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.

 

A Shemittah Glossary

Question #1: Shemittah or shevi’is?

“What is the difference between shemittah and shevi’is?”

Question #2: Sefichin

“What are sefichin?”

Question #3: Heter otzar beisdin

“I consider myself fairly well-educated, which may be a mistake. But I recently heard a term that I never heard before: heter otzar beis din. What does this term mean?”

Answer

Most chutz la’aretz residents are not that familiar with the laws of shemittah that will affect those who live in Eretz Yisroel every day this year. Actually, the laws can and do affect people living in chutz la’aretz, also. The main focus of this article will not be what to do, but will explain a basic glossary of shemittah-related terms.

Among the terms that we will learn are the following:

Kedushas shevi’is

Issur sechorah

Pach shevi’is

Tefisas damim

Havla’ah

Shamur

Ne’evad

Sefichin

Biur shevi’is

Heter mechirah

Otzar beis din

Heter otzar beis din

First, let us discuss the basics:

Basic laws of the land

In parshas Behar, the Torah (Vayikra 25:1-7) teaches that every seventh year is shemittah. We are prohibited from plowing, planting or working the land of Eretz Yisroel in any way and must leave our land fallow. It is even prohibited to have a gentile work a Jew’s land (Avodah Zarah 15b), just as one may not hire a gentile to do work on Shabbos that a Jew may not do. The owner of a field or orchard must treat whatever grows on his land as ownerless, allowing others to enter his field or orchard to pick, without charge, as much as their families can use. The landowner, himself, also may pick as much as his family will eat (see Rambam, Hilchos Shemittah 4:1).

The landowner should make sure that others know that they may help themselves to the produce. One may not sell the produce that does grow on its own in a business manner.

Kedushas shevi’is

The Torah declared vehoysa shabbas ha’aretz lochem le’ochlah, “the produce of the shemittah should be used only for food” (Vayikra 25:6), thereby imbuing the fruits and vegetables that grow in shemittah year with special sanctity, called kedushas shevi’is. There are many ramifications of this status. The produce that grows during shemittah year should be used only for consumption and eaten (or drunk) only in the usual way. For example, one may not cook foods that are usually eaten raw, nor may one eat raw produce that is usually cooked (Yerushalmi, Shevi’is 8:2; Rambam, Hilchos Shevi’is 5:3). One may not eat raw shemittah potatoes, nor may one cook shemittah cucumbers or oranges. It would certainly be prohibited to use shemittah corn for gasohol or any other form of biofuel.

Contemporary authorities dispute whether one may add shemittah orange or apricot to a recipe for roast or cake. Even though the fruit adds taste to the roast or cake, many poskim prohibit this cooking or baking, since these types of fruit are usually eaten raw (Shu’t Mishpat Cohen #85). Others permit this, if it is a usual way of eating these fruits (Mishpetei Aretz page 172, footnote 10).

Similarly, juicing vegetables and most kinds of fruit is considered “ruining” the shemittah produce and prohibited, although one may press grapes, olives and lemons, since the juice and oil of these fruits are considered superior to the fruit itself. Many contemporary authorities permit pressing oranges and grapefruits, provided one treats the remaining pulp with kedushas shevi’is. Even these authorities prohibit juicing most other fruit, such as apples and pears (Minchas Shelomoh, Shevi’is pg. 185).

Food and not feed

One may feed shemittah produce to animals only when it is not fit for human consumption, such as peels and seeds that people do not usually eat (Rambam, Hilchos Shemittah 5:5). Last shemittah, a neighbor of mine, or perhaps his turtle, had a problem: The turtle is fond of lettuce, and won’t eat grass. One may feed animals grass that grew during shemittah, but one may not feed it lettuce that grew in Israel during shemittah.

Jewish consumption

Shemittah produce is meant for Jewish consumption; one may not give or sell kedushas sheviis produce to a gentile, although one may invite a gentile to join you at a meal that includes shemittah food (Rambam, Hilchos Shemittah 5:13 as explained by Mahari Korkos).

Don’t destroy edibles

One may not actively destroy shemittah produce suitable for human consumption. Therefore, one who has excess shevi’is produce may not trash it in the usual way.

Although some authorities rule that there is a mitzvah to eat shemittah produce, most contend that there is no obligation to eat shemittah food – rather, the Torah permits us to eat it (Chazon Ish, Hilchos Shevi’is 14:10).

Peels that are commonly eaten, such as apple, still have kedushas shevi’is and may not simply be disposed of. Instead, we place these peels in a plastic bag and then place the bag in a small bin or box called a pach shevi’is, where it remains until the food is inedible. When it decomposes to this extent, one may dispose of the shemittah produce in the regular garbage.

Why is this so?

Once the shemittah produce can no longer be eaten, it loses its kedushas shevi’is. Although the concept that decay eliminates sanctity seems unusual, this is only because we are unfamiliar with the many mitzvos to which this principle applies. There are several other mitzvos where, in theory, this rule applies – meaning that the items have kedushah that governs how they may be consumed, but once they are no longer edible, this kedushah disappears. Examples of this rule are terumah, challah, bikkurim, revai’i and maaser sheini. However, we cannot observe the halachos relevant to these mitzvos, since these items of kedushah cannot be consumed by someone who is tamei (Rambam, Hilchos Terumos Chapter 11; Hilchos Maaser Sheini 3:11). This explains why most people are unfamiliar with the rules of kedushas shevi’is.

When eating shemittah food, one need not be concerned about the remaining bits stuck to a pot or an adult’s plate that one usually just washes off; one may wash these pots and plates without concern that one is destroying shemittah produce. However, the larger amounts left behind by children, or leftovers that people might save should not be disposed in the garbage, but should be scraped into the pach shevi’is.

Issur sechorah – commercial use

One may not harvest the produce of one’s field or tree in order to sell it in commercial quantities or in a business manner (Tosefta, Shevi’is 5:7; Rambam, Hilchos Shemittah 6:1). For example, shemittah produce may not be sold by weight or measure (Mishnah, Sheviis 8:3), nor sold in a regular store (Yerushalmi, Sheviis 7:1).

Tefisas damim

If one trades or sells shemittah produce, the food or money received in exchange becomes imbued with kedushas shevi’is. This means that the money should be used only to purchase food that will itself now have the laws of shemittah produce, as we mentioned above. The original produce also maintains its kedushas sheviis (Sukkah 40b).

Havla’ah

At this point, we must discuss a very misunderstood concept called havlaah, which means that one includes the price of one item with another. The Gemara (Sukkah 39a) describes using havlaah to “purchase” an esrog that has shemittah sanctity, without the money received becoming sanctified with kedushas sheviis. For example, Reuven wants to buy an esrog from Shimon; however, Shimon does not want the money he receives to have kedushas sheviis. Can he avoid this occurring?

Yes, he can. If Shimon sells Reuven two items at the same time, one that has kedushas sheviis and the other that does not, he should sell him the item that does not have kedushas sheviis at a high price, and the kedushas sheviis accompanies it as a gift. This is permitted, even though everyone realizes that this is a means of avoiding imbuing the sales money with kedushas sheviis.

Shamur and neevad

According to many (and perhaps most) rishonim, if a farmer did not allow people to pick from his fields, the shemittah produce that grew there becomes prohibited (see Raavad and Baal Hama’or to Sukkah 39a). Similarly, many authorities prohibit consuming produce that was tended in a way that violated the agricultural laws of shemittah (Ramban, Yevamos 122a). This produce is called neevad.

Shemittah exports

The Mishnah (Shevi’is 6:5) prohibits exporting shemittah produce outside Eretz Yisroel. Some recognized authorities specifically permit exporting shemittah wine and esrogim, although the rationales permitting this are beyond the scope of this article (Beis Ridbaz 5:18; Tzitz Hakodesh, Volume 1 #15:4). This approach is the basic halachic reason to permit the export of esrogim that grow during shemittah this year for Sukkos, 5776. (The esrogim for this past Sukkos should all have been from the pre-shemittah crop and not involve any shemittah concerns.) I am planning to send out an article on that topic closer to next Sukkos.

Sefichin

What are sefichin? Sefichin is a term referring to annual produce that grew during the shemittah year. Min hatorah, produce that grew by itself without anyone working the field during shemittah is permitted. Unfortunately, even in the days of Chazal, one could find unscrupulous farmers who would plant grain or vegetables during shemittah year and then market them as produce that grew on its own. So that these farmers not benefit from their sins, Chazal forbade all grains and vegetables, even those that grew on their own — a prohibition called sefichin. Sefichin are treated as non-kosher food, even requiring one to kasher the equipment in which they were cooked!

There are several exceptions to this rule. One is that produce of a non-Jew’s field is not prohibited as sefichin. Another exception is that perennials that do not require planting every year are not included in the prohibition of sefichin. Although trees and other perennials definitely thrive when pruned and cared for, most will produce even if left unattended for a year, and the farmer has less incentive to violate shemittah by tending his trees.

Thus, tree fruits, nuts, strawberries and bananas do not involve the prohibition of sefichin. (If they grew in a field whose owner was not observing shemittah, they might involve the prohibition of shamur.)

Biur shevi’is

At this point in our discussion, we need to explain the concept of biur sheviis. The word biur literally means elimination, as in biur chometz, which refers to the eradication of chometz performed each year before Pesach. One of the laws that applies to shemittah produce is that once a specific species is no longer available in the field, one can no longer keep shemittah produce from that species in one’s possession. At this point, one must perform a procedure called biur sheviis. Although there is a dispute among the rishonim as to the exact definition and requirements of biur sheviis, we rule that it means declaring ownerless (hefker) any shemittah produce in one’s possession (Ramban, Vayikra 25:7; cf. Rashi, Pesachim 52b s.v. mishum and Rambam, Hilchos Shemittah 7:3 for alternative approaches.) For example, let us say that someone picked shemittah apricots and canned them as jam. (We should note that, according to many authorities this is not permitted to be done with shemittah apricots.) When no more apricots are available in the field, he must take the remaining jam and declare it hefker in the presence of three people (Yerushalmi, Sheviis 9:5). One may do this in front of three close friends who will probably not take the jam after my declaration; it is sufficient that they have the right to take possession. If someone fails to perform biur, the shemittah produce becomes prohibited.

Heter mechirah

Probably the most controversial issue in contemporary shemittah observance is that of heter mechirah, a dispute that goes back to the earliest days of the modern settlement of Israel, over 130 years ago. Heter mechirah means that the farmer sold his land to a gentile, who is not required to observe shemittah. Since a gentile now owns the land, the gentile may farm the land, sell its produce, and make a profit. The poskim dispute whether a Jew may work land owned by a gentile during shemittah (Tosafos, Gittin 62a s.v. ayn odrin, prohibits; whereas Rashi, Sanhedrin 26a s.v. agiston, permits). Even among those authorities who permit heter mechirah, most do not permit Jews to work their fields. Today, most chareidi authorities will not permit relying on heter mechirah or use of heter mechirah produce.

Some contemporary poskim prohibit the use of heter mechirah tree fruit on the basis that since heter mechirah is invalid, the fruit is considered shamur and therefore forbidden. Other poskim permit the fruit, because they rule that the forbidden working of an orchard or treating it as private property does not prohibit its fruit (see Shu’t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 1:186). Thus, even if one does not consider the heter mechirah to be valid, according to many, the fruit is still permitted, but must be treated with kedushas shevi’is.

Otzar beis din

What is an otzar beis din? Literally, the words means “a storehouse operated by beis din.” Why would a beis din be operating a storehouse? Did they need to impound so much merchandise while doing litigation? No, let me explain.

As mentioned above, the owner of an orchard may not harvest his produce for sale, and he must allow individuals to help themselves to what their family may use. But what about people who live far from the orchard? How will they utilize their right to pick shemittah fruit?

Enter the otzar beis din to help! The beis din represents the public interest by hiring people to pick and transport the produce to a distribution center near the consumer. Obviously, no one expects the pickers, sorters, truckers, and other laborers to work as unpaid volunteers; they are also entitled to earn a living. Similarly, the managers who coordinate this project are also entitled to an appropriate wage for their efforts. Furthermore, there is no reason why beis din cannot hire the owner of the orchard to supervise this massive project, paying him a wage appropriate to his significant skills and experience in knowing how to manage this operation. This is all legitimate use of an otzar beis din.

Who pays for otzar beis din services? The otzar beis din divides its costs among the consumers. The charges to the user should reflect the actual expenses incurred in bringing the products to the consumers, and may not include any profit for the finished product (Minchas Shelomoh, Sheviis 9:8 pg. 250). Thus, otzar beis din products should cost less than regular retail prices for the same items, since there should be no profit margin. (See Yerushalmi, Sheviis 8:3 that sheviis produce should be less expensive than regular produce.)

Please note that all the halachos of kedushas sheviis apply to otzar beis din produce. Also note that acquiring from an otzar beis din is not really “purchasing,” since you are not buying the fruit, but receiving a distribution – your payment is exclusively to defray operating costs. Therefore, the money paid for otzar beis din produce does not have kedushas sheviis, because it is compensation for expenses and not in exchange for the shemittah fruit (Minchas Shelomoh, Sheviis 9:8 pg. 250).

Produce still in the possession of an otzar beis din at the time of biur is exempt from biur, declaring it hefker. The reason is that this product is still without an owner – the otzar beis din is a distribution center, not an owner. However, produce originally distributed through an otzar beis din and now in private possession must be declared hefker. This is so even if the fruit is the possession of someone other than the farmer in whose field the produce grew.

Heter otzar beis din

The modern term “Heter otzar beis din” is used pejoratively. The purpose of an otzar beis din is to service the consumer, not the producer, as I explained above. Unfortunately, unscrupulous individuals sometimes manipulate the rubric of otzar beis din to allow a “business as usual” attitude and violate both the spirit and the halachah of shemittah. If the farmer is operating with a true otzar beis din, he will allow people to enter his field and help themselves to the produce. If he bars people, then he is violating the basic laws of shemittah and his produce distribution is not according to otzar beis din principles. Similarly, if the field owner treats the produce as completely his own and charges accordingly, this contradicts the meaning of otzar beis din. These cases are disparagingly referred to as heter otzar beis din; meaning they reflect abuse of the concept of otzar beis din.

Conclusion

Just as observing the seventh day, Shabbos, demonstrates our belief in the Creator, so, too, observing every seventh year as shemittah demonstrates this faith. For someone living in Eretz Yisroel, observing shemittah properly involves assuming much halachic responsibility and education. For the modern farmer, observing shemittah can, indeed, be true mesiras nefesh, since among the many other concerns that he has, he also risks losing customers who have been purchasing his products for years. For example, a farmer may be selling his crop somewhere in Europe. If he informs his buyer that he cannot produce during shemittah, he risks losing the customer in the future.

Of course, a Jew realizes that Hashem provides parnasah and that observing a mitzvah will never hurt anyone. An observant farmer obeys the Torah dictates, knowing that Hashem attends to all his needs. Indeed, recent shmittos have each had numerous miracles rewarding observant farmers in this world for their halachic diligence. Who can possibly imagine what reward awaits them in Olam Haba!

Those living in chutz la’aretz should be aware of the halachos of shevi’is and identify with this demonstration that the Ribbono Shel Olam created the world in six days, and that the seventh year is holy. In addition, they should realize that much shemittah produce is exported from Israel, in violation of the halachah.  It is necessary to check fresh fruit and vegetables, to see that they are not shemittah produce, and, additionally, one should be careful regarding canned goods.  By being careful to assure that he is not using any shemittah produce, the Jew abroad takes part in the mitzvah!

The Numbers Game

Because this article explains some basics of how Torah is taught by Chazal, I think it is appropriate to the week of Shavuos.

Question #1: Pie r squared

Yanki is supposed to be watching his weight and therefore needs to figure out how many calories are in the pie he beholds. To figure out how big the pie is, he measures the diameter of the pie, and divides it in half to get the length of its radius. He then multiplies the length of the radius by itself to get “r squared,” and multiplies the result by three so that he knows the area of the pie’s surface. Is there anything wrong with his calculation?

Question #2: Puzzled by the pasuk

“How can the pesukim tell us that the relationship between the circumference of a circle to its diameter is three-to-one, when simply taking a string and measuring around it demonstrates that it is noticeably longer?”

Question #3: Performing mitzvos accurately

“How accurate a calculation must I make when determining the size of an item to be used for a mitzvah?”

Introduction

In numerous places, both Tanach and Chazal approximate certain mathematical values, such as evaluating the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter as three to one. The problem is that we can demonstrate mathematically that the ratio is greater than three and is almost 3 1/7. This leads to the following questions:

(1) Why would Chazal calculate using inaccurate approximations?

(2) When making halachic calculations, may we rely on these estimates, or do we need to be mathematically more accurate?

(3) A corollary question is: when providing an estimate, one must allow for a margin of error. Does halachah require a margin of error, and, if so, how much?

The Slide Rule versus the Calculator

Let me begin our discussion with a modern analogy, if something I remember can still be considered “modern.” When I first studied sophisticated mathematical estimates, I learned to use a slide rule, which today is as valuable to an engineer as an abacus. Relative to the calculator, a slide rule does not provide accurate measurements, and someone using a slide rule must allow a fairly significant margin of error in one direction or the other, depending on the situation.

Today, complex computations are made with calculators, which provide far more accurate results that can be rounded off, as necessary, to the nearest tenth, millionth, quadrillionth or smaller. Of course, using a calculator still requires one to round upward or downward, but because it is much more precise, the margin of error is greatly reduced.

How Irrational Are You?

Numerous halachic questions require mathematical calculations, involving what we call “irrational numbers.” An irrational number means one that cannot be expressed in fractional notation. Another way of explaining an irrational number is that its value can never be calculated totally accurately, but can only be estimated.

The two most common examples of irrational numbers that show up in Chazal are:

(1) Pi

The ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter, which we are used to calling by the Greek letter ∏ (pronounced like the word “pie,” and spelled in English “pi”). Since the 19th century, the letter pi has been used to represent this number, because the Greek word for peripheryis peripherion, which begins with the letter ∏. Hundreds of years earlier, the Rambam (Commentary to the Mishnah, Eruvin 1:5) noted that the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter is an irrational number that can only be approximated, and that the scientists of his era used an estimate of 3 and 1/7, which is actually slightly greater than the value of ∏. The Rambam explains that since there is no accurate ratio, Chazal used a round number, three, for this calculation.

(2) The diagonal of a square

The length of a diagonal of a square, which is equal to the side of the square multiplied by the square root of two (√2). Chazal calculated the length of a diagonal of a square to be 1 and 2/5 times its side, which is slightly smaller than the value of √2. (Another way of expressing this idea is that the ratio between the diagonal and the side is 7:5.) The fact that Chazal’s figuring is somewhat smaller than the mathematical reality is already proved by Tosafos (Sukkah 8a s.v. kol).

Since both pi and the square root of two are irrational numbers, they can only be estimated, but can never be calculated with absolute accuracy.

Based on the above-quoted statement of the Rambam, we can already address one of our earlier questions: “Why would Chazal calculate using inaccurate approximations?” The answer is that any computation of the correlation of the circumference of a circle to its diameter will be an estimate. The only question is how accurate must this estimate be for the purpose at hand.

Chazal or Tanach?

Although the Rambam attributes the rounding of pi to Chazal, in actuality, there are sources in Tanach that calculate the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter as three-to-one. Both in Melachim (I 7:23) and again in Divrei Hayamim (II 4:2), Tanach teaches that the Yam shel Shlomoh, the large, round pool or mikveh that was built in the first Beis Hamikdash, was thirty amos in circumference and ten amos in diameter, which provides a ratio of circumference to diameter of three-to-one. Thus, we can ask a question of the Rambam: Why does he attribute this ratio to Chazal, rather than the source for Chazal’s calculation, the pesukim?

In fact, the early commentaries to these verses already ask how the verse can make a calculation that we know is not accurate. The Ralbag suggests two options: either that the numbers used are intended to be a very broad estimate, or, alternatively, that the diameter is measured from the external dimensions of the mikveh, whereas the circumference is measured from its inside, which makes the estimate closer to mathematical reality.

According to the second approach of the Ralbag, no Biblical source uses an estimate of three-to-one as a substitute for pi. This will explain why the Rambam attributed the estimation of pi as three to Chazal, rather than to the Tanach. The Rambam was fully aware that one could interpret the verses according to the second approach of the Ralbag, in which case, there is no proof from the verse. He, therefore, attributed this estimate to Chazal.

Gemara Eruvin

The Ralbag’s approach reflects an earlier passage of Gemara. The Mishnah in Eruvin (13b) states that if the circumference of a pole is three tefachim, its diameter is one tefach, which means that the Mishnah assumes a ratio of three-to-one. The Gemara questions how the Mishnah knows that the ratio is three-to-one, and then draws proof from the above-quoted verse that the Yam shel Shlomoh was thirty amos around and ten amos across. The Gemara then debates whether the calculations of the Yam shel Shlomoh indeed result in a ratio of three-to-one, because one must also include the thickness of the poolitself, which offsets the computation. The Gemara eventually concludes that the verse was calculating from the inside of the pool, not its outside, and therefore the thickness of the pool’s containing wall is not included in the calculation (Eruvin 14a).

Nevertheless, this Gemara’s discussion leaves the mathematician dissatisfied, a question already noted by Tosafos. If the internal diameter of the Yam shel Shlomoh was ten amos, its circumference must have been greater than thirty amos, and if its circumference was thirty amos, then its internal diameter must have been less than ten amos.

A Different Question

The Rosh, in his responsa, is bothered by a different question, based on Talmudic logic rather than on mathematical calculation. He finds the Gemara’s question requesting proof for the ratio between a circle’s circumference and its diameter to be odd. The ratio between a circle’s circumference and its diameter is a value that one should calculate. By its nature, this is not a question that requires a Biblical proof or source.

In the literature that we have received from the Rosh, he asks this question in two different places. In his responsa (Shu’t HaRosh 2:19), we find a letter that he wrote to the Rashba, in which he asked the Rashba a series of questions that the Rosh notes bother him tremendously, and to whom he has no one else to turn for an answer. One of the questions the Rosh asks is: “Why does the Gemara ask for a Biblical source for a mathematical calculation?”

It is curious to note that a later commentary mentions that, in all the considerable literature that we have received from the Rashba, we have no recorded answer of the Rashba to this question of the Rosh (Cheishek Shlomoh to Eruvin 14a).

Another Comment of the Rosh

The Tosafos HaRosh commentary to Eruvin, which was published for the first time relatively recently, is the second place where the Rosh asks why the Gemara wanted a Biblical source for a mathematical calculation.  There, the Rosh provides an answer to this question:  Since the calculation of three-to-one is not accurate, the Gemara wanted a biblical source as proof that we are permitted to rely on this estimate.

(The Cheishek Shlomoh, whom I quoted above, provides the same answer to this question as does the Rosh in his Tosafos. The Cheishek Shlomoh never saw the Tosafos HaRosh, which had not yet been printed in his day.)

Curiosity about the Tosafos HaRosh

There is an interesting historical point that can presumably be derived from the fact that, in the Tosafos HaRosh, the Rosh answers the question that he raised and accredits this answer to himself. This should be able to prove which work the Rosh had written earlier, and also whether he ever received an answer to his question from the Rashba. This analysis is based on the following question: Why did the Rosh cite an answer in his Tosafos¸but not in his responsum, which was addressed as a question to the Rashba. There are three obvious possibilities:

(1) Although the Rosh wrote this answer in his Tosafos, he was dissatisfied with it, and therefore wrote a question to the Rashba. I would reject this answer because, if it is true, then, in his correspondence to the Rashba, the Rosh would have mentioned this answer and his reason for rejecting it.

(2) The Rosh indeed received an answer, either this one or a different answer, from the Rashba. I reject this approach also, because, were it true, the Rosh would have quoted the Rashba’s answer in his Tosafos and, if need be, discussed it.

(3) Therefore, I conclude that the Rosh, indeed, never received an answer to the question he asked of the Rashba and subsequently reached his own conclusion as to how to answer the question, which he then recorded in the Tosafos HaRosh. This would lead us to conclude that the Tosafos HaRosh was written later in his life than his responsa, or, at least, this responsum.

Mathematical Accuracy

At this point, we can address one of earlier questions.When making halachic calculations, may we rely on these estimates, or do we need to be mathematically more accurate? We might be able to prove this point by noting something in the Mishnah in Eruvin quoted above. The Mishnah there ruled that, under certain circumstances, an area that is fully enclosed on three of its sides and has a beam a tefach wide above the fourth side is considered halachically fully enclosed, and one may carry inside it. The Mishnah then proceeds to explain that if the beam is round and has a circumference of three tefachim, one may carry inside the area because, based on the calculation that the relationship of its circumference to its diameter is three-to-one, the beam is considered to be a tefach-wide. However, as the Rambam notes, a beam that has a circumference of three tefachim is actually less than a tefach in diameter, and therefore one should not be permitted to carry in this area!

The Aruch HaShulchan (Orach Chayim 363:22; Yoreh Deah 30:13) notes this problem and concludes that one may carry in this area. He contends that this is exactly what the Gemara was asking when it requested Scriptural proof for a mathematical calculation. “Upon what halachic basis may we be lenient in using this estimate of three-to-one, when this will permit carrying in an area in which the beam is less than a tefach wide? The answer is that this is a halachah that we derive from the verse.”

To clarify this concept, the Chazon Ish notes that the purpose of mitzvos is to draw us nearer to Hashem, to accept His reign, and to be meticulously careful in observing His laws. However, none of this is conflicted when the Torah teaches that we may use certain calculations, even if they are not completely mathematically accurate. In this instance, relying on these estimates is exactly what the Torah requires (Chazon Ish, Orach Chayim 138:4). As expressed by a different author, the Gemara (Eruvin 4a; Sukkah 5b) teaches that the measurements, the shiurim, required to fulfill mitzvos are all halachah lemoshe misinai, laws that Moshe Rabbeinu received as a mesorah on Har Sinai. Similarly, these estimates of irrational numbers mentioned above are all halachah lemoshe misinai that one may rely upon to fulfill mitzvos, whether or not they are mathematically accurate. The same Torah takes these calculations into consideration when instructing us which dimensions are required in order to fulfill specific mitzvos (Shu’t Tashbeitz 1:165).

In the context of a different halachah in the laws of Eruvin, the Mishnah Berurah makes a similar statement, contending that we can rely on Chazal’s estimates, even when the result is lenient. However, the Mishnah Berurah there vacillates a bit in his conclusion, ruling that one can certainly rely on this when the issue is a rabbinic concern (Shaar Hatziyun 372:18). In a responsum, Rav Moshe Feinstein questions why the Mishnah Berurah limits relying on this approach, and Rav Moshe rules unequivocally that one may rely on these estimates even when it involves leniency in de’oraysa laws (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah Volume3 #120:5).

How Straight Are My Tefillin?

Personally, I find the context of Rav Moshe’s teshuvah very interesting. There is a halacha lemoshe misinai that requires that the boxes of the tefillin, the batim, must be perfectly square. Rav Moshe was asked whether there is a halachic preference to use scientific measuring equipment to determine that one’s tefillin are perfectly square. Rav Moshe rules that there is neither a reason nor a hiddur in measuring the tefillin squareness this accurately. Since Chazal have used the calculation of 1.4 or a ratio of 7:5, which we know is an estimate, to determine the correct diagonal of a square, there is no requirement to make one’s tefillin squarer than this, and it is perfectly fine simply to measure the length of each of the sides of one’s tefillin and its two diagonals to ascertain that the ratio between the diagonal and the side is 7:5.

In the above-cited responsum, Rav Moshe notes that he had heard that the Brisker Rav, Rav Yitzchak Zeev Soloveichek, had ruled that it was preferable to check one’s tefillin in the most scientific method available. Rav Moshe writes that he finds this suggestion very strange and disputes its being halachically correct (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah Volume3 #120:5).

When making halachic calculations, may we rely on these estimates, or do we need to be mathematically more accurate?” The answer is that, indeed, the purpose of Chazal’s making these estimates was that observing halachah does not require that these calculations be mathematically precise, provided they meet the criteria that the halachah established.

An Alternate Approach

Although the majority of late authorities conclude that the calculations of Chazal are, indeed, part of the halachos of shiurim, this is not a universally-held position. The Tashbeitz, a rishon, wrote a lengthy responsum on the topic, in which he presents two ways to explain why Chazal used estimates that are not precisely accurate. His first approach reaches the same conclusion as we have already found in the later poskim, that these measurements are included within the halachos of shiurim that are part of the halachah lemoshe misinai.

The second approach of the Tashbeitz, however, differs with the above-mentioned halachic conclusion. In his second approach, he contends that all the above estimates were meant for pedagogic, but not halachic purposes. The rounding of pi to three and the diagonal of a square to 1.4 were provided to make the material easily comprehensible to all students, since every individual is required to know the entire Torah. Thus, when Chazal used these estimates in calculating the laws, their intent was to enable the average student to comprehend the halachic material, not to provide the most accurate interpretation. When an actual halachic calculation is made, it must be totally accurate. Any halachic authority involved would realize that he must use a highly accurate mathematical computation and then round either upward or downward as necessary for the specific application. (A similar position is held by Chiddushim Uviurim, Ohalos 5:6.)

Conclusion

Certainly, the majority of late halachic opinions conclude that the estimates of Chazal are meant to be halachically definitive and not simply pedagogic in nature. However, I leave it to the individual reader to ask his or her posek what to do when a practical question presents itself.

 

Essentials of Tochachah

Question #1: Cross-gender Tochachah

“The Mishnah states that a man should not converse unnecessarily with a woman. At my workplace, there is a girl who is ostensibly observant, but I see inconsistencies in her observance level. Am I supposed to try to help her become more committed?”

Question #2: Ignored Admonition

“Is there a mitzvah to admonish someone when I know that he will ignore me?”

Question #3: Admonisher or Enemy?

“I know that there is a mitzvah to be mochiach, but I am always concerned that I will make these people into my enemies. Should I be concerned?”

Answer:

In this week’s parshah, Yosef reveals himself to his brothers, by saying the immortal words, ani Yosef, ha’od avi chai? “I am Yosef. Is my father still alive?” According to many commentaries (Ha’amek Davar, based on Chagigah 4b), Yosef intended these words as admonition, tochachah, to his brothers: Why are you suddenly concerned about how your father will react to Binyomin’s disappearance, when you were not concerned how he would react to my disappearance?[1] This provides an excellent opportunity to discuss the laws of tochachah, the requirement to reprove someone for misbehavior, a frequently misunderstood mitzvah.

The underlying principle of tochachah is the realization that fulfilling Hashem’s mitzvos is not merely an individual pursuit – it is a responsibility that I share with all of Klal Yisroel (see Sefer Hamitzvos #205). In explaining the reason for the mitzvah of tochachah, the Shaarei Teshuvah (3:19) notes that a devoted servant or employee performs his own work diligently and also tries to see that his co-workers do their jobs conscientiously. We are all members of the same people and share a common, collective mission.

The mitzvah of tochachah applies whether the sin perpetrated is between man and his fellowman or whether it is between man and Hashem (Sefer Hachinuch #239). Furthermore, the mitzvah applies equally to men and women – both have a requirement to be mochiach, and both should be admonished when they violate the Torah (Sefer Hachinuch #239). In addition, tochachah is a mitzvah that one should fulfill cross-gender; that is, a man is required to be mochiach a woman, and a woman is required to be mochichah a man. We can demonstrate this principle through the following passage:

Eili and Channah

The pasuk describes how Channah went to Shiloh, the location of the Mishkan, at the time the primary religious headquarters of the Jewish people, and prayed to Hashem that she merit conceiving and bearing a child. She prayed at great length to Hashem, and Eili was watching her mouth. Channah spoke in an undertone, with only her lips moving but her voice inaudible, and Eili thought that she was intoxicated. So, Eili told her, “For how long will you continue to be intoxicated? Remove your wine from yourself!” Channah responded, saying, “No, my lord, I am a woman who is greatly distressed. Wine and other intoxicating beverages I have not imbibed. I am pouring out my soul before Hashem (Shmuel I, 1:12-15).

Based on Eili’s reproof of Channah, the Gemara derives that the mitzvah of tochachah includes not only admonishing someone for sinning, but even for inappropriate behavior that is not sinful (Brachos 31b, as explained by Tosafos ad loc.) After all, Eili was admonishing her not for doing something specifically sinful, but for behaving in an inappropriate manner.

The cardinal rule of tochachah

The most basic rule of tochachah is that the mochiach, the person who is reproving, must truly care for the offender. Being sincerely concerned about the other person’s welfare is a condition which must be met, if the reproof is to be successful. Thus, tochachah is an extension of Ahavas Yisroel, loving our fellow Jew. The Rambam (Hilchos Dei’os 6:7) writes that the mochiach should explain that he is helping the offender earn a greater share in olam haba. To quote him: “One who sees his friend sinning or following a lifestyle that is not good has a mitzvah to influence him to return to the proper way and to inform him that he is harming himself… The one who rebukes must do so privately, with a pleasant manner and a soft voice.”

So, how do I influence someone if I do not love him? The answer is that I am required to teach myself to love him, both to observe the mitzvah of Ahavas Yisroel and in order to fulfill the mitzvah of tochachah.

That tochachah must be performed in a pleasant manner is again borne out in the following Talmudic passage: the Mishnah (Shabbos 34a) rules that shortly before Shabbos begins, a man is required to ask his family members whether all maasros and challah portions have been separated and whether the eruv has been set up. He then instructs them to kindle the lights in honor of Shabbos. The Gemara makes a point of noting that one should say all these things in a soft voice. These instructions are, in a way, very similar to admonishing one’s family members.

One size does not fit all

Prior to admonishing someone, the mochiach should analyze carefully what will be the most effective way to influence the offender. The tochachah should be tailor-made to the person receiving it and presented in a way that it is most likely to influence him or her to change. One should use stories, parables, and/or logical proofs, depending on what will speak most convincingly to the heart of the person one seeks to persuade (Sefer Chassidim #5).

Example:

Yitzchak is aware that he is required to influence his next-door neighbor, Benny, to be more observant. Yitzchak realizes that, to draw Benny closer to mitzvos, Yitzchak must sincerely care about him. Thus, Yitzchak’s first step is to truly care for Benny and to use every opportunity to develop a friendship. Once Benny feels that Yitzchak truly cares, he will be open to listening to what his friend has to say. At this point, Yitzchak can begin to explain the benefits Benny reaps by observing mitzvos carefully.

We can now understand the following, somewhat rhetorical, declaration of the Gemara: Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah said: I would be astounded to learn that there is anyone in our generation who knows how to admonish” (Arachin 16b).

Notwithstanding this observation, the halachic authorities rule that there is still a mitzvah of tochachah, and that one is required to strive to observe it (see Le’reiacha Kamocha pg. 286, quoting numerous authorities).

It is axiomatic that admonishing someone should not embarrass him (Arachin 16b; Toras Kohanim to Parshas Kedoshim). The recipient of the tochachah must be taught that it is in his best interest to improve, something that cannot usually be accomplished in an antagonistic interaction.

On the other hand…

Whoever has the ability to protest the misdeeds of members of his household and fails to do so is accountable for what they have done. The same is true for someone who could protest the misdeeds of the residents of his city and even the entire world and fails to do so. Therefore, the household of the Exilarch (Reish Galusa) is accountable for the misdeeds of the entire world (Shabbos 54b). Similarly, the entire Jewish people were punished in the days of Yehoshua for the crime of one individual, Achan (Yehoshua 22:20). Again, we find that the Kohen Gadol was responsible for the entire Jewish people. If one man sins, the entire nation will be punished, because of their failure to reproach him (Shaarei Teshuvah 3:72).

However, someone who admonished the evildoer appropriately has fulfilled the mitzvah of tochachah and will not be punished for the sinner’s evil deeds (Shaarei Teshuvah 3:72; Sefer Chasidim #5). To quote the Navi, Yechezkel: Because you warned the evildoer to repent from his way, even though he did not repent – he will die for his sin, but you have saved your own life (Yechezkel 33:9).

Tochachah that will be ignored

However, the halachah is that when it is clear that a sinner will ignore any reprimand, one should not attempt to admonish him, as it says in Mishlei (9, 8): Do not rebuke a scoffer, lest he come to hate you; rebuke a wise man, and he will love you. As the Gemara expresses this idea: Just as it is a mitzvah to say something that will be heeded, so it is a mitzvah to refrain from saying that which will be disregarded (Yevamos 65b). In these instances, censure will cause the evildoer to sin more, rather than to do teshuvah, and, therefore, it must be avoided.

Who qualifies as a scoffer?

This question is discussed in a different passage of Gemara (Shabbos 55a), where we find the following conversation:

Rabbi Zeira said to Rabbi Simon: “The master should chastise the members of the Reish Galusa’s household.”

Rabbi Simon responded: “They will not listen to me.”

To this, Rabbi Zeira retorted: “Even if they will not listen, admonish them.”

Rabbi Zeira then quoted an Aggadic passage, in which a conversation transpired between Midas Hadin, the attribute of justice, and Hashem. At one point in this “conversation,” Midas Hadin challenged Hashem to punish the righteous for not protesting the evildoings of the wicked. Hashem answered: “I know for certain that even had the righteous protested, the wicked would not have listened.” To this, Midas Hadin retorted: “You knew that the wicked would not have listened. But how did the righteous people know?” And since the righteous had no way of knowing that the evil would not listen, they should be punished for not having attempted to influence them.

We can therefore conclude that only when it is absolutely certain that the sinner will not listen is there no mitzvah either to rebuke or to protest. However, as long as the possibility exists that the sinner might listen, one is required to rebuke him.

Mutav sheyihyu shogagin

There are other instances when one should not rebuke someone who is sinning. This is when one is certain that the sinner will not change after being admonished and, also, he may not know that the activity is forbidden (Sefer Chasidim #413). This halachic status is called Mutav sheyihyu shogagin ve’al yihyu meizidin, “Better that they sin out of ignorance than that they become intentional sinners” (Beitzah 30a; Bava Basra 60b). For brevity’s sake I will refer to this status as “mutav.”

In this situation, the tochachah will probably accomplish only that the person will now be sinning intentionally, instead of out of a lack of knowledge. Since the result of the reproach is not constructive, it should be avoided.

The law of mutav, better that they sin unintentionally than intentionally, is true even when the prohibition is quite clear and could easily be discovered by the sinner. In other words, the sinner is considered shogeig, uninformed that what he is doing is forbidden, only because he does not want to know the truth. For example, even when all halachic authorities discuss the matter and prohibit the activity, the sinner is still considered one who acted out of ignorance rather than with intent. One should avoid telling him of his error when one assesses that knowledge of the sin will not affect his behavior.

This background allows us to understand a passage of Gemara that otherwise seems extremely strange:

A person should always live in the place where his rebbe does, for as long as Shimi ben Geira [Shlomoh Hamelech’s rebbe] was alive, Shlomoh did not marry the daughter of Pharoah. [Rashi notes that the verse mentions Shlomoh marrying Pharoah’s daughter immediately after it mentions Shimi’s death, see Melachim I, 2:46 – 3:1.] However, there is a beraysa that says that one should not live in the place of his rebbe. [Thus, we have two halachic statements that seem to say diametrically opposite ideas.] These two statements do not disagree. One is discussing someone who listens to the rebuke of his rebbe and therefore being proximate to his rebbe will prevent him from sinning. The Beraysa is discussing someone who does not listen to his rebbe (Brachos 8a).

As Rashi explains, someone who does not listen to his rebbe is better living distant from his rebbe, so that he is considered negligent when he does not hear his rebbe’s admonition. This is less severe than someone who ignores the admonitions. The latter person will become an intentional sinner when he ignores his rebbe’s admonition. The rule of mutav applies notwithstanding his having moved a distance from his rebbe so as not to be reproached for this misdeed!

Probably won’t listen

Should one reproach an ill-doer when you know that he probably will not listen? The halachah of mutav applies only when one is certain that the offending party will not listen. When one thinks that he will probably not listen, but it is not certain, one is required to admonish the offender (Tosafos, Bava Basra 60b s.v. Mutav).

We will continue our discussion about the mitzvah of tochachah next week.


[1] For a halachic explanation of the sale of Yosef, see the chapter on this topic in my book From Buffalo Burgers to Monetary Mysteries.

Some Light Chanukah Questions

Question #1: My sister invited our family for Shabbos Chanukah, and we will be sleeping at her neighbor’s house. Where do we set up the menorahs, particularly since I do not even know the neighbor?

Question #2: My husband has a late meeting at work tonight and will not be home until very late. What should we do about kindling Chanukah lights?

Question #3: I will be attending a wedding during Chanukah that requires me to leave my house well before lighting time, and I will not return until very late. Can I kindle at the wedding, just like the lighting that takes place in shul?

Question #4: I will be spending part of Chanukah in a hotel. Where should I kindle my menorah?

SOME BASICS

Each individual has a requirement to light Chanukah lights, or to have an agent kindle the lights for him (see Rambam, Hilchos Chanukah 3:4). In places where the custom is that the entire household lights only one menorah, which is the predominant practice among Sefardim, the person who kindles functions as an agent for the rest of the family and the guests. (However, cf. Minchas Shelomoh 2:58:41 and 42, who understands this halacha differently.) Even in places where the custom is that each individual kindles his own menorah, as is common Ashkenazic practice,  married women do not usually light, and most people have the custom that single girls do not, either (see Chasam Sofer, Shabbos 21b s.v. vehamehadrin, Elyah Rabbah 671:3, and Mikra’ei Kodesh #14 who explain reasons for this practice). In these instances, the male head of household kindles on behalf of his wife and daughters. A guest visiting a family for Chanukah can fulfill his or her obligation by contributing a token amount to purchase part of the candles or oil. By doing this, the guest becomes a partner in the Chanukah lights and now fulfills his mitzvah when the host kindles them. An alternative way to become a partial owner of the Chanukah lights is for the host to direct the guest to pick up some of the oil or candles and thereby become a partial owner.

GUEST WHO IS EATING IN ONE HOUSE AND SLEEPING IN ANOTHER

If someone is a guest and is eating at one house during Chanukah, but sleeping in a different house, where should he light the menorah?

One should kindle where he is eating (Rema 677:1). Therefore, in this situation, the place where one eats his meals is his primary “home.”

Many poskim contend that in Eretz Yisroel, the answer to this question depends on additional factors, including whether anyone else is staying in the house where the guest is sleeping. In their opinion, if no one else is kindling a menorah where the guest is sleeping, he should kindle the menorah there. Otherwise, he should kindle where he is eating.

The reason for this difference is that, in Eretz Yisroel, where the custom is to light outdoors when practical, someone walking through the street expects to find a menorah lit at every house. Thus, there is a responsibility to be certain that a menorah is kindled in every house that is occupied. In chutz la’aretz, since the menorah does not need to be visible outdoors to fulfill the mitzvah, someone walking outside the house and not seeing a lit menorah will simply assume that someone kindled indoors. Therefore, one does not need to make sure that every house has a lit menorah.

Similarly, if one is using two houses, in Eretz Yisroel he should light a menorah in each of them, although he should recite only one bracha; in chutz la’aretz he does not need to kindle a menorah in each house.

I can now answer the first question I asked above: If someone will be eating at one house and sleeping in another, where should he kindle the menorah? The answer is that in chutz la’aretz, he should kindle where he will be eating. In Eretz Yisroel, other factors may be involved, and one should ask a shaylah.

If a person spends Shabbos at someone else’s home, many poskim contend that one may kindle the menorah there on Motza’ei Shabbos before leaving (Teshuvos Vehanhagos 1:391). Some poskim suggest that if one does this, he should not leave immediately after lighting, but should spend some time, preferably a half-hour, appreciating the lights before leaving (see Teshuvos Vehanhagos 1:394).

Question #2: My husband has a late meeting at work tonight and will not be home until very late. What should we do about kindling Chanukah lights?

To answer this question, we need to discuss two issues. The first is:

WHEN IS THE OPTIMAL TIME TO KINDLE THE MENORAH?

Early poskim have a dispute concerning when is the optimal time to kindle the Chanukah lights. According to the Gra, the best time is immediately after sunset, whereas most Rishonim rule that it is preferable to kindle at nightfall, or shortly before.

The usually accepted approaches are to kindle sometime after sunset but before it is fully dark. Thus, Rav Moshe Feinstein kindled the menorah ten minutes after sunset, the Chazon Ish lit his menorah twenty minutes after sunset, while others contend that the optimal time to light the menorah is twenty-five minutes after sunset.

UNTIL WHAT TIME CAN ONE KINDLE THE MENORAH?

At the time of the Gemara, one fulfilled the mitzvah of lighting menorah only if one lit within a half-hour of the earliest time for lighting (Shabbos 21b; Shulchan Aruch 672:2). This was because the focus of lighting the menorah was to publicize the miracle to people in the street. Since, in the days of Chazal, the streets were empty shortly after dark, there was no longer any mitzvah of kindling Chanukah lights half an hour later.

Today, the pirsumei nisa (publicizing the miracle) is primarily for the members of the household, and therefore many poskim hold that it is not essential to kindle the menorah immediately when it begins to get dark, and one may kindle later (see Tosafos, Shabbos 21b s.v. de’ei). Nevertheless, because this halacha is disputed, one should strive to kindle at the optimal time, which is close to twilight, as we mentioned above. In addition, there is also a halachic problem with working before one performs the mitzvah, similar to other mitzvos, such as bedikas chometz or hearing megillah, where it is prohibited to work or eat before fulfilling the mitzvah (Shu’t Maharshal #85; Mishnah Berurah 672:10; Teshuvos Vehanhagos 1:395:4). Someone who missed lighting menorah at the proper time because of extenuating circumstances should kindle his menorah as soon as his family is assembled at home (Rema 672:2 and Mishnah Berurah ad loc.).

An alternative method can be followed when a husband is delayed. The husband can arrange to have a member of the household, such as his wife, light at the optimal time as his agent (Mishnah Berurah 675:9; Teshuvos Vehanhagos 4:170). If he follows this approach, he does not need to light when he arrives home later, and if he does light, he should not recite the bracha of lehadlik ner shel Chanuka. Alternatively, the wife can light at the proper time without the husband being present, and the husband can light when he gets home. If one follows the latter approach, the husband and wife are no longer functioning as agents for one another, as they usually do germane to mitzvos such as ner Chanukah and ner Shabbos. Rather, each is fulfilling the mitzvah of ner Chanukah separately.

Whether to follow this approach depends on the sensitivities of the people involved. My Rosh Yeshivah, Rav Y. Ruderman zt”l, often lectured us on the importance of being concerned about others’ feelings. He often repeated the story of the Chofetz Chayim’s rebbe, Rav Nachumke, who waited several hours until his rebbetzin returned home before lighting the Chanukah lights. Therefore, if kindling the menorah early via an agent will create friction between family members, one should wait and kindle at a time that creates more shalom bayis (see Shabbos 23b). It is important to discuss the matter in advance and decide on an approach that keeps everyone happy.

Question #3: I will be attending a wedding during Chanukah that requires me to leave my house well before lighting time, and I will not return until very late. Can I kindle at the wedding, just like the lighting that takes place in shul?

Answer: Let us ask this question about the baalei simcha themselves! If a wedding takes place during Chanukah, where should the baalei simcha light the menorah?

I have attended weddings during Chanukah where the baalei simcha brought their menorahs to the hall and kindled them there. However, this seems incorrect, because the baalei simcha are required to kindle Chanukah lights at their own homes (Teshuvos Vehanhagos 1:398). Therefore, they should light the menorah at their homes sometime during the evening. If this is not convenient, they should arrange for someone to kindle their menorah for them at their house, as their agent (see Mishnah Berurah 677:12). Guests attending the wedding who cannot kindle their menorah at home should also arrange for someone to light their menorah at their house. If they are concerned about leaving unattended lights burning, they should have someone remain with the lights for half an hour, and then the “menorah sitter” may extinguish the lights if he chooses. If someone wishes to light an additional menorah at the hall without a bracha to make pirsumei nisa, he may do so. However, this lighting does not fulfill the mitzvah (Teshuvos Vehanhagos 1:398).

WHY IS THIS DIFFERENT FROM LIGHTING IN SHUL?

Since one fulfills the mitzvah only by kindling the menorah in or near one’s residence, why do we kindle a menorah in shul?

Lighting the Chanukah menorah in shul does not fulfill the mitzvah of kindling Chanukah lights, but is a centuries-old minhag that we perform to make pirsumei nisa.

This practice prompts an interesting question. If lighting a menorah in shul is only a minhag, why do we recite a bracha on it? Do we ever recite brachos on minhagim?

The poskim explain that we recite a bracha because it is an accepted minhag, just as we recite a bracha on Hallel on Rosh Chodesh even though Chazal did not obligate this recital of Hallel and it, too, is technically a minhag (Shu’t Rivash #111; for other reasons see Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 671, s.v. uma shekasav shemeinichin). Actually, even those opinions who contend that one does not recite a bracha on Hallel on Rosh Chodesh agree that one does recite brachos when lighting a menorah in shul (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 671:7; Shu’t Yabia Omer 7:Orach Chayim:57; cf. Shu’t Chacham Tzvi #88).

THERE IS A CONCERT IN SCHOOL ON CHANUKAH. SHOULD WE LIGHT THE MENORAH WITH A BRACHA TO PERFORM PIRSUMEI NISA?

Although lighting a menorah at the assembly will also be an act of pirsumei nisa, one fulfills no mitzvah or minhag by doing so. Therefore, one should not recite a bracha on this lighting (Teshuvos Vehanhagos 1:398).

WHY IS THE CONCERT DIFFERENT FROM LIGHTING IN SHUL?

Lighting in shul is a specific, established minhag. We cannot randomly extend this minhag to other situations and permit making a bracha (Teshuvos Vehanhagos 1:398).

LIGHTING IN A HOTEL

Question #4: I will be spending part of Chanukah in a hotel. Where should I kindle my menorah?

Answer: One should light the menorah in one’s room (Chovas Ha’dar, Ner Chanukah 2:9; see Shu’t Maharsham 4:146, who requires one to kindle Chanukah lights while riding the train). If there is concern about a fire hazard, one should remain with the menorah until a half-hour after nightfall, or at least for a half-hour after kindling, and then extinguish the lights. On Shabbos, place only enough oil to burn the required amount of time, which is until a half-hour after nightfall.

SHOULD ONE PLACE THE MENORAH IN THE WINDOW OF HIS HOTEL ROOM?

If someone will be able to see the lit menorah from outside, then it is preferable to light in a window. If no one will be able to see the menorah from outside, he should simply kindle the menorah on a table in his room.

If the hotel forbids lighting flames in its bedrooms, and one is eating regularly in the hotel’s dining room, one may light in the hotel dining room. Although we decided earlier that it is preferable to light where one is eating rather than where one is sleeping, in this instance, the hotel room is a better choice, since it is more one’s living area than is the dining room.

Although frum hotels often set up menorahs in the hotel lobby, many poskim contend that one does not fulfill the mitzvah by placing a menorah there, since one is required to kindle Chanukah lights at one’s “home,” which is where one regularly eats or sleeps, and not in a lobby. Other poskim are lenient, and contend that the entire hotel lobby is considered one’s living area — just as one’s entire house is considered one’s living area. Therefore, according to these authorities, one may fulfill the mitzvah by lighting in the hotel lobby.

VISITING DURING CHANUKAH

Where do I light menorah if I visit a friend for Chanukah dinner, but I am not staying overnight?

Many people err and think that one may fulfill the mitzvah by kindling the menorah at someone else’s house while visiting. I know of people who invite guests to their house for menorah kindling and dinner. The problem with this is that one is required to kindle Chanukah lights at one’s own house. Therefore, the guest must kindle the Chanukah lights at his own house and then go to his friend’s house for the festive meal (Taz 677:2; Mishnah Berurah 677:12).

WHERE DOES A YESHIVAH BACHUR LIGHT HIS MENORAH?

This is a dispute among contemporary poskim. Some contend that he should light in the yeshivah dining room, since it is preferable to kindle where one eats, as we mentioned above. Others contend that his dormitory room is considered more his “dwelling” than the dining room, and that he should light there (Shu’t Igros Moshe Yoreh Deah III 14:5; Shu’t Minchas Yitzchok 7:48; Chovas Hador pg. 106). To resolve this issue, some bachurim have the practice of eating one meal each day of Chanukah in their dormitory room and kindling the menorah there.

What about a yeshivah bachur who spends his entire day in yeshivah, but sleeps at home?

It is unclear whether his main obligation to light is at home or in yeshivah. Some poskim suggest he can fulfill the mitzvah by relying on the people kindling at each place — his family lighting at his home and his fellow students lighting in the yeshivah. Alternatively, he can have in mind not to fulfill the mitzvah in either place and light wherever it is more convenient (Shu’t Minchas Yitzchok 7:48; Chovas Hador pg. 106).

REWARD FOR LIGHTING NER CHANUKAH

The Gemara teaches that someone who kindles Ner Chanukah will merit having sons who are talmidei chachomim (Shabbos 23b, see Rashi). This is puzzling; since all observant Jews kindle Ner Chanukah, why aren’t all our sons talmidei chachomim? The Rishonim explain that this bracha applies only to someone who observes the mitzvah carefully, in all its details (Sod Hadlakas Ner Chanukah, authored by Rabbi Yitzchok, the son of the Raavad). It is, therefore, in our best interest to be thoroughly familiar with all the halachos of kindling the Chanukah lights. May we all be blessed with a happy and healthy Chanukah!!

Explaining the Mitzvah of Pidyon Shevuyim

Question #1:

“Recently I saw an advertisement saying that it was pidyon shevuyim to save a child from being raised non-Jewish. But I thought pidyon shevuyim is to free a captive, and these children are with their non-Jewish father.”

Question #2:

“Is there a mitzvah of pidyon shevuyim when someone was captured because he was doing something irresponsible or illegal?”

Question #3:

“I know that the Mishnah states that one should not redeem captives at greater than their market value, but how does one establish market value for a person?”

Answer:

Many news items have revolved around the issue of pidyon shevuyim, the mitzvah to redeem captives or hostages, which Chazal call a mitzvah rabbah — a great mitzvah. And yet, notwithstanding how important a mitzvah it is, at times Chazal placed limitations on pidyon shevuyim. The goal of this article is to understand the importance of this mitzvah and its basic halachic rules and concepts.

Introduction:

The magnitude of the mitzvah of pidyon shevuyim is reflected in the following passage of Gemara, which is, at the same time, a commentary to a very heartbreaking passage of Navi:

Rava asked Rabbah bar Mari: What is the source for the Sages’ statement that redeeming captives is called a “great mitzvah”?

In response, Rabbah bar Mari cited the following verse in Yirmiyahu, which contains tremendously harsh rebuke of the Jewish people:

“Vayomer Hashem eilai, im yaamod Moshe UShmuel lefanai, ein nafshi el ha’am hazeh; shalach mei’al panai veyeitzei’u. Vehayah ki yomru eilecha ana neitzei? Ve’amarta aleihem, ko amar Hashem, asher lamaves, lamaves; va’asher lacherev, lacherev; va’asher lara’av, lara’av; va’asher lashevi, lashevi.

“Hashem said to me, even were Moshe and Shmuel to stand before me and plead on behalf of the Jews, I have no interest in this people – send them away from before me, and they shall go.

“And if they [the Jews] ask you [Yirmiyahu], ‘Where are we going?’ Tell them, ‘So said Hashem: he that is destined for natural death will meet natural death; he that is destined for the sword will meet the sword; he that is destined for hunger will perish through hunger; and he who is destined for captivity will be captured’ [Yirmiyahu 15:1-2].

Rabbah bar Mari then added the commentary of Rabbi Yochanan: “This pasuk is organized according to progressively harsh travail. Violent death is more severe than natural death. Death from starvation causes far greater suffering than violent death. Being captured is a greater calamity than death itself — because it includes all the others.” (Bava Basra 8b)

The Rambam (Hilchos Matanos Evyonim 8:10) codifies the conclusion of Rabbah bar Mari ‘s statement:

Redeeming captives receives priority over providing the poor with food and clothing. There is no mitzvah greater than redeeming captives, because a captive is included among those who are starving, those who are thirsty, those who are without clothing, and he is in life-threatening danger. Someone who hides from redeeming him violates the following Torah prohibitions:

(1) Lo se’ameitz es levavecha — do not harden your heart from helping the poor (Devarim 15:7)

(2) Lo sikpotz es yadcha — do not close your hand (ibid.)

(3) Lo saamod al dam rei’echa — do not stand by when someone’s life is in danger (Vayikra 19:16)

(4) Lo yirdenu befarech le’einecha — do not subjugate him with hard work (Vayikra 25:53).

He also violates the positive mitzvos of:

(1) Ki paso’ach tiftach es yadcha lo — you shall surely open your hand to him (Devarim 15:8),

(2) Vechei achicha imach  allow your brother to live with you (Vayikra 25:36)

(3) Ve’ahavta le’reiacha kamocha love your fellowman as yourself (Vayikra 19:18).

The halacha is that, if necessary, one may sell a sefer Torah to raise the money for redeeming captives (Tosafos, Bava Basra 8b s.v. Pidyon; Shach and Taz to Yoreh Deah 252:1) Although one should not sell a shul to be able to redeem captives, this is only because we want people to dip into their pockets deeply enough to produce the resources. However, when one knows that this will not provide sufficient funding, one may even sell a shul for pidyon shevuyim money (Shach and Taz ibid. Mishnah Berurah 153:24; cf., however, Derishah to Yoreh Deah 252 who disagrees).

Why don’t we redeem captives?

Thus, we find it very surprising that, under certain circumstances, Chazal prohibited redeeming captives. The Mishnah (Gittin 45a) rules one may not redeem captives for more than their market value, because of tikun olam. What does this Mishnah mean that there is a tikun olam, which literally translates as an improvement of the world, not to redeem captives? And what does the Mishnah mean when it says for greater than their market value?

The Gemara presents two disputing reasons how tikun olam is accomplished by limiting the redemption outlay for captives.

(1) The financial pressure will be greater than the community can bear.

(2) The captors will strive to capture other Jews as a result.

Let me explain. In earlier generations, the main cause for someone being captured was not for ransom and not as a hostage for political or prisoner exchange, but because pirates or a marauding armed gang would seize whatever they could of value, and human captives had commercial value as slaves. Thus, any person capable of working had an estimated market price at a slave auction (see Rashi, Kesubos 52b s.v. Trei; however, cf. Shu’t Radbaz 1:40). Notwithstanding the tremendous mitzvah of redeeming captives, Chazal limited how much one should pay to free captives, out of concern that pirates and other criminals would discover that capturing members of the Jewish people is particularly lucrative, and, as a result, they would deliberately target Jews. Thus, the Mishnah‘s takanah established a law that avoids saving one Jew at the expense of creating a menace to others; which explains why it is a tikun olam — it improves world safety.

Why is financial pressure greater than pidyon shevuyim?

This explains the Mishnah‘s takanah according to the second reason cited by the Gemara. However, the Gemara had previously cited a different reason for the tikun olam, which was that redeeming captives at a high price might cause undue financial pressure on the community. This appears to be a strange reason to prevent redeeming captives, particularly when we consider every captive to be in a circumstance of life-threatening emergency. Why would Chazal establish that financial pressure should override pikuach nefashos?

The Chasam Sofer (Shu’t Choshen Mishpat #177 at end) explains that when unlimited redemption funds are paid by the Jewish community coffers, the population itself will become impoverished, which will result in numerous life-threatening emergencies. (The current European financial and political crises are reflective of this.) Therefore, both reasons of the Gemara prevent the threat to one individual from endangering many others.

To sum up. The Mishnah cites a takanah not to redeem captives at greater than their market value because of a tikun olam, and the Gemara cites two reasons to explain the tikun olam, both of which are meant to avoid an inevitable situation that will endanger more people.

A difference in practical halacha

Is there any difference in halacha between the two reasons? Indeed, there is.

According to the first reason — that we are concerned about impoverishing the community – the takanah includes only a situation in which public funds are being used, but not when the redemption money is raised privately. However, according to the second reason, that we are concerned that criminals will now target Jews, the takanah is applicable even when we are raising private funds to redeem the captive, since this establishes a precedent that endangers other people. Thus, the two explanations of tikun olam disagree whether the takanah was specifically that the official community coffers may not be used to redeem captives at greater than market value, or whether this was an absolute takanah binding on all individuals.

To explain this consequence, the Gemara cites the story of a man named Levi bar Darga, who redeemed his captured daughter for a huge sum. The Gemara notes that whether Levi bar Darga was permitted to do this or not depends on which of the two answers of the Gemara we accept. If the tikun olam was to protect future captives, Levi bar Darga was not permitted to redeem his daughter at above her value in the slave market, since this would encourage the targeting of Jews. However, if the tikun olam is to avoid undue pressure on the community chest, Levi bar Darga and any other individual who is paying a ransom out of his personal pocket are permitted to pay whatever they choose, since they are making no requests of the community.

An interesting exception

There is one interesting exception to this rule. The poskim rule that the takanah not to redeem a captive for greater than his market value applies only to a third party redeeming someone, but does not apply to the captive himself, who may redeem himself at whatever price the captors demand (Tosafos, Kesubos 52a s.v.Vehayu; Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 252:4).

If the captors threaten bloodshed

Now that we understand why we may not redeem captives for more than “market value,” we will explore whether there are any other exceptions to the tikun olam rule.

Is there any exception when the peril to life is more direct, such as when the captors threaten to execute the captives if their ransom demands are not met? Granted that the Rambam states that every instance of redeeming captives is pikuach nefesh, there are instances in which the level of pikuach nefesh is much greater, such as when the bloodthirsty captors may execute their hostage rather than sell him or her into slavery. Under these circumstances, does the rule of not redeeming captives above their market price still exist?

Indeed, many authorities consider this case to be an exception to the rule (Tosafos, Gittin 58a s.v. Kol and 45a s.v. Delo). They rally support to this position from the following story recorded by the Gemara (Gittin 58a). The great Tanna, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananya, was in Rome shortly after the churban of the Beis Hamikdash when he heard of an unusually gifted lad who had been captured. Rabbi Yehoshua succeeded in communicating with the child and was tremendously impressed by the child’s acumen, realizing that this child would become a valuable asset for the Jewish people if he would be allowed the opportunity to develop into a Torah scholar. Rabbi Yehoshua decided to buy the child’s freedom at whatever this would cost, which he succeeded in doing at a very high premium. The child grew to become the Tanna Rabbi Yishmael.

Tosafos raises the question: how was Rabbi Yehoshua permitted to collect such a high ransom, when Chazal prohibited redeeming captives at above market price? Tosafos presents three reasons why Rabbi Yehoshua was permitted to do so.

(1) When there is a clear danger, the takanah does not apply.

(2) The Jewish people’s need for Torah scholars is very great, and therefore, one may redeem talmidei chachamim and potential talmidei chachamim at a higher price.

(3) At the time of the churban, how much ransom one paid to release a particular prisoner would not affect how many captives the Romans seized. Thus, the reason for the takanah did not apply in this instance.

Targeting talmidei chachamim

Many of us know of the famous story of the Maharam of Rottenberg (Germany), the famous thirteenth century “Captive Rabbi,” who refused to allow himself to be redeemed for an excessive price, out of concern that this would become a common practice of gentile kings and marauders. There is no reason to assume that the Maharam disagreed with Tosafos‘ conclusion that one may redeem Torah scholars at above market price. It is more likely that the Maharam realized that in his day, were he to have be redeemed for an exorbitant ransom, it would have endangered other talmidei chachamim and caused a great loss of talmidei chachamim to klal Yisrael.

Redeeming from imminent danger

Later poskim debate whether the first answer of Tosafos, that the takanah does not apply when the captive is in grave danger, is considered the final say in halacha (see Pischei Teshuvah, Yoreh Deah 252:4). For example, the following responsum disputes Tosafos’ conclusion:

In the early sixteenth century, the Maharam of Lublin, Poland, was asked the following question by the Jewish community of Apta. (We should be careful not to confuse him with the Maharam of Rottenberg whom I mentioned above, who lived in Germany some 300 years earlier.) A young man of their community had been seized by gentiles, who contended that they had caught him engaged in unsavory activities, and that they were going to either execute him or forcibly convert him to their religion, in this instance, Islam. The community questioned whether it was required to redeem the young hostage, since he was accused of violating halacha and, in addition, had caused his own imprisonment by acting foolishly. In addition, assuming that they were responsible for redeeming him, they asked whether they were required to do so if the ransom demanded was excessive. (It appears from the responsum that the redemption funds would come from the general community funds or, perhaps, a special tax collection for this purpose.)

The Maharam responded that even were we certain that the young man had sinned, this fact would not exempt the community from redeeming him, even with use of public funds. Nevertheless, the Maharam contends that although they are required to redeem him, they are not required to pay more than his market value, even though his life is in serious danger. The Maharam contended that every captive is in life-threatening danger, yet Chazal ruled that we do not redeem captives at greater than “market value” because the potential life-threatening menace to the larger community endangers more people (Shu’t Maharam Lublin #15).

(The responsum of the Maharam has a surprising ending. After discussing all the halachic ramifications of the question asked, he reports that he consulted with a wise scholar familiar with the political scene near Apta, a certain Rav Moshe ben Rav Yehoshua, who advised that the accusation against the young man was merely an excuse of the jealous and greedy gentiles to demand funds from the Jewish community, and that the particular crime of which the young man was accused did not warrant the punishment they were threatening. Furthermore, the Maharam notes, it was uncertain whether the young man had indeed performed the act of which he was accused.)

Kidnapping for ransom

Does the takanah apply today, when the potential captors are not looking for prisoners that they can sell as slaves, but rather hostages that they can hold for ransom?

In an early responsum, the Radbaz (Shu’t #40) notes that the custom is to redeem captives at above the value that they would fetch in the slave market. He contends that even though the price is often ten or more times the captive’s slave value, the fact that the captors are not looking specifically for Jews means one can pay the higher price that a ransom would fetch. However, he notes that one should not pay more than gentiles would pay as ransom, since this could lead the captors to single out Jews in the future. The Radbaz notes, however, that common custom was to redeem at even higher prices. The Radbaz then proceeds to explain that this practice, which appears to run counter to the takanah of the Mishnah, is based on the following four heterim.

  1. Since there are wealthy gentiles who pay high ransoms for family members, potential kidnappers will target wealthy people, not necessarily Jews.
  1. Sometimes, the captive qualifies as a talmid chacham, who may be redeemed at above market price.
  1. When there are minors involved who will be lost to Judaism, we may redeem them at any price.
  1. We are not providing public funds, but seeking donations for these redemptions, which is not included in the takanah according to the first approach of the Gemara. (This last reason of the Radbaz is surprising, since the Rif, Rambam, and other major halachic authorities all rule according to the second reason the Gemara cited.)

Saving children from shmad

The third justification of the Radbaz touches on a different question, which unfortunately has become common, and leads us to a discussion about a different type of pidyon shevuyim. This is where we are not endeavoring to save someone’s physical life, which may not be at risk, but to save their spiritual life. It is accepted halacha that, in such a situation, there is no limit to how much money one is required to spend to save them, and the acts undertaken to save them supersede all the mitzvos of the Torah. This means that if one needs to travel on Shabbos or violate Shabbos in some other way to save a child from falling under non-Jewish influences, one is required to do so, just as saving physical lives supersedes Shabbos (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 306:14). Therefore, someone who needs to fight a legal custody battle to save a minor from being raised in a non-Jewish environment is required to spend as much money as it takes to save the minor, even when the chances of winning are slim and communities are required to contribute significant sums to help.

In conclusion

The circumstances surrounding any situation of pidyon shevuyim are extremely painful; yet, precisely for this reason, it is the greatest mitzvah of chesed we can perform on behalf of another Jew, whether we are involved in redeeming him physically or spiritually. We should be certain to respond generously whenever we are approached to help in this mitzvah, and see it as a huge opportunity to do Hashem‘s will.

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