A Woman’s Guide to Tzitzis

The Torn Hole

Question # 1

Mrs. Friedman wants to know:

“The hole on my son’s talis koton in which the tzitzis strings are inserted is torn. Does this invalidate Yanki’s tzitzis?”

The Unraveled Knot

Question #2

Mrs. Weiss notices that the knots on her son’s tzitzis have untied. Are his tzitzis still kosher?

A Bicycle Casualty

Question #3, from Mrs. Goldberg:

“My son’s tzitzis got caught in his bicycle and several strings were torn. Are the tzitzis invalid?”

The Woman’s Tzitzis Guide

Why write a woman’s guide to tzitzis, when women are not required to observe the mitzvah, and, according to many authorities, are not even permitted to wear them? (See Targum Yonasan to Devarim 22:5, that a woman wearing tzitzis violates the prohibition of wearing a man’s garment.) In addition, some authorities contend that because women are exempt from fulfilling the mitzvah, they should not attach the tzitzis strings to the garment (Rama, Orach Chayim 14:1 and commentaries). (The Rama concludes that if a woman did attach the tzitzis to the garment, the tzitzis are kosher.)

The reason for this guide is that women are often responsible for the purchase, supervision, upkeep, and laundering of the tzitzis of their boys and men. Indeed, women often ask me questions relevant to these halachos. Men will also find this guide very useful.

In order to answer the above questions thoroughly, we must first understand some basics about how tzitzis are produced.

Please note that throughout this article, “tzitzis” refers to the strings placed on the corners of the garment; the garment itself will be called a “talis koton.”

Special Strings

Tzitzis are not manufactured from ordinary thread, but only from thread manufactured lishmah, meaning that the threads were spun with the intent that they be used to fulfill the mitzvah of tzitzis.

After completing the spinning, one takes several of these specially-spun threads and twists them together into a thicker string. This twisting, called shezirah, is also performed lishmah, with the intent of producing string for the mitzvah of tzitzis. Although, to the best of my knowledge, no early halachic sources discuss how many threads one needs to twist together, some have the custom of twisting eight such threads, which are called kaful shemonah.

The authorities dispute whether attaching the tzitzis strings to the garment and tying them must also be performed lishmah. In practice, we are stringent (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 14:2 and commentaries).

Combing Lishmah?

Some authorities require that even combing the fibers — the process that precedes the spinning — must be performed lishmah. The authorities conclude that this is not required, although some recommend manufacturing or acquiring tzitzis with this hiddur (Mishnah Berurah 11:3).

Articulation

Many authorities contend that when manufacturing an item lishmah, one must articulate this intent (Rosh, Hilchos Sefer Torah Chapter 3). This means that the person spinning or twisting the tzitzis must say that he is doing so in order to make tzitzis for the sake of the mitzvah (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 11:1 and Mishnah Berurah, ad locum). Once one made this declaration (leshem mitzvas tzitzis) at the beginning of the spinning, it is unnecessary to repeat it (Mishnah Berurah).

Hand or Machine?

Regarding whether to buy hand- or machine-spun tzitzis, there is much discussion among authorities as to whether one may rely on machine spinning with the machine operator declaring that the tzitzis are being made lishmah (see for example, Achiezer 3:69; Har Tzvi, Orach Chayim 1:10). This is similar to the dispute concerning whether one may fulfill the mitzvah of eating matzoh on Seder night with machine matzoh, an issue that involved a huge dispute among the halachic authorities of 19th century Poland.

As far as I am aware, a talis koton sold for children’s use is probably made using machine-made tzitzis. (At the time I first wrote this article, I saw a talis koton meant for children with a hechsher describing that it was made by having the beginning of the spinning done by hand, as a hiddur on the regular machine-made variety.) Both hand- and machine- spun types are readily available for men’s tzitzis,  for talisim kotonim and for talisim gedolim. One should consult his Rav if he is uncertain whether to purchase the more expensive hand-made variety.

What Material Should Be Used?

Although one may make tzitzis threads from other material, universal practice today is to use sheep’s wool.

The Garment Does Not Require Lishmah

The law requiring that the tzitzis be manufactured lishmah applies only to the tzitzis strings, not the garment to which the strings are attached. This garment, the talis or talis koton itself, does not need to be made for the sake of the mitzvah – any cloth may be used.

For reasons beyond the scope of this guide, the custom is to make the talis gadol, that is worn for davening, from wool. Some have the custom to insist on woolen material for the talis koton also, though most are satisfied with a cotton talis koton. Authorities discuss and dispute whether the talis koton can be made of polyester or other synthetic materials, and I leave it to our readers to discuss this issue with their halachic authorities. Perhaps one day I’ll have a chance to write an article on this fascinating topic.

To review:

Before spinning wool to be used for tzitzis, the spinning machine operator, or the hand spinner, should say that he is spinning the threads with the intent that they will be used for the mitzvah of tzitzis. After spinning the wool into threads, one twists several tzitzis threads together into a thick, strong tzitzis string. This latter process also requires lishmah. There is no requirement to make the talis or talis koton garment lishmah.

Inserting the Tzitzis

Having completed the tzitzis string manufacturing process, we are now ready to learn how to insert the tzitzis strings into the garment. One takes four of these specially lishmah-made strings and inserts them through a hole in the corner of the garment, in order to fulfill the verse’s requirement that the tzitzis threads lie over the corner of the garment. The hole must be not so distant from the corner that the tzitzis are considered to be hanging from the main part of the garment (rather than on the corner), and yet not so close that the tzitzis hang completely below the garment (Menachos 42a; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 11:9). Thus, the hole should be placed in a way that after attaching the tzitzis to the garment, only the upper part of the tzitzis rests on the garment.

Where Should the Hole Be?

The Gemara explains that the hole through which the tzitzis are placed should be closer to the corner than “three fingerwidths,” which means three times the width of a finger. Whose finger and which finger?

Most poskim conclude that a fingerwidth is the width of an average-sized man’s thumb at its widest point.

Measure this distance, multiply it by three, and you have “three fingerwidths.” Now, measure three fingerwidths from the two sides of the garment near the corner (not from the actual right-angle corner of the garment) and you can create a square in the corner of the garment (Rama, Orach Chayim 11:9). If the tzitzis are attached beyond this area, they are not considered to be on the corner. Although there is a range of opinion as to exactly how much area this is, most poskim conclude that it is about six centimeters,* or about 2 1/2 inches, from each side.

Others follow a different interpretation of which finger is used to measure this distance, and according to their opinion, the area is a bit smaller (Artzos Hachayim; Mishnah Berurah 11:42).

Closest Hole

The closest the hole should be to the sides of the talis or talis koton is the distance from the end of the thumb nail to the thumb joint, measured by the thumb of an average-sized man. (This measures less than two centimeters or less than .75 inches.) If the hole is made closer than this, the tzitzis are not kosher, because the tzitzis strings will hang below the garment and, as I explained above, they are required to be resting partly on the garment itself. However, if one inserted and knotted the tzitzis threads in a hole that was in the correct place, and then subsequently the garment shrunk or was shortened, or the hole tore, resulting in the tzitzis being closer to the corner than they should, the tzitzis are nonetheless kosher (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 11:10).

To sum up:

To determine where the hole should be, one can examine the corner of the talis or talis koton and mark inward from the two adjacent sides that form the corner. Within two centimeters of either side is too close to the edge of the garment to attach the tzitzis, and more than six centimeters is too far.

Yes, Mrs. Friedman

Although we have not finished our description of tzitzis production, we have sufficient information to discuss Mrs. Friedman’s question. The hole through which the tzitzis strings are placed tore, and, as a result, the tzitzis are now closer to the corner of the garment than they should be. Does this invalidate the tzitzis?

Since the tzitzis strings were originally inserted into a hole that was correctly located, the tzitzis remain kosher.

I advised Mrs. Friedman to mend and reinforce the garment before it tears so badly that the tzitzis strings fall off, which will invalidate the garment, requiring sewing the clothing and undoing and restringing the tzitzis again to make it kosher.

Four in One

Let us now return to tzitzis production. After making the hole in its correct place, one takes four tzitzis strings that have been spun and twisted lishmah. Three of the threads are the same length, but one of the strings is much longer than the others since it will be coiled around them. After this string is wrapped around the others, it should be about the same length as the other strings.

The strings should be long enough that when they are completely coiled and tied (as I will describe) the free-hanging eight strings should be the length of eight fingerwidths (as described above), which is about 16–20 centimeters or about eight inches.

The Torah requires that there be exactly four tzitzis strings per corner. Using fewer or more strings invalidates the mitzvah and, according to some opinions, violates the Torah prohibitions of bal tosif or bal tigra, adding to or detracting from a Torah commandment (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 11:12 and commentaries).

Pulling Strings

At this point, one pulls the four strings through the hole in the talis or talis koton until the three shorter strings are halfway through the hole. The longer string should be pulled through so that on one side it is the same length as the other strings, but the other side is much longer, since this extra length will be wrapped around the other strings.

After the four strings are threaded through the garment, there will be eight strings hanging off the garment, which are then knotted together in a tight double knot. This permanent knot is Torah-required. This knot is made by tying a set of four strings from one side with the set of four strings from the opposite side.  To make sure that the two sets of four strings stay together throughout the process of coiling and knotting, one takes the four strings from the side that does not include the long string and loops them together at their end. We will soon see why we perform this step (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 12:1).

The longer string is now coiled several times around the seven others and then the two sets of four strings are knotted tightly. The coiled tzitzis strings are called the gedil.

The accepted custom is to tie the eight strings together in five different places, each separated by an area where the long string is coiled around the others several times. Thus, there are four areas of coiled tzitzis strings, each held in place by double knots.

Remember the Mitzvos!

The five knots help us remember all the mitzvos. As Rashi writes, the gematriya (numerical value) of the word tzitzis (when spelled with the letter yud twice) equals 600. When one adds eight for the eight hanging tzitzis strings and five for the five knots that tie them, adds up to 613. Additionally, the five knots remind us of the Torah’s five chumashim.

The Torah, itself, did not require all these coilings and knots, but required only one knot and one coiled area. The other knots and coilings are only lichatchilah, the proper way to make the tzitzis. However, if one failed to make these coilings or knots, the tzitzis are nevertheless kosher, provided there is at least one coiled gedil area and at least one knot.

Similarly, if the coiling unravels in the middle — not an uncommon occurrence — the tzitzis are still fully kosher, as long as one gedil area remains.

This will help answer Mrs. Weiss’ question about some of her son’s tzitzis knots being untied. As long as one knot remains, and there is some area where the tzitzis strings are coiled together, the tzitzis are still kosher. Of course, one should re-wind the longer tzitzis string around the others and retie the knots, but in the interim the tzitzis are kosher.

Jewish Labor

The person attaching the strings to the garment must be Jewish (Menachos 42a; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 14:1). There was a major scandal a few years ago when unscrupulous manufacturers were discovered to have hired non-Jews to make tzitzis. Hopefully, this problem has been resolved, but one should check that the tzitzis have a reliable hechsher. Based on shaylos I have been asked, I have discovered that many people are unaware that children’s talisim kotonim must also be reliably kosher.

By the way, it is preferable that women not be the ones who insert the tzitzis strings onto the garment and tie them, since women are absolved from fulfilling this mitzvah (Rama, Orach Chayim 14:1 and commentaries).

How Many Coils?

The number of coils between the knots is a matter of custom. (Based on the Arizal’s tradition, common practice is to coil the thread seven times between the first two knots, eight between the next two, eleven between the third and fourth, and thirteen times between the fourth and fifth knots.

To recap, we twist the longer string around the others and tie the tzitzis strings into knots in a way that creates five knots and between them four areas of tightly coiled string that resemble a cable. Torah law requires only that we tie one knot and that there be some area of coiled string.

Hang Loose!

After completing the coiling and tying, the rest of the strings are allowed to hang freely. The free-hanging strings are referred to as the “pesil.” As I mentioned above, when making the tzitzis, the pesil should be at least eight fingerwidths long, which is about eight inches (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 11:14). However, if the strings become torn afterward, the tzitzis are still kosher, if even a very small amount of pesil remains – long enough to make a loop and knot it, which is probably about an inch (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 12:1).

Tear Near the Top

If the tzitzis strings become torn above the first knot, the tzitzis are invalid.

As I explained, tzitzis are made from four strings inserted into the garment, and then knotted and coiled. The Torah requires that each of these four strings be attached and hang from the corner of the garment and be included both in the gedil, the coiled part, and the pesil, the loose, hanging strings.

If the thread tore at the top, then it is no longer hanging from the corner of the garment, but held in place by the other threads.

Torn String

We can now explain whether tzitzis become invalid when the tzitzis strings are torn, which depends on where the strings tore. If only one of the eight strings tore and only below the first knot, then the tzitzis are still kosher. This is because all four of the original tzitzis still have both gedil, the coiled part, and pesil, the hanging part.

If two of the eight strings tore at a point that there is no pesil anymore, then whether the tzitzis are still kosher depends on whether these were part of the same original tzitzis string or not. If they were two sides of the same original tzitzis string, then the tzitzis are invalid, because one of the four original strings now lacks pesil. This is the reason why one should be careful to loop four of the strings together before beginning the coiling and knotting, since this helps keep track in case two or more strings tear, whether they are the two parts of the same string, which will invalidate the tzitzis if no pesil remains, or parts of two different strings, in which case the tzitzis are kosher, if the other end of the string still has pesil.

If a tear takes place somewhere between the first knot and the pesil, we treat the remaining part of that string as nonexistent since it no longer hangs from the garment, but is being kept in place by the coiling and knotting. Thus, if this happens to only one string of the eight, the tzitzis are still kosher, because all four original tzitzis still have some pesil. However, if this happens to two or more strings, one must be concerned that it was two sides of the same original string and the tzitzis may be invalid, because only three of the original strings now have pesil.

Conclusion

Rav Hirsch notes that the root of the word tzitzis is “sprout” or “blossom,” a strange concept to associate with garments, which do not grow. He explains that the message of our clothing is extended, that is, sprouts and blossoms, by virtue of our tzitzis.

The introduction of clothing to Adam and Chavah was to teach man that his destiny is greater than an animal’s, and that his responsibility is to make all his decisions according to Hashem’s laws, and not his own desires. Introducing tzitzis onto a Jew’s garments reinforces this message; we must act according to what Hashem expects. Thus, whether we are wearing, shopping for, examining, or laundering tzitzis, we must remember our life’s goal: fulfilling Hashem’s instructions, not our own desires.

* All measurements in this article are approximate. One should check with a Rav for exact figures.

 

Is Your Kesubah Kosher?

Situation #1: Custom-made

Chayim and Chani hired a renowned calligrapher, who was careful to use an approved text, to design their kesubah. Nevertheless, the kesubah still suffered from severe, non-artistic flaws.

Situation #2: Silk-screen

While shopping together before their wedding, Tamar Goldstein and her chasan, Avrohom Fishman, chose a beautiful silk-screen kesubah, without realizing that it was a Sefardic text, which is much lengthier than a standard Ashkenazic kesubah. When the kesubah was filled in, the sections that Ashkenazim do not use were crossed out and the witnesses were instructed to sign.

Situation #3: Standard Hebrew Bookstore

Marcia and Yosef used an inexpensive kesubah, but some of the areas were left blank when the kesubah was signed at their wedding.

In some of the above cases, the couple was married without a kosher kesubah. Halacha mandates that a married woman own a kosher kesubah.[i] In all of the above cases, the person supervising the filling in and signing of the kesubah was apparently unaware of the complex laws involved. How to avoid these problems is required reading for anyone planning a wedding.

Introduction to the kesubah

The Torah placed many responsibilities on a husband to guarantee his wife security in their marriage. In addition to his requirement to “honor his wife more than himself and love her as much as he loves himself,”[ii] he is also responsible to support her at the financial level she is accustomed to, even if he comes from a more modest background, and at the comfort level of his family, if he comes from a wealthier lifestyle.[iii] His support requirement allows her to devote her energies to maintaining a household and bearing and raising children without assuming responsibility for their daily bread. In return for assuming these responsibilities, her husband may use her earnings and the profits from her property to help support the family; although all property that she owned prior to their marriage remains hers, as does anything that she inherits during the marriage. She also has the option of electing to keep her earnings for herself and forego his support.[iv]

Furthermore, a husband’s responsibility is not limited to supporting her throughout his lifetime, but includes maintaining her from his property after his passing.

The kesubah is a legal document

The kesubah is a legally binding, pre-nuptial agreement whose purpose is to protect a woman’s financial interests both during the marriage and upon its termination. One of the differences between the Ashkenazic and Sefardic versions of the kesubah is that the Ashkenazic version omits many halachic details specified in the Sefardic text. In practice, omitting the mention of these details does not change the husband’s requirements to fulfill these obligations.

Although an Ashkenazic husband may specify these obligations in his kesubah, the usual practice is not to do so.

So far, there seems to be no reason why a Sefardic couple should not use an Ashkenazi kesubah, or vice versa. However, there are reasons why a Sefardi couple should not use the standard Ashkenazi kesubah without some modification. The Ashkenazic text states that the kesubah requirement of the husband is min Hatorah, a minority opinion held by Rabbeinu Tam and some other early authorities.[v] However, many authorities contend that the requirements of kesubah were introduced by the early Sages, and some major authorities contend that stating that the husband is required min Hatorah to provide a kesubah invalidates the kesubah.[vi] Since the Rama[vii] justifies the use of this kesubah by Ashkenazim, even though many Rishonim question its kashrus, Ashkenazim may continue this practice, whereas Sefardim should not, without revising the wording.[viii] (An Ashkenazi man marrying a Sefardi woman may use an Ashkenazi kesubah, and a Sefardi man marrying an Ashkenazi woman should use a Sefardi kesubah.)

Documentary details

A kesubah must be written following the rules established by Chazal for the creation of any shtar, a halachically-mandated document. One may write it in any language,[ix] yet the almost-universal practice is to write it in Aramaic, which is written in Hebrew characters and is halachically considered a Hebrew dialect.[x]

Anyone may write a kesubah – man or woman, adult or child, Jew or gentile, human or machine. However, two people who have the status of kosher witnesses regarding all Torah laws must sign the kesubah. In addition, the custom in many places is that the groom also signs the kesubah, a practice that dates back at least to the thirteenth century and is mentioned by the Rashba.[xi]

Halachic details involved in writing a kesubah

The halachos of writing kesubos are manifold. As I mentioned before, the kesubah is a shtar, a halachically-binding document. Chazal established very detailed rules regulating how a shtar must be drawn, most of them to make it difficult to forge or alter. Because these details are highly technical, someone writing a kesubah who is unaware of these rules will probably produce an invalid document. It is therefore very important that the kesubah be reviewed by someone well-versed in these areas of halacha. Here are some examples of Chazal’s regulations:

Everything in a shtar must be written in a tamperproof way. For example, one must write the word mei’ah (hundred) so that it cannot be altered to masayim (two hundred). This is done by placing the word in the middle of a line, not at the end, and by writing it close enough to the next word so that two letters cannot be inserted between them. A shtar may not be written on paper or with ink that can be erased without trace.[xii] One may not write words in the margin that can be easily altered. For example, one may not place the numbers shalosh (three), arba (four), sheish (six), sheva (seven), or eser (ten) in the margin, since these numbers can easily be altered to make them plural.[xiii]

The witnesses must sign the shtar close enough to the text that one cannot insert other conditions or factors above their signature.[xiv] As an additional safeguard, no new conditions or details are derived from the last line of a shtar, just in case someone figured out how to sneak a line between the end of the shtar and the witnesses’ signature.[xv] For this reason, the last line of every shtar simply reviews the basics of the transaction to which it attests; typically, the last line of a standard kesubah reviews the names of the bride and groom — all information previously noted.[xvi] The accepted practice today is to safeguard every shtar in an additional way, by closing it with the words hakol shrir vekayom, “and everything is valid and confirmed,” since no supplements are allowed after these words.

May one initial a correction?

In addition to the above examples, a shtar may have no blank spaces, erasures or cross-outs. The common, modern practice of modifying a contract by initialing adjustments is halachically unacceptable for a very obvious reason – how does this method guarantee that one party did not tamper with part of the contract already initialed by the other?

How does one correct a kesubah?

What does one do if one made a mistake while writing a shtar, or if one wants to adapt or modify a standard printed kesubah document? Must one dispose of the shtar and start over?

Not necessarily. Halacha accepts the following method of validating corrections: At the end of the shtar, one notes all the erasures and other modifications, closes with the words hakol shrir vekayom, and then the witnesses sign the shtar.[xvii] Thus, any irregularity is recorded immediately above the witnesses’ signature. If the witnesses mistakenly signed the shtar without verifying its modifications, they should place these modifications directly below their signatures and then re-sign the shtar.[xviii]

Does a mistake automatically invalidate a kesubah?

If someone wrote a shtar and did not follow Chazal’s instructions, is it valid? The Rishonim dispute whether the shtar is still valid, some contending that any shtar that does not follow Chazal’s rules is invalid. Both the Shulchan Aruch and the Rama conclude that the shtar is still legitimate, although the Rama rules this way only when it is quite clear that the shtar has not been tampered with.[xix]

Incorrectly corrected

I was once at a wedding where the couple had purchased a beautiful, specially-designed kesubah. While reading the kesubah before the wedding, someone noticed an error in the text of the kesubah. Can one correct this text immediately before the wedding ceremony? Fortunately for this couple, the mesader kiddushin (the rabbi overseeing the ceremony) admitted that he did not know the correct procedure for correcting text in a shtar. Instead, he presented them with a kosher, although far less beautiful, kesubah, saving the artistic one as a beautiful memento. Had he attempted to correct the kesubah, they could have spent their married lives without a kosher kesubah!

One prominent Rosh Yeshiva I know will not be mesader kiddushin. He unabashedly tells his talmidim that he has never had the opportunity to study the laws of documents thoroughly, and therefore he is not qualified to preside at a wedding. He arranges for a prominent talmid chacham to be mesader kiddushin in his stead. I give him much credit, and consider his behavior worthy of emulation.

What if the names are illegible?

Often, the names in a kesubah are written illegibly. These kesubos are invalid, since it must be clear who are the marrying parties using this kesubah.

At this point, we can already appreciate the problems that happened to the above-mentioned kesubos:

Chayim and Chani’s calligrapher used an approved text for the kesubah. Nevertheless, the kesubah still suffered from severe flaws – several words were written in such a way that they could be altered; numbers were placed at the end of the line in a way that they could be modified, and too much space was left in the middle of some lines. The result was a beautiful piece of art, but not a properly written kesubah.

Tamar chose a beautiful Sefardic kesubah, which in itself does not present a problem, provided that it was either fully filled out, or that the corrections were noted at the end. However, the person filling out the kesubah simply crossed out the remaining sections of the kesubah and then instructed the witnesses to sign. If it was indeed obvious that these parts of the kesubah were not tampered with after the signing, the kesubah is kosher, even though it was not filled in correctly.[xx] However, he should have noted at the end of the kesubah which lines were crossed through and have the witnesses sign below this declaration.

What about using a standard printed kesubah?

If a standard kesubah is arranged properly, it will reduce the incidence of many of the above-mentioned problems, but it is by no means foolproof. I have seen numerous standard kesubos improperly filled out. There are standard kesubos that have mistakes, such as placing certain information in the margin and leaving too much space between the kesubah and where the witnesses are expected to sign.

Situation #3:

Marcia and Yosef used an inexpensive kesubah for their wedding, but some areas were still blank when it was signed at their wedding.

Obviously, one may not use a kesubah without filling in all blank spaces, since someone could subsequently add information not in the originally signed document. If areas were left blank without omitting vital information from the kesubah, then whether the kesubah is kosher or not depends on the above-mentioned dispute between the Shulchan Aruch and the Rama. Sefardim who follow the Shulchan Aruch may assume that the kesubah is kosher, notwithstanding its flaws, whereas Ashkenazim must replace this invalid kesubah as quickly as possible.

Correcting a kesubah

What does one do if, after reading this article, one checks one’s kesubah and discovers that it has one of the above-mentioned fatal flaws?

Don’t panic. Simply contact a locally available talmid chacham, telling him that you suspect your kesubah may be invalid. He will check it and rule whether it requires replacing or not. One should not replace a kosher kesubah, but an invalid one must be replaced. There is a special text to be used when replacing an invalid kesubah, called a kesubah demishtakich bei ta’usa, a kesubah in which a mistake was found, that is used in these circumstances. The talmid chacham fills in the corrected kesubah, which is then signed by two witnesses and given to the wife. The form for such a corrected kesubah is not difficult to obtain.

(Similarly, if a woman has misplaced her kesubah, the couple should have it replaced immediately. Replacing a lost kesubah is a simple procedural matter that takes a matter of minutes and should not involve any major costs. Speak to your local posek. Also, a couple who were originally not married in a halachic fashion and are now observant need to obtain a valid kesubah.)

Datelining a kesubah in the wrong place

By the way, datelining a kesubah with the wrong location does not invalidate it.[xxi] Thus, it is not of the highest importance to determine the exact legal location of a hotel or hall where a wedding is located.

What if we misspelled one of the names?

Halacha has extensive rules how to spell names, yet I have seen many kesubos with the names misspelled. Fortunately, this rarely invalidates a kesubah, and one should not rewrite the kesubah of a married couple because of this mistake.

Should we include our family names?

Many contemporary authorities feel that family names should be included in the kesubah. In fact, whether one does or not is usually dependent on local custom.

A humorous error

The kesubah states that the husband will support his wife bikushta, faithfully, with the “t” sound spelled with the Hebrew letter tes. I once saw a kesubah where the scribe misspelled the word with the letter taf, and therefore the word translates as “with a bow,” thus committing the groom to support his wife “with the bow.” For her sake, I hope that he was an expert archer or violinist. Fortunately, this kesubah is kosher, even if the groom is as talented in these areas as I am.

As we see, writing a kesubah correctly requires extensive halachic knowledge of the laws of documents, an area not as well known as it should be. Without question, this is the most common cause of so many people having invalid kesubos.

Many people place much effort into obtaining a beautiful kesubah, with stunning artwork and calligraphy. Indeed, there is nothing wrong with enhancing the kesubah in this way. One must, however, be careful that, whether beautiful or not, the kesubah fulfills its purpose as a valid shtar. After all, a non-kosher kesubah is not worth the paper on which it is written.

 

[i] Shulchan Aruch, Even HaEzer 66:3

[ii] Rambam, Hilchos Ishus 15:19

[iii] Kesubos 48a, 61a

[iv] Kesubos 58b, 70b, 83a, 107b

[v] See Tosafos and Rosh, Kesubos 10a; Shu’t HaRivash #66;

Shu’t Tashbeitz 2:182; 3:301

[vi] Ramban, Kesubos 110b; Ritva, Kesubos 10a

[vii] Even HaEzer 66:6

[viii] Shu’t Yabia Omer 3:Even HaEzer:12

[ix] Gittin 11a

[x] See Rama, Even HaEzer 126:1

[xi] Commentary to Bava Basra 175a s.v. Miha

[xii] Gittin 11a; Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 42:1

[xiii] Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 42:4

[xiv] Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 44:6, 7

[xv] See Shach 44:23

[xvi] Choshen Mishpat 44:1

[xvii] Choshen Mishpat 44:5, 9

[xviii] Rama, Choshen Mishpat 44:11

[xix] Choshen Mishpat 44:1, 5

[xx] See Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 44:5

[xxi] Choshen Mishpat 43:22

May I Divine?

Question #1: Skipping the Thirteenth Floor

“May a frum builder skip the number 13 when naming the floors of a building?”

Question #2: Snakes and Ladders

“Is there a halachic source that one should change his plans if he sees a snake when he leaves on a trip?”

Question #3: Monkey Business

As I was preparing this article, Reuvein asked me the following question: “I am in the middle of negotiating the acquisition of a business. On the way to the meeting, a quirk accident happened. Should I interpret this as a reason to avoid the deal?”

Introduction:

Several mitzvos of the Torah prohibit different practices used to predict the future. Many of these are mentioned in parshas Kedoshim, including the prohibitions against ov and yide’oni, both ancient methods of necromancy (Vayikra 20:27), and the commandments: Lo senachashu velo se’oneinu (Vayikra 19:26), which I will translate as Do not make use of omens and do not divine times. These four prohibitions are repeated together with three similar others in parshas Shoftim (Devorim 18:10-11): Lo yimatza’ei becha… koseim kesamim, me’onein, umenacheish umechasheif… vesho’eil ov veyide’oni vedoreish el hameisim, “There shall not be found among you… a soothsayer, a diviner of times, an interpreter of omens or a sorcerer… or one who asks of ov or of yide’oni or one who consults the dead. Subsequently, in parshas Shoftim, the Torah commands Tamim tih’yeh im Hashem Elokecha, “You shall be whole-hearted with Hashem, your G-d” (Devorim 18:13). This means that we should not allow our relationship with Hashem to become diffused by placing confidence or decision-making in the hands of superstitions or worse.

Practicing omens, in Hebrew, nichush or nachash, includes taking action or avoiding taking action because of superstitious reasons. Divination, me’onein, can be defined as “attempting to foretell future events by use of supernatural powers,” although, as we will soon see, the Torah’s prohibition is more inclusive. According to the Rambam (Moreh Nevuchim 3:37), all of these practices are forbidden because they are similar to idol worship.

The basics of the prohibition of nichush are that one should not use methods that are outside of Torah to try to determine whether one should pursue a particular course of action. What exactly is included within these prohibitions? As we will see shortly, the rules here are not at all obvious and, indeed, are often disputed by the rishonim.

First source

A beraisa, quoted by the Gemara (Sanhedrin 65b-66a), presents the following list of situations that are prohibited because of nichush. In each of these, someone was planning a course of action, perhaps leaving on a business trip or similar mission, and then, because something occurred, he changed his plans. The situations listed are:

His bread fell out of his mouth.

He dropped his walking stick.

His son called him from behind (presumably as he was leaving the house).

He heard the call of a raven.

A deer crossed his path.

He saw a snake on his right side or a fox on his left.

Apparently, during the time of the Gemara, there were superstitious beliefs that any of these events bode poorly for the results of the trip. One can compare this to contemporary superstitions about black cats or the number thirteen. This Gemara teaches that one may not base a decision on an omen or other factor that bears no rational influence on the planned course of action. In all of the above cases, someone who changes his plans because he feels that he has just seen a bad omen violates a Torah law.

Snakes and ladders

At this point, we can answer one of our opening questions: “Is there a halachic source that one should change his plans if he sees a snake when he leaves on a trip?”

Quite the contrary, there is a halachic source that prohibits changing one’s plans under these circumstances.

Should I pay my taxes?

The above-quoted passage of Gemara continues with several other applications of this prohibition:

Someone requests from the tax collector, “Don’t begin your collecting with me,” because he feels that this is a bad omen. Similarly, someone who postpones paying a debt at the beginning of the week or the month because of a belief that this will portend a bad week or month also violates the prohibition of nichush.

The Gemara (Sanhedrin 66a) concludes its discussion there by quoting a different beraisa: The Rabbis taught: Do not use omens or lucky times – such as those who use omens of weasels (in Hebrew, chuldos), birds or stars. (Although our text of the Gemara says fish, the Rambam, Commentary to Mishnah, Avodah Zarah 4:7, and other rishonim cite stars as the correct version.) Similarly, a person who changed his plans because a black cat crossed his path violated a prohibition of the Torah. Someone who knowledgeably does this would be invalid as a witness for a wedding, because he has violated a lo saaseh of the Torah.

No causal connection

The Ran (Sanhedrin ad loc.) explains that nichush is prohibited when there is no logical causal connection between the event that transpired and the plans that one is changing. The only reason one is changing his plans is because of a belief that the events (the bread falling, the deer crossing the path etc.) are meant to foretell something.

On the other hand, it is permitted to change your plans because of a logical reason. For example, someone planning a trip who sees thunderclouds on the horizon may change his travel plans for the day, because it appears that it will rain, making the traveling unpleasant or even potentially dangerous. Since this is a logical reason to postpone his trip, it has nothing to do with the prohibition against nichush (Ran). Similarly, it is permitted to follow a procedure that can be shown to have medical benefit, as we will now explain (Moreh Nevuchim; Meiri, Shabbos 67a).

Locust eggs and fox teeth

The Mishnah (Shabbos 60a) rules that an ill person who has a need to, may wear a ke’meia, an amulet, whose efficacy is established, into or through a reshus harabim, a public area on Shabbos. For someone ill, this is considered the halachic equivalent to wearing an ornament or a garment (Rashi ad loc.). A later Mishnah (Shabbos 67a) cites a dispute whether one is permitted to walk through a public area on Shabbos while   wearing the egg of a grasshopper, the tooth of a fox or the nail used to hang someone from a gallows. The tanna who permits this considers these items halachically the same as an amulet whose efficacy is established. The tanna who forbids wearing these items prohibits doing so even on a weekday, because he considers this to be a form of nichush (see Rashi). The Gemara concludes that, since the medical value of this treatment is demonstrable, wearing it does not violate the laws prohibiting nichush. We rule according to this tanna.

Dispute among rishonim

At this point, we need to introduce a dispute concerning the extent of what the Torah prohibited. The precise question is whether the Torah prohibits being influenced only by prevalent superstitious practices, or whether any method of foretelling the future not firmly grounded in Torah is forbidden. In other words, we know that the Torah provided methods to foretell the future by consulting the urim vetumim worn by the kohen gadol or via information gained from a prophet. These are certainly permitted. There is, however, a dispute regarding whether one may create one’s own method as a basis to decide whether to proceed with a specific course of action. In the Rambam’s opinion, anything that one would rely upon to base one’s decision or plan of action is prohibited (Hilchos Avodas Kochavim 11:5). However, according to the Radak (Shmuel I 14:9), only practices that are based on superstition, sorcery, idol worship or similar nefarious bases are prohibited. It is permitted to do something as a sign or symbol, because this strengthens one’s resolve. (See also Ra’avad, Hilchos Avodas Kochavim 11:4, 5, who also follows this approach). Shortly, I will show a few examples of this dispute.

Dependent on this dispute will be two very different ways of understanding the following passage of Gemara (Chullin 95b), quoting the great amora, Rav: “Any nachash that is unlike what was performed by Eliezer, the slave of Avraham, and unlike that performed by Yonasan, the son of Shaul, is not a nachash.” Prior to presenting the two approaches to understanding this Gemara, let us examine the two events quoted.

The story of Eliezer

When Eliezer was on his mission to find a wife for Yitzchak, the Torah describes that upon his arrival in the city of Nachor, he asked Hashem for a specific sign to identify the woman that he was seeking. Eliezer prayed for G-d to send him the chosen woman on the following basis: Should he ask her to provide him with a bit of water, and she would respond, “I will also provide water for your camels,” this girl is to be Yitzchak’s bride, without any other questions or research (Bereishis 24:14). According to some rishonim, what Eliezer did qualifies as an act of nichush, since he made his action totally dependent on an outside factor.

The story of Yonasan

The other example mentioned by the Gemara is that of Yonasan, the crown prince son of King Shaul. At a time when the Jews had almost no weapons and were the underdog in an incredibly lopsided war against the Pelishtim, Yonasan, accompanied only by his armor-bearer, advanced towards a garrison of Pelishtim soldiers. Yonasan told his armor-bearer, “If they say to us, ‘wait until we reach you,’ we should remain in our place and not advance towards them. However, if they say, ‘come forward to us,’ then we should attack, because this is our sign that Hashem has given them over to our hands (Shmuel I 14:8-10).” This, not withstanding that Yonasan and his armor-bearer were only two attacking an entire garrison!

Why did the Gemara refer to what Yonasan did as an act of nachash, divining?

We find a major dispute among the rishonim how to interpret the words of the Gemara, “Any nachash that is unlike what was performed by Eliezer, the slave of Avraham, and unlike that performed by Yonasan, the son of Shaul, is not a nachash.”

Most early rishonim (Rashi, Rambam, Tosafos) understand the Gemara to mean that anyone who follows an approach similar to what Eliezer or Yonasan did has violated the prohibition of nichush. This approach contends that other than prophecy or the use of the urim vetumim, using events over which I have no control to determine my course of action is included under the prohibition of nichush.

Of course, the obvious problem with this approach is that if these actions indeed violate the prohibition of nichush, why were Eliezer and Yonasan permitted to perform them? Here are some of the answers provided for this question.

Eliezer’s heter

The prohibition against nichush applies only to Jews and not to bnei Noach, and Eliezer had the status of a ben Noach (Tosafos, Chullin 95b s.v. Ke’eliezer).

According to this approach, the story of Yonasan is difficult to explain, since he certainly did not qualify as a ben noach.

Another problem with this answer is that the Gemara (Sanhedrin 56b) records a dispute whether the prohibition against nichush applies to gentiles. Should one hold that the prohibition against nichush does apply to gentiles, one would answer that Eliezer did not rely on Rivkah’s offering the water to propose the marriage to her, but waited until he had verified that she was indeed family of Avraham’s (Tosafos, Chullin 95b s.v. Ke’eliezer).

Yonasan’s heter

Tosafos and the Ran (ad loc.) explain that Yonasan was planning to attack and was not using the nichush to make a decision. He used the nichush only so that his armor bearer would be more confident that their attack would be successful. Since Yonasan was planning to proceed regardless of the outcome of his test, it was permitted to make the sign.

The Radak’s approach

On the other hand, other rishonim dispute the understanding of the mitzvah of nichush and, furthermore, understand the passage of Gemara in a very different way. In their opinion, the prohibition of nichush applies only to things that are commonly perceived to have value, either because of superstition, sorcery, idolatry or other similar reason. However, to base a decision on a sign that has no superstitious or clairvoyant basis is permitted. Therefore, neither Eliezer nor Yonasan was in violation of any halachic issue by using their signs to divine. The Gemara’s purpose, when referring to Eliezer and Yonasan as examples of nichush, has nothing to do with the prohibition of the Torah banning nichush, but is teaching us that the simanim used by Eliezer and by Yonasan were both effective (Ra’avad, Hilchos Avodah Zarah, 11:4). This opinion holds that proper use of simanim is halachically permitted, but, as a matter of advice, should not be used, unless one can be reasonably certain that the siman is effective.

The entire passage

Having explained the dispute defining what is included within the prohibition of nichush, I’ll now present the entire passage of Gemara in which we find this quote. Rav was traveling to the house of his daughter and son-in-law, Rav Chanan. The trip required crossing a river, which usually meant getting to the riverbank and waiting until appropriate transport showed up. As Rav approached the river, he saw that a ferry was approaching; this would shorten the time for him considerably. Rav then said: “The ferry came in my direction; we will have a celebration as a result!”

When Rav arrived at his daughter’s house, they were in the process of butchering an animal. With the meat of that animal, Rav’s family made a lavish meal in his honor, yet Rav did not partake in any of the meat. The Gemara suggests that Rav did not eat any of the meat because, since Rav had declared that the ferry’s proximity had indicated a good omen which would be a reason for celebration, this would violate the Torah’s law against nichush. The Gemara retorts that Rav himself had defined nichush as something similar to what was done by Eliezer, Avraham’s slave, or by Yonasan the son of Shaul; any other practice does not constitute nichush. The Gemara’s conclusion is that Rav did not eat meat for a completely unrelated reason — because he never participated in a festive meal unless it was a seudas mitzvah (Chullin 95b).

According to the Radak, Rav’s original statement would never be a prohibited nichush practice, since the proximity of the ferry was not commonly used as a superstitious omen. Therefore, one may use such a sign as a means of deciding on a future course of action.

How do we rule?

The Rema (Yoreh Deah 179:4) cites both opinions without reaching a clear conclusion, and then closes by saying that one who lives his life sincerely and is confident in Hashem’s ways will be surrounded by kindness, thus implying that it is better not to follow such signs.

The pesukim of children

The Gemara (Chullin 95b) shares with us that Shmuel “checked with seforim” and Rabbi Yochanan “checked with children.” What does this mean? According to most authorities, this means that when planning what to do, Shmuel used some method of having the words of seforim assist him in his decision what to do. This is probably similar to, or identical with, the famous goral haGra, literally, the Gra’s lottery, which involves turning pages a certain way for divine direction as to what to do in difficult circumstances. Rabbi Yochanan relied on a different approach, in which he would ask children what verses of the Torah they had just learned and would rely on their answer for direction. Some early authorities explain that relying on a pasuk of a child is like relying on the answer of a prophet, which is permitted (Semag; Ran; Shach, Yoreh Deah 179:5). Notwithstanding this approach, the Rambam still feels that one should not use either holy books or children’s verses to choose what to do, and Shmuel and Rabbi Yochanan also did not do so. They would simply note, after the fact, that what resulted could have been foretold on the basis of these methods, but they would not use these methods to plan in advance what to do.

Conclusion

As Rav Hirsch, explains, serving Hashem is something that we must do in a whole-hearted way, and includes understanding that all that Hashem does is for the good. Hashem alone decides our future, directs and guides our actions. The sole criterion to decide whether we should or should not do something is Hashem’s Will. The goal of the truly sincere person is to perform what Hashem wants from him at the moment, and he will thus be impervious to worry (Commentary, Devorim 18:13).

 

Make Our Mitzvos Count!

The Aseres Hadibros include allusions to all of the 613 mitzvos. What better week to…

Make Our Mitzvos Count!

The opening words of Rashi’s commentary on the Torah quote the following Midrash: Rabbi Yitzchak said, “There seems no need to begin the Torah before Hachodesh Hazeh Lochem, which is the first Mitzvah that the Jewish people were commanded.” I decided to use the parsha in which we read the Aseres Hadibros to discuss all 613 Mitzvos that we are commanded.

Most of us are unaware of the vast literature that debates, disputes and categorizes what exactly comprises these 613 Mitzvos, and the halachic ramifications resulting from these discussions. I will simply note that if one counts every time the Torah says to do or not to do something the result is thousands of Mitzvos. Aren’t we shortchanging ourselves by limiting our Mitzvah count to 613? Since the Mishnah (at the end of Makkos) states: Hashem wanted to provide Israel with much merit and, therefore, provided them with much Torah and many Mitzvos, why do we limit the count to 613?

Why 613?

What is the source for the count of 613 Mitzvos?

The Gemara teaches: Rav Simla’i explained: “Moshe Rabbeinu was taught 613 Mitzvos, 365 negative Mitzvos equal to the number of days of the solar year, and 248 positive Mitzvos, corresponding to a man’s number of ‘limbs.’Rav Hamnuna said: “What verse teaches this to us? ‘Torah tzivah lanu Moshe morashah kehillas Yaakov,’ Moshe taught us the Torah, which is an inheritance of the community descended from Yaakov. The Gematriya (numerical value) of the word Torah equals 611, and two Mitzvos of Anochi Hashem and Lo Yihyeh Lecha were taught to us directly by Hashem” (Makkos 23b).

Thus, we now know that we have 613 counted Mitzvos, and yet there are thousands of places that the Torah commands us what to do. Obviously, some of the Torah’s commandments are not counted, but which ones? This question led many early authorities to calculate what exactly is included in the 613 Mitzvos and thereby understand what the Gemara means. Several Geonim and Rishonim authored works that list the 613 Mitzvos of the Torah, and no two lists are exactly the same.

The Sefer Hachinuch

Most of us are familiar with the listing of the 613 Mitzvos of the Sefer Hachinuch. Actually, this author did not develop his own list of 613 Mitzvos, as he mentions several times in his work. He followed the calculation of the Rambam, who wrote a large work on the subject, called Sefer HaMitzvos, which includes both the rules of when to count something as a Mitzvah and a list of the 248 Mitzvos aseh and the 365 Mitzvos lo saaseh, organized in a logical pattern. (Actually, notwithstanding what the Sefer hachinuch himself writes, he counts one mitzvah that the Rambam does not, and omits one of the Rambam’s.)

Chronology versus Logic

The Sefer Hachinuch reorganized the Rambam’s list, numbering each Mitzvah according to its first appearance in the Torah. Thus, the first Mitzvah of the Torah, Pru Urvu, having children, which is mentioned in parshas Bereishis, is the first Mitzvah; Bris Milah, mentioned in parshas Lech Lecha is counted as the second Mitzvah, and Gid Hanasheh, taught in parshas Vayishlach, completes the three Mitzvos mentioned in Sefer Bereishis. Parshas Bo is the first that contains many Mitzvos, a total of twenty, reflecting its significance as the first parsha in which Hashem directly commanded Mitzvos to the Jewish people, as Rabbi Yitzchak noted in the above-quoted Midrash.

What Counts as a Mitzvah?

In the first section of the Sefer HaMitzvos, the Rambam details the rules that he used to determine what qualifies as a “Mitzvah” in the count of 613. He establishes 14 rules, which include:

I. No Rabbinics

Any Mitzvah that is only miderabbanan is not counted among the 613 Mitzvos. This rule may seem obvious, since the Gemara is calculating the 613 Mitzvos that Hashem commanded us, and not those later added by the Sages. However, one of the great Geonim, the author of the Baal Halachos Gedolos, counts many Mitzvos derabbanan in his list of the 613, including kindling Ner Chanukah, reading Megillah on Purim, and reciting Hallel. How could the Baal Halachos Gedolos include these in his list of Mitzvos that Hashem commanded us?

The Ramban, in his exhaustive commentary to the Rambam’s Sefer HaMitzvos, provides two answers:

  1. There is an alternative text to the Gemara in Makkos, which reads, “The Jewish people are commanded 613 Mitzvos.” According to this wording, the Gemara there cites a Biblical verse not to imply that we derive these 613 Mitzvos from the Torah, but merely as a mnemonic device (based on the Gematriya of the word Torah) to remind us that there are a total of 613 Mitzvos of both Torah and rabbinical sources.
  2. The Ramban contends that even the text of the Gemara that I quoted earlier, which states that Moshe Rabbeinu was commanded 611 Mitzvos, does not present an obstacle to the Behag’s approach, and could include Mitzvos introduced by Chazal. The Ramban cites many places where, even though the Gemara states that “The Torah required…” or “Hashem said…,” the statement refers to a rabbinic command, not a Torah requirement. In his opinion, Chazal used this terminology, even in the context of Rabbinic requirements, since the Torah requires us to observe the Mitzvos that Chazal commanded.

Thus, although the Rambam insists that there are 613 Mitzvos that Hashem commanded the Jewish people, and his opinion is accepted by most authorities, there are other Torah scholars who include Mitzvos introduced by the Sages among them.

Dispute the Rules

In addition to the above dispute, there are other authorities who disagree with many of the fourteen rules that the Rambam used to define the Mitzvos (listed below). Nevertheless, since the Jewish people have come to accept the Rambam’s and Chinuch’s count of the Mitzvos, it is important for us to know and understand these rules.

II. Only What the Torah Says

The Rambam’s second rule is to not count any Mitzvah that is derived hermeneutically, through a drasha, but only Mitzvos that are mentioned outright in the Torah. Therefore, says the Rambam, we do not list the requirements to treat one’s stepfather or stepmother with appropriate respect as separate Mitzvos, since these requirements are derived from the extra word es, rather than being mentioned outright. Instead, these responsibilities are included under the Mitzvah of respecting one’s parents. Similarly, the Rambam rules not to count Visiting the Sick (Bikkur Cholim) or Comforting Mourners (Nichum Aveilim), as separate Mitzvos, but includes them under the Torah’s Mitzvah of emulating Hashem by acting in ways that imitate His acts of kindness.

III. Mitzvos are Forever!

One counts only a Mitzvah that is everlasting, and not one that is temporary. For example, we do not count as one of the 613 commandments that a Levi may not serve in the Mishkan past his fiftieth birthday, since this rule applied only in the Desert and not afterwards.

The reason for not counting these commandments is that the 613 Mitzvos form an eternal relationship between Hashem and the Jewish people, and, as such, apply only to Mitzvos that apply forever. However, many Mitzvos that are not applicable today due to the absence of the Beis Hamikdash still count in the list of 613. This is because these Mitzvos are eternal commandments that are temporarily beyond our ability to observe.

IV. Torah, but Not the Whole Torah!

One should not count as part of the 613 any command that includes observing the entire Torah. For example, the Torah states: Be careful concerning all that I am telling you (Shemos 23:13) and Guard my decrees and observe my judgments (Vayikra 18:4). These and other similar statements are not counted among the 613 Mitzvos. The Rambam explains that each of the 613 Mitzvos involves a different mode of developing our relationship with Hashem, while a pasuk that instructs to keep all the Mitzvos is not indicating any specific way to grow.

V. No Reasons!

In the instances when the Torah provided a reason to observe a Mitzvah, we do not count the reason as a separate Mitzvah. Although these reasons are significant in understanding both our relationship with Hashem and why we observe His Mitzvos, they do not obligate any additional actions with which to deepen our relationship with Hashem.

VI. Yes and No

When there are two commands pursuant to an activity, one a positive command (mitzvas aseh) and the other a negative command (mitzvas lo saaseh), we count the Mitzvah twice, once among the 248 Mitzvos aseh and once among the 365 Mitzvos lo saaseh. There are numerous examples of this: For example, there is a positive Mitzvah, “to keep Shabbos,” and a negative Mitzvah, “not to perform melachah on Shabbos.” The situation is repeated concerning the observance of all the Yomim Tovim (seven times, or 14 more Mitzvos), afflicting ourselves on Yom Kippur (which has both a positive and a negative commandment), and regarding all korbanos being salted before placing them on the mizbeiach (which also has a lo saaseh, Do not place unsalted korbanos on the mizbeiach).

VII. Details, Details

Details about when a Mitzvah applies and how to fulfill it do not count as separate Mitzvos. For example, for certain sins the Torah requires an atoning korban that has a sliding scale: a wealthy person offers an animal, a pauper offers only a grain offering, and someone in-between offers a dove or pigeon. All this counts as only one Mitzvah, although there are many different ways of accomplishing it. Here again, there is one Mitzvah that develops our relationship with Hashem, although depending on one’s financial circumstances, there are different ways to perform it. Dividing this into several Mitzvos would send an erroneous message.

VIII. Not Every “No” means “No!”

There are instances where, even though a verse might seem to be forbidding something, a careful reading of the verse indicates that the Torah is merely stating that something will not happen or does not need to be performed. Obviously, these instances do not qualify as Mitzvos. For example, the Torah says that no prophet will arise who will be like Moshe. Although the wording of the Torah, Lo kam od navi kemoshe, might be read to mean, “No prophet should arise like Moshe,” which implies that we are commanded to make sure this does not happen, the translation of the verse is actually a prophetic Divine statement: “No prophet will arise like Moshe.” Thus, this verse is not a directive and does not count as a commandment.

IX. Five Times One Equals One.

When the Torah repeats a Mitzvah many times, we do not count each time as a separate Mitzvah, but we count it as one Mitzvah. Therefore, although the Torah prohibits eating blood on several occasions, it counts as only one of the 613 Mitzvos. As a result, in the Rambam’s opinion, someone who violates this prohibition is punished as if he violated only one lo saaseh, and not many.

According to this approach, when two similar Mitzvos lo saaseh or two similar Mitzvos aseh are both counted as Mitzvos, this must be because one Mitzvah is more comprehensive than the other. Otherwise, this Mitzvah would not be counted more than once.

Here is an example:

The Rambam counts two different Mitzvos against owning chometz on Pesach, bal yei’ra’eh, that chometz should not be seen, and bal yematzei, that chometz should not be found. Why does he count both of these Mitzvos, whereas he counts only one Mitzvah not to eat blood?

The answer is that these two Mitzvos are not identical: bal yematzei includes cases that are not included under bal ye’ra’eh. Specifically, someone who buried chometz does not violate bal yei’ra’eh, since the chometz cannot be seen. However, he does violate bal yematzei since the chometz can be found.

This distinction not only affects whether this Mitzvah is counted once or twice among the 613, but also has other halachic ramifications. Someone who purchased chometz or mixed dough and allowed it to rise on Pesach violates two different prohibitions, since these prohibitions count as two separate Mitzvos.

X. Preliminary Steps do not a Mitzvah Make

Preliminary steps involved in the performance of a Mitzvah are not counted as a Mitzvah on their own. For example, one does not count the statement that one should take flour to bring a korban mincha, a grain offering, as a Mitzvah on its own. It is simply one stage in the performance of the Mitzvah.

XI. Part of a Mitzvah is Equal to None

There are Mitzvos in which several items are involved in successfully performing one Mitzvah, such as taking the four species on Sukkos. The Rambam points out that one counts the taking of the four species as one Mitzvah, not as four separate Mitzvos, since taking each of them without the others, or even three without the fourth, does not fulfill a Mitzvah.

XII. Completing one Part of a Mitzvah

Some Mitzvos involve the successful completion of several other commandments, such as the Mitzvah to build the Mishkan/Beis Hamikdash, which involves the completion of many of the vessels, including the Menorah, the Shulchan, and the Altar. Each of these independent Mitzvos is not counted separately: Since the purpose of all of them is the creation of the Mishkan/Beis Hamikdash, they are all included under the one Mitzvah of building Hashem’s “house.”

XIII. Many Days are not Many Mitzvos

If a Mitzvah continues for several days, one counts the Mitzvah only once. It is interesting that the Rambam counts offering the Korban Musaf on Sukkos as only one Mitzvah, even though the number of its bulls changes daily.

Included in this rule is that a Mitzvah observed more than once a day is counted only once. Therefore, reciting Kerias Shma every morning and evening is counted as only one Mitzvah (Kinas Sofrim).

XIV. Punishments are not Mitzvos

When the Torah describes the punishment for violating a specific Mitzvah, we do not count that punishment as a separate Mitzvah in its own right.

Although almost every one of the Rambam’s rules has its disputants, this last rule is interesting because it entails a major dispute between the Geonim’s approach to counting Mitzvos and that of the Rambam. Several of the Geonim count each time the Torah mentions a punishment for violating a certain command as a separate Mitzvah. The individual’s command to observe this law counts as a Mitzvah, and the Beis Din’s instruction to mete out a specific punishment to those who violate the law is counted as a separate Mitzvah. This understanding of the Mitzvos creates a list of 71 Mitzvos of the Torah that apply to the Beis Din.

As mentioned above, the Rambam disputes this approach and counts simply five Mitzvos for the Beis Din to fulfill, one for each of the four types of capital punishment that Beis Din administers, and one for malkus, lashes.

Other Lists

Among those who did not follow the Rambam fully, the one that is probably closest to the Rambam’s count of the 613 Mitzvos was that of Rav Moshe of Coucy, one of the Baalei Tosafos, whose magnum opus, the Sefer HaMitzvos HaGadol (often abbreviated Smag) is a compendium of all the halachic conclusions of the Gemara, with a full analysis of the author’s decision, organized according to the list of the 613 Mitzvos. Although the book is not commonly studied today, and it is never used as the final halachic decision, at one time it was the major decisor of halachah for Ashkenazic Jewry.

What is interesting is that although he also organized the Mitzvos in a logical fashion, similar to the approach of the Rambam, his list is in a very different order from that of the Rambam. Nevertheless, his count is so similar to the Rambam that in his list of 248 positive Mitzvos, he agrees with the Rambam on 245 of them.

His extra three, which the Rambam does not count, include:

To accept Hashem’s judgment on anything that happens. Whereas the Smag counts this as one of the 613 Mitzvos, deriving it from a pasuk, the Rambam does not count this as one of the 613 Mitzvos.

Among the 613 Mitzvos, the Smag counts the Mitzvah to calculate seasons and the movement of heavenly bodies in order to know how to determine the Jewish calendar. The Rambam mentions in his second rule that one should not count this as a separate Mitzvah, because it is derived from a drasha. The Smag does not accept this rule.

The Third Smag Addition

The Smag counts as a positive Mitzvah: To distance oneself from falsehood. I admit to having no idea why the Rambam does not count this as a Mitzvah. He includes all the laws of distancing oneself from falsehood under the mitzvas lo saaseh of “Do not bear a false story,” a lo saaseh that includes the laws of speaking loshon hora. However, as we mentioned earlier, the Rambam contends that one counts overlapping Mitzvos aseh and lo saaseh separately, so why does he omit the count of this Mitzvah?

In conclusion, we have seen that much halachic literature is devoted to enumerating and understanding the various counts of the 613 Mitzvos. Some people have the practice of reviewing the Mitzvos that are included in the week’s Torah reading at the Shabbos table, a minhag that is not only praiseworthy, but has the additional benefit in that it familiarizes us with all the 613 Mitzvos.

 

Eating before Kiddush

kiddush cupQuestion #1: Reuven calls me: I have not been well, and I need to eat something shortly after awaking. On weekdays, I daven shortly after I wake up and then eat immediately afterwards, but there is no available minyan for me to attend early Shabbos morning. What should I do?

Question #2: Ahuva asks: It is difficult for me to wait for Kiddush until my husband returns from shul. May I eat something before he arrives home?

Question #3: Someone told me that a woman may not eat in the morning before she davens, but I remember being taught in Beis Yaakov that we may eat once we say the morning berachos. Is my memory faulty?

Answer:

When we recite Kiddush on Friday evening, we fulfill the Torah’s mitzvah of Zachor es yom hashabbos lekadsho, Remember the day of Shabbos to sanctify it.

There is another Kiddush, introduced by our Sages, which is simply reciting borei pri hagafen and drinking wine prior to the Shabbos day meal. This article will discuss under what circumstances one may eat before reciting the daytime Kiddush.

First, we need to categorize that there are two related subjects here:

May one eat before reciting Kiddush?

May one eat before davening in the morning?

May one eat before reciting Kiddush, either at night or day?

May one eat or drink prior to reciting the Torah-required evening Kiddush? Although the Tanna, Rabbi Yosi, holds that someone eating a meal when Shabbos begins is not required to interrupt, but may complete his meal and then recite Kiddush afterwards, the Gemara concludes that we do not follow this approach. Once Shabbos arrives, it is forbidden to eat or drink anything until one recites or hears Kiddush (Pesachim 100a). The poskim conclude that one may not even drink water before Kiddush (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 271:4).

What is the halacha regarding eating or drinking before daytime Kiddush? This matter is disputed by the two great pillars of halacha, the Rambam and the Raavad. The Rambam  (Hilchos Shabbos, 29:10) declares that one may not taste anything before reciting the daytime Kiddush, whereas the Raavad contends that this prohibition applies only to the evening Kiddush, but not to the morning Kiddush.

What is the underlying issue of this difference of opinion? At first glance, it would seem that the Rambam and the Raavad are disputing the following question: When our Sages required Kiddush in the daytime, did they provide it with all the rules of evening Kiddush? After all, there is a general halachic principle Kol detikun rabbanan ke’ein de’oraysa tikun, whatever the Sages instituted, they did so following the pattern of the Torah’s mitzvos. (For brevity’s sake, I will henceforth refer to this concept simply as Kol detikun rabbanan.) Kol detikun rabbanan would indicate that just as one may not eat or drink before evening Kiddush, similarly one may not eat or drink before morning Kiddush. It would seem that the Rambam is contending that Kol detikun rabbanan applies to daytime Kiddush, whereas the Raavad disputes this, for a reason that we will soon explain.

However, a careful reading of the Rambam demonstrates that this analysis is somewhat oversimplified, since the Rambam, himself, does not fully apply the concept Kol detikun rabbanan to daytime Kiddush. Whereas he introduces Chapter 29 of Hilchos Shabbos by stating: “It is a positive mitzvah of the Torah to sanctify Shabbos with words,” when he begins discussing the daytime Kiddush, he says, “It is a mitzvah to recite a beracha over wine on Shabbos morning before one eats the second meal of Shabbos, and this is called Kiddusha Rabbah.” Evidently, the daytime Kiddush is not a second mitzvah of Kiddush, but simply announces that the daytime meal is in honor of Shabbos. (The early commentaries note that the term Kiddusha Rabbah [literally, the great Kiddush] for the daytime Kiddush, whose origin is in the Gemara itself [Pesachim 106a], is intentionally overstated.) We could say that the evening Kiddush is a sanctification of Shabbos, whereas the daytime Kiddush is a proclamation about the coming meal.

Reciting Kiddush over Bread

Now that we understand that evening Kiddush and daytime Kiddush serve different functions, we can explain why there are other halachic differences between them. For example, one may recite evening Kiddush over the challah-bread that one is using for the meal, but one may not use the bread of the day meal as a substitute for the daytime Kiddush. After all, if daytime Kiddush is to proclaim that the coming meal is in Shabbos’ honor, this proclamation must precede the meal and be somewhat extraordinary.

So now we need to ask: If daytime Kiddush serves a different function than evening Kiddush, why does the Rambam prohibit eating before daytime Kiddush? The answer is that he understands that some laws of Kiddush still apply in the daytime. The dispute between the Rambam and the Raavad is the degree to which daytime Kiddush is compared to evening Kiddush.

The Halacha

The accepted halacha follows the Rambam: that one may not eat before daytime Kiddush (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 289:1), although as we will soon see, the Raavad’s opinion is not completely ignored by later authorities. They often factor the Raavad’s opinion when other mitigating circumstances exist, a halachic concept called tziruf. For example, the Elyah Rabbah (286:9) rules that a weak person who has davened Shacharis and has no beverage available for Kiddush may rely on the Raavad together with another opinion who contends that there is no obligation to make Kiddush until one has completed davening musaf.

May one drink water before Kiddush?

In regard to the evening Kiddush, the halacha is that one may not drink anything, even water, after Shabbos begins and before reciting Kiddush. Does the same law apply to morning Kiddush? The Tur cites a dispute whether one may drink water before davening on Shabbos morning, since one has as yet not recited or heard Kiddush. He quotes the Avi HaEzri as prohibiting this, whereas the Tur’s own father, the Rosh, permitted drinking water before Kiddush, and he, himself, drank before Shabbos morning davening. The Rosh reasoned that drinking before Kiddush is prohibited only once the time for reciting Kiddush has arrived, which is not until one has davened. Prior to davening, one is prohibited from eating, and, therefore, it is too early for the Shabbos meal, and too early for Kiddush. As we will soon see, one may drink tea or coffee before davening on weekdays, and the Rosh permits this also on Shabbos morning.

May one eat before morning davening?

At this point, we can discuss the first question raised by Reuven above: I have not been well, and I need to eat something shortly after awaking. On weekdays, I daven shortly after I wake up and then eat immediately afterwards, but there is no available minyan for me to attend early Shabbos morning. What should I do?

Reuven’s question involves an issue that we have not yet discussed: May one eat before davening in the morning?

The Gemara states: “What do we derive from the verse, You may not eat over blood? That you may not eat (in the morning) before you have prayed for your ‘blood’… The verse states, in reference to someone who eats and drinks prior to praying: You have thrown me behind your body (Melachim 1 14:9). Do not read your body (in Hebrew gavecha), but your arrogance (gai’echa). The Holy One said: After this person has indulged in his own pride (by eating or drinking), only then does he accept upon himself the dominion of heaven (Berachos 10b)!?”

The halacha that results from this Gemara is codified by all authorities. To quote the Rambam: “It is prohibited to taste anything or to perform work from halachic daybreak until one has prayed shacharis” (Hilchos Tefillah 6:4).

Would you like tea or coffee?

Although all poskim prohibit eating and drinking before morning davening, we find early authorities who permit drinking water before davening, since this is not considered an act of conceit (Rosh quoting the Avi HaEzri; the Beis Yosef cites authorities who disagree, but rules like the Avi HaEzri). Most later authorities permit drinking tea or coffee, contending that this is also considered like drinking water, but the poskim dispute whether one may add sugar to the beverage. The Mishnah Berurah and others prohibit this, whereas the Aruch Hashulchan and most later authorities permit it. They are disputing whether adding sugar to the beverage promotes it to a forbidden beverage, or whether it is still considered water that one may imbibe before davening.

Hunger

The Rambam rules that someone who is hungry or thirsty should eat or drink before he davens, so that he can daven properly (Hilchos Tefillah 5:2).

Similarly, some authorities contend that,for medical reasons, one may eat or drink before davening. They explain that the Gemara prohibited only eating or drinking that demonstrates arrogance, whereas medical reasons, by definition, do not express arrogance (Beis Yosef, quoting Mahari Abohav). This approach is accepted as normative halacha by the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 89:3).

I will be hungry!

What is the halacha if someone is, as yet, not hungry, but he knows that he will be so hungry by the end of davening that it will distract him from davening properly. Is he permitted to eat before davening, so that the hunger does not distract him? This question impacts directly on Reuven’s question.

The answer to this question appears to lie in the following Talmudic discussion:

Rav Avya was weak and, as a result, did not attend Rav Yosef’s lecture that transpired prior to musaf. The next day, when Rav Avya arrived in the Yeshiva, Abayei saw Rav Avya and was concerned that Rav Yosef may have taken offense at Rav Avya’s absence. Therefore, Abayei asked Rav Avya why he had failed to attend the previous day’s lecture. After which the following conversation transpired:

Abayei: Why did the master (addressing Rav Avya) not attend the lecture?

Rav Avya: I was not feeling well and was unable to attend.

Abayei: Why did you not eat something first and then come?

Rav Avya: Does the master (now referring to Abayei) not hold like Rav Huna who prohibits eating before davening musaf?

Abayei: You should have davened musaf privately, eaten something and then come to shul (Berachos 28b).

We see from Abayei’s retort, that someone who is weak should daven first and then eat, even if this means that he davens without a minyan. Based on this passage, several noted authorities rule that someone who will not be able to wait until after davening, and cannot find an early minyan with which to daven, should daven privately (beyechidus), eat and then attend shul in order to hear the Torah and fulfill the mitzvos of answering Kaddish and Kedusha (Beer Heiteiv 89:11; Biur Halacha 289; Daas Torah 289 quoting Zechor Le’Avraham; Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 2:28 at end of teshuvah). Thus, it seems that we can positively answer Reuven’s question: If he cannot wait to eat until davening is over, he should daven be’yechidus, make Kiddush and eat something, and then come to shul to answer Borchu, Kedusha, Kaddish and hear kerias Hatorah.

May a woman eat before Kiddush?

At this point, we have enough information to discuss Ahuva’s question: It is difficult for me to wait for Kiddush until my husband returns from shul. May I eat before he arrives home?

Of course, Ahuva may recite Kiddush herself and eat something before her husband returns home. To fulfill the mitzvah, she needs to eat something that fulfills the halacha of Kiddush bimkom seudah¸ a topic we will have to leave for a different time. However, Ahuva either does not want to recite Kiddush, or does not want to eat something to accompany the Kiddush. Is there a halachic solution to permit her to eat or drink before Kiddush?

There are some authorities who suggest approaches to permit Ahuva to eat or drink before Kiddush. Here is one approach:

Although most authorities obligate a woman to recite the daytime Kiddush and prohibit her from eating before she recites Kiddush (Tosafos Shabbos 286:4, 289:3; Pri Megadim, Mishbetzos Zahav 289:1; Mishnah Berurah 289:6), this is not a universally held position. One early authority (Maharam Halavah, Pesachim 106, quoting Rashba) contends that women are absolved of the requirement to recite daytime Kiddush, for the following reason:

Since the daytime Kiddush is not an extension of the mitzvah of evening Kiddush, but is to demonstrate that the meal is in honor of Shabbos, this requirement does not devolve upon women. Although this approach is not halachically accepted, some authorities allow a woman to rely on this opinion, under extenuating circumstances, to eat before reciting morning Kiddush (Shu”t Minchas Yitzchak 4:28:3).

When does a married woman become obligated to make Kiddush?

Rav Moshe Feinstein presents a different reason to permit a married woman to eat before Kiddush. He reasons that since a married woman is required to eat the Shabbos meal with her husband, she does not become responsible to make Kiddush until it is time for the two of them to eat the Shabbos meal together, meaning after davening (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 4:101\2). However, the Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasah (Chapter 52, note 46) quotes Rav Shelomoh Zalman Auerbach as disputing Rav Moshe’s conclusion that a married woman has no obligation to make Kiddush before the Shabbos meal. Firstly, he is unconvinced that she is halachically required to eat her meal with her husband, and, even if she is, that this duty permits her to eat before Kiddush.

If we do not follow the lenient approaches mentioned, when does a woman become obligated to recite Kiddush and, therefore, at what point may she no longer drink tea, coffee, and water? The Acharonim debate this issue, but understanding their positions requires an understanding of a different topic.

What must a woman pray?

All authorities require a woman to daven daily, but there is a dispute whether she is required to recite the full shemoneh esrei (I will call this the “Ramban’s opinion”), or whether she fulfills her requirement by reciting a simple prayer, such as the morning beracha that closes with the words Gomel chasadim tovim le’amo Yisrael. (I will refer to this as the “Magen Avraham’s opinion.”) Allow me to explain.

When may she eat?

According to the Ramban’s opinion that a woman is required to recite the full shemoneh esrei, she may not eat in the morning without first davening (see the previous discussion), whereas according to the Magen Avraham’s opinion that she fulfills her requirement once she has recited a simple prayer or morning berachos, she may eat once she recited these tefilos.

Some authorities rule that a woman becomes obligated to hear Kiddush as soon as she recites berachos, since she has now fulfilled her requirement to daven and she may therefore begin eating. According to this opinion, once she recited berachos on Shabbos morning, she may not eat or drink without first making Kiddush (Tosafos Shabbos 286:4, 289:3). This approach contends that before she recites morning berachos, she may drink water, tea or coffee, but after she recites morning berachos, she may not even drink these beverages without first reciting Kiddush.

There is another view, that contends that a woman can follow the same approach that men follow, and may drink water, tea or coffee even after she recited berachos before she has davened (Pri Megadim, Eishel Avraham 289:4 as understood by Halichos Beisah page 204).

At this point we can address the third question I raised above:

“Someone told me that a woman may not eat in the morning before she davens, but I remember being taught in Beis Yaakov that we may eat once we say the morning berachos. Is my memory faulty?”

Many authorities contend that although a woman should daven shemoneh esrei every morning, she may rely on the opinion of the Magen Avraham in regard to eating, and may eat at home after reciting morning berachos. In many institutions, this approach was preferred, since it accomplishes that the tefillah the girls recite is a much better prayer, and they learn how to daven properly.

Conclusion

According to Rav Hirsch, observing Shabbos and declaring its holiness means recognizing that the arrival of Shabbos signifies that man’s activity has attained its goal. Now, it is time to recognize Hashem’s creation and devote ourselves to developing our spirituality. When we recite Kiddush, we should internalize this message.

 

Where Does My Shemoneh Esrei End? Part II

clip_image002_thumb.jpgQuestion #1: A proper ending

“Someone told me that I am not required to say the prayer Elokei, netzor leshoni meira at the end of Shemoneh Esrei. Is this a legitimate practice?”

Question #2: Responding in kind

“If I am reciting the Elokai netzor at the end of Shemoneh Esrei while the chazzan is already beginning the repetition, should I be reciting ‘Amen’ to his brachos?”

Question #3: What do I Say?

“I finished Shemoneh Esrei, said the pasuk Yi’he’yu leratzon, but am still standing in the place and position I assumed for Shemoneh Esrei. What may I answer at this point?”

Question #4: Do I Repeat the Whole Thing?

“I just finished Shemoneh Esrei, but I did not yet back up the three steps, and I realize that I forgot to say Yaaleh Veyavo. What do I do?”

Answer:

In Part I of this discussion, we began discussing the question about inserting special individual supplications into our private Shemoneh Esrei, and we learned that there are several places that one may do so. We also discovered that the prayer that begins with the words Elokai, netzor leshoni meira, “My G-d, protect my tongue from evil,” which we recite at the end of the Shemoneh Esrei, is intended to be a voluntary, personal prayer. Although it has now become a standard part of our daily prayer, it is intended to be an individual entreaty to which one is free to add, delete, or recite other supplications instead.

We also learned in last week’s article that the early authorities dispute whether one should recite the verse that begins with the words Yihyu leratzon (Tehillim 19:15) before one begins reciting one’s personal requests. Some authorities ruled that it is required to do so, some ruled that it is optional and some held that it is preferred not to recite the verse Yihyu leratzon until after one completes one’s supplications.

Most of the questions of our introduction relate to the rules of interrupting the prayer during the recital of these individual supplications. During the recital of the Shemoneh Esrei itself, I am not allowed to interrupt to answer any part of our prayer. Since these supplications, including the prayer Elokai, netzor, are not technically part of the Shemoneh Esrei, am I permitted to respond during their recital? Am I considered to still be reciting Shemoneh Esrei while I am saying these personal requests? And does it make a difference whether I have yet recited the verse Yihyu leratzon, since its recital officially ends the Shemoneh Esrei.

To sum up

In last week’s article, we learned that there is a dispute whether one may answer the responses to Kedushah, Kaddish, and Borchu after having completed the nineteen brachos of Shemoneh Esrei, but before one has said Yi’he’yu leratzon. There are three opinions:

(1) One may not insert anything including any personal supplication before one recites Yi’he’yu leratzon (Raavad and Rashba).

(2) One may insert a personal supplication, but one may not answer Kaddish or Kedushah (Rabbeinu Yonah, as understood by Divrei Chamudos and Pri Chodosh).

(3) One may even answer Kaddish or Kedushah (Rabbeinu Yonah, as understood by Rama).

How do we rule?

Among the early codifiers we find all three approaches quoted:

(1) The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 122:1, 2) and the Bach conclude, like the Rashba and Raavad, that one may not insert or recite anything prior to saying Yi’he’yu leratzon.

(2) The Divrei Chamudos rules that one may recite personal supplications before one says Yi’he’yu leratzon, but one may not answer Kedushah or Kaddish.

(3) The Rama permits even answering Kedushah or Kaddish before saying Yi’he’yu leratzon. This is the approach that the Mishnah Berurah (122:6) considers to be the primary one and it is also the way the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (18:15) rules. The Rama mentions that some communities had the custom of not reciting Yi’he’yu leratzon until after they completed saying Elokai Netzor and whatever other personal supplications the individual chose to recite.

After saying Yi’he’yu leratzon

Thus far, we have discussed what one should do prior to reciting the verse Yi’he’yu leratzon. Now we will begin discussing the laws that are effective after one recites this verse.

All authorities agree that once a person has recited the verse Yi’he’yu leratzon, he may add personal prayers to the extent that he wishes. Many authorities hold that it is preferable not to recite supplications when, as a result, one will be required to respond to Kedushah or Kaddish while (Rashba and Shulchan Aruch, as explained by Maamar Mordechai).

Amen during Elokai Netzor

At this point, we will address one of the other questions asked in our introduction:

“If I am reciting the Elokai Netzor at the end of Shemoneh Esrei while the chazzan is already beginning the repetition, should I be reciting ‘Amen’ to his brachos?”

If this person was following the custom mentioned by the Rama and had as yet not recited Yi’he’yu leratzon, then he may not respond “amen” to someone else’s bracha. Even if he has recited Yi’he’yu leratzon, it is unclear whether he may respond “amen” to brachos, as I will explain.

First, an introduction: In general, the different parts of the davening have varying status regarding which responses are permitted. For example, it is prohibited to interrupt in the middle of the Shemoneh Esrei, even to respond to Kaddish or Kedushah. On the other hand, the birchos kri’as shma, the blessings recited before and after we say the Shma, have less sanctity than does the Shemoneh Esrei. Therefore, according to accepted psak halacha, someone in the middle of reciting birchos kri’as shma may respond to Borchu, and to some of the responses of Kaddish and Kedushah. Specifically, he may answer amen, yehei shemei rabba… and the amen of da’amiran be’alma in Kaddish, and may answer Kodosh, kodosh, kodosh… and Baruch kevod Hashem mimkomo during Kedushah. In addition, he may answer amen to the brachos of Hakeil hakodosh and Shomei’a tefillah. He may not answer “amen” to any other bracha, to the other responses of Kaddish, or say Yimloch to Kedushah. (We should note that the above reflects the opinion of many rishonim and is the conclusion of the Shulchan Aruch, but it is not universally held.

The question at hand is: What is the status of davening after one has recited Yi’he’yu leratzon? May one answer Kedushah or say “amen” at this point? There are no allusions in Chazal to direct us what to do, but in a passage of Gemara discussing a different issue there is a oblique hint that may impact on this topic:

“If he erred and did not mention Rosh Chodesh [i.e., he neglected to say the passage of Yaaleh Veyavo, or neglected mention of Rosh Chodesh while reciting Yaaleh Veyavo] while reciting Avodah [i.e., the bracha of Shemoneh Esrei that begins with the word Retzei], then he returns to the bracha of Avodah. If he remembers during Hodaah [i.e., the bracha that begins with the word Modim], then he returns to the bracha of Avodah. If he remembers during Sim Shalom, then he returns to the bracha of Avodah. If he completed Sim Shalom [i.e., recited the closing bracha], then he returns to the beginning [of the Shemoneh Esrei]. Rav Papa, the son of Rav Acha bar Ada, explained that when it said, ‘If he completed, then he returns to the beginning [of the Shemoneh Esrei]’ it means that he uprooted his feet [i.e., he began to take three paces back, as we do prior to reciting Oseh Shalom]; but if he did not ‘uproot his feet’, he returns [only] to Avodah” (Brachos 29b).

The Gemara teaches that someone who forgot to say Yaaleh Veyavo at the appropriate place in Shemoneh Esrei must return to the words Retzei in order to say Yaaleh Veyavo. However, if he completed reciting the Shemoneh Esrei, then he repeats the entire Shemoneh Esrei. What is the definition of “completing the Shemoneh Esrei?

The Gemara presents three rules:

(1) If he took three paces back, he has completed the Shemoneh Esrei, and must start over again from the beginning.

(2) If he finished Shemoneh Esrei and whatever supplication he recites, then he must start over again from the beginning.

(3) If he is still reciting his supplications, he goes back only to Retzei (Brachos 29b).

We see from this Gemara that reciting the supplications at the end of davening is still considered to be part of the prayer. Does this mean that it has the same rules as being in the middle of the Shemoneh Esrei itself as far as interrupting his davening is concerned?

The rishonim discuss this issue. The Rashba (Shu”t Harashba 1:807; 7:405) rules that once one said Yi’he’yu leratzon, the laws of hefsek follow the rules of someone who is in the middle of reciting the birchos kri’as shma. Therefore, he may answer amen, yehei shemei rabba… and amen to da’amiran be’alma in Kaddish, and may answer Kodosh, kodosh, kodosh… and Baruch kevod Hashem mimkomo during Kedushah. In addition, he may answer amen to the brachos of Hakeil Hakodosh and Shomei’a Tefillah.

Answering Amen

May one answer “amen” to any other bracha once one has recited the verse Yi’he’yu leratzon? The Taz (Orach Chayim 122:1) notes what appears to be an inconsistency in the position of the Shulchan Aruch on this matter. To resolve this concern, he explains that there is a difference between someone who usually recites supplications after completing his Shemoneh Esrei, who should not recite amen, and someone who does so only occasionally, who should. Someone who recites supplications only occasionally may interrupt to answer amen once he says Yi’he’yu leratzon, since for him reciting Yi’he’yu leratzon is usually the end of his formal prayer.

However, this ruling would probably not affect us. Since today it is common practice to include Elokai Netzor or other supplications at the end of our daily tefillos, we would be considered still in Shemoneh Esrei, and as a result, we will not be permitted to respond “amen” at this point (Mishnah Berurah 122:1). However, other authorities rule that once one has said Yi’he’yu leratzon, one may even answer “amen” to all brachos (Aruch Hashulchan; Kitzur Shulchan Aruch).

After completing his supplications

Once someone has completed reciting his supplications and recited Yi’he’yu leratzon, he is considered to have finished davening completely, and he may now answer any responses that one should usually recite, including even to answer Boruch Hu uvaruch Shemo when hearing a bracha (Maamar Mordechai; Mishnah Berurah). This is true, even though he has as yet not backed up the three steps.

Conclusion

Rav Hirsch, in his commentary to the story of Kayin and Hevel in Parshas Bereishis (4:3), makes the following observation: “Two people can bring identical offerings and recite the same prayers and yet appear unequal in the eyes of G-d. This is made clear in connection with the offerings of these brothers. Scripture does not say: “G-d turned to the offering by Hevel, but to the offering by Kayin He did not turn.” Rather, it says: “G-d turned to Hevel and his offering, but to Kayin and his offering He did not turn.” The difference lay in the personalities of the offerers, not in their offerings. Kayin was unacceptable, hence his offering was unacceptable. Hevel, on the other hand, was pleasing, hence his offering was pleasing.”

The same is true regarding prayer: the Shemoneh Esrei itself, the Netzor leshoni addition, and the personal supplications that different people recite may appear identical in words, but they are recited with emotion, devotion and commitment. Tefillah should be with total devotion in order to improve ourselves, to enable us to fulfill our role in Hashem’s world.

 

Where Does My Shemoneh Esrei End? Part I

clip_image002_thumb.jpgQuestion #1: Slow on the draw

“The other day, I was finishing Shemoneh Esrei as the chazzan began Kedushah, but I had not yet recited the sentence beginning with the words Yi’he’yu Leratzon when the tzibur was already reciting Kodosh, kodosh, kodosh. Should I have answered Kedushah without having first said Yi’he’yu Leratzon?”

Question #2: A proper ending

“Someone told me that I am not required to say the prayer Elokei Netzor at the end of Shemoneh Esrei. Is this a legitimate practice? Why don’t the siddurim say this?”

Question #3: Responding in kind

“If I am reciting the Elokai Netzor at the end of Shemoneh Esrei while the chazzan is already beginning the repetition, should I be reciting ‘Amen’ to his brachos?”

Question #4: What do I Say?

“I finished Shemoneh Esrei, said the pasuk Yi’he’yu Leratzon, but am still standing in the place and position I assumed for Shemoneh Esrei. What may I answer at this point?”

Question #5: Do I Repeat the Whole Thing?

“I just finished Shemoneh Esrei but did not yet back up the three steps, and I realized that I forgot to say Yaaleh Veyavo. What do I do?”

Answer: Historical introduction

The Anshei Keneses Hagedolah, called in English The Men of the Great Assembly, were 120 great leaders of the Jewish people at the beginning of the Second Beis Hamikdash period and included such luminaries as Ezra, Mordechai, Daniel, and the last of the prophets, Chaggai, Zecharya and Malachi. To help us fulfill our daily obligation of praying, they authored the “amidah,” our main prayer. Since this prayer consisted, originally, of eighteen blessings we call it the “Shemoneh Esrei,”  a name which we also use when referring to the prayers of Shabbos, Yom Tov, and Rosh Chodesh Musaf, even though those tefillos are always only seven brachos (with the exception of Musaf of Rosh Hashanah, which is nine.) A nineteenth brocha, that begins with the word Velamalshinim (or, in the Edot Hamizrah version, Velaminim), was added later when the main Torah center was located in Yavneh after the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash, about 400 years after the original Shemoneh Esrei had been written (Brachos 28b).

Standardized versus subjective prayer

Tefillah includes both standardized and individualized prayers. This article will discuss both types of prayer.

People often ask why our prayers are so highly structured, rather than having each individual create his own prayer. This question is raised already by the early commentators, and there are a variety of excellent answers. One of the answers is that it is far more meaningful to pray using a text that was written by prophets and great Torah scholars. The Anshei Keneses Hagedolah, who authored the Shemoneh Esrei, included among its membership some of the greatest spiritual leaders of all history and also the last prophets of the Jewish people. An additional reason is that many, if not most, individuals have difficulty in structuring prayer properly, and therefore the Shemoneh Esrei facilitates the individual’s fulfilling the Torah’s mitzvah of prayer by providing him with a beautifully structured prayer (Rambam, Hilchos Tefillah 1:4).

Furthermore, our prayers are structured because of concern that when someone creates his own prayer he may request something that is harmful to a different individual or community, something that we do not want in our prayer (Kuzari 3:19). For example, someone might request that he receive a particular employment opportunity, but that prayer is harmful to another person. The Shemoneh Esrei is written in a way that it protects and beseeches on behalf of the entire Jewish community. We thereby link ourselves to the Jewish past, present and future each time we pray.

In addition, the halachos and etiquette of prayer require that one not supplicate without first praising Hashem, and that the prayer conclude with acknowledgement and thanks. When Moshe Rabbeinu begged Hashem to allow him to enter the Chosen Land, he introduced his entreaty with praise of Hashem. From this we derive that all prayer must be introduced with praise. We also learn that, after one makes his requests, he should close his prayer with thanks to Hashem. All these aspects of prayer are incorporated into the Shemoneh Esrei and may be forgotten by someone composing his own prayer.

When may I entreat?

There are several places in the organized prayer where one may include personal entreaties, such as during the brocha that begins with the words Shema koleinu (Rambam, Hilchos Tefillah 1:9). In addition to these different places in the Shemoneh Esrei, after one has completed Hamevarech es amo Yisroel bashalom, which is basically the end of Shemoneh Esrei, is an ideal place to add one’s own personal prayer requests. The Gemara (Brachos 16b-17a) lists many tefillos that different tanna’im and amoraim added in this place on a regular basis. Several of these prayers have been incorporated into different places in our davening – for example, the yehi ratzon prayer recited by Ashkenazim as the beginning of Rosh Chodesh bensching was originally the prayer that the amora Rav recited at the conclusion of his daily prayer.

Two of the prayers quoted in the Gemara Brachos form the basis of the prayer that begins with the words Elokai, netzor leshoni meira, “My G-d, protect my tongue from evil,” which has now become a standard part of our daily prayer. This prayer, customarily recited after Hamevarech es amo Yisrael bashalom and before taking three steps back to end the prayer, was not introduced by the Anshei Keneses Hagedolah, and, indeed, is not even halachically required. This prayer contains voluntary, personal entreaties that became standard practice. One is free to add to them, delete them, or recite other supplications instead.

The questions quoted as the introduction to our article relate to the laws that apply to the end of our daily prayer, the Shemoneh Esrei. Chazal established rules governing when we are permitted to interrupt different parts of our davening and for what purposes. Thus, there is discussion in the Mishnah and the Gemara concerning what comprises a legitimate reason to interrupt while reciting the blessings that surround the Shema or during Hallel. However, the status and laws germane to interrupting the supplications one recites at the end of the Shemoneh Esrei are not mentioned explicitly in the Mishnah or the Gemara. Rather, there is ample discussion germane to this issue among the rishonim and the later authorities. This article will provide background information that explains which rules are applied here, when they are applied and why.

Introducing and concluding our prayer

The Gemara (Brachos 4b and 9b) teaches that the Shemoneh Esrei must be introduced by quoting the following verse, Hashem, sefasei tiftach ufi yagid tehilasecha, “G-d, open my lips so that my mouth can recite Your praise” (Tehillim 51:17). The Shemoneh Esrei should be concluded with the verse Yi’he’yu leratzon imfrei fi vehegyon libi lifanecha, Hashem tzuri vego’ali, “The words of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart should be acceptable before You, G-d, Who is my Rock and my Redeemer” (Tehillim 19:15). These two verses are considered an extension of the Shemoneh Esrei (tefillah arichta), a status that affects several halachos, some of which we will soon see.

Before or after Yi’he’yu Leratzon?

The first question we need to discuss is whether personal supplications recited after the completion of the Shemoneh Esrei should be included before one recites Yi’he’yu Leratzon or afterwards. When the Gemara rules that one should recite Yi’he’yu Leratzon after completing the Shemoneh Esrei, does this mean that one should recite this sentence before one recites personal requests?

This matter is debated by the rishonim. The Raavad prohibits uttering anything between the closing of the brocha, Hamevarech es amo Yisroel bashalom, and the recital of the verse Yi’he’yu Leratzon. In his opinion, reciting any supplication or praise at this point is a violation of the Gemara’s ruling, which implies that one must recite Yi’he’yu Leratzon immediately after completing the 19 brachos of the Shemoneh Esrei. This approach is quoted and accepted by the Rashba (Brachos 17a).

On the other hand, Rabbeinu Yonah (page 20a of the Rif, Brachos) notes that even in the middle of the Shemoneh Esrei one may insert personal supplications – therefore, inserting personal requests before Yi’he’yu Leratzon is also not a hefsek, an unacceptable interruption.

Yet a third opinion, that of the Vilna Gaon, is that it is preferable to recite supplications before reciting Yi’he’yu Leratzon.

What about Kedushah?

The later authorities discuss the following issue: According to the conclusion of Rabbeinu Yonah, who permits reciting personal supplications before one has recited Yi’he’yu Leratzon, may one also answer the responses to Kedushah, Kaddish, and Borchu before one has said this verse?

The Rama (Orach Chayim 122:1) rules that since one may insert personal requests before Yi’he’yu Leratzon, one may also answer Kedushah or Kaddish. Many disagree with the Rama concerning this point, contending that although inserting a prayer prior to reciting Yi’he’yu Leratzon does not constitute a hefsek, one may not insert praise at this point (Divrei Chamudos, Brachos 1:54; Pri Chodosh, Orach Chayim 122:1). Their position is that one may insert entreaties at many places in the Shemoneh Esrei, but adding anything else that is unauthorized, even praise, constitutes a hefsek. It is for this reason that someone in the middle of the Shemoneh Esrei may not answer Kedushah or the other important congregational responses.

The straightforward reading of the Tur agrees with the Rama’s understanding of the topic (Maamar Mordechai; Aruch Hashulchan 122:6; although we should note that the Bach did not understand the Tur this way.)

To sum up

Thus far, I have mentioned three approaches regarding what one may recite after having completed Hamevarech es amo Yisrael bashalom, but before one has said Yi’he’yu Leratzon.

(1) One may not insert anything (Raavad and Rashba).

(2) One may insert a personal supplication, but one may not answer Kaddish or Kedushah (Rabbeinu Yonah, as understood by Divrei Chamudos and Pri Chodosh).

(3) One may even answer Kaddish or Kedushah (Rabbeinu Yonah, as understood by Rama).

How do we rule?

Among the early codifiers we find all three approaches quoted:

(1) The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 122:1, 2) and the Bach conclude, like the Rashba and Raavad, that one may not insert or recite anything prior to saying Yi’he’yu Leratzon.

(2) The Divrei Chamudos rules that one may recite personal supplications before one says Yi’he’yu Leratzon, but one may not answer Kedushah or Kaddish.

(3) The Rama permits even answering Kedushah or Kaddish before saying Yi’he’yu Leratzon. This is the approach that the Mishnah Berurah (122:2) considers to be the primary one and it is also the way the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (18:15) rules.

The Rama mentions that some communities had the custom of not reciting Yi’he’yu Leratzon until after they completed saying Elokai Netzor and whatever other personal supplications the individual chose to recite. Notwithstanding this custom, many authorities suggest reciting Yi’he’yu Leratzon immediately after completing the words Hamevarech es amo Yisrael bashalom, since this procedure allows someone to answer Kedushah according to all opinions and avoids any halachic controversy (Divrei Chamudos; Magen Avraham). However, according to the opinion of the Gra, mentioned above, this is not the preferable way to add one’s personal supplications to the tefillah.

At this point, we can address the first question asked above:

“The other day, I was finishing Shemoneh Esrei as the chazzan began Kedushah, but I had not yet recited the sentence beginning the words Yi’he’yu Leratzon when the tzibur was already reciting Kodosh, kodosh, kodosh. Should I have answered Kedushah without having first said Yi’he’yu Leratzon?”

Most Ashkenazic authorities conclude that one who has not yet recited Yi’he’yu Leratzon may answer the first two responses of Kedushah, that is, Kodosh. kodosh, kodosh and Baruch kevod Hashem mimkomo. Sefardic authorities, who follow the ruling of the Rashba and the Shulchan Aruch, prohibit responding before saying Yi’he’yu Leratzon.

Notwithstanding that most Ashkenazic authorities conclude that one may answer the first two responses of Kedushah before one has said Yi’he’yu Leratzon, they still prefer that one recite Yi’he’yu Leratzon immediately after closing the brocha Hamevarech es amo Yisrael bashalom. Nevertheless, this last issue is still disputed, since the Gra rules that one should delay reciting Yi’he’yu Leratzon until one finishes one’s supplications. In other words, whatever one chooses to do, he will be right with the Jews.

For Part II of this article, click here.

 

Starting Shabbos Early

sunsetQuestion #1: Asking for help

“If I accepted Shabbos early, may I ask my neighbor, who is beginning Shabbos at the regular time, to turn on a light?”

Question #2: Very early Shabbos

“How early can I begin Shabbos?”

Question #3: 18 versus 20

“Some communities schedule candle lighting 18 minutes before sunset on Friday, whereas others schedule it 20 minutes before sunset. Is there a halachic reason for the difference?”

Question #4: Some like it late

“If all the shullen in my neighborhood make Shabbos early, am I obligated to do so?”

Answer:

All the questions above involve a mitzvah called tosefes Shabbos, the halachic requirement to begin observing Shabbos before the day has yet arrived and, also, to continue observing Shabbos for some time after the day is over on Saturday night. The early authorities discuss whether tosefes Shabbos requires one to begin Shabbos a specific amount before the set hour, or whether it is left to the individual’s discretion to decide how much extra time one treats as Shabbos (Tosafos, Beitzah 30a s.v. Deha; cf. Toras Ha’adam page 252).

Why eighteen minutes?

There are different customs regulating how many minutes before sunset one should kindle the Shabbos lights. Most places today establish the official time as at least eighteen minutes before sunset. The reason for this is because there are opinions that Shabbos begins between 13½ and 18 minutes before sunset (Sefer Yere’im; see Mishnah Berurah 261:23 and Shaar Hatziyun ad locum). This approach is based on a method of understanding the Talmudic passages regarding the scientific phenomena that define the end of the day. Kindling Shabbos lights at least eighteen minutes before sunset accomplishes three things.

  1. It prevents one from doing melachah, even according to the opinion of the Sefer Yere’im.
  2. It guarantees that one fulfills the mitzvah of tosefes Shabbos.
  3. It provides time to prepare for the arrival of the sanctity of Shabbos.

18 versus 20

At this point, we can already address one of our opening questions:

“Some communities schedule candle lighting 18 minutes before sunset on Friday, whereas others schedule it 20 minutes before sunset. Is there a halachic reason for the difference?”

In order to fully accommodate the Yere’im’s opinion, some authorities contend that one should kindle the Shabbos lights before eighteen minutes prior to sunset, so that there is tosefes Shabbos, even according to those who understand that he held that Shabbos enters eighteen minutes before sunset (Mishnah Berurah 261:23 and Shaar Hatizyun). This is why many communities schedule candle lighting twenty minutes before sunset — the extra two minutes fulfill the mitzvah of tosefes Shabbos, even according to the most stringent position. Those who schedule candle-lighting for exactly eighteen minutes accept that this fulfills the vast majority of halachic opinions and all the major accepted approaches.

How does someone accept Shabbos?

Women usually accept Shabbos when they kindle the Shabbos candles. There is a difference between Ashkenazic and Sefardic practice as to how this is done. Ashkenazim assume that a woman accepts Shabbos when she recites the blessing on the kindling. Therefore, an Ashkenazic woman kindles her Shabbos lights before she recites the blessing, since, once she recites the blessings, she has accepted Shabbos and cannot light the candles or lamps. To accomplish having the brocha recited before the mitzvah, the Rema (Orach Chayim 263:5) advises that she block the light from herself with her hand. The common practice is that she covers her eyes with her hands while reciting the brocha and upon completing the brocha removes her hands, so that she can see and benefit from the kindled Shabbos lights.

Sefardic women recite the brocha of lehadlik neir shel Shabbos and then kindle the lights. They assume that she accepts Shabbos when she completes kindling the lights. Therefore, many have the practice that she does not extinguish the match with which she kindles the Shabbos lights, but instead places the match down so that it goes out by itself (see Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 263:10).

Both Sefardic and Ashkenazic women should recite the minchah prayers before lighting the candles, since once one has accepted Shabbos, one can no longer daven the weekday Friday minchah. However, if the day is drawing to a close and the candles still stand unkindled, one should kindle the Shabbos lights, even though, as a result, one will be unable to daven minchah (Mishnah Berurah 263:43). If this happens, a woman should daven maariv that night, and, immediately upon backing up the steps to complete “shemoneh esrei,” she should wait a few seconds, and then step forward to recite the same shemoneh esrei a second time (ibid.). This second prayer is a tefilas tashlumim, a make-up prayer, to replace the minchah that was missed (Brachos 26a). Reciting the Shabbos maariv amidah prayer a second time qualifies as restitution for the missing tefillah, notwithstanding that it is very different from the unrecited weekday minchah.

Conditional lighting

Should a woman not want to accept Shabbos upon kindling her lights, many authorities permit her to postpone accepting Shabbos until later (see Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 263:10). This stipulation should be performed only under extenuating circumstances (Magen Avraham 263:20). After making this condition, she may kindle her lights and, sometime before sunset, she must stop doing melachah and accept Shabbos.

Several authorities rule that, should someone decide not to accept Shabbos when kindling early, someone else in the household must accept Shabbos at that time. According to one opinion, if no one accepts Shabbos when she kindles, then the brocha recited upon kindling the lights is recited in vain, a brocha levatalah (Graz 263:11; however, see Mishnah Berurah 263:20 and Rema 263:10). However, if she herself will be accepting Shabbos within eight to ten minutes of her kindling, it is not necessary for someone else to accept Shabbos immediately after she kindles the lights (Shu’t Tzitz Eliezer 11:21).

Example:

For example, a family will be eating the Friday night meal at someone else’s house, and it is difficult for the lady of the house to walk both ways. She may decide that she is not accepting Shabbos when she kindles the lights and then travel by automobile (obviously before Shabbos) to the home where they are eating the seudah.

How do men accept Shabbos?

Even when men kindle Shabbos lights, they usually do not accept Shabbos at that time, but during the davening. The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 261:4) rules that reciting Borchu or Mizmor shir leyom haShabbos qualifies as accepting Shabbos. The Magen Avraham (ad locum) disagrees with the latter ruling, contending that people routinely do melachah after reciting Mizmor shir leyom haShabbos. This means that people do not consider reciting it to be a declaration that one is accepting Shabbos. The later authorities explain that, in the time of the Magen Avraham, people made an implied condition not to accept Shabbos when they said Mizmor shir leyom haShabbos, and that was why they continued to do melachah after reciting it. However, in the time of the later acharonim, such as the Pri Megadim, people accepted Shabbos upon reciting Mizmor shir and refrained from doing melachah from that point. Other authorities ruled that completing the song of Lecha Dodi, which closes with a welcoming of the Shabbos Queen, constitutes accepting Shabbos, and that, therefore, one is prohibited from doing melachah from then (Mishnah Berurah 261:31 quoting Derech Chachmah).

The early bird catches

How early may someone accept Shabbos and kindle lights? This question is already mentioned by the Gemara (Shabbos 23b) in the following passage:

Rav Yosef’s wife would delay lighting Shabbos lights until it was almost Shabbos. Rav Yosef admonished her, pointing out that in the Desert, the pillar of light that came at night arrived before the day ended. Thus, it is appropriate that the light for night should be kindled while it is still daytime.

Taking the admonition seriously, in a later week Rav Yosef’s rebbitzen decided to kindle the lights very early. An old man, possibly an incarnate of Eliyahu Hanavi (see Tosafos, Chullin 6a s.v. Ashkechei), told her that kindling too early is also not halachically correct (Shabbos 23b).

The Ran notes that the Gemara’s anecdote requires explanation. How close to Shabbos could Rebbitzen Yosef have been lighting that her husband felt it appropriate to correct her? She certainly did not kindle the lights at a time when it was questionably Shabbos, and, certainly, she also observed tosefes Shabbos correctly. If so, she was kindling at the correct time, so why was Rav Yosef admonishing her?

The Ran explains that Rebbitzen Yosef opined that kindling the lights is meant to sserve Shabbos and, as such, should be conducted as close to Shabbos as possible. In other words, although one should not perform any melachah during tosefes Shabbos, she mistakenly thought that kindling the Shabbos lights is an exception that could and should be done immediately before Shabbos. Rav Yosef corrected her, pointing out that tosefes Shabbos applies also to kindling the Shabbos lights.

Having accepted Rav Yosef’s admonition, she now felt that she should make sure to kindle her Shabbos lights before she finished her other last minute Shabbos preparations. This was also not correct – the kindling should be the last melachah activity performed before one accepts Shabbos.

How early is too early?

Some of the rishonim rule that one can kindle as early as plag haminchah, provided that, when doing so, one accepts upon himself the sanctity of Shabbos (Tur, Orach Chayim 267; Rabbeinu Yerucham, Tolados Adam Vechavah 12:2). Accepting Shabbos after kindling early is necessary in order to demonstrate that the kindling is for Shabbos. This is the ruling accepted by the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 263:4) and later authorities.

When is plag haminchah? Plag haminchah is the earliest time of day that one may daven maariv. It is definitely before sunset — the Gemara explains that plag haminchah is 43/48 of the day. This means that if one divides the daylight part of the day into 48 quarter-hours, counting back 5 of these quarter-hours from the end of the day is plag haminchah.

When does the day begin and end?

There is a major dispute among authorities whether these hours are calculated from alos hashachar, halachic dawn, which is halachically the beginning of the day, to tzeis hakochavim, when the stars appear, or whether they are calculated from sunrise to sunset. Accepted contemporary practice follows the opinion that plag haminchah is measured from sunrise to sunset, which makes plag haminchah in the summer about 1½ hours before sunset (Levush, Orach Chayim 267; Gra, to Orach Chayim 459:2; Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chayim 261:10).

Why no kindling earlier?

Why is it prohibited to kindle the Shabbos lights before plag?

Rashi (Shabbos 23b) explains that if one kindles the lights too early, it is not noticeable that one is kindling the lights for Shabbos. This implies that the reason one cannot light Shabbos lights this early has nothing to do with accepting Shabbos early – one can accept Shabbos as early as one wants. The problem is that one who kindles Shabbos lights this early does not properly fulfill his mitzvah of kindling lights in honor of Shabbos. Thus, the Aruch Hashulchan (263:19) assumes that although one may not kindle Shabbos lights earlier than plag haminchah, someone who accepted Shabbos earlier is required to begin observing Shabbos.

However, other early authorities (Tur, Orach Chayim 267) imply that it is impossible to accept tosefes Shabbos earlier than plag haminchah, and this is the approach accepted by the Magen Avraham (261:10) and the Mishnah Berurah (261:25). In their opinion, if someone accepted Shabbos upon himself before plag haminchah, it has no effect.

An earlier authority seems to agree fully with the position of the Aruch Hashulchan. The Terumas Hadeshen, who lived in 14th century Austria, records the following question:

“In most communities, they daven maariv in the long summer days three or four hours before the stars appear. Is there any halachic basis for this practice, particularly since many talmidei chachamim follow it?”

The Terumas Hadeshen then endeavors to explain why communities davened maariv this early, suggesting that people could not wait until it got dark to eat the Shabbos meals. One way to avoid this would be to eat a meal before minchah, but this practice was not followed out of concern that people would make this into their Shabbos meal and not attend shul later. The Terumas Hadeshen notes that, precisely for this reason, many halachic authorities prohibit eating even a small meal before one has davened minchah, even if one eats the meal very early in the afternoon (after minchah gedolah). Because people found it difficult to eat so late on Friday evening, the custom developed of davening the Friday night Shabbos prayers very early. He then quotes a few authorities who held that this may not be done, but they did not stop the practice. He then recounts a story of a city, whose rav was one of the gedolei Yisrael, where they davened so early that, after davening and the seudah, there was ample time for the entire community to go for a walk on the bank of the local river, the Danube, by daylight and return home before dark! Although he does not provide a halachic basis to permit davening this early, nevertheless, he concludes that a talmid chacham may join the tzibur and daven with them, if he is unable to influence them to daven later.

There are some other curious questions about this practice of davening very early that the Terumas Hadeshen does not address:

How could they accept Shabbos before plag haminchah?

How could they kindle Shabbos lights before plag?

It seems that the Terumas Hadeshen held that, since they were accepting Shabbos immediately after kindling the lights, there is no problem with kindling the Shabbos lights early, or with accepting Shabbos this early.

Asking for help

At this point, we can address another of our opening questions: “If I accepted Shabbos early, may I ask my neighbor, who is beginning Shabbos at the regular time, to turn on a light?”

The Rashba (Shabbos 151a) rules that someone who already accepted Shabbos may ask someone who did not yet accept Shabbos to do melachah. Accepting Shabbos early does not forbid me from asking someone else to do work (Magen Avraham 263:30). The Magen Avraham (261:7) rules that if the entire community accepted Shabbos, one may no longer ask another Jew to do work for him, but he may ask a gentile to do work (see also Rema, Orach Chayim 261:1).

Some like it late

We are now ready to discuss the next question: “If all the shullen in my neighborhood make Shabbos early, am I obligated to do so?”

Some rishonim rule that once a community began davening maariv Friday night, all individuals in that community are obligated to observe Shabbos (Mordechai, Shabbos #298, quoting Rivam). This approach is followed by the Shulchan Aruch as normative halachah (Orach Chayim 263:12); however, the ruling is true only if every shul in the community has already accepted Shabbos, or if every shul that this person usually attends has already accepted Shabbos (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 3:38). Some authorities suggest that if everyone is accepting Shabbos early only because it is convenient, but not because they want to be more machmir, an individual may not be bound to accept Shabbos when they do (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 3:38).

Early hubby

If a husband davens at an early minyan, must his wife began observing Shabbos as soon as he does, or can she wait until he returns home from shul?

Rav Moshe Feinstein rules that the fact that a husband was mekabeil Shabbos does not require his wife to do so, just as his making a personal vow or oath is not binding on her (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 3:38; cf. Shu’t Shevet Halevi 7:35, who disagrees). He discusses, at length, whether it is permitted for her to do melachah activities for her husband after he was mekabeil Shabbos, and concludes that it is proper that she does not.

Conclusion

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch (Shemos 20:10) notes that people mistakenly think that work is prohibited on Shabbos in order to provide a day of rest. This is incorrect, he points out, because the Torah does not prohibit doing avodah, which connotes hard work, but melachah, which implies work with purpose and accomplishment. On Shabbos, we refrain from altering the world with our own creative acts and, instead, emphasize Hashem’s role (Shemos 20:11). We thereby acknowledge the true Builder and Creator of the world and all that it contains.

 

Rav Yehudah Hachassid and His Shidduchin II

quill and paperIn a previous article, we discussed the writings of Rav Yehudah Hachassid, who prohibited or advised against many potential marriages that are otherwise perfectly acceptable according to halachah. But first some background on the chassidei Ashkenaz.

Who was Rav Shmuel Hachassid?

Rav Yehudah Hachassid’s father, known as Rav Shmuel Hachassid, was a very righteous individual who was a great mekubal, one of the baalei Tosafos, and a highly-respected leader of twelfth century Ashkenazic Jewry. Because of his great levels of righteousness, Rav Shmuel Hachassid was also sometimes called Rav Shmuel Hakadosh or Rav Shmuel Hanavi.

Rav Shmuel Hachassid was born in Speyer, one of the bastions of Torah that then existed on the banks of the Rhine River. (People whose family name is Shapiro and its various pronunciations and spellings are probably descended from someone who lived in Speyer; you might be progeny of either Rav Shmuel or Rav Yehudah Hachassid.) Rav Shmuel was the rabbinic leader of the community in Speyer and the head of a yeshivah. He was also the repository of much kabbalistic knowledge, both oral and written, that had been handed down from the generations of great Ashkenazic leaders before him, including many great baalei kabbalah. He became the recognized leader of a scholarly movement whose members were called the Chassidei Ashkenaz, individuals who lived their lives in an other-worldly existence, devoted exclusively to Torah and growth in yiras shamayim. The lengthy Shir Hayichud, recited in many congregations in its entirety after davening on Kol Nidrei evening, is attributed to Rav Shmuel Hachassid.

One of Rav Shmuel’s sons was Rav Yehudah Hachassid, who was born in approximately 4910 (1150). Rav Yehudah Hachassid is also one of the baalei Tosafos, and is quoted several times in the Tosafos printed in the margins of our Gemara (for example, Tosafos, Bava Metzia 5b, s.v. Dechashid; Kesuvos 18b, s.v. Uvekulei). Rav Yehudah Hachassid’s students included a number of famous rishonim who are themselves baalei Tosafos, such as Rav Yitzchok Or Zarua, Rav Elazar ben Rav Yehudah (the Rokeach), Rav Moshe of Coucy (the Semag), and Rav Baruch ben Rav Yitzchok (the Sefer Haterumah).

Rav Yehudah Hachassid also continued his father’s role as the head of the Chassidei Ashkenaz. He followed what we would consider an ascetic relationship to this world. For example, he fasted all day the entire week, eating only in the evenings. His disciple, the Or Zarua, records that Rav Yehudah Hachassid, fasted two days Yom Kippur (Hilchos Yom Kippur, end of #281).

Rav Yehudah Hachassid also authored works on kabbalah and is commonly attributed as the author of the poem Anim Zemiros, sung in many shullen at the end of Shabbos davening. He was also the source of works that can be easily read by the layman, two of which, the Sefer Chassidim and the Tzavaas [the ethical will of] Rav Yehudah Hachassid, are the subjects of today’s article. The Sefer Chassidim includes halacha, minhag, mussar, and commentary on tefillah. This work is mentioned numerous times by the later halachic authorities, as are many of the instructions in his tzavaah. As we will soon discuss, there is some question as to whether he actually wrote the tzavaah or whether he transmitted its content orally and it was recorded by his children or disciples. Rav Yehudah Hachassid graduated to olam haba on Taanis Esther, 4977 (1217), in Regensburg, Germany.

The tzavaah of Rav Yehudah Hachassid

In his ethical will, Rav Yehudah Hachassid prohibits and/or advises against a vast array of practices for which he is the earliest, and sometimes the only, halachic source. Why did Rav Yehudah Hachassid prohibit these actions? Although we are not certain, because he offered no explanation, many later authorities assume that, in most instances, these were practices that Rav Yehudah Hachassid realized are dangerous because of kabbalistic reasons. Rav Shneur Zalman of Liadi (the first Lubavitcher Rebbe, author of Shulchan Aruch Harav and Tanya) is quoted as having said that to understand one of Rav Yehudah Hachassid’s statements in his tzava’ah would require a work the size of the Shelah, a classic of halachah, kabbalah and musar that is hundreds of pages long.

Reasons for the injunctions

Although the considerations behind Rav Yehudah Hachassid’s rulings have been lost to us, several Acharonim proposed various reasons for one of his rulings, that a chosson and his father-in-law or a kallah and her mother-in-law should not share the same given name:

1) Some Acharonim maintain that the prohibitions are in order to avoid ayin hara. Due to the novelty, people would be more apt to talk about such a shidduch and cause an ayin hara (Chida, Peirush Lesefer Chassidim #477; Heishiv Moshe #19; Pri Hasadeh, vol. I, #69).

2) Others contend that if the kallah has the same name as the chosson’s mother, the chosson will be unable to fulfill the mitzvah of kibbud eim when his mother dies, since he will not be able to name a child after her (Maharil #17).

3) Another explanation is that it will cause a lack of respect towards the parents. If the chosson’s name is the same as the kallah’s father, she will inevitably use her husband’s name in her father’s presence (Even Haroshah #31).

The responsum of the Noda Biyehudah

In my earlier article, I mentioned the responsum of the Noda Biyehudah (Shu’t Even Ha’ezer II #79), who explains that the shidduchin that Rav Yehudah Hachassid discouraged are concerns only for his descendants. The Noda Biyehudah also holds that Rav Yehudah Hachassid’s concerns apply only to birth names or names given to sons at their bris, but do not apply to any name changes that take place afterwards. And most importantly, the Noda Biyehudah feels that it is more important to marry off one’s daughter to a talmid chacham than to be concerned about names.

Double whammy

The Chasam Sofer (Shu’t Even Ha’ezer, end of #116) was asked by Rav Shmuel, the av beis din of Balkan, concerning a highly scholarly and qualified bachur whose first name was the same as the father of the girl that was suggested, and whose mother carried the same name as the girl. The Chasam Sofer permitted this shidduch, providing two reasons not cited by the Noda Biyehudah:

The Gemara (Pesachim 110b) explains that sheidim, evil spirits, are concerned only about people who are afraid of them, but that someone not troubled by them will suffer no harm. The Chasam Sofer reasons that the prohibitions of Rav Yehudah Hachassid apply only to people who are concerned about them.

Other authorities accept this conclusion of the Chasam Sofer. For example, after providing an extensive discussion on all the rules of Rav Yehudah Hachassid, the Sdei Chemed (Volume 7, page 20) notes that when he assumed his position as the rav of the Crimea, he discovered that the local populace did not observe any of the rules of Rav Yehudah Hachassid. The Sdei Chemed, who himself was concerned about all of these rules, writes that he thought about mentioning these matters to his community. He subsequently decided against it, reasoning that no harm will come to someone who is not apprehensive.

Following this same approach, Rav Moshe Feinstein rules that such a shidduch should be prevented only if the couple getting married is concerned that one of them shares a name with his or her future parent-in-law. However, if the marrying couple is not disturbed about violating the rules of Rav Yehudah Hachassid, one may proceed with the marriage, even if the parents are — the concern of a parent will not bring harm upon the couple (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Even Ha’ezer 1:4). Similarly, I found a different authority who rules that when the couple makes the shidduch themselves, there is no concern for the rules of Rav Yehudah Hachassid (Sdei Chemed Volume 7, page 21, quoting Heishiv Moshe).

It is reported that someone asked the Chazon Ish regarding a shidduch where the prospective kallah had the same name as the mother of the suggested young man. The Chazon Ish asked the prospective chosson whether he was apprehensive about this. When he responded that he was not at all concerned, the Chazon Ish told him that he could proceed (Pe’er Hador, vol. IV, pg. 90).

It is interesting to note that in another instance, someone asked the Chazon Ish about a situation where the prospective chosson had the same name as the prospective kallah’s father. The Chazon Ish ruled that as long as they do not live in the same city, they could go through with the shidduch. He explained that the whole reason beyond these rulings of Rav Yehuda Hachassid is ayin hara – people should not say “Here are the two Yankels.” However, if they live in different cities, people will not talk about them (Ma’aseh Ish pg. 215).

Others, however, view Rav Yehudah Hachassid’s prohibition differently. For example, some question whether a man whose mother is deceased may marry a woman who has the same name as his late mother. It would seem that, according to most of the reasons mentioned above, one may proceed with this shidduch. Nevertheless, some authorities are opposed, which indicates that they do not accept the reasons cited above (Kaf Hachayim, Yoreh Deah 116:127).

Two versions

Returning to the responsum of the Chasam Sofer, he mentions another reason to be lenient, which requires some explanation. Regarding the concern that a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, or a son-in-law and father-in-law not share the same name, we find that the two sources attributed to Rav Yehudah Hachassid, the Sefer Chassidim and the tzava’ah, quote different versions of the prohibition. Whereas the tzava’ah states that a man should not marry a woman whose father shares his name, and a woman should not marry a man whose mother shares her given name, the text in the Sefer Chassidim (Chapter 477) states that if a man married a woman named Rivkah whose son also married a woman named Rivkah, then the grandson (the son’s son) should not marry a girl named Rivkah. The version quoted in Sefer Chassidim seems unconcerned about a man marrying a woman who shares his mother’s name or about a woman marrying a man with her father’s name. The Chasam Sofer concludes that the tzava’ah of Rav Yehudah Hachassid should also be understood this way.

Similar to the comment of the Chasam Sofer, the Chachmas Odom (123:13) notes that Rav Yehudah Hachassid clearly meant the same in both places, and that the Sefer Chassidim is written more accurately. Therefore, these two great authorities rule that even Rav Yehudah Hachassid was never concerned about a woman marrying someone whose mother shares her name, or a man marrying a woman whose father shares his.

Other lenient reasons

Although these three authorities, the Noda Biyehudah, the Chasam Sofer and the Chachmas Odom, are basically not concerned with the commonly understood application of Rav Yehudah Hachassid’s tzava’ah, other authorities are concerned, but provide additional reasons and applications when the concerns of Rav Yehudah Hachassid do not apply. Some mention that one need not be concerned where the two parties spell their names differently, even when they pronounce the name the same way (quoted in Sdei Chemed, Volume 7, page 17). However, the Sdei Chemed (Volume 7, page 20) concludes that the spelling should make no difference: either way, one should be concerned.

Variances of the name

The Kaf Hachayim (Yoreh Deah 116:12) mentions a dispute whether there is a concern when the mother-in-law and daughter-in-law have somewhat different names. For example, may a woman named Rivkah Rachel marry a man whose mother’s name is Rachel, since their names are not identical? Some feel that this is relevant when the woman now being considered for the shidduch is called Rivkah, but does not provide any basis for lenience if, indeed, she uses Rachel regularly as part of her name. According to this opinion, if she chooses to add another name to avoid the concern of Rav Yehudah Hachassid, she should be called only by the new name (Kaf Hachayim, Yoreh Deah 116:126).

Similarly, some rule that if the son-in-law is known by two different names, some people calling him by one name and others by a different name, there is no concern if the potential father-in-law has one of these names (see Sdei Chemed Volume 7, pages 17).

On the other hand, Rav Moshe Feinstein rules there is concern only if the full given names of both the mother-in-law and daughter-in-law (or the father-in-law and son-in-law) are identical. Prevalent practice follows this approach. An example is that my rosh yeshivah Rav Yaakov Yitzchak Ruderman, was not concerned that his daughter marry Rav Shmuel Yaakov Weinberg, notwithstanding that both father-in-law and son-in-law used the named Yaakov alone as their primary name.

Different English names

Rav Moshe Feinstein rules that if the father-in-law and son-in-law (or mother-in-law and daughter-in-law) have different English names, there is no concern, even if they share identical Hebrew names.

Changing the name

Some earlier authorities suggest that the chosson or the kallah change their name or add to it. For example, when someone asked the Chasam Sofer about having his daughter marry someone who shares his name, he advised them to have the chosson change his name (Pischei Teshuvah, Even Ha’ezer 2:7, in the name of the Kerem Shlomo).

Rav Moshe Feinstein accepted this approach of the Chasam Sofer in theory. However, in a responsum on the topic, he wrote not to rely on changing the name since, at the time and place that he wrote his teshuvah, people would continue to use the original name. A name change means that the person is now called by the new name.

Stricter approaches

There are, however, other authorities who are more concerned about violating the instructions of Rav Yehudah Hachassid and challenge or ignore the above heterim (quoted in Sdei Chemed Volume 7, pages 17 ff. ; Kaf Hachayim, Yoreh Deah 116:125).

In conclusion

I leave it to the individual to discuss with his or her posek whether or not to pursue a particular shidduch because of an identical name or a different concern raised by Rav Yehudah Hachassid. Of course, we all realize that the most important factor is davening, asking Hashem to provide the appropriate shidduch quickly.

Rav Yehudah Hachassid and His Shidduchin

quill and paperAt the end of our parsha, Yaakov is sent eastward to look for a shidduch. This provides an opportunity to discuss:

Rav Yehudah Hachassid and His Shidduchin

Question #1: A Shidduch Crisis

“My husband’s name is Chayim Shelomoh, and an excellent shidduch possibility was just suggested for my daughter. However, the bachur’s name was originally Shelomoh, but as a child, he was ill and they added the name Chayim before Shelomoh. May we proceed with this shidduch?”

Question #2: Must we turn down this shidduch?

“My wife’s name is Rivkah, and we were just suggested an excellent shidduch for my son, but the girl’s name is Esther Rivkah. Must we turn down the shidduch?”

Answer:

Both of these questions relate to rules that are not based on Talmudic sources, but on the writings of Rav Yehudah Hachassid, who prohibited or advised against many potential marriages that are, otherwise, perfectly acceptable according to halachah. But before we even discuss the writings of Rav Yehudah Hachassid, let us discover who he was and why his opinion carries so much weight.

Who was Rav Yehudah Hachassid?

Well, to complicate matters a bit, there were two people in Jewish history who were called Rav Yehudah Hachassid. These two individuals lived hundreds of years apart, and, to the best of my knowledge, had no known connection to one another, other than that they were both esteemed Ashkenazic leaders in their respective generations. The Rav Yehudah Hachassid of the seventeenth century, famed as the builder of a shul in the Old City of Jerusalem, now called the churva shul, spearheaded the first “modern” effort to establish an Ashkenazi community in the holy city. Although this failed attempt had political and practical ramifications that lasted until the middle of the twentieth century, I have never heard him blamed for the blocking of a potential shidduch.

On the other hand, the much earlier Rav Yehudah Hachassid, whose writings and rulings will be discussed in this article, was a great posek and mekubal, whose halachic decisions and advice have been extensively followed by both Ashkenazim and Sefardim.

Rav Yehudah Hachassid, who was born in approximately 4910 (1150), is quoted several times in the Tosafos printed in our Gemara (for example, Tosafos, Bava Metzia 5b, s.v. Dechashid and Kesuvos 18b, s.v. Uvekulei). Rav Yehudah’s students included a number of famous rishonim who are themselves Baalei Tosafos, such as the Or Zarua, the Rokeach, the Semag, and the Sefer Haterumah.

Rav Yehudah Hachassid was the head of a select group of mekubalim called the Chassidei Ashkenaz. He authored numerous works on kabbalah and was the author of the poem Anim Zemiros, sung in many shullen at the end of Shabbos davening. Two works of his are intended for use by the common laymen, the Sefer Chassidim and the Tzavaas [the ethical will of] Rav Yehudah Hachassid, and these mention the subject of today’s article.

The tzava’ah of Rav Yehudah Hachassid

I am not going to list everything in Rav Yehudah Hachassid’s tzava’ah, but, instead, will simply cite some of the practices that he prohibits.

A man should not marry a woman who has the same name as his mother, nor should he marry a woman whose father has the same name that he has. Rav Yehudah Hachassid closes by saying: if people violated these instructions, one of the parties with the name in common should change his/her name — perhaps this will provide some hope. He does not specify what the harm is or what the hope is for.

Two mechutanim should not have the same name.

Two mechutanim should not make two shidduchim, a son with a daughter and a daughter with a son.

One should not marry one’s niece, either his brother’s daughter or his sister’s daughter.

A father and son should not marry two sisters.

Two brothers should not marry two sisters, nor should they marry a mother and her daughter.

A stepbrother and a stepsister should not marry.

Two married brothers should not live in the same city.

Before we get everyone disturbed, I will share with you that many of these relationships prohibited (or advised against) by Rav Yehudah Hachassid are not recognized as binding by later authorities. For example, the Chofetz Chayim’s first rebbitzen was his step-sister: he married the daughter of his step-father, who had already married the Chofetz Chayim’s widowed mother. Similarly, I know of numerous instances in which two brothers married two sisters, without anyone being concerned about it. And the Tzemach Tzedek of Lubavitch mentions that one need not be concerned about pursuing a shidduch in which the fathers of the chosson and the kallah have the same given name (Shu’t Tzemach Tzedek, Even Ha’ezer #143).

Selective service

In most places, the only shidduchin-related rule of Rav Yehudah Hachassid that has been accepted is that a man not marry a woman who has the same given name as his mother, nor should a woman marry a man who has the same name as her father. Why is this rule more accepted than any of the others?

Early poskim note that the custom of being concerned about this was far more widespread than concern about the other prohibitions of Rav Yehudah Hachassid. They propose several reasons to explain why this is true.

One answer is because the Arizal was also concerned about a man marrying a woman whose name is the same as his mother. Yet, there is no evidence of the Ari or other authorities being concerned regarding the other rules of Rav Yehudah Hachassid (see Shu’t Mizmor Ledavid of Rav David Pardo, #116, quoted by Sdei Chemed, Volume 7, page 17; Shu’t Divrei Chayim, Even Ha’ezer #8).

Another possible reason is that the Chida writes that he, himself, saw problems result in the marriages of people who violated this specific prohibition of Rav Yehudah Hachassid.

Rav Chayim Sanzer adds that one should be concerned about this particular practice only because klal Yisroel has accepted as custom to pass up these marriages. To quote him: If the children of Israel are not prophets, they are descended from prophets, and there is an innate understanding that these shidduchin should not be made.

The responsum of the Noda Biyehudah

No discussion of the instructions of Rav Yehudah Hachassid is complete without mentioning a responsum of the Noda Biyehudah, the rav of Prague and posek hador of the eighteenth century. The Noda Biyehudah (Shu’t Even Ha’ezer II #79) discusses the following case: A shidduch was suggested for the sister-in-law of a certain Reb Dovid, a close talmid of the Noda Biyehudah, in which the proposed chosson had once had his name changed, because of illness, to the name of the girl’s father. The Noda Biyehudah replied to Reb Dovid that generally he does not discuss questions that are not based on sources in Talmud and authorities. Nevertheless, he writes that he will break his usual rules and answer the inquiry.

First, the Noda Biyehudah points out a very important halachic principle: No talmid chacham may dispute any halachic conclusion of the Gemara, whether he chooses to be lenient or stringent, and anyone who does is not to be considered a talmid chacham. Upon this basis, the Noda Biyehudah notes that we should question the entire tzava’ah of Rav Yehudah Hachassid, since the work forbids numerous practices that run counter to rulings of the Gemara. To quote the Noda Biyehudah, “We find things in Rav Yehudah Hachassid’s tzava’ah that are almost forbidden for us to hear.” The examples the Noda Biyehudah chooses include:

One should not marry one’s sister’s daughter. However, the Gemara (Yevamos 62b) rules that it is a mitzvah to do so.

Rav Yehudah Hachassid prohibited a father and son from marrying two sisters, yet we see that the great amora Rav Papa arranged the marriage of his son to his wife’s younger sister (Kesubos 52b).

Another example is that Rav Yehudah Hachassid writes that two brothers should not marry two sisters, yet the Gemara (Berachos 44a) writes approvingly of these marriages. Furthermore, the amora, Rav Chisda, arranged for his two daughters to marry two brothers, Rami bar Chamma and Ukva bar Chamma (ibid.).

Explaining Rav Yehudah Hachassid’s concern

The Noda Biyehudah continues: “However, out of esteem for Rav Yehudah Hachassid, we must explain that in his great holiness, he realized that the shidduchin he was discouraging would all be bad for his own descendants. Therefore, Rav Yehudah Hachassid’s comments do not conflict with the Gemara, since he was writing a special ruling for individuals that should not be applied to anyone else. Therefore, Reb Dovid does not need to be concerned about his sister-in-law proceeding with this shidduch.

The Noda Biyehudah presents an additional reason why Reb Dovid does not need to be concerned: Rav Yehudah Hachassid’s concerns apply only to birth names or names given to sons at their bris, but do not apply to any name changes that take place afterwards. The Noda Biyehudah rallies proofs that adding or changing a name because of illness can only help a person and cannot hurt. In addition, the Noda Biyehudah reasons that if someone was an appropriate shidduch because of his birth name, changing or adding to his name cannot now make this shidduch prohibited.

Marry a talmid chacham

Aside from the other reasons why the Noda Biyehudah feels that this shidduch can proceed, he adds another rule: It is more important for someone to marry off his daughter to a talmid chacham, which the Gemara says is the most important thing to look for in a shidduch, than to worry oneself about names, a concern that has no source in the Gemara.

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

My husband’s name is Chayim Shelomoh, and a shidduch was just suggested for my daughter of a bachur whose name was originally Shelomoh, but as a child, he was ill, and they added the name Chayim before Shelomoh. May we proceed with this shidduch?

According to the Noda Biyehudah, one may proceed with the shidduch, even if the younger Chayim Shelomoh does not qualify as a talmid chacham and even if they are descended from Rav Yehudah Hachassid, since the name Chayim was not part of his birth name.

Stricter approaches

On the other hand, there are other authorities who are more concerned about violating the instructions of Rav Yehudah Hachassid and do not mention any of the above heterim (quoted in Sdei Chemed Volume 7, pages 17- 20; Kaf Hachayim, Yoreh Deah 116:125). These authorities supply a variety of reasons why the arguments of the Noda Biyehudah do not apply. As far as the Noda Biyehudah’s statement that Rav Yehudah Hachassid could not have banned that which is expressly permitted, or even recommended, in the Gemara as a mitzvah, some respond that, although at the time of the Gemara there was no need to be concerned about the kabbalistic problems that these concerns may involve, our physical world has changed (nishtaneh hateva), and there is therefore, currently, a concern of ayin hora (quoted by Sdei Chemed page 19).

In conclusion

I leave it to the individual to discuss with his or her posek whether or not to pursue a particular shidduch because of an identical name or one of the other concerns raised by Rav Yehudah Hachassid. Of course, we all realize that the most important factor in finding a shidduch is to daven that Hashem provide the appropriate shidduch in the right time.

For the continuation of this discussion, see part II of this article.