Is Papaya a Tree?

Although the month of Shvat just began, since I have planned a different, very exciting article for next week, we are going to discuss an aspect of Tu Bishvat this week. For those who want to read more about the holiday themes of Tu Bishvat, you can check on RabbiKaganoff.com under the search words orlah or fourth year.

Question #1: What bracha?

What bracha do I recite before I eat papaya?

Question #2: Orlah

Does the prohibition of orlah apply to papaya?

Question #3:

Are there any kashrus concerns germane to papain?

Introduction:

Whether a particular plant is defined halachically as a tree or not influences several areas of halacha, including:

1. What bracha one recites on its fruit.

2. What bracha one recites on its fragrance.

3. Whether the prohibition of orlah applies to its fruit.

4. How severe is the prohibition to destroy it (bal tashchis).

5. What are its laws concerning kelayim, shemittah, and ma’aser, all of which are relevant only in Eretz Yisrael.

What is a tree?

Although it is obvious that an oak tree is not a vegetable, the status of many species of Hashem’s botanical wonders is questionable: are they trees or are they not? The Random House dictionary I have on my desk defines a tree as, “a plant having a permanently woody main stem or trunk, ordinarily growing to a considerable height, and usually developing branches at some distance from the ground.” If we exclude the two qualifiers, “ordinarily” and “usually,” then this definition does not consider a grape vine to be a tree since it lacks height if not supported and does not develop branches some distance from the ground. Since we know that halacha considers grapes to be fruits of the tree, this definition will not suffice. On the other hand, if we broaden the definition of “tree” to include all plants that have a “permanently woody stem or trunk” we will not only include grape vines, but also probably include eggplant, pineapple, and lavender, all of which have woody stems. On the other hand, several plants, such as the date palm and papaya, fit the Random House definition as a tree and yet grow very differently from typical trees. Are all of these plants trees?

For halachic purposes, a better working definition is that a tree is a woody perennial plant that possesses a stem that remains from year to year and produces fruit. This definition is also not without its difficulties. In a different article, I discussed the status of eggplant, several varieties of berry including raspberry and cranberry, and several fragrant plants and flowers, which may or may not qualify as trees, depending on our definition. There are many times that we treat a plant lechumrah as a tree regarding the very stringent laws of orlah, although we will not treat it as a tree regarding many or all of the other halachos mentioned. In that article, I noted that the following characteristics might be qualifying factors in providing the halachic definition of a tree:

(a) Is the species capable of producing fruit within its first year (after planting from seed)?

(b) Does the fruit production of the species begin to deteriorate the year after it begins producing? In other words, a typical tree species produces quality fruit for a few years. If the species produces quality fruit for only one year, and then the quality or quantity begins to deteriorate, does it halachically have the category of a tree?

(c) Does the species produce fruit from shoots that will never again produce fruit?

(d) Is its physical appearance markedly different from a typical tree?

(e) Does it produce fruit for three years or less?

We should also note that the poskim dispute whether the definition of a tree for the purposes of the brachaborei atzei besamim” is the same as the definition for the bracha of “borei pri ha’eitz” and for the halachos of orlah, shemittah, ma’aser, and kelayim.

Is papaya a tree?

A papaya may grow ten feet tall or more, but it bears closer similarity in many ways to being a very tall stalk since its stem is completely hollow on the inside and it does not usually produce branches. Its leaves and fruits grow directly on the top of the main stem, and it usually produces fruit during the first year, unlike most trees.

Commercially, the grower usually uproots the plant after four to five years of production, although the papaya can survive longer, and in some places it is standard to cut it down and replant it after three years.

With this introduction, we can now begin to discuss whether papaya is a tree fruit and its proper bracha borei pri ha’eitz, or whether is it is considered a large plant on which we recite ha’adamah as we do for banana. A more serious question is whether the prohibition of orlah applies to papaya. If it does, this could create an intriguing problem, since it may be that there are plantations, or even countries, where the entire papaya crop grows within three years and may be prohibited as orlah.

Commercial and halachic history of papaya

The Spaniards discovered papaya in Mexico and Central America, from where it was transported to the Old World. The earliest halachic reference to it that I am aware of is a shaylah sent from India to the Rav Pe’alim (Vol. 2, Orach Chayim #30), author of the Ben Ish Chai, asking which bracha to recite on its fruit.

The Rav Pe’alim discusses what the appropriate bracha on papaya is. He begins by comparing papaya to the eggplant. Based on four factors, Rav Pe’alim rules that papaya is not a tree and that the appropriate bracha is ha’adamah. These factors are:

1. The part of the stem that produces fruit never produces again. Instead, the fruit grows off the newer growth higher on the plant. Initially, I did not understand what the Rav Pe’alim meant with this, since there are many trees, such as dates, which produce only on their new growth, not on the old. Thus, this does not seem to be a feature that defines a tree. After further study, I realized that the difference is that papaya produces fruit only on top of the “tree,” and it looks atypical, not resembling other trees, whereas dates, although the fruit grows on the new growth high up on the tree, it does not grow on the top of the tree, but from branches on the new growth.

2. The stem of the papaya is hollow, which is not characteristic of trees. (Rav Moshe Shternbuch, in his teshuvah on whether papaya is included in the prohibition of orlah, describes papaya as a tall stalk. See Shu’t Teshuvos VeHanhagos 3:333).

3. The fruit grows directly on the trunk and not on the branches.

4. The papaya produces fruit within its first year.

In a follow-up letter, a correspondent wrote that the custom among Jews in India is to recite ha’eitz before eating the papaya’s fruit. Rav Pe’alim responded that he does not consider this custom to be a halachic opinion, since the community lacked Talmidei Chachomim to paskin shaylos. He points out that if the papaya is a tree, then we must prohibit its fruit as orlah since the grower usually cuts it down before its fourth year.

Among contemporary poskim, some follow the ruling of the Rav Pe’alim that papaya is exempt from orlah and its bracha is ha’adamah (Shu’t Yechaveh Daas 4:52), whereas most rule that papaya does have orlah concerns (Shu’t Sheivet Halevi 6:165; Mishpetei Aretz, page 27, quoting Rav Elyashiv; Teshuvos VeHanhagos). One should note that Rav Ovadyah Yosef, who rules that papaya is exempt from any orlah concerns, also rules that passion fruit, called pasiflora in Modern Hebrew, is also exempt from the prohibition of orlah since it produces fruit in its first year. Most other authorities do not accept this approach.

Papaya outside Eretz Yisrael

There should be a difference in halacha between papaya growing in Eretz Yisrael and that growing in chutz la’aretz. Whereas the prohibition of orlah exists both in Eretz Yisrael and in chutz la’aretz, questionable orlah fruit is prohibited if it grew in Eretz Yisrael but permitted if it grew in chutz la’aretz. This is because the mitzvah of orlah has a very unusual halachic status. There is a halacha leMoshe miSinai that prohibits orlah fruit outside of Eretz Yisrael, but only when we are certain that the fruit is orlah. When we are uncertain whether the fruit is orlah, the halacha leMoshe miSinai permits this fruit.

Based on the above, one should be able to permit papaya growing outside Eretz Yisrael either because (1) there is the possibility that this particular fruit grew after the orlah years had passed or (2) that perhaps papaya is not considered a tree for one of the reasons mentioned by the Rav Pe’alim.

There are two important differences in halacha between these two reasons. The first is whether the bracha on papaya is ha’eitz or ha’adamah. The Rav Pe’alim ruled that it is not a tree fruit and therefore its bracha is ha’adamah. According to the first approach, it may indeed be ha’eitz and still be permitted, since it is only safek orlah.

Here is another difference in halacha between the two reasons.

Papain

Papain is a highly popular enzyme extracted from the papaya. In the early twentieth century, Belgian colonists in the Congo noticed that the local population wrapped meat in papaya leaves. The colonists discovered that the papaya leaves preserved the meat and also tenderized it. Laboratory analysis discovered an enzyme, now called papain, as the agent of the process. This spawned a new industry producing and selling papain from papaya plantations around the world.  New applications were discovered, and papain is now also used in the production of beer, biscuits, and is very commonly used as a digestive aid.

If papain was still produced from leaves there would be no orlah issue, since orlah applies only to the fruit of a plant. Unfortunately, today’s papain is extracted not from the leaf, but from the peel of the papaya. If a fruit is prohibited as orlah, its peel is also prohibited.

In actuality, there is a more serious problem of orlah in papain than in eating the papaya fruit itself. Papain is collected by scratching the peel of the growing fruit, which causes a liquid containing the papain to exude from the peel, without harming the fruit. A bib is tied around the middle of a papaya tree, which catches all the papain from that particular tree. The papain is collected and sent to a factory where all the papain harvested is blended. The process can be repeated many times before the fruit is ripe for picking. Thus, the papain is a second crop.

However, this method of harvesting the papain creates a halachic complexity not encountered with the papaya fruit. Since safek orlah is permitted in chutz la’aretz, if we are uncertain as to whether a particular tree growing is within its orlah years, we may eat the fruit because of the halacha leMoshe miSinai that safek orlah is permitted. Therefore, even if we consider papaya a tree, the fruit grown outside Eretz Yisrael is permitted if there is a possibility that it is not orlah.  The papain, however, would be prohibited because the papain used is a mixture of extracts of all the fruit. If indeed this particular grove contained some trees that are orlah, then the mixture is permitted only if one can be mevateil the orlah that is in the mixture. In the case of the mitzvah of orlah, that would require 200 parts of kosher fruit to every one unit of orlah. Therefore, papain would be prohibited if there are 200 parts of non-orlah fruit to one part orlah, which in essence prohibits all the papain.

The above is true if we assume that the papaya is a tree subject to the laws of orlah. However, if we assume that the different reasons suggested are enough bases to rule that it is questionable whether papaya is subject to the laws of orlah, then we may permit papaya from trees that grow outside Eretz Yisrael even when we are certain that the tree is less than three years old. The latter reason would permit papain that originates in chutz la’aretz.

While nibbling on the fruit this Tu B’Shvat, we should think through the different halachic and hashkafic ramifications that affect us. Man himself is compared to a tree (see Rashi, Bamidbar 13:20); and his responsibility to observe orlah, terumos, and maasros are intimately bound with the count that depends on Tu B’shvat. As Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch explains, by observing Hashem’s command to refrain from the fruits of his own property, one learns to practice the self-restraint necessary to keep all pleasure within the limits of morality.

Of Frogs and Sanctification

Most people find it fascinating to discover that the great tzadikim,Chananyah, Mishael and Azaryah, learned from the frogs in this week’s parsha that there is a mitzvah to die al kiddush Hashem. Stay tuned to find out…

Question: Amphibious actions!

Where do we find that the deeds of amphibians affect a halachic decision?

Introduction:

The book of Daniel tells us the story of the great tzadikim, Chananyah, Mishael and Azaryah, who were thrown into a fiery furnace for refusing to prostrate themselves before the statue that Nevuchadnetzar had erected (see Daniel 3:1-30). The Gemara (Pesachim 53b) explains that their decision was based on the actions of the frogs in Mitzrayim. How and what Chananyah, Mishael and Azaryah derived from the frogs will be discussed shortly, but we first need to understand some halachic background on this topic.

In general, the observance of mitzvos is superseded when life is threatened. We are well familiar with the law that, in the case of a medical, fire or other emergency, Shabbos observance is suspended to the extent necessary to protect life. The Gemara (Yoma 85a-b) quotes several halachic sources that demonstrate this concept. The conclusion is that we derive the rule that Shabbos observance is suspended to protect life from the pasuk, Vechai bahem (Vayikra 18:5),that the purpose of the mitzvos is to cherish life.

Kiddush Hashem

On the other hand, there is a mitzvah of the Torah, Venikdashti besoch B’nei Yisroel, in which Hashem commanded us to sanctify His presence within the Jewish people. This law teaches that, when an evil malefactor wants Jews to desecrate the Torah, we are sometimes required to sacrifice our lives. When ten Jews are aware that, under these circumstances, a Jew is being coerced to break any commandment, Kiddush Hashem requires that he surrender his life (Sanhedrin 74b). In this situation, someone who did not surrender his life violated not only the positive mitzvah (mitzvas aseh) of Venikdashti besoch B’nei Yisroel, but he also violated a negative command (mitzvas lo sa’aseh) of Velo sechalelu es shem kodshi.

However, when an evil malefactor is coercing a Jew to violate the Torah, but ten Jews are unaware that this is happening, the Jew is not obligated to give up his life, and, according to many authorities, he is not permitted to. There are other exceptions when one is not required or permitted to give up one’s life, which we will learn about shortly.

The ruling requiring surrendering one’s life is only when the goal of the oppressor is exclusively to get Jews to violate the mitzvos. However, if his goal is to get some benefit or pleasure for himself, there is no obligation to surrender one’s life. The Gemara (Sanhedrin 74b) presents the following theoretical example to define the difference.

Rava said, “An idol worshipper who tells a Jew, ‘Cut that hay on Shabbos and feed it to the animals, or I will kill you,’ the Jew should cut the hay and not allow himself to be killed. On the other hand, if the idol worshipper demands of him, ‘Cut that hay on Shabbos and throw it into the fire,’ the Jew should allow himself to be killed and not cut the hay. What is the difference? In the latter case, the goal of the malevolent command is to have the Jew violate the mitzvah.”

Rashi notes that Rava was discussing a situation that took place in the presence of ten Jews or, as we will soon explain, during a time of persecution. Otherwise, a Jew is not required, and, according to some opinions, not permitted to give up his life.

What about idols?

Aside from the law of Kiddush Hashem that I just discussed, there are other situations in which one is required to surrender one’s life, rather than breach the Torah. The Gemara (Sanhedrin 74a) cites a dispute among tana’im concerning what is the halacha when someone’s life is threatened should he refuse to worship an idol. Rabbi Yishmael rules that, if the situation is in private, Vechai bahem applies, even regarding the prohibition of avodah zarah. In his opinion, one may perform the external motions that appear to be idolatrous to save one’s life. However, when the situation is in public, meaning that ten Jews know about it, Rabbi Yishmael agrees that the pasuk of Velo sechalelu es shem kodshi requires surrendering one’s life, rather than violating the Torah.

Rabbi Eliezer disagrees, ruling that the sin of avodah zarah requires yeihareig ve’al yaavor, meaning that one is always required to surrender one’s life rather than violate the prohibition against idolatry, even if the sin will be performed in private. Rabbi Eliezer derives this ruling from the pasuk we say several times daily, Ve’ohavto es Hashem Elokecha bechol levavcho uvechol nafshecho uvechol me’odecho, that we are required to love Hashem with our entire heart, soul and resources, which includes that we not renounce our belief in Him; we are required to demonstrate our love for Hashem, even in the event that it would require the ultimate sacrifice (Sanhedrin 74a).

Talmudic conclusion

Quoting the tana Rabbi Shimon ben Yehotzadok, the Gemara says that the Beis Din Hagadol, the final authority of halacha for the Jewish people, concluded that for three cardinal sins — idol worship, giluy arayos (incest, adultery and similar offenses), and murder — we always say yeihareig ve’al yaavor. The requirement to sacrifice one’s life rather than violate giluy arayos or murder is derived from other sources (Sanhedrin 74a).

In this context, the Gemara cites the following anecdote. A man approached the amora Rava, asking him the following she’eilah: The warlord of his town had told this man, “Go kill so-and-so; if not, I will kill you!” The man wanted to know whether he was permitted to follow the dictate of the warlord to save his life. Rava answered that the Torah does not permit murder, even to save your own life, because of the following point, “who tells you that your blood is redder. Perhaps the other person’s blood is redder than yours!” In other words, who tells you that Hashem prefers that you survive, when you have to kill someone else in order to do so (Nimukei Yosef ad locum)?

Thus, we see that there are two situations in which we rule yeihareig ve’al yaavor: When saving my life will require that I violate one of the three cardinal sins, or when the intent of the one posing the threat is only to get Jews to violate the mitzvos, and ten Jews are aware that this is happening.

During times of persecution

The Gemara (Sanhedrin 74a) adds a third situation in which the rule is yeihareig ve’al yaavor: When the government is intent on destroying Yiddishkeit, which the Gemara calls sha’as gezeiras malchus, literally, at the time of government decrees, one is required to give up one’s life rather than violate the Torah, even for a “light mitzvah.” What is defined as a “light” or small mitzvah? The Gemara explains that this includes even the difference between the color of the shoelaces that Jews and gentiles use. Rashi explains that the case is when there is a Jewish custom that is more modest. Since the Jews have accepted this practice, if the gentile is trying to get a Jew to violate accepted Jewish practice, he is required to give up his life. It is a Chillul Hashem to allow a gentile to force a Jew to violate accepted Jewish practice, and a Kiddush Hashem to follow Jewish practice. However, this halacha applies only when it is a time of religious persecution.

Rashi’s older contemporary, the Rif, explains that the gentiles wore red shoelaces. Although there is no halachic prohibition to wear a specific color of shoelace, since this was the defining difference in garb between Jew and non-Jew in that time and place, if a gentile insisted that he wants a Jew to dress like a gentile does, one is required to sacrifice his life and not do so.

Sum up

Although when life is threatened, the observance of a mitzvah is generally suspended, in three situations one is required to sacrifice one’s life rather than violate the Torah. The three situations are:

1. Being forced to commit one of the three cardinal sins.

2. At a time of persecution.

3. When someone is forcing a Jew to violate accepted Jewish law or practice in the presence of or with the knowledge of ten Jews.

The latter cases are true only when the perpetrator’s motive is to force Jews to forsake G-d’s law, but not when he is interested in benefiting from the transgression.

Based on the above, let us quote the Rambam:

“All members of the Jewish people are commanded to sanctify His great Name, as the Torah states, Venikdashti besoch B’nei Yisroel, and they are admonished not to desecrate it, as the Torah states, Velo sechalelu es sheim kodshi. How does this law manifest itself? If an idol worshipper will stand up and force a Jew to violate one of the mitzvos of the Torah in a situation that, if the Jew refuses, the idol worshipper will kill him, the Jew should transgress the mitzvah and not allow himself to be killed, since the Torah states, Vechai bahem — You shall live with them, and not die because of them. If he chooses to die and not violate the mitzvah, he is held responsible for the loss of his own life. When is this true? — regarding mitzvos other than idolatry, gilui arayos and shedding blood. However, regarding these three sins, if the idol worshipper tells him, “Violate one of these sins or be killed,” the Jew should allow himself to be killed and not violate the mitzvah.

“When is this true? When the idol worshipper’s intention is for his own pleasure, such as, he is forcing the Jew to build a house or to cook for the idol worshipper on Shabbos… . However, if the idol worshipper’s only goal is that the Jew violate the mitzvah, if… ten Jews are not present, the Jew should violate the mitzvah and not be killed. But if the idol worshipper forces the Jew in the presence of ten Jews, the Jew is required to give up his life rather than violate the mitzvah, even if it is one of the other mitzvos. Furthermore, these rules apply only when it is not a time when the gentiles are making decrees against the Jews. However, in an era that they are, such as when an evil king, like Nevuchadnetzar, makes decrees against the Jews to violate their religion or one of their mitzvos, a Jew is required to give up his life, regardless of which mitzvah he is being coerced to transgress and regardless as to whether this coercion is in the presence of ten Jews or in private” (Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah 5:1-3).

The Rambam continues: In every instance when it says that he should violate the mitzvah and not be killed, and the Jew chose instead to be killed rather than violate the mitzvah, he is guilty of giving up his life. And in every instance when it says that the Jew should give up his life rather than violate the mitzvah, and he surrendered his life and did not violate the mitzvah, he has sanctified Hashem’s Name. If this happened in the presence of ten Jews, he sanctified Hashem’s Name in public, as was done by Daniel, Chananyah, Mishael, Azaryah, Rabbi Akiva and others like them. These are the holy ones whose greatness is above all others… . However, one who was required to surrender his life, but chose instead to violate the mitzvah and did not surrender his life has desecrated Hashem’s Name, and, if ten Jews were present, he has desecrated Hashem’s Namein public, abrogated the positive mitzvah of the Torah, Kiddush Hashem, and violated a negative mitzvah of the Torah, Chillul Hashem. Nevertheless, since his violation was coerced, he is not culpable of transgressing of his own will and, therefore, not subject to punishment for the prohibition violated, since a person is not punished for a sin performed under coercion (Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah 5:4).

Elisha, owner of wings

In this context, the Gemara (Shabbos 130a) shares with us the following story about a tzadik named Elisha, who lived during the time of the Roman persecution:

“Why was he called Elisha, owner of wings?” It once happened that the evil kingdom (a Talmudic reference to the Roman Empire) decreed that any Jew who wears tefillin will have his brain smashed. Elisha went through the streets, proudly wearing his tefillin. A Roman soldier saw him and gave chase. Elisha whipped off his tefillin and hid them in his hands. The soldier caught him and demanded that Elisha tell him what he was holding. Elisha answered him that he was holding “dove’s wings.” Elisha then opened his hands and, indeed, he was holding the wings of doves! (We will soon explain why he used this example.)

How could he?

The rishonim ask why Elisha was permitted to remove the tefillin from his head. This was clearly an era of gezeirah, and, as we noted above, in such an era, one is required to give up one’s life even for a custom of the Jews, and certainly for a mitzvah of the Torah!

The rishonim answer that there is a difference between positive mitzvos and prohibitions. Since the evildoers could physically stop the Jews from keeping mitzvos requiring actions, e.g., by locking them up without access to tefillin, there is no requirement to sacrifice one’s life to fulfill them (Ran, Pesachim 6a in Rif’s dapim). However, in the case of participating in a forbidden activity in an era of gezeirah, there the Torah declared yeihoreig ve’al yaavor, that I am required to give up my life. This ruling is accepted by the poskim as the normative halacha (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 157).

Return of the frogs

As mentioned in our introduction, the Gemara (Pesachim 53b) teaches that Chananyah, Mishael and Azaryah derived from the frogs that they could give up their lives, rather than bow to the statue. Chananyah, Mishael and Azaryah noted that the frogs jumped into the Egyptian ovens when the ovens were hot, thus cremating themselves. Thus, the frogs, who had no mitzvah of sanctifying Hashem’s Name, still did so. Chananyah, Mishael and Azaryah reasoned a fortiori (kal vechomer): if the frogs, who were not required to sanctify Hashem’s Name, burned themselves for the sake of demonstrating Hashem’s greatness, we certainly should.

Tosafos (ad locum) questions: Why did Chananyah, Mishael and Azaryah require a kal vechomer from the frogs to conclude that they should sacrifice themselves? The event with the statue of Nevuchadnetzar happened in public, and when an incident occurs in public and the evil person’s goal is to demonstrate that he can force a Jew to violate mitzvos, the Gemara requires that one give up one’s life. In such a case, it is a requirement to do so, even for a small mitzvah or even for a Jewish custom.

Rabbeinu Tam explained that, technically speaking, Chananyah, Mishael and Azaryah were not required to sacrifice themselves, because the statue that Nevuchadnetzar erected was not an idol – it was similar to the statues that we find in our cities whose purpose is to honor someone. Nevuchadnetzar instructed people to bow to the statue to demonstrate their subservience to him. Thus, there was no requirement for Chananyah, Mishael and Azaryah to give up their lives, but they derived from the frogs that it was permitted for them to do so.

In another approach, Rabbeinu Tam’s nephew, Rabbeinu Yitzchak (usually called simply the Ri) disagreed that this is what happened in the story of Chananyah, Mishael and Azaryah. Although he clearly accepts Rabbeinu Tam’s halachic analysis, he feels that the statue placed there by Nevuchadnetzar was, indeed, an idol. To answer the question why Chananyah, Mishael and Azaryah were not required to give up their lives because of the mitzvah of Kiddush Hashem, and needed reassurance from the frogs that they were permitted to sacrifice themselves, the Ri answers that Chananyah, Mishael and Azaryah could have fled. Their question was whether they were required to flee to save their lives or whether they were permitted to remain, knowing that by staying they would be required to give up their lives for Kiddush Hashem. They derived from the frogs that they were permitted to give up their lives for Kiddush Hashem, even though they had the opportunity to avoid the situation.

We see from this discussion two additional points:

1. Although there is a mitzvah of Kiddush Hashem, there is no requirement to make sure that one remains in his location to have the opportunity to perform the mitzvah. However, according to the Ri, it is permitted, and perhaps even meritorious, to do so.

2. We should note that the Rambam quoted above stated that, as a rule of thumb, when the Torah does not require yeihareig ve’al yaavor, one is prohibited from giving up one’s life to do so. This implies that the Rambam disagrees with Rabbeinu Tam, who ruled that Chananyah, Mishael and Azaryah were not required to sacrifice themselves in their situation, but were permitted to do so.

However, the Nimukei Yosef concludes that even the Rambam might agree here. When a person whom the Nimukei Yosef describes as a great tzadik sees that the generation is lax, he is permitted to sacrifice himself in order to teach his generation. He rallies evidence for this principle from the story of Chananyah, Mishael and Azaryah.

Conclusion

I quoted above the story of the great tzadik called Elisha, “the owner of wings,” and how he earned his moniker. The Gemara continues its sharing of the anecdote by asking why Elisha said that his tefillin were dove’s wings. The Gemara concludes that the Jewish people are compared to doves, as the pasuk in Tehillim (68:14) compares the Jewish people to the wings of a dove that are coated with silver, and her wing-feathers are like fine gold. Just as the dove is protected by its wings, Klal Yisroel is protected by its mitzvos (Shabbos 130a)! May we always be protected by our mitzvos and never have to live through times when our mitzvos or lives are challenged.

When May I Remove a Tree? Part II

The Midrash teaches that Yaakov brought with him to Egypt the shittim trees that would be planted so that the Bnei Yisroel would later be able to leave Egypt with wood to build the Mishkan. There is no halachic problem with uprooting non-fruit-bearing trees for lumber, but there is at times a halachic problem with uprooting fruit trees for lumber or other use. So, this provides an opportunity to discuss…

Question #1: Darkening Peaches

“A peach tree is now blocking sunlight from reaching our house. May we cut down the tree?”

Question #2: Building Expansion

The Goldbergs purchased a house hoping to expand it onto its lot that contains several fruit trees. May they remove the trees to expand their house?

Question #3: For a Shul

Congregation Ohavei Torah purchased a plot of land for their new shul building, but the property contains some fruit trees. May they chop down the trees for the mitzvah of building a new Beis Hakenesses?

Question #4: For a Sukkah

“We just moved into a new house, and the only place where we can put a sukkah is in an area that is shaded by a fruit tree. May we chop down the tree in order to have a place to build our sukkah?”

In a previous article, we discussed several issues concerning when it is permitted to remove or destroy a fruit tree. The Torah teaches that when going to war one may not destroy fruit trees unless doing so serves a strategic purpose, and that in general it is forbidden to destroy fruit trees randomly. In that article, I mentioned that there is a dispute among authorities whether one may raze trees in order to build a house in their place. We also learned that the Gemara considers it dangerous to destroy fruit trees, and, according to some authorities, this is true even when there is no prohibition involved in razing the tree.

A Shady Deal

At this point, let us refer to our opening question: “A peach tree is now blocking sunlight from reaching our house. May we cut down the tree?”

This actual question was addressed to the Chavos Yair, a great seventeenth-century, central-European posek.

Based on the opinion of the Rosh (Bava Kamma 8:15),who permitted cutting down a tree in order to construct a house, the Chavos Yair allowed chopping down the offending peach tree (Shu”t Chavos Yair #195). However, the Chavos Yair rules that this is permitted only when one cannot simply remove some branches to allow the light into his house. When one can remove some branches and spare the tree, the Chavos Yair prohibits chopping down the tree since it is unnecessary to destroy the entire tree. Even though the branches will eventually grow and again block his light, the Chavos Yair does not permit chopping down the entire tree, but requires one to repeatedly trim it. Thus, although he accepts the Rosh’s ruling permitting removing a tree for the sake of a dwelling, the Chavos Yair notes that this is permitted only when one cannot have the house and eat the fruits, too.

Expanding Living Space

The Chavos Yair further rules that the Rosh,who permitted chopping down a tree to allow construction on its place, only permitted this for an essential need of the house, and not merely to make the house nicer, such as to widen his yard or to provide a place to relax.

At this point, we can probably answer another of our opening questions. The Goldbergs purchased a house hoping to expand it onto its lot that contains several fruit trees. May they remove the trees to expand their house?

Even according to the Rosh, they may remove the trees only to provide something essential for the house. Thus, if the need is essential, this heter will apply. (However, we will soon share a different possible solution.)

Some Are Stricter

The Chavos Yair follows the Rosh’s approach and permits removing a fruit tree if there is no other way to build a house.However, not all later authorities are this lenient. When asked this exact question — “May one cut down a tree to construct a house?” — the Netziv,one of the leading authorities of nineteenth-century Lithuania, was not comfortable with relying on the opinion of the Rosh. Rather, he concluded that there are early authorities who disagree with the Rosh and permit razing a fruit tree only in the three situations that the Gemara mentions: When the tree is more valuable as lumber, when it is producing almost no fruit, or when it is affecting the growth of other fruit trees. In the first two instances, it is no longer considered a fruit tree. The Netziv (Shu”t Meisheiv Davar 2:56) provides two different reasons why, if it is still considered a fruit tree, one cannot remove it.

(1) One may chop down a fruit tree only when it is damaging other fruit trees.

(2) Chopping down a fruit tree is permitted only when removing it provides immediate benefit. However, when one clears a tree to make room for construction, there is no immediate benefit. The benefit is not realized until one builds the house — which does not take place until later,and we do not see from the Gemara that this is permitted.

Following this latter approach, it is prohibited to destroy older trees and replace them with new ones, and halacha-abiding fruit growers must wait until their fruit trees are hardly productive before replacing them with new saplings.

At this point, I refer back to the next of our original questions: 

“Congregation Ohavei Torah purchased a plot of land for their new shul building, but the property contains some fruit trees. May they chop down the trees for the mitzvah of building a new Beis Hakenesses?”

What About for Temporary Use?

This case is fairly similar to an actual shaylah that is discussed by the Yaavetz (She’eilas Yaavetz 1:76), a prominent18th century posek in Germany. A community is renting a house from a non-Jew for their shul. The number of congregants is now, thank G-d, exceeding the size of the shul building, and the gentile owner has allowed them to expand the building on which they still have nine more years on their lease. However, there is only one direction in which they can expand their building, and do to so would require uprooting a grape vine. The gentile owner has permitted them to rip out the vine for this purpose. The community’s question is whether expanding the shul is a valid reason to permit ripping out a grape vine, which is halachically considered a fruit tree. The question is more significant in light of the fact that the community’s benefit may be only temporary — the gentile landlord may not renew their lease when it comes up for renewal, and they may then need to look for new quarters.

The Yaavetz ruled that even the temporary use of a shul is a valid reason permitting the ripping out of the grape vine. However, because of his concern that it is dangerous to do so, he advises hiring a gentile to uproot the vine. Since the mitzvah of destroying fruit trees is not included among the mitzvos that a ben Noach must observe, the gentile is not required to observe this mitzvah and therefore it is not dangerous for him to remove it.

The Yaavetz then mentions another factor. In every instance mentioned by the earlier authorities, it was not possible to replant the tree that is being removed in a different place. The Yaavetz suggests that there is no prohibition to uproot a fruit tree if one will replant the tree elsewhere. Thus, he concludes that even when no other solution exists to permit destroying a fruit tree, one may remove it by its root and replant it elsewhere, and then use the land for whatever one chooses.

Saving the Goldbergs!

The Yaavetz’s suggestion is very welcome news to the Goldbergs. They purchased a new house hoping to expand it onto the huge lot that they have that contains several beautiful fruit trees. May they remove the trees to expand their house?

According to the Yaavetz, they may remove the trees and plant them elsewhere, and then expand their house onto the extended lot.Again, I suggest that the Goldbergs check whether this relocation of the tree can realistically be done.

There are a few concerns about relying on this ruling of the Yaavetz. First, I have been told that although the Yaavetz may have known that this can be done, the assumption among today’s experts is that a transplanted mature fruit tree will not survive. Thus, this will be considered destroying the tree,

Furthermore, even assuming that the tree can be successfully replanted, the ruling of the Yaavetz is not without its detractors. The Chasam Sofer (Yoreh Deah #102) the posek hador of early nineteenth-century central Europe, concludes that one should not rely on this idea of the Yaavetz to remove a tree when other lenient reasons do not apply. However, he does rule that even when halacha accepts that one may uproot a fruit tree, if one can replant it one may not destroy it, since the demolition of the tree is unnecessary. Thus, if a fruit tree is damaging other trees, one may destroy it only when replanting it is not an option.

Shady Mitzvah

At this point, I would like to discuss our fourth opening question:

“We just moved into a new house, and the only place where we can put a sukkah is in an area that is shaded by a fruit tree. May we chop down the tree in order to have a place to build our sukkah?”

This exact question was asked of Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank, who was the Rav of Yerushalayim for many decades until his passing in 1960. Rav Frank cites and analyzes many of the above-mentioned sources, and is inclined to be lenient, reasoning that the performance of a mitzvah cannot be considered a destructive act. He concludes that one should have a gentile remove it, but not as an agent for a Jew, although he does not explain how one accomplishes this (Shu”t Har Tzvi, Orach Chayim II #102).

Conclusion

Thus we see that there are different conclusions as to when one may destroy a fruit tree for a valid reason, and each person should ask his own rav what to do.

The Ramban explains that the reason for the mitzvah is that one should have trust in Hashem that He will assist us in vanquishing our enemies and then we will be able to use the fruit from this tree. Destroying the tree when this serves no strategic benefit means that we think we will never use it. Rather, one should feel that one will gain from this tree as soon as the enemy is vanquished. We should assume that the area and all it contains will become our property, so why destroy the tree growing there innocently? One should take care of this tree just as one would take care of a tree that is already my personal property.

The Longest Year

Since this is a leap year, in which we add an extra month for Adar, this year has 385 days – making it the longest year that our current Jewish calendar can have. Therefore, I am presenting:

The Longest Year

“Thirty days hath September / April, June and November.” If we were to adapt this poem to, l’havdil, our current, standardized Jewish calendar, we would say that thirty days hath Tishrei, Shvat, Nissan, Sivan, Av, and sometimes Cheshvan1 and Kislev. But the idea of having a standardized Jewish calendar seems to run counter to several mishnayos in Rosh HaShanah. In those mishnayos, we see that whether a specific month has 29 days or 30 days depends on whether witnesses saw the new moon and testified in beis din early enough to declare the 30th day Rosh Chodesh (that is, the first day of the next month). In addition, the Gemara2 states that at times Elul could be 30 days long — which cannot happen in our calendar.

How did our empirical calendar become so rigid and predictable? The Torah (Shemos 12:2) commands the main beis din of the Jewish people (also known as the Sanhedrin), or a beis din specially appointed by them, to declare Rosh Chodesh upon accepting the testimony of witnesses who observed the new moon.3 The purpose of having eyewitnesses was not to notify the beis din that the moon had appeared; the beis din had extensive knowledge of astronomy and could predict exactly when and where the new moon would appear and what size and shape it would be.4 The Torah obligated the beis din to wait for witnesses, however, and they could only rule on whether the 30th day would be the last day of the old month or would become the first day of a new month, based on testimony. If no witnesses to the new moon arrived on the 30th day, then the 31st day became Rosh Chodesh, regardless of the astronomic calculations (Mishnah Rosh HaShanah 24a). At that point in Jewish history, any month could be either 29 or 30 days.

The Torah also commands us that Pesach must always fall during the spring (Devarim 16:1). This seemingly innocuous mitzvah actually requires considerable manipulation of the calendar, since months, derived from the word moon, are determined by the length of time from one new moon to the next, which is a bit more than 29½ days. A lunar year is, or more accurately, twelve lunar months are, almost exactly 354 days. The seasons of the year, on the other hand, are calculated according to the solar year, because seasons change based on where the sun’s most direct rays strike the earth. This varies daily, as the most direct rays move from the north Tropic of Cancer to the south Tropic of Capricorn and back again. A solar year is a bit less than 365¼ days, and is based on the length of time it takes the earth to rotate around the sun. Since Pesach must always take place during the spring, the calendar cannot be twelve lunar months every year, because over time, the eleven-day discrepancy between the lunar and solar years would cause Pesach to wander through the solar year and occur in all seasons.5

The Two “Other” Calendars

There are four calendars commonly in use in the world today, two of which make no attempt to resolve the discrepancy between solar and lunar years. The most common secular calendar (the Gregorian or Western calendar) is based solely on the sun. Although the year is nominally broken into twelve months, the use of the word “months” here is a significant departure from its original meaning. In the Gregorian calendar, months have no relationship to the cycles of the moon. Most secular months have 31 days, while the lunar cycle is only about 29½ days, and even secular months that have 30 days do not relate to any phase or change in the moon. Similarly, the length of February as a month of either 28 or 29 days has nothing to do with the moon. Thus, although the word month should correspond to the moon, the Gregorian calendar is purely a solar one, with the borrowed term, “month,” given a meaning detached from its origin.

Another calendar that is seeing increased use today is the Muslim one, which is purely a lunar calendar of twelve lunar months, some 29 days and some 30. In truth, a pure lunar calendar has no real “year,” since a year is based on the relative locations of the sun and the Earth and the resultant seasons, while a lunar “year” of twelve lunar months completely ignores seasons. The word “year” is used in the Muslim sense only as a basis for counting longer periods of time, but has no relationship to the sun. In fact, the Muslim “year” is only 354 or 355 days long — almost eleven days shorter than a solar year. Therefore, a Muslim who tells you that he is 65 years old is really closer to 63 according to a solar year count. He has counted 65 years, each of which is at least ten days shorter than a real (solar) year. (I trust that Guinness takes these factors into account when computing world records for longevity and the like.)

The Muslim year “wanders” its way through the seasons, taking 33 years until a specific month returns to the exact same point in the solar year in the previous cycle. In the interim, that month has visited each of the other seasons for several consecutive years.

13 month years

There are two commonly used calendars whose months are based on the moon, and years are based on the sun. The traditional eastern Asian calendar, usually referred to as the “Chinese Calendar” and the Jewish calendar, both accommodate this by having some years that are thirteen months and others that are twelve. The methods used by these two calendars to decide which month is doubled and when are quite different. Since our articles are on halacha, I will not discuss the details on how the Chinese calendar decides which month to double and when to do so.

The Jewish Calendar

As we have seen, we are commanded to create a calendar that uses the lunar cycle to define the months, but also to keep our months in sync with the seasons, which are dependent on the sun, in order to determine the dates of the Yamim Tovim. The only way to do so is to occasionally add a month, thereby creating a thirteen-month year, to offset the almost eleven-day difference between twelve lunar months and a solar year. The result of this calendar is that although each date does not fall exactly on the same “solar date” every year, it falls within a close range relative to the solar year. Who determined which years have thirteen months?

Under the original system, the main beis din appointed a smaller special beis din to determine whether the year should have an extra month. This special beis din took into consideration:

1) Astronomical data, such as when Pesach will fall out relative to the vernal equinox (the spring day on which day and night are closest to being equal in length).

2) Agricultural data, such as: How ripe is the barley? How large are the newborn lambs and pigeons?

3) Weather: Is the rainy season drawing to a close? Is there a famine?

4) Convenience, or more specifically, the halachic inconvenience of creating a leap year. The shmittah year and the year following were never made into leap years, and the year before shmittah usually was.

5) Infrastructure. For example, the condition of the highways and bridges.

All of these points influenced whether the thirteenth month, the additional Adar, would be added.6 When this system was in place — during a period without interruption from the time of Moshe and Yehoshua until about 300 years after the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash — the main beis din sent written messages notifying outlying communities of the decision to create a leap year, and the reasons for their decision.7

Creation of the “Permanent” Calendar

During the later era of the Talmud, Roman persecution made it impossible to continue declaring Rosh Chodesh based on eyewitness testimony. Thus, Hillel HaNasi (not to be confused with his more illustrious ancestor, the Tanna Hillel, also sometimes called Hillel Hazakein, who lived several hundred years earlier) instituted a calendar based purely on calculation, without human observation of the new moon. Rambam explains that the mitzvah of the Torah is that if it becomes impossible to declare Rosh Chodesh and leap years on the basis of observation, then the beis din should create a permanent calendar.8 Hillel HaNasi’s calendar kept the same basic structure of 29- and 30-day months and twelve- and thirteen-month years, but it was based purely on calculation and not on the variables mentioned above.

When Hillel HaNasi created the new calendar, he incorporated in its calculations several innovations. The two major changes in this new calendar are:

1) A Leap of Fate

Leap years now follow a regular pattern of seven leap years, called me’ubaros, and twelve non-leap years, called peshutos (ordinary), in a nineteen-year cycle. The third, sixth, eighth, eleventh, fourteenth, seventeenth, and nineteenth years of the cycle are always leap years, and the rest are ordinary years. This year, 5779, is the third year of the cycle and thus is a leap year.

2) The Haves vs. the Have-Nots

The length of most months is now fixed. Tishrei, Shvat, Adar Rishon (which exists only in a leap year), Nissan, Sivan, and Av will always have 30 days; Teves, regular Adar (in a common, nonleap year), Adar Sheini (in a leap year), Iyar, Tammuz, and Elul are always 29 days long. The months of Cheshvan and Kislev are the only months that can vary — sometimes they are 29 days and sometimes they are 30 days.9 A year in which both Cheshvan and Kislev have only 29 days is called chaseirah, lacking. If Cheshvan has 29 days and Kislev has 30, the year is considered kesidrah, expected or regular. If both Cheshvan and Kislev have 30 days, the year is called sheleimah, full.10

Both ordinary and leap years can be either chaseiros, kesidran, or sheleimos. Thus, in the new calendar, all ordinary years are either 353 days (if both Cheshvan and Kislev have 29 days), 354 days (if Cheshvan has 29 days and Kislev has 30), or 355 days (if both Cheshvan and Kislev have 30 days). All leap years are either 383 days (if both Cheshvan and Kislev have 29 days); 384 days (if Cheshvan has 29 days and Kislev has 30), or 385 days (if both Cheshvan and Kislev have 30 days). Since Adar Rishon always has 30 days, the addition of an extra month in a leap year always adds exactly thirty days.

(Because the nineteen-year cycle synchronizes the lunar calendar with the solar year, the Hebrew and English dates of births, anniversaries, and other occasions usually coincide on the nineteenth anniversary of the event. If yours is off by a day or two, do not fret. Your recordkeeping is accurate, but the cycle of nineteen years relates only to whether it is a leap year, not to whether the years are of the exact same length. The lengths of Cheshvan and Kislev are determined by other factors, plus the fact that February 29 does not occur every secular year will affect whether your 19th, 38th, 57th, 76th, or 95th Hebrew and secular birthday or anniversary exactly coincide, or whether they are slightly off.)

Revealing Top Secret Information

In order for the new calendar to be established properly, a very carefullyguarded secret had to be revealed. Chazal had always kept secret how one can predict when the new moon is destined to appear, a calculation called the sod ha’ibur. This information had always been kept secret in order to prevent false witnesses from coming forth and testifying that they saw the moon at a time when they knew it could be seen. With the new calendar coming into use, this was no longer a concern. Moreover, people had to know the secret in order to calculate the calendar correctly. The sod ha’ibur is that each new moon appears 29 days, 12 hours, and 793 chalakim or 793/1080 of an hour after the previous new moon.11

Once one knows when the new moon, called the molad, occurred on one Rosh HaShanah, he could add the sod ha’ibur figure either twelve or thirteen times (depending on the number of months that year) and determine the time of the molad in the next year, which is the most important factor in determining the date of the next Rosh HaShanah.

Another factor had also been guarded as a secret: that Rosh HaShanah sometimes takes place not on the day of the molad, but the next available day (see below). In the old system, this happened when the molad fell on the afternoon of Rosh HaShanah and the moon would not be visible in Eretz Yisrael until the next day. When Rosh HaShanah was determined by the observation of witnesses, this information was important not only in determining when Rosh HaShanah falls, but also when interrogating potential witnesses testifying to the appearance of the new moon. Although the new calendar is no longer dependent on witnesses seeing the moon, and so we could conceivably set Rosh HaShanah even in a year when the molad falls during the afternoon, we nevertheless postpone Rosh HaShanah to the following day. Thus, creating the calendar in a way that it could be used required revealing these two secrets, so that a person could determine which day should be Rosh HaShanah in the coming year.

Additional Innovations

Did you ever notice that Yom Kippur never falls on Friday or Sunday? If it did, we would have to observe two consecutive days, both of which have the stringency of Shabbos. Even today we can appreciate the difficulty that this poses, although it was even greater in the era before the discovery of the principles of refrigeration.

When the calendar was based on observation, Yom Kippur did sometimes fall on either Friday or Sunday.12 However, Hillel HaNasi’s new calendar included some innovations that were not part of the earlier calendar. The new calendar does not allow Yom Kippur to fall on either a Sunday or a Friday, thus avoiding the difficulty of having two Shabbos-like days fall consecutively. It also does not allow Hoshana Rabbah to fall on Shabbos, which would cause the cancellation of the hoshanos ceremony.

As long as the calendar was determined on the basis of eyewitness testimony, the halachah favored having Rosh Chodesh fall on its most correct day, over the concerns of having two Shabbos-like days fall consecutively, or canceling the hoshanah ceremony on Hoshanah Rabbah.13 But after eyewitness testimony could no longer be used, and we were going to implement a permanent calendar that fulfilled the mitzvah in a less-preferred way anyway, the halachah then went the other way: it favored keeping Yom Kippur from falling on Friday or Sunday, and keeping Hoshanah Rabbah from falling on Shabbos.

In order to accommodate these innovations, Rosh HaShanah could now fall only on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, or Shabbos, since if it falls on Sunday, Hoshana Rabbah falls on Shabbos; if Rosh HaShanah falls on Wednesday, Yom Kippur falls on Friday; and if Rosh HaShanah falls on Friday, Yom Kippur falls on Sunday. This would mean that when Rosh HaShanah in the coming year would naturally fall on Sunday, Wednesday, or Friday, an extra day is added to the calendar to make sure that Rosh HaShanah falls on Monday, Thursday, or Shabbos instead.14 This concept of ensuring that Rosh HaShanah not fall on Sunday, Wednesday, or Friday is called

ראש לא אד”ו , lo adu Rosh, meaning that the beginning of the year, Rosh HaShanah, does not fall on א, the first day of the week, Sunday; ד, Wednesday; or ו, Friday. It is predominantly for this reason that there was a need to have Cheshvan and Kislev sometimes 29 days and sometimes 30, in order to make the exact length of the years flexible.

Although adding one day to the year so that Rosh HaShanah will not fall on a Sunday, Wednesday, or Friday seems simple, at times the calculation needs to take additional factors into consideration, as we will see shortly. Since Hillel HaNasi’s calendar did not allow a common year to be longer than 355 days and a leap year to be shorter than 383 days, the only way to avoid this happening is by planning in advance what will happen in the future years, and adjusting the calendar appropriately.

In order to accommodate these various calendar requirements, Hillel HaNasi established four rules, called dechiyos, which, together with the sod ha’ibur calculation and the nineteen-year rotation, form the basis of determining our calendar.15 We’ll use a sample two years calculation of the molad for Rosh HaShanah to explain a dechiyah. A few years ago, the molad calculation for Rosh HaShanah fell on Wednesday evening, and Rosh HaShanah therefore was on Thursday, which is what we would expect. But the following year’s molad fell on Tuesday, less than two hours before the end of the day. Although the molad was on Tuesday, it was too late in the day for this molad to be visible in Eretz Yisrael, and therefore Rosh HaShanah could not occur before Wednesday. However, since Rosh HaShanah cannot fall on a Wednesday, because of the rule of lo adu Rosh, it had to be pushed off to Thursday, or two days after the molad. For this reason, that year had to have an extra day, making it not only a leap year, but also a sheleimah, when both Cheshvan and Kislev have thirty days. This created a year of 385 days, the longest a year can be.16

As mentioned above, although the leap years follow a fixed nineteen-year cycle, whether the year is chaseirah, kesidrah, or sheleimah is determined by the other factors we have noted, and therefore does not follow the nineteen-year pattern. Rather, one first calculates when Rosh HaShanah should fall out based on the sod ha’ibur, then checks the rules of the dechiyos to see what adjustments need to be made, and then determines on which day Rosh HaShanah should fall. As a result, whether the year in question needs to be chaseirah, kesidrah, or sheleimah requires calculating not only that year’s schedule, but also the coming year’s calendar requirements. A result of all these calculations is that although there might seem to be many potential variables used in calculating the years (the day of the week of Rosh HaShanah, whether it is a leap year or ordinary year, and whether the year is chaseirah, kesidrah, or sheleimah), for reasons beyond the scope of this article, there are only seven possible prototype years for an ordinary year, and seven for a leap year.

Each of these fourteen prototype “years” is identified by a three-letter acronym, in which the first letter identifies the day of the week of the first day of Rosh HaShanah; the second letter denotes whether the year is chaseirah, kesidrah, or sheleimah; and the third letter identifies the day of the week of the first day of Pesach. No letter is used to denote whether the year is an ordinary year or a leap year, because this can be calculated by knowing how many days of the week there are between Pesach and Rosh HaShanah. In a common ordinary year that is kesidrah, Pesach falls two days later in the week than Rosh HaShanah. In a leap year, it falls four days later, the two additional days being the extra two days that Adar Rishon, which is thirty days long, adds to the count of the days of the week. Of course, these calculations must be adjusted one day in either direction if the year is chaseirah or sheleimah. Thus, the acronym for this year, 5779, is bais shin zayin בשז – Rosh HaShanah was on a Monday, the year is a sheleimah (both Cheshvan and Kislev had 30 days), and the first day of Pesach is on Shabbos.

 

(Endnotes)

1 Although the correct name of the month is Marcheshvan, we will use the colloquial name, Cheshvan.

2 Rosh HaShanah 19b, 20a.

3 Rambam, Hilchos Kiddush HaChodesh 1:1, 7; 5:1.

4 Ibid. 2:4; Ritva on the Mishnah Rosh HaShanah 18a.

5 Rambam, ibid. 4:1.

6 Sanhedrin 11a–12a.

7 Sanhedrin 11b; Rambam, Hilchos Kiddush HaChodesh 4:17.

8 Ibid. 5:2.

9 Ibid. 8:5.

10 Since Kislev is sometimes 29 days and sometimes 30, the last day of Chanukah can either be on the second or the third day of Teves.

11 The term chelek, used when announcing the molad on Shabbos Mevarchim, equals 1/1080 of an hour, or 3 and 1/3 seconds.

12 She’eilos of Rav Acha’ei Geon, 67; Rambam, Hilchos Shabbos 5:21; Ha’Emek She’eilah, ad loc., note 22.

13 Ha’Emek She’eilah, ibid.; Gri”z, Hilchos Kiddush HaChodesh.

14 Rambam, Hilchos Kiddush HaChodesh 7:1.

15 Because these dechiyos are extremely technical, we suffice with explaining one of them.

16 Technically, only one of the possible combinations will result in the year being this length. Of the fourteen different year prototypes, three are sheleimah leap years of 385 days.

 

The Chanukah Miracle

By Rabbis Avraham Rosenthal and Yirmiyohu Kaganoff

Question #1: How did the Seleucid Greeks defile the oils?

 Question #2: How was the oil in the flask protected from tumah?

 Question #3: How did the Chashmona’im know that it was indeed tahor, ritually pure?

 Question #4: Is there a prohibition against lighting the golden menorah with oil that is tamei?

 Introduction:

We are all familiar with the story of the flask of olive oil found with the seal of the kohein gadol that was used to light the menorah in the Beis Hamikdash after the defeat of the Seleucid army. There is much discussion in halachic literature concerning this flask of oil. This week’s article will attempt to address the opening questions about that flask.

To begin, let us quote the Gemara’s explanation of the story: “What is Chanukah? (As Rashi explains this question,) on account of which miracle did the Rabbis establish Chanukah? The Rabbis taught: On the twenty-fifth of Kislev the days of Chanukah commence. They are eight days, on which it is not permitted to eulogize or to fast. For when the Greeks entered the Sanctuary, they contaminated all the oil that was in the Sanctuary. And when the royal Chashmona’im house gained the upper hand and vanquished them, they searched [the Beis Hamikdash] and found only one flask of oil that had the kohein gadols seal. It contained only enough oil to kindle the menorah for one day. A miracle happened with this oil and they kindled the lights with it for eight days. In the following year, they rendered [these eight days] into a festival with respect to the recital of Hallel and thanksgiving” (Shabbos 21b).

Defiling the Oil

Our first question was: “How did the Seleucid Greeks defile the oils?” Concerning this question, we find several opinions among the Rishonim and Acharonim:

1) One possibility, suggested by Tosafos (ad loc.), is that, miderabbanan, non-Jews are treated as tamei to the extent that they make people and utensils tamei via physical contact or by lifting or moving them (Shabbos 17b; Nidah 31a; Rambam, Hilchos Metamei Mishkav Umoshav 2:10). According to this approach, if the Greeks merely moved the flasks of oil, they became tamei.

2) Another suggestion is that the oil became tamei through tumas meis, the type generated by a corpse. This works as follows: Let us say, for example, that a person enters a room in which there is a corpse. Both he and his clothes are now tamei. If he or his clothes then come in contact with a utensil, the utensil is now tamei. In a situation where there is food or liquid in the container, it becomes tamei because it is in contact with the utensil.

Thus, the garments worn by the Greek soldiers who entered the Beis Hamikdash were, in all likelihood, tamei, as the soldiers had most likely come in contact with their dead Jewish victims. When those garments came in contact with the flasks of oil located in the Sanctuary, the flasks become tamei, which in turn caused the oil to become tamei as well (Re’eim, commentary to Semag, Hilchos Chanukah).

3) Another possibility, suggested by the Rogetchover Gaon (Tzafnas Panei’ach, Hilchos Chanukah 3:1), is based on a passage of Gemara (Chullin 123a) that rules that when a platoon of non-Jewish soldiers enters a house, everything in the house contracts tumas meis. This is because the soldiers were wont to carry skins taken from a corpse in order to use them for witchcraft against the enemy. Based on this, the Greeks soldiers also brought this tumah into the Beis Hamikdash, thereby causing the oil to become tamei.

4) Rav Avraham Halevi Gombiner, author of the famous Magen Avraham commentary on Shulchan Aruch, also wrote commentaries on the midrashim called Zayis Raanan. There he suggests that the oil found in the Beis Hamikdash was not tamei, but the Chashmona’im did not want to use it out of concern that it had been used as part of an idolatrous service (Yalkut Shimoni, Emor, #655, Zayis Raanan, s.v. af betumah).

The Oil was Protected

Our second and third questions were: How was the oil in the flask protected from tumah, and how did the Chashmona’im know that it was indeed tahor, ritually pure?

Again, concerning this issue we find numerous approaches:

1) Rashi, commenting on the Gemara (Shabbos 21b, s.v. bechosmo), writes that they found the sealed flask in a hidden place, where it was unlikely to have been handled by the Greeks.

2) The Ran (Shabbos, ad loc.) writes that the flask was made out of pottery, which has the unique quality that it does not become tamei when someone touches its exterior.

3) Tosafos (Shabbos 21b, s.v. shehayah) write that the flask was situated in the ground in such a fashion that it was evident that the Greeks did not move it. Several Rishonim propose various possibilities as to how it was evident. Some suggest that they found the flask hidden in the area under the mizbei’ach into which flowed the water and wine libations (Yotzros, second Shabbos Chanukah). Others suggest that the flask was in a sealed cubby (Meiri, Shabbos 21b, s.v. neis zeh; see also Kol Bo #44).

4) Some Rishonim write that it is clear that the Greek army was not even aware of the flask’s existence, for had they come across it they would have certainly broken it open to see if there was anything valuable inside (Ran and Meiri, Shabbos ad loc.).

Using Tamei Oil

Now let us address the last of our opening questions: Is there a prohibition against lighting the golden menorah with oil that is tamei?

The basis of this question is that there is a halachic principle, “tumah hutrah betzibbur,” when the only way to offer the required regular public korbanos is by violating the rules of tumah, the Divine service in the Beis Hamikdash is permitted. Only individuals who are tamei are prohibited from bringing offerings and the like. The source of this halachah is based on a pasuk: “Command the Bnei Yisrael and they shall take for you pure olive oil, pressed, for illumination, to kindle a continual lamp (ner tamid)” (Vayikra 24:2). The Sifra elaborates: “‘Tamid’ – even on Shabbos; ‘tamid’ – even in tumah.” The Rambam quotes this ruling (Hilchos Tamidin Umusafin 3:10). If so, the menorah could have been kindled with tamei oil.

Adding to the question as to the necessity of attaining oil that was tahor, the Acharonim point out that the other korbanos at the time were offered even though everyone was tamei (see Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chayim 670:3; Pnei Yehoshua, Shabbos 21b, s.v. mai chanuka).

We find several viewpoints in the Rishonim and Acharonim explaining why they required oil that was tahor.

1) Some Acharonim write that the permissibility of tumah hutrah betzibbur applies only to tumas meis, tumah generated by a corpse. However, this rule does not apply to other types of tumah. Therefore, since, according to some opinions, the oil was tamei for other reasons (see above), it could not be used (Pri Chadash 670).

2) Others contend that the rededication of the Beis Hamikdash by the Chashmona’im created a unique situation. The lighting of the menorah at that time was not merely a fulfillment of the daily mitzvah, but it initiated a new beginning, which required doing so in the purest way possible. This required that they attain oil that was tahor (Gilyonei Hashas [Mahari Engel], Shabbos 23).

A similar idea can be found in the Daas Zekeinim Mi’baalei Tosafos (Vayikra 10:4). Although a kohein gadol is not allowed to become tamei for one of his seven closest relatives, a kohein hedyot (regular kohein) is normally allowed to do so. The Daas Zekeinim points out that Aharon’s two remaining sons, Elazar and Isamar, were not allowed to become tamei upon the deaths of their brothers. This was because they were just then commencing their initiation as kohanim, and therefore they had the same restrictions as a kohein gadol.

3) Some explain that, in actuality, it was permitted to light with tamei oil because of the halachah of tumah hutrah betzibbur. Nevertheless, Hashem performed a miracle on their behalf allowing the one day’s worth of oil to burn for eight days in order to show them His love. This enabled them to light the menorah – the symbol that Hashem’s Divine Presence resides among the Jewish Nation – with oil that was tahor (Pnei Yehoshua, Shabbos 21b; Shu”t Chacham Tzvi #87; Rosh Yosef, Shabbos 21b).

4) According to the view of the Zayis Raanan mentioned earlier, the concern was that the oil had been contaminated by idol worship.  The Chasmona’im needed oil that did not have this problem, and the heter of tumah hutrah betzibbur did not apply.

Conclusion

Whereas Shabbos and most of our holidays include Kiddush and other festivities that we celebrate with the use of wine, on Chanukah we celebrate the miracle that happened with the olive oil in the Beis Hamikdash. Many of our customs, including the consumption of donuts and latkes, are to remind us of the miracle of the oil.

It is interesting to note the many comparisons made between olives and grapes, and this also has halachic overtones. Both vineyards and olive groves are called kerem in Tanach and Mishnaic Hebrew (see Berachos 35a). Wine and olive oil are the only fruit products used in korbanos on the mizbeiach. They are also the only liquids whose brocha is not shehakol; it is ha’eitz in the instance of olive oil and hagefen in the instance of wine and grape juice. They both have the halachic distinctiveness of being the only fruits with a Torah requirement of separating terumos and maasros; and they are the only fruits that may be squeezed for their product when they have terumah sanctity.

On the other hand, there is an interesting technical difference between grapes and olives, one with major hashkafic ramifications. Whereas it requires much tending to coax the vine to produce quality wine grapes, the olive tree requires little attention to produce quality olive oil. Once one has chosen the proper site for planting the trees, the main efforts required to produce quality oil are to harvest the olives exactly when they are ready and to crush them immediately without damaging them. Any significant delay reduces severely the quality of the oil extracted. This is also reflected in the halacha, which rules that one may harvest and process olives on Chol Hamoed, when work is usually prohibited, because delaying causes major loss (Mishnah, Moed Katan 11b).

The root of the word Chanukah is the same as that of chinuch; both instances include the concept of training or the beginning of performing mitzvos. Thus, the true translation of chinuch is not education, as it is ordinarily used, but training.  Similar to the grape, some children require constant involvement in their education. If you take your eyes off their chinuch for a moment, they will be in trouble. However, when you attend to them carefully and constantly, they’ll produce high quality wine. Other children resemble the olive. They require less oversight. Once they are planted correctly, they only require attentive oversight at key junctions. The rest of the time, they will do far better if left to grow on their own. This is indeed a manifestation of the other aspect of chinuch/Chanukah. As parents and teachers, it is our task to understand our children and apply the correct approach to maximize the potential of each child. As Mishlei (Proverbs) tells us, chanoch lanaar al pi darko (22:6), each child needs to be educated according to his own specific requirements. May the lights of Chanuka symbolize for us the dedication of our ancestors to direct their children and students in the way of Torah, and may they serve as a beacon for us to continue in that mission.

 

 

High in the Thigh: The Mitzvah of Gid Hano’she

In the process of vanquishing his opponent wrestler, Yaakov Avinu was left with an injured thigh. To commemorate this event, the Torah teaches al kein lo yochelu benei Yisroel es gid hano’she asher al kaf hayarech ad hayom hazeh ki naga bechaf yerech Yaakov begid hano’she, “Therefore, the children of Israel may not consume the sinew that was displaced, which lies upon the ‘spoon’ of the thigh, since he struck the ‘spoon’ of Yaakov’s thigh on the displaced sinew (Bereishis 32:33 with Rashi).” As we will see shortly, this pasuk is written with precision, and we derive most of the halachos of this mitzvah from its words.

We see from the pasuk that Yaakov’s injury was that his “sinew” was “displaced.” The word “sinew” is not a scientific term, but a household or butcher’s term. Its Hebrew equivalent, gid, describes stringy body parts whose texture is too tough to chew comfortably, and may refer to nerves, tendons, ligaments, or even blood vessels (see Rambam, Peirush Hamishnayos, Zevachim 3:4).

In Yaakov’s case, the sinew involved is what is known in anatomy as the sciatic nerve, which runs through the pelvis and upper leg, from the lower back over the top of the hip and down the leg, at which point it divides into other nerves. The Torah describes this as the sinew that lies across the kaf hayarech, which literally means the “spoon of the thigh.” This refers to a piece of muscle that lies atop the femur and that has a spoon-like shape. Part of the sciatic nerve lies on top of this muscle, wedged against the bone socket on the other side. The Torah prohibits the consumption of this nerve, notwithstanding that it is not tasty, nor really edible. (It is not technically accurate to translate kaf hayarech as the socket, since the socket is above or in front of the femur [depending on whether we are describing a two-legged or a four-legged animal] and above or in front of the sciatic nerve. I will note that this is not the only mistranslation of this verse I have found in works that are reputed to be authoritative.)

This mitzvah is not mentioned anywhere else in the Torah. According to the Sefer Hachinuch, which lists the mitzvos in the order of their appearance in the Torah, this is the third mitzvah and the first lo saaseh of the 613 mitzvos. An entire chapter of Mishnayos, the seventh chapter of Chullin, is devoted to this mitzvah. Let us understand its details.

Not for the birds

The Mishnah states that the prohibition of gid hano’she does not apply to birds, because they do not have a “kaf,” which I have translated as the “spoon” of the thigh. Although birds have both a femur and a sciatic nerve, they are excluded from the prohibition of gid hano’she because the shape of their bones and muscles is different and does not fit the Torah’s description of the mitzvah (Rambam, Hilchos Ma’achalos Asurus 8:4). The Rambam (Commentary to the Mishnah) explains that the reason for this law is because the structure of the bird’s leg is very different from that of a man, and therefore not reminiscent of the miracle that occurred to Yaakov. (Those who would like to see an explanation of the Talmudic passage involved should look at the encyclopedic work Sichas Chullin and other contemporary works.)

The Gemara (Chullin 92b) discusses whether the halacha exempting birds from the prohibition of gid hano’she is true if a particular individual bird has an unusually shaped leg that resembles the “socket” of an animal, or, conversely, if the prohibition of gid hano’she still applies if an animal’s leg is misshapen, such that the muscle on its upper femur is not shaped like a spoon. The Gemara does not reach a conclusion on this question. Since it is an unresolved halachic issue germane to a Torah prohibition, a safek de’oraysa, the Rambam (Hilchos Ma’achalos Asurus 8:4) and the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 65:5) conclude that both of these instances are prohibited.

Non-kosher species

Is the prohibition of gid hano’she limited to kosher species, or does it apply also to non-kosher species? This is actually a dispute among tanna’im. Rabbi Shimon contends that the prohibition of gid hano’she is limited to kosher species, whereas the tanna’im who disagree with him contend that the prohibition of gid hano’she applies equally to non-kosher species. In their opinion, the sciatic nerve of a horse, camel, pig or donkey is included in the prohibition of gid hano’she. The Rambam (Hilchos Ma’achalos Asurus 8:5) rules like Rabbi Shimon.

What difference does it make whether this sinew is prohibited as a gid hano’she, when it will be prohibited anyway as non-kosher? The answer is that since sinews have no flavor on their own, according to the opinion we will soon explain that ein begiddin benosein taam, sinews from a non-kosher species are not prohibited min haTorah. However, the gid hano’she would be prohibited min haTorah, according to the tanna’im who disagree with Rabbi Shimon.

Which thigh?

A person has two sciatic nerves, one on each leg. The verse implies that Yaakov was wounded on only one side. Which of his sciatic nerves was injured? Nothing overt in the story tells us. However, we can prove what happened from a passage of the Gemara, although we may be left to wonder how the Gemara knew this. There is a dispute among the tanna’im (Chullin 91a) whether the prohibition of gid hano’she applies to the sinews of both the right and left sides, or only to that of the right side. Both opinions understand that Yaakov was injured only in his right thigh. The question is whether Hashem prohibited the sciatic nerves of both sides so that we remember what happened, or only the one on the right thigh. We follow the opinion that it applies to both sides (Rambam, Hilchos Ma’achalos Asurus 8:1).

Inner and outer

On each thigh, there are actually two sinews that can be called the gid hano’she and are near one another. The inner gid, thus called because it runs alongside the bone on the interior of the animal, is the true gid hano’she, whose consumption is prohibited by the Torah. The outer gid does not lie on top of the thigh and is therefore not prohibited min haTorah. Nevertheless, Chazal prohibited eating the outer gid, also (Chullin 91a).

The tanna’im dispute how much of the inner gid is prohibited min haTorah. Rabbi Meir contends that the entire nerve is prohibited min haTorah (Chullin 92b), whereas the chachamim contend that, min haTorah, only the part of the gid lying atop the thigh bone is prohibited. In their opinion, the rest of the gid is prohibited only miderabbanan. A third opinion, that of Rabbi Yehudah, contends that the rest of the nerve is not prohibited even miderabbanan, and, therefore, he did not require its removal (Chullin 92b, 96a).

The dispute among the tanna’im appears to be how one translates the words of the Torah, the children of Israel may not consume the sinew that was displaced, which lies upon the “spoon” of the thigh. According to Rabbi Meir, the Torah is merely explaining the location of this sinew, but it is prohibited in its entirety. According to the other tanna’im, the prohibition is limited to the part of the sinew that “lies atop” the thigh, but not its continuation.

“Fat of the gid

The sciatic nerve lies protected in a layer of fat. This fat is called shumano shel gid and is permitted min haTorah. However, already in the time of the Gemara it was established practice not to eat it (Chullin 91a). It is therefore treated halachically as an issur derabbanan, a rabbinically established prohibition, and it must be removed together with both the inner and the outer giddin.

How early?

The tanna’im also dispute whether the prohibition of gid hano’she began already in the days of Yaakov Avinu, or whether it was first prohibited when the Jews received the Torah at Har Sinai (Mishnah, Chullin 100b).

Chayos

The Mishnah teaches that the mitzvah of gid hano’she applies to all kosher mammals. This includes the species of beheimah and of chayah. In other words, although there are mitzvos that apply to beheimah but not to chayah, and vice versa, the mitzvah of gid hano’she applies to both.

It is difficult to define the differences between beheimah and chayah.  Although we know that beheimah includes cattle and sheep, whereas chayah includes deer and antelope, the common definition of beheimah as domesticated species, and chayah as wild or non-domesticated species, is not halachically accurate. For example, reindeer, which qualify as chayah, are domesticated, whereas wisents and Cape buffalo, which are not domesticated, are probably varieties of beheimah. A more complicated, but far more accurate, definition of beheimah is a halachically recognized genus or category in which most common species qualify as livestock, and chayah is a halachically recognized genus or category in which most common species are not usually livestock.

The Gemara explains that it is dependent on the type of horn that the animal displays, but the terminology the Gemara uses to explain this is unclear and subject to disputes among the rishonim. Since we are uncertain which species are considered beheimah and which are considered chayah, we are stringent. This means any species of which we are uncertain is treated lechumra as both beheimah and chayah — unless we have a mesorah, an oral tradition, about the halachic status of this species (see Shach, Yoreh Deah 80:1, as explained by the Pri Megadim).

Cheilev

The Torah forbade consumption of certain internal fats, called cheilev — these are attached predominantly to the stomachs and the kidneys. Since the Torah prohibits consuming both cheilev and the gid hano’she, these forbidden parts must be removed from an animal before its meat can be eaten. This process is called “traberen,” a Yiddish word that derives from tarba, the Aramaic word for cheilev. The Hebrew word for the process is “nikur,” excising, and the artisan who possesses the skill to properly remove it is called a menakeir. It is interesting to note that the Rema (Yoreh Deah 64:7 and 65:8) points out in two different places that nikur cannot be learned from a text, only through apprenticeship.

Cheilev versus gid hano’she

There is a major difference between gid hano’she and the prohibition of cheilev. The prohibition of cheilev applies to species of beheimah, but not to chayah (Mishnah Chullin 89b). Thus, we have a difference in halacha between gid hano’she and cheilev, in that gid hano’she is prohibited in a chayah, whereas its cheilev is permitted.

This is germane in practical halacha. Because of the difficulty in removing all the cheilev correctly, many communities have the halachic custom not to traber the hindquarters, but, instead, to sell them to gentiles as non-kosher. However, many contemporary authorities have ruled that even those who have accepted this practice may still traber the hindquarters of a deer, which is definitely a chayah, to remove the gid hano’she, since the cheilev of a chayah is permitted. This is because the gid hano’she that is prohibited min haTorah is relatively easy to remove and does not involve as serious halachic issues as does the cheilev. Notwithstanding this heter, there is still a requirement that one who trabers the gid hano’she of a deer may do so only if he has been trained in performing this nikur.

The Mishnah

Having established the basic rules from the pasuk itself, we can now analyze more of the halachos of this mitzvah. An entire chapter of Mishnayos, the seventh chapter of Chullin, is devoted to understanding it. The opening Mishnah of this chapter begins as follows: (The prohibition of) gid hano’she applies both in Eretz Yisroel and in chutz la’aretz, both during the times of the Beis Hamikdash and when there is no Beis Hamikdash, regarding both chullin and sanctified offerings. It applies both to beheimos and to chayos, to both the right thigh and the left thigh. But it does not apply to birds, because they do not have a kaf.

The Gemara asks why the Mishnah needed to report that the prohibition of gid hano’she applies to kodoshim. Since animals are born as chullin, at the time of birth the animal’s sciatic nerve becomes prohibited as gid hano’she. Why would we think that the prohibition of gid hano’she might disappear when the animal is declared to be holy?

To resolve this difficulty, the Gemara proposes the following solution: There is a dispute among tanna’im referred to as yesh begiddin benosein taam, sinews have flavor, or ein begiddin benosein taam, sinews do not have flavor. “Sinews” refer to the parts of an animal that are not tasty, but are eaten incidentally while consuming the tasty meat. The dispute is as follows: Since sinews are eaten only as part of a piece of meat, are they considered food? If they are not considered food, then other prohibitions, such as the mixing of meat and milk, or the prohibition of non-kosher species, do not apply to them min haTorah, since these prohibitions apply only to edible parts of an animal.

Thus, regarding the giddin of a kodoshim animal, if giddin are not considered food (ein begiddin benosein taam), then the prohibition of kodoshim does not apply.  However, the sciatic nerve of a kodoshim animal is prohibited because of the prohibition of gid hano’she. The Shulchan Aruch concludes that ein begiddin benosein taam (Yoreh Deah 65:9).

Jewish identification

It is very interesting to note that, at times in Jewish history, the mitzvah of gid hano’she became the identifying characteristic of the Jew. Kaifeng, China, is a city of 4.5 million people on the southern bank of the Yellow River that attracts much tourism for its rich history. In the tenth and eleventh centuries, Kaifeng was the capital of China, and, for this reason, the city is known as one of the Seven Ancient Capitals of China. As history notes, when there are a lot of people, there is money to be earned, and when there is money to earn, one will usually find Jews.

At one point, over a thousand years ago, Jewish merchants from Persia and India settled in the area, created for themselves a Jewish community, and built shullen. Their shullen faced west toward Yerushalayim. Unfortunately, with the passing centuries, their descendants became completely intermarried and assimilated into the Chinese population. To this day, about 1,000 Kaifeng residents claim Jewish ancestry.

What does this have to do with the mitzvah of gid hano’she? The answer is that the Chinese identified the Jews with the practice of removing the gid hano’she, referring to Jews as the sinew-plucking people. Until recently, there was even a street in Kaifeng called “The Lane of the Sinew-Plucking Religion,” a reference to the Jews who once lived there.

Jewish American identification

Not only the Chinese identified the Jews because of the mitzvah of gid hano’she. Many years ago, when I was a rav in a small community in the United States, a non-observant Jew was interested in making a strictly kosher wedding for his daughter, because he had frum friends whom he wanted to accommodate. His daughter was willing to have a kosher wedding, as long as it did not look “too kosher.” I asked her what she meant that it should not look “too kosher,” to which she answered: “No ribs and no briskets.” I had been unaware that, to someone who did not keep kosher, forequarters meat, such as rib and brisket, is associated with “kosher-looking,” whereas hindquarters meat, not consumed in many places because of the difficulties in removing the gid hano’she and the cheilev, is viewed as “non-kosher looking.” Thus, the prohibition of gid hano’she defined a Jewish menu. (Fortunately, the executive chef of the hotel doing the kosher catering provided ideas for a perfectly kosher and very delicious meal that would, by the bride’s definition, not look too kosher.)

Conclusion

Although above I translated the word noshe as “displaced,” which is the approach of Rashi and therefore the most common rendering, Rav Hirsch understands that the root of the word noshe, similar to no’she, a creditor, means submission and powerlessness. Yaakov’s gid had been dislodged by his adversary; he was unable to control the muscle that moves the bone. The nerve, muscle and bone all existed, but their use was temporarily hampered. Thus, the gid hano’she denotes temporary relinquishment, but not permanent loss. Ya’akov is a no’she, a creditor, who has quite a large account to settle with Eisav and his angel.

To quote the Sefer Hachinuch: The underlying understanding of this mitzvah is to hint to the Jewish people that, while in the exile, although we will undergo many difficulties from the other nations, and particularly the descendants of Eisav, we should remain secure that we will not be lost as a people. At some point in the future, our offspring will rise and a redeemer will arrive to free us from our oppressor. By always remembering this concept through the observance of this mitzvah, we will remain strong in our faith and our righteousness will remain forever!

Certainly some very powerful food for thought the next time we sit down to a fleishig meal and note that we are eating only “kosher cuts!”

 

Follow the Ladder

Question #1: Ladders

“May I use a ladder on Yom Tov?”

Question #2: Maris ayin

“What is the ‘maris ayin conundrum’?”

Question #3 Chutes

“Is there a traditional source for the modern Hebrew word magleisha, which means a sliding board or a chute, or the word miglashayim, which means skis?”

Introduction

Since Yaakov Avinu witnessed the angels going up and down a ladder, it seems an appropriate week to discuss halachos germane to ladders. To begin, let us analyze a passage of Gemara that discusses ladders.

The ladder carrier

In our day of refrigeration and freezers, it is unusual for someone to shecht meat on Yom Tov. However, since the halacha is that one may prepare food on Yom Tov, this law permits not only kneading dough, chopping up vegetables, turning up a fire and cooking, but permits also shechting on Yom Tov. After all, freezing meat is only the second best way of keeping it fresh from spoilage. The best method is to keep the bird or animal alive, and this was common practice in the time of the Mishnah and Gemara. It was also the reason that, until the modern era, ships at sea kept a herd of livestock on board, to make sure that the crew did not starve on the high seas. (The British were also noted for keeping a supply of limes on board, but that was for a reason beyond the discussion of our current article.)

In this context, we find the following Mishnah (Beitzah 9a) regarding someone who is interested in preparing doves for his Yom Tov seudah: “Beis Shammai says that you may not move a ladder from one dovecote to another, but it is permitted to lean it from one window to another, and Beis Hillel permits (moving the ladder).”

What is wrong with moving a ladder on Yom Tov? After all, one is permitted to carry on Yom Tov, and one is permitted to shecht the birds for a Yom Tov seudah. So, why can’t I carry the ladder to get the birds down?

The Gemara cites several approaches to explain the dispute between Beis Shammai and Beis Hillel. Two of these approaches, which we will call “approach #1” and “approach #2,” understand that the dispute involves the principle called maris ayin, the requirement to avoid raising suspicion that one is doing wrong. Beis Shammai is concerned that a person observing someone carrying a ladder on Yom Tov may think that the latter is taking his ladder to repair his roof, which is, of course, forbidden on Yom Tov.

The Gemara explains that everyone agrees that one may not carry a large ladder which would ordinarily be used for roof repair. Carrying such a ladder would entail maris ayin.  The dispute between Beis Shammai and Beis Hillel concerns whether one may carry a small ladder, more likely used for getting doves than for roof work.  Approach #1 contends that Beis Hillel permits carrying a small ladder in a private place, but not in public, whereas Beis Shammai prohibits carrying the small ladder even in private. This opinion understands that Beis Shammai and Beis Hillel disagree about the following principle: Is maris ayin prohibited only in a public place, where there is a greater likelihood that someone will misinterpret the action, or even in a private place, notwithstanding that it is unlikely that someone will see this action and will think that the carrier is planning to violate halacha (see Ran, Shabbos 146b; note that the Mishnah Berurah 301:165 appears to have understood this dispute in a different way)? Beis Shammai contends that maris ayin is prohibited, even when the act is performed in a private area, completely out of view. The Gemara calls such a private area, bechadrei chadarim, in the innermost room.

Some rishonim draw a distinction between a situation in which an observer might think that someone is violating a Torah law, as opposed to one in which the action being done in private would violate only a rabbinic injunction, in which case one does not need to be concerned (Tosafos, Kesubos 60a s.v. Mema’achan; Tosafos, Moed Katan 8b s.v. Umenasran). However, other rishonim do not draw this distinction (Rashba, Ran, Beitzah ad loc.). The accepted halachic authorities appear to follow the lenient approach, meaning that if the violation is only rabbinic one does not need to be concerned (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 336:9; Taz, Orach Chayim 243:3, 301:28, 336:9; Magen Avraham 301:56; Mishnah Berurah 301:165; Biur Halacha ad locum s.v. Bechadrei. See also Rema, Yoreh Deah 87:3,4; Pri Chodosh ad locum; cf. Rambam, Hilchos Shemittah veYoveil 2:1; Shach, Yoreh Deah 87:6,8).

Maris ayin conundrum

I want to call attention to the fact that the concept of maris ayin is a fascinating curiosity, because it contradicts another important Torah mitzvah – to judge people favorably. This mitzvah requires us to judge a Torah Jew favorably when we see him act in a questionable way. (For further information on the mitzvah of judging people favorably, see Shaarei Teshuvah of Rabbeinu Yonah, 3:218.) If everyone judges others favorably at all times, there should be no reason for the law of maris ayin. Yet, we see that the Torah is concerned that someone may judge a person unfavorably and suspect him of violating a mitzvah. Indeed, a person’s actions must be above suspicion; at the same time, people who observe him act suspiciously are required to judge him favorably.

Tall ladders

At this point, we can now answer our opening question: “May I use a ladder on Yom Tov?” The answer is that I may not use a large ladder that is used primarily for climbing onto a roof, even if I have a reason to use it on Yom Tov that would, otherwise, be acceptable. It is unclear from the Mishnah and Gemara whether or not I may use a smaller ladder.

Chutes and ladders

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

“Is there a traditional source for the modern Hebrew word magleisha, which means a sliding board or a chute, or the word miglashayim, which means skis?”

The word magleisha in modern Hebrew, which means a chute or slide, is based on a posuk in Shir Hashirim (4:1), where we find the following accolade: “Your hair is like a flock of goats that descend (Hebrew, golshu) from Mount Gilead.” The book of Shir Hashirim is full of allegories that are to be understood on many levels. Often they express, poetically, the bond between Hashem and the Jewish people and also can be explained on a literal level, as depictive of the relationship between a man and a woman.

Har Gilad, or Mount Gilead, is today in northwestern Jordan on the eastern side of the Jordan River, but was part of Eretz Yisroel at the time when Shlomoh Hamelech wrote Shir Hashirim. Of course, the obvious question in understanding this posuk is – why are we complimenting someone for hair that appears like descending goats? According to Rashi, the accolade is as follows: Your hair has a beautiful sheen to it, similar to the white sheen that one sees from a great distance when observing a flock of white goats descend the mountain.

Seforno interprets the idea of the posuk in a way similar to what Rashi wrote, but there is a difference in nuance between their two interpretations. Seforno writes: “Your hair is fine as the cashmere on the back of the heads of the goats of Gilead.” In his opinion, there is no reference in this posuk at all to descent, gliding, or sliding. Similarly, ibn Ezra understands that the word golshu means “as they appear on Har Gilad.

According to Rashi, the word golshu carries the connotation of “descent,” whereas according to ibn Ezra and Seforno, it does not. Thus, according to Seforno, there is no basis to explain the root גלש as having anything to do with descending, sliding or skiing. Even according to Rashi’s interpretation which provides a source that the root golosh גלש means to descend, there is still quite a stretch to get the word to mean slide, glide, ski, or chute. However, as any linguist can attest, Modern Hebrew has taken many Hebrew, Aramaic or even English and Arabic words and given them meanings quite distant from their origins. However, the root גלש has been used for all of these meanings, and we are therefore left with Modern Hebrew terms such as magleisha, sliding board or chute, miglashayim, skis, and various other similar words. Do they have a traditional source? According to Rashi, perhaps; according to ibn Ezra and Seforno, they do not.

Conclusion

The gematria of the word sulam, Hebrew for ladder, is 136, which is the same gematria as that of the words tzom (fast), kol, and mammon. This certainly brings to mind the piyut, Unesaneh Tokef, that we recite on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, in which these three words are inserted in small letters in the machzor above the words teshuvah, tefillah and tzedakah, when we declare that they protect against harsh decrees. Teshuvah, tefillah and tzedakah demonstrate different steps a person must take to bring himself closer to Hashem. This is symbolized by the ladder, as we ascend one step at a time to bring ourselves closer to serving Hashem.

 

How Much May I Charge?

Question #1: Overcharged esrog

“My esrog dealer charged me $150 for an esrog. My brother-in-law, who knows the business, told me that he overcharged me, and the esrog is not worth more than $35. Can I get my money back?”

Question #2: Just a little bit

“Am I permitted to charge a little bit above the market price for an item?”

Question #3: Damaged coin

“I noticed that someone tried to scrape off some of the metal on a coin that I have. May I use it?”

Question #4: Expert error

“I purchased a rare coin from a dealer, and he clearly undercharged me. Am I required to tell him about it?”

Answer:

Upon graduation from olam hazeh, the first question asked upon entering the beis din shel maalah, the Heavenly Court, is: “Did you deal honestly with your fellowmen?” (Shabbos 31a). The Aruch Hashulchan (Orach Chayim 156:3) explains that this does not mean, “Did you steal?” or “Were your weights honest?” Someone who violated these laws, whether dealing with Jewish or non-Jewish clientele, qualifies as a rosho gamur. Rather, the Heavenly Court’s inquiries are: “Did you make unjustified claims about the quality of the merchandise that you are selling?” “Did you speak to people softly in your business dealings?” “Did you curse, scream, or act angrily with people?” “Did you realize that all livelihood comes only from Hashem and act within that framework?”

Anytime is ideal to discuss the details of this topic; I chose to do so this week, since the parsha involves an obvious question as to whether Rivkah and Yaakov were permitted to deceive Yitzchok about the brochos.

In parshas Behar, the Torah teaches, Lo sonu ish es amiso (Vayikra 25:17). The word sonu has the same root as the word onaah, the name by which we call this mitzvah. The word onaah is difficult to translate into English, but for the purposes of our article, I will use the word overcharging, although, as we will soon see, onaah also includes situations of underpayment or of misrepresentation. The purpose of this article is to present the basic principles; specific questions should be referred to your own rav or dayan. Just as everyone must have an ongoing relationship with a rav for psak and hadracha, one must also have an ongoing relationship with a dayan who can answer the myriad Choshen Mishpat questions that come up daily.

Three types of onaah

There are three types of overcharging that are included in the prohibition of onaah, all of which involve taking unfair advantage:

(1) Fraud – when the item being sold contains a significant flaw that the seller conceals or otherwise misrepresents.

(2) Overpricing – when one party to the transaction is unaware of the market value of the item.

(3) No recourse – when someone is aware that he is being overcharged, but he has no recourse, because of the circumstances.

I will now explain a bit more about each of these types of onaah.

(1) Fraud

It is prohibited to hide a defect or to misrepresent an item. For example, the Mishnah (Bava Metzia 60a) and the Gemara (ibid. 60b) prohibit selling watered-down products, or painting something to hide a flaw or to make it look newer than it is (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 228:9). One may not add inferior material to a quality product when the purchaser will see only the quality product (Bava Metzia 59b-60a; Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 228:10, 11).

Onaah is prohibited not only in sales, but also in other transactions, such as hiring people or contracting work (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 227:35, 36, 16).

Shidduchin

Holding back significant medical, emotional or spiritual issues that could affect a shidduch is also prohibited because of onaah. To quote the words of the Sefer Chassidim (#507): “When arranging matches for your children or other family members, do not hide from the other party medical issues that would have been reason for them to reject the shidduch, lest they afterwards choose to annul the marriage. Similarly, you should tell them about deficiencies in halachic observance significant enough that the other party would have rejected the marriage.”

By the way, there is no halachic requirement to reveal detrimental information to a shadchan, and one is not required to inform the other side before the couple meets. However, it must be told sometime before the shidduch is finalized. This particular topic is more detailed than we can discuss in this article. Indeed, I devoted a different article to this topic, entitled “Can I Keep My Skeletons in the Closet.” There are also other articles on the website that touch on this broad topic, which can be found with the search word shidduch.

Insider trading

Insider trading, meaning buying or selling a commodity or security on the basis of information that is not available to the general public, is now a heavily punished felony in the United States, but was once legal there and is still legal in many countries of the world. Halacha prohibits all forms of insider trading because of onaah, since the insider is taking advantage of the other party.

(2) Overpricing

A second type of onaah is when there is no flaw or other problem with the quality of the item being transacted, but the price paid is greater than the item’s market value. Overcharging of this nature is also prohibited because of onaah.

Over a sixth

When the price, or range of price, of an item can be established, if an item was sold at more than one sixth over the market price, the aggrieved party has a right to return the item for a full refund (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 227:4.) For example, the stores that stock this item sell it for up to $600, and the seller charged the purchaser over $700. In this instance, according to halacha, the purchaser can return the item and get his money back. (There are detailed halachos that govern how much time he has to make this claim.)

One can demand return compensation only when the party did not use the item once he realized that he had been overcharged.

Another case where the item cannot be returned: The aggrieved party realized that he was overcharged, but decided to keep the item anyway. In the interim, the price of the item dropped such that he can now get a much better deal. Since his reason to back out on the deal is not because of the original overcharge, he may not invalidate the original sale (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 227:9).

It is interesting to note that there are authorities who rule that even the aggrieving party can withdraw from the deal when the price was so much off mark. This is because they contend that someone does not agree to a transaction if he knows that the price was so disproportionate to the item’s value (Rema, Choshen Mishpat 227:4.)

One sixth

The halacha is that if the overcharge was by exactly one sixth, the deal holds, but the aggrieved party is entitled to be refunded the overcharge sum (one sixth of what he paid). Thus, if the item was worth $600 and it was sold for $700, the purchaser is entitled to receive $100 back.

Less than a sixth

If the overcharge was less than a sixth, which means that the price was clearly too high but less than a sixth over the market value, the deal is valid, and the aggrieved party is not entitled to any compensation. Thus, if the item was worth $600 and it was sold for $690, the deal remains as is.

Is it permitted?

At this stage, we can address one of our opening questions: “Am I permitted to charge a little bit above the market price for an item?” Granted that the deal will be valid if someone did this, is one permitted to do so lechatchilah?

Indeed, this is an issue that is disputed by the halachic authorities (Tur, Choshen Mishpat 227, quoting Rosh). The Tur explains that min haTorah, overcharging is prohibited if one is aware that this is the case, but Chazal were lenient, because it is difficult for anyone to be this accurate. However, many prominent authorities are of the opinion that it is prohibited to overcharge intentionally, even by a very small amount (Aruch Hashulchan, Choshen Mishpat 227:2).

The Tur concludes that a yarei shamayim, a G-d fearing person, should try to act strictly regarding this law.

The Shulchan Aruch rules that it is uncertain whether it is permitted to overcharge by less than a sixth (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 227:6). Some major authorities conclude that a yarei shamayim should return the difference, even in a case where it amounted to less than a sixth (Sma 227:14).

Furthermore, when the price on a specific item is very exact, because of government regulations or market conditions, even those authorities who are lenient about overcharging a small amount will agree in such a case that it is prohibited to charge any more than the accepted market price (Aruch Hashulchan, Choshen Mishpat 227:3).

Cash fast

Here is a situation in which someone cannot demand return compensation, even though he sold the item at way below its value: A seller needed to raise cash quickly and therefore sold items without checking their proper value. He cannot request his money back by claiming that he was underpaid, because it is clear that, at the time he sold them, he was interested in selling for whatever cash he could get (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 227:9).

All items?

The Mishnah (Bava Metzia 56b) quotes a dispute between tana’im whether the laws of overcharging by more than a sixth apply to items such as sifrei Torah, animals and precious stones. The tanna kamma contends that the laws of onaah apply, including the right to have the item returned, whereas Rabbi Yehudah holds that these laws do not apply to such items. In the case of sifrei Torah, this is because the pricing is difficult to determine, and in the cases of animals and precious stones, because the purchaser may have a special need for this specific animal or stone which makes it worth more to him than the usual market price. For example, this animal has the same strength as an animal the purchaser already owns, making it possible to pair them together in work, or the stone matches well to the specific color and size he is using for a piece of jewelry (Bava Metzia 58b).

Wartime

Although most tana’im disagree, the Gemara (Bava Metzia 58b) adds that Rabbi Yehudah ben Beseira ruled that there is no onaah for selling horses, shields or swords during wartime, because your life might depend on it. I presume that this means that during a war, the value of these items far exceeds their normal market price, and that, therefore, even an inflated price is not considered overcharging. The halacha does not follow the opinion of Rabbi Yehuda ben Beseira. Therefore, should someone be overcharged for the purchase of these materials during wartime, he is not required to pay more than the accepted market price.

Overcharged esrog

At this point, we are in a position to examine our opening question: “My esrog dealer charged me $150 for an esrog. My brother-in-law, who knows the business, told me that he overcharged me, and the esrog is not worth more than $35. Can I get my money back?”

This question is discussed in Shu”t Beis Yitzchak (Orach Chayim 108:4). He explains that the laws of invalidating a transaction because of an overcharge do not apply to an esrog purchased for use on Sukkos, unless the esrog was not kosher. His reason is that an individual has all sorts of reasons why he wants to purchase a specific esrog, and that, therefore, high-end esrogim do not have a definitive price. We could compare this to someone who purchases a painting at auction, and an art expert contends that the purchaser overpaid. The opinion of the expert does not allow the buyer to invalidate his acquisition.

Expert error

At this point, let us return to one of our opening questions: “I purchased a rare coin from a dealer, and he clearly undercharged me. Am I required to tell him about it?”

An expert can also be overcharged or underpaid (Mishnah, Bava Metzia 51a; Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 227:14). Therefore, the purchaser is required to point this out to the dealer.

Furthermore, if you know that the price of an item has gone up, but the seller is unaware of this, you are required to let him know (Aruch Hashulchan, Choshen Mishpat 227:1).

Mistaken overcharging

A person who overcharged someone in error is required to bring it to his attention. All the halachos mentioned above of overcharging apply, even if it was unintentional (Pischei Choshen 4:10:ftn #1).

Real estate

The Mishnah (Bava Metzia 56a) states that there is no onaah regarding real estate. This means that the concept of a deal being invalidated when the price is more than a sixth overpriced does not relate to land. Nevertheless, it is prohibited to deceive someone in matters germane to property, such as by withholding information that affects the value of the property or its utility (Sma 227:51, quoting Maharshal; Pischei Teshuvah 227:21, quoting Ramban and Sefer Hachinuch).

Title search

If someone sells a property based on his assumption that proper ownership has been established, which is later legally challenged, the purchaser has a claim to get his money back (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 226:5).

Legal tender

At this point, let us examine another of our opening questions: “I noticed that someone tried to scrape off some of the metal on a coin that I have. May I use it?”

In earlier days, a coin’s value was usually determined by its weight and purity. In today’s world, the value of a coin or other currency is determined predominantly by the market forces germane to that country’s currency, but not by the quality of the individual coin, unless it is damaged to the point that it will no longer be accepted in the marketplace. Therefore, today, it is acceptable to use a damaged coin or bill that the average merchant or the bank will accept (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 226:6). One is even lechatchilah permitted to give someone a damaged coin or bill and hoard the nice-looking ones for himself, since it is not harming the other party in any way (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 227:6 and Sma).

Counterfeit money

However, this is true only when the bill or the coin is damaged, but is still legitimate and legal currency. It is forbidden to use counterfeit money, even if you ended up with it in error. Once you know that the currency you are holding is counterfeit, it is not only forbidden to use it, you are required to destroy it (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 227:18). It would seem to me that it is permitted to turn the counterfeit item over to the authorities for investigation and enforcement.

Calculated profit

According to what we have said until now, a person is obligated to know the market value of a product that he is selling and he will violate onaah if he sells it at a price that is clearly significantly above the market price. This means that one must constantly be aware of the fluctuations in market price of all items he is selling. Is there any way one can avoid having to be constantly aware of the market values of the items he is selling?

Yes, there is. It is permitted, halachically, to do the following: A seller may tell the purchaser, “This is the cost at which I acquired this item, and I add this percentage for my profit margin. Therefore, I arrive at the following price” (Bava Metzia 51b as explained by Rambam, Hilchos Mechirah 13:5; Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 227:27).

(3) No recourse

Previously, I mentioned that there is a type of onaah in which a person is aware that he is being overcharged, but that circumstances force him to pay more than he should for the item. There are several examples of this. One is when a business or cartel creates a monopoly and then raises prices because they control the market. Since the halachos germane to this situation are somewhat complicated, I will leave this topic for a different time.

A second situation is when someone has a serious need for a product now – and the seller takes unfair advantage, insisting on a price that is well beyond what the item should fetch. For example, someone needs a medicine and can find it only at a certain place, which decides to increase the price tenfold, simply to gain huge, unfair profit. This is forbidden.

Was the seller wrong?

I once purchased a four volume reprint of an old, very hard-to-read edition of a relatively rare sefer. Subsequently, I discovered that the sefer had been reprinted in a beautiful format, a fact which the bookdealer must surely have known. Had I known that the new edition existed, no doubt that I would have purchased it instead. I will leave my readers with the following question: Was the bookdealer permitted to sell me the old edition without telling me that a new one exists? Does this qualify, halachically, as insider trading or deception, and is it therefore prohibited as onaah?

Conclusion

The Gemara tells us that the great tanna Rabbi Yehoshua, the rebbe of Rabbi Akiva, was asked: “What is the best means to become wealthy?” Rabbi Yehoshua advised that, aside from being very careful in one’s business dealings, the most important factor is to daven to He Who owns all wealth (Niddah 70b). A Jew must realize that Hashem’s Torah and His awareness and supervision of our fate is all-encompassing. Making this realization an integral part of our thinking is the true benchmark of how His kedusha influences our lives.

 

 

Davening for Rain in the Southern Hemisphere II

Question #1: Mixed Messages

“How can you have two shullen in the same city, one saying vesein tal umatar and the other not, on the same day?”

Question #2: South of the Border

“What do Buenos Aires, Melbourne, Montevideo, Recife, and Wellington and Auckland, New Zealand, have in common, but not Johannesburg, Perth, and Santiago, Chile?”

Introduction

In part I of this article, we discussed the unique halachic issues that surfaced when Jewish communities began settling in the southern hemisphere. We learned that the first published responsum on this question was authored by Rav Chayim Shabtai, who was the rav in Salonica until his passing in 1647, and whose responsa were published as Shu”t Toras Chayim. His undated responsum is addressed to someone inquiring about the practices of the Jewish community in Brazil, without identifying which city in the country. The questioner assumes that rain during their summer months between Sukkos and Pesach would be very harmful. Therefore, the Brazilian community wanted to recite mashiv haruach umorid hagashem and vesein tal umatar between Pesach and Sukkos and not recite them between Sukkos and Pesach.

We have previously discovered that the Rosh contended that, although in Eretz Yisroel rain is disadvantageous in the summer, in Europe, where he lived his entire life, rain was not only helpful in the summer, but it was essential. Since rain was important after Pesach, he felt that they should recite mashiv haruach umorid hagashem and vesein tal umatar even in the summer months. We also discovered that the Rosh was unsuccessful in changing the practice of his community, and that he, himself, eventually stopped reciting these prayers after Pesach. Although he had not changed his opinion, since he was unsuccessful in changing the accepted practice, he did not want there to be divergent approaches in the same community.

We also learned that the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 117:2) rules that the halacha does not follow the Rosh. He writes that all communities begin reciting mashiv haruach umorid hagashem on Shemini Atzeres and records only two practices regarding vesein tal umatar, the same two expressly mentioned in the Gemara. No other regional distinctions are recognized.

In addition, we noted that when someone recites mashiv haruach umorid hagashem or vesein tal umatar when he should not, he must repeat the davening. This presents us with the following intriguing question: Someone in Germany or Spain recites mashiv haruach umorid hagashem or vesein tal umatar during or after Pesach. According to the Shulchan Aruch, they have recited something that they should not have, whereas the Rosh contends that they have followed the correct procedure. The question is whether we accept the opinion of the Rosh to the extent of not repeating the shemoneh esrei in this situation. Rav Yitzchak Abuhav, a highly respected authority, contended that one should not repeat the shemoneh esrei out of respect for the Rosh’s position.

In his Beis Yosef commentary on the Tur, the author of the Shulchan Aruch was inclined to reject the Rosh’s ruling completely, to the extent of requiring the repetition of shemoneh esrei. However, because of the position of Rav Yitzchak Abuhav, the Beis Yosef modified his position, contending that someone who recited mashiv haruach umorid hagashem or vesein tal umatar in Spain or Germany on or after Pesach should repeat the shemoneh esrei as a donated prayer, called a tefillas nedavah, which one may recite when there is a question as to whether one is required to repeat the prayer. The Rema concludes, like Rav Yitzchak Abuhav, that one should not repeat the shemoneh esrei in this situation.

Melbourne, Australia, 1890’s

In the 1890’s, Rav Avraham Eiver Hirschowitz, whose origins were in Lithuania, became the rav of Melbourne. Upon Rav Hirschowitz’s arrival in Melbourne, he discovered that the local community was following the practice of the Toras Chayim: They were not reciting mashiv haruach umorid hagashem at all, and were reciting vesein tal umatar in shomei’a tefillah during the Australian winter between Pesach and Sukkos, and not reciting it at all during the months of Marcheshvan until Pesach. Rav Hirschowitz felt that this practice was an error in Australia, and immediately began addressing letters to several gedolei Yisroel regarding this practice. He explained that the Toras Chayim’s approach is based on the assumption that rain in the summer is detrimental, which he contended is not the case in Australia. Therefore, he concluded that Australia should follow the exact practice of everywhere else outside Eretz Yisroel and recite mashiv haruach umorid hagashem from Sukkos to Pesach, and vesein tal umatar in birchas hashanim, when everyone in chutz la’aretz does this.

Much of Rav Hirschowitz’s correspondence on the subject was published in his own work, Shu”t Beis Avraham. Apparently, Rav Hirschowitz was not in Melbourne for a long period of time, since it appears that he arrived there in 1892 and left in 1894. He writes in his introduction to Shu”t Beis Avraham that on Monday of parshas Devorim 5654 (1894), he left Australia by ship for the United States. He describes that one of his ports of call was Auckland, New Zealand, which at the time had a daily minyan and a Jewish community of some one hundred families. He also describes how they crossed the international dateline while en route, and he was uncertain what he should do regarding observing Shabbos while at sea. Rav Hirschowitz published his sefer in 1908, at which time he was a rav in Toledo, Ohio.

Why was the community following the ruling of the Toras Chayim? It appears that the community’s practice had originated with a question sent by them many decades earlier to Rav Shelomoh Hirschell, who had been the chief rabbi of the United Kingdom for forty years until his passing on Monday, the 31st of October, 1842, or fifty years before Rav Hirschowitz’s arrival in Australia. To appreciate why Rav Hirschell’s opinion carried so much weight, let me share a small description of his funeral that was published shortly after his passing in The Occident and American Jewish Advocate, published in the United States: “Rav Shelomoh Hirschell was the Chief Rabbi of the Jews (after the German ritual), in London, the British provinces, and dependencies. [The term “after the German ritual” apparently means that he was viewed as the chief rabbi of the Ashkenazim, but not of the Sefardim.] The funeral took place on Wednesday. The morning was ushered in by every Jew in the metropolis, with those demonstrations of respect becoming so solemn an occasion; all places of business were closed, and the blinds in every private house were drawn down. The day being yom kippur katan, the eve of the new moon, it was observed as a fast by a larger number of persons than are accustomed to the observance. The taharah had been performed at a very early hour by the Dayanim, the executors, and a select number of the immediate friends of the deceased.” The article continues to describe the loss felt by the community, and who were the maspidim.

Apparently, when the community in Australia first asked Rav Hirschell, he ruled that they should follow the practice as concluded by the Toras Chayim. At the time, this was probably the only published responsum on the question of reciting vesein tal umatar in the southern hemisphere. Therefore, the community refrained from reciting mashiv haruach umorid hagashem ever in their prayers. They refrained from doing so from Marcheshvan to Pesach because of concern that this was detrimental to their own needs.

We will never know why Rav Hirschell ruled that they should follow the approach of the Toras Chayim. Rav Hirschowitz’s approach appears to be what most authorities accept. For example, we find responsa on the subject from Rav Kook (Shu”t Orach Mishpat, Orach Chayim #24), Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank (Shu”t Har Tzvi, Orach Chayim #56), Dayan Yitzchok Weiss of Manchester and the Eidah Hachareidis (Shu”t Minchas Yitzchok 6:171), and Rav Betzalel Stern (Shu”t Betzeil Hachachmah 6:85), all of whom accept this approach also.

We should note that the two practices, that of the Toras Chayim and that of the Shulchan Aruch, do not dispute in halacha. The Toras Chayim ruled his way when there is a season locally in which rain is definitely detrimental. Since I have found no authority who disputes this ruling of the Rambam, as explained in our previous articles, I assume that, were this indeed the case, all would agree that one should refrain from reciting mashiv haruach umorid hagashem and vesein tal umatar when it would be detrimental, locally, for it to rain in this season.

South is very different

However, one major authority, Rav Shmuel Vozner of Bnei Braq, disagrees with this approach. In a responsum dated the 9th of Kislev 5721 (1961) addressed to Rabbi Avraham Leitner, the rav of a community named Adas Yerei’im in Montevideo, Uruguay, Rav Vozner disagrees with everyone since the time of the Toras Chayim, ruling that the discussions about the Gemara and the rishonim were germane only in the northern hemisphere, where the basic needs are for rain in the winter and some places might require rain even in the spring and summer. However, opines Rav Vozner, in the southern hemisphere, where the seasons are reversed, davening for rain between Sukkos and Pesach is tantamount to asking Hashem to change the climates completely and to make the southern hemisphere climates identical to the northern, which would, of course, be catastrophic. Therefore, Rav Vozner rules that, in the southern hemisphere, one should recite mashiv haruach umorid hagashem from Pesach until Sukkos, and daven for rain vesein tal umatar in birchos hashanim when it is appropriate there (Shu”t Shevet Halevi 1:21).

It would stand to reason that, according to Rav Vozner’s approach, the prayers of tefillas geshem and tefillas tal should also be reversed — southern hemisphere Jewry should recite tefillas geshem on Pesach and tefillas tal on Sukkos. In the ninth volume of Rav Vozner’s teshuvos, there is a lengthy responsum from his son, Rav Benzion Vozner, who served as a rav in Sydney, Australia, for six years, expanding and explaining his father’s position, which he himself advocates (Shu”t Shevet Halevi 9:148).

Halachic conclusion

Based on the entire discussion, I present five possible approaches one could follow regarding the recital of mashiv haruach umorid hagashem and vesein tal umatar in the southern hemisphere.

Rosh: Since these areas are regions and not just cities, the laws germane to both of these inserts in the davening should be dependent on local conditions. Although the Rosh himself held this way, as we have seen, the other halachic authorities did not accept his position.

Shulchan Aruch: The obvious reading of the Shulchan Aruch is that these communities should follow the same practice as is practiced in chutz la’aretz northern hemisphere communities.

Toras Chayim: Although he follows the general approach that I ascribed above to the Shulchan Aruch, he adds that in seasons when rain is unfavorable, one should omit mashiv haruach umorid hagashem and vesein tal umatar.

Rav Vozner: The entire discussion in early authorities is germane only to practices in the northern hemisphere, but in the southern hemisphere one should follow reverse practices, thus reciting mashiv haruach umorid hagashem and vesein tal umatar in its winter months, which correspond to the summer months in the northern hemisphere.

Lots of dew: Although I have not seen this position quoted in any halachic work, I have been told that there are individuals who follow an approach that makes sure that one will always fulfill the mitzvah of davening. All year long, they recite morid hatal in the second brocha of shemoneh esrei, and they recite vesein tal umatar in shomei’a tefillah whenever there is an opinion that one should recite vesein tal umatar. The advantage of this last approach is that one will never create a situation in which the prayer must be repeated.

What do they do?

While researching these questions, I sent out inquiries to various contacts I have who live or have lived in different southern hemisphere communities, asking them what is practiced in their various places. Here is what I discovered:

In general, the most common practice is to follow the approach that I called above that of the Shulchan Aruch, that one follows the schedule identically to what is done in the northern hemisphere.

In some places, indeed, we find different shullen following divergent approaches. When this is the situation, usually one congregation follows the standard, accepted approach of the Shulchan Aruch, whereas the other refrains from reciting vesein tal umatar or mashiv haruach umorid hagashem in its usual place, during the local summer. I will note that, logically, this should be true only in a place and season where rain is indeed detrimental to the locals.

Mixed Messages

At this point, we can address the opening questions of our article. Our first question was: “How can you have two shullen in the same city, one saying vesein tal umatar, and the other not, on the same day?”

One answer would be that we are describing two shullen located somewhere in the southern hemisphere, which are following differing piskei halacha as to what they should do. I am told that there are cities in which this is the case.

The second of our opening questions was: “What do Buenos Aires, Melbourne, Montevideo, Recife, and Auckland, New Zealand, have in common, but not Johannesburg, Perth, and Santiago, Chile?”

Even someone who has followed all the fine points in our discussion will probably still not be able to answer this question, although he will realize that every one of these places lies in the southern hemisphere. Buenos Aires, Melbourne, Montevideo, Recife, and Auckland, New Zealand all have in common that, in my research on this topic, I found each of these places to have been the basis of the question asked from a posek on this issue.

 

Davening for Rain in the Southern Hemisphere

Question #1: Mixed Messages

“How can you have two shullen in the same city, one saying vesein tal umatar, and the other not, on the same day?”

Question #2: Western Travelers

How early did western mankind begin traveling in the southern hemisphere?

Question #3: South of the Border

“What do Buenos Aires, Melbourne, Montevideo, Recife, and Wellington and Auckland, New Zealand have in common, but not Johannesburg, Perth, and Santiago, Chile?”

Introduction

Although we are all aware that we cease reciting both mashiv haruach umorid hagashem and vesein tal umatar on the first day of Pesach, most people are surprised to discover that there is a halachic controversy whether this is the correct procedure in America. This has halachic ramifications both for people in the United States and certainly for those who live in South America, particularly those living in Argentina, Chile and Brazil, which are in the southern hemisphere. We will also discover that there is a major dispute among halachic authorities as to when people living in South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and other parts of the southern hemisphere should recite mashiv haruach umorid hagashem and vesein tal umatar, in what part of shemoneh esrei they should recite vesein tal umatar, and when they recite tefilas tal and tefilas geshem.

But first we need to study the Talmudic sources on the topic. The early halachic sources discuss two special inserts to our davening, mashiv haruach umorid hagashem, “He who causes the wind to blow and the rain to fall,” and vesein tal umatar, “grant dew and rain upon the face of the earth.” The first is praise of Hashem and, therefore, it is inserted into the second brocha of our davening, both on weekdays and Shabbos, since the first three brochos of the shemoneh esrei are devoted to praise. The second is a prayer beseeching Hashem to provide rain, and as such is recited in birchas hashanim, the appropriate brocha of the weekday shemoneh esrei. Should one forget to recite vesein tal umatar in its appropriate place in birchas hashanim, one may still recite it during the brocha of shomei’a tefillah.

Missed them

Should one forget to recite either mashiv haruach umorid hagashem or vesein tal umatar when required, one is obligated to repeat the shemoneh esrei. However, there is a halachic difference between the two that is already noted by the Tur. Should one recite morid hatal, praising Hashem for providing dew, rather than mashiv haruach umorid hagashem, one is not required to repeat the shemoneh esrei. Nevertheless, when it is the time to recite vesein tal umatar, someone who prayed only for dew would be required to repeat the shemoneh esrei.

Mashiv haruach umorid hagashem

The Mishnah (Taanis 2a) cites a dispute between Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yehoshua concerning when one begins to recite mashiv haruach umorid hagashem, Rabbi Eliezer contending that we begin on the first day of Sukkos, whereas Rabbi Yehoshua maintains that we begin on Shemini Atzeres. The Gemara explains that Rabbi Eliezer’s basis is that there are two mitzvos observed on Sukkos that are associated with our need for rain, the ceremony of nisuch hamayim, which involves the pouring of water on the mizbeiach in the Beis Hamikdash, and the taking of the lulav, esrog, hadasim and aravos. In Rabbi Eliezer’s opinion, these mitzvos demonstrate that we should praise Hashem on Sukkos for His role as Rainmaker.

Both Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yehoshua agree that we do not want it to rain on Sukkos itself, because this makes it difficult or even impossible to observe the mitzvah of sukkah. As the Mishnah (Sukkah 28b) records, rain on Sukkos can be compared to a servant bringing his master a gift that the master pours into the servant’s face. We build a sukkah hoping to serve Hashem by observing His mitzvah, and then it rains on our party! For this reason, Rabbi Yehoshua says that we do not begin reciting mashiv haruach umorid hagashem until there is no longer a mitzvah of living in the sukkah.

Rabbi Eliezer agrees that we do not request rain during Sukkos, but he contends that reciting mashiv haruach umorid hagashem is appropriate, since it is praise of Hashem and not a request for rain. Rabbi Yehoshua responds that, even so, it is inappropriate for us to praise Hashem as Rainmaker at a time when rain is considered a siman kelalah, a sign of a curse, because it demonstrates that Hashem has rejected our observance of His mitzvos. The Gemara rules according to Rabbi Yehoshua.

Beginning Vesein tal umatar

Regarding when to begin reciting vesein tal umatar, the Mishnah (Taanis 10a) records a dispute between an anonymous tanna, who contends that we begin on the third day of Marcheshvan, and Rabban Gamliel, who says that we begin on the seventh day of Marcheshvan. This is fifteen days after Sukkos, which allows those who traveled for Yom Tov to Yerushalayim by foot to return home before it begins to rain. The Gemara rules that the halacha accords with Rabban Gamliel’s opinion.

Continuing this discussion, the Gemara quotes a beraisa stating that the Mishnah expresses the practice that is followed in Eretz Yisroel. However, in “the exile,” they begin praying for rain many weeks later, on the day the Gemara calls “sixty days after the equinox,” the details of which we will leave for a different time. Rashi explains that in Bavel, which is located in a river valley, there is less need for rain than in Eretz Yisroel. Too much rain in Bavel could cause dangerous flooding, and therefore they begin praying for rain later.

Thus far, we know that in Eretz Yisroel one begins recital of vesein tal umatar on the seventh of Marcheshvan, whereas in Bavel it is begun significantly later.

Southern hemisphere

All of this lengthy discussion and last week’s article are an introduction to our topic, since until now we have been discussing life in the northern hemisphere, the world north of the equator. In the era of the Mishnah, Gemara and rishonim, to the best of our knowledge, there were no Jews living south of the equator, which runs through the northern part of South America, mid-Africa, and through the Indian Ocean south of India. In today’s world, there are Jewish communities in the following countries south of the equator: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Chile, New Zealand, South Africa and Uruguay, and, to a lesser extent, in Ecuador and Bolivia. All of these lands were unknown to the European and Middle Eastern world until the era of discovery began in the days of Columbus. Of these lands, the first discovered was probably South Africa, discovered by Vasco da Gama during his voyage that began in 1497, and then Brazil, discovered in 1500 by Pedro Cabral.

By the early seventeenth century there was already a Jewish community in Brazil that sent questions germane to when they should recite mashiv haruach umorid hagashem and vesein tal umatar. The earliest responsum was written by a prominent posek of Salonica, Rav Chayim Shabtai, who was the rav in Salonica until his passing in 1647, and whose responsa were published as Shu”t Toras Chayim. His undated responsum is addressed to someone inquiring about the practices of the Jewish community in Brazil, without identifying which city in that country. The teshuvah identifies them as being south of the equator, which is indeed where almost all of Brazil is located. The letter could not have been from the two largest Jewish communities in Brazil today, Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, because neither of those cities existed yet in the 17th century, but it might have been from one of the earlier colonial cities of Belem or Recife (then called Pernambuco).

The questioner assumes that rain during their summer months, which are between Sukkos and Pesach, would be very harmful. Therefore, the Brazilian community wanted to recite mashiv haruach umorid hagashem and vesein tal umatar between Pesach and Sukkos and not recite them between Sukkos and Pesach.

In the article, “Should I daven for rain when we need it?” which I sent out last week, I mention the dispute in the Gemara whether these two prayers, mashiv haruach umorid hagashem and vesein tal umatar, are recited according to local conditions, such as those of a city whose weather pattern varies significantly from nearby locales. The Gemara’s example is the people of the city of Nineveh, where rain was necessary throughout the summer. Could they recite vesein tal umatar in Boreich aleinu, when it usually is recited, or should/must they recite it in Shema koleinu.

The halachic conclusion is that mashiv haruach umorid hagashem is never said according to local conditions, whereas vesein tal umatar is not said in the usual place in shemoneh esrei, but in the brocha of Shema koleinu.

I also discussed there the dispute among rishonim whether an entire country recites these brochos according to their local climate needs or not. The Rosh rules that they do, and thus he contended that Spain or Germany should follow local climate needs when reciting these two brochos. The Rosh further contended that the Rambam agreed with his interpretation of the halacha. We also noted that most authorities disagreed with the Rosh, and that some later authorities disagreed with the Rosh’s understanding of the Rambam’s opinion.

Contradiction in Rambam

At this point, we will examine how the Rosh explains the Rambam in a way that sustains his opinion. The Rosh noted that the Rambam’s statement in his commentary to the Mishnah in Taanis appears to conflict with what he wrote in Hilchos Tefillah, “Places that require rain in the summer, such as distant islands of the sea, ask for rain when they require it in shomei’a tefillah” (Rambam, Hilchos Tefillah 2:15-17). Yet, the Rambam in the Mishnah commentary states that they should treat their rainy season as Eretz Yisroel treats the 7th of Marcheshvan, which means that they should recite vesein tal umatar in birchas hashanim, not in shomei’a tefillah.

In the Rambam’s commentary to the Mishnah Taanis, while explaining the laws that we have shared above, he adds: “All these laws apply in Eretz Yisroel and the lands that are similar to it… However, in other lands, one should recite vesein tal umatar at the time that rain is beneficial for that place, and, in that time, one should follow the practice of (Eretz Yisroel on) the 7th of Marcheshvan (meaning that they should pray for rain when it is beneficial for them). This is because there are lands in which it does not begin to rain until Nissan. In lands in which the summer is in Marcheshvan and rain then is not good for them, but it is deadly and destructive, how can the people of such a place ask for rain in Marcheshvan? – this is a lie!” (Since rain is now detrimental for them, why are they asking for it?)

Tangentially, there is an observation that results from the Rambam’s words, which is of a historical nature rather than a halachic one. The Rambam was aware that there are places in the world in which the seasons are reversed from ours, such as in the southern hemisphere. Historically, this presents a tremendous curiousity, since I have been unable to ascertain that there was settlement of Jews in the southern hemisphere until four hundred years after the Rambam’s demise! However, it appears that, in the Rambam’s day, Arab traders had already visited the eastern coast of Africa south of the equator, or, alternatively, had sailed to islands in the Indian Ocean that were south of the equator. I have not seen any historians note this point.

In view of the Rambam’s words, we can address the second of our opening questions: “How early did western mankind begin traveling in the southern hemisphere?”

From the Rambam’s comments, it is evident that this was as early as the twelfth century. It may be that Vasco de Gama was the first European to sail around the southern tip of what is today South Africa, but he was certainly not the first old world explorer to sail to the southern hemisphere!

Returning to the comments of the Rosh:

The Rosh resolves the contradiction in the Rambam’s position by explaining that there is a difference between a city and a region. A city with exceptional needs should recite vesein tal umatar only in shomei’a tefillah. However, an entire region or country, such as Spain or Germany, should recite vesein tal umatar in birchas hashanim during the part of the year that this region requires rain.

Kesef Mishneh and Toras Chayim

Not all authorities accept the Rosh’s approach to explaining the Rambam. Several point out that if the Rambam meant to distinguish between a city and a region, he should have said so. Rather, they contend that the Rambam meant that if, in your location, there is now a need for rain, one should include vesein tal umatar in your daily weekday davening. Where in the prayer one recites this depends on what part of the year it is: Between the 7th of Marcheshvan and Pesach, one should say it in birchas hashanim. If it is after Pesach, one should recite it in shomei’a tefillah.

Several rishonim rule that local conditions do not determine when one recites vesein tal umatar in birchas hashanim, contending that reciting vesein tal umatar in that part of davening after Pesach requires one to repeat the shemoneh esrei, even in a place where there is a need for rain in this part of the year (Rabbeinu Yonah, Brochos 19b; Ritva, Taanis 3b). Thus, we understand why the Rosh’s position that mashiv haruach umorid hagashem and vesein tal umatar should be recited after Pesach in Europe was not accepted.

The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 117:2) rules that the halacha does not follow the Rosh. He writes that all communities begin reciting mashiv haruach umorid hagashem on Shemini Atzeres and records only two practices regarding vesein tal umatar, the same two expressly mentioned in the Gemara. No other regional distinctions are recognized.

Thus, in essence, the people of Brazil wanted to follow the approach of the Rosh. The Toras Chayim rules that they should not follow this practice, emphasizing:

(1) The Rosh’s approach was not accepted by the other authorities.

(2) In a lengthy discussion of the Rambam’s opinion, the Toras Chayim concludes that the Rambam also does not agree with the Rosh.

(3) The Rosh himself retracted his approach when he saw that it was not followed.

Based on the claim that rain between Sukkos and Pesach was detrimental to life where these Brazilian colonists lived, the Toras Chayim ruled that they should never recite mashiv haruach umorid hagashem at all, following the Rambam that one does not recite either mashiv haruach umorid hagashem or vesein tal umatar when it is detrimental for the local needs. During the months that the Brazilians need rain, he ruled that they should recite vesein tal umatar during shomei’a tefillah, like the practice of the city of Nineveh and unlike the Rosh.

Click here for part II of this article.