How Does Someone Convert to Judaism?

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Feeding the Birds

Question #1: Was Mom Wrong?

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

Question #2: Dog Next Door

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

Question #3: In the Zoo

“How are zoo animals fed on Shabbos?”


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

Manna on Shabbos

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

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

Like the birds

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

Birds sing

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

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

No local songbirds

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

Questionable practice

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

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

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

The original source

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

What type of dove?

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

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

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

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

Watering birds

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

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

Feeding on Yom Tov

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

Dogs versus pigs

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

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

Only my dog?

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

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

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

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

Which way do we rule?

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

Nextdoor dog

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

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

The custom on Shabbos Shirah

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


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

Shaking out the tablecloth

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

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

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


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

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

Redeeming a Firstborn Donkey!

As a cohen, I often participate in the mitzvah of pidyon
, redeeming a firstborn male child, a bechor; but I have never been
asked to participate in redeeming a firstborn donkey, in Hebrew called petter

The Torah mentions this mitzvah in three different places.

(1) In Parshas Bo, the pasuk says: Every
firstborn donkey, you shall redeem with a “seh,” and if you do not
redeem it, you should break its neck. Furthermore, the firstborn of your
children, you shall also redeem (Shemos 13:13). (I will explain later
why I did not translate the world “seh.”)

(2) The pasuk repeats the same commandment almost verbatim in Parshas Ki Sissa (Shemos 34:20).

(3) In Parshas Korach, the
Torah states: And the firstborn of a non-kosher animal you shall redeem (Bamidbar
18:15). Although this third verse does not mention specifically that
it refers to a donkey, the halacha is that it refer exclusively to donkeys.
There is no mitzvah to redeem a firstborn colt, camel, or puppy (Tosefta,


As mentioned above, the Torah commands the owner of a
firstborn male donkey to redeem him by giving the cohen a seh, a
word we usually translate as lamb. However, the word seh in the
Torah does not mean only a lamb, but includes a kid goat (Mishnah Bechoros 9a).
(In the mitzvah of Korban Pesach, Shemos 12:5, the Torah mentions
this explicitly.) In actuality, one fulfills this mitzvah by giving the cohen
either a sheep or a goat to redeem the donkey – whether they are young or
mature, male or female (Mishnah Bechoros 9a). Furthermore, there is an
alternative way to fulfill the mitzvah — by redeeming the donkey with anything
that is worth at least as much as the donkey (Bechoros 11a). However, if
the owner redeems the donkey with a sheep or goat, he fulfills the mitzvah,
even though the sheep or goat is worth far less than the donkey (Rambam,
Hilchos Bikkurim

As we saw above, the Torah mentions the mitzvah of pidyon haben immediately after discussing the mitzvah of redeeming the firstborn donkey. Based on this juxtaposition of the two mitzvos, Chazal made several comparisons between them. For example, just as the mitzvah of pidyon haben applies only to a male child, so, too, the mitzvah of petter chamor applies only to a firstborn male donkey and not to a female. Similarly, just as the child of a cohen or levi is exempt from the mitzvah of pidyon haben, so, too, a donkey that is owned (or even partially owned) by a cohen or levi is exempt from the mitzvah of petter chamor (see Mishnah Bechoros 3b). And just as a newborn child whose mother is the daughter of a cohen or a levi is exempt from the mitzvah of pidyon haben, so, too, a donkey that is owned or even partially owned by the daughter of a cohen or a levi is exempt from the mitzvah of petter chamor (Shu”t HaRashba 1:366). This is true even if the bas cohen or bas levi is married to a yisroel (Rema, Yoreh Deah 321:19).

Thus, a yisroel who owns a donkey that is pregnant for the first time could avoid performing the mitzvah of petter chamor by selling a percentage of the pregnant donkey or a percentage of her fetus to a cohen,a levi,a bas cohen or a bas levi. He could even avoid the mitzvah by selling a percentage to his own wife, if she is a bas cohen or a bas levi. However, in order to perform this transaction in a halachically correct fashion, he should consult with a rav.

This is assuming that he wants to avoid the opportunity to
perform a mitzvah and save himself a few dollars. However, a Torah-observant
Jew welcomes the opportunity to observe every mitzvah he can, and certainly a
rare one. (How many people do you know who have fulfilled the mitzvah of petter
? Wouldn’t you want to be the first one on your block to have done
so?) Thus, he will try to create a chiyuv of petter chamor, not
try to avoid it. However, in the case of a different, but similar, mitzvah, we
try to avoid the mitzvah for very good reason, as we will explain.


A firstborn male calf, kid, or lamb has kedusha,
sanctity, which requires treating this animal as a korban. When the Beis
stood, the owner gave this animal to a cohen of his
choice, who offered it as a korban and ate its meat. Today, when,
unfortunately, we have no Beis HaMikdash, this animal still has the kedusha
of a korban, but we cannot offer it. Furthermore, as opposed to the
firstborn donkey that the owner redeems, the firstborn calf, kid, or lamb
cannot be redeemed.

This presents a serious problem. Many Jews are cattle
farmers, raising beef or dairy cattle. If a Jew owns a heifer (a young, female
cow that has not yet borne a calf) that calves for the first time, the male
offspring has the sanctity of a korban. Using it in any way is
prohibited min haTorah and is therefore a serious offense. One must wait
until the animal becomes permanently injured in a way that makes it not
serviceable as a korban, and then the animal may be slaughtered and
eaten. Until the animal becomes this severely injured, anyone who benefits from
this animal in any way will violate a serious Torah prohibition. Furthermore,
it is forbidden to injure this animal in any way or to cause it to become
blemished or damaged.

Thus, possessing a male firstborn calf, goat or lamb can be
a big problem, and could easily cause someone to violate halacha, certainly
something that we want to avoid. The method of avoiding these problems is to
sell a percentage of the mother or its fetus to a non-Jew before the
calf is born. If a non-Jew owns any part of either the mother of the firstborn
or the firstborn himself, there is no sanctity on the offspring. In this
instance, we deliberately avoid creating the kedusha on the offspring in
order to avoid a situation that may lead to undesired results. Since the animal
has kedusha that could be violated, and we cannot remove its kedusha,
we want to avoid creating this situation.


Prior to its being redeemed, a firstborn donkey has kedusha
similar to that of a korban. It is prohibited min haTorah to
use it: one may not ride on it, have it carry for you, or even use its hair.
The hair that falls off may not be used and must be burnt. Someone who uses
this donkey violates a prohibition approximately equivalent to wearing shatnez
or eating non-kosher (Rashi, Pesachim 47a s.v.
; Rivan, Makkos 21b s.v. ve’hein; cf., however,
Tosafos, Makkos
21b s.v. Hachoreish).

Until the donkey is redeemed, one
may not sell it, although some poskim permit selling it for the
difference between the value of the donkey and a sheep (Rosh,
1:11; Tur and Rema, Yoreh Deah 321:8). Many poskim
contend that if the donkey is sold, the money may not be used (Rambam,
Hilchos Bikkurim
12:4; Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 321:8).


If the donkey is unredeemed, it maintains its kedusha
its entire life! Thus, if it dies unredeemed, the carcass must be buried to
make sure that no one ever uses it. We may not even burn it, because of concern
that someone might use its ashes, which remain prohibited (Mishnah Temurah

Furthermore, by not redeeming it, the owner violated the
mitzvah that requires him to redeem it.

Have you ever ridden a donkey? Although it is uncommon to
ride them in North America, in Eretz Yisroel this is not an unusual form
of entertainment. Did you stop to wonder whether the donkey might be a
firstborn and riding it is prohibited?

One need not be concerned. Since most of the donkeys of the
world are not firstborn, one does not need to assume that this donkey is.
Truthfully, the likelihood of a donkey being holy is very slim for another
reason — most donkeys are owned by non-Jews, and a non-Jew’s firstborn donkey
has no sanctity, as we explained before.


Once the firstborn donkey is redeemed, both he and the lamb
used to redeem him have no kedusha at all. In this halacha, petter
is an anomalous mitzvah. In all other cases when we redeem an item
that may not be used, the kedusha is transferred to the redeeming item.
Only in the mitzvah of petter chamor does the kedusha disappear,
never to return. It is almost as if the kedusha that was on the donkey
vanished into thin air!


What is the halacha if the owner refuses to redeem his

As we know from the Torah, there is another option. If the
owner chooses not to redeem his firstborn donkey, he could instead perform the arifah,
in which he kills the firstborn donkey in a specific prescribed way. The Torah
does not want the owner to follow this approach — he is supposed to redeem the
donkey, rather than kill it (Mishnah Bechoros 13a). The Rishonim
dispute whether performing the arifah fulfills a mitzvah or, instead, is
considered an aveirah (see dispute between Rambam and Raavad in
Hilchos Bikkurim 12:1).


In this halacha, there is a major difference between the
mitzvah of pidyon haben and the mitzvah of petter chamor. The father
of a newborn bechor does not perform the mitzvah of pidyon haben
until his son is at least thirty days old. However, the owner of the firstborn
donkey should redeem
him within the first 30 days of its birth, and should preferably perform the
mitzvah as soon as possible (Rambam, Hilchos Bikkurim 12:6; Shulchan
Aruch, Yoreh Deah


There are actually two stages in performing the mitzvah of petter
although the two can be performed simultaneously. For our purposes,
we will call the two steps, (a) the redeeming and (b) the giving. In the
redeeming step, the owner takes a lamb, kid, or something else worth at least
as much as the donkey, and states that he is redeeming the donkey in exchange
for the redemption item. Prior to making this statement, the owner recites a bracha,
Asher kideshanu bemitzvosav vetzivanu al pidyon petter chamor
11a; Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 321:6). He then states that he is exchanging
the lamb or other item for the kedusha of the donkey. As soon as he
performs this exchange, the sanctity is removed from the petter chamor and
one may use the donkey (Mishnah Bechoros 12b).

In the giving step, the owner gives the lamb (or the item
exchanged for the donkey) to the cohen as a gift. The owner has the right to decide to which cohen he
gives the gift (see Rambam, Hilchos Bechoros 1:15). No bracha
is recited on this step of the mitzvah, and there is much discussion in poskim
regarding why this is so (Taz, Yoreh Deah 321:7).

Although there are two different parts of this mitzvah —
redeeming the kedusha from the firstborn and giving the gift to the cohen
— both parts of this mitzvah can be performed simultaneously, by giving the
lamb (or items of value) to the cohen and telling him that this is
redemption for the donkey. When redeeming the donkey this way, the owner does
recite a bracha.

Now, what does the cohen do with the lamb? He does
not need to leave it tied to a bedpost in his apartment, nor have it graze in
his backyard. He may sell it, should he choose, or can have it converted into
lamb or goat chops!


Why was the donkey an exception? Why is this the only one of
the non-kosher species whose firstborn carries kedusha?

The Gemara teaches that this is a reward for the donkey.
When the Bnei Yisroel left Egypt, the Egyptians gave us many gifts (see Shemos
11:2-3; 12:35-36). The Bnei Yisroel needed to transport all these
gifts out of Egypt and through the Desert to Eretz Yisroel. They could
not simply call Allied Van Lines to ship their belongings. Instead, they used
Donkey Lines, who performed this service for forty years, without complaint or
fanfare! In reward for the donkeys’ providing the Bnei Yisroel with a
very necessary shipping service, the Torah endowed the firstborn of this
species with sanctity (Bechoros 5b). Hashem rewarded the donkey with its
very own special kedusha.

Thus, this mitzvah teaches us the importance of hakaras
, acknowledging when someone helps us. We acknowledge donkeys, because
their ancestors performed kindness for us. If we are required to appreciate the
help given to our ancestors thousands of years ago, how much more do we need to
exhibit hakaras hatov to our parents, teachers, and spouses for all that
they have done and do for us!

The Crisis of Unwashed Meat

All the water in Egypt turned to blood. We also use
water as part of the process in removing blood from meat, and, therefore, this
week we will discuss:

Photo by Ove Tøpfer from FreeImages

Devorah calls me: “During our summer vacation, I
entered a butcher shop that has reliable supervision and noticed a sign on the
wall, ‘We sell washed and unwashed meat.’ This seemed very strange: Would
anyone eat unwashed meat? Besides, isn’t all meat washed as part of the
koshering process? What did the sign mean?”

Michael asked me: “Someone asked me if I have any
problem with the kashrus of frozen meat. What can possibly be wrong with
frozen meat?”

Answer: We
should be aware that, although today we usually have a steady supply of kosher
meat with all possible hiddurim, sometimes circumstances are more
difficult. This is where “washed meat” and “frozen meat” may enter the picture,
both terms referring to specific cases whose kashrus is subject to halachic

Knowing that Devorah enjoys stories, I told her an
anecdote that illustrates what can happen when kosher choices are slim.

I was once rabbi in a community that has memorable
winters. Our city was often covered with snow by Sukkos and, in some years,
it was still snowing in May. There were several times that we could not use the
sukkah without clearing snow off the schach, something my
Yerushalmi neighbors find hard to comprehend.

One short erev Shabbos, the weather was
unusually inclement, even for our region of the country; the major interstate
highway and all secondary “state routes” were closed because of a blizzard. The
locals called this weather “whiteout” — referring not to a fluid for
correcting errors, but to the zero visibility created by the combination of
wind and snow.

Fortunately, I lived around the corner from shul
and was able to navigate my way back and forth by foot. Our house, too, was – baruch
Hashem –
sufficiently stocked to get through Shabbos.

About a half-hour before Shabbos, in the midst of our
last minute preparations, the telephone rang:

“Is this Rabbi Kaganoff?” inquired an unfamiliar
female voice. I responded affirmatively, though somewhat apprehensive. People
do not call with shaylos late Friday afternoon, unless it is an
emergency. What new crisis would this call introduce? Perhaps I was lucky and
this was simply a damsel in distress inquiring about the kashrus of her cholent,
or one who had just learned that her crock pot may fail to meet proper Shabbos
standards. Hoping that the emergency was no more severe, I listened

“Rabbi Kaganoff, I was given your phone number in case
of emergency.” I felt the first knots in my stomach. What emergency was this
when I hoped to momentarily head out to greet the Shabbos queen? Was someone,
G-d forbid, caught in the storm? I was certainly unprepared for the continuing

“I am a dispatcher for the All-American Transport
Company,” she continued. “We have a load of kosher meat held up by the storm
that needs to be washed by 11 p.m. Saturday.” My caller, located somewhere in
the Nebraska Corn Belt, was clearly more familiar with halachos of
kosher meat than she was with the ramifications of calling a frum household
minutes before candle lighting. Although I was very curious how All-American
had located me, a potential Lone Washer in the Wilderness, the hour of the week
required expedition, not curiosity. Realizing that, under stress, one’s tone of
voice can create a kiddush Hashem or, G-d forbid, the opposite, I
politely asked if she could call me back in about 25 hours, which would still
be several hours before the meat’s deadline. I guess that she assumed that it
would take me that long to dig my car out.

Later, I determined the meat’s ultimate destination, a
place we will call Faroutof Town, information that ultimately proved
highly important.

Why was a Nebraska truck dispatcher calling to arrange
the washing of kosher meat? Before returning to our meat stalled at the side of
the highway, I need to provide some halachic background.


In several places, the Torah commands that we may not
eat blood, but only meat. Of course, blood is the efficient transporter of
nutrients to the muscles and permeates the animal’s flesh while it is still alive.
If so, how do we extract the prohibited blood from the permitted meat?

Chazal gave
us two methods of removing blood from meat. One is by soaking and salting the
meat, and the other is by broiling it. In practical terms, the first approach,
usually referred to simply as “kashering meat,” involves soaking the
meat for thirty minutes, shaking off the water, salting the meat thoroughly on
all sides, and then allowing the blood to drain freely for an hour. At the end
of this process, the meat is rinsed thoroughly to wash away all the blood and
salt. Indeed, Devorah is correct that the salting of all meat involves several
washings. She was correct in assuming that the sign she saw in the butcher’s
shop did not refer to these washings, but to a different washing that I will
soon explain.


An alternative method of extracting blood from meat is
by broiling it. This is the only halachically accepted method of
removing blood from liver. In this approach, the liver is sliced or slit to
allow its blood to run out, the surface blood is rinsed off and the liver is
placed under or over a flame to broil in a way that allows the blood to drain
freely. Accepted practice is that we sprinkle a small amount of salt on the
liver immediately prior to broiling it (Rema, Yoreh Deah 73:5).

it is perfectly acceptable to broil any meat, rather than soak and salt it.
However, on a commercial level, customers want to purchase raw meat and,
therefore, the usual method used for kosher cuisine is soaking and salting. For
most of mankind’s history, kashering meat was performed at home, but
contemporaneously, the properly supervised butcher or other commercial facility
almost universally performs it.

Although this explains why one must kasher meat
before serving it, we still do not know why Ms. Nebraska was so concerned that
her meat be washed en route.


The Geonim enacted that meat must be salted
within seventy-two hours of its shechitah. They contended that, after
three days, blood inside the meat hardens and is no longer extractable through
soaking and salting. Should meat not be soaked and salted within 72 hours, they
ruled that only broiling successfully removes the blood. Of course, if one does
not want to eat broiled meat, this last suggestion will not satisfy one’s
culinary preferences.

Is there any way to extend the 72 hours?

The authorities discuss this question extensively.
Most contend that one may extend the time if the meat is soaked thoroughly for
a while during the 72 hours (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 69:13, see Taz
ad loc.), although some permit this only under extenuating circumstances (Toras
, quoted by Shach 69:53). On the other hand, some authorities
rule that even a minor rinsing extends the 72 hours (Shu”t Masas Binyamin #108).
It became standard to refer to meat that was washed to extend its time by the
Yiddish expression, gegosena fleisch, hence the literal English
translation, washed meat.

Also, bear in mind that this soaking helps only when
the meat was soaked within 72 hours of its slaughter. Once 72 hours have passed
without a proper soaking, only broiling will remove the blood. If the meat was
soaked thoroughly, those who accept this heter allow a delay to kasher
the meat for another 72 hours. If one is unable to kasher it by
then, one can re-soak it again to further extend its 72 hours.


At this point in my monologue, Devorah interrupted
with a question:

“You mentioned soaking the meat and extending its time
for three more days. But the sign called it ‘washed meat,’ not soaked meat.
There is a big difference between washing something and soaking it.”

“Yes, you are raising a significant issue. Although
most early authorities only mention ‘soaking’ meat, it became common practice
to wash the meat instead, a practice that many authorities disputed (Pischei
Teshuvah, Yoreh Deah
69:28; Darkei Teshuvah 69:231- 237). There are
also many different standards of what is called ‘washing’ the meat. Some hechsherim
permit meat that was not salted within seventy-two hours of its shechitah
by having the meat hosed down before this time elapsed. Some spray a light mist
over the meat and assume that the meat is ‘washed,’ or simply take a wet rag
and wipe down the outside of the meat.”

“Why would anyone do that?” inquired Devorah.

“In general, people like to save work and water, and
soaking properly a whole side of beef is difficult and uses a lot of water. In
addition, if one hoses meat while it is on a truck, the water may damage the
truck, whereas it is even more work to remove the meat from the truck. But if
one does not hose the meat properly, most authorities prohibit it.”

At this point, we can understand why Ms. Nebraska was
concerned about the washing of the meat. She knew that if the meat went 72
hours without being hosed, the rabbis would reject the delivery as non-kosher.
During my brief conversation, I asked her if she knew the last time the meat
was washed. “It was last washed 11 p.m. Wednesday and needs re-washing by 11
p.m. Saturday,” she dutifully notified me.

At this point, I noted to Devorah that we now had
enough information to address her question. “The sign in the butcher shop
stating that they sell washed meat means that they sell meat that was not kashered
within 72 hours of slaughter, but was washed sometime before the 72 hours ran
out. It does not tell us how they washed the meat, but it is safe to assume
that they did not submerge it in water. If they were following a higher
standard, they hosed the meat on all sides until it was soaking wet. If they
followed a different standard, hopefully, they still did whatever their rav
ruled. Since you told me that it was a reliable hechsher, presumably
they hosed the meat thoroughly.”

I then asked Devorah if she wanted to hear the rest of
the blizzard story. As I suspected, she did – and so I return to our snowed-in


By Motza’ei Shabbos the entire region was in
the grip of a record-breaking blizzard. Walking the half block home from
had been highly treacherous. There was no way in the world I was going
anywhere that night, nor anyone else I could imagine.

At the very moment I had told the dispatcher I could
be reached, the telephone rang. A different, unfamiliar voice identified itself
as the driver of the stuck truck. His vehicle was exactly where it had been
Friday afternoon, stranded not far from the main highway.

The driver told me the already-familiar story about
his load of kosher meat, and his instructions to have the meat washed before 11
p.m., if his trip was delayed.

There was little I could do for either the driver or
the meat, a fact I found frustrating. Out of desperation, I called my most
trusted mashgiach, Yaakov, who lived a little closer to the scene of the
non-action. Yaakov was an excellent employee, always eager to work whenever
there was a job opportunity.  I explained the situation to him.

“Rabbi,” responded Yaakov, “I was just out in this
storm. Not this time. Sorry.”

I was disappointed. Not that I blamed Yaakov in the
slightest. It was sheer insanity to go anywhere in this storm. In fact, I was a
bit surprised at myself for taking the matter so seriously. After all, it was
only a load of meat.

With no good news to tell the trucker, I was not
exactly enthusiastic about calling him back. I hate to be the bearer of bad
tidings. So I procrastinated, rather than tell the trucker he should sit back
and wait for his kosher meat to expire.

An hour later, the phone rang again, with Mr. Trucker on
the line. “Rabbi,” he told me, with obvious excitement in his voice, “I’ve
solved the problem.” I was highly curious to find out where he located an
Orthodox Jew in the middle of a blizzard in the middle of nowhere. For a
fleeting moment, I envisioned a frum Jew stranded nearby and shuddered
at the type of Shabbos he must have experienced.

The trucker’s continuing conversation brought me back
to the reality of the unwashed meat.

“Well, Rabbi,” he exclaimed with the exhilaration
Columbus’s lookout must have felt upon spotting land, “I discovered that I was
stranded a few thousand feet from a fire station. And now, all the meat has
been properly hosed. Listen to this letter.” The trucker proceeded to read me
the documentation of his successful find:

“On Saturday evening, the 22nd of January,
at exactly 9:25 pm, I personally oversaw the successful washing of a kosher
load of meat loaded on trailer 186CX and tractor 2008PR. To this declaration, I
do solemnly lend my signature and seal,

“James P. O’Donald, Fire Chief, Lincoln Fire Station

Probably noticing my momentary hesitation, the trucker
continues, “Rabbi, do I need to have this letter notarized?”

“No, I am sure that won’t be necessary,” I replied. I
was not about to tell the driver that halachah requires that a Torah
observant Jew supervise the washing of the meat. On the contrary, I
complimented him on his diligence and his tremendous sense of responsibility.

At this point, I had a bit of halachic
responsibility on my hands. Since I knew the meat’s ultimate destination, I
needed to inform the rav in Faroutof Townof the situation.

I was able to reach the Faroutofer Rav, Rabbi
Oncelearned. “I just want to notify you that your city will shortly receive a
load of meat that was washed under the supervision of the ‘Fire Station K.’”
Rabbi Oncelearned had never heard of the “Fire Station K” supervision and asked
if I was familiar with this hechsher. I told him the whole story and we
had a good laugh. I felt good that I had supplied Rabbi Oncelearned with
accurate information and prepared him for the meat’s arrival. After all, it
would be his learned decision that would rule once the meat arrived in town.


Of course, Rabbi Oncelearned now had his own
predicament: Would he have to reject the town’s entire order of kosher meat,
incurring the wrath of hungry customers and undersupplied butchers? Or could he
figure out a legitimate way to permit the meat?

There was, indeed, a halachic basis to permit
the meat under the extenuating circumstances because of a different heter,
but not because of the Lincoln fire station hose.


It is common that meat is slaughtered quite a distance
from where it is consumed – such as slaughtering it in South America and
shipping it frozen to Israel. Today, all mehadrin supervisions arrange
that meat shipped this way is kosher butchered (called trabering)and
kashered before it is frozen and shipped. This is a tremendous boon to
proper kashrus, but it is a relatively recent innovation. Initially, these
meats were shipped frozen and, upon reaching their destination several weeks
later, they were thawed, trabered and kashered. Thus, the
question developed whether this meat was fit to eat, since it arrived weeks
after its slaughter.

In truth, earlier halachic authorities had
already debated whether meat frozen for 72 hours can still be kashered by
salting, some contending that this meat can only be broiled (Minchas Yaakov,
Responsum #14 at end, quoted by Be’er Heiteiv 69:8; Pri Megadim,
Sifsei Daas
69:60), whereas others ruled that deep freezing prevents the
blood from hardening (Aruch Hashulchan, Yoreh Deah 69:79; Yad Yehudah
69:59; Shu”t Yabia Omer 2:YD:4 and Shu”t Yechaveh Daas 6:46).
Some frowned on making such arrangements lechatchilah, but ruled that kashering
frozen meat is acceptable under extenuating circumstances (Shu”t Igros
Moshe, Yoreh Deah
1:27; 2:21).

Rabbi Oncelearned consulted with a posek who
reasoned that since the truck had been stuck in a major blizzard,
unquestionably the meat had been frozen solid, and that they could rely on this
to kasher the meat after it thawed out. Thus, the firemen’s hose was
used for naught, but I never told them. Please help me keep it a secret.

Someone meticulous about kashrus plans trips in
advance to know what hechsherim and kashrus situations he may
encounter. When in doubt what to do, one’s rav is available for guidance
how to handle the situation.

Assembling Portable Cribs and Adjusting Shtenders on Shabbos

Since the parsha tells us that the Jews were enslaved
to perform many construction projects, this is an appropriate week to analyze
the halachos of construction on Shabbos.

Question #1: I am having a lot of company for Shabbos
and we have a small house. On Friday night, I would like to remove the extra
leaves from the table and then set up the “portacrib” in the space that
creates, and then, in the morning, fold up the crib and put the table leaves
back. May I do this on Shabbos?

Question #2: The lens fell out of my eyeglasses on Shabbos.
May I pop it back in?

Question #3: I have an adjustable shtender that I
usually leave at the same height. May I adjust it on Shabbos?

Question #4: The house is very crowded and stuffy because we
are celebrating a kiddush. May I remove a door or a window to allow some
additional ventilation? (I was asked this shaylah in Israel where doors
and windows are hinged in a way that they are easily removable.)

Question #5: May I remove the pieces of glass from a broken
window on Shabbos?

Before discussing these shaylos, we need to explain
the halachos of construction on Shabbos, and how they apply to
movable items such as household furnishings and accessories.


Boneh, building or constructing, is one of the 39 melachos
of Shabbos. Included in this melacha is performing any type of
home repair or enhancement, even only a minor repair (see Shabbos 102b).
Thus, it is prohibited min haTorah to hammer a nail into a wall in order
to hang a picture (Rashi, Eruvin 102a s.v. halacha). Similarly,
one may not smooth the dirt floor of a house because this enhances the
“structure” (Shabbos 73b).

Sosair, demolishing or razing, is also one of the 39 melachos,
since the Bnei Yisroel disassembled the mishkan whenever they
moved from place to place (Shabbos 31b). Therefore, any demolition of a
building is prohibited min haTorah if the ultimate results are
beneficial, such as the razing of part of a building in order to renovate it.

If there are no benefits to the demolition, it is still
prohibited miderabbanan. Thus, wrecking the house out of anger violates Shabbos
only miderabbanan (according to most Rishonim) since there is no
positive benefit from the destruction (Pri Megadim 314:11 in Eishel
). It is prohibited min haTorah because of other reasons,
such as bal tashchis (unnecessary destruction) and being bad for one’s midos
(see Shabbos 105b).

We already have enough information to address questions #4
and #5 above, whether one may remove a window to ventilate the house and
whether one may remove pieces of glass from a broken window. It would seem that
the first case is prohibited min haTorah since it involves the melacha
of sosair for positive results. The second case may depend on whether
the removal of the broken glass is so that no one hurts himself, in which case
this might be prohibited only because of a rabbinic injunction, or whether it is
being removed as the first step in the repair, in which case it would be
prohibited min haTorah.

If the broken window is dangerous (but not life
threatening), I may ask a non-Jew to remove the broken pieces of glass.


Do the melachos of boneh and sosair apply
to movable items, keilim (sing., kli), as well, or only to
buildings? In other words, does the Torah’s prohibition refer only to something
connected to the ground, or does it include construction of a movable item?

This question is disputed in the Gemara and by the Rishonim
(Beitzah 10a). There are three basic opinions:

1. Keilim are not included in the prohibition of boneh
and sosair.

2. Keilim are totally included in the prohibition of boneh
and sosair.

3. A compromise position in which total construction or
destruction of a kli is prohibited min haTorah, but minor
improvement is not (Tosafos, Shabbos 74b and 102b). The halacha
follows this opinion (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 314:1).


Assembling or improving a kli in a way that involves
strength and skill constitutes boneh, and disassembling it involves sosair.
Therefore, it is prohibited min haTorah to assemble a piece of furniture
in a way that tightens the pieces since this involves strength and skill to do
the job properly. Similarly, replacing the handle on a hoe or other appliance
is prohibited min haTorah since it requires skill and strength to do the
job properly (Shabbos 102b).

Assembling furniture without tightening the pieces is not
prohibited min haTorah, but is prohibited miderabbanan out of
concern that one might tighten them (Tosafos, Shabbos 48a s.v. ha;
Hagahos Ashri
Shabbos 3:23). Therefore, one may not assemble a bed,
crib, or table even without tightening the pieces (Kaf Hachayim 313:63).

To review:

One may not assemble a crib on Shabbos. Assembling it
in a tight way is prohibited min haTorah, whereas assembling it without
tightening the pieces is prohibited miderabbanan since one might
assemble it tightly.

However, the halacha regarding the setting up of
portacribs is lenient, since this does not involve re-assembling. Everything
remains attached and the parts are merely straightened out. So they can
certainly be opened and closed on Shabbos.


Repairing a broken appliance on Shabbos follows the
same guidelines as assembling. Therefore it is prohibited when the repair
requires skill and strength even if one repairs it in a temporary way.

Therefore, if the leg of a bed or table fell out, one may
not reinsert it even temporarily out of concern that one might repair it
permanently (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 313:8). In this instance,
decreed that the bed or table itself becomes muktzah in order
to ensure that someone does not repair it (Rema Orach Chayim 308:16).


There are two exceptions to this rabbinic prohibition, when
one may assemble or repair an item in a non-permanent way. The first is on Yom
where the halacha is that one may use a temporary repair to fix
a furniture item for a Yom Tov need (Tosafos, Beitzah 22a; Shulchan
Aruch Orach Chayim
519:2, Magen Avraham and Gra ad loc.).


A leg fell off the table on Yom Tov. Repairing the
table in a proper way is prohibited min haTorah, and therefore on Shabbos
I may not even reinsert the leg into the table in a temporary way.  On Yom
, however, I may reinsert the leg without performing a proper repair, if
this is the most convenient table to use.


If the broken or disassembled item is usually repaired or
assembled without strength or skill, I may repair it in a temporary fashion. Chazal
did not forbid this since it is unlikely that it will cause any Torah violation
(Shabbos 47b with Tosafos).


In the time of the Gemara there existed a type of bed
called “a coppersmiths’ bed.” Apparently, it was common that coppersmiths
traveled from place to place making their living as iterant repairmen, and took
portable beds with them that they reassembled at each destination. May one
assemble this bed on Shabbos or is it considered construction? The
quotes a dispute on the subject. According to the Tanna who
contends that keilim are totally included in the prohibition of boneh
and sosair, one may not assemble these beds on Shabbos (Shabbos

However, the conclusion of the Gemara is that one may
assemble these beds on Shabbos. That is because these beds were never
assembled very tightly and therefore it is not considered boneh to construct
them, nor does it qualify as a rabbinic prohibition. However, an appliance that
is normally assembled very tightly would be prohibited to assemble even loosely
since it might be tightened (Tosafos ad loc.).


Inserting table leaves also does not require skill or
strength and is therefore permitted on Shabbos. However, some tables
have a clamp to tighten the table after inserting or removing the leaf. Some
authorities contend that tightening this clamp might be prohibited min
. Those who hold that way will also prohibit adding or removing
leaves from these tables on Shabbos, even if one does not tighten the
clamp, out of concern that one might tighten it.


About three hundred and fifty years ago, the poskim
began discussing appliances held together with screws. Around this time a
drinking cup became available where the cup part screwed into a base. Does
screwing this appliance together on Shabbos constitute boneh?

The halachic question here is as follows: Although
this cup does not require someone particularly strong or skilled to assemble
and disassemble, screwing on the base makes the cup into a well-made permanent
appliance. Thus, the screw enables someone who is not particularly skilled to build
a strong appliance.

The early poskim debate this issue. The Magen
(313:12) rules that screwing an appliance together constitutes a melacha
min haTorah (see Shaar Hatziyun 313:32); the Maamar Mordechai
disagrees. In practice however, the Maamar Mordechai concludes that one
should follow the stringent ruling of the Magen Avraham, and this is the
accepted halachic practice. Thus, screwing the cup together is considered
manufacturing a cup.

Similarly, today you can purchase furniture that you take
home and assemble by yourself. Assembling this furniture is prohibited min
even though it is made in a way that an unskilled person can
assemble it. Thus, the definition of “skill and strength” is not whether the
assembler needs to be skilled or strong, but whether the appliance thereby made
is a permanent, well-made appliance.


Focusing a pair of binoculars involves turning a screw to
make it tighter and looser. Does this violate boneh on Shabbos?

The poskim rule that one may focus binoculars on Shabbos
(Kaf Hachayim 313:73; Ketzos Hashulchan 119:12). They explain
that there is a qualitative difference between screwing the base onto the cup,
which creates an appliance, and screwing the binoculars, which is the method of
using it. One may use an appliance, just as one may use a house by opening and
closing the doors and windows. This is not considered building an extension
onto the house, but normal daily usage.


Many shtenders are tightened and loosened by the use
of a screw. May one adjust ashtender by loosening and tightening the

According to Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach and Rav Vozner, one
may adjust the height of the shtender on Shabbos since this is
considered using the shtender, not making a new appliance (Shulchan
313:7; Shu”t Shevet Halevi 6:32; cf. Shu”t Minchas
9:38, who prohibits).



I forgot to fill the saltshaker before Shabbos, and
now I realize that it is empty. May I unscrew the saltshaker on Shabbos
to fill it, or is this considered demolishing and repairing the saltshaker?

Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach rules
that it is permitted to open, refill, and close the saltshaker on Shabbos
without violating boneh. Although the saltshaker is indeed screwed
closed, it is typically not screwed as tightly as one screws furniture or the
cup we described earlier (Minchas Shlomoh 1:11:4 s.v. gam nireh).

A similar halacha, although
for a different reason, applies to opening and closing a baby bottle. Although
it is opened and closed by screwing, since it is intended to be opened and
closed constantly, it is not considered demolishing and reconstructing it.


If someone’s eyeglass lens falls out on Shabbos, may
he reinsert it back into the glasses?

It would seem that it depends on the type of eyeglasses. In
glasses where the lens is held in place simply by placing the lens in the
frame, one may pop the lens back into place. This is because placing the lens
into the glasses cannot constitute boneh since it does not require

However, there are some frames
that tighten around the lens with screws. According to the Magen Avraham,
it would seem that tightening the screws to hold in the lens involves a Torah
prohibition of boneh. If that is true, then one may also not pop the
lens because of concern that one might screw the frame tight.


We may ask ourselves, why is
screwing a cup together or removing a window from its hinge considered melacha?
They take a second to do and are not at all strenuous.

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch (Shemos 20:10) notes that
people mistakenly think that work is prohibited on Shabbos so that it
should be a day of rest. He points out that the Torah did not prohibit doing avodah,
which connotes hard work, but melacha, which implies purpose and
accomplishment. Shabbos is a day that we refrain from constructing and
altering the world for our own purposes. The goal of Shabbos is to allow
Hashem’s rule to be the focus of creation by withdrawing from our own creative
acts (Shemos 20:11). By restraining from building for one day a week, we
demonstrate Who indeed is the Builder of the world and all it contains.

A Hard Nachal – But What Is a Nachal?

Question #1: Valley Stream, Israel

What is a nachal eisan? A hard valley or a powerful
stream? And what is a “hard valley”?

Question #2: Celebrating birthdays!

When does halacha consider it significant to know
the birthday of a calf? Do we use the Hebrew birthday or the solar birthday
(sometimes called the “secular birthday” or the “Gregorian birthday”)?

Question #3: Why now?

Why are we discussing these questions this week?


When the brothers return from Egypt to tell Yaakov the
exciting news that Yosef is, indeed, still alive, and that he is the ruler of
the entire country, Yaakov does not believe them. Only when he sees the wagons
that Yosef sent does he accept that the story is true. Why then? Chazal
explain that the last subject Yaakov and Yosef had been studying together
before Yosef so mysteriously disappeared was the topic of eglah arufah,
and the four Hebrew letters that spell the word eglah could also be
pronounced as agalah, wagon. Thus, Yaakov understood that only Yosef
would be able to supply this hint, and that the story that the brothers were
telling him was true.

This provides opportunity for us to study the detailed and
difficult laws surrounding the mitzvah of eglah arufah. Let us
begin with the description of this mitzvah as expressed in the Torah:

“Should you find, in the land that Hashem, your G-d,
is giving you to inherit, someone slain, lying in a field – and it is unknown
who killed him, your elders, your judges, must leave (the Sanhedrin) and
measure to the cities that are near the corpse. The elders of that city bring a
calf that
has never been worked and that never pulled a yoke. The elders of that city
bring this calf down to a nachal eisan (a term I will explain) that (asher
in Hebrew) will not be worked and not planted, and there, in that nachal,
they break the calf’s neck from behind. The kohanim, the sons of Levi,
come forward, because Hashem, your G-d, chose them to serve Him and to
bless in the Name of Hashem, and according to their word shall be every
dispute and every nega (affliction of tzaraas). Then, all the
elders of that city nearest the corpse shall wash their hands over the calf
that was killed in the nachal. They then raise their voices, declaring,
‘Our hands did not shed this blood, and our eyes did not see. Atone for Your
people, Yisroel, whom You, Hashem, have redeemed, and do not allow
innocent blood to be shed among Your people, Yisroel.’ Thereby shall this blood
be atoned” (Devorim, 21:1-8).

In the earlier article, which I sent out two weeks ago, we
noted that there are five different aspects to the mitzvah, each incumbent upon
a different participant:

(1) The finders of the fallen victim, who notify the main
Sanhedrin, take care of the corpse, and, eventually, bury it.

(2) The representatives of the main Sanhedrin, who measure
the distance from the fallen person to the nearby cities to determine which
city is nearest the scene of the crime.

(3) The beis din of the city nearest the crime
scene, which brings a female calf to a nachal eisan and performs the
procedure described by the posuk.

(4) All the elders of that city, who wash their hands and
make the declaration, “Our hands did not shed this blood and our eyes did not

(5) The kohanim, who make the declaration, “Atone
for Your people, Yisroel, whom You, Hashem, have redeemed, and do not
allow innocent blood to be shed among Your people, Yisroel.”

In addition to the five groups obligated to fulfill the
mitzvah of eglah arufah, there is another mitzvah that is incumbent on
all of Klal Yisroel: a prohibition not to use the nachal eisan in
the future.

In the previous article, we described the procedures
through step (2) above. The members of the Sanhedrin have completed the
measuring and have determined which city is nearest to where the victim fell.
This city and, specifically, its beis din now become responsible for
bringing the calf. We continue our discussion from this point.

The locals take over

The local beis din brings a female calf that is
under the age of two (Parah 1:1, Rash ad locum; Rambam,
Hilchos Rotzei’ach
10:2) to a place that the Torah calls nachal eisan,
where that beis din performs a very unusual course of action (see
below). Following this course of action, with all its details, is the main
fulfillment of the mitzvah of eglah arufah, and is what atones for the
local community’s negligence that allowed this tragedy to occur.

Age of calf

The calf must be before its second birthday, but it may be
any age younger, as long as it is at least eight days old.

At this point, we can address the second of our opening
questions: When does halacha consider it significant to know the
birthday of a calf? Not in order to celebrate it with streamers and a birthday
cake, but to know when it will be invalidated for use as an eglah arufah.
Similar laws are germane to korbanos –  in those korbanos
that allow use of an animal only up to a certain age, the age is determined by
the birth date of the individual animal. Since the halacha in this
regard deals with the Jewish calendar, it is important to keep track of the
calf’s Hebrew birth date. Even though extensive information is kept of dairy
cows in our day, including their vaccination and other full veterinary records,
the Hebrew date is not used, even if the calf is owned by a frum farmer.

What is a nachal eisan?

At this point, let us examine our opening question: “What
is a nachal eisan? A hard valley or a powerful stream?”

and the Rambam disagree concerning the definition of a nachal eisan.
The Rambam explains it to be a strongly flowing stream (Hilchos
9:2), whereas, according to Rashi, it is a rocky valley
that has never been tilled (Devorim 21:4; Sotah 46a, b; Pesachim
22a; Chagigah 19a). Their disagreement appears to be whether the
word nachal in this context means valley (Rashi) or stream
(Rambam). The Gemara (Sotah 46) explains that the word
eisan means hard; thus, Rashi explains it to mean a hard,
rocky valley, whereas the Rambam explains it to means a hard-flowing

Nachal that is not eisan?

The Mishnah (Sotah 45b) rules that if they
found an area that qualifies as a nachal, it can be used, even if it is
not that hard. The requirement that the area be eisan, hard, is lechatchilah,
preferred min haTorah, but not required. According to the Rambam,
this means that they found a stream they could use, but the flow is not that
strong; according to Rashi, it means a valley or dry wadi bed, but not
necessarily a rocky one.

The Minchas Chinuch points out that the nachal
area must either be ownerless or be owned by the people of the city.
This means that, having located a nachal eisan area, the beis din,
or the members of the city, must determine if the area has an owner. If there
indeed is one, they must purchase the property. No mention is made what they
are to do if they find the owner to be as unscrupulous as Efron was in his
dealings with Avraham. Presumably, they can continue to hunt for another nachal
if they do not like his price. Assuming that there are two available
areas, one hard and the other not, they should choose the hard area. However,
if there is a major price differential between the two areas, I have no idea
how much they are expected to spend for the harder area.

No local nachal

The Minchas Chinuch rules that if no nachal eisan
was found in Eretz Yisroel, they could use one that is outside Eretz
. Although the mitzvah of eglah arufah applies only when the
victim is found in Eretz Yisroel, the actual place where the procedure
takes place can be anywhere. However, Rav Chayim Kanievski, in his monumental
work Nachal Eisan, draws evidence from rishonim that several of
them (Tosafos, Pesachim 52b s.v. ad; Tosafos
, ad loc.; Sefer Hachinuch) held that the nachal
must be in Eretz Yisroel.

Washing and declaring

The beis din of the determined city is then
responsible for having the calf slaughtered according to the method described
here by the Torah. The next step is that the members of the beis din and
all the older people of that city wash their hands in the place where the calf
was killed. The Gemara rules that they must be careful to wash their
hands directly above the place where the calf died (Sotah 46b).

The Rambam rules that the mitzvah of washing hands
applies to “all the zekeinim of the city, even if there are a hundred,”
without explaining what definition we use for “zekeinim.” Rav Chayim
Kanievski explains that this includes anyone over the age of sixty who is able
to make the trip (Nachal Eisan 14:3). He further discusses whether a
woman above the age of sixty is also required to participate, and he is
inclined to think that she is not.

This is presumably the only time where, outside of the Beis
, there is a requirement min haTorah to wash your hands.
According to Rav Chayim Kanievski, there is no requirement that they use a cup,
nor that a revi’is of water be used, nor are the elders required to dry
their hands afterwards. Rav Chayim rules that they fulfill the mitzvah even by
dipping their hands into a pail of water (Nachal Eisan 14:4).

After washing their hands, the zekeinim make a
declaration, “Our hands did not shed this blood and our eyes did not see.”
However, if they made the recital the way I just quoted it, they did not
fulfill the mitzvah, since the Mishnah (Sotah 32a) rules that it
must be recited in Hebrew, exactly as the words of the posuk are
written. This requirement exists, notwithstanding that we rule that both kerias
and davening may be recited in any language that you
understand (Sotah 32a)!

Care must be taken that the words are recited accurately
and grammatically correctly, and that they are spaced in a way that the meaning
is not confused (based on Yevamos 106b).

The Mishnah (Sotah 45b-46a) rules that the
two pesukim mentioned by the Torah are divided into two units. The first
posuk, “Our hands did not shed this blood and our eyes did not see,” is
recited by the elders of the city, whereas the next posuk, “Atone for
your people, Yisroel, whom You, Hashem, have redeemed, and do not allow
innocent blood to be shed among your people, Yisroel,” is recited by the kohanim.
Rashi explains that the source for this law is because the Torah
instructs the kohanim to “come forward,” yet it does not clarify a
specific role for them to play.

Just as in the case of the laws of the first posuk,
the kohanim must recite this posuk in its original Hebrew.

The Mishnah (Sotah 45b) raises the following
question: “Is anyone accusing the elders of the city of being the murderers of
this unfortunate victim?” Why then must the elders make a statement that they
did not shed his blood? The answer is that the city may have contributed to the
death of the victim by not seeing adequately to his needs and safety. It is for
this negligence that they are seeking atonement. The statement, “Our hands did
not shed this blood and our eyes did not see,” means that nothing the townsmen
could have done would have saved this unfortunate soul. There was nothing for
them to have done that they failed to do.

Never be used

After the eglah arufah procedure is performed, it is
prohibited to use the earth of this nachal. (According to the Rambam,
this means either the riverbed beneath the stream, or its banks.) However, the
area above ground may be used. To quote the Mishnah: “Its location may
not be planted or worked, but it is permitted to comb flax there or to hew out
stones” (Sotah 45b). Based on droshos in the words of the posuk,
the Gemara (Sotah 46b) explains that it is prohibited to use the
earth itself, which occurs when the ground is plowed or planted, but using the
surface of the earth, or even mining it, is not called “using the earth.”As we
mentioned above, the Mishnah rules that, after the procedure of eglah
has been performed, the area used, the nachal eisan, may
never again be used. This prohibition is counted by the Rambam and the Sefer
as a separate mitzvah of the 613. (In most editions of the Sefer
, this is counted as mitzvah #531).

In this context, the Gemara (Sotah 46b)
quotes the following beraisa: “Our rabbis taught: which (in
Hebrew, asher) was not worked and not planted. This teaches that
it is never again permitted to plant in this nachal. How do we know that
other types of work are prohibited? Because the Torah states, which was not
, meaning any type of work. If so, why did the Torah previously
state, which was not planted? This teaches us that, similarly to
planting, which uses the ground itself, the Torah is prohibiting only activity
using the ground itself. This excludes combing flax or removing stones, which
do not use the ground itself,” and are therefore permitted.

In conclusion, the Torah’s prohibition applies only to
using the nachal eisan for agricultural purposes. Thus, it is permitted
to build a shopping mall on top of the nachal eisan and make the land
worth billions of dollars!

There is halachic discussion whether whatever grows
from what was planted in violation of the law is prohibited from use. According
to most authorities, what grows there is prohibited, and it is even prohibited
to use the produce for any benefit, including selling it to non-Jews or as
animal feed (see Sefer Kerisus, at end; Pri Chodosh, Yoreh Deah 110:13;
however, see Minchas Chinuch).

Does the prohibition include harvesting vegetation that has
already grown there or subsequently grows on its own? The Minchas Chinuch
concludes that it does not, since reaping does not use the land, and the Torah
mentions specifically working the earth and planting, which do not seem to
include harvesting.

It is also implied by this discussion that there is no
prohibition in walking on or through the nachal eisan, even to use it as
a shortcut to get from place to place. This is not considered using the soil of
the nachal eisan.

Past use?

Must the nachal eisan be an area that was never used
in the past? This is a dispute among late tanna’im, as quoted by the
following Gemara: “Our rabbis taught: ‘that (asher in Hebrew)
will not be worked and not planted.’ This means that the area was never used in
the past – these are the words of Rabbi Yoshiyah. Rabbi Yonasan says, ‘in the
future.’ Rava explains, ‘Everyone agrees that it cannot be used in the future,
because the verse uses the future tense – “will not be worked.” Their dispute
regards only the past’” (Sotah 46b). The Gemara’s conclusion is
that the word asher in the posuk could be interpreted to mean
that, not only can this property never again be used in the future, but it had
never been used in the past, either. This is the dispute between Rabbi Yoshiyah
and Rabbi Yonasan.


One of the many rules of eglah arufah is that the mitzvah applies only when the victim was found lying open — unburied by the murderer. In Rav Hirsch’s analysis (Commentary to Devorim, 21:1), this means that leaving the victim exposed, as the perpetrator did, demonstrates a shocking lack of concern for society, a mockery for any authority. (Since I cannot do justice to Rav Hirsch’s beautiful explanation and analysis, I recommend that our readers examine it themselves.)

Based on an extensive analysis of both Talmudim’s explanations of aspects of the mitzvah, Rav Hirsch explains that the concept of eglah arufah is for the elders of the city to declare that this city takes care of the needs of all travelers who pass through, and also provides properly for all its residents. Severe poverty should not exist in a community – at least not to the extent that it can be used to excuse a crime.

Thus, although we sincerely hope that the mitzvah of eglah arufah is never observed, we should always learn from its lessons!

Beer, Oil and Honey

In honor of
Chanukah, I present an article that includes the Gemara’s questions
about the kashrus of vegetable and olive oil.

Photo by Inga Galkinaite from FreeImages

#1: Beer

“Is it permitted
to drink beer in a tavern?”

#2: Oil

“May I purchase
vegetable oil from a non-Jew?”

#3: Honey

“Does pure honey
present any kashrus issues?”


Because of
concerns about inappropriate interaction with our surroundings, Chazal
implemented several important gezeiros, including bishul akum,
the prohibition against eating food cooked by a non-Jew, and pas akum,which, under certain circumstances, prohibits bread baked by a non-Jew. The
Mishnah and Gemara discuss whether oil, honey and beer are
included in these gezeiros, a topic that is highly educational.


Our opening question
was: “Is it permitted to drink beer in a tavern?” The Gemara (Avodah
31b, see also Tosafos s.v. Mipnei) states that it is
prohibited to drink the beer of non-Jews and quotes a dispute between amora’im
why this is so. Rabbi Yitzchak prohibits it because of concerns of
intermarriage, whereas Rav Nachman prohibits it because of concerns about
product contamination.

The Gemara
then mentions the opinions of several amora’im, some of whom held like
Rabbi Yitzchak, that the reason for the prohibition is because of concerns of
intermarriage, and others who held like Rav Nachman, that there are
contamination concerns. For example, Rav and his son Rav Chiya held like Rav
Nachman; however, they explained that not all individuals need to be concerned.
This is because the hops in the beer serve as a medicinal antidote that helps
many people.

On the other
hand, the Gemara reports that Rav Papa would purchase beer from a tavern
and carry it outside the door of the store and drink it there, whereas Rav
Achai would bring the beer home first and drink it there. Both of them held
that the prohibition was because of intermarriage; once the beer is removed
from the jurisdiction of the non-Jew, it is permitted. In other words, we are
no longer concerned about the social interactions that might result. If the
concern was because of product contamination, what difference would it make
where one drinks it? The Gemara explains that Rav Papa and Rav Achai
both agree that it is permitted to drink beer of a non-Jew once it is removed
it from his premises. Rav Achai added a personal chumra: not to drink
the beer until he came home.

Why is beer

There is a very obvious question here: The other
prohibitions that Chazal instituted because of concerns of social
interaction, such as bishul akum and pas akum on cooked foods and
bread, are not dependent upon where you are. Why does the prohibition concerning
the beer of non-Jews apply only in the non-Jew’s home or business?

Among the rishonim, we find several
approaches to explain this question. I will present just one approach, that of
the Tosafos Rid (Avodah Zarah 65b), who explains that, in the
other instances, the main concern is that you will find the foods produced by
the non-Jew to be very tasty, and this eventually might lead to inappropriate
social interactions. However, in the instance of beer, the concern is not the
food, but the socializing itself, and prohibiting drinking the beer where the
non-Jew lives and works is a sufficient safeguard to prevent inappropriate
activity. (Those who would like to research this question more extensively are
referred to the commentaries of the Ramban and theRashba, Avodah

How do we

We have a
general halachic rule that, among the tanna’im and amora’im,
the halacha follows the last authority who voiced an opinion. The reason
for this rule is that, when a great Torah scholar analyzed the differing
earlier approaches to a question and decided a certain way, we may rely on his
diligence in analyzing the topic carefully, including the rulings and
considerations of those who preceded him.

the latest amora’im to discuss this topic were Rav Pappa and Rav Achai,
both of whom ruled that the prohibition was because of concerns about social
interaction, but held that it is permitted to drink beer of  a non-Jew,
once it is removed from the gentile’s place.

Bishul akum

Why isn’t beer
prohibited because of bishul akum? After all, neither barley nor hops
are edible raw — they become consumable only after they are cooked. Thus,
shouldn’t any beer cooked by a non-Jew be prohibited as bishul akum?

This question is
raised by Tosafos (Avodah Zarah 31b s.v. Vetarveihu), who
explains that beer is permitted because it is not considered something that
would be served on a king’s table. Tosafos presents a second answer:
that the brocha on beer is shehakol. This teaches us that, from a
halachic standpoint, the most important ingredient in the beer is not
the grain, because then its brocha would be mezonos, but the
water, and water is not prohibited as bishul akum because it is
drinkable without being cooked (see also Avodah Zarah 37b; Tosafos
38a s.v. Hai; Mishnah Berurah 204:16).

The brew
that made Bavel famous

Tosafos then rules that the prohibition applies both to beer
made from grain, like our beer, and to the beer made from dates that was common
at the time of the Gemara.

In the time of
the Mishnah and Gemara, two varieties of beer were generally

Babylonian beer
– which was made from dates and hops. (Yes, this beer was Kosher lePesach!)

Medean beer –
which also included a small percentage of barley malt (Mishnah Pesachim
42a; Gemara, Pesachim 42b). This latter type of beer was
prohibited as chometz, although it had the status of ta’aroves
, a product that contains chometz, rather than chometz
, unadulterated chometz. Our beer, in which the main ingredient
after water is barley malt, is considered chometz gamur (Rosh,

Kashrus of beer

Does beer in
today’s world require a hechsher? According to the information available
at the time that I am writing this article, beer today usually is made from
only the following ingredients: barley malt, hops, and water. None of these
ingredients presents a problem. However, there can be halachic problems
of flavored beers and of chometz she’avar alav haPesach. Check
labels for any mention of flavors added. Many breweries are coming out with
specialty brews that have additives; even if you recognize the name of the
company, don’t assume that all its varieties are kosher. 

unflavored beers, domestic and imported, with no additives
listed on the ingredient label, are acceptable even without a hechsher,
as long as there is no problem of chometz she’avar alav haPesach, and
you drink them in the comfort of your own home or anywhere outside the non-Jew’s
house or business. This applies also to non-alcoholic and dark beers.


The Mishnah
(Avodah Zarah 35a) states as follows: “These items of a non-Jew are
prohibited [to eat], but benefit is permitted from them: milk, bread, and oil.
Rebbe and his beis din permitted the oil.”

Tosafos notes that it is unclear whether these last words
(“Rebbe and his beis din permitted the oil”) are part of the Mishnah,
or whether they were added later, and that it was not Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi and
his beis din who permitted oil of non-Jews, but his grandson, usually
called Rabbi Yehudah Nesiah (see Tosafos, Avodah Zarah 36a s.v. Asher
and 33b s.v. Ba’a).

This Mishnah
leads us to many questions. Why was the oil of non-Jews prohibited and,
assuming that it was, how could Rabbi Yehudah Nesiah (or his grandfather Rabbi
Yehudah Hanasi) permit its use?

The Gemara
quotes a dispute in the first generation of amora’im, between Rav and
Shmuel, in which Rav holds that the original Mishnah contended that the
oil of non-Jews was prohibited as an injunction created by the Biblical Daniel,
and Shmuel holds it was prohibited because this oil was refined in non-kosher
pots. Based on a verse in the book of Daniel (1:8), Rav understands that Daniel
had implemented a gezeirah, similar to the prohibitions against wine of
a non-Jew, that banned consuming oil processed by non-Jews. In the time of
Daniel, this prohibition applied only in the cities, but, later, the beis
of the students of Shammai and Hillel extended the prohibition to ban
this oil even outside cities.

Shmuel contended
that the reason why the tanna kamma of the Mishnah banned the use
of oil processed by non-Jews was due to a kashrus concern that existed
in his day. Since oils were usually prepared at home, there was concern that
even 100% pure vegetable oil might have been heated in non-kosher vessels, thus
rendering the oil treif.

Both approaches
need to be explained. If the prohibition was a takanah instituted by
Daniel and by the students of Shammai and Hillel, how could the beis din
headed by Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi/Nesiah permit it? There is a halachic
principle that once a takkanah has been implemented, it can be overruled
only by a beis din that is greater both in knowledge and in numbers,
which was not the case in this instance. And if the oil was prohibited because
it was refined in non-kosher pots, why did the later beis din allow it?

the gezeirah

The Gemara
concludes that whenever Chazal make a gezeirah, it is binding
only when the Jewish people observe it. If most of the Jewish people do not
observe the gezeirah, it is not binding. Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi/Nesiah and
his beis din researched and discovered that the gezeiros
prohibiting non-Jewish oil were never observed by the majority of people. That
being the case, the beis din of Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi/Nesiah could
rescind the gezeirah.

Regarding the
possibility that the oil was manufactured in non-kosher equipment, the Gemara
explains that this was actually a dispute between the earlier great leaders,
who prohibited the oil of non-Jews, and the beis din of Rabbi Yehudah
Hanasi/Nesiah, which permitted it.

Let me explain:

The Gemara
(Avodah Zarah 67b) quotes a dispute between tanna’im whether nosein
ta’am lifgam
(literally, something that provides a bad taste) is prohibited
or permitted. If we assume that nosein ta’am lifgam is prohibited, oil
that a non-Jew processed in his own equipment is prohibited because his
equipment was previously used for non-kosher. However, if nosein ta’am
is permitted, then food cooked in a pot that was not used in the
last 24 hours is usually permitted, even when the pot was previously used for
non-kosher. (Note that it is always prohibited le’chatchilah to cook
food in such equipment.)

On this basis,
although it is prohibited to use a non-kosher pot, food that was cooked in it
using only kosher ingredients may remain kosher, since there is a possibility
that the pot had not been used for the last 24 hours, and, even if it had been,
the non-kosher cooked within the previous 24 hours may have contributed an
unpleasant taste to the kosher food (see Tosafos, Avodah Zarah 35b
s.v. Miklal).

The earlier Mishnah
held that nosein ta’am lifgam is prohibited and, therefore, oil
purchased from non-Jews may not be used. But since the accepted ruling is that nosein
ta’am lifgam
is permitted, the beis din of Rabbi Yehudah
Hanasi/Nesiah ruled that it is kosher.

vegetable oil

From a kashrus
perspective, in the modern world, vegetable oil is indeed a very sensitive
product. Vegetable oil is often refined on equipment that produces non-kosher
animal shortening or fish oils. This equipment is not cleaned between
productions, and there may be very high percentages, much higher than the ratio
of bitul, of residual animal shortening on the equipment when the
vegetable oil is produced. There is also the possibility that the oil is
shipped in trailer trucks that previously held a non-kosher product. For these
reasons, reliable kosher supervisory agencies are careful about which sources
of vegetable oil they allow for use, and they have developed a system to make
sure that the oil is transported in a way that does not render it non-kosher.


Most fats, even
after refining, have characteristic flavors and odors, and vegetable fats,
especially, have a relatively strong undesirable taste. In order to produce a tasteless fat, these oils may
undergo deodorization. Unfortunately, if the deodorizing equipment is used also
for animal shortening, this process makes the vegetable oil non-kosher.

The processing
of vegetable oil without proper oversight can also be the cause of severe
safety issues, as the following story indicates:

Toxic Oil
Syndrome was the name given to a disease outbreak in Spain in 1981. Its
first appearance was as a lung disease with unusual features: though the symptoms initially resembled a lung infection, antibiotics were ineffective. The disease appeared to
be restricted to certain localities, and several members of a family could be
affected, even while their neighbors had no symptoms. Following the acute
phase, a range of other chronic symptoms were apparent. Eventually, the cause
was traced to the consumption of rapeseed
(canola is a safe and edible variety
of rapeseed) that had been intended for industrial use, not for human consumption.
It had been imported as cheap industrial oil, was subsequently refined and sold
as “olive
” by street vendors, and then used on salads and for cooking by the
unsuspecting victims. The commonly accepted hypothesis states that toxic
compounds added during the refinement process, used to denature oils intended
for industrial use, were responsible for the illness.


Honey has been
used as a food for thousands of years, and, until the advent of sugar refining,
it was the most common food sweetener. To produce honey, bees suck nectar from
flowers and deposit it into a special honey sac. Inside the sacs, enzymes
contained in the bee’s saliva convert the nectar into honey, which the bees
store in a honeycomb until they need it for food, or until the hive is raided
by a two-legged forager. The nectar is never “digested” by the bee,
but rather transformed into honey.

Is honey kosher?
We know that milk and eggs of non-kosher species are non-kosher, so why is
honey considered kosher? Regarding this question, the Gemara (Bechoros
7b) records a dispute between the tanna kamma and Rabbi Yaakov. The tanna
contends that honey is not produced by bees, but is simply modified
plant nectar, unlike milk and eggs that are produced by the non-kosher species.
For this reason, he rules that honey is kosher.

Rabbi Yaakov
permits honey for a different reason: He contends that although there is indeed
a universal rule prohibiting extracts of non-kosher species, a special
Scriptural allusion excludes honey from this proscription.

The Mishnah
(Avodah Zarah 39b) rules that honey may be purchased from a non-Jew and
eaten. The Gemara (ad locum) questions why this is true,
concluding that the three possible concerns why it should be prohibited do not
apply to honey.

1. Admixture of
non-kosher ingredients.

The Gemara
concludes that we are not concerned that someone may add a non-kosher
ingredient to honey, because any non-kosher product will ruin the taste of the

2. Bishul

Since honey is
edible raw, cooking honey does not create a prohibition of bishul akum.

3. Non-kosher

The Gemara
concludes that the non-kosher flavor in the equipment would create a nosein
taam lifgam
flavor in the honey, which is permitted.

Today, honey is
an expensive commodity that is easily adulterated. However, the ingredients
that are commonly used to adulterate it, such as sugar, sorghum syrup, molasses
or corn sweetener, are kosher. As a result, we are not required to be concerned
that the honey was adulterated with a non-kosher ingredient.

Every year
around Rosh Hashanah, Israeli newspapers contain reports about unscrupulous
companies selling adulterated honey. Certainly, one should be careful to
purchase honey and not an adulterated product, particularly since one has no
idea what the manufacturer may have added. However, from a strictly halachic
point of view, the various cheaper sweetening ingredients used to
adulterate honey, such as corn sweetener and molasses, are kosher; so it is
difficult to imagine serious kashrus problems resulting from this
unscrupulous practice.

We should note
that “honey flavoring” and “flavored with honey” do not mean the same thing.
“Honey flavoring” means a natural or synthetic flavoring that is meant to taste
like honey, and could indeed contain non-kosher ingredients. Any food item,
such as a sucking candy, that contains honey flavoring should have a reliable hechsher.


Based on the
above information, we can gain a greater appreciation of how hard it is to
maintain a high kashrus standard. We certainly have a greater incentive
to become educated kosher consumers who better understand many aspects of the
preparation of kosher food, and why it is important to ascertain that products
have a proper hechsher. We should always hope and pray that the food we
eat fulfills all the halachos that the Torah commands.

Eglah Arufah

Photo by Alexander Wallnöfer from FreeImages

Question #1: Which Cities?

What are the requirements for a city to be obligated in eglah

Question #2: Where?

How do we measure to determine the obligation of eglah

Question #3: Why Now?

Why are we discussing this mitzvah this week?


Chazal teach us that the last subject Yaakov and
Yosef had been studying together before Yosef so mysteriously disappeared was
the topic of eglah arufah. This provides opportunity for us to study the
very detailed and difficult laws surrounding the mitzvah of eglah
. Let us begin with the description of this mitzvah as expressed in
the Torah:

“Should you find, lying in a field, someone slain in the
land that Hashem, your G-d, is giving to you to inherit – and it is unknown who
killed him, your elders, your judges, must leave (their usual location) and
measure the distance from the cities that are near the corpse. The elders of
the closest city bring a calf that has never been worked nor pulled a yoke. The
elders of that city bring this calf down to a ‘hard’ valley that will not be
worked and not planted, and there, in that valley, they decapitate the
calf. Then, the kohanim, who are the sons of Levi, come forward, because
Hashem, your G-d, chose them to serve Him and to bestow blessing in the Name of
Hashem, and by their mouths will be decided all disputes and all matters
germane to nega’im. Subsequently, all the elders of that city that is
nearest the corpse shall wash their hands over the calf that was decapitated in
that valley. They then raise their voices, declaring, ‘Our hands did not shed
this blood, and our eyes did not see. Atone for Your people, Yisroel, whom You,
Hashem, have redeemed, and do not allow innocent blood to be shed among Your
people, Yisroel.’ Thereby, shall this blood be atoned” (Devorim, 21:1-8).

The words of this posuk are carefully analyzed in Torah
she’be’al peh. To review: A terrible calamity occurred to the Jewish
nation. A murder has taken place, and, to make matters worse, indications are
that a Jew was the perpetrator. How do we see that it is appears that a Jew was
the murderer? Firstly, the halacha is that if there were non-Jews near
the murder site, no eglah arufah is offered, based on the supposition
that it was a non-Jew who performed the crime (see Sotah 44b, according
to the version quoted by the Rambam; see also Tosafos, Bava Basra
23b s.v. beyosheves, and Minchas Chinuch #530). In addition,
should the victim have fallen near the Jewish country’s borders, no eglah
is offered, under the assumption that he was murdered by a foreign
intruder (Mishnah, Sotah 44b). Furthermore, in an unfortunate era
when there were gangsters among the Jewish people, no eglah arufah was
offered either, since the assumption is that one of the gangsters performed the
heinous crime, and the eglah arufah is only offered when there is no
knowledge about the perpetrator’s identity (Mishnah, Sotah 47a).

There are several questions relating to these pesukim that
we will discuss. For example, the verse goes to great length to describe the
role of the kohanim in the Jewish people, yet it does not say what
function they perform in the eglah arufah procedure. (The answer to this
question will need to wait until our sequel.) Also, we should note that there
are three different descriptions of elders in the pesukim: At first it
refers to “your elders, your judges,” then it refers to “the elders of that
city,” and lastly it refers to “all the elders of that city.” These seem to be
three different categories of elders. Indeed, we will soon see that this is
exactly the situation.

Should the murderer be apprehended, no eglah arufah
is offered. Since no murderer has yet been caught or suspected, the community
from which it is most likely that the murderer came is required to atone for
itself. This atonement procedure is the fulfillment of the mitzvah of
bringing an eglah arufah, which is counted by the Sefer Hachinuch
as mitzvah number 530. If the procedure of the eglah arufah has
already been performed, and subsequently the murderer is identified in a way
that halacha rules that he be punished, the regular punishment is
carried out (Mishnah Sotah 47a). The purpose of the eglah
is to atone for the negligence of the community and its leadership,
not for the murderer.

Details, details

There are several different stages involved in fulfilling
the mitzvah of eglah arufah, each of which is performed by a different
group of people. The first step is the responsibility of those who find the
corpse. Contemporary society would expect them to call the police department to
file a criminal report, and the police would contact the coroner’s office to
examine the corpse. However, the halachic instructions are quite
different. Those who find the victim send a notification to the Sanhedrin,
wherever it is headquartered, to send representation to the location of the
fallen individual (Minchas Chinuch #530). The corpse is not moved in the
slightest, and the examination of the crime is performed only by observation.
In order to make sure that the meis has a proper burial place, the halacha requires
that he be buried in the place he was found, a halachic principle called
meis mitzvah koneh mekomo
, which literally means that someone who dies
without next of kin nearby or available to guarantee proper burial has an
automatic legal right to be buried in the place where he was found, unless it
is a place that causes public inconvenience (Eruvin 17a, b). The Gemara
explains that this was one of the ten rules that Yehoshua established when he
led Klal Yisroel into Eretz Yisroel (Bava Kama 81a).

Three groups of elders

Above it was noted that the posuk mentions three
groups of elders:

1. “Your elders, your judges,” who “must leave and measure
the distance from the cities that are near the corpse.” This refers to the Sanhedrin,
the main court of the Jewish people, responsible for the continuity of the Torah
she’be’al peh
and for all regulations regarding the Jewish people. They
send a group of their members from Yerushalayim, or their headquarters, to
oversee the measuring from the fallen victim to the nearby cities to determine
which is closest.

2. “The elders of that city,” who become responsible for
the proceedings once it is determined which city is closest to the victim of the

3. “All the elders of that city,” which, according to the Rambam,
includes even senior citizens who are not necessarily scholars. The members of
this group are required to wash their hands and to make a declaration of their

The arrival of the members of the Sanhedrin

The Rambam rules that we leave the corpse in place
until a representative body of the Sanhedrin arrives. Bearing in mind
that, in his opinion, this could take many weeks until it happens, this seems
very unusual, as we usually bury someone as soon as possible, unless the
dignity due the departed requires that we wait for the arrival of next-of-kin or
a larger turnout at the funeral. Here, the delay will not result in either of
the above; yet, in the Rambam’s opinion, we delay.

How long can this delay be? Allow me to calculate. The mitzvah
of eglah arufah applies anywhere in Eretz Yisroel, including the
large area on the eastern side of the Jordan River (Sifri; Rambam,
Hilchos Rotzei’ach
10:1). We know that the most distant places in Eretz
were fifteen days travel time from Yerushalayim (Mishnah Taanis
10a). Granted that the Mishnah there is calculating the time it takes a family
to travel, we can shave off a few days of travel time, but not much more, since
we know that beis din’s messengers could still take about twelve days to
get to the most distant parts of Eretz Yisroel (Rambam, Hilchos Kiddush
5:4, 6). Therefore, it could take at least twelve days after the
discovery of the corpse until the locals get a message to the Sanhedrin
to send its representatives. After the Sanhedrin chooses the members for
this mission, if the city is this far removed from Yerushalayim, it could take
at least twelve more days for the delegation to arrive. Thus, we can easily
have a situation in which the corpse has been left for almost thirty days until
burial according to the approach of the Rambam (Minchas Chinuch).

What happens to the corpse during these many weeks of
waiting? All the rules of kovod hameis apply, other than allowing no
delay to bury him. Since he must be left in situ in order not to bias
the measurements, there is a requirement to provide shemirah on the body
by day and by night, firstly for the human honor due him, and secondly to make
sure that animals and insects do not feed on him. Thus, in this situation the
requirement of meis mitzvah requires that people be available to be
this meis outdoors, wherever he was found, 24/7, for up to
and perhaps more than thirty days, regardless of the weather conditions! We
should also note that, according to the opinion of Rabbi Eliezer ben Yaakov
that we will soon cite, the wait could be considerably longer.

Several acharonim (Chasdei Dovid, Minchas
) question the Rambam’s ruling that the corpse must be left in
until the representatives of the Sanhedrin arrive. The text of the Tosefta
(Sotah 9:2) implies otherwise: As explained by the Chasdei Dovid,
when the corpse is located, the Tosefta rules that a nearby beis din
sends representatives to mark the exact point from which we are going to
measure. Then, the meis is buried in place, because of the principle of meis
mitzvah koneh mekomo
. The Sanhedrin members, when they arrive,
measure not from the meis himself, who has already been buried, but from
the marker on the gravesite that indicates the pinpointed location from which
they are to measure. The Talmud Yerushalmi (Sotah 9:1) quotes
this Tosefta, yet the Rambam rules otherwise.

Three, five or more?

There is a dispute among tanna’im how many members
of the Sanhedrin are required to come: According to Rabbi Shimon, three
members, and according to Rabbi Yehudah, five (Sotah 44b; Sanhedrin
2a, 14a). The Rambam rules according to Rabbi Yehudah, requiring five
members of the Sanhedrin to come to the site of the murder (Hilchos

There is a third tanna, Rabbi Eliezer ben Yaakov,
who requires a very large representation of the Jewish people, including the
king, the kohein gadol and the entire Sanhedrin, not just three
or five representatives (Sotah 45a). As I mentioned above, his opinion
could potentially cause an even greater delay until the Sanhedrin arrives
to measure the distance to the nearby cities, since both the king and the kohein
may have other obligations, and the king could be away on a war or
other affairs of state.

However, Rabbi Eliezer ben Yaakov’s position is not
accepted as normative halacha, evidenced by the fact that the Mishnah,
which discusses this issue in two different places, does not even mention his
opinion. The Rambam, also, does not rule this way, but requires only
five members of the Sanhedrin, unaccompanied by either the king or the kohein

Where is the Sanhedrin?

Until the destruction of the Beis Hamikdosh, the Sanhedrin
was always located either in a special chamber on the grounds of the Beis
or somewhere nearby. After the destruction of the Beis Hamikdosh,
the Sanhedrin went through a series of relocations, first to Yavneh, and
then to different places mostly in the Galil, including Shafra’am, Beis
She’arim, Tzipori, Usha and Teveryah (Rosh Hashanah 31). The Minchas
(530) rules that there was a law of eglah arufah during all
these periods. This would indicate that the Mishnah in Sotah 44b,
which states that the Sanhedrin members left from Yerushalayim, is an
old Mishnah dating back to the time of the Beis Hamikdosh and not
from the time of Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi, in whose day the Sanhedrin was
already in Teveryah, the last of its ten relocations.

Next mitzvah: Measuring

There is a mitzvah to measure even when the corpse
is found right outside one city, such that it is completely unnecessary to measure
to determine which city is closest (Sotah 45a; Rambam, Hilchos

Since this measurement is a Torah requirement, it must be
done very precisely (Eruvin 58b; Rambam, Hilchos Rotzei’ach 9:4).
Regarding other halachos involving measurement of distance, such as the techum
around a city or village within which one may walk on Shabbos,
we do not measure the elevations of hills around the city, but have various halachically
approved methods of estimating and shortening these distances. In other words,
techum Shabbos
is measured as the crow flies.

These rules do not apply to eglah arufah. In this
instance, the measurements must be exactly how far it would take someone to
walk this distance. In other words, the distance is measured not as the crow
flies, but as the person walks.

Must they measure it themselves?

Are the members of the Sanhedrin themselves required
to measure the distance from the corpse to the nearest city, or is it
sufficient if they supervise the measuring? The Minchas Chinuch rules
that they are not required to perform the actual measurements, but they must
oversee those who are measuring.

There are several unusual laws germane to the mitzvah
of measuring. We measure to the largest cities from which it is likely that the
murderer came. If there are smaller cities nearby, they are ignored (Rambam,
Hilchos Rotzei’ach 9:6, based on Bava Basra 23b). If the nearest
city includes a non-Jewish population, no measurement and no mitzvah of eglah
are performed (Rambam, Hilchos Rotzei’ach 9:5), and if
the nearest city is Yerushalayim, there is no mitzvah of eglah arufah
(Bava Kama 82b).

Is beis din a liability?

One of the unusual rules is a statement of the Mishnah
that the measurement is done only towards a city that has a beis din (Sotah
44b). This implies that if there are large, populous, completely Jewish
cities near the corpse that do not have a beis din, we do not measure
from the corpse in the direction of that city, but instead, we measure to a
more distant city that has a beis din. The question, raised already by Tosafos
(Bava Basra 23b s.v. bedeleika), is that the lack of a beis
does not demonstrate that the murderer was not a resident of that city.
Thus, if our goal is to determine which city most likely produced the murderer,
the farther city should not thereby be required to bring an eglah arufah.
This question has created much literature, but, to the best of my knowledge,
there is no universally accepted approach to answer it.

The measure of a man

From which point on the victim’s body do we measure? The Mishnah
(Sotah 45b) quotes a three-way dispute among tanna’im discussing
exactly from which point on the victim’s body we measure. According to Rabbi
Eliezer, we measure from the navel, which is where he first acquired
nourishment before birth. In Rabbi Akiva’s opinion, we measure from the
nostrils, which is the place from which a person draws his breath. Rabbi
Eliezer ben Yaakov rules we measure from the neck, which he bases on his
understanding of a posuk. The Rambam concludes that we follow
Rabbi Akiva and measure from the nostrils.

According to the above-referenced Tosefta, those who
found the body buried it in situ immediately, but were careful to mark
the exact place where his nostrils were at the moment they found him. The
elevation at which the body was found is also a factor in the measurement. This
means that they needed to measure carefully the height at which they found him,
not only his location on the ground before they buried him.

I will be sending the sequel to this article in two weeks.


The Sefer Hachinuch explains one of the reasons for the mitzvah of eglah arufah is that it teaches communal responsibility. The elders of the Sanhedrin are required to send a representation of either three or five members to personally oversee the measurement from the victim to the nearest city. After they complete their measurement, the city thus indicated must send out all its elders to participate in what can only be described as a very unusual ceremony. Certainly, they cannot declare innocence before Hashem unless they are certain that they provide every wayfarer with adequate security and provisions. Thus, the elders of the city must always be responsible for whatever happens in their city, not only among the residents, but even among the visitors.

What Could be Wrong with the Steak?

Since this week’s parsha includes the prohibition of gid hanasheh, we have the opportunity to discuss certain issues of shechitah.

One of my editors suggested that I mention to those who are squeamish
that this article will be graphic about aspects of shechitah, so I am
fulfilling this request.

Question #1:

When Yankel returns from kollel one day, his wife
Miriam asks for his advice about the following situation. While visiting a
neighbor, Miriam noticed her neighbor using a brand of meat that nobody she
knows considers reliably kosher. “Should I tell her that her meat does not have
a good hechsher?”

Question #2: Chayim asks me the following: “In parshas
Vayeishev, Rashi mentions that Yosef reported to his father that his
brothers ate meat that was prohibited, even for a Ben Noach; but
Yosef was mistaken — the brothers were very careful to eat only properly shechted
meat. Could it be that they were following different kashrus standards,
so that Yosef thought what they were eating was treif, whereas the
brothers were convinced that it was kosher?”

The Torah requires that kosher meat and poultry be
slaughtered in a specific, halachically approved way (shechitah)
and may be eaten only if they are without certain defects that render them tereifah.
In Parshas Re’eih, the Torah (Devarim 12:20-21) teaches, When
Hashem will enlarge your border as He has promised you, and you will say, “I
will eat meat” because you desire to eat meat, to your heart’s desire you may
eat meat… And you shall slaughter as I have commanded you
. Yet,nowhere
in all of Chumash does the Torah provide such instructions. This is one
of the internal proofs that the written Torah was accompanied by an explanatory
Oral Torah, and, indeed, the laws referred to in the verse, And you shall
slaughter as I have commanded you
, are part of this Torah she’baal peh.
Via halacha leMoshe miSinai, an oral communication that Hashem
taught Moshe at Har Sinai, the Torah provided five regulations that must be
followed for a shechitah to be kosher (Chullin 9a). Violating any
one of these regulations means that the meat was not slaughtered as I have
commanded you
, and is not kosher.

The five rules are:

  1. Shehiyah — Pausing during the act of shechitah invalidates it, even if the shechitah is subsequently completed (Mishnah Chullin 32a).
  2. Drasah – Pressing down or chopping with the knife invalidates the shechitah. A proper shechitah involves a slicing motion, usually with a back-and-forth stroke (Mishnah Chullin 30b).
  3. Chaladah – Burrowing the knife into the neck and then cutting in an outward direction invalidates the shechitah. Proper shechitah requires that the back of the knife is always exposed (Mishnah Chullin 32a).
  4. Hagramah – Cutting above or below the area of the neck designated by the Torah for proper shechitah (Mishnah Chullin 18a).
  5. Ikur – Tearing, rather than cutting, is not kosher (Tosafos, Chullin 9a s.v. Kulhu, in explanation of Rashi). If the shechitah knife has nicks in it, it may tear, rather than cut. 

Thus, a shocheit must be highly competent, both in
the halachos of shechitah and in the skills necessary to do the
job correctly. His shechitah blade must not only be sharper than a
razor, but also totally smooth, because a slight nick invalidates the shechitah
(see Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 18:2). It takes a considerable amount of
time and effort for a shocheit to learn all the skills of his trade
adequately, including how to quickly hone his knife to the required sharpness
and how to check with his fingernail that its blade is completely smooth. These
are difficult skills to learn. I recently borrowed the shechitah knife
of someone who is in the process of learning the skill, and although his knife
was adequately smooth, it was not nearly sharp enough to pass muster. Indeed, halachic
literature is replete with anecdotes of rabbonim who discovered that shochatim
active in the profession were not as proficient in their skills as the halacha
requires. The Maharshal reports checking the knife of a well-experienced
shocheit doing his rounds of shechting chickens for kaparos
Erev Yom Kippur, and discovering that not only was the shocheit’s
knife nicked, but the shocheit repeatedly checked his knife too speedily 
to notice it! (Yam shel Shelomoh, Chullin 1:39)

Furthermore, a shocheit must be fully proficient in
the detailed laws applying to his profession; he is expected to review the laws
of his field every thirty days to maintain his expertise.

Since it is easy for a shocheit to invalidate a shechitah
without anyone but him knowing about it, one should use only a shocheit
who is known to be G-d-fearing, a yarei shamayim. We now understand why
the old European shtetl people viewed the shocheit with tremendous
esteem. He was respected second only to the rav for his erudition and
his fear of heaven.

Other rules regarding shechitah include that the shechitah
must be performed by an observant Jew. A gentile’s shechitah is not
kosher, even if a knowledgeable observant Jew supervises to ensure that
everything is done correctly.

We can already see why people sometimes hesitate to use a
particular shechitah. Although one cannot be sure whether a shocheit
is a yarei shamayim, one can sometimes sense that he is not. Indeed, the
responsa literature is full of cases concerning shochatim whose behavior
or personal shortcomings caused concern about their trustworthiness.
Unfortunately, I, too, have met shochtim whose lackadaisical attitude to
mitzvah observance did not reflect the type of person I would want to entrust
with this responsibility.

But maybe it’s treif!

Even if the animal passed muster and merited a flawless
kosher shechitah, it may still not be kosher. The Torah prohibits eating
meat of a bird or animal that is tereifah, meaning that the animal has
certain physical defects (Chullin Chapter Three). For example, a bird or
animal that has a perforated lung, gall bladder or intestine; that has a torn spinal
cord; or that has been attacked with the fang of a predator, is tereifah.
Although people colloquially use the word tereifah for any non-kosher
food, technically speaking, it refers to an animal or bird with one of these
defects. Not only is a tereifah animal non-kosher, but so, too, are its
milk or eggs that were produced after it became tereifah.

This leads us to an interesting question. If the milk
produced by a tereifah cow is not kosher, how can we drink milk without
checking to see if the milked cow has none of these defects? Most signs of tereifah
are internal and cannot be verified on a living animal without a CT scan or MRI
equipment, not commonly available on a farm.  Obviously, such testing
would drive up the price of eggs and dairy products, even more than last year’s
heat wave.

The answer is that although the milk of an animal and the
eggs of a bird with any of these imperfections is indeed tereifah, so
long as we do not know that the animals or birds are tereifah, we assume
that most animals and birds are kosher and follow the majority. Therefore, we
can rely on milk and eggs being kosher, unless there is reason to assume that
there is a problem.

Regarding meat, we are not required to check for a
particular tereifah unless the defect occurs frequently. Thus, since
animals commonly have lung problems, one is required to check their lungs, even
if they do not smoke. Another example is a perforation in the intestinal wall
that renders its possessor treif. There is a section of the small intestine,
called Meckel’s diverticulum, that in poultry frequently becomes infected and
swollen, often resulting in a perforation that renders the bird tereifah.
Since this defect is not unusual, mashgichim in kosher poultry plants
routinely check this part of the intestine.

How do I check?

There are often different opinions among rabbonim how
carefully one needs to check for these tereifos, and, at times, whether
one needs to check altogether. There may also be a disagreement over other
subtle details, such as whether the factory is set up in a way that allows the shochatim
sufficient time to do their work properly. The rav overseeing the
packing plant may feel that all is in order, whereas another rav may
feel it is lacking.

At this point, I return to the question that Miriam asked
her husband Yankel: “While in my friend’s house, I noticed that they were using
a brand of meat that no one I know uses. Should I tell her that her meat does
not meet a proper kashrus standard?” The answer here would depend on
circumstances: If there is indeed a real, serious problem at that abattoir,
then Miriam should certainly tell her friend not to purchase that meat.
However, this applies only if Miriam has firsthand knowledge of this issue,
which is rarely the case. In the vast majority of situations, Miriam herself
has no idea why the people in “her circle” do not use that shechitah. It
may indeed be for the reasons we have mentioned, but sometimes it is not.

Yankel realized that besides the laws of loshon hora
involved here, he would also need active kashrus experience to answer
her question. Lacking this qualification, he decided to educate himself on the
subject by asking a rav who is experienced with the kashrus of
meat. Since this rav requested not to be identified, we will call him
Rav Posek as we present their conversation.

No brisket for me!

“I want to give you a bit of a history of shechitah,”
began the rav. “Originally, almost all American kosher meat packers used
a method called shechitah teluyah, which means ‘hanging shechitah.’
This method of shechitah was highly popular, because a non-kosher meat
packing plant can very easily be used to produce kosher meat. This was 
advantageous, since the kosher market in America does not use the meat from the
hindquarters, and the non-kosher market considers hindquarter cuts to be the
highest quality cuts. The non-kosher meat packers had trouble selling their
forequarters, so arranging a shechitah was a very convenient way of
finding a new market for their product without jeopardizing their existing
customers. It was a classic win-win arrangement that encouraged large,
non-kosher meat plants to have kosher shechitah and was responsible for
making kosher meat widely available and keeping its price down.

“The standard method of shechitah in these packing
plants involved hanging the animal from a hind leg, while gentile employees
held the animal’s head still for the shocheit. Although the abattoir
owners encouraged this method because it involved no investment on their part,
it was not viewed favorably among most of the other people involved. Not the rabbanim,
for reasons I will shortly explain; not animals’ rights advocates, who
justifiably noted that this method is cruel; not the shochatim and plant
workers, because it is unnecessarily dangerous; and, presumably, not the
animals themselves, although they were not consulted.

“Many rabbonim frowned on shechitah teluyah
because it inflicts unnecessary pain on the animals (Shu”t Mishneh
16:2). Although this was perhaps the most popular method of shechitah
both in North and South America until fairly recently, many rabbonim had
additional reasons to disapprove of shechitah teluyah.”

Pulling a sefer off his bookshelf, the rav
continued. “Let me read you a teshuvah from Rav Pesach Frank, the Rav
of Yerushalayim for several decades, written on the 19th of
Elul, 5755, to Rav Shmuel Yaakov Glicksburg, then the rav of Buenos
Aires, Argentina:

‘I rejoiced when I read your letter saying that you have
succeeded to organize a shechitah where the animals are not hung,
similar to what we have here in Eretz Yisrael. This is a tremendous
accomplishment, and the merits of the public are yours. If you have any other
news about the kashrus of the shechitah, please notify me, as I am
often asked whether one may eat the meat from Argentina and am constantly
uncertain how to respond. I would like to hear from his dignity if I can
guarantee to a G-d-fearing person that this meat is kosher without any
concerns, because this is what they ask me’ (Shu”t Har Tzvi, Even HaEzer #189).

“In an article published in the rabbinic journal Hamaor, in
Teiveis, 5719 Rabbi Eliezer Silver ruled that one may not use shechitah
teluyah because he had concerns about the actual shechitah being non-kosher.
He felt that the gentile holding the animal might actually push the animal into
the shechitah knife, which would involve the gentile partially
performing the shechitah and thereby invalidating it.

“Rav Silver recorded that during
the years the Ridbaz (who served as the Rav of Slutzk, Tzefas, and served
briefly as the Chief Rabbi of Chicago) spent in the United States, he once saw
a shechitah teluyah in Denver and prohibited it. Also, when a shaylah
about this matter was sent from Caracas, Venezuela to Rav Menashe Klein, he
prohibited it (Shu”t Mishneh Halachos 9:151). Similarly, in an
interesting letter to Rav Pinchas Hirschsprung of Montreal, Rav Moshe Feinstein
describes a shechitah teluyah facility that he saw in Toronto.
Although his initial reaction was that there was basis to allow the shechitah,
he told them that he would need to examine the matter further. Upon further
research, Rav Moshe withdrew his original psak permitting this shechitah
and permitted it only if the animal’s head was secured during the shechitah,
and not if it was simply held by workers (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 2:13).
Rav Moshe makes no mention of any of the other concerns about this shechitah,
such as the possibility that the gentile may move the animal into the shechitah
or about tzaar baalei chayim.

“Nevertheless, this method of shechitah
was very popular in the United States even among some of the most responsible hechsherim.
When I was involved in examining shechitos, back in the 1980’s, most shechitos
that I saw were still shechitah teluyah.

“As the animals’ advocacy
organizations became stronger and plant procedures came under the scrutiny of
the general public, shechitah teluyah became less popular and was
replaced with shechitah in a pen. Although the pen would certainly
resolve Rav Moshe’s concern that the head must be secured during the shechitah,
it may have created its own issues.”

At this point Yankel interrupted
the Rav’s monologue: “What do you mean by shechitah in a pen?”

“I have seen many such pens, each one with a slightly
variant design. The basic idea is that the entire animal, especially its head,
is secured by a pen operated either by electricity or through hydraulic power,
which holds the animal securely during the shechitah. This appliance makes
the shechitah very safe for the shocheit, and he has plenty of
time in which to perform the shechitah and to check afterwards that it
was performed correctly. In the United States, this became the standard method
for most shechitos, but it is unusual to find such a shechitah in
Europe, in Eretz Yisroel, or in those in South America that shecht
for a chareidi market.

“Why do they not use this method
in Europe?”

Again the Rav perused his
well-stocked bookshelves and produced a sefer Yankel had never seen

“In 1988, a movement was afoot in
England to require that all animals be shechted only while standing in a
pen. However, there was fierce opposition to requiring all Anglo-Jewish hechsherim
to shecht with this device. This volume, Bishvilei Hashechitah,
by an English shocheit named Rabbi Simcha Bunim Lieberman, includes an
essay that cites many reasons to oppose the change.

“1. The shocheit has to shecht
upwards. This is a highly technical halacha, but there are authorities
who contend that it is prohibited to shecht upwards, predominantly out
of concern that this might cause the shocheit to press rather than slice
while he is shechting, violating the Torah rule of drasah.

“2. A shocheit who is shechting
in a manner to which he is accustomed should not suddenly be required to shecht
in a different way, foreign to his experience.

“3. The greatest concern was that
since these devices are usually custom made, it is possible that the mechanical
force used to control the animal’s head may be so strong that it renders the
animal tereifah, before the shechitah takes place. The contention
was that such a device should not be used, without first seeing whether the
animal appears physically unharmed, and, ideally, the animal should be checked
carefully afterwards.”

Yankel asked Rav Posek if he was
familiar with the particular hechsher that Miriam had seen in the
neighbor’s house.

“Although I have not been in that shechitah
recently, I was there once many years ago. I cannot say that I was that happy
with the operation. The shochatim and bodakim all needed to work
quickly to keep pace with the speed of the assembly line production. I found it
difficult to imagine that they could do their jobs properly in the time
allowed. As I recall, I even mentioned this to the rav hamachshir, who
responded that he hires exclusively competent personnel who are up to the task.
I left very unsatisfied.”

“What would you tell our neighbor?”

“If she seems to be the type of
person who wants to do the correct thing, tell her: ‘According to what I have
heard, people feel that the kashrus standard used by that company is not
the highest.’ This statement is accurate and reflects exactly what you know.”


We now more fully appreciate the difficulties in maintaining
high kashrus standards, particularly when producing meat. We should
always hope and pray that the food we eat fulfills all the halachos that
the Torah commands.

Paying Workers on Time – The Mitzvah of “Bal Talin”

In honor of Yaakov Avinu’s contractual dealings with his
father-in-law, I present:

In parshas Ki Seitzei, the Torah instructs, “Beyomo
sitein secharo ve’lo sa’avor alav hashemesh –
On that day [the day the work
was completed] you should pay his wage, and the sun shall not set [without him
receiving payment]” (Devarim 24:15). The Torah mentions two mitzvos; a
positive mitzvah (mitzvas aseh) and a negative mitzvah (mitzvas lo
) to guarantee that a worker is paid before sunset of the day
that he performed his job. Thus, someone who pays his worker on time fulfills a
positive mitzvah, whereas if he neglects to pay him on time and the worker
demands payment, he has transgressed a lo sa’aseh.

The Torah gives us a definition of “on time” – before
sunset. This mitzvah is mentioned in parshas Kedoshim as well. However,
there the Torah presents the mitzvah somewhat differently: Lo salin pe’ulas
sachir it’cha ad boker
, “The wages of a worker shall not remain with you
until morning” (Vayikra 19:13). Here, the Torah requires that the worker
be paid before morning, implying that one has the entire night to pay
him, rather than being responsible to pay him before the day is over. The two
verses appear to be contradictory, one implying that I must pay my worker
before sunset, the other implying that I have until morning.

Chazal resolve this conflict by explaining that
there are indeed two deadlines, the end of the day and the end of the night,
but that the two pesukim discuss different cases. The pasuk in Ki
discusses a worker whose job finished during the day or precisely
at the end of the night. Such a worker must be paid before the following
sunset, which is the first deadline that arrives after he completed his job.
However, the pasuk in Kedoshim refers to a worker who completed
his job at the end of the day or during the night. Such a worker must be paid
by morning.

Thus, the two verses together teach that there are two
payment deadlines, one at sunset and the other at daybreak. One is obligated to
pay his worker before the next deadline that occurs after the job is completed.
If the work was completed before the end of the day, he must be paid by sunset.
If the work was completed at night, he must be paid before daybreak (Bava
111a, quoting the amora, Rav). It should be noted that one
violates the lo sa’aseh only in a case where the worker demanded payment
and the owner refused to pay. Furthermore, as we will note, there is no
violation if it is understood or prearranged that payment will be delayed.


The Torah was very concerned that a worker be paid on
time. This mitzvah applies not only to an employee, but also to a contractor
hired to perform a specific job; he must be paid by the first deadline after
the job is completed. It also applies to someone who works on the client’s item
on his own premises, such as a repairman of small appliances, or people who do
dry cleaning and tailoring. Payment on these items is due by the first deadline
after the item is returned (Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 339:6).

Likewise, someone hired for a specific length of time must
be paid by the first deadline after completion of employment. In all these
situations, if the job is completed (or the item returned) during the day, the
worker should be paid by sunset. If the job is completed by night, he should be
paid by morning.

This mitzvah applies to all kinds of hired work,
whether the worker is a contractor or an employee, permanent or temporary, poor
or wealthy, adult or minor. Thus, by paying on the day we receive the service,
we fulfill the mitzvah of beyomo sitein secharo, paying a worker on the day
he completes a job, as well as fulfilling other mitzvos mentioned later
in this article. The following is a partial list of workers included in this
mitzvah: automobile and appliance repairmen, babysitters, dentists, dry
cleaners, house cleaners, housing contractors, gardeners, lawyers, physicians,
psychologists, rebbes, teachers and tutors.


Shimon picked up his garment from the tailor, who
asked him for payment. Shimon forgot to bring money to pay the tailor, and
asked the tailor if he minds waiting a couple of days until Shimon would be
back in the neighborhood. The tailor answered that his rent is due today, and
he is short on funds. Shimon is obligated min haTorah to make a
special trip to pay the tailor today. Of course, his reward for fulfilling the
mitzvah is increased many times because of the inconvenience involved.

Similarly, one is required to pay the doctor on the
day of the appointment, unless other provisions have been prearranged. If I
hire a teenager to mow the lawn, I must pay him when he finishes the job. I
should not delay payment to a later date because of my convenience.

The employee or hiree must be paid in cash (Tosafos,
Bava Basra
92b; Shach Choshen Mishpat 336:4) or by check that he can
readily convert into cash. One may not pay a worker or contractor with
merchandise unless this was arranged in advance.

The employer has not fulfilled his mitzvah if he pays
with a post-dated check or a check that cannot be cashed immediately (such as, if
the bank is closed that day). Again, if the employee is told before he is hired
that these are the arrangements, then there is no violation.

In keeping with the Torah’s concept of protecting
workers’ rights, it is prohibited to call a repairman knowing that I have no
money to pay him, without telling him that payment will be delayed (see Ahavas


Bal talin
also applies to rental arrangements. Thus, if I rent an appliance or an
automobile, I must pay the rental fee by the sunset or daybreak after the
rental is completed.


Leah borrows a wedding dress from a gemach that
charges a fee for dry cleaning and other expenses. When she returns the dress,
she should pay the gemach before sunset or daybreak, whichever comes


Even the delay of a wage less than a perutah is
a violation of bal talin (Ritva, Bava Metzia 111b). As mentioned
above, I am required to pay a minor on the day he performs a job for me. Thus, if
I hire a child to run an errand for me, I must pay him that day (Ahavas
1:9:5). Furthermore, if I offer a young child a candy to do a job, I
am required to give him the candy on the day he did the job.


Reuven asked an eight-year-old to buy him an ice cream
cone, offering the child to buy himself a cone at the same time. The grocery
had only one cone left. If Reuven takes the cone for himself, he must make sure
to buy the child a cone before sunset that day. (In this instance, it will not
help Reuven if the child says that he does not mind, since a child cannot waive
his legal rights.)

Running a large business or being preoccupied is not a
valid reason for not paying on time (Tosafos, Bava Metzia 111a
s.v. Amar). Furthermore, arranging that someone else pay the workers or
contractors does not exempt the owner from responsibility if the agent is
remiss. This is because of a halachic principle that one may not assume
that an agent carried out a Torah command on my behalf (see Nesiv Hachesed 1:10:25).


Unless there was a reason to assume that I was not
expected to pay until later, I am responsible to pay the day the work is


Mr. Siegal enters the doctor’s office and sees a sign
on the wall, “Payment is due when service is rendered.” Mr. Siegal had assumed
that he would pay when the bill arrives, and he has no money until his next
payday. He should tell the receptionist of his inability to pay and request that
the doctor be so informed before the appointment.


The Gemara (Bava Metzia 111a) discusses
the following situation and rules it halachically acceptable. The Jewish
merchants of Sura hired workers and paid them at the end of the next market
day, when the merchants had cash. Until market day, it was assumed that the
merchants would use their available cash to purchase more merchandise (Ritva
ad loc.), and the workers were always paid after market day. The Gemara
states that these merchants did not violate bal talin, since it was
assumed that the workers would not be paid until the following market day.

A contemporary analogy is when a business pays its
workers on Tuesdays for the week’s work or on the first of the month for the
previous month. In these situations, there is no violation of bal talin,
since this is the agreed arrangement.


The Gemara (Bava Metzia 110b) discusses
a case where the foreman hired workers on behalf of the employer, notifying
them that he is not responsible for their wages. Subsequently, the wages were
delayed. The Gemara states that neither the foreman nor the employer
violated bal talin. The foreman was not personally obligated to pay the
workers, and the owner did not violate bal talin, because he did not hire the
workers himself. Nevertheless, he is still required to pay them on time, if
possible (Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 339:7).


To avoid violating any Torah mitzvos, the owner should
tell the workers before they begin working that he is making a condition that
they forgo their right to be paid on time (Nesiv Hachesed 1:10:24).


The owner is responsible for having his workers paid on
time. If he will be absent when his workers finish, he must make provisions to
pay them on time (Ahavas Chesed 1:10:12).


Mrs. Schwartz is taking her child to the doctor and has hired a babysitter to take care of her other young children until her teenage daughter comes home at 4:00 p.m. Unless Mrs. Schwartz arranges otherwise, she must see that her babysitter is paid before sunset.

There are several ways Mrs. Schwartz can avoid violating the Torah’s law. When hiring the sitter, Mrs. Schwartz can tell her that she is hiring her with the understanding that the sitter waives her right to be paid before the day ends. In this case, if Mrs. Schwartz fails to pay the sitter before sunset, she will not violate any prohibition, although she will have missed the opportunity to perform a mitzvah. Therefore, it is better if Mrs. Schwartz gives her teenage daughter money to pay the sitter. This way Mrs. Schwartz has fulfilled the mitzvah of paying her worker on time. Optimally, Mrs. Schwartz should do both; that is, she should ask her sitter to waive her right, just in case the sitter is not paid on time, and arrange for her daughter to pay, so Mrs. Schwartz fulfills an extra mitzvah.

If the sitter did not waive her right to be paid before
sunset, Mrs. Schwartz must check with her daughter later in the day to see that
she did, indeed, pay the babysitter (see Nesiv Hachesed 1:10:25).


Kalman Mandel’s business is running into a cash-flow
problem, and he is having difficulty paying his contractors. There are several shaylos
he should ask his rav:

(1) Is he required to pay his contractors from his own
personal money, or can he assume that, since his business is incorporated, he
is obligated to pay them only from his business account?

(2) How much is the business required to liquidate to
pay the contractors?

(3) How aggressively is the business required to
collect its receivables?

(4) Is he required to sell merchandise at a lower
price? At a loss?

Chofetz Chayim (Ahavas Chesed 1:9:7) rules that one is required to borrow money to
pay one’s workers on time, whereas Pischei Tshuva (339:8) and Graz
rule that it is the correct thing to do (midas chassidus), but it is not

According to Biur Halacha (242:1), if one does
not have enough money both to pay wages due on Friday and to make Shabbos, one
is required to pay the wages, even if, as a result, he will not have money for

Similarly, if sunset is approaching and the owner has
not yet paid wages that are due today, he must attend to paying his workers, if
they are demanding payment, even if the result is that he is unable to daven

As we have mentioned before, if the employee does not
claim payment or states that he doesn’t mind if the payment is delayed, the
employer does not violate bal talin. Nevertheless, the employer should
still attempt to pay on time, and he fulfills a mitzvah by doing so.

It is wrong for the owner to delay paying the worker,
forcing him to repeatedly return for payment. These actions violate the mitzvah
taught by the pasuk in Mishlei, “Al tomar le’rei’acha lech
vashoov umachar etein ve’yeish itach –
Do not tell your neighbor ‘Go and
come back, I’ll pay you tomorrow,’ when you have [the money] with you” (Mishlei

If the employer refuses to pay his worker altogether, he
violates the prohibition of Lo sa’ashok es rei’acha, “Do not hold back
payment due your neighbor” (Vayikra 19:13). If the employee or
contractor is needy, the employer violates an additional prohibition, Lo
sa’ashok sachir ani ve’evyon
, “Do not hold back payment due to a poor or destitute
person” (Devarim 24:14).

The Gemara (Bava Metzia 111a) counts a total
of seven Biblical mitzvos involved in withholding wages, including gezel,
stealing, as well as the above-mentioned mitzvos.


What should the owner do when he does not have enough
money to pay all his employees and contractors? The Chofetz Chayim
discusses this exact shaylah in his sefer Ahavas Chesed. He rules
that if some of the workers are poor, he should pay those workers first. If all
or none of the workers are poor, he should divide the available funds among
them equally.


The owner missed his deadline. Feeling bad, he considers compensating
his workers by providing them with a bonus for their patience. Unfortunately,
although he means well, the owner has now incurred a different prohibition,
because this is considered as paying interest (ribis). Since he is
obligated to pay his workers, the amount owed is a debt. The prohibition
against interest applies to any debt, even if it did not originate as a loan.
Therefore, an employer who delayed paying his workers or contractors cannot
offer them compensation for the delay, nor can they charge him a late fee (Shulchan
Aruch Yoreh Deah
173:12; Rema ibid. 176:6).

Similarly, if the owner is tight on cash, he may not
offer his workers, contractors or other creditors a bonus if they agree to wait
for payment. This situation might entail a Torah prohibition of ribis (see
Bris Yehudah pg. 451 ftn 15). If necessary, he could arrange this with a
heter iska, and a rav should be consulted.


When a person feels he is being overcharged, he
usually considers withholding part of the payment until the matter is
clarified. If indeed he is correct, this plan is not a problem. However, if he
is mistaken and the contractor deserves, and demands payment for, the total
amount, it means that he has violated bal talin by not paying the
contractor on time. For this reason, the Chofetz Chayim suggests always
negotiating a price with a contractor or repairman in advance.


If the repairman is uncertain how much the work will
cost, tell him before he starts that you are stipulating that he waive his
right to be paid on time (see Graz Vol. 5 pg. 890 #18). This avoids
violating the prohibition of bal talin should a dispute develop between
the parties.

If this was not stipulated in advance, and a dispute
develops, discuss with a rav or posek how to proceed. Bear in
mind that if the worker is demanding payment and the contracting party is
wrong, he might end up violating a serious Torah prohibition by not paying on

It is important that people become more familiar with
the details of bal talin in order to conduct their business dealings
according to halacha. Unfortunately, not everyone realizes that they
perform a mitzvah each time they pay their workers on time. Apparently, this is
not a recent phenomenon. Over a hundred years ago, the Chofetz Chayim
decried the fact that otherwise observant people were inattentive to the
observance of this mitzvah. He attributed this to ignorance of its details.
Hopefully, this article will spur people to learn more about this mitzvah and
the great reward for being attentive about its observance.