Making Our Days Count

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A Review of the Halachos of Sefiras HaOmer

In Parshas Emor, the Torah teaches: “Hashem spoke to Moshe saying, Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them: ‘When you enter the land that I am giving to you and you will cut its harvesting, then you shall bring an omer-sized portion from the first of its harvest to the Kohen. And he (the Kohen) shall wave the omer before Hashem for your benefit, on the day after the ‘day of rest’ the Kohen shall wave it… And you should count for yourselves from the day after the ‘day of rest, from the day you bring the omer of waving, until there will be seven complete weeks. Until the day after the seventh week, you shall count fifty days.’” (Vayikra 23:9-11,15-16). It should be noted that the words in the posuk, mimacharas hashabos, which we have translated as the “the day after the ‘day of rest,’” would usually be translated “the day after Shabbos”. However, the Oral Torah (Torah shebaal peh) teaches us that the words “day of rest” here mean the first day of Pesach (Menachos 65b). Thus, the omer offering is brought on the second day of Pesach, whether or not that date falls on the day after Shabbos. From the day that we bring the omer offering we begin to count the omer, until we complete the counting of seven weeks.

The Gemara recounts a fascinating story that occurred at the time of the Second Temple. There was a group of non-believing Jews, the Baytusim, who disregarded the teachings of Chazal. (Indeed, the Baytusim also disavowed belief in reward and punishment and other basic Jewish tenets, see Avos diRabbi Nassan, Chapter 5:2). Since the Baytusim followed their own interpretation of the posuk, they decided that the korban omer must be offered on a Sunday and not necessarily on the second day of Pesach. They plotted to have Rosh Chodesh Nisan fall out on Shabbos, realizing that the second day of Pesach would then fall out on Sunday. The result would be that the korban omer would be offered on Sunday, even though it was not supposed to happen that particular year.

The Baytusim were so determined to have the korban omer offered on Sunday that they hired false witnesses in an attempt to manipulate the main Besdin to declare Rosh Chodesh Nisan on a Shabbos. Fortunately, one of the witnesses that they hired did not believe in the Baytusi creed and told the Rabbonim about the plot (Gemara Rosh HaShanah 22b). Because of this event, major changes were instituted in the type of witnesses accepted by the Besdin (Rosh HaShanah 22a).

As mentioned above, the mitzvah of counting omer begins from the day that the korban omer is offered. This implies that when there is no korban omer, there is no requirement min hatorah to count the omer (Menachos 66a). Indeed, most poskim contend that since there is unfortunately no Beis Hamikdash today and there are no korbanos, there is no mitzvah min hatorah to count omer (Ran, end of Pesachim; see Shulchan Aruch 489:3 and Mishnah Berurah). However, Chazal instituted that we should count omer even though there is no Beis Hamikdash in order to remember the mitzvah as it was at the time of the Beis HaMikdash. (Menachos 66a).

Details About the Counting

Before counting the Omer, we recite a brocha on the performing of the mitzvah. One should be careful to stand while reciting both the brocha and the counting (Rosh, end of Pesachim; Shulchan Aruch 489:1).

The Torah states: “And you should count for yourselves… seven complete weeks. Until the day after the seventh week, you shall count fifty days.” It is noteworthy that the Torah makes two statements, one that we should count seven weeks, and a second that we should count fifty days. Based on this observation, the Gemara derives that there are two mitzvohs, one to count the days and the other to count the weeks (Menachos 66a).

Tosafos raises the following question: Why does the Torah say, “Until the day after the seventh week, you shall count fifty days,” if the mitzvah is to count for only forty-nine days? Tosafos explains that the verse should be translated: “Until the day after the seventh week, which is the fiftieth day, shall you count” (Menachos 65b s.v. Kasuv.) According to this translation, there is a mitzvah to count up until the fiftieth day, which is Shavuos, but that there is no mitzvah to count the fiftieth day itself.

As mentioned above, the Gemara rules that there is a mitzvah to count the weeks. Obviously, there is no mitzvah to count the weeks until the end of the first week — at which point there is a mitzvah to state that one week of counting has been completed. From this point on, is there a mitzvah to mention the weekly count every day, or is it sufficient to count the weeks only at the end of each week? According to the latter interpretation, one counts the weeks only seven times, once at the end of each week (Tur, quoting Yesh Omrim). However, the accepted opinion is that every day of sefirah (except for the first six days) one counts the number of days and then one calculates how many weeks and days. Thus, on the eleventh day of sefirah we count, “Today is eleven days, which is one week and four days in the omer” (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 489:1). (According to the first opinion cited above [that of Tur, quoting Yesh Omrim], there is no mitzvah to count the weeks on the eleventh day. According to this opinion, the entire counting is: “Today is eleven days.”)

Some Practical Applications

Someone who counts the wrong number has not fulfilled the mitzvah. However, if he remembered immediately and corrected his error, he has fulfilled the mitzvah (Mishnah Berurah 489:32).

One should not recite the blessing without knowing the day’s exact count, even if he knows that he will hear the correct count from someone else immediately. Rather, one should first find out what the correct count is before reciting the blessing (Mishnah Berurah 489:29 and Shaar HaTziyun ad loc.).

Sefirah can be counted in any language, provided one understands what he is saying. Someone who does not understand what he is saying has not fulfilled the mitzvah, even if he counts in Hebrew (Magen Avraham).

A very common question is whether one who missed counting one day of sefirah may still recite a brocha when he counts the remaining days. Some early poskim contend that someone who missed counting one day has no mitzvah to count the remaining days since his counting of forty-nine days is no longer complete (Tur, quoting Bahag). According to this opinion, someone who missed one day may continue to count sefirah, but he is forbidden to recite a brocha since he is no longer fulfilling a mitzvah. However, other poskim contend that missing one day does not affect the upcoming days. In their opinion, each day there is a mitzvah to count the sefirah of that day even if one has not counted the preceding days (Tur, quoting Rav Hai Gaon). Shulchan Aruch (489:8) treats this shaylah as an unresolved issue. Thus he rules that someone who missed counting one day of sefirah should count the remaining days without a brocha. The count should continue because it is possible that he is still fulfilling the mitzvah. Yet he does not recite a brocha, because if he is no longer fulfilling a mitzvah the brocha would be a brocha li-vatala (a brocha recited in vain).

In this case, and all other cases where there is a doubt whether one is still fulfilling the mitzvah, it is preferable to hear the brocha from someone who is definitely required to count (Mishnah Berurah ad loc.). The person reciting the brocha must have in mind to include the other person in his brocha, and the person who is not reciting the brocha must have in mind to be included in the brocha. If there is no one available to make the brocha for him, he should count sefirah without a brocha.

An Interesting Shaylah

There is another interesting shaylah that results from the above-mentioned dispute whether each day’s sefirah counting is dependent on still having a complete count: Does a boy who becomes bar mitzvah between Pesach and Shavuos recite a brocha on the counting of sefirah? Even if the twelve-year old was counting sefirah every night very diligently, he was not fulfilling a mitzvah since he was still a minor. Thus, if the mitzvah of counting sefirah is dependent on a complete count, the bar mitzvah bochur may not have a complete sefirah count.

Many poskim discuss this issue and there is no common agreement what to do. (See for example, Birkei Yosef 489:20; Shaarei Tshuva 489:20; Shu”t Maharam Shick #269; Shu”t Har Tzvi 2:76.) Therefore, one should ask his Rav for a ruling on this shaylah.

As we mentioned above, someone who missed one day of sefirah should continue counting but without a brocha. However, someone who is not sure if he missed counting one day may still count with a brocha (Shulchan Aruch 489:8). Since it is not certain that his counting is incomplete, he can rely on the possibility that his counting is still complete with the possibility that the halacha is that one can recite a brocha even if the count is incomplete. This concept is called a sfek sfeika, which means that there are two possibilities why it is permitted to do something. In this case, the two possibilities that it is acceptable to recite the brocha allow him to recite a brocha.

Similarly, in any other case where it is questionable whether he fulfilled the requirement to count, or where the law is that he should count without a brocha on a particular night, the halacha is that he may proceed to continue counting the next night with a brocha (Mishnah Berurah 489:38).

If on a given night someone counted sefirah without reciting a brocha first, he may not recite the brocha afterwards for that day’s counting. Although he fulfilled the mitzvah of counting omer that night, he is unable to fulfill the mitzvah of making a brocha on the counting. Therefore, one should be careful not to tell someone what night of sefirah it is before one has fulfilled the mitzvah (Shulchan Aruch 489:4). The accepted practice is to respond to the question “What night is it?” by stating what was the count of the previous day.

Some Unusual Applications

What is the halacha if someone alluded to the correct number of the day’s omer count, but did so in an unusual way? For example, has someone fulfilled the mitzvah if he counted on the thirty-ninth day of the omer that today is “forty days minus one”? Is this considered a valid method of counting thirty-nine days, or must one count thirty-nine in a direct way? The halacha is that this unusual method of counting is considered counting, and he has fulfilled the mitzvah (Be’er Heiteiv 469:6).

Another shaylah about an unusual method of counting has very common application.

In Hebrew, one can allude to a number by reciting the Hebrew letter or letters that represent it. For example, one could attempt to count the eleventh day of sefirah by stating that today is yud alef b’omer, or attempt to count the thirty-third day of sefirah by counting that today is lag b’omer. Poskim dispute whether one fulfills the mitzvah if one counts this way. Whereas some poskim rule that this is a valid method of counting, other poskim rule that he has not fulfilled the mitzvah since he did not count the number explicitly (Shaarei Tshuvah 489:6).

There is a very common shaylah that results from this dispute. On the evening of Lag B’omer someone stated “tonight is Lag B’omer” before he counted sefirah. Can he still recite a brocha on the counting of sefirah that night, or do we say that he has already counted for that night and cannot recite the brocha anymore? Biyur Halacha rules that this issue remains unresolved. Therefore, one should count in the regular way to make certain he fulfills the mitzvah, but without a brocha since it is a doubt whether he is still obligated to perform the mitzvah (Biyur Halacha 489:1 s.v. moneh). On subsequent nights he would be able to resume counting with a brocha.

The Korban Omer was harvested at night, hence the mitzvah of counting Omer is at night. If the omer was not harvested at night, there is a dispute among poskim whether it could be harvested instead in the daytime (Tosafos Menachos 66a). The same dispute is reflected in a different shaylah that is germane to each of us: If someone forgot to count the omer at night, can he still fulfill the mitzvah if he counts in the daytime? Since the matter is disputed, he should count in the daytime, but without a brocha, since we refrain from making a brocha whenever it is uncertain whether one is performing a mitzvah (Shulchan Aruch 489:7). The accepted psak halacha is that he may resume counting with a brocha the following evening (Mishnah Berurah 489:34).

What Happens if…

As we mentioned above, according to most poskim the mitzvah of counting the omer is only rabbinic in our era since unfortunately the Beis HaMikdash is destroyed. Some poskim contend that since the counting is only midirabanan one is permitted to count the omer before it is definitely nightfall (Rosh and other Rishonim, end of Pesachim). Thus, the practice developed in some communities to count the omer during twilight even though it is uncertain whether it is day or night. Shulchan Aruch rules that one should preferably wait until after nightfall to count. However, someone who is davening in a shul where the people are counting before nightfall is permitted to count with them lest he forget to count later (see Shulchan Aruch 489:2-3). In this situation, Shulchan Aruch rules that he should count together with the shul without a brocha and have in mind that if he remembers later, he will count again. If he indeed remembers to count again, then he recites a brocha and counts a second time.

This ruling seems very strange. How can one count the second time with a brocha—didn’t he fulfill the mitzvah the first time he counted? Counting with a brocha should be a brocha li-vatala, a brocha recited in vain!

The answer is that when he counted the first time, he made an automatic condition that if he indeed remembers to count again later, he does not want to fulfill the mitzvah now. It is considered that he specified that he does not want to fulfill the mitzvah. However, if he forgets to count later, then the first counting he performed is valid, since his condition was not fulfilled. Thus, he will rely on the opinions that counting sefirah before nightfall is valid, and he may resume counting the following night with a brocha.

Is writing out the number count of the sefirah considered counting sefirah? If someone wrote a letter before he had counted sefirah, and he dated the letter with that night’s sefirah count, may he still count sefirah with a brocha? This issue is discussed at length by poskim. The conclusion is that although writing shows the intention of the person, it does not constitute speaking. When a mitzvah requires one to speak, such as saying Shma, reciting tefila, or counting omer, one does not fulfill his mitzvah by writing. Thus, someone who dated a letter with the night’s sefirah count before he counted sefirah can still recite a brocha on the night’s sefirah count.

As mentioned above, the Torah associates the counting of the sefirah with the offering of the korban omer. An additional idea is conveyed by the Medrash. When the Jews brought the Pesach offering in Egypt, they were eager to receive the Torah immediately. When they asked Moshe, “When do we receive the Torah?” he answered them, “On the fiftieth day”. In their enthusiasm, each of them counted every day, eagerly awaiting the exciting day on which they would receive the Torah. In commemoration of this event, we count the days from Pesach until Shavuos. (This Medrash is quoted by Ran at the end of Mesechta Pesachim.) We should all be zocheh to anticipate receiving the Torah anew on Shavuos with the same excitement and enthusiasm that our ancestors had.

Topical Tropical Plants — Papaya, Pineapple, and Palm Hearts

A visitor to the food market today may choose from a vast assortment of tropical and exotic fruits that were unknown in earlier generations. Many of these fruits grow in unique ways and create interesting shaylos. Other tropical products, such as heart of palm and sugarcane, were well-known, but have undergone major production changes or involve interesting shaylos. These gifts of Hashem provide a wonderful opportunity to discuss some of the halachos pertaining to trees.

We learned in previous articles that whether something is a tree or not influences several areas of halacha, including what bracha one recites before eating its fruit or smelling its fragrance, and many details of the halachos of arlah, kilayim (mixing species), shmittah, maaser, and ba’al tashchis (destruction without benefit).

As we noted, although it is obvious that an oak tree is not a vegetable, many species of Hashem’s botanical wonders are questionable whether or not they are trees. In a different article I discussed the status of eggplant, several varieties of berry including raspberry and cranberry, and several fragrant plants and flowers. In that article we learned that there is a three-way dispute regarding whether woody plants are categorized as trees, specifically whether:

(1) Any perennial plant (one that grows each year without replanting) is considered a tree, even if everything that is above ground dies off each year and only its underground root remains. We will refer to this as the opinion of the Rosh (Berachos 40a; Tur, Orach Chayim 203).

(2) Only a plant whose trunk or stem remains above ground from one year to the next to produce fruit qualifies as a tree. We will refer to this as the opinion of Tosafos (Berachos 40a; Ritva, Sukkah 35a).

(3) It is only a tree if it has branches that remain from one year to the next. We will refer to this as the opinion of Rashi (Berachos 40a).

We also mentioned that the prevalent minhag is to make a pri ha’adamah on species that grow less than ten inches tall (Ritva, Sukkah 35a; Mishnah Berurah 203:3). As we noted, cranberries fit into this category since they are perennial, yet grow prostrate on the “ground” of bogs. Nevertheless, we treat these species as trees concerning the laws of arlah. Furthermore, if one recited borei pri ha’eitz before eating them one has fulfilled the requirement of a bracha and should not recite borei pri ha’adamah.

Other poskim add other qualifying factors to define a tree, such as:

(a) A species capable of producing fruit within its first year (after planting from seed) is not a tree.

(b) A species whose fruit production deteriorates the year after it begins producing is not a tree.

(c) A species that produces fruit from shoots that never produce again is not a tree.

(d) A species whose physical appearance is markedly different from a typical tree is not a tree.

(e) Many poskim contend that the prohibition of arlah does not apply to a tree that produces fruit for only three years or less.

We also learned that poskim dispute whether the definition of a tree for the purposes of the bracha “borei atzei besamim” is different from the definition for the bracha of “borei pri ha’eitz” and for the halachos of arlah, shmittah, maaser, and kilayim.

With this introduction, we can now discuss some topical tropical issues:

What is the correct bracha to recite before eating coconut or palm hearts?

Does the prohibition of arlah apply to papaya?

If someone recited a borei pri ha’eitz on pineapple or on cane sugar, must he recite a new bracha?

BANANAS AND PINEAPPLES

Bananas are perennial plants whose new fruit grows directly from the root every year. Pineapple is a perennial herb which grows about three feet high, bearing long, stiff leaves in a circular cluster. The fruit grows from the center of this cluster, and, when removed, the plant produces another fruiting stem. This process can repeat itself for years, although in practice, the farmer usually uproots the entire field and replants it every few years.

Whether the bracha on these fruits is ha’eitz or ha’adamah depends on the dispute quoted above. According to the Rosh, the bracha recited on these fruits is ha’eitz since the root remains from one year to the next. However, according to the opinion of Tosafos and of Rashi, the bracha is ha’adamah, since the part of the plant that is above ground does not produce fruit again.

If we are uncertain whether the correct bracha on an item is ha’eitz or ha’adamah, one should recite ha’adamah. This is because someone who mistakenly recites borei pri ha’adamah on a fruit that should have been borei pri ha’eitz fulfills the minimal requirement bidie’evid (after the fact) and should not recite an additional bracha of borei pri ha’eitz. The reason for this is that every tree grows from the ground – Thus praising Hashem for “creating the fruit of the ground” when eating a fruit that grew on a tree is not inaccurate. Therefore, someone who is uncertain whether a certain fruit is “of the tree” or “of the ground” should recite borei pri ha’adamah before eating it since it is more inclusive.

The Shulchan Aruch and the Rama (Orach Chayim 302:2) rule that the bracha on perennials whose stem dies each year is ha’adamah. However, it is disputed whether the reason we recite ha’adamah is because the Shulchan Aruch concluded like Tosafos and ha’adamah is indeed the correct bracha, or because it is a safek whether the bracha should be ha’eitz (like Rosh and Tur), or ha’adamah (like Tosafos), and we recite ha’adamah because of this uncertainty (Maamar Mordechai; see also Graz and Aruch HaShulchan).

This dispute is not merely theoretical. According to the first opinion, someone who recited ha’eitz on a banana should not eat any banana but must recite a new bracha (Chayei Odom 51:9), whereas those who follow the latter approach rule that he should not recite a new bracha and may continue eating.

STRAWBERRIES

The Chayei Odom (51:9) rules that the bracha on strawberries is a safek since some of the plant remains above ground from year-to-year (Mishnah Berurah 203:3). Therefore he rules that one should recite ha’adamah before eating them, but that someone who mistakenly recited ha’eitz should eat one strawberry so that the bracha is not vain. Then he should find an item whose bracha is either ha’adamah or shehakol to be motzi the bracha on the rest of the strawberries.

However according to the Maamar Mordechai and other poskim quoted above, someone who recited ha’eitz on strawberries should not recite a new bracha and may continue eating.

PAPAYA

The Spaniards discovered papaya in Mexico and Central America from where it was transported to the Old World. The earliest halacha 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 what bracha to recite on its fruit. Before quoting his answer, we need to understand the unique way that papaya grows.

Although the papaya may grow ten feet tall or more, it is technically a “woody herb” rather than a tree, 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.

Based on information provided, the Rav Pe’alim discusses what the appropriate bracha on papaya is. He begins by comparing papaya to the eggplant, which I discussed in a previous article. Notwithstanding the eggplant’s woody stalk, it is not subject to the prohibition of arlah, although poskim cite several different reasons. The Radbaz contended that any plant that produces fruit within its first year is not halachically a tree (Shu’t Radbaz #966).

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 (The author admits to not understanding what the Rav Pe’alim meant with this concern, since there are many trees, such as dates, which only produce 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 very atypical from any other tree, whereas dates, although the fruit grows on the new growth high up the tree, they do not grow on the top of the tree.)

2. The stem of the papaya is hollow, which is not characteristic of trees.

3. The fruit grows directly on the trunk and not on the branches. (The author admits to not understanding what the Rav Pe’alim meant with this concern, since there are many trees, such as dates, which produce 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 on 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 arlah 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 arlah and its bracha is ha’adamah (Shu’t Yechaveh Daas 4:52) whereas others rule that papaya does have arlah concerns (Mishpetei Aretz, page 27, quoting Rav Elyashiv). I refer the reader to an article on the subject published by the OU, which I can send you.

A contemporary dispute is whether one draws a distinction between papaya growing in Eretz Yisroel and that growing in chutz la’aretz. Whereas the prohibition of arlah exists both in Eretz Yisroel and in chutz la’aretz, questionable arlah fruit is prohibited if it grew in Eretz Yisroel but permitted if it grew in chutz la’aretz. Usually, questionable arlah occurs when we are uncertain whether fruit grew during the first three years. However, in this instance we have a different shaylah. Does a dispute whether arlah applies to a specific species constitute safek arlah, rendering the fruit of this plant permitted if grown in chutz la’aretz?

This question is disputed by poskim, with the above-quoted Radbaz ruling stringently whereas the Maamar Mordechai (203:3) and the Maharsham (Shu’t #196) rule leniently.

COCONUT

Coconut fruit grow on the stem and not on the branches. Thus, according to the reason cited by the Rav Pe’alim that the bracha on papaya is ha’adamah because its fruit grows directly on the stem, the bracha on coconut should also be ha’adamah. Furthermore according to Rashi who says that one of the defining aspects of a tree is that its fruit grows on its branches, the coconut may not be a proper tree, and the correct bracha on coconut would be ha’adamah.

I note that several of the contemporary books on hilchos brachos rule that the correct bracha on coconut is ha’eitz. Some discuss whether the correct bracha on coconut is ha’eitz or shehakol, since the vast majority of coconuts are cultivated for their oil and not for the fruit (VeZos HaBeracha, pg. 376). However, none of the sources I have seen discuss the possibility that the bracha should be ha’adamah, although I think this possibility should be considered.

CANE SUGAR

Another tropical plant that has been cultivated for food for millennia is the sugar cane. Sugar cane is actually a very tall grass. Why discuss sugar cane in an article about trees?

The Rambam (Hilchos Brachos 8:5) quotes a dispute among the Gaonim whether the appropriate bracha on cane sugar is “borei pri ha’adamah” or “borei pri ha’eitz,” and then concludes that the finished product should not be considered a fruit at all but shehakol because of the vast change it undergoes during production.

Why would the bracha on cane sugar be ha’eitz? Why should we consider it a tree?

In answer to this question, let us quote Tosafos (Berachos 36b s.v. biritiva), “And on sugar we recite the bracha borei pri ha’eitz because (the verse) Ya’ari im Divshi, “My forest with my honey” (Shir HaShirim 5:1) refers to sugar.” In Tosafos’ opinion, since Shlomo HaMelech describes a field of sugar cane as a “forest,” the cane is considered a tree! A similar reference exists in the Book of Shmuel (I:14:27), where it refers to “ye’aros hadevash,” or forests of honey, also understood to refer to a sugarcane field.

If the bracha on sugar is ha’eitz, then why isn’t all sugar prohibited because of arlah?

The Radbaz (Shu’t #563) points out that arlah only applies to what is derived from the fruit of a plant, as opposed to sugar cane which derives from the stalk (Birkei Yosef 331:22). Thus, there is no arlah concern on cane sugar, even according to those opinions who rule that one should recite ha’eitz before eating it.

The Shulchan Aruch (202:15) rules that the bracha on sugar is shehakol. However if someone recited either borei pri ha’eitz or borei pri ha’adamah on cane sugar, he should not recite a new bracha since the correct bracha is disputed (Tur, Beis Yosef, and Biyur Halacha ad loc.) However, if the sugar is refined from beets, a person who recited borei pri ha’eitz must recite a new bracha. It is interesting to note that the Mishnah Berurah himself [174:39] mentions sugar as an item to use to be motzi the bracha on other items.

EAT YOUR HEART OUT!  THE PALM STORY

What are palm hearts?

Palm hearts are the immature center of a palm tree that the grower harvests while it is still soft. It is consumed as a vegetable.

Whereas most of the other items listed in this article are all relatively recent innovations to the Jewish diet, Jews have been eating hearts of palm for probably two thousand years. The Gemara (Berachos 36a) cites a dispute what bracha to recite on them! Rav Yehudah contended that the bracha should be ha’adamah like any other vegetable, whereas Shmuel held that it should be shehakol since it eventually hardens. The Gemara then points out that there are other vegetables such as radishes that harden and become inedible, and yet the bracha is ha’adamah. This seems to conflict with Shmuel’s opinion. Shmuel responds that farmers plant radishes intending to eat them as radishes, whereas palm trees are not planted intending to eat the hearts!

The Gemara concludes that the halacha is like Shmuel that the bracha on palm hearts is shehakol, and this is the accepted psak halacha (Shulchan Aruch 204:1). However, contemporary canners and producers of palm hearts do not usually harvest them from wild growth because of environmental and market availability concerns. Instead, they cultivate plantations of particular species of palm for the hearts just like any other cash crop. Based on this information, it seems that the correct bracha before eating palm hearts should be ha’adamah and not shehakol. (It would not be ha’eitz because one is eating the stem, not the fruit.)

In addition to the palm hearts, both dates and coconut grow on varieties of palm tree.

One of the unique features of the palm tree is that it has a central stem that continues to grow, but no real branches; the lulav is really a leaf, not a branch. The Gemara (Sukkah 45b) makes note of this fact and proceeds to compare the Jewish people to our heavenly Father. In the words of the Gemara, just as a palm tree has only one heart, so too the Jewish people have but one heart – to our Father in heaven.

The author acknowledges the tremendous assistance provided by Rabbi Shmuel Silinsky and Rabbi Zusha Blech for the horticultural information used in researching this article.

Rav Ovadia holds that if you have an apple and a banana in front of you and wish to eat both, you should first make “Ha’Adama” on the banana (having in mind not to be “motzei” the apple), and only afterwards say “Ha’Etz” on the apple. Otherwise you’ll have a safek on whether the bracha said over the apple also was the appropriate bracha for the banana, and you cannot make “Ha’Adama” over it.

This is the Way We Bake Our Bread! – Some Practical Questions about Hilchos Challah

clip_image002Shaylah #1: Mrs. Ginsburg calls me with the following question:

“I like to separate challah with a bracha, but I do not have a bowl big enough to hold the minimum amount of dough necessary. Instead, I have been mixing the dough in two bowls, and draping a cloth over them. Someone told me that this is not a satisfactory method of combining the doughs and that I have been reciting invalid brachos as a result. What is the correct way to separate challah?”

Shaylah #2: Mrs. Bracha, Mrs. Ginsburg’s friend, was curious why Mrs. Ginsburg was trying to combine her two doughs. “After all, let her just ‘take challah’ on each bowl separately. Why all this hassle?” Which of the two good ladies is correct?

Shaylah #3: In preparation for Shalach Manos, Mrs. Lowenstein is baking her challahs in small batches and placing them in her freezer. Should she separate challah from them?

AM I BAKING CHALLAH OR “TAKING” CHALLAH?

In the last question, I used the word challah to mean two completely different things – our special Shabbos bread, and the consecrated portion that we separate from dough. Indeed a very strange misnomer has occurred in both Yiddish and English that often creates confusion. Whenever someone mixes a large dough or batter intending to bake it, he or she is required to separate a special portion called challah. In the time of the Beis HaMikdash, a generous portion was separated from each dough and given to a kohen. Only a kohen or his family and only when they were tahor could eat the challah, which had special sanctity. Today, since we are all tamei and cannot rid ourselves of this tumah, no one may eat the challah; therefore we separate a small piece, which we burn or dispose of respectfully.

On the other hand, the word challah also came to refer to our special Shabbos bread . To avoid confusion, I will refer to the special Shabbos bread as “bread,” rather than challah, and the word “challah” will refer to the consecrated portion separated from dough or bread to fulfill the mitzvah.

Indeed, it is a very important mitzvah for a woman to bake bread for Shabbos, rather than purchase it from a bakery (Bi’ur Halacha, Orach Chayim 242 s.v. vehu), and it is an even bigger mitzvah to bake enough to separate challah with a bracha (Rama, Orach Chayim 242). However, as we will see in discussing the questions raised above, these mitzvos can sometimes become complicated.

The Torah teaches us the mitzvah of challah in Parshas Shlach (Bamidbar 15:18-21). I quote some of the pasukim:

(18) Speak to the children of Israel and say to them, upon your entry to the land that I am bringing you there.

(19) And it will be when you eat from the bread of the land, that you should consecrate a special portion for Hashem’s sake.

(20) The first of your kneading bowls is challah; you should consecrate it just as you consecrate part of your grain.

Note that Pasuk 19 refers to separating challah when you eat bread, whereas Pasuk 20 mentions taking challah from your kneading bowls. This leads us to a question: Why does the Torah tell us to separate challah from bread if we already separated challah when we were kneading it? The two references imply that sometimes we must separate challah when kneading dough, whereas at other times we are not obligated to do so until it is already bread. Stay tuned to find out how this applies.

HOW TO SEPARATE

Before answering Mrs. Ginsburg’s question, we need to explain the basic method of challah taking.

The simplest method of separating challah is as follows:

1. Separate a piece of the dough that will become the challah portion, but do not intend that it should become challah yet. The custom is that the piece should be at least as large as a small olive (Rama, Yoreh Deah 322:5).

2. Touch the piece to the rest of the dough.

3. Recite the bracha Asher kidishanu bimitzvosav vitzivanu lihafrish challah. Many people have the custom of adding the words min ha’isah to the end of the bracha. (Others end the bracha with the words lihafrish terumah, lihafrish terumah challah, or lihafrish terumas challah instead of lihafrish challah.)

4. Declare that the piece is challah. If saying this part in Hebrew, simply say “Harei zu challah.” One can just as easily say in English: “This is Challah.” Technically, one does not need to declare the portion challah verbally; it is sufficient to simply think which piece becomes challah. (This last case is useful when someone serves you bread or cake and you are uncertain whether challah was separated. Simply have in mind now to designate part of the bread as challah and leave that part uneaten.)

5. One should treat the separated portion, which is now challah, as non-kosher and destroy it. One may wrap it up carefully in two layers of aluminum foil and burn it in one’s oven or on top of the stove. In our ovens, one may burn the challah while using the oven for cooking or baking, so long as one is careful that it does not unwrap. Even if it does unwrap, it will not prohibit anything baked in the oven at the same time; however if it touches the oven itself, that part of the oven will require kashering. Because of the latter concern, some people prefer to wrap it carefully and respectfully place it in the garbage.

MINIMUM AMOUNTS

To answer Mrs. Ginsburg’s question how she should separate challah, we must first appreciate that there is no mitzvah to take challah if one is baking only a small amount of dough. Referring back to our Pasuk, we will see why this is true.

When the Torah required separating challah from “your kneading bowls,” to whom was the Torah speaking? Obviously, the generation living in the Desert, who were eating man. The Torah (Shemos 16:32) tells us that each individual gathered one omer of man each day in the Desert. Since the “bowl” used by the Jews in the Desert contained one omer, we know that this is the size bowl that the Torah is describing.

How big is an omer? The Torah (Shemos 16:36) teaches that this was one-tenth the size of an eifah, but that does not help us if we do not know the size of an eifah. The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 324:1) rules that an omer contains 43.2 eggs. By the way, the gematria of the word challah is 43, and the last letter of challah is a hei, whose gematria is five. This is a good way to remember that the minimum size of separating challah is a dough the size of 43 and 1/5 eggs (Shach 324:2).

However, today we are uncertain how much dough this means since eggs vary tremendously in size. For our purposes, I am suggesting an estimate. We will assume that less than eight cups of flour does not require separating challah, and that one should not recite a bracha before separating challah unless one uses at least five pounds of flour. Any amount in between requires separating challah but without reciting a bracha. These figures are estimates and your Rav may give you different amounts.

If you ask me why I gave the first measurement in cups and the second in pounds, the answer is very simple. Cups are a less accurate measure than pounds, but more commonly used. If a woman knows that every time she uses eight cups of flour she should take challah without a bracha she is unlikely to miss taking challah when necessary. On the other hand, a bracha requires a more accurate measure, and most poskim require a bracha over dough made from five pounds of flour, although many poskim rule that one should recite a bracha even if using less.

WHY SEPARATE CHALLAH WITHOUT A BRACHA?

One recites the bracha only when certain that the dough is large enough to fulfill the mitzvah. If the batch is too small to fulfill the mitzvah, then a bracha would be levatalah, in vain. On the other hand, if one is required to separate challah, then one may not eat the bread without separating challah. Since it is uncertain exactly how much flour requires challah, we separate challah on any dough without a bracha when it is questionable whether one is required.

Preferably, one should try to recite a bracha before performing a mitzvah. Therefore, it is preferred to make a batch large enough to separate challah with a bracha. However, if one does not need such a large amount and it will go to waste, one should make a smaller dough and separate challah without a bracha (assuming that the batch contains at least eight cups of flour). It is preferable to bake fresh bread for every Shabbos rather than bake a double-batch one week and freeze half for the next week, unless the frozen bread tastes as good as the fresh variety.

We have now answered Shaylah #2, the dispute between Mrs. Bracha and Mrs. Ginsburg whether one should try to combine doughs to recite a bracha on the mitzvah. Indeed, one should.

Furthermore, one may not deliberately make small doughs to avoid taking challah altogether (Gemara Pesachim 48b; Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 324:14). Therefore, someone making small batches should combine them into one larger batch in order to fulfill the mitzvah.

BATCHING TOGETHER

How does one combine different batches of dough or bread?

There are two general ways to combine different doughs into one “batch” in order to perform the mitzvah of separating challah. The first is by actually combining two doughs together; the second is by using a vessel to combine doughs or breads into what is now considered to be one batch.

HOW DO WE COMBINE DOUGHS?

One can combine two doughs by touching them together sufficiently that parts of one dough will join the other dough when separating them (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 325:1 and Taz). This sticking together is enough to make the different batches considered as one.

Thus, Mrs. Ginsburg could combine her two doughs by touching them until the doughs stick together. Although this is often a simple way to combine two doughs, Mrs. Ginsburg pointed out that this approach is impractical when her doughs are mixed in two separate bowls. However, a simple solution is to wait until after the doughs rise and then to place them both on the board or tray for braiding. At this point, she should touch the doughs together until they stick to one another and become considered one dough.

“Does this mean that I can never take challah until my dough is removed from the bowls?” asked Mrs. Ginsburg. “I would prefer to separate challah while the dough is still in the bowl.”

Indeed, there are two possible ways she could take challah from the dough while it is still in the bowl, although each approach has its potential drawbacks.

A. If the dough rises in the bowls until it is high enough that one can touch the two doughs together, one may separate challah from one dough for both of them after sticking the two together. Of course, this is only possible if both doughs rise until they are higher than the top of the bowl.

B. A second approach involves placing the two bowls in a sheet or tablecloth in a way that the two bowls are touching while inside the sheet or cloth (Mishnah Berurah 457:7). Then fold the sheet or cloth over the bowls until it covers the doughs, even partially. I will explain shortly why this combines the doughs together. For reasons beyond the scope of this article, I prefer method “A” to method “B.”

HOW DO WE BATCH BREADS?

Another method of combining either dough or bread from small batches into one large batch to fulfill the mitzvah of challah is to place them together in a basket or other vessel (Mishnah Challah 2:4; Gemara Pesachim 48b).

Why does a basket make two or more different batches into one batch? Refer back to the Pasukim that I quoted earlier:

Pasuk 19: And it will be when you eat from the bread of the land, that you should consecrate a special portion for Hashem’s sake.

Pasuk 20: The first of your kneading bowls is challah; you should consecrate it just as you consecrate part of your grain.

I noted above that Pasuk 19 refers to separating challah when you eat bread, whereas Pasuk 20 mentions taking challah from your kneading bowls, which implies that we already separated challah when it was dough. Why does the Torah teach us to separate challah from bread when we already separated challah when it was being kneaded? The answer is that sometimes a dough is too small to require separating challah, but placing the baked bread (from two or more such doughs) in a basket will create a batch large enough to perform the mitzvah!

AN EXCEPTION — A MIX THAT DOES NOT WORK

If one does not want to combine two doughs, for example, if one dough is whole wheat flour and the other is white, or one is bread dough and the other pastry, then combining the two batches does not work (Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 326:1). These batches remain separate unless one actually mixes the two doughs together. Thus, even if one touched together hamantashen dough with bread dough and the two combined have the requisite amount to separate challah, they do not combine.

At this point, we can answer Mrs. Ginsburg’s shaylah, about combining two batches of dough mixed in separate bowls. I have suggested two methods whereby one can combine the two batches into a five-pound batch and recite a bracha before the separating:

1. Take the different doughs and touch them together until the edges stick to one another. Do this either while the dough is in bowls or any time afterwards before the bread is baked.

2. Place the doughs or breads together inside one basket, cloth, or vessel. Since they are all inside one container, this combines them into one batch. Preferably, the dough or breads should all touch one another (Mishnah Berurah 457:7).

We can now analyze Mrs. Lowenstein’s question whether her freezer combines the breads into one batch that requires her to separate challah?

DOES ANY VESSEL COMBINE BREAD INTO ONE BATCH?

Previously, we discussed how one can combine to batches together for mitzvas challah by placing them into one basket. Does putting breads or hamantashen from many small batches into the freezer together create a mitzvah of separating challah?

The Gemara (Pesachim 48b) teaches that a table with a rim around it combines small batches of bread together to create a mitzvah of challah. Thus, it seems that a basket is simply an example. However, many Rishonim imply that the mitzvah of challah is created by a vessel only while in the process of baking bread, but not afterwards (Rashi, Pesachim 48b; She’iltos #73; Eimek Shei’lah who explains these opinions meticulously). However, the Rosh (Beitzah 1:13) implies that if a large quantity of bread is mistakenly placed into one vessel later, it will become obligated in challah at this point, and therefore he recommends combining all the doughs together earlier and separating challah. Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 457:1) implies that he rules like the first opinion, unlike the Rosh.

Although some poskim suggest that a freezer will combine just as a basket combines, most contemporary poskim rule that this is not a concern for a variety of reasons. These reasons include: 1) This takes place long after you finished making the bread. 2) You have no intent to combine the doughs together. 3) A freezer may not be considered a vessel at all because of its size and weight. 4) The doughs are all bagged before they are placed inside the freezer (see Machazeh Eliyahu #l11; Shu’t Nimla Tal).

We can now answer questions 1 and 3 that we posed at the beginning. 1) One should indeed try to combine different batches of dough or bread in order to separate challah from them, and in order to be able to recite the bracha. 3) Although a vessel or tablecloth will combine different doughs into challah, a freezer does not create a concern that requires separating challah, nor does it combine batches for challah taking.

Having discussed the halachic details of this mitzvah, it is worthwhile taking a glimpse at the following Medrash that underscores its vast spiritual significance: “In the merit of the following three mitzvos the world was created – in the merit of challah, in the merit of maasros, and in the merit of bikkurim” (Breishis Rabbah 1:4). Thus, besides gaining us eternal reward, this easily kept mitzvah helps keep our planet turning.

Wining and Dining

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA  Arriving in my shul office one day, I check my schedule to see what the day’s activities will bring. The schedule notifies me that Leah Greenberg (not her real name) has an 11 o’clock appointment. I am curious what issues she plans to bring me today. Leah is highly intelligent and usually has interesting questions to discuss.

An 11:05 knock on my door announces her arrival. After she seats herself in my office, I ask her what has brought her this morning.

“As you know, I do not come from an observant background,” she begins. “Although I have been observant now for many years, I always feel that I am missing information in areas of halacha that I need to know. Instead of asking you these questions over the phone, I wanted to discuss all the questions I have on one subject matter in person at one time. – I thought that this way you could perhaps explain the halachos and the issues involved to me.”

It would be nice to spend a few moments doing what I enjoy most, teaching Torah. I encouraged Leah to read me her list.

“My first two questions have to do with kiddush Shabbos morning. I believe I was told years ago that I should make kiddush before I eat Shabbos morning. Recently, someone told me that this was not necessary. What should I do?”

“Many prominent poskim rule that a married woman does not need to recite kiddush until her husband has finished davening (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 4:101:2). In their opinion, there is no requirement to recite kiddush until it is time to eat the Shabbos meal, which for a married woman is when her husband is also ready. Others contend that she should recite kiddush before she eats (Shu’t Minchas Yitzchok 4:28:3; Shmiras Shabbos K’Hilchasah 2:153).”

“Not questioning what you have told me, which is what I intend to do, I know very religious women who do not recite kiddush until the Shabbos meal. Some of them are not married, so the reason you told me above would not apply to them.”

There is a custom in some places that women did not recite kiddush Shabbos morning, and therefore you should not say anything to women who follow this practice (Daas Torah 289). But what you are doing is definitely preferable.”

“My next question has to do with a mistake I made last week. Last Shabbos morning, after I made kiddush and ate mezonos to fulfill the kiddush properly, I recited the after bracha on the cake, but forgot to include al hagafen for the wine I drank. I didn’t know whether I was supposed to recite the bracha acharonah again in order to say the al hagafen or whether I should do nothing.”

“What did you end up doing?” I inquired, curious to see how she had resolved the predicament.

“Well, I didn’t have anyone to ask, so I waited until my son came home from hashkamah minyan and made kiddush and then I had him be motzi me in the bracha acharonah.”

“That was a very clever approach. You actually did what is optimally the best thing to do, provided that you have not waited too long for the bracha acharonah. But let me ask you first. Why were you uncertain what to do after you had made kiddush?”

“Well, I know that after eating cake and drinking wine or grape juice we recite the long after bracha beginning and ending with both al hamichyah (for the food you have provided us) and al hagafen (for the vine and its fruits). I had recited this bracha, but I left out the parts referring to wine. So I was uncertain whether I had fulfilled the mitzvah with regard to the wine since I had only mentioned al hamichyah, which only refers to the cake.”

“Your analysis of the question is very accurate,” I responded. “But I am first going to answer a question with a question. What happens if you only drank wine, and ate nothing at all, and then afterwards recited al hamichyah and did not mention al hagafen at all? Or for that matter, what happens if you recited the full bensching after drinking wine. Did you fulfill your responsibility?”

“I would think that you did not fulfill the mitzvah since you did not recite al hagafen,” Leah responded. “But because of the way you asked the question, I guess I am wrong. I told you that I don’t have the strongest halacha background.”

What a beautiful neshamah! I found my mind wondering. Leah was always eager to learn more about Yiddishkeit and halacha, and she always felt humble. This is how we should always feel before the Almighty. In truth, she was usually far more knowledgeable than most people who take their Yiddishkeit for granted.

I returned to our conversation.

“I presented you with two cases. If someone bensched a full bircas hamazon after drinking wine but not eating anything, we paskin that he should not recite a new bracha acharonah since wine does provide satisfaction (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 208:17). However, many other foods, such as most fruit, are not satisfying enough that bensching would fulfill the responsibility. Therefore, the bracha of bensching is inappropriate for them, and one must recite the correct bracha acharonah.

“In the case of someone who recited al hamichyah instead of al hagafen, there is a dispute whether he must recite al hagafen or not. Most poskim contend that one has fulfilled the mitzvah and should not recite a new bracha” (Levush 208:17; Eliyahu Rabbah 208:26; cf., however, the Maadanei Yom Tov and Pri Megadim 208:16 in Mishbetzos Zahav who disagree and rule that one must recite al hagafen.)

“Then it would seem that I should not have recited al hagafen and I did not have to wait for my son to come home. Why did you say that I did what was optimally correct?”

“Actually, your case is a bit more complicated than the ones I just presented.”

“How so?”

“In the two cases I mentioned, reciting full bensching or al hamichyah after wine, one did not eat anything at all that would require bensching or al hamichyah, so the bracha can only have referred to the wine. The halachic question we deal with is whether this bracha can ever refer to wine or not. If the bracha can never refer to wine, then it has the status of a bracha li’vatalah, a bracha recited in vain.

“However, when you drank wine and ate cake you were required to include two different themes, one for the wine and the other for the cake, but you included only one. Here our question is whether one theme will fulfill both bracha requirements.”

“I find this rather confusing. Either the bracha al hamichyah works for wine or it does not. How can it sometimes work and sometimes not?”

“Let me give you a different example that will be more familiar. What happens if you recite the bracha of borei pri ha’adamah on an apple?”

“I have been told that one isn’t supposed to do this, but if you did one should not recite a new bracha.”

“That is exactly correct. Now let me ask you another question. What happens if you plan to eat an apple and a tomato, and you recited borei pri ha’adamah on the tomato? Do you now recite a borei pri ha’eitz on the apple or is it covered with the borei pri ha’adamah that you recited on the tomato.”

“I understand,” replied Leah. “One is not supposed to recite ha’adamah on an apple, but if one did, he fulfilled his requirement. However, if one is eating an apple and a tomato, and recited ha’adamah and then ate the tomato, he still must recite ha’eitz on the apple.”

“Precisely.”

“But why is this?”

“The ha’adamah does not usually apply to the apple which does not grow directly from the ground. However, when there is nothing else for the ha’adamah to refer to, it does apply to the apple since it grows on a tree which grows from the ground. Therefore when one recites ha’adamah on an apple, one does not recite a new bracha. But when one recited the ha’adamah on a tomato, the bracha does not include the apple.”

“Are there any other examples of this rule?”

“There are many. Here’s one. As you know the correct bracha after eating grapes is al ha’eitz ve’al pri ha’eitz (for the land and for the fruits of the land), not al hagafen ve’al pri hagafen (for the vine and for the fruits of the vine), which refers specifically to wine. However, if one recited al hagafen after eating grapes, one should not recite a new bracha since the literal wording of the bracha includes all fruits of the vine, which also includes grapes (Shulchan Aruch, 208:15). But what happens if someone finished a snack in which he ate grapes and drank wine?”

“I believe he is supposed to recite al hapeiros ve’al hagafen,” Leah interposed.

“Correct. But what happens if he recited just al hagafen and forgot to say al hapeiros. Must he now recite a bracha of al hapeiros because of the grapes or was he yotzei with the al hagafen that he recited?

“Based on the direction that you are leading me, it would seem that he must recite al hapeiros since the bracha of al hagafen referred only to the wine he drank, just like the ha’adamah referred only to the tomato and not to the apple (Shulchan Aruch, 208:14).”

“Excellent.”

“May I conclude that someone who recited al hamichyah on wine fulfilled his requirement if he only drank wine, but did not fulfill their requirement to recite a bracha acharonah on the wine if they also ate cake?”

“Some poskim reach exactly this conclusion (Shu’t Har Tzvi #105). However, others rule that one has fulfilled the requirement of a bracha acharonah on the wine also and should not recite al hagafen. They reason that al hamichyah includes any food that satisfies, even while eating another food (Kaf HaChayim 208:76). That is why I told you that having someone be motzi you in the bracha acharonah is the best option since it covers all bases.”

“This whole discussion is very fascinating, and I think it leads into the next question I want to ask. I know that the correct bracha after eating grapes is al ha’eitz ve’al pri ha’eitz but the correct bracha after eating most fruit is borei nefashos. What do you do if you eat both grapes and apples as a snack? Somehow it does not sound correct that you make two brachos.”

“You are absolutely correct. Although the bracha after eating an apple is borei nefashos, when one recites al ha’eitz ve’al pri ha’eitz anyway, that bracha also covers the apples or other fruit that one ate (Shulchan Aruch 208:13).”

“What happens if I ate an apple and drank some grape juice at the same time? Do I recite one bracha or two afterwards?”

“This a really good question – Rav Moshe Feinstein actually has a tshuvah devoted exactly to this question. But before presenting his discussion, we first need to discuss a different shaylah.” I paused for a few seconds before I continued.

“What is the closing of the bracha we recite after drinking wine?”

“All I know is what it says in the sidurim and benschers. There it says to recite “al ha’aretz ve’al pri hagafen.”

“We follow this version (Taz 208:14), but actually there is another text to the bracha that is also acceptable.”

“What is that?”

“Some poskim close with al ha’aretz ve’al hapeiros, meaning that the closing of the bracha on wine is the same as it is on grapes, dates, or olives. According to this opinion, the bracha after drinking wine begins with al ha’aretz ve’al pri hagafen and ends al ha’aretz ve’al hapeiros (Rambam). Although I have never seen this text printed in any benscher or siddur, poskim quote it as a perfectly acceptable version (Shulchan Aruch 208:11). However, according to both opinions one begins the bracha with the words al hagafen ve’al pri hagafen.”

“May I ask you something at this point,” Leah interjected. “You told me before that if someone ate grapes and apples he recites just one bracha al ha’eitz ve’al pri ha’eitz for both the grapes and the apples. Will this affect whether one can say the same bracha after wine and apples? Even according to the opinion that one concludes by mentioning fruit, he began by saying al hagafen ve’al pri hagafen and does not mention fruit until the end of the bracha. Does this affect whether one bracha suffices for both the wine and the apple?”

I must admit that I was astounded by the pure brilliancy of her analysis. Leah was unaware that she had just unraveled the core issue in Rav Moshe’s teshuvah (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim #72) on the subject, and that she had zeroed in on a dispute among the poskim whether this bracha that begins with a reference to grapes and ends with a bracha on fruits suffices to fulfill the bracha on another fruit.

“Now I can explain the shaylah you asked about someone who ate an apple and drank grape juice at the same time. Rav Moshe says that it depends what bracha he recites at the end of the bracha after drinking the grape juice. If he recites al ha’aretz ve’al pri hagafen then he should recite a borei nefashos afterwards because neither part of the bracha referred to fruit, only to grapes. However, if he concludes al ha’aretz ve’al hapeiros there is a dispute what to do and one should not recite a borei nefashos.

“May I ask one last question for the day if I might?”

“Feel free to ask as many as you like. My greatest pleasure in life is answering questions about Torah.”

“I know that when we eat fruit that grew in Eretz Yisroel we modify the end of the bracha acharonah to reflect this fact. Do we do the same thing if we drink wine produced in Eretz Yisroel?”

“After drinking wine or grape juice produced from grapes that grew in Eretz Yisroel one should recite al ha’aretz ve’al pri gafnah, for the land and for the fruit of its vine, or al ha’aretz ve’al peiroseha, for the land and for its fruit, thus praising Hashem for our benefiting from the produce of the special land He gave us.

“What bracha do we recite after eating cake or crackers made from flour that grew in Eretz Yisroel?”

“Some poskim contend that one should recite “al michyasah” on its produce after eating flour items that grew in Eretz Yisroel (Birkei Yosef 208:10; Shu’t Har Tzvi #108). However, the prevalent practice is to recite “al hamichyah” and not “al michyasah” after eating pastry or pasta items even if they are made from flour that grew in Eretz Yisroel (Birkei Yosef 208:10).”

“Why is there a difference between flour and wine?”

“When eating fruit and drinking wine, the different nature of the source country is very identifiable. Therefore its bracha should reflect a special praise of Eretz Yisroel. However, when one makes a product from flour, the source of the flour is not obvious in the finished product. Thus, praising Hashem for the special grain His land produces is inappropriate.”

“I have really enjoyed this conversation, and if possible would like to continue it at a different time with other questions.”

“It will be my pleasure.”

Leah left with a big smile on her face, having now mastered a new area of halacha. Although I was technically the teacher of the meeting, I learned a tremendous amount from her in terms of enthusiasm about mitzvos and humility in serving Hashem.

Curious Kiddush Shaylos

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The Torah commands us to declare the sanctity of Shabbos, a mitzvah we fulfill when we recite kiddush before beginning the meal. Simple as this mitzvah appears, it sometimes involves interesting shaylos.

We recite kiddush before the seudah at night and also Shabbos morning. The Torah mitzvah of kiddush is fulfilled at night and has two brachos, one on the wine and the other is the special kiddush bracha. The daytime kiddush was instituted by Chazal in order to demonstrate that because the Shabbos meals are special we drink a cup of wine beforehand. (The psukim that we recite before this kiddush are a later minhag, presumably to emphasize that we are reciting kiddush.) One is forbidden to eat or drink before reciting kiddush. The poskim dispute whether an ill or weak person who eats before davening should make kiddush before doing so or after. There is also a dispute whether a woman makes kiddush before eating breakfast on Shabbos morning or whether she does not need to make kiddush until she eats later with her husband.

Someone who failed to recite the full kiddush at night for some reason, must recite it before or during one of the Shabbos day meals (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 271:8). We will later discuss an interesting application of this rule.

One can fulfill the mitzvah of kiddush either by reciting it oneself or hearing it from someone else who recites it. This happens when the head of the household recites kiddush for everyone at the table. Everyone is yotzei kiddush, he by reciting it and everyone else by hearing it. This is referred to as the baal habayis being “motzi” the others in their mitzvah.

Several requirements must be met in order to fulfill the mitzvah through hearing someone else’s kiddush. One of the requirements is that the person reciting kiddush must be obligated in the mitzvah. For this reason, only an adult can be motzi other adults.

When I was twelve-years old, I once spent Shabbos with my widowed grandmother, a”h. She wanted me, as the “man” of the house, to recite kiddush, and I was happy to oblige. Years later it occurred to me that my recital did not fulfill her obligation to fulfill the mitzvah of kiddush since I was under bar mitzvah at the time.

HEARING KIDDUSH

The people fulfilling the mitzvah must hear the kiddush. Therefore, if the baal habayis mumbles inaudibly they do not fulfill the mitzvah. Trying to solve this problem can sometimes create shalom bayis issues or hurt someone’s feelings. A rav’s direction may be very helpful.

Someone once asked me the following shaylah. His father-in-law recited kiddush in a very garbled manner. Even if his father-in-law indeed recited a full kiddush, he (the son-in-law) did not hear enough to be yotzei. How could he fulfill the mitzvah of kiddush without hurting anyone’s feelings ?

I proposed two possible suggestions. One was to find some practical excuse why he (the son-in-law) should recite his own kiddush after his father-in-law (such as this is his personal custom). Alternatively, if this is not a practical solution, he and his wife could discreetly make kiddush in their own room beforehand. (Of course, this solution will not help when their children get older.) Later in this article, we will discuss whether one can recite kiddush in one room and eat in another.

KEEP THEM IN MIND

It is necessary that the person making kiddush intend to be motzi those who want to fulfill the mitzvah, and they must have intent to fulfill the mitzvah with his recital. This leads us to a curious situation that once happened to me.

I was visiting the Schwartzes (Note: all names have been changed) for Shabbos and they honored me to recite kiddush first – or so I thought. I assumed that I was reciting kiddush for myself and that the baal habayis would then recite kiddush for his family. However, upon completing my kiddush, it became clear that the family had assumed that I had made kiddush for them as well. But since this was not my intention, they were not yotzei.

It turned out that the head of household was embarrassed to recite kiddush in my presence. Under the unusual circumstances, I may well have ended up reciting kiddush twice, one right after the other, because the family still needed someone to be motzi them in kiddush. Thus, if the baal habayis was still reluctant to recite kiddush, I could have recited it a second time for them because of the concept “Yatza motzi,” “someone who has already fulfilled the mitzvah may recite kiddush another time for someone who has not yet fulfilled it.”

HOW CAN I RECITE KIDDUSH WHEN I ALREADY PERFORMED THE MITZVAH?

One may recite a birchas hamitzvah (a bracha on a mitzvah) on behalf of another person (presuming that we are both obligated to fulfill this mitzvah) even if one is not presently fulfilling this mitzvah because of the principle “kol Yisroel areivim zeh lazeh,” “all Jews are responsible for one another,” (Gemara Rosh HaShanah 29a). This concept of “areivus” means that since I am responsible to help another Jew observe mitzvos, his responsibility to fulfill a particular mitzvah is also my mitzvah. Since I am responsible to see that my fellow Jew makes kiddush, I can recite the kiddush bracha on his behalf. For this same reason, I can still blow shofar in a shul and recite the brachos for other people even if I already fulfilled the mitzvah of shofar earlier.

MAKING KIDDUSH WHEN I WILL FULFILL THE MITZVAH LATER

I was once asked the following shaylah. Mr. Hirsch was hospitalized, and his wife was unable to make kiddush for her family. Mr. Goldberg, one of the Hirsch’s neighbors, asked whether he could make kiddush for the Hirsch family on his way home from shul and then go home and make kiddush for his own family. I told him that this was perfectly acceptable. However if he was not planning to eat anything at the Hirsch residence, he should not drink the kiddush wine but instead ask one of the Hirsch adults to drink most of a revi’is (about one-and-a-half ounces) from the cup (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 273:4; 271:13). I will explain later why Mr. Goldberg should not drink from the Hirsch goblet.

This seems strange. How can Mr. Goldberg recite “borei pri hagafen” and not drink any wine?

THE DISTINCTION BETWEEN THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF BRACHOS

The answer to this question needs an introduction. It is true that one cannot recite a bracha on food or fragrance (birchas ha’ne’henin) for someone else’s benefit unless he is anyway making that bracha for himself. This is because the other person is not fulfilling any obligatory mitzvah by reciting these brachos. He needs to recite a bracha because he is gaining benefit, not because he is obligated to perform a mitzvah. Therefore, the rule of areivus does not apply in this case. Because he has no absolute obligation, one does not share in his mitzvah and cannot make the bracha on his behalf.

However, the bracha on kiddush wine is different because it is considered part of the obligatory mitzvah of kiddush (Gemara Rosh HaShanah 29a). Therefore, Mr. Goldberg can also make borei pri hagafen for the Hirsches even though he is not drinking any wine. (It should be noted that it is disputed whether this halacha is true for the daytime kiddush.)

AN INTERESTING APPLICATION

Sometimes one has guests for a Shabbos daytime meal who have not yet fulfilled the mitzvah of kiddush this Shabbos at all. (A common application is when a guest is not yet observant.) This provides one with an opportunity to perform the additional mitzvah (in addition to exposing one’s guests to Shabbos) of kiddush. As explained above, the normal daytime kiddush is not a replacement for the night kiddush. Therefore, our unobservant lunch guests have not yet fulfilled the mitzvah of kiddush this Shabbos. How can one alleviate the situation?

Since kiddush can be recited the entire Shabbos day, one should recite the full Friday night kiddush on Shabbos daytime on behalf of his guests. Although he has already fulfilled the mitzvah, he can still be motzi his guests. However, in order to do so he must explain to them that hearing kiddush is a mitzvah and that they should listen to him with the intent to fulfill the mitzvah. (It is always a good idea to do this so that one’s guests know to fulfill the mitzvah.)

WHY COULDN’T MR. GOLDBERG DRINK THE CUP OF WINE?

Before answering this question, we need to explain the concept of “Ayn kiddush elah b’makom seudah,” “Kiddush must be recited in the place that one will be eating a meal” (Gemara Pesachim 101a).

The Gemara relates the following story. One Friday evening, Rabba made kiddush. Although his disciple Abaye was present, Abaye planned to eat his Shabbos meal in his own lodgings. Rabba urged Abaye to “taste something” before he left, voicing concern that the light in Abaye’s lodging might extinguish before his arrival, making it impossible to make kiddush there. (I presume that Abaye was unable to locate his wine in the dark.) Rabba pointed out that Abaye would not be yotzei with the kiddush he just heard unless he ate something at Rabba’s house because of “Ayn kiddush elah b’makom seudah,” (Gemara Pesachim 101a).

This halacha is derived from the pasuk “Vikarasa LaShabbos Oneg” (Yeshaya 58:13), which Chazal midrashically interpret to mean, “In the place where you declare the kiddush of Shabbos, you should also celebrate your Shabbos meal” (Rashbam and Tosafos ad loc.). From this we derive that one must eat a meal in the place that one recites kiddush.

WHAT IS CONSIDERED THE SAME PLACE?

The Gemara rules that someone fulfills kiddush if he recited (or heard) kiddush in one part of a large room and ate in a different part of the room since this is considered the same place. Some poskim contend that one should not move to a different part of the house unless he knew at the time of kiddush that he might do this (Magen Avraham 273:1; Mishneh Berurah 273:3) and even this should be done only under extenuating circumstances (see Biyur Halacha 273:1). However, if one recited kiddush in one building and then went to a different building without eating, one certainly did not fulfill the mitzvah of kiddush and must recite (or hear) it again. This is why Mr. Goldberg could not drink the Hirsch’s wine. Since he had no intent to eat at the Hirsch’s house, he could not fulfill the mitzvah of kiddush there. Therefore he also couldn’t drink the wine since one cannot drink before fulfilling the mitzvah of kiddush. (According to most poskim, Mr. Goldberg has another option: he could drink the kiddush and then another cup of wine. This would be considered kiddush b’makom seudah.)

KIDDUSH IN SHUL

These two concepts (areivus and ayn kiddush elah b’makom seudah) are the basis of the custom that the chazzan recites kiddush in shul Friday evening without drinking the cup of wine.

Why is kiddush recited in shul at the end of Friday evening davening?

The Gemara mentions that in its time guests often stayed and ate their Shabbos meals in rooms attached to the shul and someone recited kiddush in shul on their behalf. Since the guests were eating in the same building, it was considered “kiddush b’makom seudah” and they fulfilled their mitzvah.

However, the chazzan who makes kiddush does not fulfill his mitzvah since he is eating his meal at his house which is in a different building. Therefore, he should not drink the kiddush wine. Instead it should be drunk by a guest eating in the building, and if there are no guests the cup is drunk by children who are permitted to drink or eat before kiddush. (Although in general children should be taught to keep mitzvos like adults, there is no requirement of chinnuch in this case. Iy”H I hope to discuss this halacha in a future article.)

ANOTHER INTERESTING SHAYLAH

I was once asked the following question from someone who was a guest at a Shabbos bar mitzvah:

“The baal simcha made kiddush in the shul immediately after davening, but the kiddush was conducted in the shul’s social hall. Is this an acceptable way to fulfill the mitzvah?”

Based on the above discussion, we can answer this question. If the social hall was in a different building, they would need to recite kiddush again in the social hall. Assuming the social hall was in the same building as the kiddush, this was acceptable under extenuating circumstances, assuming that they ate in the social hall. It would be preferred that they follow a different procedure, such as having kiddush made in the social hall.

WHAT IS CONSIDERED A MEAL?

Rabba’s words (“taste something”) imply that one fulfills kiddush without necessarily eating a meal, notwithstanding the Gemara’s statement that one must eat a meal where he recites kiddush. The Gaonim explain that one must begin his meal where he said kiddush by either eating some bread or drinking wine and this answer is quoted in Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 273:5). The Gaonim explicitly state that one does not fulfill kiddush b’makom seudah by eating only fruit. Although some poskim disagree, arguing that one fulfills kiddush b’makom seudah by eating fruit (Shiltei HaGiborim Pesachim 20a:1, quoting Riaz, as explained by Magen Avraham 273:11) the accepted practice does not follow this opinion (Magen Avraham 273:11; Shu”t Ayn Yitzchak #12).

Magen Avraham rules that one fulfills kiddush b’makom seudah by eating a kizayis-sized piece of mezonos (the same size piece that requires an “al hamichyah” blessing afterwards), and this is the prevalent practice followed on Shabbos morning when people often make kiddush and then eat pastry or crackers. Some poskim rule that one should not rely on drinking wine to fulfill kiddush b’makom seudah but instead eat mezonos or bread (see Rabbi Akiva Eiger to 273:5 and Mishneh Berurah 273:26).

Some people follow the practice of the Vilna Gaon to recite kiddush only immediately before the meal they are eating for the Shabbos seudah (see Biyur Halacha and Rabbi Akiva Eiger to 273:5). In his opinion the concept of “Vikarasa LaShabbos Oneg,” means that one should declare the kiddush of Shabbos specifically at the time that one celebrates the Shabbos meal.

KIDDUSH ON YOM TOV

I was once asked the following question. The director of a small senior residence used to always make kiddush for the residents and then go home to eat the Shabbos seudah with his family. One Yom Tov, there were only women in the residence. Could he make kiddush for them without eating there?

WHY SHOULD THERE BE ANY DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SHABBOS AND YOM TOV?

There might be a difference between Shabbos and Yom Tov in this regard. There is a dispute among the poskim whether women are obligated to recite kiddush on Yom Tov. The Gemara states that although women are usually not obligated to fulfill positive time-bound mitzvos (mitzvos aseh she-ha’zman grama), there are numerous exceptions to this rule, including kiddush. Some poskim believe that only Shabbos kiddush is an exception and that women are not required to recite kiddush on Yom Tov (Shu”t Rabbi Akiva Eiger #1). Other poskim (Graz 271:5) contend that there is no difference between kiddush on Shabbos and kiddush on Yom Tov – women are required to recite both (or hear them from someone else).

Although the universal practice is that women hear kiddush on Yom Tov, the above dispute has major ramifications. We mentioned above that one can be motzi someone even when one is not now fulfilling the mitzvah because of the concept of areivus. This means that the person making kiddush carries some of the responsibility of the mitzvah for the person who has not yet fulfilled the mitzvah. However, according to Rabbi Akiva Eiger, a woman does not have a mitzvah of reciting kiddush on Yom Tov. Therefore, a man who is presently not fulfilling the mitzvah cannot recite kiddush on her behalf. According to Rabbi Akiva Eiger, he should eat something after making kiddush and fulfill his mitzvah of kiddush in the residence.

Kiddush sets the tone of the whole Shabbos meal. In the midst of remembering the details and requirements of this mitzvah, we should never forget to also focus on the beauty of Shabbos and the wonderful opportunity we are given to sanctify it verbally day and night!

Cleanliness Is Next to G-dliness, Or This Is the Way We Wash Our Hands

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Question #1: I know that after clipping my nails, I must wash my hands. What happens if I hear someone recite a bracha before I have a chance to wash my hands? Do I answer Amen to the bracha?

Question #2: At what age should I have my baby wash negel vasser?

Question #3: Must a caterer insist that his non-Jewish employees wash negel vasser before beginning work?

A person must perform a ritual hand-washing after the completion of certain activities, including upon arising in the morning; before eating bread; after shaving, haircutting, clipping one’s nails, and touching private parts of one’s body; exiting the lavatory; scratching one’s scalp; and touching one’s shoes (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 4:18).

However, the procedure for these different washings is not the same. Some situations require washing each hand once, while others require washing each hand three times. In certain instances one is only required to wash the fingers, whereas others require washing the entire hand. Sometimes water is unnecessary so long as I have cleaned my hands, yet others require water. Some hand-washings require a bracha, others do not. Sometimes one may wash by holding one’s hands under the faucet, and sometimes one must pour onto them with a cup.

What are all these washings about? Why are there so many differences among them?

We can categorize the different types of ablution under three general headings:

1. Those that Chazal instituted so that one’s hands should be clean.

2. Those that create kedusha.

3. Those that remove ruach ra, a spiritual contaminant that might have a negative affect on a person if not removed.

As I will explain, sometimes we wash for a combination of these reasons.

1. CLEANLINESS IS NEXT TO G-DLINESS

One must wash one’s hands after scratching one’s scalp, combing out lice, or touching dirt, mud, shoes, feet, or any other parts of the body that are either sweaty or usually covered (Shulchan Aruch and commentaries: Orach Chayim 4:18, 92:7; Yoreh Deah 116:4, 5). However, scratching the exposed parts of one’s hands or face is not considered as dirtying one’s hands and does not require ablution (Shulchan Aruch 4:21). The poskim dispute whether one is required to wash one hands after touching ear wax or mucous (Rama, Orach Chayim 92:7, Gra, Mor Uketziya, Shaarei Tshuvah, and Mishnah Berurah ad loc.)

The ablution after performing any of the activities just listed does not require washing three times or pouring the water from a vessel — as a matter of fact one does not even require water – all that is required is to clean one’s hands properly (Magen Avraham 92:5; Machatzis HaShekel 4:17; Chida, quoted by Kaf HaChayim 4:61). This is because our only concern is that the hands become clean, and therefore any method that cleans them is acceptable.

Someone who touched the parts of his body that are sweaty or usually covered, or whose hands are dirty, may not recite a bracha or learn Torah until he cleans his hands (Magen Avraham 227:2). However if he will not be davening or studying Torah, he need not wash his hands as quickly as possible (Mishnah Berurah 4:41). (Concerning some of the other washings mentioned earlier, the halacha is different, as we will see.)

MAYIM ACHARONIM

Another example of an ablution whose purpose is cleanliness is mayim acharonim. Because of certain safety concerns, Chazal instituted the special takanah of mayim acharonim immediately prior to benching. (It should be noted that some poskim rule that one is not required to wash mayim acharonim unless one used salt from the area of Sodom for one’s meal, and that many people follow this approach. See Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 181:10.)

2. KEDUSHA

A second category of ablutions are those performed to create more kedusha. Before performing any service in the Beis HaMikdash, the Torah requires the cohen to wash his hands and feet in a specially prescribed fashion. Similarly, the cohen washes his hands until his wrists before duchening. These two ablutions are so important that they both supersede the prohibition of washing on Yom Kippur! Thus, the levi pours water on a cohen’s hand until the wrist even on Yom Kippur (and Tisha B’Av afternoon in Eretz Yisroel), even though washing one’s hands past the knuckles is generally prohibited on these days.

Similarly, a cohen was (and will be) required to wash his hands before he ate (and will eat) terumah or the special challah portion. An extension of this concept of kedusha is that every Jew must wash his hands before eating regular bread.

According to some opinions, one is required to wash one’s hands before every prayer (shmoneh esrei) and even to recite a bracha on this washing (Maasei Rav). Although we do not require a bracha, one should still wash one’s hands immediately before davening, preferably by pouring water from a cup (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 233:2).

3. RUACH RA

Several of the washings that we perform are to remove ruach ra, spiritual contaminants that may be harmful if not removed properly. These include:

A. Washing after clipping one’s fingernails or toe nails, or after giving or receiving a haircut (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 4:18, 19 and commentaries).

B. After leaving the lavatory, bathhouse, or mikveh.

C. After contact with a corpse, such as when visiting a cemetery or attending a funeral.

D. Upon awaking in the morning (negel vasser).

In all of these instances, one should try to wash one’s hands as soon as possible (see Magen Avraham 4:18 and Pri Megadim; Eliyah Rabbah 4:12; Kaf HaChayim 4:63) in order to remove the ruach ra without delay. One should be extremely careful not to touch food without first washing away the ruach ra. However, if one did touch food prior to washing, the food is not prohibited (Shu’t Shvus Yaakov 2:105; Artzos HaChayim in Eretz Yehudah 4:30; Darchei Teshuvah 116:35).

There are different types of ruach ra, some more powerful than others, and therefore some activities require pouring water three times on each hand, while others require pouring only once on each hand (Chida, quoted by Kaf HaChayim 4:61). When the ruach ra requires more than one pouring, one should wash one’s hands alternatively to remove the ruach ra (Kaf HaChayim 4:62, Ben Ish Chai Tolados 16). that is, one washes the right hand first, then one’s left, then one’s right, and so on until each hand has been washed three times. Both right and left handed people should follow this procedure (Mishnah Berurah 4:22).

Even in the cases that require three washings, if one has only enough water to wash once he may touch food afterwards with that hand (Artzos HaChayim; Biyur Halacha 4:2 s.v. yedakdeik).

Leaving a bathhouse or mikveh, clipping nails, and giving or receiving a haircut require only one washing (Eliyah Rabbah 4:12). A person who clips someone else’s nails does not need to wash his hands (Kaf HaChayim 4:92). However, the person whose nails were clipped must wash his hands. Therefore, someone who clips a child’s nails should wash the child’s hands if the child is old enough to touch food (Kaf HaChayim 4:92). A barber needs to wash his hands after giving a haircut, since he touches people’s hair (Kaf HaChayim 4:92).

The poskim dispute whether leaving the bathroom requires washing three times or only once (Magen Avraham 7:1; Eliyahu Rabbah 4:12). There is also a dispute whether one is required to wash one’s hands after leaving our modern bathrooms. Some poskim are lenient since our bathrooms are much cleaner than old-time outhouses (Shu’t Zakan Aharon 1:1; Shu’t Eretz Zvi #110, 111; Shu’t Minchas Yitzchok 1:60). Others contend that we should treat our bathroom as a beis hakisei, the outhouse of antiquity (see Shu’t Yechaveh Daas 3:1). Both the Chazon Ish (Orach Chayim 17:4) and Rav Moshe Feinstein (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Even HaEzer 1:114) rule that we should treat our bathrooms as a safek (questionable) beis hakisei. The universal practice is to not recite brachos in the bathroom, but some people are lenient to wash their hands there. Rav Moshe rules that one may not wash for bread in our bathrooms, but one may wash his hands there before davening, although one should dry one’s hands outside the bathroom.

According to those who contend that our bathrooms should be treated the same as those of antiquity, one should wash one’s hands after leaving the bathroom even if one entered there only to retrieve something (Pri Megadim, Mishbetzos Zahav 613:2), and even if only one’s hand was inside the bathroom (Kaf HaChayim 4:65).

AFTER CONTACT WITH A MEIS (A CORPSE)

After attending a funeral, one should wash both hands three times in the above-described manner (Machatzis HaShekel 4:17). The custom recorded by early poskim is that one may not enter a building after touching or escorting a meis without first washing netilas yadayim (Rama, Yoreh Deah 376:5). After this ablution, the custom is to turn the cup upside down and put it down rather than hand it to another person (Eliyahu Rabbah 224:7; Chochmas Odom 158:30; Rabbi Akiva Eiger, Comments to Yoreh Deah 376. None of these sources cite a reason for this practice.)

In many places, the custom is to not dry one’s hands after washing after a funeral, although the poskim are uncertain as to the origin or reason for this practice (Kaf HaChayim 4:78). Many poskim rule that someone who was never within four amos (about seven feet) of the meis does not need to wash his hands (Pri Megadim, Aishel Avrohom 4:21; Kaf HaChayim 4:77) The custom is to wash anyway since the earlier poskim do not make this distinction. It also seems that all poskim would agree that being in the same room as the meis requires one to wash his hands three times.

WASHING UPON ARISING

After waking in the morning, one washes for all three reasons:

To be clean: Because a person touches private and sweaty parts of his body while sleeping.

For kedusha: Every morning a person is like a cohen who must wash from the Holy Laver before he begins doing his daily service (Shu’t Rashba #191).

To remove ruach ra: According to the Zohar, (Parshas VaYeisheiv) a ruach tumah descends upon a person while he sleeps that remains on his hands until he washes it off with three rinses.

Before presenting the unique features of this morning washing, usually called negel vasser, I need to explain the halachic differences that result from the different types of washing.

IS THERE A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN WASHING TO REMOVE RUACH RA AND WASHING TO REMOVE DIRT?

There are several halachic differences between ruach ra washings and cleanliness washings:

(a) Although one may not recite a bracha, learn Torah, or daven when one is dirty, one may recite a bracha or daven after coming in contact with ruach ra. Therefore the Magen Avraham (227:2) rules that someone who entered a bathroom without using the facilities and without touching usually covered body parts may recite a bracha, even though he should wash his hands as soon as possible because he has been contaminated by the ruach ra of the bathroom. (We mentioned before that some contemporary poskim contend that the modern bathroom does not contain ruach ra.) Similarly, someone who clipped his nails, took a haircut, exited a mikveh, or was in contact with a meis, may recite a bracha even though he or she has not yet washed his or her hands.

(b) Removing ruach ra requires washing specifically with water. It is uncertain whether one can remove ruach ra by dipping one’s hands into water, or whether it is removed only by pouring the water onto one’s hands. Someone who cannot pour water on his hands may immerse his hands into water and then daven, learn Torah or recite brachos (Shulchan Aruch 4:12). Furthermore, someone who has no water to wash after ruach ra should wipe his hands clean in the meantime. However, he should wash his hands at the first available opportunity (Pri Megadim, Aishel Avraham 4:17).

ARE THERE HALACHIC DIFFERENCES BETWEEN WASHING TO INCREASE KEDUSHA AND WASHING TO REMOVE EITHER DIRT OR RUACH RA?

We do not recite a bracha al netilas yadayim when washing one’s hands to remove ruach ra or to remove dirt. This is because washing away ruach ra is a protection, and just as one does not recite a bracha when fastening one’s seatbelt or washing mayim acharonim, so one does not recite a bracha upon removing a dangerous contaminant from one’s hands.

Out of all the numerous times we wash our hands, we recite the bracha of al netilas yadayim in only two cases:

1. Prior to eating bread.

2. When washing our hands in the morning upon arising

WHY DO WE RECITE A BRACHA WHEN WASHING OUR HANDS IN THE MORNING?

As I explained before, washing one’s hand to remove either dirt or ruach ra does not require a bracha. If so, why do we recite a bracha when washing our hands in the morning?

The Rashba (Shu’t #191) explains that a person is considered a new creation every morning and therefore washes his hands like a cohen who washes his hands before performing the daily service in the Beis HaMikdash. According to this reason, someone who stayed awake all night or slept with gloves recites a bracha when he washes his hands in the morning. Furthermore, someone who woke up before halachic daybreak (alos hashachar) should wash again after halachic daybreak since the primary reason to wash is because a new day has begun. However, someone who slept in the daytime should not recite a bracha upon washing his hands when he awakes.

The Rosh (Berachos 9:23) explains a bit differently, contending that before morning davening one washes one’s hands with a bracha since while asleep his hands may have touched the private parts of his body. According to this approach, someone who remained awake all night or slept with gloves does not need to wash his hands in the morning and certainly should not recite a bracha, unless he relieves himself. On the other hand, someone who slept in the daytime should wash his hands with a bracha upon awaking before he davens since he may have touched his body while he slept.

HOW DO WE PASKIN?

The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 4:13, 14, 15) concludes that in all of these disputed cases one should wash one’s hands, but not recite a bracha (see also Artzos HaChayim and Biyur Halacha 4:13 s.v. im). Therefore, someone who was awake all night, slept with gloves, slept during the daytime, or woke up early and washed negel vasser, should wash his hands after halachic daybreak (alos hashachar) without a bracha.

According to most poskim, someone who relieved himself before davening recites a bracha al netilas yadayim when he washes, according to both the Rosh and the Rashba, even if he did not sleep all night (Mishnah Berurah 4:30; Biyur Halacha 4:13 s.v. kol). Others contend that one should preferably have someone be motzi him with the bracha al netilas yadayim, since the Ari z”l contends that one recites a bracha on netilas yadayim only if one slept (Rav Moshe Sternbuch, Hilchos Gra Uminhagav, pg. 7).

If no cup is available, one may wash negel vasser without a cup. When one later locates a cup, one should wash again three times using a cup (Shulchan Aruch 4:7). Negel vasser must be poured into a vessel of some type or in some other place where people will not walk (Shulchan Aruch 4:8), because the ruach ra remains on the water (Be’er Heiteiv 4:8). For this reason, one may not receive any benefit from this water (Shulchan Aruch 4:9). Some have the practice not to recite a bracha or learn Torah while facing the negel vasser (Shaarei Teshuvah 4:8).

According to the Zohar, one should be careful to dispose of the water used for negel vasser carefully because it could damage people. This is different from the water used for cleaning, for netilas yadayim before eating a meal, or for mayim acharonim, which may be poured onto the floor. Therefore, when camping one should pour the negel vasser onto a slope or onto earth that will absorb it (Mishnah Berurah 4:21).

Most poskim rule that one does not need to dry one’s hands after washing negel vasser. Therefore, one may recite the bracha before one dries one’s hands. This is different from washing before eating, in which case one is required to dry one’s hands afterward.

A child who might touch food should have his hands washed with negel vasser three times (Pri Megadim, Mishbetzos Zahav 4:7; Mishnah Berurah 4:10). Many wash a child’s hands at a younger age. (Siddur Rav Yaakov Emden and Graz record washing a boy’s hands from when he is eight days old; Ben Ish Chai [Tolados, 1:3] does not mention an exact age.

One does not need to be concerned about a gentile who touches food, since there is no ruach ra on a gentile’s hands (Mishnah Berurah 4:10).

We can now address our original questions:

Question #1: I know that after clipping my nails, I must wash my hands. What happens if I hear someone recite a bracha before I have a chance to wash my hands? Do I answer amen to the bracha?

Answer: The answer is that ruach ra on my hands does not prevent me from reciting a bracha or answering amen.

Question #2: At what age should I have my baby wash negel vasser?

Answer: One should begin washing a child’s hands when he/she is old enough to begin touching food.

Question #3: Must a caterer insist that his non-Jewish employees wash negel vasser before beginning work?

Answer: One need not insist that the non-Jewish employees wash negel vasser since their touching food does not create any ruach ra.

Just as the cohanim washed their hands in the Beis Hamikdash in order to prepare themselves to perform the Divine service, so washing our hands whenever they are dirty, to remove ruach ra, or for kedusha, reminds us that we too are also constantly involved in serving Hashem.

A Sweet Change of Pace: What Bracha Does One Recite over Chocolate-Covered Raisins?

This article was originally published in the American edition of Yated Neeman

Before answering this question, we need to ascertain the correct bracha for chocolate itself. Although the accepted practice is to recite Shehakol on chocolate bars and other products, the question is, why? After all, chocolate is the product of the bean from the cocoa tree. Shouldn’t its bracha be Borei pri ha’eitz? As we will see, many poskim indeed contend that the correct bracha on chocolate is ha’eitz, notwithstanding the minhag. We will also investigate whether there is a difference between the bracha on dark chocolate and white chocolate.

To resolve our question we must analyze what bracha one recites on fruit products that have undergone extensive processing, such as sugar, peanut butter, jams, jellies, apple sauce, and chocolate. We also need to understand something about the history and methods of chocolate production. Aside from being informative, we will discover that all this information impacts on halacha.

CHOCOLATE’S HISTORY

Chocolate is native to southern Mexico and Central America, where the Maya, and later the Aztec Indians cultivated the cocoa (also called the cacao) tree for hundreds and possibly thousands of years. In fact, the word chocolate originates from an Aztec word meaning “warm liquid.” In their society, the royal family drank warm unsweetened chocolate from golden goblets, and cocoa beans were used as currency. Thus, if a Jew had accompanied Hernando Cortez on his trip to the New World, he may have recited kiddush and havdalah over hot chocolate since it qualified there as chamar medinah, a beverage used to honor guests!

The Spaniards planted cocoa trees all over the tropical parts of the New World. Later industrialists developed vast plantations of cocoa trees in Africa, Indonesia, and other tropical areas.

The Native Americans drank their chocolate unsweetened, whereas the Spaniards added sugar to it. This created two industries in the New World, the cocoa industry and the sugar industry. By 5340 (1580), hot chocolate flavored with sugar and vanilla was a common Spanish drink, and from there it eventually spread to the rest of Europe.

As long as chocolate was drunk as a beverage, its bracha was certainly Shehakol, since we recite Shehakol on all beverages (except wine, of course), even if they are made from the five grains, such as beer and whiskey (see Tosafos, Berachos 38a s.v. Hai).

THE 19th CENTURY AND CHOCOLATE

Two major 19th century developments vastly changed the way people consumed chocolate. In 1847, an English company introduced the first solid eating chocolate. Until this time, chocolate was only drunk as a beverage.

The second development occurred in 1876 when the Swiss devised a method of adding milk to chocolate, thereby creating what we know today as milk chocolate. Prior to this invention, all chocolate was pareve. (By the way, some European manufacturers currently add animal fat to chocolate, obviously making it non-kosher.)

HOW DOES COCOA GROW?

The cocoa tree grows with large, colored fruits the size of melons or small pineapples that hang from the branches and trunk of the tree. Each huge fruit contains a sticky pulp that holds about 20-50 almond-shaped seeds that are usually called cocoa beans. The growers separate the beans from the pulp, ferment the beans for about a week, dry them in the sun, and then ship the semi-processed cocoa beans to a chocolate maker.

HOW IS CHOCOLATE MADE?

The chocolate maker roasts the beans to bring out the flavor, and then removes the shell from the bean, leaving the kernel. The kernel is ground and becomes a thick, viscous liquid called chocolate liquor. The bean turns into a liquid when it is ground because it contains over 50% fat.

Chocolate liquor contains no alcohol — that is simply the name for the ground, liquefied chocolate. Chocolate liquor is pure, bitter, unsweetened chocolate, similar to what the Aztecs drank in their time.

The chocolate maker now separates the cocoa liquor into its two main components; the fat or cocoa butter (nothing to do with the butter made from milk that we eat) and cocoa bean solids. The solids are ground into cocoa powder. The chocolate we eat consists of a mix of chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, and cocoa powder, along with several other ingredients, notably sugar and usually milk. This product is ground very finely in a machine called a “conch” to give it a smooth consistency and taste. The chocolate is then tempered, which means that it is heated slowly and then cooled slowly, to enable the chocolate to harden properly and so that the cocoa butter does not separate from the chocolate. Finally, the chocolate is flavored and shaped into the final product.

Thus before being ready to eat, chocolate has been separated, fermented, dried, roasted, shelled, ground, liquefied, separated, ground again, mixed with milk and/or cocoa butter, ground yet again in a conch, tempered, flavored and shaped.

White chocolate is made from cocoa butter, sugar, and sometimes milk. There are no cocoa solids in white chocolate and that is how in maintains its light color. Some “white chocolate” products are in reality made of vegetable oil and chocolate flavoring instead of cocoa butter.

SO WHAT BRACHA DO WE MAKE ON CHOCOLATE?

To this day, there is a dispute among poskim whether the correct bracha on chocolate is Borei pri ha’eitz or Shehakol nihyeh bidvaro. To comprehend this dispute we need to understand the halachos of fruit and vegetable products that no longer have their original consistency, such as date butter, apple sauce, jam, fruit puree, mashed potatoes, tomato paste, and peanut butter. Is the correct bracha on these items Borei pri ha’eitz (Borei pri ha’adamah in the case of some) or Shehakol nihyeh bidvaro?

The Rishonim dispute this question, many contending that even fruit that is completely pureed is still Borei pri ha’eitz, whereas a minority rule that the bracha on a fruit or vegetable that no longer has its original consistency is Shehakol.

HOW DO WE PASKIN?

The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 202:7) rules that the bracha on date butter is Ha’eitz, and this is the ruling followed by most Sefardim. Ashkenazim follow the ruling of the Rama, who contends that one should recite Shehakol because of the safek as to which opinion we should follow. In practice, Ashkenazim usually recite Borei pri ha’eitz when eating a product that has some of the consistency of the original product, as is the case of jam with recognizable fruit pieces in it or “chunky” apple sauce, but recite Shehakol before eating a completely smooth apple sauce, or a smooth jam where the fruit has completely lost its consistency (Mishnah Berurah 202:42).

However, since the reason we recite Shehakol is because it is a safek, several halachic differences result. For example, someone having a snack of apple sauce and a beverage should make sure to recite the Shehakol on the apple sauce rather than on the beverage. If one recites the Shehakol on the beverage without specifically including the apple sauce, one now has a safek whether he has fulfilled the bracha on the apple sauce. This is because according to the opinions that the bracha should be Ha’eitz, one does not fulfill the bracha by reciting Shehakol on something else.

Similarly, someone eating a fruit and apple sauce at the same time who recited Ha’eitz on the fruit should not recite Shehakol (and certainly not Ha’eitz) on the apple sauce. This is because according to the poskim who contend that apple sauce is Ha’eitz he has already fulfilled his bracha by reciting Ha’eitz on the other fruit. Instead, he should first recite Shehakol on the apple sauce and then Ha’eitz on the other fruit (Ben Ish Chai, Pinchas #16).

Some poskim are stricter, ruling that one should not eat an item that is definitely Borei pri ha’eitz together with an item that is questionably Borei pri ha’eitz, such as apple sauce. This is because there isn’t any way to fulfill reciting a bracha on both items without creating an unnecessary bracha. If one recites the bracha on the fruit first, then one has a safek as to whether he can recite a bracha on the safek item. However, if you recite the Shehakol on the safek item first, then according to the opinions that the bracha is Ha’eitz you have now recited an unnecessary bracha (Maamar Mordechai 203:3).

HOW DOES THIS DISCUSSION AFFECT CHOCOLATE?

The average person looking at a chocolate bar does not recognize the cocoa beans since the producer ground, liquefied, and reconstituted them into a solid in the process. Can one still recite Ha’eitz on the finished chocolate product or does it become Shehakol?

Many assume that the bracha on chocolate products is Shehakol based on the rulings of the Divrei Yosef and other poskim quoted by Shaarei Teshuvah (202:19). However, since all these poskim lived at the time when chocolate was only drunk, it is difficult to base any halachic conclusion on what bracha to recite before eating chocolate since we recite Shehakol on all beverages, as mentioned above.

Among the more recent poskim who discuss what bracha one should recite before eating chocolate, the two greatest poskim to discuss this issue are Rav Shlomoh Zalman Auerbach and Rav Moshe Feinstein, who reach diametrically opposite conclusions. In his Minchas Shlomoh (Vol. 1, 91:2) Rav Shlomoh Zalman suggests that one should recite Ha’eitz before eating chocolate. He compares chocolate to a case of spices ground so fine that their source is no longer identifiable. The bracha recited on these spices is whatever would have been the appropriate bracha on this spice had it been edible before grinding (that is, usually Ha’Adamah), even if the spice is mixed with sugar [and even if it is mostly sugar] (Shulchan Aruch 203:7). Let me explain this case with an example.

WHAT BRACHA DOES ONE RECITE ON CINNAMON SUGAR?

Cinnamon is the bark of a tree, and as such its bracha is Borei pri ha’adamah (we do not recite Borei pri ha’eitz since we eat the bark and not the fruit). “Cinnamon sugar” is a blend of cinnamon and sugar where the cinnamon cannot be identified by appearance, although it is clearly the more pronounced flavor. Based on the above-quoted ruling, one should recite Ha’adamah before eating cinnamon sugar.

Why are spices different from finely ground fruit and vegetables over which Ashkenazim recite Shehakol?

Since this is considered the way that one “eats” spices they do not lose their bracha even though they can no longer be identified (Mishnah Berurah 203:12).

WHAT BRACHA DO WE RECITE ON SUGAR?

As I discussed in a different article, there is a thousand-year-old dispute over whether the correct bracha one should recite before eating cane sugar is Borei pri ha’eitz, Borei pri ha’adamah, or Shehakol. The Shulchan Aruch (202:15) concludes that we recite Shehakol on sugar, however someone who recited either Borei pri ha’eitz or Borei pri ha’adamah on cane sugar should not recite a new bracha since the correct bracha is disputed (Tur, Beis Yosef, Mishnah Berurah, and Biyur Halacha ad loc.).

Originally, sugar was produced only from sugar cane. Today a large percentage of the world’s sugar crop is extracted from the sweet white root of the sugar beet. However, mass cultivation and production of sugar beets did not begin until the 19th Century and was a result of the Napoleonic Wars. When the British blockaded Napoleon’s Europe, one of the curtailed products was cane sugar, which does not grow in Europe’s cold climate. Out of concern that his subjects might revolt over the unavailability of imported sugar, Napoleon built sugar refineries throughout Europe. He even awarded a medal for perfecting the production of white sugar from the white root of the sugar beet, which thrives in cold climates.

Although Napoleon was not worried about it, Rabbonim were concerned whether the bracha over the new type of sugar was also Shehakol, just as the bracha over cane sugar. (The two types of sugar cannot be distinguished one from the other.) The Mishnah Berurah (202:76) rules that one should recite Shehakol over beet sugar, although if someone recited Borei pri ha’adamah he should not make another bracha.

Thus we see that there is a halachic difference between spices that are ground up and cannot be identified, whose bracha remains Ha’adamah, and beet sugar, whose bracha is Shehakol. We must now analyze the difference between these two foods and to figure out where chocolate fits into the picture.

BEATING A BEET

After the sugar beets ripen, they are harvested, washed thoroughly, and then sliced into thin chips. The beets are then soaked in hot water for about an hour which extracts the sugar from the beets and creates a strong sugar solution. Chalk is added to the sugar solution which causes the non-sugar parts of the solution to clump so that they can be filtered out. The sugar solution is then evaporated to concentrate the sugar. Eventually the sugar concentration is great enough to form crystals which are then removed from the solution.

An important fact affecting our halachic discussion is that in the case of both cane and beet, the sugar is extracted, or removed, from the stem or root, rather than being simply processed.

Now our question is, do we compare chocolate to spices, which maintain their bracha even after they have been ground until they are no longer identifiable, or to sugar which we paskin loses its bracha and becomes Shehakol?

Horav Shlomoh Zalman compares chocolate to the case of ground spices that maintain their original bracha although they are no longer recognizable. (Dayan Gavriel Krausz, formerly the Av Beis Din of Manchester, devotes a lengthy essay to advocate this position in his sefer Mekor Habracha.) Apparently Rav Shlomoh Zalman felt that chocolate which is refined from the cocoa bean should not be compared to sugar which is extracted from the cane or beet.

(In my opinion, those poskim who contend that the bracha on chocolate is Borei pri ha’eitz should agree that the bracha on white chocolate is Shehakol since this product contains no cocoa solids. Cocoa butter should have the halacha of a liquid that is pressed out of a fruit whose bracha is always Shehakol.)

On the other hand, when Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 3:31) discusses what bracha to recite before eating chocolate-covered raisins, he assumes that the bracha on chocolate is Shehakol and does not entertain the possibility that its bracha might be a safek.

In Rav Moshe’s tshuvah, he addresses the following issue: When eating a food composed of items with different brachos, we must determine which food is the more important part, the ikar, and determines the bracha of the entire food. Rav Moshe deliberates whether the chocolate or the raisin is more important in order to determine whether the bracha on chocolate-covered raisins is Ha’eitz, like the raisin, or Shehakol, like the chocolate. Rav Moshe concludes that neither the chocolate nor the raisins can be considered of secondary importance (tafeil) to the other, and therefore chocolate-covered raisins require two brachos, Ha’eitz on the raisins and Shehakol on the chocolate.

Rav Moshe then discusses which of the two brachos to recite first. Usually, one should recite the bracha of Ha’eitz before reciting Shehakol. However, Rav Moshe points out that one must eat the chocolate before reaching the raisin; thus, the bracha on the chocolate will have to be first. Rav Moshe concludes that the best thing to do is to recite Ha’eitz on a regular raisin and then Shehakol on the chocolate. (When this option does not exist, he paskins that one should recite Shehakol on the chocolate and then Ha’eitz on the raisin.)

Clearly, Rav Moshe held that chocolate is definitely Shehakol and not even questionably Ha’eitz. I conjecture that he maintained that since chocolate undergoes so many changes and processes in its preparation, one should not consider the finished product as a fruit at all. Alternatively he may have held that since chocolate is liquefied and remains a liquid for most of its processing, it retains its status of being a liquid for hilchos brachos and thus the correct bracha is Shehakol. In any instance, the almost-universal minhag is to recite Shehakol before eating chocolate. (For other reasons why chocolate should be Shehakol, see Shaarei Habracha pg. 693 and Makor Habracha pgs. 52-61.)

Other poskim disagree with Rav Moshe’s psak on chocolate-covered raisins and nuts, contending that one should recite only one bracha. Among these poskim, there are two major approaches, those that hold that the bracha is always Shehakol since they consider the chocolate to be the ikar and those who feel the bracha should be determined by whichever is greater in quantity (Vezos Haberacha pg. 97; Yalkut Yosef, Vol. 3, pg 431). I refer you to your own posek to decide what bracha you should recite before eating this delicacy.

As we mentioned above, the Aztecs considered chocolate a royal food. By studying the halachos of the berachos on this food, we elevate it to being a true royal food – since we are determining what bracha the mamleches cohanim vigoy kodosh, the holy nation that is a kingdom of priests recites on this food.

Doubly Blessed

   

It was a big simcha, the birth of twin boys. Avi Habanim, the new Daddy, wondered whether he and Reb Mendel the mohel should recite the brachos once or twice. He also wanted to know whether the bracha after the bris, asher kidash yedid mibeten, is recited separately for each baby or not. Since holding the baby while this bracha is recited is a big honor, this would amount to two extra kibbudim for Avi to distribute – quite an asset in his sensitive family!

Response:

When celebrating the Habanim sons’ bris, the older son was brought to shul first; the mohel recited the bracha of al hamilah prior to performing the older boy’s bris. Avi then recited the bracha lehachniso bivriso shel Avraham Avinu, to bring him into the Covenant of Avraham our forefather. After the bris was completed, Uncle Max was honored with reciting the bracha asher kidash yedid mibeten prior to naming the baby Peretz after Uncle Max’s late father. After Max’s booming baritone rendition was complete, the mohel recited the mishebeirach wishing Peretz a speedy recovery and then began Aleinu, the customary closing prayer to the bris ceremony.

Now the Second Bris

After Aleinu and kaddish were completed, Reb Mendel, Avi and Uncle Herman (I will soon explain why he, and not Uncle Max) took a brief walk outside the shul, and then Avi’s younger son arrived just in time for his bris. Reb Mendel declared kvatter, the standard announcement politely asking people to end their conversations because the bris is beginning. Mendel recited the bracha al hamilah a second time and Avi then recited the bracha lehachniso again. After the bris was completed, Uncle Herman was honored with reciting the bracha asher kidash yedid mibeten prior to naming the baby Zerach.

The Dvar Torah

At the banquet celebrating the brisin, Avi began his comments by thanking Hashem not only for the birth of two healthy boys, but also for the opportunity to have had time to analyze a complex halachic topic that he had never previously researched. He then devoted his “Bris Torah” to sharing his research on the subject at hand. He began by noting that most early authorities contend that one should not recite the brachos twice, but recite one al hamilah and one lehachniso bivriso for both brisin (this is the commonly used plural). When following this approach, one should be careful not to talk about anything not germane to the bris prior to performing the second bris (see Beis Yosef, Yoreh Deah 265; Gra”z 213:7).

Lehachnisam bivriso

Indeed, even the text of the bracha recited by the father changes to the plural: lehachnisam bivriso shel Avraham Avinu, to bring them into the Covenant (Beis Yosef; Rama, Yoreh Deah 265:5). The Rama even amends the prayer that includes naming the child to plural by saying kayem es hayeladim.

Among those authorities who follow this approach, we find a dispute concerning when Dad recites his bracha lehachnisam; although some imply that he should recite it immediately after the mohel recites his bracha on the first bris (Yam shel Shelomoh, Chullin 6:9), most contend that he should not recite it until after the mohel performs the second bris (Shu”t HaRashba 1:382). This dispute concerns whether the optimal time to recite this bracha (on every bris) is prior to the performing of the bris, assuming that it is a bracha on the performing of the mitzvah, or afterwards, considering it a bracha of praise (see Tosafos, Pesachim 7a s.v. Beliva’eir). This is a complex discussion on its own that we will need to leave for now; perhaps it is a topic for a future bris. In order to accommodate both approaches, the father usually recites lehachniso bivriso immediately after the mohel begins removing the foreskin but prior to his peeling back the membrane underneath that is halachically called the or haperiyah.

Asher Kidash

There is an additional dispute whether to recite the bracha asher kidash yedid mibeten (recited after the bris and before the baby is named) twice or only once. Rabbeinu Yeruchem implies that one should recite it after each bris, whereas the Beis Yosef disagrees, contending that it should be recited only once — after the second bris. I would like to note that a much earlier authority than the Beis Yosef, the Tashbeitz (2:42), already ruled exactly as the Beis Yosef did — that it should be recited only once, and after the second bris, so that it refers back to both brisin.

Avi noted that some might be concerned about the following curious problem. Since we usually name the child immediately after reciting the bracha asher kidash yedid mibeten, and one is now reciting only one bracha for both boys, how does anyone know which child was given which name? (Avi then noted tongue-in-cheek that in his particular instance this probably would not be such a concern, since people could always refer to Chumash and see that Peretz is the older twin.)

Actually, an early halachic source alludes to a response to this question. The Tashbeitz notes that after reciting the bracha asher kidash yedid mibeten, the custom was to pour two different cups of wine and name each baby while holding a different cup, although one recites only one bracha of hagafen for both cups since there is no interruption between them. He notes that there is no real reason to have two cups for this purpose other than to pacify people. One cup of wine for the bracha certainly suffices. Presumably, each cup of wine was brought near the child who was now being named so that people would know which child would bear which name, although it is also clear from the Tashbeitz that there is no necessity to do this.

Avi continued: According to the Rama’s recommendation that one recites only one naming prayer for both boys, obviously one is using only one cup of wine. It also seems that one concludes this prayer by saying viyakaru shemam biYisrael Peretz ben Avraham veZerach ben Avraham. Since one recites only one prayer that then names both boys, presumably the naming follows the order in which they were circumcised.

Double Blessings

Avi then noted a more serious issue: If most poskim contend that one should not recite the brachos twice for the two brisin, why do we ignore this majority opinion! As you can imagine, after researching the shaylah, I asked my rav what to do, and followed his advice. However, before explaining his reasoning, I would like to share with you more of my research.

Truthfully, several different authorities, both early and late, recommend different reasons why one should recite separate brachos for each bris. The earliest dissenting opinion is that of the Baal HaItur, an early rishon, who rules that each bris always requires its own bracha. Why should this be so? Does the Baal HaItur contend that whenever one fulfills a mitzvah twice that each act requires its own bracha? This would mean that when installing several mezuzos one would recite a bracha on each mezuzah, and that a shocheit slaughtering many birds or animals should recite a new bracha before each shechitah. Although there is a recognized very early authority who indeed advocates this position (Rabbeinu Shmuel ben Chofni, quoted by Mordechai, Chullin #658), the other authorities, Baal HaItur included, accept that one recites only one bracha before performing the same mitzvah several times (Tashbeitz 2:42). So why is this case different?

Baal HaItur himself explains that bris milah is different from the other mitzvos mentioned because one may not perform two brisin simultaneously. Presumably, he means that because of the principle of ain osim mitzvos chavilos chavilos, one may not “bundle” together two mitzvos and perform them together because this implies that one finds performing mitzvos a burden that one wants to be rid of. The logic is that since I cannot perform the second bris until after I perform the first, the first bris is in effect an interruption between the bracha and the second bris (Shu”t Maharam Shick, Yoreh Deah #250).

Most early authorities dispute with the Baal HaItur’s logic. Although they presumably agree that one may not perform both brisin simultaneously because of safety concerns and because of the principle of ain osim mitzvos chavilos chavilos, they feel that this does not create a sufficient reason to require a new bracha on the second bris. Remember that the mohel knows that he will be performing a second bris when he recites the bracha on the first child.

Although most early authorities rule differently, some seem somewhat unconvinced that one is forbidden from reciting separate brachos on each bris. For example, someone sent the Rashba a letter inquiring whether it is correct to recite only one bracha when performing two brisin. The Rashba responded that he had never been in attendance when two brisin occurred together and consequently was unaware of an accepted practice. Logically, he feels that one should recite only one bracha, just as a shocheit should recite only one bracha prior to performing multiple shechitos, although it is clear from the Rashba’s discussion that he would certainly defer to a minhag differing from his ruling (Shu”t HaRashba 1:382).

Later Authorities

Avi continued his discussion by mentioning that the Tur cites the opinion of the Baal HaItur, but then quotes his father, the Rosh, who disputed the Baal HaItur’s conclusions. The Rosh compares this case to having two newly married couples in attendance at one sheva brachos, and whether one should recite two sets of brachos, one for each couple, or one series of brachos for both. He concludes that one should recite one set of brachos for both couples, and rules that when performing brisin on twins that one should recite only one series of brachos for both. Clearly, there is concern that one is reciting unnecessary brachos, brachos she’ainam tzricha, which is a violation of halacha. The Rosh then notes that this is true even if there are two different mohalim involved – and even if the two babies are from different families — one mohel should recite the bracha before performing the first bris with the other mohel present and include the second mohel in his bracha. The second mohel should have in mind to be included in this first one’s bracha. He then also rules that the same is true for the bracha recited after the bris, asher kidash yedid mibeten – concluding that this bracha should also be recited only once for both children, and even if the second child is not present when the first bris is performed since one knows that one will be performing both brisin (Shu”t HaRosh 26:4). Of course, this presents an interesting question, since this bracha is recited after the bris, and one may have already performed the first bris before the second baby arrived. The authorities conclude that even so, one should delay reciting the bracha asher kidash yedid mibeten until the second bris is performed, and then recite it after the second bris with intent for the first bris as well.

To sum up, there is a dispute between the Baal HaItur and the Rosh whether one must recite separate brachos on these two brisin, or whether one is required to recite one bracha on both brisin.

Other reasons

Other, later, authorities present completely different reasons why one should not recite the brachos on two brisin together. The Beis Shmuel (Even HaEzer 62:3) quotes the Perisha as stating that one should not make two brisin together because of ayin hora, just as one should not perform two wedding ceremonies together. According to the Perisha, the concern is not about the brachos, but about the ceremony itself, and that therefore one should complete one bris ceremony before beginning the next one. However, most other authorities do not share this concern (see Taz, Yoreh Deah 265:11 for one approach why).

We should note that the Perisha’s approach results in a different procedure than the Baal HaItur would advise. According to the Perisha, one should not bring the second baby to the location of the bris until after the first bris is complete, whereas according to the Baal HaItur, one may bring both babies at the beginning and conduct the two brisin step-by-step one after the other.

Avi then mentioned a different approach why we should not bring the two babies together. If we remember the Baal HaItur’s position, he contended that simultaneously performing the bris act for both babies violates ein osin mitzvos chavilos chavilos, bundling together mitzvos. However, the Baal HaItur was not concerned that bringing the babies together violates ein osin mitzvos chavilos chavilos. However, there are authorities who feel that bringing two babies together with the intent of performing their brisin consecutively involves a problem of ein osin mitzvos chavilos chavilos (see Magen Avraham 147:11). Thus, we have two authorities who advise against bringing the two babies together to perform their brisin together . We are now going to present a third reason not to do this.

Interrupting the Brachos

Most authorities rule that if someone interrupted after reciting the bracha for the first bris, he must recite a new bracha for the second bris. They contend that it is prohibited to interrupt because this now causes the recital of a new bracha, which is a bracha she’ainah tzricha, an unnecessary bracha. For this reason, the Maharshal reached an interesting conclusion: Departing from the Rosh’s conclusions, he contended that when two different families are making a bris, one should have them each recite its own brachos. He voices two different reasons for his conclusion:

1. There is likelihood that they will interrupt, which requires a new bracha, but fail to recite the bracha.

2. When dealing with two families, one needs to be concerned that they will get into a fight over who recites the brachos.

As a result, the Maharshal recommends making certain that the two brisin have an interruption between them to guarantee that they require two separate brachos. This alleviates the possibility of a machlokes and also guarantees that the proper brachos will indeed be recited (Yam shel Shelomoh, Chullin 6:9).

The Shach’s Conclusion

The Shach (Yoreh Deah 265:15) takes the Maharshal’s concerns even further, being concerned that even in the case of twins, there will be interruptions between the two brisin, and that one should therefore separate between them. In taking this position, he is disputing the conclusions of most Rishonim, and those of the Shulchan Aruch, Rama, and Taz, although one could argue that he was not disagreeing as much as reflecting changing patterns of human behavior. It may be that in earlier generations, people exhibited better self-control and remained quiet between the two brisin, whereas in his generation they did not.

Differing Customs

“If I have not yet put you to sleep,” the erudite father continued, “I will return to the original dispute I mentioned above between the Baal HaItur and the Rosh whether one must recite separate brachos on these two brisin, or whether one is required to recite one bracha on both brisin. Among the later authorities, there is much discussion whether the custom follows the Baal HaItur or the Rosh. The Bach records that in his day this was dependent on local custom, some places following the Baal HaItur’s approach of reciting separate brachos, and others following the Rosh. He mentions that the custom in Cracow followed the Rosh. The Bach concludes that the preferred practice in a place without an established custom is to bring one baby and perform his bris with its brachos, and then when finished bring the second baby and recite separate all the brachos again.

What Is the Sefardic Custom?

“The Tashbeitz, who was the Chief Rabbi in Algiers, a Sefardic community, reports that he attended many brisin of twins and never saw two brachos recited. This is also the conclusion of the Shulchan Aruch, usually the source for all Sefardic custom and practice. Nevertheless, some authorities quote an old established practice in Egypt, a Sefardic community, of performing the first bris with all its brachos, then reciting pesukim and similar things to create an interruption, following which they performed the second bris with all the brachos again (Shu”t Darchei Noam, Yoreh Deah #27, quoted by Pischei Teshuvah 265:10).

“A similar practice is noted in Nineteenth Century Hungary (Shu”t Maharam Shick, Yoreh Deah #250). Thus, it appears that in different places throughout Jewish history there were different established practices. However, Rav Elyashiv takes much umbrage at this practice, claiming that since most authorities quoted rule that one should recite only one bracha, they were also aware of minhagim, and that the places where the minhag was otherwise are the exception, not the rule (Introduction to Otzar HaBris).

“With this information, I asked my rav a shaylah, and he told me that he has attended many brisin of twins, and that the practice is always to perform one bris, make a slight interruption, and then begin the second. He told me that some people provide refreshments between the two brisin, both to accomplish more of an interruption and to have a “bris seudah” for the first twin.

In Conclusion

“Prior to thanking all those who have helped us, I want to share with everyone the idea that we should recognize the paramount importance of being careful with our brachos. Here we see how much ink was used to clarify whether one should recite one or two brachos. Certainly, it behooves us to be careful about our recital of our brachos.”

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