Over the Rainbow

Question #1: Showing a Rainbow

Should you call someone’s attention to the fact that there is a rainbow?

Are you supposed to look for a rainbow?

Question #2: Niagara Falls

Does one recite a brocha when seeing a rainbow that is not after a storm, such as what one sees at Niagara Falls?

Question #3: How much?

How much of a rainbow must one see to recite a brocha?

Introduction

An entire chapter of Shulchan Aruch is devoted to two short brochos, one recited when one sees a rainbow, and one called birkas hachamah, which we recite only once every 28 years. Both of these brochos are included under the general category called birchos ha’re’iyah, brochos recited upon seeing specific things, whose halachos are spread across nine chapters of Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim, from chapter 221-229).

Since the next recital of birkas hachamah will not be for a number of years, and the brocha on the rainbow is based in this week’s parsha, this article will discuss the latter brocha. The common text that we recite for this brocha is, “Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech Ha’olam Zocheir habris ve’ne’eman bivriso vekayom bema’amaro,” “Blessed are You, Hashem our G-d, King of the Universe, Who remembers the covenant, is trustworthy in His covenant and fulfills His word.” It should be noted that the version quoted by the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 229:1) has a slight difference – it is missing a vov before the word “ne’eman,” thus reading: “Boruch… Zocheir habris, Ne’eman bivriso vekayom bema’amaro,” and is translated as two sentences, “Blessed are You, Hashem our G-d, King of the Universe, Who remembers the covenant. He is trustworthy in His covenant and fulfills His word.”

Unusual brocha

Isn’t this a strange text for a brocha referring to Hashem? In what other brocha do we discuss Hashem’s trustworthiness and memory?

The answer is that the world is full of evil people who could be the cause for its destruction. The reason that the world is not destroyed is because Hashem promised Noach that He would not put an end to it. The additional words, that “He… fulfills His word,” are because, as we will soon see, the Torah does not mention that there was any promise or oath — simply Hashem’s declaration to Noach (Avudraham, page 187).

Before analyzing further the brocha and the Gemara that teaches us this mitzvah, let us read the pesukim in this week’s parsha, upon which this brocha is based.

Rainbow way up high

After Noach and his family exited the teivah, Hashem tells them, “I am establishing My covenant with you and the descendants that will follow you… and I will confirm My covenant with you that I will never again destroy all flesh with the waters of the flood, and there never again will be a flood to destroy the earth. And G-d said: This is the sign of My covenant that I am providing between Me and between you and all living creatures that are among you, for all future generations. I have placed My rainbow in the clouds, and it will provide a sign of a covenant between Me and between the earth. And it should be, when I place a cloud over the earth and the rainbow becomes visible in the cloud. I will then remember My covenant that is between Me and you and all living creatures, and the water will never become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the rainbow is in the cloud, I will see it and remember the eternal covenant between G-d and between all living creatures on the earth” (Bereishis, 9:11-16).

The dreams you dare to dream

Seeing a rainbow should evoke mixed feelings in us. On the one hand, it is a beautiful phenomenon of nature that truly demonstrates the nifla’os haBorei, Hashem’s wondrous Creation. The Gemara shares with us an event that bears this out. Once, it was in the middle of the dry season in Eretz Yisroel, when it never rains. Several of the tanna’im were studying intently some deep kabbalistic ideas. Suddenly, the Heavens became covered with clouds and a rainbow appeared in them, and the ministering angels gathered together, the way people gather to see the celebrations of a bride and groom, in order to hear the kabbalistic words emanating from the scholars (Chagigah 14b).

Similarly, we have the following passage of Gemara (Brochos 59a): “Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said, ‘one who sees a rainbow in a cloud should fall on his face, as the verse states, Kemar’eih hakeshes asher yihyeh be’anan beyom hageshem kein mar’eih hanogah saviv shehu mar’eih demus kevod Hashem, As the rainbow appears in the cloud on a rainy day, so appeared the brilliant surrounding light; this is the image of the Honor of Hashem (Yechezkel 1:28).”

The Gemara there concludes not in accordance with the opinion of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, and therefore one should not prostrate himself upon seeing a rainbow, for the following reason: In Eretz Yisroel, they criticized the practice of bowing when seeing a rainbow, because it gives the appearance that one is worshiping the rainbow.

On the other hand, the rainbow also demonstrates Hashem’s covenant that He will never again bring a flood to destroy life on earth. Yet, seeing the rainbow implies that the covenant is necessary to avoid that destruction. This is not very reassuring about the state of mankind’s behavior and Hashem’s justified wrath. For this reason, in the era of the Gemara, it was a source of pride for one to have lived in a generation when a rainbow never appeared (Kesubos 77b)!

Indeed, the Shulchan Aruch concludes the laws of reciting the brocha on the rainbow with the following: “And it is prohibited to gaze at it (the rainbow) more than necessary.” The Gemara (Chagigah 16a) reports that gazing at the rainbow is bad for one’s eyes.

As a matter of fact, the rishonim ask this question: How can one look at the rainbow to recite the brocha, if gazing at it is harmful? They answer that it is only harmful to gaze at a rainbow, but not to notice it or glance at it. Thus, when noticing it, one should recite the brocha, but not look at it again afterwards (Rosh, cited by Avudraham).

Really do come true

Let us now examine our opening question: Should you call someone’s attention to the fact that there is a rainbow? Are you supposed to look for a rainbow?

The Chayei Odom (Klal 63:4) mentions, “I saw in a work, whose name I no longer remember, that one should not tell someone else that he saw a rainbow, since this is disparaging information.” The Mishnah Berurah and the Kaf Hachayim both quote this Chayei Odom. The question is that we usually assume that we are allowed to share bad news, for example, so that people know to attend a funeral or to make a shiva visit. Why not tell people about a rainbow, so that they can recite the brocha?

The answer appears to be that although the news of someone’s passing is something not good, it is not disparaging regarding anyone. However, the appearance of the rainbow is understood to demonstrate that Hashem is telling us that He is keeping His deal not to destroy the world with a flood. This statement has highly negative connotations for the entire world’s level of ethics and morality, and we want to avoid implying anything disparaging.

An alternative, similar explanation that I once heard is that one should not call attention to the rainbow, since it might make them dejected to see how wretched and undeserving the world is.

Skies are blue

A question relative to these verses is raised by the rishonim. The pesukim imply that the rainbow was created after the mabul, as a covenant. Indeed, the Ibn Ezra explains the verse this way, disputing an earlier interpretation of the posuk from Rav Saadiya Gaon. However, scientifically, if the correct factors of moisture in the air and sunlight exist, the resultant refraction of light causes a rainbow, which means that the factors causing the rainbow existed from Creation and not only after the mabul. This question was already asked by the Ramban in his commentary, which I will now quote: “‘This is the sign of My covenant that I am providing.’ One is given the impression that the rainbow in the clouds was not existent as part of Creation, but that now Hashem created a rainbow in the Heavens… . However, we are compelled to believe the words of the Greeks, that the light of the sun through moist air creates a rainbow, since taking a vessel of water before the sun will cause something similar in appearance to a rainbow.”

The Ramban continues: “When we examine further the phraseology of the verse, we will also understand (as did the Greeks), for it says ‘I have placed my rainbow in the cloud,’ rather than ‘I am now placing my rainbow in the cloud.’” The Ramban proceeds to explain that the rainbow, indeed, existed since Creation, but now, after the mabul, it became the testimony to the covenant. In other words, an already existing item now assumed a role as a testament and reminder to an agreement or covenant. The Ramban demonstrates that there are many other examples of this in Chumash.

Text of brocha

Germane to the text of the brocha we recite, the Gemara records the following: “One should certainly recite a brocha (upon seeing a rainbow). What brocha does he recite? ‘Blessed is He who remembers the covenant.’ A beraisa teaches a different text: Rabbi Yishmael the son of Rav Yochanan ben Beroka says, ‘He is trustworthy in His covenant and fulfills His word.’ Rav Papa ruled, ‘Therefore we should recite both texts: Blessed is He Who remembers the covenant, is trustworthy in His covenant and fulfills His word” (Brochos 59a). This is the source for the text of the brocha as we recite it, Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech Ha’olam zocheir habris vene’eman bevriso vekayom bema’amaro.

Nevertheless, we find that there were other ways of understanding the conclusion of the Gemara and different versions of its concluding text. There was an old custom to recite the following text to this brocha: Ne’eman bevriso vekayom bema’amaro, Boruch Attah Hashem Zocheir habris,” “He is trustworthy in His covenant and fulfills His word, Blessed are You, Hashem, Who remembers the covenant.” This version does not begin with our standard introduction for all brochos, nor does it mention at all that Hashem is King of the world. (The Shelah Hakodesh mentions a slight variation of this text which includes also Elokeinu Melech Ha’olam in its closing.) With the exception of a brocha that is a later one in a sequel, called a brocha hasemucha lachavertah, all brochos begin with our well-known formula Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech Ha’olam. (Examples of brocha hasemucha lachaverta are the brochos of shemoneh esrei, bensching, birchos kerias shma and sheva brochos. In these instances, the brochos that do not begin with the word boruch follow other brochos.) This is not the case with the brocha on a rainbow, which is not a sequel to another brocha, and therefore should begin with the words Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech Ha’olam.

In addition, brochos that are short and not multi-themed do not have a closing of Boruch Attah Hashem. These endings are restricted to brochos that are lengthier.

Precisely for these reasons, the authorities universally reject the text Ne’eman bevriso vekayom bema’amaro, Boruch Attah Hashem Zocheir habris, since it violates the structural rules for brochos established by Chazal (Bach; Pri Megadim). The poskim contend that this errant version was based on a misunderstanding of the text of the Gemara (Drisha, Orach Chayim 229, quoting his rebbe, the Maharshal).

Different text

Tosafos quotes a slightly different version of the brocha, which might have been based on a variant text of the Gemara passage: Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech Ha’olam ne’eman bivriso vekayom beshevuaso vezocheir habris,” “Blessed are You, Hashem our G-d, King of the Universe, Who is trustworthy in His covenant, fulfills His oath and remembers the covenant” (Tosafos, Brochos 59a s.v. Hilchach I).

One of the interesting points about this text is that it mentions that Hashem swore an oath regarding the rainbow. Although this idea is not mentioned in the Torah, it is mentioned by the prophet Yeshayohu (54:9), Ki mei Noach zos li asher nishbati mei’avor mei Noach od al ha’aretz, kein nishbati mi’ketzof alayich umi’ge’or boch, “These shall be for Me like the waters of Noach, which I swore never to bring again onto the earth. So, too, have I sworn not to become angry with you or to rebuke you.” These words are part of the reading for this week’s haftarah, as well as for that of parshas Ki Seitzei.

Somewhere over the rainbow

At this point, let us discuss our third opening question: “How much of a rainbow must one see to recite a brocha?”

Strangely enough, this question is not discussed by any of the standard, early authorities. The Mishnah Berurah, in his Biur Halacha commentary, does raise this question, stating that there are no halachic sources that clarify whether one recites the brocha only when he sees the entire arch of a rainbow, which is a 180 degree arc, or even if one sees only a small section.

Dreams really do come true

Among the things one sees that require a birchas ha’re’iyah, some require a brocha only when one has not seen them in the last thirty days, such as the brochos on magnificent mountains and seas, or the brochos upon seeing destroyed cities of Israel. There are also brochos that are recited more frequently, should the occasion present itself, such as the brocha recited when seeing lightning. The halacha is that, once the storm clears, should one see lightning accompanying a new thunderstorm, one recites the brocha again. What is the halacha regarding a rainbow? In the event that a new rainbow is the result of a different rainstorm, should one recite a new brocha? The halachic conclusion of the authorities is that one does (Shaarei Teshuvah 229:1 and other acharonim.).

A land that I heard of once

At this point, we can address the second of our opening questions: Does one recite the brocha only if one sees a rainbow after a storm? What is the halacha if one saw a rainbow elsewhere, such as at Niagara Falls or at Paterson Falls, right near New York City; does one recite a brocha?

The wording of the posuk, the Gemara and the poskim implies that the brocha is recited only when the rainbow appears in the clouds, related to a storm. Thus, there should be no brocha recited on a rainbow from any other source.

Way up high

A natural phenomenon that occasionally occurs is a double rainbow, in which a reversed-direction rainbow appears in the sky, high above a lower rainbow. There is an opinion among the late poskim that one recites the brocha only when seeing this particular type of rainbow, which means that one would rarely recite the brocha of Zocheir habris ve’ne’eman bivriso vekayom bema’amaro. One can rally an earlier comment as a source for this position, since one finds that the Seforno, in his commentary to the posuk in parshas Noach, understands that this was the type of rainbow that Hashem described to Noach as His covenant.

However, the well-known later authorities who quote this opinion conclude that one may ignore it, since none of the established early halachic authorities mentions this requirement for reciting the brocha (Ben Ish Chai, Parshas Eikev #17; Kaf Hachayim, 229:4). The Ben Ish Chai mentions that if an individual, when seeing a regular rainbow, chooses to omit the mention of Hashem’s name when reciting the brocha out of concern for this opinion, one should not rebuke him for this, notwithstanding that this approach is not the accepted halacha.

Conclusion

One of the understood messages of the rainbow is that it points upward, whereas the archer’s bow, which is a weapon, is always bent in the direction of its target. Thus, one of the symbolisms of the rainbow is that Hashem is pointing the potential weapon in the wrong direction, rendering it useless.

Rav Hirsch, in his beautiful explanation of Tehillim 75, notes that Asaf prophesies the end of warfare, when man’s weapons will become useless. Thus, our major hope is that man lose interest in his ability and his incentive for all warfare, and allow for the teaching of Hashem to permeate the earth. This fulfills the famous words of the prophet Yeshayohu (2:4) and echoed by Michah (4:3), Vechitesu charvosam le’itim vachanisoseihem lemazmeiros. Lo yisa goy el goy cherev velo yilmedu od milchamah, “They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning forks. No nation will raise a sword against another, and they will no longer learn warfare.”

 

Who Drinks the Kiddush Wine in Shul?

In honor of Parshas Bereishis and the first Shabbos

Drinking in shul

Why is the Kiddush wine in shul given to a child?  If an adult is not permitted to drink before he has personally fulfilled Kiddush, can we cause a child to drink?

Background

The underlying question here is the following: The Torah commands us not only to observe the mitzvos of the Torah, but also not to cause someone else to violate the Torah. This law prohibits even causing a child to violate the Torah, notwithstanding that a child himself is not required to observe the mitzvos. Furthermore, it applies even when the child is, unfortunately, not being raised in an observant way. It is therefore forbidden for someone who has a babysitting job to feed a Jewish child non-kosher food, or to serve non-kosher food to a Jewish adult in a nursing facility or to a Jewish child in a school cafeteria.

The source

There are three different places from which we derive that it is prohibited to cause a child to violate commandments of the Torah (Yevamos 114a). These hermeneutic allusions are in the context of the following three mitzvos:

(1) The prohibition against eating sheratzim, tiny creatures.

(2) The prohibition against eating blood.

(3) The prohibition for a kohen to come in contact with a corpse.

We will soon see the significance of the three sources.

What age child?

This law applies even to a child too young to understand what a mitzvah is (Magen Avraham 343:2). Therefore, one may not use a baby blanket or baby clothes made of shatnez (Shu”t HaRashba HaChadoshos #368; Shu”t Beis Yehudah, Yoreh Deah #45; Eishel Avraham [Butchatch], Orach Chayim 343:1). Similarly, one is prohibited to feed a newborn infant non-kosher food, unless it is a life-threatening emergency (Magen Avraham 343:2).

Based on the above sources, we can now appreciate our opening question. “Why is the Kiddush wine in shul given to a child?  If an adult is not permitted to drink before he has personally fulfilled Kiddush, can we cause a child to drink?” To explain this topic better, let us examine its halachic background.

Friday night Kiddush in shul

At the time of the Gemara, Kiddush was recited in shul Friday night because of visitors who would eat their meals in guest rooms that were located adjacent to the shul (see Pesachim 101a and Tosafos s.v. DeAchlu). The fact that the guests ate their meals nearby is significant because of the principle, ein Kiddush ela bimkom seudah — one fulfills the obligation for Kiddush only when it is recited or heard in the same place where one intends to eat one’s Shabbos repast. Someone who hears Kiddush but does not eat a “meal” where he heard it does not fulfill the mitzvah of hearing Kiddush. Discussing the details of ein Kiddush ela bimkom seudah requires a separate, lengthy article; but, for our purposes, we will say that most authorities conclude that eating a significant amount of food on which we recite a mezonos satisfies the requirement of a seudah.

A bit later in history

In the era of the Rishonim, several hundred years after the Gemara, no one ate Friday night meals in the shul building, yet the custom to recite Kiddush at the end of davening was still commonly observed. Although we find many authorities who ruled that one should not recite Kiddush under these circumstances, most communities continued the practice of reciting Kiddush in shul (Tur and Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 269).

Why do we continue to recite Kiddush?

If no one fulfills the mitzvah with the Kiddush recited in shul, why did the practice continue? This question is discussed by several of the Geonim and the Rishonim, and I will present here some of their approaches.

Rav Naturanai Gaon states that one should recite the Kiddush in shul because of the benefit that hearing Kiddush has for one’s vision. This idea is based on the Gemara’s statement that taking overly-long strides damages one’s vision, and that the Friday evening Kiddush restores the vision that has been lost (see Brachos 43b). Since not every household had wine on which to recite Kiddush, the custom developed to recite Kiddush in shul for this therapeutic purpose. It appears that, according to Rav Naturanai Gaon‘s reason, no one needs to drink the Kiddush wine in shul, since its purpose is not to fulfill the mitzvah.

The Tur objects

However, the Tur, who quotes Rav Naturanai Gaon, sharply disputes the reason. This is because the Gemara explains that the basis for Kiddush in shul is for guests and not the therapeutic reason of Rav Naturanai Gaon.

Another early authority, Rabbeinu Yonah, presents a different explanation for reciting Kiddush in shul, even though the reason mentioned by the Gemara no longer applies. Rabbeinu Yonah contends that the Kiddush was for the benefit of people who did not know how to recite Kiddush and who would simply not fulfill the mitzvah at all. When these people heard Kiddush in shul, they fulfilled the mitzvah min haTorah, notwithstanding the fact that they did not observe the mitzvah as Chazal instructed, since it was not Kiddush bimkom seudah (Rabbeinu Yonah, quoted by Rosh). Thus, Rabbeinu Yonah assumes that the requirement of Kiddush bimkom seudah is a rabbinic ordinance, and that we would recite the Kiddush in shul for the sake of those who would thereby fulfill the Torah mitzvah.

Not all authorities agree with this approach. The Rosh contends that the requirement of Kiddush bimkom seudah is min haTorah. Thus, simply hearing Kiddush without eating then and there does not fulfill any mitzvah and would, therefore, not provide a satisfactory reason to recite Kiddush in shul.

Other authorities explain that reciting Kiddush in shul has a status of a takkanah, a rabbinically-ordained practice that we continue to observe, even though the reason it was established no longer applies (Rashba and Ran, quoted by Beis Yosef). (We should note that although the Tur and the Shulchan Aruch discuss the practice and logistics of reciting Kiddush in shul, they both state that it is preferred not to recite Kiddush in shul. For this reason, many shuls do not recite Kiddush Friday night. However, where the custom is to recite Kiddush in shul, one should continue the practice.)

Kiddush catch-22

Regardless which rationale we use to explain why we recite Kiddush in shul, the Tur raises the following question: The halachah requires that someone drink from the Kiddush wine (Pesachim 105b; Eiruvin 40b), and also prohibits drinking before fulfilling the mitzvah of Kiddush. Since no one is eating in the shul building, no one fulfills the mitzvah with that Kiddush, because of ein Kiddush ela bimkom seudah. Thus, whoever drinks from the Kiddush wine in shul is drinking before he has fulfilled the mitzvah of Kiddush, which is prohibited; yet, someone must drink from the Kiddush wine.

To resolve this predicament, the Tur recommends that the Kiddush wine in shul be given to a child to drink, which, he notes, fulfills the requirement that someone drink from the Kiddush wine (Tur, Orach Chayim 269).

Kiddush conundrum

However, it is not clear how this innovation of the Tur resolves the predicament in a satisfactory way. How can we give a child the Kiddush wine? As we learned above, we are not permitted to cause a child to violate halachah – and he is drinking without fulfilling the mitzvah of Kiddush!

This difficulty is raised by the Beis Yosef, who suggests three solutions to the problem:

  • All three sources of the halacha not to cause a child to violate the Torah — not to eat tiny creatures, not to eat blood, and that a kohein not become tamei from a meis — are lo saaseh prohibitions of the Torah. There are halachic authorities who rule therefore that the proscription to cause a child to violate the Torah applies only to mitzvos of at least the level of a lo saaseh, but not to any prohibition that is considered halachically a lesser offense, such as an issur aseh or a mitzvas aseh, and that it certainly does not apply to a mitzvah miderabbanan (Hagahos Maimoniyos, Shabbos 29:40). Since Kiddush is a mitzvas aseh and not a lo saaseh, it is permitted to cause a child to violate its laws. As a result. some authorities permit causing a child to eat or drink before he has fulfilled the mitzvah of Kiddush.

Although this approach can be used to justify the Tur’s proposal, the Beis Yosef notes that many authorities reject this limitation and contend that one may not cause a child to violate any prohibited action. To justify the practice of giving the wine to a child according to their opinion, we need to find an alternative reason to explain why the shul Kiddush is given to a child. Therefore, the Beis Yosef presents two other approaches to explain the practice.

Not yotzei, but may drink

  • Although, in general, one may not drink before fulfilling the mitzvah of Kiddush, there is an opinion among Rishonim that one who recites Kiddush to benefit others may drink the wine of Kiddush, even when he is not now fulfilling the mitzvah (Rabbeinu Shemuel in the name of the Sar of Coucy [one of the Baalei Tosafos], quoted by Mordechai, Pesachim, Tosefes MeiArvei Pesachim, page 35a). The Beis Yosef explains that, although we do not usually follow this position, we may have the children rely on it, as a means of resolving what to do with the Kiddush

A third approach

  • The Beis Yosef presents a third approach, perhaps the most unusual, to explain why we permit a child to drink the wine of Kiddush. Because we must recite the Kiddush and we do not want the brocha of Kiddush to be recited in vain, we permit a child to drink the wine, even though this is an act that we would otherwise prohibit.

Halachic differences

There are obvious differences in practical halachah between these approaches. The first opinion holds that one may cause a child to do something that an adult may not do, provided that the prohibition is less severe than a lo saaseh (see also Rashba, Shabbos 121a; Ran, Yoma, 1a). (Even according to this approach, because of the laws of chinuch, the child’s father, and possibly the mother, may not have him drink, if the child is old enough to be educated. Thus, this heter may not apply if the father gives his own son the wine of Kiddush in shul.) Based on this opinion, some authorities permit directing a child to carry something on Shabbos in an area where carrying is prohibited only miderabbanan, if the child needs the item (see also, Shu”t Rabbi Akiva Eiger 1:15; Biur Halachah 343). However, the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 343:1) and the Magen Avraham (343:3) prohibit this.

According to the third approach, only one child should drink the Kiddush wine in order to minimize the amount of violation performed, whereas the other two answers permit serving the Kiddush wine to any child who desires. (I note that I have never seen any place that allows only one child to drink the Kiddush. Customarily, many of the children in shul line up to sip the Kiddush wine. This practice implies that this third approach was not accepted as the reason for the custom.)

Matzoh on Erev Pesach

Here is another case where the above-mentioned approaches may disagree: May I feed a child matzoh on Erev Pesach? The Terumas HaDeshen contends that, according to the answer that the prohibition is only to feed a child something that is prohibited with the stringency of a lo saaseh, one may feed a child matzoh on Erev Pesach, which is not as severe a prohibition (Terumas HaDeshen #125). However, he concludes that if the child is old enough to appreciate the Seder, one may not feed him matzoh on Erev Pesach for a different reason — because this runs counter to the experience of matzoh being special on Seder night. (Further discussion on this topic can be found in Rama, Orach Chayim 471:2 and the commentaries thereon.)

Yet a fourth approach

Some later authorities did not feel that the approaches suggested by the Beis Yosef explain the Tur’s ruling in a satisfactory way. They therefore presented other reasons to explain why it is permitted to give a child the Kiddush wine before he has fulfilled the mitzvah. One approach is that it is forbidden to cause a child to violate a Torah law only when the prohibition applies at all times. However, it is permitted to cause a child to perform an activity that is usually permitted, but that is prohibited at this particular time. Following this reason, one may feed a child on Yom Kippur, since eating and drinking are activities that are usually permitted, even though this is a very severe prohibition for an adult (Sefer HaYashar #52). (There are authorities who rule that, according to the previous answers, one is permitted to feed a child on Yom Kippur only when it is a life-threatening emergency, but a child old enough to feed himself should not be fed by an adult, but instead be told where food can be located [Minchas Chinuch, Mitzvah 313; see also Mikra’ei Kodesh of Rav Pesach Frank, Yamim Nora’im, page 149].) Therefore, there is no problem giving a child wine before he has fulfilled the mitzvah of Kiddush, since drinking wine, in general, is a permitted activity (Magen Avraham 269:1).

Another difference in halacha

This last answer also results in a different halachic practice than that of the previous approaches. According to this last answer, one may feed a child on Yom Kippur, even when the child could feed himself. It is also permitted to feed any child before he has heard Kiddush, as long as the child is below the age of bar or bas mitzvah.

A minor kohen

At this point, I would like to discuss a related question. Rivkah Katz* asks me: “My husband and sons are kohanim. Am I required to be careful where I take my infant son?”

In the first pasuk of parshas Emor, the Torah (Vayikra 21:1) states, Emor el hakohanim benei Aharon, ve’amarta aleihem lanefesh lo yitama be’amav — Say to the kohanim, the sons of Aharon, and you shall say to them, that they shall not contaminate themselves to a dead person among their people. Since the Torah repeats the word say, we derive that there are two levels of responsibility here, and since usually it says the sons of Aharon, the kohanim, and here it reverses the order, the Torah is commanding that an adult must not cause a child kohen to become tamei (Yevamos 114a, as explained by Bach, Yoreh Deah 373). From the wording of the Rambam (Hilchos Aveil 3:12), we see that every adult Jew, even a non-kohen, is commanded not to make a child kohen tamei. This requires everyone to know the halachos of what makes a kohen tamei. One cannot have the attitude that, since I am not a kohen, these laws are not relevant to me.

We can therefore answer Rivkah’s question: She is, indeed, required to find out all the halachos germane to kohanim becoming tamei, so that she knows where she may bring her son, and where she may not.

An adult kohen

Another related question I was once asked:

“My father-in-law, who is not observant, is a kohen, whereas I am a Yisroel. Are we required to be as stringent about where we go on family outings as we would if I myself were a kohen?”

Answer:

The Rambam rules that it is forbidden for a non-kohen to make an adult kohen tamei (Rambam, Hilchos Aveil 3:5). To quote the Rambam: “If the kohen is unaware that what he did is forbidden, and the adult who made him tamei knows that it is forbidden, then the adult violates the lo saaseh. If the adult kohen knows that it is forbidden, then the other person violates only lifnei iveir lo sitein michshol, do not place a stumbling block before a blind person (Vayikra 19:14).” Chazal interpret this pasuk to mean that one may not give someone bad advice, nor cause him to violate a prohibition (Pesachim 22b).

Thus, we see that, indeed, one must be concerned about where one takes grandpa, even if he himself is not concerned. For a reason that is beyond the scope of this article, this is true even if grandpa is already tamei meis.

Conclusion

Chazal say in Pirkei Avos: “Kol she’ruach habrios nocha heimenu ruach hamakom nocha heimenu,” One who is pleasing to his fellowman is pleasing to his Creator. Being concerned that we not harm others halachically is certainly part of both our social responsibility and our halachic responsibility. When we do our mitzvos properly, others will see us and say, “He is a frum Jew — he lives his life on a higher plane of caring for others.”

*Name has been changed to protect privacy.

 

A Tale of Four Islands

A brief introduction is in order so as to explain why I chose this topic for this week. A few years ago, as a kohein, I had to change my travel plans, and instead of flying from Ben Gurion airport to Newark, I had to fly via Haifa to Larnaca, Cyprus, and then to London and Reykjavik to reach my destination. The trip whetted my appetite to find out more about Cyprus, and this article is a result.

Those who want to read about that trip can access From Haifa to Reykjavik here. Since this week’s parsha includes most of the laws of tumas meis, which was the reason why I needed to travel via Haifa, I decided to share this article.

Question #1: When in Crete, do as the Cretans do?

“I was told that when I am in Crete, I should separate terumos and maasros from the vegetables and avoid the fruit, because of concerns of orlah. Is this halachically accurate?”

Question #2: Which esrog?

“Is it better to use an esrog from Corfu, from Corsica, or from the mainland in between?”

Question #3: Which minhag should I observe?

“I am of Greek/Sefardic background, but my immediate ancestors were not observant. Should I follow Sefardic custom or Greek custom?”

Introduction:

Among the many beautiful islands that grace the Mediterranean Sea, we will discuss four whose English names all begin with the letter “C.” Although none of these four – Corfu, Corsica, Crete and Cyprus – is currently home to a sizable Jewish community, at one time each figured significantly in Jewish history. I’ll provide a short description of the location and history of each of these islands, and then address the unique role that each had in Jewish history and halacha.

Cyprus

The largest of these four islands, Cyprus, is the third largest island in the Mediterranean. (The two largest islands in the Mediterranean are Sicily and Sardinia. Although they are both sounded with what phonetics calls a “soft ‘c’,” since both islands are spelled in English with the letter “s,” we will discuss their halachic significance in a different article.) Cyprus is located only forty miles south of Turkey, east of Greece, west of Syria and Lebanon and north of Egypt. Of the four islands that we are discussing, it is the closest to Eretz Yisroel, with a distance of less than three hundred miles.

Jews in Cyprus

We know of Jews living in Cyprus as early as the time of the Chashmonayim, over 2200 years ago. The Jewish population of Cyprus has waxed and waned; at times there was a substantial Jewish community there. When the traveler Binyamin of Tudela visited the island in the 12th century, he discovered three Jewish communities: a halachically abiding kehillah, a community of Kara’im, and yet another group that kept Shabbos from the morning of Shabbos until Sunday morning but desecrated it on Friday night.

Neither Sefardim nor Ashkenazim

Although historians usually group all Jews into either Sefardim or Ashkenazim, this categorization is simplistic and inaccurate. For example, there are several different groups of Italian Jews who are neither Sefardim nor Ashkenazim, but have their own distinct customs and practices. Similarly, although the Jewish communities of twelfth and thirteenth century Provence (southern France) are often referred to as Sefardim, they followed practices of neither Sefardim nor Ashkenazim but had their own unique way of doing things. For example, they began reciting vesein tal umatar on the 7th of Marcheshvan, which is the practice of Eretz Yisroel and not of either Sefardim or Ashkenazim in chutz la’aretz.

Greek Jews

The original Jewish population of Cyprus followed neither Ashkenazic nor Sefardic practice, but rather the very distinctive practices of the ancient Jewish communities of Greece, which is called Romaniote (not to be confused with Roman or Romanian; According to my research, the origin of the term Romaniote goes back to the days when they were part of the Eastern Roman Empire, usually referred to as the Byzantine Empire, after the fall of Rome.) They have their own unique nusach hatefillah, their own tune for reading the Torah and many other halachic practices that are different from both Sefardic and Ashkenazic custom. At one time in history, the customs of the Romaniote communities were widespread throughout Salonika, Athens, and other places in mainland Greece, and among the various Greek islands, including Cyprus, Crete and Corfu. However, the massive influx of Sefardic Jews after the Spanish expulsion caused many of the Greek communities to adopt Sefardic practices. Today, few communities, if any, left in the world follow the Romaniote nusach, although some Romaniote practices are still observed by some shullen in places as diverse as Eretz Yisroel and New York.

One common Romaniote shul practice is that Aleinu is recited not at the end of davening, but at the beginning. Another is that the shulchan for reading the Torah is placed towards the back of the shul, not in the middle.

Corsica

Corsica is the fourth largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, located due west and very close to the Italian Peninsula. It is probably most famous for its native son, Napoleon Bonaparte. Historically, it has been ruled by Greeks, Romans, Goths, Byzantines and Arabs; and later by Pisa, Genoa and many others. French rule is relatively recent, only since the 18th century, and the original, native Corsican language is really a dialect of Italian. Although Corsica is legally part of France, it is both physically and culturally much closer to southern Italy than to France. For this reason, there is a troubled relationship between the French mainland and Corsica, which benefited the Jews during World War II, as we will soon learn.

Corsica was the last of the four Mediterranean islands of our article to have an organized Jewish community. Nevertheless, there is some relevant history related to Jews and Corsica, which we will discuss shortly.

Crete

Crete is the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean and the largest and most populous of the islands of Greece. It is located southeast of mainland Greece, in the southern part of the Aegean Sea, and it is less than 600 miles from the coast of Eretz Yisroel.

Crete’s known archeological history is possibly the most ancient in the world – it dates back to the time of the dispersion after Migdal Bavel. Later, Crete was the home of the ancient Minoan civilization. Afterward, it became part of the Roman Empire and then the Byzantine Eastern Roman Empire. It was conquered by the Arabs, the Crusaders, and in 1204, by the Venetians, who ruled it for over four hundred years, until it was conquered by the Ottoman Turks. Muhammad Ali (the founder of the modern Egyptian dynasty, not the boxer) desired control over it as payment for his military services to the Ottoman Empire in the Greek Rebellion (1820s), in which case it would have become part of Egypt, but he did not succeed in procuring the island.

Jewish Crete

It is known that there was ongoing Jewish settlement in Crete since the times of the Maccabees. Crete’s Jewish community was existent from the time of the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash until the era of the Nazis, but by 1941, most Jews had moved to Athens or Salonika, both of which are in mainland Greece. When the Nazis conquered Crete, less than 400 Jews were known to be on the island. Unfortunately, my research indicates that they were all killed in the war.

Halachic Crete

At this point, we can address one of our opening questions: “I was told that when I am in Crete, I should avoid eating locally grown fruit because of concerns about orlah and be careful to separate terumos and maasros. Is this halachically correct?”

The laws of terumos and maasros apply min haTorah only in Eretz Yisroel, and the laws of orlah, the fruit that grows during a tree’s first three years, are far more stringent in Eretz Yisroel than they are in chutz la’aretz. It is therefore important to know whether something grew in Eretz Yisroel or in chutz la’aretz.

It is fascinating to note that, according to a minority opinion among the tanna’im, both Crete and Cyprus have the halachic status of being part of Eretz Yisroel (see Gittin 8a and Tosafos ad locum). Allow me to explain:

In Parshas Masei, the Torah describes the western border of Eretz Yisroel:

The western border will be the Great Sea, and its territory [“ugevul”]; that will be for you the western border. (I have followed the translation of Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch that the word gevul means its territory.) According to the Gemara (Gittin 8a), the word ugevul teaches that there are islands in the Mediterranean, the “Great Sea” of the pasuk, that are halachically considered part of Eretz Yisroel. There, the Gemara quotes a dispute between tanna’im regarding which islands located in the Mediterranean are halachically part of Eretz Yisroel and which are not. Rabi Yehudah contends that the word ugevul includes any island in the Mediterranean situated directly west of Eretz Yisroel. These islands are imbued with the sanctity of the Holy Land. Since, according to some opinions, the Biblically promised area of Eretz Yisroel extends quite far north, many of the southern Greek islands, including both Cyprus and Crete, are halachically Eretz Yisroel, according to Rabi Yehudah.

However, we do not follow this approach, but that of the rabbonon. They draw an imaginary line from the northwestern-most point of Eretz Yisroel to its southwestern-most point and include only islands that are east of this imaginary line. There are few islands in this area, and certainly both Cyprus and Crete are not included (Derech Emunah, Terumos 1:89).

Corfu

Corfu, by far the smallest of the four islands we are discussing, is today part of the country of Greece. It is on the opposite side of Greece from Crete, northwest of the Greek mainland; the second largest and most northern of the Ionian Islands. On the above map, Corfu is too small to be identified, but the island in the northeastern corner of the Ionian Sea, near the border of Greece and Albania, is Corfu.

Jews of Corfu

The 12th century Jewish traveler, Binyamin of Tudela, writes that he crossed the Ionian Sea from Otranto, Italy, to Corfu. From Corfu, he sailed to Arta on the Greek mainland, and from there he traversed the rest of Greece. In his day, there was no Jewish community in Corfu, but it appears that about a century after his trip, there was what we can call a “Jewvenation” of the island. It appears that Jews arrived there from Greece to the east, and from Italy to the west. The communities of southeastern Italy (the heel of the Italian boot) – again, neither Ashkenazim nor Sefardim – had their own customs, which were usually called Puglian, taken from a geographic term applied to this area of Italy. (In English, this area is usually called Apulia.) The Puglian Jews trace their history in the Italian boot to the time of the Second Beis Hamikdash, when Jews often settled in Italy as a result of the increasing influence of the Roman Empire.

Apparently, there were two different communities in Corfu, each with its own shul and its own cemetery. After the Spanish expulsion, a new ingredient was added to the Corfu mix, when the Sefardic Jews arrived. Thus, there were three distinct kehillos in this relatively small community: Romaniote, Puglian, and Sefardic. Still later, I found reference to a fourth kehillah in Corfu following the customs of the Sicilian communities (Shu”t Haredach #11). In a relatively unknown chapter of Jewish history, there was a vibrant Jewish community in Sicily (which begins with an S, not a C) that was expelled in 1492, at the same time the Jews were expelled from Spain.

As a result of this interesting background, the Jews of Corfu spoke their own distinctive local dialect, a mixture of Greek, Hebrew and Italian. This language was distinct from that of other Greek Jews, who spoke their own dialect of Greek called Yevanic. (Think of the relationship between German and Yiddish.) The Corfu Jews were the only significant minority among a population that was otherwise exclusively Greek Orthodox.

Of the four islands that we have discussed, Corfu contained the most prominent Jewish community, including many prominent rabbonim and poskim. For example, in the early sixteenth century, the Shu”t Binyamin Ze’ev refers to the city of Corfu as boasting of a resident, Rav Shabsi Kohen, as a great talmid chacham among a community of talmidei chachamim. We have extant a heter agunah signed by this Rav Shabsi together with two other local rabbonim in the year 1510.

Not long thereafter, the rav of the Romaniote kehillah of Corfu was Rabbi David ben Chaim Hacohen (the Radach) a prominent posek who corresponded with the great Sefardic poskim of his time. He may have had a yeshiva there, since the author of Teshuvos Mishpetei Shmuel calls himself a disciple of Rabbi David ben Chaim Hacohen.

Corfu is mentioned in the context of various halachic issues in hundreds of responsa. At one point, it even boasted its own Jewish printing house.

By the nineteenth century approximately 5,000 Jews lived on the island, each affiliated with one of the various kehillos. In the course of time, the Sefardic community became the strongest and, although the other shullen were still called the Greek, Puglian or Sicilian shullen, they all davened the nusach of the original Spanish communities.

The unfortunate destruction of this once-vibrant community occurred in two stages. In the late nineteenth century, there was a blood libel, the result of which was that the majority of the Jewish community dispersed to other lands. Of course, the final blow was the Nazis, who wiped out virtually the entire remaining population of about 2,000 Jews. Today, there are less than one hundred highly assimilated Jews on Corfu among a population of about 100,000 people, and only one shul is known to still exist.

Corfu esrog

Corfu’s semi-tropical climate allowed it to make a unique contribution to Jewish history. For well over a century, it was the primary source for esrogim used all over Europe. Corfu esrogim, which were apparently predominantly grown by non-Jewish farmers, were known for their beauty. Since they were grown by non-Jews for the Jewish market, there was much halachic discussion, beginning as far back as the 18th century, concerning whether one could rely that the esrogim had not been crossbred with other species, which would invalidate them according to most opinions. (Discussions about crossbred esrogim date back to the sixteenth century, with the majority of halachic authorities ruling that one cannot fulfill the mitzvah on Sukkos with an esrog grafted onto a tree of another species.) One very prominent authority, the Beis Meir, invalidated the Corfu esrogim (responsum at the end of the Orach Chayim volume of his commentary to Shulchan Aruch), while others ruled that they were kosher (Shu”t Beis Efrayim, Orach Chayim #56; Shaarei Teshuvah 649:7; Shu”t Zecher Yehosef #232).

Corfu vs. Corsica

Esrogim also grow on Corsica, which is on the other side of the Italian peninsula from Corfu. At one point, these three areas, the two islands of Corfu and Corsica, and the Italian mainland in between, were the main sources of esrogim shipped to central and Eastern Europe. Toward the end of the nineteenth century, we find various disputing responsa regarding which esrogim were acceptable or preferable. Some authorities ruled that one may use the Corfu esrogim but not those from Corsica, while others ruled just the opposite (Shu”t Tuv Taam Vadaas, #171; Shu”t Rabbi Yitzchak Elchanan Spektor #28; also see Shu”t Sho’eil Umeishiv, Mahadura Telisa’i #144; Shu”t Or Somayach 2:1; Shu”t Tzitz Eliezer 10:11:7). Still others ruled that both of these varieties of esrogim were kosher, but that it was preferable to purchase only from Eretz Yisroel, where the modern business of growing and shipping esrogim was just beginning (Shu”t Yeshuos Malko, Orach Chayim #46; Shu”t Avnei Neizer, Choshen Mishpat #115).

In 1875, we have recorded the following halachic inquiry: An esrog retailer in Poland received esrogim from Corsica, and wanted to return them to his distributor, claiming that he had always previously received esrogim from Corfu. Is the buyer entitled to a refund?

Shu”t Beis Yitzchok rules that he is entitled to get his money back. Since the esrogim sold in that area were from Corfu, the distributor was required to tell the retailer that the esrogim were from a different source before he shipped them (Orach Chayim #108).

At this point, we can answer the second of our opening questions: “Is it better to use an esrog from Corfu, from Corsica, or from the mainland in between?”

The answer is that in the 21st century, most authorities will tell you to purchase an esrog grown in Eretz Yisroel. In earlier times, there were halachic disputes about the subject.

Corsican salvation

I mentioned earlier the troubled relationship between the French mainland and Corsica, from which the Jews benefited during the Holocaust. During World War II, France was divided into Nazi-occupied northern France, and the collaborative Pétain government, colloquially referred to as Vichy France, named for its capital. (Paris was occupied by the Nazis.) Mainland France under Marshal Pétain organized a census of its Jewish population that was subsequently used to hunt thousands of Jews who were rounded up, placed on trains and sent to the death camps. The remaining French Jews tried frantically to find shelter with those comparatively few sympathetic French people who were willing to hide them. Many fled to Corsica, where a small Jewish community existed.

Post-war historians have discovered documents from France’s Vichy government archives that imply that relatively few Jews were turned over by the non-Jewish Corsicans. According to recently published magazine articles, the Corsicans’ hatred of the French was put to good use, as the Corsicans kept the Jewish presence a secret from prying French eyes. The Corsican authorities’ explanation for not handing over any Jews was that there were none on the island. This explanation was accepted by Vichy, because the mainland, too, widely believed that hardly any Jews were in Corsica. In fact, thousands of Jews survived the war there.

Thus we see that, although none of these islands has a significant Jewish community, each was important at one time. Perhaps of greatest interest is that although Corsica’s community was always small, it ended up being a refuge that saved thousands of Jewish lives. Hashem rules the world and clearly destined that each of these islands fulfill a role in Jewish history and halacha.

 

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.