How Fast Must I Eat?

Pesach – The First Question Is:

“How quickly must I eat my matzoh on Pesach to be able to bensch?”

Matzoh – The Second Question Is:

“How quickly must I eat my matzoh at the Seder to fulfill the mitzvah?”

Maror – The Third Question Is:

“How quickly must I eat my maror at the Seder to fulfill the mitzvah?”

Wine – The Fourth Question Is:

“How quickly must I drink the wine of the four kosos at the Seder?”

Foreword:

In some households, there is a big rush to eat the matzoh as quickly as possible, and similar pressure to eat the maror and drink the four cups of wine at the Seder. This article will research how quickly we must eat or drink mitzvah foods to fulfill the Torah’s requirements. Since this is a vast topic, our article will be focused on some of its specific aspects. Were we to attempt to cover more of the subtopics, we would be biting off more than we can chew.

Introduction:

In several places, the Gemara states that shiurim, the measurements that are a very important aspect of the halachos of the Torah, are halacha leMoshe miSinai (Eruvin 4a; Sukkah 5a). This means that when Moshe Rabbeinu was taught the Torah by Hashem, he was taught the quantities necessary to fulfill the mitzvos, although there is little or no allusion to these details in the written Torah. For example, the halacha that one must eat at least a kezayis (an olive-sized piece) of matzoh to fulfill the mitzvah is a halacha leMoshe miSinai (Brachos 37b; Rashi, Sukkah 42b).

Maror

The mitzvah to eat maror at the Seder is min haTorah only when there is also a korban Pesach. Until the time that we are again able to offer the korban Pesach, which we pray will be in time for this year, the mitzvah of eating maror is only a rabbinic requirement. Notwithstanding the fact that the requirement to eat maror is only miderabbanan, we are still required to eat a kezayis to fulfill the mitzvah (Rosh, Pesachim 10:25).

How big is an olive?

As we are aware, Hashem created olives, like most items, in different sizes. How big an olive is intended to fulfill the mitzvos? The Mishnah states that it is an average-sized olive (Keilim 17:8). Of course, this may not help us, since we do not know what the Mishnah considered to be “average-sized.” Among the acharonim, this became a very hot topic, with some prominent authorities ruling that the olives available in the contemporary world are considerably smaller than what was considered an “average” olive of the days of Chazal (Tzelach, Pesachim 116b). Although most authorities disagree with this approach, accepted practice is to be stringent and follow this opinion, at least in regard to fulfilling mitzvos min haTorah (see Shu”t Chasam Sofer, Orach Chayim 1:127; Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chayim 168:13, Yoreh Deah 324:5, 6; Shi’urei Torah of Rav Avraham Chayim Na’eh 3, note 19). This explains why the amounts we find that many authorities mention for the mitzvah of matzoh is much larger than the size of any olive that we have ever encountered. Also, since most authorities rule this way only germane to mitzvos that are min haTorah, this explains why the size of a kezayis for the mitzvah of achilas matzoh is greater than it is for the mitzvah of koreich or for bensching, which are not requirements min haTorah.

How much must I imbibe?

The mitzvah to drink four cups of wine at the Seder is rabbinic in origin, and, therefore, by definition, was not taught at Sinai. When Chazal instituted this mitzvah, they required that a person have a cup that contains at least what they called a revi’is. (Most late authorities calculate a revi’is to be a little more than three ounces, but some feel that it is closer to five ounces or even a bit more. Because of space constraints, we will not be able to discuss the details of this question.) Regarding how much must be drunk, most authorities contend that it is preferable to drink an entire revi’is, although all agree that someone who drank most, but not all, of the revi’is has fulfilled the mitzvah.

Heavy drinker

What is the halacha if someone is using a cup that is larger than a revi’is? Is it sufficient for him to drink most of a revi’is, or must he drink most of the volume of the cup, even when that is more than a revi’is? The rishonim discuss this issue, some contending that it is sufficient to drink most of a revi’is, whereas the Ramban rules that he must drink most of the contents of the cup that he is using (quoted by Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 472). To accommodate both opinions, the Magen Avraham advises that someone who cannot drink a lot of wine should use a goblet that holds only the minimum amount of a revi’is.

Other mitzvos

Although the minimal amount for most mitzvos that involve eating is a kezayis, this rule is not universal. Yom Kippur is one example that is different, where the minimum amount to be culpable for the Torah’s punishment of koreis is the eating of a koseves, the size of a large date, which is considerably larger than an olive. Based on a passage of Gemara, the rishonim conclude that a koseves is slightly smaller than a kebeitzah, the size of an egg (Yoma 79b; Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 612:1).

The Gemara (Yoma 73b) discusses whether it is prohibited min haTorah to eat less than a koseves on Yom Kippur. The universally accepted conclusion is that it is prohibited min haTorah to eat or drink even a small amount on Yom Kippur, unless the situation is life-threatening. The well-known concept called pachus mikeshiur, which permits eating less than a koseves or drinking an amount smaller than the minimal shiur and then waiting several minutes before eating or drinking again,is permitted only when fasting is potentially life-threatening. The principle of pachus mikeshiur is that, even when it is permitted for someone to eat on Yom Kippur, we are required to minimize the level of the violation (Ran, based on Yoma 82b). In other words, in a situation in which it is dangerous for someone to fast, he may eat or drink only the minimal amount that mitigates the life-threatening emergency. If he can eat a very small amount and then wait to eat more, he may not eat more, now.

Bensching

In parshas Eikev, where the Torah requires that we recite a blessing after eating, it states, Ve’achalta vesavata uveirachta es Hashem Elokecha, “When you eat and are satisfied, you should bless Hashem, your G-d.” The implication of the posuk is that the requirement to bensch is only when someone ate enough to be fully satisfied, meaning that he ate a full meal. Indeed, most halachic authorities rule that this is true min haTorah, and that the requirement to bensch when eating less than this amount is only rabbinic.

The Gemara quotes a dispute among tanna’im how much food requires the recital of birchas hamazon, and the conclusion is that it is required whenever someone ate a kezayis, the same minimum required for the mitzvos of matzoh and maror. Someone who ate less than a kezayis of bread, whether it is leavened or not, is not required to recite birkas hamazon, and, therefore, it is forbidden to recite birkas hamazon if one ate less than a kezayis.

At this point, we can begin discussing the opening question of today’s article: “How quickly must I eat my matzoh on Pesach to be able to bensch?” In other words, is there a minimum amount of time within which I must eat a kezayis of matzoh to be required to bensch? This question introduces our next subtopic.

Term limits

Among the many measurements that the Oral Torah teaches is the concept of kdei achilas pras. I will shortly explain what this term means, but first I will explain the principle. Fulfilling the mitzvos of eating matzoh and maror requires not only eating at least a kezayis, but also that the kezayis be eaten within a minimal period of time. Similarly, there is a requirement to bensch when eating at least a kezayis of bread, but only when it is eaten within a minimal timeframe. The minimal time limit required for all mitzvos germane to eating is to eat the specified amount within a period of time called kdei achilas pras (see Pesochim 114b).

Literally, kdei achilas pras means as much time as it takes to eat half a loaf of bread. This is, of course, meaningless, unless we know the size of the loaf, what type of bread it is, who is eating it, and under what circumstances. How big a loaf is the subject of a dispute among the tanna’im, and how we rule in this dispute is, itself, disputed by the most prominent of rishonim: The Rambam’s opinion is that kdei achilas pras is the amount of time it takes to eat white bread the size of three eggs (Hilchos Shevisas Asor 2:4; Hilchos Chometz Umatzoh 1:6; Hilchos Ma’achalos Asuros 14:8; see also Chazon Ish, Orach Chayim 39:18), whereas Rashi (Brachos 37b; Pesochim 44a; Avodah Zarah 67a) concludes that it is the amount of time it takes to eat white bread the size of four eggs. We will discuss shortly how we measure this in minutes, but it does mean that whatever the timeframe is according to the Rambam, Rashi holds that it is one third longer.

The time limit of kdei achilas pras applies not only to mitzvos but also to prohibitions. For example, there are Torah prohibitions against eating non-kosher species, or against eating blood or cheilev, certain fats. Although it is prohibited min haTorah to eat any amount of these substances, the punishments that the Torah describes are only when someone eats a kezayis of these prohibited foods within kdei achilas pras.

The Shulchan Aruch quotes the dispute between Rashi and the Rambam without making a decision which approach we should follow. For this reason, the consensus of the subsequent authorities is that we should always be stringent, at least when we are dealing with a de’oraysa case.

Individualism

Does the size of kdei achilas pras depend on how quickly this individual eats, or does it depend on how long it takes most people to eat? Germane to the law of consuming pachus mikeshiur on Yom Kippur, where we are trying to determine how long a person must wait between eating minimal portions of food, the Mishnah Berurah (618:21) states that this is contingent on how long it takes the person in question to eat bread the size of four eggs. However, the Mishnah Berurah then quotes the Chasam Sofer, who rules that someone eating pachus mikeshiur on Yom Kippur should allow at least nine minutes between one eating and the next. This ruling of an objective time figure assumes that the time of kdei achilas pras is dependent not on the individual, but is a standard measurement. The latter approach is what many later authorities conclude (Chazon Ish, Orach Chayim 39:18; Shi’urei Torah 3:13 and others). Because of questions germane to the Mishnah Berurah’s statement on this issue, some prominent later authorities conclude that the Mishnah Berurah himself did not mean that kdei achilas pras is dependent on the individual; he also agrees that kdei achilas pras is dependent on an “average” person, whatever that term means.

Kdei achilas pras

How many minutes constitute the time that we call kdei achilas pras? This question is discussed by the acharonim, with a wide range of opinions. Since the different approaches are based more on conjecture than on absolute proof, most authorities rule that we should follow a much longer amount of time when it is a chumra, such as on Yom Kippur, when we are gauging how to space the food in a way that mitigates the prohibition, whereas on Pesach night we should follow a much shorter amount of time, since we are deciding the minimum amount of time in which to eat the kezayis of matzoh.

I mentioned above the ruling of the Chasam Sofer that kdei achilas pras is nine minutes, which is the longest opinion of which I am aware. The Maharam Shik, a proud disciple of the Chasam Sofer, explains that this calculation should really be eight minutes, but that the Chasam Sofer added an extra minute to be on the safe side (Shu”t Maharam Shik, Orach Chayim #263). The Bikurei Yaakov,a prominent work on the laws of sukkah written by Rav Yaakov Ettlinger, the author of the classics Aruch Laneir and Binyan Tziyon, holds that it is sufficient to wait only 7.5 minutes. To quote him in context: “It is forbidden to eat more than a kebeitzah outside the sukkah… however it seems to me that this is only when he ate it within kdei achilas pras, which is approximately 1/8 of an hour” (Bikurei Yaakov 639:13). One eighth of an hour is seven and a half minutes; however, the Aruch Laneir does not tell us how he arrived at that figure. The Aruch Hashulchan (Orach Chayim 618:14) is more lenient than any of the opinions we have quoted so far, ruling that kdei achilas pras in regard to someone who is eating on Yom Kippur pachus mikeshiur is “six or seven” minutes.

Kezayis and matzoh

Thus far, we have been estimating kdei achilas pras when a longer period of time is a chumra, as it is germane to pachus mikeshiur on Yom Kippur and eating outside of the sukkah. However, in our opening questions regarding the minimum time within which we must eat our kezeisim of matzoh and maror on Pesach, the shorter period of time for kdei achilas pras is the chumra. There are a few opinions that contend that the amount of time within which to eat a kezayis of matzoh is less than three minutes. For example, the Marcheshes (Orach Chayim 1:14:6) rules that the minimum time within which it is required to eat a kezayis of matzoh is 2.7 minutes. Because of considerations beyond the scope of this article, Rav Avraham Chayim Na’eh (Shi’urei Torah 3:15) writes that this is too short a time. In a very lengthy essay, he discusses many opinions and analyzes their sources. He concludes that one should try to follow the most stringent approach, but he rejects those who consider kdei achilas pras to be less than four minutes. Therefore, he concludes that one should try to eat the first kezayis of matzoh within four minutes, but for pachus mikeshiur on Yom Kippur, one should assume that the time of kdei achilas pras is nine minutes.

However, other authorities rule that one should be stricter regarding the timeframe within which to eat the kezayis of matzoh and perhaps even other mitzvos. The Aruch Hashulchan (202:8) concludes that kdei achilas pras for these purposes should be calculated at “three or four minutes,” being more stringent than Rav Avraham Chayim Na’eh. Rav Moshe Feinstein concludes that one should eat the kezayis of matzoh within three minutes. He rules this way even regarding rabbinic laws, concluding that bensching requires eating a kezayis of bread within less than three minutes (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 4:41 s.v. Al kal panim).

Thus, we can now answer the second and third of our opening questions: “How quickly must I eat my matzoh at the Seder to fulfill the mitzvah?” and “How quickly must I eat my maror at the Seder to fulfill the mitzvah?”  Since the mitzvah of matzoh is min haTorah, according to Rav Na’eh, one should try to complete it within four minutes.

Food versus beverage

At this point, we will address the last of our four opening questions:

“How quickly must I drink the wine of the four kosos at the Seder?”

Until now, we have been discussing kdei achilas pras. To the best of my knowledge, this is universally accepted as the minimal timeframe for all mitzvos that involve eating. However, whether this is the minimal time for drinking of beverages is a dispute among the rishonim. The Maharitz Gei’us, one of the early Spanish rishonim (he was the Rif’s predecessor as the rav of Lucena, Spain), and the Rambam rule that the minimal time limit for drinking is the amount of time it takes to drink a revi’is, which, according to the Aruch Hashulchan, is perhaps as short as a minute (see Orach Chayim 202:8). (Some authorities rule that the amount of time to drink a revi’is is shorter.) On the other hand, other halachic authorities, including the Ra’avad (Hilchos Terumos 10:3), the Ran (Yoma) and the Gra (Orach Chayim 612:10), rule that the minimum timeframe for beverages is kdei achilas pras, the same as it is for foods. This dispute has major ramifications for many halachos, including what is the minimum time allowed to drink each of the four cups of wine.

How do we rule?

The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 612:10), in the laws of Yom Kippur, rules that the primary opinion is that the minimal timeframe for beverages is the time it takes to drink a revi’is, although he also mentions the approach that the timeframe is kdei achilas pras. Many late authorities assume that it remains unresolved whether the requirement for drinking the wine at the Seder is the very short amount of time it takes to drink a revi’is or the considerably longer time of kdei achilas pras, and, therefore, it is best to drink each of the four kosos without interruption, to accommodate the stricter approach.

Conclusion

As Rav Hirsch proves, the Bnei Yisroel were taught the details of the oral Torah years before we were given the finished written Torah, which we first received shortly before or shortly after Moshe Rabbeinu’s passing, depending on two opinions in the Gemara. Moshe taught us the oral Torah, including the shiurim of mitzvos throughout the forty years in the Desert. Thus, we see the importance of being careful with the details of these laws, even though they are not mentioned in the written Torah.

What Is the Brocha?

On Pesach, shaylos always come up regarding which brochos we should recite before eating matzoh brei, matzoh meal cakes and similar foods. The truth is that similar questions revolve around which brochos we should recite on foods such as French toast, English muffins, kishka and kneidlach.

Question: When I eat matzoh brei, I have been making the brachos of mezonos and al hamichyah on it. Now someone told me that I should wash and make hamotzi on some bread or matzoh instead. Is this true?

Question: The chef in our yeshiva stuffs the meatloaf with huge pieces of leftover challah. Do we need to wash netilas yadayim and make hamotzi before eating it?

Question: I have been told that the brocha on licorice is shehakol, even though the first ingredient listed on its label is flour. Why is this?

In the article Pizza, Pretzels and Pastry, we discuss the unusual halachic category called pas haba’ah bekisnin, and found that crackers, pretzels, and certain pastry-type items require the brocha of mezonos before eating them and al hamichyah afterward, unless they are eaten as a meal, in which case they require netilas yadayim, hamotzi, and bensching. (Please refer to that article for details of this complicated halacha.) However, there are numerous other foods prepared with flour that are not typical bread. In order to explore which brocha one recites on these foods, we will start our discussion with items made from bread that is then cooked or fried.

FRENCH TOAST

Although the words “French toast” were unknown in the times of Chazal, the Gemara (Brachos 37b) discusses which brocha to recite on chavitza, a dish that contains cooked pieces of bread. The Gemara rules that if the pieces are the size of a kezayis (the volume of an olive – for our purposes, we will assume this to be about one fluid ounce), the brocha before is hamotzi and it requires bensching afterward. This is because a large piece of bread does not lose its significance even if it is cooked or fried. However, if all of the pieces are smaller than a kezayis, the brocha is mezonos before and al hamichyah afterward. If some of the pieces are larger than a kezayis and others smaller, then one recites hamotzi as long as one piece is at least the size of a kezayis (Mishnah Berurah 168:53).

Based on this Gemara, we conclude that one must wash netilas yadayim and recite hamotzi before eating French toast, and bensch afterward, since the pieces are at least a kezayis (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 168:10).

WHICH BROCHA DOES ONE MAKE ON KNEIDLACH?

Kneidlach are made from ground matzoh that is mixed to form a new dough and then cooked. Most poskim rule that since the matzoh is ground into small pieces before it is cooked, the brochabrachos are mezonos and al hamichyah even if one eats a very large amount. Another opinion contends that if the pieces of matzoh meal are shaped into balls larger than a kezayis before they are cooked, their brocha is hamotzi (Magen Avraham 168:28). The accepted psak is to make a mezonos and al hamichyah on kneidlach (Mishnah Berurah 168:59).

This leads us to an unusual shaylah I was once asked:

YESHIVA MEATLOAF DELUXE

A yeshiva bachur once asked me whether one should make hamotzi on the meatloaf served at his yeshiva. I thought he was attempting to draw attention to the quality of the cuisine, but indeed, he was asking a serious shaylah. It turned out that the cook in his yeshiva would stuff large pieces of leftover challah into the meatloaf.

This is an unusual situation. Many people include matzoh meal or bread crumbs in their meatloaf, but these lose their importance in the finished product. However, Yeshiva Meatloaf Deluxe included pieces of challahfar larger than a kezayis. As we mentioned above, pieces of bread this size do not lose their status as bread. Thus, as strange as it might seem, one is required to wash al netilas yadayim before eating this meatloaf, and its correct brachos are hamotzi before and bensching afterward.

This situation was unusual for an additional reason – people usually soak challah or bread until it falls apart before adding it to a kugel or meatloaf. However, Yeshiva Meatloaf Deluxe calls for bread that is only moistened before being adding to the meatloaf, but does not fall apart.

BAKING AND SAUTÉING (frying in a small amount of oil)

On Pesach, my wife makes an item she refers to as “matzoh rolls,” which involves mixing matzoh meal together with oil and eggs, forming “rolls” and baking them. Although they are prepared from matzoh meal, the brocha on these items is hamotzi since the dough is subsequently baked rather than cooked and the finished product is very much similar to a type of bread, albeit Pesach-dik.

Similarly, if someone made matzoh rolls by sautéing the dough in a little oil (just enough so that the dough does not burn) the completed product should be treated as bread for all halachos (Mishnah Berurah 168:69). Thus, a matzoh kugel made on the top of the stove would be hamotzi, even if the pieces are smaller than a kezayis.

FRYING VS. COOKING – THE MATZOH BREI SAGA

Thus far, we have learned that one recites hamotzi on large pieces of bread even if they were subsequently cooked or fried, and that small pieces lose their status as bread when they are cooked. However, some poskim contend that frying small pieces of bread does not change their status and they still require netilas yadayim and hamotzi (Magen Avraham 168:39). According to this opinion, matzoh brei requires netilas yadayim, hamotzi and bensching. Other poskim disagree, contending that fried small pieces of bread lose their status as bread just like cooked pieces (see Mishnah Berurah 168:56). These poskim contend that one recites mezonos and al hamichyah on matzoh brei unless at least one of the pieces is the size of a kezayis. The Mishnah Berurah concludes that the halacha is uncertain, and one should avoid this problem by eating these items within a meal. Thus, an Ashkenazi should not eat matzoh brei without washing and making hamotzi on a piece of matzoh first. However, if at least one of the pieces if is the size of a kezayis, the matzoh brei requires netilas yadayim, hamotzi and bensching.

Sefardim recite mezonos before matzoh, except on Pesach, unless they eat more than four kebeitzim of matzoh. During Pesach they follow the same rules that I mentioned above for Ashkenazim. During the rest of the year, Sefardim recite mezonos before eating matzoh brei and al hamichyah afterward, and they need not eat it within a meal. However, a Sefardi who ate four kebeitzim of matzoh brei would be faced with the same concern mentioned above and should wash netilas yadayim and make hamotzi on some bread.

According to all opinions, deep frying small pieces of bread or matzoh is the same as cooking, since the oil completely covers the food. Thus, the correct brocha on deep-fried matzoh-meal latkes is mezonos and al hamichyah (Mishnah Berurah 168:59).

CROUTONS

Commercial croutons are produced by either frying or toasting small pieces of seasoned bread. If they are deep fried, then the brocha is mezonos and al hamichyah. If they are fried or toasted, then they are pas haba’ah bekisnin (requiring mezonos when eaten as a snack and hamotzi when eaten as a meal).

Homemade croutons toasted from leftover bread are hamotzi. Deep-fried, they are mezonos, and fried they are subject to the same shaylah mentioned above as to whether they are hamotzi or mezonos, and should therefore be eaten after making hamotzi on bread.

CHALLAH KUGEL

Most people make challah kugel (or matzoh kugel) by soaking the challah or matzoh, then mixing it with other ingredients and baking it. When the challah or matzoh disintegrates into mush before it is mixed with the other ingredients, the resulting kugel has the halachic status of pas haba’ah bekisninbrocha (mezonos when eaten as a snack and hamotzi when eaten as a meal).

Sometimes the challah remains in small pieces; this is often the case when making a matzoh kugel. When this is the case, the resulting kugel must be treated as bread, requiring netilas yadayim and hamotzi, as we pointed out earlier concerning baked goods. Since the halacha here depends on some complicated halachic details, it is better in this case to make hamotzi on a piece of matzoh or bread first.

MATZOH LASAGNA

A guest arrived at someone’s house and was served a portion of matzoh lasagna. In this particular recipe, the matzoh was soaked, mixed with meat and other ingredients, and then baked.

I now ask you, dear reader: Must they wash netilas yadayim and which brocha should they recite?

We can answer this question only after ascertaining whether there are noticeable pieces of matzoh in the lasagna. If there are noticeable pieces, even if they are small, the guest should wash netilas yadayim and make hamotzi on matzoh or bread before eating the lasagna kugel. If the matzoh all turned to mush, the lasagna should probably be treated as pas haba’ah bekisnin, and would require borei minei mezonos on a snack size, but would be hamotzi and require bensching if eaten as a meal. The exact definition of a meal for these purposes is discussed in our article on pas haba’ah bekisnin.

PANCAKES, BLINTZES AND CREPES

These items are all made from a batter rather than dough and then baked in a pan, form or griddle. Since they never have a bread-like appearance, they are always mezonos and al hamichyah. This is true even if one eats a large amount, since they are considered neither bread nor pas haba’ah bekisnin. Thus, one can have an entire, very satiating meal of pancakes or blintzes without washing netilas yadayim, and one recites the brocha of al hamichyah afterward.

WAFFLES, WAFERS, ICE CREAM CONES

These items are also made from a batter, but in this case the batter is poured into a mold or waffle iron that bakes it into its final shape. Although these items have a slightly more bread-like appearance than pancakes and blintzes, without the mold, these items would never have a bread-like shape, and they do not have a tzuras hapas (bread-like appearance) even after being baked. Therefore, they are not considered pas haba’ah bekisnin but rather regular mezonos. As a result, they do not require netilas yadayim, and the brachos are mezonos and al hamichyah even if one made a full meal out of them. Thus, one can enjoy as many wafers as one wants and recite al hamichyah when finished eating.

ENGLISH MUFFINS

Most English muffins have a consistency noticeably different from regular bread, and therefore are pas haba’ah bekisnin. However, an English muffin whose inside tastes like bread should be treated as bread.

KISHKA AND LICORICE

Although these are two very different foods, the halachic discussion that involves them is similar.

The Gemara (Berachos 37b and 36b) discusses a food called rihata, which was made of flour, oil and honey cooked or stirred together in a pot until they hardened. The Gemara cites a dispute whether the brocha is mezonos, because of the general halachic importance of flour; or shehakol, because the main taste comes from the honey. We rule that the brocha is mezonos because flour is usually considered the main ingredient of a food, unless the flour is there only to hold it together. Whenever the flour is added to provide taste, the brocha is mezonos, even if the main taste comes from the honey.

Kishka has the same halacha as rihata. Although the main taste comes from the other ingredients, the flour certainly adds taste as well.

Although licorice contains a significant amount of flour, the flour is included only to give licorice its shape, and not to add anything to the taste or to make it more filling. Therefore, the brocha on licorice is shehakol (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 208:2 and Mishnah Berurah ad loc.).

According to the Gemara (Bava Kama 30a), someone who desires to become exemplary in his behavior should toil in understanding the laws of brochos. By investing energy into understanding the details of how we praise Hashem, we realize the importance of each aspect of that praise and how we must recognize that everything we have is a gift from Hashem. Furthermore, when reciting the proper brocha, one is acquiring the item from Hashem in the proper way. Pas haba’ah bekisnin functions in two different ways, sometimes as our main sustenance and most of the time as a pleasant snack. Reciting the correct brocha focuses our understanding on the appropriate praise for Hashem at the correct moment.

Indigestible Matzos, or Performing Mitzvos When Suffering from Food Allergies

This week is Shabbos Rosh Chodesh and also Parshah Hachodesh, which discusses both the mitzvah of creating the calendar and the mitzvah of korban Pesach. Over the years, I have discussed these topics many times, and I have also written articles on some of the unique features of Shabbos Rosh Chodesh. These articles can all be found on this website. For those wanting to read up on the many topics germane to Pesach, the website also contains a variety of articles, which can be found by using the search words matzoh, Pesach, wine, kitniyos, sefiras ha’omer, hallel, yom tov, chol hamoed, or eruv tavshillin.

Question #1: I have acid reflux; as a result, I never drink any alcohol since it gives me severe heartburn. I also have difficulty tolerating grape juice, which does not agree with me. Am I required to drink either wine or grape juice for the four cups at the Seder?

Question #2: My body is intolerant of gluten. Am I required to eat matzoh on Pesach, and if so, how much?”

Question #3: How far must one go to fulfill the mitzvah of maror if the only variety available is horseradish?

Consuming matzoh, maror, wine or grape juice is uncomfortable for many people, for a variety of reasons. Consumption of these foods may exacerbate certain medical conditions, such as allergies, diabetes, celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome and reflux. To what extent must someone afflicted by these conditions extend him/herself to fulfill these mitzvos? Does it make a difference if the mitzvah is required min haTorah, such as matzoh, or only miderabbanan, such as arba kosos, the mitzvah of drinking the four cups of wine at the Seder. (Similarly, the mitzvah of maror is required today only miderabbanan, since the Torah requires eating maror only when we offer the korban pesach.)

PIKUACH NEFESH

One is never required to perform a positive mitzvah when there is a potential threat to one’s life. Quite the contrary, it is forbidden to carry out any mitzvah whose performance may be life- threatening. Therefore, someone who has a potentially life-threatening allergy or sensitivity to grain may not consume matzoh or any other grain product – ever — and this prohibition applies fully on Seder night.

NOT DANGEROUS, BUT UNPLEASANT

However, must one observe these mitzvos when the situation is not life threatening, but is painful or affects one’s wellbeing? Must one always fulfill the mitzvah, even though doing so is extremely uncomfortable or makes one unwell?

RABBI YEHUDAH’S HEADACHE

The Gemara reports that the great Tanna Rabbi Yehudah, who is quoted hundreds of times in the Mishnah and Gemara, suffered from the consumption of wine. The Gemara records the following anecdote:

Rabbi Yehudah looked so happy that a Roman woman accused him of being inebriated. He responded that he is a teetotaler, “Trust me that I taste wine only for kiddush, havdalah and the four cups of Pesach. Furthermore, after drinking four cups of wine at the Seder, I have a splitting headache that lasts until Shavuos” (see Nedarim 49b).

This passage implies that one is required to undergo a great deal of discomfort to fulfill even a mitzvah that is rabbinic in origin, and certainly a Torah-required law, such as consuming matzoh on Pesach. Based on this anecdote, the Rashba (Shu”t 1:238) requires someone who avoids wine because he despises its taste or because it harms him (“mazik”) to drink the four cups; this conclusion is quoted definitively in Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 472:10). Thus, one might conclude that one must fulfill arba kosos in any non-life-threatening situation, even when the consequences are unpleasant.

However, several authorities sanction abstaining from arba kosos under certain extenuating, but not life-threatening, circumstances, even though they also accept the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch! For example, the Aruch HaShulchan (472:14) permits someone who is ill to refrain from consuming the four cups on Seder night, and the Mishnah Berurah rules similarly (472:35). They explain that the harmone must experience to fulfill the mitzvah does not include physical harm, but is limited to discomfort or moderate pain.

DERECH CHEIRUS

In Shaar HaTziyun, the Mishnah Berurah explains why he permits refraining from arba kosos under such circumstances: Becoming bedridden because one consumed arba kosos is not derech cheirus, which I will translate as demonstrating freedom. His reference to derech cheirus alludes to the following Gemara:

One who drinks the wine undiluted has fulfilled the requirement of arba kosos, but he did not fulfill the requirement of demonstrating freedom (Pesachim 108b).

What does this Gemara mean? Why does drinking one’s wine straight not fulfill this mitzvah called demonstrating freedom?

The wine of the Gemara’s era required one to dilute it before drinking. Imbibing it straight was not the normal method of drinking and, therefore, would not demonstrate the freedom that the Seder emphasizes.

The Mishnah Berurah contends that a mitzvah whose purpose is to demonstrate that we are freemen cannot require becoming bedridden as a result. Although a potential massive headache, such as what affected Rabbi Yehudah, does not exempt one from the mitzvah, becoming bedridden is qualitatively worse. The Aruch HaShulchan rules similarly, although he omits the reasoning of derech cheirus and simply assumes that the mitzvah does not apply under these circumstances.

(There may be a difference of opinion between the Mishnah Berurah and the Aruch HaShulchan germane to mitzvas maror. The Mishnah Berurah’s reason of derech cheirus applies only to the arba kosos, and therefore he might hold that one must eat maror even if he becomes bedridden as a result. However, the Aruch HaShulchan’s ruling may apply to any rabbinic mitzvah, and thus permit someone who would become ill from eating maror to abstain from performing this mitzvah.)

ALCOHOLIC CONTENT

Let us assume that our patient could drink grape juice without any ill result, but may have some difficulty with wine. Is there a requirement for him/her to drink wine?

The Gemara states that “One may squeeze a cluster of grapes and then immediately recite Kiddush over it” (Bava Basra 97b). Obviously, this grape juice has no alcoholic content, and yet it is acceptable for Kiddush.

However, the Gemara’s ruling that someone who drank the arba kosos without dilution does not fulfill cheirus implies that the Seder mitzvah requires a wine with alcoholic content, and therefore grape juice does not perform this aspect of the mitzvah. Nevertheless, someone who cannot have any alcohol may fulfill the mitzvah of arba kosos with grape juice (Shu”t Shevet HaLevi 9:58).

DILUTING WINE

Is it better for someone to dilute their wine with water, rather than drink grape juice?

Some authorities contend that one fulfills the concept of cheirus as long as one can detect alcoholic content, even though the wine is diluted. However, before diluting our wine with water, contact the manufacturer or the hechsher, since some wines are already diluted to the maximum halachically allowable that one can and still recite over it hagafen. The Pri Megadim (Eishel Avraham 204:16) rules that although Chazal diluted their wine significantly (Shabbos 77a), our wine is very weak and should be diluted only moderately. He contends that if one adds more water than wine the bracha becomes shehakol; one can certainly not use this wine for Kiddush or arba kosos. The Aruch HaShulchan (204:14) rules even more strictly, that any added water renders our wines shehakol and invalidates them for Kiddush or arba kosos. I suspect that this was not a dispute, but a reflection of the quality of the wine available; the wine available to the Pri Megadim could be diluted without ruining it, as long as there was more wine than water, whereas that available to the Aruch HaShulchan was easily ruined.

On the other hand, diluting wine with grape juice does not jeopardize the bracha, and, if the alcohol content is still noticeable, one will fulfill the concept of cheirus.

ARBA KOSOS SUBSTITUTES

If someone cannot drink four cups of wine or grape juice, should they simply not drink anything for the arba kosos?

The Mishnah Berurah rules that one may substitute chamar medinah, literally, the national “wine.” This follows a ruling of the Rama (483) that someone who has no available wine may fulfill the mitzvah of arba kosos with chamar medinah.

Exactly what chamar medinah includes is beyond the scope of this article. For our purposes, I will simply note that there is much discussion about this matter, some rabbonim holding that tea or coffee qualifies, others contending that it must be alcoholic and still others maintaining that most places today have no chamar medinah.

SOME PRACTICAL SUGGESTIONS

Thus far, we have concluded that someone who becomes ill enough to be bedridden may not be obligated in arba kosos, but someone who finds drinking four cups of wine or grape juice uncomfortable and even painful, but does not become bedridden as a result, is required to drink them. However, note that sometimes one may be lenient and use a smaller cup and drink a smaller proportion of its wine than we would usually permit. These are matters to discuss with one’s rav.

WHAT ABOUT MATZOH?

Our second question above read: “My body is intolerant of gluten. Am I required to eat matzoh on Pesach, and if so, how much?”

Our previous discussion only explained the rules pursuant to drinking the four cups of wine, which is a rabbinic mitzvah. Does any leniency exist to exempt someone from eating matzoh Seder night, in non-life-threatening situations? Granted one is certainly not required or permitted to eat matzoh if doing so may be life-threatening; but if the results are simply discomfort, to what degree must one extend oneself to observe a positive mitzvah min hatorah?

The Binyan Shelomoh (#47), a nineteenth century work authored by Rav Shelomoh of Vilna, the city’s halachic authority at the time, discusses this very issue. (Out of deference to the Vilna Gaon, the Jewish community of Vilna appointed no one to the title of rav from the passing of the Gaon, until the government required them to do so, in the era of Rav Chayim Ozer Grodzenski, over a hundred and twenty years later.) In a lengthy responsum, The Binyan Shelomoh establishes how far someone who is ill must go to eat matzoh, when there is nothing life-threatening. He based his analysis on the following law:

Chazal prohibited spending more than one fifth of one’s money to fulfill a positive mitzvah (Rambam, Hilchos Arachin 8:13, based on Gemara Kesubos 50a. See also Rambam’s Peirush HaMishnayos Pei’ah 1:1).

The Binyan Shelomoh reasons that since maintaining good health is more important to most people than spending a fifth of one’s money, one is exempt from performing a mitzvah that will impair one’s health, even when there is no risk to one’s life. (We find other authorities who derive similar laws from this halacha. See for example, Shu”t Avnei Nezer, Yoreh Deah #321; Shu”t Igros Moshe, Even HaEzer 1:57). The Binyan Shelomoh applies this rule to all mitzvos: One is exempt from observing any mitzvah, if fulfilling it will seriously impair one’s health. Furthermore, one could conclude that, if fulfilling a mitzvah causes such intense discomfort that one would part with one fifth of one’s financial resources to avoid this pain, one may forgo the mitzvah.

According to the Binyan Shelomoh, if this law is true regarding matzoh, it will certainly hold true regarding arba kosos and maror, which are only rabbinic requirements. Thus, someone who will not be bedridden as a result of consuming arba kosos or maror, but whose health will be severely impaired as a result of this consumption is absolved from fulfilling this mitzvah, as will someone to whom the consumption is so unpleasant that he would gladly part with one fifth of his earthly possessions to avoid this situation.

DIFFERENCE BETWEEN MATZOH AND WINE

If we assume that the Mishnah Berurah accepts the Binyan Shelomoh’s approach and vice versa, we would reach the following conclusion:

MATZOH:

Someone whose health will be severely impaired is not required to eat matzoh on Pesach, even if no life-threatening emergency results.

ARBA KOSOS:

Aside from the above leniency regarding matzoh, there is an additional leniency regarding the arba kosos.Someone who will become sick enough that he will be bedridden is absolved from drinking four cups at the Seder, even though it will not result in any permanent health problems. However, it is unclear whether this latter leniency extends also to the rabbinic mitzvah of maror.

NON-WHEAT FLOURS

In the last few years, matzoh for Pesach produced from either spelt or oat flour has become available. For a variety of reasons beyond the scope of this article, only someone who may not eat regular matzoh should eat these matzohs on Pesach. However, someone who is absolved from eating matzoh on Pesach according to the above-mentioned definition, but who can eat either of these varieties of matzoh, should eat them to fulfill the mitzvah on the first night of Pesach. Someone who can tolerate both spelt and oat matzoh should eat spelt.

Regarding this topic, the following responsum by the great nineteenth century authority, the Maharam Shik (Shu”t #260) is of interest. Someone for whom eating matzoh or maror was potentially life-threatening insisted on eating them at the Seder, against the halacha. The Maharam Shik was asked whether this person should recite the bracha al achilas matzoh before eating the matzoh and al achilas maror before eating the maror!

The Maharam Shik responded that he is uncertain whether the patient may recite any bracha at all before eating the matzoh and the maror, even the bracha of hamotzi! His reason is that consuming harmful food is not considered eating, but is considered damaging oneself, and one does not recite a bracha prior to inflicting self-harm! The Maharam then questions his supposition, demonstrating that someone who overeats recites a bracha, even though he is clearly damaging himself. He therefore concludes that one does not recite a bracha when eating something that causes immediate damage. However, when eating something where the damage is not immediate, reciting a bracha before eating is required.

Pursuant to the original shaylah whether one recites al achilas matzoh before eating the matzoh and al achilas maror before eating the maror, the Maharam Shik concludes that one should not recite these brachos in this situation. Since the patient is not permitted to eat matzoh and maror which is dangerous to his life, he is not performing a mitzvah when eating them, but a sin of ignoring the proper care his body requires, and one does not recite a bracha prior to transgressing.

In conclusion, anyone to whom these shaylos are, unfortunately, relevant should discuss them with his/her rav. We found that the Shulchan Aruch rules that one is required to fulfill arba kosos, even if one will suffer a severe headache as a result, and certainly if one despises the taste. However, should one become bedridden as a result or suffer severe health consequences, there are authorities who permit forgoing drinking wine or grape juice and substituting a different beverage that qualifies as chamar medinah. Similarly, there are authorities who permit forgoing consuming matzoh at the Seder if one would suffer severe health consequences as a result — even if the situation is not life-threatening.

Although not everyone may be able to fulfill the mitzvos of eating matzoh, maror, and arba kosos, hopefully, all will be able to discuss the miracles that Hashem performed when removing us from Egypt. In the merit of joyously performing the mitzvos of Seder night, may we soon see the return of the Divine Presence to Yerushalayim, the rededication of the Beis HaMikdash, and be zocheh to fulfill all of these mitzvos, including the korban pesach!

The Whys and Wherefores of Zachor

Question #1: Homebound

“As a mother of several small children, it is not easy for me to go out on Shabbos to hear Parshas Zachor. Am I required to do so?”

Question #2: Outreaching in the Afternoon

“At the outreach program that I run, many of our students do not arrive on Shabbos until the afternoon. Should we have a second Parshas Zachor reading for them?”

Question #3: Reading without a Brochah

“Why is no birkas haTorah recited on Parshas Zachor at a women’s reading?”

Answer:

Introduction:

This Shabbos we read the special maftir that begins with the words Zachor es asher asah lecha Amalek baderech be’tzeis’chem miMitzrayim, “Remember what Amalek did to you on the road as you were leaving Egypt.” According to the Rambam and many others, this short maftir reading actually includes three different commandments:

(1) A positive mitzvah, mitzvas aseh, to remember the evil that Amalek did (Sefer Hamitzvos, Positive Mitzvah #189).

(2) A lo saaseh commandment not to forget what happened (Sefer Hamitzvos, Negative Mitzvah #59).

(3) The mitzvah to blot out the people of Amalek, mechiyas Amalek (Rambam, Hilchos Melachim 5:5, and Sefer Hamitzvos, Positive Mitzvah #188; Semag).

The Torah’s repetitive emphasis, remember and do not forget, teaches that the commandment “remember” means to express, to state it as a declaration. This is similar to the mitzvah of Kiddush, Zachor es yom haShabbos lekadsho, which is a requirement to state the sanctity of Shabbos and not simply to remember Shabbos (Sifra, beginning of Parshas Bechukosai). In addition, many authorities derive from the doubled command that the Torah requires us to review this declaration annually, since after a year one might forget it (see Sefer Hachinuch, Mitzvah 603). The Sefer Hachinuch explains that since the mitzvah is to make sure that one does not forget, the Torah requirement is to restate this reminder every one to three years. The requirement of the mitzvah is fulfilled both in one’s heart and on one’s lips (Sefer Hachinuch).

(We should note that some authorities [Behag, Rav Saadya] count all three of the mitzvos mentioned above as one mitzvah in the count of the 613. Presumably, they consider these additional statements of the Torah as encouraging us to remember to fulfill the mitzvah of destroying Amalek.)

The Gemara (Megillah 18a) states that the positive mitzvah of remembering what Amalek did requires reading from a sefer Torah. For this reason, many authorities conclude that the annual public reading of Parshas Zachor from a Sefer Torah is required min haTorah (see Tosafos, Megillah 17b s.v. kol and Ritva ad loc.; Tosafos, Brachos 13a; Rosh, Brachos 7:20). Some conclude that the requirement to hear Parshas Zachor is even greater than that of hearing Megillas Esther, since the mitzvah of reading Megillah is miderabbanan, whereas Parshas Zachor is required by the Torah (Terumas Hadeshen #108). For this reason, the Terumas Hadeshen concludes that those who live in places that have no minyan are required to go to where there is a minyan for Shabbos Zachor to hear this reading, a ruling codified in the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 685:7).

Those who disagree

Notwithstanding the long list of recognized early authorities who rule that an annual reading of Parshas Zachor is required min haTorah, several later authorities find this position difficult to sustain, contending that the requirement was introduced by Chazal. For example, the Minchas Chinuch (#603) states that the requirements for a minyan and a sefer Torah can be only miderabbanan. Similarly, Shu’t Toras Chesed (Orach Chayim #37) provides a lengthy analysis as to why he feels that it is difficult to rule that reading Parshas Zachor annually is a Torah requirement. Nevertheless, in his final conclusion, he accepts the decision of the earlier authorities who rule that the Torah requires that we hear Parshas Zachor every year.

Hearing the parshah

At this point, we should explain the following question: If we are required to read Parshas Zachor, how do we perform the mitzvah by listening to the reading, without actually saying the words? The answer is that there is a halachic principle called shomei’a ke’oneh, hearing someone recite the appropriate passage fulfills a mitzvah responsibility the same way reciting it does. Shomei’a ke’oneh explains how we observe the mitzvah of kiddush when we hear someone else recite it, and applies in numerous other situations, such as reading Megillas Esther and blowing shofar.

For shomei’a ke’oneh to work, the individual who is reciting must have in mind that he is performing the mitzvah on behalf of those listening, and the listeners must have in mind that they are fulfilling their duty to perform the mitzvah by listening. It is for this reason that, in most shullen, prior to the reading of Parshas Zachor the gabbai, baal keriah or rabbi announces that everyone should have the intention to fulfill the mitzvah.

Custom of the Gra

The Maaseh Rav (#133) records that the Gra not only received the aliyah for Parshas Zachor, but used to read the Torah himself for that aliyah. Presumably, the reason he did this was because of the general principle of mitzvah bo yoseir mibeshelucho, “it is a bigger mitzvah to fulfill a commandment by performing the mitzvah oneself than by relying on someone else to perform it.”

The Sefer Torah was pasul!

What is the halachah if one discovers, after the reading, that the Sefer Torah used for reading Parshas Zachor is missing a letter or has some other defect that renders it invalid? Must one re-read Parshas Zachor?

Allow me to provide some background. Although there are rishonim who rule that the mitzvah of keri’as haTorah does not require reading from a kosher Sefer Torah, the halachic conclusion is that it does. However, if during or after keri’as haTorah one finds that the sefer Torah was not kosher, one is not required to repeat what was already read (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 143:4). The rationale behind this is that since the mitzvah of reading the Torah is miderabbanan, one can rule that, bedei’evid, after one read the Torah, one fulfilled the mitzvah.

Based on the assumption that the mitzvah of Parshas Zachor is min haTorah, the Pri Megadim suggests that if the sefer Torah used was found to be invalid, one is required to read Parshas Zachor a second time, from a different sefer Torah (Pri Megadim, Mishbetzos Zahav, Orach Chayim 143:1).

Birkas hamitzvah

Why is no birkas hamitzvah recited for Zachor? When Parshas Zachor is read as maftir, the person receiving the aliyah recites birkas haTorah before it is read, as we do with all aliyos to the Torah. Why is no birkas hamitzvah recited before reading Zachor es asher asah lecha Amelek,since it is one of the 613 mitzvos?

The authorities answer that we do not recite a brochah on an act of destruction, even though the world benefits from the removal of evildoers. This can be compared to one of the reasons cited why we do not recite the full Hallel on Pesach after the first day or days. “My creations are drowning, and you are singing praise?” Similarly, it is inappropriate to bless Hashem for the ability to destroy evil (Kaf Hachayim 685:29, quoting Yafeh Leleiv).

What exactly is the mitzvah?

Among the rishonim and geonim, we find differing opinions as to exactly what this mitzvah entails. Some understand that the mitzvah of remembering Amalek is a requirement to know the laws involved in destroying Amalek (Raavad and Rash to Sifra, beginning of Parshas Bechukosai, as explained by the Encyclopedia Talmudis). According to this approach, the mitzvah of zechiras Amalek is primarily a mitzvah of learning Torah.

On the other hand, most authorities seem to understand that the mitzvah is to take to heart the evil that Amalek did and represents, and that it is our responsibility to combat evil in the world and help make the world a more G-dly place.

Why specifically Amalek? Because after the Exodus from Egypt and the splitting of the sea, all the nations were afraid of the Jews, until the moment that Amalek attacked. Although Amalek was beaten, this attack decreased the nations’ tremendous awe and fear of the Jews (Rashi).

An afternoon reading

At this point, I would like to address one of the questions cited above:

“At the outreach program that I run, many of our students do not arrive on Shabbos until the afternoon. Should we have a second Parshas Zachor reading for them?”

This question was posed to Rav Shmuel Vozner, of Bnei Braq, by someone doing outreach in a small community in Brazil (Shu’t Shevet Halevi 4:71). The community had a minyan in the morning, but most of the people did not come. The question was whether they should have a second Parshas Zachor reading late in the day.

Rav Vozner compares this situation to the following responsum authored by the Chida.

On Shabbos Parshas Shekalim in a small town, the local townspeople forgot to read the special maftir on Shabbos morning, and realized it in the afternoon. The townspeople proposed three options:

Some suggested that at minchah they read Parshas Shekalim for the kohen, and for the other two aliyos they read the regular minchah reading from the next week’s parshah.

Others suggested that they read Parshas Shekalim on Monday, instead of the weekday reading, since it was still before Rosh Chodesh Adar.

Still others suggested that they read Parshas Shekalim the next Shabbos, as maftir.

The Chida disputed all three approaches, contending that Parshas Shekalim may be read only in the morning, and can be read only on the Shabbos on which it is designated to be read. In his opinion, one who missed reading Parshas Shekalim at its appropriate time does not fulfill the takanas chachamim by reading it any other time (Shu’t Yosef Ometz #27).

Rav Vozner contends that, according to the Chida, just as one cannot read Parshas Shekalim after its designated time, one cannot read Parshas Zachor after its designated time, and that, therefore, one cannot read it in the afternoon for those who missed it in the morning.

However, it appears that not all authorities accepted this ruling of the Chida. The Dagul Meirevavah (Orach Chayim 135) rules that a community that was unable to have keri’as haTorah on Shabbos morning, but was able to have it on Shabbos afternoon, should read the full reading and call up seven people prior to beginning minchah. Then, after reciting Ashrei and Uva Letzion, they should take out the Sefer Torah again and read the appropriate minchah reading from the following week’s parshah. Thus, he holds that one may read the main Shabbos reading in the afternoon, if necessary, which disagrees with the Chida’s ruling.

One could argue, however, that the Dagul Meirevavah might accept the Chida’s ruling that one cannot read Parshas Shekalim in the afternoon, but for a different reason: maftir may be read only immediately following the rest of the week’s reading, and not by itself.

However, there might be a difference between Parshas Shekalim, whose reading does not fulfill any mitzvah of the Torah, and Parshas Zachor. Since Parshas Zachor might fulfill a Torah requirement, there is a responsibility to hear it, even if you were not in shul Shabbos morning. This is the reason why there is a widespread custom of having Parshas Zachor readings in the afternoon for those who cannot attend the reading in the morning.

Women and Parshas Zachor

Now that we understand the basics of the mitzvah, we can address the first question asked above — whether women are obligated to hear Parshas Zachor annually. The Chinuch states that women are excluded from the requirement to remember to destroy Amalek, since they are not expected to wage war. In his opinion, women have no obligation to hear Parshas Zachor, although they certainly may hear it and receive reward for doing so, as one who observes a mitzvah in which s/he is not obligated.

Other authorities dispute the Sefer Hachinuch’s approach. In Adar 5628 (1868), Rav Yaakov Ettlinger, the author of the classic Aruch Laneir commentary on several mesechtos of the Gemara, was asked by his son-in-law, Rav Moshe Leib Bamberger, whether women are required to hear Parshas Zachor. The Aruch Laneir reports that he asked his rebbe, Rav Avraham Bing, who told him that Rav Nosson Adler (the rebbe of the Chasam Sofer) ruled that women are required to hear Parshas Zachor, and he insisted that they all go to hear it. The Aruch Laneir explains that Parshas Zachor is not a time-bound mitzvah, since one can read Parshas Zachor whenever one wants, as long as one reads it once a year. He then quotes the Chinuch’s reason to absolve women from the obligation, and notes that it should not make any difference if women are the actual warriors, since they are involved in destroying Amalek – as evidenced by Esther’s participation (Shu’t Binyan Tziyon 2:8).

Others dispute the basic assumption of the Chinuch, since, in a milchemes mitzvah, everyone is obligated to contribute to the war effort, even a newlywed bride (Sotah 44b). Evidence of this is drawn from Yael, who eliminated Sisra, and Devorah, who led that war effort (Minchas Chinuch). On the other hand, others find creative reasons to explain and justify the Sefer Hachinuch’s position. (The intrepid reader is referred to the responsum on the subject penned by Rav Avraham of Sochatchov [Shu’t Avnei Nezer, Orach Chayim #509].)

The Kaf Hachayim (685:30) presents a compromise position, ruling that women are obligated in the mitzvah to remember the events of Amalek, but are not obligated to hear Parshas Zachor, since this is a time-bound mitzvah. (See also the Toras Chesed, who reaches a similar conclusion, but based on a different reason. More sources on this topic are cited by Shu’t Yechaveh Daas 1:84.)

With or without a brochah?

It has become fairly common today to have special women’s readings of Parshas Zachor later in the day, for the benefit of those who must take care of their children in the morning, during regular shul davening. The universal practice is not to recite a brochah of any type before these readings. There are three reasons why one should not recite a brochah on the afternoon reading:

(1) We do not recite a brochah on the mitzvah of Zachor.

(2) It is not certain that women are obligated to hear this reading.

(3) It is not clear that one may recite maftir when it does not immediately follow the reading of the Torah.

Despite what we have just written, some authorities contend that whenever one reads from a sefer Torah in public, one is required to recite a brochah, because of the Torah-ordained mitzvah of birkas haTorah. In their opinion, this is true even when the reading itself is not required, and even when one has already recited birkas haTorah in the morning (Be’er Sheva and Shu’t Mishkenos Yaakov, both quoted by the Toras Refael #2). Although the Toras Refael concludes that most rishonim dispute that reciting birkas haTorah under these circumstances is a Torah requirement, he nevertheless understands that the Shulchan Aruch rules that birkas haTorah is required miderabbanan, whenever the Torah is read in public.

Based on this opinion of the Toras Refael, some contemporary authorities feel that one should avoid entirely the practice of additional Shabbos Zachor readings, since the special reading creates a safek brochah, a question as towhether one should recite a brochah on the reading (seen in print in the name of Rav Elyashiv). Nevertheless, the accepted practice is to have these special readings to enable women to fulfill the mitzvah.

On the other hand, the Minchas Yitzchak was asked whether one makes a brochah for an auxiliary Parshas Zachor reading (Shu’t Minchas Yitzchak 9:68). He quotes those who contend that every public reading of the Torah requires a brochah, and then notes many authorities who did not share this opinion. The Minchas Yitzchak then specifically mentions the practice of those who read all of Sefer Devarim in shul on the night of Hoshanah Rabbah without reciting a brochah, noting that this was the practice of the Divrei Chayim of Sanz. He also quotes several other authorities who advocate reading the parshah of the day’s nasi after davening each day of the first twelve days of Nissan, also a custom performed without first reciting a brochah.

Thus, we have several precedents and authorities who ruled that one may have a public reading of the Torah without reciting a brochah, and there is, therefore, no need to change the established practice of reading Parshas Zachor and not reciting a brochah beforehand. We should also note that when the Magen Avraham (139:5) quotes the opinion of the Be’er Sheva, he opines that once one has recited birkos haTorah in the morning, he exempts himself from any requirement to recite further brochos on reading Torah that day, unless there is a specific institution of Chazal to recite them.

Reading on Purim

Some authorities contend that a woman may fulfill her responsibility to hear the mitzvah of mechiyas Amalek by hearing the Torah reading on Purim that begins with the words Vayavo Amalek (Magen Avraham 685). Since many later poskim dispute this, I refer you to your halachic authority regarding this question.

Conclusion

The Semak (Mitzvah #23) explains that the reason for the mitzvah not to forget what Amalek did is so that we always remember that Hashem saved us from Amalek’s hands. Constant perpetuation of this remembrance will keep us in awe of Hashem, and this will prevent us from acting against His wishes.

Is This the Right Purim?

Question #1: Four Purims!

Could someone observe Purim four times in one year?

Question #2: Which Bar Mitzvah Day?

“My son, whose thirteenth birthday was on the fourteenth of Adar Rishon, wants to know why his bar mitzvah day was not Purim.”

Question #3: Mistaken Parshah

If a community mistakenly read one of the four parshi’os in Adar Rishon, must they read it again in Adar Sheini?

Introduction:

The Mishnah (Megillah 29a) teaches: “Rosh Chodesh Adar that falls on Shabbos, we read (for its maftir) Parshas Shekalim. If it falls during the week, we read this maftir the Shabbos before. We skip the next Shabbos (meaning that we do not read a special maftir). The second Shabbos after Shekalim,we read Parshas Zachor; the third, Parshas Parah Adumah; the fourth, Hachodesh Hazeh Lachem; and the fifth, we return to the regular order.” This Mishnah teaches about the four special readings, called the Arba Parshi’os, that we read for maftir during or near the month of Adar.

In a leap year, when there are two months of Adar, we observe the special laws of the month of Adar, including Purim, Taanis Esther and the Arba Parshi’os, in the second Adar. What many do not realize is that there is actually a dispute among the tanna’im, the Torah scholars of the era of the Mishnah, concerning in which Adar one should observe the special mitzvos of Adar.

The Gemara (Megillah 6b) records three opinions how we should observe these events. An anonymous opinion (known as the Tanna Kamma) contends that the four parshi’os may be observed either in Adar Rishon or in Adar Sheini, but Purim can be observed only in Adar Sheini. Rabbi Eliezer, the son of Rabbi Yosi, contends that all observances, including Purim, may be observed in Adar Rishon. In his opinion, these mitzvos should preferably be observed in the first Adar, but if one failed to do so, one can still fulfill the mitzvah by performing them in the second Adar. Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel contends that all the mitzvos can be observed only in Adar Sheini.

Sanhedrin’s calendar

This dispute becomes even more interesting after we understand some additional historical background. One of the 613 mitzvos of the Torah is the establishment of a Jewish calendar that includes occasional leap years that are thirteen months long. The requirement of adding this extra month is so that Pesach always falls in the spring and Sukkos in the autumn (in the northern hemisphere). The preferred way to establish this calendar is through determination of the Sanhedrin in Eretz Yisroel. For thousands of years, a special court of seven judges was created each year to decide if there is a need to add an extra month. The judges were chosen by the nasi, the head of the Sanhedrin.  We hope and pray that this system will be re-implemented soon, when Moshiach arrives.

In the era when the Sanhedrin and its special committee determined whether to create a leap year, many considerations were included in the decision. Among the factors evaluated were not only astronomical and weather information, but also what year it was in the shemittah cycle, what was the condition of the roads, whether people had left Bavel early enough to arrive in Yerushalayim for Pesach, whether enough lambs would be available for korban Pesach and what was the condition of the ovens used to roast the korban Pesach.

The special court began meeting any time after Rosh Hashanah, and the deliberations regarding whether to add an extra month could continue until the last day of Adar of the year involved. This means that they could decide to make it into a leap year even after Purim had already been observed!

Rosh Chodesh Mussaf

By the way, a practice of ours results from the timetable in which the Sanhedrin was allowed to declare a leap year – after Rosh Hashanah and before Rosh Chodesh Nissan. During Musaf on Rosh Chodesh, we close the middle brocha with a prayer for twelve blessings to occur in the coming month, and, in a leap year, we add a thirteenth blessing to this prayer. Thus, the number of blessings mentioned in this brocha corresponds with the number of months that the specific year contains. However, most customs add the thirteenth blessing only from the months of Marcheshvan until and including the months of Adar (both of them), but do not recite this thirteenth blessing during the rest of the year. Why don’t we recite this additional blessing between Nissan and Elul?

Based on our knowledge of when the Sanhedrin could declare a leap year, we can explain why the additional blessing is omitted between Nissan and Elul. At the time that the calendar was created by the Sanhedrin, the decision whether to add a month to the year was never made before Rosh Hashanah, and, therefore, between Nissan and Elul one never knew if the coming year was a leap year or not. Therefore, at that time, adding an additional blessing in that part of the year would be inappropriate, not only when the Sanhedrin is making that determination, but even today, when, as we will soon explain, the cycle of leap years is predetermined.

Sanhedrin and the calendar printers

When the calendar was decided by the Sanhedrin, printers would be unable to print a calendar in advance and, on Purim, housewives might be uncertain whether they have four weeks in which to prepare for Pesach, or eight, since the Sanhedrin may not yet have decided whether to add an extra Adar. As we noted above, this decision could be reached as late as the last day of Adar, some fifteen days after Purim.

The contemporary calendar

Unfortunately, we no longer have a Sanhedrin to establish our calendar. Instead, we use the calendar established by Hillel Hanasi, during the time of the Gemara. (One should be careful not to confuse Hillel Hanasi, who was the great-grandson of Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi, with their very illustrious and more famous ancestor, Hillel, who is often called Hillel Hazakein.) Hillel Hanasi was the last head of a Sanhedrin in Eretz Yisroel before the Roman persecution made it impossible for the Sanhedrin to continue functioning. Hillel Hanasi created the calendar we currently use, which has, among its features, a regular pattern of seven leap years and twelve common years in a nineteen-year cycle. Hillel established a system whereby the 3rd, 6th, 8th, 11th, 14th, 17th and 19th years are leap years in which we add the additional Adar.

In which Adar is Purim?

We mentioned above the three-way dispute concerning when we observe Purim and the four parshi’os in a leap year. According to Rabbi Eliezer berabbi Yosi, the unique mitzvos of Adar, that is, the observances of the four parshi’os, Taanis Esther and Purim, should all be observed in the first Adar. However, should one fail to observe them then, one may observe them in the second Adar. According to the Tanna Kamma, the four parshi’os may be observed in either Adar Rishon or Adar Sheini, but Purim can be observed only in Adar Sheini. Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel contends that all the mitzvos can be observed only in Adar Sheini.

Basis of the dispute

What are the reasons behind the dispute?

The Gemara explains that Rabbi Eliezer berabbi Yosi holds that all the mitzvos should be kept in Adar Rishon, because of the principle called ein ma’avirin al hamitzvos, the opportunity to observe a mitzvah should not be allowed to pass. Since, in Rabbi Eliezer berabbi Yosi’s opinion, one may observe these mitzvos in either Adar, one should fulfill them at the first opportunity and not wait until the second Adar.

Ein ma’avirin al hamitzvos

The law of ein ma’avirin al hamitzvos is referred to in several places, and, according to Rashi and the Mechilta (to Shemos 12:17), this requirement is derived from the Torah. When the Torah states, Ushemartem es hamatzos, and you shall guard the matzos, (Shemos 12:17), meaning to make sure that one’s matzos do not become chometz, the word matzos is understood hermeneutically to refer to all mitzvos. This renders the command of the Torah to mean that you should “watch” for the mitzvos, that is, wait eagerly to perform them. As explained by the Mechilta, this means that when one has an opportunity to fulfill a mitzvah one should not tarry, but should fulfill it as soon as one can.

Is ein ma’avirin al hamitzvos a Torah requirement?

Since Rashi and the Mechilta cite a verse as the source for the law of ein ma’avarin al hamitzvos, should we assume that this is a Torah requirement? This is indeed the position of Tosafos (Yoma 33a s.v. ein) and some other authorities (Nishmas Odom 13:2; see also Shu”t Divrei Malkiel, Orach Chayim #16). However, there are authorities who contend that ein ma’avirin al hamitzvos is required only miderabbanan, and the verse quoted is what is called in halachic terminology an asmachta, a Scriptural foundation or hint for a rabbinic law (Shu”t Radbaz #529).

Other examples of ein ma’avirin al hamitzvos

Here are some other examples of the principle of ein ma’avirin al hamitzvos.

When donning tefillin, one should be careful not to touch the shel rosh before he touches the shel yad. According to Tosafos (Yoma 33b, s. v. avurei), if he touches his shel rosh first, he will be forced to wait to put it on until after his shel yad, because the Torah implies that one should not don the shel rosh until he is already wearing the shel yad. This will constitute a violation of ein ma’avirin al hamitzvos, because he sets aside the shel rosh and does not put it on immediately.

Similarly, because of the law of ein ma’avirin al hamitzvos, one who touched his tefillin before his talis must put the tefillin on first.

Here is an unusual application of the principle of ein ma’avirin al hamitzvos. Someone who is imprisoned, and cannot fulfill many mitzvos, such as kerias haTorah, tefillah betzibur, shofar blowing, and hearing Megillah while he is incarcerated, is provided the opportunity for one furlough. When should he use his furlough? One early authority was uncertain whether he should request to get out for Yom Kippur, because of the sanctity of the day, or whether he should use it for Purim, since the mitzvah of pirsumei nisa accomplished by hearing Megillah is something that cannot be accomplished at any other time.

The Radbaz (Shu”t Haradbaz #1087) takes issue with these considerations, contending that whatever mitzvah he can observe first should be the one for which he takes his furlough, because of the principle of ein ma’avirin al hamitzvos. While his incarcertation makes him unable to perform many mitzvos, once he has been granted a furlough, he now has an opportunity to perform a mitzvah, and not taking advantage of that constitutes forgoing its observance!

Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel

Having explained the reason why Rabbi Eliezer berabbi Yosi contends that one should read Megillah and the four parshi’os in Adar Rishon, the question is why does Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel rule that one must wait until Adar Sheini to observe these mitzvos?

The Gemara presents two approaches to explain Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel’s opinion. Rabbi Tevi maintains that since the celebration of Purim is to thank Hashem for redeeming us, we should observe these mitzvos in the Adar that is closer to the month of Nissan, when we celebrate another redemption, that of the Exodus from Egypt.

Rabbi Elazar explains Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel’s opinion in a different way, deriving from a verse in Megillas Esther that, when there are two months of Adar, we should celebrate Purim and the other events in the second Adar.

Four Purims?

At this point, we can address one of the questions I raised at the very beginning of this article: Could someone observe Purim four times in one year?

I mentioned above that, in the era that the Sanhedrin establishes whether the year is a leap year or not, it could happen that a leap year is declared after Purim, but before the month of Adar has ended. This means that, in what appeared to be a common year, the beis din decided to declare, towards the end of the month of Adar, that they would add an extra month. In this scenario, Purim was already observed, yet now the Sanhedrin declared that there would be a second Adar. Does everyone need to observe Purim a second time?

As I explained above, according to Rabbi Eliezer berabbi Yosi, the addition of the second Adar does not affect the observances of the four parshi’os, Taanis Esther and Purim, since they are all kept in the first Adar. Regardless as to when the Sanhedrin decided to add an extra Adar, these mitzvos are performed in the first Adar.

According to the Tanna Kamma, the four parshi’os may be observed either in Adar Rishon or in Adar Sheini, but Purim can be observed only in Adar Sheini. This would mean that when the beis din decided prior to Adar to create a leap year, the mitzvos should all be observed in Adar Sheini. If the beis din did not decide until some time in Adar, whichever of the four parshi’os had been read already did not need to be repeated. However, if they decided to add an extra month after Purim had been observed, everyone is required to observe Purim for a second time in the second Adar.

Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel contends that all the mitzvos can be observed only in Adar Sheini. In his opinion, if beis din decided to add an extra month at the end of Adar, then the four parshi’os and all of the observances of Purim must be repeated.

How do we rule?

The Gemara concludes that the halachah follows Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel. For this reason, even though most tanna’im contend that a community that read the four parshi’os in Adar Rishon is not required to repeat them in Adar Sheini, the halachah is that they are required to do so. This ruling is followed by the Rif, the Rosh, the Rambam, the Tur, the Shulchan Aruch and all later halachic authorities.

Two or four?

We now know how one might end up observing Purim in both months of Adar; but how does one end up keeping Purim four times in one year?The answer to this question, also, requires a small introduction. As we know from the Megillah, the “open cities,” meaning places other than a city or town that were walled at the time that Yehoshua conquered Eretz Yisroel, observe the laws of Purim on the fourteenth of Adar, whereas the walled cities observe Purim on the fifteenth. Now, there are places in which it is uncertain whether Purim should be observed on the fourteenth of Adar, like the “open cities,” or the fifteenth, like the walled cities. For example, the Gemara (Megillah 5b) recounts that in Teverya, they read the Megillah on both the fourteenth and the fifteenth. Teverya was walled on three sides, and the Sea of Kineret (also known as the Sea of Galilee) served as its “wall” on the fourth side. It was uncertain whether this conformation qualifies it as a walled city or a non-walled one.

Now think: What would happen in Teverya in a year when the beis din decided at the end of Adar to create a leap year? They would end up, according to the Tanna Kamma and Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel, observing Purim four times.

Which bar mitzvah day?

At this point, let us answer our remaining questions: My son, whose thirteenth birthday was on the fourteenth of Adar Rishon, wants to know why his bar mitzvah day was not Purim.

The answer is that he would be correct if we ruled according to Rabbi Eliezer berabbi Yosi. However, since the Gemara concludes that the halachah follows the disputing opinion of Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel, we celebrate Purim in the second Adar. As I mentioned above, the Gemara cites two opinions why Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel rules that we observe Purim in Adar Sheini. According to one opinion, this is because the redemption that we celebrate on Purim should be observed as close to the celebration of the redemption of Pesach as possible. According to the other opinion mentioned by the Gemara, there is a special hermeneutic derivation that teaches us this halachah.

Mistaken parshah

If a community mistakenly read one of the four parshi’os in Adar Rishon, must they read it again in Adar Sheini?

Although according to both the Tanna Kamma and Rabbi Eliezer berabbi Yosi, they would not be required to do so, the halachah follows Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel, who requires them to read it again.

In conclusion

We see how important it is not to delay performing a mitzvah. Certainly, our attitude towards the performance of all mitzvos should be one of enthusiasm – we are overjoyed at the opportunity to fulfill Hashem‘s commandments.

Is Papaya a Tree?

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

Question #1: What bracha?

What bracha do I recite before I eat papaya?

Question #2: Orlah

Does the prohibition of orlah apply to papaya?

Question #3:

Are there any kashrus concerns germane to papain?

Introduction:

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

1. What bracha one recites on its fruit.

2. What bracha one recites on its fragrance.

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

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

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

What is a tree?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is papaya a tree?

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

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

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

Commercial and halachic history of papaya

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

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

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

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

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

4. The papaya produces fruit within its first year.

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

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

Papaya outside Eretz Yisrael

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

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

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

Here is another difference in halacha between the two reasons.

Papain

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Longest Year

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

The Longest Year

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

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

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

The Two “Other” Calendars

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

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

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

13 month years

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

The Jewish Calendar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Creation of the “Permanent” Calendar

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

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

1) A Leap of Fate

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

2) The Haves vs. the Have-Nots

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

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

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

Revealing Top Secret Information

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

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

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

Additional Innovations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

(Endnotes)

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

2 Rosh HaShanah 19b, 20a.

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

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

5 Rambam, ibid. 4:1.

6 Sanhedrin 11a–12a.

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

8 Ibid. 5:2.

9 Ibid. 8:5.

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

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

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

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

14 Rambam, Hilchos Kiddush HaChodesh 7:1.

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

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

 

The Chanukah Miracle

By Rabbis Avraham Rosenthal and Yirmiyohu Kaganoff

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

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

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

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

 Introduction:

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

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

Defiling the Oil

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Oil was Protected

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

Again, concerning this issue we find numerous approaches:

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

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

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

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

Using Tamei Oil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

 

 

Follow the Ladder

Question #1: Ladders

“May I use a ladder on Yom Tov?”

Question #2: Maris ayin

“What is the ‘maris ayin conundrum’?”

Question #3 Chutes

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

Introduction

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

The ladder carrier

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maris ayin conundrum

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

Tall ladders

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

Chutes and ladders

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

 

May I Smell My Esrog and Hadasim on Sukkos?

Although this question may seem trivial, it is indeed a serious shaylah that requires explanation. Sometimes, one may smell an esrog, while at other times one may not. Why is this true? Also, when it is permitted to smell an esrog, do I recite a bracha beforehand? If I do, which bracha do I recite?

We may ask similar questions regarding the hadasim, although the answers are not always the same. May I smell my hadasim, and which bracha do I recite before smelling them?

In order to explain the background to these questions, I first need to explain two very different areas of halacha, one concerning the laws of muktzah, and the other concerning the laws of brachos on fragrances.

MUKTZAH

The Gemara teaches us the following: One may not smell (during Sukkos) the hadas that is set aside for the mitzvah, but one may smell the esrog. The Gemara asks, “Why is there a difference between the hadas and the esrog?” The Gemara replies that since the main use of a hadas is for fragrance, it becomes muktzah, and one may not smell it. But since the main “use” of an esrog is for food, one may not eat it, but one may smell it (Sukkah 37b). This is the explanation of what the Gemara means.

This Gemara teaches that an item used for a mitzvah becomes muktzah machmas mitzvah; that is, designated solely for its specific mitzvah and not for a different use. This category of muktzah is different from the more familiar types of muktzah in several ways:

  1. As the Gemara teaches elsewhere (Sukkah 9a), this type of muktzah is prohibited min Hatorah, whereas other forms of muktzah are prohibited only miderabbanan.
  2. These items are muktzah only to the extent that one may not use them, but one may move them. This is different from most types of muktzah, which one may not move on Shabbos or Yom Tov.
  3. These items are muktzah only with regard to their primary, normal purpose: for example, one may not smell a hadas that is muktzah machmas mitzvah because the primary purpose of a hadas is for fragrance. However, one may use it (or them) for a secondary use, and that is why, according to the Gemara, one may smell the esrog. (A person who is interested in purchasing a fragrant item would consider buying hadasim, not an esrog.)
  4. This type of muktzah is prohibited even on Chol Hamoed, whereas other types of muktzah are prohibited only on Shabbos and Yom Tov.

Thus, it would seem that we may answer the original question I asked: May I smell my esrog and hadas on Sukkos? And the answer is that I may smell my esrog, but I may not smell my hadas, because it is muktzah for its mitzvah.

However, the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 653:1) rules that I should also avoid smelling my esrog on Sukkos. Why does the Shulchan Aruch prohibit something that the Gemara explicitly permits?

The answer to this question takes us to the other topic — when does one recite a bracha before smelling a fragrance? Although the Gemara explicitly permits smelling an esrog on Sukkos, the Gemara does not mention whether one recites a bracha before smelling it.

Indeed, the Rishonim dispute whether one is required to recite a bracha before smelling an esrog. Rabbeinu Simcha, one of the late baalei Tosafos, rules that one may not recite a bracha before smelling an esrog that is being used for the mitzvah on Sukkos, whereas the Ravyah, an early Ashkenazi posek, rules that one must recite a bracha. The later poskim conclude that this dispute is unresolved, and that, therefore, one may not smell an esrog during Sukkos, when reciting a bracha would be a question. This topic requires some explanation: Why should an esrog on Sukkos be different from an esrog any other time of the year?

FRAGRANCES THAT ARE NOT FOR THE PLEASURE OF SMELL

One recites a bracha only on a fragrance that is avida lereicha, literally, “made for fragrance” (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 217:2). In the words of the Chazon Ish (Orach Chayim 35:1), “Anything whose current purpose is not for aroma is not considered a fragrance” (regarding recitation of a bracha). Therefore, one does not recite a bracha before smelling a deodorizer, even if it has an extremely pleasant fragrance, since its purpose is not aroma, but to mask unpleasant odor. Similarly, smelling the tantalizing aroma of a food or food flavoring does not warrant a bracha, since its purpose is not enjoyment of their aroma, per se. (I have written several other articles germane to the brachos on fragrances, which are available on the RabbiKaganoff.com website; to find them, use the search word fragrance.) Furthermore, when the halacha rules that one is not required to recite a bracha, one is not permitted to recite the bracha, as doing so constitutes a bracha l’vatalah, a bracha recited in vain.

EXAMPLE:

When showing a house that is for sale, some people toast cinnamon in the oven or open essential oils and other fragrances around the house to make the house more appealing. Since the purpose of these fragrances is to give the house a pleasant aroma and not to entice people to smell or purchase the fragrance, one does not recite a bracha.

Based on the foregoing introduction, we can now explain the above-quoted dispute whether to recite a bracha before smelling an esrog on Sukkos. Rabbeinu Simcha contends that although one may smell an esrog on Sukkos, and it is not prohibited due to its being muktzah, this does not warrant making a bracha. The esrog on Sukkos is still primarily intended for the mitzvah, and not for fragrance; therefore, smelling it does not require a bracha. In Rabbeinu Simcha’s opinion, reciting a bracha in this case constitutes a bracha l’vatalah.

The Ravyah disagrees, maintaining that since it is permitted to smell an esrog, it is considered to be meant for fragrance, and requires one to recite a bracha before smelling it (Mordechai, Sukkah #751; Tur Orach Chayim 653).

This dispute places us in a predicament. The halacha is that one may not benefit from something in this world without first reciting a bracha, and if, indeed, one is required to recite a bracha before smelling an esrog, then one may not smell it without reciting a bracha (Brachos 35a; Hagahos Smaq 193:11). On the other hand, if one is not required to recite a bracha before smelling it, then one may not recite the bracha, and doing so involves reciting a bracha in vain, a bracha l’vatalah.

Since we are not in a position to resolve this dispute, the poskim contend that one should avoid smelling the esrog used for the mitzvah during Sukkos (Shulchan Aruch 653), even though there is no muktzah violation in smelling it. Furthermore, one may smell the esrog if he first recited a bracha on a different fragrant fruit.

ESROG ON SHABBOS

As I mentioned above, Rabbeinu Simcha contends that an esrog is not considered avida lereicha, meant for fragrance, and therefore one does not recite a bracha before smelling it. Does this halacha apply the entire week of Sukkos, or only when I pick up the esrog to fulfill the mitzvah? What if I smell the esrog on Shabbos, when there is no mitzvah to perform, or I pick it up on a day of Sukkos after I have already fulfilled the mitzvah? Do I recite a bracha before smelling it, according to his opinion?

Let us compare this shaylah to the following case:

Someone who enters a spice merchant’s store recites a bracha, because the owner wants customers to smell his wares so that they will purchase them (Berachos 53a). If these items are in his warehouse, where he is not soliciting customers, one does not recite a bracha (Magen Avraham 217:1).

Why does one recite a bracha on the spices in the store, but not on those that are in the warehouse? This is because the spices in the store are there to be smelled and enjoyed, and are therefore avida lereicha. However, the spices in the warehouse are not meant to be smelled – therefore, they are not avida lereicha. Note that we are discussing the same spices, and the only difference is where they are located.

PUTTING INTO YOUR HAND

Let’s assume you are back in the spice merchant’s warehouse or in a flavor factory, and you know that you do not make a bracha on the incredible fragrance that is wafting through the air. What happens if you approach some of the spices to take a pleasant whiff, or you pick up some of the spice in order to smell it? Do you recite a bracha?

The poskim dispute what to do in this case. The Mishnah Berurah (217:1) contends that whenever you do something to smell the fragrance, such as moving towards the source of the fragrance in order to smell it, picking it up, or putting some into your hand, you should recite a bracha. Any such act makes the fragrance avida lereicha.

However, the Chazon Ish disagrees, maintaining that if you will return the spice afterwards to the storage bin in the warehouse, it is not avida lereicha, and you do not recite a bracha (Chazon Ish, Orach Chayim 35:1). The Chazon Ish agrees that if the manufacturer has samples available that he wants people to smell and buy, one does recite a bracha on them, and he also agrees that if you remove some of the spices to smell and will not return them, you do recite a bracha.

SPICES IN THE KITCHEN

There is a common, practical difference in halacha between the approaches of these two Gedolim regarding kitchen spices. Suppose you want to enjoy the smell of the cinnamon or the oregano on your kitchen shelf. According to the Mishnah Berurah, if you remove a container from the shelf to smell it, you recite a bracha on the spice, even though you intend to return the spice to the shelf after smelling it, and it will eventually be added to food. (By the way, the poskim dispute which bracha one recites before smelling cinnamon. The accepted practice is to recite borei minei besamim.) However, according to the Chazon Ish, you do not recite a bracha on this spice, unless you no longer intend to cook with it. Someone who wants to avoid the dispute should sprinkle a little bit of spice into his hand and make a bracha on that. Since you are neither going to return this spice to the container nor cook with it, according to all opinions, one recites a bracha before smelling it.

Some poskim explain that this opinion of the Chazon Ish is the reason for the widespread minhag to set aside special besamim for havdalah on Motza’ei Shabbos (Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasah, Vol. 2 pg. 262).

WHAT ABOUT MY ESROG ON SHABBOS?

A dispute similar to the one quoted above exists concerning smelling my esrog on Shabbos, or picking up the esrog to smell it after I have fulfilled the mitzvah for the day.

The Magen Avraham rules that I recite a bracha before smelling the esrog under these circumstances, even according to Rabbeinu Simcha. Therefore, in his opinion, one may pick up the esrog specifically to smell it, and one recites the bracha before smelling it.

However, the Taz implies that one may not smell the esrog anytime during Sukkos. According to the Chazon Ish’s analysis of the subject, one can explain the Taz’s approach as follows: Since the esrog is meant for the mitzvah, it is not considered avida lereicha that warrants a bracha, unless one permanently makes it into a fragrance. Thus, if an esrog became pasul, or for some other reason can no longer be used for the mitzvah, it will be called avida lereicha and warrant a bracha. Under any other circumstance, it remains a safek bracha, and one should not smell it until Yom Tov is over. One may recite a bracha and smell it on Shemini Atzeres or Simchas Torah, since it no longer serves any mitzvah purpose. Thus, it appears that the dispute between the Magen Avraham and the Taz is identical to the dispute between the Mishnah Berurah and the Chazon Ish.

WHICH BRACHA DO I RECITE ON AN ESROG?

Everyone agrees that one may smell an esrog that will no longer be used for the mitzvah, and that one must recite a bracha before smelling it. In such a case, which bracha do I recite?

Chazal established five different brachos that relate to scent, each for a different category of fragrance.

  1. Borei shemen areiv, “The Creator of pleasant oil,” is recited only on the fragrant oil extracted from the balsam tree (Mishnah Berurah 216:22). Because this tree was important and grew in Eretz Yisroel, Chazal established for it a special bracha (Rabbeinu Yonah, Brachos 43a).
  2. Hanosein rei’ach tov ba’peiros, “He who bestows pleasant fragrances in fruits” (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 216:2). We recite this bracha before smelling fragrant, edible fruits and other foods (Rama 216:14). Some poskim rule that the proper text for this bracha should be in past tense: Asher nasan rei’ach tov ba’peiros, “He who bestowed pleasant fragrances in fruits” (Mishnah Berurah 216:9). This is the bracha one recites before smelling an esrog.

Many poskim state that the custom today is to not make a bracha on smelling a fruit, unless it has a pronounced aroma (see Vezos Haberacha pg. 174). For this reason, one should be certain that the esrog one holds has a strong, pleasant fragrance before reciting a bracha. If one is uncertain, one may smell the esrog first to see that it is fragrant, and then, if it is fragrant, recite the bracha hanosein rei’ach tov ba’peiros and smell it again.

  1. Borei atzei besamim, “The Creator of fragrant wood (or trees).” One recites this bracha before smelling fragrant, woody plants and trees, or their leaves, flowers, wood, or oils. Hadasim are certainly in this category. Although we mentioned above that it is prohibited to smell a hadas that is being used for the mitzvah on Sukkos, hadasim that one does not intend to use for the mitzvah may be smelled on Sukkos, and he should recite this bracha before smelling them.

Incidentally, the correct bracha to recite before smelling citrus blossoms or flowers is Borei atzei besamim, since the flower is not edible.

  1. Borei isvei besamim, “The Creator of fragrant grasses.” We recite this bracha before smelling non-woody plants, their parts or extracts. Before smelling a fragrant hyacinth, narcissus, or lily one recites this bracha. The custom among Sefardim is to recite this bracha before smelling mint, although, for reasons beyond the scope of this article, Ashkenazim recite borei minei besamim before smelling mint.
  2. Borei minei besamim, “The Creator of different types of fragrances.” This is the “catch-all” bracha for all fragrances, the equivalent of reciting a shehakol on food. Sometimes, it is the preferred bracha, and sometimes it is the bracha used to resolve uncertainties. Although I have not seen poskim discuss this case, it would seem to be permitted to recite a bracha on an item whose bracha is borei minei besamim and have in mind to include the esrog and then be able to smell the esrog. This would provide a method whereby one could smell one’s esrog on Yom Tov, according to all opinions.

Question: Why did Chazal create a unique bracha prior to smelling aromatic fruits?

Answer: Whenever one benefits from this world, one must recite a bracha. Thus, Chazal instituted brachos that are appropriate for fragrances. However, the other brachos on fragrance are not appropriate for smelling fragrant foods, since they praise Hashem for creating fragrances, whereas fruits are not usually described as fragrances, but as foods that are fragrant. Therefore, Chazal needed to establish a special bracha for aromatic fruits (see Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim end of Chapter 297).

Conclusion

The Gemara (Berachos 43b) teaches, “How do we know that one must recite a bracha on a fragrance? Because the pasuk (Tehillim 150:6) says, ‘Every neshamah praises Hashem,’ – What exists in the world that the soul benefits from, but not the body? Only fragrance.”

Because fragrance provides some physical pleasure, but no nutritional benefit, the sense of smell represents an interface between the spiritual and the physical. Similarly, we find that we offer korbanos as rei’ach nicho’ach, a fragrance demonstrating one’s desire to be close to Hashem. We should always take advantage of the opportunity to smell fragrant items as a steppingstone towards greater mitzvah observance and spirituality.