Chumash and the Fall of the Ghetto, part II

This article is for the occasion of Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch’s yahrzeit, on the 27th of Teiveis.

Chumash and the Fall of the Ghetto, part II

Last week, I presented the first part of this article, which was an introduction to the commentaries on Chumash of the Malbim, Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch, and Hakesav Vehakabalah, by Rav Yaakov Tzvi Mecklenburg. We continue our review of Rav Hirsch’s commentary from where I left off.

Rav Hirsch’s commentary has a component that the other two do not. The focus of his commentary was not only to prove the accuracy or authenticity of Chazal’s understanding of Torah, but, also, to demonstrate how Torah provides for man’s growth in spirituality, the development of his personality, and his worldview. Thus, he rarely comments simply for the sake of explaining a difficult verse.

Ta’amei hamikra

Rav Hirsch emphasized that his commentary is based on a careful reading of the words of Chumash. Included in this was his study of the ta’amei hamikra, which are meant to teach how to break a pasuk into smaller units for proper understanding. As an example, his interpretation of the pasuk in shiras Ha’azinu, shicheis lo lo, banav mumam, reflects the accentuation implied by the ta’amei hamikra, whereby this is one sentence with only a small break (a tipcha) after the second word lo (with an alef). Thus, disagreeing with all the previous commentaries that I have seen, he translates the sentence as: Their moral frailty has corrupted it to become non-children.

Grammar — Dikduk and shoresh

Rav Hirsch developed an understanding of Torah ideas upon the principle of shorashim where there are phonetic cognates. This idea, which has sources in Chazal and the rishonim,[i] is that different consonants that are articulated by using the same part of the mouth are related to each other.[ii] Thus, there is a relationship among the guttural consonants (א ה ח ע) that can be used to explain the meaning of related roots in which they appear. The same is true for the palatals (ג י כ ק), the dentals (ד ט ל נ ת),[iii] the sibilants (ז ס צ ר ש), and the labials (ב ו מ פ).[iv] Based on similar roots, Rav Hirsch develops a philosophic underpinning of the comparative roots, and then creates an associative meaning for each root. For example, the roots ברא (to create, which means to bring into reality that which previously existed only in one’s mind), ברח, to escape, פרא, to be undisciplined, פרח, to flower and פרה, to reproduce, seem to be unrelated verbs. However, the first letter of the root in each instance is a labial, the second is ר , and the third is a guttural. There is an underlying idea in all of these roots – getting out of a state of being constrained.

Often included within this system is a relationship pattern between similar consonants. For example, the tzadi often reflects a more intensive version of the other similar sounds, such as the sin. Thus, there is a conceptual relationship between יצר, which means to limit something for a specific purpose, and יסר, which educates, shapes and disciplines the spirit. In literally hundreds of applications of these ideas, Rav Hirsch demonstrates an entire world of educational themes.

In Rav Hirsch’s view, the shoresh of a word can often provide educational and religious lessons. For example, in describing Avraham Avinu’s travels in Eretz Canaan, the Torah uses the unusual word ויעתק, which Rav Hirsch translates as He gave orders to move on.[v] Rav Hirsch notes that the common thread of the usage of this root in Tanach is that someone or something is moved unexpectedly or forcibly to another setting. Rav Hirsch thereby explains that Avraham realized that in order to succeed in educating his followers, they needed to be isolated from the society around them, but he needed to overcome their resistance in doing so. Thus, the root of the word used teaches us about Avraham’s pedagogic approach.

Controversial Aspects

Probably the most controversial aspect of Rav Hirsch’s commentary on Chumash is his view that even our greatest leaders are not beyond reproach, and that a late Torah commentary can include lessons for us to learn from their shortcomings and errors. Indeed, the Ramban, whom Rav Hirsch quotes in this context, also felt that we have the right to criticize our greatest Torah leaders, even in places where Chazal did not. Rav Hirsch’s critiques of Yitzchak and Rivkah’s raising of Eisav, of Yosef’s relationship with his brothers, of Moshe, Tziporah, and others have certainly raised more than one eyebrow. Yet Rav Hirsch’s position in all these cases is clear. Only Hashem is perfect. The fact that the Torah goes out of its way to show the errors made by our greatest leaders demonstrates that Torah is true and Divine. Man’s purpose in this world is to learn and to grow, and we can do so both by emulating the great actions of our greatest leaders and also by noting their errors.

Did Rav Hirsch Use the Hakesav Vehakabalah or Hatorah Vehamitzvah?

In his beautiful essay introducing the first edition of the first English translation of Rav Hirsch’s commentary to Chumash, Dayan Dr. Isaac Grunfeld writes: “When Samson Raphael Hirsch began his commentary in 1867, he had the works of Mecklenburg (Hakesav Vehakabalah) and Hatorah Vehamitzvah of Malbim in front of him.” I presume that Dayan Grunfeld has some mesorah to substantiate his comment. However, from my work on Rav Hirsch’s commentary, and after comparing this work to the other two, I, personally, am not convinced that this statement is accurate, for the following reasons.

When Rav Hirsch felt indebted to an earlier commentator, he always quoted his source. In the course of his commentary of Chumash, he quotes a wide variety of sources, including the rishonim, his rabbeyim, Chacham Bernays and Rav Yaakov Ettlinger, the Aruch Laneir, and works published shortly before his time, such as Harechasim Levik’ah and the writings of the highly controversial Naftali Wessely. Yet, there is not a single reference anywhere in his commentary to either Hakesav Vehakabalah or Hatorah Vehamitzvah.

There are places in which Rav Hirsch presents no explanation, while Hakesav Vehakabalah presents approaches that lend themselves perfectly to Rav Hirsch’s style of commentary. For example, Rav Hirsch offers almost no commentary to the lengthy list of travels that the Bnei Yisroel made through the desert. Yet, Hakesav Vehakabalah has a beautiful explanation of the place names along the route of these travels. Had Rav Hirsch read Hakesav Vehakabalah, I presume that he would have used his approach here to develop musar haskeil, just as Rav Hirsch, himself, does in explaining the list of names of the descendants of Sheis. Had he been as familiar with Hakesav Vehakabalah as Dayan Grunfeld suggests, it is indeed puzzling why he would not use the opportunity to include these lessons in his Torah commentary, and attribute them to Hakesav Vehakabalah. Although it is always difficult to prove anything on the basis of it not being present, Rav Hirsch’s omission of any musar haskeil here, when use of Hakesav Vehakabalah would provide this, certainly implies that he did not use the commentary on any regular basis.

On the other hand, Hakesav Vehakabalah used approaches to explain pesukim that Rav Hirsch would never accept. For example, Hakesav Vehakabalah explains that the source for the word asheirah is yashar, straight, and suggests that it was originally used to mean a straight, tall tree.[vi] Rav Hirsch provides a much deeper insight into the meaning of the word asheirah and its apparent root א ש ר, which means growth and striving. Thus, the word asheirah means a tree “that was considered to be under the special protection of a god, whose presence and influence supposedly could be obtained through the growth and thriving of this tree.”[vii]

Conclusion

Rav Hirsch viewed his commentary as a means of showing how to use Chumash as a springboard for mussar and hashkafah. From a mussar perspective, Rav Hirsch’s Torah commentary can provide a complete life-instruction manual on its own. One can learn from it a Torah perspective of hashakafah, and detailed lessons in mussar.

We understand well why Rav Shraga Feivel Mendelowitz told his students at Yeshiva Torah Vodaas that it would be worth their investment of time to learn to read German, just for the sake of being able to read Rav Hirsch’s commentary on Chumash, which, at the time, was not available in translation.

 

[i] For example, see Rashi, Vayikra 19:16, where he explains that the word רכיל stems from the word רגל. See, similarly, Ra’avad, Eduyos 4:3; Ramban, Shemos 15:10; Vayikra 19:20, Devorim 7:12; Rash, Peah 6:1

[ii] Language specialists use the term homorganic consonants to describe these words.

[iii] While I was preparing this article for publication, a reviewer noted to me that a rearrangement of these letters ד נ ט ל ת  can be read as dentals.

[iv] Those interested in seeing a systematic dictionary of Rav Hirsch’s work in this area are referred to Matityahu Clark’s Etymological Dictionary of Biblical Hebrew, Feldheim Publishers, which Rabbi Clark writes is “based on the commentaries of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch.”

[v] Bereishis 12:8. Translation is from the Haberman edition.

[vi] Hakesav Vehakabalah, Devorim 16:21.

[vii] Commentary of Rav Hirsch to Shemos 34:13. Translation is from the Haberman edition, page 809.

Chumash and the Fall of the Ghetto

This article is for the occasion of Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch’s yahrzeit.

Chumash and the Fall of the Ghetto

With the falling of the ghetto walls that had kept the Jews in central Europe isolated from the world around them, many Jews began to assimilate into the surrounding environment and distance themselves from Judaism. Although it was far more difficult for Jews in Eastern Europe to assimilate fully into non-Jewish society, different forces, the haskalah, socialism, Communism and various other movements similarly severed many Jews from keeping mitzvos. Among those who abandoned Torah observance were Jews who felt that Chazal’s interpretation of the mitzvos was not based on the Written Torah.

In response, several new and original commentaries on Chumash appeared. Among them, we find Hakesav Vehakabalah, by Rav Yaakov Tzvi Mecklenburg, the commentaries[i] of the Malbim to Tanach, the commentary of Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch, and the Ha’ameik Davar, the commentary of Rav Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin (also known as the Netziv). All four of these commentaries, although very different from each other in important ways, were written to explain the Written Torah in the spirit of Chazal.

Hakesav Vehakabalah

Rav Yaakov Tzvi Mecklenburg was a disciple of Rabbi Akiva Eiger and served as the rav of Koenigsberg, Prussia (today, Kaliningrad, Russia), for thirty-four years. Koenigsberg was in the far east of Germany, giving Rav Mecklenburg a clear view of the challenges posed by the rise of the Reform movement in Germany and the haskalah and other anti-religious movements in Eastern Europe. Hakesav Vehakabalah, first published in 1839 and followed by three more editions in the author’s lifetime, was intended as a response to attacks on Chazal’s understanding of the Torah.

Hakesav Vehakabalah carefully analyzes the root meanings and grammar of the words of the Chumash, using them to provide a clear interpretation of the pesukim. Although his approach is highly original, he also often cites the different approaches of the earlier commentaries, opting for the one that he demonstrates to be the most accurate.

The Malbim

Rav Meir Leibush ben Yechiel Michel, known by his acronym, Malbim, served as the rav of many different Eastern European communities. A brilliant talmid chacham and a warrior against the haskalah, his magnum opus is his commentary to Tanach and accompanying essays. [ii] His first work, a commentary on Yeshayah, includes an introduction in which he elucidates the principles that form the basis for his commentary to Tanach as a whole.

Two such principles are that no two words in Tanachic Hebrew have precisely the same meaning, and that there are no repeated phrases or clauses — each word in Tanach was chosen to provide a very specific nuance of meaning.

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch held rabbinic positions in Oldenberg and Emden, Germany, and as Chief Rabbi of Moravia, before returning to Germany to establish a modern, Torah-committed community in Frankfurt. Toward the end of his life, he produced his commentaries to the Chumash, Tehillim and the Siddur.

The Netziv

Rav Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin married the daughter of Rav Yitzchak of Volozhin, the son and successor of the founder and Rosh Yeshivah of the famed yeshivah in that city, Rav Chayim of Volozhin, the esteemed disciple of the Vilna Gaon. The Netziv eventually became Rosh Yeshivah of the yeshivah in Volozhin, a position he held for almost forty years, until its closing in 1892. The Netziv authored many works, including responsa and commentaries on Chumash, Shas, the She’iltos of Rav Achai Gaon, the halachic midrashim.

Linking Torah shebiksav to Torah shebe’al peh

Both Hakesav Vehakabalah and Malbim write that a major purpose of their commentaries is to demonstrate the unity of Torah shebiksav and Torah shebe’al peh. In the introduction to the first volume of commentary he wrote on Chumash, Vayikra, the Malbim mentions specifically the tragedy of the Reform convention that had taken place in 1844 in Braunschweig (called Brunswick in English), a city in Germany about 40 miles southeast of Hanover. The Malbim writes that when he heard of the disgraceful attitude toward Torah that had been demonstrated there, he realized that klal Yisroel required a new commentary on Tanach, written according to the mesorah. He notes many rules that he will be following in his commentaries, one of which is to show the unity of Torah shebiksav and Torah shebe’al peh.

Although Rav Hirsch’s very brief introduction to his commentary does not emphasize this relationship between Torah shebiksav and Torah shebe’al peh, this foundation shows up literally hundreds of times in his commentary.[iii] Rav Hirsch, too, maintained that proper study of Torah shebiksav leads directly to the conclusions of Torah shebe’al peh. Among examples where he demonstrates this are when he explains that Chazal’s understanding of “an eye for an eye” as financial remuneration (Shemos 21:24) is indeed the only proper way to understand the pasuk, and that no halachic requirement exists to name the firstborn child of a levirate marriage (yibum) for the deceased brother (see Devorim 25:6).

Rav Hirsch noted that the Torah shebe’al peh was actually taught to the Jews first.[iv] Moshe received all the laws of Torah shebe’al peh at Har Sinai and taught them to the Jewish people gradually. The completed Torah shebiksav, by contrast, was not received by the Jews until the very end of Moshe’s life, immediately prior to the Jews’ entering Eretz Yisroel, or forty years after they had received the Torah shebe’al peh. This explains numerous passages in the Torah, including the commandment to slaughter animals ka’asher tzivisicha “as you were instructed,” meaning the sets of regulations that had been transmitted to Moshe at Har Sinai and previously taught to the Bnei Yisroel.

Uniqueness of Rav Hirsch’s commentary

The most obvious difference between Rav Hirsch’s commentary and the others is the language in which it was written. Whereas the other commentaries are written in traditional rabbinic Hebrew, Rav Hirsch published his commentary on Chumash and, indeed, all of his works, in German. Long before Rav Hirsch’s time, many Torah works had been authored in the vernacular, such as all of Rav Saadiya Gaon’s writings and those of the Rambam, with the exception of the Mishneh Torah.

Yet, sefarim in the vernacular had fallen into disuse in the hundreds of years since the era of the rishonim. As a young rabbi in Oldenberg, however, Rav Hirsch recognized the need to present Torah teachings in German, in order to reach his generation and impress upon them Torah’s eternal relevance.

In Rav Hirsch’s commentary, there are various instances in which he includes a comment in Hebrew. Invariably, these are the comments of a Torah scholar on a point in Talmudic discussion which was not appropriate to make for the general audience for whom his work was intended. Yet, he was concerned that posterity not lose the important halachic point he had realized. To accommodate this, he chose to write these points in scholarly, rabbinic Hebrew.

Aside from his use of the vernacular, there are many other novel features in Rav Hirsch’s approach. Beyond being an interpretation of Chumash, Rav Hirsch uses his commentary to demonstrate how to use the Torah as the primary educational tool for man to grow as a human being. There is virtually not a comment of his on the Torah that does not provide a moral lesson, or musar haskeil.

Indeed, there are many occasions when he did not comment upon questions about pshat in a verse where it would appear appropriate for him to have done so. Clearly, he refrained from providing commentary where the conclusion would not provide any lesson one can utilize for personal growth.

Rav Hirsch called his Torah hashkafah by the term Torah im Derech Eretz, the details of which he developed in different places in his commentary.[v] Although the expression is often misunderstood, Rav Hirsch used it to mean that Torah and its observance must always be the primary focus of a Jew’s life, and that this can and must pervade a Jew’s behavior in all places, times and situations. Everything else that this world has to offer, including livelihood, education, culture, and social mores, must be subsumed within a Torah framework.

Reasons for mitzvos

One of Rav Hirsch’s great innovations is his explanation of the ta’amei hamitzvos. The Sefer Hachinuch explains that the term ta’amei hamitzvah means the taste of a mitzvah, not its reason, and it is this taste that Rav Hirsch sought to provide.

The concept of deriving educational reasons for mitzvos was certainly not originated by Rav Hirsch. Rav Hirsch himself quotes dozens of places where Chazal discuss what lesson one can derive from the observance of the mitzvos, and rishonim like the Rambam in his Moreh Nevuchim, Ramban in his commentary on the Torah, and the Sefer Hachinuch devote much space to this study.

However, Rav Hirsch added several dimensions to the concept of ta’amei hamitzvah. For Rav Hirsch, an explanation of a mitzvah must always fit in with every detail of the halachos of that mitzvah. For this reason, Rav Hirsch first develops and explains all the halachic details of the mitzvah and then weaves an explanation for the mitzvah that comports with all those details. At times, this required him to first resolve halachic details regarding the laws of the mitzvah.

Here is an example in which we see the difference between the approach of Rav Hirsch and that of his predecessors. The Ramban explains that the reason for the mitzvah not to mix meat and milk together is because cooking a newly slaughtered kid in the milk of its mother will create cruelty in the person who does this.[vi] However, this reason for the mitzvah has little to do with the halachos of this mitzvah, which prohibit any meat and any milk of two kosher species cooked together.

Rav Hirsch, on the other hand, first explains the laws of the mitzvah, and then demonstrates why the Torah’s description of cooking a goat in the milk of its mother is the simplest way to express these ideas. He subsequently proceeds to explain a philosophic reason for the mitzvah that we can appreciate and that can teach us a moral lesson, while observing the mitzvah. In this instance, Rav Hirsch provides a brilliant and extensive seven-page essay presenting why this prohibition is limited to the meat and the milk of kosher, domesticated animal species, and why it includes not only the consumption, but also the cooking of and benefit from this mixture.[vii]

Here is another example. The Torah forbids planting any trees near the mizbei’ach.[viii] As an explanation of this mitzvah, the Ramban explains that even though one is planting a shade tree that will enhance the area of the Beis Hamikdash, this is still prohibited, since it was the custom of the idol worshippers to plant trees near the entrance to their temples.

Rav Hirsch is not satisfied with approaches like this to explain mitzvos. Instead he notes that the thriving of a tree near an idol was considered a sign of the influence of the god. This idea fits very appropriately to the heathen notion that gods are primarily forces of nature, whose rule manifests itself in the phenomena of the physical world. However, such notions are diametrically opposite to the Jewish concept of G-d. A Jew is obligated to subordinate all his aspirations, including his moral and spiritual world, to the sphere of G-d’s sovereignty. Only through this can he expect to succeed in the physical world.[ix]

Frequently, Rav Hirsch presents highly original approaches to ta’amei hamitzvos, such as his explanations for the mitzvos of arayos, keifel, arachin, and tum’ah and taharah, and the disqualification of blemished animals and blemished kohanim from the service of korbanos. Regarding tum’ah, for example, he notes that the foundation of most religions is the fear of death, and it is at this time that the priest assumes his greatest role. The Torah, in contrast, bans the kohen from being involved with the dead, to demonstrate that the Torah’s goal is that we grow and develop throughout life – when we are in our best health. To emphasize this, the kohen, whose role is to educate how to live as a Jew, is distanced from death.

Rav Hirsch uses the same concept to explain why a kohen with a physical blemish or injury is forbidden to serve in the Beis Hamikdash and why a similarly impaired animal is prohibited as a korban. This emphasis on physical beauty or selectivity seems to run counter to the Torah’s idea of equal access for all to a relationship with Hashem.

Rav Hirsch explains that religions generally become the home of the marginalized and alienated in society. By prohibiting the physically impaired from performing the service in the holiest of places, the Torah emphasizes that its goal is to foster in all Jews the development of a relationship with Hashem, rather than to simply provide a refuge for the disenfranchised.

For the continuation of this article, see here.

 

[i] I refer to the commentaries of the Malbim because, although he wrote on almost the entire Tanach, a rare accomplishment, his treatment of different parts of Tanach is so varied as to make it difficult to refer to it as one commentary.

[ii] On Chumash, the Malbim follows two different styles. As I mention in the article, his commentary on Vayikra and parts of Devorim is an explanation of the midrashei halachah, the Sifra and the Sifrei, in which he delves into Chazal’s method of understanding Torah Shebiskav. On the other hand, his commentaries to other parts of Chumash bear close similarity to the commentary of the Abarbanel, which, as he says himself, he used. He presents many questions on the topic at hand, and then weaves an explanation to answer them. Yet another style is presented in his commentaries to Esther and Shir Hashirim, in which he presents his own midrashic-style approach to these works.

[iii] This point is the main thrust of Dayan Isaac Grunfeld’s introduction to Rav Hirsch’s commentary, which I will quote in the sequel of this article.

[iv] Commentary of Rav Hirsch to Bereishis 1:19.

[v] See, for example, commentary of Rav Hirsch to Vayikra 18:4.

[vi]  Ramban, Devorim 14:21.

[vii] Commentary of Rav Hirsch to Shemos 23:19.

[viii] Devorim 16:21.

[ix] Commentary of Rav Hirsch to Devorim 16:21. Based on the Haberman translation.

What Berachos Will We Recite When Mashiach Comes?

Since Parshas Shoftim discusses the laws of the Jewish king, I thought it appropriate to discuss this topic, since we hope that the next Jewish king will come soon and be the Mashiach. This article was previously published in my book From Buffalo Burgers to Monetary Mysteries. Should you be interested in purchasing the book, you may do so via the website, RabbiKaganoff.com or by sending me an e-mail.

What Berachos Will We Recite When Mashiach Comes?

Shimon asked me recently what berachos we will recite when mashiach comes, and when we will recite those berachos. I must admit that, surprisingly, no one had ever asked me this shaylah before. I did discover two short responsa on the topic, both dealing only with certain aspects of the subject.

Subsequently, my son showed me a pamphlet that included a list of berachos that we will recite upon that auspicious occasion. However, the list included errors and was incomplete. Hopefully this article will prepare us better for the occasion we daven for three times a day, and will itself hasten the redemption.

Before discussing the shaylah, we must first clarify an important fact, one that a surprising number of Jewish people do not know:

Who is mashiach, and what will he accomplish?

Mashiach is a Torah scholar descended from David HaMelech, who will reestablish the halachic Jewish monarchy in Eretz Yisrael and influence the entire Jewish people to observe halacha meticulously, to the finest detail.[i] He will be wiser than his ancestor, Shelomoh HaMelech, will be a prophet almost as great as Moshe Rabbeinu; he will teach the entire people how to serve Hashem, and his advice will be sought by all the nations of the world. He will gather the Jews who are presently scattered to the ends of the world, expand Jewish territory more than ever before, and rebuild the Beis HaMikdash. (This follows the approach of the Rambam, Hilchos Melachim Chapter 11. There is a dispute as to whether the third Beis HaMikdash will be built under mashiach’s supervision, or whether it will descend from heaven.[ii] There is also a dispute whether the ingathering of the exile is performed by mashiach or occurs immediately prior to his arrival. We will find out for certain when the events unfold.) After mashiach establishes his dominion, there will be no more wars, famine, jealousy, or competition, since the entire world will be filled with only one desire: to know Hashem and draw close to Him.[iii]

The fact that mashiach is both the political leader of klal Yisrael and also a leading talmid chacham caused Rav Shmuel Hominer, a great tzadik and talmid chacham of the previous generation, to ask Rav Shelomoh Zalman Auerbach the following interesting shaylah, which I paraphrase:

“When we merit meeting mashiach, we will be required to recite four berachos to praise Hashem upon the occasion: (1) chacham harazim, The wise One who knows all secrets [which I will explain shortly]; (2) shechalak meichachmaso lirei’av, Who bestowed of His wisdom to those who fear Him; (3) shechalak mikevodo lirei’av, Who bestowed of His honor to those who fear Him; and (4) shehecheyanu.” Rav Hominer then proceeded to ask whether the second and third berachos, both of which begin with the word shechalak should be recited as two separate berachos, or if they are combined into one beracha, shechalak meichachmaso u’mikevodo lirei’av, Who bestowed of His wisdom and honor to those who fear Him. Let me explain his question:

Chazal instituted the following blessing, to be made when one sees a Jewish king:  Baruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech haolam shechalak mikevodo lirei’av, that Hashem bestowed of His honor to those who fear Him. A different, but similar, beracha was instituted to be recited upon seeing a tremendous talmid chacham: Baruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech haolam shechalak meichachmaso lirei’av, that He bestowed of His wisdom to those who fear Him.[iv]

Chazal also instituted the recital of similar berachos when one sees a non-Jewish king, shenasan mikevodo lebasar vadam, that Hashem gave of His honor to human beings; and shenasan meichachmaso lebasar vadam, that Hashem gave of His wisdom to human beings, when one sees a gentile scholar.[v]

(Note that the berachos recited over a Jewish king or scholar use the word shechalak whereas the berachos recited over gentiles use the word shenasan. The word shechalak implies that the recipient of this power or wisdom recognizes that these are gifts received from Hashem, and that Hashem retains total control over them.[vi] However, the gentile king or scholar views these Divine gifts as his own accomplishments and does not recognize Hashem’s ongoing involvement in his success.)

Since mashiach will be both a king and a Torah scholar, Rav Hominer assumed that someone meeting him should recite both berachos. However, Rav Hominer queried whether these two similar berachos are combined into one beracha, shechalak meichachmaso umikevodo lirei’av  – that Hashem bestowed of His wisdom and honor to those who fear Him.

Rav Shelomoh Zalman replied that we do not combine these two berachos, even when seeing a Jewish king who is also a talmid chacham.[vii] He pointed out that berachos are generally kept separate, even when their themes are similar. As Rav Shelomoh Zalman noted, an earlier author, the Teshuvah Mei’Ahavah,[viii] discussed this same shaylah in the eighteenth century and reached the same conclusion.

It is noteworthy that several poskim contend that we no longer recite the beracha shechalak meichachmaso lirei’av upon seeing a noteworthy talmid chacham, maintaining that our generations no longer possess Torah scholars of the stature required to recite this beracha. (This approach is quoted by Shu’t Teshuvah Mei’Ahavah, 2:237; Ben Ish Chai, Parshas Eikev 1:13; and Aruch HaShulchan 224:6. On the other hand, Chayei Adam 63:8; Kaf HaChayim 224:18; and Shu’t Shevet HaLevi 10:13 rule that we do recite this beracha today. Several anecdotes are recorded about great talmidei chachamim who recited the beracha upon seeing gedolim, such as the Ragitzchaver Gaon, the Chazon Ish, the Brisker Rav, and Rav Gustman. See, for example, Piskei Teshuvos, Chapter 224 footnote #17.) Nevertheless, both Rav Hominer and Rav Shelomo Zalman assumed that we will recite this beracha upon witnessing mashiach, either because they held that we do recite this beracha today, or that mashiach will clearly be a scholar of this league.

Baruch Chacham Harazim — Knower of Secrets

In the above-quoted correspondence with Rav Shelomoh Zalman, Rav Hominer, mentioned that we will recite two other berachos when greeting mashiach: Baruch chacham harazim and she’hechiyanu. What is the beracha of Baruch chacham harazim?

The Gemara[ix] records that someone who witnesses 600,000 Jews gathered together recites Baruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech haolam chacham harazim, the wise One who knows all secrets.[x] This beracha praises Hashem for creating such a huge multitude of people, each with his own unique personality and physical appearance. (The Gemara records a different beracha to recite when observing a similarly large-sized throng of gentiles.) The wording of the beracha notes that only Hashem knows the secrets that are in the heart of each of these people.[xi]

Rav Hominer pointed out that since the entire Jewish people will surround mashiach, there will be no doubt at least 600,000 Jews together, enabling us to say this beracha. Note, however, that we will recite this beracha upon seeing the huge crowd, and will not recite the other berachos until we actually see mashiach.

Shehecheyanu

The fourth beracha mentioned by Rav Hominer is shehecheyanu, based on the halacha that if one sees a close friend whom one has not seen for thirty days, one recites shehecheyanu because of one’s excitement.[xii] Certainly, seeing mashiach for the first time will generate more excitement than seeing a close friend that one has not seen for thirty days! (Compare this to Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 225:2.)

Shehecheyanu or hatov vehameitiv

However, I would raise the following query: Should we recite shehecheyanu or hatov vehameitiv (He who is good and brings benefit) upon seeing mashiach?

The Mishnah teaches: “Upon hearing good tidings, one recites Baruch hatov vihameitiv.

One who builds a new house or purchases new items recites Baruch shehecheyanu vekiyemanu vehigiyanu lazman hazeh.[xiii] When one hears good tidings that are beneficial only for him, he recites shehecheyanu; if others benefit also, he recites hatov vehameitiv.[xiv] Similarly, when acquiring new appliances, one recites hatov vihameitiv if other people benefit; if only one person benefits, as is usually the case when purchasing new clothes, then he or she recites shehecheyanu.[xv]

So, which beracha will we recite upon the coming of mashiach, shehecheyanu or hatov vihameitiv? After all, it is not just the excitement of seeing the mashiach, but the realization that he will change the entire world for the better that generates the excitement and the beracha.

In my opinion, we will recite both shehecheyanu and hatov vehameitiv, but not at the same time. We will certainly recite hatov vehameitiv when we hear the wonderful tidings of mashiach’s arrival. After all, if one recites the beracha when hearing that one receives any kind of bounty, how much more so for the gift of mashiach’s long-awaited arrival!

In addition, according to Rav Shmuel Hominer and Rav Shelomoh Zalman, one will recite shehecheyanu upon seeing mashiach the first time, due to the personal pleasure of witnessing him.

Although this now completes the list of berachos mentioned by Rav Hominer, I believe at least one more beracha should be added to the list:

Returning the widow to her property

The Gemara[xvi] teaches us that someone who sees Jewish houses in Eretz Yisrael that have been restored after the churban recites the beracha of matziv gvul almanah, He who reestablishes a widow in her borders, referring to the restoration of the Jewish people to the Holy Land. Rashi explains that this Gemara applies to a period such as that of Bayis Sheini, when the Jews returned to Eretz Yisrael after the exile, and the Rif states that it refers specifically to the restoration of shuls and Batei Medrash. Obviously, we will recite this beracha the first time we see either the restored Beis HaMikdash or the batei medrash and shuls of a rebuilt Yerushalayim.

Why don’t we recite this beracha now?

We do not recite this beracha until mashiach arrives and we no longer need to worry about our enemies.[xvii] However, as soon as mashiach has accomplished his purpose, we will recite this beracha on every rebuilt shul and beis medrash we see in Eretz Yisrael. Thus, we might recite this beracha even before actually seeing mashiach himself!

An earlier teshuvah

There actually was an earlier responsum, discussing what berachos we will recite when mashiach arrives. Someone asked Rav Chayim Felaggi, zt”l, a great nineteenth-century posek who was the rav of Izmir, Turkey, the following shaylah, “When mashiach redeems us, what beracha will we recite upon the redemption and in appreciation of Hashem’s benefiting us?”

Since the teshuvah is fairly short, I am translating it:

“It appears that we should recite a beracha of ‘ga’al Yisrael,’ ‘That you redeemed us from this bitter exile,’ similar to when we complete retelling the story of our Exodus on Pesach and recite ‘And we thank You and recite a new song on our redemption. We conclude with the beracha, “He who redeemed Israel.”’ After the future redemption, we will recite a similar beracha. We will also recite shehecheyanu for experiencing this wondrous time, since, without question, this day will be established as a Yom Tov.”[xviii]

Recently, I saw someone rule that we will recite a beracha “Baruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech HaOlam Go’el Yisrael” as soon as mashiach arrives. However, I believe this to be an incorrect understanding of Rav Felaggi’s teshuvah. Nowhere do Chazal record a beracha with the text “Baruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech HaOlam go’el Yisrael, nor do they specifiy a beracha to be made when one is redeemed. Rather, what Rav Chayim Felaggi contended is that the Sanhedrin of the mashiach era will institute a celebration to commemorate the wondrous events that transpire, and will presumably institute the recitation of a beracha similar in structure to the beracha that we make immediately prior to drinking the second cup of wine at the Seder, which closes with the words ga’al Yisrael. In addition, the Sanhedrin will, presumably, make the day of mashiach’s arrival into a Yom Tov that will be celebrated with the beracha of shehecheyanu, just as we recite this beracha to commemorate every Yom Tov.

Six berachos

Thus, we now have a total of six berachos to recite when mashiach arrives:

(1) hatov vehameitiv when we hear of his arrival;

(2) matziv gvul almanah, each time we see a newly reconstructed shul or Beis Medrash, and when we see the Beis HaMikdash;

(3) chacham harazim, upon seeing 600,000 or more Jews assembled;

(4, 5, 6) when we actually see mashiach, we will recite three berachos: shechalak meichachmaso lirei’av, shechalak mikevodo lirei’av and shehecheyanu. In what order should we recite these last three berachos?

I believe that the following Gemara[xix] demonstrates that shehecheyanu should be the last of this triad:

“Rav Pappa and Rav Huna, the son of Rabbi Yehoshua, were traveling when they met Rav Chanina, the son of Rabbi Ikka. They told him, ‘when we see you, we recite two berachos: asher chalak mei’chachmaso lirei’av and shehecheyanu.’” Thus we see that shehecheyanu is recited after the other berachos.

Which beracha is recited first?

Having resolved earlier that we will recite two different berachos, shechalak meichachmaso lirei’av and shechalak mikevodo lirei’av, which of these berachos is recited first?

I found no reference made by any posek concerning this question. On the one hand, perhaps one can demonstrate that the beracha on a talmid chacham is first, since we have a general rule that mamzer talmid chacham kodem lekohen gadol am ha’aretz, a mamzer who is a Torah scholar is given more honor than a kohen gadol who is boorish.[xx] On the other hand, the Gemara[xxi] cites a dispute between the prophet Yeshaya and King Chizkiyahu as to whether a king commands more respect than a prophet or vice versa. The Gemara implies that the king commands more respect. Thus, one could infer that the beracha relating to mashiach being king should be recited before the beracha on his being a talmid chacham.

What if I can’t see the mashiach?

Now a practical question:

What if you cannot actually see mashiach because of the large throngs that are there, but you know that he is in front of you. Do you recite these berachos anyway?

Two texts, two opinions

It would seem that whether one recites these berachos under such circumstances depends on a dispute among authorities, which is, in turn, dependent on two versions of a passage of Gemara:[xxii]

Version #1: Rav Sheisheis, who was blind, joined others who went to see the king. When the king arrived, Rav Sheisheis began reciting the blessing.

According to this version, Rav Sheisheis recited the beracha for seeing the king, although he could not and did not see him. Thus, someone may recite this beracha to Hashem for “seeing” (i. e., feeling) the honor that the king receives, even though he does not actually see the king himself.[xxiii]

However, there is another version of this text, which reads as follows:

Rav Sheisheis, who was blind, joined others who went to see the king. When the king arrived, Rav Sheisheis began blessing the king.

What is the difference between the two versions? According to the second version, Rav Sheisheis blessed the king, meaning he gave him an appropriate greeting, but there is no evidence that he recited the beracha on seeing a king, since he could not see him. It is very likely that one may not recite these two berachos unless one actually sees a king or a talmid chacham; it is insufficient just to be aware of his presence.[xxiv]

Conclusion

In conclusion, there may a total of as many as eight special berachos to recite when mashiach arrives, in the following order.

  1. When we first hear from a reliable source the good news of mashiach’s arrival, we will recite, “Baruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech haolam hatov vehameitiv.
  2. When we see the huge throngs of Jews assembled to greet him, which will no doubt number at least 600,000 people, we will recite, “Baruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam chacham harazim.”
  3. When we see the rebuilt Beis HaMikdash or rebuilt shullen or Batei Medrash, one should recite, “Baruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam matziv gvul almanah.” Theoretically, one might recite this beracha before the beracha chacham harazim, if one sees the rebuilt Beis HaMikdash before one sees the huge throngs.
  4. When we actually see the mashiach, we will recite “Baruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech haolam shechalak mikevodo lirei’av.”
  5. Immediately after reciting this beracha, we will recite the beracha “Baruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam shechalak meichachmaso lirei’av.” According to some poskim, one may recite these last two berachos when aware that mashiach is nearby, even if one cannot see him.
  6. When one actually sees mashiach, one should recite shehecheyanu.
  7. -8. According to Rav Chayim Felaggi, a Yom Tov will be established to commemorate mashiach’s arrival, and on that holiday we will again recite shehecheyanu, and a longer beracha mentioning some of the details of the miraculous events of his arrival. This beracha will close with the words Baruch Attah Hashem ga’al Yisrael.

Now that we have completed our discussion and review of these halachos, let us daven hard that we soon have the opportunity to recite these berachos!

 

[i]  Rambam, Hilchos Melachim, Chapter 11

[ii] Rashi, Sukkah 41a; Yerushalmi, Maaser Sheini 5:2 and Meleches Shelomoh ad loc.

[iii]  Rambam, Hilchos Melachim, Chapter 12

[iv]  Berachos 58a

[v] Berachos 58a; Tur and Shulchan Aruch 224; cf. Rambam, Hilchos Brachos 10:11, who records a different text for these brachos

[vi] Avudraham, quoted by Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 224

[vii] Minchas Shelomoh 1:91:27

[viii] Shu’t Teshuvah Mei’Ahavah (2:237)

[ix] Berachos 58a

[x] Tur and Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 224:5

[xi] Rashi Berachos 58a

[xii] Berachos 58b and Tosafos ad loc.

[xiii] Berachos 54a

[xiv] Berachos 59b; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 222:1

[xv] Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 223:3, 5

[xvi] Berachos 58b

[xvii] Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 224; Maharsha, Berachos 58b; Shu’t Har Tzvi #84; cf. Magen Avraham 224:8

[xviii]  Shu’t Lev Chayim 2:42

[xix] Berachos 58b

[xx] Mishnah, Horiyos 13a

[xxi] Berachos 10a

[xxii] Berachos 58a

[xxiii] Magen Avraham 224:6

[xxiv] Elyah Rabbah 224:6

Is a Position Inherited?

Question #1: The inherited shofar

“Our shul’s longstanding shofar blower passed on. Are we required to appoint his son, when we would prefer to appoint a different master blaster?”

Question #2: I’d like a change!

“Is there a halachic reason why, in some communities, people hold their appointments on shul and school boards forever, whereas, in other communities, these positions are constantly rotated?”

Question #3: Long live the Rabbi!

“When a rav passes on, does his son have a claim to the position?”

Answer:

In parshas Vayechi, Yaakov Avinu provides a glimpse of the different qualities that will be inherited among the tribes of Bnei Yisroel. Does the scion of someone who achieved a leadership, communal or rabbinic position among the Jewish people have a halachic claim to his father’s position?

In several places, Chazal derive that a son qualified for a communal appointment held by his father inherits the position (Horiyos 11b; Kesubos 103b; Sifrei, Devorim 17:20). To quote the Rambam’s halachic ruling on the topic: When the king, the kohen gadol, or a different appointee dies, we appoint, in his stead, his son or someone else who would inherit from him. Whoever would be first to inherit from him comes first for the position of the deceased, provided he is a valid substitute… the same is true for any appointment in the Jewish people — one who receives it does so for himself and his descendants (Hilchos Klei Hamikdash 4:20).

The Rambam mentions this law a second time, in which he explains in more detail what is meant by saying that the son is a “valid substitute”: whoever has a prior right germane to receive inheritance has a prior right for inheriting the monarchy… not only the kingship, but any other position of authority and any other appointment in Israel is an inheritance for his son and his son’s son, forever, provided that the son fills the place of his father in wisdom and fear of G-d. If he meets the standard in fear of G-d, but not in wisdom, we appoint him and then teach him. However, anyone lacking in fear of G-d, even if he is very wise, is not appointed to any position in Israel (Hilchos Melachim 1:7).

Retiring Chazzan

One of the earliest surviving responsa related to this question was penned hundreds of years ago, when the Rashba was asked concerning the following case (Shu”t HaRashba 1:300). A chazzan/baal keriyah had been serving a community faithfully for 38 years, a position that he inherited from his father, who had inherited the position from his father. The current chazzan’s vision is now somewhat impaired, making it difficult for him to be the baal keriyah, and he has been having his son function as baal keriyah and also as community secretary and scribe, which apparently were other responsibilities included in the position. Some members of the community are dissatisfied with the new arrangements — they feel that the son does not have as nice a voice as his father. They are requesting that either the chazzan fulfill all the requirements of his position, or that he retire and allow the community to hire a new chazzan, who can perform to their specifications. When the community hired this chazzan over a generation before, he was able to perform all his tasks admirably. They are still satisfied with his skills as a chazzan, and they would not request that he step down, as long as he can fulfill his job. However, they feel that they did not hire his replacement, and they are dissatisfied with the son’s voice, which is not as melodious as that of his father.

For his part, the chazzan notes that he has a life contract with the community, which states that no one can take his place at any of his tasks without his permission. Furthermore, he claims that most of the 150 members of the community are willing to have his son help him in the areas that are now difficult for him, whereas only about ten members voice disapproval of the new arrangement. Each of the two sides in the dispute presented its position to the Rashba to rule on the case via correspondence. We are highly grateful that they chose this specific method of dealing with their litigation, because it provided a written record of the case and the Rashba’s detailed decision. Based on what we have seen so far, how would you rule?

The ruling

The Rashba sided with the chazzan for three different reasons:

First, when you hire someone for a position as chazzan, it is self-understood that he will occasionally need someone to substitute for him, either because he is occasionally ill or needs to be out of town. The Rashba rules that it is within the authority of the chazzan to choose who should serve as his substitute, assuming that he chooses someone who can do an adequate job. (A later authority, the Keneses Hagedolah, notes that there is another requirement – the substitute is G-d-fearing enough to fill the position [quoted by the Mishnah Berurah 53:84].)

Second reason of Rashba

A second reason why the Rashba rules in favor of the chazzan is that since the contract states that the community cannot have someone else take his place without his agreement, this implies that the chazzan has the authority, at his option, to choose someone to assist him in carrying out his responsibilities.

The Rashba does not make any distinction between having someone substitute for the chazzan on an occasional basis and having someone assume some of his responsibilities permanently. In both instances, he considers it the right of the chazzan to assign part of this job to someone else, provided the assignee can perform the job adequately. It is not necessary that the substitute or replacement perform the job at the same level as the chazzan himself.

The son’s right

The third reason the Rashba cites is that, should the chazzan no longer be able to fulfill his responsibilities, his son has the right to the position as long as he can perform the job adequately. It is not necessary that the son have a voice as melodious as that of his father, as long as he is G-d fearing enough to fulfill the position. It is, therefore, certainly true that the son has the right to assist the current chazzan ahead of anyone else. Some later authorities rule that the son does not have a right to the position if his voice sounds strange (Magen Avraham 53:32).

To simplify: The Rashba’s first two reasons explain why the chazzan has a right to choose his own replacement, and the third reason explains why the son has the right, ahead of any other candidate.

Choosing someone else

What would the Rashba hold if the different reasons are in conflict – meaning that the son would like to be his father’s replacement, but the father does not want him? The Rashba implies that, should the chazzan want to appoint someone other than his son to help him with his responsibilities, he may do so.

How do we rule?

The Rema (Orach Chayim 53:25) quotes this Rashba, but implies that he limits the right of the chazzan to appointing his son and does not accept that he has the right to appoint someone else. The Mishnah Berurah explains as follows: There are indeed two different concepts that explain why the Rashba ruled according to the chazzan. One is that the chazzan has a right to appoint a substitute to assist him on an occasional basis, or to take over for him while he is away or ill. However, it may indeed be that this right is his only when the substitute is temporarily fulfilling one of the chazzan’s responsibilities. It may not follow that the chazzan can appoint someone to replace him permanently in one of his roles. In this instance, that job would pass to the chazzan’s son. Since a permanent appointment is being made, the son has the right to the position, in the opinion of the Rema, whereas the Rashba, himself, held that the chazzan has the right to appoint even someone other than his son on a permanent basis to assist him in his responsibilities. We will soon see a possible source for the Rema’s opinion.

Inherited his voice?

Why does the son of a chazzan have the right to inherit his father’s position? After all, when the chazzan died, he made his son into an orphan, not into a chazzan!

As we saw above, this halachah is true for any position in klal Yisroel: The son has the right to the position as long as he meets the basic requirements for the position.

Can the son sell the position?

To what extent does the son have the right to the position? Can he offer the position to someone else, and if so, can he do so even for payment?

An early authority, the Mordechai (Bava Kama 8:108), quoting a responsum from his rebbe, the Maharam Rottenberg, discusses this exact question. He rules that a position of authority among the Jewish people is bequeathed to a son, but that the son does not have any right to give the position to someone else. He compares this to the rights of a kohen or a levi, which also are bequeathed to sons, but cannot be sold or transferred.

This is explained nicely by the Chasam Sofer (Shu”t Orach Chayim #12), who notes that a position, even of king of the Jewish people, is not inherited in the same way that one inherits property. According to the Torah, when a man dies, his sons automatically become the owners of his property. They do not require an authorization of a beis din, a court order, or a formal transfer of title – the property automatically becomes theirs. This is not the case regarding the inheriting of a position. The son does not automatically become king or kohen gadol – he must be appointed to the position. (Those interested in knowing how the kohen gadol is appointed should check the following sources: Tosafos, Zevachim 18a s.v. Hagah; Tosafos, Yoma 12b s.v. Kohein; Tosafos, Megillah 9b s.v. Velo; Aruch Hashulchan Ha’asid, Chapter 23.)

Source for the Rema

This Mordechai might be the source for the above-quoted Rema who ruled that the chazzan may transfer some of his responsibilities to his son, but not to anyone else. The Rema accepted that it is understood that a position of chazzan will require that he occasionally needs someone to substitute, and that the choice of substitute may be left to the chazzan. But the chazzan does not own the position to the extent that he can transfer it to someone else permanently, either completely or partially.

Other reasons

Let us return to the original responsum of the Rashba, in which he ruled that the chazzan has the right to appoint his own substitute. The Rashba is assuming that, even without a contract, the community cannot replace the chazzan. In a different responsum (Shu”t Harashba 5:283), he provides several reasons why a chazzan or anyone else in a community position has a right to keep his post. One reason is that halachah recognizes that once someone has been fulfilling a communal role, he acquires a chazakah, the right of status quo, to keep the position, as long as there is no reason to disqualify him.

The Rashba presents a second reason why an appointee has the right to keep his position: because of darchei shalom. It reduces machlokes when people have an assumption that replacements are not made arbitrarily. Anyone who has lived in a community where this is not common practice can certainly attest to the strife created when a public servant’s contract is not renewed. (However, see Shu”t Mahralnach, quoted by Magen Avraham 53:32.)

A third reason why the person has the right to keep his position is because, otherwise, people may think that he was replaced because of malfeasance. Maintaining him in the position protects his personal reputation.

Exceptions

Even the Rashba felt that there can be exceptions to his ruling – in other words, there are some instances in which one may be able to terminate a person’s tenure from a community position without that person having committed a malfeasance. The Rashba notes that there are places in which the recognized custom is that all positions are regularly rotated. In these communities, all appointments, whether salaried or voluntary, are temporary. He explains that since this is an accepted practice in these congregations, the reasons mentioned above why one may not remove someone from a position do not apply. Since everyone knows that his appointment is only temporary, no machlokes should result when a replacement is made. Similarly, no one will assume that an appointee was replaced because of malfeasance.

The later authorities note that this is true only when it is already an established custom in these places that appointments are always temporary and replacements are made at a specified time. However, when it is usual practice that people remain in their positions, one may not remove someone from his position, unless there was malfeasance (Shu”t Chemdas Shelomoh #7 and Shu”t Chasam Sofer, Orach Chayim #206, both quoted by Mishnah Berurah 53:86). The Chasam Sofer allows another exception — when it was stipulated at the time of the original appointment that a new negotiation and appointment is necessary to renew the person’s appointment after the term is complete.

I’d like a change!

At this point, we can discuss one of our original questions.

“Is there a halachic reason why, in some communities, people hold their appointments on shul and school boards forever, whereas in other communities, these positions are constantly rotated?”

We now see that there is halachic basis both for the practice in some communities that people remain in the position of shul or school president for long periods of time, whereas in other communities these positions are rotated on a regular basis.

A major exception?

Although we have noted that a son has a right to inherit his father’s position, several authorities contend that there is a major exception to this rule: a Torah position is not automatically inherited. One of the major advocates of this approach, the Chasam Sofer (Shu”t Chasam Sofer, Orach Chayim #12 and glosses to Orach Chayim end of 53), asked the following question: The Gemara (Yoma 72b) states that the position of kohen meshuach milchamah, the kohen annointed to provide encouragement and announce the halachos to the soldiers of the Jewish army, is not a hereditary position. Why is this position different from all the other appointments that we say are hereditary? The Chasam Sofer answers that there is a difference between positions of authority and religious positions. Positions of authority, such as king, do belong to the son, if he is qualified. However, there is no inheritance of religious positions, unless that is the accepted custom. (A similar view is stated by the Shu”t Maharashdam, Yoreh Deah #85.) The one exception to this rule is the position of kohen gadol, which the Torah says does go to the son, notwithstanding the fact that it is a religious position. Thus, the Rashba’s case in which the son inherits his father’s position as chazzan is only because that was the accepted custom.

The Chasam Sofer rallies support for his approach based on the fact that the positions of nasi and head of the Sanhedrin did not usually pass from father to son, but instead passed to the most qualified scholar. Only the nesi’im from Hillel and onward passed the position from father to son. The Chasam Sofer explains that from the time of Hillel until the Sanhedrin disbanded, the nasi of the Sanhedrin was also viewed as the “king” of the Jewish people, thus making it a position of authority and not merely religious. During this era, the position was bequeathed to the oldest son of the previous nasi, if he was G-d-fearing and enough of a scholar to fulfill his duties. However, prior to this era, the position was viewed only as a religious role and, therefore, it was assigned to the greatest scholar in the Jewish people.

Based on his analysis, the Chasam Sofer concludes that the son of a deceased rav does not automatically have the right to the position. If most of the tzibur does not want him, they have a right to pick someone else. However, if most of the tzibur wants the son, or for that matter, any other qualified G-d-fearing Torah scholar who is qualified enough to rule on the community’s needs, they may choose him. They are not required to pick the most qualified talmid chacham for the position. For example, they may choose a person who is a stronger leader over a bigger talmid chacham who does not have the same leadership abilities.

The Chasam Sofer closes his responsum with the following proof to his position: The Midrash, quoted by Rashi, states that when Moshe Rabbeinu asked Hashem to appoint a leader to head the Bnei Yisroel, he wanted his sons to be his replacement. Obviously, his sons had all the qualities that Moshe felt were necessary for the position – otherwise, why would he have thought that they should qualify? Yet, Hashem chose Yehoshua for other reasons. Thus, we see that the position of Torah leader over the Jewish people is not an inherited one.

Conclusion

When the Mishnah Berurah (53:83) discusses this matter, he cites the opinions we have mentioned without taking an obvious position on the matter. Thus, I leave the individual congregation to have its rav or posek decide whether a son has the right to replace his father, where there is no established minhag and the community would like to appoint someone else.

 

It’s About Time

The Gemara that discusses this topic includes a reference from this week’s parsha.

It’s About Time

sunsetQuiz Question #1:

Mrs. Yunger gave birth to two healthy twin boys, each of whom had his bris on the first day that halacha mandates, yet the younger Yunger had his bris several days earlier than his older brother. How can this happen?

Question #2:

Moshe Litvak asks me: “I have often wondered why my chassidishe brother-in-law davens mincha after sunset, when the Mishnah Berurah rules that one should not daven this late!”

Question #3:

“My sister and I live in the same yishuv (community), and the nearest hospital is Laniado, in Netanya. She went into labor on Shabbos and left for the hospital. Immediately after Shabbos, I phoned the hospital to find out how she was and whether she had a boy or a girl, and was told by the gentile receptionist that she could not put the call through to my sister until after the time ‘Rabbeinu Tam’ arrives, which would not be for another half an hour. Why was the gentile receptionist so frum?”

Why Did the Younger Yunger have an Earlier Bris?

Although a bris that transpires on the eighth day of a child’s life supersedes Shabbos, when a baby is born during bein hashemashos, a halachic “twilight zone” in which it is uncertain whether it is part of the previous day or the next one, his bris cannot be conducted on Shabbos. The older Yunger was born during bein hashemashos on Friday evening. Thus, his bris could not be performed on either Friday or Shabbos, and his bris was postponed to Sunday. Moreover, if one or two days of Yom Tov immediately followed Shabbos, then his bris would be delayed until after Yom Tov. However, his younger brother was born at a time that was certainly Shabbos, and therefore, his bris took place on Shabbos. Thus, younger Yunger had his bris before older Yunger.

When is Twilight?

When is bein hashemashos?

We all are aware that the Jewish date begins at night. But at what exact moment does one day end and another begin? Do we know the precise instant when one day marches off into history, and its successor arrives with its banner unfurled?

A verse in the book of Nechemiah might help resolve this question. There it describes the unenviable circumstances in which the Jews were rebuilding the Second Beis Hamikdash, while protecting themselves from the enemies who were determined to thwart its erection: And we were continuing the construction work from daybreak until the stars come out [tzeis hakochavim] while half our men were holding spears… and at night we were on guard, while in the day we could proceed with the work (Nechemiah 4:15-16). Nechemiah implies that “night” begins when the stars emerge, and the time of dusk until they become visible is still considered the previous day (see Berachos 2b; Megillah 20b).

However, we still require more definition. Which stars? Can we pinpoint the moment that the stars come out, since the stars of the firmament do not all become visible at the same time?

Additional confusion is caused by a different verse that implies that the day ends when the sun sets, as the Torah (Vayikra 22:7) proclaims: And when the sun sets, he shall become pure, stating that the final stage of purification from some types of tumah is the sunset after immersion in a mikveh. However, at sunset no stars are yet visible. Thus, this verse implies that the changing of the day transpires at sunset, not when the stars appear (see Berachos 2b).

What a Phenomenal Dusk!

Is there any discussion in the Gemara that can “shed light” on our question? Indeed, there are several passages, and much literature is devoted to understanding them. One passage (Shabbos 34b) describes certain celestial phenomena that define when bein hashemashos begins and when it ends. The commentaries debate exactly what occurrences are being described, and, unfortunately, we derive little usable information from this passage.

When Three Stars Appear

Another passage indicates that the end of the day is determined by the appearance of stars. When one star appears, it is still day. When two appear, it is bein hashemashos, and when three appear, it is night. Not large stars that appear even in the day, and not small stars that first appear at night, but middle-sized stars (Shabbos 35b).

Now the job appears easy. Let us look at the darkening firmament this coming evening and count stars!

I am sure that there have been times when you have tried. Ever spent Shabbos on a camping trip and attempted to determine the end of Shabbos by stargazing? How did you decide which stars are considered “small,” “large” and “middle-sized”? And this is assuming that one does not need to deal with light pollution!

Perhaps, locating a Gemara discussion that indicates more objective criteria, such as units of time, may be more helpful in our search to determine the end of day. Does such a discussion exist in the Gemara?

Yes, it does — and not only one passage, but two. However, the two passages appear contradictory!

Conflicting Gemara passages

The Gemara in Pesachim (94a) states that the time between shekiyah, a word usually translated as sunset, and tzeis hakochavim equals four mil, which we will assume is 72 minutes. (This concurs with the more obvious way of explaining the opinion of the Terumas Hadeshen [#123] and the Shulchan Aruch [Orach Chayim 459:2; Yoreh Deah 69:6 with Shach] that a mil used as a unit of time equals 18 minutes.) However, a different passage of Gemara, in Mesechta Shabbos (34b), quotes a dispute in which Rabbah states that nightfall occurs three-quarters of a mil, or 13½ minutes, after shekiyah, and Rabbi Yosef rules that it transpires a bit earlier, two-thirds of a mil, or 12 minutes, after shekiyah. Obviously, we need to explain why one Gemara states that nightfall occurs 72 minutes after shekiyah, and another states that it occurs only 12 or 13½ minutes after shekiyah!

Rabbeinu Tam’s explanation

Among the many resolutions to this conundrum, the two most commonly quoted are those of Rabbeinu Tam and the Gr”a. Rabbeinu Tam contends that these two passages of Gemara are using the word “shekiyah” to refer to two different phenomena which occur about an hour apart. The Gemara in Pesachim uses the term shekiyah to mean sunset — when the sun vanishes beyond the western horizon. Rabbeinu Tam refers to sunset as techilas shekiyah, literally the beginning of shekiyah. However, when the Gemara in Shabbos refers to “shekiyah,” it does not mean sunset, but a point in time about an hour later when virtually all light of the sun’s rays is dissipated from earth. Rabbeinu Tam refers to this later time as sof shekiyah, literally the end of shekiyah, and, in his opinion, until sof shekiyah occurs it is still halachically day, notwithstanding the setting of the sun and the appearance of hundreds of stars in the firmament. All these stars are considered “large stars” whose appearance does not demonstrate that the day has ended. Only at sof shekiyah does it become bein hashemashos, the time when we are uncertain whether it is day or night. At sof shekiyah, bein hashemashos has begun, meaning that now two, but not three, “middle-sized” stars are visible, and we await the appearance of the third “middle-sized” star to know that it is definitely night. (However, cf. Minchas Kohen for a variant understanding of Rabbeinu Tam’s position.)

Since, according to Rabbeinu Tam, it is definitely still day until about an hour after sunset, many authorities contend that there is no problem with davening mincha considerably after sunset. (However, note that Rabbeinu Yonah understands the opinion of Rabbeinu Tam differently from what I just explained.) Thus, there are communities who base themselves on this approach and daven mincha well after sunset.

Rabbeinu Tam and a friday night birth

According to Rabbeinu Tam, a baby born 58 minutes after sunset on Friday evening, and certainly any time earlier, was born halachically on Friday, and not on Shabbos. In Rabbeinu Tam’s opinion, this baby’s bris takes place the following Friday. A baby making his appearance a bit later is considered to be born during bein hashemashos and cannot have his bris on Shabbos, because maybe bein hashemashos is still Friday — which makes Shabbos his ninth day of life. This bris will be postponed to Sunday. However, if he is born later on Friday evening, at a time when it is definitely Shabbos, then the bris is performed on Shabbos.

It goes without saying that, according to Rabbeinu Tam, one may not perform any melacha on Saturday night until a considerable time has passed after sunset. There are various opinions as to exactly when Shabbos is definitely over according to Rabbeinu Tam, but most people assume that Shabbos is over by 72 minutes after sunset (Biur Halacha).

By the way, at this point we can answer our third question above: why the telephone lines at Laniado hospital are not open to non-pikuach nefesh related calls until more than a half hour later than the time Shabbos ends according to most calendars. The founder of the hospital, the Klausenberger Rebbe, insisted that Shabbos be observed at the hospital until it is over according to Rabbeinu Tam.

The opinion of the Gr”a

Since we know that many highly observant Jews do not wait this long for Shabbos to end, there must be another way of interpreting the two passages of Gemara that reaches a different halachic conclusion. Indeed, one such approach is presented by the Gr”a, who who has a completely different way of explaining why the Gemara in Pesachim states that tzeis hakochavim does not occur until 72 minutes after sunset, whereas the Gemara in Shabbos has tzeis hakochavim occurring much earlier. The Gr”a contends that both passages use shekiyah to mean sunset, and this is the same sunset to which we customarily refer — however, they are not referring to the same tzeis hakochavim. The Gemara passage in Pesachim that refers to tzeis hakochavim being 72 minutes after sunset means that all visible stars of the firmament can now be seen, a time that the Gr”a calls tzeis kol hakochavim, literally, when all the stars have appeared, whereas the Gemara in Shabbos refers to the time at which three “middle-sized” stars are visible. The Gr”a concludes that sunset begins the time of bein hashemashos, the time when we are uncertain whether it is day or night, with tzeis hakochavim occurring when three “middle-sized” stars are visible. The Gemara in Pesachim that requires 72 minutes until the stars appear is not discussing when the day ends — the day ended much earlier — but is concerned about when all remnants of sunlight vanish.

According to the Gr”a’s opinion, once sunset arrives on Friday, it may already be Shabbos. We consider this time to be already bein hashemashos, and we therefore refrain from performing any melacha from this time. In the Gr”a’s opinion, a baby born after sunset Friday will have his bris performed on Sunday a week later, unless he is born after three “middle-sized” stars appear, in which case his bris will be performed on Shabbos. (In practice, since we are uncertain exactly which stars are called “middle-sized,” we wait a bit longer, see Biur Halacha to 393.) According to Rabbeinu Tam, this same baby would have his bris performed on Friday, unless he is born at least 58 1/2 minutes after sunset. If he is born between 58½ minutes and 72 minutes after sunset Friday evening, according to the Gr”a, his bris will be on Shabbos, whereas according to Rabbeinu Tam – his bris will be on Sunday. Rabbeinu Tam agrees that a baby born later on Friday evening will have his bris performed on Shabbos.

The Gr”a rules that one should not daven mincha after sunset, since this is already a time at which the previous day may have already passed. Thus, it is already time to daven maariv.

How do we rule?

Although in the past there were Torah communities that did not follow the Gr”a at all, even regarding the onset of Shabbos, today, it is universally accepted to consider it Shabbos from sunset on Friday. Many communities follow the Gr”a’s opinion fully, and do not wait until 72 minutes after sunset on Saturday to end Shabbos. In a responsum on the subject, Rav Moshe Feinstein took great umbrage at those in Eretz Yisroel who wait only 25 minutes after sunset to end Shabbos, contending that since a large number of Rishonim followed Rabbeinu Tam’s approach, one should act stringently and not end Shabbos until at least fifty minutes after sunset, which he felt fulfills “Rabbeinu Tam time” according to the basic halachic requirement (Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 4:17:26; and Orach Chayim 4:62).

Under the Big Top

With apologies for the delay in sending this out…

Since parshas Eikev teaches that “all Hashem wants from us is to fear Him,” it is an opportune time to discuss:

Under the Big Top

skullcap“Why do some people wear big yarmulkes that cover their entire head?”

“How large must my yarmulke be?”

“Is there a halachic difference between going bareheaded indoors versus outdoors?”

“Why don’t we clip a waterproof yarmulke to our heads while we swim?”

“May one swear an oath, using G-d’s Name, while bareheaded?”

Answer:

All of the above questions concern the laws regarding covering one’s head and walking bareheaded, a topic mentioned several times in the Gemara. For example:

“Rabbi Huna, the son of Rabbi Yehoshua, did not walk four amos (about seven feet) with an uncovered head, saying ‘The Shechinah is above my head’” (Kiddushin 31a). Similarly, the Gemara says elsewhere that Rabbi Huna the son of Rabbi Yehoshua said about himself “I will be rewarded, because I never walked four amos with an uncovered head” (Shabbos 118b).

“Ravina was sitting in front of Rav Yirmiyah of Difti, when a man passed by and did not cover his head. Ravina said to Rav Yirmiyah of Difti, ‘How arrogant is this man (for walking bareheaded in the presence of Torah scholars)?’ Rav Yirmiyah responded, ‘Perhaps he comes from the town of Mechasya, where the people are so familiar with talmidei chachamim (that in their presence the townspeople do not cover their heads)” (Kiddushin 33a).

“An astrologer told the mother of Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak: ‘Your son will be a thief.’ To avoid this from happening, she made sure that his head was always covered, and cautioned him: ‘Cover your head, so that you will always be in fear of Heaven and always pray for Divine assistance in serving Hashem.’ Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak was unaware of the reason behind her instructions, but always followed them meticulously, from his youth and on into adulthood, when he became a great Torah scholar. One day, he was studying Torah under a date palm that was not his, when his head covering fell off. Raising his eyes, he saw the dates, and his yetzer hora overwhelmed him. It was so powerful that he snapped off dates with his teeth, thus fulfilling the prophecy of the astrologer” (Shabbos 156b).

Mesechta Sofrim, which is a collection of beraisos, or halachic teachings of the tanna’im not included in the Mishnah, quotes a dispute whether someone whose head is uncovered may lead the services by being poreis al shema, which means to recite kaddish and borchu that follow the pesukei dezimra. (There are various opinions as to how much of the prayer is included in poreis al shema, a topic beyond the scope of this article.) The first opinion, mentioned anonymously, permits someone bareheaded to lead the services, whereas the second opinion prohibits doing so, because one may not say Hashem’s name with an uncovered head (Sofrim 14:15). In a dispute of this nature, the general rule is that we follow the first opinion, although, in this particular dispute, we find authorities who rule according to the second opinion.

The Rambam about being bareheaded

The Rambam prohibits praying the shemoneh esrei bareheaded (Hilchos Tefillah 5:5), and he also states that it is appropriate for a talmid chacham to cover his head at all times (Hilchos Dei’os 5:6). Thus, in the dispute of Mesechta Sofrim quoted above, he follows the first opinion.

Interpreting the Talmudic sources

Based on the above sources, most, but not all, halachic authorities contend that, in Talmudic times, covering one’s head was performed on special occasions, such as when praying, reciting blessings, and in the presence of a Torah scholar, but was not always otherwise observed (Tur, Orach Chayim 8, as explained by Darkei Moshe; Shu”t Maharshal #72; Gra on Orach Chayim 8:2). These rulings imply that someone other than a talmid chacham is not required to cover his head, except when davening. As we will soon see, most authorities conclude that, today, one is required to cover one’s head, because of reasons that did not apply in the time of the Gemara.

A minority opinion

We must note that one prominent late authority, Rav Shlomo Kluger, understands the Talmudic sources in a different way. He contends that, even in earlier times, it was forbidden to leave one’s head completely uncovered. In his opinion, the passages that imply that a person may go bareheaded are, in fact, allowing him to have his head partially covered. (Shu”t Ha’elef Lecha Shlomo #3). I will soon explain the practical ramifications of this dispute.

Protecting from sin

According to all opinions, covering one’s head helps achieve yiras shamayim, being in constant recognition and awe of G-d’s presence, as borne out by the anecdote of Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak that I quoted above. Let us understand this story in its context, which concerns the topic of ein mazal leYisroel.

Ein mazal leYisroel

Hashem set up the world in such a way that the events that transpire in one’s life, and even one’s personality and tendencies, are influenced by one’s mazal. However, because of the principle of ein mazal leYisroel, one can override this preordained fortune through prayer. Recognizing that Hashem is The Source of all, and praying to Him for help and assistance, can change one’s situation.

We now understand what Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak’s mother did. The astrologer understood the mazalos and knew that her son was born under a mazal that would influence him to steal. Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak’s mother knew that although mazalos have a strong influence on a person, their power is not absolute. Therefore, she understood, correctly, that the astrologer’s diagnosis presented her with a reason to treat her son in a special way. Since prayer and being careful about mitzvah observance can offset the influence of mazalos, this is what she taught him, knowing that covering one’s head provides a strong influence. She was proven correct, because her son developed into a great Torah scholar and yarei shamayim, despite the influences of his personal mazalos. Still, only when he remained on guard and kept his head covered was he able to combat his tremendous drive to steal. The moment his head became uncovered, the temptation to steal overwhelmed him. He now knew that, in spite of his tremendous accomplishments in ruchniyus, he could not relax his guard, even for a second. We also understand why the custom developed that people cover their heads at all times, even though the Gemara did not require it.

Responsum of the Maharshal

With this background, we can understand the following responsum, penned by the sixteenth-century halachic luminary, Rav Shlomo Luria, known as the Maharshal. “I am unaware of a prohibition to recite a brocha without a cover on one’s head, although the Terumas Hadeshen was certain that it is prohibited to mention G-d’s Name without one’s head being covered, I am unaware of the source of this ruling. He writes that it is a dispute in Mesechta Sofrim, and, furthermore, Rabbeinu Yerucham writes that it is prohibited to recite a brocha bareheaded. Even though I do not dispute the earlier authorities unless I find a major scholar on my side of the dispute, I am inclined to be lenient in ruling that one may recite a brocha and even recite keri’as shema bareheaded. I can prove this from a Midrash Rabbah that states that a human king requires people to rise and uncover their heads in respect, prior to reading a declaration that he has issued, which they then read with great awe and trepidation. Hakadosh Baruch Hu told the Jews that when you read My declaration, the shema, you are not required to stand while doing so, nor are you required to expose your heads.” The Maharshal notes that this midrash implies that uncovering one’s head while reciting shema is not required, and it is certainly not prohibited.

The Maharshal continues: “Despite my own proofs to the contrary, what can I do that people consider being bareheaded to be prohibited? However, I am astonished at the custom of treating uncovering one’s head as a prohibited activity, even when not praying, and I have no idea where they got this from, since the only source that we find about having one’s head uncovered is regarding a woman, and it is only a midas chasidus (exemplary conduct) to be careful not to walk four amos bareheaded — but this midas chasidus applies only to walking four amos and not one who walks for a shorter distance, as is implied by the statement of Rav Huna the son of Rav Yehoshua… . Furthermore, I found written that being bareheaded is a concern only when one is outdoors… . Avoiding reciting G-d’s Name with an exposed head is a midas chasidus, just as is avoiding walking four amos bareheaded. However, the Rif wrote that we should protest someone’s entering a shul bareheaded, and the Tur wrote that one should not pray bareheaded, but did not prohibit reciting shema bareheaded.”

The Maharshal then concludes: “I am powerless to change this approach. Since people are in the practice of not being bareheaded anywhere, I may not be lenient in their presence. I heard of a talmid chacham who used to study Torah bareheaded, saying that the covering bothered him. Nevertheless, although, technically, there is nothing wrong with being bareheaded, provided one is not saying G-d’s Name, even from a perspective of exemplary conduct (midas chasidus), nevertheless, a talmid chacham should be careful not to do this, since people may think that he is not serious about his observance of Torah and mitzvos. Therefore, a talmid chacham should not study Torah bareheaded, even in the privacy of his own home, lest someone see him and, as a result, treat him without the proper respect he is due.”

In his conclusion, the Maharshal rules that a talmid chacham is required to cover his head. He also contends that one may recite a brocha by placing his hand over his head, despite the rule that one part of the body cannot cover another part (see Brachos 24b and Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 74:1). The Maharshal reasons that since, in his opinion, halacha does not require one to cover one’s head when saying Hashem’s Name, and the reason one needs to cover his head is only so that people not consider him to be someone who does not take the Torah seriously, it is sufficient to place one’s hand over one’s head to fulfill this concern.

Other authorities

Although the Gra (on Orach Chayim 8:2) echoes the Maharshal’s approach to the subject at hand, other early poskim follow a more stringent approach. The Terumas Hadeshen (1:10), the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 91:3, 4) and the Rema (Orach Chayim 74:2) rule that it is prohibited to say Hashem’s Name bareheaded, following the second opinion of Mesechta Sofrim. As a result, they conclude that a person may not recite a brocha with only his hand on top of his head, although the Shulchan Aruch permits reciting a brocha with someone else’s hand covering your head. As I will explain shortly, the Taz agrees that one may not recite a brocha with only one’s hand on top of his head, but he permits standing or walking four amos with one’s hand on top of his head.

The Bach (comments to Tur Orach Chayim, Chapter 2) takes issue with a different lenient ruling of the Maharshal, contending that it is forbidden to walk even less than four amos bareheaded.

The Taz’s approach

Although the Maharshal concluded that the only reason one should not go bareheaded is because people will look at him askance, the Taz (Orach Chayim 8:3) concludes that, in our day, it is halachically prohibited to be bareheaded. In his opinion, since the gentiles of the western world are meticulous to uncover their heads upon entering a building, being bareheaded violates the law of bechukoseihem lo seileichu (Vayikra 18:3), one may not follow the practices of the gentiles. This lo saaseh of the Torah is often called chukos akum. There are many opinions among the rishonim and the poskim as to the exact definition of what is included under chukos akum. The Taz explains that since the gentiles consider it unacceptable to have one’s head covered indoors, uncovering one’s head violates this prohibition.

Thus, according to the Taz, there are two different reasons to have one’s head covered: to encourage one’s yiras shamayim, and because of chukos akum. Placing one’s hand over one’s head is sufficient to avoid chukos akum, since this shows that one does not want to sit bareheaded, but it is not sufficient to allow one to recite a brocha.

Bareheaded indoors

Based on the Maharshal, the Be’er Heiteiv (Orach Chayim 2:6) rules that, under extenuating circumstances, one is permitted to have one’s head exposed while indoors.  However, the Bechor Shor (Shabbos 118b) opposes this ruling, contending that having one’s head exposed indoors is a more serious violation of chukos akum than outdoors, since the practice of the gentiles is deliberately to be bareheaded indoors.

At this point, we can refer to one of our original questions: “Is there a halachic difference between going bareheaded indoors versus outdoors?”

According to the Maharshal and the Be’er Heiteiv, although, under normal circumstances, one should cover one’s head in both venues, walking bareheaded outdoors is of greater concern. Under extenuating circumstances, the Be’er Heiteiv permitted walking indoors bareheaded. However, the Bechor Shor considers walking bareheaded indoors to be a bigger violation of halacha, since it violates chukos akum, whereas walking outdoors with one’s head exposed violates only the minhag Yisroel.

Livelihood

Although Rav Moshe Feinstein rules according to the Taz that one is required to cover one’s head whether indoors or outdoors, he concludes that when one’s employment or livelihood may be jeopardized, it is permitted to work bareheaded. This lenient ruling applies only while someone is at his place of work, but once he leaves his place of employment, he must cover his head, since his livelihood is no longer jeopardized (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 1:1 and 4:2; Choshen Mishpat 1:93). (Those interested in seeing two very different approaches to this question are encouraged to compare Shu”t Nachalas Binyamin #30 and Shu”t Melamed Leho’il, Yoreh Deah, #56.)

Different gentiles

Some authorities note that the Taz’s reason should apply only in western countries and other places where the gentiles have a specific practice to uncover their heads. However, in places where the gentiles have no such concerns, such as in Moslem countries, there is no prohibition of chukos akum in leaving one’s head uncovered (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 1:1). It may still be prohibited because of Jewish custom.

Swearing bareheaded

At this point, let us examine one of our opening questions: “May one swear an oath, using G-d’s Name, while bareheaded?” Is it not forbidden to recite Hashem’s Name with one’s head uncovered?

This question returns us to the dispute in Mesechta Sofrim that I quoted earlier, whether one may recite Hashem’s Name bareheaded. According to the Rambam, the Gra and the other halachic authorities who rule like the first tanna, there is nothing technically wrong with reciting Hashem’s Name bareheaded. Even among those authorities, such as the Terumas Hadeshen (1:10), who rule like the second tanna who prohibits enunciating Hashem’s Name bareheaded, many, including the Terumas Hadeshen himself (2:203), rule that one may recite an oath bareheaded. For example, the Beis Lechem Yehudah (Yoreh Deah 157:5) rules that, when no other option exists, it is permitted to swear an oath while bareheaded.

Under the big top

At this point, we can examine two of our opening questions:

“Why do some people where big yarmulkes that cover their entire head?”

“How large must my yarmulke be?”

In the above-quoted responsum of Rav Shlomo Kluger, he ruled that one is required to cover one’s head completely when walking outdoors four amos or more. When walking less than this distance, or when walking indoors, one must cover one’s head, but it does not need to be covered completely. This explains why some people wear big yarmulkes that cover their entire head.

However, this ruling is not universally accepted. Rav Moshe Feinstein was asked how can people walk in the street wearing only a yarmulke, when Rav Shlomoh Kluger required covering one’s entire head? Rav Moshe demonstrates that all the major authorities disagreed with Rav Kluger’s ruling. Rav Moshe concludes that even a small yarmulke meets the halachic requirements, but that individuals who would like to follow the more stringent opinion of Rav Kluger as regards walking outside  should cover their heads in a way that covers more than half the top of the head.

Swimming bareheaded

Previously, I quoted the following question: “Why don’t we clip a waterproof yarmulke to our heads while we swim?”

One of the authorities mentioned above, the Bechor Shor, rules that there is no requirement to cover your head while swimming or while walking from the changing room to the mikveh, not even as a midas chasidus. He demonstrates from passages of the Gemara that midas chasidus does not include covering your head in the mikveh, and also notes that swimming bareheaded does not violate chukas akum, since it is obvious that the uncovered head is not because one is trying to mimic gentile practice.

Conclusion

We see from the halachic sources that covering one’s head was a highly respected practice that assisted a person’s growth in yiras shamayim. With time, covering one’s head became part of the “uniform” of the Jewish man. In addition, there are other halachic reasons to keep one’s head covered, such as chukos akum. When donning a yarmulke or other head covering, one should avail himself of the opportunity to think about our Father in Heaven.

 

Tzaar Baalei Chayim

In Chutz La’aretz, this week parshas Balak is read, and in Eretz Yisroel, this is one of the rare years when we read parshas Pinchas before the Three Weeks. Since both parshiyos include allusions to tzaar baalei chayim, I present:

Tzaar Baalei Chayim

Question #1: Scientific experimenting

“Are there halachic laws governing when and how one may conduct scientific or medical experiments on animals?”

Question #2: Licensed to kill!

“Are there any halachic concerns that I should know about becoming an exterminator?”

Question #3: Oversized rider

pony“On visiting day in camp, we went pony riding, accompanied by some parents. One of our campers’ fathers is very obese, and the ponies were small, meant to carry the weight of children or, at most, average-sized adults. Fortunately for the pony involved, Mr. Big decided to forgo the ride. But does halachah address whether he would have been permitted to ride one of the ponies?”

Answer:

The topic of tzaar baalei chayim, the responsibility to alleviate, avoid and prevent the suffering of animals, is discussed fairly extensively by the halachic authorities. One early source, the Sefer Chassidim, discusses this mitzvah in regard to this week’s parshah — within the context of Bilaam striking his donkey.

All authorities agree that it is forbidden to cause animals to suffer unnecessarily, such as to strike an animal out of anger or frustration (Sefer Chassidim #666). If an animal that is normally well-behaved and responsive to its vocation refuses to work one day, one should not beat it to get it to cooperate – rather, one should consider the possibility that it might be ill (Sefer Chassidim #668). Animals do get sick and, as we see from the story of Bilaam, they may have difficulty expressing themselves. Thus, the Sefer Chassidim teaches that Bilaam was punished for striking his donkey (Sefer Chassidim #668). This esteemed early authority thereby implies that a gentile is required to observe the laws of tzaar baalei chayim, an aspect of the mitzvah that we will leave for a future article.

One should not work his pregnant animal too hard when he knows that it is ready to give birth (Sefer Chassidim #667). It goes without saying that it is prohibited to raise livestock in an inhumane way, such as by feeding them an unusual diet or depriving them of proper ventilation or exercise. Also, tzaar baalei chayim includes alleviating the suffering of an animal (Orach Meisharim Chapter 15:1).

Using animals

One may use an animal to service people, even though doing so involves inflicting pain on the animal (Nimukei Yosef, Bava Metzia 32b; Terumas Hadeshen 2:105; Rema, Even Ha’ezer 5:14; these authorities base their rulings on Talmudic sources, see Chagigah 14b; Shabbos 110b and 154b; Avodah Zarah 13b). The rationale provided is that animals and the rest of creation were created in order to service mankind (Terumas Hadeshen, based on Kiddushin 82a).

How much suffering?

A question raised by earlier authorities: Is there a limit to how much pain one may cause an animal, if the goal is for human benefit? We find a dispute among rishonim whether it is prohibited to burden an animal excessively, so that humans can benefit. For example, may I place a load on an animal that is greater than it should be carrying? According to the Sefer Chassidim #666, this constitutes tzaar baalei chayim. On the other hand, the Terumas Hadeshen (1:105) rules that this is permitted. He further discusses whether one may remove the down, which is the soft feathers, from live geese. Is this halachically the same as shearing sheep, which is certainly permitted, or is it prohibited because of the level of discomfort? The Terumas Hadeshen concludes that although any use of an animal is permitted and does not violate tzaar baalei chayim, the custom is not to remove the down from live birds because this is very painful. This conclusion is quoted by the Rema as standard halachah (Even Ha’ezer 5:14).

Scientific experimentation

Is it permitted to use animals to run tests for medical research or other scientific experimentation? The earliest discussion I found on this question dates back over three hundred years, in a responsum penned by Rav Yaakov Reisher (Shu”t Shevus Yaakov 3:71), who permitted it. A much lengthier and very thorough analysis of the topic is found in a more recent work, the twentieth-century responsum of the late rav of Zurich, Rav Yaakov Breisch (Shu”t Chelkas Yaakov, Choshen Mishpat #34). He concludes that one may use animals to test products to see if they are safe, although it seems that this is permitted only when there is a direct research benefit and the potential suffering of the animals cannot be avoided. In other words, it is permitted to test a new medicine or cosmetic item on an animal to see if medical problems develop, but one may only do this to the extent necessary to see if the product is safe. One may not, while experimenting, abuse the animals in any way that is not necessary for the test being performed.

What is the halachah if the medical testing will cause excessive pain to the animals? Is this still permitted? As mentioned above, all opinions forbid inflicting or causing any unnecessary pain to animals. Whether one may conduct medical test or research that will cause considerable pain to the animal might be the subject of a dispute between the Sefer Chassidim and the Terumas Hadeshen. The Terumas Hadeshen rules that this is permitted, as long as there is human benefit. The Sefer Chassidim states that even human benefit permits only a degree of normal discomfort to the animal, but not an excessive amount.

However, it is possible that the Sefer Chassidim agrees that one may test a medicine under these circumstances, since the importance of the potential benefit is great. It would seem that he would prohibit testing a new cosmetic item that will cause an animal to suffer tremendously, whereas the Terumas Hadeshen would permit it.

The Shevus Yaakov concludes that testing a medicine or cosmetic item on a living creature to see if it is safe for humans is permitted, even if it causes much suffering to the animal (Shu”t Shevus Yaakov 3:71). This is because one is not causing pain to the animal directly, and one is trying to research whether this product is safe for people.

Shimshon

Some authorities bring evidence from the story of Shimshon that, when necessary, one may even cause excruciating pain to an animal. The book of Shoftim tells us that Shimshon captured 300 foxes and tied together their tails in a way that each knot held a torch; he then sent the foxes into the fields and orchards of the Pelishtim, burning everything to the ground (Shoftim 15:4-5). Thus, we see that one can cause tremendous pain to animals when necessary for human need.

However, others question this proof, since during warfare, much is permitted that is not otherwise allowed. Thus, in general, causing this degree of pain to an animal would certainly be forbidden (Shu”t Chelkas Yaakov).

Furthermore, I question this proof, since nowhere does it say that the foxes themselves were on fire – the torches that they transported set fire to the fields and orchards of the Pelishtim.

Animals or even insects?

Does the prohibition of tzaar baalei chayim apply to all living creatures? We find a dispute among the acharonim concerning this issue.

Rav Moshe Feinstein (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Choshen Mishpat 2:47) discusses whether one is permitted to work as an exterminator of unwanted mice, insects and other such wildlife. He rules that this is permitted when it is necessary for people, but that one should try to avoid killing the unwanted creatures directly.

Rav Moshe’s reason is that although it is permitted to eliminate pests when they are harmful to mankind, killing them still remains an act of cruelty that makes an impression on the neshamah of the person who does it. Rav Moshe demonstrates this from the fact that after we fulfill the mitzvah of destroying the ir hanidachas, the city that goes wayward, the Torah promises that Hashem will provide rachamim to the Jewish people (Devorim 13:18). Rav Moshe quotes the Ohr Hachayim, who says that notwithstanding that this destruction is necessary and fulfills a mitzvah, it still affects the neshamah of those involved, because doing brutal things makes one into a nasty person. However, the Torah promises that Hashem will provide us with rachamim, meaning that He will restore us to being our usual, merciful selves. In other words, He will remove from our neshamos the harm created by what we were forced to do. (To the best of my knowledge, this is one of only three places in all of Rav Moshe’s responsa that he quotes the Ohr Hachayim.) Similarly, exterminating varmints, even though it is necessary and therefore permitted, will affect one’s neshamah. Therefore, it is better to do the exterminating in an indirect way, which makes less of an impression on the neshamah. According to Rav Moshe, we can conclude that killing a fly, moth or other insect that is not bothering anyone is prohibited.

(Rav Moshe contends that shechting for food will not cause a person to become cruel, since this act fulfills a mitzvah, notwithstanding that one is not required to perform it. Rav Moshe seems to hold that since the Torah sometimes requires shechitah, such as, when offering a korban, its performance could never cause someone to become cruel.)

Insects should not apply

However, we find that an earlier authority, Rav Yaakov Emden, who sometimes referred to himself by his acronym Ya’avetz* (Yaakov ben Tzvi), did not understand that the concept of tzaar baalei chayim extends this far. He rules that tzaar baalei chayim does not apply to insects, but only to creatures large enough that mankind can use them for work (She’eilas Ya’avetz 1:110). Although Rav Yaakov Emden quotes the Arizal as having commanded his students not to kill even lice, the Ya’avetz explains this to be a midas chassidus, beyond the strict requirements of the halachah. In his understanding, it could be that the Arizal prohibited this destruction because it causes harm to one’s neshamah, the same line of reasoning that Rav Moshe applied to discourage an exterminator from killing insects in a direct way.

Is it prohibited min hatorah?

The tanna’im dispute whether the law of tzaar baalei chayim is min hatorah or whether it is only of rabbinic origin (Bava Metzia 32b; Shabbos 154b). One of the differences that results from this dispute is as follows: Let us assume that in order to avoid causing an animal pain or distress, one would need to violate a rabbinic prohibition. May one supersede the rabbinic prohibition in order to avoid tzaar baalei chayim? The answer is that if tzaar baalei chayim, itself, is only a rabbinic prohibition, one cannot violate one rabbinic mitzvah for the sake of another. However, if tzaar baalei chayim is prohibited min hatorah, then preventing suffering to an animal overrides a rabbinic prohibition (Shu”t Maharam meiRottenberg 3:181).

The following discussion of the Gemara will demonstrate this to us:

Rabban Gamliel’s donkey was laden with barrels of honey, and he did not want to unburden it until Shabbos was over. The Gemara asks why Rabban Gamliel waited until Shabbos was over, since this was clearly causing unnecessary discomfort for the animal. The Gemara replies that the honey had hardened and was therefore no longer suitable as a food, which would make it muktzah on Shabbos. The Gemara then asks why didn’t Rabban Gamliel release the ropes binding the barrels to the donkey so that they could fall off the donkey on Shabbos, something he could do without moving the muktzah. The answer was that Rabban Gamliel did not want the barrels to break. The Gemara, still not satisfied, asks why didn’t he place pillows under the barrels, thus cushioning their fall so that they would not break? The Gemara answers that the pillows would get dirty this way and become useless for the rest of Shabbos, and doing this on Shabbos is prohibited because of a rabbinic proscription called bitul kli meiheichano, literally, nullifying a tool from its use. The Gemara then asks that the prohibition of tzaar baalei chayim should supersede the rabbinic prohibition of bitul kli meiheichano. To this the Gemara replies that Rabban Gamliel held that the law of tzaar baalei chayim is only rabbinic, and therefore it does not supersede a different rabbinic prohibition (Shabbos 154b).

The Gemara’s conclusion

Notwithstanding Rabban Gamliel’s position that tzaar baalei chayim is forbidden only as a rabbinic injunction, there are other tanna’im who rule that it is forbidden min hatorah. The following passage of Gemara implies that Rabban Gamliel’s position is rejected by the later authorities in the time of the Gemara:

Rav Yehudah said in the name of Rav: One may place cushions and pillows underneath an animal that fell into an irrigation ditch to enable it to get out by itself. However, it is preferred to bring food and water to the animal for the rest of Shabbos, if possible, and if this will satisfy the animal’s needs, rather than place cushions and pillows underneath the animal, which will violate bitul kli meiheichano (Shabbos 128b).

This Gemara implies that if we can avoid both transgressing the law of bitul kli meiheichano and avoiding tzaar baalei chayim, we strive to accomplish both, but if that option does not exist, then tzaar baalei chayim supersedes the rabbinic prohibition of bitul kli meiheichano. Since this passage reflects the conclusion of the amora’im, we see that we do not rule in accordance with Rabban Gamliel, but rather we rule that tzaar baalei chayim is min hatorah. This is the halachic conclusion reached by most, if not all, halachic authorities (Shu”t Maharam of Rottenberg 3:181; Mordechai, Shabbos #448; Nimukei Yosef, Bava Metzia 32b; Sefer Chassidim #666; Shiltei Hagiborim, Shabbos chapter 18, pg. 51a note 3, quoting Riaz; Kesef Mishneh, Hilchos Rotzeach 13:9; Rema, Choshen Mishpat 272:9; Sma 272:12, 15; Gra, Choshen Mishpat 272:11). This law is also codified in Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 305:19).

The Shulchan Aruch, reflecting this conclusion, cites a different halachah that results from the fact that tzaar baalei chayim is prohibited min hatorah. Although there is a rabbinic injunction prohibiting mounting or dismounting from an animal on Shabbos or Yom Tov, if someone did mount an animal, he is required to get off. (If this were forbidden, he would be required to remain on horseback the rest of Shabbos or Yom Tov, which would certainly cause tzaar baalei chayim.) This is true, notwithstanding that the act of dismounting constitutes a rabbinic violation of Shabbos (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 305:18). This ruling is consistent with our previous analysis. Since we conclude that tzaar baalei chayim is prohibited min hatorah, it can, when necessary, supersede a rabbinic prohibition, such as that of dismounting from an animal on Shabbos.

Violent rooster

Here is a related question, culled from the more contemporary responsa literature. If one discovers on Shabbos that one rooster is attacking other chickens, may one remove it from the coop on Shabbos, notwithstanding that a live animal is muktzah on Shabbos (Shu”t Har Tzvi, Orach Chayim 1:205)?

This question was asked of the late Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank, then rav of Yerushalayim. In his analysis of the topic, he quotes the previously mentioned conclusions of the Shulchan Aruch, that someone who mounted an animal on Shabbos should dismount it, because of tzaar baalei chayim, and that one must remove a burden from an animal, even by moving muktzah if no other method will work, because of tzaar baalei chayim. Therefore, Rav Frank concludes that it is permitted to remove the treacherous rooster from the others. He writes that it is preferred to have a gentile worker remove it, but if there is no gentile available, a Jew may remove it, notwithstanding that a rooster is muktzah on Shabbos. In other words, tzaar baalei chayim supersedes the prohibition of muktzah, when there is no way to accommodate both laws.

Conclusion:

Shlomoh Hamelech teaches (in Mishlei 12:10) Rachamei re’sha’im achzari, that the compassion of the evil is cruelty. What does this mean, particularly since the context of the pasuk implies that it is discussing the care one takes of his animals? The example chosen by the Sefer Chassidim (#669) is of an evil person who fed his animal well, but then expects it to perform beyond its capabilities – after all, he treated it so nicely. When the owner’s expectations are not realized, he beats the animal mercilessly. It turns out that his initial compassion caused him to be cruel.

The Tosefta (Bava Kama, end of Chapter 9) states that Rabbi Yehudah said in the name of Rabban Gamliel: “Know this sign well: as long as you act with mercy, Hashem will have mercy on you.” Sefer Chassidim #666 notes: If we are merciful to our animals, Hashem and others will be merciful to us.

*Note that several different scholars are referred to by this acronym.

 

Wanted Dead or Alive

In honor of Parashas Terumah and the Construction of the Mishkan…

Wanted Dead or Alive

bug trapQuestion #1: Getting Rid of those Bugs!

“May I trap or kill mosquitoes, bees, or wasps on Shabbos?”

Question #2: Hanging from the Lowest Tree

“I forgot to hang flypaper before Shabbos. May I do it on Shabbos?”

Question #3: A Charming Shabbos

“May a snake charmer work on Shabbos?”

Answer: Catching or dispatching

We have all been in the following uncomfortable situation. Some time during Shabbos, a mosquito appears in our vicinity, seeking to earn its living. Although we realize that this creature requires its sustenance, we are not eager that we, our children, or our guests should become mosquito fodder, even just as a minor donation. Are we permitted to trap or kill the mosquito? Trapping living things, tzad, was an action necessary for acquiring some of the materials used to build the Mishkan, and is one of the 39 melachos, categories of prohibited activity on Shabbos (Mishnah Shabbos 73a and Rashi ad loc.). Killing living things also violates the melachos of Shabbos, but space constraints will require that we leave this discussion for a different time. We will use this opportunity to discuss many pertinent principles of Shabbos and some details of the melachah of tzad.

Shabbos nomenclature

When discussing what one may or may not do on Shabbos, the Mishnah and Gemara use three terms: (1) chayov, punishable, when a particular act constitutes melachah, meaning that it desecrates Shabbos by violating a Torah law; (2) patur, exempt, meaning it does not violate a Torah law, and (3) mutar, permitted, when an act may be performed on Shabbos. We will discuss the middle term, patur, which states that a particular act does not violate Torah law, since this usually indicates something prohibited due to rabbinic sanction. Even though the word patur usually implies an act prohibited by rabbinic law, sometimes the Sages permitted it. But what makes performing a forbidden activity patur?

Meleches machsheves

The Gemara (Chagigah 10b; Bava Kama 26b; Kerisus 19b) teaches that the Torah prohibited only something that can be categorized as meleches machsheves, which can perhaps be translated as premeditated melachah. An obvious example of meleches machsheves would be trapping an animal to obtain its hide or meat. Similarly, someone who digs a hole to plant the base of a tree violates the meleches machsheves of choreish, ploughing, and one who picks a fruit performs a meleches machsheves of kotzeir, harvesting.

Meleches machsheves is often explained by what it is not. Following that approach, I will provide three categories of labor that are exempt from being defined as desecrating Shabbos min hatorah, because they do not qualify as meleches machsheves, at least according to some opinions.

Mekalkeil

In general, an act constitutes meleches machsheves only when its direct result is beneficial. This means that an action that is inherently destructive does not violate Shabbos min hatorah, even when one needs the result. For example, digging a hole in the ground, which one does not need, in order to obtain earth is defined as a destructive activity and prohibited only miderabbanan. The dug hole itself is a negative development, which renders the burrowing an act of mekalkeil, not prohibited min hatorah, but only because of rabbinic injunction. However, digging a hole to plant or to create a posthole results in a positive benefit and is indeed prohibited min hatorah, since one wants the hole in the ground.

Bemino nitzad

Here is a second example of meleches machsheves that is particular to the melachah that we are discussing, tzad. The tanna’im (Shabbos107b) dispute whether it is prohibited min hatorah to ensnare a creature that mankind does not typically use, such as a scorpion or a flea, which is called ein bemino nitzad, literally, a species that is not trapped. The halachic conclusion follows the lenient opinion, ruling that tzad applies min hatorah only to a species that is bemino nitzad, commonly trapped, so that mankind can benefit from it. For example, a species that is eaten, from whose body a medicine is extracted, or whose hide is used as leather qualifies as bemino nitzad. The halachic authorities discuss whether trapping an animal for scientific research or so that one can have it as a pet makes the animal into bemino nitzad (Rambam, Hilchos Shabbos 10:21; Chazon Ish, Orach Chayim 50:4 at end).

However, a species that is caught only because it is an annoyance has the status of ein bemino nitzad.

Why is this true? The purpose of trapping is to harness a living creature, so that mankind can use it. Thus, tzad is a type of acquisition (see Shu’t Avnei Neizer, Orach Chayim 189:7; however, see Biur Halachah, 316:2 s.v. Oh Choleh, who might disagree with this analysis.) However, trapping creatures that mankind does not generally use, such as scorpions or fleas, is not an act of acquiring these creatures, but of distancing them from victims that they may harm. Therefore, most opinions conclude that trapping a species that is ein bemino nitzad does not violate the melachah of tzad, and is prohibited only because of rabbinic injunction. Thus, since flies are ein bemino nitzad, catching them would not violate a Torah prohibition. Hanging flypaper on Shabbos would still involve a rabbinic prohibition, and it is similarly prohibited to set up a mousetrap on Shabbos (Magen Avraham 316:9; see Piskei Tosafos, Shabbos 17b #62).

By the way, many authorities consider mice to be bemino nitzad, since there are places in the world where their hide is used (Chayei Odom 30:7). There is also a dispute whether a non-kosher species that is harvested as food for non-Jewish consumption is considered bemino nitzad (Ritva, Shabbos 106b; Nimla Tal, Meleches Tzad #37).

Melachah she’einah tzerichah legufah

Many authorities rule that another category of activity is not prohibited min hatorah, because it is not considered meleches machsheves. There is a dispute among tanna’im whether a melachah she’einah tzerichah legufah, literally, an act not needed for its purpose, is prohibited min hatorah or only miderabbanan. Whereas Rabbi Yehudah contends that melachah she’einah tzerichah legufah is prohibited min hatorah, according to Rabbi Shimon, these acts are prohibited only by virtue of rabbinic injunction. Let me explain.

What is a melachah she’einah tzerichah legufah? Among the rishonim, we find differing opinions how to define and even how to translate this term, and there are many instances where a dispute in halachah results. Since this complicated question is a bit tangential to our topic, I am going to present only one approach. According to Tosafos (Shabbos 94a s.v. Rabbi Shimon) and the Rivash (Shu’t Harivash #394), Rabbi Shimon contends that the 39 melachos are prohibited min hatorah only when performed for a goal or purpose similar to the reason why this melachah was done when constructing the Mishkan. Performing a melachah to accomplish a purpose other than that for which this melachah was performed in the Mishkan qualifies as a melachah she’einah tzerichah legufah. This means that it is prohibited only miderabbanan, according to Rabbi Shimon and those who rule like him.

Here is an explanatory example: Removing an item that has a bad odor from a reshus hayachid, an enclosed area, into a reshus harabim, an open area meant for public use, is a classic case of melachah she’einah tzerichah legufah. Although moving something from a reshus hayachid into a reshus harabim constitutes the melachah of carrying, moving the foul-smelling item from a house to a reshus harabim does not constitute a melachah min hatorah, according to Rabbi Shimon, because the purpose of the carrying when building the Mishkan was to move the item being carried to a new location. However, when removing a foul-smelling item, there is no significance attached to the place to which the item is moved; one’s only goal is to distance it from its current location. The public area does not constitute the goal of one’s act, but, rather, a convenient place to dump unwanted material. For this reason, Rabbi Shimon contends that this act was not prohibited by the Torah, but only by the Sages. On the other hand, Rabbi Yehudah considers melachah she’einah tzerichah legufah to fulfill the definition of meleches machsheves and therefore prohibited min hatorah.

Although most rishonim conclude that the halachah follows Rabbi Shimon that melachah she’einah tzerichah legufah is prohibited only because of rabbinic injunction, the Rambam and others rule, according to Rabbi Yehudah, that melachah she’einah tzerichah legufah is prohibited min hatorah.

When exempt is permitted

There is a passage of Gemara that reflects both on our opening question and on a different aspect of the melachah of tzad. “Shmuel said: Whenever the Mishnah states that something is patur when performed on Shabbos, the activity is prohibited [because of a rabbinic injunction], with the exception of the following three instances, where patur means that the activity is permitted. The first case is catching a deer, the second is catching a snake and the third is lancing a boil” (Shabbos 3a; 107a, as explained by Tosafos, Shabbos 3a s.v. Bar). Shmuel proves from Mishnayos that, in these three instances, the acts are permitted (Shabbos 107a). The first two of these cases educate us to understand what constitutes the melachah of trapping. (The case of lancing a boil involves a different topic that we will leave for a future article.)

What are the first two cases presented by Shmuel? The first situation is when a deer entered a building and someone sat in the doorway of the building, thereby preventing the deer’s escape. When that person sat down, he trapped the deer and therefore performed the melachah of tzad. This is true, even if he was not involved in coaxing the deer into the building. The Mishnah (Shabbos 106b) then states that if a second person sits alongside the first in a way that the deer’s escape is still blocked, even when the first person gets up, the second person has not desecrated Shabbos. This is because the second person did not trap the deer but merely guaranteed that a captured animal remain in captivity. Although the Mishnah says that the second person is patur, Shmuel explains that one may lechatchilah sit down alongside the first person, even if one’s intention is to keep the deer trapped when the first person gets up. This explains a different aspect of tzad — the melachah is making the animal available for human use; once it is already trapped, there is no further violation in maintaining it under human control.

The second case is based on two different mishnayos. One Mishnah (Shabbos 107a) permits catching a scorpion so that it doesn’t bite, and another states that catching a snake to prevent it from biting does not violate Shabbos min hatorah, whereas catching it for medicinal use does (Eduyos 2:5). Tosafos proves that both Mishnayos that permit tzad to protect someone are discussing creatures whose bite is painful, but not life-threatening, pikuach nefesh (Tosafos, Shabbos 3a s.v. Bar). Were the Mishnah discussing a creature whose bite is life-threatening, it would be obvious that one may kill it, because of the general rule that actions necessary to protect life supersede Shabbos and almost all other mitzvos.

Shmuel ruled that although catching non-dangerous creatures is ordinarily prohibited on Shabbos, since this involves only a rabbinic injunction, the Sages permitted it under extenuating circumstances.

Why is this considered only a rabbinic injunction? We have already presented two possible reasons. The first is because of the principle of melachah she’einah tzerichah legufah, since one has no interest in capturing a snake or a scorpion (Tosafos op. cit.). The second reason is that one is not catching these species to make them available for human use, which is an essential component of the melachah of tzad (Avnei Neizer, Orach Chayim 189:7; see Biur Halachah, 316:2 s.v. Oh Choleh).

Mosquitoes versus snakes

Although we have discovered that one may catch snakes and scorpions that are not life-threatening, this does not tell us whether one may trap mosquitoes, bees or wasps. Although the sting or bite of these species is indeed painful, it is not usually as painful as a snake or scorpion bite. Thus, it might be that Chazal did not permit catching mosquitoes, bees or wasps.

Based on the following passage of Gemara, we can presumably prove the correct answer to this question:

“Someone who trapped a flea on Shabbos — Rabbi Eliezer rules that he is liable for desecrating Shabbos min hatorah, whereas Rabbi Yehoshua rules that his desecration of Shabbos violates only a rabbinic ordinance” (Shabbos 107b). The Gemara explains that this dispute is dependent on an issue that we discussed earlier — Does one desecrate Shabbos min hatorah if he traps a species that is not usually trapped? Rabbi Eliezer rules that he does, whereas Rabbi Yehoshua rules that he does not. Thus, it appears from this Gemara that although Shmuel proved that it is permitted to trap a scorpion, even of the non-deadly variety, one cannot trap a flea, which only causes discomfort.

Three types of varments

We can, therefore, divide the different types of unpleasant biters and stingers into three categories:

  1. Those that are potentially life-threatening to people. In this instance, if there is even the slightest possibility of danger, one may kill or catch them on Shabbos.
  2. Those whose bite is very painful, but does not present any life-threatening danger. These may be trapped on Shabbos, provided that one’s intent is to save people from harm (Rambam, Hilchos Shabbos 10:25). However, it is forbidden to trap if one intends to use the insect, reptile or arachnid. (Modern biology categorizes spiders and scorpions as arachnids, because they have eight legs, are carnivorous and are wingless. If we want to categorize insects and arachnids together, we should use the word arthropods, but that still excludes snakes and other reptiles. So, for most of this article, I have simply used the word creatures. My apologies to the scientists reading this.)
  3. Those whose bite will be unpleasant, but not highly painful. In this instance, there is a dispute among the rishonim. Tosafos and the Rosh (ad loc.) quote from an earlier baal Tosafos, named Rav Poras, that if one sees that an insect may bite him, he is permitted to catch the insect so that he can remove it. When the insect is not so close to him, he may brush the insect off, but he may not trap it.

Not all authorities accepted Rabbi Poras’s approach. The Mordechai (#402) quotes Rav Yehudah Gaon that he noticed that the “elder rabbis” did not trap fleas, even when the fleas were on their skin. The Beis Yosef, however, contends that even Rav Yehudah Gaon accepts the ruling of Rabbi Poras, but that he himself practiced this as a personal chumrah, not as the required halachah that he would rule for others. There are other rishonim, however, who disagree with Rabbi Poras and prohibit trapping mosquitoes, even when they are on someone’s skin, since they are only a discomfort and not dangerous (Meiri, Shabbos 107b).

Consensus

The consensus of halachic authorities follows Rabbi Poras, although there is a dispute among them whether it is permitted to catch the insect only when it is actually biting (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 316:9; Bach) or whether one may remove the insects even when they are in close proximity (Taz 316:8; Magen Avraham 316:18; Elyah Rabbah). The Mishnah Berurah (316:37) concludes that when one can brush off the insect, he should not rely on the heter of trapping it, but he implies that one may trap the insect if brushing it off will not suffice.

Answers

At this point, let us take a fresh look at some of our original questions:

“May I trap mosquitoes, bees, or wasps on Shabbos?”

The answer is that if the insect is about to attack someone, one may trap it. One may also trap it if its sting or bite is very painful, and certainly if it is potentially dangerous.

“May a snake charmer work on Shabbos?” If one is not intending to use the snake, it is permitted. This is all the more so if the snake is dangerous.

In conclusion

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch (Shemos 20:10) notes that people mistakenly think that work is prohibited on Shabbos to ensure that Shabbos is a day of rest. He points out that the Torah does not prohibit doing avodah, which connotes hard work, but melachah, which implies purpose and accomplishment. We certainly see this idea borne out by the ideas of meleches machsheves, which denote the purpose of the action, and have no correlation at all to the amount of energy expended. The goal of Shabbos is to allow Hashem’s rule to be the focus of creation by our refraining from our own creative acts (Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch Commentary to Shemos 20:11).

 

An Unusual Haftarah – That of Parshas Mishpatim

Question #1: A Rare Occurrence

Why is the haftarah for parshas Mishpatim read at such irregular intervals?

Question #2: Haftarah in Reverse

Why do we read the verses of this haftarah in a different order from how they appear in Tanach?

Question #3: Are We Ignoring Chazal?

How are we permitted to read this haftarah out of order, when Chazal prohibited this practice?

Introduction:

The section from sefer Yirmiyahu (34:8-22) beginning with the words Hadavar asher hayah leYirmiyahu discusses the laws of eved ivri, a Jewish slave. For this reason, it is an extremely appropriate haftarah for parshas Mishpatim. At the same time, as the questions above note, there are three unusual and curious aspects of this haftarah, which I will now explain.

Sporadic haftarah

The first question posed above is that, notwithstanding the appropriateness of Hadavar for parshas Mishpatim, in most years we read different haftaros this Shabbos. Furthermore, Hadavar is read in a fairly sporadic pattern. For example, we read it this year, and, under our current fixed calendar system, we will read it again in three years, in 5779 (2019), in 5782 (2022) and in 5785 (2025). This seems like a fairly regular schedule of every three years. However, this is followed by an interlude of ten years before we read it again — not until 5795 (2035). Why is the reading of Hadavar so erratic, when Mishpatim is read very predictably every year, the Shabbos after Yisro and before Terumah?

Driving in reverse

The second question raised above concerns the unusual structure of the haftarah. It consists of reading fifteen pesukim that begin with the words Hadavar from the book of Yirmiyahu (34:8-22) and then closes by reading two pesukim that are nine verses earlier in the sefer (Yirmiyahu 33:25-26). This is the only time that we close a haftarah by reading an earlier passage. Why do we read the passages in an order different from the order in which they appear in sefer Yirmiyahu?

Are we ignoring the Gemara?

The third question is a continuation of the previous one, although it necessitates an introduction. Chazal instituted several rules about reading the haftaros, one of which is called ein medalgim lemafrei’a, which prohibits going back to read an earlier section after we have read a later part. Thus, after reading Chapter 34 of Yirmiyahu, how are we permitted to return to Chapter 33?

Why so sporadic?

Having presented the three issues, allow me to answer these questions in the order in which they were asked. The first question was that the scheduling of this haftarah is both infrequent and sporadic. In most years, we read a different haftarah for Shabbos Mishpatim, and, occasionally, there is a gap of many years between one reading of Hadavar and the next. The reason for this is not as complicated is it sounds. Parshas Mishpatim almost always falls on the Shabbos before Rosh Chodesh Adar. In non-leap years, on that Shabbos we read parshas Shekalim for maftir and, therefore, we read the special haftarah for Shabbos Shekalim which is in sefer Melachim. As a result, almost the only time we read Hadavar is in a leap year, when Shekalim is read on or immediately before Rosh Chodesh of the second Adar – since it is the month immediately preceding Nissan – and Mishpatim falls before the first Adar. (There is a very occasional common year, such as 5785, when parshas Terumah falls on Rosh Chodesh Adar and is therefore the Shabbos on which we read Shekalim. In those years, we indeed read Hadavar on Mishpatim in a common year.)

Even in a leap year, when Shekalim never coincides with Mishpatim, there are years when Shabbos Mishpatim falls either on Rosh Chodesh or on Erev Rosh Chodesh. In these instances, we read the special haftaros for Rosh Chodesh or for Erev Rosh Chodesh. As a result, at times, many years go by until we again read Hadavar.

Haftarah in reverse

The second question concerned the unusual structure of the haftarah, in which we close by reading two pesukim that are a bit earlier in the sefer. Why do we read the haftarah in an order different from how it appears in sefer Yirmiyahu?

Happily ever after

The answer to this question requires our examining an accepted custom – not to end an aliyah, a haftarah or a megillah at a negative point. This concept is already mentioned by Rashi in his last comment on Eicha, where he notes that four seforim of Tanach Eicha, Yeshayahu, Trei Asar and Koheles – end on a negative tone, so we repeat the next to last pasuk afterwards to end on something positive. (The source for this idea is in Talmud Yerushalmi, Brachos, 5:1.)

In accordance with this approach, where the natural end of a haftarah closes on something negative, we often skip ahead a bit to find a more pleasant place to end the haftarah. The unusual aspect of Hadavar is that we do not skip ahead, but backwards, to find a pleasant ending. The reason we do this is because the next several chapters of Yirmiyahu do not include any pesukim that would be considered an appropriate ending for the haftarah. From a reader’s perspective, the most appropriate, pleasant place to stop is a few pesukim before Hadavar, which is why the custom developed of adding these two pesukim at the end.

Shuva versus Vayeitzei

An interesting related question: The haftarah for Shabbos Shuva begins towards the end of Hoshea, one of the twelve prophets whose writings comprise Trei Asar, with the words Shuva Yisroel. The final words of Hoshea are that Hashem’s ways are straight, yet sinners will stumble over them, u’poshe’im yikashlu bam. On Shabbos Shuva, we consider this to be a negative way to end the haftarah, and therefore we continue by reading elsewhere in Trei Asar in order to close with a pleasant ending. (There are many different customs how to accomplish this; I am aware of at least five.) However, the haftarah that most Ashkenazim read every year for Vayeitzei, which begins earlier in Hoshea, ends at the end of Hoshea with the words uposhe’im yikashlu bam. Why are these words considered positive enough to be an appropriate ending when we read this haftarah on Vayeitzei, but an inappropriate place to close on Shabbos Shuva? (It should be noted that the Mishnah Berurah [428:22] and many calendars published in Eretz Yisrael include reciting additional verses when this haftarah is read on Vayeitzei, in order to end more positively. However, most chumashim do not include these additional verses, and it is not the common practice in chutz la’aretz.)

I would like to suggest the following: The stumbling of the evil is not inherently a bad thing, and, for this reason, this is considered an appropriate place to end the haftarah on Vayeitzei. Nevertheless, on Shabbos Shuva, ending with u’poshe’im yikashlu bam, the sinners will stumble, is inappropriate, because the first Shabbos of the year should have a more encouraging conclusion. Alternatively, mention the sinning of the evil is an inappropriate closing during the aseres yemei teshuvah, when our entire theme is that everyone will do teshuvah.

Parshas Kedoshim

It should be noted that there are aliyos and readings that, indeed, do end in negative places, the most obvious example being the end of parshas Kedoshim, whose closing discusses a case of capital punishment. Why are we inconsistent – ending some aliyos in negative places, yet in others skipping or repeating verses to avoid this?

It seems that ending in a negative place is, in general, not forbidden but, rather, a custom that developed to try to find a pleasant ending, wherever this does not distort the reading. However, if finding a pleasant place to end an aliyah will complicate matters, we stop at a convenient place, even though it is negative. Alternatively, the division of the parshiyos predates the custom that we not end an aliyah at a negative point, and these divisions were left in place, even after the custom developed.

The tochachah

We can prove that ending an aliyah in a negative place is a custom that developed, but is not halachically required, from the Gemara and early halachic authorities, in their discussion concerning the public reading of the tochachah. In two different places, parshas Bechukosai at the end of sefer Vayikra and parshas Ki Savo in Devorim, the Torah describes in great detail the calamities that befall Klal Yisroel, should we fail to observe the Torah properly. This part of the Torah is customarily called the tochachah, literally, the admonition, although the Mishnah (Megillah 31a) calls it the curses. Chazal (Megillah 31b) discuss whether one may divide the tochachah into different aliyos. The Gemara concludes that the tochachah in Bechukosai, which is the harsher of the two, may not be divided into aliyos, whereas the tochachah of Ki Savo may be divided. Thus, we see that, other than the tochachah of Bechukosai, one may conclude an aliyah at an unpleasant point.

The Rambam (Hilchos Tefillah 13:7) and the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 428:6) already note that, although it is permitted to end aliyos in the middle of the tochachah of Ki Savo, the custom developed to avoid doing this. This custom was extended to include any place where an aliyah would end in an unpleasant place. However, where accommodating this practice would result in an unusual division of the parshiyos, such as at the end of parshas Kedoshim, we do end the parshah at its natural division, notwithstanding its being a negative place.

Are we ignoring Chazal?

At this point, we will discuss the third question I raised above. How are we permitted to read this haftarah out of order, when Chazal prohibited this practice? Let me explain the question.

Chazal established several rules regarding the reading of the haftarah. One beraisa provides the following directives:

One may not skip from one book of the prophets to another. However, one may skip from the reading of one prophet to another prophet within Trei Asar, provided that one does not skip from the end of the book to its beginning (Megillah 24a). I will refer to this last rule as the prohibition of ein medalgin lemafrei’a, literally, “not to skip backwards.”

Switching prophets midstream

The Gemara is ruling that although one may skip ahead within the same book of the prophets, one may not skip from the writings of one navi to another, such as from Yirmiyahu to Yeshayahu. Rashi explains that skipping from one navi to another confuses people, which is explained by the Aruch Hashulchan (Orach Chayim 144:2) in the following manner: When Hashem brings the presence of His Shechinah onto a prophet, the prophet perceives a vision and a message, which he will later describe. The way the prophet experiences his vision and how he expresses himself bear the mark of aspects of his personality. This is called ein shnei nevi’im misnabe’im besignon echad, literally, “no two prophets prophesy in the identical style” (Sanhedrin 89a). If the haftarah were to shift from one prophet to another, the audience listening would be required to adjust suddenly to the style and mindset of a different prophet, which is confusing. As a result, the listeners would not absorb the full impact of what is being taught, which is why Chazal forbade switching prophets in mid-haftarah.

The Gemara continues by explaining that within Trei Asar, a book composed of the writings of twelve different prophets, Chazal permitted skipping from the writings of one navi to another. Presumably, the reason is that people expect style changes within Trei Asar, so they are not confused.

Ein medalgin lemafrei’a

Returning to the original beraisa, which states: One may not skip from one book of the prophets to another. However, one may skip from the reading of one prophet to another prophet within Trei Asar, provided that one does not skip from the end of the book to its beginning. The question is whether the rule prohibiting medalgin lemafrei’a, reading verses of a book out of order, applies only to the book of Trei Asar, or is it prohibited in any sefer navi. If it refers only to Trei Asar, then reversing direction at the end of the haftarah of Hadavar, which is from the book of Yirmiyahu, does not present any problem.

The authorities dispute which interpretation of the beraisa is correct. The Kesef Mishneh, indeed, rules that ein medalgin lemafrei’a applies only to Trei Asar and nowhere else. However, the Magen Avraham disagrees and understands that ein medalgin lemafrei’a applies to the works of any of the prophets. It is possible that our custom of skipping backwards when reading Hadavar is based on the Kesef Mishneh’s understanding of the Gemara. However, since most late authorities follow the Magen Avraham’s approach, it is unusual that common custom should conflict with his ruling. Are there other approaches to justify the practice?

Foreign additions

Prior to presenting two other approaches to justify the practice of reading the end of the haftarah Hadavar out of order, we should examine a different controversial custom that dates back many hundreds of years. In the times of the rishonim, on the Shabbos after someone married, the haftarah was concluded by adding two or three verses from Yeshayahu (61:10) beginning with the words Sos Asis, because these verses refer to a chosson and kallah (Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 144). The problem with this custom is that whenever the week’s haftarah is from a book other than Yeshayahu, reciting Sos Asis skips from one navi to another.

There was also another, similar practice that seems to violate Chazal’s dictates. When Rosh Chodesh begins on Sunday, a special haftarah from Shmuel is usually read that begins with the words Vayomer Yonasan mochor chodesh. A custom developed that, when Rosh Chodesh fell on Shabbos and Sunday, after reading the haftarah of Shabbos Rosh Chodesh, which is from the closing words of Yeshayahu, the first and last verses of the haftarah mochor Chodesh were read as a reminder that the next day is also Rosh Chodesh. Yet this practice runs counter to the Gemara’s prohibition of switching prophets in mid-haftarah!

The Terumas Hadeshen

One early authority, the Terumas Hadeshen, suggests why these customs do not violate the takkanah. He comments that there are two disputing reasons why one may not switch from one navi to another while reading the haftarah. As we noted above, Rashi explains that the reason is to avoid confusing the listeners. However, other rishonim provide a different reason why one may not skip from one navi to another: closing one navi scroll and opening a different one, while the congregation is waiting, constitutes tircha detzibura, literally, “inconveniencing the congregation.” According to the latter approach, the Terumas Hadeshen explains why the takkanah not to switch prophets in mid-haftarah no longer applied in his day.

Bound Bibles

Although the Terumas Hadeshen lived before the invention of the printing press, he notes that, in his day, they no longer wrote the works of the prophets as scrolls but, instead, they were written as manuscript pages and then bound into books. Among the practical advantages of the bound edition is that one can place a marker in the different places from which one intends to read and then simply turn the pages at the correct time to the appropriate marker. As a result, switching to the writings of a different prophet in mid-haftarah does not involve any tircha detzibura, as opposed to closing a scroll and opening a new one, which takes far more time. For this reason, the Terumas Hadeshen contends, those who explain that Chazal prohibited switching prophets in mid-haftarah because of tircha detzibura will conclude that this is permitted when the haftarah is in book form. He concludes that this is the rationale for those who add verses from Sos Asis or Mochor Chodesh on the appropriate occasions.

However, the Terumas Hadeshen notes that, according to those who prohibit changing prophets in mid-haftarah because the style-change is confusing, it will make no difference whether one is reading from a bound book or a scroll. In both instances, switching to a different author confuses people and may not be done.

Justified conclusion

Based on this approach of the Terumas Hadeshen, we may be able to permit going back to two earlier pesukim to conclude the haftarah of Hadavar, if we assume that the prohibition of ein medalgin lemafrei’a is because of tircha detzibura.

When more is less

However, the custom is not yet out of the woods. Another aspect that impacts on this ruling is the following: When people read the haftarah from a bound volume, the heter mentioned by the Terumas Hadeshen applies. However, today many yeshivos and yeshivah-type shullen have the mehudar custom of using handwritten scrolls of nevi’m for the reading the haftarah. (An explanation for this custom is a topic for a different article.) The Terumas Hadeshen’s rationale will not permit reading Sos Asis, Mochor Chodesh or the last verses for Hadavar from a scroll at the end of a haftarah. This would result in the rather anomalous situation in which the chumra of reading the haftarah from a scroll may ultimately lead to violating a takkanas Chazal!

Another answer

All is not lost, and we can still find justification, even for the scroll readers. Other authorities provide a different reason to permit reading Sos Asis after a haftarah from a different navi. They explain that these verses are not considered part of the haftarah but a concluding song after the haftarah (Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 144, quoting Nemukei Yosef; Levush ad loc. 144:2). This is true, despite the fact that these pesukim are read before the brochos of the conclusion of the haftarah. Similarly, reading the verse Mochor Chodesh after the haftarah does not violate the takkanah of Chazal not to switch prophets in mid-haftarah because this is considered an announcement and not part of the haftarah.

Conclusion

According to this last approach, adding some verses for a pleasant conclusion is not considered part of the haftarah, and therefore does not violate the takkanas chachamim.

As an aside, I have been told that Rav Chayim Kanievsky, shlit”a, advises people who read the haftarah from a scroll to read the last two verses of this week’s haftarah from a regular, printed chumash. This emphasizes the fact that these are not considered part of the haftarah and therefore do not violate the takanas chachamim.

 

What Do I Do with My Sheimos?

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I know that the name of the parsha is Shemos, and not Sheimos, but…

What do I do with my Sheimos?

Question #1:

vintage-pagesOne of the shul’s baalei batim calls the rav with the following concern:

“The shul’s sheimos collection is a fire hazard – a catastrophe waiting to happen. Can we just burn everything before a dangerous fire breaks out?”

Question #2:

I receive the following question from Cheryl:

“Rabbi, this has got to be the most interesting e-mail question you receive today. I am on a cruise in the Mediterranean, courtesy of, and with, my not-yet-observant parents, and today I spent the day looking at Jewish sites and other tourist attractions at our port-of-call. At one of the places, an elderly gentile lady gave me a large bag of old, tattered siddurim – no value. I have no idea what to do with them, and they are with me now in my cabin on the ship. May I bury them at sea?”

Response:

Answering the above questions provides an excellent opportunity to understand the topic called either genizah or sheimos. The particular emphasis in this article will be: what is the proper way to dispose of worn-out seforim?

Should it be called sheimos or genizah?

Which is the “correct” term? The word used in Modern Hebrew for a religious item whose discarding must be handled in a special way is genizah, which literally means that they must be hidden. Indeed, this is the term used by the Gemara for the process of disposing of these items, and it is easy to understand how the term came to refer to items that require genizah, although technically genizah refers to the place where the item is placed.

The Yiddish word for these items is sheimos, whose source is the term sheimos she’einam nimchakim, meaning the names of G-d that the Torah prohibits erasing. In Parshas Re’eih, the Torah commands: Destroy all the places where the gentiles that you are driving out worshipped their gods, whether they are on high mountains, on hills, or beneath foliate trees. Raze their altars, smash their pillars, burn their worshipped trees, and demolish the images of their gods. Obliterate the names (of their deities) from that place (Devarim 12:2-4).

The Torah then closes this passage: Do not do this to Hashem your G-d!

When the Torah states: Obliterate the names from that place. Do not do this to Hashem your G-d, it is prohibiting obliterating Hashem’s Name (Shabbos 120b; Rambam, Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah 6:1). The Gemara (Shavuos 35a) calls the names of Hashem that we may not erase sheimos she’einam nimchakim, which later became the origin of the term sheimos as a generic term to describe religious items whose discarding must be handled in a special way. Thus, either word, genizah or sheimos, may be used.

That which we call Hashem

Although there are many expressions, such as the All-merciful One and the Creator, which refer to Hashem, halachah recognizes a major distinction between erasing the actual holy names of Hashem, and between erasing terms that describe Hashem, but are not actual names. Erasing the actual “names” of Hashem, the sheimos she’einam nimchakim, violates a lo saaseh of the Torah, one of the 613 mitzvos, and qualifies as a prohibition as serious as desecrating Yom Tov or eating non-kosher (see Makkos 22a). The names of Hashem, of which there are about ten, include, among others, Elokim, Elokeinu, Keil, Shakai, Tzevakos, Eloak, and, of course, the names I will call havayah and adnus. (Following the usual practice, I have substituted the “k” sound somewhere in the above names, so that readers do not err and recite these holy names in vain.) Erasing any of these names is prohibited min haTorah.

Erasing attributes

On the other hand, expressions that describe attributes of Hashem — such as Rachum, All-merciful one; Chanun, He Who bestows kindness — may be erased, even when they refer to Hashem (Shavuos 35a; Rambam, Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah, 6:5). The Torah’s prohibition, do not do this to Hashem your G-d, applies only to a name of Hashem, not to an attribute that describes Hashem.

Similarly, there is no prohibition to erase His names written in other languages, such as G-d, even when spelled with the “o” in the middle (Shach, Yoreh Deah 179:11), although one must exercise care that these names do not become treated disrespectfully (Urim, 27:2, quoted also by Nesivos HaMishpat and Aruch HaShulchan ad loc.). The reason we are accustomed to spelling the name G-d, rather than with the added “o,” is because of concern that the paper it is written on might end up in the garbage or treated in some other disrespectful way.

Does the prohibition include commentaries, Gemaros, et cetera?

Although the Torah violation, do not do this to Hashem your G-d, applies only to actual names of Hashem, Chazal prohibited destroying other holy writings, including commentaries, works of Mishnah, Gemara or halachah, and other Torah works (see Rambam, Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah 6:8; Shu’t Tashbeitz 1:2).

What happens when they wear out?

Granted that the Torah prohibited destroying works that include Hashem’s Name, eventually a sefer Torah becomes worn out and unusable. What does one do with it, then, if it is prohibited to destroy it? The precise details of how to dispose of these items is exactly the topic for today’s article.

Buried in earthenware

The Gemara teaches that worn out sifrei Torah should be placed in earthenware vessels and then buried next to a talmid chacham, or, minimally, next to someone who learned halachah, meaning someone who at least studied Mishnayos (Megillah 26b). Placing them inside these vessels forestalls the decomposition of the sifrei Torah for a very long time (Ran), and placing them together with someone who studied Torah is a more respectful way of treating sifrei Torah that can no longer be used. It is very unfortunate that Hashem’s Name becomes obliterated, even in an indirect way, and we must delay the decomposition for as long as possible.

Genizah of printed sefarim

From after the time of the Gemara until the invention of the printing press in the 1400’s, we find little discussion about how to dispose of holy works. Since everything was handwritten and therefore scarce and very expensive, we can presume that there were not a lot of worn out sifrei kodesh, and there was no difficulty in following the Gemara’s description for their retirement. However, after the invention of the printing press, the sheer volume of printed material increased geometrically, and we find halachic discussion concerning whether wornout printed sefarim must be disposed of in the same manner as the Gemara describes for sifrei Torah.

The teshuvah of the Be’er Sheva

The earliest responsum I have seen on the subject is printed in the sefer Be’er Sheva, authored by one of the great Torah leaders of the early seventeenth century, Rabbi Yissachar Dov Eilenburg. He was a talmid of the Levush, and his sefer includes a haskamah from the Maharal of Prague! The Be’er Sheva reports that in his day, it was not uncommon for people to burn the worn-out printed editions of sifrei kodesh. Those who burned the sifrei kodesh claimed that this was more respectful than burying them, because burial often resulted in the sifrei kodesh being unearthed and therefore becoming treated disrespectfully.

The Be’er Sheva takes strong issue with this approach, noting that it is prohibited to destroy any type of kisvei hakodesh, and that burning them certainly violates halachah. The claim that burying the sefarim leads to their desecration is unfounded, he states, because the desecration is a result of not burying the genizah correctly. As we mentioned above, the Gemara describes burying in earthenware vessels. If, indeed, all genizah were to be buried this way, argues the Be’er Sheva, then the kisvei hakodesh would never be strewn about after their burial. He concludes that worn-out, printed Torah material must be buried in earthenware vessels, just as one is required to bury sifrei Torah this way. This responsum of the Be’er Sheva is subsequently cited authoritatively by the Magen Avraham (154:9).

Not enough earthenware to go around

Notwithstanding the rulings of the Be’er Sheva and the Magen Avraham prohibiting the burning of wornout kisvei hakodesh, we find the issue of burning sheimos resurfacing a century later. It appears that burying the massive amounts of sheimos in earthenware vessels was not practical, presumably because appropriate earthenware vessels were not easily available in the quantities required. Since no other practical solution was acceptable to the Be’er Sheva and the Magen Avraham, accumulations of sheimos were doing just that — accumulating. Thus we read:

The shul’s sheimos collection is a fire hazard – a catastrophe waiting to happen. Can we just burn everything, before a dangerous fire breaks out?”

This is the exact question asked three hundred years ago by members of the Jewish community in Metz, Alsace-Lorraine, from their rav, Rav Yaakov Reischer, one of the great halachic authorities of his era, famed for his many classic Torah works, including Minchas Yaakov (on the laws of kashrus), Chok Yaakov (on Hilchos Pesach), Toras Hashelamim (on Hilchos Niddah), Iyun Yaakov (on Agadah of Shas), and his responsa, Shevus Yaakov.

In a responsum published in Shevus Yaakov, Rav Reischer reports that previous attempts to bury the amassed sheimos had resulted in gentiles unearthing the kisvei hakodesh and using them in a highly degrading way. For lack of any solution, the sheimos were accumulating and indeed were a fire hazard. Because of the life-threatening emergency that now resulted, the Shevus Yaakov ruled that it was preferable to burn the sheimos, which he felt was the most viable resolution of the problem, since burial in earthenware vessels was no longer feasible.

Corresponding mechutanim

In Nissan 5483 (1723), Rav Reischer sent his teshuvah permitting, under these circumstances, the burning of genizah, to his mechutan, Rav Yechezkel Katzenellenbogen, the rav of Hamburg, for review, presumably hoping that Rav Katzenellenbogen would agree. The correspondence between these gedolei Torah was subsequently published in two different places – in Rav Reischer’s Shu’t Shevus Yaakov, as Yoreh Deah, Volume 1, #10-12, and in Rav Katzenellenbogen’s Shu’t Keneses Yechezkel as responsum #37. The two versions of the correspondence are not absolutely identical, but comparing the two versions broadens one’s understanding of the dispute. In general, the Keneses Yechezkel account is somewhat truncated in places, but includes the dates of the letters. Apparently, when Rav Katzenellenbogen decided to print this correspondence, he abbreviated his own letters, although he published his mechutan’s letters in full.

A more important fact is that the account published in Keneses Yechezkel includes a final letter from Rav Katzenellenbogen that does not appear in Shevus Yaakov.

Family feud

Although both gedolim correspond to one another with great respect, they dispute strongly regarding what one should do with the accumulated sheimos material when burial in earthenware vessels is not a practical solution. In his response dated 17 Kislev, the Keneses Yechezkel rejects fully his mechutan’s proposal that the circumstances permit burning the sheimos, but instead rules that one should construct wooden boxes around the genizah, find an abandoned lot, and bury the wooden-entombed sheimos with three tefachim (about 9-11 inches) of earth above them.

The second volley

On the 23 of Teiveis, the Shevus Yaakov penned his retort to his mechutan, rejecting the idea that wooden boxes are as good as earthenware, and insisting that if all kisvei hakodesh must be buried in earthenware, burying in wood, which decays much more quickly, will not suffice. He contends that burying in wood is the equivalent of burying directly in the earth, which he prohibits as a tremendous bizayon to the kisvei hakodesh. He feels that burying in earth, either with or without a wooden protection, is a far greater bizayon to the kisvei hakodesh than burning them. Thus, unswayed by his mechutan’s rejection of his proposal, he remains with his original suggestion – that since burying all the genizah in earthenware containers is not practical, and burying them in wooden containers is not acceptable, the remaining option is to burn the sheimos.

The response from the Keneses Yechezkel was not long in coming. On the 17th of Shvat, the Keneses Yechezkel penned his retort, again reiterating his position that it is absolutely forbidden to burn sheimos, and that it is perfectly acceptable, and therefore required, to bury them in wooden boxes. (This last letter is the part of the correspondence that does not appear in Shu’t Shevus Yaakov, but only in Keneses Yechezkel.)

Packing the printed material

It is noteworthy that both of these authorities rule that printed sefarim must be packed properly before burial, which was also the position of the Be’er Sheva and the Magen Avraham that I quoted above. On the other hand, the Pri Megadim (commenting on the above-quoted Magen Avraham), who was born shortly before the passing of the Keneses Yechezkel and the Shevus Yaakov, notes that the custom is to bury worn-out printed sefarim without placing them inside vessels, and to require burial in earthenware vessels only when burying worn-out, hand-written nevi’im and kesuvim that are written on parchment. (The nevi’im he is describing are used contemporarily by many shullen for reading the haftaros.) The custom mentioned by the Pri Megadim disputes the above quoted authorities, the Be’er Sheva, the Magen Avraham, the Keneses Yechezkel, and the Shevus Yaakov, all of whom held that printed sefarim must be packed in earthenware or with other protective means before burial.

What is the accepted halachic practice?

The prevalent accepted practice follows the Pri Megadim’s observation — that is, although we insist that worn-out printed sefarim must be buried, they are not packed in either earthenware or even wood boxes before burial. The Mishnah Berurah (154:22, 24), when discussing this issue, quotes only the Pri Megadim; he does not even mention the disputing earlier opinions.

How can we permit this?

Granted that the minhag follows the Pri Megadim, but what is the halachic basis to permit this? Neither the Pri Megadim nor the Mishnah Berurah explains the rationale to permit burying these items, without first packing them appropriately. However, an authority contemporary to the Pri Megadim, the Zera Emes (Volume II #133), does discuss this issue.

The Zera Emes was asked the same question that was asked of the Be’er Sheva, the Keneses Yechezkel and the Shevus Yaakov — whether there is any basis to permit the burning of printed sheimos. In response, the Zera Emes first cites many early authorities who held that all printed sefarim require burial in earthenware vessels. He indeed concludes that all genizah items require burial. He then analyzes whether all genizah items require to first be packed in earthenware vessels. He notes that the Gemara, itself, implies that there are different levels of kedushah when burying holy items. Although the Gemara mentions several items that require genizah, such as the coverings of the sefer Torah (often called mantelach), mezuzos, tefillin, tefillin bags and straps, it requires only that these items have genizah and does not mention that they be first placed in earthenware. The requirements of placing the genizah item in an earthenware vessel and burying it near a talmid chacham are mentioned only regarding a sefer Torah. Other holy writings do not require this, and it is sufficient to provide them with what the Zera Emes calls “a minimal burial” — meaning burial in earth. Burial is a respectful way to allow for the decay of holy works, both because burial is halachically a respectful way of disposal, and because the deterioration is caused indirectly.

The Zera Emes adds one more requirement – that the sheimos must be placed into some type of bag or covering before it is buried. This covering is necessary, in his opinion, because placing directly into the ground is not considered a respectful way to treat kisvei hakodesh. We should note that, according to the contemporary sefer Ginzei HaKodesh, Rav Elyashiv held that, in a situation where it is difficult to wrap the genizah, one may bury it without wrapping. This means that, in his opinion, placing kisvei hakodesh directly in the ground is not disrespectful.

Burial at sea

At this point, we can answer Cheryl’s question:

I am on a cruise in the Mediterranean. At one port-of-call, a gentile lady gave me a large bag of old, tattered siddurim, which are now in my cabin on the ship. May I bury them at sea?

As you can by now imagine, I answered Cheryl that she is not permitted to bury the genizah at sea. According to all opinions quoted above, disposing worn-out kisvei hakodesh in water is considered destroying them directly. According to the Be’er Sheva and the Keneses Yechezkel, all kisvei hakodesh require burial in the earth, and in earthenware. According to the Pri Megadim and the Zera Emes, although burial is permitted in earth, this is only in earth, where the deterioration takes time, but “burial at sea” is a bizayon to the holy works. Even the Shevus Yaakov, who permitted burning kisvei hakodesh when one cannot bury them in earthenware vessels, expressly forbade burial in earth without packing them first, because the moisture of the earth is considered directly destroying them and forbidden, and certainly, disposal directly in water is forbidden.

Conclusion — contemporary practice

Common practice of those who bury genizah today is to pack all handwritten kisvei hakodesh, including sifrei Torah, mezuzos, and tefillin parshiyos, in earthenware or glass containers before burial; whereas worn-out, printed sefarim are simply placed in bags or cardboard boxes and buried. Thus, it appears that although we are following the distinction between sifrei Torah and other holy writings as explained by the Zera Emes, contemporary practice is to be slightly stricter than his ruling regarding how we wrap mezuzos and tefillin parshiyos prior to burial.

Thousands of pages of Torah rattle off presses and home and business printers every day, spreading Torah to every corner of the globe. By disposing of this material appropriately, we help ensure that this glory of Torah does not lead to its desecration.