How Fast Must I Eat?

Pesach – The First Question Is:

“How quickly must I eat my matzoh on Pesach to be able to bensch?”

Matzoh – The Second Question Is:

“How quickly must I eat my matzoh at the Seder to fulfill the mitzvah?”

Maror – The Third Question Is:

“How quickly must I eat my maror at the Seder to fulfill the mitzvah?”

Wine – The Fourth Question Is:

“How quickly must I drink the wine of the four kosos at the Seder?”

Foreword:

In some households, there is a big rush to eat the matzoh as quickly as possible, and similar pressure to eat the maror and drink the four cups of wine at the Seder. This article will research how quickly we must eat or drink mitzvah foods to fulfill the Torah’s requirements. Since this is a vast topic, our article will be focused on some of its specific aspects. Were we to attempt to cover more of the subtopics, we would be biting off more than we can chew.

Introduction:

In several places, the Gemara states that shiurim, the measurements that are a very important aspect of the halachos of the Torah, are halacha leMoshe miSinai (Eruvin 4a; Sukkah 5a). This means that when Moshe Rabbeinu was taught the Torah by Hashem, he was taught the quantities necessary to fulfill the mitzvos, although there is little or no allusion to these details in the written Torah. For example, the halacha that one must eat at least a kezayis (an olive-sized piece) of matzoh to fulfill the mitzvah is a halacha leMoshe miSinai (Brachos 37b; Rashi, Sukkah 42b).

Maror

The mitzvah to eat maror at the Seder is min haTorah only when there is also a korban Pesach. Until the time that we are again able to offer the korban Pesach, which we pray will be in time for this year, the mitzvah of eating maror is only a rabbinic requirement. Notwithstanding the fact that the requirement to eat maror is only miderabbanan, we are still required to eat a kezayis to fulfill the mitzvah (Rosh, Pesachim 10:25).

How big is an olive?

As we are aware, Hashem created olives, like most items, in different sizes. How big an olive is intended to fulfill the mitzvos? The Mishnah states that it is an average-sized olive (Keilim 17:8). Of course, this may not help us, since we do not know what the Mishnah considered to be “average-sized.” Among the acharonim, this became a very hot topic, with some prominent authorities ruling that the olives available in the contemporary world are considerably smaller than what was considered an “average” olive of the days of Chazal (Tzelach, Pesachim 116b). Although most authorities disagree with this approach, accepted practice is to be stringent and follow this opinion, at least in regard to fulfilling mitzvos min haTorah (see Shu”t Chasam Sofer, Orach Chayim 1:127; Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chayim 168:13, Yoreh Deah 324:5, 6; Shi’urei Torah of Rav Avraham Chayim Na’eh 3, note 19). This explains why the amounts we find that many authorities mention for the mitzvah of matzoh is much larger than the size of any olive that we have ever encountered. Also, since most authorities rule this way only germane to mitzvos that are min haTorah, this explains why the size of a kezayis for the mitzvah of achilas matzoh is greater than it is for the mitzvah of koreich or for bensching, which are not requirements min haTorah.

How much must I imbibe?

The mitzvah to drink four cups of wine at the Seder is rabbinic in origin, and, therefore, by definition, was not taught at Sinai. When Chazal instituted this mitzvah, they required that a person have a cup that contains at least what they called a revi’is. (Most late authorities calculate a revi’is to be a little more than three ounces, but some feel that it is closer to five ounces or even a bit more. Because of space constraints, we will not be able to discuss the details of this question.) Regarding how much must be drunk, most authorities contend that it is preferable to drink an entire revi’is, although all agree that someone who drank most, but not all, of the revi’is has fulfilled the mitzvah.

Heavy drinker

What is the halacha if someone is using a cup that is larger than a revi’is? Is it sufficient for him to drink most of a revi’is, or must he drink most of the volume of the cup, even when that is more than a revi’is? The rishonim discuss this issue, some contending that it is sufficient to drink most of a revi’is, whereas the Ramban rules that he must drink most of the contents of the cup that he is using (quoted by Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 472). To accommodate both opinions, the Magen Avraham advises that someone who cannot drink a lot of wine should use a goblet that holds only the minimum amount of a revi’is.

Other mitzvos

Although the minimal amount for most mitzvos that involve eating is a kezayis, this rule is not universal. Yom Kippur is one example that is different, where the minimum amount to be culpable for the Torah’s punishment of koreis is the eating of a koseves, the size of a large date, which is considerably larger than an olive. Based on a passage of Gemara, the rishonim conclude that a koseves is slightly smaller than a kebeitzah, the size of an egg (Yoma 79b; Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 612:1).

The Gemara (Yoma 73b) discusses whether it is prohibited min haTorah to eat less than a koseves on Yom Kippur. The universally accepted conclusion is that it is prohibited min haTorah to eat or drink even a small amount on Yom Kippur, unless the situation is life-threatening. The well-known concept called pachus mikeshiur, which permits eating less than a koseves or drinking an amount smaller than the minimal shiur and then waiting several minutes before eating or drinking again,is permitted only when fasting is potentially life-threatening. The principle of pachus mikeshiur is that, even when it is permitted for someone to eat on Yom Kippur, we are required to minimize the level of the violation (Ran, based on Yoma 82b). In other words, in a situation in which it is dangerous for someone to fast, he may eat or drink only the minimal amount that mitigates the life-threatening emergency. If he can eat a very small amount and then wait to eat more, he may not eat more, now.

Bensching

In parshas Eikev, where the Torah requires that we recite a blessing after eating, it states, Ve’achalta vesavata uveirachta es Hashem Elokecha, “When you eat and are satisfied, you should bless Hashem, your G-d.” The implication of the posuk is that the requirement to bensch is only when someone ate enough to be fully satisfied, meaning that he ate a full meal. Indeed, most halachic authorities rule that this is true min haTorah, and that the requirement to bensch when eating less than this amount is only rabbinic.

The Gemara quotes a dispute among tanna’im how much food requires the recital of birchas hamazon, and the conclusion is that it is required whenever someone ate a kezayis, the same minimum required for the mitzvos of matzoh and maror. Someone who ate less than a kezayis of bread, whether it is leavened or not, is not required to recite birkas hamazon, and, therefore, it is forbidden to recite birkas hamazon if one ate less than a kezayis.

At this point, we can begin discussing the opening question of today’s article: “How quickly must I eat my matzoh on Pesach to be able to bensch?” In other words, is there a minimum amount of time within which I must eat a kezayis of matzoh to be required to bensch? This question introduces our next subtopic.

Term limits

Among the many measurements that the Oral Torah teaches is the concept of kdei achilas pras. I will shortly explain what this term means, but first I will explain the principle. Fulfilling the mitzvos of eating matzoh and maror requires not only eating at least a kezayis, but also that the kezayis be eaten within a minimal period of time. Similarly, there is a requirement to bensch when eating at least a kezayis of bread, but only when it is eaten within a minimal timeframe. The minimal time limit required for all mitzvos germane to eating is to eat the specified amount within a period of time called kdei achilas pras (see Pesochim 114b).

Literally, kdei achilas pras means as much time as it takes to eat half a loaf of bread. This is, of course, meaningless, unless we know the size of the loaf, what type of bread it is, who is eating it, and under what circumstances. How big a loaf is the subject of a dispute among the tanna’im, and how we rule in this dispute is, itself, disputed by the most prominent of rishonim: The Rambam’s opinion is that kdei achilas pras is the amount of time it takes to eat white bread the size of three eggs (Hilchos Shevisas Asor 2:4; Hilchos Chometz Umatzoh 1:6; Hilchos Ma’achalos Asuros 14:8; see also Chazon Ish, Orach Chayim 39:18), whereas Rashi (Brachos 37b; Pesochim 44a; Avodah Zarah 67a) concludes that it is the amount of time it takes to eat white bread the size of four eggs. We will discuss shortly how we measure this in minutes, but it does mean that whatever the timeframe is according to the Rambam, Rashi holds that it is one third longer.

The time limit of kdei achilas pras applies not only to mitzvos but also to prohibitions. For example, there are Torah prohibitions against eating non-kosher species, or against eating blood or cheilev, certain fats. Although it is prohibited min haTorah to eat any amount of these substances, the punishments that the Torah describes are only when someone eats a kezayis of these prohibited foods within kdei achilas pras.

The Shulchan Aruch quotes the dispute between Rashi and the Rambam without making a decision which approach we should follow. For this reason, the consensus of the subsequent authorities is that we should always be stringent, at least when we are dealing with a de’oraysa case.

Individualism

Does the size of kdei achilas pras depend on how quickly this individual eats, or does it depend on how long it takes most people to eat? Germane to the law of consuming pachus mikeshiur on Yom Kippur, where we are trying to determine how long a person must wait between eating minimal portions of food, the Mishnah Berurah (618:21) states that this is contingent on how long it takes the person in question to eat bread the size of four eggs. However, the Mishnah Berurah then quotes the Chasam Sofer, who rules that someone eating pachus mikeshiur on Yom Kippur should allow at least nine minutes between one eating and the next. This ruling of an objective time figure assumes that the time of kdei achilas pras is dependent not on the individual, but is a standard measurement. The latter approach is what many later authorities conclude (Chazon Ish, Orach Chayim 39:18; Shi’urei Torah 3:13 and others). Because of questions germane to the Mishnah Berurah’s statement on this issue, some prominent later authorities conclude that the Mishnah Berurah himself did not mean that kdei achilas pras is dependent on the individual; he also agrees that kdei achilas pras is dependent on an “average” person, whatever that term means.

Kdei achilas pras

How many minutes constitute the time that we call kdei achilas pras? This question is discussed by the acharonim, with a wide range of opinions. Since the different approaches are based more on conjecture than on absolute proof, most authorities rule that we should follow a much longer amount of time when it is a chumra, such as on Yom Kippur, when we are gauging how to space the food in a way that mitigates the prohibition, whereas on Pesach night we should follow a much shorter amount of time, since we are deciding the minimum amount of time in which to eat the kezayis of matzoh.

I mentioned above the ruling of the Chasam Sofer that kdei achilas pras is nine minutes, which is the longest opinion of which I am aware. The Maharam Shik, a proud disciple of the Chasam Sofer, explains that this calculation should really be eight minutes, but that the Chasam Sofer added an extra minute to be on the safe side (Shu”t Maharam Shik, Orach Chayim #263). The Bikurei Yaakov,a prominent work on the laws of sukkah written by Rav Yaakov Ettlinger, the author of the classics Aruch Laneir and Binyan Tziyon, holds that it is sufficient to wait only 7.5 minutes. To quote him in context: “It is forbidden to eat more than a kebeitzah outside the sukkah… however it seems to me that this is only when he ate it within kdei achilas pras, which is approximately 1/8 of an hour” (Bikurei Yaakov 639:13). One eighth of an hour is seven and a half minutes; however, the Aruch Laneir does not tell us how he arrived at that figure. The Aruch Hashulchan (Orach Chayim 618:14) is more lenient than any of the opinions we have quoted so far, ruling that kdei achilas pras in regard to someone who is eating on Yom Kippur pachus mikeshiur is “six or seven” minutes.

Kezayis and matzoh

Thus far, we have been estimating kdei achilas pras when a longer period of time is a chumra, as it is germane to pachus mikeshiur on Yom Kippur and eating outside of the sukkah. However, in our opening questions regarding the minimum time within which we must eat our kezeisim of matzoh and maror on Pesach, the shorter period of time for kdei achilas pras is the chumra. There are a few opinions that contend that the amount of time within which to eat a kezayis of matzoh is less than three minutes. For example, the Marcheshes (Orach Chayim 1:14:6) rules that the minimum time within which it is required to eat a kezayis of matzoh is 2.7 minutes. Because of considerations beyond the scope of this article, Rav Avraham Chayim Na’eh (Shi’urei Torah 3:15) writes that this is too short a time. In a very lengthy essay, he discusses many opinions and analyzes their sources. He concludes that one should try to follow the most stringent approach, but he rejects those who consider kdei achilas pras to be less than four minutes. Therefore, he concludes that one should try to eat the first kezayis of matzoh within four minutes, but for pachus mikeshiur on Yom Kippur, one should assume that the time of kdei achilas pras is nine minutes.

However, other authorities rule that one should be stricter regarding the timeframe within which to eat the kezayis of matzoh and perhaps even other mitzvos. The Aruch Hashulchan (202:8) concludes that kdei achilas pras for these purposes should be calculated at “three or four minutes,” being more stringent than Rav Avraham Chayim Na’eh. Rav Moshe Feinstein concludes that one should eat the kezayis of matzoh within three minutes. He rules this way even regarding rabbinic laws, concluding that bensching requires eating a kezayis of bread within less than three minutes (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 4:41 s.v. Al kal panim).

Thus, we can now answer the second and third of our opening questions: “How quickly must I eat my matzoh at the Seder to fulfill the mitzvah?” and “How quickly must I eat my maror at the Seder to fulfill the mitzvah?”  Since the mitzvah of matzoh is min haTorah, according to Rav Na’eh, one should try to complete it within four minutes.

Food versus beverage

At this point, we will address the last of our four opening questions:

“How quickly must I drink the wine of the four kosos at the Seder?”

Until now, we have been discussing kdei achilas pras. To the best of my knowledge, this is universally accepted as the minimal timeframe for all mitzvos that involve eating. However, whether this is the minimal time for drinking of beverages is a dispute among the rishonim. The Maharitz Gei’us, one of the early Spanish rishonim (he was the Rif’s predecessor as the rav of Lucena, Spain), and the Rambam rule that the minimal time limit for drinking is the amount of time it takes to drink a revi’is, which, according to the Aruch Hashulchan, is perhaps as short as a minute (see Orach Chayim 202:8). (Some authorities rule that the amount of time to drink a revi’is is shorter.) On the other hand, other halachic authorities, including the Ra’avad (Hilchos Terumos 10:3), the Ran (Yoma) and the Gra (Orach Chayim 612:10), rule that the minimum timeframe for beverages is kdei achilas pras, the same as it is for foods. This dispute has major ramifications for many halachos, including what is the minimum time allowed to drink each of the four cups of wine.

How do we rule?

The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 612:10), in the laws of Yom Kippur, rules that the primary opinion is that the minimal timeframe for beverages is the time it takes to drink a revi’is, although he also mentions the approach that the timeframe is kdei achilas pras. Many late authorities assume that it remains unresolved whether the requirement for drinking the wine at the Seder is the very short amount of time it takes to drink a revi’is or the considerably longer time of kdei achilas pras, and, therefore, it is best to drink each of the four kosos without interruption, to accommodate the stricter approach.

Conclusion

As Rav Hirsch proves, the Bnei Yisroel were taught the details of the oral Torah years before we were given the finished written Torah, which we first received shortly before or shortly after Moshe Rabbeinu’s passing, depending on two opinions in the Gemara. Moshe taught us the oral Torah, including the shiurim of mitzvos throughout the forty years in the Desert. Thus, we see the importance of being careful with the details of these laws, even though they are not mentioned in the written Torah.

What Is the Brocha?

On Pesach, shaylos always come up regarding which brochos we should recite before eating matzoh brei, matzoh meal cakes and similar foods. The truth is that similar questions revolve around which brochos we should recite on foods such as French toast, English muffins, kishka and kneidlach.

Question: When I eat matzoh brei, I have been making the brachos of mezonos and al hamichyah on it. Now someone told me that I should wash and make hamotzi on some bread or matzoh instead. Is this true?

Question: The chef in our yeshiva stuffs the meatloaf with huge pieces of leftover challah. Do we need to wash netilas yadayim and make hamotzi before eating it?

Question: I have been told that the brocha on licorice is shehakol, even though the first ingredient listed on its label is flour. Why is this?

In the article Pizza, Pretzels and Pastry, we discuss the unusual halachic category called pas haba’ah bekisnin, and found that crackers, pretzels, and certain pastry-type items require the brocha of mezonos before eating them and al hamichyah afterward, unless they are eaten as a meal, in which case they require netilas yadayim, hamotzi, and bensching. (Please refer to that article for details of this complicated halacha.) However, there are numerous other foods prepared with flour that are not typical bread. In order to explore which brocha one recites on these foods, we will start our discussion with items made from bread that is then cooked or fried.

FRENCH TOAST

Although the words “French toast” were unknown in the times of Chazal, the Gemara (Brachos 37b) discusses which brocha to recite on chavitza, a dish that contains cooked pieces of bread. The Gemara rules that if the pieces are the size of a kezayis (the volume of an olive – for our purposes, we will assume this to be about one fluid ounce), the brocha before is hamotzi and it requires bensching afterward. This is because a large piece of bread does not lose its significance even if it is cooked or fried. However, if all of the pieces are smaller than a kezayis, the brocha is mezonos before and al hamichyah afterward. If some of the pieces are larger than a kezayis and others smaller, then one recites hamotzi as long as one piece is at least the size of a kezayis (Mishnah Berurah 168:53).

Based on this Gemara, we conclude that one must wash netilas yadayim and recite hamotzi before eating French toast, and bensch afterward, since the pieces are at least a kezayis (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 168:10).

WHICH BROCHA DOES ONE MAKE ON KNEIDLACH?

Kneidlach are made from ground matzoh that is mixed to form a new dough and then cooked. Most poskim rule that since the matzoh is ground into small pieces before it is cooked, the brochabrachos are mezonos and al hamichyah even if one eats a very large amount. Another opinion contends that if the pieces of matzoh meal are shaped into balls larger than a kezayis before they are cooked, their brocha is hamotzi (Magen Avraham 168:28). The accepted psak is to make a mezonos and al hamichyah on kneidlach (Mishnah Berurah 168:59).

This leads us to an unusual shaylah I was once asked:

YESHIVA MEATLOAF DELUXE

A yeshiva bachur once asked me whether one should make hamotzi on the meatloaf served at his yeshiva. I thought he was attempting to draw attention to the quality of the cuisine, but indeed, he was asking a serious shaylah. It turned out that the cook in his yeshiva would stuff large pieces of leftover challah into the meatloaf.

This is an unusual situation. Many people include matzoh meal or bread crumbs in their meatloaf, but these lose their importance in the finished product. However, Yeshiva Meatloaf Deluxe included pieces of challahfar larger than a kezayis. As we mentioned above, pieces of bread this size do not lose their status as bread. Thus, as strange as it might seem, one is required to wash al netilas yadayim before eating this meatloaf, and its correct brachos are hamotzi before and bensching afterward.

This situation was unusual for an additional reason – people usually soak challah or bread until it falls apart before adding it to a kugel or meatloaf. However, Yeshiva Meatloaf Deluxe calls for bread that is only moistened before being adding to the meatloaf, but does not fall apart.

BAKING AND SAUTÉING (frying in a small amount of oil)

On Pesach, my wife makes an item she refers to as “matzoh rolls,” which involves mixing matzoh meal together with oil and eggs, forming “rolls” and baking them. Although they are prepared from matzoh meal, the brocha on these items is hamotzi since the dough is subsequently baked rather than cooked and the finished product is very much similar to a type of bread, albeit Pesach-dik.

Similarly, if someone made matzoh rolls by sautéing the dough in a little oil (just enough so that the dough does not burn) the completed product should be treated as bread for all halachos (Mishnah Berurah 168:69). Thus, a matzoh kugel made on the top of the stove would be hamotzi, even if the pieces are smaller than a kezayis.

FRYING VS. COOKING – THE MATZOH BREI SAGA

Thus far, we have learned that one recites hamotzi on large pieces of bread even if they were subsequently cooked or fried, and that small pieces lose their status as bread when they are cooked. However, some poskim contend that frying small pieces of bread does not change their status and they still require netilas yadayim and hamotzi (Magen Avraham 168:39). According to this opinion, matzoh brei requires netilas yadayim, hamotzi and bensching. Other poskim disagree, contending that fried small pieces of bread lose their status as bread just like cooked pieces (see Mishnah Berurah 168:56). These poskim contend that one recites mezonos and al hamichyah on matzoh brei unless at least one of the pieces is the size of a kezayis. The Mishnah Berurah concludes that the halacha is uncertain, and one should avoid this problem by eating these items within a meal. Thus, an Ashkenazi should not eat matzoh brei without washing and making hamotzi on a piece of matzoh first. However, if at least one of the pieces if is the size of a kezayis, the matzoh brei requires netilas yadayim, hamotzi and bensching.

Sefardim recite mezonos before matzoh, except on Pesach, unless they eat more than four kebeitzim of matzoh. During Pesach they follow the same rules that I mentioned above for Ashkenazim. During the rest of the year, Sefardim recite mezonos before eating matzoh brei and al hamichyah afterward, and they need not eat it within a meal. However, a Sefardi who ate four kebeitzim of matzoh brei would be faced with the same concern mentioned above and should wash netilas yadayim and make hamotzi on some bread.

According to all opinions, deep frying small pieces of bread or matzoh is the same as cooking, since the oil completely covers the food. Thus, the correct brocha on deep-fried matzoh-meal latkes is mezonos and al hamichyah (Mishnah Berurah 168:59).

CROUTONS

Commercial croutons are produced by either frying or toasting small pieces of seasoned bread. If they are deep fried, then the brocha is mezonos and al hamichyah. If they are fried or toasted, then they are pas haba’ah bekisnin (requiring mezonos when eaten as a snack and hamotzi when eaten as a meal).

Homemade croutons toasted from leftover bread are hamotzi. Deep-fried, they are mezonos, and fried they are subject to the same shaylah mentioned above as to whether they are hamotzi or mezonos, and should therefore be eaten after making hamotzi on bread.

CHALLAH KUGEL

Most people make challah kugel (or matzoh kugel) by soaking the challah or matzoh, then mixing it with other ingredients and baking it. When the challah or matzoh disintegrates into mush before it is mixed with the other ingredients, the resulting kugel has the halachic status of pas haba’ah bekisninbrocha (mezonos when eaten as a snack and hamotzi when eaten as a meal).

Sometimes the challah remains in small pieces; this is often the case when making a matzoh kugel. When this is the case, the resulting kugel must be treated as bread, requiring netilas yadayim and hamotzi, as we pointed out earlier concerning baked goods. Since the halacha here depends on some complicated halachic details, it is better in this case to make hamotzi on a piece of matzoh or bread first.

MATZOH LASAGNA

A guest arrived at someone’s house and was served a portion of matzoh lasagna. In this particular recipe, the matzoh was soaked, mixed with meat and other ingredients, and then baked.

I now ask you, dear reader: Must they wash netilas yadayim and which brocha should they recite?

We can answer this question only after ascertaining whether there are noticeable pieces of matzoh in the lasagna. If there are noticeable pieces, even if they are small, the guest should wash netilas yadayim and make hamotzi on matzoh or bread before eating the lasagna kugel. If the matzoh all turned to mush, the lasagna should probably be treated as pas haba’ah bekisnin, and would require borei minei mezonos on a snack size, but would be hamotzi and require bensching if eaten as a meal. The exact definition of a meal for these purposes is discussed in our article on pas haba’ah bekisnin.

PANCAKES, BLINTZES AND CREPES

These items are all made from a batter rather than dough and then baked in a pan, form or griddle. Since they never have a bread-like appearance, they are always mezonos and al hamichyah. This is true even if one eats a large amount, since they are considered neither bread nor pas haba’ah bekisnin. Thus, one can have an entire, very satiating meal of pancakes or blintzes without washing netilas yadayim, and one recites the brocha of al hamichyah afterward.

WAFFLES, WAFERS, ICE CREAM CONES

These items are also made from a batter, but in this case the batter is poured into a mold or waffle iron that bakes it into its final shape. Although these items have a slightly more bread-like appearance than pancakes and blintzes, without the mold, these items would never have a bread-like shape, and they do not have a tzuras hapas (bread-like appearance) even after being baked. Therefore, they are not considered pas haba’ah bekisnin but rather regular mezonos. As a result, they do not require netilas yadayim, and the brachos are mezonos and al hamichyah even if one made a full meal out of them. Thus, one can enjoy as many wafers as one wants and recite al hamichyah when finished eating.

ENGLISH MUFFINS

Most English muffins have a consistency noticeably different from regular bread, and therefore are pas haba’ah bekisnin. However, an English muffin whose inside tastes like bread should be treated as bread.

KISHKA AND LICORICE

Although these are two very different foods, the halachic discussion that involves them is similar.

The Gemara (Berachos 37b and 36b) discusses a food called rihata, which was made of flour, oil and honey cooked or stirred together in a pot until they hardened. The Gemara cites a dispute whether the brocha is mezonos, because of the general halachic importance of flour; or shehakol, because the main taste comes from the honey. We rule that the brocha is mezonos because flour is usually considered the main ingredient of a food, unless the flour is there only to hold it together. Whenever the flour is added to provide taste, the brocha is mezonos, even if the main taste comes from the honey.

Kishka has the same halacha as rihata. Although the main taste comes from the other ingredients, the flour certainly adds taste as well.

Although licorice contains a significant amount of flour, the flour is included only to give licorice its shape, and not to add anything to the taste or to make it more filling. Therefore, the brocha on licorice is shehakol (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 208:2 and Mishnah Berurah ad loc.).

According to the Gemara (Bava Kama 30a), someone who desires to become exemplary in his behavior should toil in understanding the laws of brochos. By investing energy into understanding the details of how we praise Hashem, we realize the importance of each aspect of that praise and how we must recognize that everything we have is a gift from Hashem. Furthermore, when reciting the proper brocha, one is acquiring the item from Hashem in the proper way. Pas haba’ah bekisnin functions in two different ways, sometimes as our main sustenance and most of the time as a pleasant snack. Reciting the correct brocha focuses our understanding on the appropriate praise for Hashem at the correct moment.

Indigestible Matzos, or Performing Mitzvos When Suffering from Food Allergies

This week is Shabbos Rosh Chodesh and also Parshah Hachodesh, which discusses both the mitzvah of creating the calendar and the mitzvah of korban Pesach. Over the years, I have discussed these topics many times, and I have also written articles on some of the unique features of Shabbos Rosh Chodesh. These articles can all be found on this website. For those wanting to read up on the many topics germane to Pesach, the website also contains a variety of articles, which can be found by using the search words matzoh, Pesach, wine, kitniyos, sefiras ha’omer, hallel, yom tov, chol hamoed, or eruv tavshillin.

Question #1: I have acid reflux; as a result, I never drink any alcohol since it gives me severe heartburn. I also have difficulty tolerating grape juice, which does not agree with me. Am I required to drink either wine or grape juice for the four cups at the Seder?

Question #2: My body is intolerant of gluten. Am I required to eat matzoh on Pesach, and if so, how much?”

Question #3: How far must one go to fulfill the mitzvah of maror if the only variety available is horseradish?

Consuming matzoh, maror, wine or grape juice is uncomfortable for many people, for a variety of reasons. Consumption of these foods may exacerbate certain medical conditions, such as allergies, diabetes, celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome and reflux. To what extent must someone afflicted by these conditions extend him/herself to fulfill these mitzvos? Does it make a difference if the mitzvah is required min haTorah, such as matzoh, or only miderabbanan, such as arba kosos, the mitzvah of drinking the four cups of wine at the Seder. (Similarly, the mitzvah of maror is required today only miderabbanan, since the Torah requires eating maror only when we offer the korban pesach.)

PIKUACH NEFESH

One is never required to perform a positive mitzvah when there is a potential threat to one’s life. Quite the contrary, it is forbidden to carry out any mitzvah whose performance may be life- threatening. Therefore, someone who has a potentially life-threatening allergy or sensitivity to grain may not consume matzoh or any other grain product – ever — and this prohibition applies fully on Seder night.

NOT DANGEROUS, BUT UNPLEASANT

However, must one observe these mitzvos when the situation is not life threatening, but is painful or affects one’s wellbeing? Must one always fulfill the mitzvah, even though doing so is extremely uncomfortable or makes one unwell?

RABBI YEHUDAH’S HEADACHE

The Gemara reports that the great Tanna Rabbi Yehudah, who is quoted hundreds of times in the Mishnah and Gemara, suffered from the consumption of wine. The Gemara records the following anecdote:

Rabbi Yehudah looked so happy that a Roman woman accused him of being inebriated. He responded that he is a teetotaler, “Trust me that I taste wine only for kiddush, havdalah and the four cups of Pesach. Furthermore, after drinking four cups of wine at the Seder, I have a splitting headache that lasts until Shavuos” (see Nedarim 49b).

This passage implies that one is required to undergo a great deal of discomfort to fulfill even a mitzvah that is rabbinic in origin, and certainly a Torah-required law, such as consuming matzoh on Pesach. Based on this anecdote, the Rashba (Shu”t 1:238) requires someone who avoids wine because he despises its taste or because it harms him (“mazik”) to drink the four cups; this conclusion is quoted definitively in Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 472:10). Thus, one might conclude that one must fulfill arba kosos in any non-life-threatening situation, even when the consequences are unpleasant.

However, several authorities sanction abstaining from arba kosos under certain extenuating, but not life-threatening, circumstances, even though they also accept the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch! For example, the Aruch HaShulchan (472:14) permits someone who is ill to refrain from consuming the four cups on Seder night, and the Mishnah Berurah rules similarly (472:35). They explain that the harmone must experience to fulfill the mitzvah does not include physical harm, but is limited to discomfort or moderate pain.

DERECH CHEIRUS

In Shaar HaTziyun, the Mishnah Berurah explains why he permits refraining from arba kosos under such circumstances: Becoming bedridden because one consumed arba kosos is not derech cheirus, which I will translate as demonstrating freedom. His reference to derech cheirus alludes to the following Gemara:

One who drinks the wine undiluted has fulfilled the requirement of arba kosos, but he did not fulfill the requirement of demonstrating freedom (Pesachim 108b).

What does this Gemara mean? Why does drinking one’s wine straight not fulfill this mitzvah called demonstrating freedom?

The wine of the Gemara’s era required one to dilute it before drinking. Imbibing it straight was not the normal method of drinking and, therefore, would not demonstrate the freedom that the Seder emphasizes.

The Mishnah Berurah contends that a mitzvah whose purpose is to demonstrate that we are freemen cannot require becoming bedridden as a result. Although a potential massive headache, such as what affected Rabbi Yehudah, does not exempt one from the mitzvah, becoming bedridden is qualitatively worse. The Aruch HaShulchan rules similarly, although he omits the reasoning of derech cheirus and simply assumes that the mitzvah does not apply under these circumstances.

(There may be a difference of opinion between the Mishnah Berurah and the Aruch HaShulchan germane to mitzvas maror. The Mishnah Berurah’s reason of derech cheirus applies only to the arba kosos, and therefore he might hold that one must eat maror even if he becomes bedridden as a result. However, the Aruch HaShulchan’s ruling may apply to any rabbinic mitzvah, and thus permit someone who would become ill from eating maror to abstain from performing this mitzvah.)

ALCOHOLIC CONTENT

Let us assume that our patient could drink grape juice without any ill result, but may have some difficulty with wine. Is there a requirement for him/her to drink wine?

The Gemara states that “One may squeeze a cluster of grapes and then immediately recite Kiddush over it” (Bava Basra 97b). Obviously, this grape juice has no alcoholic content, and yet it is acceptable for Kiddush.

However, the Gemara’s ruling that someone who drank the arba kosos without dilution does not fulfill cheirus implies that the Seder mitzvah requires a wine with alcoholic content, and therefore grape juice does not perform this aspect of the mitzvah. Nevertheless, someone who cannot have any alcohol may fulfill the mitzvah of arba kosos with grape juice (Shu”t Shevet HaLevi 9:58).

DILUTING WINE

Is it better for someone to dilute their wine with water, rather than drink grape juice?

Some authorities contend that one fulfills the concept of cheirus as long as one can detect alcoholic content, even though the wine is diluted. However, before diluting our wine with water, contact the manufacturer or the hechsher, since some wines are already diluted to the maximum halachically allowable that one can and still recite over it hagafen. The Pri Megadim (Eishel Avraham 204:16) rules that although Chazal diluted their wine significantly (Shabbos 77a), our wine is very weak and should be diluted only moderately. He contends that if one adds more water than wine the bracha becomes shehakol; one can certainly not use this wine for Kiddush or arba kosos. The Aruch HaShulchan (204:14) rules even more strictly, that any added water renders our wines shehakol and invalidates them for Kiddush or arba kosos. I suspect that this was not a dispute, but a reflection of the quality of the wine available; the wine available to the Pri Megadim could be diluted without ruining it, as long as there was more wine than water, whereas that available to the Aruch HaShulchan was easily ruined.

On the other hand, diluting wine with grape juice does not jeopardize the bracha, and, if the alcohol content is still noticeable, one will fulfill the concept of cheirus.

ARBA KOSOS SUBSTITUTES

If someone cannot drink four cups of wine or grape juice, should they simply not drink anything for the arba kosos?

The Mishnah Berurah rules that one may substitute chamar medinah, literally, the national “wine.” This follows a ruling of the Rama (483) that someone who has no available wine may fulfill the mitzvah of arba kosos with chamar medinah.

Exactly what chamar medinah includes is beyond the scope of this article. For our purposes, I will simply note that there is much discussion about this matter, some rabbonim holding that tea or coffee qualifies, others contending that it must be alcoholic and still others maintaining that most places today have no chamar medinah.

SOME PRACTICAL SUGGESTIONS

Thus far, we have concluded that someone who becomes ill enough to be bedridden may not be obligated in arba kosos, but someone who finds drinking four cups of wine or grape juice uncomfortable and even painful, but does not become bedridden as a result, is required to drink them. However, note that sometimes one may be lenient and use a smaller cup and drink a smaller proportion of its wine than we would usually permit. These are matters to discuss with one’s rav.

WHAT ABOUT MATZOH?

Our second question above read: “My body is intolerant of gluten. Am I required to eat matzoh on Pesach, and if so, how much?”

Our previous discussion only explained the rules pursuant to drinking the four cups of wine, which is a rabbinic mitzvah. Does any leniency exist to exempt someone from eating matzoh Seder night, in non-life-threatening situations? Granted one is certainly not required or permitted to eat matzoh if doing so may be life-threatening; but if the results are simply discomfort, to what degree must one extend oneself to observe a positive mitzvah min hatorah?

The Binyan Shelomoh (#47), a nineteenth century work authored by Rav Shelomoh of Vilna, the city’s halachic authority at the time, discusses this very issue. (Out of deference to the Vilna Gaon, the Jewish community of Vilna appointed no one to the title of rav from the passing of the Gaon, until the government required them to do so, in the era of Rav Chayim Ozer Grodzenski, over a hundred and twenty years later.) In a lengthy responsum, The Binyan Shelomoh establishes how far someone who is ill must go to eat matzoh, when there is nothing life-threatening. He based his analysis on the following law:

Chazal prohibited spending more than one fifth of one’s money to fulfill a positive mitzvah (Rambam, Hilchos Arachin 8:13, based on Gemara Kesubos 50a. See also Rambam’s Peirush HaMishnayos Pei’ah 1:1).

The Binyan Shelomoh reasons that since maintaining good health is more important to most people than spending a fifth of one’s money, one is exempt from performing a mitzvah that will impair one’s health, even when there is no risk to one’s life. (We find other authorities who derive similar laws from this halacha. See for example, Shu”t Avnei Nezer, Yoreh Deah #321; Shu”t Igros Moshe, Even HaEzer 1:57). The Binyan Shelomoh applies this rule to all mitzvos: One is exempt from observing any mitzvah, if fulfilling it will seriously impair one’s health. Furthermore, one could conclude that, if fulfilling a mitzvah causes such intense discomfort that one would part with one fifth of one’s financial resources to avoid this pain, one may forgo the mitzvah.

According to the Binyan Shelomoh, if this law is true regarding matzoh, it will certainly hold true regarding arba kosos and maror, which are only rabbinic requirements. Thus, someone who will not be bedridden as a result of consuming arba kosos or maror, but whose health will be severely impaired as a result of this consumption is absolved from fulfilling this mitzvah, as will someone to whom the consumption is so unpleasant that he would gladly part with one fifth of his earthly possessions to avoid this situation.

DIFFERENCE BETWEEN MATZOH AND WINE

If we assume that the Mishnah Berurah accepts the Binyan Shelomoh’s approach and vice versa, we would reach the following conclusion:

MATZOH:

Someone whose health will be severely impaired is not required to eat matzoh on Pesach, even if no life-threatening emergency results.

ARBA KOSOS:

Aside from the above leniency regarding matzoh, there is an additional leniency regarding the arba kosos.Someone who will become sick enough that he will be bedridden is absolved from drinking four cups at the Seder, even though it will not result in any permanent health problems. However, it is unclear whether this latter leniency extends also to the rabbinic mitzvah of maror.

NON-WHEAT FLOURS

In the last few years, matzoh for Pesach produced from either spelt or oat flour has become available. For a variety of reasons beyond the scope of this article, only someone who may not eat regular matzoh should eat these matzohs on Pesach. However, someone who is absolved from eating matzoh on Pesach according to the above-mentioned definition, but who can eat either of these varieties of matzoh, should eat them to fulfill the mitzvah on the first night of Pesach. Someone who can tolerate both spelt and oat matzoh should eat spelt.

Regarding this topic, the following responsum by the great nineteenth century authority, the Maharam Shik (Shu”t #260) is of interest. Someone for whom eating matzoh or maror was potentially life-threatening insisted on eating them at the Seder, against the halacha. The Maharam Shik was asked whether this person should recite the bracha al achilas matzoh before eating the matzoh and al achilas maror before eating the maror!

The Maharam Shik responded that he is uncertain whether the patient may recite any bracha at all before eating the matzoh and the maror, even the bracha of hamotzi! His reason is that consuming harmful food is not considered eating, but is considered damaging oneself, and one does not recite a bracha prior to inflicting self-harm! The Maharam then questions his supposition, demonstrating that someone who overeats recites a bracha, even though he is clearly damaging himself. He therefore concludes that one does not recite a bracha when eating something that causes immediate damage. However, when eating something where the damage is not immediate, reciting a bracha before eating is required.

Pursuant to the original shaylah whether one recites al achilas matzoh before eating the matzoh and al achilas maror before eating the maror, the Maharam Shik concludes that one should not recite these brachos in this situation. Since the patient is not permitted to eat matzoh and maror which is dangerous to his life, he is not performing a mitzvah when eating them, but a sin of ignoring the proper care his body requires, and one does not recite a bracha prior to transgressing.

In conclusion, anyone to whom these shaylos are, unfortunately, relevant should discuss them with his/her rav. We found that the Shulchan Aruch rules that one is required to fulfill arba kosos, even if one will suffer a severe headache as a result, and certainly if one despises the taste. However, should one become bedridden as a result or suffer severe health consequences, there are authorities who permit forgoing drinking wine or grape juice and substituting a different beverage that qualifies as chamar medinah. Similarly, there are authorities who permit forgoing consuming matzoh at the Seder if one would suffer severe health consequences as a result — even if the situation is not life-threatening.

Although not everyone may be able to fulfill the mitzvos of eating matzoh, maror, and arba kosos, hopefully, all will be able to discuss the miracles that Hashem performed when removing us from Egypt. In the merit of joyously performing the mitzvos of Seder night, may we soon see the return of the Divine Presence to Yerushalayim, the rededication of the Beis HaMikdash, and be zocheh to fulfill all of these mitzvos, including the korban pesach!

Do We Really Want to Be Tahor?

Question #1: Tanner Training

“In my work, I tan animal hides. Should I train for a different parnasah, so that I can make a living after Moshiach comes?”

Question #2: Amorphous Amphibians

“What is the difference between a toad and a frog?”

Introduction:

Since, unfortunately, our Beis Hamikdash still lies in ruins, the laws of tumah and taharah do not affect our daily lives significantly. As a result, many people do not approach the study of these laws enthusiastically, and do not pay adequate attention to the Torah readings about this topic. Yet, our prayers for Moshiach to come at any moment require that we be fully knowledgeable of the laws of tumah and taharah and that we are prepared to observe them. As the Gemara teaches, in the days of Chizkiyahu Hamelech, they searched the entire Land of Israel, from the northern to the southern tips, and could not find a single man, woman or child who was not completely conversant in every detail of the laws of tumah and taharah (Sanhedrin 94b). The situation should be this way today. This is all the more so, since we have a responsibility to comprehend the weekly parshah, and some of these laws are discussed in parshas Shemini.

Someone who becomes tamei may not enter the Beis Hamikdash or consume terumah, ma’aser sheini, bikkurim or kodoshim, foods that have sanctity.

The following passage of this week’s parshah mentions eleven different categories of the laws of tumah, which I have numbered in the selection below to facilitate explaining them afterward. The Torah writes:

Among animals that walk on all fours (1), anything that walks upon its forepaws* is impure (tamei). Whoever touches the carcass of such an animal will be tamei until evening. And whoever carries their carcass must wash his clothes, and he is tamei until evening, because these animals are tamei for you.

And the following creatures that creep on the ground (2) are tamei for you: The weasel,** the mouse, and the various species of toad. Also the hedgehog, the koach,*** the lizard, the snail and the mole. These are tamei to you among all the creeping animals – whoever touches them after they are dead will be tamei until evening. And anything that falls upon them after they are dead will become tamei, whether it is a wooden vessel (3) or a garment (4) or leather (5) or sackcloth (6) – any vessel with which work is performed (7). It must be immersed in water, and then it remains tamei until evening, at which point it becomes tahor.

Furthermore, any part of them (that is, the eight tamei “creeping creatures”) that will fall inside any earthenware vessel (8), whatever is inside it will become tamei and you shall break it (that is,the earthenware vessel). And any edible food (9) that had water touch it can become tamei. Similarly, any liquid (10) that can be drunk will become tamei, if inside such a vessel. Furthermore, anything on which part of a carcass falls will become tamei. An oven or stove (11) should be destroyed, because they are tamei, and when you use them, they will be tamei (Vayikra 11:27-35).

The Torah describes many different types of tumah (spiritual contamination), each with its own laws. Every word used here has a very specific halachic meaning. Let us explore some of the laws of the different categories mentioned.

(1) Neveilah

When discussing someone who touched an animal carcass (neveilah), the Torah specifies that a person becomes tamei whether he touched it or carried it, but notes a halachic difference between the neveilah that was touched or was carried. Germane to carrying the carcass, which is called tumas masa, the Torah says that he must wash his clothes, but omits this detail when discussing someone who touches a carcass, which is called tumas maga. We see here a difference in halachah between the person who carries neveilah and one who touches it, without moving it. One who carries neveilah contaminates any utensils, food or beverage susceptible to tumah that he touches while he carries it. The clothes that he wears are used by the Torah as an example of any item that he touches while carrying or moving the neveilah. This tumah is called tumah be’chiburin, literally, tumah by connection. Any keilim, utensils or appliances, that now become tamei will require immersion in a mikveh or spring, and will become tahor again at the subsequent nightfall. (There is one type of utensil that is not affected by tumah be’chiburin — earthenware vessels that were touched by a person while he carried a neveilah remain tahor. Also, tumah be’chiburin of neveilah does not contaminate people – therefore someone touching the person who is carrying the neveilah remains tahor.) However, someone who touches a neveilah without causing it to move does not contaminate something he touches at the same time. Whereas he himself becomes tamei and remains tamei, until he immerses in a mikveh or spring and then awaits nightfall afterwards, what he touches at the time remains tahor.

By the way, for those in chutz la’aretz, becoming tamei by moving or touching neveilah is not an uncommon situation. For example, someone who moves a package of packaged non-kosher meat in the supermarket has just carried neveilah and made himself and his clothes tamei (although, in all likelihood, they were already tamei).

Tanner training

At this point, let us examine one of our opening questions:

“In my work, I tan animal hides. Should I train for a different parnasah, so that I can make a living after Moshiach comes?”

The questioner realizes that someone who tans leather will make himself tamei, if he handles the carcasses of animals. However, once the flesh is removed, the hide itself does not generate tumah (see Mishnah Chullin 117b). Furthermore, even if our questioner handles neveilos, he can make himself tahor through immersion in a mikveh. It is indeed true that he may not enter the Beis Hamikdash or consume terumah, ma’aser sheini, bikkurim or kodoshim once he becomes tamei, but this does not preclude his earning his livelihood that way.

(2) Sheretz

The Torah lists eight creeping creatures that generate tumah, if one touches them after they are dead. As the Ibn Ezra already notes, we are uncertain as to the exact identity of these eight creatures. When Eliyahu arrives, he will identify them, so that we can properly observe these laws. If we follow the translation that I provided above, based on Rashi and other traditional commentaries, the eight include an interesting mixture of small mammals (mostly rodents), reptiles, amphibians and mollusks. All usually lie close to the ground, and most are small. However, if the koach is identified correctly as a monitor, it is the largest of the lizards and can grow as long as ten feet.

Yet, if our translation is correct, other small creatures, such as snakes, frogs, insects and other rodents are not included under the heading of tumas sheratzim. Although it may not seem very aesthetically pleasing to touch other dead insects, rodents or other small creatures, one does not become tamei when one touches them. One should wash one’s hands because of sanitary reasons, but being sanitary and becoming tamei are dissimilar concepts.

By the way, the word tzav, which is used in Modern Hebrew for turtle, is one of the sheratzim, but means toad, according to Rashi. I have no idea who decided to use this word for turtle, but it is not consistent with halachic authorities. There is no reason to assume that a turtle is tamei.

Amorphous amphibians

At this point, let us refer back to one of our opening questions: “What is the difference between a toad and a frog?”

A zoologist will note several differences between them, but this is a halachic article. According to Rashi (Vayikra 11:29), a toad is one of the eight sheratzim that are tamei, and a frog is not (see Rashi, Shemos 7:29 and also see Mishnayos Taharos 5:1,4 and Rash and Bartenura).

Laws of sheratzim

Regarding the tumah of sheratzim, the Torah states that one who touches them becomes tamei, but it mentions nothing about the person’s clothing requiring immersion, nor does it state that someone becomes tamei when he carries them. This is because a sheretz makes someone tamei only if he touches it, and not if he moves it without touching. Furthermore, his clothing or anything else he touches while touching the sheretz does not become tamei, unless it is in direct physical contact with the sheretz.

Toad vs. frog

Why did the Torah declare only these eight creatures to be tamei, but no others?

This is a question that we can ask, but probably not answer, other than to accept the gezeiras hakasuv, the declaration of the Torah, and observe it as Hashem’s will. Although we endeavor to explain the reasons for mitzvos, we realize that we can never assume that we understand the reason for a mitzvah. In the instance of most mitzvos, we explore possible reasons for a mitzvah in order to enhance our experience when we observe it. This we do, when we can. However, I have not found any commentary that endeavors to explain what it is about these eight specific creeping creatures, but not any of the others, that generates tumah.

Utensils that become tamei

Returning to our passage, after mentioning the tumah of neveilah and sheretz, the Torah lists eight categories of items that become tamei from contact with neveilah and sheretz. Among the specific items mentioned are: (3) wooden vessels, (4) garments, (5) leather items, (6) sackcloth, (7) vessels described by an obscure clause, “any vessel with which work is performed,” (8) earthenware, (9) food and (10) beverages. Each of these categories has its own specific laws, all of which are hinted at in the pasuk. For reasons that will soon become obvious, I will divide this list into three groups. First we will discuss items 3-7, which I will call, collectively, “immersible utensils.”

(3) Wooden utensils

Wooden vessels become tamei when they have a receptable which can hold liquid (called a beis kibul) or when people use them and place items atop them, such as a table (Rambam, Hilchos Keilim 4:1). These ideas are intimated by the Torah when it describes wooden vessels.

(4-5) Garments and leather

All types of garments are susceptible to tumah, although there is a dispute among late authorities concerning whether synthetic fabrics can become tamei.

(6) Sacks

Yes, I wrote sacks, not socks. Sackcloth means something manufactured from woven goat’s hair or animal hair, such as from the tail-hair of cows (Sifra). In general, goat hair is too coarse for use as clothing, but was used in earlier generations similar to the way that we would use burlap, as a bag or sack for storage or transportation. (There are varieties of goat, such as cashmere and mohair, that produce extremely fine wool used for garments, but most goats do not.)

(7) From slingshots to tefillin

The Torah mentions that any vessel with which work is performed can become tamei from a sheretz. What is included in this category? The Sifra explains that this verse teaches that the following three items become tamei: The sling of a slingshot, tefillin, and the envelope in which one places an amulet.

What do slingshots have in common with tefillin and envelopes?

These are three items that contain a beis kibul, a receptacle to hold something, yet someone might think that they do not qualify as “vessels.” The Torah is teaching that these are considered to be receptacles, or “vessels,” to become tamei. In the case of the sling, it is meant to hold the marble, stone or other projectile, albeit for a very brief period of time. In the case of tefillin, the batim of the tefillin contain the parshiyos, and similarly in the case of an amulet.

(8) Earthenware

Note that I have separated earthenware and not included it under the same category as I treated the other utensils. This is because earthenware has many halachic differences, both lenient and stringent, from all other utensils.

All other utensils fall under one of two categories:

(A) Utensils that do not become tamei, which is a topic we will not be discussing in this article.

(B) Utensils that do become tamei, but which can then become tahor again, after they are immersed in a mikveh or spring. This latter categoryis called klei shetifah, literally, immersible utensils.

(C) Earthenware vessels fall under a third category, because once they become tamei, the only way they can become tahor again is by breaking them. Immersing them in a mikveh or spring does not make them tahor.

How is earthenware different?

There are also several other ways whereby halachah treats earthenware vessels differently from how it treats immersible utensils. The section of the Torah that I quoted above alludes to four of the ways that earthenware vessels are different from immersible utensils.

Contaminate from outside

(I) Immersible utensils become contaminated when they come in contact with neveilah, sheretz or other tamei sources, regardless as to whether they are touched on their internal surface or on their outside. However, if something tamei touched the outside of an earthenware vessel, it remains tahor. An earthenware vessel contracts tumah only from its inside, and only when it has a beis kibul — an area that can service as a “container” to hold liquid. As a result, a flat earthenware board or an earthenware fork cannot become tamei since it has no “inside” that holds liquid.

Immersion does not help

(II) As I mentioned above, another way that earthenware vessels are different from other utensils is that once they become tamei, there is no means of making them tahor again, other than breaking them.

Airspace

(III) A third way that earthenware vessels are different from other utensils is that they become tamei if a tamei source, such as a sheretz or neveilah, is suspended inside the airspace of the earthenware vessel, even if the sheretz or neveilah does not touch the vessel. Halachically, there is no difference between the airspace of an earthenware vessel and touching it on the inside – either way makes the earthenware vessel tamei.

Contaminating from the inside

(IV) A fourth way that earthenware vessels are different from other utensils is that a tamei earthenware vessel spreads tumah to any food or beverage that is inside its airspace, even if the food or beverage never touched the vessel directly.

These four laws regarding earthenware vessels are all taught in a few words in the pasuk that I mentioned above: Furthermore, any part of them (that is, the eight tamei creatures) that will fall inside any earthenware vessel, whatever is inside it will become tamei and you shall break it (that is,the earthenware vessel).

The Torah mentions that an earthenware vessel contracts tumah only when something falls inside it, and, furthermore, it does not say that the tamei substance must actually touch the earthenware vessel. Also, note that what is inside the earthenware vessel becomes tamei, even if it did not touch the vessel. And, lastly, upon becoming tamei, the Torah mentions only one solution for the earthenware vessel –breaking it. There is no other way to make it tahor.

(11) Ovens and stoves

Let us return to the pesukim quoted above. At this point, we will discuss other halachos germane to earthenware vessels. The above-quoted passage states: Anything on which part of a carcass falls will become tamei. An oven or stove should be destroyed, because they are tamei, and when you use them, they will be tamei.

The ovens of the era of the Torah and Chazal were made of earthenware. Their shape was somewhat similar to a large donut, meaning they were completely open on top and bottom. The open bottom was placed over a hollow in the ground, and then the outside of the oven was lined with mud or clay to insulate it well. Fuel was placed inside the oven and kindled by means of an opening in the side. The food being cooked or baked was placed inside either through this opening or from on top. When they were used this way as ovens, the open top was covered, usually with a piece of earthenware. When these ovens were used as stoves, the pots of food were placed on the open top.

My reasons for explaining these facts is not as an archaeologist, but so that we can understand better both the pasuk of the Torah and the halachah. Although ovens and stoves were made of earthenware, the Torah mentions them under a different heading. This is because other earthenware vessels become tamei only when they have a beis kibul, a receptacle. Following this definition, earthenware ovens and stoves should not become tamei, since they have no bottom. The Torah teaches that ovens and stoves are susceptible to tumah, and have the rules of other earthenware vessels, notwithstanding the fact that they have no beis kibul.

There are halachic ramifications of this distinction, but we will not discuss that in this article. The intrepid reader is referred to a halachic discussion in Ohalos 12:1, and the commentaries thereon.

Conclusion

This article has served as an introduction to some of the basic rules of tumah and taharah, particularly as they relate to utensils. We hope and pray to be able to observe all of these laws soon.

* This translation follows Malbim.

** With the exception of the koach, our translation follows Rashi’s commentary.

*** Most commentators identify this either with the chameleon or with the monitor, both of which are varieties of lizard.

Is It a Red Heifer?

Although this week is not Parshas Parah, since I have a very exciting and germane article for next week that fits Parshas Shemini, I am sending out this article already this week.

Question #1: Cow or Heifer?

Which is the correct translation of parah adumah, “red cow” or “red heifer”?

Question # 2: How to?

How does a parah adumah make you tahor?

Introduction

Twice a year, once as maftir on Parshas Parah, and once when we read Parshas Chukas, we read the entire Torah portion that describes how the parah adumah is prepared. We also daven fervently three times a day for Moshiach to come, at which time the taharah process using the parah adumah will again become part of our lives. This is because this process is the only way to become tahor from tumas meis, tumah that is contracted from a corpse, and, in the post-Moshiach era, we will want to be tahor whenever we can. There is much detail about the laws of parah adumah, most of which is explained in the twelve chapters of Mishnayos Parah and the fifteen chapters of the laws of parah adumah in the Rambam’s Mishnah Torah. This article will discuss many of the basic laws that will apply when we use the parah adumah to become tahor, speedily and in our days.

Three topics

The Torah’s passage about parah adumah at the beginning of parshas Chukas can be divided into three sections. The first part discusses the processing of the parah adumah –how it must be processed into the special ashes necessary to make someone tahor. The second part, which we will not discuss in this article, contains the basic rules of tumas meis. The third part explains the process whereby parah adumah ashes make someone tahor.

History of the parah adumah

According to the Mishnah (Parah 3:4), a total of eight paros adumos were processed from the time of Moshe Rabbeinu until the destruction of the second Beis Hamikdash. The first was the one described in the Torah, in which the key player was Elazar, who was, at the time, the segan, the associate kohein gadol. The Mishnah (4:1) quotes a dispute among tanna’im whether the other paros adumus could be processed only by a kohein gadol, or whether any kohein hedyot was kosher. The Rambam (Hilchos Parah Adumah 1:11) concludes that a kohein hedyot could process the parah adumah, although, it appears that each time it was, indeed, the kohein gadol who did so (Parah 3:8). This is very logical. Since it was the kohein gadol’s decision who would be honored to process the parah adumah, and preparing the parah adumah was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, the kohein gadol would want to perform the mitzvah himself.

Cow or heifer?

One question we will address is whether the parah adumah is a cow or a heifer. It is popular to refer to the parah adumah as a red heifer; however, let us examine whether this term is accurate. To do so, we need to know the difference between a cow and a heifer and then to analyze the laws of parah adumah.

My desktop dictionary defines a heifer as: “a young cow, especially one that has not yet given birth.” The Wikipedia definition is: “A young female before she has had a calf of her own and is under three years of age.”

A cow is defined as a mature female. According to my desktop dictionary, it does not need to be fully mature to be a cow, since a heifer is called a “young cow.” In other words, “heifer” should be used to describe the bovine equivalent of a young teenager, and “cow” includes also a physically mature adult.

From some of the mishnayos in Mesechta Parah, we may be able to rally proof regarding which term is more accurate. The Mishnah cites a dispute among tanna’im whether a parah that is or was ever pregnant may be used as a parah adumah. The basis of the dispute concerns the following question: One of the laws of parah adumah is that it may never have performed any type of work. Since a pregnant cow is carrying her offspring, is this considered doing work? Most women will agree that being pregnant is far harder than most other physical work that they have ever performed.

Germane to our current discussion whether a parah adumah should be defined as a cow or as a heifer, cow appears to be the better choice, since a heifer precludes it having calved.

There is actually even stronger proof whether cow or heifer is the better translation of parah adumah.The opening Mishnah of Mesechta Parah cites a dispute regarding the age of a parah adumah. The Mishnah cites four opinions: Rabbi Eliezer rules that a parah adumah must be in its second year, or past its first birthday. The Chachomim rule that it must be past its second birthday, otherwise it is too young, and that, preferably, it should be before its fourth birthday. Rabbi Meir rules that it can be as old as its fifth birthday. According to both the Chachomim and Rabbi Meir, it could be older than four or five, but it is advised not to wait this long, since it could begin to become black, which would invalidate it. Rabbi Yehoshua, the fourth opinion, rules that it should be in its third year, and not older.

We see that most tanna’im accept that an animal more than three years old is kosher as a parah adumah. According to the Wikipedia definition of a heifer, this means that a parah adumah should no longer be called a heifer – it may be too old. However, according to Rabbi Eliezer, and possibly Rabbi Yehoshua, it is not incorrect to call a parah adumah a “red heifer,” although “red cow” would also be accurate. In conclusion, since we follow the ruling that a parah adumah may be more than three years old, the most accurate definition is “red cow” and not “red heifer.”

Processing the parah adumah

The Mishnah describes how the kohein who is in charge of processing the parah adumah spent a week preparing for his task, and how the parah was transported to Har Hazeisim, the Mount of Olives, where it was processed. Although the parah adumah had many of the laws of a korban, technically it was not a korban, and it was prepared outside the Beis Hamikdash grounds.

A huge wood pyre was constructed on Har Hazeisim, and the parah adumah, after being slaughtered and having its blood sprinkled in a very specific way by the kohein, was then burned together with the entire pyre. Many more details of this process are mentioned in the posuk and the Mishnah (third chapter of Parah).

We were permitted and encouraged to add as much wood as possible to the pyre on which the parah adumah was burned. Indeed, the ashes of the parah adumah used to make people tahor were predominantly ashes from the wood with which it was burned. The flesh of the parah adumah was completely burned, but its bones were ground up and mixed into the ashes (Parah 3:11).

There are many details involved in the processing of the parah adumah. Among the many interesting laws is that anyone who wanted to be involved in burning the parah adumah was required to first purify himself and all his clothes, expressly for the purposes of parah adumah. Also, anyone involved in burning the parah adumah could not do any other activity while was being burned.

Making someone tahor

After the parah adumah and its pyre were reduced to ashes, the ash was collected and divided into three parts: one part was kept on the Beis Hamikdash grounds, one part on Har Hazeisim, and the third part was distributed for people to use everywhere around the country (Parah 3:11). The parah adumah ash, which at this stage in its processing is called eifer chatas, was stored in closed containers, until needed for purification purposes.

Milui, kidush, and haza’ah

In order to make the next section easier to absorb, I will divide it into two subtopics. The first is called milui and kidush, whereby the ashes of the parah adumah are used to convert spring water (similar to what you would purchase for drinking) into mei chatas,the special water that makes people tahor. The second subtopic is called haza’ah, which refers to the sprinkling of the mei chatas water onto people or vessels to make them tahor.

Milui — drawing spring water

The first step in preparing the mei chatas is the drawing of the water. Drinkable spring water must be drawn directly from a spring with a tahor vessel. The vessel must be made either of material that is not susceptible to tumah (eino mekabel tumah), such as hollowed-out stone, or, if made from material that is susceptible to tumah (mekabel tumah), such as wood or metal, it must have been made tahor specifically to use for parah adumah. For this reason, someone who immersed a wooden or metal bowl or pot in order to eat or prepare with it terumah or korbanos or non-holy food (chullin) may not use the bowl or pot for the preparation of parah adumah. This rule is one of many takanos chachamim that Chazal instituted, to safeguard the special taharah status of the parah adumah.

Any person or vessel that is intended to come in contact with the eifer chatas, the mei chatas, or with the people and vessels used to process them may not touch anything that can potentially become tamei, unless the person or vessel was previously made tahor specifically for parah adumah purposes. Thus, although the individuals processing, guarding or transporting the parah adumah are permitted to eat and drink, they are severely restricted in what they are permitted to eat or drink. They may eat only food that never came in contact with most liquids (including water, milk, olive oil, wine, grape juice or honey), and they may drink only water that was drawn from a spring especially for the purpose of parah adumah.

The person who draws the water must be completely focused on his job. Performing any other activity not necessary for the production of the mei chatas while drawing the water or transporting it will invalidate it, even doing a task so simple as providing someone with directions or tossing a piece of fruit into a bin.

There is a requirement to be meticulously careful that no other water mix into the mei chatas from the time that it is drawn. For example, if it is left exposed in such a way that dew may enter it, it becomes invalid (Parah 9:1).

Kidush

The drawn spring water must be supervised by a tahor person, until the kidush procedure is performed. The kidush is done by taking some of the eifer chatas ashes and sprinkling them onto the water.

One may draw many buckets of water and pour them into a much larger vat until the vat is full. At that point, one may take a minimal amount of eifer chatas and sprinkle it onto the vat. The amount of ashes sprinkled must be enough that one can see it as it touches the water.

Because of a takanas chachomim, it is required that the person performing kidush do so while he is barefoot (Parah 8:2). This is because of concern that his shoes or sandals might become tamei while he is performing the kidush, and they will, in turn, make him tamei, which will invalidate the entire procedure. Those eager to understand the reason for this takanah more thoroughly are referred to the commentaries to Parah 8:2.

Milui and kidush do not require that they be performed by a kohein – a Yisroel is fine.

May a woman?

Because of a very complicated droshas Chazal, there is a dispute among tanna’im whether a woman or a child may perform milui or kidush. According to Rabbi Yehudah, a (male) child may perform them, but not a woman, whereas the majority opinion is that a woman may perform these activities, but not a child (Parah 5:4; Sotah 43a).

Haza’ah

The Torah teaches that to become tahor after contracting tumas meis, one must undergo the following procedure: On the third day after one became tamei, or later, one is sprinkled with the mei chatas. The sprinkling is repeated four or more days later. These two sprinklings are referred to transpiring on the “third” and “seventh” days. In reality, “third” and “seventh” are minimums. The mei chatas cannot be sprinkled earlier than the third day after the person or utensil contracted tumah. Whenever that sprinkling actually occurs, at least four days must past before the second sprinkling can take place. Sometime after the second sprinkling is performed, the person must immerse himself in a spring or a mikveh and then await the nightfall after his immersion to become completely tahor.

The same law applies to most vessels that become tamei from contact with a corpse. They require sprinkling on the third or later day after contracting tumah, a second sprinkling four or more days later, immersion in a spring or mikveh, and then waiting until nightfall. After these four steps have been taken, the vessel becomes completely tahor.

Eizov

This sprinkling is done with a special plant called an eizov, which is usually translated as “hyssop.” However, the word “hyssop” is simply the word eizov transliterated into Greek, which was then transliterated into Latin and then English, and someone decided that it might refer to an herb that they chose at random. According to different approaches to explaining a passage of Gemara (Shabbos 109b), eizov might mean oregano, sage or marjoram, all of which are fragrant shrubs. From the Mishnah (Parah 11:7), it is evident that the eizov was considered edible, presumably either as a salad green or in some form of dip. It is absolutely essential that one use the correct variety meant by the Torah as eizov (see Parah 11:7). We will not know for certain which species is intended until Eliyohu returns to identify it for us.

Intent

Although the people that are becoming tahor do not have to intend that they are becoming tahor, the person performing the haza’ah must have in mind that the procedure he is performing is for the purpose of making them tahor. If he did not have this in mind, they remain tamei.

Direct impact

The water that is being sprinkled must land on the tamei person or utensil directly – if it ricocheted off another item and then landed onto the tamei person or utensil, they remain tamei.

Minimum contact – substantive impact

The people or implements becoming tahor need be touched by only one drop of the mei chatas waters. Indeed, there is no halachic advantage to receiving a bigger sprinkling or more than one sprinkling on a day. As I mentioned above, to become tahor the person or implement must have mei chatas sprinkled on them twice – once on the third day (or later) from which they became tamei meis, and a second time, at least four days later (this is referred to as the “seventh day” – i. e., at least four days after the first sprinkling). The people or implements then require immersion in a mikveh or spring and become completely tahor on the next nightfall. Until that time, the people may not enter the Beis Hamikdash grounds, nor may they consume terumah or kodoshim. However, they are permitted to touch regular food without contaminating it, and they may also handle maaser sheini.

May a woman II

The tanna’im dispute whether a woman or a child can perform the haza’ah. Because of the hermeneutic rules, this dispute is the exact opposite of what I mentioned above, regarding the milui and kidush. According to Rabbi Yehudah, a woman may perform the haza’ah, but not a child, whereas according to the majority opinion, which is the way we rule, a (male) child can perform this ritual, but not a woman (Parah 12:10; Yoma 43a).

Since we mentioned above that the person performing the haza’ah must know that he is making someone tahor, a very young child cannot perform haza’ah, but only a child old enough to understand that his act is making someone tahor (Parah 12:10, see commentaries).

Conclusion

Because of space considerations, several important aspects of the parah adumah have been omitted in this article. Included in the topics that have been omitted is the full explanation of the famous statement that parah adumah is metaheir es hatemei’im umetamei es hatehorim: although it makes tamei things tahor, it also sometimes makes tahor things tamei. We also did not discuss what defines the parah adumah as being completely red, nor did we discuss the dispute with the tzedukim about the proper processing of the parah adumah, which had major halachic ramifications. We will have to return to the topic to discuss these laws in future articles.

Afterword

One of Rav Moshe Feinstein’s talmidim related to me the following story that he himself observed. A completely red, female calf had been born. Since this is indeed a rare occurrence, much conversation developed concerning whether this was positive indication that Moshiach would be arriving soon and this calf would provide the parah adumah necessary to make people and vessels tahor.

Someone approached Rav Moshe to see his reaction to hearing this welcome news, and was surprised that Rav Moshe did not react at all. When asked further whether he felt that this was any indication of Moshiach’s imminent arrival, Rav Moshe responded: “I daven every day for Moshiach to come NOW. The parah adumah is not kosher until it is past its second birthday. Do you mean to tell me that I must wait two more years for Moshiach?”

The Whys and Wherefores of Zachor

Question #1: Homebound

“As a mother of several small children, it is not easy for me to go out on Shabbos to hear Parshas Zachor. Am I required to do so?”

Question #2: Outreaching in the Afternoon

“At the outreach program that I run, many of our students do not arrive on Shabbos until the afternoon. Should we have a second Parshas Zachor reading for them?”

Question #3: Reading without a Brochah

“Why is no birkas haTorah recited on Parshas Zachor at a women’s reading?”

Answer:

Introduction:

This Shabbos we read the special maftir that begins with the words Zachor es asher asah lecha Amalek baderech be’tzeis’chem miMitzrayim, “Remember what Amalek did to you on the road as you were leaving Egypt.” According to the Rambam and many others, this short maftir reading actually includes three different commandments:

(1) A positive mitzvah, mitzvas aseh, to remember the evil that Amalek did (Sefer Hamitzvos, Positive Mitzvah #189).

(2) A lo saaseh commandment not to forget what happened (Sefer Hamitzvos, Negative Mitzvah #59).

(3) The mitzvah to blot out the people of Amalek, mechiyas Amalek (Rambam, Hilchos Melachim 5:5, and Sefer Hamitzvos, Positive Mitzvah #188; Semag).

The Torah’s repetitive emphasis, remember and do not forget, teaches that the commandment “remember” means to express, to state it as a declaration. This is similar to the mitzvah of Kiddush, Zachor es yom haShabbos lekadsho, which is a requirement to state the sanctity of Shabbos and not simply to remember Shabbos (Sifra, beginning of Parshas Bechukosai). In addition, many authorities derive from the doubled command that the Torah requires us to review this declaration annually, since after a year one might forget it (see Sefer Hachinuch, Mitzvah 603). The Sefer Hachinuch explains that since the mitzvah is to make sure that one does not forget, the Torah requirement is to restate this reminder every one to three years. The requirement of the mitzvah is fulfilled both in one’s heart and on one’s lips (Sefer Hachinuch).

(We should note that some authorities [Behag, Rav Saadya] count all three of the mitzvos mentioned above as one mitzvah in the count of the 613. Presumably, they consider these additional statements of the Torah as encouraging us to remember to fulfill the mitzvah of destroying Amalek.)

The Gemara (Megillah 18a) states that the positive mitzvah of remembering what Amalek did requires reading from a sefer Torah. For this reason, many authorities conclude that the annual public reading of Parshas Zachor from a Sefer Torah is required min haTorah (see Tosafos, Megillah 17b s.v. kol and Ritva ad loc.; Tosafos, Brachos 13a; Rosh, Brachos 7:20). Some conclude that the requirement to hear Parshas Zachor is even greater than that of hearing Megillas Esther, since the mitzvah of reading Megillah is miderabbanan, whereas Parshas Zachor is required by the Torah (Terumas Hadeshen #108). For this reason, the Terumas Hadeshen concludes that those who live in places that have no minyan are required to go to where there is a minyan for Shabbos Zachor to hear this reading, a ruling codified in the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 685:7).

Those who disagree

Notwithstanding the long list of recognized early authorities who rule that an annual reading of Parshas Zachor is required min haTorah, several later authorities find this position difficult to sustain, contending that the requirement was introduced by Chazal. For example, the Minchas Chinuch (#603) states that the requirements for a minyan and a sefer Torah can be only miderabbanan. Similarly, Shu’t Toras Chesed (Orach Chayim #37) provides a lengthy analysis as to why he feels that it is difficult to rule that reading Parshas Zachor annually is a Torah requirement. Nevertheless, in his final conclusion, he accepts the decision of the earlier authorities who rule that the Torah requires that we hear Parshas Zachor every year.

Hearing the parshah

At this point, we should explain the following question: If we are required to read Parshas Zachor, how do we perform the mitzvah by listening to the reading, without actually saying the words? The answer is that there is a halachic principle called shomei’a ke’oneh, hearing someone recite the appropriate passage fulfills a mitzvah responsibility the same way reciting it does. Shomei’a ke’oneh explains how we observe the mitzvah of kiddush when we hear someone else recite it, and applies in numerous other situations, such as reading Megillas Esther and blowing shofar.

For shomei’a ke’oneh to work, the individual who is reciting must have in mind that he is performing the mitzvah on behalf of those listening, and the listeners must have in mind that they are fulfilling their duty to perform the mitzvah by listening. It is for this reason that, in most shullen, prior to the reading of Parshas Zachor the gabbai, baal keriah or rabbi announces that everyone should have the intention to fulfill the mitzvah.

Custom of the Gra

The Maaseh Rav (#133) records that the Gra not only received the aliyah for Parshas Zachor, but used to read the Torah himself for that aliyah. Presumably, the reason he did this was because of the general principle of mitzvah bo yoseir mibeshelucho, “it is a bigger mitzvah to fulfill a commandment by performing the mitzvah oneself than by relying on someone else to perform it.”

The Sefer Torah was pasul!

What is the halachah if one discovers, after the reading, that the Sefer Torah used for reading Parshas Zachor is missing a letter or has some other defect that renders it invalid? Must one re-read Parshas Zachor?

Allow me to provide some background. Although there are rishonim who rule that the mitzvah of keri’as haTorah does not require reading from a kosher Sefer Torah, the halachic conclusion is that it does. However, if during or after keri’as haTorah one finds that the sefer Torah was not kosher, one is not required to repeat what was already read (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 143:4). The rationale behind this is that since the mitzvah of reading the Torah is miderabbanan, one can rule that, bedei’evid, after one read the Torah, one fulfilled the mitzvah.

Based on the assumption that the mitzvah of Parshas Zachor is min haTorah, the Pri Megadim suggests that if the sefer Torah used was found to be invalid, one is required to read Parshas Zachor a second time, from a different sefer Torah (Pri Megadim, Mishbetzos Zahav, Orach Chayim 143:1).

Birkas hamitzvah

Why is no birkas hamitzvah recited for Zachor? When Parshas Zachor is read as maftir, the person receiving the aliyah recites birkas haTorah before it is read, as we do with all aliyos to the Torah. Why is no birkas hamitzvah recited before reading Zachor es asher asah lecha Amelek,since it is one of the 613 mitzvos?

The authorities answer that we do not recite a brochah on an act of destruction, even though the world benefits from the removal of evildoers. This can be compared to one of the reasons cited why we do not recite the full Hallel on Pesach after the first day or days. “My creations are drowning, and you are singing praise?” Similarly, it is inappropriate to bless Hashem for the ability to destroy evil (Kaf Hachayim 685:29, quoting Yafeh Leleiv).

What exactly is the mitzvah?

Among the rishonim and geonim, we find differing opinions as to exactly what this mitzvah entails. Some understand that the mitzvah of remembering Amalek is a requirement to know the laws involved in destroying Amalek (Raavad and Rash to Sifra, beginning of Parshas Bechukosai, as explained by the Encyclopedia Talmudis). According to this approach, the mitzvah of zechiras Amalek is primarily a mitzvah of learning Torah.

On the other hand, most authorities seem to understand that the mitzvah is to take to heart the evil that Amalek did and represents, and that it is our responsibility to combat evil in the world and help make the world a more G-dly place.

Why specifically Amalek? Because after the Exodus from Egypt and the splitting of the sea, all the nations were afraid of the Jews, until the moment that Amalek attacked. Although Amalek was beaten, this attack decreased the nations’ tremendous awe and fear of the Jews (Rashi).

An afternoon reading

At this point, I would like to address one of the questions cited above:

“At the outreach program that I run, many of our students do not arrive on Shabbos until the afternoon. Should we have a second Parshas Zachor reading for them?”

This question was posed to Rav Shmuel Vozner, of Bnei Braq, by someone doing outreach in a small community in Brazil (Shu’t Shevet Halevi 4:71). The community had a minyan in the morning, but most of the people did not come. The question was whether they should have a second Parshas Zachor reading late in the day.

Rav Vozner compares this situation to the following responsum authored by the Chida.

On Shabbos Parshas Shekalim in a small town, the local townspeople forgot to read the special maftir on Shabbos morning, and realized it in the afternoon. The townspeople proposed three options:

Some suggested that at minchah they read Parshas Shekalim for the kohen, and for the other two aliyos they read the regular minchah reading from the next week’s parshah.

Others suggested that they read Parshas Shekalim on Monday, instead of the weekday reading, since it was still before Rosh Chodesh Adar.

Still others suggested that they read Parshas Shekalim the next Shabbos, as maftir.

The Chida disputed all three approaches, contending that Parshas Shekalim may be read only in the morning, and can be read only on the Shabbos on which it is designated to be read. In his opinion, one who missed reading Parshas Shekalim at its appropriate time does not fulfill the takanas chachamim by reading it any other time (Shu’t Yosef Ometz #27).

Rav Vozner contends that, according to the Chida, just as one cannot read Parshas Shekalim after its designated time, one cannot read Parshas Zachor after its designated time, and that, therefore, one cannot read it in the afternoon for those who missed it in the morning.

However, it appears that not all authorities accepted this ruling of the Chida. The Dagul Meirevavah (Orach Chayim 135) rules that a community that was unable to have keri’as haTorah on Shabbos morning, but was able to have it on Shabbos afternoon, should read the full reading and call up seven people prior to beginning minchah. Then, after reciting Ashrei and Uva Letzion, they should take out the Sefer Torah again and read the appropriate minchah reading from the following week’s parshah. Thus, he holds that one may read the main Shabbos reading in the afternoon, if necessary, which disagrees with the Chida’s ruling.

One could argue, however, that the Dagul Meirevavah might accept the Chida’s ruling that one cannot read Parshas Shekalim in the afternoon, but for a different reason: maftir may be read only immediately following the rest of the week’s reading, and not by itself.

However, there might be a difference between Parshas Shekalim, whose reading does not fulfill any mitzvah of the Torah, and Parshas Zachor. Since Parshas Zachor might fulfill a Torah requirement, there is a responsibility to hear it, even if you were not in shul Shabbos morning. This is the reason why there is a widespread custom of having Parshas Zachor readings in the afternoon for those who cannot attend the reading in the morning.

Women and Parshas Zachor

Now that we understand the basics of the mitzvah, we can address the first question asked above — whether women are obligated to hear Parshas Zachor annually. The Chinuch states that women are excluded from the requirement to remember to destroy Amalek, since they are not expected to wage war. In his opinion, women have no obligation to hear Parshas Zachor, although they certainly may hear it and receive reward for doing so, as one who observes a mitzvah in which s/he is not obligated.

Other authorities dispute the Sefer Hachinuch’s approach. In Adar 5628 (1868), Rav Yaakov Ettlinger, the author of the classic Aruch Laneir commentary on several mesechtos of the Gemara, was asked by his son-in-law, Rav Moshe Leib Bamberger, whether women are required to hear Parshas Zachor. The Aruch Laneir reports that he asked his rebbe, Rav Avraham Bing, who told him that Rav Nosson Adler (the rebbe of the Chasam Sofer) ruled that women are required to hear Parshas Zachor, and he insisted that they all go to hear it. The Aruch Laneir explains that Parshas Zachor is not a time-bound mitzvah, since one can read Parshas Zachor whenever one wants, as long as one reads it once a year. He then quotes the Chinuch’s reason to absolve women from the obligation, and notes that it should not make any difference if women are the actual warriors, since they are involved in destroying Amalek – as evidenced by Esther’s participation (Shu’t Binyan Tziyon 2:8).

Others dispute the basic assumption of the Chinuch, since, in a milchemes mitzvah, everyone is obligated to contribute to the war effort, even a newlywed bride (Sotah 44b). Evidence of this is drawn from Yael, who eliminated Sisra, and Devorah, who led that war effort (Minchas Chinuch). On the other hand, others find creative reasons to explain and justify the Sefer Hachinuch’s position. (The intrepid reader is referred to the responsum on the subject penned by Rav Avraham of Sochatchov [Shu’t Avnei Nezer, Orach Chayim #509].)

The Kaf Hachayim (685:30) presents a compromise position, ruling that women are obligated in the mitzvah to remember the events of Amalek, but are not obligated to hear Parshas Zachor, since this is a time-bound mitzvah. (See also the Toras Chesed, who reaches a similar conclusion, but based on a different reason. More sources on this topic are cited by Shu’t Yechaveh Daas 1:84.)

With or without a brochah?

It has become fairly common today to have special women’s readings of Parshas Zachor later in the day, for the benefit of those who must take care of their children in the morning, during regular shul davening. The universal practice is not to recite a brochah of any type before these readings. There are three reasons why one should not recite a brochah on the afternoon reading:

(1) We do not recite a brochah on the mitzvah of Zachor.

(2) It is not certain that women are obligated to hear this reading.

(3) It is not clear that one may recite maftir when it does not immediately follow the reading of the Torah.

Despite what we have just written, some authorities contend that whenever one reads from a sefer Torah in public, one is required to recite a brochah, because of the Torah-ordained mitzvah of birkas haTorah. In their opinion, this is true even when the reading itself is not required, and even when one has already recited birkas haTorah in the morning (Be’er Sheva and Shu’t Mishkenos Yaakov, both quoted by the Toras Refael #2). Although the Toras Refael concludes that most rishonim dispute that reciting birkas haTorah under these circumstances is a Torah requirement, he nevertheless understands that the Shulchan Aruch rules that birkas haTorah is required miderabbanan, whenever the Torah is read in public.

Based on this opinion of the Toras Refael, some contemporary authorities feel that one should avoid entirely the practice of additional Shabbos Zachor readings, since the special reading creates a safek brochah, a question as towhether one should recite a brochah on the reading (seen in print in the name of Rav Elyashiv). Nevertheless, the accepted practice is to have these special readings to enable women to fulfill the mitzvah.

On the other hand, the Minchas Yitzchak was asked whether one makes a brochah for an auxiliary Parshas Zachor reading (Shu’t Minchas Yitzchak 9:68). He quotes those who contend that every public reading of the Torah requires a brochah, and then notes many authorities who did not share this opinion. The Minchas Yitzchak then specifically mentions the practice of those who read all of Sefer Devarim in shul on the night of Hoshanah Rabbah without reciting a brochah, noting that this was the practice of the Divrei Chayim of Sanz. He also quotes several other authorities who advocate reading the parshah of the day’s nasi after davening each day of the first twelve days of Nissan, also a custom performed without first reciting a brochah.

Thus, we have several precedents and authorities who ruled that one may have a public reading of the Torah without reciting a brochah, and there is, therefore, no need to change the established practice of reading Parshas Zachor and not reciting a brochah beforehand. We should also note that when the Magen Avraham (139:5) quotes the opinion of the Be’er Sheva, he opines that once one has recited birkos haTorah in the morning, he exempts himself from any requirement to recite further brochos on reading Torah that day, unless there is a specific institution of Chazal to recite them.

Reading on Purim

Some authorities contend that a woman may fulfill her responsibility to hear the mitzvah of mechiyas Amalek by hearing the Torah reading on Purim that begins with the words Vayavo Amalek (Magen Avraham 685). Since many later poskim dispute this, I refer you to your halachic authority regarding this question.

Conclusion

The Semak (Mitzvah #23) explains that the reason for the mitzvah not to forget what Amalek did is so that we always remember that Hashem saved us from Amalek’s hands. Constant perpetuation of this remembrance will keep us in awe of Hashem, and this will prevent us from acting against His wishes.

Shul Building, Part II

Question #1: One shul

“May we merge two existent shullen, when each has its own minhagim?”

Question #2: Two shuls

“Is it permitted to leave a shul to start our own?’

Question #3: More seats?

“Can there ever be a problem with adding more seats to a shul?”

Introduction:

Our batei kenesiyos and batei midrashos, the buildings that we designate for prayer and for study, are referred to as our mikdash me’at, our holy buildings reminiscent of the the sanctity of the Mishkan and the Beis Hamikdash.

As I mentioned in last week’s article, there is a halachic requirement to build a shul. To quote the Rambam (Hilchos Tefillah 11:1-2), Any place that has ten Jews must have available a building that they can enter to pray at every time of prayer.

Changing neighborhoods

An interesting teshuvah from Rav Moshe relates to a shul building that had been originally planned with a lower level to use as a social hall, with the shul intended to be on the upper floor. They began to use the social hall for davening until they built the shul on top, but the neighborhood began to change. Before they even finished the social hall, it became clear that they would have no need to complete the structure of the building. They never finished the building, and instead, directed the efforts and finances toward purchasing a new shul in a neighborhood to which people were moving. The old shul, or, more accurately, the “social hall” part of the old shul building, is at the stage where there is barely a minyan left, and the dwindling numbers imply that it is not going to be very long until there is no functioning minyan. The question is that they would like to sell the old building and use the money to complete the purchase of the new building. Furthermore, the mikveh in the town is now in a neighborhood to which women are hesitant to travel, so they want to use the funds from the old shul building to defray the construction costs of a necessary new mikveh.

Because of the specific circumstances involved, including that it is unlikely that people from the outside will drop in to daven in this minyan anymore, Rav Moshe rules that they are permitted to sell the building.

A similar responsum from Rav Moshe was when they needed to create a shul in a neighborhood where there was a good chance that the Jewish community there would not last long. Rather than declare their building a shul, they called it a library and used it as their shul. Rav Moshe suggests that they might have been required to do so, since they knew from the outset that the days of the Jewish community were numbered (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim, 2:44).

More seats?

At this point, let us discuss the third of our opening questions:

“Can there ever be a problem with adding more seats to a shul?”

There is an early responsum on the topic (Shu”t Harivosh #253), and the ruling might seem to us counterintuitive. A wealthy individual purchased several seats in the shul many years before. Probably, when the shul was built, the community had sold or perhaps even auctioned seats, at prices depending on their location (think of the relative ticket prices on theater seats, lehavdil). The seats are considered private property and are even at times rented out to others.

There is now a shortage of seats in the shul and the community would like to add new seats in empty areas of the shul. The wealthy fellow claims that this will make it more difficult for him to get to his seat, and that his own seat will be more crowded as a result. Can the community add seats, notwithstanding his claim?

The Rivosh rules that the community cannot add new seats, because the wealthy fellow already owns the right to get to his seat in a comfortable way. However, the Rivosh rules that the community may do the following to try to increase the availability of seats:

1. They may set a limit on the rental price of the existing seats.

2. They may pass a regulation that unused seats must be rented out.

Building two shuls

There is an old Jewish joke about the Jew stranded on a desert island who built two shuls, one to daven in, and the other never to walk into. Is there any halachic basis to this habit we have of opening several competing shullen in the same neighborhood?

Indeed, there are old responsa regarding this question. The Radbaz, one of the greatest halachic authorities of the fifteenth century, was asked such a shaylah (Shu”t Haradbaz #910).

A man named Yehudah Abualfas wanted to open a second shul in his town. The background appears to be as follows: The community, which may have been located somewhere in Egypt, was composed predominantly of families who originated from Tunisia, but there were individuals who had settled there from other places. The shul followed the minhag of Tunis.

Yehudah Abualfas, who was born and raised in this community with Tunisian customs, and everyone else living in the town, were members of the general community. They donated to the community’s tzedakah fund, participated in its fees and taxes, and davened in the community shul which followed minhagei Tunis.

Abualfas’s family originated from a place where they followed the customs of the Spanish communities, not those of Tunisia. (Ashkenazim tend to group Sefardim and Edot Hamizrah together as one group. Technically, Sefardim are those whose antecedents once lived in Spain, whereas there were Jewish communities from Morocco to Iran and even farther east whose ancestors never lived in Spain and should be called Edot Hamizrah.) Abualfas and his friends had begun to develop their own community, consisting of members who identified as Sefardim and not as Tunisians, and they wanted to create their own community following minhag Sefard.

Shul versus community

The Radbaz divides the question into two topics: May the Sefardim establish their own shul, and may they establish their own community?

Regarding the establishing of their own community, which would mean that they would no longer participate in the tzedakah fund and other taxes and fees of the general community, the Radbaz rules that, once they have individually been paying as members of the main community, they cannot separate from that community and create their own. As individuals, they are bound to continue contributing to the main community.

However, regarding whether they may create their own shul, the Radbaz rules that they may, for the following reason: since they do not want to be forced to daven with the rest of the community, their desire to have their own shul will disturb their kavanah while davening. The Radbaz discusses at length the issue of davening with kavanah. He notes that one is not permitted to daven when one is angry, and that the Gemara states that, if the amora Rav Chanina ever got angry, he did not daven that day. Furthermore, we see that any distraction is a reason why one should not daven, even that of an enticing fragrance. Therefore, one may not daven when in the presence of people that one does not like. The Radbaz further suggests that just as there is a halacha that one will study Torah properly only when he is interested in the topic, a person will be able to concentrate in his davening only when he is praying where he is happy. For these reasons, the Radbaz rules that people who are not satisfied praying with the rest of the community are permitted to organize their own shul. However, he rules that it is within the community’s prerogative to ban the forming of other shullen, when this will harm community interests.

Berov am hadras melech

The Radbaz then discusses the halachic preference of berov am hadras melech, a large group of people (attending a mitzvah) honors the King (Rosh Hashanah 32b). This means that it is preferable that a large group of people daven in one shul, rather than split among several smaller shullen. The Radbaz concludes that, indeed, it is preferable for everyone to daven in the same shul but, when people will be unhappy, that factor permits them to open their own shul.

The Radbaz closes this discussion with the following:

“Do not interpret my words to think that I believe that dividing into different shullen is good. G-d forbid… However, we are required to try as hard as possible that everyone pray with a full heart to his Father in Heaven. If it is impossible to pray with a full heart when davening in a shul that one does not enjoy, and the people will constantly be arguing, having different shullen is the lesser of the two evils.”

An earlier authority, the Rivosh (Shu”t Harivosh #253) mentions the same ruling — individuals who want to establish their own breakaway minyan cannot be stopped, and that it is improper to prevent this. However, if the members of the existing shul claim that their shul requires the income or membership to keep going, one should examine whether the claim is truthful. If, indeed, it is, one should work out a plan that accommodates the needs of both communities. (See also Rema, Choshen Mishpat 162:7.)

Two shuls

At this point, we can now address the second of our opening questions: “Is it permitted to leave a shul to start our own?”

The short answer is that there are circumstances when this is permitted, although, in an ideal world, it is not preferred.

One shul

At this point, let us examine the first of our opening questions: “May we merge two existent shullen, when each has its own minhagim?”

The answer is that, because of the rule of berov am hadras melech, it is preferable to merge shuls into a larger entity, but, as I explained above, this will depend on circumstances (see also Shu”t Binyan Tziyon 1:122). If the members understand that it is a greater honor to Hashem to have a large shul with many people davening together, that is preferred.

Conclusion

Understanding how much concern Chazal placed in the relatively minor aspects of davening should make us more aware of the fact that davening is our attempt at building a relationship with Hashem. As the Kuzari notes, every day should have three high points — the three times that we daven. We should gain our strength and inspiration for the rest of the day from these three prayers.

The power of tefillah is very great. Man was created by Hashem as the only creation that has free choice. Therefore, our serving Hashem and our davening is unique in the entire spectrum of creation. Remember that we are actually speaking to Hashem, and that we are trying to build a relationship with Him. Through tefillah, one can save lives, bring people closer to Hashem, and overturn harsh decrees. We are required to believe in this power. One should not think, “Who am I to daven to Hashem?” Rather, we must reinforce the concept that Hashem wants our tefillos, and He listens to them!

Shul Building

Question #1: One shul

“May we merge together two existent shullen, when each has its own minhagim?”

Question #2: Two shuls

“Is it permitted to leave a shul to start our own?’

Question #3: Old shul

“In our town, almost everyone has moved away from the ‘old neighborhood,’ which has now, unfortunately, become a slum. The sprinkling of Jewish people still there can no longer maintain the shul. Are the people who used to live there still obligated to maintain the old shul building?”

Question #4: New shul

“We have been comfortably davening in different people’s houses, three times a day, seven days a week. Now, some individuals are clamoring that they want us to build a shul, which is a huge expense. Isn’t this chutzpah on their part, when we are all struggling to pay our mortgages?”

Introduction:

Our batei kenesiyos and batei midrashos, the buildings that we designate for prayer and for study, are referred to as our mikdash me’at, our holy buildings reminiscent of the the sanctity of the Mishkan and the Beis Hamikdash.

There is a halachic requirement to build a shul. To quote the Rambam (Hilchos Tefillah 11:1-2), Any place that has ten Jews must have available a building that they can enter to pray at every time of prayer. This building is called a beis hakenesses(synagogue). The members of the community can force one another to build a synagogue, to purchase a sefer Torah and books of the prophets and of the kesuvim. When you build a synagogue, you must build it in the highest part of the town… and you must elevate it, until it is taller than any of the courtyards in town.

We see from the words of the Rambam that it is not sufficient to have an area available in which one can daven when necessary – it is required to have a building designated specifically for this purpose, even if the shul will be empty the rest of the day (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim, 2:44). Rav Moshe Feinstein explains that a community is required to have a building designated to be their mikdash me’at.

Since it is a community responsibility to have a shul building, the minority of the membership of a community may force the majority to raise the money to build a shul (Rema, Choshen Mishpat 163:1). In earlier generations, communities had the authority to levy taxes on their members. Since building a shul is a community responsibility, they could require people to provide the funds necessary for this project.

Must we build a shul?

At this point, let us address one of our opening questions: “We have been comfortably davening in different people’s houses, three times a day, seven days a week. Now, some individuals are clamoring that they want us to build a shul, which is a huge expense. Isn’t this chutzpah on their part, when we are all struggling to pay our mortgages?”

The answer is that, not only is it not chutzpah on the part of those individuals, the halachic right is on their side. The community is required to have a shul, and it is unsatisfactory that the minyan takes place in a home that is not meant to be a beis tefillah. Therefore, individuals can certainly force the rest to build a shul.

I cannot resist telling over the following story from my experience as a shul rav. At one time, I was invited for an interview to a new shul that was located in an affluent area. I made a trip to meet the shul search committee, which was very interested in engaging me as their rav. They showed me the converted house that they were using as the shul, and mentioned that when they had renovated the building, they did so in a way that there would be an apartment in the building for the rav to use as his residence, since they did not have much money for a respectable salary. In their minds, since the rav could now save himself mortgage or rent money, that was a hefty part of what they intended for his salary.

I noted to them that in the position I had at the time, I could devote myself fully to rabbinic duties, something that would be quite impossible in the circumstances that they proposed. Their response was that although they understood my predicament, this was all they could afford, since most of their members were paying very huge mortgages for the zechus of living in this neighborhood. I made a mental note that none of them seemed to feel that the apartment part of the shul building that they were proposing was certainly nothing that any of them would consider suitable residential accommodations, nor would they consider the shul building representative of the high-class lifestyle that they had chosen for themselves.

How do we assess?

In earlier generations, the Jewish community had the ability to levy taxes and other fees on its membership. Virtually all Jewish communities had fairly strong authority over its membership because the community levied taxes and also was responsible for collectively paying taxes to the local monarch.

When assessing individuals for the construction of a local shul, do we charge according to people’s financial means, or does everyone share equally in the costs of the building?

The Rema rules that when raising the money for a shul, we take into consideration both the resources of the individuals and also who will be using the facility. Therefore, when assessing people for the building of a shul, the costs are allocated both according to the financial means and according to individuals. Thus, the wealthier members of a community will be paying a somewhat higher percentage of the costs.

Rent a shul

If the community does not have the resources to build or purchase a shul, they can force one another to put up enough money to rent a place (Mishnah Berurah 150:2)

Where not to rent

In a responsum in Igros Moshe (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 3:25), Rav Moshe Feinstein was asked the following: There is no orthodox shul in town, and they have been davening in houses. Now, they want to rent space from a local conservative congregation. May they do so?

Rav Moshe prohibits this for two reasons:

1. This arrangement provides some credibility to the conservative congregation.

2. When people see the orthodox people entering or exiting the building of the conservative temple, they may think that these people are intending to pray in the conservative facility, which is prohibited. This involves the prohibition of maris ayin, doing something that may raise suspicion that one violated halacha.

Changing neighborhoods

Let us now address a different one of our opening questions: “In our town, almost everyone has moved away from the ‘old neighborhood,’ which has now, unfortunately, become a slum. The sprinkling of Jewish people still there can no longer maintain the shul. Are the people who used to live there still obligated to maintain the old shul building?”

This question was asked of Rav Moshe Feinstein (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 3:28).

In the case that he was asked, the shul had already opened a new facility in a nicer area and, until this point, the expenses of the old shul were being covered from the budget of the new shul. However, the members no longer saw any gain from doing so, since it was only a question of time until the old shul would no longer be at all functional. They would like to close down the old shul and sell the building. Are they permitted to?

The general rule is that a shul is considered communal public property and, as long as it functions as a shul, no one has the right to sell or modify its use. This is because the “owners” of the shul include anyone who might visit the area and want to find a minyan in which to daven. This is true, providing that there are still minyanim that meet in the shul on a regular basis — they cannot sell the building or close it down (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim III #29).

In the case at hand, Rav Moshe rules that those who have moved out of the neighborhood of the old shul have no responsibility to pay for the upkeep or repairs of the shul building that they are not using. The fact that the community has been treating the two shul buildings as one institution does not change this. Rav Moshe then mentions that, since the old shul is in a bad neighborhood, they may have a responsibility to remove the sifrei Torah from the shul, and perhaps even the siddurim, chumashim and other seforim, in order to protect them. He concludes that, since those who still daven in the old shul have no means of their own to keep the shul going, it is permitted to shutter the shul building and sell it. He also mentions that, if the bank will foreclose on the mortgage and re-possess the building, this does not require them to continue paying the mortgage. Nor does the bank’s decision as to what it will do with the shul property after the foreclosure require them to continue paying the mortgage.

Regarding those who still live in the old neighborhood, Rav Moshe rules that they should conduct the minyanim in a house where the sifrei Torah and the other seforim will be secure (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim III #28).

An interesting teshuvah from Rav Moshe relates to a shul building that had been originally planned to have a lower level to use as a social hall, with the shul intended to be on the upper floor. They began to use the social hall for davening until they built the shul on top, but the neighborhood began to change, and it became clear that they would have no need to complete the structure of the building. They never finished the building, and instead, directed the efforts and finances toward purchasing a new shul in a neighborhood to which people were moving. The old shul, or, more accurately, the “social hall” part of the old shul building, is at the stage where there is barely a minyan left, and the dwindling numbers imply that it is not going to be very long until there is no functioning minyan. The question is that they would like to sell the old building and use the money to complete the purchase of the new building. Furthermore, the mikveh in the town is now in a neighborhood to which women are hesitant to travel, so they want to use the funds from the old shul building to defray the construction costs of a necessary new mikveh.

Because of the specific circumstances involved, including that it is unlikely that people from the outside will drop in to daven in this minyan anymore, Rav Moshe rules that they are permitted to sell the building. A similar responsum from Rav Moshe was when they needed to create a shul in a neighborhood where there was a good chance that the Jewish community there would not last long. Rather than declare their building a shul, they called it a library and used it as their shul. Rav Moshe suggests that this was a good suggestion, since they knew from the outset that the days of the Jewish community were numbered (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim, 2:44).

We will continue this article next week…

Sewing on Shabbos

Question #1: Stuffing a Pillow

“My pillow is torn, and some of the filling has fallen out. May I restuff it on Shabbos?”

Question #2: Stitches

“Does stitching a wound closed involve a Torah prohibition on Shabbos?

Question #3: Miscellaneous

What do these questions have to do with one another?

Introduction

Among the 39 melachos of Shabbos, we find several sets of pairs, including tying and untying, writing and erasing, building and razing, and kindling and extinguishing. One of the sets is tofeir and korei’a, sewing and tearing. Of this pair, korei’a usually gets more coverage in practical halacha, because it involves many common questions such as opening packaging and tearing toilet paper. So that tofeir does not feel left out, the aim of this article is to show that there are many interesting details relevant to this melacha, and we will also discover some halachic surprises.

Tofeir 101

First, some introductory information about this melacha: One violates the av melacha either by sewing three stitches (meaning that the needle goes through the material three times) or by sewing two stitches and then tying the thread with a knot, so that the stitches remain (Rambam, Hilchos Shabbos 10:9). Without this last step, the stitches will not last, and, therefore, one does not violate the melacha min haTorah.

Non-permanent sewing

The rishonim dispute whether one violates a melacha min haTorah if one sews an item closed, but intends to open the stitches very shortly. Why would one do this? An example is that launderers sometimes stitched small items of clothing to larger ones, so that they will not get lost. This stitching will be removed as soon as the laundry is complete. Does this involve a Torah prohibition or is it prohibited only because of a rabbinic injunction?

I’ll provide a contemporary application, although it presumably does not affect most of our readers. To make sure that they remain firmly in place, boxing gloves are sewn closed around the wrists of the boxer. However, the boxer presumably wants to remove his gloves before his next meal or when he next needs to blow his nose. Thus, although the gloves are sewn very tightly onto his hands, the stitches will be undone very shortly, sometimes within a few minutes, if the boxer is either extremely successful or extremely unsuccessful. Does this sewing involve a Torah prohibition?

Most rishonim follow the more stringent approach, which is also the way the Shulchan Aruch rules (Orach Chayim 340:7). The Rema (Orach Chayim 317:3) quotes both approaches. Most later authorities understand that the Rema also concludes that the primary opinion is that sewing properly is prohibited min haTorah, even when one intends to rip out the stitches shortly (Tehillah Ledavid 340:6; Chazon Ish, hashmatos, Orach Chayim page 257; cf., however, Graz 317:7). So, boxers, beware, don’t sew your gloves on Shabbos! (Now, can you have a non-Jew do it? That is a topic for a different time!)

Tightening stitches

Here is a case that involves sewing min haTorah that most people do not realize is prohibited. On Shabbos, someone sees that some stitching on his garment is loose, so he pulls the stitching together. Halachically, this is considered an act of sewing the two pieces of the garment together, and, therefore, this seemingly innocent act involves a Torah prohibition of sewing (see Rashi, Shabbos 75a). This act will be prohibited min haTorah also on Yom Tov.

Embroidering

Embroidering cloth also violates the av melacha of tofeir (Nimla Tal, Meleches Tofeir note 25). Notwithstanding that, when embroidering, one does not necessarily stitch through the entire thickness of the cloth, there is still a Torah violation of tofeir (Yerushalmi, Shabbos 7:2, as explained by Pnei Moshe).

Pinning

A safety pin is usually inserted twice through cloth and then closed. Could this be considered sewing, since it is similar to making two stitches and then tying a knot, which is prohibited min haTorah?

Indeed, several prominent early acharonim banned the use of safety pins for precisely this reason (Shu”t Ginas Veradim, Orach Chayim 3:17, 19; Rabbi Akiva Eiger, notes to Magen Avraham 340:11; see also Korban Nesanel, Shabbos 7:50). However, many later acharonim permitted the use of pins on Shabbos, citing the following reasons:

(1) The closing performed by pinning is by nature temporary, and therefore not an act of tofeir (Chazon Ish, Orach Chayim #156, page 257, notes to Chapter 340; Az Nidberu 3:72).

(2) Tofeir is the act of making two or more items into one unit, which a pin does not do (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 2:84). Notwithstanding that a pin attaches two items, there are many activities that attach two items, such as buttoning, zippering and snapping, all of which are permitted on Shabbos. So, there is no reason to assume that pinning two items together should be treated any more stringently than buttoning them together.

The position of the Mishnah Berurah on this question is unclear (see 308:46; 340:27). Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky understood that the Mishnah Berurah was also lenient about the use of pins on Shabbos (Emes Leya’akov, Orach Chayim 340).

Stuffing a pillow

Now that we have a basic introduction to the melacha, we are in a position to discuss the halachos relevant to our opening question: “My pillow is torn, and some of the filling has fallen out. May I restuff it on Shabbos?”

The answer to this question lies in understanding a small passage of Gemara (Shabbos 48a), which teaches the following:

Rav Chisda permitted returning stuffing into a pillow on Shabbos. Rav Chanan bar Chisda asked Rav Chisda how he could permit this, since an earlier, authoritative source (a beraisa) prohibited stuffing soft material into a pillow on either Yom Tov or Shabbos. Rav Chisda responded that it is prohibited to create a pillow for the first time by stuffing it, but it is permitted to restuff an old pillow.

Why can’t you stuff?

What is wrong with stuffing a pillow on Shabbos? The rishonim dispute why the beraisa prohibited stuffing a new pillow on Yom Tov or Shabbos. Rashi explains that the prohibition is because of the melacha of makeh bepatish, making a new item, since one is manufacturing a new pillow. The Mishnah Berurah (340:33) understands this act to be a Torah violation of the melacha.

However, the Rambam explains the Gemara quite differently, that the prohibition here is rabbinic, and that this is not a case of makeh bepatish. He understands that Chazal prohibited stuffing the pillow because of concern that someone might forget and sew the pillow closed (Hilchos Shabbos 22:23).

Both opinions agree that the prohibition is only to stuff a pillow for the first time, but that it is permitted to replace stuffing that fell out (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 340:8). Thus, we have an answer to the question: “My pillow is torn, and some of the filling has fallen out. May I restuff it on Shabbos?” The answer is that one may, assuming that one does not tighten the thread that connects the two sides.

Stitches

An interesting and contemporary question with a surprising answer is whether suturing a wound on Shabbos by a physician involves a de’Oraysa prohibition of sewing. In truth, most instances of stitching usually entail an element of pikuach nefesh, life-threatening emergency, because of the risk of infection. It seems to this author that this would permit stitching a wound on Shabbos, even if it involves an act that is a melacha min haTorah. However, there are at least three situations in which it will make a practical difference whether stitching a wound closed involves a Torah prohibition or not.

I. Extra stitches

One of the differences that might result is whether, because of asthetic, non-medical reasons, it is permitted to make more stitches than necessary. For example, when a plastic surgeon closes a wound, he makes the stitches very close together in order to avoid a serious-looking scar. To do so, he uses more stitches than necessary from a strictly medical basis. These additional stitches are not pikuach nefesh, since one can safely close the wound with fewer stitches.

II. Non-Jew

Whether one can have a Jew perform melacha that is pikuach nefesh when a non-Jew is available is a dispute among rishonim and early poskim. In our case, it would have the following application: Is one permitted to have a Jewish physician suture a wound closed on Shabbos when there is a non-Jewish physician available who can?

III. Late on Shabbos

If an injury was sustained on Shabbos afternoon not long before sunset, it is usually not pikuach nefesh to close the wound immediately; one can wait safely until Shabbos is over and then stitch the wound closed. Thus, if stitching the wound involves a Torah prohibition, one should wait until after Shabbos to suture it. However, if no violation is involved, one might be able to suture it immediately.

At this point, we will discuss whether stitching a wound is included under the melacha of tofeir on Shabbos. I have seen two reasons to contend that there is no melacha of tofeir involved in stitching a wound closed:

A. We do not find that sewing as a melacha applies to the bodies of people (Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasah, 1979 edition, Chapter 35, note 62).

B. Tofeir is the combining of two items. Stitching skin does not make the two sides into one unit, but draws them close together so that they can heal into one unit (Nimla Tal, meleches tofeir #37). Thus, the stitching does not consist of a melacha min haTorah.

Tied in knots

However, either of these approaches may not change what the practical halacha is in these situations, because of a completely different problem. When stitching a wound closed, every stitch is followed by tying a knot, which is left permanently. Even when the stitch is removed, it is removed by cutting the thread and slipping out the stitching, not by untying the knot. Thus, the surgeon’s knot, which is definitely a specialist’s knot and is also knotted permanently, probably involves a melacha de’oraysah of kosheir, tying knots, a different one of the 39 melachos. Since this article is about tofeir and not about kosheir, I will leave further discussion on this point for a different time. Those who have the shaylah should get direction from their rav or posek.

We can now address the second of our opening questions: “Does stitching a wound closed involve a Torah prohibition on Shabbos?”

It would seem that stitching a wound closed on Shabbos involves a Torah prohibition of knotting.

Conclusion

We have learned many details about the melacha of sewing. Sewing three stitches violates the melacha min haTorah, as does sewing two stitches and then securing them so that they hold. Although using a safety pin may appear to be similar to sewing two stitches and securing them, many later authorities permit using pins to hold things together on Shabbos. We learned that stuffing a pillow for the first time is prohibited on Shabbos, and, according to some authorities, the reason for this prohibition is because we are concerned that someone may inadvertently sew the pillow closed. We also learned that there is an interesting halachic discussion whether stitching a wound closed involves a Torah prohibition on Shabbos.

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch (Shemos 20:10) notes that people mistakenly think that work is prohibited on Shabbos in order to provide a day of rest. This is incorrect, he points out, because the Torah does not prohibit doing avodah, which connotes hard work, but melacha, which implies purpose and accomplishment. The goal of Shabbos is to emphasize Hashem’s rule as the focus of creation by refraining from our own creative acts (Shemos 20:11).

Is This the Right Purim?

Question #1: Four Purims!

Could someone observe Purim four times in one year?

Question #2: Which Bar Mitzvah Day?

“My son, whose thirteenth birthday was on the fourteenth of Adar Rishon, wants to know why his bar mitzvah day was not Purim.”

Question #3: Mistaken Parshah

If a community mistakenly read one of the four parshi’os in Adar Rishon, must they read it again in Adar Sheini?

Introduction:

The Mishnah (Megillah 29a) teaches: “Rosh Chodesh Adar that falls on Shabbos, we read (for its maftir) Parshas Shekalim. If it falls during the week, we read this maftir the Shabbos before. We skip the next Shabbos (meaning that we do not read a special maftir). The second Shabbos after Shekalim,we read Parshas Zachor; the third, Parshas Parah Adumah; the fourth, Hachodesh Hazeh Lachem; and the fifth, we return to the regular order.” This Mishnah teaches about the four special readings, called the Arba Parshi’os, that we read for maftir during or near the month of Adar.

In a leap year, when there are two months of Adar, we observe the special laws of the month of Adar, including Purim, Taanis Esther and the Arba Parshi’os, in the second Adar. What many do not realize is that there is actually a dispute among the tanna’im, the Torah scholars of the era of the Mishnah, concerning in which Adar one should observe the special mitzvos of Adar.

The Gemara (Megillah 6b) records three opinions how we should observe these events. An anonymous opinion (known as the Tanna Kamma) contends that the four parshi’os may be observed either in Adar Rishon or in Adar Sheini, but Purim can be observed only in Adar Sheini. Rabbi Eliezer, the son of Rabbi Yosi, contends that all observances, including Purim, may be observed in Adar Rishon. In his opinion, these mitzvos should preferably be observed in the first Adar, but if one failed to do so, one can still fulfill the mitzvah by performing them in the second Adar. Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel contends that all the mitzvos can be observed only in Adar Sheini.

Sanhedrin’s calendar

This dispute becomes even more interesting after we understand some additional historical background. One of the 613 mitzvos of the Torah is the establishment of a Jewish calendar that includes occasional leap years that are thirteen months long. The requirement of adding this extra month is so that Pesach always falls in the spring and Sukkos in the autumn (in the northern hemisphere). The preferred way to establish this calendar is through determination of the Sanhedrin in Eretz Yisroel. For thousands of years, a special court of seven judges was created each year to decide if there is a need to add an extra month. The judges were chosen by the nasi, the head of the Sanhedrin.  We hope and pray that this system will be re-implemented soon, when Moshiach arrives.

In the era when the Sanhedrin and its special committee determined whether to create a leap year, many considerations were included in the decision. Among the factors evaluated were not only astronomical and weather information, but also what year it was in the shemittah cycle, what was the condition of the roads, whether people had left Bavel early enough to arrive in Yerushalayim for Pesach, whether enough lambs would be available for korban Pesach and what was the condition of the ovens used to roast the korban Pesach.

The special court began meeting any time after Rosh Hashanah, and the deliberations regarding whether to add an extra month could continue until the last day of Adar of the year involved. This means that they could decide to make it into a leap year even after Purim had already been observed!

Rosh Chodesh Mussaf

By the way, a practice of ours results from the timetable in which the Sanhedrin was allowed to declare a leap year – after Rosh Hashanah and before Rosh Chodesh Nissan. During Musaf on Rosh Chodesh, we close the middle brocha with a prayer for twelve blessings to occur in the coming month, and, in a leap year, we add a thirteenth blessing to this prayer. Thus, the number of blessings mentioned in this brocha corresponds with the number of months that the specific year contains. However, most customs add the thirteenth blessing only from the months of Marcheshvan until and including the months of Adar (both of them), but do not recite this thirteenth blessing during the rest of the year. Why don’t we recite this additional blessing between Nissan and Elul?

Based on our knowledge of when the Sanhedrin could declare a leap year, we can explain why the additional blessing is omitted between Nissan and Elul. At the time that the calendar was created by the Sanhedrin, the decision whether to add a month to the year was never made before Rosh Hashanah, and, therefore, between Nissan and Elul one never knew if the coming year was a leap year or not. Therefore, at that time, adding an additional blessing in that part of the year would be inappropriate, not only when the Sanhedrin is making that determination, but even today, when, as we will soon explain, the cycle of leap years is predetermined.

Sanhedrin and the calendar printers

When the calendar was decided by the Sanhedrin, printers would be unable to print a calendar in advance and, on Purim, housewives might be uncertain whether they have four weeks in which to prepare for Pesach, or eight, since the Sanhedrin may not yet have decided whether to add an extra Adar. As we noted above, this decision could be reached as late as the last day of Adar, some fifteen days after Purim.

The contemporary calendar

Unfortunately, we no longer have a Sanhedrin to establish our calendar. Instead, we use the calendar established by Hillel Hanasi, during the time of the Gemara. (One should be careful not to confuse Hillel Hanasi, who was the great-grandson of Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi, with their very illustrious and more famous ancestor, Hillel, who is often called Hillel Hazakein.) Hillel Hanasi was the last head of a Sanhedrin in Eretz Yisroel before the Roman persecution made it impossible for the Sanhedrin to continue functioning. Hillel Hanasi created the calendar we currently use, which has, among its features, a regular pattern of seven leap years and twelve common years in a nineteen-year cycle. Hillel established a system whereby the 3rd, 6th, 8th, 11th, 14th, 17th and 19th years are leap years in which we add the additional Adar.

In which Adar is Purim?

We mentioned above the three-way dispute concerning when we observe Purim and the four parshi’os in a leap year. According to Rabbi Eliezer berabbi Yosi, the unique mitzvos of Adar, that is, the observances of the four parshi’os, Taanis Esther and Purim, should all be observed in the first Adar. However, should one fail to observe them then, one may observe them in the second Adar. According to the Tanna Kamma, the four parshi’os may be observed in either Adar Rishon or Adar Sheini, but Purim can be observed only in Adar Sheini. Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel contends that all the mitzvos can be observed only in Adar Sheini.

Basis of the dispute

What are the reasons behind the dispute?

The Gemara explains that Rabbi Eliezer berabbi Yosi holds that all the mitzvos should be kept in Adar Rishon, because of the principle called ein ma’avirin al hamitzvos, the opportunity to observe a mitzvah should not be allowed to pass. Since, in Rabbi Eliezer berabbi Yosi’s opinion, one may observe these mitzvos in either Adar, one should fulfill them at the first opportunity and not wait until the second Adar.

Ein ma’avirin al hamitzvos

The law of ein ma’avirin al hamitzvos is referred to in several places, and, according to Rashi and the Mechilta (to Shemos 12:17), this requirement is derived from the Torah. When the Torah states, Ushemartem es hamatzos, and you shall guard the matzos, (Shemos 12:17), meaning to make sure that one’s matzos do not become chometz, the word matzos is understood hermeneutically to refer to all mitzvos. This renders the command of the Torah to mean that you should “watch” for the mitzvos, that is, wait eagerly to perform them. As explained by the Mechilta, this means that when one has an opportunity to fulfill a mitzvah one should not tarry, but should fulfill it as soon as one can.

Is ein ma’avirin al hamitzvos a Torah requirement?

Since Rashi and the Mechilta cite a verse as the source for the law of ein ma’avarin al hamitzvos, should we assume that this is a Torah requirement? This is indeed the position of Tosafos (Yoma 33a s.v. ein) and some other authorities (Nishmas Odom 13:2; see also Shu”t Divrei Malkiel, Orach Chayim #16). However, there are authorities who contend that ein ma’avirin al hamitzvos is required only miderabbanan, and the verse quoted is what is called in halachic terminology an asmachta, a Scriptural foundation or hint for a rabbinic law (Shu”t Radbaz #529).

Other examples of ein ma’avirin al hamitzvos

Here are some other examples of the principle of ein ma’avirin al hamitzvos.

When donning tefillin, one should be careful not to touch the shel rosh before he touches the shel yad. According to Tosafos (Yoma 33b, s. v. avurei), if he touches his shel rosh first, he will be forced to wait to put it on until after his shel yad, because the Torah implies that one should not don the shel rosh until he is already wearing the shel yad. This will constitute a violation of ein ma’avirin al hamitzvos, because he sets aside the shel rosh and does not put it on immediately.

Similarly, because of the law of ein ma’avirin al hamitzvos, one who touched his tefillin before his talis must put the tefillin on first.

Here is an unusual application of the principle of ein ma’avirin al hamitzvos. Someone who is imprisoned, and cannot fulfill many mitzvos, such as kerias haTorah, tefillah betzibur, shofar blowing, and hearing Megillah while he is incarcerated, is provided the opportunity for one furlough. When should he use his furlough? One early authority was uncertain whether he should request to get out for Yom Kippur, because of the sanctity of the day, or whether he should use it for Purim, since the mitzvah of pirsumei nisa accomplished by hearing Megillah is something that cannot be accomplished at any other time.

The Radbaz (Shu”t Haradbaz #1087) takes issue with these considerations, contending that whatever mitzvah he can observe first should be the one for which he takes his furlough, because of the principle of ein ma’avirin al hamitzvos. While his incarcertation makes him unable to perform many mitzvos, once he has been granted a furlough, he now has an opportunity to perform a mitzvah, and not taking advantage of that constitutes forgoing its observance!

Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel

Having explained the reason why Rabbi Eliezer berabbi Yosi contends that one should read Megillah and the four parshi’os in Adar Rishon, the question is why does Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel rule that one must wait until Adar Sheini to observe these mitzvos?

The Gemara presents two approaches to explain Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel’s opinion. Rabbi Tevi maintains that since the celebration of Purim is to thank Hashem for redeeming us, we should observe these mitzvos in the Adar that is closer to the month of Nissan, when we celebrate another redemption, that of the Exodus from Egypt.

Rabbi Elazar explains Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel’s opinion in a different way, deriving from a verse in Megillas Esther that, when there are two months of Adar, we should celebrate Purim and the other events in the second Adar.

Four Purims?

At this point, we can address one of the questions I raised at the very beginning of this article: Could someone observe Purim four times in one year?

I mentioned above that, in the era that the Sanhedrin establishes whether the year is a leap year or not, it could happen that a leap year is declared after Purim, but before the month of Adar has ended. This means that, in what appeared to be a common year, the beis din decided to declare, towards the end of the month of Adar, that they would add an extra month. In this scenario, Purim was already observed, yet now the Sanhedrin declared that there would be a second Adar. Does everyone need to observe Purim a second time?

As I explained above, according to Rabbi Eliezer berabbi Yosi, the addition of the second Adar does not affect the observances of the four parshi’os, Taanis Esther and Purim, since they are all kept in the first Adar. Regardless as to when the Sanhedrin decided to add an extra Adar, these mitzvos are performed in the first Adar.

According to the Tanna Kamma, the four parshi’os may be observed either in Adar Rishon or in Adar Sheini, but Purim can be observed only in Adar Sheini. This would mean that when the beis din decided prior to Adar to create a leap year, the mitzvos should all be observed in Adar Sheini. If the beis din did not decide until some time in Adar, whichever of the four parshi’os had been read already did not need to be repeated. However, if they decided to add an extra month after Purim had been observed, everyone is required to observe Purim for a second time in the second Adar.

Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel contends that all the mitzvos can be observed only in Adar Sheini. In his opinion, if beis din decided to add an extra month at the end of Adar, then the four parshi’os and all of the observances of Purim must be repeated.

How do we rule?

The Gemara concludes that the halachah follows Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel. For this reason, even though most tanna’im contend that a community that read the four parshi’os in Adar Rishon is not required to repeat them in Adar Sheini, the halachah is that they are required to do so. This ruling is followed by the Rif, the Rosh, the Rambam, the Tur, the Shulchan Aruch and all later halachic authorities.

Two or four?

We now know how one might end up observing Purim in both months of Adar; but how does one end up keeping Purim four times in one year?The answer to this question, also, requires a small introduction. As we know from the Megillah, the “open cities,” meaning places other than a city or town that were walled at the time that Yehoshua conquered Eretz Yisroel, observe the laws of Purim on the fourteenth of Adar, whereas the walled cities observe Purim on the fifteenth. Now, there are places in which it is uncertain whether Purim should be observed on the fourteenth of Adar, like the “open cities,” or the fifteenth, like the walled cities. For example, the Gemara (Megillah 5b) recounts that in Teverya, they read the Megillah on both the fourteenth and the fifteenth. Teverya was walled on three sides, and the Sea of Kineret (also known as the Sea of Galilee) served as its “wall” on the fourth side. It was uncertain whether this conformation qualifies it as a walled city or a non-walled one.

Now think: What would happen in Teverya in a year when the beis din decided at the end of Adar to create a leap year? They would end up, according to the Tanna Kamma and Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel, observing Purim four times.

Which bar mitzvah day?

At this point, let us answer our remaining questions: My son, whose thirteenth birthday was on the fourteenth of Adar Rishon, wants to know why his bar mitzvah day was not Purim.

The answer is that he would be correct if we ruled according to Rabbi Eliezer berabbi Yosi. However, since the Gemara concludes that the halachah follows the disputing opinion of Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel, we celebrate Purim in the second Adar. As I mentioned above, the Gemara cites two opinions why Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel rules that we observe Purim in Adar Sheini. According to one opinion, this is because the redemption that we celebrate on Purim should be observed as close to the celebration of the redemption of Pesach as possible. According to the other opinion mentioned by the Gemara, there is a special hermeneutic derivation that teaches us this halachah.

Mistaken parshah

If a community mistakenly read one of the four parshi’os in Adar Rishon, must they read it again in Adar Sheini?

Although according to both the Tanna Kamma and Rabbi Eliezer berabbi Yosi, they would not be required to do so, the halachah follows Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel, who requires them to read it again.

In conclusion

We see how important it is not to delay performing a mitzvah. Certainly, our attitude towards the performance of all mitzvos should be one of enthusiasm – we are overjoyed at the opportunity to fulfill Hashem‘s commandments.