Bringing Bikkurim

When our parsha mentions Shavuos it calls it Beyom Habikkurim.

Question #1- Where?

“Is there an obligation to bring bikkurim from the Golan?”

Question #2: What?

“Must I separate bikkurim from my lemon tree?”

Question #3: When?

“I know people separate terumah and maasros and keep shevi’is, but why do I never hear about anyone separating bikkurim?”

Introduction

The opening words of parshas Ki Savo describe the mitzvah of bikkurim. Although most of us are familiar with some of the basics of this beautiful mitzvah, many are unaware of a lot of its details. Since we pray three times a day that Hashem rebuild the Beis Hamikdash where we will again be able to fulfill this mitzvah, we should be fully prepared and know all about the observance of bikkurim. In addition, we want to comprehend the parsha thoroughly, fulfill the mitzvah of Talmud Torah by understanding this mitzvah, and grow from internalizing the hashkafos associated with it. So, our task for today’s article is clearly defined.

According to the Rambam and the Sefer Hachinuch, there are actually three different mitzvos involved in performing bikkurim. The first is the mitzvah of separating the bikkurim and bringing them to the Beis Hamikdash. The second is reciting parshas bikkurim, the special reading that the Torah records at the beginning of parshas Ki Savo, and the third is a lo saaseh, a negative commandment, that the kohein may not eat bikkurim outside Yerushalayim. In the course of this article, we will discuss some of the details of all three of these mitzvos.

Here are the basics: When the first produce of the seven fruits — wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates — begins ripening, the owner/farmer marks the ripening fruit.  (I know that someone is going to criticize my calling wheat and barley “fruits,” since you will not find them in the produce department of your local supermarket. However, if you check your dictionary, you will see that wheat and barley kernels are indeed “fruits.” This explains why the Mishnah frequently refers to them as peiros.) This applies only if the farmer is working his inherited land in Eretz Yisroel, the land that his ancestors received when the land was divided among the tribes under the rule of Yehoshua.

Marking the bikkurim

The Mishnah describes how the farmer ties a ribbon or other marker around the first blossoming fruits, so that he can later ascertain which ones are his bikkurim. When the farmer marks these young, immature fruits, he declares them to be bikkurim. This declaration creates the fruit’s sanctity, its kedusha, and we will soon explain the ramifications of this kedusha. Rather than tie a ribbon around the bikkurim, the farmer may mark them in a different way, if he prefers (Peirush Hamishnayos of Rambam) — tying something to it is merely a suggestion, so that he will know which fruit he declared as bikkurim.

On to Yerushalayim!!

When the bikkurim complete ripening, the farmer places them in a basket, and, as the Torah states, he takes them to “the Place where Hashem chose to associate His Name.” Until the building of the Beis Hamikdash, the farmer brought the fruits to the Mishkan. Afterwards, he brought them to the Beis Hamikdash, as our farmers will again do when the Moshiach comes. As we will soon see, to execute this mitzvah fully, the farmer must be completely tahor, something that, unfortunately, we cannot achieve today, until we again have ashes of the parah adumah available.

The Mishnah describes the bringing of the bikkurim as a very elaborate procession, beginning at the farmer’s home village and continuing all the way to the Beis Hamikdash. “How did they bring the bikkurim? All the towns that were part of the same ma’amad (a type of district) would gather to the capital of the ma’amad.”

What is the ma’amad? In the Beis Hamikdash, there were regular shifts, not only of kohanim to perform the service, and Levi’im to serve as honor guards and doormen and to sing while the korbanos were offered, but also shifts of Yisroelim, who were called the men of the ma’amad, whose job was to pray on behalf of the rest of the Jewish people while the korbanos were being offered.

The Mishnah (Bikkurim 3:2) describes the pilgrims gathering together in the capital city of their ma’amad so that they would collectively bring their bikkurim together. During their trip to Yerushalayim, they did not enter anyone’s house, to make sure that they not become tamei, which would adversely affect their plans to bring the bikkurim. To quote the Mishnah, “They would sleep in the city street, and not enter any house. Early the next morning, the appointed head would announce: ‘Rise, and let us head towards Tziyon, to the House of Hashem, our G-d!’” paraphrasing a posuk in Yirmiyohu (31:5). For their entire journey to Yerushalayim, which might take weeks, the pilgrims bringing the bikkurim would sleep in the streets or parks of the towns they visited along the way.

The Mishnah continues: “Those people who brought their bikkurim from nearby brought fresh figs and grapes, whereas those who lived at a distance…” processed these two species into dried figs and raisins and brought them as bikkurim that way. Otherwise, by the time they arrived the fruit would not look nice, which would diminish the beauty of the mitzvah. For a similar reason, the Mishnah (Bikkurim 1:3) reports that bikkurim were not brought from areas in which the fruit is inferior, such as from date trees that grow in the mountains or inferior olive orchards.

The procession continues…

“An ox led the way, its horns overlaid with gold and a diadem of olive branches on its head, with a flutist playing ahead of the pilgrims’ procession.” This parade continued until they neared Yerushalayim. When the procession reached the outskirts of Yerushalayim, they halted temporarily, and the flute stopped playing (Mishnah Rishonah). The pilgrims sent a message ahead of them that they were about to arrive, and then decorated their bikkurim. Once the message of the pilgrims’ imminent arrival was received in the Beis Hamikdash, the officers, associates and treasurers of the Beis Hamikdash went out to greet them, at which time, the procession, with the flutist leading the way, continued towards the Holy City. When they entered the city of Yerushalayim, all the craftsmen working in the city would stand up for them as the Bikkurim-laden pilgrims passed through the city, and greet them: “Our brothers, from such-and-such a place, Come in Peace!” (Bikkurim 3:3).

“The flute continued to play until they reached the Har Habayis (the Temple Mount). When they reached the Har Habayis, even King Agrippas (should he have been one of the pilgrims, and certainly everyone else) placed his basket on his own shoulder and continued walking until they reached the Azarah, the courtyard of the Beis Hamikdash. When they reached the Azarah, the Levi’im began singing the words of Tehillim 30:2, Aromimcha Hashem, I praise you Hashem…” (Bikkurim 3:4).

Upon bringing the bikkurim to the Beis Hamikdash, the farmer makes a lengthy declaration, which is stated verbatim in the Torah. The recital of this declaration fulfills a separate mitzvah of the Torah, and is one of the ritual recitations that must be stated in the original Hebrew words of the Torah, as ruled by the Mishnah (Sotah 32a).

We are very familiar with the declaration of the pilgrim bringing his bikkurim, since the Sifrei on it forms the basic structure of our haggadah on Pesach, as required by the Mishnah. At the seder, after the son asks the four questions, “the father exposits from the words, Arami oveid avi, an Aramean wanted to destroy my father, until he completes explaining midrashically the entire passage” (Mishnah, Pesachim 116a).

The kohein and the owner perform some acts of avodah with the bikkurim in the Beis Hamikdash. After these are performed, the bikkurim are divided among the kohanim who are on duty that day.

Bikkurim have the halachic status of terumah

Because the Torah, in parshas Re’eih (Devorim 12:17), refers to bikkurim as terumas yadecha, the terumah in your hand, they have the same halachic status as terumah (Bikkurim 2:1). Like terumah, bikkurim are the property of the kohein. They are given to him as one of the 24 gifts of the kohanim, called matanos kehunah, that the Torah awards him for this service in the Beis Hamikdash and to the Jewish people. It should be noted that the primary purpose of these 24 gifts seems more for the Yisroel who is donating than for the kohein. It requires the Yisroel to have a regular, ongoing relationship with kohanim, which thereby helps to foster a rebbe-talmid relationship between a farmer, wherever he lives and works, and someone who can be totally committed to learning and teaching Torah.

Terumah and bikkurim may not be eaten by anyone except a kohein and his immediate family, that is, his wife and children, with the exception of his daughters who have married non-kohanim who may no longer eat them. In addition, bikkurim and terumah may also be eaten by the non-Jewish slaves of a kohein who have the halachic status of eved Cana’ani, which means that they accepted upon themselves that they will observe most mitzvos of the Torah and immersed in a mikveh to achieve the sanctity that this status entails.

Prior to eating terumah or bikkurim, the kohein recites a brocha, Boruch Atta Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam, asher kideshanu bikedushaso shel Aharon, vetzivanu al achilas terumah. (Some have the text vetzivanu le’echol terumah.) Blessed are You Hashem, our G-d, King of the Universe, Who sanctified us with holiness of Aharon and commanded us concerning the eating of terumah (see Rambam, Hilchos Bikkurim, 1:2). The beginning of this brocha sounds somewhat familiar to us because it is identical to the beginning of the brocha that the kohanim recite prior to duchening. Unfortunately, duchening is the only mitzvah that a kohein performs today in his special role. (The mitzvah of pidyon haben is not performed by the kohein, but by the father.) However, when we are again tahor and the Beis Hamikdash is rebuilt, this style of brocha will again be recited frequently, since brochos that begin with asher kideshanu bikedushaso shel Aharon will be recited by kohanim prior to eating terumah, bikkurim and korbanos. According to some authorities, these brochos are also recited prior to a kohein donning the bigdei kehunah, the special vestments that he wears when performing the service in the Beis Hamikdash (Artzos Hachayim, Eretz Yehudah 18:1, page 81b).

There is a dispute among halachic authorities whether a kohein’s wife recites this brocha before she eats terumah or bikkurim. The Mishnah Rishonah (Terumos 8:1) and others rule that she recites the brocha (Kovetz He’aros #47; Imrei Moshe 13:3), the Yeshuos Malko (Hilchos Bikkurim 1:2)is inclined that she does not, and the Derech Emunah (Terumos 15:145, 7:18 Biur Hahalacha, Bikkurim 1:8; see also Tzelach, beginning of Brochos) rules definitely that she does not, unless she herself is the daughter of a kohein.

Inedible bikkurim

Bikkurim share with several other agricultural mitzvah products — including terumah, shevi’is, and maaser sheini — many halachos concerning how they may be eaten and that it is forbidden to ruin them. Nevertheless, should they become inedible, they lose their special sanctity. For this reason, there is no halachic problem with using hair shampoo that includes oats or wheat germ that were originally terumah, shevi’is, or maaser sheini, since the mixing of the other ingredients makes them unappealing to the human palate, notwithstanding that it is prohibited to use terumah, shevi’is, or maaser sheini as an ingredient in shampoo.

More than terumah

Bikkurim actually have greater sanctity than does terumah, since terumah may be eaten anywhere, whereas bikkurim, similar to korbanos, may be eaten only within the walls of the halachic old city of Yerushalayim (Rambam, Hilchos Bikkurim 1:3, based on Tosefta, Challah 2:8). (The current walls of Yerushalayim have little to do with where the halachic old city was, but include areas that are outside the halachic old city and exclude areas that are halachically considered to be inside Yerushalayim for purposes of korbanos and bikkurim, such as the area today called Silwan or Ir David.)

Bikkurim are more stringent than terumah in that an onein, someone who has just lost a close relative, is not permitted to eat bikkurim, although he may eat terumah (Bikkurim 2:2).

Like terumah, bikkurim may be eaten only when the person eating them is completely tahor. If the bikkurim become tamei by contact with someone or something that is tamei, they are invalidated, just like terumah, and may not be eaten. If bikkurim or terumah become tamei min haTorah, they must be burnt, and not destroyed or disposed of in a different way. After they are burnt, there is no remaining sanctity to the ashes, and they can be used for fertilizer or any other purpose (Mishnah Temurah 33b).

Bikkurim leniencies

There are several leniencies that apply to bikkurim. For example, the responsibility of separating bikkurim rests only when the farmer owns the land, but not to a sharecropper, tenant, or squatter (Bikkurim 2:3).

If the farmer/owner fails to separate or declare product as bikkurim, the crop remains perfectly kosher for anyone to consume, including its first fruits. This halacha is quite different from terumah, in which the crop may not be eaten until terumos and maasros have been separated.

As mentioned above, bikkurim applies only to the seven fruits for which Eretz Yisroel is praised, unlike terumos and maasros, which apply to all produce grown in Eretz Yisroel.

The requirement to separate bikkurim applies only to the land that was promised to Avraham Avinu, and does not apply min haTorah to the part of Eretz Yisroel east of the Jordan River, nor to the area called Syria that Dovid Hamelech conquered (Rambam, Hilchos Bikkurim 2:1). Miderabbanan it was applied to these two areas, but Chazal did not extend the mitzvah to the areas outside Eretz Yisroel. This is different from the mitzvos of terumos and maasros, which apply miderabbanan not only to all these areas but also to the border countries near Eretz Yisroel, such as Egypt, Amon and Moav (Rambam, Hilchos Terumos 1:1).

Thus, at this point, we can answer our opening question: “Is there an obligation to bring bikkurim from the Golan?”

The answer is that min haTorah, there is an obligation to bring bikkurim only from the “Promised Land” areas of Eretz Yisroel, which are those west of the Jordan River. However, miderabbanan there is a requirement to bring them from the eastern side of the Jordan, but only when the land there produces quality fruit.

Bikkurim on lemons?

At this point, we can address the second of our opening questions: “Must I separate bikkurim from my lemon tree?”

The answer is that the mitzvah of bikkurim, applies only to the seven fruits for which the posuk praises Eretz Yisroel, which does not include lemons.

Other differences between bikkurim and terumah

The Mishnah (Bikkurim 2:4) records several other halachic differences between bikkurim and terumah: For example, there is no minimal requirement concerning how much to set aside for bikkurim, whereas maaser must be a tenth of the produce, and terumas maaser, which is taken from maaser, must be one hundredth of the produce.

Here are several other distinctions between terumah and bikkurim. Whereas one cannot declare his entire field to be terumah, there is no such law regarding bikkurim. Should a farmer want to, he could declare his entire field to be bikkurim.

Another difference is that the sanctity of terumah cannot be created until the produce is harvested. This is different from bikkurim, where the sanctity is created when the farmer declares the blossoming fruit to be bikkurim, even though it is still growing!

There are several laws that must be observed when the bikkurim are offered, which do not exist regarding terumah. For example, there is a requirement to offer a korban shelamim upon arriving in the Beis Hamikdash with bikkurim. There is a mitzvah to accompany the bringing of the bikkurim with song. The pilgrims who bring the bikkurim to the Beis Hamikdash are required to remain in Yerushalayim overnight, after offering them. None of these requirements exists in regard to terumah, which is not even brought to Yerushalayim, but given to the local kohein of the farmer’s choice.

Conclusion

Obviously, one reason for bringing bikkurim is to express our gratitude to Hashem that not only did He give us Eretz Yisrael, but He also provided us with delicious fruits, as evidenced in the viduy bikkurim, the declaration that the Torah puts in the mouth of the grateful pilgrim. Yet, the parsha extends the declaration of thanks to include praising Hashem for foiling Lavan’s evil plans to destroy Yaakov when he pursued him (Rashi, Devorim 26:5). The declaration continues recapping the history of Klal Yisrael in Mitzrayim, and the miracles that He performed for us.

The Sefer Hachinuch (#606) adds another element to the mitzvah of bikkurim. He observes that there are two positive mitzvos, one of declaring the fruits to be bikkurim and bringing them to the Beis Hamikdash, and a separate mitzvah of declaring the viduy bikkurim. In explaining the reason for the second mitzvah, the Chinuch notes that there is a special requirement on the pilgrim to verbalize his thanks. It is through the power of speech that a person can awaken himself. When a person states how much Hashem blesses him, it awakens his heart to remember that everything comes from the Master of the world.

Birkas Kohanim

Question #1: Why is this brocha different?

“Why is the brocha for duchening so different from all the other brochos we recite before we perform mitzvos?”

Question #2: Hoarse kohein

“If a kohein is suffering from laryngitis, can he observe the mitzvah of Birkas Kohanim?”

Question #3: The chazzan duchening

“If the chazzan is a kohein, may he duchen?”

Answer:

For the next several weeks, the Jewish communities of Eretz Yisroel and of chutz la’aretz are reading different parshiyos, and I am choosing topics that are applicable to both areas. This week I chose the topic of duchening, partly because I have not sent an article on the topic in many years, and because the mitzvah is in parshas Naso, and kohanim feature significantly both in parshas Naso and in parshas Beha’aloscha. Since I have discussed this topic in the past, this article will deal with issues not previously mentioned, and, therefore, not already on the website RabbiKaganoff.com.

First of all, I should explain the various names of this beautiful mitzvah. Ashkenazim usually refer to the mitzvah colloquially as duchening. The word “duchen” means a platform, and refers to the raised area in front of the aron hakodesh, on which the kohanim traditionally stand when they recite these blessings. However, in many shullen today, there is no platform in front of the aron hakodesh, and, even when there is, in many shullen there are more kohanim than there is room on the duchen. In all these instances, the mitzvah is performed with the kohanim standing on the floor alongside or in front of the aron hakodesh, literally “with their backs to the wall” facing the people.

There are at least two other ways of referring to this mitzvah. One way of referring to the mitzvah is  Birkas Kohanim, which is very descriptive of the mitzvah. I will use this term throughout this article in order to avoid confusion.

Nesi’as kapayim

The Mishnah and the Shulchan Aruch call this mitzvah by yet a third term, nesi’as kapayim, which means literally “raising the palms,” a description of the position in which the kohanim hold their hands while reciting these blessings. According to accepted halacha, the kohanim raise their hands to shoulder level, and each kohein holds his hands together. (There are some mekubalim who raise their hands directly overhead while reciting the Birkas Kohanim [Divrei Shalom 128:2]. However, this is a very uncommon practice.) Based on a midrash, the Tur rules that while he recites the Birkas Kohanim, the kohein should hold his hands in a way that there are five spaces between his fingers. This is done by pressing, on each hand, the index finger to the middle finger and the small finger to the ring finger. This creates two openings — one between the middle finger and the ring finger on each hand. Another two openings are created between the index finger and thumb on each hand. The fifth opening is between the thumbs. There are various ways for a kohein to position his fingers, such that he has a space between his thumbs. I know of several different methods, and I have never found an authoritative source that states that one way is preferable to any other. Most kohanim, myself included, follow the way that they were taught by their father.

By the way, the Gra is reputed to have held that the kohanim should not hold their hands in this position, but with all their fingers spread apart.

An unusual brocha

Immediately prior to beginning the brocha, the kohanim recite a birkas hamitzvah, as we do prior to performing most mitzvos. The text of the brocha is: Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam asher kideshanu bikedushaso shel Aharon, ve’tzivanu levareich es amo Yisroel be’ahavah. “Blessed are You, Hashem, our G-d, King of the universe, Who sanctified us with the sanctity of Aharon, and commanded us to bless His people, Yisroel, with love.”

Two aspects of this brocha are different from the standard structure of brochos that we recite prior to fulfilling mitzvos. The first change is that, instead of the usual structure that we say, asher kideshanu bemitzvosav ve’tzivanu, “Who sanctified us with His mitzvos and commanded us,” the kohanim leave out the reference to “His mitzvos” and instead say “Who sanctified us with the sanctity of Aharon.” The second change is that the kohanim not only describe the mitzvah they are performing — that Hashem “commanded us to bless his people Yisroel” – but they also add a qualitative description “with love.”

The fact that the kohanim make reference to Aharon’s sanctity is, itself, not unusual. It is simply atypical for us to recite or hear this brocha since, unfortunately in our contemporary world, we have no other mitzvos for which we use this text. However, when we are again all tehorim and when we have a Beis Hamikdash, every time a kohein performs a mitzvah that only a kohein can perform, such as eating terumah, korbanos or challah, donning the bigdei kehunah in the Beis Hamikdash (Artzos Hachayim, Eretz Yehudah 18:1, page 81b), or performing the mitzvos of offering korbanos, he recites a brocha that includes this reference. Unfortunately, since we are all tamei and we have no Beis Hamikdash, a kohein cannot perform these mitzvos today, and therefore we do not recite this structure of brocha at any other time.

“With love”

The second detail in this brocha that is highly unusual is the statement that the mitzvah is performed be’ahavah,“with love.” No other mitzvah includes this detail in its brocha, and, in general, the brochos recited prior to performing mitzvos do not include details about how the mitzvos are performed. For example, the brocha prior to kindling the Shabbos or Chanukah lights says, simply, lehadlik neir shel Shabbos or lehadlik neir shel Chanukah,and does not add that we do so “with wicks and oil.” Similarly, note that the brocha recited before we pick up and shake the lulav and esrog does not even mention the esrog, aravos and hadasim, and says, simply, al netilas lulav. Again, the brocha for washing our hands is simply al netilas yadayim, without mentioning any of the important details of the mitzvah. Yet, the brocha recited prior to Birkas Kohanim includes the word be’ahavah, with love. Why is this so?

Let us examine the original passage of the Gemara (Sotah 39a) that teaches us about the text of this brocha: “The disciples of Rabbi Elazar ben Shamua (who was a kohein) asked him, ‘Because of what practices of yours did you merit longevity?’ He answered them, ‘I never used a shul as a shortcut; I never stepped over the heads of the holy nation (Rashi explains this to mean that he never walked over people who were sitting on the floor in the Beis Hamedrash, as was common in his day — either he arrived before everyone else did, or he sat outside); and I never performed nesias kapayim without first reciting a brocha.’”

The Gemara then asks, “What brocha is recited prior to Birkas Kohanim? Answered Rabbi Zeira, quoting Rav Chisda, asher kideshanu bikedushaso shel Aharon, ve’tzivanu levareich es amo Yisroel be’ahavah.

Thus, the text of the brocha that we recite prior to Birkas Kohanim is exactly the way the Gemara records it, and that the word “be’ahavah” is part of the original text. Why is this required?

The Be’er Sheva, a European gadol of the late 16th-early 17th century, already asks this question. To quote him (in his commentary, Sotah 39a): “Where is it mentioned or even hinted in the Torah that the kohein must fulfill this mitzvah ‘with love?’ The answer is that when the Torah commanded the kohanim concerning this mitzvah, it says Emor lahem, ‘Recite this blessing to the Jewish people,’ spelling the word emor with a vov, the full spelling of the word, although it is usually spelled without a vov. Both the Midrash Tanchuma and the Midrash Rabbah explain that there is an important reason why this word is spelled ‘full.’ ‘The Holy One, blessed is He, said to the kohanim that they should bless the Jewish people not because they are ordered to do so, and they want to complete the minimum requirement of that “order,” as if it were “forced labor” and, therefore, they say it swiftly. On the contrary, they should bless the Jews with much focus and the desire that the brochos all be effective – with full love and full heart.’”

We see from this Gemara that this aspect of the mitzvah — the kohanim blessing the people because they want to and not because it is required — was so important to Chazal that they alluded to the idea in the text of the brocha, something we never find elsewhere!

Brochos cause longevity

There are several puzzling questions germane to this small passage of Gemara quoted above. What was unique about Rabbi Elazar’s three practices that he singled them out as being the spiritual causes of his longevity? The commentaries explain that each of these three acts were personal chumros that Rabbi Elazar, himself one of the last talmidim of Rabbi Akiva and a rebbe of Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi, practiced (Keren Orah, Meromei Sadeh et al). Since our topic is Birkas Kohanim, we will address only that practice: What was unique about Rabbi Elazar’s practice of reciting a brocha before performing the mitzvah of Birkas Kohanim? Didn’t every kohein do the same? So, why did the other kohanim not achieve the longevity that he did?

The Keren Orah commentary notes that the amora, Rav Zeira, is quoted as the source for the brocha on Birkas Kohanim, implying that the brocha on this mitzvah was not yet standardized until his time, and he lived well over a hundred years after Rabbi Elazar’s passing. This implies that a brocha on this mitzvah was not necessarily recited during the era of the tanna’im and early amora’im. (The Keren Orah suggests this might be because Birkas Kohanim itself is a blessing, and that we do not make a brocha on a brocha, similar to the mitzvos of birkas hamazon or birkas haTorah.) Rabbi Elazar was so enthusiastic about blessing the people that he insisted on reciting a brocha before its performance. This strong desire to bless people was rewarded by his having many extra years to continue blessing them (Maharal).

Notwithstanding that the mitzvah is such a beautiful one, technically, the kohein is required to recite the Birkas Kohanim only when he is asked to do so, during the repetition of the shemoneh esrei. We will see shortly what this means in practice.

Hoarse kohein

At this point, we will discuss the second of our opening questions: “If a kohein is suffering from laryngitis, can he fulfill the mitzvah of Birkas Kohanim?”

Let us examine this question thoroughly, starting from its sources in the Gemara: “One beraisa teaches: Koh sevarchu (‘this is how you should bless’): face to face… therefore the posuk says Emor lahem (say to them), as a person talks to his friend. Another beraisa teaches: Koh sevarchu, in a loud voice. Or perhaps Koh sevarchu means it can be said quietly; therefore, the posuk says Emor lahem, as a person talks to his friend” (Sotah 38a).

The passage that we quoted derives two different laws from the words of the posuk Koh sevarchu and Emor lahem. First,that the audience receiving the kohanim’s brocha should be facing them during the Birkas Kohanim. (In error, some people turn around while the kohanim recite Birkas Kohanim, in order to make sure that they do not look at the kohanim’s hands during the Birkas Kohanim.) The second is that the kohein should recite the brochos loud enough that the people can hear him. Although there are kohanim who shout the words of the Birkas Kohanim, the continuation of the Gemara explains that bekol ram, in a loud voice, means simply loud enough for the people to hear the kohein. However, someone whose voice is so hoarse that people cannot hear him is not permitted to recite Birkas Kohanim; he should leave the sanctuary part of the shul, before the chazzan recites the word retzei in his repetition of shemoneh esrei (Mishnah Berurah 128:53).

Why retzei?

Why should the kohein leave the shul before retzei?

Some mitzvos aseh, such as donning tefillin daily, making kiddush, or hearing shofar, are inherent requirements. There isn’t any way to avoid being obligated to fulfill these mitzvos. On the other hand, there are mitzvos whose requirement is dependent on circumstances. For example, someone who does not live in a house is not obligated to fulfill the mitzvah of mezuzah. Living in a house, which most of us do, creates the obligation to install a mezuzah on its door posts. Someone who lives in a house and fails to place a mezuzah on the required doorposts violates a mitzvas aseh.

Similarly, the mitzvah of Birkas Kohanim is not an inherent requirement for the kohein. However, when someone asks the kohein or implies to him that he should perform the Birkas Kohanim, the kohein is now required to do so, and, should he fail to, he will violate a mitzvas aseh.

The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 128:2) rules that a kohein who remains in shul is required to recite Birkas Kohanim if (1) he hears the chazzan say the word kohanim, (2) someone tells him to ascend the duchen, or (3) someone tells him to wash his hands (in preparation for the Birkas Kohanim). These three actions summon the kohanim to perform the mitzvah, and that is why they create a requirement on the kohein. A kohein who is weak such that it is difficult for him to raise his arms to recite the Birkas Kohanim, should exit the shul before the chazzan says the word kohanim (see Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 128:4 and Mishnah Berurah). The Magen Avraham and the Elyah Rabbah conclude that it is preferred if he exits before the chazzan begins the word retzei. The Shulchan Aruch mentions that the custom is for any kohein who is not reciting Birkas Kohanim to remain outside until the Birkas Kohanim is completed.

Washing hands

The Shulchan Aruch we quoted above rules that telling a kohein to wash his hands creates the same obligation to recite Birkas Kohanim as directly summoning him to recite the Birkas Kohanim. Why is that so?

This is because the Gemara rules that “any kohein who did not wash his hands should not perform nesias kapayim.” The Rambam (Hilchos Tefillah Uvirkas Kohanim 15:5) rules that the washing before Birkas Kohanim is similar to what the kohanim do prior to performing the service in the Beis Hamikdash. For this reason, he rules that their hands should be washed until their wrists. We rule that this is done even on Yom Kippur, notwithstanding that, otherwise, we are not permitted to wash this much on Yom Kippur (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 128:6). Several acharonim rule that since the washing as preparation for Birkas Kohanim is because it is considered a form of avodah, there are other requirements, including washing with a cup, with clear water and with at least a revi’is (about three ounces) of water (see Magen Avraham, Yeshuos Yaakov, Shulchan Shelomoh and Mishnah Berurah).

In many shullen, a sink is installed near the duchen, so that the kohanim can wash immediately before Birkas Kohanim. Others have a practice that water and a basin are brought to the front of the shul for this purpose. These customs have a source in rishonim and poskim and should definitely be encouraged. Tosafos (Sotah 39a s.v. Kol) concludes that the kohein should wash his hands immediately before ascending the duchen. Herules that the kohein should wash his hands within twenty-two amos, a distance of less than forty feet, of the duchen. The Magen Avrohom (128:9) rulesaccording to this Tosafos, and adds that, according to Tosafos, since the kohanim wash their hands before retzei, the chazzan should recite the brocha of retzei rapidly. In his opinion, the time that transpires after the kohein washes his hands should be less time than it takes to walk twenty-two amos, and, therefore, retzei should be recited as quickly as possible. The Biur Halacha (128:6 s.v. Chozrim) adds that the kohanim should not converse between washing their hands and reciting Birkas Kohanim, because this constitutes a hefsek.

The chazzan duchening

At this point, let us examine the third of our opening questions: “If the chazzan is a kohein, may he duchen?”

This question is the subject of a dispute between the Shulchan Aruch and the Pri Chodosh. According to the Shulchan Aruch, if the chazzan is a kohein, he should not recite Birkas Kohanim, unless he is the only kohein. The reason he should not recite Birkas Kohanim is out of concern that he might get confused and not remember the conclusion of the davening, when he returns to his role as chazzan. The Pri Chodosh disagrees, concluding that this concern was only when the chazzan led the services from memory, which, although very common in an earlier era, is today quite uncommon. If the koheinchazzan is using a siddur, which should assure that the Birkas Kohanim will not confuse him from continuing the davening correctly, he can recite Birkas Kohanim.

In chutz la’aretz, the accepted practice in this halacha follows the Shulchan Aruch, whereas in Eretz Yisroel, customs vary in different locales. In Yerushalayim and most other places, the accepted practice follows the Pri Chodosh, and the chazzan performs Birkas Kohanim.

Conclusion

As a kohein myself, I find duchening to be one of the most beautiful mitzvos. We are indeed so fortunate to have a commandment to bless our fellow Jews, the children of Our Creator. All the more so, the nusach of the bracha is to bless His nation Israel with love. The blessings of a kohein must flow from a heart full of love for the Jews that he is privileged to bless.

When Is It Not Shatnez? Part II

For part I of this article, click here.

Question #1: Nullifying shatnez

“Can a garment contain wool and linen and not be shatnez?”

Question #2: The tryout

“May I sell clothes without first checking to see if they are shatnez?”

Answer:

This week, we will continue our discussion on the topic of shatnez; more specifically, can something be made of wool and linen and not be shatnez? As we learned in the previous article, there are ways this could happen. We noted that if the linen and wool do not touch, there are rishonim who contend that the garment is not shatnez, although other opinions contend that it is shatnez min haTorah. According to the Rambam, this is shatnez min haTorah, whereas according to the Rash (Kelayim 9:1, 9) and the Rosh (Hilchos Kilei Begadim #5), it is permitted to wear this garment.

We now continue the article:

The majority rules

There is another way that a garment could contain both linen and sheep’s wool and still not be shatnez! How could this be?

When a thread is spun from a mix of fibers, the halachic status of the thread is determined by what constitutes most of the thread’s fiber content and ignores the existence of other fibers inside the thread (Mishnah, Kelayim 9:1). Halachically, the minority fiber is bateil, nullified, to the majority fiber content in the thread. Thus, threads spun from a mix of mostly cotton fiber with some linen fiber are considered cotton and may be used, lechatchilah, in a woolen garment. Similarly, if a garment consists of threads made of a blend of mostly mohair (which is goat’s hair and not wool; see previous article) and a minority of sheep’s wool fiber, and the garment is woven or sewn with linen threads, the garment is not shatnez and may be worn.

Hanging by a thread

It is important to note that linen or wool fiber is bateil only as fiber. However, a thread of linen that is woven or otherwise attached into a woolen garment renders the garment shatnez, and there is no bitul (Rosh, Hilchos Kilei Begadim #5, quoting Tosefta; Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 299:1). Once the fiber has been spun into thread, even a single linen thread woven into a large woolen garment renders the entire garment shatnez. In addition, if a spun thread is mixed into a larger thread (a process called twisting, plying or cabling), then there is a shatnez problem min haTorah, even if there is only one linen thread in a large woolen garment or vice versa.

The authorities dispute whether shatnez exists when there is noticeable wool fiber in a thread that is made mostly of a different fiber. The Rosh (Shu’t Harosh 2:5), Mishnah Rishonah and Tiferes Yisrael (both to Kelayim 9:1) seem to consider this shatnez, since the wool is noticeable. However,  the Chazon Ish (Yoreh Deah 181:9) rules that this is not shatnez, contending that the definition of a thread is its majority component, and that the minority wool component of the thread is bateil. This dispute will have the following application, which is not uncommon among today’s textiles: The thread of a garment contains a small amount of lamb’s wool in a blend that contains mostly non-wool type fibers. Thus, the wool is noticeable, although it is a minority component of the thread. According to the Chazon Ish, a garment containing this thread and linen is not shatnez, even if the threads touch, since the thread that contains the wool fiber is not considered to be a woolen thread. On the other hand, according to the other authorities mentioned, since the wool is noticeable, this garment is shatnez.

Reprocessed fibers

Many garments, quilts and other items contain “reprocessed fibers,” or “recycled fibers,” which is a nice way of saying that used or unsold clothes or fabrics were chopped up and used as stuffing. Also, sometimes used cloth and leftovers from processing are shredded down to be used as an inexpensive replacement in “cotton” garments (Shu’t Minchas Yitzchak 2:25; 6:114). Another example is baseball gloves and sometimes oven mittens, which are often stuffed with recycled fibers. Since one can never be certain what material is included in the recycled fibers, are they automatically prohibited because of shatnez?

This actually depends on two factors:

Thread or fiber?

Are the “reprocessed fibers” reduced to the fiber stage, or are there actual threads remaining? If they are fibers, then they will probably become bateil in the thread. On the other hand, as we mentioned above, threads are not bateil.

Sewn or pressed?

The second significant factor is whether the recycled materials are sewn, woven or glued into the garment or simply pressed together and inserted. If the recycled fibers are threads and are then woven or sewn into the material, the entire garment may be shatnez. If there are linen and woolen threads sewn together at any point, it is shatnez according to all opinions. If the wool and linen do not touch, but are in different parts of the garment, then the garment is shatnez according to the Rambam, but not according to the Rash.

Rav Chayim Kanievski quotes, in the name of the Chazon Ish, that one could permit clothing using recycled fiber on the basis of a sefek sefeika, a double doubt concerning the prohibition. (The same approach is suggested by Shu’t Minchas Yitzchak 2:25.) The possibility exists that this garment contains no shatnez, it is possible that the stitching process did not attach wool directly to linen, which is therefore not shatnez according to many authorities, as I mentioned above (Derech Emunah, Hilchos Kelayim, 10:2, Biurei Halachah, s.v. Levadim). Although Rav Chayim concludes that a G-d-fearing person should avoid use of this heter to wear garments made with reprocessed fiber, he concludes that one may use a mattress stuffed with reprocessed fiber, since lying on shatnez is permitted min haTorah, and is only prohibited miderabbanan. The same rationale permits using baseball gloves, which are also usually stuffed with reprocessed fibers, since the rawhide surface of a baseball glove does not provide any warmth to the hand. Since the hand is not warmed by the glove, the prohibition of shatnez is only miderabbanan. Thus, although you could corner the market by providing a hechsher on glatt kosher baseball gloves by guaranteeing that they contain no linen or reprocessed fibers, those who are lenient not to use your hechsher would have the Chazon Ish’s psak to rely upon.

I want to mention that the heter mentioned by the Minchas Yitzchak and Rav Chayim may apply only to Ashkenazim, since the Rema and many other Ashkenazi authorities rule according to the Rash. However, since the Shulchan Aruch rules according to the Rambam, Sefardim may not be able to rely on this sefek sefeika. I leave this for the individual to discuss with his halachic authority.

So, what is a consumer to do?

Although we have now learned that there are several instances in which a garment may contain wool and linen and yet not be shatnez, according to the shatnez experts I have consulted, these instances are rare. Practically speaking, any garment that may contain either wool or linen should be checked by a knowledgeable, experienced shatnez tester. In addition, men’s suits should always be checked, even if they are 100% polyester. Also, any garment that appears similar to linen or that lists “other fibers” should be checked.

The first step in checking for shatnez is to read the label. Although this cannot ascertain that the garment is not shatnez, it may tell you that it is.

I share with you the following story, which I know is true because I was there when it happened.

As a curious type of fundraiser, a frum shul conducted a men’s fashion show. Haberdashers are usually quite eager to supply the “goods” for such a show because it is free advertising, and sometimes even generates immediate sales.

While the men parade with their garments, the announcer pitches the qualities of the clothing being displayed. One fine, knowledgeable and very frum gentleman was wearing his suit while the announcer read that the garment being worn was 70% merino wool and 30% linen. Another way of describing this garment is 100% shatnez, according to all opinions.

Similarly, at one point, a popular manufacturer of quality men’s socks advertised the fact that their wool socks were reinforced with linen thread in the toe. Yet another shatnez issue exists in certain countries whose uniforms are proudly made of “linsie-woolsie”, which is a blend of – you guessed it – linen and wool!

The second step is to have garments checked by a knowledgeable shatnez checker or laboratory. Most communities have one, and if there is none available locally, one should research becoming one himself. There are also options of using UPS or registered mail to ship a garment for checking, or arranging a community visit by a certified shatnez checker.

The tryout

At this point, we can discuss one of our opening questions: “May I sell clothes without first checking to see if they are shatnez?”

In the addendum to a question on another topic, Rav Moshe Feinstein was asked whether a haberdasher is required to ascertain that any merchandise he might sell to a Jewish customer is not shatnez. Rav Moshe rules that if shatnez is commonly found in the particular type of garment, one may not sell it. It is insufficient to tell the consumers that the garments might be shatnez, since one cannot assume that the customers will have their purchases checked. Rav Moshe rules that the fact that there are other stores where they could purchase such garments does not permit selling them. However, if a particular garment is unlikely to be shatnez, he rules that one may sell it without first having it checked. He explains that although one should check such a garment, the major financial cost for the haberdasher to check every garment precludes his requirement to check them. However, the customer is required to have them checked (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 1:72).

Conclusion

Rav Hirsch (Commentary to Chumash, Vayikra 19:19) provides a very deep explanation of the mitzvah of shatnez, definitely required reading for everyone. Because of space constraints, I will oversimplify his approach, to provide our readers with a bit of a taste: Clothing is a feature of our existence that distinguishes man from animal. For man to achieve G-dliness, he must subordinate his lower faculties to his intelligence. The Divine spirit within man is to elevate all the forces within him to the nearness of Hashem, provided that man uplifts himself to Hashem with his whole being. Requiring that we separate wool from linen in our clothing symbolizes that man’s perception and willpower should not service his animal element. Man must separate the nourishment aspect of himself, represented by the vegetable part of the world, from his perceptions, represented by the animal element. The discipline of separating wool from linen in clothing reminds man to follow the laws of Hashem. For further understanding of these ideas, please see Rav Hirsch’s commentary.

When Is It Not Shatnez? Part I

Question #1: Counter-logical

“Can a garment contain both wool and linen and still not be shatnez?”

Question #2: Woolly hair?

“What is the difference between hair and wool?”

Question #3: Checking sweater

“Must I have my sweater checked for shatnez?”

Question #4: Lehisateif beshatnez?!

“May the atarah on a talis be shatnez?”

Question #5: Controversial shatnez

“May something be shatnez min haTorah according to one opinion, and be permitted to wear according to another?”

Answer:

Since the mitzvah of shatnez is mentioned in parshas Kedoshim (Vayikra 19:19), we should certainly spend a few minutes reviewing some of its interesting laws.

Wool, linen and not shatnez?

Can something be made of wool and linen and not be shatnez? Actually, there are several ways this could happen.

The English word “wool” means any soft hair that can be used as cloth, regardless of which species of animal is the source. However, the prohibition of shatnez exists only if the garment is made from a blend of sheep’s wool and linen. Wool made from the hair of other animals — such as camel, llama, alpaca, yak, rabbit or goat — mixed with linen does not become shatnez (see Mishnah, Kelayim 9:1 and Rambam, Hilchos Kelayim 10:2). The Mishnah (Kelayim 9:2) prohibits wearing garments made of a blend of silk and wool and other similar combinations because of maris ayin, which prohibits doing something that may raise suspicion that one has violated halachah. However, the Rosh (Hilchos Kilei Begadim #7) concludes that this concern exists only when the fabric is not commonly available. Once people become familiar with the textile, no prohibition of maris ayin exists.

Cashmere

Most people are surprised to discover that, at least in theory, a blend of mohair or cashmere and linen is not shatnez! Why is this? Because proper mohair and cashmere are not made of the wool of sheep, but of goats! Mohair is processed from the hair of an angora goat, which was originally bred in Asia Minor, today the Asian part of Turkey. (The name of the capital of Turkey, Ankara, used to be pronounced Angora.)

Cashmere is the wool of the Kashmir goat, which was originally native to the area of central Asia that bears this name. Although the possession of Kashmir has been disputed by India and Pakistan since these two countries came into existence, both sides agree that Kashmir is a variety of goat and not a sheep. Thus, if no sheep’s-wool thread was mixed into the mohair or the cashmere, the presence of linen in the garment will not make it shatnez.

However, please note that I wrote above that mohair and cashmere are not shatnez “at least in theory.” According to what I have been told by shatnez checkers, it is commonplace that garments labeled as mohair or cashmere include less expensive sheep’s wool. From a manufacturer’s vantage point, including merino wool (from a breed of sheep that produces high-quality wool) will not affect the feel of a cashmere coat, and customers will never know the difference.

What about the label?

May one rely on a label that says a garment is made from 100% cashmere?

According to the information I have received, there are two different reasons why not to rely on such a label without having the garment checked. The first is that the label is intended to describe only the material of the main fabric of the garment, but does not tell anything about the button-threads, backing, linings, ornaments, loops and fillings, all of which could render the garment shatnez. Thus, a coat could, indeed, be 100% cashmere, yet include a woolen lining sewn together with linen thread and thus be shatnez.

A second reason why not to rely on labels: Manufacturers of food items are usually, but not always, concerned with the accuracy of the labels on their products. (I will note that, during my many years of working in kashrus,I found instances in which companies did not feel responsible for the accuracy of their labels; but these were the exception. Most American companies that I inspected were basically concerned that the labels on their food products be accurate.) One reason for this is the potential liability that can result should someone react adversely to a food item that was omitted from the label. However, since fabric allergies are less common and, usually, less serious than food allergies, clothing manufacturers and distributors are less interested in truth in labeling. Combined with the fact that most garments are manufactured in labor-cheap, third-world countries, it should come as no surprise that it is commonplace to find mislabeled clothing.

Here is an example that demonstrates how inaccurate clothing labels are: The label of a woman’s sweater purchased in a store in Boro Park did not indicate any wool or linen. Yet, in actuality, the exterior contained wool thread, and the shell beneath it was linen, making it 100% shatnez min haTorah.

Checking sweater

At this point, we can address our third question above: “Must I have my sweater checked for shatnez?”

If it is a simple pullover sweater made from acrylic material (a synthetic fiber), without decorative ornaments, paddings, linings or buttons, there is probably no need to have it checked for shatnez. But, if the sweater has either linen or wool in it, it should be checked. Even if it appears to contain no obvious wool or linen, but there are ornaments, paddings, or linings, the possibility of shatnez increases, and one should have it checked (see Shu’t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 1:72).

Fabricated fabric

The following true story demonstrates an example of a misrepresentation with major halachic ramifications: “The importer told me that the garment was made of a blend of hemp and wool, which should involve no shatnez concern. As there was no authorized shatnez-tester in town, I did what I thought was the next best thing. I brought the garment to a shomer mitzvos tailor to check. He carefully checked the threads and guaranteed me that the garment contained no linen. Only after I wore the garment many times did I meet a Torah scholar and mentioned this incident, in passing. The talmid chacham told me that I should not be so certain, and he offered to compare the material in my garment to linen threads he had available. Indeed, he was correct: the threads in my garment were made of wool and linen, not hemp, and I had been violating a Torah prohibition the entire time!”

Does this story sound contemporary? As a matter of fact, this story happened in Vilna in 1650, as recorded in the commentary Beis Hillel to Yoreh Deah. In those days, the only “scientific” means of checking whether a material was linen or hemp was to take a sample and see if a candle would get it to burn, since hemp is more flammable than linen (Rema, Yoreh Deah 302:2). Whether one may rely on this test is disputed by the authorities (Pischei Teshuvah, Yoreh Deah 302:2, quoting Shu’t Penei Yehoshua), and, practically speaking, today’s blends are complicated, and the burn test should not be used to guarantee that a garment is shatnez-free. In any instance, we see that shatnez problems are not exclusively a result of modern manufacture, although they are certainly complicated in contemporary textiles.

Wool, linen and not shatnez?

Having established that shatnez applies only to a garment that includes sheep’s wool, can one assume that every garment containing both sheep’s wool and linen is shatnez? Actually, there are possibilities whereby a garment may contain both sheep’s wool and linen and still not necessarily be shatnez.

What if they do not touch?

If one end of a garment contains wool thread and the other end contains linen — such that the wool and linen do not touch — is the garment shatnez? Is having both wool and linen in the same garment enough reason to make it shatnez?

This question is disputed by the Rishonim, the Rash (Kelayim 9:1, 9) and the Rosh (Hilchos Kilei Begadim #5) contending that it is not shatnez, whereas the Rambam rules that it is. Based on the Rash’s approach, many attach a linen atarah decoration to a woolen talis by having a piece of cotton cloth act as the “mechitzah” between the wool and the linen.

However, the Rambam rules that wool and linen threads on different parts of a garment constitute shatnez min haTorah. In his opinion, the Torah prohibited a garment containing both wool and linen, even if the linen and wool do not touch. Thus, according to the Rambam, the separating cotton does not change the garment from being shatnez, and wearing the above-mentioned talis is a mitzvah haba’ah be’aveirah, meaning that the attempt at fulfilling the mitzvah of tzitzis is preempted by the violation of shatnez incurred when wearing it. According to the Rambam’s opinion, reciting a brocha on this talis constitutes a brocha levatalah, one recited in vain.

Thus, whether this method of separating linen and sheep’s wool in the same garment avoids a prohibition of shatnez is controversial – some permitting it, lechatchilah, and others holding that it involves a Torah prohibition and preempts fulfilling the mitzvah of tzitzis!

How do we rule?

The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 299:2) rules according to the Rambam, that a garment is shatnez even if the wool and the linen threads are separated by other materials. Thus Sefardim, who follow the Shulchan Aruch’s rulings, are prohibited from wearing such a garment. Among Ashkenazi authorities, the Rosh, the Rema (Yoreh Deah 299:2), the Magen Avraham (9:8) and the Elyah Rabbah (Orach Chayim 9:6) rule according to the Rash, whereas the Mishkenos Yaakov (Yoreh Deah Shu’t #70), the Artzos Hachayim and the Shenos Eliyahu of the Gra (Kelayim 9:1) rule like the Rambam. (We should note that, in his notes to Shulchan Aruch [Yoreh Deah 299:8], the Gra appears to accept the Rash’s approach.) Rav Chayim Kanievski notes that the prevalent practice is to follow the lenient opinion (Derech Emunah, Hilchos Kelayim 10:41).

For part II of this article, click here.

The Kosher Way to Collect a Loan

Although it is a very big mitzvah to lend money, some people are reluctant to do so because they know of loans that proved difficult to collect. Must you lend someone money if you are not sure it will ever be repaid? What do you do if you lent money to someone who seemed very honest and sincere, but now that it comes time to repay, he informs you that he is penniless? What may you do and what may you not do to collect your money? How can you guarantee that you get your money back?

Our goal this week is to address these questions.

THE MITZVAH OF LENDING MONEY

The Torah requires us to lend money to a poor Jew who needs it (Rambam, Hilchos Malveh 1:1). This is stated in the pasuk, “Im kesef talveh es ami, es he’ani imach – When you lend money to My people, to the poor person among you” (Shemos 22:24). Chazal explain that the word “Im” in this pasuk should not be translated as “If,” which implies that it is optional, but as a commandment, “When you lend…” (Mechilta). Poskim even discuss whether we recite a bracha on this mitzvah, just as we recite one on tefillin, mezuzah and other mitzvos (Shu”t HaRashba #18). Although the halacha is that we do not recite a bracha, the question itself shows us the importance of the mitzvah of lending money.

It is a greater mitzvah to lend someone money, which maintains his self-dignity, than it is to give him tzedakah, which is demeaning (Rambam, Hilchos Malveh 1:1). There is a special bracha from Hashem to people who lend money to the poor.

I should not become upset if a poor person returns to borrow money from me shortly after repaying a previous loan. My attitude should be similar to a storekeeper: “Do I become angry with a repeat customer? Do I feel that he is constantly bothering me?” Similarly, one should not turn people away without a loan, but rather view it as a new opportunity to perform a mitzvah and to receive additional brachos (Ahavas Chesed 1:7).

One should also lend money to wealthy people who need a loan, but this is not as great a mitzvah as lending to the poor.

Someone with limited available funds and has requests for loans from family members and non-family members, and cannot lend to both, should lend to family members. Similarly, if he must choose to whom to lend, he should lend to a closer family member rather than to a more distant one.

By the way, one may lend money to a poor person with the understanding that if the borrower defaults, the lender will subtract the sum from his tzedakahmaaser calculation (Pischei Choshen, Volume 1, p. 4).

WHAT IF I KNOW THE BORROWER IS A DEADBEAT?

I am not required to lend money if I know that the borrower squanders money and does not repay (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 97:4). It is better not to lend if I know that the borrower will squander the money and probably not pay it back.

THE RESPONSIBILITIES OF THE BORROWER

Someone who borrows money must make sure to pay it back. One may not borrow money that he does not think he will be able to repay. A person who squanders money and therefore does not repay his loans is called a rasha (Rambam, Hilchos Malveh 1:3).

The borrower is required to pay his loans on time. If his loan is due and he cannot pay them, he is required to use his household items, if necessary, to pay his debt (Nesivos 86:2; Graz, Hilchos Halvaah 1:5). Similarly, he may not make significant contributions to tzedakah (Sefer Chassidim #454). He may not purchase a lulav and esrog if he owes money that is due; instead, he should borrow someone else’s (see Pischei Teshuvah, Choshen Mishpat 97:8). He must use whatever money he has available to pay his debts.

It is strictly forbidden to pretend that he does not have money to pay his debts or even to delay paying them if he does have the money, and it is similarly forbidden for him to hide money so that the lender cannot collect. All this is true even if the lender is very wealthy.

COLLECTING BAD DEBTS

Most people who borrow are careful to repay their debts and do so on time. However, it happens occasionally that someone who intended to pay back on time is faced with circumstances that make it difficult for him to repay.

There is a prohibition in the Torah, “Lo siheyeh lo k’nosheh – Do not behave to him like a creditor” (Shemos 22:24). Included in this prohibition is that it is forbidden to demand payment from a Jew when I know that he cannot pay (Rambam, Hilchos Malveh 1:2). The lender may not even stand in front of the borrower in a way that might embarrass or intimidate him (Gemara Bava Metzia 75b; Rambam, Hilchos Malveh 1:3).

However, if the lender knows that the borrower has resources that he does not want to sell, such as his house, his car, or his furniture, he may hassle the borrower since the borrower is halachically required to sell these properties in order to pay his loan. (See Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 97:23 for a list of which items he must sell to pay his debt.) Furthermore, the lender may sue in beis din for the right to collect these items as payment.

(Technically, it is not the borrower’s responsibility to sell the items and bring the cash to the lender; he may give the items to the lender as payment. The lender must then get a beis din or a panel of three experts to evaluate the property he has received. If he needs to hire experts to make the evaluation, the expenses are added to the debt. Of course, the lender and borrower can agree to whatever terms are mutually acceptable without involving expert evaluation, provided that no ribbis [interest] prohibition is created. The vast subject of ribbis is beyond the scope of this article.)

The borrower is in a very unenviable position. He owes money that he would like to pay, but he is overwhelmed with expenses and he simply does not earn enough money to pay all his creditors. He knows he could sell his house or his furniture to pay up, but he really does not want to do that to his family. He should try to appease the lender in whatever way he can (for example, by asking for an extension) and he should certainly try to find other sources of income and figure out how to trim his expenses. But he should realize that he is obligated even to sell his household goods to pay his creditors. Someone who uses his money to purchase items that are not absolutely essential instead of paying back money that is overdue demonstrates a lack of understanding of the Torah’s priorities.

The lender may not enter the borrower’s house to seize collateral or payment. Some poskim contend that the lender may seize property that is not in the borrower’s house or on his person (see Pischei Choshen, Vol. 1, pg. 96). Furthermore, there are poskim who rule that if the borrower has the means to pay but isn’t paying, the lender may enter the borrower’s house and take whatever he can (Shu”t Imrei Binah, Dinei Geviyas Chov chapter 2; Pischei Choshen, Vol. 1, p. 100). One should not rely on this approach without first asking a shaylah.

If the borrower claims that he has absolutely nothing to pay with, the beis din can require him to swear an oath to that effect (Rambam, Hilchos Malveh 2:2).

A lender who feels that the borrower is hiding money or property may not take the law into his own hands to collect, but may file a claim in beis din. If the lender feels that the borrower will not submit to beis din’s authority, he should ask the beis din for authorization to sue in secular courts – but it is forbidden for him to sue in a secular court without first receiving halachic approval.

HOW CAN I GUARANTEE THAT I GET MY MONEY BACK?

As most of us have no doubt experienced at one time or another, it is not pleasant to be owed money that is not repaid. The lender is entitled to be repaid.

Is there a way that I can lend money and guarantee that I get in back?

First of all, the lender must make sure that he can prove the loan took place. This is actually a halacha; it is forbidden to lend money without witnesses or other proof because of concern that this may cause the borrower to sin by denying that the loan exists (Bava Metzia 75b).

All of this is protection only against a borrower denying that he borrowed, which is fortunately a rare occurrence. What we want to explore is ways that the lender can fulfill his mitzvah of lending to a needy person while making sure that the loan does not become permanent.

CO-SIGNERS

The most common method used to guarantee the repayment of a loan is by having someone with reliable finances and reputation co-sign for the loan. In halacha, this person is called an areiv. In common practice, if the borrower defaults, the lender notifies the co-signer that he intends to collect the debt. Usually what happens is that when the lender calls the co-signer, suddenly the borrower shows up at the door with the money.

There are several types of areiv recognized by halacha. The most common type, a standard co-signer, is obligated to pay back the debt, but only after one has attempted to collect from the borrower. If the borrower does not pay because he has no cash, but he has property, the areiv can legitimately claim that he is not responsible to pay. The lender would need to summon the borrower and the areiv to beis din in order to begin payment procedures. Most people who lend money prefer to avoid the tediousness this involves.

One can avoid some of this problem by having the co-signer sign as an areiv kablan. This is a stronger type of co-signing, whereby the lender has the right to make the claim against the co-signer without suing the borrower first.

The primary difficulty with this approach is that it might make it difficult for the borrower to receive his loan, since many potential co-signers do not want to commit themselves to be an areiv kablan.

ANOTHER APPROACH

Is there another possibility whereby one can still provide the chesed to the potential borrower and yet guarantee that the money returns?

Indeed there is. The Chofetz Chayim (Ahavas Chesed 1:8) suggests that if you are concerned that the proposed borrower may default, you can insist on receiving collateral – a mashkon to guarantee payment.

Having a loan collateralized is a fairly secure way of guaranteeing that the loan is repaid, but it is not totally hassle-free. There are three drawbacks that might result from using a mashkon to guarantee the repayment of the loan. They are:

1. Responsibility for the mashkon.

2. Evaluation of the mashkon.

3. Converting the mashkon into cash.

1. Responsibility for the mashkon.

When the lender receives the mashkon, he becomes responsible to take care of it. If it is lost or stolen, the value of the collateral will be subtracted from the loan (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 72:2). If the collateral is worth more than the loan, the lender might be required to compensate the borrower for the difference. (See dispute between Shulchan Aruch and Rama, ibid.) However, the creditor is not responsible for the mashkon if it is lost or damaged because of something that halacha considers beyond his responsibility.

2. Evaluation of the mashkon.

When keeping the collateral to collect the debt, the mashkon must either be evaluated by a panel of three experts before it can be sold (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 73:15 and Ketzos), or must be sold with the involvement of beis din (Shach), to protect the borrower’s rights. Some creditors find this step tedious.

However, there are methods whereby one can use a mashkon to guarantee a loan and avoid having the mashkon evaluated afterward.

When arranging the loan, the lender tells the borrower of the following condition: If the loan is not paid when due, the buyer agrees to rely on the lender’s evaluation of its worth (Pischei Choshen, Vol. 1, pg. 145).

An alternative is for the lender to tell the borrower: If you do not pay by the day the loan is due, then retroactively this is not a loan but a sale. At that point, the collateral becomes mine in exchange for the value of the loan. This is permitted even if the mashkon is worth far more than the loan, and does not involve any violation of ribbis (prohibited charging of interest), since, retroactively, a sale took place rather than a loan (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 73:17).

3. Converting the mashkon into cash.

PROPER ATTITUDE TOWARD THE MITZVAH

At times, lenders have asked me for a method whereby they can be certain to get their money back, and I have suggested the collateral method. Sometimes I receive the following response: I don’t want to be bothered with selling the mashkon to get my money back. If I think the borrower is a risk, then I would rather not lend to him.

Do we have the same attitude toward other mitzvos we perform? Do we say that we want to perform mitzvos only when they are without complications? Certainly not! However, the yetzer hora convinces us that lending money is a good deed that I need to perform only when it is convenient and when I feel like being benevolent, not when it is going to result in a hassle.

SHLEMIEL, THE BORROWER

Nachman once came to me with the following shaylah:

Shlemiel used to borrow money from Nachman regularly, and although Shlemiel always repaid the loan, he often did so long after the due date. Nachman wanted to know what he could do about this situation. He wanted to perform the tremendous mitzvah of lending money, but he wanted his money back in a reasonable time.

I suggested to Nachman that he tell Shlemiel that the loan was available, but only if Shlemiel produced a mashkon and agreed to the above conditions. Since my suggestion, Nachman has been zocheh to fulfill the mitzvah of lending money to Shlemiel many times, and not once has a repayment been late! Think of how many brochos Nachman has received from Hashem because he is willing to subject himself to the “hassle” of transporting the mashkon to a secure place and being willing to sell it should the need arise!

Why do people view loaning money as an optional “good deed” rather than as a commandment? The Chofetz Chayim (Ahavas Chesed 2:8) raises this question and mentions several excuses people make to avoid lending money. After listing these reasons, the Chofetz Chayim proceeds to refute each one of them. Simply put, the answer to this question is the old Yiddish expression, “Ven es kumt tzu gelt, iz an andere velt – When people deal with their money, they tend to act totally differently.” Truthfully, people find it difficult to part with their money, even temporarily. This is precisely why one receives such immense reward for lending. As Chazal teach us, “lefum tzaara agra – the reward is commensurate to the difficulties involved.”

How Does Someone Convert to Judaism?

When our ancestors accepted responsibility to observe the Torah, they did so by performing bris milah, immersing in a mikveh, and offering a korban. In the same way, a non-Jew who chooses to join the Jewish people is entering the same covenant and must follow a similar procedure (Kerisus 9a).

The privilege of becoming a geir tzedek comes with very exact and exacting guidelines. On a technical level, the geir is accepting responsibility to perform mitzvos. Through the geirus procedure, he creates an obligation upon himself to observe mitzvos (Birchas Shmuel, Kiddushin #15).

DEFINITION OF A JEW

To the non-Jewish or non-observant world, the definition of a Jew is based on sociological criteria. But to the Torah Jew, the definition of a Jew is someone who is a member of a people who are obligated to fulfill all of the Torah’s commandments. For this reason, it is axiomatic that no one can become Jewish without first accepting the responsibility to observe mitzvos (kabbalas mitzvos). This concept, so obvious to the Torah Jew, is almost never appreciated by the non-observant. Someone who does not (yet) observe mitzvos himself usually does not appreciate why observing mitzvos is imperative to becoming Jewish. This is why a not-yet-observant Jew often finds our requirements for giyur to be “unrealistic” or even “intolerant.” However, in reality, attempting to bend the Torah’s rules reflects intolerance, or, more exactly, a lack of understanding. The Torah Jew realizes that the basic requirement for becoming a Jew is accepting Hashem’s commandments, since a Jew is, by definition, someone who is committed to leading his life in its every detail according to the laws of the Torah.

DISCOURAGE CONVERTS

As we all know, when someone requests to be converted to Judaism, we discourage him. As the Gemara (Yevamos 47a) says, if a potential convert comes, we ask him, “Why do you want to convert? Don’t you know that Jews are persecuted and dishonored? Constant suffering is their lot! Why do you want to join such a people?”

Why do we discourage a sincere non-Jew from joining Jewish ranks? Shouldn’t we encourage someone to undertake such a noble endeavor?

The reason is that, even if the potential convert is sincerely motivated, we still want to ascertain that he or she can persevere to keep the mitzvos, even under adversity. Although we can never be certain what the future will bring, by making the path to conversion difficult, we are helping the potential convert who might later regret his conversion, when the going gets rough. Because of this rationale, some batei din deliberately make it difficult for a potential convert, as a method of discouraging him. As the Gemara explains, we tell him, “Until now you received no punishment if you did not keep kosher. There was no punishment if you failed to observe Shabbos. If you become Jewish, you will receive very severe punishments for not keeping kosher or Shabbos!” (Yevamos 47a)

I have used a different method of discouragement, by informing potential converts of the seven mitzvos bnei Noach. In so doing, I point out that they can merit olam haba without becoming obligated to keep all the Torah’s mitzvos. In this way, I hope to make them responsible, moral non-Jews, without their becoming Jewish.

I once met a woman who was enthusiastically interested in becoming Jewish. Although she was living in a town with no Jewish community – she was keeping a kosher home!

After I explained the mitzvos of bnei Noach to her, she insisted that this was not enough for her. She wanted to be fully Jewish.

Because of her enthusiasm, I expected to hear from her again. I was wrong. Perhaps her tremendous enthusiasm petered out. Alternatively, and more likely, she found a different way to consider herself Jewish, either on the basis of her grandfather’s Judaism, or a “conversion” that was more “flexible.”

Had we accepted her for conversion immediately, she would have become a sinning Jew, instead of a very observant non-Jew, which is what she is now. These are the exact issues that Chazal were concerned about. Therefore, they told us to make it difficult for someone to become Jewish, to see whether his or her commitment survives adversity. It was better that this woman’s enthusiasm waned before she became Jewish than after she became Jewish and had no way out.

The following story from my personal experience is unfortunately very common. A gentile woman, eager to marry an observant Jewish man, agreed to fulfill all the mitzvos as a requirement for her conversion. (As we will point out shortly, this is not a recommended procedure.) Although she seemed initially very excited about observing mitzvos, with time she began to lose interest. In the end, she gave up observance completely. The unfortunate result is that she is now a chotei Yisrael (a Jew who sins).

MOTIVATION FOR CONVERTING

We must ascertain that the proposed convert wants to become Jewish for the correct reasons. If we discern or suspect that there is an ulterior reason to convert, we do not accept the potential convert, even if he is committed to observing all the mitzvos.

For this reason, converts are not accepted at times when there is political, financial, or social gain in being Jewish. For example, no converts were accepted in the days of Mordechai and Esther, nor in the times of Dovid and Shelomoh, nor will geirim be accepted in the era of the Moshiach. During such times, we suspect that the convert is somewhat motivated by the financial or political advantages in being Jewish (Yevamos 24b). This applies even if we are certain that he will observe all the mitzvos.

Despite this rule, unlearned Jews created “batei din” during the reign of Dovid HaMelech and accepted converts against the wishes of the beis din hagadol (Rambam, Hilchos Issurei Bi’ah 13:15). There is much literature on whether these geirim are accepted, but, if indeed their conversion was sincere and afterward it is obvious that this is true, they will be accepted.

The Rambam explains that the “non-Jewish” wives that Shlomoh married were really insincere converts. In his words, “In the days of Shlomoh, converts were not accepted by the official batei din…however, Shlomoh converted women and married them…and it was known that they converted for ulterior reasons and not through the official batei din. For this reason, the pasuk refers to them as non-Jews…furthermore, the end bears out that they worshipped idols and built altars to them” (Rambam, Hilchos Issurei Bi’ah 13:15-16).

Because of this rule, we do not accept someone who is converting because he or she wants to marry someone who is Jewish, even if the convert is absolutely willing to observe all the mitzvos (Yevamos 24b). I have seen numerous instances of non-Jews who converted primarily for marriage and who agreed to keep all the mitzvos at the time of the conversion. Even in the instances where mitzvos were indeed observed initially, I have seen very few situations where mitzvos were still being observed a few years (or even months) later.

GEIRUS WITH IMPROPER MOTIVATION

What is the halachic status of someone who went through the geirus process for the wrong reasons; for example, they converted because they wanted to marry someone?

If the convert followed all the procedures, including full acceptance of all the mitzvos, the conversion is valid, even though we disapprove of what was done. If the convert remains faithful to Jewish observance, we will treat him with all the respect due to a Jew. However, before reaching a decision as to his status, the beis din waits a while, to see whether the convert is indeed fully committed to living a Jewish life (Rambam, Issurei Bi’ah 13:15-18).

However, someone who is not committed to mitzvah observance and just goes through the procedures has not become Jewish at all.

Jim was interested in “converting to Judaism” because his wife was Jewish, and not because he was interested in observing mitzvos. At first, he went to a Rav who explained that he must observe all the mitzvos, and certainly they must live within a frum community. This was not what Jim had in mind, so he went shopping for a “rabbi” who would meet his standards. Who would believe that there is any validity to this conversion?

CONVERSION PROCESS

How does a non-Jew become Jewish? As mentioned above, Klal Yisrael joined Hashem’s covenant with three steps: bris milah (for males), immersion in a mikveh, and offering a korban (Kerisus 9a). Since no korbanos are brought today, the convert becomes a geir without fulfilling this mitzvah. (We derive from a pasuk that geirim are accepted even in generations that do not have a Beis HaMikdash.) However, when the Beis HaMikdash is iy”H rebuilt, every geir will be required to offer a korban olah which is completely burnt on the mizbei’ach (Rambam, Hilchos Issurei Bi’ah 13:5). Those who have already become geirim will become obligated to bring this korban at that time.

Besides these three steps, the convert must accept all the mitzvos, just as the Jews originally took upon themselves the responsibility to observe all the mitzvos.

Preferably, each step in the geirus procedure should be witnessed by a beis din. Some poskim contend that the bris and tevilah are valid even if not witnessed by a beis din. But all poskim agree that if the kabbalas (accepting) mitzvos does not take place in the presence of a beis din, the conversion is invalid (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 268:3). Thus, a minimal requirement for proper giyur (conversion) is that the geir’s commitment to observe all the mitzvos and practices of a Jew be made in the presence of a kosher beis din. Any “conversion” with no commitment to mitzvos is, by definition, invalid and without any halachic foundation.

Unfortunately, some well-intentioned converts have been misled by people purporting to be batei din for geirus. I know of more than one situation in which people underwent four different conversion procedures, until they performed a geirus in the presence of a kosher beis din with proper kabbalas mitzvos!

KABBALAS MITZVOS

As mentioned above, kabbalas mitzvos is a verbalized acceptance to observe all the Torah’s mitzvos. We do not accept a convert who states that he is accepting all the mitzvos of the Torah except for one (Bechoros 30b). Rav Moshe Feinstein discusses a woman who was interested in converting and was willing to fulfill all the mitzvos, except the requirements to dress in a halachically tzenuah manner. Rav Moshe rules that it is questionable if her geirus is valid (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 3:106).

If the potential convert states that he/she accepts responsibility to fulfill all the mitzvos, we usually assume that the geirus is valid. However, what is the halacha if a person declares that he accepts the mitzvos, but his behavior indicates the opposite? For example, what happens if the convert eats non-kosher food or desecrates Shabbos immediately following his conversion procedure? Is he considered Jewish?

Rav Moshe Feinstein rules that, when it is clear that the person never intended to observe mitzvos, the conversion is invalid. The person remains a non-Jew, since he never undertook kabbalas mitzvos, which is the most important component of geirus (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 1:157; 3:106).

BEIS DIN

As mentioned before, conversion is an act that requires a proper beis din, meaning minimally, three fully observant male Jews.

Since a beis din cannot perform a legal function at night or on Shabbos or Yom Tov, conversions cannot be performed at these times (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 268:4).

CHILD CONVERSION

Until now we have discussed the conversion of adults. A child can also be converted to Judaism (Kesubos 11a). There are two common reasons why this is done: either when the child’s parents are converting to Judaism, or when a non-Jewish child is adopted by Jewish parents.

The conversion of a child involves an interesting question. As we explained above, the convert’s acceptance of the mitzvos is the main factor that makes him into a Jew. However, since a child is too young to assume legal obligations and responsibilities, how can his conversion be valid when it is without a legal acceptance of mitzvos?

The answer is that we know that children can be converted from the historical precedent of Sinai, where the Jewish people accepted the Torah and mitzvos. Among them were thousands of children who also joined the covenant and became part of klal Yisrael. When these children became adults, they became responsible to keep mitzvos (Tosafos, Sanhedrin 68b). Thus, in the case of giyur katan, the geirus process consists of bris milah and immersion in a mikvah.

There is, however, a qualitative difference between a child who becomes part of the covenant together with his parents and an adopted child who is becoming Jewish without his birth parents. In the former case the parent assumes responsibility for the child’s decision (Kesubos 11a; Rashi, Yevamos 48a s.v. eved), whereas an adoptive parent cannot assume this role in the conversion process. Instead, the beis din supervising the geirus acts as the child’s surrogate parents and assumes responsibility for his geirus. This same approach is used if a child comes of his own volition and requests to be converted (Mordechai, Yevamos 4:40).

CAN THE CHILD REJECT THIS DECISION?

Yes. If the child convert decides upon reaching maturity that he does not want to be Jewish, he invalidates his conversion and reverts to being a gentile. The age at which a child can make this decision is when he or she becomes obligated to observe mitzvos, twelve for a girl and thirteen for a boy (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 1:162).

CAN HE CHANGE HIS MIND LATER IN LIFE?

No. Once the child achieves maturity and is living an observant lifestyle, this is considered an acceptance of the conversion that cannot be rejected afterwards.

WHAT IF THE CHILD CONVERT WAS UNAWARE THAT HE WAS A GEIR AND DID NOT KNOW THAT HE HAD THE OPTION?

Rav Moshe Feinstein discusses the case of a couple that adopted a non-Jewish child but did not want to tell him that he was adopted. (Not telling the child he is adopted may be inadvisable for psychological reasons, but this is an article on halacha, not psychology.) Rav Moshe raises the following halachic reason why the parents should tell the child that he is a convert. Assuming that the child knows he is a child convert, he has the option to accept or reject his Judaism when turning bar mitzvah (or bas mitzvah for a girl), which is a time that the parents have much influence on their child. Subsequent to this time, he cannot opt out of Judaism. However, if he does not discover that he is a convert until he becomes an adult, he would have the option at that time to accept or reject his Judaism, and the parents have limited influence on his decision.

WHAT IF THE CHILD WANTS TO BE A NON-OBSERVANT JEW?

What is the halacha if the child at age thirteen wants to be Jewish, but does not want to be observant?

There is a dispute among poskim whether this constitutes a rejection of one’s conversion. Some contend that not observing mitzvos is not the same as rejecting conversion; the conversion is only undone if the child does not want to be Jewish. Others contend that not observing mitzvos is considered an abandonment of one’s being Jewish.

Many years ago I asked my rebbe, Rav Yaakov Kulefsky zt”l, about the following situation. A boy underwent a giyur katan and was raised by non-observant “traditional” parents who kept a kosher home but did not observe Shabbos. The boy wanted to be Jewish without being observant, just like his adoptive parents. The family wanted to celebrate his bar mitzvah in an Orthodox shul and have the boy read from the Torah. Was this permitted or was the boy considered non-Jewish?

Rav Kulefsky, zt”l, paskened that the boy could read from the Torah and was considered halachically Jewish. Other poskim disagree, contending that being halachically Jewish requires acknowledging the mitzvos we must perform. Someone who rejects the mitzvos thereby rejects the concept of being Jewish.

GEIRIM ARE SPECIAL

If a potential geir persists in his determination to join the Jewish people, the beis din will usually recommend a program whereby he can learn about Judaism and set him on track for giyur. A geir tzedek should be treated with tremendous love and respect. Indeed, the Torah gives us a special mitzvah to “Love the Geir,” and we daven for them daily in our Shmoneh Esrei!

Throughout the years, I have met many sincere geirim and have been truly impressed by their dedication to Torah and mitzvos. Hearing about the journey to find truth that brought them to Judaism is usually fascinating. What would cause a gentile to join the Jewish people, risk confronting the brunt of anti-Semitism, while at the same time being uncertain that Jews will accept him?  Sincere converts are drawn by the truth of Torah and a desire to be part of the Chosen People. They know that they can follow the will of Hashem by doing seven mitzvos, but they insist on choosing an all-encompassing Torah lifestyle.

One sincere young woman, of Oriental background, stood firmly before the beis din. “Why would you want this?” questioned the Rav.

“Because it is truth and gives my life meaning.”

“There are many rules to follow,” he cautioned.

“I know. I have been following them meticulously for two years,” was the immediate reply. “I identify with the Jews.”

After further questioning, the beis din authorized her geirus, offering her two dates convenient for them. She chose the earlier one, so she could keep one extra Shabbos.

We should learn from the geir to observe our mitzvos every day with tremendous excitement – just as if we had received them for the first time!

Redeeming a Firstborn Donkey!

As a cohen, I often participate in the mitzvah of pidyon haben, redeeming a firstborn male child, a bechor; but I have never been asked to participate in redeeming a firstborn donkey, in Hebrew called petter chamor.

The Torah mentions this mitzvah in three different places.

(1) In Parshas Bo, the pasuk says: Every firstborn donkey, you shall redeem with a “seh,” and if you do not redeem it, you should break its neck. Furthermore, the firstborn of your children, you shall also redeem (Shemos 13:13). (I will explain later why I did not translate the world “seh.”)

(2) The pasuk repeats the same commandment almost verbatim in Parshas Ki Sissa (Shemos 34:20).

(3) In Parshas Korach, the Torah states: And the firstborn of a non-kosher animal you shall redeem (Bamidbar 18:15). Although this third verse does not mention specifically that it refers to a donkey, the halacha is that it refer exclusively to donkeys. There is no mitzvah to redeem a firstborn colt, camel, or puppy (Tosefta, Bechoros 1:2).

WITH WHAT DO WE REDEEM?

As mentioned above, the Torah commands the owner of a firstborn male donkey to redeem him by giving the cohen a seh, a word we usually translate as lamb. However, the word seh in the Torah does not mean only a lamb, but includes a kid goat (Mishnah Bechoros 9a). (In the mitzvah of Korban Pesach, Shemos 12:5, the Torah mentions this explicitly.) In actuality, one fulfills this mitzvah by giving the cohen either a sheep or a goat to redeem the donkey – whether they are young or mature, male or female (Mishnah Bechoros 9a). Furthermore, there is an alternative way to fulfill the mitzvah — by redeeming the donkey with anything that is worth at least as much as the donkey (Bechoros 11a). However, if the owner redeems the donkey with a sheep or goat, he fulfills the mitzvah, even though the sheep or goat is worth far less than the donkey (Rambam, Hilchos Bikkurim 12:11).

As we saw above, the Torah mentions the mitzvah of pidyon haben immediately after discussing the mitzvah of redeeming the firstborn donkey. Based on this juxtaposition of the two mitzvos, Chazal made several comparisons between them. For example, just as the mitzvah of pidyon haben applies only to a male child, so, too, the mitzvah of petter chamor applies only to a firstborn male donkey and not to a female. Similarly, just as the child of a cohen or levi is exempt from the mitzvah of pidyon haben, so, too, a donkey that is owned (or even partially owned) by a cohen or levi is exempt from the mitzvah of petter chamor (see Mishnah Bechoros 3b). And just as a newborn child whose mother is the daughter of a cohen or a levi is exempt from the mitzvah of pidyon haben, so, too, a donkey that is owned or even partially owned by the daughter of a cohen or a levi is exempt from the mitzvah of petter chamor (Shu”t HaRashba 1:366). This is true even if the bas cohen or bas levi is married to a yisroel (Rema, Yoreh Deah 321:19).

Thus, a yisroel who owns a donkey that is pregnant for the first time could avoid performing the mitzvah of petter chamor by selling a percentage of the pregnant donkey or a percentage of her fetus to a cohen,a levi,a bas cohen or a bas levi. He could even avoid the mitzvah by selling a percentage to his own wife, if she is a bas cohen or a bas levi. However, in order to perform this transaction in a halachically correct fashion, he should consult with a rav.

This is assuming that he wants to avoid the opportunity to perform a mitzvah and save himself a few dollars. However, a Torah-observant Jew welcomes the opportunity to observe every mitzvah he can, and certainly a rare one. (How many people do you know who have fulfilled the mitzvah of petter chamor? Wouldn’t you want to be the first one on your block to have done so?) Thus, he will try to create a chiyuv of petter chamor, not try to avoid it. However, in the case of a different, but similar, mitzvah, we try to avoid the mitzvah for very good reason, as we will explain.

BECHOR OF A KOSHER SPECIES

A firstborn male calf, kid, or lamb has kedusha, sanctity, which requires treating this animal as a korban. When the Beis HaMikdash stood, the owner gave this animal to a cohen of his choice, who offered it as a korban and ate its meat. Today, when, unfortunately, we have no Beis HaMikdash, this animal still has the kedusha of a korban, but we cannot offer it. Furthermore, as opposed to the firstborn donkey that the owner redeems, the firstborn calf, kid, or lamb cannot be redeemed.

This presents a serious problem. Many Jews are cattle farmers, raising beef or dairy cattle. If a Jew owns a heifer (a young, female cow that has not yet borne a calf) that calves for the first time, the male offspring has the sanctity of a korban. Using it in any way is prohibited min haTorah and is therefore a serious offense. One must wait until the animal becomes permanently injured in a way that makes it not serviceable as a korban, and then the animal may be slaughtered and eaten. Until the animal becomes this severely injured, anyone who benefits from this animal in any way will violate a serious Torah prohibition. Furthermore, it is forbidden to injure this animal in any way or to cause it to become blemished or damaged.

Thus, possessing a male firstborn calf, goat or lamb can be a big problem, and could easily cause someone to violate halacha, certainly something that we want to avoid. The method of avoiding these problems is to sell a percentage of the mother or its fetus to a non-Jew before the calf is born. If a non-Jew owns any part of either the mother of the firstborn or the firstborn himself, there is no sanctity on the offspring. In this instance, we deliberately avoid creating the kedusha on the offspring in order to avoid a situation that may lead to undesired results. Since the animal has kedusha that could be violated, and we cannot remove its kedusha, we want to avoid creating this situation.

DOES A PETTER CHAMOR HAVE KEDUSHA?

Prior to its being redeemed, a firstborn donkey has kedusha similar to that of a korban. It is prohibited min haTorah to use it: one may not ride on it, have it carry for you, or even use its hair. The hair that falls off may not be used and must be burnt. Someone who uses this donkey violates a prohibition approximately equivalent to wearing shatnez or eating non-kosher (Rashi, Pesachim 47a s.v. Ve’hein; Rivan, Makkos 21b s.v. ve’hein; cf., however, Tosafos, Makkos 21b s.v. Hachoreish).

Until the donkey is redeemed, one may not sell it, although some poskim permit selling it for the difference between the value of the donkey and a sheep (Rosh, Bechoros 1:11; Tur and Rema, Yoreh Deah 321:8). Many poskim contend that if the donkey is sold, the money may not be used (Rambam, Hilchos Bikkurim 12:4; Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 321:8).

WHAT IF THE PETTER CHAMOR WAS NEVER REDEEMED?

If the donkey is unredeemed, it maintains its kedusha its entire life! Thus, if it dies unredeemed, the carcass must be buried to make sure that no one ever uses it. We may not even burn it, because of concern that someone might use its ashes, which remain prohibited (Mishnah Temurah 33b-34a).

Furthermore, by not redeeming it, the owner violated the mitzvah that requires him to redeem it.

Have you ever ridden a donkey? Although it is uncommon to ride them in North America, in Eretz Yisroel this is not an unusual form of entertainment. Did you stop to wonder whether the donkey might be a firstborn and riding it is prohibited?

One need not be concerned. Since most of the donkeys of the world are not firstborn, one does not need to assume that this donkey is. Truthfully, the likelihood of a donkey being holy is very slim for another reason — most donkeys are owned by non-Jews, and a non-Jew’s firstborn donkey has no sanctity, as we explained before.

VANISHING KEDUSHA!!

Once the firstborn donkey is redeemed, both he and the lamb used to redeem him have no kedusha at all. In this halacha, petter chamor is an anomalous mitzvah. In all other cases when we redeem an item that may not be used, the kedusha is transferred to the redeeming item. Only in the mitzvah of petter chamor does the kedusha disappear, never to return. It is almost as if the kedusha that was on the donkey vanished into thin air!

REFUSES TO REDEEM

What is the halacha if the owner refuses to redeem his donkey?

As we know from the Torah, there is another option. If the owner chooses not to redeem his firstborn donkey, he could instead perform the arifah, in which he kills the firstborn donkey in a specific prescribed way. The Torah does not want the owner to follow this approach — he is supposed to redeem the donkey, rather than kill it (Mishnah Bechoros 13a). The Rishonim dispute whether performing the arifah fulfills a mitzvah or, instead, is considered an aveirah (see dispute between Rambam and Raavad in Hilchos Bikkurim 12:1).

WHEN SHOULD THE OWNER PERFORM THE REDEMPTION?

In this halacha, there is a major difference between the mitzvah of pidyon haben and the mitzvah of petter chamor. The father of a newborn bechor does not perform the mitzvah of pidyon haben until his son is at least thirty days old. However, the owner of the firstborn donkey should redeem him within the first 30 days of its birth, and should preferably perform the mitzvah as soon as possible (Rambam, Hilchos Bikkurim 12:6; Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 321:1).

PERFORMING THE MITZVAH

There are actually two stages in performing the mitzvah of petter chamor, although the two can be performed simultaneously. For our purposes, we will call the two steps, (a) the redeeming and (b) the giving. In the redeeming step, the owner takes a lamb, kid, or something else worth at least as much as the donkey, and states that he is redeeming the donkey in exchange for the redemption item. Prior to making this statement, the owner recites a bracha, Asher kideshanu bemitzvosav vetzivanu al pidyon petter chamor (Tosafos, Bechoros 11a; Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 321:6). He then states that he is exchanging the lamb or other item for the kedusha of the donkey. As soon as he performs this exchange, the sanctity is removed from the petter chamor and one may use the donkey (Mishnah Bechoros 12b).

In the giving step, the owner gives the lamb (or the item exchanged for the donkey) to the cohen as a gift. The owner has the right to decide to which cohen he gives the gift (see Rambam, Hilchos Bechoros 1:15). No bracha is recited on this step of the mitzvah, and there is much discussion in poskim regarding why this is so (Taz, Yoreh Deah 321:7).

Although there are two different parts of this mitzvah — redeeming the kedusha from the firstborn and giving the gift to the cohen — both parts of this mitzvah can be performed simultaneously, by giving the lamb (or items of value) to the cohen and telling him that this is redemption for the donkey. When redeeming the donkey this way, the owner does recite a bracha.

Now, what does the cohen do with the lamb? He does not need to leave it tied to a bedpost in his apartment, nor have it graze in his backyard. He may sell it, should he choose, or can have it converted into lamb or goat chops!

Conclusion

Why was the donkey an exception? Why is this the only one of the non-kosher species whose firstborn carries kedusha?

The Gemara teaches that this is a reward for the donkey. When the Bnei Yisroel left Egypt, the Egyptians gave us many gifts (see Shemos 11:2-3; 12:35-36). The Bnei Yisroel needed to transport all these gifts out of Egypt and through the Desert to Eretz Yisroel. They could not simply call Allied Van Lines to ship their belongings. Instead, they used Donkey Lines, who performed this service for forty years, without complaint or fanfare! In reward for the donkeys’ providing the Bnei Yisroel with a very necessary shipping service, the Torah endowed the firstborn of this species with sanctity (Bechoros 5b). Hashem rewarded the donkey with its very own special kedusha.

Thus, this mitzvah teaches us the importance of hakaras hatov, acknowledging when someone helps us. We acknowledge donkeys, because their ancestors performed kindness for us. If we are required to appreciate the help given to our ancestors thousands of years ago, how much more do we need to exhibit hakaras hatov to our parents, teachers, and spouses for all that they have done and do for us!

A Hard Nachal – But What Is a Nachal?

Question #1: Valley Stream, Israel

What is a nachal eisan? A hard valley or a powerful stream? And what is a “hard valley”?

Question #2: Celebrating birthdays!

When does halacha consider it significant to know the birthday of a calf? Do we use the Hebrew birthday or the solar birthday (sometimes called the “secular birthday” or the “Gregorian birthday”)?

Question #3: Why now?

Why are we discussing these questions this week?

Introduction

When the brothers return from Egypt to tell Yaakov the exciting news that Yosef is, indeed, still alive, and that he is the ruler of the entire country, Yaakov does not believe them. Only when he sees the wagons that Yosef sent does he accept that the story is true. Why then? Chazal explain that the last subject Yaakov and Yosef had been studying together before Yosef so mysteriously disappeared was the topic of eglah arufah, and the four Hebrew letters that spell the word eglah could also be pronounced as agalah, wagon. Thus, Yaakov understood that only Yosef would be able to supply this hint, and that the story that the brothers were telling him was true.

This provides opportunity for us to study the detailed and difficult laws surrounding the mitzvah of eglah arufah. Let us begin with the description of this mitzvah as expressed in the Torah:

“Should you find, in the land that Hashem, your G-d, is giving you to inherit, someone slain, lying in a field – and it is unknown who killed him, your elders, your judges, must leave (the Sanhedrin) and measure to the cities that are near the corpse. The elders of that city bring a calf that has never been worked and that never pulled a yoke. The elders of that city bring this calf down to a nachal eisan (a term I will explain) that (asher in Hebrew) will not be worked and not planted, and there, in that nachal, they break the calf’s neck from behind. The kohanim, the sons of Levi, come forward, because Hashem, your G-d, chose them to serve Him and to bless in the Name of Hashem, and according to their word shall be every dispute and every nega (affliction of tzaraas). Then, all the elders of that city nearest the corpse shall wash their hands over the calf that was killed in the nachal. They then raise their voices, declaring, ‘Our hands did not shed this blood, and our eyes did not see. Atone for Your people, Yisroel, whom You, Hashem, have redeemed, and do not allow innocent blood to be shed among Your people, Yisroel.’ Thereby shall this blood be atoned” (Devorim, 21:1-8).

In the earlier article, which I sent out two weeks ago, we noted that there are five different aspects to the mitzvah, each incumbent upon a different participant:

(1) The finders of the fallen victim, who notify the main Sanhedrin, take care of the corpse, and, eventually, bury it.

(2) The representatives of the main Sanhedrin, who measure the distance from the fallen person to the nearby cities to determine which city is nearest the scene of the crime.

(3) The beis din of the city nearest the crime scene, which brings a female calf to a nachal eisan and performs the procedure described by the posuk.

(4) All the elders of that city, who wash their hands and make the declaration, “Our hands did not shed this blood and our eyes did not see.”

(5) The kohanim, who make the declaration, “Atone for Your people, Yisroel, whom You, Hashem, have redeemed, and do not allow innocent blood to be shed among Your people, Yisroel.”

In addition to the five groups obligated to fulfill the mitzvah of eglah arufah, there is another mitzvah that is incumbent on all of Klal Yisroel: a prohibition not to use the nachal eisan in the future.

In the previous article, we described the procedures through step (2) above. The members of the Sanhedrin have completed the measuring and have determined which city is nearest to where the victim fell. This city and, specifically, its beis din now become responsible for bringing the calf. We continue our discussion from this point.

The locals take over

The local beis din brings a female calf that is under the age of two (Parah 1:1, Rash ad locum; Rambam, Hilchos Rotzei’ach 10:2) to a place that the Torah calls nachal eisan, where that beis din performs a very unusual course of action (see below). Following this course of action, with all its details, is the main fulfillment of the mitzvah of eglah arufah, and is what atones for the local community’s negligence that allowed this tragedy to occur.

Age of calf

The calf must be before its second birthday, but it may be any age younger, as long as it is at least eight days old.

At this point, we can address the second of our opening questions: When does halacha consider it significant to know the birthday of a calf? Not in order to celebrate it with streamers and a birthday cake, but to know when it will be invalidated for use as an eglah arufah. Similar laws are germane to korbanos –  in those korbanos that allow use of an animal only up to a certain age, the age is determined by the birth date of the individual animal. Since the halacha in this regard deals with the Jewish calendar, it is important to keep track of the calf’s Hebrew birth date. Even though extensive information is kept of dairy cows in our day, including their vaccination and other full veterinary records, the Hebrew date is not used, even if the calf is owned by a frum farmer.

What is a nachal eisan?

At this point, let us examine our opening question: “What is a nachal eisan? A hard valley or a powerful stream?”

Rashi and the Rambam disagree concerning the definition of a nachal eisan. The Rambam explains it to be a strongly flowing stream (Hilchos Rotzei’ach 9:2), whereas, according to Rashi, it is a rocky valley that has never been tilled (Devorim 21:4; Sotah 46a, b; Pesachim 22a; Chagigah 19a). Their disagreement appears to be whether the word nachal in this context means valley (Rashi) or stream (Rambam). The Gemara (Sotah 46) explains that the word eisan means hard; thus, Rashi explains it to mean a hard, rocky valley, whereas the Rambam explains it to means a hard-flowing stream.

Nachal that is not eisan?

The Mishnah (Sotah 45b) rules that if they found an area that qualifies as a nachal, it can be used, even if it is not that hard. The requirement that the area be eisan, hard, is lechatchilah, preferred min haTorah, but not required. According to the Rambam, this means that they found a stream they could use, but the flow is not that strong; according to Rashi, it means a valley or dry wadi bed, but not necessarily a rocky one.

The Minchas Chinuch points out that the nachal eisan area must either be ownerless or be owned by the people of the city. This means that, having located a nachal eisan area, the beis din, or the members of the city, must determine if the area has an owner. If there indeed is one, they must purchase the property. No mention is made what they are to do if they find the owner to be as unscrupulous as Efron was in his dealings with Avraham. Presumably, they can continue to hunt for another nachal eisan, if they do not like his price. Assuming that there are two available areas, one hard and the other not, they should choose the hard area. However, if there is a major price differential between the two areas, I have no idea how much they are expected to spend for the harder area.

No local nachal

The Minchas Chinuch rules that if no nachal eisan was found in Eretz Yisroel, they could use one that is outside Eretz Yisroel. Although the mitzvah of eglah arufah applies only when the victim is found in Eretz Yisroel, the actual place where the procedure takes place can be anywhere. However, Rav Chayim Kanievski, in his monumental work Nachal Eisan, draws evidence from rishonim that several of them (Tosafos, Pesachim 52b s.v. ad; Tosafos Shantz, ad loc.; Sefer Hachinuch) held that the nachal eisan must be in Eretz Yisroel.

Washing and declaring

The beis din of the determined city is then responsible for having the calf slaughtered according to the method described here by the Torah. The next step is that the members of the beis din and all the older people of that city wash their hands in the place where the calf was killed. The Gemara rules that they must be careful to wash their hands directly above the place where the calf died (Sotah 46b).

The Rambam rules that the mitzvah of washing hands applies to “all the zekeinim of the city, even if there are a hundred,” without explaining what definition we use for “zekeinim.” Rav Chayim Kanievski explains that this includes anyone over the age of sixty who is able to make the trip (Nachal Eisan 14:3). He further discusses whether a woman above the age of sixty is also required to participate, and he is inclined to think that she is not.

This is presumably the only time where, outside of the Beis Hamikdash, there is a requirement min haTorah to wash your hands. According to Rav Chayim Kanievski, there is no requirement that they use a cup, nor that a revi’is of water be used, nor are the elders required to dry their hands afterwards. Rav Chayim rules that they fulfill the mitzvah even by dipping their hands into a pail of water (Nachal Eisan 14:4).

After washing their hands, the zekeinim make a declaration, “Our hands did not shed this blood and our eyes did not see.” However, if they made the recital the way I just quoted it, they did not fulfill the mitzvah, since the Mishnah (Sotah 32a) rules that it must be recited in Hebrew, exactly as the words of the posuk are written. This requirement exists, notwithstanding that we rule that both kerias shema and davening may be recited in any language that you understand (Sotah 32a)!

Care must be taken that the words are recited accurately and grammatically correctly, and that they are spaced in a way that the meaning is not confused (based on Yevamos 106b).

The Mishnah (Sotah 45b-46a) rules that the two pesukim mentioned by the Torah are divided into two units. The first posuk, “Our hands did not shed this blood and our eyes did not see,” is recited by the elders of the city, whereas the next posuk, “Atone for your people, Yisroel, whom You, Hashem, have redeemed, and do not allow innocent blood to be shed among your people, Yisroel,” is recited by the kohanim. Rashi explains that the source for this law is because the Torah instructs the kohanim to “come forward,” yet it does not clarify a specific role for them to play.

Just as in the case of the laws of the first posuk, the kohanim must recite this posuk in its original Hebrew.

The Mishnah (Sotah 45b) raises the following question: “Is anyone accusing the elders of the city of being the murderers of this unfortunate victim?” Why then must the elders make a statement that they did not shed his blood? The answer is that the city may have contributed to the death of the victim by not seeing adequately to his needs and safety. It is for this negligence that they are seeking atonement. The statement, “Our hands did not shed this blood and our eyes did not see,” means that nothing the townsmen could have done would have saved this unfortunate soul. There was nothing for them to have done that they failed to do.

Never be used

After the eglah arufah procedure is performed, it is prohibited to use the earth of this nachal. (According to the Rambam, this means either the riverbed beneath the stream, or its banks.) However, the area above ground may be used. To quote the Mishnah: “Its location may not be planted or worked, but it is permitted to comb flax there or to hew out stones” (Sotah 45b). Based on droshos in the words of the posuk, the Gemara (Sotah 46b) explains that it is prohibited to use the earth itself, which occurs when the ground is plowed or planted, but using the surface of the earth, or even mining it, is not called “using the earth.”As we mentioned above, the Mishnah rules that, after the procedure of eglah arufah has been performed, the area used, the nachal eisan, may never again be used. This prohibition is counted by the Rambam and the Sefer Hachinuch as a separate mitzvah of the 613. (In most editions of the Sefer Hachinuch, this is counted as mitzvah #531).

In this context, the Gemara (Sotah 46b) quotes the following beraisa: “Our rabbis taught: which (in Hebrew, asher) was not worked and not planted. This teaches that it is never again permitted to plant in this nachal. How do we know that other types of work are prohibited? Because the Torah states, which was not worked, meaning any type of work. If so, why did the Torah previously state, which was not planted? This teaches us that, similarly to planting, which uses the ground itself, the Torah is prohibiting only activity using the ground itself. This excludes combing flax or removing stones, which do not use the ground itself,” and are therefore permitted.

In conclusion, the Torah’s prohibition applies only to using the nachal eisan for agricultural purposes. Thus, it is permitted to build a shopping mall on top of the nachal eisan and make the land worth billions of dollars!

There is halachic discussion whether whatever grows from what was planted in violation of the law is prohibited from use. According to most authorities, what grows there is prohibited, and it is even prohibited to use the produce for any benefit, including selling it to non-Jews or as animal feed (see Sefer Kerisus, at end; Pri Chodosh, Yoreh Deah 110:13; however, see Minchas Chinuch).

Does the prohibition include harvesting vegetation that has already grown there or subsequently grows on its own? The Minchas Chinuch concludes that it does not, since reaping does not use the land, and the Torah mentions specifically working the earth and planting, which do not seem to include harvesting.

It is also implied by this discussion that there is no prohibition in walking on or through the nachal eisan, even to use it as a shortcut to get from place to place. This is not considered using the soil of the nachal eisan.

Past use?

Must the nachal eisan be an area that was never used in the past? This is a dispute among late tanna’im, as quoted by the following Gemara: “Our rabbis taught: ‘that (asher in Hebrew) will not be worked and not planted.’ This means that the area was never used in the past – these are the words of Rabbi Yoshiyah. Rabbi Yonasan says, ‘in the future.’ Rava explains, ‘Everyone agrees that it cannot be used in the future, because the verse uses the future tense – “will not be worked.” Their dispute regards only the past’” (Sotah 46b). The Gemara’s conclusion is that the word asher in the posuk could be interpreted to mean that, not only can this property never again be used in the future, but it had never been used in the past, either. This is the dispute between Rabbi Yoshiyah and Rabbi Yonasan.

Conclusion

One of the many rules of eglah arufah is that the mitzvah applies only when the victim was found lying open — unburied by the murderer. In Rav Hirsch’s analysis (Commentary to Devorim, 21:1), this means that leaving the victim exposed, as the perpetrator did, demonstrates a shocking lack of concern for society, a mockery for any authority. (Since I cannot do justice to Rav Hirsch’s beautiful explanation and analysis, I recommend that our readers examine it themselves.)

Based on an extensive analysis of both Talmudim’s explanations of aspects of the mitzvah, Rav Hirsch explains that the concept of eglah arufah is for the elders of the city to declare that this city takes care of the needs of all travelers who pass through, and also provides properly for all its residents. Severe poverty should not exist in a community – at least not to the extent that it can be used to excuse a crime.

Thus, although we sincerely hope that the mitzvah of eglah arufah is never observed, we should always learn from its lessons!

Eglah Arufah

Photo by Alexander Wallnöfer from FreeImages

Question #1: Which Cities?

What are the requirements for a city to be obligated in eglah arufah?

Question #2: Where?

How do we measure to determine the obligation of eglah arufah?

Question #3: Why Now?

Why are we discussing this mitzvah this week?

Background

Chazal teach us that the last subject Yaakov and Yosef had been studying together before Yosef so mysteriously disappeared was the topic of eglah arufah. This provides opportunity for us to study the very detailed and difficult laws surrounding the mitzvah of eglah arufah. Let us begin with the description of this mitzvah as expressed in the Torah:

“Should you find, lying in a field, someone slain in the land that Hashem, your G-d, is giving to you to inherit – and it is unknown who killed him, your elders, your judges, must leave (their usual location) and measure the distance from the cities that are near the corpse. The elders of the closest city bring a calf that has never been worked nor pulled a yoke. The elders of that city bring this calf down to a ‘hard’ valley that will not be worked and not planted, and there, in that valley, they decapitate the calf. Then, the kohanim, who are the sons of Levi, come forward, because Hashem, your G-d, chose them to serve Him and to bestow blessing in the Name of Hashem, and by their mouths will be decided all disputes and all matters germane to nega’im. Subsequently, all the elders of that city that is nearest the corpse shall wash their hands over the calf that was decapitated in that valley. They then raise their voices, declaring, ‘Our hands did not shed this blood, and our eyes did not see. Atone for Your people, Yisroel, whom You, Hashem, have redeemed, and do not allow innocent blood to be shed among Your people, Yisroel.’ Thereby, shall this blood be atoned” (Devorim, 21:1-8).

The words of this posuk are carefully analyzed in Torah she’be’al peh. To review: A terrible calamity occurred to the Jewish nation. A murder has taken place, and, to make matters worse, indications are that a Jew was the perpetrator. How do we see that it is appears that a Jew was the murderer? Firstly, the halacha is that if there were non-Jews near the murder site, no eglah arufah is offered, based on the supposition that it was a non-Jew who performed the crime (see Sotah 44b, according to the version quoted by the Rambam; see also Tosafos, Bava Basra 23b s.v. beyosheves, and Minchas Chinuch #530). In addition, should the victim have fallen near the Jewish country’s borders, no eglah arufah is offered, under the assumption that he was murdered by a foreign intruder (Mishnah, Sotah 44b). Furthermore, in an unfortunate era when there were gangsters among the Jewish people, no eglah arufah was offered either, since the assumption is that one of the gangsters performed the heinous crime, and the eglah arufah is only offered when there is no knowledge about the perpetrator’s identity (Mishnah, Sotah 47a).

There are several questions relating to these pesukim that we will discuss. For example, the verse goes to great length to describe the role of the kohanim in the Jewish people, yet it does not say what function they perform in the eglah arufah procedure. (The answer to this question will need to wait until our sequel.) Also, we should note that there are three different descriptions of elders in the pesukim: At first it refers to “your elders, your judges,” then it refers to “the elders of that city,” and lastly it refers to “all the elders of that city.” These seem to be three different categories of elders. Indeed, we will soon see that this is exactly the situation.

Should the murderer be apprehended, no eglah arufah is offered. Since no murderer has yet been caught or suspected, the community from which it is most likely that the murderer came is required to atone for itself. This atonement procedure is the fulfillment of the mitzvah of bringing an eglah arufah, which is counted by the Sefer Hachinuch as mitzvah number 530. If the procedure of the eglah arufah has already been performed, and subsequently the murderer is identified in a way that halacha rules that he be punished, the regular punishment is carried out (Mishnah Sotah 47a). The purpose of the eglah arufah is to atone for the negligence of the community and its leadership, not for the murderer.

Details, details

There are several different stages involved in fulfilling the mitzvah of eglah arufah, each of which is performed by a different group of people. The first step is the responsibility of those who find the corpse. Contemporary society would expect them to call the police department to file a criminal report, and the police would contact the coroner’s office to examine the corpse. However, the halachic instructions are quite different. Those who find the victim send a notification to the Sanhedrin, wherever it is headquartered, to send representation to the location of the fallen individual (Minchas Chinuch #530). The corpse is not moved in the slightest, and the examination of the crime is performed only by observation. In order to make sure that the meis has a proper burial place, the halacha requires that he be buried in the place he was found, a halachic principle called meis mitzvah koneh mekomo, which literally means that someone who dies without next of kin nearby or available to guarantee proper burial has an automatic legal right to be buried in the place where he was found, unless it is a place that causes public inconvenience (Eruvin 17a, b). The Gemara explains that this was one of the ten rules that Yehoshua established when he led Klal Yisroel into Eretz Yisroel (Bava Kama 81a).

Three groups of elders

Above it was noted that the posuk mentions three groups of elders:

1. “Your elders, your judges,” who “must leave and measure the distance from the cities that are near the corpse.” This refers to the Sanhedrin, the main court of the Jewish people, responsible for the continuity of the Torah she’be’al peh and for all regulations regarding the Jewish people. They send a group of their members from Yerushalayim, or their headquarters, to oversee the measuring from the fallen victim to the nearby cities to determine which is closest.

2. “The elders of that city,” who become responsible for the proceedings once it is determined which city is closest to the victim of the crime.

3. “All the elders of that city,” which, according to the Rambam, includes even senior citizens who are not necessarily scholars. The members of this group are required to wash their hands and to make a declaration of their innocence.

The arrival of the members of the Sanhedrin

The Rambam rules that we leave the corpse in place until a representative body of the Sanhedrin arrives. Bearing in mind that, in his opinion, this could take many weeks until it happens, this seems very unusual, as we usually bury someone as soon as possible, unless the dignity due the departed requires that we wait for the arrival of next-of-kin or a larger turnout at the funeral. Here, the delay will not result in either of the above; yet, in the Rambam’s opinion, we delay.

How long can this delay be? Allow me to calculate. The mitzvah of eglah arufah applies anywhere in Eretz Yisroel, including the large area on the eastern side of the Jordan River (Sifri; Rambam, Hilchos Rotzei’ach 10:1). We know that the most distant places in Eretz Yisroel were fifteen days travel time from Yerushalayim (Mishnah Taanis 10a). Granted that the Mishnah there is calculating the time it takes a family to travel, we can shave off a few days of travel time, but not much more, since we know that beis din’s messengers could still take about twelve days to get to the most distant parts of Eretz Yisroel (Rambam, Hilchos Kiddush Hachodesh 5:4, 6). Therefore, it could take at least twelve days after the discovery of the corpse until the locals get a message to the Sanhedrin to send its representatives. After the Sanhedrin chooses the members for this mission, if the city is this far removed from Yerushalayim, it could take at least twelve more days for the delegation to arrive. Thus, we can easily have a situation in which the corpse has been left for almost thirty days until burial according to the approach of the Rambam (Minchas Chinuch).

What happens to the corpse during these many weeks of waiting? All the rules of kovod hameis apply, other than allowing no delay to bury him. Since he must be left in situ in order not to bias the measurements, there is a requirement to provide shemirah on the body by day and by night, firstly for the human honor due him, and secondly to make sure that animals and insects do not feed on him. Thus, in this situation the requirement of meis mitzvah requires that people be available to be shomeir this meis outdoors, wherever he was found, 24/7, for up to and perhaps more than thirty days, regardless of the weather conditions! We should also note that, according to the opinion of Rabbi Eliezer ben Yaakov that we will soon cite, the wait could be considerably longer.

Several acharonim (Chasdei Dovid, Minchas Chinuch) question the Rambam’s ruling that the corpse must be left in situ until the representatives of the Sanhedrin arrive. The text of the Tosefta (Sotah 9:2) implies otherwise: As explained by the Chasdei Dovid, when the corpse is located, the Tosefta rules that a nearby beis din sends representatives to mark the exact point from which we are going to measure. Then, the meis is buried in place, because of the principle of meis mitzvah koneh mekomo. The Sanhedrin members, when they arrive, measure not from the meis himself, who has already been buried, but from the marker on the gravesite that indicates the pinpointed location from which they are to measure. The Talmud Yerushalmi (Sotah 9:1) quotes this Tosefta, yet the Rambam rules otherwise.

Three, five or more?

There is a dispute among tanna’im how many members of the Sanhedrin are required to come: According to Rabbi Shimon, three members, and according to Rabbi Yehudah, five (Sotah 44b; Sanhedrin 2a, 14a). The Rambam rules according to Rabbi Yehudah, requiring five members of the Sanhedrin to come to the site of the murder (Hilchos Rotzei’ach 9:1).

There is a third tanna, Rabbi Eliezer ben Yaakov, who requires a very large representation of the Jewish people, including the king, the kohein gadol and the entire Sanhedrin, not just three or five representatives (Sotah 45a). As I mentioned above, his opinion could potentially cause an even greater delay until the Sanhedrin arrives to measure the distance to the nearby cities, since both the king and the kohein gadol may have other obligations, and the king could be away on a war or other affairs of state.

However, Rabbi Eliezer ben Yaakov’s position is not accepted as normative halacha, evidenced by the fact that the Mishnah, which discusses this issue in two different places, does not even mention his opinion. The Rambam, also, does not rule this way, but requires only five members of the Sanhedrin, unaccompanied by either the king or the kohein gadol.

Where is the Sanhedrin?

Until the destruction of the Beis Hamikdosh, the Sanhedrin was always located either in a special chamber on the grounds of the Beis Hamikdosh or somewhere nearby. After the destruction of the Beis Hamikdosh, the Sanhedrin went through a series of relocations, first to Yavneh, and then to different places mostly in the Galil, including Shafra’am, Beis She’arim, Tzipori, Usha and Teveryah (Rosh Hashanah 31). The Minchas Chinuch (530) rules that there was a law of eglah arufah during all these periods. This would indicate that the Mishnah in Sotah 44b, which states that the Sanhedrin members left from Yerushalayim, is an old Mishnah dating back to the time of the Beis Hamikdosh and not from the time of Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi, in whose day the Sanhedrin was already in Teveryah, the last of its ten relocations.

Next mitzvah: Measuring

There is a mitzvah to measure even when the corpse is found right outside one city, such that it is completely unnecessary to measure to determine which city is closest (Sotah 45a; Rambam, Hilchos Rotzei’ach 9:1).

Since this measurement is a Torah requirement, it must be done very precisely (Eruvin 58b; Rambam, Hilchos Rotzei’ach 9:4). Regarding other halachos involving measurement of distance, such as the techum Shabbos around a city or village within which one may walk on Shabbos, we do not measure the elevations of hills around the city, but have various halachically approved methods of estimating and shortening these distances. In other words, techum Shabbos is measured as the crow flies.

These rules do not apply to eglah arufah. In this instance, the measurements must be exactly how far it would take someone to walk this distance. In other words, the distance is measured not as the crow flies, but as the person walks.

Must they measure it themselves?

Are the members of the Sanhedrin themselves required to measure the distance from the corpse to the nearest city, or is it sufficient if they supervise the measuring? The Minchas Chinuch rules that they are not required to perform the actual measurements, but they must oversee those who are measuring.

There are several unusual laws germane to the mitzvah of measuring. We measure to the largest cities from which it is likely that the murderer came. If there are smaller cities nearby, they are ignored (Rambam, Hilchos Rotzei’ach 9:6, based on Bava Basra 23b). If the nearest city includes a non-Jewish population, no measurement and no mitzvah of eglah arufah are performed (Rambam, Hilchos Rotzei’ach 9:5), and if the nearest city is Yerushalayim, there is no mitzvah of eglah arufah (Bava Kama 82b).

Is beis din a liability?

One of the unusual rules is a statement of the Mishnah that the measurement is done only towards a city that has a beis din (Sotah 44b). This implies that if there are large, populous, completely Jewish cities near the corpse that do not have a beis din, we do not measure from the corpse in the direction of that city, but instead, we measure to a more distant city that has a beis din. The question, raised already by Tosafos (Bava Basra 23b s.v. bedeleika), is that the lack of a beis din does not demonstrate that the murderer was not a resident of that city. Thus, if our goal is to determine which city most likely produced the murderer, the farther city should not thereby be required to bring an eglah arufah. This question has created much literature, but, to the best of my knowledge, there is no universally accepted approach to answer it.

The measure of a man

From which point on the victim’s body do we measure? The Mishnah (Sotah 45b) quotes a three-way dispute among tanna’im discussing exactly from which point on the victim’s body we measure. According to Rabbi Eliezer, we measure from the navel, which is where he first acquired nourishment before birth. In Rabbi Akiva’s opinion, we measure from the nostrils, which is the place from which a person draws his breath. Rabbi Eliezer ben Yaakov rules we measure from the neck, which he bases on his understanding of a posuk. The Rambam concludes that we follow Rabbi Akiva and measure from the nostrils.

According to the above-referenced Tosefta, those who found the body buried it in situ immediately, but were careful to mark the exact place where his nostrils were at the moment they found him. The elevation at which the body was found is also a factor in the measurement. This means that they needed to measure carefully the height at which they found him, not only his location on the ground before they buried him.

I will be sending the sequel to this article in two weeks.

Conclusion

The Sefer Hachinuch explains one of the reasons for the mitzvah of eglah arufah is that it teaches communal responsibility. The elders of the Sanhedrin are required to send a representation of either three or five members to personally oversee the measurement from the victim to the nearest city. After they complete their measurement, the city thus indicated must send out all its elders to participate in what can only be described as a very unusual ceremony. Certainly, they cannot declare innocence before Hashem unless they are certain that they provide every wayfarer with adequate security and provisions. Thus, the elders of the city must always be responsible for whatever happens in their city, not only among the residents, but even among the visitors.

What Could be Wrong with the Steak?

Since this week’s parsha includes the prohibition of gid hanasheh, we have the opportunity to discuss certain issues of shechitah.

One of my editors suggested that I mention to those who are squeamish that this article will be graphic about aspects of shechitah, so I am fulfilling this request.

Question #1:

When Yankel returns from kollel one day, his wife Miriam asks for his advice about the following situation. While visiting a neighbor, Miriam noticed her neighbor using a brand of meat that nobody she knows considers reliably kosher. “Should I tell her that her meat does not have a good hechsher?”

Question #2: Chayim asks me the following: “In parshas Vayeishev, Rashi mentions that Yosef reported to his father that his brothers ate meat that was prohibited, even for a Ben Noach; but Yosef was mistaken — the brothers were very careful to eat only properly shechted meat. Could it be that they were following different kashrus standards, so that Yosef thought what they were eating was treif, whereas the brothers were convinced that it was kosher?”

The Torah requires that kosher meat and poultry be slaughtered in a specific, halachically approved way (shechitah) and may be eaten only if they are without certain defects that render them tereifah. In Parshas Re’eih, the Torah (Devarim 12:20-21) teaches, When Hashem will enlarge your border as He has promised you, and you will say, “I will eat meat” because you desire to eat meat, to your heart’s desire you may eat meat… And you shall slaughter as I have commanded you. Yet,nowhere in all of Chumash does the Torah provide such instructions. This is one of the internal proofs that the written Torah was accompanied by an explanatory Oral Torah, and, indeed, the laws referred to in the verse, And you shall slaughter as I have commanded you, are part of this Torah she’baal peh. Via halacha leMoshe miSinai, an oral communication that Hashem taught Moshe at Har Sinai, the Torah provided five regulations that must be followed for a shechitah to be kosher (Chullin 9a). Violating any one of these regulations means that the meat was not slaughtered as I have commanded you, and is not kosher.

The five rules are:

  1. Shehiyah — Pausing during the act of shechitah invalidates it, even if the shechitah is subsequently completed (Mishnah Chullin 32a).
  2. Drasah – Pressing down or chopping with the knife invalidates the shechitah. A proper shechitah involves a slicing motion, usually with a back-and-forth stroke (Mishnah Chullin 30b).
  3. Chaladah – Burrowing the knife into the neck and then cutting in an outward direction invalidates the shechitah. Proper shechitah requires that the back of the knife is always exposed (Mishnah Chullin 32a).
  4. Hagramah – Cutting above or below the area of the neck designated by the Torah for proper shechitah (Mishnah Chullin 18a).
  5. Ikur – Tearing, rather than cutting, is not kosher (Tosafos, Chullin 9a s.v. Kulhu, in explanation of Rashi). If the shechitah knife has nicks in it, it may tear, rather than cut. 

Thus, a shocheit must be highly competent, both in the halachos of shechitah and in the skills necessary to do the job correctly. His shechitah blade must not only be sharper than a razor, but also totally smooth, because a slight nick invalidates the shechitah (see Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 18:2). It takes a considerable amount of time and effort for a shocheit to learn all the skills of his trade adequately, including how to quickly hone his knife to the required sharpness and how to check with his fingernail that its blade is completely smooth. These are difficult skills to learn. I recently borrowed the shechitah knife of someone who is in the process of learning the skill, and although his knife was adequately smooth, it was not nearly sharp enough to pass muster. Indeed, halachic literature is replete with anecdotes of rabbonim who discovered that shochatim active in the profession were not as proficient in their skills as the halacha requires. The Maharshal reports checking the knife of a well-experienced shocheit doing his rounds of shechting chickens for kaparos Erev Yom Kippur, and discovering that not only was the shocheit’s knife nicked, but the shocheit repeatedly checked his knife too speedily  to notice it! (Yam shel Shelomoh, Chullin 1:39)

Furthermore, a shocheit must be fully proficient in the detailed laws applying to his profession; he is expected to review the laws of his field every thirty days to maintain his expertise.

Since it is easy for a shocheit to invalidate a shechitah without anyone but him knowing about it, one should use only a shocheit who is known to be G-d-fearing, a yarei shamayim. We now understand why the old European shtetl people viewed the shocheit with tremendous esteem. He was respected second only to the rav for his erudition and his fear of heaven.

Other rules regarding shechitah include that the shechitah must be performed by an observant Jew. A gentile’s shechitah is not kosher, even if a knowledgeable observant Jew supervises to ensure that everything is done correctly.

We can already see why people sometimes hesitate to use a particular shechitah. Although one cannot be sure whether a shocheit is a yarei shamayim, one can sometimes sense that he is not. Indeed, the responsa literature is full of cases concerning shochatim whose behavior or personal shortcomings caused concern about their trustworthiness. Unfortunately, I, too, have met shochtim whose lackadaisical attitude to mitzvah observance did not reflect the type of person I would want to entrust with this responsibility.

But maybe it’s treif!

Even if the animal passed muster and merited a flawless kosher shechitah, it may still not be kosher. The Torah prohibits eating meat of a bird or animal that is tereifah, meaning that the animal has certain physical defects (Chullin Chapter Three). For example, a bird or animal that has a perforated lung, gall bladder or intestine; that has a torn spinal cord; or that has been attacked with the fang of a predator, is tereifah. Although people colloquially use the word tereifah for any non-kosher food, technically speaking, it refers to an animal or bird with one of these defects. Not only is a tereifah animal non-kosher, but so, too, are its milk or eggs that were produced after it became tereifah.

This leads us to an interesting question. If the milk produced by a tereifah cow is not kosher, how can we drink milk without checking to see if the milked cow has none of these defects? Most signs of tereifah are internal and cannot be verified on a living animal without a CT scan or MRI equipment, not commonly available on a farm.  Obviously, such testing would drive up the price of eggs and dairy products, even more than last year’s heat wave.

The answer is that although the milk of an animal and the eggs of a bird with any of these imperfections is indeed tereifah, so long as we do not know that the animals or birds are tereifah, we assume that most animals and birds are kosher and follow the majority. Therefore, we can rely on milk and eggs being kosher, unless there is reason to assume that there is a problem.

Regarding meat, we are not required to check for a particular tereifah unless the defect occurs frequently. Thus, since animals commonly have lung problems, one is required to check their lungs, even if they do not smoke. Another example is a perforation in the intestinal wall that renders its possessor treif. There is a section of the small intestine, called Meckel’s diverticulum, that in poultry frequently becomes infected and swollen, often resulting in a perforation that renders the bird tereifah. Since this defect is not unusual, mashgichim in kosher poultry plants routinely check this part of the intestine.

How do I check?

There are often different opinions among rabbonim how carefully one needs to check for these tereifos, and, at times, whether one needs to check altogether. There may also be a disagreement over other subtle details, such as whether the factory is set up in a way that allows the shochatim sufficient time to do their work properly. The rav overseeing the packing plant may feel that all is in order, whereas another rav may feel it is lacking.

At this point, I return to the question that Miriam asked her husband Yankel: “While in my friend’s house, I noticed that they were using a brand of meat that no one I know uses. Should I tell her that her meat does not meet a proper kashrus standard?” The answer here would depend on circumstances: If there is indeed a real, serious problem at that abattoir, then Miriam should certainly tell her friend not to purchase that meat. However, this applies only if Miriam has firsthand knowledge of this issue, which is rarely the case. In the vast majority of situations, Miriam herself has no idea why the people in “her circle” do not use that shechitah. It may indeed be for the reasons we have mentioned, but sometimes it is not.

Yankel realized that besides the laws of loshon hora involved here, he would also need active kashrus experience to answer her question. Lacking this qualification, he decided to educate himself on the subject by asking a rav who is experienced with the kashrus of meat. Since this rav requested not to be identified, we will call him Rav Posek as we present their conversation.

No brisket for me!

“I want to give you a bit of a history of shechitah,” began the rav. “Originally, almost all American kosher meat packers used a method called shechitah teluyah, which means ‘hanging shechitah.’ This method of shechitah was highly popular, because a non-kosher meat packing plant can very easily be used to produce kosher meat. This was  advantageous, since the kosher market in America does not use the meat from the hindquarters, and the non-kosher market considers hindquarter cuts to be the highest quality cuts. The non-kosher meat packers had trouble selling their forequarters, so arranging a shechitah was a very convenient way of finding a new market for their product without jeopardizing their existing customers. It was a classic win-win arrangement that encouraged large, non-kosher meat plants to have kosher shechitah and was responsible for making kosher meat widely available and keeping its price down.

“The standard method of shechitah in these packing plants involved hanging the animal from a hind leg, while gentile employees held the animal’s head still for the shocheit. Although the abattoir owners encouraged this method because it involved no investment on their part, it was not viewed favorably among most of the other people involved. Not the rabbanim, for reasons I will shortly explain; not animals’ rights advocates, who justifiably noted that this method is cruel; not the shochatim and plant workers, because it is unnecessarily dangerous; and, presumably, not the animals themselves, although they were not consulted.

“Many rabbonim frowned on shechitah teluyah because it inflicts unnecessary pain on the animals (Shu”t Mishneh Halachos 16:2). Although this was perhaps the most popular method of shechitah both in North and South America until fairly recently, many rabbonim had additional reasons to disapprove of shechitah teluyah.”

Pulling a sefer off his bookshelf, the rav continued. “Let me read you a teshuvah from Rav Pesach Frank, the Rav of Yerushalayim for several decades, written on the 19th of Elul, 5755, to Rav Shmuel Yaakov Glicksburg, then the rav of Buenos Aires, Argentina:

‘I rejoiced when I read your letter saying that you have succeeded to organize a shechitah where the animals are not hung, similar to what we have here in Eretz Yisrael. This is a tremendous accomplishment, and the merits of the public are yours. If you have any other news about the kashrus of the shechitah, please notify me, as I am often asked whether one may eat the meat from Argentina and am constantly uncertain how to respond. I would like to hear from his dignity if I can guarantee to a G-d-fearing person that this meat is kosher without any concerns, because this is what they ask me’ (Shu”t Har Tzvi, Even HaEzer #189).

“In an article published in the rabbinic journal Hamaor, in Teiveis, 5719 Rabbi Eliezer Silver ruled that one may not use shechitah teluyah because he had concerns about the actual shechitah being non-kosher. He felt that the gentile holding the animal might actually push the animal into the shechitah knife, which would involve the gentile partially performing the shechitah and thereby invalidating it.

“Rav Silver recorded that during the years the Ridbaz (who served as the Rav of Slutzk, Tzefas, and served briefly as the Chief Rabbi of Chicago) spent in the United States, he once saw a shechitah teluyah in Denver and prohibited it. Also, when a shaylah about this matter was sent from Caracas, Venezuela to Rav Menashe Klein, he prohibited it (Shu”t Mishneh Halachos 9:151). Similarly, in an interesting letter to Rav Pinchas Hirschsprung of Montreal, Rav Moshe Feinstein describes a shechitah teluyah facility that he saw in Toronto. Although his initial reaction was that there was basis to allow the shechitah, he told them that he would need to examine the matter further. Upon further research, Rav Moshe withdrew his original psak permitting this shechitah and permitted it only if the animal’s head was secured during the shechitah, and not if it was simply held by workers (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 2:13). Rav Moshe makes no mention of any of the other concerns about this shechitah, such as the possibility that the gentile may move the animal into the shechitah or about tzaar baalei chayim.

“Nevertheless, this method of shechitah was very popular in the United States even among some of the most responsible hechsherim. When I was involved in examining shechitos, back in the 1980’s, most shechitos that I saw were still shechitah teluyah.

“As the animals’ advocacy organizations became stronger and plant procedures came under the scrutiny of the general public, shechitah teluyah became less popular and was replaced with shechitah in a pen. Although the pen would certainly resolve Rav Moshe’s concern that the head must be secured during the shechitah, it may have created its own issues.”

At this point Yankel interrupted the Rav’s monologue: “What do you mean by shechitah in a pen?”

“I have seen many such pens, each one with a slightly variant design. The basic idea is that the entire animal, especially its head, is secured by a pen operated either by electricity or through hydraulic power, which holds the animal securely during the shechitah. This appliance makes the shechitah very safe for the shocheit, and he has plenty of time in which to perform the shechitah and to check afterwards that it was performed correctly. In the United States, this became the standard method for most shechitos, but it is unusual to find such a shechitah in Europe, in Eretz Yisroel, or in those in South America that shecht for a chareidi market.

“Why do they not use this method in Europe?”

Again the Rav perused his well-stocked bookshelves and produced a sefer Yankel had never seen before.

“In 1988, a movement was afoot in England to require that all animals be shechted only while standing in a pen. However, there was fierce opposition to requiring all Anglo-Jewish hechsherim to shecht with this device. This volume, Bishvilei Hashechitah, by an English shocheit named Rabbi Simcha Bunim Lieberman, includes an essay that cites many reasons to oppose the change.

“1. The shocheit has to shecht upwards. This is a highly technical halacha, but there are authorities who contend that it is prohibited to shecht upwards, predominantly out of concern that this might cause the shocheit to press rather than slice while he is shechting, violating the Torah rule of drasah.

“2. A shocheit who is shechting in a manner to which he is accustomed should not suddenly be required to shecht in a different way, foreign to his experience.

“3. The greatest concern was that since these devices are usually custom made, it is possible that the mechanical force used to control the animal’s head may be so strong that it renders the animal tereifah, before the shechitah takes place. The contention was that such a device should not be used, without first seeing whether the animal appears physically unharmed, and, ideally, the animal should be checked carefully afterwards.”

Yankel asked Rav Posek if he was familiar with the particular hechsher that Miriam had seen in the neighbor’s house.

“Although I have not been in that shechitah recently, I was there once many years ago. I cannot say that I was that happy with the operation. The shochatim and bodakim all needed to work quickly to keep pace with the speed of the assembly line production. I found it difficult to imagine that they could do their jobs properly in the time allowed. As I recall, I even mentioned this to the rav hamachshir, who responded that he hires exclusively competent personnel who are up to the task. I left very unsatisfied.”

“What would you tell our neighbor?”

“If she seems to be the type of person who wants to do the correct thing, tell her: ‘According to what I have heard, people feel that the kashrus standard used by that company is not the highest.’ This statement is accurate and reflects exactly what you know.”

CONCLUSION

We now more fully appreciate the difficulties in maintaining high kashrus standards, particularly when producing meat. We should always hope and pray that the food we eat fulfills all the halachos that the Torah commands.

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