Liturgical Curiosities

Question #1:

I find that many of the selichos that we recite before Rosh Hashanah are very difficult, if not impossible, to understand. Is this to teach us how difficult it is to do teshuvah?

Question #2:

“I once heard a rav give a running commentary to the kinos of Tisha B’Av, and he mentioned that the first kinah is a continuation of the piyut recited during the repetition of the shemoneh esrei. But I never saw anyone recite piyutim during the repetition of Tisha B’Av shemoneh esrei and do not even know where to look for them.”

Question #3:

“As a child, I remember that all the shullen recited piyutim during Maariv on Yomim Tovim and during Kedushah on special Shabbosos. Now I see piyutim recited only on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. What has changed?”

Although these questions seem unrelated, they all focus on a central subject: the additions of piyutim, kinos and other special passages in our davening. Let us first understand the background to the piyutim.

What are Piyutim?

During the period of the Rishonim, the Geonim, and even earlier, great Torah scholars wrote prayers and other liturgical works that were inserted into many different places in the davening, particularly during the birkos keri’as shema (between borchu and shemoneh esrei) and during the repetition of the shemoneh esrei. Standard shul practice, particularly among Ashkenazic Jewry, was to recite these piyutim on special occasions, including Yomim Tovim, fast days, and special Shabbosos (see Rama, Orach Chayim 68:1; 112:2). These piyutim express the mood and the theme of the day, often recall the history of the day, and sometimes even provide the halachic background for the day’s observance. Studying these piyutim not only gives us tremendous appreciation for these days, but sometimes provides us with certain aspects of mystery, as I will explain.

There is also a humbling side to the study of piyutim. The piyutim predate the printing press and return us to the era when written works had to be painstakingly handcopied. Most communities could not afford handwritten manuscripts of all the piyutim, and therefore the job of every chazzan included committing the piyutim to memory. My father told me many times that he knew blind chazzanim who recited the entire yomim nora’im davening by heart!

Selichos

We are all aware of the selichos recited on fast days and during Elul and Aseres Yemei Teshuvah, which are a type of piyutim. Another famous part of davening that qualifies as piyut is Akdamus, recited prior to keri’as hatorah on Shavuos. This introduction to the keri’as haTorah for Shavuos was written by Rabbeinu Meir ben Yitzchak of Worms, Germany, who was one of the great leaders of Ashkenazic Jewry before Rashi. Other examples of piyutim that are commonly recited include Tefillas Tal and Tefillas Geshem. The poem Dvei Haseir – recited before bensching at a Sheva Berachos, authored by Dunash ibn Labrat, an early poet and grammarian who is cited by Rashi in several places – and Nodeh Leshimcha, which takes the same slot at a bris milah are other examples of piyut.

Double Duty

Some piyutim are used in two different contexts. For example, the song frequently chanted at a bris, Shirah Chadashah,originated as a piyut recited immediately before the close of the berachah of Ga’al Yisrael in birchas keri’as shema on the Seventh Day of Pesach. This piyut, written by Rabbi Yehudah HaLevi, refers both to the splitting of the Yam Suf and to bris milah, and is therefore appropriate on both occasions.

Teaching Torah through Piyutim

Many times, the rabbis used poetry as a means of teaching Torah. For example, a very extensive literature of piyutim lists and explains the 613 mitzvos. Most of these pieces date back to the times of the Geonim; indeed, the famous count of mitzvos by Rav Saadia Gaon is actually a poem. The Rambam, in his introduction to the Sefer Hamitzvos refers to many such poems. He quotes them disparagingly, because most followed the count of the 613 mitzvos according to the Baal Halachos Gedolos, with which the Rambam disagreed.

Other examples include piyutim that instruct about special observances of the Jewish calendar. Among the most famous is the Seder Avodah of Yom Kippur, which is already referred to in the Gemara, although the text they used is long lost. Dozens of different piyutim were written in the period of the Geonim and Rishonim describing the Seder Avodah in detail. The Rishonim devote much halachic discussion about the technical accuracy of several of the versions they received from earlier generations, often taking issue and making rectifications. Even as late a halachic authority as the Chayei Odom made many corrections to our Seder Avodah of Yom Kippur to correct its accuracy.

U’neshalma Parim Sefaseinu

Reciting the Seder Avodah also fulfills the concept of ‘U’neshalma Parim Sefaseinu,’ ‘And let our lips replace the (sacrificial) bulls’ (Hoshea 14:3). The Midrash teaches that when we are unable to offer korbanos, Hashem accepts our recital of the procedure as a replacement for the korbanos (Midrash Rabbah, Shir HaShirim 4:3). This implies that we can achieve kapparah (atonement) by reciting these piyutim with kavanah. Therefore, a person who recites the viduy of the Seder Avodah and truly regrets his sins can accomplish atonement similar to that achieved through the viduy recited by the Kohen Gadol.

Other “Replacement” Prayers

The same idea of U’neshalma Parim Sefaseinu is followed when we recite piyutim that describe other korbanos, such as, for example, the korban omer, the water libation (nisuch hamayim) of Sukkos, or the korban Pesach. We can achieve the drawing close to Hashem that korbanos achieve by discussing them and by longing for their return. This expands the rationale for reciting piyutim.

Educate to Observe Mitzvos

Some piyutim serve not only to teach Torah, but also to educate people how to observe mitzvos correctly. For example, the piyut, Elokei HaRuchos,recited on Shabbos Hagadol, contains a lengthy halachic description of all the preparations for Pesach, including detailed instructions for kashering and preparing the house. This halachic-liturgical classic was authored by Rav Yosef Tuv-Elem, the rabbinic leader of French Jewry prior to Rashi. Tosafos and other Rishonim devote much debate to the halachic positions taken by Rav Yosef Tuv-Elem in this poem, and Rabbeinu Tam and others revised Elokei HaRuchos to reflect their opinion of the correct halachah. Since the goal of this piyut was to teach the correct way to observe the laws of Pesach, the Rishonim felt it vital that the it halachically accurate. Obviously, this piyut was meant to be read, studied, and understood.

Who Authored Them?

You might ask, how do we know who wrote the different piyutim, particularly when many are over a thousand years old!

In general, most piyutim follow an alef beis acrostic in order to facilitate recall. (Remember — the assumption was that the chazzan would recite them from memory!) Many times, the author completed the work by weaving his name into the acrostic pattern he used for the particular piyut. Thus, Elokei HaRuchos begins with the alef beis but closes by spelling Yosef Hakatan bar Shmuel Chazak, which is the way Rav Yosef Tuv-Elem chose to “sign” this piyut.

An Old Controversy

Early controversy surrounded the practice of interrupting the berachos of keri’as shema or the repetition of the shemoneh esrei to recite the yotzaros, the word frequently used as a generic word for all piyutim inserted into the regular davening. (The word “yotzaros” originally referred only to those piyutim inserted after Borchu, shortly after the words “yotzeir ohr uborei choshech… .” However, in standard use the word refers to all piyutim inserted into the berachos of keri’as shema or the repetition of the shemoneh esrei.) The Shulchan Aruch rules: “There are communities that interrupt the birkos keri’as shema to recite piyutim, but it is correct not to say them for they constitute an interruption” (Orach Chayim 68:1). On this point, the Rama, reflecting early Ashkenazic practice, adds: “Others say that this is not prohibited and the practice in all communities is to recite them.” Each country and city had its own special customs concerning what was said and when; this was usually recorded in a community ledger.

Mesod Chachamim Unevonim

To acknowledge that these piyutim interrupt the regular repetition of the shemoneh esrei, the chazzan introduces the piyutim with the words, Mesod chachamim unevonim (Based on the tradition of the wise and understanding). These words mention that early great Torah leaders permitted and encouraged the introduction of these praises.

The Vilna Gaon, in his commentary to Shulchan Aruch (ibid.), explains both the position of those who recommended the recital of yotzaros and those who discouraged them. For the most part, the Lithuanian yeshivos followed the personal practice of the Gra not to recite piyutim during the birkos keri’as shema, and did not recite yotzaros during the repetition of the shemoneh esrei (Maasei Rav #57). (The Yeshivos recite yotzaros during the repetition of the shemoneh esrei on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.) With the tremendous spreading of shullen that follow the practices of the yeshivos, rather than what was previously followed by the Ashkenazic communities, it is increasingly difficult to find a shul catering to yeshivah alumnithat recites the piyutim other than during the repetition of the shemoneh esrei on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. This answers the question asked above: “As a child, I remember reciting piyutim during Maariv on Yomim Tovim and during Kedushah on special Shabbosos. Now I see piyutim recited only on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. What has changed?”

Unfortunately, due to this change in custom,this vast treasured literature of the Jewish people is quickly becoming forgotten.

Who was the First Paytan?

The title of being the earliest prominent paytan presumably belongs to Rabbi Elazar HaKalir, often referred to as the Rosh HaPaytanim, who authored Tefillas Tal and Tefillas Geshem, the piyutim for the four special Shabbosos (Shekalim, Zachor, Parah and HaChodesh), for Purim, the lion’s share of the kinos that Ashkenazim recite on Tisha B’Av and as piyutim on Yom Tov. We know virtually nothing about him personally — we cannot even date when he lived with any accuracy. Indeed, some Rishonim place him in the era of the Tanna’im shortly after the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash, identifying him either as Rabbi Elazar ben Arach (Shu”t Rashba 1:469), a disciple of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai, or as Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai’s son Elazar, who hid in the cave with his father (Tosafos, Chagigah 13a s.v. Veraglei; Rosh, Berachos 5:21). Others date Rav Elazar HaKalir much later.

Many assume that Rav Elazar HaKalir lived in Eretz Yisrael, based on the fact that we have no piyutim written by him for the second day of Yom Tov (Tosafos, Chagigah 13a s.v. Veraglei; Rosh, Berachos 5:21). Moreover, Tosafos there uses this evidence to prove that Kalir lived at the time when the Beis Din determined Rosh Chodesh on the basis of visual evidence. However, the yotzaros recited immediately following Borchu on the second day of Sukkos clearly include his signature and follow his style. So perhaps he indeed lived in chutz la’aretz, and indeed there are those who assume he lived in Italy, which was the location of many of the very early Ashkenazi paytanim.

Could it be that Diaspora Jews moved yotzaros he wrote for the first day of Yom Tov to the second day?

If this approach is true, it creates another question: Since the yotzaros recited on the first day of Yom Tov were also written by him, would he have written two sets of yotzaros for Shacharis on Sukkos? There are other indications that, indeed, he did sometimes write more than one set of piyutim for the same day.

Kalirian Curiosities

We do not know for certain what the name “Kalir” means. Since there are several places where he uses the acronym “Elazar berabi Kalir,” it seems that his father’s name was Kalir. However, the Aruch explains that “kalir” means a type of cookie, and that he was called hakalir because he ate a cookie upon which had been written a special formula that blessed him with tremendous erudition (Aruch, eirech Kalar III).

Kalirian Controversies

The antiquity of Rabbi Elazar’s writing did not save him from controversy. No less a gadol than the ibn Ezra stridently opposes using Rav Kalir’s works, arguing that prayers and piyutim should be written very clearly and be readily understood (Commentary to Koheles 5:1). Ibn Ezra recommends reciting piyutim written by Rav Saadia Geon that are easy to understand, rather than those of Kalir.

Rav Kalir’s piyutim in general, and his kinos in particular, are written in an extremely difficult poetic Hebrew. Often his ideas are left in allusions, and the story or midrash to which he alludes is unclear or obscure. They certainly cannot be understood without careful preparation. Someone who takes the trouble to do this will be awed by the beauty of the thoughts and allusions. The Shibbolei HaLeket records that when Rabbi Elazar wrote his piyutim the angels surrounded him with fire (quoted by the Magen Avraham at the beginning of Orach Chayim 68.) The Arizal recited all of the Kalir’s piyutim, because he perceived their deep kabbalistic allusions (ibid.).

Why is Es Tzemach David Ignored?

There is another mysterious practice in some of his writings. The piyutim he wrote for the weekday shemoneh esrei (such as for Purim) include a paragraph for every berachah of shemoneh esrei except one,the berachah Es tzemach David that precedes Shema koleinu.

Why would Rav Kalir omit this berachah? Perhaps the answer to this mystery can help us understand more about when he lived.

Answering the Mystery

Our use of the title “shemoneh esrei” to identify the focal part of our daily prayer is actually a misnomer, dating back to when this tefillah included only eighteen berachos. In the times of the Mishnah, a nineteenth berachah, Velamalshinim, was added, and the Talmud Bavli notes that this increases the berachos of the “shemoneh esrei” to nineteen.

However, there is evidence that even after Velamalshinim was added, not everyone recited nineteen berachos. A Tosefta implies that they still recited eighteen berachos in the shemoneh esrei.  This was accomplished by combining together two of the berachos, Uvenei Yerushalayim and Es tzemach David. This would explain why someone would not write a piyut for the berachah Es tzemach David, since it was no longer an independent berachah. Thus, if we can identify a place and time when these two berachos were combined, we might more closely identify when Rav Elazar HaKalir lived. It would seem that this would be sometime between the introduction of the berachah Velamalshinim and the time the Talmud Bavli’s practice of a nineteen-berachahshemoneh esrei” became accepted.

Rabbi Elazar Hakalir’s piyutim and kinos require studying rather than reading. They are often extremely difficult pieces to read, relying on allusions to midrashim and historical events. Many commentators elucidated his works, attempting to illuminate the depths of his words. Also, sometimes he employed extremely complicated acrostics. This is cited as proof that he lived later, when such writing was stylish; of course, this does not prove his lack of antiquity.

The Kinos

As I mentioned above, most of the kinos we recite on Tisha B’Av are authored by Rabbi Elazar HaKalir. In his typical style, many of these can be understood only by preparing them in advance or to hear them explained by someone who understands them. Furthermore, they must be read slowly so that one can understand what the author meant. This may entail someone reciting only a few kinos for the entire morning of Tisha B’Av, but he will understand and experience what he read.

Conclusion

We see that liturgical poems enhance our appreciation of our special days, and that it is very worthwhile to prepare them in advance so that we can truly appreciate them while we recite them.




Is That Shofar Kosher?

Shofars come in many different sizes and prices, and they can be bought in many different places. But is that shofar on sale at Amazon.com fit for use on Rosh Hashanah? And if a shofar does need a hechsher, what should that kashrus certificate cover?

Yossi had always hoped to follow the family tradition of becoming a baal tokei’ah. But even though he had spent many hours during the summer months practicing on his grandfather’s shofar, he couldn’t manage to produce anything more than a weak sound. Then one day he was walking through the Arab shuk in Yerushalayim and his eye was caught by a beautiful shofar.

“Try it,” said the Arab shopkeeper, thrusting the shofar into Yossi’s hands.

Yossi did try it – and to his amazement, the tekiyos not only sounded loud and clear, but they took almost no effort. After some haggling, the shofar didn’t cost that much, either. Yossi was so excited by his purchase that when he got home he immediately called his family to listen to a recital.

“I’m sure it’s a very beautiful shofar,” said his brother, “but are you sure it’s kosher?”

“A shofar has to be kosher? What could be the problem? I am not going to eat it!”

Soon enough, Yossi learned that the potential for problems is far from negligible. And although we can’t repeat every detail of such a discussion in this article, we can look at a few key factors that go into making a shofar not only beautiful, but also kosher.

Beyond the Minimum

Most shofaros sold today in frum stores are made in one of numerous small, family-operated factories scattered around Eretz Yisrael. While some shofaros have no hechsher, others have one that covers the minimal standard: It certifies that the shofar is manufactured from a ram’s horn. Since all halachic authorities rule that a ram’s horn is preferred and that a horn from a different, kosher, non-bovine animal may be used only when there is no alternative, there is some value to this minimal hechsher. In addition to the concern that the shofar might have been made from the horn of a cow or a bull, which is not acceptable, there are commercially available “shofaros” made of quality plastic that but look, feel, and blow like a shofar. Thus, the “minimum standard” hechsher should hopefully ensure that the shofar is a genuine ram’s horn.

By the way, here is a simple, non-scientific way to verify that a shofar is plastic. Look at many available on display in the Arab shuk. Carefully examine them and you will notice that they all have their “natural” markings in exactly the same place. Some are oriented to the left and others to the right, and the color varies from shofar to shofar, but it is quite clear that they were poured into the same mold.

Boiled, Buffed, and Beautiful

The majority of rams’ horns used to make shofaros are imported from abroad. When they arrive at the factory, they are not a pretty sight. Not only is the horn’s exterior rough and lacking a pleasing shine, but the bone is still inside.

Although it is perfectly kosher to use a shofar by drilling a hole through the bone on its inside, commercial manufacturers remove the bone. The first step, therefore, is to boil the horn for several hours to soften it and make it more malleable, allowing for easy removal of the bone.

A hechsher that guarantees only that the shofar was originally a ram’s horn does not address problems that occur to the shofar during the manufacturing process. (While those problems may not occur with great frequency, my opinion is that someone giving a hechsher should assume responsibility for the product’s complete kashrus.)

Returning to our description of the process: After the skull bone has been removed, the wider end of the horn is hollow, whereas the narrower side of the horn, that is attached to the head, is not hollow. Since the horn grew thick on this side, it must be drilled and cleaned out to create an empty “tunnel” that reaches the hollow part of the horn. In addition, a usable mouthpiece on the narrow part of the horn has to be fashioned. In order to accomplish all of this, the narrower section of the horn is straightened. This creates the difference in appearance between the complete shofar, which is straight at this end, and the natural ram’s horn, which is curved along its entire length. Take a look the next time you are this close to a ram.

As part of this process, the factory might shorten an over-long shofar or trim its sides. This does not invalidate the shofar, which, unlike an esrog, doesn’t have to be complete. However, a shofar cannot be lengthened, not even by using material from another kosher shofar.

Overlaying the mouthpiece with gold invalidates the shofar, because that puts an intervening substance between the mouth of the baal teki’ah[O1]   and the shofar, meaning that he is not blowing the shofar itself. Even an overlay, such as gold or silver, on the external surface of a shofar invalidates the shofar if it modifies its sound.

On the other hand, there is no halachic problem with shaping the mouthpiece to whichever shape is comfortable to blow, provided one reshapes the shofar’s natural horn material and doesn’t add other material to coat it. In fact, a shofar’s mouthpiece is always created by opening a hole where the horn is naturally closed.

Buff and polish

The next step in the processing of a shofar is to sand, buff, and polish the exterior of the shofar. Sometimes a lacquer is added to give it a nice sheen. According to all sources I spoke to, the lacquer doesn’t modify the sound in a discernible way, so it does not invalidate the shofar.

Still, a shofar can be rendered unkosher if a hole is created during the manufacturing process (other than the hole for the mouthpiece). When that happens, the status of the shofar becomes a whole new story.

Hold the Super Glue

This article is not long enough to cover all the details of opinions concerning a shofar that is cracked or has a hole. Instead, I will summarize briefly those opinions:

  • The most stringent opinion contends that any lengthwise crack in the shofar requires repair.
  • The moderate opinion rules that any crack more than half the shofar’s length requires repair.
  • The most lenient opinion states that one may ignore a crack that is less than the full length of the shofar.

Assuming that a cracked shofar is invalid until it is mended, does it make a difference how the crack is repaired?

There is a dispute among early authorities as to whether the shofar will be kosher if repaired by gluing it together. Some, such as the Ramban, contend that since coating the inside of the shofar with foreign material invalidates it, gluing a hole in a shofar with a foreign substance also invalidates it. Those who advocate this approach contend that the only way to repair a cracked shofar is by heating the horn at the point of damage until the horn is welded together.

The Rosh disagrees with this approach, contending that there is a difference between plating a shofar with foreign material — which means that one is in essence combining a non-shofar material with the shofar — and glue, which becomes totally inconspicuous in the finished product. Although the halachah follows this last opinion, one should rely on this only if the crack did not affect the sound of the shofar and if the crack is not so big that the glue is obvious. Otherwise, one will be required to weld the horn as described above, so that the shofar is repaired with shofar material.

Herein then lies an issue. If we need to be concerned about the possibility that the shofar was cracked, do we need a guarantee that it was repaired by welding and not by gluing?

If we do, we have a problem. There is no reason to assume that a non-Jewish, nonobservant, or unknowledgeable shofar crafter would repair itby welding. To compound the concern, shofaros made for sale are always polished to provide the beautiful, but unnatural, sheen that the customer expects to see on his shofar. This polish may mask any damage and repair that was made when the shofar developed a crack; only a highly trained expert might be able to notice such a repair.

Unfortunately, few shofar crafters are that halachically concerned. The assumption is, therefore, that most shofar makers would simply take an acrylic or similar glue and fill the hole. Therefore, enter the potential need for a more reliable hechsher. We will return to this question later.

Holey Shofaros!

Another potential problem is if a hole was inadvertently made in the shofar during the drilling process. The Mishnah states: If a shofar has a hole in it that was subsequently plugged, if “it” affects the sound, then the shofar is invalid, and if not, the shofar is valid.

There are three critical questions here that impact on our discussion:

  • Does the Mishnah mean that the shofar is invalid because it has a hole? Or is the shofar invalid because the hole was plugged, but the hole itself is not a concern?
  • Does it make any difference what material is used to plug the hole?
  • What is the “it” that affects the sound? Does the Mishnah mean that the hole changed the sound of the shofar, or that the plugging changed the sound?

If the Mishnah means “because” the hole was plugged, the Mishnah is teaching that a shofar with a hole is kosher, and the plugging of the hole creates the problem.

But why might this be true? It seems counterintuitive that the hole in the shofar does not present a problem, but plugging it does.

The answer is that this opinion contends that any natural shofar sound is kosher — even if the shofar has a hole (Rosh, Tur). Although the air escaping through the hole may affect the sound the shofar produces, the sound produced is from the shofar and not from anything else. However, when the shofar’s hole is plugged, the sound is now partially produced by the plug. Therefore, this opinion rules that a plugged shofar is no longer kosher if it produces a different sound from what it produced before the shofar was plugged.

As a matter of fact, this is the way the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 586:7) actually rules. Following his approach, if a shofar develops a hole, it is best to do nothing to the shofar, since the unplugged hole allows the shofar to be perfectly kosher.

Although this solution is halachically acceptable according to many authorities, it does not provide us with a practical solution. A shofar manufacturer will not leave a hole in a shofar because customers won’t purchase such a shofar. In other words, customers want a holy shofar, not a holey one.

In addition, not all authorities accept this understanding of the Mishnah. The Rambam, in his Commentary to the Mishnah, rules that a shofar with a hole is not kosher; the Biur Halachah (586:7 s.v. Sh’ein) notes several other rishonim who agree with this conclusion. The Rema (Orach Chayim 586:7) concludes that one should not use such a shofar unless he has no other.

At this point, we should address a second question: The Mishnah states that a shofar with a plugged hole is not kosher. Does it make a difference which material plugs the hole?

The Gemara (Rosh Hashanah 27b) quotes a dispute between the Tanna Kamma and Rabbi Nosson whether the Mishnah’s plugged shofar is invalid regardless of what one used to plug it, or only if it was plugged with non-shofar material. Rabbi Nosson contends that a shofar repaired with shofar material remains kosher even though its sound changed. The Tanna Kamma disagrees, contending that regardless of whether the hole was plugged with shofar material or with non-shofar material, the shofar is invalid if its sound changed. Most rishonim rule according to Rabbi Nosson, which means that a “holey” shofar subsequently plugged with pieces of shofar is kosher.

We’ve now come to a third question: Does the Mishnah mean that the hole changed the sound of the shofar, or that the plugging changed the sound? According to the Rambam (Hilchos Shofar 1:5), a shofar with a plugged hole is kosher only if it sounds the same after the repair as it did before the hole developed and was repaired. If the shofar sounds different after the repair, the shofar is invalid. It is also invalid if the repair was with non-shofar material, even when the repaired shofar sounds identical to how it sounded before the damage. The Rosh, on the other hand, rules that the shofar is kosher if it sounds the same after the repair, even if it was repaired with non-shofar material. It is also kosher if it was repaired with shofar material, even if the sound changed as a result.

This dispute is mentioned in Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 586:7), who rules, like the Rambam, that one may not use a shofar plugged with non-shofar material, unless there is no other shofar available.

Do We Need To Worry?

Halachah makes a general assumption that there is no need to be concerned about a problem that is unusual. Do shofar cracks fall into this category? Just how frequently does a shofar develop a hole during its production?

Since no one has conducted a survey on the subject, and it would be almost impossible to perform one, we cannot answer this question definitively. A friend of mine who has attempted to visit shofar factories tells me that they usually do not allow visitors, and are probably not likely to reveal the type of information we are asking. We certainly do not know the track records of the Arab craftsmen, nor those of the shofaros made in China.

Despite this lack of information, I think we can assume that, since the people making shofaros are indeed craftsmen, and since it is highly disadvantageous to drill an extra hole while cleaning out the horn, the majority of shofaros are made without creating unwanted holes during the processing.

Thus, technically speaking, a shofar might not require a hechsher to guarantee that a hole did not develop in the shofar during its manufacture. However, is there a simple way to ascertain that the shofar you purchase was not damaged during the manufacturing process?

Some rabbanim do provide a “hechsher” for the manufacturer, stating that he is a halachah-abiding Jew who would not sell a shofar that has developed a crack or hole in the course of production.

What might the concerned manufacturer do when a shofar develops a hole? I asked this question of a particular manufacturer, and was told that he sells the damaged, rough shofar to a non-Jewish manufacturer. Many shofaros are sold to non-Jews who have a Biblical interest in blowing them. (I had hoped that the plastic variety mentioned above is also marketed exclusively to the same audience. However, I subsequently discovered otherwise, much to my chagrin.)

Unfortunately, most shofar manufacturers do not meet this standard. Although the person who began the business usually was an observant Jew, who may have been knowledgeable enough to merit this hechsher, often, the current business operators are not very observant. Therefore, a hechsher on the manufacture may have limited value, unless it is issued by a well-known rav.

There is yet another kind of hechsher, which has a different standard. In this case, the distributor or store interested in selling a particular shofar has it checked by a highly skilled rav or mashgiach who knows how to check a shofar for signs of damage or repair. A shofar that shows such signs is rejected.

Does a hechsher add significantly to the price of the shofar? The answer is that it does not. In some instances, the hechsher adds a small, non-significant premium to the price of the shofar — but the price is almost always primarily linked to its size and the particular retailer’s markup.

So what would I do if I wanted to buy a shofar for Rosh Hashanah? I would either ask for a hechsher that meets the last standard mentioned or, alternatively, ask for a letter from a known rav verifying that he knows that the manufacturer of this shofar is a halachah-abiding and knowledgeable Jew.

Outwitting the Satan

The shofar is blown to remind us of many things, including a wakeup call to do teshuvah and/or to herald Moshiach.The Gemara explains that the repeated blowing of the shofar — that is, both before the Shemoneh Esrei and then again afterward — is in order to confuse the Satan and to prevent him from prosecuting us (Rosh Hashanah 16b). This is surprising. Is the Satan so easily fooled? Most of us have firsthand experience with the Satan, and have found him to be extremely clever. Does he not remember that we pulled the same prank on him in previous years, when we blew the shofar twice?

Tosafos explains the Gemara on a deeper level. The Satan is constantly afraid that Mashiach will come and put him out of business. Therefore, every time the shofar blows, the Satan leaps up, terrified that Mashiach has come, and forgets to prosecute us! Then he realizes, too late, that it is just Rosh Hashanah again. By that time, Hashem has reached our verdict without the Satan’s input.

How nice it would be if we would sit on the edge of our chairs waiting for Mashiach with the same intensity as the Satan!


 Is this not to’kai’ah?




More on Bikkurim

Question #1: Pre-Mikdash Bikkurim

Were bikkurim brought before the first Beis Hamikdash was built?

Question #2: My very own kohein!

“May I choose which kohein receives my bikkurim, just as I can choose which kohein I use for pidyon haben?”

Question #3: Geirim and bikkurim

“Does a geir bring bikkurim, or perhaps this mitzvah is incumbent only on those who received an inherited portion in Eretz Yisroel?”

Question #4: Juice and oil?

Is a farmer allowed squeeze his bikkurim fruits into juice or oil, and bring the liquid as bikkurim?

Introduction

Although most of us are familiar with the basics of the mitzvah of bikkurim, the details of this mitzvah, which we have been unable to observe for thousands of years, are often unclear to us. Since we pray three times a day that Hashem rebuild the Beis Hamikdash where we will again be able to fulfill this beautiful mitzvah, we should be fully prepared to observe it. In addition, we want to comprehend the parsha of bikkurim thoroughly, fulfill the mitzvah of talmud Torah, and grow from internalizing the hashkafos associated with this mitzvah.

According to the Rambam and the Sefer Hachinuch, the mitzvah of bikkurim involves three different mitzvos. The first is the mitzvah of separating the bikkurim and bringing them to the Beis Hamikdash. The second is reciting parshas bikkurim, the special reading that the Torah records at the beginning of this week’s parsha, which is called viduy bikkurim. The third is a lo saaseh, a negative commandment, that the kohein may not eat bikkurim outside Yerushalayim. The first two mitzvos are observed by the farmer; the third is observed by the kohein.

In a previous article, I described the pomp and circumstance involved when bringing bikkurim. That article explained much of what is involved with the first of the three mitzvos I just mentioned, separating the bikkurim and bringing them to the Beis Hamikdash. The sources for these laws are in Mishnayos Maseches Bikkurim, which, with only three chapters, is one of the shortest mesechtos. Let us begin by explaining the pesukim that describe this mitzvah.

The Chumash

The opening words of parshas Ki Savo read: “And when you enter the land that Hashem your G-d is giving you as an inheritance, have taken possession of it and are dwelling there, then you should take from the first of the fruits of the soil that you bring home from your land that Hashem your G-d is giving to you, place them in a basket and go to the place that Hashem your G-d will choose to place His name there.”

Chazal explain that the words “you have taken possession of it and are dwelling there” mean that there was no requirement to separate bikkurim until after Bnei Yisroel had completed the conquest of Eretz Yisroel and the division of the land among the shevatim, a process that took fourteen years (Kiddushin 37b).

“To the place that Hashem your G-d will choose to place His Name there.”

This means that the pilgrims brought their bikkurim to the Beis Hamikdash. But the Beis Hamikdash was not constructed until 426 years after the Jews had completed dividing the land (see Melachim I, 6:1). Since we know that they were already required to bring bikkurim fourteen years after they crossed the Yarden, where did they bring bikkurim during those intervening years?

The Sifrei explains that the bikkurim were brought even prior to the building of the Beis Hamikdash. During these years, Klal Yisroel was required to bring the bikkurim to the mishkan when it was in Shiloh, where it stayed for 369 years. When the mishkan in Shiloh was destroyed (see Tehillim 78:60; Yirmiyohu 26:6), there was a period of 57 years prior to the building of the Beis Hamikdash when there was no mishkan, but there was a mizbei’ach for public use, which is where the korbanos tzibur were offered. This mizbei’ach was located first in the town of Nov, and then, when that town was destroyed by Shaul, in the town of Giv’on. The Ramban (Devorim 26:2) discusses whether bikkurim were offered when the main mizbei’ach was in Nov and in Givon, but he does not resolve the matter conclusively.

Reciting the declaration

“Then you will come to the kohein who is in that time and say to him: Today, I declare to Hashem, your G-d, that I have come to the land that Hashem swore to our forefathers to give to us.”

At this point, we are beginning the second of the three mitzvos associated with bikkurim: reciting parshas bikkurim.

The Targum Yonasan and the Targum Yerushalmi both rule that “the kohein” means specifically the kohein gadol – otherwise the Torah should simply write “a” kohein. However, nowhere does the Mishnah, Gemara or any other halachic source rule that bikkurim must be brought to the kohein gadol. Rather, the bikkurim are brought to a kohein hedyot who was working in the Beis Hamikdash on the day that the pilgrims arrived. Other authorities also rule, unlike the two Targumim, that bikkurim can be brought to any kohein who is on duty in the Beis Hamikdash on the day that the pilgrims arrived (Ramban).

“Who is in that time”

The Torah instructs us to bring the bikkurim to the kohein who is in your time. This raises a question: To which other kohein could you possibly bring your bikkurim? Since the Torah does not mention walking into a time machine, once we are told to bring bikkurim to a kohein, presumably you are bringing them to someone walking the face of the earth at the time that you arrive in Yerushalayim. Is it not clear that you are bringing bikkurim to a kohein “of that time”?

Rashi explains that you should not ignore the mitzvah of bikkurim with the excuse that, “Since the kohanim available are not as great tzaddikim or talmidei chachamim as those of earlier generations; these are not the kohanim to whom I have to bring my bikkurim.” No, you are required to bring bikkurim to a kohein who is in your generation, even if you think that a kohein from a previous generation may have been a bigger tzaddik or talmid chacham or might have provided a greater degree of positive influence on you.

The Ramban suggests a different approach to explain why the Torah says, who is in that time. The posuk requires you to give the bikkurim to a kohein who is on duty in the Beis Hamikdash on the day of your arrival. The kohanim were divided into 24 mishmoros, shifts (singular, mishmor), each of which left their hometown to serve for a week in the Beis Hamikdash. The halacha requires the pilgrim to give the bikkurim to one of the kohanim on duty, that is, a member of the mishmor of the week that the pilgrim farmer arrives in the Beis Hamikdash with his bikkurim; he is not permitted to give his bikkurim to any other kohein.

Thus, we can answer one of our opening questions: “May I choose which kohein receives my bikkurim, just as I can choose which kohein I use for pidyon haben?”

The answer is that I must give my bikkurim to a kohein who is on duty in the Beis Hamikdash at the time that I arrive with my bikkurim. I may choose which of the kohanim on duty I want to be the beneficiary of my bikkurim.

Continuing the declaration

And the kohein takes the basket from your hand and places it down in front of the altar of Hashem, your G-d. Then, you shall raise your voice and declare before Hashem, your G-d:

Arami oveid avi vayeireid mitzrayma vayagar shom bimsei me’at. Va’yehi shom legoy gadol atzum vorov.”

This quotation, which I have thus intentionally left untranslated, and its continuation, are well familiar to us from the haggadah of Pesach, where we quote the declaration of the pilgrim bringing his bikkurim to the Beis Hamikdash. In the haggadah, this is followed by an interpretation of these pesukim quoted from an early midrash. This practice at the seder is already recorded in the Mishnah (Pesachim 116a). The midrash that we quote in the haggadah is very similar to the midrash Sifrei on these pesukim.

Since there is a wide variation among early commentaries regarding how to translate the words, Arami oveid avi,any translation I provide forces me to choose sides in this basic dispute. Rashi, following the approach of the Targum Onkelos, explains the verse to mean: Lovon the Aramean destroyed my father. Although Lovon did not succeed in destroying Yaakov, the posuk states it as if he did, because he truly wanted to. This approach is followed also by the midrash quoted by the haggadah.

The ibn Ezra takes issue with this translation of the posuk, contending that the word oveid is intransitive, meaning that there is no object in this sentence to receive the “action”. He explains that if the posuk is to be translated as Rashi does, its wording should be ma’avid or me’abeid, which are transitive, and could be translated as “destroyed my father.” The ibn Ezra also questions why, according to this approach, the continuation of the posuk blames Lovon for the descent of Yaakov and his family to Egypt, since this was neither Lovon’s intention nor a result of his action.

Ibn Ezra’s approach

For these reasons, the ibn Ezra explains the phrase, “Arami oveid avi,”to mean, “a lost Aramean was my father,” with Yaakov, rather than Lovon, being referred to as an Aramean. He was considered “lost” because he arrived in Aram penniless, without any financial wherewithal, and he never owned any land with which to create a family home. The Seforno explains the verse in a similar manner.

Targum Yonasan’s approach

Targum Yonasan has a third approach, a cross between the two approaches, in which the words, Arami oveid avi, are explained: “Yaakov, my forefather, traveled to Aram. There, someone (Lovon) wanted to destroy him, but the Word of Hashem saved Yaakov from the hands of Lovon. Sometime afterward, Yaakov went down to Egypt…”

Rashbam’s approach

Yet a fourth approach is presented by the Rashbam, Rashi’s grandson. He accepts ibn Ezra’s point that the word oveid is intransitive. However, rather than explaining the posuk as a reference to Yaakov – as do ibn Ezra, Seforno and Targum Yonasan – he understands the “lost Aramean” to be Avraham, Yaakov’s grandfather. Avraham has a valid claim to being “an Aramean,” as he was born and raised in Aram. He is called a “lost” Aramean because he left Aram when commanded by Hashem: “Lech lecha mei’artzecha umi’molad’techa umi’beis avicha – leave your land, your birthplace and your father’s household,” and go “el ha’aretz asher ar’eka – to the land that I will show you,” which refers to the Promised Land, the possession of which is celebrated with the bikkurim. However (the posuk continues), this plan was interrupted by a rather extensive and unpleasant sojourn in Egypt.

Returning to bikkurim

After quoting these pesukim, the pilgrim bringing the bikkurim adds a brief statement that is not quoted in the haggadah: “And now, behold, I have brought the first of the fruits of the land that Hashem has given me.”

Dried or fresh?

Not all crops ripen at the same time. For that matter, certain crops need to be dried, or they will spoil before they reach Yerushalayim. For this reason, the Mishnah (Bikkurim 3:2) shares that people who lived some distance from Yerushalayim brought their bikkurim from figs and grapes in the form of dried figs and raisins. Otherwise, by the time they arrived, the fruit would not look nice, which would diminish the beauty of the mitzvah.

For a similar reason, the Mishnah (Bikkurim 1:3) reports that bikkurim are not brought from areas in which the fruit is not top quality, such as from date trees that grow in the mountains or from inferior olive orchards.

The verse then concludes by instructing how to complete the fulfillment of the mitzvah, “Then place the bikkurim down before Hashem, your G-d, and bow down to Hashem, your G-d. Now rejoice with all the good that Hashem, your G-d, has given you and your household.”

The posuk says: “Now rejoice with all the good.”

What additional halacha does this teach? The Mishnah (Bikkurim 1:4) teaches that bikkurim were not brought to the Beis Hamikdash until Shavuos. There are two verses that associate bikkurim with the festival of Shavuos. In parshas Ki Sisa, the Torah says, “You shall make for yourself the festival of Shavuos, with the bikkurim of your wheat harvest”(Shemos 34:22), and, in parshas Pinchas, the posuk refers to Shavuos as Chag Habikkurim (Bamidbar 28:26). When the bikkurim were brought to the Beis Hamikdash before Sukkos, meaning between Shavuos and Sukkos, the verses beginning with the words Arami oveid avi are declared. In other words, the second mitzvah mentioned above, that of reciting the pesukim, is seasonal, and can be fulfilled only between Shavuos and Sukkos. This is derived from the words of the posuk in our parsha, “Now rejoice with all the good,” meaning the season of rejoicing, Sukkos (Pesachim 36b). However, if the owner tarried and brought his bikkurim after Sukkos, these verses are not declared, because after Sukkos is no longer “the time of simcha.”

The association of bikkurim with Sukkos is also based on another posuk, “And [you should also observe] the festival of the harvest, with the bikkurim of your deeds that you planted in the field” (Shemos 23:16).

The Mishnah concludes that bikkurim can be brought only until Chanukah. This means that the first mitzvah mentioned above, that of designating and bringing the bikkurim to the Beis Hamikdash, can be fulfilled only until Chanukah.

Why Chanukah?

Why only until Chanukah?

The Ra’avad (Hilchos Bikkurim 2:6) explains that bikkurim are not brought after Chanukah because, by this time, the fruit being brought will be inferior.

The Rambam provides a completely different rationale why bikkurim are brought only until Chanukah. The Sifrei states that bikkurim are brought only once a year. Based on this Sifrei, the Rambam explains that bikkurim fruit that ripen after Chanukah should be brought with the coming year’s bikkurim.

The Levi and the convert

Continuing with the posuk: “This mitzvah applies to you and to the Levi and to the geir who is in your midst.”

Rashi notes that the posuk is emphasizing that the Levi and the geir also have the mitzvah of bringing bikkurim: The Levi, whom I might think does not bring bikkurim because he did not receive a true portion in Eretz Yisroel, and the geir, because he cannot make the declaration that accompanies the bikkurim, “behold I have brought the first of the fruits of the land that Hashem has given me,” since he does not receive a portion in the land of Israel. For this reason, the halacha is that a geir brings bikkurim, but he cannot recite the parsha (Bikkurim 1:4). In other words, the geir is required to observe the first mitzvah of bikkurim, but is exempt from the second.

Wine or pomegranate juice?

Could the farmer squeeze his bikkurim fruits into juice or oil, and bring the liquid as bikkurim?

This topic is a matter of dispute between early tanna’im, with Rabbi Eliezer ruling that he can, and Rabbi Yehoshua ruling that the liquid squeezed from grapes and olives can be brought, but not juice that is squeezed from dates, figs or pomegranates (Terumos 11:3; Chullin 120b). The halacha follows Rabbi Yehoshua (Rambam, Hilchos Bikkurim 2:4), and therefore, grape juice, wine or olive oil can be brought as bikkurim, but pomegranate wine or juice, fig juice, date honey or silan (date syrup) cannot.

Conclusion

Rabbeinu Yosef ibn Shu’ib, an early fourteenth century darshan, cites four reasons provided by the Rambam for the mitzvah of bringing bikkurim, the first fruits of one’s land, to the Beis Hamikdash (Drashos ibn Shu’ib, Parshas Ki Savo, s.v. U’ve’inyan habikkurim). Obviously, the main reason for bringing bikkurim is to express our gratitude to Hashem that He not only gave us Eretz Yisroel, but He also provided us with delicious fruits. Rav Hirsch notes that a careful reading of the pesukim highlights other important aspects of the mitzvah. The Beis Hamikdash represents our relationship to Eretz Yisroel as being completely dependent on the Torah; this is why the bikkurim must be brought to the Beis Hamikdash and placed at the southwest corner of the mizbei’ach, which, he explains, represents that “G-d’s land, with all its riches, is subordinated to the spirit imparted by the light of the Torah.” Our acquisition of Eretz Yisroel is only for the purpose of our observing the Torah.

Relating Hashem’s Kindness

The Sefer Hachinuch (#606) adds another element to the mitzvah of bikkurim. As we noted above, the farmer observes two separate mitzvos, one of separating bikkurim and bringing them to the Beis Hamikdash, and a separate mitzvah of declaring the viduy bikkurim. This appreciation thanks Hashem for His help way before the birth of our pilgrim farmer. He praises Hashem for foiling Lovon’s evil plans to destroy Yaakov. The declaration continues recapping the history of Klal Yisroel in Mitzrayim, and the miracles that He performed for us.

In explaining the reason for the second mitzvah, the Chinuch notes that there is a special requirement for the pilgrim to verbalize his thanks. It is through the power of speech that a person can awaken himself. When a person states how much Hashem blesses him, it awakens his heart to remember that everything comes from the Master of the world.




Semicha and Sanhedrin Controversies of the 16th and 21st Centuries

This article will be devoted to an explanation of the various halachic underpinnings of the Sanhedrin, including:

  • What are the roles and responsibilities of the Sanhedrin?
  • What exactly is semicha, and why is it such a central factor in the creation of the Sanhedrin?
  • What attempts have been made in the last hundreds of years to reconvene a Sanhedrin and reestablish semicha?

WHAT IS THE SANHEDRIN?

The Sanhedrin, also called the Beis Din Hagadol, is the final authority on all matters of halacha. Their interpretation of Torah she’be’al peh is authoritative.

Any halachic issue that is questionable and disputed by lower batei din is referred to the Beis Din Hagadol for a binding decision.

The Sanhedrin also fulfills several vital political and administrative roles. It appoints the Jewish king, as well as the judges who serve on the courts of the shevatim and the cities. Each shevet and each city was required to have a Beis Din of 23 that the Sanhedrin appoints. Thus, the Sanhedrin is not only the supreme halacha authority, but it is also, quite literally, the “power behind the throne,” “the power behind the courts,” – and, at the same time, the court of final appeal. It has the final say in all matters, both temporal and spiritual.

There are several other halachos that require the participation or agreement of the Sanhedrin, including a decision to wage war and expanding the halachic boundaries of the Beis HaMikdash or of Yerushalayim (Rambam, Hilchos Sanhedrin 5:1). (We are permitted to eat many holy items, including certain korbanos and maaser sheni, only in halachic Yerushalayim, which has nothing to do with its current municipal boundaries. Expanding the city requires a special procedure that includes participation of the Sanhedrin.)

In addition, several types of adjudication require the participation of the Sanhedrin, including prosecuting a false prophet, and the law of zakein mamrei, an elder who ruled against the Torah she’be’al peh (both taught in parshas Shoftim), the law of a city that went astray (ir hanidachas), the procedure of the and that of eglah arufah (Rambam, Hilchos Sanhedrin 5:1).

The Sanhedrin is also in charge of supervising the Jewish calendar through the appointing of a specially-designated committee. (In the absence of a Sanhedrin or Beis Din Hagadol, Hillel Hanasi established a permanent calendar over 1500 years ago, so that the calendar can continue to exist even though we no longer have a Sanhedrin.)

WHERE AND WHEN DOES THE SANHEDRIN MEET?

The Sanhedrin was open daily in its main headquarters inside the Beis HaMikdash, called the lishkas hagazis. When they are involved in litigation, the entire Sanhedrin, consisting of 71 members,is present. When not in session, there must still always be 23 members of the Sanhedrin in the lishkah.

WHO QUALIFIES TO BE IN THE SANHEDRIN?

There are many technical requirements that all members must meet, but as a basic requirement they must all be superior talmidei chachamim and yirei shamayim (G-d fearing individuals). In addition, all members of the Sanhedrin — and indeed, of all the lower courts — must also receive the special semicha that Moshe bestowed upon Yehoshua, authorizing him to rule on all areas of Jewish law.

DOESN’T EVERY RABBI HAVE SEMICHA?

There are several levels of semicha. The most basic semicha, called yoreh yoreh, authorizes the recipient to rule on matters of kashrus and similar areas. A more advanced level of semicha, called yodin yodin, authorizes its recipient to rule as a dayan on financial matters. A still higher level, no longer obtainable today, is called yatir bechoros, which authorizes its recipient to rule on whether a first-born animal is blemished and therefore inappropriate to offer as a korban (see Sanhedrin 5a). This semicha permits the firstborn animal to be slaughtered and eaten.

There was also a qualitatively different type of semicha that could be obtained from the time of Moshe Rabbeinu until the time of the Gemara. This semicha authorized the recipient to rule on capital and corporal cases (chayavei misas Beis Din and malkus) and to judge kenasos, penalties set by the Torah. Only a Beis Din consisting exclusively of dayanim ordained with this semicha may judge whether a person receives lashes or the death penalty for his actions.

In earlier days, each city and shevet had its own Beis Din of 23 judges, all of whom were possessors of the highest level of semicha. In addition, all 71 members of the Sanhedrin must have this form of semicha.

HOW MANY DAYANIM GIVE OUT SEMICHA?

A single judge who is himself a musmach may grant semicha to as many qualified people as he chooses, although the grantor must be accompanied by two other people, who need not be musmachim themselves. Dovid HaMelech (himself an expert judge and tremendous talmid chacham) once granted 30,000 semichos in one day (Rambam, Hilchos Sanhedrin, 4:7)!! Semicha that was granted to someone who is not an expert in all areas of halacha is not valid (Meiri, Sanhedrin 14a).

This special semicha must be issued within Eretz Yisroel. Thus, even if a talmid chacham is highly qualified, he may not receive semicha unless the grantor of the semicha and the recipient are both in Eretz Yisroel (Sanhedrin 14a). For this reason, most of the Amora’im, the great talmidei chachamim of the times of the Gemara, never received this semicha, because they lived in Bavel, not in Eretz Yisroel.

THE STORY OF RAV YEHUDA BEN BAVA

The Gemara (Sanhedrin 13b) tells us the following fascinating story which took place during the extreme persecutions that followed the failure of the Bar Cochva revolt: The Roman Empire once decreed that issuing semicha was a serious crime, punishable by death for both the grantor and the recipient. Furthermore, they ruled that the town in which the semicha was issued would be destroyed, and the areas near it would be razed.

After the execution of Rabbi Akiva, Rabbi Yehudah ben Bava realized that he was one of the last musmachim (recipients of this special semicha) still alive. If he failed to grant semicha to some young scholars, the semicha would terminate with his own death. He therefore endangered himself and granted semicha to five surviving disciples of Rabbi Akiva: Rabbi Meir, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, Rabbi Yehudah ben Ila’i, Rabbi Yosi ben Chalafta, and Rabbi Elazar ben Shamua – basically, to an entire generation of Torah leadership. In order not to endanger anyone else, Rabbi Yehuda ben Bava brought them to a place that was midway between two major cities and between two mountains. Thus, for the Romans to fulfill their decree they would need to level two mountains.

Rabbi Yehudah ben Bava succeeded in his mission, although he paid for it with his life. Because of his supreme sacrifice, the semicha continued among the Jewish people for several more generations.

With the increased persecution of the Jews by the Romans, the Jewish population of Eretz Yisroel dwindled, and with time, ordination through this semicha ended. Thus, no one received the semicha that qualifies someone to judge capital, corporal, or kenasos cases, and this aspect of halachic life came to an end.

CAN SEMICHA BE REINSTITUTED?

The Rambam writes: “It appears to me that if all the chachamim in Eretz Yisroel agree to appoint dayanim and grant them semicha, they have the law of musmachim, and they can judge penalty cases and are authorized to grant semicha to others… a person who received semicha from someone who already has semicha does not require authorization from all of them – he may judge penalty cases for everyone, since he received semicha from Beis Din. However, this matter requires a final decision” (Rambam, Hilchos Sanhedrin 4:11).

Thus, the Rambam suggested a method whereby the semicha can be re-created. However, several issues need to be clarified before this project can be implemented:

1. Did the Rambam conclude that this is the halacha, or is it merely a suggestion he is conjecturing? Don’t his final words, “However, this matter requires a final decision,” imply that he was uncertain about his suggestion and that he deferred making a final decision regarding this issue?

2. Assuming, unlike our previous sentence, that the Rambam ruled definitely that semicha can be reinstituted, did he require, literally, all of the Chachamim in Eretz Yisroel to agree, or does a majority suffice? Must the rabbonim be assembled all in one place, or is it sufficient if they are aware of the process and grant their approval?

3. Is the Rambam’s opinion on this subject universally held? And if not, do we rule like him?

THE 16th CENTURY CONTROVERSY– REINTRODUCING SEMICHA

After the Spanish expulsion, many Jews remained in Spain, practicing their Judaism in secret, while publicly appearing to be Christians. Thousands of these Marrano Jews, also often called by the Spanish term conversos or the Hebrew word, anusim, eventually escaped to areas where they could return to the religion of their fathers, yet they were haunted by the transgressions they had committed on Spanish soil. Many were concerned that they would never escape the specter of their more serious aveiros, many of which carried the punishment of kareis. Although they had become true ba’alei teshuvah, they lived in fear of their ultimate day of judgment, when they would have to provide a reckoning for their actions and face the serious consequences.

THE SOLUTION

The Mahari Beirav, Rav of Tzefas in the early sixteenth century, came up with a solution to the problem of these ba’alei teshuvah. He proposed the creation of batei din that could carry out the punishment of malkos, lashes, which releases a person from the punishment of kareis (Mishnah Makos 23a).

There was one serious problem with this proposal. In order to create batei din that can administer these punishments, one must have dayanim who have received a special semicha that can be traced to Moshe Rabbeinu. Since this semicha had terminated over a thousand years before, the Mahari Beirav needed a method of reintroducing the semicha.

TZEFAS, 5298 (1538)

In  5298 (1538), 25 gedolim of Tzefas, at the time the largest Torah community in Eretz Yisroel, granted semicha to the Mahari Beirav, based on the writings of the Rambam (Peirush Hamishnayos, Sanhedrin 1:3; Hilchos Sanhedrin 4:11). He then ordained four people with the new semicha, including Rav Yosef Karo, who had already written his monumental works Kesef Mishneh and Beis Yosef, and later authored the Shulchan Aruch, and Rav Moshe diTrani, the author of several major halacha works, including Beis Elokim, Kiryas Sefer, and Shu’t Mabit. Mahari Beirav also sent a semicha to the Rav of Yerushalayim, Rav Levi ibn Chaviv, known as the Maharalbach, who he assumed would be delighted to receive such a wonderful gift!

The Maharalbach was not happy with the gift and refused to accept the semicha. He took strong issue with their granting semicha, for the following several reasons:

1. The Rambam’s closing words, “This matter requires a final decision,” shows that he was not fully decided on this halacha, and therefore it cannot be relied upon.

2. The Ramban (Sefer Hamitzvos, Aseh 153) disagrees with the Rambam, contending that semicha can not be reinstituted until Moshiach arrives. Thus, since the Rambam was uncertain about this halacha, and the Ramban was certain that there is no such thing, the halacha follows the Ramban.

3. Even if we assume that the Rambam meant this ruling to be definitive, the Tzefas rabbonim had not fulfilled the procedure correctly, since all the gedolim of Eretz Yisroel must be together in one synod. (This opinion is actually mentioned earlier by the Meiri, Sanhedrin 14a.)

Furthermore, the Maharalbach insisted that all the scholars must be involved in the active debate and that all must agree. He also contended that even if someone holds that a majority of gedolim is sufficient, the minority must be aware of the debate and participate in it. He further contended that creating such a synod after the fact would not help, since, once the Tzefas rabbonim had ordained the Mahari Beirav, they now have a bias in their ruling (noge’a bedin), which invalidates their opinion on the subject.

The Maharalbach proved his opinion, that the Rambam’s suggestion was not accepted as normative halacha, from the fact that there had been numerous opportunities for gedolei Yisroel to create semicha, and yet, they refrained from doing so. The Maharalbach concludes that semicha will not exist again until the arrival of Moshiach.

WHAT ABOUT THE MARRANOS?

As for the ba’alei teshuvah that would be left without release from their kareis, the Maharalbach pointed out that if they performed sincere teshuvah, they would be forgiven for their sins, no matter how severe they were. Although it is possible that they may suffer somewhat in this world for these aveiros, despite their teshuvah, they would receive no punishment for their aveiros in the next world (Makos 13b).

On the other hand, the Maharalbach pointed out that he did not understand how semicha could accomplish what Mahari Beirav wanted, anyway, since Beis Din cannot punish someone for violating the Torah, unless several requirements are met, including:

The sinner must receive a warning, immediately prior to his violating the commandment, telling him that he is sinning, explaining to him that what he is planning to do is wrong, and informing him what punishment he will receive if he sins. The sinner must acknowledge that he heard and understood the warning, and then perform the sin, anyway. Furthermore, Beis Din does not punish a sinner unless two adult male Jews witness the entire procedure and then testify in front of Beis Din. Clearly, none of these Marranos had received warning prior to performing the aveiros, and, therefore, they were not punishable with malkus in Beis Din. Thus, how would these ba’alei teshuvah receive the malkus they desire, even if dayanim musmachim exist?

We will continue this article next week.




The Bankrupt Borrower

Photo by foxumon from FreeImages

Mr. Gomel Chessed shares with his rav, Rav Chacham,the following predicament: “I loaned someone money, but I did not pester him for payment when he told me that things were tough. Recently, I contacted him to ask if he is in any position to pay me back. He replied that he was forced into bankruptcy and, thereby, absolved of all his debts. Does he, indeed, no longer owe me for the loan?”

Gomel’s rav explains that although the Gemara and the Shulchan Aruch do not recognize a concept called bankruptcy, there are authorities who contend that, at least in some circumstances, halachah requires that we respect a bankruptcy court’s decision. Gomel is eager to hear the full explanation, so his rav provides him with some background material to read, and they make an appointment to discuss the matter at length.

Gomel truly enjoyed researching the topic, and discovered that he also wanted to know the related subjects. As a result, he became somewhat of an expert on much of the halachic material germane to his question.

Responsibilities of a Borrower

One of the first topics Gomel researched was the extent to which a borrower must go to pay his debts. He was surprised to discover how strongly halachah requires someone to repay his debts and to make his payments on time. In addition, it is strictly forbidden to claim that one is unable to pay his debts when he can, and it is similarly forbidden to hide money so that a creditor cannot collect. All this is true even if the creditor is very wealthy.

One may not borrow money that he does not think he will be able to repay. According to some authorities, money borrowed under a false pretense that the borrower intends to repay when he does not, is considered stolen, and not borrowed, funds. The halachic ramifications of this distinction are beyond the scope of this article.

If a debtor’s loan is due and he cannot pay, halachah requires that he sell his house, his furniture and his other household items, if necessary, to repay the debt, unless he can convince his creditor either to forgive the debt or, at least, to wait longer for payment (Graz, Hilchos Halvaah 1:5).

Since the debtor must use whatever money he has available to pay his debt, he is required to trim his expenditures so that he can pay his creditor. Until his debt is repaid, he may not make significant contributions to tzedakah (Sefer Chassidim #454). Furthermore, he may not purchase a lulav and esrog, but, instead, must fulfill the mitzvah by borrowing them from someone else (see Pischei Teshuvah, Choshen Mishpat 97:8). It goes without saying that luxuries and vacations are out. Someone who uses his money to purchase non-essential items when he has an overdue debt demonstrates a lack of understanding of the Torah’s priorities. One who squanders money and therefore is unable to repay his loans is called a rasha (Rambam, Hilchos Malveh 1:3).

Systematic Collection

Having researched how responsible a debtor must be, Gomel next studied the following topic: If a debtor, unfortunately, owes more money than he can pay, how does the halachah decide on the division of the debtor’s limited financial resources among his creditors?

Gomel discovered that the halachos governing who collects first are extremely complicated. He also discovered that in a case where a person’s financial resources are insufficient to cover his debts, halachah views the priorities of who receives, and how much, very differently from civil law. Here are some basic ideas.

The Gemara works with a concept called shi’bud, by which most debts are automatically secured with property that the debtor owned at the time he created the obligation. Under this system, if a debtor defaulted on an obligation, a creditor who exhausted all means of collecting directly from the debtor’s holdings could collect these secured debts from real properties that the debtor had owned at the time of the loan and subsequently sold. The system in place allowed potential purchasers to find out whether a property had a lien on it prior to purchasing it. (This would loosely parallel what we call today a “title search,” performed to ascertain ownership of a property and whether there are any liens on it.) The potential lien on all the properties of a debtor encouraged people to pay their debts so that they could sell their properties more easily, and also enabled people to borrow investment capital.

Who Collects First?

Under the Gemara’s shi’bud system, when there are two or more claims on a property whose value is less than the outstanding debt, the creditor with the earliest claim collects as much as he can, and, after his claim is paid, the creditor with the next earliest claim collects, and so on (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 104:1).

When Gomel asked contemporary halachic authorities if this system is used today, he was told that one would not be able to collect from such properties, unless they were mortgaged.

Why did the halachah change?

Rav Moshe Feinstein explains that since a creditor does not expect to be able to collect from properties that have been sold by the debtor, he does not acquire shi’bud on them (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Choshen Mishpat 2:62).

Bad Talmudic Debts

When there is no shi’bud claim on any properties, under the Gemara’s system, the outstanding creditors collect, but not in proportion to the amount that each is owed. According to most authorities, we still follow the FIFO (first in, first out) rule of paying the earliest claim first, although others rule that everyone is paid equally, according to the availability of resources (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 104:13 and Sm”a).

The latter approach also results in a major difference between the Gemara’s system and the modern approach. Under the modern approach, the court calculates the ratio of available resources to debt, and pays all creditors a percentage of their debt based on the result. According to halachah, if someone owes $500,000 to 50 different people but has only $5,000 with which to pay, and each individual is owed at least $100, then they each collect $100, regardless of the actual amount that each one is owed.

By now, Gomel has studied much of the Gemara and commentaries on the topic of debt collection, and he has a good idea of how bad debt was collected in the time of the Gemara. After reviewing his studies with Rav Chacham, Gomel was ready to understand how and if bankruptcy fits into a halachic system. He soon discovered that he now needs to master a different, complicated concept of halachah called dina demalchusa dina.

Dina Demalchusa Dina

In the time of the Gemara, most countries and governments were kingdoms. This meant that the people living in an area recognized one individual as being responsible to maintain law and order within the country and to protect the citizenry from external enemies and greedy neighbors. Without a government, people are in constant danger from the chaos that occurs when there is no respect for a central authority. To quote the Mishnah in Pirkei Avos (3:2), “Pray for the peace of the kingdom, for if people are not afraid of it, one man would swallow another alive.” Anyone who has seen or read of the mass looting that transpires when there is a breakdown of authority knows exactly what this means.

The king or government requires an army to protect the country from its external enemies, a police force to uphold law and order, and royal palaces and government offices that are well maintained, so that the king’s authority is respected. All this requires funding, and the people realize that they need to pay taxes so that the king and/or government can protect them (see Rashbam, Bava Basra 54b s.v. VeHa’amar). The halachah of dina demalchusa dina recognizes that the king and his properly appointed agents have the right to collect taxes (Nedarim 28a).

Din Melech

When the tribes of Israel approached their prophet, Shmuel, requesting that he appoint a king, Shmuel attempted to dissuade them by noting the tremendous power that a king has:, saying: He will draft the most talented sons to till his fields, harvest his crops and perform other services; he will draft their daughters as perfumers, bakers and cooks; and he will raise high taxes (Shmuel I 8:11-18). The Gemara (Sanhedrin 20a) cites a dispute as to whether a Jewish monarch has the extensive authority that Shmuel described, or if Shmuel was simply warning the people in an attempt to dissuade them from having a king. The Rambam (Hilchos Melachim 4:1) and most authorities rule that the king, indeed, does have this authority.

Some poskim understand that a non-Jewish king also draws his authority based on this concept of din melech. That is, the Torah reserved the rights described by the prophet Shmuel for any monarch. (Even those who contend that Shmuel was merely warning the people, and that the king does not have this extensive authority, accept the concept of dina demalchusa dina; they simply do not consider the din melech of Shmuel to be the source for the law of dina demalchusa dina.)

Democratic Taxes

Although the early authorities discuss dina demalchusa dina primarily in terms of the rights of a king, most later authorities understand that this halachic power exists, equally, in a democracy (see Shu”t Yechaveh Daas 5:63).

Gomel discovered that the vast majority of halachic authorities regard dina demalchusa dina as a Torah-mandated concept (see Shu”t Dvar Avraham 1:1; Avnei Meluim 28:2; Shu”t Chasam Sofer, Yoreh Deah #314), although  a minority opinion contends that dina demalchusa dina was introduced by Chazal (Beis Shemuel, 28:3).

Many authorities rule that a king may not arbitrarily create new taxes; he may collect only that which has been established previously (Ritva, Nedarim 28a; see lengthy list in Encyclopedia Talmudis, Volume 7, page 318, footnote 559). Why is this true? When people appointed the original king to protect them, they accepted certain taxes with which to pay him for his “services.” According to these rishonim, neither this king nor his successors have a right to create new taxes or increase taxes arbitrarily, without the consent of the governed.

Traffic and Safety Regulations

Thus far, we have seen that dina demalchusa dina governs the right of the king or the government to collect taxes. Dina demalchusa dina also obligates us to obey rules of the government, such as the prohibitions against smuggling and counterfeiting. However, dina demalchusa dina goes much further. Some authorities maintain that dina demalchusa dina requires everyone to obey government-created rules that are clearly for the common good (Ramban, Bava Basra 55a). One may argue that this includes rules governing traffic laws, sanitation, safety and health. Those who do not agree that dina demalchusa dina extends this far feel that dina demalchusa dina is limited to matters that more directly affect the government (see Maggid Mishnah, Hilchos Malveh 27:1). However, all opinions agree that dina demalchusa dina applies to matters that contravene the authority of the governing parties (Igros Moshe op. cit.). The exact extent to which this is applied in practice will affect Gomel’s original question: whether dina demalchusa dina applies to bankruptcy law.

No Government Influence

Which areas of halachah are not subject to dina demalchusa dina?

Dina demalchusa dina does not replace the civil laws of the Torah (the laws of Choshen Mishpat) that govern the relationships between Jews (Shu”t Harashba 3:109, quoted by Beis Yosef, Choshen Mishpat end of Chapter 26; Shach, Choshen Mishpat 73:39). For example, dina demalchusa dina does not affect the laws of inheritance. These laws are governed by the Torah’s laws of yerushah.

Similarly, the laws of damages (nezakin), the laws of shomrim – responsibility for taking care of someone else’s property – and the property laws involved in marriage are all areas of halachah in which Jews are required to follow the laws of the Torah. Therefore, when a Jew lends an item to another, the laws governing his responsibility are those of the Torah, not the local civil code. This is because there is no infringement on the government’s authority when people make their own arrangements regarding how to manage these areas of their lives (Igros Moshe).

Government Influence

On the other hand, certain areas of contract law are heavily influenced by dina demalchusa dina. For example, the laws of employee relations are governed by local custom (Yerushalmi, Bava Metzia 7:1), which is usually influenced greatly by civil law.

What about Bankruptcy?

As I wrote above, the Gemara and the Shulchan Aruch do not mention the concept of bankruptcy. Gomel began to research if anyone discusses whether halachah recognizes the laws of bankruptcy, under the laws of dina demalchusa dina. Indeed, he discovered a dispute among great twentieth-century authorities regarding whether dina demalchusa dina applies to the laws of bankruptcy. In a responsum, Rav Moshe Feinstein rules that dina demalchusa dina applies only to matters in which the government takes an interest, because they may affect the stability of the country. For example, if the country does not have sound markets, this could create problems that the government wants to avoid. Therefore, the government has a halachic right under dina demalchusa dina to insist that its laws governing stable markets are followed.

Rav Moshe concludes that the laws of bankruptcy are within the parameters of dina demalchusa dina, since the government has a right to insist that a consistent rule of law be applied throughout the country regarding the discharge of bad debts.

In the case brought before Rav Moshe, a company had gone bankrupt, and the directors had paid one of its creditors, in violation of the bankruptcy rulings. The question was whether the individual was required to return the money that he had been paid because of the lahachah of dina demalchusa dina.

Rav Moshe ruled that, if the company had already filed for bankruptcy when this money was paid, the creditor is halachically required to return the money. This is because dina demalchusa dina establishes the regulations of how a person or entity that has filed for bankruptcy may pay its debts.

On the other hand, we find responsa from two prominent European authorities, Rav Yitzchak Weiss (Shu”t Minchas Yitzchak 3:134), who was then the av beis din of Manchester (and later the Rosh Av Beis Din of the Eidah HaChareidis in Yerushalayim), and from Rav Yaakov Breisch of Zurich, Switzerland (Shu”t Chelkas Yaakov 3:160). (It is interesting to note that these two great poskim were mechutanim.) From the limited description of the cases that each responsum contains, it seems that they were asked about the same situation:

Reuven advanced Shimon a personal loan and Shimon subsequently declared bankruptcy. As required by law, Shimon notified all his creditors, Reuven included, that he had filed for bankruptcy protection and that Reuven had the right to protest the bankruptcy arrangements. Reuven did not protest the bankruptcy proceedings. Ultimately, the court ruled that Shimon was required to pay thirty cents per dollar of debt.

Subsequently, Reuven sued Shimon in beis din for the entire loan. Shimon contended that he was not required to pay Reuven more than the thirty cents to the dollar, as per the bankruptcy court’s ruling. Reuven, the creditor, claimed that he had never forgiven any part of the loan. He argued that he did not protest the bankruptcy proceedings for several reasons, among them that he was unaware that a personal loan without interest is included in bankruptcy proceedings.

The rav who was asked the shaylah referred it to these well-known poskim, both of whom contended that dina demalchusa dina does not apply to bankruptcy procedures. In their opinion, dina demalchusa dina never supplants an area of halachah in which the Torah provides its own guidelines.

They do agree that if there was evidence that Reuven had accepted the court’s ruling, he would no longer be entitled to full payment, because he had been mocheil, forgiven, the balance of the loan. Once someone was mocheil a loan or part thereof , he cannot subsequently claim it. However, in the situation at hand, there was no evidence that Reuven was mocheil the balance of the loan.

It would seem from Rav Moshe Feinstein’s responsum that he would have ruled differently, contending that once the court declared Shimon bankrupt, Reuven would have been obligated to honor the court’s decision because of dina demalchusa dina.

At this point, Gomel sat down to discuss with Rav Chacham whether his own debtor could claim protection for the balance of his loan, since he had declared bankruptcy. According to the Chelkas Yaakov, the Minchas Yitzchak, and other authorities, a debtor has no basis for claiming bankruptcy protection. On the other hand, in certain circumstances, Rav Moshe might contend that the debtor need not repay more than the court has ruled.

Conclusion

Lending money is a valuable mitzvah. When someone fulfills this precious mitzvah of lending money to a fellow Jew, he is not donating a gift. As the Tanna Rabbi Shimon notes in the second chapter of Pirkei Avos, “the evil path from which a person should distance himself” can be described by the words of Dovid Hamelech: The wicked borrow and do not repay; whereas the righteous is gracious in his giving. Someone who borrows must always have a plan as to how he intends to return the funds.




The Basics of Birkas Hagomeil

Since parsha Eikev includes many references to brochos thanking Hashem for all His kindness, it is certainly an appropriate week to study:

Question #1: “I recently underwent some surgery. At what point in my recovery do I recite birkas hagomeil?”

Question #2: “May I recite birkas hagomeil if I will not be able to get to shul for kri’as haTorah?”

Answer:

There are two mitzvos related to thanking Hashem for deliverance from perilous circumstances. In Parshas Tzav, the Torah describes an offering brought in the Mishkan, or the Beis Hamikdash, called the korban todah.

There is also a brocha, called birkas hagomeil, which is recited when someone has been saved from a dangerous situation. The Rosh (Brachos 9:3) and the Tur (Orach Chayim 219) explain that this brocha was instituted as a replacement for the korban todah that we can no longer bring, since, unfortunately, our Beis Hamikdash lies in ruin. Thus, understanding the circumstances and the laws of the korban todah and of birkas hagomeil is really one combined topic.

Tehillim on Salvation

The Gemara derives many of the laws of birkas hagomeil from a chapter of Tehillim, Psalm 107. There, Dovid Hamelech describes four different types of treacherous predicaments in which a person would pray to Hashem for salvation. Several times, the Psalm repeats the following passage, Vayitzaku el Hashem batzar lahem, mimetzukoseihem yatzileim, when they were in distress, they cried out to Hashem asking Him to deliver them from their straits. Hashem hears the supplicants’ prayers and redeems them from calamity, whereupon they recognize Hashem’s role and sing shira to acknowledge His deliverance. The passage reflecting this thanks, Yodu lashem chasdo venifle’osav livnei adam, they give thanks to Hashem for His kindness and His wondrous deeds for mankind, is recited four times in the Psalm, each time expressing the emotions of someone desiring to tell others of his appreciation. The four types of salvation mentioned in the verse are: a wayfarer who traversed a desert, a captive who was freed, someone who recovered from illness, and a seafarer who returned safely to land.

Based on this chapter of Tehillim, the Gemara declares, arba’ah tzerichim lehodos: yordei hayam, holchei midbaros, umi shehayah choleh venisra’pe, umi shehayah chavush beveis ha’asurim veyatza — four people are required to recite birkas hagomeil: those who traveled by sea, those who journeyed through the desert, someone who was ill and recovered and someone who was captured and gained release (Brachos 54b). (Several commentators provide reasons why the Gemara lists the four in a different order than does the verse, a topic that we will forgo due to limited space.) The Tur (Orach Chayim 219) mentions an interesting method for remembering the four cases, taken from our daily shmoneh esrei prayer: vechol hachayim yoducha selah, explaining that the word chayim has four letters, ches, yud, yud and mem, which allude to chavush, yissurim, yam and midbar, meaning captive, the sufferings of illness, sea, and desert — the four types of travail mentioned by the verse and the Gemara. (It is noteworthy that when the Aruch Hashulchan [219:5] quotes this, he has the ches represent “choli,” illness [rather than chavush, captive], which means that he would explain the yud of yissurim to mean the sufferings of captivity.)

Rav Hai Gaon notes that these four calamities fall under two categories: two of them, traveling by sea and through the desert, are situations to which a person voluntarily subjected himself, whereas the other two, illness and captivity, are involuntary (quoted by Shu”t Chasam Sofer, Orach Chayim #51). Thus, we see that one bensches gomeil after surviving either of these types of dangers, regardless of whether it was within his control or not.

Some commentaries note that the Rambam cites the Gemara passage, arbaah tzerichim lehodos, four people are required to thank Hashem, only in the context of birkas hagomeil and not regarding the laws of korban todah. This implies that, in his opinion, korban todah is always a voluntary offering, notwithstanding the fact that Chazal required those who were saved to recite birkas hagomeil (Sefer Hamafteiach). However, both Rashi and the Rashbam, in their respective commentaries to Vayikra 7:12, explain that the “four people” are all required to bring a korban todah upon being saved. As I noted above, the Rosh states that since, unfortunately, we cannot offer a korban todah, birkas hagomeil was substituted.

A Minyan

When the Gemara (Brachos 54b) teaches the laws of birkas hagomeil, it records two interesting details: (1) that birkas hagomeil should be recited in the presence of a minyan and (2) that it should be recited in the presence of two talmidei chachamim.

No Minyan

Is a minyan essential for birkas hagomeil, as it is for some other brachos, such as sheva brachos? In other words, must someone who cannot join a minyan to recite birkas hagomeil forgo the brocha?

The Tur contends that the presence of a minyan and two talmidei chachamim is not a requirement to recite birkas hagomeil, but only the preferred way. In other words, someone who cannot easily assemble a minyan or talmidei chachamim may, nevertheless, recite birkas hagomeil. The Beis Yosef disagrees regarding the requirement of a minyan, feeling that one should not recite birkas hagomeil without a minyan present. However, he rules that if someone errantly recited birkas hagomeil without a minyan, he should not recite it again, but should try to find a minyan and recite the text of the brocha without Hashem’s Name, to avoid a brocha levatalah, reciting a blessing in vain (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 219:3). The Mishnah Berurah follows an approach closer to that of the Tur, ruling that someone unable to assemble a minyan may recite birkas hagomeil without a minyan. However, he adds that someone in a place where there is no minyan should wait up to thirty days to see if he will have the opportunity to bensch gomeil in the presence of a minyan. If he has already waited thirty days, he should recite the birkas hagomeil without a minyan and not wait longer.

When Do We Recite Birkas Hagomeil?

The prevalent custom is to recite birkas hagomeil during or after kri’as haTorah (Hagahos Maimaniyos 10:6). The Orchos Chayim understands that this custom is based on convenience, because kri’as haTorah also requires a minyan (quoted by Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 219). The Chasam Sofer presents an alternative reason for reciting birkas hagomeil during or after kri’as haTorah. He cites sources that explain that kri’as haTorah serves as a substitute for offering korbanos, and therefore reciting birkas hagomeil at the time of kri’as hatorah is a better substitute for the korban todah that we cannot offer (Shu”t Chasam Sofer, Orach Chayim #51).

Do We Count the Talmidei Chachamim?

I quoted above the Gemara that states that one should recite birkas hagomeil in the presence of a minyan and two talmidei chachamim The Gemara discusses whether this means that birkas hagomeil should be recited in the presence of a minyan plus two talmidei chachamim, for a total of twelve people, or whether the minyan should include two talmidei chachamim. The Rambam (Hilchos Brachos 10:8) and the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 219:3) rule that the minyan includes the talmidei chachamim, whereas the Pri Megadim rules that the requirement is a minyan plus the talmidei chachamim. Notwithstanding the Pri Megadim’s objections, the Biur Halacha concludes, according to the Shulchan Aruch, that one needs only a minyan including the talmidei chachamim.

No Talmid Chacham to be Found

The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 219:3) then adds that if someone is in a place where it is uncommon to find talmidei chachamim, he may recite birkas hagomeil in the presence of a minyan, even without any talmidei chachamim present.

Time Limits

Is there a time limit within which one must recite birkas hagomeil? Indeed, many early authorities contend that one must recite birkas hagomeil within a certain number of days after surviving the calamity. The Beis Yosef (Orach Chayim 219) quotes a dispute among rishonim, the Ramban holding that one should recite birkas hagomeil within three days, the Rashba, five days, and the Tur implying that there is no time limit. The Shulchan Aruch (219:6) concludes that one should preferably not wait more than three days to recite birkas hagomeil, but someone who waited longer may still recite it, and there is no time limit. Based on this conclusion, the Magen Avraham (219:6) rules that someone released from captivity after kri’as haTorah on Monday should not wait until Thursday, the next kri’as haTorah, to recite birkas hagomeil, since this is already the fourth day from when he was saved. It is preferred that he bensch gomeil earlier, even though he will do so without kri’as haTorah. As I mentioned above, the Mishnah Berurah permits bensching gomeil even after thirty days, although he prefers a delay of no longer than three days.

What about at night?

May one bensch gomeil at night? If bensching gomeil is a replacement for the korban todah, and all korbanos in the Beis Hamikdash could be offered only during the day, may we recite the birkas hagomeil at night? This question is addressed by the Chasam Sofer in an interesting responsum (Shu”t Chasam Sofer Orach Chayim #51). The Chasam Sofer’s case concerned Chacham Shabtei Elchanan, who was the rov of the community of Trieste. This city is currently in northeastern Italy, but, at the time of the Chasam Sofer, it was part of the Austrian Empire, which also ruled the Chasam Sofer’s city of Pressburg. (Today, Pressburg is called Bratislava and is the capital of Slovakia.)

Rav Elchanan had returned from a sea voyage, and his community, grateful for their rav’s safe arrival, greeted him with a joyous celebration on the evening of his homecoming. At this gathering, Rav Elchanan recited the birkas hagomeil in front of the large congregation.

One well-known local scholar, Rav Yitzchak Goiten, took issue with Rav Elchanan’s reciting the birkas hagomeil at night, contending that since the mitzvah of birkas hagomeil is a substitute for the korban todah, it cannot be performed at night, as korbanos cannot be offered at night. Furthermore, he was upset that Rav Elchanan had not followed the accepted practice of reciting birkas hagomeil at kri’as haTorah.

This question was then addressed to the Chasam Sofer: which of the eminent scholars of Trieste was correct?

The Chasam Sofer explains that although birkas hagomeil substitutes for the korban todah, this does not mean that it shares all the laws of the korban. The idea is that since we cannot offer a korban todah today, our best option is to substitute the public recital of birkas hagomeil.

The Chasam Sofer noted that the gathering of the the people to celebrate their rav’s safereturn was indeed the appropriate time to recite birkas hagomeil. In this situation, the Chasam Sofer would have recited birkas hagomeil in front of the assembled community, but he would have explained why he did so in order that people would continue to recite birkas hagomeil at kri’as haTorah, as is the minhag klal Yisroel.

Ten or Ten plus One?

There is a dispute among the authorities whether the individual reciting the brocha is counted as part of the minyan or if we require a minyan besides him (Raanach, quoted by Rabbi Akiva Eiger to 219:3). Most authorities rule that we can count the person reciting the brocha as one of the minyan (Mishnah Berurah 219:6). Shaar Hatziyun rallies proof to this conclusion, since it says that one should recite the brocha during kri’as haTorah, and no one says that one can do this only when there is an eleventh person attending the kri’as haTorah.

Stand up and Thank

The Rambam (Hilchos Tefillah, 10:8) requires that a person stand up when he recites birkas hagomeil. The Kesef Mishneh, the commentary on the Rambam written by Rav Yosef Karo — the author of the Beis Yosef and the Shulchan Aruch — notes that he is unaware of any source that requires one to stand when reciting this brocha, and he therefore omits this halacha in Shulchan Aruch.

The Bach disagrees, feeling that there is an allusion to this practice in Tehillim 107, the chapter that includes the sources for this brocha, but other commentators dispute this allusion (Elyah Rabbah 219:3). The Elyah Rabbah then presents a different reason why one should stand, explaining that birkas hagomeil is a form of Hallel, which must be recited standing.

Still other authorities present different reasons for the Rambam’s ruling that one must stand for birkas hagomeil. The Chasam Sofer explains that this is because of kavod hatzibur, the respect due an assembled community of at least ten people. Yet another approach  (Nahar Shalom 219:1) is that since birkas hagomeil replaces the korban todah, it is similar to shmoneh esrei, which is said standing and which is similarly bimkom korban (Brachos 26b).

The Rama does not mention any requirement that birkas hagomeil be recited while standing, implying that he agrees with the Shulchan Aruch’s decision, but the Bach and other later authorities require one to stand when reciting the brocha. The later authorities conclude that one should recite the brocha while standing, but that bedei’evid, after the fact, one who recited the brocha while sitting fulfilled his obligation and should not repeat the brocha (Mishnah Berurah 219:4).

Only these four?

If someone survived a different type of danger, such as an accident or armed robbery, does he recite birkas hagomeil? Or was birkas hagomeil instituted only for the four specific dangers mentioned by the pasuk and the Gemara?

We find a dispute among rishonim regarding this question. The Orchos Chayim quotes an opinion that one should bensch gomeil after going beneath a leaning wall or over a dangerous bridge, but he disagrees, contending that one recites birkas hagomeil only after surviving one of the four calamitous situations mentioned in the Gemara. On the other hand, others conclude that one should recite birkas hagomeil after surviving any dangerous situation (Shu”t Rivash # 337). The Rivash contends that the four circumstances mentioned by Tehillim and the Gemara are instances in which it is common to be exposed to life-threatening danger and, therefore, they automatically generate a requirement to recite birkas hagomeil. However, someone who survived an attacked by a wild ox or bandits certainly should recite birkas hagomeil, although it is not one of the four cases. Furthermore, the Rivash notes, since Chazal instituted that the person who was saved and his children and grandchildren recite a brocha (she’oso li/le’avi neis bamokom hazeh, see Brochos 54a and Brachos Maharam) when seeing the place where the miracle occurred, certainly one should recite a brocha of thanks over the salvation itself!

The Shulchan Aruch quotes both sides of the dispute, but implies that one should follow the Rivash, and this is also the conclusion of the Taz and the later authorities (Mishnah Berurah; Aruch Hashulchan). Therefore, contemporary custom is to recite birkas hagomeil after surviving any potentially life-threatening situation.

Before going on to the next subtopic, I want to note that a different rishon presents a diametrically opposed position from that of the Rivash, contending that even one who traveled by sea or desert does not recite birkas hagomeil unless he experienced a miracle. This approach is based on the words of the pesukim in Tehillim 107 that form the basis for birkas hagomeil (Rabbeinu Manoach, Hilchos Tefillah 10:8, quoting Raavad). (In halachic conclusion, the Biur Halacha writes that one recites birkas hagomeil even if there was no difficulty on the sea voyage or the desert journey, notwithstanding the verses of Tehillim.)

How Sick?

How ill must a person have been to require that he recite birkas hagomeil upon his recovery? I am aware of three opinions among the rishonim concerning this question.

(1) Some hold that one recites birkas hagomeil even for an ailment as minor as a headache or stomachache (Aruch).

(2) Others contend that one recites birkas hagomeil only if he was ill enough to be bedridden, even when he was not dangerously ill (Ramban, Toras Ha’adam, page 49; Hagahos Maimoniyus, Brachos 10:6, quoting Rabbeinu Yosef).

(3) A third approach holds that one should recite birkas hagomeil only if the illness was potentially life threatening (Rama).

The prevalent practice of Sefardim, following the Shulchan Aruch, is according to the second approach — reciting birkas hagomeil after recovery from any illness that made the person bedridden. The prevalent Ashkenazic practice is to recite birkas hagomeil only when the illness was life threatening, notwithstanding the fact that the Bach, who was a well-respected Ashkenazic authority, concurs with the second approach.

How Recuperated?

At what point do we assume that the person is recuperated enough that he can recite the birkas hagomeil for surviving his travail? The poskim rule that he does not recite birkas hagomeil until he is able to walk well on his own (Elyah Rabbah; Mishnah Berurah).

Chronic illness

The halachic authorities rule that someone suffering from a chronic ailment who had a life threatening flareup recites birkas hagomeil upon recovery from the flareup, even though he still needs to deal with the ailment that caused the serious problem (Tur).

Conclusion

Rav Hirsch (Commentary to Tehillim 100:1) notes that the root of the word for thanks is the same as that for viduy, confession and admitting wrongdoing. All kinds of salvation should elicit in us deep feelings of gratitude for what Hashem has done for us in the past and does in the present. This is why it can be both an acknowledgement of guilt and thanks.

We often cry out to Hashem in crisis, sigh in relief when the crisis passes, but fail to thank Him adequately for the salvation. Our thanks to Hashem should match the intensity of our pleas. Birkas hagomeil gives us a concrete brocha to awaken our thanks for deliverance. And even in our daily lives, when, hopefully, we do not encounter dangers that meet the criteria of saying birkas hagomeil, we should still fill our hearts with thanks, focus these thoughts during our recital of mizmor lesodah, az yashir, modim or at some other appropriate point in our prayer.




Pesukei Dezimra: Fulfilling Hashem’s Only Desire

Ron Goldstein, who is seeking to find his way into observant Judaism, is having a casual conversation with Yosel Schwartz, an Orthodox accountant who invites him over often for Shabbos. As usual, Ron is peppering Yosel with questions:

“Recently, I began praying daily, and I have even begun to attend synagogue occasionally. I have many questions regarding both the prayers and the practices I see there.”

Of course, Yosel is more than happy to answer Ron’s questions.

“I would really appreciate it if you could provide me with background to some of the prayers. I see that there is a lot of structure and that various sections of the prayer are very dissimilar from one another. Some parts are consecutive blessings, others include extensive Biblical passages; some are praises, others are straightforward supplications. I have been told that the two most important parts of the morning and evening prayers are the Shma and the Shemoneh Esrei, and I have been reciting these parts for a few months now. But at this point I would like to understand some more about some of the other parts of our prayer. Could you help me?”

“Certainly; where would you like to start?”

“I am really curious to know more about the Psalms we read towards the beginning of the prayers. Psalms are really inspiring. But I also know that the Book of Psalms is fairly large. Why do we always recite the same ones every day; why not just read consecutive passages each day, as an introduction to the prayer? This would familiarize people with the whole, beautiful book.”

It is interesting that Ron noticed the beauty of the Psalms David Hamelech bequeathed to the Jewish people. Indeed, it seems that David Hamelech was aware of the tremendous responsibility Hashem placed upon him to provide a link between Man and Hashem. This is evidenced in the following verse: “For an eternal covenant He placed in me” (Shmuel II 23:5). Although most commentaries explain that this verse refers to the eternity of his royal dynasty, which will soon return with Moshiach, it certainly also alludes to David’s unique role as the Psalmist of mankind.

Tehillim Each and Every Day, makes Certain we do not Stray

Yosel points out to Ron that the Psalms have, indeed, been organized into daily readings that enable one to complete them every week or month. Ron sounds interested in making this a regular practice; certainly, a laudatory observance. Yosel points out that the purpose in reciting parts of Tehillim during davening is not to create familiarity with the entire book, but something else altogether. In Yosel’s own words:

“To answer your question, I need to provide you with some background to this part of the prayer, which is called Pesukei Dezimra, Verses of Song. Two Talmudic references provide the earliest basis for this part of our daily prayer.  One source teaches that reciting Psalm 145 every day guarantees one a share in olam haba, the World to Come (Berachos 4b).” (Yosel is aware that an alternate reading [girsa]of this Gemara attributes the reward to someone who recites this psalm three times every day. This is why we recite Ashrei, which includes this Chapter of Tehillim, three times a day, twice in Shacharis and once during Mincha.Yosel did not want to sidetrack the conversation with this information.)

Hashem Provides for All, even those without Wherewithal.

“What is unique about this Psalm that its recital merits such a special reward?” Ron inquired.

“The Gemara explains that this Psalm includes the verse beginning with the words Posayach es yodecha, which praises G-d Who opens His hands to provide for all creatures. One must make sure to recite this verse with much focus (Tur, Orach Chayim 51), as we thereby internalize the fact that Hashem supervises all his creatures and provides all their needs.

“In addition, the alphabetical acrostic of this Psalm demonstrates that King David intended that it be easily memorized and utilized by all of mankind (Rav Hirsch, Tehillim 25:1).

“The verses of this chapter that follow Posayach es yodecha, also include many basic tenets of Judaism. They note that Hashem’s deeds are justified; and that He is close to all who seek him truthfully, fulfills their desires, and protects them. It is critical to recite these passages with full focus on their significance. One who recites the verse Posayach es yodecha without thinking about its meaning is required to read it again, since he has missed the message of the passage. Some authorities conclude that if he completed the Psalm, he should repeat from the words Posayach es yodecha to the end of the Psalm (Mishnah Berurah 51:16).”

Begin the Day with G-d’s Praise, so that we Merit the Sun’s Rays

Ron replied: “This is really a nice, meaningful passage, and it certainly sets the tone for devotion and interacting with G-d, which is one of the beauties of Judaism. However, according to my references, this is only one Psalm among several others that we read.”

Yosel continues his explanation: “True. In another Talmudic passage, the great scholar, Rabbi Yosi, mentions his yearning to receive the special reward granted to those who recite the Pesukei Dezimra daily (Shabbos 118b). Also, reciting these praises with the proper awareness guarantees that our subsequent prayer will be accepted (Abudraham).

“The early authorites dispute how many Psalms Rabbi Yosi included in his Pesukei Dezimra. While Rashi mentions only Psalm 148 and Psalm 150 (presumably in addition to 145), the Rambam includes all of the last six Psalms of Tehillim as the kernel of Pesukei Dezimra. Accepted halachah follows the Rambam (Tur, Orach Chayim 51), and therefore we recite all six Psalms, but in extenuating circumstances we follow Rashi’s opinion. For example, someone with insufficient time to recite the entire Pesukei Dezimra with the tremendous focus it deserves and still be ready to begin the Shemoneh Esrei together with the congregation may omit the three extra Psalms that the Rambam includes and rely on Rashi’s opinion. We actually rule that one may delete even more sections of Pesukei Dezimra to enable one to begin the Shemoneh Esrei together with the congregation.”

Together we shall Pray, and then look Forward to a Wonderful Day!

“Why is it so important to begin the prayer together with everyone else?”

“Unfortunately, but realistically, we sometimes do not focus when we recite our prayers. In reality, prayers recited without proper thought should accomplish nothing and may even be harmful. Imagine someone who has the opportunity for an audience with a human king and arrives late, out of breath, and distracted. If his conversation is unfocused, he will probably be thrown into a dungeon for his disrespect! How much more so when talking to the King of kings!

“When our prayers fall short of what they should be, we deserve to have them rejected. There is one consolation, however. When a community prays together, G-d always accepts their prayers (Berachos 8a).”

Concentrate on Ashrei, and we will Focus while we Pray

“I now understand why Ashrei is an important prayer,” said Ron, “But I see in my Siddur that besides Psalm 145, that the Ashrei prayer also includes three other verses from Psalms, two before Psalm 145and one after.”

“I see you’ve been paying a lot of attention to the prayers.”

“The Siddur I use notes the Biblical source of every prayer, so it does not really involve a lot of paying attention. Praying the way you are describing does require a lot of concentration. But I am eager to try. After all, for many years G-d meant little in my life – now that I understand how important He is to me, I am trying to pray daily, with meaning. I truly enjoy these six Psalms, because each one emphasizes a different aspect of G-d’s magnanimity. But, could you explain why we begin with the verse Ashrei, which is ‘borrowed’ from elsewhere in the book?”

“The Halachah recommends spending some time in quiet meditation, prior to praying (Berachos 30b). This makes it easier to focus on the essence of prayer and what we are trying to accomplish.The source cited for this law is the verse Ashrei, usually translated as ‘Happy is he who dwells in Your house; he will continually be able to praise You.’ I would note that Rabbi Hirsch, a great nineteenth century scholar, explains the word Ashrei a bit differently. According to his explanation, the verse means: ‘He who dwells in Your house is constantly striving forward in his life; providing his life with more meaning.’ Either interpretation emphasizes the importance of not racing into our prayer, but spending time meditating over the smallness of man and the greatness of G-d, before we approach Him with our daily requests.

Pesukei Dezimra Every Day and one’s Concerns will go away.

“My own experience is that involving oneself in Pesukei Dezimra not only helps one daven the entire tefilah on a completely different level, but also rouses one’s sense of bitachon. In David Hamelech’s own words “The G-d of Yisroel told me… the righteous will rule over man; he will prevail through his fear of Hashem” (Shmuel II 23:3).

“In modern Hebrew, bitachon means security or defense; and bituach means insurance. Both of these uses cloud the issue:

Yisrael Betach BaHashem, the Jewish people can trust only in Hashem. Only through arousing our sense of Hashem’s power and providence can we possibly find any comfort. In the words of the Chovos HaLevavos, ‘He who does not trust in Hashem, places his trust in something else.’”

“I certainly identify with this, perhaps more so, since I am so familiar with the way people live ‘out there.’ I find these Psalms extremely powerful.”

Baruch She’amar – A Song of Desire

Ron is ready with his next question: “I notice that while the Pesukei Dezimra contains only Biblical quotes, my Siddur notes no Biblical quotes in the introductory passage.”

“Because these passages are so important and comprise their own special mitzvah of praising G-d, we introduce and conclude with special blessings, just as we recite blessings before and after eating, and before performing mitzvos. The introductory prayer, which begins with the words Baruch She’amar, begins by blessing G-d ‘who said and made,’ a quality unique to Hashem. He both says and performs, whereas all else in the world either orders or acts (Avudraham). Baruch She’amar includes hints to all of Creation, by alluding to the Ten Statements with which Hashem made the world. To quote the Tur (Orach Chayim 51): ‘One must recite Baruch She’amar with song and sweetness, because it is a beautiful and desirous song.

The concluding blessing of Pesukei Dezimra begins with the word Yishtabach. In order to avoid any interruption between these berachos, one may not interrupt from the time one recites Baruch She’amar until the end of davening (Shulchan Aruch 51:4). The Medrash reports that when the verse speaks of someone ‘who is afraid because he has sinned’, it refers to a person who spoke during Pesukei Dezimra.”

Singing David’s Song will keep us from Steering Wrong

Ron notes that while Baruch She’amar states that we use the songs of David, Your servant, to praise Hashem, not all the verses in Pesukei Dezimra come from Psalms.

“Although a few passages in Pesukei Dezimra are from other authors, the vast majority were written by King David. Even the two sections taken from Divrei Hayamim (Chronicles) are quotes of King David that appear in those books.

“Among the notable exceptions is the very end of Pesukei Dezimra, where we recite Az Yashir, the Song that the Jewish people sang after miraculously crossing the Red Sea. This epic is considered the song of praise of the Jewish people and, therefore, merits its special place in the daily Pesukei Dezimra. It is singled out as such a special praise that halacha requires one to sing it daily, as if one had personally  experienced this miraculous manifestation of G-d’s presence.

“Notwithstanding all its wondrous virtues, there is still some halachic controversy whether it should be recited as part of Pesukei Dezimra or not.”

“How so?”

“The Rambam, perhaps the greatest scholar of the last thousand years, mentions the recital of Az Yashir after Yishtabach, not before. Apparently, since King David did not author Az Yashir, the Rambam feels that it should not be included between the two blessings; only passages that are authored by King David should be included. I am personally unaware of any community that currently follows this practice.”

Hodu – Before Baruch She’amar or After?

Ron is ready with his next question: “I have noticed that some congregations begin Pesukei Dezimra with Baruch She’amar, while others begin with a different passage. What is the rationale behind these two different approaches?”

“King David taught this song to be sung on the day that the Aron, which held the Ten Commandments, was brought to the City of David, in the city of Jerusalem (Divrei Hayamim I 16). Later it was sung to accompany the daily offerings in the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, until the Beis Hamikdash was built (Seder Olam, Chapter14). Thus, this praise is directly associated with the offerings of the Jewish people and, at the same time, it reflects the early history of the Jewish nation.

The question is whether we should recite it as part of the regular Pesukei Dezimra, albeit closer to the part of the prayer when we discuss the offerings, or whether it is a sequel to korbanos and prior to Pesukei Dezimra. Ashkenazic practice follows the first approach and Sefardic, the latter – two old customs, both cited by early authoritative sources (Tur).”

Pesukei Dezimra: Fulfilling Hashem’s Only Desire

“Could you sum up in a few words what we have learned today?”

“Rather than my words, I will cite a great early scholar, the Ramban: ‘All that Hashem desires from this world is that man should thank Him for creating him, focus on His praise when he prays, and that the community pray together with concentration: Mankind should gather together and thank the Lord who created them, broadcasting: We are your creations!’” (Ramban, Shemos 13:16).

To this, Ron replied: “You just mentioned that the community should recite the praises together. In my visits to different synagogues, I have noticed that in the Sefardic community the entire congregation recites these prayers in unison. In many other synagogues, someone begins and ends each passage aloud, so that everyone can read from the same place. It seems, from your description, that this is the proper way one should recite these prayers.

“However, in some shuls that I frequent, the prayers seem far more chaotic. Although these shuls are, thank G-d, very crowded and well attended, people arrive at different times, and each person starts praying by himself. No one leads the services until after Pesukei Dezimra is complete, and they are certainly not said in unison. I must admit that I do not find this part of the services very attractive. It certainly does not fit the beautiful description you just gave me.”

Yosel shifted uncomfortably, realizing that Ron is absolutely correct. “It is embarrassing to admit that we are not doing what we should,” he began. “Your criticism is extremely well founded. Would you be willing to come with me and speak to the Rabbi of our congregation about the problem? I admit that the problem has bothered me for a while, but I have not had the gumption to do anything about it. Perhaps you can help me?”

Ron realized that he had turned the tables. He had come as an outsider sharing something that bothered him. He did not expect to be the person Yosel would appeal to for help in what appeared to be some type of crusade. But Yosel’s face indicated that he was sincere in his request. Not knowing the rabbi, Ron was uncertain what to expect, but at the meeting, he found the rabbi more than accommodating.

“I have wanted to introduce this in the shul for a long time,” the rabbi said after listening to their complaint. “The old minhag, in all communities, always included someone leading the services from the very beginning of Berachos. Why and when this practice changed is not for our discussion now, but I would like your help in changing the practice in our shul.”

In Conclusion, the Congregation’s Resolution

Ron became a very active member of the shul, although his attire initially looked fairly dissimilar from to that of most other members. His input, as an “outsider”, was happily accepted.

And as Ron morphed into Reuvein and learned how to use the Hebrew Siddur fluently, his unflagging enthusiasm for Pesukei Dezimra spurred major change, not only in himself and in his good friend Yosel, but also in Congregation Bnei Torah. Ultimately, his enthusiasm and initiative spiritually permeated the entire world.




Some Contemporary Bishul Akum Curiosities

Photo by melodi2 from FreeImages

Situation #1: THE GREAT CRANBERRY DEBATE

Avrumie calls me with the following question: “We are presently studying the laws of bishul akum in kollel, and someone asked how we can buy canned cranberries that are not bishul Yisrael, that is, not cooked by Jews. They seem to have all the characteristics of bishul akum.

Situation #2: THE BISHUL YISRAEL QUIZZER

A different member of Avrumie’s kollel raised another question:

Is there a legitimate halachic reason why a hechsher would require the same product to be bishul Yisrael in one factory and not in another?

Situation #3: DRAMA IN REAL LIFE

Many years ago, I substituted for the mashgiach at a vegetable cannery that was producing products for a kosher manufacturer who claimed that his products were bishul Yisrael. After arriving at the factory first thing in the morning as instructed, a foreman directed me to push a certain button, which, I assumed, initiated the cooking process. Upon examining the equipment, however, I realized that this button simply directed the cans to enter the cooker. This would probably make only the first cans bishul Yisrael, but not the rest of the day’s production. A different solution was necessary, such as momentarily lowering the temperature of the cooker and then resetting it; this would accomplish that I had added fuel to the cooking process when I reset the temperature and thereby had participated in the cooking of the vegetables. When I notified the foreman of this requirement, he firmly asserted: “This is the only button the rabbis ever push.”

Having no connections at the factory, I called the rabbi responsible for the hechsher; he did not answer his phone at that time of the morning.

What was I to do? Let Jews eat non-kosher veggies?

INTRODUCTION TO BISHUL AKUM CUISINE

Modern food production and distribution affects us in many ways, including kashrus. One aspect of kashrus with many new and interesting applications is bishul akum, the prohibition against eating food cooked by a gentile. Chazal instituted this law to guarantee uncompromised kashrus and to discourage inappropriate social interaction, which, in turn, may lead to idolatry (Rashi, Avodah Zarah 38a s.v. miderabbanan and Tosafos ad loc.; Rashi, Avodah Zarah 35b s. v. vehashelakos; see also Avodah Zarah 36b). This law has numerous ramifications for caterers and restaurants that need to guarantee that a Jew is involved in the cooking of their product. It also prohibits Jewish households from allowing a gentile to cook without making appropriate arrangements.

SICHON’S FOLLY

The Gemara tries to find a source for the prohibition of bishul akum in the Torah, itself. When the Bnei Yisrael offered to purchase all their victuals from Sichon and his nation, Emori, they could purchase only food that was unchanged through gentile cooking (see Devarim 2:26-28; and Bamidbar 21:21-25). Any food altered by Emori cooking was prohibited, because of bishul akum (Avodah Zarah 37b).

Although the Gemara rejects this Biblical source and concludes that bishul akum is an injunction of the Sages, early authorities theorize that this proscription was enacted very early in Jewish history; otherwise, how could the Gemara even suggest that its origins are Biblical (see Tosafos s.v. vehashelakos)?

Please note that throughout the article, whenever I say that something does not involve bishul akum, it might still be forbidden for a variety of other reasons. Also, the purpose of our column is not to furnish definitive halachic ruling, but to provide background in order to know when and what to ask one’s rav.

BASIC HALACHIC BACKGROUND

When Chazal prohibited bishul akum, they did not prohibit all gentile-cooked foods, but only foods where the gentile’s cooking provides significant benefit to the consumer. For example, there are three major categories of gentile-cooked foods that are permitted. We can remember them through the acronym: YUM, Yehudi, Uncooked, Monarch.

I. Yehudi

If a Jew participated in the cooking, the food is permitted, even when a gentile did most of the cooking.

II. Uncooked

A food that could be eaten raw is exempt from the prohibition of bishul akum, even when a non-Jew cooked it completely. This is because cooking such an item is not considered a significant enhancement (Rashi, Beitzah 16a).

III. Monarch

Bishul akum applies only to food that one would serve on a king’s table. Chazal did not prohibit bishul akum when the food is less important, because one would not invite a guest for such a meal, and, therefore, there is no concern that inappropriate social interaction may result (Rambam, Hil. Maachalos Asuros 17:15). Because of space considerations, I will leave further discussion of this important sub-topic for a future article. (Other aspects of the laws of bishul akum, such as the fact that smoked food is exempt from this prohibition, will also be left for future discussion.)

Let us explain some of these rules a bit more extensively.

I. Yehudi

WHAT IS CONSIDERED COOKED BY A JEW?

Much halachic discussion is devoted to defining how much of the cooking must be done by a Jew to avoid bishul akum. In practical terms, the Rama permits the food if a Jew lit the fire or increased the flame used to cook the food, even if he was not actually involved in cooking the food in any other way. On the other hand, the Shulchan Aruch requires that a Jew must actually cook the food until it is edible (Yoreh Deah 113:7).

II. Uncooked

A cooked food that can be eaten raw is exempt from the prohibition of bishul akum. For example, one may eat apple sauce or canned pineapple cooked by a gentile, since both apples and pineapples are eaten raw. Similarly, if the concerns of chalav akum and gevinas akum are addressed, one may eat cheese cooked by a gentile since its raw material, milk, is consumable raw.

Understanding this rule leads to several key questions. When is a raw food called “inedible?” Must it be completely inedible prior to cooking? Assuming that this is so; would the definition of “completely inedible” be contingent on whether no one eats it uncooked, or whether most people do not eat it uncooked, although some individuals do?

BUDDY’S SPUDS

An example will clarify my question. My friend, Buddy, enjoys eating raw potatoes, contrary to general preference. Do Buddy’s unusual taste buds mean that spuds are not a bishul akum concern?

The halachic authorities reject this approach, most concluding that we follow what most people would actually eat raw, even if they prefer eating it cooked (see, for example, Ritva, Avodah Zarah 38a; Pri Chodosh, Yoreh Deah 113:3; Birkei Yosef ad loc: 1, 9; Darkei Teshuvah 113:3, 4). In practice, different hechsherim and rabbanim follow divergent criteria to determine exactly which foods are prohibited because they are considered inedible raw.

BOGGED DOWN WITH THE CRANBERRIES.

Avrumie’s kollel’s question involves this very issue: “Someone asked how we can buy canned cranberries that are not bishul Yisrael. They seem to have all the characteristics of bishul akum.

Here is a highly practical result of the debate regarding what is considered suitable for eating uncooked. Are cranberries considered edible when they are raw? Someone who attempts to pop raw cranberries will keep his dentist well supported, since the rock-hard berries defy chewing. Thus, there is a strong argument that cranberries require cooking to become edible, and consequently are a bishul akum concern.

On the other hand, the deeply revered Cranberry Council provides recipes for eating raw cranberries by slicing or grinding them. Does the opinion of the sagacious Council categorize this fruit as an item that one can eat without cooking, so that we can remove from it the stigma of bishul akum? The advantage of this approach is a savings for a concerned hechsher, since it can now approve the esteemed berry as kosher, even when no mashgiach is present to push the buttons that cook the fruit.

GEOGRAPHIC INFLUENCES

What happens if a particular vegetable is commonly consumed uncooked in one country, but not in another? For example: I have been told that artichokes are commonly eaten raw in Egypt, but not in Spain, although they are grown for export in both countries. (Not being much of an artichoke connoisseur, we will assume for the purpose of our discussion that these facts are accurate.) Do we prohibit Spanish artichokes as bishul akum, whereas the Egyptian ones are permitted? Assuming that this boon to Egypt is true, what happens if you shipped the Spanish ones to Egypt? Do they now become permitted? And do Egyptian artichokes become prohibited upon being shipped to Spain? Indeed, I have heard that some rabbanim prohibit those cooked in Spain but permit those cooked in Egypt, depending, as we said, on whether local palates consider them edible at the time and place of production. The subsequent shipping overseas does not cause them to become prohibited, since it is cooking that creates bishul akum, not transportation. On the other hand, some contemporary poskim contend that shipping a cooked product to a place where it is not eaten raw makes it prohibited as bishul akum (Kaf Hachayim, Yoreh Deah 113:20).

CULINARY INFLUENCES

We have recently witnessed changes in the consumption of several vegetables that affect their bishul akum status. Not long ago, it was unheard of to serve raw broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms, or zucchini, and therefore all these vegetables presented bishul akum concerns. Today, these vegetables are commonly eaten raw; for this reason, many rabbanim permit these vegetables cooked and do not prohibit them anymore as bishul akum.

A similar change might occur because of sushi consumption. When fish was not eaten raw, cooked fish was a bishul akum issue. Once it becomes accepted that certain varieties of fish are food even when served uncooked, those fish varieties will not be prohibited as bishul akum even if a gentile cooked them. I therefore refer you to your local rav to determine whether a raw fish suitable for sushi is still a bishul akum concern. Similarly, when it becomes accepted to eat raw beef liver, there will no longer be a prohibition of bishul akum to eat it broiled by a gentile – provided, of course, that a mashgiach guarantees that it is kosher liver and was prepared in accordance with halachah.

KOSHER CANNING

We are now in a far better position to analyze the issues that faced me that morning many years ago. I had been instructed to supervise a bishul Yisrael production, but I was not permitted to adjust the heat. Were the vegetables kosher or not?

The basic question is: Must a mashgiach participate in the cooking process in a modern cannery?

In the mid-80’s, when I was the Rabbinic Administrator of a local kashrus organization, I participated in a meeting of kashrus organizations and prominent rabbanim. At this meeting, one well-respected talmid chacham voiced concern at the then-prevalent assumption that canned vegetables do not present any bishul akum problem. At the time, virtually no kashrus organizations made any arrangement for canned vegetables to be bishul Yisrael, even when such foods were inedible unless cooked and of a type one would serve at a royal feast. Was all of klal Yisrael negligent, G-d forbid, in the prohibition of bishul akum?

STEAMING OUR VEGGIES

Indeed, many prominent authorities contend that contemporary commercial canning is exempt from bishul akum for several reasons.For example, in most canning operations, vegetables are cooked, not in boiling water, but by high temperature steam. Some authorities contend that Chazal never included steamed products under the prohibition of bishul akum, because they categorize steaming as smoking, an atypical form of cooking which Chazal exempted from this prohibition (Darkei Teshuvah 113:16).

Others permit bishul akum in a production facility, where there is no concern that social interactions between the producer and the consumer may result (see Birkei Yosef 112:9, quoting Maharit Tzalon). The Minchas Yitzchak (Shu”t 3:26:6) rules that one may combine these two above reasons to permit most canned vegetables today. Still others maintain that since a modern facility uses a cooking system that cannot be replicated in a household, Chazal never created bishul akum under such circumstances.

HONEST KASHRUS

Of course, someone marketing a product as bishul Yisrael is advertising that he is not relying on these heterim for his product; therefore, it would be strictly prohibited to sell these vegetables as bishul Yisrael, although whether they are kosher or not would depend on your rav’s individual pesak.

SO, WHAT HAPPENED IN THE CANNERY?

I presume that my readers have been patiently waiting to find out what happened to our ill-fated cannery.

A bit later in the morning, I was finally able to reach the rabbi responsible for the hechsher. He agreed that the production was not bishul Yisrael.

One would think that the hechsher would reward an alert mashgiach for correcting a kashrus error. Well, for those eager to develop a better world, let me tell you what ultimately resulted. A different rabbi was assigned to the job, someone less likely to call the overseeing rabbi so early in the morning. I guess that’s what happens when you don’t have the right connections.




Pouring While It’s Hot

Photo by Adam Davis from FreeImages

The end of the article answers the question: “Why are we discussing this topic the week of Parshas Matos?”

Question #1: Warming bottles

“On Shabbos, may I pour hot water onto a baby bottle containing milk or formula?”

Question #2: Sinks

“May I use my sink for both milchig and fleishig?”

Question #3: Iruy into liquids

“Does iruy cook when it falls into a liquid?”

Question #4:

“Why are we discussing this topic the week of Parshas Matos?”

Introduction:

Although our opening questions may appear unconnected, they all relate to a halachic topic called iruy kli rishon. This term refers to the halachic status of food or vessels that were heated by having hot liquid poured on them. For example, preparing a cup of tea by pouring hot water from a kettle or urn into a cup containing a tea bag is a typical case of cooking by use of iruy. Pouring hot chicken soup directly from the pot into a milchig bowl is another situation of iruy kli rishon. The word iruy means pouring,and the term iruy kli rishon means that the liquid was poured from a pot or pan that was heated directly by the heat of a fire. This article will discuss the background and the basic rules of iruy kli rishon and some halachic ramifications. As usual, our purpose is not to paskin everyone’s halachic queries. That is the role of each individual’s rav or posek.

Iruy kli rishon affects many common situations, including, for example:

The status of milchig and fleishig items in your kitchen.

How one may warm food on Shabbos.

Whether a food or utensil became non-kosher.

How to kasher utensils that became non-kosher.

Kashrus Jargon

To make this presentation clearer, let us clarify four relevant terms:

Yad soledes bo

Whenever in this article we mention something is hot, it means that it is at least yad soledes bo, meaning that it is hot enough that a person pulls his hand back, instinctively, when he touches it. There is much dispute among halachic authorities how we measure this in degrees, which is a subtopic that we will leave for a different time.

Kdei kelipah

At times, we will refer to something being cooked or absorbed kdei kelipah. For the purposes of this article, this means that, at the point of contact of the heat, some cooking or flavor absorption transpires, but does not extend further.

Kli rishon

A kli rishon is a pot, pan or other vessel that was heated directly from a source of heat, such as on a stove, inside an oven, or any other way.

Kli sheini

A kli sheini is the platter or bowl into which food is poured from a kli rishon.

An anecdote from the Gemara will clarify the status of a kli sheini.

Although most forms of hot bathing are prohibited on Shabbos, it is permitted to bathe in hot natural springs, such as those found in Iceland, Teverya, and Hot Springs, Arkansas. The Gemara (Shabbos 40b) records that Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi, also known as Rebbe, was bathing in the hotsprings of Teverya on Shabbos and was being waited on by his disciple, Rav Yitzchak bar Avdimi. Rav Yitzchak bar Avdimi had a flask of oil for Rebbe to use for anointing after he finished bathing, and Rav Yitzchak wanted to warm the flask so that the oil would be more comfortable. Rav Yitzchak asked Rebbe whether he could warm the oil in the hot spring; Rebbe replied that he may not. Then Rebbe suggested a different approach: Rav Yitzchak bar Avdimi could fill a container with hot spring water, then place the container of oil inside the larger container of hot water.

Tosafos (ad loc.) asks why the latter procedure is permitted, whereas placing the flask of oil directly in the hot spring is prohibited. In both instances, the oil is heated by water from a natural hot spring. Tosafos answers that when the vessel itself is on the fire or inside the oven, the heat of the liquid is maintained by the hot walls of the vessel, and that is why bishul occurs. However, when the container itself was never directly warmed – what we call a kli sheini – the walls of the vessel diminish the heat. As a result, the oil will not cook from the heat of the water. In other words, cooking in a vessel requires not only sufficient heat, but that the walls of the pot or vessel maintain the heat. Therefore, cooking can occur in a kli rishon but not in a kli sheini.

The Mishnah

Here is another distinction between kli rishon and kli sheini: The Mishnah (Shabbos 42a) teaches that if a pot was removed from the fire on Shabbos, one may not add spices, because this constitutes bishul. However, one may add spices to a platter containing food that was poured out of the original pot. The second case is a kli sheini, meaning that the platter itself was never on the fire. Again, the indication is that cooking requires the walls themselves to have been heated.

Iruy kli rishon

We see that whereas a kli rishon is capable of cooking, a kli sheini is not. What about pouring from a kli rishon, which is an in-between level? The hot stream coming from iruy kli rishon has no vessel walls to maintain its heat – but it also has no walls cooling down the heated product.  Do the heated walls of the kli rishon cause the cooking, in which case iruy kli rishon would not be considered cooking, or is it the cooling kli sheini’s walls that prevents cooking from transpiring, in which case iruy kli rishon would be considered cooking? This question is debated extensively by the rishonim and early poskim.

Sibling rivalry

Among the main players who weigh in on the discussion are two of Rashi’s illustrious grandsons, the Rashbam and Rabbeinu Tam (Tosafos, Zevachim 95b). The Rashbam maintained that iruy does not cook, just as a kli sheini does not. His younger brother, Rabbeinu Tam, disputed this, and contended that iruy kli rishon can cook, at least to a certain extent.

Among the Baalei Tosafos, we find a further dispute regarding whether Rabbeinu Tam held that iruy kli rishon cooks and causes absorption of flavor through the entire product or only kdei kelipah. We will be assuming the second of these approaches, which is held by the majority of authorities.

The background behind this discussion takes us to a different passage of Gemara.

Who wins?

Within the context of a hot substance falling on a cold one, or vice versa, we find a dispute in the Gemara (Pesachim 75b-76a) between the great amora’im, Rav and Shmuel, as to who “wins” – the one on top or the one on the bottom. As explained by Rashi, the Gemara teaches:

If hot food fell into hot food, such as hot meat fell into hot milk, or when one item was kosher and the other not, everyone agrees that the resultant mixture is non-kosher. The flavors of the two products became mixed because of the heat, and the result is no longer kosher.

If both food items were cold, and one can separate the two products, that which was originally permitted remains so.

The dispute between Rav and Shmuel is when one food is hot and the other cold. Rav contends that when the upper one is hot, the flavor of one food mixes into the other, rendering them both non-kosher; however, when the lower one is hot and the upper is cold, the flavors do not mix. Therefore, if the foods did not become mixed, the kosher one remains kosher. This is referred to as ila’ah gavar, literally, the upper one is stronger.

Shmuel rules that when the lower item is hot, we rule that the flavors mix, and everything becomes non-kosher. However, when only the upper one is hot, it cools off when it mixes into the lower one. This is referred to as tata’ah gavar, meaning, “the lower one is stronger.” The Gemara concludes that, according to Shmuel, when a hot substance falls into a cold substance, there is a mixing of flavors on a thin layer of the food, which is called kdei kelipah. Therefore, a thin layer is sliced off the food at the point of contact, since that layer absorbed non-kosher flavor. The rest of the food remains kosher. This ruling will be a major factor in our discussion.

Rashi notes that, although in matters of kashrus and other laws called issur veheter we usually rule according to Rav and against Shmuel, in this particular debate we rule according to Shmuel. The reason is because the Gemara notes that two different beraisos, teachings from the tanna’im, ruled like Shmuel. Thus, most of the rest of our discussions assume that tata’ah gavar.

Let us now return to the dispute between Rabbeinu Tam and his older brother, the Rashbam, concerning whether iruy is considered to have cooked something. Some authorities, following the approach of Rabbeinu Tam, contend that just as Shmuel ruled that when one pours a hot food onto a cold one, we assume that kdei kelipah became absorbed, when pouring hot water onto a cold food (such as a teabag) on Shabbos; we must assume that a kdei kelipah becomes cooked. Thus, it is forbidden, according to Rabbeinu Tam, to pour hot water onto cold, uncooked food on Shabbos. The consensus of halachic authority is to accept this ruling and to prohibit pouring hot water from a kli rishon onto cold, uncooked food on Shabbos.

Kdei kelipah

Above, we noted that when a hot substance falls into something cold, the hot substance is absorbed into the cold one to a depth of a thin layer of food. One question to resolve is whether this ruling is min haTorah oronly miderabbanan. A prominent early acharon, the Magen Avraham (467:33), contends that this ruling (that a layer of the cold food becomes prohibited) is only a chumra be’alma, meaning that min haTorah no absorption takes place, but that Chazal prohibited kdei kelipah.

Despite the Magen Avraham’s position, it is evident from many rishonim that they understood that kdei kelipah is prohibited min haTorah.

Baby bottle

At this point, let us examine our opening question:

“On Shabbos, may I pour hot water onto a baby bottle full of milk?”

We have learned that when pouring hot water from a kli rishon, the outer surface of the food may become cooked.

However, let us think for a moment about our question. Iruy potentially can cook only the outer surface, which, in this case, is the bottle itself. Observation tells us that, even assuming that vessels can become “cooked,” bottles do not become cooked by pouring boiling water on them, since they are too hard to become changed, either physically or chemically, by this amount of heat. Furthermore, the milk inside the bottle is not in the surface kdei kelipah, and, therefore, although the milk inside the bottle will become warm or even hot, it is not being cooked. Consequently, it is permitted to warm baby’s bottle on Shabbos by pouring hot water onto the outside of the bottle.

Iruy into liquids

Let us move on to the next of our opening questions: “Does iruy cook when it falls into a liquid?”

We learned that iruy kli rishon causes a small degree of absorption, and, according to Rabbeinu Tam, it also cooks. At this point, I raise a question: Perhaps this is true only when the hot water is poured onto a solid food or a vessel? Could one argue that no cooking takes place when one pours from a kli rishon into a bowl of liquid?

Why should there be a difference between a solid and a liquid? When one pours directly into a liquid, what one pours immediately disperses into the liquid into which it falls. Perhaps all the heat that would cause absorption kdei kelipah dissipates throughout the liquid and, consequently, no cooking takes place. Indeed, we find rishonim who espouse this position (Tosafos, Pesachim 40b s.v. Ha’ilpeis). Nevertheless, this is not a universally held position, and the consensus of later authorities is that we do not differentiate between liquids and solids: In all instances, we conclude that iruy kli rishon does cause some cooking (Pri Megadim, Mishbetzos Zahav, Yoreh Deah 68:9 s.v. Hadin Hashelishi).

Hot potato

At this point, we can explain a different halachic question: A hot potato is on my plate, which is a kli sheini since it was not on the fire. May I place uncooked seasoning onto the potato on Shabbos?

We learned above that I am permitted to put uncooked spices into a kli sheini. It would appear, then, that I am permitted to add raw spices to my hot potato, which is sitting in a kli sheini. Indeed, we find major authorities who seem to agree that this is considered a case of a kli sheini (see, for example, Rema, Yoreh Deah 94:7).

Nevertheless, many authorities disagree with this conclusion (Maharshal, Yam shel Shelomoh, Chullin 8:71). They note the following: Tosafos explained that the difference between a kli rishon and a kli sheini is that the cooler walls of the kli sheini are reducing the heat; this prevents cooking from taking place.

However, a hot potato on a plate is not being cooled down by the plate. Since it touches the plate on only a minimal amount of its area, perhaps the potato itself retains the halachic status of a kli rishon. This is referred to as davar gush, a solid food not having the halachic advantages of a kli sheini. Most of the commentaries on the Shulchan Aruch rule that, generally, we should be concerned about both approaches: that of the Rema,who considers this a kli sheini; and that of the Maharshal, who considers this a kli rishon. As a practical matter, this means that one usually treats a davar gush not as a kli sheini but as a kli rishon (Shach, Yoreh Deah 105:8; Taz, Yoreh Deah105:4; Magen Avrohom, Orach Chayim 318:45).

Sinks

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

“May I use my sink for both milchig and fleishig?”

The question here is as follows: A sink does not have its own heating element. As such, it is never a kli rishon, but qualifies either as an iruy situation or as a kli sheini. We learned above that iruy can cause cooking and absorption, at least kdei kelipah. For these reasons, many authorities contend that someone who has only one sink in the kitchen should treat it as treif and use either dishpans or something similar and avoid putting dishes directly onto the sink surface (see, for example, Shu”t Minchas Yitzchok 2:100). On the other hand, based on an extensive analysis of the halachic sources, one major authority concludes that using a sink for both milchig and fleishig does not meet the characteristics of iruy kli rishon and is permitted (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 1:42). I refer our readers to their own halachic authority for a practical ruling.

Koshering

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

Why are we discussing this topic the week of Parshas Matos?

After the Bnei Yisroel’s miraculous victory over the nation of Midyan, they were commanded regarding the spoils that they had now acquired: Concerning the gold and the silver; the copper, the iron, the tin and the lead: any item that was used in fire needs to be placed in fire to become pure – yet, it must also be purified in mikveh water. And that which was not used in fire must pass through water (Bamidbar 31:22-23). Here the Torah introduces the concept of kashering vessels that have absorbed non-kosher foods. In this instance, the vessels of Midyan had been used for non-kosher; could the Jews use them? The answer is that they could kasher each item in a way that expunges the non-kosher absorption, and the vessel would become kosher. As Rashi explains the posuk, any item that was used directly in fire needs to be placed directly in fire to become kosher. And that which was not used in fire directly, but was used to cook with hot water on top of the fire must pass through water that was heated directly by a fire, to kasher it.

Does something that absorbed non-kosher via iruy require kashering? According to the conclusion above, it does – since we assume that iruy kli rishon causes some absorption into the walls of the vessel. But it can be kashered through iruy kli rishon (Tosafos, Shabbos 42b s.v. Aval).

Conclusion

We now have some understanding of a complicated halachic issue with all sorts of ramifications. It provides an appreciation how much one’s rav or posek must keep in mind every time he answers one of our questions. Certainly, this is a time to value his scholarship and his making himself available when we need him.




Bringing Bikkurim

When our parsha mentions Shavuos it calls it Beyom Habikkurim.

Question #1- Where?

“Is there an obligation to bring bikkurim from the Golan?”

Question #2: What?

“Must I separate bikkurim from my lemon tree?”

Question #3: When?

“I know people separate terumah and maasros and keep shevi’is, but why do I never hear about anyone separating bikkurim?”

Introduction

The opening words of parshas Ki Savo describe the mitzvah of bikkurim. Although most of us are familiar with some of the basics of this beautiful mitzvah, many are unaware of a lot of its details. Since we pray three times a day that Hashem rebuild the Beis Hamikdash where we will again be able to fulfill this mitzvah, we should be fully prepared and know all about the observance of bikkurim. In addition, we want to comprehend the parsha thoroughly, fulfill the mitzvah of Talmud Torah by understanding this mitzvah, and grow from internalizing the hashkafos associated with it. So, our task for today’s article is clearly defined.

According to the Rambam and the Sefer Hachinuch, there are actually three different mitzvos involved in performing bikkurim. The first is the mitzvah of separating the bikkurim and bringing them to the Beis Hamikdash. The second is reciting parshas bikkurim, the special reading that the Torah records at the beginning of parshas Ki Savo, and the third is a lo saaseh, a negative commandment, that the kohein may not eat bikkurim outside Yerushalayim. In the course of this article, we will discuss some of the details of all three of these mitzvos.

Here are the basics: When the first produce of the seven fruits — wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates — begins ripening, the owner/farmer marks the ripening fruit.  (I know that someone is going to criticize my calling wheat and barley “fruits,” since you will not find them in the produce department of your local supermarket. However, if you check your dictionary, you will see that wheat and barley kernels are indeed “fruits.” This explains why the Mishnah frequently refers to them as peiros.) This applies only if the farmer is working his inherited land in Eretz Yisroel, the land that his ancestors received when the land was divided among the tribes under the rule of Yehoshua.

Marking the bikkurim

The Mishnah describes how the farmer ties a ribbon or other marker around the first blossoming fruits, so that he can later ascertain which ones are his bikkurim. When the farmer marks these young, immature fruits, he declares them to be bikkurim. This declaration creates the fruit’s sanctity, its kedusha, and we will soon explain the ramifications of this kedusha. Rather than tie a ribbon around the bikkurim, the farmer may mark them in a different way, if he prefers (Peirush Hamishnayos of Rambam) — tying something to it is merely a suggestion, so that he will know which fruit he declared as bikkurim.

On to Yerushalayim!!

When the bikkurim complete ripening, the farmer places them in a basket, and, as the Torah states, he takes them to “the Place where Hashem chose to associate His Name.” Until the building of the Beis Hamikdash, the farmer brought the fruits to the Mishkan. Afterwards, he brought them to the Beis Hamikdash, as our farmers will again do when the Moshiach comes. As we will soon see, to execute this mitzvah fully, the farmer must be completely tahor, something that, unfortunately, we cannot achieve today, until we again have ashes of the parah adumah available.

The Mishnah describes the bringing of the bikkurim as a very elaborate procession, beginning at the farmer’s home village and continuing all the way to the Beis Hamikdash. “How did they bring the bikkurim? All the towns that were part of the same ma’amad (a type of district) would gather to the capital of the ma’amad.”

What is the ma’amad? In the Beis Hamikdash, there were regular shifts, not only of kohanim to perform the service, and Levi’im to serve as honor guards and doormen and to sing while the korbanos were offered, but also shifts of Yisroelim, who were called the men of the ma’amad, whose job was to pray on behalf of the rest of the Jewish people while the korbanos were being offered.

The Mishnah (Bikkurim 3:2) describes the pilgrims gathering together in the capital city of their ma’amad so that they would collectively bring their bikkurim together. During their trip to Yerushalayim, they did not enter anyone’s house, to make sure that they not become tamei, which would adversely affect their plans to bring the bikkurim. To quote the Mishnah, “They would sleep in the city street, and not enter any house. Early the next morning, the appointed head would announce: ‘Rise, and let us head towards Tziyon, to the House of Hashem, our G-d!’” paraphrasing a posuk in Yirmiyohu (31:5). For their entire journey to Yerushalayim, which might take weeks, the pilgrims bringing the bikkurim would sleep in the streets or parks of the towns they visited along the way.

The Mishnah continues: “Those people who brought their bikkurim from nearby brought fresh figs and grapes, whereas those who lived at a distance…” processed these two species into dried figs and raisins and brought them as bikkurim that way. Otherwise, by the time they arrived the fruit would not look nice, which would diminish the beauty of the mitzvah. For a similar reason, the Mishnah (Bikkurim 1:3) reports that bikkurim were not brought from areas in which the fruit is inferior, such as from date trees that grow in the mountains or inferior olive orchards.

The procession continues…

“An ox led the way, its horns overlaid with gold and a diadem of olive branches on its head, with a flutist playing ahead of the pilgrims’ procession.” This parade continued until they neared Yerushalayim. When the procession reached the outskirts of Yerushalayim, they halted temporarily, and the flute stopped playing (Mishnah Rishonah). The pilgrims sent a message ahead of them that they were about to arrive, and then decorated their bikkurim. Once the message of the pilgrims’ imminent arrival was received in the Beis Hamikdash, the officers, associates and treasurers of the Beis Hamikdash went out to greet them, at which time, the procession, with the flutist leading the way, continued towards the Holy City. When they entered the city of Yerushalayim, all the craftsmen working in the city would stand up for them as the Bikkurim-laden pilgrims passed through the city, and greet them: “Our brothers, from such-and-such a place, Come in Peace!” (Bikkurim 3:3).

“The flute continued to play until they reached the Har Habayis (the Temple Mount). When they reached the Har Habayis, even King Agrippas (should he have been one of the pilgrims, and certainly everyone else) placed his basket on his own shoulder and continued walking until they reached the Azarah, the courtyard of the Beis Hamikdash. When they reached the Azarah, the Levi’im began singing the words of Tehillim 30:2, Aromimcha Hashem, I praise you Hashem…” (Bikkurim 3:4).

Upon bringing the bikkurim to the Beis Hamikdash, the farmer makes a lengthy declaration, which is stated verbatim in the Torah. The recital of this declaration fulfills a separate mitzvah of the Torah, and is one of the ritual recitations that must be stated in the original Hebrew words of the Torah, as ruled by the Mishnah (Sotah 32a).

We are very familiar with the declaration of the pilgrim bringing his bikkurim, since the Sifrei on it forms the basic structure of our haggadah on Pesach, as required by the Mishnah. At the seder, after the son asks the four questions, “the father exposits from the words, Arami oveid avi, an Aramean wanted to destroy my father, until he completes explaining midrashically the entire passage” (Mishnah, Pesachim 116a).

The kohein and the owner perform some acts of avodah with the bikkurim in the Beis Hamikdash. After these are performed, the bikkurim are divided among the kohanim who are on duty that day.

Bikkurim have the halachic status of terumah

Because the Torah, in parshas Re’eih (Devorim 12:17), refers to bikkurim as terumas yadecha, the terumah in your hand, they have the same halachic status as terumah (Bikkurim 2:1). Like terumah, bikkurim are the property of the kohein. They are given to him as one of the 24 gifts of the kohanim, called matanos kehunah, that the Torah awards him for this service in the Beis Hamikdash and to the Jewish people. It should be noted that the primary purpose of these 24 gifts seems more for the Yisroel who is donating than for the kohein. It requires the Yisroel to have a regular, ongoing relationship with kohanim, which thereby helps to foster a rebbe-talmid relationship between a farmer, wherever he lives and works, and someone who can be totally committed to learning and teaching Torah.

Terumah and bikkurim may not be eaten by anyone except a kohein and his immediate family, that is, his wife and children, with the exception of his daughters who have married non-kohanim who may no longer eat them. In addition, bikkurim and terumah may also be eaten by the non-Jewish slaves of a kohein who have the halachic status of eved Cana’ani, which means that they accepted upon themselves that they will observe most mitzvos of the Torah and immersed in a mikveh to achieve the sanctity that this status entails.

Prior to eating terumah or bikkurim, the kohein recites a brocha, Boruch Atta Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam, asher kideshanu bikedushaso shel Aharon, vetzivanu al achilas terumah. (Some have the text vetzivanu le’echol terumah.) Blessed are You Hashem, our G-d, King of the Universe, Who sanctified us with holiness of Aharon and commanded us concerning the eating of terumah (see Rambam, Hilchos Bikkurim, 1:2). The beginning of this brocha sounds somewhat familiar to us because it is identical to the beginning of the brocha that the kohanim recite prior to duchening. Unfortunately, duchening is the only mitzvah that a kohein performs today in his special role. (The mitzvah of pidyon haben is not performed by the kohein, but by the father.) However, when we are again tahor and the Beis Hamikdash is rebuilt, this style of brocha will again be recited frequently, since brochos that begin with asher kideshanu bikedushaso shel Aharon will be recited by kohanim prior to eating terumah, bikkurim and korbanos. According to some authorities, these brochos are also recited prior to a kohein donning the bigdei kehunah, the special vestments that he wears when performing the service in the Beis Hamikdash (Artzos Hachayim, Eretz Yehudah 18:1, page 81b).

There is a dispute among halachic authorities whether a kohein’s wife recites this brocha before she eats terumah or bikkurim. The Mishnah Rishonah (Terumos 8:1) and others rule that she recites the brocha (Kovetz He’aros #47; Imrei Moshe 13:3), the Yeshuos Malko (Hilchos Bikkurim 1:2)is inclined that she does not, and the Derech Emunah (Terumos 15:145, 7:18 Biur Hahalacha, Bikkurim 1:8; see also Tzelach, beginning of Brochos) rules definitely that she does not, unless she herself is the daughter of a kohein.

Inedible bikkurim

Bikkurim share with several other agricultural mitzvah products — including terumah, shevi’is, and maaser sheini — many halachos concerning how they may be eaten and that it is forbidden to ruin them. Nevertheless, should they become inedible, they lose their special sanctity. For this reason, there is no halachic problem with using hair shampoo that includes oats or wheat germ that were originally terumah, shevi’is, or maaser sheini, since the mixing of the other ingredients makes them unappealing to the human palate, notwithstanding that it is prohibited to use terumah, shevi’is, or maaser sheini as an ingredient in shampoo.

More than terumah

Bikkurim actually have greater sanctity than does terumah, since terumah may be eaten anywhere, whereas bikkurim, similar to korbanos, may be eaten only within the walls of the halachic old city of Yerushalayim (Rambam, Hilchos Bikkurim 1:3, based on Tosefta, Challah 2:8). (The current walls of Yerushalayim have little to do with where the halachic old city was, but include areas that are outside the halachic old city and exclude areas that are halachically considered to be inside Yerushalayim for purposes of korbanos and bikkurim, such as the area today called Silwan or Ir David.)

Bikkurim are more stringent than terumah in that an onein, someone who has just lost a close relative, is not permitted to eat bikkurim, although he may eat terumah (Bikkurim 2:2).

Like terumah, bikkurim may be eaten only when the person eating them is completely tahor. If the bikkurim become tamei by contact with someone or something that is tamei, they are invalidated, just like terumah, and may not be eaten. If bikkurim or terumah become tamei min haTorah, they must be burnt, and not destroyed or disposed of in a different way. After they are burnt, there is no remaining sanctity to the ashes, and they can be used for fertilizer or any other purpose (Mishnah Temurah 33b).

Bikkurim leniencies

There are several leniencies that apply to bikkurim. For example, the responsibility of separating bikkurim rests only when the farmer owns the land, but not to a sharecropper, tenant, or squatter (Bikkurim 2:3).

If the farmer/owner fails to separate or declare product as bikkurim, the crop remains perfectly kosher for anyone to consume, including its first fruits. This halacha is quite different from terumah, in which the crop may not be eaten until terumos and maasros have been separated.

As mentioned above, bikkurim applies only to the seven fruits for which Eretz Yisroel is praised, unlike terumos and maasros, which apply to all produce grown in Eretz Yisroel.

The requirement to separate bikkurim applies only to the land that was promised to Avraham Avinu, and does not apply min haTorah to the part of Eretz Yisroel east of the Jordan River, nor to the area called Syria that Dovid Hamelech conquered (Rambam, Hilchos Bikkurim 2:1). Miderabbanan it was applied to these two areas, but Chazal did not extend the mitzvah to the areas outside Eretz Yisroel. This is different from the mitzvos of terumos and maasros, which apply miderabbanan not only to all these areas but also to the border countries near Eretz Yisroel, such as Egypt, Amon and Moav (Rambam, Hilchos Terumos 1:1).

Thus, at this point, we can answer our opening question: “Is there an obligation to bring bikkurim from the Golan?”

The answer is that min haTorah, there is an obligation to bring bikkurim only from the “Promised Land” areas of Eretz Yisroel, which are those west of the Jordan River. However, miderabbanan there is a requirement to bring them from the eastern side of the Jordan, but only when the land there produces quality fruit.

Bikkurim on lemons?

At this point, we can address the second of our opening questions: “Must I separate bikkurim from my lemon tree?”

The answer is that the mitzvah of bikkurim, applies only to the seven fruits for which the posuk praises Eretz Yisroel, which does not include lemons.

Other differences between bikkurim and terumah

The Mishnah (Bikkurim 2:4) records several other halachic differences between bikkurim and terumah: For example, there is no minimal requirement concerning how much to set aside for bikkurim, whereas maaser must be a tenth of the produce, and terumas maaser, which is taken from maaser, must be one hundredth of the produce.

Here are several other distinctions between terumah and bikkurim. Whereas one cannot declare his entire field to be terumah, there is no such law regarding bikkurim. Should a farmer want to, he could declare his entire field to be bikkurim.

Another difference is that the sanctity of terumah cannot be created until the produce is harvested. This is different from bikkurim, where the sanctity is created when the farmer declares the blossoming fruit to be bikkurim, even though it is still growing!

There are several laws that must be observed when the bikkurim are offered, which do not exist regarding terumah. For example, there is a requirement to offer a korban shelamim upon arriving in the Beis Hamikdash with bikkurim. There is a mitzvah to accompany the bringing of the bikkurim with song. The pilgrims who bring the bikkurim to the Beis Hamikdash are required to remain in Yerushalayim overnight, after offering them. None of these requirements exists in regard to terumah, which is not even brought to Yerushalayim, but given to the local kohein of the farmer’s choice.

Conclusion

Obviously, one reason for bringing bikkurim is to express our gratitude to Hashem that not only did He give us Eretz Yisrael, but He also provided us with delicious fruits, as evidenced in the viduy bikkurim, the declaration that the Torah puts in the mouth of the grateful pilgrim. Yet, the parsha extends the declaration of thanks to include praising Hashem for foiling Lavan’s evil plans to destroy Yaakov when he pursued him (Rashi, Devorim 26:5). The declaration continues recapping the history of Klal Yisrael in Mitzrayim, and the miracles that He performed for us.

The Sefer Hachinuch (#606) adds another element to the mitzvah of bikkurim. He observes that there are two positive mitzvos, one of declaring the fruits to be bikkurim and bringing them to the Beis Hamikdash, and a separate mitzvah of declaring the viduy bikkurim. In explaining the reason for the second mitzvah, the Chinuch notes that there is a special requirement on the pilgrim to verbalize his thanks. It is through the power of speech that a person can awaken himself. When a person states how much Hashem blesses him, it awakens his heart to remember that everything comes from the Master of the world.