic prayers?

The halachic authorities dispute why the angels do not convey prayers recited in Aramaic. Some contend that angels communicate only in Hebrew and, furthermore, only convey a prayer that they understand (Tosafos, Shabbos 12b s.v. She’ayn). According to this approach, the angels convey only Hebrew prayers. However, other authorities contend that the angels do not convey Aramaic prayers because they view this language as corrupted Hebrew and not a real language (Rosh, Berachos 2:2). Similarly, the angels will not convey a prayer recited in slang or expressed in an undignified way. According to the latter opinion, the angels will convey a prayer recited in any proper language, and one may pray in English for an ill person even if he is not present.

The Shulchan Aruch quotes both opinions, but considers the first opinion to be the primary approach (Orach Chayim 101:4). However, in Yoreh Deah 335:5, the Shulchan Aruch omits the second opinion completely. The commentaries on the Shulchan Aruch raise this point, and conclude that the Shulchan Aruch felt that praying for an ill person is such a serious matter that one should certainly follow the more stringent approach and pray only in Hebrew when the choleh is not present (Taz, Yoreh Deah 335:4). Therefore, one should not pray for an individual sick person’s needs in any language other than Hebrew. Only if one is unable to pray in Hebrew, may one rely on the second opinion and pray in any language other than Aramaic.

DOES ONE FULFILL BIKUR CHOLIM OVER THE TELEPHONE?

To answer this question, let us review the reasons for this mitzvah and see if a telephone call fulfills them. One reason to visit the ill is to see if they have any needs that are not being attended to. Although a phone call might discover this, being physically present at the bedside is usually a better method of ascertaining what is needed. The second reason one visits the ill is to motivate the visitor to pray on their behalf. Again, although one may be motivated by a phone call, it is rarely as effective as a visit. Furthermore, although a phone call can cheer up the choleh and make him feel important, a personal visit accomplishes this far more effectively. Therefore, most aspects of this mitzvah require a personal visit. However, in cases where one cannot actually visit the choleh, for example, when a visit is uncomfortable for the patient or unwanted, one should call (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 1:223; Shu’t Chelkas Yaakov 2:128). Some authorities contend that it is better for a man to call, rather than visit, a hospitalized or bed-ridden woman who is not a relative, since it is difficult for an ill person to maintain the appropriate level of tzniyus (Chelkas Yaakov 3:38:3).

ALWAYS PRAY FOR GOOD HEALTH

A healthy person should daven for continuing good health, because it is far easier to pray that one remain healthy than to pray for a cure after one is already ill. This is because a healthy person remains well so long as no bad judgment is brought against him in the heavenly tribunal, whereas an ill person needs zechuyos to recover. This latter instance is not desirable for two reasons — first, the choleh may not have sufficient zechuyos, and second, even if he does, he will lose some of his zechuyos in order to get well.

Before taking medicine or undergoing other medical treatment one should recite a short prayer: “May it be Your will, Hashem my G-d, that this treatment will heal, for You are a true Healer” (Magen Avraham 230:6; Mishnah Berurah 230:6, based on Berachos 60a).

People who fulfill the mitzvah of bikur cholim are promised tremendous reward in Olam Haba, in addition to many rewards in this world (Shabbos 127a). Someone who fulfills the mitzvah of bikur cholim properly is considered as if he saved people’s lives and is rewarded by being spared any severe punishment (Nedarim 40a).

May Hashem send refuah shleimah to all the cholim of Klal Yisrael!

What May I Not Write?

Question #1: Invitations

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

Question #2: Sukkah Decorations

“Someone told me that sukkah decorations should not include any pesukim. Is this true? My children bring home decorations like this from school.”

To answer these questions, we need to explain several halachic issues, including:

1. The original prohibition against writing Torah she’be’al peh, and the later “heter” to write and publish it.

2. The concern about producing divrei Torah that will not be treated appropriately.

The original prohibition against writing Torah she’be’al peh

Originally, it was prohibited to write down any Torah she’be’al peh (Gittin 60b), except for an individual’s personal notes recorded for one’s own review (Rambam, Introduction to Mishneh Torah; see also Rashi, Shabbos 6b s.v. Megilas). The Oral Torah was not permitted to be taught from a written format. Torah she’be’al peh was meant to be just that — Torah taught completely without any written text. Thus, Moshe Rabbeinu taught us the halachos of the Torah orally, and Klal Yisrael memorized them. Although each student wrote private notes for the sake of review, the Oral Torah was never taught from these notes.

The prohibition against writing Torah she’be’al peh included writing midrashim, prayers and the texts of berachos, as well as translations and commentaries of the Written Torah, since all these are considered Torah she’be’al peh. In those times, all these devarim she’be’kedusha were memorized, and the only parts of the Torah that were written were the pesukim themselves.

The Gemara (Gittin 60b) records this halacha as follows: Devarim she’be’al peh, iy atah resha’ie le’omram bichsav, “You are not permitted to transmit the Oral Torah in writing.” The Ritva (ad loc.) explains that this is because divrei Torah taught verbally are understood more precisely, whereas text learning is often misunderstood.

Another prohibition forbade writing the books of Tanach except when writing a complete sefer (Gittin 60a). Thus, one could not write out a parsha or a few pesukim for learning, although it was permitted to write an entire Chumash, such as Sefer Shemos. Similarly, one could not write out part of a sefer of Navi to study or to read the haftarah. In order to recite the haftarahs regularly, every shul needed to own all of the eight Nevi’im (Yehoshua, Shoftim, Shemuel, Melachim, Yeshayahu, Yirmiyahu, Yechezkel, and Terei Asar) to read the haftarah from the appropriate sefer. Similarly, a person who wished to study Shiras Devorah or the prayer of Channah had to write the entire Sefer Shoftim or Sefer Shemuel.

Why do we no longer abide by this prohibition?

Chazal realized that it was becoming increasingly difficult for people to learn Torah and to observe certain other mitzvos, such as reading the haftarah. Therefore, they ruled that the prohibition against writing Torah must be superseded by the more vital need of keeping Torah alive among the Jews. This takanah was based on the pasuk, Eis la’asos laShem heifeiru torasecha, which is understood to mean “It is the time to act for Hashem since Your Torah is being uprooted” (Tehillim 119:126). In order to facilitate Torah study, they permitted writing individual verses and teaching Oral Torah from written texts. (We will refer to this takanah, or heter, as “eis la’asos.”)

The first part of the Oral Torah to be formally written for structured teaching was the Mishnah, edited by Rebbe (Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi) at the end of the period of the tanna’im (circa 3960/200 c.e.). To quote the Rambam, “Rebbe gathered all the laws and explanations that had been studied and interpreted by every beis din since the days of Moshe Rabbeinu and organized the Mishnah from them. He (Rebbe) proceeded to teach publicly the scholars of his generation from this text, so that the Oral Torah would not be forgotten from the Jewish people. Why did Rebbe change the method that had been used previously? Because he saw that the numbers of Torah students were decreasing, the difficulties facing the Jewish people were on the rise, the Roman Empire was becoming stronger, and the Jews were becoming increasingly scattered. He therefore authored one work that would be in the hands of all the students, to make it easier to study and remember the Oral Torah” (Introduction to Mishneh Torah).

We see that Rebbe instituted the first formalized use of a text to teach the Oral Torah, because of the new circumstances confronting klal Yisrael. After Rebbe’s days, Chazal gradually permitted writing down other texts, first Aggadah (ethical teachings of the Gemara), later the entire Gemara, and still later, the explanations and commentaries on the Gemara.

As a very important aside, we see from the end of the quoted Rambam, “to make it easier to study and remember the Oral Torah,” that even though it is now permitted to write down the Mishnah, it is still important to know the entire Oral Torah by heart.

In the context of the rule of eis la’asos, the Gemara tells us the following story:

Rabbi Yochanan and Reish Lakeish (amora’im in Eretz Yisrael shortly after the time of Rebbe) were studying from a Talmudic anthology of ethical teachings, a “sefer Aggadah.”

The Gemara asks, “How could they study from such a book, since it is prohibited to learn Torah from a written text?” The Gemara replies, “Since it is now impossible (to retain all the knowledge of the Torah without a written text), ‘it is the time to act for Hashem, since Your Torah is being uprooted,’” (Gittin 60a). We see that the Gemara initially assumed that it was still prohibited to study Torah from a written text, except for the study of Mishnah. The Gemara responded that the prohibition had been further relaxed because it had become even more difficult to learn Torah than it had been in the days of Rebbe.

The Gemara relates a similar episode concerning the recital of the haftarah. As mentioned above, it was originally forbidden to write part of a book of Tanach, and, therefore, every shul needed to own scrolls of all the Nevi’im in order to read the haftarahs. However, as communities became more scattered, making this increasingly difficult, the Gemara permitted the writing of special haftarah books that contained only the haftarah texts, but not the text of the entire Nevi’im. This, too, was permitted because of eis la’asos (Gittin 60a).

What else is permitted because of eis la’asos?

We see that in order to facilitate Torah learning, Chazal permitted the writing of the Oral Torah and parts of the books of the Written Torah. To what extent did they override the original prohibition?

This is a dispute among early poskim, some contending that it is permitted to write only as much as is necessary to prevent Torah from being forgotten. According to this opinion, it is prohibited to write or print even tefillos that include pesukim when they are not intended for learning Torah (Rif and Milchemes Hashem, Shabbos Chapter 16). This opinion also prohibits translating Tanach into any language other than the original Aramaic Targum, because proper translations constitute Torah she’be’al peh. In addition, this opinion prohibits the printing of a parsha of Chumash in order to teach Torah, since one could write or print the entire sefer (Rambam, Hilchos Sefer Torah 7:14; Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 283:2).

Other poskim permit the writing of any Torah that one uses to learn. Thus, they permit writing a single parsha in order to teach Torah (Taz, Yoreh Deah 283:1; Shach, Yoreh Deah 283:3) and the translating of Tanach into any language. These poskim rally support to their opinion from the fact that Rav Saadya Gaon wrote sefarim in Arabic, including commentaries on Tanach (Ran, Shabbos,Chapter 16).

Both opinions agree that it is prohibited to publish translations of Tanach that will not be used to spread Torah knowledge (Ran, Shabbos, Chapter 16).

How does this prohibition affect us?

All of the opinions quoted above prohibit writing disparate parts of the Written Torah and any of the Oral Torah in situations where there is no Torah benefit. For this reason, early poskim note that one may not embroider a pasuk or a beracha on a talis, since writing thisdoes not serve to teach Torah (Rabbeinu Yerucham, quoted by Beis Yosef, and Taz, Yoreh Deah 283:3. It should be noted that the Levush is more lenient, see Shach, Yoreh Deah 283:6.).

Another concern

There is an additional reason why one should not embroider pesukim on a talis. Since the talis could be brought into an unclean place, it is not proper to have a pasuk written on it.

A third concern – causing the words of Torah to be destroyed

To explain this concept, we must first introduce a surprising statement of the Gemara: Ko’sevei berachos kesorfei Torah, “Those who write berachos (to enable people to recite them) are considered as if they burnt the Torah” (Shabbos 115b). What does this Gemara mean? We would think that these individuals have performed a tremendous mitzvah, since they have enabled people to recite berachos correctly!

This statement was authored at the time when it was still prohibited to write down the Oral Torah. At that time, it was forbidden to teach any halachos in written form, even the correct text of a beracha. Everything had to be taught orally. Therefore, the Gemara states that by writing a beracha, even without the name of Hashem (Shu’t Tashbeitz #2), one is violating the halacha by teaching Torah she’be’al peh in writing.

But why is it considered like “burning the Torah”?

This Gemara introduces a new prohibition. Someone who writes prohibited Torah works is considered culpable afterwards, if those divrei Torah become consumed by a fire! Writing unnecessarily, which results in subsequent destruction, is akin to burning Torah.

We know that it is prohibited to erase or destroy the Name of Hashem (Shabbos 120b), and that this prohibition includes erasing or destroying words of Torah and all other holy writings, including notes of Torah classes, stories of Chazal, sefarim for learning, “benschers,” etc., even if they do not include Hashem’s Name (Shu’t Tashbeitz #2). Therefore, even small benschers, tefillos haderech and similar items published with abbreviated names of Hashem are still considered divrei Torah imbued with kedusha. For the above reason, one must treat these items with proper care and dignity and place them in sheimos when they become unusable.

It is also prohibited to cause an indirect destruction of words of the Torah or to produce divrei Torah that might subsequently be destroyed. This prohibition exists whenever there is insufficient reason to write and publish the divrei Torah. For this reason, the Gemara states that someone who wrote berachos when it was prohibited to do so is held responsible, if the words of Torah are subsequently destroyed.

Although, nowadays, we are permitted to write and print berachos and siddurim to enable people to recite them properly, it is forbidden to produce these items unnecessarily. It is certainly prohibited to put pesukim, parts of pesukim, or divrei Torah in places where it is likely that they will be treated improperly. Both of these reasons preclude writing pesukim on Sukkah decorations, unless one can assume that they will be properly cared for.

How much of a pasuk is considered to be divrei Torah?

Even three words in a row are considered a pasuk that may not be written without sufficient reason (see Gittin 6b). However, if the letters are improperly or incompletely formed or spelled, it is permitted (Shu’t Tashbeitz #2).

For this reason, some people print on invitations the following, Naaleh es Yerushalayim al rosh simchaseinu, “We will place our memories of Yerushalayim above our celebrations.” This is permitted, because it is not a quotation of a pasuk, although it is similar to the posuk in Tehillim 137:5.

There is another solution that may be used: rearranging the words of the pasuk so that they are not in the correct order. When doing this, one must be certain that one does not have three words in the proper order.

I once received an invitation which stated on the cover, Yom zeh asah Hashem nismecha venagila bo, “This day was made by Hashem. We shall rejoice and celebrate on it.” The person who prepared this quotation had done his halachic research. Although very similar to the pasuk, “Zeh hayom asah Hashem nagilah v’nismecha bo” (Tehillim 118:24), the words of the original pasuk were transposed in such a way that there were no longer three consecutive words together!

Some authorities permit printing pesukim if marks are placed between the words, or if the words are not in a straight line. They feel that these arrangements of words do not constitute pesukim (cf. Shu’t Tashbeitz #2 who disagrees).

Some producers of “lulav bags” are meticulously careful not to quote three words of the pasuk in order. Thus, they write, “Ulekachtem lachem… kapos temarim…usemachtem” avoiding writing three consecutive words of a pasuk (Vayikra 23:40). This is permitted.

Invitations

Perhaps people who print pesukim on invitations rely on the fact that this is considered mere poetic writing style, or that the printer has no intent to produce divrei kedusha. However, recent authorities prohibit this practice. In Sivan 5750/June ’90, an open letter signed by the poskei hador warned that advertisements, invitations, receipts, signs, and raffle tickets should not include pesukim or parts of pesukim, except when the pasuk is written as part of literary style, with no connection to its context.

We live in an age of proliferation of written material. Many pamphlets have the positive value of spreading Torah. We must be careful to show our honor to Hashem by treating pesukim and divrei Torah with proper respect. May we always merit demonstrating Hashem’s honor in the appropriate way!

Fasting on the Wedding Day

Now that Shavuos is past, we enter the heaviest wedding season of the Jewish calendar. I decided to discuss this usually not-well-understood topic.

Question #1: Our wedding is going to be after nightfall. Do we fast until the wedding, or may we break the fast when it gets dark?

Question #2: Yocheved asks: I usually do not fast well, and I am concerned how I will feel at my wedding if I fast that day. What do I do?

Question #3: Sheryl’s dilemma: “What will I explain to my non-observant parents when they exclaim at my pre-chupah reception – ‘What! You can’t eat anything at your own wedding?’”

Sheryl comes from a very assimilated background. Let her explain:

“In my extended family, my parents were considered the religious ones, since they were the only ones who married Jewish. Furthermore, my Dad was the only one who fasted on Yom Kippur, albeit with a little cheating on the side. So, when my family members heard that I had become Orthodox, they were shocked at many of my new practices, despite my efforts to keep things as low-key as possible. None of them had a clue what it means to really keep kosher or Shabbos. Now that I’m getting married, many of them are curious to attend my wedding, and I would like to make the experience a Kiddush Hashem for them. Therefore, I intend to explain our mitzvos and customs to them in the best possible light.”

Sheryl’s goals are indeed noble. How will she explain the reason we fast on one’s wedding day to someone who knows little about Yiddishkeit? The prospect seems almost ominous.

Why do we fast?

Although early authorities cite at least six different reasons for this custom, most halachic authorities discuss only two of them (e.g., Levush, Even Ha’ezer 60:1; Magen Avraham and Elyah Rabbah, introduction to 573; Beis Shmuel 61:6; Chachmas Adam 129:2; Aruch Hashulchan, Even Ha’ezer 61:21):

Reason #1: To avoid inebriation

Some explain that the practice is to ensure that the chosson and kallah are fully sober when they participate in the wedding ceremony. By not eating and drinking, they will certainly drink nothing intoxicating prior to the ceremony. Some commentaries provide an interesting twist to this explanation. They explain that the concern is that if one of the marrying parties drinks anything intoxicating on the wedding day, they may subsequently claim that they were inebriated and that, therefore, the marriage is invalid (Levush, Even Ha’ezer 60:1)! As someone once said, love is not only blind, but also sometimes intoxicating.

Reason #2: To achieve atonement

Since a chosson is forgiven for all his sins, he should fast as atonement (Yevamos 63b; Yerushalmi, Bikkurim 3:3).

One allusion to this atonement is found in the Torah. In the very last verse of parshas Tolados, the Torah records that one of the additional wives Eisav married was Machalas, the daughter of Yishmael. The Yerushalmi points out that although her name was actually Basmas and not Machalas, the Torah calls her Machalas, to indicate that even someone as sinful as Eisav is forgiven on his wedding day (Shu”t Divrei Yatziv #259).

Who fasts?

I am sure you are already asking why I said that the chosson fasts on hiswedding day, and omitted the kallah. This leads us directly to our next question:

Are there any halachic differences between the two reasons given for the fast? Indeed, there are several. One issue that might be affected is whether only the chosson fasts or also the kallah. The authorities dispute whether the wedding day atones for both parties or only for the chosson. Indeed, Talmudic sources mention only the chosson in this connection, and some later authorities contend that the wedding is indeed an atonement day only for the chosson and not for the kallah. Following this approach, some authorities conclude that only the bridegroom fasts and not the bride (Ben Ish Chai, 1: Shoftim: 13). Others contend that despite the fact that the Gemara mentions only atonement for the chosson’s sins, since the kallah is a direct cause of his atonement, she also receives forgiveness on this day (Aishel Avraham Butchach 573).

However, if the reason for the fast is to guarantee the sobriety of the parties, the kallah, too, should fast, even if the day is not a day of atonement. Of course, it won’t be easy for Sheryl to explain all this to her family at the reception prior to her wedding. I will soon mention other reasons that she can provide them.

On the other hand, many authorities rule that the wedding day atones for both kallah and chosson, the same as Yom Kippur (Magen Avraham, introduction to 573; Elyah Rabbah 573:2; Beis Shmuel, 61:6). Following this approach, the kallah should fast also, even if we are not concerned about her becoming inebriated at her wedding (Rama, Even Ha’ezer 61:1). This, too, is why both chosson and kallah say viduy after mincha on the day of their wedding (Pischei Teshuvah, Even Ha’ezer 61:9). In addition, the couple should pray for a happy marriage that is blessed with children who bring great credit to themselves and to Hashem (Aruch Hashulchan, Even Ha’ezer 61:21).

Sheryl can certainly tell her family this reason for the sanctity of the day, and say that this is why she will be fasting. This will also provide her with the occasion to explain that a Torah marriage involves holiness, sanctity, and opportunity for spiritual growth, all ideas that will impress her family.

How long must one fast?

There are other halachic differences that result from the two reasons quoted above.If one fasts to ensure that the couple remains sober, then they should not break their fast until the wedding ceremony, even if it does not take place until after dark. Accordingly, if the ceremony takes place on a winter night, they should logically continue their fast, even if this means that it extends into a second halachic day (Shu”t Mahari Bruno #93; Aruch Hashulchan 61:21). On the other hand, if the fast is for atonement, then, once they have completed the day, they can break the fast. A third opinion holds that when the ceremony is at night, their fast does not begin until sunset that day – since prior to sunset is still the day before their wedding (Aishel Avraham Butchach 573). To the best of my knowledge, this last approach is not followed.

How do we rule?

The Chachmas Adam (129:2) concludes that since the fast is only a custom, one need not be stricter than the requirements of halacha for established fast days. Therefore, one may end the fast at dark and does not have to wait until the ceremony. However, one should be careful not to drink anything intoxicating until sipping the wine at the chupah (Pischei Teshuvah, Even Ha’ezer 61:9). The Aruch Hashulchan disagrees, but I believe accepted practice follows the Chachmas Adam.

What about the opposite situation — when the ceremony takes place before nightfall? According to the rationale that the fast is atonement, some contend that one should fast the entire day, even if the ceremony took place in the afternoon (Bach, Orach Chayim 562 at end; Beis Shmuel 61:6). This means that after the wedding ceremony is complete, the chosson and kallah continue to fast until nightfall, even through the chupah and the yichud room! However, accepted practice is for the couple to end their fast at the ceremony, even when it takes place before nightfall.

Do Sefardim fast?

Most sources citing the custom of fasting on one’s wedding day are Ashkenazic. Whether or not Sefardim fast on this day is dependent on local custom. The popular Hebrew halachic anthology, Hanisu’in Kehilchasam, mentions many Sefardic communities that followed the custom of fasting on the wedding day, at least for the chosson, including the communities of Algeria, Baghdad, the Crimea, Salonika and parts of Turkey (pg. 198, note 56). On the other hand, the prevalent custom in Constantinople (Istanbul), Egypt, and Eretz Yisroel was not to fast on the day of the wedding (see Birkei Yosef, Orach Chayim 470:2; Shu”t Yabia Omer 3: Even Ha’ezer: 9). It is interesting to note that some explain that the custom in Egypt was not to fast because the weddings were always conducted in the morning. They explain that when the wedding is held late in the day, we are concerned that the chosson and kallah may drink something intoxicating, but when the wedding is in the morning, there is no such concern (Birkei Yosef, Orach Chayim 470:2). One could thereby argue that when the Sefardim marry in the evening, they should follow Ashkenazic practice and fast.

Nevertheless, the common practice among Sefardim in Eretz Yisrael today is not to fast. Rav Ovadyah Yosef rules that Sefardim who moved to Eretz Yisrael should not fast on the day of the wedding, even if they come from communities where the custom was to fast. Although he respects this custom of the Ashkenazim to fast, he contends that since this is a day of celebration, those who do not have the practice are not permitted to fast.

Like receiving the Torah

What are the other reasons mentioned for the fast?

One early source states that the reason for the fast is that the wedding ceremony commemorates the giving of the Torah at Har Sinai. Indeed, many of our wedding customs, such as the carrying of candles or torches by those accompanying the chosson and kallah, commemorate our receiving the Torah. Continuing this analogy, one early source mentions that just as the Jews fasted prior to receiving the Torah, so too a chosson fasts the day of his wedding (Tashbeitz [Koton]#465). What I find interesting about this reason is that I am unaware of any Medrash that mentions the Jews fasting on the day they received the Torah. Obviously, the Tashbeitz was aware of such a Medrash.Perhaps this is why the later halachic authorities do not discuss this opinion or any halachic ramifications that result from it.

This is a beautiful reason to observe the fast, although I suspect that Sheryl’s family might not appreciate it.

To avoid rift

Here is another, very meaningful reason mentioned for the fast, although it is largely ignored by the later authorities: The Gemara (Shabbos 130a) states, “No kesubah is signed without an argument.” Unfortunately, it is common that differing opinions about wedding arrangements or setting up the newly- married couple cause friction between the families making the wedding. Since this problem is common, the couple should strive their utmost to avoid any conflict at all, and they should also pray and fast that the wedding pass with no disputes (Shu”t Mahari Bruno #93). Somehow, Sheryl did not think that her parents would appreciate this reason for her fast, and I tend to agree with her.

The king gets judged daily

Others explain that the origin for the custom is because the chosson is compared to a king, and we are taught by the Talmud Yerushalmi that a king is judged daily (Sanhedrin 2:3). Thus, the chosson fasts because he is being judged on his wedding day (Shu”t Mahari Bruno #93). Although we may not fully understand what this means, it is certainly a reason to do teshuvah and fast.

To appreciate the mitzvah

The above-mentioned anthology Hanisu’in Kehilchasam mentions yet another reason, which he attributes to the Rokei’ach. Great tzadikim were in such eager anticipation of performing rare mitzvos that they could not eat on the day they had an opportunity to perform one. Similarly, the chosson and kallah look forward to performing their mitzvah with such excitement that they cannot even eat!

Do they say Aneinu?

Do the chosson and kallah say Aneinu in their prayers, even if they will end their fast before the day ends?

The Rama (562:2) rules that the chosson recites Aneinu in his prayers, even if he is not going to complete the fast, such as when the wedding ceremony takes place during the daytime. In this latter situation, where he will not be completing the fast, many recommend that he omit the three words in Aneinu, BeYom Tzom Taaneiseinu, on this day of our fast, since for him it is not a full day of fasting (Rav Shelomoh Zalman Auerbach).

Accepting the fast

Usually, someone intending to have a voluntary fast must state at the end of mincha on the day before that he intends to fast the next day. Do the chosson and kallah accept the fast during mincha on the day before?

The halachic authorities recommend that the chosson and kallah make this declaration during mincha the day before the wedding, and recommend specifying that one intends to fast only until the time of the ceremony. Nevertheless, even if one did not declare the day to be a fast, and even if one did not mention the stipulation, one may assume that they should fast and they are required to fast only until the ceremony (Mishnah Berurah 562: 12). If the ceremony is before nightfall, the chosson and kallah should daven mincha before the wedding ceremony so that they can recite Aneinu, since once they break their fast, this prayer is inappropriate (Mishnah Berurah 562:12). By the way, if they forgot to say Aneinu, they do not repeat Shemoneh Esrei.

Are there days when they do not fast?

Indeed, a chosson and kallah must refrain from fasting on the many days when fasting is prohibited. This includes weddings taking place on Chanukah or Rosh Chodesh. The Magen Avraham (573:1) adds that they should not fast even on minor holidays, such as Isru Chag, Tu Bishvat and the Fifteenth of Av.

But maybe they will get intoxicated?

I understand that they are not allowed to fast—but if the reason for the fast is that they should not become inebriated, how will this be prevented? To avoid this danger, they must be careful not to drink any intoxicating beverages before the ceremony (Pri Megadim, Mishbetzos Zahav 573:1). Observing this precaution is a fulfillment of the custom to fast.

What about Lag BeOmer?

Technically speaking, there is no halachic problem with fasting on Lag BeOmer or during the month of Nisan, even though the custom is not to. Since halacha permits fasting on these days, the custom is for a chosson and kallah to fast. This applies also during the month of Tishrei or the first part of Sivan, even on days when we do not say Tachanun (Magen Avraham 573:1, 2). The Elyah Rabbah (573:3) records a practice that chasanim and kallahs not fast on days when we do not say Tachanun (quoting Nachalas Shivah). The Elyah Rabbah rallies many proofs from earlier authorities that this is not the halacha, but concludes that one who chooses to be lenient and not fast on these days will not lose by his lenient practice (hameikil lo hifsid).

What about a second marriage?

Does someone marrying for a second time fast on his wedding day?

According to the rationale that the fast is out of concern that someone might become intoxicated, there is no difference between a first or second marriage, and one is required to fast. Similarly, according to the reason that this is a day of atonement, they should also fast, since the day of a second marriage also atones. This is obvious from the Biblical source that teaches us that this day atones. When Eisav married Basmas/Machalas he was already married to two other women, yet the Torah teaches that the day atoned for him. Thus, we see that even a subsequent marriage atones, and someone marrying for second or third time should fast on the day.

What if they are not feeling well?

At this point we can address the second question raised above: Yocheved asks, “I usually do not fast well, and I am concerned how I will feel at my wedding if I fast that day. What do I do?”

We should be aware that on the least stringent of the required fasts, Taanis Esther, even someone suffering from a relatively minor ailment is not required to fast. The custom to fast the day of the wedding is certainly less of an obligation than fasting on Taanis Esther and, therefore, if either the chosson or the kallah suffers from a minor ailment or could get weak or dizzy from the fast, they should not fast (Aruch Hashulchan, Even Ha’ezer 61:21). Of course, specific questions should be addressed to one’s rav.

Conclusion

The Ashkenazic practice of fasting on the day of one’s wedding is within the category of custom, minhag, and therefore, as we have seen, includes many leniencies. Indeed, when these reasons apply, there is no reason to fast unnecessarily. Thus, if one is a Sefardi, not feeling well, or marrying on a day when Tachanun is not recited, one has a solid basis not to fast. However, when none of these reasons applies, one must follow the accepted minhag. The Gemara teaches that customs accepted by the Jewish people come under the category of al titosh toras imecha, do not forsake the laws of your mother, and that one is obligated to observe them.

May the fasts of our chasanim and kallahs contribute towards the increase of much shalom and kapparah and the creation of many happy marriages in Klal Yisroel.

Rus, David, and the Prohibition of Marrying Moavites

A critical feature of the Book of Rus is the question of whether Rus was allowed to marry into the Jewish people. The Torah prohibits a Moavite from marrying into Klal Yisroel to prevent damaging Klal Yisroel’s pristine moral nature by people who have inherited the disturbing character traits associated with the Moavite people:

An Ammonite or a Moavite should not enter the congregation of Hashem. Even the tenth generation should not enter the congregation of Hashem, forever. Because of the fact that they did not come forward with bread and water when you were on your way out of Mitzrayim and because of the fact that they hired Bilaam ben Be’or of Pesor, Aram Naharayim, to curse you (Devarim 23:4, 5).

Since there are no indications that the nation of Ammon participated in employing Bilaam, the Ramban (ad loc.) explains that each of the two reasons specified here applies to only one of the two nations involved: The Ammonites are excluded from marrying into Klal Yisroel because they did not provide food for the Jewish people, thus not demonstrating any hakaras hatov for the fact that Avraham Avinu had saved their ancestor Lot, and Moav is banned for hiring Bilaam.

The Mishnah (Yevamos 76b) rules Ammoni velo Ammonis, Moavi velo Moavis, that the prohibition of marrying into the Jewish people applies only to male Ammonites and Moavites and their male descendants. Thus, a male member of the Moavite people who converts to Judaism is still prohibited from marrying someone born Jewish. However, a female Moavite convert and all her descendants, and the female descendant of a male Moavite convert may freely marry within Klal Yisroel. It is for this reason that Boaz was permitted to marry Rus, who was a Moavite.

The Gemara explains that only Ammonite men are included in the ban, since only men would have been involved in going out to present food and drink to the Jews. The female Ammonites’ lack of involvement in this mitzvah may have been because of their extreme modesty – they never left their houses to be near unfamiliar men. Similarly, since we can assume that Bilaam was hired by the Moavite men, only they are prohibited from marrying into the Jewish people, not the women (see also Yerushalmi).

The Story of Rus

In addition to the above-quoted Mishnah, several other early sources discuss whether the prohibition preventing Moavites and Ammonites from marrying Jews is restricted to males or extends also to females. The first time we find this matter discussed is in the days of Rus. Megillas Rus tells us that Ploni Almoni, an uncle of Rus’s late husband Machlon, was concerned about marrying Rus pen ashchis nachalasi, lest I destroy my descendants (Rus 4:6), which Rashi explains to be a concern that his descendants born from Rus would not be allowed to marry other Jews, because of their Moavite ancestress. Rashi there explains that Ploni Almoni erred regarding the halachic rule of Ammoni velo Ammonis.

Yet, the comment of Ploni Almoni is peculiar. If he felt that female Moavites are prohibited from marrying Jews, why was he only concerned that his descendants would be banned and not about whether he himself was permitted to marry Rus? On the other hand, if he was willing to marry Rus because he knew that the prohibition is restricted to male Moavites, why was he concerned about his children? We will return to this question shortly.

The Story of David

The issue of whether Moavite women may marry Jews surfaced again concerning the lineage of King David, who was descended from Rus. A fascinating passage of Gemara describes an early halachic debate among several known Biblical personages – whom we see from this Gemara were exemplary Torah scholars. Doeig HaEdomi, a member of King Shaul’s retinue, and Avner ben Ner, Shaul’s chief-of-military-staff, debate the halachic issue concerning whether Moavite women may marry Jews. The discussion between them is what one expects from Talmidei Chachamim of the first order, vociferously debating a halachic issue in your local Beis Medrash. But first let us examine the historical context.

Background to the Story

After Shaul failed to destroy Amalek and he had been told that he would therefore lose the monarchy, Hashem commanded Shmuel to clandestinely anoint David, the youngest of Yishai’s eight sons, as the new King of Israel. Shmuel carried out this mission, but it had been kept a complete secret.

At this time, Shaul began suffering bouts of depression. Shaul’s advisers sought out someone who could play music and thereby help Shaul cope with his depression. One of Shaul’s attendants knew David and suggested him for the position. David tried out for the position and was very successful. Shaul then sent a message to Yishai, David’s father, requesting that David be allowed to assume this position permanently. David did fill the position, and Shaul loved David tremendously, and had David also assume the role of being the royal armor-bearer. Shaul sent a second message to Yishai, requesting that David remain with Shaul “for he has found favor in my eyes” (Shmuel I 16:14-23).

At this point, the Pelishtim (Philistines) waged war against the Jews. The Pelishtim had a giant warrior among them, Golyas (known in English as “Goliath”), who stood over six amos tall (well over ten feet!). Golyas would taunt the Jews with his powerful, terrifying voice. Golyas challenged the Jews to send one representative who would face off in battle against him, with the nation of the victor taking the members of the other nation as slaves. At the same time, Golyas screamed blasphemous declarations about Hashem. The Jewish troops were terrified of Golyas (Shmuel I 17:1-11).

At the time, David’s three oldest brothers served in Shaul’s army. Yishai, David’s father, who is described as zakein ba va’anashim, meaning a well known personage, sent David to bring provisions to his brothers at the battlefront (Shmuel I 17:12). David discovered that Shaul was offering a vast reward to whoever would vanquish Golyas.

David the Brave

David, after gathering information about the situation, volunteered to fight Golyas by himself. Shaul discouraged David, noting that Golyas was an experienced warrior, whereas David was not.

David replied that Hashem is the One who provides all salvation, and that Hashem often helped David fight lions and bears while he was tending his sheep. Shaul gave David his blessing.

Shaul’s armor was placed upon David, but David said that he could not move freely with the armor, and removed it. David then took five smooth stones from a stream and placed them in his shepherd’s bag.

When Golyas saw David, he taunted him, saying “I will offer your flesh to the birds of the heavens and the animals of the field,” to which David responded: “You come against me with sword, spear and javelin, and I come against you with the Name of Hashem, Master of Armies, the G-d of the troops of Israel.” At this point, David took his slingshot, shot one stone that struck Golyas on the forehead, and Golyas fell dead. David then took Golyas’s sword, chopped off his head and demonstrated to all the Pelishtim that their hero was dead. The Pelishtim fled, and on that day, the Jews vanquished their enemy.

Now we come to the strangest part of the story:

“And when Shaul saw David move forward against the Pelishti, he said to Avner, his general, ‘Avner, whose son is this lad?’ And Avner answered, ‘As you live, O King, I do not know.’ And the king responded, ‘Find out whose son is this lad’” (Shmuel I, 17:55-56).

This last part of the story is bizarre. Both Shaul and Avner certainly knew David well — David was Shaul’s armor-bearer and the one who played music to treat Shaul’s fits of depression. Furthermore, they were also familiar with Yishai, who was a well-known personage and with whom Shaul had negotiated twice for David’s employ.

The Gemara Passage

As we can imagine, we are not the first to ask these questions: They form the basis of a fascinating Talmudic discussion (Yevamos 76b-77a).

The Gemara asks why Shaul asked Avner who David and Yishai were; he knew them both, very well. The Gemara answers that he suspected that David might be the person who would be replacing him as king of the Jews. Shaul inquired whether David was descended from the branch of Yehudah that was destined to be the Jewish royal family. Thus, the question “Avner, whose son is this lad?” was not about David’s identity but about his genealogical roots.

At this point, Doeig HaEdomi piped up, “Rather than ask concerning whether he is appropriate to become king, you should ask whether he may marry into the Jewish people. After all, he is descended from Rus, the Moavite.” To this, Avner retorted that we know that the halachah is that only male descendants of Ammon and Moav are prohibited, and therefore Rus was permitted to marry into the Jewish people. Doeig, however, disputed the veracity of this ruling. A halachic debate ensued between Doeig and Avner, concerning whether one can prove from the verses that the prohibition against Ammon and Moav is limited to males, or whether it extends also to the female descendants. Doeig won the upper hand in the debate, producing irrefutable arguments that females are also prohibited.

What was Doeig’s Argument?

As explained by the Ritva (ad loc.), Doeig insisted that the prohibition against marrying Ammonites applies equally to men and women of this nation. In his opinion, the Ammonite women equally share blame for the discourtesy they showed the Israelites, since the Ammonite women should also have provided food and water. He disputes with excusing their not providing help as attributable to their extreme modesty, since the Ammonite women should have assisted the Jewish women.

But what about the Moavite women?

But wait one minute! This concern should not affect David, who was descended from Moav, not from Ammon, and the Moavite women cannot be accused of hiring Bilaam. However, Doeig contended that Moavite women are also prohibited. Although it may be true that Bilaam was hired by the men, since the prohibitions against marrying Moavites and Ammonites are mentioned together, just as female Ammonites may not marry Jews, the same applies to female Moavites (Rashba, Yevamos 76b).

When Avner was unable to disprove Doeig’s approach, Shaul referred the issue to the scholars who debated such matters in the Beis Medrash. These scholars also responded that the prohibition banning the marriage of Ammon and Moav applies only to males and not to females. Doeig then proceeded to demonstrate that their approach was incorrect, leading the scholars of the Beis Medrash to conclude that their previous assumption was wrong and that henceforth the halachah would be that female descendants of Ammon and Moav are prohibited from marrying into Klal Yisroel. This ruling would seriously affect David and all his family members. Boaz had married Rus assuming that the prohibition banning Moavites applied only to males, and now the scholars of the Beis Medrash were considering banning Moavite and Ammonite women and all their descendants.

Amasa to the Rescue!

They were about to conclude that this is the halachah, when another scholar, Amasa, who was also a general in Shaul’s army, rose and declared, “I have received a direct mesorah from Shmuel’s Beis Din that the prohibition relates only to male descendants and not to female ones.” This last argument apparently turned the entire debate back in favor of Avner’s original position, and it was accepted that David and all of Yishai’s descendants could marry within Klal Yisroel (Yevamos 76b-77a).

What did Amasa’s declaration change? In what way did this refute Doeig’s arguments?

Based on a halachic explanation of the Rambam (Hilchos Mamrim 1:2), the Brisker Rav explains what changed.

There are two basic types of Torah laws:

  • Those that are handed down as a mesorah from Moshe Rabbeinu at Har Sinai.
  • Those derived on the basis of the thirteen rules with which we derive new halachos, called in English the hermeneutic rules.

Let me explain each category by using examples:

Mesorah

We have a mesorah that the Torah’s requirement that we take “the fruit of a beautiful tree” on Sukkos refers to an esrog. No halachic authority in Klal Yisroel’s history ever questioned this fact, and for a very simple reason. We know this piece of information directly from the great leaders of Klal Yisroel who received this information from Moshe Rabbeinu, who heard it directly from Hashem (Rambam, Introduction to the Commentary on the Mishnah).

Logic

However, there are also Torah laws that were not taught with a direct mesorah from Har Sinai, but are derived through the hermeneutic rules of the Torah. For example, there is a dispute among tana’im whether a sukkah requires four walls to be kosher or whether it is sufficient if it has three. This debate is based on two different ways to explain the words of the Torah (Sukkah 6b).

Mesorah Versus Logic

Are there any halachic distinctions between the two categories of Torah-derived laws? Indeed, there are. The Rambam explains that when the position is based on logic, halachic authorities may disagree what is the halachah. Thus, there can be a dispute among tana’im whether a sukkah must have three walls or four. However, there can never be a dispute concerning a matter that Klal Yisroel received as a mesorah. Once a greatly respected Torah authority reports a mesorah from his rebbe,who in turn received this mesorah back to Moshe Rabbeinu, that a specific halachah or principle is true, no one can question this mesorah. Thus, any dispute about a halachah of the Torah can concern only something derived logically with hermeneutic principles.

There is another halachic difference between something taught by mesorah and something derived through logic. The final decider of all halachah in every generation (until the end of the era of the Talmud) was the Sanhedrin, also often called the Beis Din HaGadol, the supreme Beis Din. Once the great Torah scholars of Klal Yisroel participated in a debate in the Beis Din HaGadol, which then reached a decision, their conclusion is binding on all of Klal Yisroel (Rambam, Hilchos Mamrim 1:1; Comments of Ramban to Sefer HaMitzvos, Rule II).

There is a question whether a Beis Din HaGadol may overturn a ruling that had been decided previously, either its own decision or one made by an earlier Beis Din HaGadol. The answer to this question depends on whether the ruling involved was based on logic or whether it was taught by mesorah. When the original decision was reached by logic, then a later Beis Din HaGadol has the authority to reexamine the case, and, should it decide to, overturn the previous ruling.

However, this can never happen with a law whose source is mesorah. There can be no debate, no discussion and no overturning. Once a recognized scholar announces that he received this law as a mesorah from Sinai, this is accepted by all, and no debate or questioning of this mesorah may transpire.

Thus, it makes a tremendous difference in halachah whether something is a mesorah, which means it is not subject to argument or debate, or whether it is based on an interpretation of the hermeneutic rules, which is subject to argument and debate.

On the basis of these rules of the Rambam, the Brisker Rav (in his notes to the book of Rus in his Chiddushim on Tanach) explains why Amasa’s argument closed the debate in David’s favor. Doeig, Shaul, Avner, and the other members of Shaul’s Beis Medrash all assumed that limiting the prohibition of Ammoni and Moavi to males was based on hermeneutic exposition, and thus debatable. Furthermore, if Doeig demonstrated that his approach was logically correct, the long-established interpretation permitting Rus to marry into the Jewish people would be overturned. Indeed, the result of this ruling would be that Rus and all her descendants would be prohibited to marry into the Jewish people.

Amasa, however, explains the Brisker Rav, knew that the principle of Moavi velo Moavis, that female descendants of Moav could marry into Klal Yisroel, was a mesorah that Shmuel knew originated at Har Sinai. Thus, its basis was not a logical interpretation of the Torah, which can be refuted, but mesorah, which cannot. Therefore, a logical interpretation concluding otherwise was completely irrelevant.

At this point, we can return to an earlier question we asked about the story of Megillas Rus. Ploni Almoni, Machlon’s uncle, seems convinced that he may marry Rus, notwithstanding her Moavite origins, yet he was concerned that his descendants from her might not be allowed to marry other Jews. The Brisker Rav explains that Ploni Almoni assumed that the law permitting Moavite women to marry Jews was based on logic, which might at some time in the future be refuted, thus changing the accepted halachah. At that point, the ability of his descendants to marry Jews would be overturned. However, Ploni Almoni was incorrect, since the halachah that Moavite women may marry Jews is mesorah, and therefore irrefutable. There can and will never be a question as to whether the descendants of Boaz and David may marry Jews, notwithstanding their Moavite origins.

Conclusion

Besides the halachic issues regarding the pedigree of David, which are of supreme importance to us, since they are the basis of the lineage of Mashiach, we learn a very important lesson from the marital restrictions of the Moavites. One of the three identifying characteristics of the Jewish people is our quality that we are makir tov, we appreciate what others, and especially Hashem, have done for us and acknowledge that appreciation. From this mitzvah, we see how concerned we should be about developing the qualities that characterize the Jewish people.

Nu, so, what is new?

The laws of Chodosh

By Rabbi Yirmiyohu Kaganoff

Question #1: New mitzvah?!

“When I was young, I do not think I ever heard about a prohibition called chodosh, or that something was yoshon. These days, I am constantly hearing these terms. Do we now have a new mitzvah?”

Question #2: New\Old Visitor

“We have decided to stay permanently in Eretz Yisrael, but we visit the United States a few times a year. Do we need to be concerned about chodosh when we visit?”

The Basics

Before addressing the issue underlying both questions, which is whether the prohibition of chodosh applies outside Eretz Yisrael, we must first study some essential details of the mitzvah. The Torah teaches in parshas Emor:

“Bread, sweet flour made from toasted kernels, or the toasted kernels themselves, may not be eaten until that very day – until you bring the offering to your G-d. This is a law that you must always observe throughout your generations in all your dwelling places” (Vayikra 23:14). “That very day” refers to the second day of Pesach, the day that the korban omer, the “offering” mentioned in the pasuk, is brought. (This is the same day that we begin counting the omer, a practice we continue until Shavuos.)

The Mishnah (Menachos 70a) explains that this mitzvah applies only to the five species that we usually categorize as grain, which Rashi (Pesachim 35a) defines as wheat, barley, spelt, oats and rye. The Gemara (Menachos 70b) demonstrates that the laws of chodosh apply to the same varieties of grain that can become chometz.

What Permits the New Grain?

We should note that the Torah mentions two different factors that permit the new grain – it “may not be eaten until that very day – until you bring the offering to your G-d.” This seems to be a bit contradictory. What permits the new grain, the day or the offering that transpires in the course of the day?

Will It be Brought?

The Gemara (Menachos 68a) concludes that it depends on whether a korban omer will be offered that particular year. Until the Beis Hamikdash was destroyed, a korban omer was brought annually, and offering this korban permitted the new grain, thereby fulfilling “may not be eaten… until you bring the offering to your G-d.” After the Beis Hamikdash was destroyed, it is the day that permits the new grain.

There is a further question: When there is no korban omer at what point during the day does the new grain become permitted?

The Gemara quotes a dispute concerning this fact, whether, is it the beginning of the day or its end. The Gemara concludes that even those who permit the new grain at the beginning of the day, this is only min haTorah, but they agree that miderabbanan the new grain is not permitted until the day ends (Sukkah 41b).

“New” Grain versus “Old” Grain

This new grain is called chodosh, literally, new. Once Pesach passes, the grain is called yoshon, old, even though it may have been planted only a few days before. The promotion from chodosh to yoshon transpires automatically on the second day of Pesach – all the existing chodosh becomes yoshon grain on that day, even that which is still growing. The only requirement is that by then the grain has taken root. Thus, designating the grain as “old” does not mean that it is either wizened or rancid. Grain planted in the late winter or early spring often becomes permitted well before it even completed growing. On the other hand, grain that took root after the second day of Pesach is categorized as “new” grain that may not be eaten until the second day of the next Pesach, the following year.

How Do We Know That It Is Newly Rooted?

Since most of us spend little time subterraneanly, how are we to know when the newly planted seeds decided to take root? This question is already debated by the Tanna’im. The halachic authorities dispute whether we assume that seeds take root three days after planting or not until fourteen days after planting. If we assume that they take root in only three days, then grain planted on the thirteenth of Nisan is permitted after the sixteenth. This is because the remaining part of the thirteenth day counts as the first day, and the fifteenth day of Nisan (the first day of Pesach) is the third day, and we therefore assume that the new grain rooted early enough to become permitted. However, grain that was planted on the fourteenth, Erev Pesach, is forbidden until the following year (Terumas Hadeshen #151; Pischei Teshuvah, Yoreh Deah 293:4, 5; Aruch Hashulchan).

According to those who conclude that it takes fourteen days to take root, the grain that is planted on the thirteenth does not become permitted until the next year. In addition, any grain planted on the third of Nisan or afterwards will not be permitted until the coming year, whereas that planted on the second of Nisan becomes permitted. We count the second of Nisan as the first day, which makes the fifteenth of Nisan the fourteenth day, and the grain took root early enough so that the sixteenth of Nisan permits it (Nekudos Hakesef; Dagul Meirevavah; Shu”t Noda Biyehudah 2:Orach Chayim:84).

What’s New in Chutz La’aretz?

Now that we understand some basic information about chodosh, we can discuss whether this mitzvah applies to grain growing outside Eretz Yisrael. Following the general rule that agricultural mitzvos, mitzvos hateluyos ba’aretz, apply only in Eretz Yisrael, we should assume that this mitzvah does not apply to grain that grew in chutz la’aretz. Indeed, this is the position of the Tanna Rabbi Yishmael (Kiddushin 37a). However, Rabbi Eliezer disagrees, contending that the mitzvah applies also in chutz la’aretz.

This dispute is based on differing interpretations of an unusual verse. When closing its instructions concerning the mitzvah of chodosh, the Torah concludes: This is a law that you must always observe throughout your generations in all your dwelling places.” Why did the Torah add the last words, “in all your dwelling places”? Would we think that a mitzvah applies only in some dwellings and not in others?

The Tanna’im mentioned above dispute how we are to understand these unusual words. Rabbi Eliezer explains that “in all your dwelling places” teaches that this prohibition, chodosh, is an exception to the rule of mitzvos hateluyos ba’aretz and applies to all your dwelling places – even those outside Eretz Yisrael. Thus, although we have a usual rule that mitzvos hateluyos ba’aretz apply only in Eretz Yisrael, the Torah itself taught that chodosh is an exception and applies even in chutz la’aretz.

Rabbi Yishmael explains the words “in all your dwelling places” to mean the mitzvah applies only after the land was conquered and settled. As a result, he contends that chodosh indeed follows the general rule of agricultural mitzvos and applies only in Eretz Yisrael.

The New Planting

When a farmer plants his crops depends on many factors, including what variety or strain he is planting, climate and weather conditions, and even perhaps his own personal schedule. At times in history, even non-Jewish religious observances were considerations, as we see from the following incident:

The Rosh reports that, in his day, whether most of the new grain was chodosh or yoshon depended on when the gentiles’ religious seasons fell out. Apparently, in his day sometimes the gentiles planted well before Pesach, and in those years there was no chodosh concern, since the new grain became permitted while it was still growing. However, there were years in which the gentiles refrained from planting until much later, and in those years the new grain was chodosh (Shu”t HaRosh 2:1). In addition, they had a practice not to plant during the xian holiday season that they call Lent. Sometimes Lent fell during Pesach and the xians planted before, and sometimes it fell earlier and they planted after Pesach, in which case there was a chodosh problem. We therefore find the rather anomalous situation in which the Rosh needed to find out exactly when the gentiles observed their religious month to know whether the grain was chodosh or yoshon.

What is New in Agriculture?

But one minute — the Rosh lived in Europe, first in Germany and then in Spain. Why was he concerned about chodosh? Should this not be an agricultural mitzvah that does not apply to produce grown outside of Eretz Yisrael? From the citation above, we see that the Rosh ruled that chodosh is prohibited even in chutz la’aretz. The Rosh is not alone. Indeed, most, but not all, of the Rishonim and poskim conclude that chodosh applies to all grain regardless of where it grows, since we see from the Gemara that chodosh was practiced in Bavel, even though it is outside Eretz Yisrael (Menachos 68b). However, notwithstanding that the Rosh, the Tur and the Shulchan Aruch all prohibit chodosh grown in chutz la’aretz, the traditional approach among Ashkenazic Jewry was to permit the use of new grain. Why were they lenient when most authorities rule like Rabbi Eliezer that chodosh is prohibited even outside Eretz Yisrael?

Later authorities suggest several reasons to permit consuming the new grain.

Doubly Doubtful

Many authorities permitted the new grain because the new crop may have been planted early enough to be permitted, and, in addition, the possibility exists that the available grain is from a previous crop year, which is certainly permitted. This approach accepts that chodosh applies equally in chutz la’aretz as it does in Eretz Yisrael, but contends that when one is uncertain whether the grain available is chodosh or yoshon, one can rely that it is yoshon. Because of this double doubt, called a sefeik sefeika, many major authorities permitted people to consume the available grain (Rema, Yoreh Deah 293). However, we should note that this heter is dependent on available information, and these authorities agree that when one knows that the grain being used is chodosh one may not consume it.

The Rosh accepted this approach, and was careful to monitor the planting seasons so as to ascertain each year whether the grain was planted in a time that caused a chodosh issue. In years that there was a chodosh problem, he refrained from eating the new grain – however, it is interesting to note, that he was extremely careful not to point out his concerns to others. He further notes that his rebbe, the Maharam, followed the same practice, but said nothing about this to others. Thus, we see that some early gedolim were strict for themselves about observing chodosh but said nothing to others out of concern that they would be unable to observe chodosh. This practice was followed in the contemporary world by such great luminaries as Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky, who was personally stringent not to eat chodosh, but was careful not to tell anyone, even family members, who followed the lenient approaches that I will soon share.

Another Heter

Other authorities permitted the chutz la’aretz grain, relying on the minority of early poskim who treat chodosh as a mitzvah that applies only in Eretz Yisrael (Taz; Aruch Hashulchan). This is based on a Gemara that states that when something has not been ruled definitively, one may rely on a minority opinion under extenuating circumstances (Niddah 9b).

This dispute then embroils one in a different issue: When the Gemara rules that under extenuating circumstances one may rely on a minority opinion, is this true only when dealing with a rabbinic prohibition, or may one do so even when dealing with a potential Torah prohibition. The Taz and Aruch Hashulchan, who permitted chodosh for this reason, conclude that one may follow a minority opinion even when dealing with a potential Torah prohibition. The Shach rejects this approach, and concludes that one must be stringent when one knows that the grain is chodosh (Nekudos Hakesef. See also his Pilpul Behanhagos Horaah, located after Yoreh Deah 242; cf. the Bach’s essay on the same topic, published in the back of the Tur Yoreh Deah, where he rules leniently on this issue.)

The Bach’s Heter

Another halachic basis to permit use of the new grain is that chodosh applies only to grain that grows in a field owned by a Jew, and not to grain grown in a field owned by a non-Jew. Since most fields are owned by gentiles, one can be lenient when one does not know the origin of the grain and assume that it was grown in a gentile’s field, and it is therefore exempt from chodosh laws. This last approach, often referred to simply as “the Bach’s heter,” is the basis upon which most Ashkenazic Jewry relied.

We may note that the Rosh, quoted above, rejects this heter, and that Tosafos (Kiddushin 37a end of s.v. kol), the Tur and the Shulchan Aruch also reject this approach. Similarly, the above-quoted responsum from the Rosh explicitly rejects this logic and contends that chodosh applies to grain grown in a gentile’s field.

Nevertheless, common custom accepted this the heter that grain grown in a non-Jew’s field is exempt from chodosh; even many gedolei Yisroel accepted this approach. The Bach notes that many of the greatest luminaries of early Ashkenazic Jewry, including Rav Shachna and the Maharshal, were lenient regarding chodosh use in their native Europe. He shares that as a young man he advanced his theory that chodosh does not exist in a field owned by a gentile to the greatest scholars of that generation, and that they all accepted it.

The Bach himself further contends that although the Rosh in his responsum rejected this approach, the Rosh subsequently changed his mind, and in his halachic code, which was written after his responsa (see Tur, Choshen Mishpat, end of Chapter (72, he omits mention that the prohibition of chodosh applies to gentile-grown grain.

Thus, those residing in chutz la’aretz have a right to follow the accepted practice, as indeed did many, if not most, of the gedolei Yisrael. However, others, such as the Mishnah Berurah, rule strictly about this issue.

Until fairly recently, many rabbonim felt that those who are strict about the prohibition should observe the law of chodosh discreetly. Some contend that one should do so because they feel that observing chodosh has the status of chumrah, and the underlying principle when observing any chumrah is hatznei’ah leches – they should be observed modestly. (See Michtav Mei’eliyahu Volume 3, page 294.) Others feel that the practice of being lenient was based on an extenuating circumstance that is no longer valid, since yoshon is fairly available in most large Jewish communities, and that, on the contrary, we should let people be aware so that they can observe the mitzvah.

North American Hechsherim

The assumption of virtually all hechsherim is that unless mentioned otherwise, they rely on the halachic opinion of the Bach. Many decades ago, Rav Aharon Soloveichek pioneered his own personal hechsher that did not follow either the heter of the Bach or that of the Taz and the Aruch Hashulchan. He further insisted that the yeshivos that he served as Rosh Yeshivah serve exclusively food that did not rely on these heterim. Today, there are a few other hechsherim that follow this approach, whereas the majority of North American hechsherim accept the heter of the Bach.

With this background, we can now address the first question that began our article. “When I was young, I do not think I ever heard about a prohibition called chodosh, or that something was yoshon. These days, I am constantly hearing the term. Do we now have a new mitzvah?”

The answer is that the mitzvah is not new. When you were young, most halachic authorities either felt that one could rely on the opinion of the Bach, or felt that one should keep the topic quiet. Today, many feel that one may and should advertise the availability of yoshon products.

In addition, there is interesting agricultural background to this question. At one point in history, the flour commonly sold in the United States was from the previous year’s crop, and was always yoshon. Rav Yaakov used to monitor the situation, and when the United States no longer followed this practice, he began to freeze flour so that he would have a supply during the winter and spring months when chodosh is a concern.

In the spring and early summer, there is no concern about chodosh in the United States, since all fresh grain products then available became permitted on the sixteenth of Nisan. Usually, the earliest chodosh products begin coming to market is midsummer, and some products do not appear until the fall.

Visitors from Abroad

At this point, we can begin to answer the second question: “We have decided to stay permanently in Eretz Yisrael, but we visit the States a few times a year. Do we need to be concerned about chodosh when we visit?”

As I mentioned above, someone who lives in chutz la’aretz has the halachic right not to be concerned about observing chodosh on grain that grows in chutz la’aretz. The question is whether someone who has moved to Eretz Yisrael where the prevailing custom is to be stringent, and is now visiting chutz la’aretz has the same right. This matter is disputed, and I have discussed it with many poskim, most of whom felt that one should be machmir.

In Conclusion

In explaining the reason for this mitzvah, Rav Hirsch notes that one of man’s greatest enemies is success, for at that moment man easily forgets his Creator and views himself as master of his own success and his own destiny. For this reason, the Torah created several mitzvos whose goal is to remind and discipline us to always recognize Hashem‘s role. Among these is the mitzvah of chodosh, wherein we are forbidden from consuming the new grain until the offering of the korban omer, which thereby reminds us that this year’s crop is here only because of Hashem (Horeb, Section 2 Chapter 42). Whether one follows the Bach’s approach to the chodosh laws or not, one should make note every time he sees a reference to yoshon and chodosh to recognize that success is our enemy, and that humility is our savior.