How to Live in the Sukkah

#1: Where?

should I learn Torah during Sukkos?”

#2: What?

are the rules about having dirty plates and glasses in the sukkah?”

#3: When?

“When it
is raining on the first night of Sukkos, why do we make kiddush
and hamotzi in the sukkah, but without reciting the brocha
on the mitzvah?”


The laws
of the mitzvah of sukkah are highly detailed and very unusual. In the course of answering
the opening questions, we will be studying an overview of the unique laws of
this beautiful mitzvah.

sweet sukkah

proper observance of this mitzvah is to treat the sukkah as one’s
home for the entire seven days of Sukkos (Mishnah and Gemara
28b). This is derived from the Torah’s words: “You shall dwell (teishevu)
in the Sukkah for seven days
.” This is the only mitzvah of the Torah that
is worded this way, and, as a result, there are many interesting and unique halachic
details, both lekulah and lechumrah. (Women are exempt from the
mitzvah of sukkah, and, therefore, the halachos that we describe
in this article apply only to men. However, a woman who eats or spends time in
the sukkah fulfills a mitzvah. According to Ashkenazic practice,
she recites a brocha prior to fulfilling the mitzvah; according to
practice, she does not.)

The Gemara
explains that a person should not only eat all his meals in the sukkah,
but he should sleep and relax in the sukkah (Sukkah 28b;
Shulchan Aruch
Orach Chayim 639:1). Although in many places in chutz
, people are not accustomed to sleeping in the sukkah
because of safety, weather or personal concerns (see Rema and acharonim,
Orach Chayim
639:2), we should still spend most of the day in the sukkah,
and not simply use it as a place to eat our meals, and then leave it for the
rest of the day.

To quote
the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 639:1): “How does one fulfill
the mitzvah of living in the sukkah? One should eat, drink, sleep, relax,
and live in the sukkah all seven days, both in the daytime and at night,
just as he lives in his house the rest of the year. For these seven days, he
should make his house temporary and his sukkah into his regular
residence. What are some examples of this? His nicest vessels, tablecloths and
bedspreads should be in the sukkah. His drinking vessels, both the
serving vessels and the drinking glasses, should be in the sukkah.
However, utensils used to prepare food, such as pots and pans, should be outside
the sukkah. The lamp should be in the sukkah; however, if the sukkah
is small, it should be placed outside the sukkah.”

does the Shulchan Aruch mean when it makes a distinction between
drinking vessels, which are inside the sukkah, and utensils to prepare
food, which it says should be outside the sukkah?

the Shulchan Aruch introduces the following concept. Although we are
supposed to use and live in the sukkah as we do in our house, we are
required to treat the sukkah with a degree of respect, as it has some
level of kedusha. The Rema (639:1) notes that unbecoming things
should not be performed in the sukkah. The Beis Yosef chooses
washing dishes as an example of something inappropriate in the sukkah.
The Magen Avraham explains that washing drinking glasses is permitted in
the sukkah, because this is not considered something unaesthetic,
whereas washing pots and dirty dishes is.

eating and cooking vessels, there are two aspects to this distinction.

to custom, pots and other cooking vessels that are not brought to the table
when there are guests should not be brought into the sukkah (Mishnah
639:5). Similarly, other items that are not appropriate for public
view, such as a child’s potty, should never be brought into the sukkah.
However, presentable “oven-to-table” cookware may be brought into the sukkah.

second aspect is that plates and platters that are dirty must be removed from
the sukkah (Sukkah 29a). This is because, once they have been
used, they look unpleasant.

Both of
these laws do not apply to drinking vessels, which are usually not repulsive,
even when dirty (ibid.).

A rule
of thumb I have adopted is: Something that would be in the dining room, living room
or bedrooms when you are entertaining guests can be in the sukkah. Items
that you would ordinarily leave in the kitchen, bathroom or laundry area should
not be in the sukkah.

in the sukkah?

The Shulchan
stated: “The lamp should be in the sukkah; however, if the sukkah
is small, it should placed outside the sukkah.” What does this mean?

today’s post-Edison world, lighting usually means electric lighting, which, if
properly installed, should not present any safety hazards. However, when lighting
was oil or other flammable material, placing a light inside a small sukkah
could pose a safety hazard. Therefore, the sukkah’s lighting would, of
necessity, be placed outside when the sukkah was small. Although this
situation is not ideal, it is, under the circumstances, an acceptable way to
observe the mitzvah, notwithstanding that your household lighting would be

in the sukkah

The Gemara
(Sukkah 28b) discusses whether learning Torah should be in the sukkah
or outside. The conclusion is that learning requiring focus is usually best
accomplished outside the sukkah, where someone can learn with better
concentration. On the other hand, learning that will not suffer as a result of
heing outside home or a beis medrash should, indeed, be done in the sukkah.
However, if someone needs access to many seforim while learning, it may
not be practical to bring all of them to the sukkah. The Mishnah
(639:29) recommends bringing the seforim that he will need
to the sukkah for the entire Yom Tov, if he can create a place
there to keep them. I will add that, depending on the climate, he may need a
place where they will not get wet.

Thus, we
can answer our opening question: “Where should I learn Torah during Sukkos?”
The answer is: If someone can conveniently learn in the sukkah, he
should; but if he cannot, he should learn where he will be able to accomplish
the most.

outside the sukkah?

the Shulchan Aruch requires that all meals be eaten in the sukkah,
it does not require that snacks be eaten in the sukkah. This ruling is
also derived from the Torah’s wording of mitzvas sukkah: “You
shall dwell
(teishevu) in the Sukkah for seven days,” which implies
that we should treat the sukkah as we treat our house the rest of the
year. In this instance, the result is lenient. Just as we do not eat all snacks
in the house, but eat them wherever we find ourselves, the same is true
regarding eating snacks on Sukkos – there is no requirement to
eat them in the sukkah.

In this
context, the Mishnah reports:

“It once
happened that someone brought Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai some food to taste, and
(in another anecdote) someone brought Rabban Gamliel two dates and a pitcher of
water. In both instances, the rabbonim asked that the food be brought to
the sukkah for them to eat it there. However, when someone brought Rabbi
Tzadok a small amount of bread, he ate a very small amount — less than the
size-equivalency of an egg — outside the sukkah” (Mishnah, Sukkah

The Gemara
explains: The halacha does not require eating any of these items in the sukkah,
but one is permitted to be more stringent. In other words, someone who desires
to be stringent and not eat anything or drink even water outside the sukkah
is praiseworthy. Ordinarily, it is prohibited to act more stringently than the halacha
requires, because of a concern called yohara, showing off that one is
more careful in halacha than other people. This concern does not exist
germane to being strict about eating snacks in the sukkah, and,
therefore, Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai and Rabban Gamliel ate in the sukkah,
even when it was not mandated. On the other hand, since this is a stringency
and not halachically required, Rabbi Tzadok ate his snack outside the sukkah.

How much
is still considered a snack that is permitted outside of the sukkah? If
you are eating bread, you may eat a piece that is equal to, but not greater
than, the size of an average-sized egg. Someone who wants to determine this size
exactly should discuss it with his rav or posek. Fruit, as much
as you want, may be eaten outside the sukkah. A cereal produced from the
five grains may not be eaten outside the sukkah, if it constitutes a

for a drink

It is
permitted to drink water or any other beverage, even wine, outside the sukkah.
However, be aware that if a person is in the middle of a meal that requires
being in the sukkah, he may not eat or drink anything outside the sukkah
(see Ran). This is because every part of a meal must be eaten in the sukkah,
even while in the house getting the next course. (Of course, since women are
exempt from the mitzvah of sukkah, they may eat or help themselves to
something in the house during the meal.)

but not brocha?

At this
point, let us discuss the third of our opening questions: “When it is raining
on the first night of Sukkos, why do we make kiddush and hamotzi
in the sukkah, but without reciting the brocha on the

about sukkah

this question requires two introductions about different aspects of the laws of
sukkah. The first is:

As I
noted above, when the mitzvah of sukkah is discussed, the Torah writes “You
shall dwell
(teishevu) in the Sukkah for seven days.” Seemingly, the
Torah could just as easily have instructed, “You shall be (tihyu) in
the sukkah for seven days.
” Why did the Torah use the word teishevu,
rather than the word tihyu, be?Either term teishevu
(dwell) or tihyu (be)implies that a person should use his sukkah
as his primary residence through the Yom Tov!

answer is because  the word teishevu implies something that
does not: Teishevu implies that there is no requirement to use
the sukkah in circumstances that you would not use your house the rest
of the year (Tosafos Yom Tov, Sukkah 2:4). This is referred to as
teishevu ke’ein taduru
, you should live in the sukkah similarly to
the way you normally live in your house. Since the mitzvah of the Torah is to
treat the sukkah as you ordinarily treat your house, there are
leniencies that do not apply to any other mitzvah. One case of these is
, someone for whom being in the sukkah causes discomfort. A
mitzta’er is exempt from being in the sukkah (Sukkah 26a).

For example,
a person whose house is very chilly will relocate temporarily to a warmer
dwelling; if bees infest your house, you will find alternative accommodations;
if the roof leaks, you will find a dry location until it is repaired. Just as
people evacuate their houses when uncomfortable and find more suitable
accommodations, so may they relocate from their sukkah when
uncomfortable and seek more pleasant arrangements. Therefore, if a bad smell
develops near the sukkah, one is exempt from staying in the sukkah.

first night of Sukkos

second introduction is to explain that there are two aspects to the mitzvah
of sukkah.

(1) The mitzvah
to dwell in a sukkah the entire Yom Tov. This is the aspect of
the mitzvah that we have been discussing until this point.

(2) The
requirement to eat in a sukkah onthe first night of the Yom
. Chazal derive this requirement by way of a hermeneutic
comparison to the mitzvah of eating matzah on the first night of Pesach
(Sukkah 27a). Although there is no requirement to eat matzah all
of Pesach, on the first night there is a requirement, as
the Torah specifies, ba’erev to’chelu matzos, on the first night of Pesach
one is required to eat matzah.

means that Hashem taught Moshe at Har Sinai that there are two
aspects to the mitzvah of living in the sukkah. The first night one has
an obligation to eat in the sukkah. The rest of Sukkos, the
requirement is to treat the sukkah as you treat your house. Therefore,
should you spend all of Sukkos in a circumstance where you would usually
never be home – such as a meshulach on a fundraising trip – you could
potentially avoid being in the sukkah the entire Yom Tov without
violating the mitzvah. However, on the first night, there is an obligation to
eat in the sukkah. Even if someone chooses not to eat a meal all of Sukkos,
but to subsist completely on snacks, the first night, he is still required to
eat a kezayis of bread in the sukkah.

the first

Our next
question is whether a mitzta’er is required to eat in the sukkah
the first night of Sukkos. For example, when the weather is inclement,
and it is permitted to eat in the house, does this also exempt someone from
eating a kezayis of bread in the sukkah on the first night? This
question is the subject of a dispute among the rishonim. Some contend
that this exemption does not apply to the mitzvah to eat a kezayis in
the sukkah on the first night. Just as a mitzta’er is required to
eat a kezayis of matzoh the first night of Pesach, so too
a mitzta’er is required to eat a kezayis of bread in the sukkah
on the first night of Sukkos (Tur Orach Chayim 639).

Other rishonim
disagree, contending that the rules of teishevu ke’ein taduru apply on
the first night, just as they apply throughout the rest of the week (Shu”t
, quoted by Beis Yosef).

do we rule?

The Rema
(Orach Chayim 640:4) concludes that although a mitzta’er is
absolved from fulfilling mitzvas sukkah the rest of the week, he
must, nevertheless, eat a kezayis of bread in the sukkah the
first night of Sukkos (see also Meiri, Sukkah 26a; Rema, Orach
639:5). Ashkenazim, who follow the Rema’s opinion the
vast majority of the time, consider this to be an unresolved halachic
issue. Therefore, if it rains on the first night of Sukkos, they eat at
least a kezayis of bread in the sukkah. However, since there are rishonim
who contend that a mitzta’er is exempt even from eating a kezayis
on the first night, they do not recite a brocha leisheiv basukah (consensus
of most acharonim, see Mishnah Berurah 639:35).

Sefardim should ask their rav what
to do, since there is a dispute among Sefardic poskim whether one
is obligated to eat in the sukkah on the first night of Yom Tov under
these circumstances.

night in chutz la’aretz

The acharonim
dispute whether the practice of Ashkenazim to make kiddush and
eat a kezayis in the sukkah even when it is raining applies only
on the first night of Sukkos, or even on the second night of Sukkos
in chutz la’aretz. I refer our readers to their rav or posek
to discuss this question, should it become germane.

stars and the sukkah

halacha is that, lechatchilah, one should be able to see the
stars through the sukkah’s schach. What is the reason behind this

following thought was suggested: The sukkah, a temporary dwelling with a
leaky thatched roof, represents the Jew in exile. Yet, there are a wide variety
of kosher Sukkos. Some sukkos are constructed with four complete
and sturdy walls that reach all the way to the schach. On the other
hand, there are Sukkos that are much less sturdy and yet they are still
kosher. For example a sukkah with just two fairly narrow walls
accompanied by a third “wall” that is a mere plank the width of one’s fist is
kosher. Such a shabby sukkah can be kosher, even if its walls are only
ten tefachim tall, which is less than forty inches, with open air
between the top of the short “walls” and the schach, notwithstanding
that such a sukkah provides virtually no privacy. Do you know anyone who
would live in such a house?

different types of sukkos represent different forms of exile. In some
times and places, we were welcomed and had a sense of security; in others, we
had to cringe in fear.

there is one common factor in all the various exiles that we have been through
– the stars. The stars remind us that when Klal Yisrael merits it,
instead of being like the dust of the earth, we will be like the stars in the
sky! (This approach is cited in the contemporary work, Shalal Rav, Sukkos
volume, page 114.) Thus, regardless of the difficulties of the moment, we have
a Divine promise that one day we will be stars!


We all
hope to merit performing this beautiful mitzvah in the best way possible. 
After having davened for a good, sweet, new year, the logical
continuation is to observe mitzvas sukkah in a halachically
correct manner, getting our year off to a wonderful start!

When Tekias Shofar Goes Wrong

Photo by elboim from FreeImages

Every year before Rosh Hashanah, Rav Goldberg reviews
the halachos of shofar blowing with the shul’s baal tekiah
(shofar blower/master blaster). This year the baal tekiah, Reb Muttel, had
more questions than usual.

“I have been a baal tekiah for several years now,”
began Reb Muttel. “Each year I feel a stronger sense of responsibility and
privilege. Privilege, because it is through my shofar blowing that our shul
joins Jews around the world in the coronation of Hashem as King. Also, the
shofar is a wake-up call to teshuva and reminds us of many historical
events in our history, including Matan Torah and Akeidas Yitzchak.
At the same time, it is an awesome responsibility to blow the shofar correctly,
so that everyone fulfills his obligation of hearing tekiahs shofar
according to halacha.”

“Not every blast is perfect,” continued Reb Muttel, “and
I’m curious to know when a blast is acceptable and when it must be repeated.
I’d also like to know why sometimes I am told to repeat just a blast, and other
times I am told to repeat several. I have also been in shuls where the
entire series of nine or more blasts was repeated. In short, I would like a
deeper understanding of the halachos.”

Rav Goldberg realized that it would take several
sessions to teach Muttel all the details of shofar blowing. Before presenting a
synopsis of their discussion, an introduction is in order.


As in many other mitzvos, there is no clear
command in the Written Torah to blow the shofar on Rosh Hashana. The Torah does
refer to Rosh Hashanah as “Yom Teruah,” but this could be translated
either as “a day of crying,” “a day of praying” or “a day of shofar blowing.”
The Torah Shebe’al Peh teaches that there is a mitzvah min haTorah
to blow shofar. The mitzvah is to blow three broken sounds called Teruos,
each preceded and followed by a long straight sound called a Tekiah.
These sounds add up to a total of nine blasts.

“How do we know that Teruah is a broken sound
in the first place?” asked Reb Muttel.

Targum Onkelos translates the word Teruah
as ‘yevavah,’ which means crying,” replied the Rav. “This teaches us
that the Teruah is a broken, crying sound (Rosh Hashanah 33b).
However, it is not clear from the Targum what type of crying sound ‘Teruah

“How was this question resolved?”

The Gemara (Rosh Hashanah 34a) reports
that Rabbi Abahu was uncertain whether Teruah is a series of sobs (what
we call Shevarim), or a staccato, panting cry (Teruah) or a
combination of both, first sobbing and then panting (Shevarim-Teruah).
To be certain that we fulfill the Torah’s obligation, he mandated blowing three
different series, each with a different broken sound. Each broken sound is blown
three times to fulfill the Torah mitzvah, and each one is preceded and
followed by a Tekiah. Thus, Rabbi Abahu’s arrangement results in a total
of thirty shofar sounds:

Tekiah, Shevarim-Teruah, Tekiah (TaSHRaT)
three times

Tekiah, Shevarim, Tekiah (TaSHaT) three times

Tekiah, Teruah, Tekiah (TaRaT) three times

But why didn’t Rabbi Abahu institute a shorter
procedure, and blow only Tekiah, Shevarim, Teruah, Tekiah
(the TaSHRaT mentioned before) three times? This way a person would blow all three
varieties of broken sound three times, and each would be surrounded by two teki’os.

The Gemara explains that if the mitzvah
is to blow only a Shevarim, blowing a Teruah immediately after
the Shevarim is an interruption that invalidates the mitzvah. Similarly,
if the mitzvah is to blow only a Teruah, then a Shevarim
preceding it interrupts between the Tekiah and the Teruah and
invalidates the mitzvah. Thus, the only way to fulfill the mitzvah
correctly is to blow three series, one with each type of broken sound (Shevarim,
Teruah, and Shevarim-Teruah) in the middle.

“This last statement of the Gemara teaches us
an important lesson. If one blows an inappropriate sound between the Tekiah
and the correct broken sound, that series is invalid. Early poskim dispute
how much of the series is invalid and must be blown again. The stringent
opinion contends that one must begin the series he is blowing all over again.
The lenient opinion rules that it suffices to return to the most recent Tekiah;
the earlier sounds are kosher (Tur Orach Chayim end of 590).
There is a very interesting story related to this dispute that we will discuss


The Gemara points out that Rabbi Abahu omitted
a fourth option — he did not require a Teruah followed by a Shevarim.
The Gemara explains that Rabbi Abahu omitted this combination because
the Torah’s Teruah is a broken sound that imitates human crying. Since
it is unusual for a crying person to pant and then sob afterwards, this sound
cannot be what the Torah commanded.


There is another explanation why Rabbi Abahu
instituted three different Teruah sounds. Rav Hai Gaon contends that the
mitzvah of tekias shofar is fulfilled with ANY broken sound. In his
opinion, blowing three times either TaSHRaT or TaShaT or TaRaT or any
combination of the three fulfills the Torah mitzvah. In Rav Hai’s
opinion, Rabbi Abahu instituted the blowing of thirty shofar sounds for a
different reason.

In Rabbi Abahu’s day, different communities blew the
broken, crying sound in different ways. In some communities it was a Shevarim,
others blew what we call Teruah (short, staccato sounds), while others
blew Shevarim-Teruah. Rabbi Abahu was concerned that an unlearned person
visiting different communities might conclude that there is a dispute how to
blow shofar. To avoid even the appearance of conflict, Rabbi Abahu instituted
that all Jews observe all three customs.

Thus, we have two different explanations why Rav Abahu
instituted the blowing of thirty shofar sounds. The first opinion, which is
held by most poskim, contends that blowing thirty sounds guarantees that
we have fulfilled the Torah’s mitzvah. The second opinion maintains that
we blow thirty sounds to avoid the appearance of a machlokes.


Almost nine hundred years ago, on Rosh Hashanah
4905/1144, the shofar blower of Mainz, a community with many Talmidei
, erred in the middle of the blowing. After blasting two kosher rounds
of “TaSHRaT” he made a mistake in the third round. Instead of blowing a
three-part Shevarim and then a Teruah, he mistakenly blew two
parts of a Shevarim and then began blowing the Teruah.
Immediately realizing his error, the baal tekiah stopped blowing the Teruah
after only one stacatto beat. The question was how to continue.

A dispute ensued among the scholarly congregants. Some
advocated that ALL the TaSHRaT soundings must be blown again. Apparently, they
contended that ANY inappropriate sound blown in the middle of the shofar
blowing invalidates the entire series. Since TaSHRaT is blown to fulfill one
interpretation of the Torah’s mitzvah, any inappropriate blast blown in
the middle invalidates that entire attempt and the series must begin again.

Other scholars were more lenient. They contended that
the sounds already blown need not be repeated. In their opinion, only a sound
that has halachic status invalidates a series, not a sound that is
neither a Shevarim nor a Teruah. Furthermore, they felt that in a
case where the sounds need to be repeated, such as where an unnecessary Teruah
was blown in the middle, one need return only to the Tekiah preceding
the errant broken sound. Thus, in a case where someone blew in the third
TaSHRaT Tekiah, Shevarim-Teruah, Teruah, only the last Tekiah
and Shevarim-Teruah need to be blown again but no earlier sounds.

In Mainz, 1144, the first group had its way, and the baal
started blowing again from the the beginning of the TaShRaT series.

After Rosh Hashanah, the shaylah was referred
to the gedolim,Rav Elyakim bar Yosef and the Raavan, both of
whom ruled that the second group was correct. The Raavan also contended that
the extra blasts blown desecrated Yom Tov since they were unnecessary
and blowing shofar on Yom Tov is permitted only to perform the mitzvah
(Rosh, Rosh Hashanah 4:11).

Returning to Muttel’s lessons with Rav Goldberg, the
Rav pointed out that the ruling of Rav Elyakim bar Yosef and the Raavan — that
nothing needs to be repeated if the errant sound is neither a Shevarim
nor a Teruah — is true only when the baal tekiah blew one or two
Teruah sounds. However, if he blew three Teruah sounds in
the wrong place, such as before the Shevarim is completed, the Tekiah
before it is invalidated, because a Teruah blown immediately before a Shevarim
is an invalid sound.


“I am confused,” protested Reb Muttel. “Why did
you say that three short sounds is considered a Teruah? Doesn’t a Teruah
have nine sounds!”

“Actually, not everyone agrees that a Teruah
requires nine sounds,” the Rav replied patiently. “According to Rashi, a Teruah
need be only three sounds. The Riva and Rivam disagree, contending that the Teruah
must be at least nine sounds. Since everyone agrees that a Teruah may
have extra sounds, we blow a Teruah of nine sounds, which is kosher
according to all opinions.”

What happens if the shofar blower blew a Teruah
shorter than nine sounds?

According to Rashi, one has fulfilled the mitzvah,
provided the Teruah was at least three sounds. According to Riva and
Rivam, one has not. The rav or posek in the shul will pasken
whether to blow the Teruah again. The Mishnah Berurah (590:12)
rules that it is unnecessary to repeat the Teruah. However, if the rav
rules that the Teruah should be repeated, the Tekiah preceding
the Teruah must also be repeated. Since, according to Rashi, the short Teruah
is kosher, blowing another Teruah without repeating the Tekiah
interrupts between the Teruah and the following Tekiah.


A Shevarim must be a minimum of three broken
sounds, each called a shever. The shever should preferably be as
long as three swift, staccato sounds (three “kochos”), making the entire
Shevarim the length of nine staccato sounds (Mishnah Berurah

However, there are opinions that each shever
should be shorter than three staccato sounds, making the entire Shevarim
about the length of six staccato sounds (Tosafos Rosh Hashanah 32b;
first opinion quoted in Shulchan Aruch 590:3; Mateh Efrayim). In
some communities, the practice is to blow some of the Shevarim according
to this opinion.


“Is it kosher to blow a Shevarim of four or
five sounds?” asked Muttel.

“To answer that, we must return to that memorable Rosh
Hashanah almost nine hundred years ago in Mainz,” explained Rav Goldberg.
“After blowing Tekiah, Shevarim, Tekiah, twice without
incident, the baal tekiah blew a successful Tekiah and
then a Shevarim that was four sounds instead of the usual three. The
congregation considered this sound invalid and made him begin the blowing of
TaSHaT from the beginning, repeating a total of eight sounds (the entire TaSHaT
twice and a new Tekiah and Shevarim). Rabbi Elyakim bar Yosef
took them to task for two different reasons. Even if there was a need to repeat
the blowing, they did not need to blow the two previous TaSHaT blowings again,
since those were successful blowings. (As we learned above, some scholars in
Mainz held that a bad sound invalidates the entire series.) In addition, Rav
Elyakim ruled that the Shevarim of four sounds is perfectly valid; there
is nothing wrong with adding an extra shever to the Shevarim (Tosafos
Rosh Hashanah
33b; Rosh). We rule, like Rav Elyakim, that an extra shever
does not invalidate a Shevarim; however, it is preferable to blow a Shevarim
that is exactly three sounds, out of deference to the scholars of Mainz who
disagreed” (see Mishnah Berurah 590:11).


Some poskim contend that each short shever
sound should change pitch in the middle, either once or twice. Some people
refer to these as “tu-U-tu” or “UU-tu” or “tu-UU” Shevarim sounds.

Others contend that the shever sound should be without
change in pitch – and should sound exactly like a very short Tekiah.
Each community should follow the ruling of its rav or its established


There are several opinions. Whereas Raavad’s opinion
is that every Tekiah must be nine kochos, regardless which broken
sound it accompanies (Hilchos Shofar 3:4), Tosafos and most rishonim
contend that the Tekiah must be as long as the broken sound that it
accompanies. Since the length of both the Shevarim and the Teruah
are disputed, as mentioned above, the length of the Tekiah is also
disputed. According to the Riva and Rivam, the combined length of a Shevarim-Teruah
is about eighteen kochos, or perhaps a bit longer to accommodate the
length of the pause in the middle. (Each “koach” is the length of a
minimum beat. The entire Shevarim-Teruah can be blown in about three
seconds.) Therefore, the Tekiah before and after the Shevarim-Teruah
should also be that long (Mateh Efrayim; Mishnah Berurah

According to Rashi’s opinion that the Teruah
need be only three kochos and the Shevarim only six-to-nine kochos,
the Tekiah accompanying the Shevarim-Teruah need be only
nine-to-twelve kochos long.

Based on the above, poskim conclude that the Tekiah
for TaSHRaT should preferably be a bit more than eighteen kochos long,
whereas the Tekiah for TaSHaT and TaRaT need be only nine kochos

What if the Tekiah ended earlier? It is not
unusual that the teki’os that accompany TaSHRaT are not eighteen kochos
long. Again the rav will make the decision. (For example, the Mateh
rules that a Tekiah for TaSHRaT that was only nine kochos
long is kosher b’dei’evid, after the fact.)


This interesting question is an early dispute.
According to most opinions, there should be only a slight interruption between
the Shevarim and Teruah of the Shevarim-Teruah (most rishonim,
as explained by the Mishnah Berurah 590:18.) It should be noted that
according to the Chazon Ish 136:1 and Avnei Nezer #443 there
should be no interruption whatsoever between the Shevarim and the Teruah.
Some even contend that a significant interruption between the Shevarim
and the Teruah invalidates the blowing (see Mishnah Berurah
590:16 and Shaar HaTziyun ad loc.). Rabbeinu Tam disagrees, maintaining
that someone would not change from a sobbing cry to a panting cry without
stopping for a breath in between. Therefore, he maintains that one should
pause, although not extensively, between the Shevarim and the Teruah.


There are different customs. Some communities follow
Rabbeinu Tam’s opinion and blow every Shevarim-Teruah with a brief pause
in the middle (Rama 590:4). However, most congregations today follow the
Chayei Adam’s recommendation that the Shevarim-Teruah of the
first blowings (before Musaf) are blown without a pause, whereas the baal
should pause between Shevarim and Teruah when blowing
during the repetition of Shemoneh Esrei.

Incidentally, the shofar soundings blown during Musaf
should be treated with the same degree of importance as those blown earlier.
According to many poskim, they are the main mitzvah of shofar
blowing (see Tosafos, Pesachim 115a s.v. maskif; Mishnah


Shofar blowing is one of the time-bound positive mitzvos
(mitzvas aseh she’hazman grama) from which women are exempt.
Nevertheless, generations of women have been careful to hear shofar blowing,
just as they are careful to shake the lulav and esrog on Sukos,
another time-bound mitzvah from which they are exempt. Many poskim
rule that since women have assumed responsibility to hear shofar blowing, they
are now required to do so (Chayei Adam 141:7; on the other hand, see Shu’t
Salmas Chayim
#349). However, a woman does not need to hear more than
thirty shofar sounds, although it is meritorious for her to hear the sounds
blown during the repetition of Shemoneh Esrei.


The rishonim dispute whether one can recite a bracha
on a mitzvah that one is not commanded to perform. Some contend that
women should not recite the bracha because one cannot say “asher
kideshanu be’mitzvosav ve’tzivanu
,” “He who sanctified us in His
mitzvos and commanded us,” when Hashem never commanded women to perform
this mitzvah. Sefardim follow this opinion, and therefore Sefardic women
do not recite a bracha on mitzvos such as shofar and lulav.
Ashkenazim rule that one may recite ve’tzivanu even if one is not
personally obligated, since Klal Yisrael collectively observes the

For the above reason, an Ashkenazic woman who did not hear
the first blowings should recite the bracha before the shofar soundings
during the repetition of Shemoneh Esrei or at the end of davening.


The Gemara explains that we repeat the shofar
blowings in order to confuse the Satan and prevent him from prosecuting us (Rosh
16b). This is surprising. Is the Satan so easily fooled? Most of
us have discovered the Satan to be extremely clever. Does he not remember that
we pulled the same prank on him in previous years and blew the shofar twice?

Tosafos explains the Gemara more deeply. The
Satan is constantly afraid that Moshiach will come and put him out of
business. Therefore, every time the shofar blows, the Satan leaps up, terrified
that Moshiach has come, and forgets to prosecute us! When it is blown
the first time, he is petrified that it might be the advent of Moshiach.
When it is blown the second time, he is absolutely certain, and is beside
himself with shock and consternation. Then he realizes, too late, that it is
just Rosh Hashanah again. By that time, Hashem has reached our verdict without
Satan’s interference.

How nice it would be if we sat on the edge of our chairs
waiting for the Moshiach with the same intensity as the Satan!

Rus, David, and the Prohibition of Marrying Moavites

A critical feature of the
Book of Rus is the question of whether Rus was allowed to marry into the Jewish
people. The Torah prohibits a Moavite from marrying into Klal Yisroel to
prevent damaging Klal Yisroel’s pristine moral nature by people who have
inherited the disturbing character traits associated with the Moavite people:

An Ammonite or a
Moavite should not enter the congregation of
Hashem. Even the tenth generation should not enter the congregation
Hashem, forever. Because of the fact that they did not come forward
with bread and water when you were on your way out of Mitzrayim and because of
the fact that they hired Bilaam ben Be’or of Pesor, Aram Naharayim, to curse
(Devarim 23:4, 5).

Since there are no
indications that the nation of Ammon participated in employing Bilaam, the Ramban
(ad loc.) explains that each of the two reasons specified here applies to only
one of the two nations involved: The Ammonites are excluded from marrying into Klal
because they did not provide food for the Jewish people, thus not
demonstrating any hakaras hatov for the fact that Avraham Avinu had
saved their ancestor Lot, and Moav is banned for hiring Bilaam.

The Mishnah (Yevamos
76b) rules Ammoni velo Ammonis, Moavi velo Moavis, that the
prohibition of marrying into the Jewish people applies only to male Ammonites
and Moavites and their male descendants. Thus, a male member of the Moavite
people who converts to Judaism is still prohibited from marrying someone born
Jewish. However, a female Moavite convert and all her descendants, and the
female descendant of a male Moavite convert may freely marry within Klal
. It is for this reason that Boaz was permitted to marry Rus, who
was a Moavite.

The Gemara
explains that only Ammonite men are included in the ban, since only men would
have been involved in going out to present food and drink to the Jews. The
female Ammonites’ lack of involvement in this mitzvah may have been
because of their extreme modesty – they never left their houses to be near
unfamiliar men. Similarly, since we can assume that Bilaam was hired by the
Moavite men, only they are prohibited from marrying into the Jewish people, not
the women (see also Yerushalmi).

The Story of Rus

In addition to the
above-quoted Mishnah, several other early sources discuss whether the
prohibition preventing Moavites and Ammonites from marrying Jews is restricted
to males or extends also to females. The first time we find this matter
discussed is in the days of Rus. Megillas Rus tells us that Ploni
Almoni, an uncle of Rus’s late husband Machlon, was concerned about marrying
Rus pen ashchis nachalasi, lest I destroy my descendants (Rus 4:6),
which Rashi explains to be a concern that his descendants born from Rus
would not be allowed to marry other Jews, because of their Moavite ancestress. Rashi
there explains that Ploni Almoni erred regarding the halachic rule of Ammoni
velo Ammonis

Yet, the comment of Ploni
Almoni is peculiar. If he felt that female Moavites are prohibited from
marrying Jews, why was he only concerned that his descendants would be banned
and not about whether he himself was permitted to marry Rus? On the other hand,
if he was willing to marry Rus because he knew that the prohibition is
restricted to male Moavites, why was he concerned about his children? We will
return to this question shortly.

The Story of David

The issue of whether
Moavite women may marry Jews surfaced again concerning the lineage of King
David, who was descended from Rus. A fascinating passage of Gemara
describes an early halachic debate among several known Biblical
personages – whom we see from this Gemara were exemplary Torah scholars.
Doeig HaEdomi, a member of King Shaul’s retinue, and Avner ben Ner, Shaul’s
chief-of-military-staff, debate the halachic issue concerning whether
Moavite women may marry Jews. The discussion between them is what one expects
from Talmidei Chachamim of the first order, vociferously debating a halachic
issue in your local Beis Medrash. But first let us examine the
historical context.

Background to the

After Shaul failed to
destroy Amalek and he had been told that he would therefore lose the monarchy,
Hashem commanded Shmuel to clandestinely anoint David, the youngest of Yishai’s
eight sons, as the new King of Israel. Shmuel carried out this mission, but it
had been kept a complete secret.

At this time, Shaul began
suffering bouts of depression. Shaul’s advisers sought out someone who could
play music and thereby help Shaul cope with his depression. One of Shaul’s
attendants knew David and suggested him for the position. David tried out for
the position and was very successful. Shaul then sent a message to Yishai,
David’s father, requesting that David be allowed to assume this position
permanently. David did fill the position, and Shaul loved David tremendously,
and had David also assume the role of being the royal armor-bearer. Shaul sent
a second message to Yishai, requesting that David remain with Shaul “for he has
found favor in my eyes” (Shmuel I 16:14-23).

At this point, the
Pelishtim (Philistines) waged war against the Jews. The Pelishtim had a giant
warrior among them, Golyas (known in English as “Goliath”), who stood over six
tall (well over ten feet!). Golyas would taunt the Jews with his
powerful, terrifying voice. Golyas challenged the Jews to send one
representative who would face off in battle against him, with the nation of the
victor taking the members of the other nation as slaves. At the same time,
Golyas screamed blasphemous declarations about Hashem. The Jewish troops were
terrified of Golyas (Shmuel I 17:1-11).

At the time, David’s
three oldest brothers served in Shaul’s army. Yishai, David’s father, who is
described as zakein ba va’anashim, meaning a well known personage,
sent David to bring provisions to his brothers at the battlefront (Shmuel I
17:12). David discovered that Shaul was offering a vast reward to whoever would
vanquish Golyas.

David the Brave

David, after gathering
information about the situation, volunteered to fight Golyas by himself. Shaul
discouraged David, noting that Golyas was an experienced warrior, whereas David
was not.

David replied that Hashem
is the One who provides all salvation, and that Hashem often helped David fight
lions and bears while he was tending his sheep. Shaul gave David his blessing.

Shaul’s armor was placed
upon David, but David said that he could not move freely with the armor, and
removed it. David then took five smooth stones from a stream and placed them in
his shepherd’s bag.

When Golyas saw David, he
taunted him, saying “I will offer your flesh to the birds of the heavens and
the animals of the field,” to which David responded: “You come against me with
sword, spear and javelin, and I come against you with the Name of Hashem,
Master of Armies, the G-d of the troops of Israel.” At this point, David took
his slingshot, shot one stone that struck Golyas on the forehead, and Golyas
fell dead. David then took Golyas’s sword, chopped off his head and
demonstrated to all the Pelishtim that their hero was dead. The Pelishtim fled,
and on that day, the Jews vanquished their enemy.

Now we come to the
strangest part of the story:

“And when Shaul saw David
move forward against the Pelishti, he said to Avner, his general, ‘Avner, whose
son is this lad?’ And Avner answered, ‘As you live, O King, I do not know.’ And
the king responded, ‘Find out whose son is this lad’” (Shmuel I,

This last part of the story
is bizarre. Both Shaul and Avner certainly knew David well — David was Shaul’s
armor-bearer and the one who played music to treat Shaul’s fits of depression.
Furthermore, they were also familiar with Yishai, who was a well-known
personage and with whom Shaul had negotiated twice for David’s employ.

The Gemara Passage

As we can imagine, we are
not the first to ask these questions: They form the basis of a fascinating
Talmudic discussion (Yevamos 76b-77a).

The Gemara asks
why Shaul asked Avner who David and Yishai were; he knew them both, very well.
The Gemara answers that he suspected that David might be the person who
would be replacing him as king of the Jews. Shaul inquired whether David was descended
from the branch of Yehudah that was destined to be the Jewish royal family.
Thus, the question “Avner, whose son is this lad?” was not about David’s
identity but about his genealogical roots.

At this point, Doeig
HaEdomi piped up, “Rather than ask concerning whether he is appropriate to
become king, you should ask whether he may marry into the Jewish people. After
all, he is descended from Rus, the Moavite.” To this, Avner retorted that we
know that the halachah is that only male descendants of Ammon and Moav
are prohibited, and therefore Rus was permitted to marry into the Jewish
people. Doeig, however, disputed the veracity of this ruling. A halachic
debate ensued between Doeig and Avner, concerning whether one can prove from
the verses that the prohibition against Ammon and Moav is limited to males, or
whether it extends also to the female descendants. Doeig won the upper hand in
the debate, producing irrefutable arguments that females are also prohibited.

What was Doeig’s

As explained by the Ritva
(ad loc.), Doeig insisted that the prohibition against marrying Ammonites
applies equally to men and women of this nation. In his opinion, the Ammonite
women equally share blame for the discourtesy they showed the Israelites, since
the Ammonite women should also have provided food and water. He disputes with
excusing their not providing help as attributable to their extreme modesty,
since the Ammonite women should have assisted the Jewish women.

But what about the
Moavite women?

But wait one minute! This
concern should not affect David, who was descended from Moav, not from Ammon,
and the Moavite women cannot be accused of hiring Bilaam. However, Doeig
contended that Moavite women are also prohibited. Although it may be true that
Bilaam was hired by the men, since the prohibitions against marrying Moavites
and Ammonites are mentioned together, just as female Ammonites may not marry
Jews, the same applies to female Moavites (Rashba, Yevamos 76b).

When Avner was unable to
disprove Doeig’s approach, Shaul referred the issue to the scholars who debated
such matters in the Beis Medrash. These scholars also responded that the
prohibition banning the marriage of Ammon and Moav applies only to males and
not to females. Doeig then proceeded to demonstrate that their approach was
incorrect, leading the scholars of the Beis Medrash to conclude that
their previous assumption was wrong and that henceforth the halachah
would be that female descendants of Ammon and Moav are prohibited from marrying
into Klal Yisroel. This ruling would seriously affect David and all his
family members. Boaz had married Rus assuming that the prohibition banning
Moavites applied only to males, and now the scholars of the Beis Medrash
were considering banning Moavite and Ammonite women and all their descendants.

Amasa to the Rescue!

They were about to
conclude that this is the halachah, when another scholar, Amasa, who was
also a general in Shaul’s army, rose and declared, “I have received a direct mesorah
from Shmuel’s Beis Din that the prohibition relates only to male
descendants and not to female ones.” This last argument apparently turned the
entire debate back in favor of Avner’s original position, and it was accepted
that David and all of Yishai’s descendants could marry within Klal Yisroel
(Yevamos 76b-77a).

What did Amasa’s
declaration change? In what way did this refute Doeig’s arguments?

Based on a halachic
explanation of the Rambam (Hilchos Mamrim 1:2), the Brisker Rav
explains what changed.

There are two basic types
of Torah laws:

  • Those that are handed down as a mesorah from Moshe Rabbeinu at Har
  • Those derived on the basis of the thirteen rules with which we derive
    new halachos, called in English the hermeneutic rules.

Let me explain each
category by using examples:


We have a mesorah
that the Torah’s requirement that we take “the fruit of a beautiful tree” on Sukkos
refers to an esrog. No halachic authority in Klal Yisroel’s
history ever questioned this fact, and for a very simple reason. We know this
piece of information directly from the great leaders of Klal Yisroel who
received this information from Moshe Rabbeinu, who heard it directly from
Hashem (Rambam, Introduction to the Commentary on the Mishnah).


However, there are also
Torah laws that were not taught with a direct mesorah from Har Sinai,
but are derived through the hermeneutic rules of the Torah. For example, there
is a dispute among tana’im whether a sukkah requires four walls
to be kosher or whether it is sufficient if it has three. This debate is based
on two different ways to explain the words of the Torah (Sukkah 6b).

Mesorah Versus Logic

Are there any halachic
distinctions between the two categories of Torah-derived laws? Indeed, there
are. The Rambam explains that when the position is based on logic, halachic
authorities may disagree what is the halachah. Thus, there can be a
dispute among tana’im whether a sukkah must have three walls or
four. However, there can never be a dispute concerning a matter that Klal
received as a mesorah. Once a greatly respected Torah
authority reports a mesorah from his rebbe,who in turn
received this mesorah back to Moshe Rabbeinu, that a specific halachah
or principle is true, no one can question this mesorah. Thus, any
dispute about a halachah of the Torah can concern only something derived
logically with hermeneutic principles.

There is another halachic
difference between something taught by mesorah and something derived
through logic. The final decider of all halachah in every generation
(until the end of the era of the Talmud) was the Sanhedrin, also often
called the Beis Din HaGadol, the supreme Beis Din. Once the great
Torah scholars of Klal Yisroel participated in a debate in the Beis Din
, which then reached a decision, their conclusion is binding on all
of Klal Yisroel (Rambam, Hilchos Mamrim 1:1;
Comments of Ramban to Sefer HaMitzvos, Rule II).

There is a question
whether a Beis Din HaGadol may overturn a ruling that had been decided
previously, either its own decision or one made by an earlier Beis Din
. The answer to this question depends on whether the ruling involved
was based on logic or whether it was taught by mesorah. When the
original decision was reached by logic, then a later Beis Din HaGadol
has the authority to reexamine the case, and, should it decide to, overturn the
previous ruling.

However, this can never
happen with a law whose source is mesorah. There can be no debate, no
discussion and no overturning. Once a recognized scholar announces that he
received this law as a mesorah from Sinai, this is accepted by all, and
no debate or questioning of this mesorah may transpire.

Thus, it makes a
tremendous difference in halachah whether something is a mesorah,
which means it is not subject to argument or debate, or whether it is based on
an interpretation of the hermeneutic rules, which is subject to argument and

On the basis of these
rules of the Rambam, the Brisker Rav (in his notes to the book of Rus
in his Chiddushim on Tanach) explains why Amasa’s argument closed
the debate in David’s favor. Doeig, Shaul, Avner, and the other members of
Shaul’s Beis Medrash all assumed that limiting the prohibition of Ammoni
and Moavi to males was based on hermeneutic exposition, and thus debatable.
Furthermore, if Doeig demonstrated that his approach was logically correct, the
long-established interpretation permitting Rus to marry into the Jewish people
would be overturned. Indeed, the result of this ruling would be that Rus and
all her descendants would be prohibited to marry into the Jewish people.

Amasa, however, explains
the Brisker Rav, knew that the principle of Moavi velo Moavis, that
female descendants of Moav could marry into Klal Yisroel, was a mesorah
that Shmuel knew originated at Har Sinai. Thus, its basis was not a logical
interpretation of the Torah, which can be refuted, but mesorah, which
cannot. Therefore, a logical interpretation concluding otherwise was completely

At this point, we can
return to an earlier question we asked about the story of Megillas Rus. Ploni
Almoni, Machlon’s uncle, seems convinced that he may marry Rus, notwithstanding
her Moavite origins, yet he was concerned that his descendants from her might
not be allowed to marry other Jews. The Brisker Rav explains that Ploni Almoni
assumed that the law permitting Moavite women to marry Jews was based on logic,
which might at some time in the future be refuted, thus changing the accepted halachah.
At that point, the ability of his descendants to marry Jews would be
overturned. However, Ploni Almoni was incorrect, since the halachah that
Moavite women may marry Jews is mesorah, and therefore irrefutable.
There can and will never be a question as to whether the descendants of Boaz
and David may marry Jews, notwithstanding their Moavite origins.


the halachic issues regarding the pedigree of David, which are of
supreme importance to us, since they are the basis of the lineage of Mashiach,
we learn a very important lesson from the marital restrictions of the Moavites.
One of the three identifying characteristics of the Jewish people is our
quality that we are makir tov, we appreciate what others, and especially
Hashem, have done for us and acknowledge that appreciation. From this mitzvah,
we see how concerned we should be about developing the qualities that
characterize the Jewish people.

The Mourning Period of Sefirah

What Are the
Guidelines for Aveilus Observed During the Sefirah Weeks?

Reason for Mourning

The midrash
teaches that one reason for the counting of the omer is so that we again
experience the excitement of anticipating the receiving of the Torah (quoted by
Ran, end of Pesachim). At the same time, it is unfortunate that
this very same part of the year has witnessed much tragedy for the Jewish
people. Indeed, the Mishnah (Eduyos 2:10) points out that the season
between Pesach and Shavuos is a time of travail. One major
calamity that befell us during this season is the plague that took the lives of
the 24,000 disciples of Rabbi Akiva. They died within several weeks in one year
between Pesach and Shavuos because they did not treat one another
with proper respect (Yevamos 62b). The world was desolated by the loss
of Torah until Rabbi Akiva went to the southern part of Eretz Yisroel to
teach five great scholars, Rabbi Meir, Rabbi Yehudah, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai,
Rabbi Yosi, and Rabbi Elozor ben Shamua, who became the upholders of the future
of Torah.

in the time of the Crusades, terrible tragedies happened to the Jewish
communities of the Rhine River Valley during the period between Pesach
and Shavuos (Taz and Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chayim 493).
Some of these catastrophes are recorded in the Kinos that we recite on Tisha
. The reciting of “Av Harachamim” after Kerias HaTorah on
Shabbos was introduced as a testimonial to remember these holy
communities who perished in sanctification of Hashem’s Name rather than
accept baptism.

Practices Are Prohibited?

of the tragic passing of Rabbi Akiva’s disciples, the minhag was
establishedto treat the sefirah period as a time of mourning and
to prohibit the conducting of weddings during this season. It is interesting to
note that, although it is forbidden to hold a wedding during this season, if
someone schedules a wedding during this season in violation of the accepted
practice of the community, we do not penalize him for having done so (Teshuvos
#278). Thus, although this person violated the community rules by
scheduling the wedding, others may attend the wedding (see Shu”t Igros
Moshe, Orach Chayim
2:95). There are poskim who permit weddings
under extenuating circumstances, such as concern that a delay may cause the
engagement to be broken (Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chayim 493:2).

addition to abstaining from weddings, certain other mourning practices are
observed during the period of sefirah. One does not take a haircut
during this season (Tur Orach Chayim Chapter 493). However, if
there is a bris during sefirah, the mohel, the sandek,
and the father of the baby are permitted to have their hair cut in honor of the
occasion (Rema), but not the kvatter or those who are honored
with “cheika,who are those who bring the baby closer to the bris
(Mishnah Berurah 493:12). Those who are permitted to have their hair
cut in honor of the occasion may even have their hair cut the evening before (Mishnah

is not permitted during the sefirah season (Magen Avraham).
Listening to music is likewise prohibited (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim
1:166; Shu”t Minchas Yitzchok 1:111; Shu”t Yechaveh Daas 3:30).
One is permitted to teach, learn, or play music if it is for his livelihood (Shu”t
Igros Moshe
3:87). This is permitted since he is not playing for enjoyment.
However, one should not take music lessons for pleasure.

Moshe Feinstein ruled that if a wedding took place on Lag B’omer or
before or on Rosh Chodesh Iyar (in places where this is the accepted
practice, see below), it is permitted to celebrate the week of sheva
with live music and dancing (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim
2:95). There are others who disagree (Shu”t Minchas Yitzchok 1:111. See Piskei
Chapter 493 footnotes 39 and 81, who quotes many authorities on
both sides of the question.).

certain mourning practices are observed during sefirah, many practices
that are prohibited during the three weeks or the nine days preceding Tisha
are permitted. For example, house remodeling, which is prohibited
during “the Nine Days”is permitted during the sefirah period (Shu”t
Yechaveh Daas
3:30). Similarly, although during the Nine Days one is
discouraged from doing things that are dangerous, no such concern is mentioned
in regard to the period of sefirah. Thus, although the Minchas Elozor
reports that he knew of people who would not travel during sefirah,
he rules that it is permitted and that this practice is without halachic
basis (Shu”t Minchas Elozor 4:44).

In a
similar vein, according to most poskim, one may recite a brocha of
shehechiyanu on a new garment or a new fruitduring the period of
sefirah (Maamar Mordechai 493:2; Kaf Hachayim, Orach Chayim 493:4).
The Maamar Mordechai explains that the custom not to recite shehechiyanu
is a mistake that developed because of confusion with the three weeks
before Tisha B’Av, when one should not recite a shehechiyanu (Maamar
493:2). However, there are early poskim who record a
custom not to recite shehechiyanu during the mourning period of sefirah
(Piskei Teshuvos, quoting Leket Yosher).

It is
permitted during sefirah to sing or to have a festive meal without music
(Graz; Aruch Hashulchan). It is also permitted to make an engagement
party (a vort) or a tnoyim during the sefirah period,
provided that there is no music or dancing (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim
Chapter 493 and Magen Avraham).

Do We Observe Mourning?

are numerous customs regarding which days of sefirah are to be kept as a
period of mourning. The Shulchan Aruch rules that the mourning period
runs from the beginning of the sefirah counting and ends on the
thirty-fourth day of the omer count (Beis Yosef and Shulchan
Aruch, Orach Chayim
Chapter 493; Kaf Hachayim 493:25). In his
opinion, there is no celebration on Lag B’Omer, and it is forbidden to
schedule a wedding on that day! The source for this opinion is a medrash that
states that the plague that caused the deaths of the disciples of Rabbi Akiva
ended fifteen days before Shavuos. According to the Shulchan Aruch’s
understanding, the last day of the plague was the thirty-fourth day of the omer.
Thus, the mourning ends fifteen days before Shavuos, on the day
after Lag B’Omer.

the generally accepted practice is to treat the thirty-third day of the Omer
count as a day of celebration (Rema and Darchei Moshe, Orach
Chapter 493, quoting Maharil) because, according to this
tradition, the last day of the tragedy was the thirty-third day of the Omer (Gra).
There are several other reasons mentioned why Lag B’Omer should be
treated as a day of celebration. Some record that it is celebrated because it
is the yahrzeit of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, the author of the Zohar
(Birkei Yosef; Chayei Adam, Klal 131:11; Aruch Hashulchan).
Others say that it is celebrated because it is the day that Rabbi Shimon bar
Yochai was able to leave the cave in which he had been hiding (Aruch
). Another reason recorded for celebrating this day is because it
was the day that Rabbi Akiva granted semichah to his surviving disciples
(Kaf Hachayim, Orach Chayim 493:26). Others record that it was the first
day that the mann began falling for the Jews in the desert (Shu”t
Chasam Sofer, Yoreh Deah
#233, s.v. Amnam yodati).

to Maharil and Rema, the evening of Lag B’Omer should be
included in the mourning period and the celebration should not begin until
daytime. In their opinion, Lag B’Omer is still counted as one of the
thirty-three days of mourning. The aveilos period ends on the morning of
Lag B’Omer because of a concept called miktzas hayom ki’chulloh,
which means that the last day of mourning does not need to be a complete day (Moed
19b). If one observes the beginning of the day in mourning, the
entire day is included in the count of the mourning days. For this reason,
someone getting up from sitting shiva does so on the morning of the
seventh day. Observing mourning requirements at the beginning of the seventh
day satisfies the requirement to observe the seventh day of shiva.
Similarly, one satisfies the requirement to observe the thirty-third day of sefirah
mourning by observing mourning only at the beginning of that day. According to
this approach, one should not conduct a wedding on the evening of Lag B’Omer,
but only in the daytime. This is because we paskin according to the
opinions that the principle of miktzas hayom ki’chulloh applies only if
the mourning was observed in the daytime, and it is insufficient to observe aveilos
only in the evening of the seventh day.

there are other opinions that permit scheduling a wedding already on the
evening of the thirty-third, at least under extenuating circumstances (see Graz
493:5; Kaf Hachayim, Orach Chayim 493:28; Shu”t Igros Moshe 1:159).
Some explain that, since we consider Lag B’Omer to be a day of
celebration, it is not counted as one of the days of mourning (see Chok
493:6 and Kaf Hachayim, Orach Chayim 493:28). Thus, there are
some poskim who contend that there are only thirty-two days in the sefirah
mourning period (Graz 493:5). Another reason to permit scheduling a
wedding the evening of Lag B’Omer is based on the opinion that miktzas
hayom ki’chulloh
applies even when one observes the mourning only at night
(Ramban, Toras Ho’adam, Chavel edition page 215). Thus, according
to this approach, it is sufficient to have the beginning of the night of Lag
as a mourning period. (It should be noted that, according to this
opinion, shiva ends in the evening of the seventh day, not in the

When Lag
falls on Shabbos or Sunday, there is a dispute among early poskim
whether it is permitted to get a haircut on Friday in honor of Shabbos.
The accepted practice is to permit it (Rema, Orach Chayim 493:2 and Be’er
ad loc.). Apparently, the combined honor of Shabbos and the
approaching Lag B’Omer together supersede the mourning of sefirah. Some
poskim even permit a wedding to take place on the Friday afternoon
before Lag B’Omer that falls out on Sunday (Shu”t Ha’elef Lecho
Shelomoh, Orach Chayim
#330). (Bear in mind that the custom in Eastern
Europe, going back hundreds of years, was to schedule weddings on Friday

those who follow the practice of observing mourning during the beginning of sefirah
permitted to play music during Chol Ha’moed? This subject is disputed by
poskim, but the accepted practice is to permit music during Chol
(see Piskei Teshuvos 493:6).

are several other customs that observe the mourning dates of sefirah in
different ways. Some observe the mourning period the entire time of sefirah
until Shavuos except for Yom Tov, Chol Ha’moed, and Rosh
(and also, presumably, Lag B’Omer). Therefore, they
permit the playing of music on Chol Ha’moed and holding weddings and
playing music on Rosh Chodesh. (One cannot have a wedding on Chol
for an unrelated reason. The sanctity of Yom Tov precludes
celebrating a wedding on this day; see Moed Katan 8b.)This
approach is based on an early source that states that Rabbi Akiva’s disciples
died only on the thirty-three days of sefirah when tachanun is
recited, thus excluding the days of Shabbos, Yom Tov, Chol Ha’moed, and
Rosh Chodesh (Bach, Orach Chayim quoting Tosafos).
If one subtracts from the forty-nine days of sefirah the days of Pesach,
Chol Ha’moed, Rosh Chodesh,
and the Shabbosos, one is left with
thirty-three days. It is on these days that the mourning is observed. (This
approach assumes that in earlier times tachanun was recited during the
month of Nisan and during the several days before Shavuos.)

similar, custom is to observe the mourning period only from the second day of
Iyar until Rosh Chodesh, with the exception of Lag B’Omer. This
approach assumes that the mourning period is only on the days when tachanun is
said, but does not assume that there are thirty-three days of mourning.

another custom recorded is to refrain from taking haircuts or making weddings
from the beginning of sefirah until the morning of Lag B’Omer,
but after Lag B’Omer to observe partial mourning by refraining from
weddings, although haircuts are permitted. This approach follows the assumption
that the original custom of aveilus during sefirah was based on
the fact that the plague that killed the disciples of Rabbi Akiva ended on Lag
. Later, because of the tragedies of the Crusades period, the custom
developed not to schedule weddings between Lag B’Omer and Shavuos.
However, the mourning period instituted because of the tragedies of the
Crusades was not accepted as strictly, and it was permitted to take haircuts(Taz, Orach Chayim 493:2). This is the prevalent custom followed
today by Ashkenazim in Eretz Yisroel.

others have the custom that the mourning period does not begin until after Rosh
Chodesh Iyar
, but then continues until Shavuos (Maharil,
quoted by Darchei Moshe, Orach Chayim 493:3). This approach assumes that
the thirty-three days of mourning are contiguous, but that the mourning period
does not begin until after the month of Nisan is over. In Salonica, they
observed a Sefardic version of this custom: They practiced the mourning
period of sefirah from after Rosh Chodesh Iyar until Shavuos.
However, they took haircuts on the thirty-fourth day of the sefirah count
(cited by Shu”t Dvar Moshe, Orach Chayim #32).

similar custom existed in many communities in Lithuania and northern Poland,
where they kept the mourning period of sefirah from the first day of Rosh
Chodesh Iyar
until the morning of the third day of Sivan. According
to this practice, weddings were permitted during the three days before Shavuos.
This practice was based on the assumption that the disciples of Rabbi Akiva
died after Lag B’Omer until Shavuos (Aruch Hashulchan,
based on Gemara Yevamos). Magen Avraham reports that this was the
custom in his area (Danzig/Gdansk); Chayei Adam reports that this was
the practice in his city (Vilna); and Aruch Hashulchan report that this
was the custom in his community (Novardok). These customs are followed to this
day in communities where weddings are allowed after Pesach until the end
of the month of Nisan.

Moshe Feinstein points out that although these customs differ as to which days are
considered days of mourning, the premise of most of the customs is the same:
Thirty-three days of sefirah should be observed as days of mourning in
memory of the disciples of Rabbi Akiva. In Rav Moshe’s opinion, these different
customs should be considered as one minhag, and the differences between
them are variations in observing the same minhag (Shu”t Igros Moshe
1:159). This has major halachic ramifications, as we shall see.

One Change From One Custom to Another?

would usually assume that someone must follow the same practice as his parents
– or the practice of his community –­­ because of the principle of al titosh
toras imecha
, “do not forsake the Torah of your mother” (Mishlei 1:8).
This posuk is understood by Chazal to mean that we are obligated
to observe a practice that our parents observed. However, Rav Moshe Feinstein
contends that many of the different customs currently observed are considered
to be one minhag, and that, when this is the case, changing from one
custom to another that is based on the same halachic considerations does
not constitute changing one’s minhag and therefore permitted. There is
evidence that other, earlier poskim  agreed that a community may change its custom
how it observes the mourning days of sefirah (see Shu”t Chasam Sofer,
Orach Chayim
#142). According to this opinion, the specific dates that one
observes are not considered part of the minhag and are not necessarily
binding on each individual, as long as he observes thirty-three days of sefirah

How Should a Community Conduct Itself?

The Rema
rules that, although each of the various customs mentioned has halachic
validity (Darkei Moshe, Orach Chayim 493:3), each community
should be careful to follow only one practice, and certainly not follow the leniencies
of two different customs. If a community follows two different practices, it
appears that Hashem’s chosen people are following two different versions of the
Torah, G-d forbid.

Moshe Feinstein points out that the Rema is discussing a community that
has only one beis din or only one Rav. Under these circumstances,
the entire community must follow the exact same practice for sefirah. However,
in a city where there are many rabbonim and kehilos, each of
which has its own custom regarding the observance of sefirah, there is
no requirement for the entire community to follow one practice (Shu”t Igros
Orach Chayim 1:159). Thus, there is no requirement that
everyone in a large city follow the same custom for sefirah, unless it
has been accepted that the community has one standard custom.

course, as in all matters of halacha, each community should follow its
practices and rabbonim, and each individual should follow the ruling of
his Rav.

a Wedding During One’s Mourning Period

If a
friend schedules a wedding for a time that one is keeping sefirah, one
is permitted to attend and celebrate the wedding, even listening to music and
dancing (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 1:159).

although I am required to have a mourning period during sefirah of at
least thirty-three days, I may attend the wedding of a friend or acquaintance
that is scheduled at a time that I keep the mourning period of sefirah.
However, Rav Moshe rules that if one is going to a wedding on a day that he is
keeping sefirah, he should not shave, unless his unshaved appearance
will disturb the simcha (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 2:95).

should all hope and pray that the season between Pesach and Shavuos should
cease from being a time of travail, but instead revert to being a time of total
excitement in anticipation of the receiving of the Torah.

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?”


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.


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
(Brachos 37b; Rashi, Sukkah 42b).


The mitzvah to eat maror at the Seder is min
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,
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
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
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

The Gemara (Yoma 73b) discusses whether it is
prohibited min haTorah to eat less than a koseves on Yom
. The universally accepted conclusion is that it is prohibited min
to eat or drink even a small amount on Yom Kippur, unless
the situation is life-threatening. The well-known concept called pachus
, 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.


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
, 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

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

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


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
who rules that someone eating pachus mikeshiur on Yom
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
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
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
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
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

“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
10:3), the Ran (Yoma) and the Gra (Orach
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.


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
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.


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
and recite hamotzi before eating French toast, and bensch
afterward, since the pieces are at least a kezayis (Shulchan Aruch,
Orach Chayim


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

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


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

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
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.


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
, 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
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
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
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).


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.


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.


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
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.


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.


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


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.


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
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


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.


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?


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
(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
(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.


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

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
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.)


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).


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
(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.


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
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


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.


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
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
, 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
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.


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


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


Aside from the above
leniency regarding matzoh, there is an additional leniency regarding the arba
.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.


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
(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
! 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
, 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
reading for them?”

Question #3: Reading without a Brochah

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



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

(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
(Rambam, Hilchos Melachim 5:5, and Sefer Hamitzvos, Positive
#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,
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
. For this reason, many authorities conclude that the annual public
reading of Parshas Zachor from a Sefer Torah is required min
(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
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
, 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
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
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
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

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
, beginning of Parshas Bechukosai, as explained by the Encyclopedia
). According to this approach, the mitzvah of zechiras
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
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
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
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

Some suggested that at minchah they read Parshas
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

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

The Chida disputed all three approaches, contending that Parshas
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
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
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

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
, 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
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
, 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
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
). 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
. 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

(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
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
and not reciting a brochah beforehand. We should also note
that when the Magen Avraham (139:5) quotes the opinion of the Be’er
, 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
685). Since many later poskim dispute this, I refer you to
your halachic authority regarding this question.


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?


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
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
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

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
, 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
, 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
, 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

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
(Yoma 33b, s. v. avurei), if he touches his shel
first, he will be forced to wait to put it on until after his shel
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
, 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
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
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

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 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?


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

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

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
” is the same as the definition for the bracha of “borei
pri ha’eitz
” and for the halachos of orlah, shemittah,
, 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
, 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

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
, 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
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


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
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.