Must I Toivel This?

Photo by Thomas Picard from FreeImages

Question #1: The Vanilla Cruet

“We received a gift of a glass cruet, a salad oil dispenser, that we doubt we will ever use for that purpose. We decided, instead, to use it is a flower vase and were told that we do not need to toivel it. Subsequently, we decided that we might use it for soaking vanilla beans and alcohol to make our own natural vanilla extract. Do we need to toivel it?”

Question #2: Restaurant Silverware

“I have always assumed that caterers and restaurants toivel their silverware and glasses. Recently, I was told that some hechsherim do not require this. Is this true? Am I permitted to use their silverware and glasses?”

Question #3: The Salami Slicer

“I have a knife that I use for my work, which is not food-related. May I occasionally slice a salami with the knife that I have never immersed in a mikveh?”

Question #4: The Box Cutter

“Before I toivel my new steak knife, may I use it to open a box?

Answer:

After the Bnei Yisroel’s miraculous victory over the nation of Midyan, they were commanded regarding the booty that they had now acquired: Concerning the gold and the silver; the copper, the iron, the tin and the lead: any item that was used in fire needs to be placed in fire to become pure – yet, it must also be purified in mikveh water. And that which was not used in fire must pass through water (Bamidbar 31:22-23). From these verses, our Sages derive the mitzvah of tevilas keilim — the requirement to immerse metal implements used for food in a spring or kosher mikveh prior to use. According to the Talmud Yerushalmi (Avodah Zarah 5:15), the immersion of the implement elevates it to the sanctity of Jewish ownership, similar to the requirement that a non-Jew converting to Judaism submerges in a mikveh (Issur Vaheter 58:76; see also Ritva, Avodah Zarah 75b).

The Gemara (Avodah Zarah 75b) rules that, in addition to metal items, we are also required to immerse glass utensils, because both metal and glass are similar: they are recyclable. When they break, one can melt or weld the broken parts to create new utensils or to repair old ones. As a matter of fact, in the time of the Gemara, people kept broken pieces of metal and brought them to the blacksmith when they needed to manufacture new items (see Shabbos 123a). It is also interesting to note that this function is the basis of the Hebrew word for metal, mateches, which means meltable or dissolvable (see Yechezkel 22:22; Rashi, Shemos 9:33). In this characteristic, metal ware and glassware are different from items made of stone, wood or earthenware, which cannot be recycled in this manner.

Prior to dipping the metal ware or glassware, one recites a brocha, Asher ki’deshanu bemitzvosav vetzivanu al tevilas keilim. As we will soon see, this brocha is recited only when there is a definite requirement to toivel (immerse) an item.

Used without immersing

If, in violation of the Law, someone used an item that was not immersed, may one eat the food that came in contact with it? According to many authorities, this is the subject of a dispute between two opinions in the Gemara. Some early authorities (Baal Halachos Gedolos, Chapter 55; Or Zarua, Piskei Avodah Zarah #293) conclude that, indeed, this food is prohibited. However, the consensus of halachic authority is that it is permitted to eat food that was prepared using non-toiveled equipment (Tosafos, Avodah Zarah 75b s.v. Vechulan; Ritva, ad locum; Rema, Yoreh Deah 120:16). This is useful information when visiting someone who, unfortunately, does not perform the mitzvah of tevilas keilim. Although one may not use non-toiveled utensils to eat or drink, the food prepared in them remains kosher. According to most authorities, if the food is served in non-toiveled utensils, one should transfer it to utensils that do not require immersion or were properly immersed.

The halachah is that when I know that someone will use pots and other equipment that were not immersed, I may not ask him to cook for me, since I am causing him to violate the Torah (lifnei iveir).

A matir or a takkanah?

Why is it forbidden to use a utensil that has not been toiveled? There are two different ways to understand this halachah.

A matir

The first approach explains that min HaTorah one may not use a utensil that has not been immersed, similar to the halachah that one may not eat meat without first shechting the animal. This logic holds that when the Torah created the mitzvah of tevilas keilim, it prohibited use of any food utensils that require immersion, and the immersion is what permits me to use the utensils. I will refer to this approach as holding that tevilas keilim is a matir.

A takkanah

Alternatively, one can explain that, although the requirement to immerse food utensils is min HaTorah, the prohibition to use non-toiveled utensils is a takkanah, a rabbinic prohibition. The reason for this prohibition is to encourage people to immerse their utensils in a timely fashion. Chazal were concerned that if it is permitted to use utensils without immersing them, people would postpone, indefinitely, fulfilling the mitzvah.

This second approach appears to be how the Mishnah Berurah understood this mitzvah, since he states that although most authorities contend that the mitzvah to immerse utensils is min HaTorah, the prohibition to use them if they were not immersed is only rabbinic (Biur Halachah 323:7 s.v. Mutar). This exact idea is expressed by Rav Shlomoh Zalman Auerbach (Minchas Shlomoh 2:66:13, 14).

Notwithstanding the Mishnah Berurah’s understanding of this mitzvah, the Or Zarua,a rishon, writes that the prohibition to use non-immersed equipment is min HaTorah (Or Zarua, Piskei Avodah Zarah #293; A careful reading of Shaagas Aryeh #56 will demonstrate that he was of the same opinion.) This implies that the mitzvah is indeed a matir, its purpose is to permit the use of the utensil. If not, where do we have any evidence that the Torah prohibited use of a non-immersed vessel?

Rushing to immerse

Is there a halachic requirement to immerse a utensil as soon as I purchase it, or may I wait for a convenient time to immerse it, as long as I do not use the utensil in the interim?

We find a dispute among the poskim concerning this. Some rule that there is no requirement to immerse a utensil as soon as possible (Levush, as explained by Pri Megadim, Mishbetzos Zahav, Orach Chayim 323:5),whereas the Maharshal (Yam shel Shelomoh, Beitzah 2:19) explains that this question is dependent on a dispute in the Gemara (Beitzah 17b-18a). The Maharshal concludes that one is required to immerse the utensil as soon as possible, out of concern that one will mistakenly use it before it was immersed. The latter ruling is quoted by other authorities (Elyah Rabbah 323:12).

Better to borrow?

The Gemara (Avodah Zarah 75b) explains that the mitzvah of tevilas keilim does not apply to utensils that a Jew borrowed or rented from a non-Jew (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 120:8). The Torah taught that utensils that a Jew acquires require immersing, but not items that are not owned by a Jew. Furthermore, whether a utensil requires immersion is determined by who its owner is and not by who is using it. We will soon see another ramification of this ruling.

The poskim rule that, under circumstances when one cannot immerse utensils, one may transfer ownership of a utensil from a Jew to a non-Jew to avoid immersing it. Therefore, should a Jew own a utensil and have nowhere to immerse it, or if he does not have time before Shabbos or Yom Tov to immerse it, he may give it to a gentile and then borrow it back from the gentile (Mordechai, Beitzah #677; Shulchan Aruch and Rema, Yoreh Deah 120:16). Since the utensil is now owned by a gentile, there is no requirement to immerse it. Consequently, borrowing it from the gentile does not present any problem.

This ruling applies only to utensils that are owned by a non-Jew and borrowed from him by a Jew. However, if a Jew owns a utensil that he has not immersed, another Jew may not borrow or use it without immersing it (Tosafos and Rosh ad loc., both quoting Rashbam). Once the owner is required to immerse the utensil, no other Jew may use it without immersing it first.

Only klei seudah

The Gemara concludes that the mitzvah of tevilas keilim applies only to klei seudah — literally, implements used for a meal. This includes items used to prepare food or to eat. As we will soon discuss, there are some interesting ramifications of this law.

“Rav Nachman said in the name of Rabbah bar Avuha: ‘One can derive from the verse that one must immerse even brand-new items, because used vessels that were purged in fire have the same kashrus status as brand new, and yet they require immersion.’

Rav Sheishes then asked him: ‘If it is true that the mitzvah of immersing vessels is not because of kashrus concerns, then maybe one is required to immerse even clothing shears?’

Rav Nachman responded: ‘The Torah mentions only vessels that are used for meals (klei seudah)'” (Avodah Zarah 75b).

Rav Sheishes suggested that if the immersion of utensils is not a means of kashering a non-kosher vessel, then perhaps we have many more opportunities to fulfill this mitzvah, and it applies to any type of paraphernalia — even cameras, cellphones and clothing shears! However, the conclusion is that the mitzvah is limited to items used for food.

Kitchen or Leather?

Reuven is a leather worker who purchases a brand-new kitchen knife that he intends to use exclusively for this leather work. Does this knife require immersion in a mikveh?

Although this utensil was manufactured for food use, since Reuven is now the owner and he purchased it for leather work, it is no longer a food utensil.

The early authorities dispute whether someone who borrows the knife from the owner to use it for food is required to immerse it. The primary position contends that the borrower is not required to immerse the knife (Hagahos Ashri, Avodah Zarah, 5:35; Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 120:8). This approach understands that the halachic status of a utensil is determined by its owner and not by the person borrowing it. There is, however, a dissenting opinion that contends that since the owner himself would not be allowed to use the knife for food, even temporarily, someone else may not either (Issur Vaheter 58:89, quoted by Shach, Yoreh Deah 120:16). Thus, the latter approach requires that the borrower immerse this knife before using it for food. As a compromise position, some authorities conclude that one should immerse this utensil, but should not recite a brocha before doing so (Shach, Yoreh Deah 120:16).

However…

All this holds true as long as the owner, our leather worker, uses the knife exclusively for non-food use. The owner may not use it for food, even temporarily (Rema, Yoreh Deah 120:8). Furthermore, later authorities note that the Shach implies that, should Reuven decide to use the knife for food, albeit only once, he may not use the knife even for non-food use without first immersing it (Darchei Teshuvah 120:39, quoting Ginzei Elimelech; Sefer TevilaskKeilim, page 104, quoting Pri Eliyahu).

We see from this Shach a very interesting ruling. The halachah is not that food use requires that the vessel be immersed. The halachah is that a food utensil must be immersed before use – no matter what type of use.

This last ruling means that someone who purchased a knife that he intends to immerse, may not use it, even to open a package, before it has been immersed.

We can therefore answer one of our opening questions:

“I have a knife that I use for my work, which is not food related. May I occasionally slice a salami with the knife that I have never immersed in a mikveh?”

Although many people may find this ruling to be surprising, according to the Shach, you may not.

The vanilla cruet

At this point, I would like to discuss one of our opening questions, an actual shaylah that I was asked: “We received a gift of a glass cruet, a salad oil dispenser, that we doubt we will ever use for that purpose. We decided, instead, to use it is a flower vase and were told that we do not need to toivel it. Subsequently, we decided that we might use it for soaking vanilla beans and alcohol to make our own natural vanilla extract. Do we need to toivel it?”

This is an interesting question. I agree that if someone receives a vessel that is usually klei seudah, but one does not intend to use it for this purpose, there is no requirement to immerse it. Subsequently, the individual decides that he might use the cruet to process vanilla flavor, a use that would require immersing. (For reasons beyond the scope of this article, I would suggest not reciting a brocha, when immersing the cruet.) According to the Shach, once they decide to use the cruet for making vanilla flavor, not only do they now need to immerse it, but they can no longer use it for anything else. This is because a cruet is inherently a vessel that should require immersion. The only reason they were not required to immerse it until now was because they had decided not to use it for food. But once they decide to use it for food, they may not use it for anything without immersing it.

The salami knife

We can also now address a different question that was asked above: “I have a knife that I use for my work, which is not food related. May I occasionally slice a salami with the knife that I have never immersed in a mikveh?”

The answer is that, if this is a knife that was made for food use, one would not be allowed to use it for food without immersing it. On the other hand, if it is a box cutter, which is clearly not meant for food use, we have no evidence that one is required to immerse it. There are sources in halachah that state that an item that is not meant as klei seudah may be used occasionally for food, even by the owner, without requiring tevilah (see, for example, Darchei Teshuvah 120:70, 88).

Klei sechorah — “merchandise”

The halachic authorities note that a storekeeper does not toivel vessels he is planning to sell, since for him they are not klei seudah, but merchandise. Later authorities therefore coined a term “klei sechorah,” utensils used as merchandise, ruling that these items do not require immersion until they are purchased by the person intending to use them (based on Taz, Yoreh Deah 120:10).

In the nineteenth century, a question was raised concerning the definition of klei sechorah. When rail travel became commonplace, enterprising entrepreneurs began selling refreshments at train stations. (No club car on those trains!) A common occurrence was that Jewish vendors would sell beer or other beverages at the stations, which they would serve to their customers by the glassful. The question was raised whether these glasses required immersion and whether one was permitted to drink from them when the vendor presumably had not immersed them. Although it would seem that one may not use them without tevilah, there are authorities who rule that these vessels are considered klei sechorah for the merchant and that, therefore, the customer may use them (Darchei Teshuvah 120:70, 88; Shu”t Minchas Yitzchak #1:44).

According to this approach, a restaurateur or caterer is not required to immerse the utensils with which he serves his guests. Although most authorities reject this approach (Minchas Shlomoh 2:66:14), I have found many places where, based on this heter, hechsherim do not require the owner to toivel his glassware, flatware and other items.

Conclusion

According to Rav Hirsch, metal vessels, which require mankind’s mining, extracting and processing, represent man’s mastery over the earth and its materials. Whereas vessels made of earthenware or wood involve man merely shaping the world’s materials to fit his needs, the manufacture of metal demonstrates man’s creative abilities to utilize natural mineral resources to fashion matter into a usable form. Consuming food, on the other hand, serves man’s most basic physical nature. Use of metal food vessels, then, represents the intellectual aspect of man serving his physical self, which, in a sense, is the opposite of why we were created; to use our physical self to assist our intellect to do Hashem’s will. Specifically, in this instance, the Torah requires that the items hereby produced be immersed in a mikveh, to endow them with increased kedusha before they are put to food-use. This demonstrates that, although one may use one’s intellect for physical purposes, the product of one’s creative power must first be sanctified in order that we focus on the spiritual.

The Haftarah for Pinchas

This week is the next to last week that the Eretz Yisroel community and the chutz la’aretz community are still reading different parshios, still due to the fact that acharon shel Pesach fell on Shabbos. This means that in Eretz Yisroel the haftarah for Parshas Pinchas is not one of the three read during the three weeks.

In most years, Parshas Pinchas falls during the three weeks and, as a result, its haftarah is Divrei Yirmiyahu, the opening words of the book of Yirmiyahu, which is the first of the telasa deparanusa, the three special haftaros we read during the “Three Weeks” of our national mourning (Rishonim quoting Pesikta). This haftarah is usually printed in the chumashim as the haftarah for Parshas Matos.

Since in Eretz Yisroel this is one of the fairly rare years when Parshas Pinchas is read before the fast of the seventeenth of Tamuz, there the haftarah printed in the chumashim for Parshas Pinchas is read. The haftarah, which is from the book of Melachim and begins with the words Ve’yad Hashem, describes how Eliyahu admonishes the wicked monarchs Achav and Izevel. Since the Torah reading and the haftarah reading respectively mention the attributes of zeal demonstrated by Pinchas and Eliyahu, this haftarah is very appropriate for this Shabbos. Furthermore, the Midrash (Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer, end of Chapter 29; Midrash Rabbah on this week’s parsha) states that Pinchas was Eliyahu, thus providing another reason to read this haftarah on this Shabbos.

It is actually unclear whether the Midrash means that Pinchas and Eliyahu were the same person, particularly since other sources in Chazal identify Eliyahu as being either from the tribe of Binyomin or of Gad (Bereishis Rabbah 71:9), both of which are impossible if Eliyahu was Pinchas, who was a kohen. The Gemara may simply mean that Eliyahu exhibited the same personality traits as Pinchas, since both displayed tremendous zeal in upholding Hashem’s honor.

The haftarah quotes Eliyahu as saying to Hashem: Kano kineisi laHashem Elokei Tzeva’os ki azvu berischa bnei Yisrael, I have acted zealously on behalf of Hashem the G-d of Hosts, for the Children of Israel have forsaken your covenant (Melachim 1:19:10), an allegation Eliyahu soon repeats (ibid. Verse 14). According to the Midrash, Eliyahu accused Bnei Yisrael of abrogating bris milah. As a response, Hashem decreed that Eliyahu will be present at every bris to see that the Jews indeed fulfill this mitzvah. Chazal therefore instituted that there should be a seat of honor for Eliyahu at every bris (Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer, end of Chapter 29; Zohar 93a).

Indeed, Jews view the mitzvah of bris milah dearly, and have accepted to observe this mitzvah in extremely difficult circumstances. Since the mitzvah of milah is so dear, we celebrate it as a happy occasion even during the three weeks and the nine days, periods of time in which we otherwise are accustomed to mourn. For this reason, the mohel, sandek, and parents of the baby may shave or get a haircut in honor of the bris, and during the Nine Days we serve meat meals in honor of the occasion.

We should also remember that Eliyahu is not only the malach habris, the angel who attends the bris, but also represents Pinchas, the bringer and angel of peace.

Since the discussion for haftarah of Pinchas is fairly short, I am adding another short article about a different, anomalous kerias haTorah situation:

How can this happen?

Kwiz Kwestion:

Someone received revi’i, the fourth aliyah, Shabbos morning, and, later that day, received back-to-back aliyos?

This question is not at all theoretical. I actually experienced it once. How did this happen?

Explaining the question fully provides a bit of a hint at the answer. Ordinarily, the only time someone receives back-to-back aliyos is when there is no levi in shul, in which case the kohen who receives the first aliyah also receives the second aliyah, that usually reserved for a levi. A kohen receives the aliyah because kohanim are members of the tribe of levi, and the same kohen receives the aliyah, rather than spreading the wealth around by giving a different kohen the second aliyah because of a rule ein kor’in lekohen achar kohen “We do not call up two consecutive kohanim.” Chazal ruled that this is prohibited because of concern that someone will think that, after calling up the first kohen, they discovered a halachic problem with his status and therefore needed to call up a different kohen (Gittin 59b).

Now, as a kohen I can tell you that it is a very common occurrence that I receive back-to-back aliyos, one as a kohen and the other bimkom levi. But how did I manage to get revi’i without the gabbai making an error? A kohen always receives either the first aliyah of the Torah, maftir, or acharon. Now, since revi’i is never maftir or acharon, how could a kohen ever receive the aliyah of revi’i?

One Shabbos I attended a family bar mitzvah, where the minyan was only family members. Not only am I a kohen, but so are all my brothers and sons, as well as my nephew, the bachur habar mitzvah. Virtually everyone else in attendance at the minyan made in honor of the bar mitzvah was a kohen. The only non-kohanim in attendance were the bachur’s maternal grandfather, who is a yisroel, and a family friend who is a levi. Thus, the first three aliyos were: a kohen (one of the family members), the levi guest and the maternal grandfather, who received shelishi.

Now is where the fun starts. All other attendees at the minyan were kohanim, and yet we have four more aliyos, plus maftir to give out! What is a gabbai supposed to do?

Fortunately, this question is discussed by the rishonim, with a wide variety of answers. The Beis Yosef cites four opinions what to do for the four remaining aliyos.

1. Call up the same three people who were called up as kohen, levi, and shelishi, as revi’i, chamishi and shishi, and then call up the original kohen for a third time as shevi’i.

2. The yisroel who was called up as shelishi should be called up again for revi’i, chamishi, shishi, and shevi’i since he is the only yisroel in the house.

3. Call up children for the remaining four aliyos.

4. Call up different kohanim for the remaining four aliyos.

What are the reasons behind each of these approaches?

1. Call up the same three people again

Although Chazal required that we call up seven people for aliyos on Shabbos, nowhere does it say that one may not call up the same person twice. As we see from the case when the kohen receives the aliyah of the levi, someone can be called up twice and count as two people receiving aliyos. Thus, our best way to resolve this situation is to call up the same three people again, which avoids calling up two kohanim one after the other. We also avoid calling up a kohen for an aliyah that implies that he is not a kohen, except for the one kohen who already was called up as kohen. Thus, no one should make a mistake that a kohen has any problem with his pedigree.

2. Call the yisroel for five consecutive aliyos

At the time of the Mishnah and Gemara, there was no assigned baal keriyah, and the person who received the aliyah was expected to read for himself. The institution of an assigned baal keriyah began in the time of the rishonim, when it became a common problem that someone called up for an aliyah was unable to read the Torah correctly, thus calling into question whether the community fulfilled the mitzvah of kerias haTorah.

However, even during the days of the Mishnah it occasionally happened that a minyan of Jews did not include seven people who could read the Torah correctly. The Tosefta, a source dating back to the era of the Mishnah but not included in the Mishnah, discusses a case in which there is only one person in the minyan who is capable of reading the Torah. What do we do? The Tosefta (Megillah 3:5) rules that we call this person up to the Torah seven consecutive times in order to fulfill the mitzvah of seven aliyos.

Based on this Tosefta, some explain that since we cannot call up two kohanim one after the other, when we have only one Yisroel in attendance, we call him to the Torah for all the yisroel aliyos (Beis Yosef, based on his understanding of the Mordechai).

3. Call up children

Our practice is that we do not call a child up to the Torah because it is not a sign of respect that a child read the Torah for a community (see Megillah 23a). From this comment, we see that, other than this concern, a child may have an aliyah, even though he is underage to fulfill a mitzvah.

Therefore, Rabbeinu Yeruchem rules that, in the situation at hand, we should call up children for the remaining aliyos. Apparently, he considers this to be a better solution than calling up someone who has already received an aliyah. The only time we can give someone two aliyos is to a kohen when there is no levi in shul. Therefore, our only alternative is to suspend the community honor and call up children for the missing aliyos.

If there are no children in attendance, Rabbeinu Yeruchem rules that we cannot continue the reading of the Torah!

4. Call up consecutive kohanim

All the approaches we have quoted thus far contend that there is never any exception to the rule that one may not call up two kohanim consecutively. However, there are rishonim who dispute this assumption, contending that, when it is obvious to all attendees that the reason you called two kohanim consecutively was because there were no other alternatives, there is no concern that someone will think one of the kohanim has a yichus problem, and therefore Chazal were not gozeir.

The Rashba contends that when everyone in attendance realizes that there are only kohanim in the minyan, we simply call up consecutive kohanim. There is no concern not to call one kohen after another in this instance.

The Shulchan Aruch concludes that the halacha follows the Rashba, and, to the best of my knowledge, this approach is accepted by all late halachic authorities. Thus, we now have answered our opening conundrum: How did I receive revi’i, the fourth aliyah, on Shabbos morning, and, later that day, receive back-to-back aliyos?

Taking Care of the Ill — The Mitzvah of Bikur Cholim

Those of us living in Eretz Yisroel, are reading parshas Korach this week, from which the Gemara cites a source for the mitzvah of bikur cholim. Those living in chutz la’aretz, can certainly find ample reason to study the laws of bikur cholim this week.

Question #1: “Rabbi,” asked Mr. Greenberg, “My neighbor, Mrs. Friedman, is having an operation. Is it appropriate for me to visit her?”

Question #2: Does Dr. Strauss fulfill the mitzvah of bikur cholim when he makes his hospital rounds?

Question #3: “My sister-in-law is hospitalized for a few days for a minor procedure. I should really visit her, but I just can’t find the time. Is it halachically sufficient for me to call her?”

Based on a pasuk in parshas Korach, the Gemara (Nedarim 39b) teaches: “There is an allusion to the mitzvah of bikur cholim in the Torah: When Moshe declares, ‘If these people (Korach’s party) will die like most people do, and the destiny of most people will happen to them, then Hashem did not send me.’ How do we see an allusion to the mitzvah of bikur cholim in the pasuk? Moshe declared: If these people will die like most people do – if they will become ill and bedridden and people will come to inquire about their needs (in other words, illness provides an opportunity for people to fulfill the mitzvah of bikur cholim) – then people will say ‘Hashem did not send me.’” Thus, the Gemara cites this week’s parsha as one of the sources in the Torah for the mitzvah of bikur cholim since Moshe specifically asked that Korach and his party not die in the manner that most people, where this a chance to achieve this important mitzvah.

Another allusion to bikur cholim is in the beginning of Parshas Vayeira, where is says that Hashem visited Avraham Avinu three days after his Bris Milah. Rashi points out that Hashem was performing bikur cholim, visiting and providing care for the ill. In the same way, by taking care of the ill, we fulfill the mitzvah of emulating Hashem’s ways, in addition to the special mitzvah of bikur cholim (Sotah 14a). Thus, physicians, nurses or other medical professionals should have in mind before every visit or appointment that they are performing two mitzvos, one of emulating Hashem, and the other of bikur cholim. Since we rule that mitzvos tzerichos kavanah, to fulfill a mitzvah requires being cognizant of that fact, any medical professional gains much merit by being aware of this every day and all day.

Every community should have an organization devoted to the needs of the sick, and it is a tremendous merit to be involved in organizing and participating in such a wonderful chesed project (Ahavas Chesed 3:3).

The Kli Yakar (Bamidbar 16:29) offers an additional reason for fulfilling bikur cholim to benefit the visitor. Seeing someone ill influences the visitor to think about the importance of doing teshuvah. And this influence provides extra merit for the sick person, since he caused someone else to do teshuvah!

The Gemara (Nedarim 40a) reports that when one of Rabbi Akiva’s disciples was ill, no one came to check his welfare. Then Rabbi Akiva entered his dwelling, cleaned it and sprinkled water on the floor (to prevent dust from rising), and the student exclaimed, “Rabbi Akiva, you have brought me back to life!” After this experience, Rabbi Akiva taught that someone who visits the ill is considered to have saved his life!

WHY “BIKUR” CHOLIM?

What does bikur cholim mean?

It is worth noting that although “bikur” means “visit” in modern Hebrew, the original meaning of “bikur” is not “visit” but “checking.” In other words, the actual mitzvah of bikur cholim is to check which of the sick person’s needs have not been attended to (Toras HaAdam).

There are two main aspects of this mitzvah:

I. Taking care of the physical and emotional needs of someone who is ill.

II. Praying for the recovery of the ill person (Toras HaAdam, based on Nedarim 40a).

I. TAKING CARE OF PHYSICAL NEEDS

In addition to raising the sick person’s spirits by showing concern, the visitor should also ensure that the physical, financial, and medical needs of the ill person are properly being attended to, as well as other logistical concerns that may be troubling him/her. Often, well-meaning people make the effort to visit the sick, but fail to fulfill the mitzvah of bikur cholim properly, because they fail to take care of the choleh’s needs (Gesher HaChayim).

Always cheer up the choleh (Gesher HaChayim).  This is included in attending to his emotional needs.

The visit is to benefit the choleh. In most circumstances, a visit should be short and not tire out or be uncomfortable for the ill person. Sometimes the sick person wants to rest, but feels obligated to converse with a visitor (Aruch HaShulchan, Yoreh Deah 335:4). In such cases, visitors think they are performing a mitzvah, while, unfortunately, they are actually doing the opposite. It is important to remember that the entire focus of bikur cholim is on the sick person’s needs and not on the visitor’s desire to feel noble or important. I remember my mother, a”h, having such guests during one of her hospital stays; although she kept hinting that she wanted to rest, they didn’t catch on and stayed put. They thought they were performing a kind deed, while, in reality, they were harming a sick person who desperately needed to rest.

OVERNIGHT CARE

One of the greatest acts of chesed is to stay overnight with a choleh (Aruch HaShulchan, Yoreh Deah 335:3; Shu’t Tzitz Eliezer, Volume 5, Ramat Rachel, #4). A similar act of bikur cholim and true chesed is to stay overnight with a hospitalized child to enable parents to get some proper sleep and keep their family’s life in order.

A person can fulfill the mitzvah of bikur cholim even a hundred times a day (Nedarim 39b). If one frequently pops one’s head into one’s sick child’s bedroom to see how the child is doing, or periodically drops in to visit a shut-in, one fulfills a separate mitzvah each time, so long as it does not become burdensome to the choleh. Similarly, a nurse fulfills the mitzvah of bikur cholim each time he/she checks on a patient, and, therefore, she should have intent to do this for the sake of fulfilling the mitzvah.

This applies even if the nurse is paid, because the proscription against being paid to do a mitzvah applies only to the mitzvah’s minimum requirement. Once one does more than this minimum, one can be paid for the extra time one spends. The same certainly applies to someone paid to stay overnight with a sick patient.

IS THERE AN OPTIMUM TIME OF DAY TO VISIT?

The Gemara states that one should not visit a sick person during the first quarter of the day, since one usually looks healthier in the morning and the visitor may not be motivated to pray on behalf of the ill person. One should also not visit a sick person at the end of the day, when he looks much sicker and one might give up hope. Therefore, one should visit an ill person during the middle part of the day (see Nedarim 40a, and Ahavas Chesed 3:3). Rambam offers a different reason for this halacha, explaining that at other times of the day, visitors might interfere with the attendants and medical personnel who are taking care of the choleh (Hilchos Aveil 14:5).

Thus, the ideal time for visiting an ill person is in the middle of the day, unless he is receiving medical treatment at that time.

Despite the above, the custom is to visit the ill person, regardless of the time of the day. Why is this so? The Aruch HaShulchan (Yoreh Deah 335:8) explains that the Gemara’s visiting times are advisory rather than obligatory. The Gemara is saying that one should visit the ill person at the time most beneficial for his care, which is usually the afternoon, either because this does not interfere with medical care or because it is the best time to detect the patient’s medical status. However, this is only advice and can be tempered by other practical concerns.

WHAT IF THE ILL PERSON IS RECEIVING SUBSTANDARD CARE?

In this instance, one should try to upgrade the choleh’s care without agitating him in the process (Gesher HaChayim).

WHOM TO VISIT FIRST

Usually, it is a greater mitzvah to visit a poor choleh than a wealthy one. This is because there is often no one else to care for the poor person’s needs (Sefer Chassidim #361). Additionally, he may need more help because of his lack of finances, and he is more likely to be in financial distress because of his inability to work (Ahavas Chesed 3:3).

If two people need the same amount of care and one of them is a talmid chacham, the talmid chacham should be attended to first (Sefer Chassidim #361). If the talmid chacham is being attended to adequately and the other person is not, one should first take care of the other person (Sefer Chassidim #361).

CROSS-GENDER VISITING

Should a man pay a hospital visit to a female non-relative, or vice versa?

The halacha states that a man may attend to another man who is suffering from an intestinal disorder, but not to a woman suffering from such a problem, whereas a woman may attend to either a man or a woman suffering from an intestinal disorder (Mesechta Sofrim Chapter 12). This implies that one may attend to the needs of the opposite gender in all other medical situations (Shach, Yoreh Deah 335:9; Birkei Yosef, Yoreh Deah 335:4; Aruch HaShulchan, Yoreh Deah 335:11 and Shu’t Zakan Aharon 2:76).

There is a famous story of Rav Aryeh Levin, the tzaddik of Yerushalayim. He was once concerned that a certain widow who had been told not to fast on Yom Kippur would disobey orders, he personally visited her on Yom Kippur and boiled water for a cup of tea to ensure that she drank. In this way, he fulfilled the mitzvah of bikur cholim on Yom Kippur in a unique way (A Tzaddik in Our Time).

However, some halachic authorities distinguish between attending to a sick person’s needs, and visiting, contending that although a woman may usually provide a man’s nursing needs and vice versa, there is no requirement for a woman to visit an ill man (Shu’t Tzitz Eliezer, Volume 5, Ramat Rachel, and Zichron Meir pg. 71 footnote 24 quoting Shu’t Vayaan Avrohom, Yoreh Deah #25 and others). Other authorities contend that when one can assume that the woman’s medical needs are provided, a man should not visit her, because of tzniyus concerns (Shu’t Chelkas Yaakov 3:38:3; Shu’t Tzitz Eliezer, Volume 5, Ramat Rachel, #16). Instead, the man should inquire about her welfare and pray for her. I suggest asking your rav or posek for direction in these situations.

II. PRAYING FOR THE ILL

The Beis Yosef (Yoreh Deah 335) writes, “It is a great mitzvah to visit the ill, since this causes the visitor to pray on the sick person’s behalf, which revitalizes him. Furthermore, since the visitor sees the ill person, the visitor checks to see what the ill person needs.” We see that Beis Yosef considers praying for the ill an even greater part of the mitzvah than attending to his needs, since he first mentions praying and then refers to attending to the other needs as “furthermore.”

Someone who visits a sick person without praying for his recovery fails to fulfill all the requirements of the mitzvah (Toras HaAdam; Rama 335:4). Therefore, physicians, nurses, and aides who perform bikur cholim daily should accustom themselves to pray for their sick patients, in order to fulfill the mitzvah of bikur cholim. A simple method of accomplishing this is to discreetly recite a quick prayer (such as “Hashem, please heal this person among the other ill Jewish people [b’soch she’ar cholei yisrael]”) as one leaves the person’s room. (A doctor in his office can recite the same quick prayer.)

MUST ONE PRAY FOR A SICK PERSON BY NAME?

When praying in a sick person’s presence, one does not need to mention his name, and one may recite the prayer in any language. The Gemara explains that this is because the Shechinah, the Divine presence, rests above the choleh’s head (Shabbos 12b). However, when the ill person is not present, one should pray specifically in Hebrew and should mention the person’s name (Toras HaAdam; Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 335:5). If one cannot pray in Hebrew, one may do so in English or any other language except Aramaic (see Taz, Yoreh Deah 335:4).

[Incidentally, since the Shechinah is in the choleh’s presence, visitors should act in a dignified manner (Shabbos 12b; Shl”a). This includes both their behavior and their mode of dress.]

Why must one pray in Hebrew when the ill person is not present? Rashi explains that in such a case, when one prays for an individual, angels have to transport the prayer to the Divine presence (the Shechinah) – these angels transport only prayers recited in Hebrew and not those recited in Aramaic (Rashi, Shabbos 12b s.v. Deshechinah). However, when praying in the presence of the sick person, one may pray in any language, since the Shechinah is nearby and the prayer does not require the angels to transport it on high (Shabbos 12b).

MAY ONE PRAY IN ENGLISH FOR THE ILL?

This explains the difference between Hebrew and Aramaic. What about other languages? Do the angels “transport” prayer recited in a different language?

To answer this question, we must first explain why angels do not transport Aramaic prayers?

The halachic authorities dispute why the angels do not convey prayers recited in Aramaic. Some contend that angels communicate only in Hebrew and, furthermore, only convey a prayer that they understand (Tosafos, Shabbos 12b s.v. She’ayn). According to this approach, the angels convey only Hebrew prayers. However, other authorities contend that the angels do not convey Aramaic prayers because they view this language as corrupted Hebrew and not a real language (Rosh, Berachos 2:2). Similarly, the angels will not convey a prayer recited in slang or expressed in an undignified way. According to the latter opinion, the angels will convey a prayer recited in any proper language, and one may pray in English for an ill person even if he is not present.

The Shulchan Aruch quotes both opinions, but considers the first opinion to be the primary approach (Orach Chayim 101:4). However, in Yoreh Deah 335:5, the Shulchan Aruch omits the second opinion completely. The commentaries on the Shulchan Aruch raise this point, and conclude that the Shulchan Aruch felt that praying for an ill person is such a serious matter that one should certainly follow the more stringent approach and pray only in Hebrew when the choleh is not present (Taz, Yoreh Deah 335:4). Therefore, one should not pray for an individual sick person’s needs in any language other than Hebrew. Only if one is unable to pray in Hebrew, may one rely on the second opinion and pray in any language other than Aramaic.

DOES ONE FULFILL BIKUR CHOLIM OVER THE TELEPHONE?

To answer this question, let us review the reasons for this mitzvah and see if a telephone call fulfills them. One reason to visit the ill is to see if they have any needs that are not being attended to. Although a phone call might discover this, being physically present at the bedside is usually a better method of ascertaining what is needed. The second reason one visits the ill is to motivate the visitor to pray on their behalf. Again, although one may be motivated by a phone call, it is rarely as effective as a visit. Furthermore, although a phone call can cheer up the choleh and make him feel important, a personal visit accomplishes this far more effectively. Therefore, most aspects of this mitzvah require a personal visit. However, in cases where one cannot actually visit the choleh, for example, when a visit is uncomfortable for the patient or unwanted, one should call (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 1:223; Shu’t Chelkas Yaakov 2:128). Some authorities contend that it is better for a man to call, rather than visit, a hospitalized or bed-ridden woman who is not a relative, since it is difficult for an ill person to maintain the appropriate level of tzniyus (Chelkas Yaakov 3:38:3).

ALWAYS PRAY FOR GOOD HEALTH

A healthy person should daven for continuing good health, because it is far easier to pray that one remain healthy than to pray for a cure after one is already ill. This is because a healthy person remains well so long as no bad judgment is brought against him in the heavenly tribunal, whereas an ill person needs zechuyos to recover. This latter instance is not desirable for two reasons — first, the choleh may not have sufficient zechuyos, and second, even if he does, he will lose some of his zechuyos in order to get well.

Before taking medicine or undergoing other medical treatment one should recite a short prayer: “May it be Your will, Hashem my G-d, that this treatment will heal, for You are a true Healer” (Magen Avraham 230:6; Mishnah Berurah 230:6, based on Berachos 60a).

People who fulfill the mitzvah of bikur cholim are promised tremendous reward in Olam Haba, in addition to many rewards in this world (Shabbos 127a). Someone who fulfills the mitzvah of bikur cholim properly is considered as if he saved people’s lives and is rewarded by being spared any severe punishment (Nedarim 40a).

May Hashem send refuah shleimah to all the cholim of Klal Yisrael!

Do We Really Want to Be Tahor?

Question #1: Tanner Training

“In my work, I tan animal hides. Should I train for a different parnasah, so that I can make a living after Moshiach comes?”

Question #2: Amorphous Amphibians

“What is the difference between a toad and a frog?”

Introduction:

Since, unfortunately, our Beis Hamikdash still lies in ruins, the laws of tumah and taharah do not affect our daily lives significantly. As a result, many people do not approach the study of these laws enthusiastically, and do not pay adequate attention to the Torah readings about this topic. Yet, our prayers for Moshiach to come at any moment require that we be fully knowledgeable of the laws of tumah and taharah and that we are prepared to observe them. As the Gemara teaches, in the days of Chizkiyahu Hamelech, they searched the entire Land of Israel, from the northern to the southern tips, and could not find a single man, woman or child who was not completely conversant in every detail of the laws of tumah and taharah (Sanhedrin 94b). The situation should be this way today. This is all the more so, since we have a responsibility to comprehend the weekly parshah, and some of these laws are discussed in parshas Shemini.

Someone who becomes tamei may not enter the Beis Hamikdash or consume terumah, ma’aser sheini, bikkurim or kodoshim, foods that have sanctity.

The following passage of this week’s parshah mentions eleven different categories of the laws of tumah, which I have numbered in the selection below to facilitate explaining them afterward. The Torah writes:

Among animals that walk on all fours (1), anything that walks upon its forepaws* is impure (tamei). Whoever touches the carcass of such an animal will be tamei until evening. And whoever carries their carcass must wash his clothes, and he is tamei until evening, because these animals are tamei for you.

And the following creatures that creep on the ground (2) are tamei for you: The weasel,** the mouse, and the various species of toad. Also the hedgehog, the koach,*** the lizard, the snail and the mole. These are tamei to you among all the creeping animals – whoever touches them after they are dead will be tamei until evening. And anything that falls upon them after they are dead will become tamei, whether it is a wooden vessel (3) or a garment (4) or leather (5) or sackcloth (6) – any vessel with which work is performed (7). It must be immersed in water, and then it remains tamei until evening, at which point it becomes tahor.

Furthermore, any part of them (that is, the eight tamei “creeping creatures”) that will fall inside any earthenware vessel (8), whatever is inside it will become tamei and you shall break it (that is,the earthenware vessel). And any edible food (9) that had water touch it can become tamei. Similarly, any liquid (10) that can be drunk will become tamei, if inside such a vessel. Furthermore, anything on which part of a carcass falls will become tamei. An oven or stove (11) should be destroyed, because they are tamei, and when you use them, they will be tamei (Vayikra 11:27-35).

The Torah describes many different types of tumah (spiritual contamination), each with its own laws. Every word used here has a very specific halachic meaning. Let us explore some of the laws of the different categories mentioned.

(1) Neveilah

When discussing someone who touched an animal carcass (neveilah), the Torah specifies that a person becomes tamei whether he touched it or carried it, but notes a halachic difference between the neveilah that was touched or was carried. Germane to carrying the carcass, which is called tumas masa, the Torah says that he must wash his clothes, but omits this detail when discussing someone who touches a carcass, which is called tumas maga. We see here a difference in halachah between the person who carries neveilah and one who touches it, without moving it. One who carries neveilah contaminates any utensils, food or beverage susceptible to tumah that he touches while he carries it. The clothes that he wears are used by the Torah as an example of any item that he touches while carrying or moving the neveilah. This tumah is called tumah be’chiburin, literally, tumah by connection. Any keilim, utensils or appliances, that now become tamei will require immersion in a mikveh or spring, and will become tahor again at the subsequent nightfall. (There is one type of utensil that is not affected by tumah be’chiburin — earthenware vessels that were touched by a person while he carried a neveilah remain tahor. Also, tumah be’chiburin of neveilah does not contaminate people – therefore someone touching the person who is carrying the neveilah remains tahor.) However, someone who touches a neveilah without causing it to move does not contaminate something he touches at the same time. Whereas he himself becomes tamei and remains tamei, until he immerses in a mikveh or spring and then awaits nightfall afterwards, what he touches at the time remains tahor.

By the way, for those in chutz la’aretz, becoming tamei by moving or touching neveilah is not an uncommon situation. For example, someone who moves a package of packaged non-kosher meat in the supermarket has just carried neveilah and made himself and his clothes tamei (although, in all likelihood, they were already tamei).

Tanner training

At this point, let us examine one of our opening questions:

“In my work, I tan animal hides. Should I train for a different parnasah, so that I can make a living after Moshiach comes?”

The questioner realizes that someone who tans leather will make himself tamei, if he handles the carcasses of animals. However, once the flesh is removed, the hide itself does not generate tumah (see Mishnah Chullin 117b). Furthermore, even if our questioner handles neveilos, he can make himself tahor through immersion in a mikveh. It is indeed true that he may not enter the Beis Hamikdash or consume terumah, ma’aser sheini, bikkurim or kodoshim once he becomes tamei, but this does not preclude his earning his livelihood that way.

(2) Sheretz

The Torah lists eight creeping creatures that generate tumah, if one touches them after they are dead. As the Ibn Ezra already notes, we are uncertain as to the exact identity of these eight creatures. When Eliyahu arrives, he will identify them, so that we can properly observe these laws. If we follow the translation that I provided above, based on Rashi and other traditional commentaries, the eight include an interesting mixture of small mammals (mostly rodents), reptiles, amphibians and mollusks. All usually lie close to the ground, and most are small. However, if the koach is identified correctly as a monitor, it is the largest of the lizards and can grow as long as ten feet.

Yet, if our translation is correct, other small creatures, such as snakes, frogs, insects and other rodents are not included under the heading of tumas sheratzim. Although it may not seem very aesthetically pleasing to touch other dead insects, rodents or other small creatures, one does not become tamei when one touches them. One should wash one’s hands because of sanitary reasons, but being sanitary and becoming tamei are dissimilar concepts.

By the way, the word tzav, which is used in Modern Hebrew for turtle, is one of the sheratzim, but means toad, according to Rashi. I have no idea who decided to use this word for turtle, but it is not consistent with halachic authorities. There is no reason to assume that a turtle is tamei.

Amorphous amphibians

At this point, let us refer back to one of our opening questions: “What is the difference between a toad and a frog?”

A zoologist will note several differences between them, but this is a halachic article. According to Rashi (Vayikra 11:29), a toad is one of the eight sheratzim that are tamei, and a frog is not (see Rashi, Shemos 7:29 and also see Mishnayos Taharos 5:1,4 and Rash and Bartenura).

Laws of sheratzim

Regarding the tumah of sheratzim, the Torah states that one who touches them becomes tamei, but it mentions nothing about the person’s clothing requiring immersion, nor does it state that someone becomes tamei when he carries them. This is because a sheretz makes someone tamei only if he touches it, and not if he moves it without touching. Furthermore, his clothing or anything else he touches while touching the sheretz does not become tamei, unless it is in direct physical contact with the sheretz.

Toad vs. frog

Why did the Torah declare only these eight creatures to be tamei, but no others?

This is a question that we can ask, but probably not answer, other than to accept the gezeiras hakasuv, the declaration of the Torah, and observe it as Hashem’s will. Although we endeavor to explain the reasons for mitzvos, we realize that we can never assume that we understand the reason for a mitzvah. In the instance of most mitzvos, we explore possible reasons for a mitzvah in order to enhance our experience when we observe it. This we do, when we can. However, I have not found any commentary that endeavors to explain what it is about these eight specific creeping creatures, but not any of the others, that generates tumah.

Utensils that become tamei

Returning to our passage, after mentioning the tumah of neveilah and sheretz, the Torah lists eight categories of items that become tamei from contact with neveilah and sheretz. Among the specific items mentioned are: (3) wooden vessels, (4) garments, (5) leather items, (6) sackcloth, (7) vessels described by an obscure clause, “any vessel with which work is performed,” (8) earthenware, (9) food and (10) beverages. Each of these categories has its own specific laws, all of which are hinted at in the pasuk. For reasons that will soon become obvious, I will divide this list into three groups. First we will discuss items 3-7, which I will call, collectively, “immersible utensils.”

(3) Wooden utensils

Wooden vessels become tamei when they have a receptable which can hold liquid (called a beis kibul) or when people use them and place items atop them, such as a table (Rambam, Hilchos Keilim 4:1). These ideas are intimated by the Torah when it describes wooden vessels.

(4-5) Garments and leather

All types of garments are susceptible to tumah, although there is a dispute among late authorities concerning whether synthetic fabrics can become tamei.

(6) Sacks

Yes, I wrote sacks, not socks. Sackcloth means something manufactured from woven goat’s hair or animal hair, such as from the tail-hair of cows (Sifra). In general, goat hair is too coarse for use as clothing, but was used in earlier generations similar to the way that we would use burlap, as a bag or sack for storage or transportation. (There are varieties of goat, such as cashmere and mohair, that produce extremely fine wool used for garments, but most goats do not.)

(7) From slingshots to tefillin

The Torah mentions that any vessel with which work is performed can become tamei from a sheretz. What is included in this category? The Sifra explains that this verse teaches that the following three items become tamei: The sling of a slingshot, tefillin, and the envelope in which one places an amulet.

What do slingshots have in common with tefillin and envelopes?

These are three items that contain a beis kibul, a receptacle to hold something, yet someone might think that they do not qualify as “vessels.” The Torah is teaching that these are considered to be receptacles, or “vessels,” to become tamei. In the case of the sling, it is meant to hold the marble, stone or other projectile, albeit for a very brief period of time. In the case of tefillin, the batim of the tefillin contain the parshiyos, and similarly in the case of an amulet.

(8) Earthenware

Note that I have separated earthenware and not included it under the same category as I treated the other utensils. This is because earthenware has many halachic differences, both lenient and stringent, from all other utensils.

All other utensils fall under one of two categories:

(A) Utensils that do not become tamei, which is a topic we will not be discussing in this article.

(B) Utensils that do become tamei, but which can then become tahor again, after they are immersed in a mikveh or spring. This latter categoryis called klei shetifah, literally, immersible utensils.

(C) Earthenware vessels fall under a third category, because once they become tamei, the only way they can become tahor again is by breaking them. Immersing them in a mikveh or spring does not make them tahor.

How is earthenware different?

There are also several other ways whereby halachah treats earthenware vessels differently from how it treats immersible utensils. The section of the Torah that I quoted above alludes to four of the ways that earthenware vessels are different from immersible utensils.

Contaminate from outside

(I) Immersible utensils become contaminated when they come in contact with neveilah, sheretz or other tamei sources, regardless as to whether they are touched on their internal surface or on their outside. However, if something tamei touched the outside of an earthenware vessel, it remains tahor. An earthenware vessel contracts tumah only from its inside, and only when it has a beis kibul — an area that can service as a “container” to hold liquid. As a result, a flat earthenware board or an earthenware fork cannot become tamei since it has no “inside” that holds liquid.

Immersion does not help

(II) As I mentioned above, another way that earthenware vessels are different from other utensils is that once they become tamei, there is no means of making them tahor again, other than breaking them.

Airspace

(III) A third way that earthenware vessels are different from other utensils is that they become tamei if a tamei source, such as a sheretz or neveilah, is suspended inside the airspace of the earthenware vessel, even if the sheretz or neveilah does not touch the vessel. Halachically, there is no difference between the airspace of an earthenware vessel and touching it on the inside – either way makes the earthenware vessel tamei.

Contaminating from the inside

(IV) A fourth way that earthenware vessels are different from other utensils is that a tamei earthenware vessel spreads tumah to any food or beverage that is inside its airspace, even if the food or beverage never touched the vessel directly.

These four laws regarding earthenware vessels are all taught in a few words in the pasuk that I mentioned above: Furthermore, any part of them (that is, the eight tamei creatures) that will fall inside any earthenware vessel, whatever is inside it will become tamei and you shall break it (that is,the earthenware vessel).

The Torah mentions that an earthenware vessel contracts tumah only when something falls inside it, and, furthermore, it does not say that the tamei substance must actually touch the earthenware vessel. Also, note that what is inside the earthenware vessel becomes tamei, even if it did not touch the vessel. And, lastly, upon becoming tamei, the Torah mentions only one solution for the earthenware vessel –breaking it. There is no other way to make it tahor.

(11) Ovens and stoves

Let us return to the pesukim quoted above. At this point, we will discuss other halachos germane to earthenware vessels. The above-quoted passage states: Anything on which part of a carcass falls will become tamei. An oven or stove should be destroyed, because they are tamei, and when you use them, they will be tamei.

The ovens of the era of the Torah and Chazal were made of earthenware. Their shape was somewhat similar to a large donut, meaning they were completely open on top and bottom. The open bottom was placed over a hollow in the ground, and then the outside of the oven was lined with mud or clay to insulate it well. Fuel was placed inside the oven and kindled by means of an opening in the side. The food being cooked or baked was placed inside either through this opening or from on top. When they were used this way as ovens, the open top was covered, usually with a piece of earthenware. When these ovens were used as stoves, the pots of food were placed on the open top.

My reasons for explaining these facts is not as an archaeologist, but so that we can understand better both the pasuk of the Torah and the halachah. Although ovens and stoves were made of earthenware, the Torah mentions them under a different heading. This is because other earthenware vessels become tamei only when they have a beis kibul, a receptacle. Following this definition, earthenware ovens and stoves should not become tamei, since they have no bottom. The Torah teaches that ovens and stoves are susceptible to tumah, and have the rules of other earthenware vessels, notwithstanding the fact that they have no beis kibul.

There are halachic ramifications of this distinction, but we will not discuss that in this article. The intrepid reader is referred to a halachic discussion in Ohalos 12:1, and the commentaries thereon.

Conclusion

This article has served as an introduction to some of the basic rules of tumah and taharah, particularly as they relate to utensils. We hope and pray to be able to observe all of these laws soon.

* This translation follows Malbim.

** With the exception of the koach, our translation follows Rashi’s commentary.

*** Most commentators identify this either with the chameleon or with the monitor, both of which are varieties of lizard.

Is It a Red Heifer?

Although this week is not Parshas Parah, since I have a very exciting and germane article for next week that fits Parshas Shemini, I am sending out this article already this week.

Question #1: Cow or Heifer?

Which is the correct translation of parah adumah, “red cow” or “red heifer”?

Question # 2: How to?

How does a parah adumah make you tahor?

Introduction

Twice a year, once as maftir on Parshas Parah, and once when we read Parshas Chukas, we read the entire Torah portion that describes how the parah adumah is prepared. We also daven fervently three times a day for Moshiach to come, at which time the taharah process using the parah adumah will again become part of our lives. This is because this process is the only way to become tahor from tumas meis, tumah that is contracted from a corpse, and, in the post-Moshiach era, we will want to be tahor whenever we can. There is much detail about the laws of parah adumah, most of which is explained in the twelve chapters of Mishnayos Parah and the fifteen chapters of the laws of parah adumah in the Rambam’s Mishnah Torah. This article will discuss many of the basic laws that will apply when we use the parah adumah to become tahor, speedily and in our days.

Three topics

The Torah’s passage about parah adumah at the beginning of parshas Chukas can be divided into three sections. The first part discusses the processing of the parah adumah –how it must be processed into the special ashes necessary to make someone tahor. The second part, which we will not discuss in this article, contains the basic rules of tumas meis. The third part explains the process whereby parah adumah ashes make someone tahor.

History of the parah adumah

According to the Mishnah (Parah 3:4), a total of eight paros adumos were processed from the time of Moshe Rabbeinu until the destruction of the second Beis Hamikdash. The first was the one described in the Torah, in which the key player was Elazar, who was, at the time, the segan, the associate kohein gadol. The Mishnah (4:1) quotes a dispute among tanna’im whether the other paros adumus could be processed only by a kohein gadol, or whether any kohein hedyot was kosher. The Rambam (Hilchos Parah Adumah 1:11) concludes that a kohein hedyot could process the parah adumah, although, it appears that each time it was, indeed, the kohein gadol who did so (Parah 3:8). This is very logical. Since it was the kohein gadol’s decision who would be honored to process the parah adumah, and preparing the parah adumah was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, the kohein gadol would want to perform the mitzvah himself.

Cow or heifer?

One question we will address is whether the parah adumah is a cow or a heifer. It is popular to refer to the parah adumah as a red heifer; however, let us examine whether this term is accurate. To do so, we need to know the difference between a cow and a heifer and then to analyze the laws of parah adumah.

My desktop dictionary defines a heifer as: “a young cow, especially one that has not yet given birth.” The Wikipedia definition is: “A young female before she has had a calf of her own and is under three years of age.”

A cow is defined as a mature female. According to my desktop dictionary, it does not need to be fully mature to be a cow, since a heifer is called a “young cow.” In other words, “heifer” should be used to describe the bovine equivalent of a young teenager, and “cow” includes also a physically mature adult.

From some of the mishnayos in Mesechta Parah, we may be able to rally proof regarding which term is more accurate. The Mishnah cites a dispute among tanna’im whether a parah that is or was ever pregnant may be used as a parah adumah. The basis of the dispute concerns the following question: One of the laws of parah adumah is that it may never have performed any type of work. Since a pregnant cow is carrying her offspring, is this considered doing work? Most women will agree that being pregnant is far harder than most other physical work that they have ever performed.

Germane to our current discussion whether a parah adumah should be defined as a cow or as a heifer, cow appears to be the better choice, since a heifer precludes it having calved.

There is actually even stronger proof whether cow or heifer is the better translation of parah adumah.The opening Mishnah of Mesechta Parah cites a dispute regarding the age of a parah adumah. The Mishnah cites four opinions: Rabbi Eliezer rules that a parah adumah must be in its second year, or past its first birthday. The Chachomim rule that it must be past its second birthday, otherwise it is too young, and that, preferably, it should be before its fourth birthday. Rabbi Meir rules that it can be as old as its fifth birthday. According to both the Chachomim and Rabbi Meir, it could be older than four or five, but it is advised not to wait this long, since it could begin to become black, which would invalidate it. Rabbi Yehoshua, the fourth opinion, rules that it should be in its third year, and not older.

We see that most tanna’im accept that an animal more than three years old is kosher as a parah adumah. According to the Wikipedia definition of a heifer, this means that a parah adumah should no longer be called a heifer – it may be too old. However, according to Rabbi Eliezer, and possibly Rabbi Yehoshua, it is not incorrect to call a parah adumah a “red heifer,” although “red cow” would also be accurate. In conclusion, since we follow the ruling that a parah adumah may be more than three years old, the most accurate definition is “red cow” and not “red heifer.”

Processing the parah adumah

The Mishnah describes how the kohein who is in charge of processing the parah adumah spent a week preparing for his task, and how the parah was transported to Har Hazeisim, the Mount of Olives, where it was processed. Although the parah adumah had many of the laws of a korban, technically it was not a korban, and it was prepared outside the Beis Hamikdash grounds.

A huge wood pyre was constructed on Har Hazeisim, and the parah adumah, after being slaughtered and having its blood sprinkled in a very specific way by the kohein, was then burned together with the entire pyre. Many more details of this process are mentioned in the posuk and the Mishnah (third chapter of Parah).

We were permitted and encouraged to add as much wood as possible to the pyre on which the parah adumah was burned. Indeed, the ashes of the parah adumah used to make people tahor were predominantly ashes from the wood with which it was burned. The flesh of the parah adumah was completely burned, but its bones were ground up and mixed into the ashes (Parah 3:11).

There are many details involved in the processing of the parah adumah. Among the many interesting laws is that anyone who wanted to be involved in burning the parah adumah was required to first purify himself and all his clothes, expressly for the purposes of parah adumah. Also, anyone involved in burning the parah adumah could not do any other activity while was being burned.

Making someone tahor

After the parah adumah and its pyre were reduced to ashes, the ash was collected and divided into three parts: one part was kept on the Beis Hamikdash grounds, one part on Har Hazeisim, and the third part was distributed for people to use everywhere around the country (Parah 3:11). The parah adumah ash, which at this stage in its processing is called eifer chatas, was stored in closed containers, until needed for purification purposes.

Milui, kidush, and haza’ah

In order to make the next section easier to absorb, I will divide it into two subtopics. The first is called milui and kidush, whereby the ashes of the parah adumah are used to convert spring water (similar to what you would purchase for drinking) into mei chatas,the special water that makes people tahor. The second subtopic is called haza’ah, which refers to the sprinkling of the mei chatas water onto people or vessels to make them tahor.

Milui — drawing spring water

The first step in preparing the mei chatas is the drawing of the water. Drinkable spring water must be drawn directly from a spring with a tahor vessel. The vessel must be made either of material that is not susceptible to tumah (eino mekabel tumah), such as hollowed-out stone, or, if made from material that is susceptible to tumah (mekabel tumah), such as wood or metal, it must have been made tahor specifically to use for parah adumah. For this reason, someone who immersed a wooden or metal bowl or pot in order to eat or prepare with it terumah or korbanos or non-holy food (chullin) may not use the bowl or pot for the preparation of parah adumah. This rule is one of many takanos chachamim that Chazal instituted, to safeguard the special taharah status of the parah adumah.

Any person or vessel that is intended to come in contact with the eifer chatas, the mei chatas, or with the people and vessels used to process them may not touch anything that can potentially become tamei, unless the person or vessel was previously made tahor specifically for parah adumah purposes. Thus, although the individuals processing, guarding or transporting the parah adumah are permitted to eat and drink, they are severely restricted in what they are permitted to eat or drink. They may eat only food that never came in contact with most liquids (including water, milk, olive oil, wine, grape juice or honey), and they may drink only water that was drawn from a spring especially for the purpose of parah adumah.

The person who draws the water must be completely focused on his job. Performing any other activity not necessary for the production of the mei chatas while drawing the water or transporting it will invalidate it, even doing a task so simple as providing someone with directions or tossing a piece of fruit into a bin.

There is a requirement to be meticulously careful that no other water mix into the mei chatas from the time that it is drawn. For example, if it is left exposed in such a way that dew may enter it, it becomes invalid (Parah 9:1).

Kidush

The drawn spring water must be supervised by a tahor person, until the kidush procedure is performed. The kidush is done by taking some of the eifer chatas ashes and sprinkling them onto the water.

One may draw many buckets of water and pour them into a much larger vat until the vat is full. At that point, one may take a minimal amount of eifer chatas and sprinkle it onto the vat. The amount of ashes sprinkled must be enough that one can see it as it touches the water.

Because of a takanas chachomim, it is required that the person performing kidush do so while he is barefoot (Parah 8:2). This is because of concern that his shoes or sandals might become tamei while he is performing the kidush, and they will, in turn, make him tamei, which will invalidate the entire procedure. Those eager to understand the reason for this takanah more thoroughly are referred to the commentaries to Parah 8:2.

Milui and kidush do not require that they be performed by a kohein – a Yisroel is fine.

May a woman?

Because of a very complicated droshas Chazal, there is a dispute among tanna’im whether a woman or a child may perform milui or kidush. According to Rabbi Yehudah, a (male) child may perform them, but not a woman, whereas the majority opinion is that a woman may perform these activities, but not a child (Parah 5:4; Sotah 43a).

Haza’ah

The Torah teaches that to become tahor after contracting tumas meis, one must undergo the following procedure: On the third day after one became tamei, or later, one is sprinkled with the mei chatas. The sprinkling is repeated four or more days later. These two sprinklings are referred to transpiring on the “third” and “seventh” days. In reality, “third” and “seventh” are minimums. The mei chatas cannot be sprinkled earlier than the third day after the person or utensil contracted tumah. Whenever that sprinkling actually occurs, at least four days must past before the second sprinkling can take place. Sometime after the second sprinkling is performed, the person must immerse himself in a spring or a mikveh and then await the nightfall after his immersion to become completely tahor.

The same law applies to most vessels that become tamei from contact with a corpse. They require sprinkling on the third or later day after contracting tumah, a second sprinkling four or more days later, immersion in a spring or mikveh, and then waiting until nightfall. After these four steps have been taken, the vessel becomes completely tahor.

Eizov

This sprinkling is done with a special plant called an eizov, which is usually translated as “hyssop.” However, the word “hyssop” is simply the word eizov transliterated into Greek, which was then transliterated into Latin and then English, and someone decided that it might refer to an herb that they chose at random. According to different approaches to explaining a passage of Gemara (Shabbos 109b), eizov might mean oregano, sage or marjoram, all of which are fragrant shrubs. From the Mishnah (Parah 11:7), it is evident that the eizov was considered edible, presumably either as a salad green or in some form of dip. It is absolutely essential that one use the correct variety meant by the Torah as eizov (see Parah 11:7). We will not know for certain which species is intended until Eliyohu returns to identify it for us.

Intent

Although the people that are becoming tahor do not have to intend that they are becoming tahor, the person performing the haza’ah must have in mind that the procedure he is performing is for the purpose of making them tahor. If he did not have this in mind, they remain tamei.

Direct impact

The water that is being sprinkled must land on the tamei person or utensil directly – if it ricocheted off another item and then landed onto the tamei person or utensil, they remain tamei.

Minimum contact – substantive impact

The people or implements becoming tahor need be touched by only one drop of the mei chatas waters. Indeed, there is no halachic advantage to receiving a bigger sprinkling or more than one sprinkling on a day. As I mentioned above, to become tahor the person or implement must have mei chatas sprinkled on them twice – once on the third day (or later) from which they became tamei meis, and a second time, at least four days later (this is referred to as the “seventh day” – i. e., at least four days after the first sprinkling). The people or implements then require immersion in a mikveh or spring and become completely tahor on the next nightfall. Until that time, the people may not enter the Beis Hamikdash grounds, nor may they consume terumah or kodoshim. However, they are permitted to touch regular food without contaminating it, and they may also handle maaser sheini.

May a woman II

The tanna’im dispute whether a woman or a child can perform the haza’ah. Because of the hermeneutic rules, this dispute is the exact opposite of what I mentioned above, regarding the milui and kidush. According to Rabbi Yehudah, a woman may perform the haza’ah, but not a child, whereas according to the majority opinion, which is the way we rule, a (male) child can perform this ritual, but not a woman (Parah 12:10; Yoma 43a).

Since we mentioned above that the person performing the haza’ah must know that he is making someone tahor, a very young child cannot perform haza’ah, but only a child old enough to understand that his act is making someone tahor (Parah 12:10, see commentaries).

Conclusion

Because of space considerations, several important aspects of the parah adumah have been omitted in this article. Included in the topics that have been omitted is the full explanation of the famous statement that parah adumah is metaheir es hatemei’im umetamei es hatehorim: although it makes tamei things tahor, it also sometimes makes tahor things tamei. We also did not discuss what defines the parah adumah as being completely red, nor did we discuss the dispute with the tzedukim about the proper processing of the parah adumah, which had major halachic ramifications. We will have to return to the topic to discuss these laws in future articles.

Afterword

One of Rav Moshe Feinstein’s talmidim related to me the following story that he himself observed. A completely red, female calf had been born. Since this is indeed a rare occurrence, much conversation developed concerning whether this was positive indication that Moshiach would be arriving soon and this calf would provide the parah adumah necessary to make people and vessels tahor.

Someone approached Rav Moshe to see his reaction to hearing this welcome news, and was surprised that Rav Moshe did not react at all. When asked further whether he felt that this was any indication of Moshiach’s imminent arrival, Rav Moshe responded: “I daven every day for Moshiach to come NOW. The parah adumah is not kosher until it is past its second birthday. Do you mean to tell me that I must wait two more years for Moshiach?”

Shul Building, Part II

Question #1: One shul

“May we merge two existent shullen, when each has its own minhagim?”

Question #2: Two shuls

“Is it permitted to leave a shul to start our own?’

Question #3: More seats?

“Can there ever be a problem with adding more seats to a shul?”

Introduction:

Our batei kenesiyos and batei midrashos, the buildings that we designate for prayer and for study, are referred to as our mikdash me’at, our holy buildings reminiscent of the the sanctity of the Mishkan and the Beis Hamikdash.

As I mentioned in last week’s article, there is a halachic requirement to build a shul. To quote the Rambam (Hilchos Tefillah 11:1-2), Any place that has ten Jews must have available a building that they can enter to pray at every time of prayer.

Changing neighborhoods

An interesting teshuvah from Rav Moshe relates to a shul building that had been originally planned with a lower level to use as a social hall, with the shul intended to be on the upper floor. They began to use the social hall for davening until they built the shul on top, but the neighborhood began to change. Before they even finished the social hall, it became clear that they would have no need to complete the structure of the building. They never finished the building, and instead, directed the efforts and finances toward purchasing a new shul in a neighborhood to which people were moving. The old shul, or, more accurately, the “social hall” part of the old shul building, is at the stage where there is barely a minyan left, and the dwindling numbers imply that it is not going to be very long until there is no functioning minyan. The question is that they would like to sell the old building and use the money to complete the purchase of the new building. Furthermore, the mikveh in the town is now in a neighborhood to which women are hesitant to travel, so they want to use the funds from the old shul building to defray the construction costs of a necessary new mikveh.

Because of the specific circumstances involved, including that it is unlikely that people from the outside will drop in to daven in this minyan anymore, Rav Moshe rules that they are permitted to sell the building.

A similar responsum from Rav Moshe was when they needed to create a shul in a neighborhood where there was a good chance that the Jewish community there would not last long. Rather than declare their building a shul, they called it a library and used it as their shul. Rav Moshe suggests that they might have been required to do so, since they knew from the outset that the days of the Jewish community were numbered (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim, 2:44).

More seats?

At this point, let us discuss the third of our opening questions:

“Can there ever be a problem with adding more seats to a shul?”

There is an early responsum on the topic (Shu”t Harivosh #253), and the ruling might seem to us counterintuitive. A wealthy individual purchased several seats in the shul many years before. Probably, when the shul was built, the community had sold or perhaps even auctioned seats, at prices depending on their location (think of the relative ticket prices on theater seats, lehavdil). The seats are considered private property and are even at times rented out to others.

There is now a shortage of seats in the shul and the community would like to add new seats in empty areas of the shul. The wealthy fellow claims that this will make it more difficult for him to get to his seat, and that his own seat will be more crowded as a result. Can the community add seats, notwithstanding his claim?

The Rivosh rules that the community cannot add new seats, because the wealthy fellow already owns the right to get to his seat in a comfortable way. However, the Rivosh rules that the community may do the following to try to increase the availability of seats:

1. They may set a limit on the rental price of the existing seats.

2. They may pass a regulation that unused seats must be rented out.

Building two shuls

There is an old Jewish joke about the Jew stranded on a desert island who built two shuls, one to daven in, and the other never to walk into. Is there any halachic basis to this habit we have of opening several competing shullen in the same neighborhood?

Indeed, there are old responsa regarding this question. The Radbaz, one of the greatest halachic authorities of the fifteenth century, was asked such a shaylah (Shu”t Haradbaz #910).

A man named Yehudah Abualfas wanted to open a second shul in his town. The background appears to be as follows: The community, which may have been located somewhere in Egypt, was composed predominantly of families who originated from Tunisia, but there were individuals who had settled there from other places. The shul followed the minhag of Tunis.

Yehudah Abualfas, who was born and raised in this community with Tunisian customs, and everyone else living in the town, were members of the general community. They donated to the community’s tzedakah fund, participated in its fees and taxes, and davened in the community shul which followed minhagei Tunis.

Abualfas’s family originated from a place where they followed the customs of the Spanish communities, not those of Tunisia. (Ashkenazim tend to group Sefardim and Edot Hamizrah together as one group. Technically, Sefardim are those whose antecedents once lived in Spain, whereas there were Jewish communities from Morocco to Iran and even farther east whose ancestors never lived in Spain and should be called Edot Hamizrah.) Abualfas and his friends had begun to develop their own community, consisting of members who identified as Sefardim and not as Tunisians, and they wanted to create their own community following minhag Sefard.

Shul versus community

The Radbaz divides the question into two topics: May the Sefardim establish their own shul, and may they establish their own community?

Regarding the establishing of their own community, which would mean that they would no longer participate in the tzedakah fund and other taxes and fees of the general community, the Radbaz rules that, once they have individually been paying as members of the main community, they cannot separate from that community and create their own. As individuals, they are bound to continue contributing to the main community.

However, regarding whether they may create their own shul, the Radbaz rules that they may, for the following reason: since they do not want to be forced to daven with the rest of the community, their desire to have their own shul will disturb their kavanah while davening. The Radbaz discusses at length the issue of davening with kavanah. He notes that one is not permitted to daven when one is angry, and that the Gemara states that, if the amora Rav Chanina ever got angry, he did not daven that day. Furthermore, we see that any distraction is a reason why one should not daven, even that of an enticing fragrance. Therefore, one may not daven when in the presence of people that one does not like. The Radbaz further suggests that just as there is a halacha that one will study Torah properly only when he is interested in the topic, a person will be able to concentrate in his davening only when he is praying where he is happy. For these reasons, the Radbaz rules that people who are not satisfied praying with the rest of the community are permitted to organize their own shul. However, he rules that it is within the community’s prerogative to ban the forming of other shullen, when this will harm community interests.

Berov am hadras melech

The Radbaz then discusses the halachic preference of berov am hadras melech, a large group of people (attending a mitzvah) honors the King (Rosh Hashanah 32b). This means that it is preferable that a large group of people daven in one shul, rather than split among several smaller shullen. The Radbaz concludes that, indeed, it is preferable for everyone to daven in the same shul but, when people will be unhappy, that factor permits them to open their own shul.

The Radbaz closes this discussion with the following:

“Do not interpret my words to think that I believe that dividing into different shullen is good. G-d forbid… However, we are required to try as hard as possible that everyone pray with a full heart to his Father in Heaven. If it is impossible to pray with a full heart when davening in a shul that one does not enjoy, and the people will constantly be arguing, having different shullen is the lesser of the two evils.”

An earlier authority, the Rivosh (Shu”t Harivosh #253) mentions the same ruling — individuals who want to establish their own breakaway minyan cannot be stopped, and that it is improper to prevent this. However, if the members of the existing shul claim that their shul requires the income or membership to keep going, one should examine whether the claim is truthful. If, indeed, it is, one should work out a plan that accommodates the needs of both communities. (See also Rema, Choshen Mishpat 162:7.)

Two shuls

At this point, we can now address the second of our opening questions: “Is it permitted to leave a shul to start our own?”

The short answer is that there are circumstances when this is permitted, although, in an ideal world, it is not preferred.

One shul

At this point, let us examine the first of our opening questions: “May we merge two existent shullen, when each has its own minhagim?”

The answer is that, because of the rule of berov am hadras melech, it is preferable to merge shuls into a larger entity, but, as I explained above, this will depend on circumstances (see also Shu”t Binyan Tziyon 1:122). If the members understand that it is a greater honor to Hashem to have a large shul with many people davening together, that is preferred.

Conclusion

Understanding how much concern Chazal placed in the relatively minor aspects of davening should make us more aware of the fact that davening is our attempt at building a relationship with Hashem. As the Kuzari notes, every day should have three high points — the three times that we daven. We should gain our strength and inspiration for the rest of the day from these three prayers.

The power of tefillah is very great. Man was created by Hashem as the only creation that has free choice. Therefore, our serving Hashem and our davening is unique in the entire spectrum of creation. Remember that we are actually speaking to Hashem, and that we are trying to build a relationship with Him. Through tefillah, one can save lives, bring people closer to Hashem, and overturn harsh decrees. We are required to believe in this power. One should not think, “Who am I to daven to Hashem?” Rather, we must reinforce the concept that Hashem wants our tefillos, and He listens to them!

Shul Building

Question #1: One shul

“May we merge together two existent shullen, when each has its own minhagim?”

Question #2: Two shuls

“Is it permitted to leave a shul to start our own?’

Question #3: Old shul

“In our town, almost everyone has moved away from the ‘old neighborhood,’ which has now, unfortunately, become a slum. The sprinkling of Jewish people still there can no longer maintain the shul. Are the people who used to live there still obligated to maintain the old shul building?”

Question #4: New shul

“We have been comfortably davening in different people’s houses, three times a day, seven days a week. Now, some individuals are clamoring that they want us to build a shul, which is a huge expense. Isn’t this chutzpah on their part, when we are all struggling to pay our mortgages?”

Introduction:

Our batei kenesiyos and batei midrashos, the buildings that we designate for prayer and for study, are referred to as our mikdash me’at, our holy buildings reminiscent of the the sanctity of the Mishkan and the Beis Hamikdash.

There is a halachic requirement to build a shul. To quote the Rambam (Hilchos Tefillah 11:1-2), Any place that has ten Jews must have available a building that they can enter to pray at every time of prayer. This building is called a beis hakenesses(synagogue). The members of the community can force one another to build a synagogue, to purchase a sefer Torah and books of the prophets and of the kesuvim. When you build a synagogue, you must build it in the highest part of the town… and you must elevate it, until it is taller than any of the courtyards in town.

We see from the words of the Rambam that it is not sufficient to have an area available in which one can daven when necessary – it is required to have a building designated specifically for this purpose, even if the shul will be empty the rest of the day (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim, 2:44). Rav Moshe Feinstein explains that a community is required to have a building designated to be their mikdash me’at.

Since it is a community responsibility to have a shul building, the minority of the membership of a community may force the majority to raise the money to build a shul (Rema, Choshen Mishpat 163:1). In earlier generations, communities had the authority to levy taxes on their members. Since building a shul is a community responsibility, they could require people to provide the funds necessary for this project.

Must we build a shul?

At this point, let us address one of our opening questions: “We have been comfortably davening in different people’s houses, three times a day, seven days a week. Now, some individuals are clamoring that they want us to build a shul, which is a huge expense. Isn’t this chutzpah on their part, when we are all struggling to pay our mortgages?”

The answer is that, not only is it not chutzpah on the part of those individuals, the halachic right is on their side. The community is required to have a shul, and it is unsatisfactory that the minyan takes place in a home that is not meant to be a beis tefillah. Therefore, individuals can certainly force the rest to build a shul.

I cannot resist telling over the following story from my experience as a shul rav. At one time, I was invited for an interview to a new shul that was located in an affluent area. I made a trip to meet the shul search committee, which was very interested in engaging me as their rav. They showed me the converted house that they were using as the shul, and mentioned that when they had renovated the building, they did so in a way that there would be an apartment in the building for the rav to use as his residence, since they did not have much money for a respectable salary. In their minds, since the rav could now save himself mortgage or rent money, that was a hefty part of what they intended for his salary.

I noted to them that in the position I had at the time, I could devote myself fully to rabbinic duties, something that would be quite impossible in the circumstances that they proposed. Their response was that although they understood my predicament, this was all they could afford, since most of their members were paying very huge mortgages for the zechus of living in this neighborhood. I made a mental note that none of them seemed to feel that the apartment part of the shul building that they were proposing was certainly nothing that any of them would consider suitable residential accommodations, nor would they consider the shul building representative of the high-class lifestyle that they had chosen for themselves.

How do we assess?

In earlier generations, the Jewish community had the ability to levy taxes and other fees on its membership. Virtually all Jewish communities had fairly strong authority over its membership because the community levied taxes and also was responsible for collectively paying taxes to the local monarch.

When assessing individuals for the construction of a local shul, do we charge according to people’s financial means, or does everyone share equally in the costs of the building?

The Rema rules that when raising the money for a shul, we take into consideration both the resources of the individuals and also who will be using the facility. Therefore, when assessing people for the building of a shul, the costs are allocated both according to the financial means and according to individuals. Thus, the wealthier members of a community will be paying a somewhat higher percentage of the costs.

Rent a shul

If the community does not have the resources to build or purchase a shul, they can force one another to put up enough money to rent a place (Mishnah Berurah 150:2)

Where not to rent

In a responsum in Igros Moshe (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 3:25), Rav Moshe Feinstein was asked the following: There is no orthodox shul in town, and they have been davening in houses. Now, they want to rent space from a local conservative congregation. May they do so?

Rav Moshe prohibits this for two reasons:

1. This arrangement provides some credibility to the conservative congregation.

2. When people see the orthodox people entering or exiting the building of the conservative temple, they may think that these people are intending to pray in the conservative facility, which is prohibited. This involves the prohibition of maris ayin, doing something that may raise suspicion that one violated halacha.

Changing neighborhoods

Let us now address a different one of our opening questions: “In our town, almost everyone has moved away from the ‘old neighborhood,’ which has now, unfortunately, become a slum. The sprinkling of Jewish people still there can no longer maintain the shul. Are the people who used to live there still obligated to maintain the old shul building?”

This question was asked of Rav Moshe Feinstein (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 3:28).

In the case that he was asked, the shul had already opened a new facility in a nicer area and, until this point, the expenses of the old shul were being covered from the budget of the new shul. However, the members no longer saw any gain from doing so, since it was only a question of time until the old shul would no longer be at all functional. They would like to close down the old shul and sell the building. Are they permitted to?

The general rule is that a shul is considered communal public property and, as long as it functions as a shul, no one has the right to sell or modify its use. This is because the “owners” of the shul include anyone who might visit the area and want to find a minyan in which to daven. This is true, providing that there are still minyanim that meet in the shul on a regular basis — they cannot sell the building or close it down (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim III #29).

In the case at hand, Rav Moshe rules that those who have moved out of the neighborhood of the old shul have no responsibility to pay for the upkeep or repairs of the shul building that they are not using. The fact that the community has been treating the two shul buildings as one institution does not change this. Rav Moshe then mentions that, since the old shul is in a bad neighborhood, they may have a responsibility to remove the sifrei Torah from the shul, and perhaps even the siddurim, chumashim and other seforim, in order to protect them. He concludes that, since those who still daven in the old shul have no means of their own to keep the shul going, it is permitted to shutter the shul building and sell it. He also mentions that, if the bank will foreclose on the mortgage and re-possess the building, this does not require them to continue paying the mortgage. Nor does the bank’s decision as to what it will do with the shul property after the foreclosure require them to continue paying the mortgage.

Regarding those who still live in the old neighborhood, Rav Moshe rules that they should conduct the minyanim in a house where the sifrei Torah and the other seforim will be secure (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim III #28).

An interesting teshuvah from Rav Moshe relates to a shul building that had been originally planned to have a lower level to use as a social hall, with the shul intended to be on the upper floor. They began to use the social hall for davening until they built the shul on top, but the neighborhood began to change, and it became clear that they would have no need to complete the structure of the building. They never finished the building, and instead, directed the efforts and finances toward purchasing a new shul in a neighborhood to which people were moving. The old shul, or, more accurately, the “social hall” part of the old shul building, is at the stage where there is barely a minyan left, and the dwindling numbers imply that it is not going to be very long until there is no functioning minyan. The question is that they would like to sell the old building and use the money to complete the purchase of the new building. Furthermore, the mikveh in the town is now in a neighborhood to which women are hesitant to travel, so they want to use the funds from the old shul building to defray the construction costs of a necessary new mikveh.

Because of the specific circumstances involved, including that it is unlikely that people from the outside will drop in to daven in this minyan anymore, Rav Moshe rules that they are permitted to sell the building. A similar responsum from Rav Moshe was when they needed to create a shul in a neighborhood where there was a good chance that the Jewish community there would not last long. Rather than declare their building a shul, they called it a library and used it as their shul. Rav Moshe suggests that this was a good suggestion, since they knew from the outset that the days of the Jewish community were numbered (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim, 2:44).

We will continue this article next week…

Using a Thermos on Shabbos

Since most of the laws of Shabbos are derived from the construction of the Mishkan, it is an appropriate week to discuss:

Question #1: Using a Thermos

“May I pour hot water from an urn or a kettle that is on the blech into a thermos on Shabbos?”

Question #2: Wrapping a Thermos

“May I wrap a thermos bottle, containing hot water, with towels on Shabbos to keep the water hot?”

Introduction:

Explaining the background behind both of these questions involves an in-depth analysis of the rabbinic injunctions instituted by our Sages to safeguard the Shabbos. The laws of Shabbos include many Torah prohibitions, such as not to cook or stir a fire, and also many rabbinic prohibitions to guarantee that people not violate Torah laws. We will begin our explanation of this topic with an extensive glossary, but bear in mind that this is a brief overview of these concepts and not to be used for practical halacha.

Shehiyah – leaving food on the fire

Chazal prohibited shehiyah, which is leaving food on a fire or in an oven when Shabbos begins, because of concern that someone might mistakenly stir the coals. However, they permitted leaving food this way when one fulfills any one of the following three requirements:

1. Covering the fire

One may leave food cooking or warming as Shabbos begins, if he covers the fire in a way that lessens its heat and also reminds one not to stir the fire on Shabbos (see Shabbos 36b with Rashi and Ran). The most common method used today to accomplish this is to place a blech on top of the stove. It is preferable that the blech also cover the dials, to avoid inadvertently adjusting the flame (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 1:93).

2. Adding raw meat

A second method to permit cooking or warming food when Shabbos begins is to place raw meat into the pot immediately before Shabbos (Shabbos 18b). By doing so, one knows that the food will certainly not be ready to eat for the Friday night meal, and it will be ready for the Shabbos day meal, so there is no need to be concerned about turning up the fire (Rashi ad locum).

Several late poskim are reluctant to rely on this heter today, for reasons beyond the scope of this article (Chazon Ish, Orach Chayim 37:22; Teshuvos Ivra in Kisvei Hagaon Rav Yosef Eliyahu Henkin, Volume 2, page 19).

3. Cooked before Shabbos

A third approach is to have the food cooked before Shabbos begins. According to Ashkenazic practice, one may leave the food even on an open fire, as long as it is considered edible when Shabbos begins. Sefardim follow a more stringent approach, allowing this heter only if the food is fully cooked and only for heating water and similar foods that do not improve by remaining longer on the fire. To prepare chamin shel Shabbat, what Ashkenazim call cholent, a Sefardi must rely on one of the other two heterim mentioned above, whereas an Ashkenazi may leave his food even on an open flame, if it is edible when Shabbos begins.

Chazarah – warming food on Shabbos

A second prohibition that Chazal instituted is called chazarah, which includes placing food, even if fully cooked, on a heat source on Shabbos to warm it up. The details of this prohibition are complicated, but for our purposes we will mention that it is permitted to return a pot or food to the fire on Shabbos, even if the food is fully cooked, only in two general ways:

A. The food is still hot, one removed it from the blech intending to return it to remain hot or warm, provided he kept his hand on the handle of  the pot the entire time that it was off the fire. Many Sefardim are lenient, maintaining that one does not need to observe the last two requirements, provided the pot of food was not placed on the ground; Ashkenazim can be lenient about returning the food to the fire, if someone mistakenly forgot these two requirements. Concerning how hot the food must be, Sefardim are stricter than Ashkenazim, contending that the food must be too hot to hold directly in one’s hand in order to permit returning. Ashkenazim rule that one may return the food as long as it is still warm enough to eat.

B. Under certain circumstances, Chazal permitted warming dry food on Shabbos in a way that is different from the way one normally cooks food. For example: One may place a fully-baked kugel on top of a pot that is on the fire.

Hatmanah – insulating

A third prohibition that Chazal instituted, one very relevant to our topic, is called hatmanah, wrapping or insulating food to keep it hot. This includes two different sets of rules – one for someone who wraps the food before Shabbos and one for someone who wants to wrap his food on Shabbos.

Before Shabbos

Chazal prohibited hatmanah before Shabbos in a way that increases the heat, such as with hot ash, fertilizer, or the remaining crushed-out pulp of olives or sesame seeds. These materials are called davar hamosif hevel, items that increase heat. This is prohibited because of a concern that someone might mistakenly stir coals on Shabbos (Shabbos 34b). However, it is permitted to insulate foods before Shabbos with materials that do not increase heat, called davar she’eino mosif hevel, such as clothing, blankets, towels, or sawdust. (In the case of sawdust, one may also have to deal with the laws of muktzah, but that is not today’s subject.)

Partial hatmanah before Shabbos

The Rishonim dispute what constitutes hatmanah. Does leaving food on a fire to continue warming when Shabbos arrives constitute hatmanah? Although this does not fulfill our usual definition of insulating, it warms the food on Shabbos by maintaining physical contact with a source of heat. According to many Rishonim, placing food so that it touches the fire is included in the prohibition of hatmanah (Ba’al Hamaor and Ran, beginning of Shabbos, Chapter 3). In their opinion, if one heats food on a wood fire and intends to leave the food that way into Shabbos, one must place the food atop a tripod or other device that raises it above the burning wood and coals. Placing the pot of food on the tripod avoids the prohibition of hatmanah (but may still involve the prohibition of shehiyah), since the food is no longer touching any heat source. Failing to distance the food from direct contact to the source of heat violates the prohibition of hatmanah, and the food may not be eaten on Shabbos.

According to other Rishonim, hatmanah is prohibited only when the pot of food is covered completely or mostly (see Tosafos, Shabbos 36b s.v. Lo; Sefer Hayashar, Cheilek Hachiddushim Chapter 235). The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 253:1) follows the first opinion that one may not have food lying directly on a flame or hot coals when Shabbos begins. Thus, Sefardim, who follow the Shulchan Aruch’s decisions, may not leave food for Shabbos touching the heat directly, even if it is otherwise exposed to the air. The Rema permits partial hatmanah on Shabbos, allowing placing a pot into warm coals before Shabbos, as long as the lid is not covered by the coals.

Thus, people on a camping trip over Shabbos who choose to keep their Friday night dinner warm by leaving it on their campfire need to know if they are Ashkenazim or Sefardim. If they are Ashkenazim, they may leave their food on the fire when Shabbos starts, as long as it is already cooked to the extent that it is edible. If they are Sefardim, they must have the food elevated above the fire when Shabbos begins, and, in addition, they can do this only with food that is fully cooked and does not improve when it stews longer.

Lid is not covered

If one is an Ashkenazi, how much of the pot may be covered without violating the laws of hatmanah? The Shulchan Aruch Harav (Kuntrus Acharon 257:3) contends that as long as the pot lid remains uncovered, one may cover all the sides of the pot. He permits placing a bottle into a pot of hot water before Shabbos, provided that the cover of the bottle is above the water level.

The Pri Megadim (Mishbetzos Zahav, Orach Chayim 259:3) discusses whether it is sufficient that the top of the pot be exposed, or whether a larger area of the pot must be exposed. Based on a ruling of the Taz (Orach Chayim 258:1), the Pri Megadim contends that one must leave most of the pot exposed to avoid violating hatmanah. (We should note that the Taz in Orach Chayim 253:14 appears to hold like the Shulchan Aruch Harav.)

This dispute would affect to what extent one may drape towels over an urn either before or on Shabbos. According to the Pri Megadim, one may do this only if the sides of the urn are predominantly exposed. According to the Shulchan Aruch Harav, it is sufficient if the sides are partially exposed.

Shabbos sleeve

I once saw a woman prepare her electric hot water urn by draping a cloth sleeve made especially for the urn and embroidered with the words “Lichvod Shabbos.” I asked her why she did that and she said, “It keeps it hotter.” When I told her she can’t use it because of hatmanah, she was incredulous, and responded, “but it says ‘lichvod Shabbos!’” I have no idea who produced this sleeve, but there was no hechsher embossed on it. Unfortunately, the label on the cloth does not permit its use.

By the way, there is a simple solution for this problem. If some space is left between the side of the urn and the towels or sleeve, this is not considered hatmanah and is permitted (Chayei Odom, Hilchos Shabbos 2:5). One may place a board or other item on top of the urn that is wider that the urn and drape the towel over the item. In this instance, one may leave the towel there all of Shabbos, and one may even place the towel there on Shabbos itself. Since the towel is not resting flush against the urn, this is not included in the prohibition of hatmanah.

On Shabbos

On Shabbos itself, Chazal prohibited covering the food, even with something that does not increase heat (Shabbos 34a). Therefore, one may not take a cholent pot or kettle and wrap it in towels on Shabbos to keep it hot. The reason for this prohibition is concern that someone insulating his food will discover that it is colder than he wants and will mistakenly heat it (Shabbos 34a).

Kli rishon and sheini

The next part of our glossary involves explaining the terms kli rishon, kli sheini and yad soledes bo.

A kli rishon is a pot, pan or other vessel containing food that was heated on top of a stove, inside an oven or any other way directly from a source of heat. A kli sheini is the platter or bowl into which food was poured from a kli rishon.

Here is a halachic example of the distinction between kli rishon and kli sheini. The Mishnah (Shabbos 42a) teaches that if a pan or pot of food was removed from the fire on Shabbos, one may not add spices into that pot, because this constitutes bishul. However, one may add spices to a platter which contains the food after it has been poured out of the original pot or pan. The second case is a kli sheini, meaning that the platter itself was never on the fire.

Why is there a halachic difference between a kli rishon and a kli sheini? Tosafos (Shabbos 40b s.v. Ushma) explains that when the vessel itself is on the fire or inside the oven, the heat of the food is sustained by the hot walls of the vessel, and that is why bishul occurs. However, when the container itself was never directly warmed, the walls of the vessel diminish the heat of the food placed therein. As a result, the food will not cook from the heat of the kli sheini walls. In other words, cooking requires not only sufficient heat, but also that the walls of the pot or vessel maintain that heat. Therefore, cooking occurs in a kli rishon even after it was removed from the fire, but, under most circumstances, not in a kli sheini.

Yad soledes bo

Whenever halacha discusses that something is hot, it means that it is at least yad soledes bo, a term meaning that it is hot enough that a person pulls his hand back instinctively when he touches it. There is much dispute among the halachic authorities as to how we measure this in degrees, which is a subtopic that we will leave for a different time.

Using a thermos

Now that we have completed our very extensive introduction, we can address the questions that began this article:

“May I pour hot water from an urn or a kettle that is on the blech into a thermos on Shabbos?”

“May I wrap a thermos bottle, containing hot water, with towels on Shabbos to keep the water hot?”

The Gemara (Shabbos 51a) quotes a Tosefta (see Shabbos 4:12) that provides the prologue to our question: “Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel says that they prohibited (insulating on Shabbos) only if the food is in the pot in which it was originally heated up, but if it was moved to a different pot, one may insulate it on Shabbos.” The Gemara explains that the prohibition to insulate food on Shabbos is out of concern that someone might increase the heat by stirring coals (see Shabbos 34a). Rashi explains that the reason Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel permitted wrapping up the pot of food in this case is because the person is actively trying to cool off the water by pouring it into a cooler vessel. However a thermos bottle that is being used to keep things hot may be different.

On the other hand, the Rambam (Hilchos Shabbos 4:5) cites this law as follows: “If you moved the cooked food or the hot water from one vessel to another, one is permitted to insulate the second vessel on Shabbos, provided one uses material that does not increase heat… because they forbade insulating food on Shabbos only in a kli rishon, in which the food was originally cooked, but once it was moved from that vessel, it is permitted.” Clearly, the Rambam understands that there was no decree prohibiting hatmanah in a kli sheini on Shabbos with devorim she’einam mosifim hevel. Following this logic, it would appear that one may pour hot water into a thermos bottle on Shabbos, even though one’s intent is to keep the water hot,since a thermos is only a kli sheini. Thus, whether one may pour hot water into a thermos on Shabbos may depend on this dispute between Rashi and the Rambam.

In general, halachic authorities rule according to the Rambam when he disputes with Rashi, both lechumrah and lekulah. The Birkei Yosef (Choshen Mishpat 25:31) explains the reason is because Rashi wrote his comments to explain the text of the Gemara, and it is possible that he might have reconsidered had he issued a final ruling.  Indeed, in this instance, several major authorities appear to rule according to the Rambam (Ran; Tur; Taz, Orach Chayim 257:5; see also Magen Avraham 252:13).

Notwithstanding the opinions of these authorities, Rav Moshe Feinstein writes that it is preferable to be machmir like Rashi (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 1:95). Rav Moshe concludes, however, that, even according to Rashi, it is permitted to pour water into a thermos bottle on Shabbos, because of a different reason. The closing of a thermos bottle is not an act of hatmanah, but an act of closing the bottle. However, according to Rashi, it is certainly forbidden to wrap the thermos bottle with towels to keep it hot. According to Rambam, this should be permitted, because there is no hatmanah in a kli sheini.

In conclusion

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch (Shemos 20:10) notes that people mistakenly think that work is prohibited on Shabbos in order that it be a day of rest. He points out that the Torah does not prohibit doing avodah, which connotes hard work, but melacha, which implies purpose and accomplishment. Shabbos is a day on which we refrain from altering the world for our own purposes, and the goal of Shabbos is to allow Hashem’s rule to be the focus of creation, by refraining from our own creative acts (Shemos 20:11).

The Gemara teaches that the rabbinic laws are dearer to Hashem than the Torah laws. In this context, we can explain the vast halachic literature devoted to understanding these prohibitions, created by Chazal to protect the Jewish people from major sins. Seeing how much attention the poskim apply to understanding the laws of Shabbos thoroughly should encourage us to make sure we know these laws well, in all their details.

Tidbits of Interest

Some Aspects of the Halachos of Ribbis

Question #1: Small Thanks

“May I give a small present of thanks to someone who helped me out with a loan?”

Question #2: Doing a chesed

“Can I violate ribbis by doing a chesed?”

Question #3: Lending my Credit Card

“How can you violate ribbis by letting someone use your credit card?”

There are a total of six different prohibitions that can be violated when creating and paying a loan in which there is interest. Someone who loans money for interest is in violation of the Torah’s prohibition, even before any interest is, indeed, charged or collected (see Bava Metzia 62a; Shu”t Mahar”a Sasson #162).

According to the Mishnah, not only do the borrower and the lender violate the prohibition against ribbis, but the witnesses to the loan, the co-signer on the loan and the scribe who writes up the loan document are also in violation of the prohibition (Bava Metzia 75b). Thus, anyone causing the loan to be finalized is in violation of this mitzvah. This would include someone who notarizes a loan document that includes a ribbis provision, and might even include a lawyer who draws up a document that includes provisions for ribbis (Bris Yehudah 1:6).

The halachos of ribbis are quite complex, and a review of some of the halachos is always in order. From my experience, even seasoned Torah scholars make mistakes about these halachos and may even have business activities that violate the prohibition of ribbis. What makes these matters even more regrettable is that virtually every one of these situations can be alleviated easily by usage of a heter iska, which will be explained later in this article.

Chazal were so concerned that someone would violate the prohibition of ribbis that they wanted the lender to gain no perceived advantages from the loan, even when the gains are completely of a non-monetary nature. Thus, the lender may not ask the borrower to do him a favor that he would not have asked had he not loaned him money (Tosafos, Bava Metzia 64b s.v. Avol). Similarly, the borrower may not invite the lender to his simcha, if he would not have invited him otherwise.  It is even prohibited for the borrower to thank the lender for the loan (Graz, Hilchos Ribbis #9).

Chazal also prohibited ribbis that occurs before or after the loan exists. For example, it is prohibited for the borrower to bring a small gift to the lender, as a token of thanks for the loan (Mishnah Bava Metzia 75b). This is prohibited, even after the loan has been paid off, and even many years later.

Ribbis Without a Loan

The halacha prohibits charging for the use of one’s money, even when a loan did not actually take place. Thus, a merchant may not add interest charges to a bill (sent to a Jew), because it is past due. He is permitted to bill for the actual expenses accrued due to his having had to send an additional bill, as well as any other collection costs he incurs. However, the merchant may not add service charges because he was forced to borrow money off his credit line to cover the shortfall.

The prohibition against charging for delay of payment also applies to acquisitions. Thus, a store may not charge one price for cash and a different price for credit or delayed payment.

The borrower may pay a co-signer to guarantee a gemach loan. In a situation where the borrower defaults and the co-signer has to pay off the loan, the co-signer may collect what he paid from the borrower (Taz to Yoreh Deah 170:3).

Neighborly Loans

When neighbors borrow small items such as flour, sugar, or eggs, a loan has taken place. They may not intentionally return more than was borrowed, which would be considered ribbis. However, if they are uncertain exactly how much flour or sugar they borrowed, they are permitted to return enough to be certain that they have definitely returned as much as they borrowed (see Bava Metzia 75a). One may return an item that is similar, but not identical, to what was borrowed, if the buyer and seller are not concerned about the difference. Thus, one who borrowed a loaf of bread of one brand need not be concerned whether the loaf of bread that he returns is the same brand or the identical size (Rema, Yoreh Deah 162:1). Similarly, one need not be concerned that the price may have fluctuated in the interim (Shaar HaTziyun 450:4). .

Ribbis Without any Benefit to the Lender

The Torah prohibits ribbis if the borrower pays more than he borrowed, even when no benefit is gained by the lender.

An actual case will show us how people can be guilty of this violation without realizing it. Reuvain is involved in many chesed projects, including raising money for tzedakah. Yankel had an excellent business opportunity and asked Reuvain to help him finance his new endeavor, of course in a permitted fashion. Reuvain decided that he would rather utilize this opportunity for a different mitzvah. He tells Yankel, “Instead of becoming a partner in your business, I will lend you the money interest free, but I’d like to make a condition that some of the maaser from the profits goes to support a yeshiva.”

Reuvain assumes that by making the arrangements this way, he fulfills the mitzvah of lending someone money, which, indeed, is a big mitzvah of chesed, and, in addition, he will be causing someone else to give tzedakah, which is also a tremendous mitzvah. Unfortunately for both Reuvain and Yaakov, since giving the tzedakah was a condition of the loan, this arrangement incurs a Biblical prohibition of ribbis. Although the lender, Reuvain, does not gain from the loan, since a condition of the loan was that Yankel pay more money than he borrowed, this is considered a Torah violation of ribbis (Rema, Yoreh Deah 160:14). (In this instance, there would be no violation of ribbis if he asked Yankel as a favor to donate to the tzedakah cause. Alternatively, they could arrange some form of heter iska, as will be explained later.)

Borrowing Credit or Credit Cards

Here is another instance that occurs frequently, in which people wish to do a tremendous chesed but in reality they are involved in a serious infraction of ribbis. Mrs. Friedman and Mrs. Goldstein meet at a closeout sale where top quality mattresses are available at an unbelievable price. Members of Mrs. Friedman’s family need new mattresses, and she realizes that by purchasing them at the closeout prices she will be saving hundreds of dollars.

Unfortunately, Mrs. Friedman does not have the money to purchase the mattresses, nor does she have any credit cards at her disposal. As she is bemoaning the fact that she will have to forgo this opportunity to save so much money, Mrs. Goldstein, always eager to do a chesed, offers Mrs. Friedman to charge the mattresses on her credit card. A very grateful Mrs. Friedman gladly takes up the opportunity and purchases the mattresses. Her intention is to make the credit card payments accrued to Mrs. Goldstein’s card until she can pay off the balance and interest for the mattresses.

Without either lady realizing it, they have now created a major halachic problem. The credit card company did not lend the money to Mrs. Friedman, but to Mrs. Goldstein, whose name is on the card. For this reason, what has transpired here is that two loans have taken place, both with interest: one from the credit card company to Mrs. Goldstein, and a second from Mrs. Goldstein to Mrs. Friedman. If Mrs. Friedman makes payments directly to the credit card company, she will be repaying Mrs. Goldstein’s loan to the credit company and her own loan to Mrs. Goldstein simultaneously. Thus, she is now paying her loan to Mrs.Goldstein with interest and  both well-meaning ladies will have violated the laws against ribbis (Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 168:17). The parties involved should immediately consult a halachic authority who understands the halachos of ribbis well, since there are several ways that the situation described above can be rectified. (The different ways to alleviate the problem might depend on the individual’s circumstances, and are beyond the scope and length of this article.)

A similar problem often happens in a business partnership, in which one partner has access to a credit line and borrows money from the credit line for the benefit of the business. Since the credit line is in his name and not that of the business, without realizing it, he has borrowed money from the bank and then loaned it to the business, in which he is only one partner. Thus, he is now considered to be charging his partners for interest on a loan he has made to them. Again, this problem can be alleviated with a heter iska.

What is a heter iska?

A heter iska is a halachically approved way of restructuring a loan or debt so that it is some form of business deal that is not a loan. There are numerous ways of making a heter iska, and, indeed, different situations call for different types of heter iska. It is important for everyone who is involved in any type of business dealings to understand the fundamental principle of every heter iska: That a heter iska restructures the loan so that it is an investment or acquisition, rather than a loan.

Borrowing from Jewish-owned banks

Many people borrow money from banks, mortgage companies, credit card companies (including stores), brokerages, and credit unions, without verifying whether they are owned by a Jewish controlling interest. Without using a heter iska, it is forbidden to borrow money with interest from any Jewish-owned business, even if it is incorporated. Although there are some poskim who permit lending money to a corporation without a heter iska, as will be explained later in this article, this author is unaware of any posek who permits borrowing from a Jewish-owned corporation, without a heter iska.

Corporations

Rav Moshe Feinstein ruled that it is permitted to lend money to a Jewish-owned corporation, without incurring a problem of ribbis. In Rav Moshe’s opinion, a loan must have an individual who is responsible to pay for it. When a corporation borrows, no individual is responsible to pay for the loan. Therefore, Rav Moshe contends that a loan to a corporation does not incur the prohibition of ribbis, provided that no individual personally guarantees the loan (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 2:63). It should be noted that many other poskim do not agree with this lenience of Rav Moshe, contending that there can be ribbis even when a corporation borrows money (see extensive discussion in Bris Yehudah pg. 138). One practical difference is that, according to Rav Moshe, it is permitted to have a savings account in a Jewish-owned bank without having a heter iska, whereas, according to the other opinions, it is forbidden. However, according to all opinions it is forbidden to borrow from a Jewish-owned bank, credit union or brokerage without a heter iska. Thus, one may not buy stocks on margin from a Jewish-owned brokerage without a heter iska.

Hashkafah of Ribbis

The mitzvah of Ribbis poses an interesting hashkafah question. Why does the Torah forbid making a profit from my money? The Torah encourages earning a livelihood, so what is wrong with earning a profit from lending out money?

Many answers are offered to this question. Kli Yakar presents the following approach: When a farmer plows and plants his field, he knows well that if it does not rain sufficiently or if a blight attacks his crop, he will have nothing to show for his efforts. Thus, even with all his hishtadlus, he knows that he must daven for Hashem to help his efforts. Similarly, a person who opens a business knows well that even with all his planning, his business may not be successful. Thus, he also knows that he must daven for Hashem to help his efforts. However, someone who makes his parnasah from lending out money seems to have his entire livelihood totally secure. He has no daily reminder forcing him to pray for his daily livelihood. For this reason, explains the Kli Yakar, Hashem did not want a person to make his livelihood this way. By banning this method of parnasah, the Torah forced a person to make parnasah in a way that he must be reminded daily of his need for Hashem’s help.

Carrying in Public and the Use of an Eruv

Question #1:

“Is it a mitzvah to build an eruv?”

Question #2: Public or private ownership?

“Can I own a reshus harabim?”

Question #3:

“How does a little bit of wire enclose an area? Isn’t this a legal fiction?”

Answer:

In this week’s parsha, the Torah recounts the story of the mann, including the unbecoming episode where some people attempted to gather it on Shabbos. In the words of the Torah:

And Moshe said, “Eat it [the mann that remained from Friday] today, for today is Shabbos to Hashem. Today you will not find it [the mann] in the field. Six days you shall gather it, and the Seventh Day is Shabbos – There will be none.”

And it was on the Seventh Day. Some of the people went out to gather, and they did not find any.

And Hashem said to Moshe: “For how long will you refuse to observe My commandments and My teachings? See, Hashem gave you the Shabbos. For this reason, He provides you with two-day supply of bread on the sixth day. On the Seventh Day, each person should remain where he is and not leave his place” (Shemos 16:25- 29).

Although the Torah’s words “each person should remain where he is and not leave his place” might be understood to mean that even leaving one’s home is forbidden, the context implies that one may not leave one’s home while carrying the tools needed to gather the mann (Tosafos, Eruvin 17b). The main prohibition taught here is to refrain from carrying an object from one’s house or any other enclosed area (halachically called reshus hayachid) to an area available to the general public, a reshus harabim. Chazal further explain that moving an item in any way from a reshus hayachid to a reshus harabim violates the Torah law, whether one throws it, places it, hands it to someone else, or transports it in any other way (Shabbos 2a, 96). Furthermore, we derive from other sources that one may also not transport an item from a reshus harabim to a reshus hayachid, nor may one transport it four amos (about seven feet) or more within a reshus harabim (Shabbos 96b; Tosafos, Shabbos 2a s.v. pashat). Thus, carrying into, out of, or within a reshus harabim violates a severe Torah prohibition. For the sake of convenience, I will refer to the transport of an item from one reshus to another or within a reshus harabim as “carrying,” regardless of the method of conveyance.

One should note that with reference to the melacha of carrying on Shabbos, the terms reshus hayachid and reshus harabim do not relate to the ownership of the respective areas, but are determined by the extent that the areas are enclosed and how they are used. A reshus hayachid could certainly be public property, and there are ways whereby an individual could own a reshus harabim.

Notwithstanding the Torah’s clear prohibition against carrying into, from or within a reshus harabim, we are all familiar with the concept of an eruv that permits carrying in areas that are otherwise prohibited. You might ask, how can poles and wires permit that which is otherwise prohibited min haTorah? As we will soon see, it cannot – and the basis for permitting the use of an eruv is far more complicated.

We are also aware of controversies in which one respected authority certifies a particular eruv, while others contend that it is invalid. This is by no means a recent development. We find extensive disputes among early authorities regarding whether one may construct an eruv in certain areas. Some consider it a mitzvah to construct an eruv there, whereas others contend that the very same “eruv” is causing people to sin.

An Old Machlokes

Here is one instance. In the thirteenth century, Rav Yaakov ben Rav Moshe of Alinsiya wrote a letter to the Rosh explaining why he forbade constructing an eruv in his town. In his response, the Rosh contended that Rav Yaakov’s concerns were groundless, and that he should immediately construct an eruv. Subsequent correspondence reveals that Rav Yaakov did not change his mind and still refused to erect an eruv in his town.

The Rosh severely rebuked Rav Yaakov for this recalcitrance, insisting that if Rav Yaakov persisted, he, the Rosh, would place Rav Yaakov in cherem! The Rosh further contended that Rav Yaakov had the status of a zakein mamrei, a Torah scholar who rules against the decision of the Sanhedrin, which in the time of the Beis HaMikdash constitutes a capital offense (Shu”t HaRosh 21:8). This episode demonstrates that heated disputes over eruvin are by no means recent phenomena.

Is It a Mitzvah?

Before I present the arguments for and against eruv manufacture in the modern world, we should note that all accept that it is a mitzvah to erect a kosher eruv when this is halachically and practically possible, as the following anecdote indicates.

Rabbah the son of Rav Chanan asked Abayei: “How can it be that an area in which reside two such great scholars [Abayei and Abayei’s Rebbe] is without an eruv?” Abayei answered: “What should we do? It is not respectful for my Master to be involved, I am too busy with my studies, and the rest of the people are not concerned” (Eruvin 68a).

The commentaries note that Abayei accepted the position presented by Rabbah that one should build an eruv. Abayei merely deflected the inquiry by pointing out that no one was readily available to attend to the eruv, and that its construction did not preempt other activities: Abayei’s commitment to Torah study and the kovod haTorah of his Rebbe. Indeed, halachic authorities derive from this Talmudic passage that it is a mitzvah to erect an eruv whenever it is halachically permitted (Tashbeitz 2:37, quoted verbatim by the Birkei Yosef, Orach Chayim 363:2). These rulings are echoed by such luminaries as the Chasam Sofer (Shu”t Orach Chayim #99), the Avnei Neizer (Shu”t Avnei Neizer, Orach Chayim #266:4), the Levush Mordechai (Shu”t Levush Mordechai, Orach Chayim #4) and Rav Moshe Feinstein (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 1:139:5 s.v. Velichora).

I mentioned before that the construction of an eruv of poles and wire cannot permit carrying that is prohibited min haTorah. If this is true, upon what basis do we permit the construction of an eruv? To answer this question, we need to understand that not every open area is a reshus harabim – quite the contrary, a reshus harabim must meet very specific and complex requirements, including:

(A) It must be unroofed (Shabbos 5a).

(B) It must be meant for public use or thoroughfare (Shabbos 6a).

(C) It must be at least sixteen amos (about twenty-eight feet) wide (Shabbos 99a).

(D) According to most authorities, it cannot be inside an enclosed area (cf., however, Be’er Heiteiv 345:7, quoting Rashba; and Baal HaMaor, Eruvin 22a,quoting Rabbeinu Efrayim). The exact definition of an “enclosed area” is the subject of a major dispute that I will discuss.

(E) According to many authorities, it must be used by at least 600,000 people daily (Rashi, Eruvin 59a, but see Rashi ad loc. 6a where he requires only that the city have this many residents). This is derived from the Torah’s description of carrying into the encampment in the Desert, which we know was populated by 600,000 people.

(F) Many authorities require that it be a through street, or a gathering area that connects to a through street (Rashi, Eruvin 6a).

Some authorities add additional requirements.

Any area that does not meet the Torah’s definition of a reshus harabim yet is not enclosed is called a karmelis. One may not carry into, from or within a karmelis, following the same basic rules that prohibit carrying into a reshus harabim. However, since the prohibition not to carry in a karmelis is only rabbinic in origin, Chazal allowed a more lenient method of “enclosing” it.

Can One “Enclose” a Reshus Harabim?

As I mentioned earlier, carrying within a true reshus harabim is prohibited min haTorah – for this reason, a standard eruv does not permit carrying in such an area (Eruvin 6b). Nevertheless, large doors that restrict public traffic transform the reshus harabim into an area that one can enclose with an eruv. According to some authorities, the existence of these doors and occasionally closing them is sufficient for the area to lose its reshus harabim status. (Rashi, Eruvin 6b; however, cf. Rabbeinu Efrayim, quoted by Baal HaMaor, Eruvin 22a).

Please Close the Door!

There are some frum neighborhoods in Eretz Yisroel where a thoroughfare to a neighborhood or town is closed on Shabbos with doors, in order to allow an eruv to be constructed around the area. However, this approach is not practical in most places where people desire to construct an eruv.

So what does one do if one cannot close the area with doors?

This depends on the following issue: Does the area that one wants to enclose meet the requirements of a reshus harabim min haTorah, or is it only a karmelis? If the area is a reshus harabim min haTorah and one cannot occasionally close the area with doors, then there is no way to permit carrying in this area. One should abandon the idea of constructing an eruv around this city or neighborhood (see Eruvin 6a; Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 364:2). Depending on the circumstances, one may still be able to enclose smaller areas within the city.

Tzuras Hapesach

However, if the area one wants to enclose does not qualify as a reshus harabim, then most authorities rule that one may enclose the area by using a tzuras hapesach (plural, tzuros hapesach) – literally, “the form of a doorway.”(However, note that Shu”t Mishkenos Yaakov #120 s.v. Amnom and Shu”t Mishnas Rav Aharon #6 s.v. Kuntrus Be’Inyanei Eruvin paragraph #2 both forbid using a tzuras hapesach in many places that other poskim permit.)

A tzuras hapesach consists of two vertical side posts and a horizontal “lintel” that passes directly over them, thus vaguely resembling a doorway. According to halacha, a tzuras hapesach successfully encloses a karmelis area, but it cannot permit carrying in a true reshus harabim (Eruvin 6a). Using tzuros hapesach is the least expensive and most discreet way to construct an eruv. In a future article, I hope to explain some common problems that can occur while constructing tzuros hapesach and how to avoid them, and some important disputes relating to their construction.

Let us review. Carrying can be permitted in a karmelis, but not a reshus harabim, by enclosing the area with tzuros hapesach. Therefore, a decisive factor as to whether one can construct an eruv is whether the area is halachically a karmelis or a reshus harabim. If the area qualifies as a karmelis, then an eruv consisting of tzuros hapesach permits one to carry; if it is a reshus harabim, then tzuros hapesach do not. The issues concerning the definition of a reshus harabim form the basis of most controversies as to whether a specific eruv is kosher or not.

I will continue this article next week, bli neder.