The Halachos of Pidyon Haben

This week’s parsha includes the mitzvah of pidyon haben, redeeming the bechor, the firstborn, if it is a boy. The mitzvah is performed optimally when the baby turns a month old, by giving a kohein five sela’im of silver, equal to about 96 grams of silver (Chazon Ish).

The dollar value of the five sela’im varies, depending on the market price of silver. Some people have the custom of giving the kohein six coins, in case one of the coins is defective and does not contain enough silver. The truth is that one has to research how much silver content there is in the coins. Old US silver dollars did have enough silver, but most coins today have little metallic value. We will talk more about this shortly.

WHO IS REQUIRED TO REDEEM THE BECHOR?

The obligation rests on the father of a boy who is the firstborn of his mother and was born through natural delivery. If the father is a kohein or a levi, or if the mother is the daughter of a kohein or a levi, there is no mitzvah of pidyon haben. Usually, the question of whether one’s mother is a bas kohein or levi does not affect a person’s halachic status; however, since pidyon haben is dependent on the boy being the firstborn of his mother, her yichus is taken into consideration (Bechoros 47a).

There is an interesting phenomenon that relates to the difference between the daughter of a kohein and the daughter of a levi. If a boy is born of a non-Jewish father and a bas kohein, there is a requirement for this child, upon becoming an adult, to perform a pidyon haben. Why is this true? Because his mother was together with a non-Jew, she loses her sanctity as a bas kohein – for example, she will never again be able to eat terumah. Therefore, her son is included in the mitzvah of pidyon haben. However, neither parent is obligated to perform the mitzvah for the child; the father, because he is not Jewish, and the mother, because there is no requirement for Mom to perform pidyon haben. Therefore, upon becoming an adult, this child should perform the mitzvah himself.

The halacha is different regarding a boy who is born of a non-Jewish father and a bas levi. Although Mom was involved in a prohibited relationship, this did not affect her yichus, since she loses no halachic rights as a result. Therefore, in this situation the child is exempt from the mitzvah of pidyon haben.

Incidentally, there are poskim who rule that the grandson of a non-Jewish father and a bas levi is also excluded from pidyon haben. This means that the son of a non-Jewish father and a bas levi does not have a mitzvah to redeem his son. Since this man is Jewish from birth but does not have a Jewish father, his yichus follows his mother, who is the daughter of a levi. Since the bas levi’s son’s only Jewish yichus is as a descendant of Levi, these authorities contend that he has no obligation to perform pidyon haben. (See Shu’t Maharam Shick, Yoreh De’ah #299 who disagrees with this ruling.) My impression is that the accepted practice in this situation is to perform an act of pidyon haben without a brocha; after which the kohein returns the money.

WHAT HAPPENS IF A KOHEIN MARRIED A DIVORCEE?

If a kohein married a divorcee or any other woman prohibited to a kohein, the children of this union are challalim, which means that they have become defiled and therefore lose their status as kohanim. The daughters may not marry kohanim, and the firstborn son born to a kohein from this woman needs to be redeemed, just like any yisroel. Furthermore, his son’s son will also require pidyon haben, like any other yisroel.

WHAT IS THE HALACHA OF A BECHOR BORN THROUGH CAESARIAN SECTION?

Switching sub-topics, only a naturally-born child has the status of a bechor for pidyon haben purposes. There is no mitzvah of pidyon haben if the boy was delivered through caesarian section. His younger brother is also not considered firstborn, even if he is born through natural delivery. Similarly, a boy born after a miscarriage is not a bechor for purposes of the mitzvah of pidyon haben (Bechoros 46a). This last halacha depends on how far advanced the terminated pregnancy was, a topic that we will leave for a different time.

WHAT HAPPENS IF NO ONE REDEEMS THE BECHOR?

If the father cannot or does not redeem the bechor, other people can redeem him, but are not required to do so. However, if no one redeemed the bechor as a child, he is required to redeem himself when he reaches adulthood (Kiddushin 29a).

Many men who are not from an observant background did not have a pidyon haben. At a pidyon haben that I once performed (I am a kohein), the grandfather of the newly redeemed baby came over to me, saying, “You know, I am also firstborn and a baal teshuvah. I can’t imagine anyone made a pidyon haben for me.” And so, two pidyonim were performed on the same day, one for the grandson and one for the grandfather!

WHAT IS THE PROCEDURE?

As opposed to other mitzvos, such as bris milah and a wedding, where the mitzvah is performed first and then the festive meal is eaten, pidyon haben is performed during the meal, in order to call attention to the mitzvah. (In some Yerushalmi circles, they actually perform the pidyon first, and then begin the seudah.)

The usual procedure is as follows: After the assembled have made hamotzi and taken their seats, the father brings the bechor to the kohein, who is seated at a place of honor. The custom is to bring the bechor on a large, silver platter. Many have the custom of placing sugar cubes, cloves of garlic, and jewelry on the platter. The father declares to the kohein that the baby is firstborn and must be redeemed.

The kohein then responds with the famous and enigmatic question: “Mai ba’is tefei?” Which do you prefer? Would you rather have your child or the five sela’im of pidyon?

The father responds that he would prefer his son, and that he is prepared to perform the redemption. He then recites the bracha on the mitzvah and the bracha of shehechiyanu, and places the coins into the kohein’s right hand. The kohein waves the coins over the head of the bechor while blessing him. Then, the kohein recites the birchas kohanim and other words of blessing over the head of the bechor. The procedure is completed by the kohein reciting a bracha on a cup of wine and drinking it.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN WHEN THE KOHEIN SAYS “MAI BA’IS TEFEI?” — DOES THE FATHER REALLY HAVE A CHOICE?

The wording of the kohein’s question, “Which do you prefer?” — implying that the father has a choice — i­­s extremely strange. Halachically, there is no choice or option. The father has a mitzvah to fulfill, which he is required to observe. So, why does the kohein suggest to the father that he has a choice?

The text of our pidyon haben ceremony goes back 1,000 years, and, since that time, probably tens of thousands of interpretations have been suggested for this question. Think of your own answer to this question, and you’ll have something to share with others the next time you attend a pidyon haben!

WHY DO SOME PEOPLE PLACE GARLIC CLOVES AND SUGAR CUBES ON THE PLATTER THAT HOLDS THE BABY?

There are many customs that have developed around the mitzvah of pidyon haben. Some people place pieces of garlic, sugar cubes, or candies alongside the bechor when he is brought in for the pidyon. The sugar cubes show that the mitzvos are sweet, and garlic is a symbol of and segulah for fertility. Some say that when participants take home the sugar and the garlic and use them for cooking their own meals at home, they increase the numbers of people who “participated” in the pidyon haben meal, all of whom will be blessed by this.

WHEN IS THE PIDYON PERFORMED? WHY IS THE MINHAG TO PERFORM PIDYON HABEN IN THE AFTERNOON?

The Torah says that the mitzvah is to redeem the bechor when he turns a month old.

How does one determine that a child is a month old? Although we are accustomed to thinking of a Jewish month as being either 29 or 30 days long, these are actually calendar calculations that deal only with complete days. Technically, a month is the amount of time it takes the moon to revolve around the earth, which varies slightly from month to month, but is always a bit more than 29½ days.

HOW LONG IS A MONTH?

There is a dispute in halacha as to how one determines that a bechor is a month old. One opinion follows the day-count method and rules that the pidyon haben should take place on the 31st day after the boy was born, counting his day of birth as day one (Magen Avraham 339:8).

Others rule that a month for pidyon haben is determined by the astronomical method, meaning the same amount of time that transpires from one new moon to the next. Since the time that transpires from one new moon to the next is estimated at 29 days, 12 hours and 793/1080 of an hour (usually called 793 chalakim), the time for pidyon haben begins when the bechor is exactly 29 days, 12 hours and 793 chalakim old (Shach, Yoreh De’ah 305:12). Common practice is to perform a pidyon haben after both opinions have been fulfilled.

By the morning of the 31st day, the bechor is usually 29 days, 12 hours and 793 chalakim old. However, if the bechor was born shortly before sunset on a long summer day, daybreak on the morning of the 31st day is less than 29 days, 12 hours and 793 chalakim since his birth. In this situation, one should wait to perform the pidyon until he is 29 days, 12 hours and 793 chalakim after birth (Pischei Tshuvah 305:17). For this reason, it is a common custom to schedule a pidyon haben on the afternoon of the 31st day, which is always an appropriate time according to both opinions.

When the earliest time to perform the pidyon is on an erev Shabbos or erev Yom Tov, the pidyon should be scheduled in the morning (Mishnah Berurah 249:13). In the rare case that it is not yet 29 days, 12 hours and 793 chalakim after birth, one should calculate when the 29 days, 12 hours and 793 chalakim after birth falls out and schedule the pidyon then.

When the 31st falls on Shabbos or Yom Tov, the pidyon should be scheduled for Motza’ei Shabbos or Motza’ei Yom Tov (Shu’t Noda Biyehuda Tenina, Yoreh De’ah #187).

WHAT DOES ONE DO IF THE THIRTY-FIRST DAY FALLS ON A FAST DAY?

There are two practices mentioned by the poskim. One approach is to perform the pidyon during the fast day, so as not to delay the opportunity to observe the mitzvah, and conduct the festive meal at night after the fast is over. The other approach is to delay the pidyon until the night after the fast, and then perform the pidyon during the meal (Shach, Yoreh De’ah 305:12).

CAN ONE PERFORM THE MITZVAH OF PIDYON HABEN BY GIVING THE KOHEIN A BOND?

One does not fulfill the mitzvah of pidyon haben if one gives the kohein a bond (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 305: 3,4). The yisroel must give the kohein something that has inherent value, such as merchandise. A check is an order of payment instructing the bank to release funds, but itself has no inherent value. Therefore, a check is not equal to cash and is not valid for pidyon haben.

It should be noted that according to many prominent poskim, paper money should not be used for pidyon haben because they also do not have inherent value (see Shu”t Chasam Sofer; Aruch Hashulchan, Yoreh De’ah 305:18; Shu”t Oneg Yom Tov, Yoreh De’ah #102). Since our coins today are not valued by their metal content, it would seem that they should also not be used for pidyon haben.

Usually the pidyon haben is performed with silver coins. These coins are supplied either by the father or by the kohein, in which case he sells them to the father before the pidyon. It is halachically acceptable for the father to pay for the coins by check when he buys them from the kohein.

I was once given by the father small pieces of silver. He had purchased the exact amount of silver necessary, probably from a jeweler, for pidyon haben and that is what he gave me. Although I have had this happen only once, I am told that in certain communities this is a common method.

On another occasion, I was asked, in advance, if I would afterwards sell back to the family the silver dollars that they were giving me. It turned out that the coins used had been used by the great-great-grandfather of the baby when he performed pidyon haben on his son, and these exact coins had been used for every generation in between!

CAN ONE FULFILL THE MITZVAH BY BUYING THE KOHEIN A PRESENT?

Yes, as long as the present is worth at least the value of five sela’im (96 grams of silver). However, the prevalent custom is to give the kohein silver coins, as mentioned above.

MAY THE KOHEIN RETURN THE MONEY TO THE FATHER OF THE BECHOR?

The kohein may return the money. However, this should not be his regular practice, since it might cause a loss of revenue to other kohanim, because yisraelim may stop using them for pidyon haben (Shulchan Aruch Yoreh De’ah 305:8). There are some poskim who contend that today the money should be returned, since the kohein cannot prove that he is a kohein (Shu”t Yaavetz #155). However, the accepted practice is that the kohein does not return the money (Pischei Tshuvah 305:12, quoting Chasam Sofer).

ONCE THE FATHER ASKED A KOHEIN TO BE THE KOHEIN AT HIS SON’S PIDYON HABEN, MAY HE SUBSEQUENTLY CHANGE HIS MIND AND USE A DIFFERENT KOHEIN?

Once the father has asked one kohein to “officiate” at the pidyon haben, he should not ask another kohein. However, if he gave the redemption money to a different kohein, the pidyon is valid (Rema, Yoreh De’ah 305:4).

MAY THE FATHER OF THE BECHOR DIVIDE THE MONEY FOR PIDYON HABEN BETWEEN TWO OR MORE KOHANIM?

It is preferable not to do this, but if he did so, the pidyon is valid (Pischei Tshuvah 305:10, quoting Chasam Sofer).

A RATIONALE FOR THE MITZVAH

It behooves us to consider the reason for the mitzvah of pidyon haben. Following the smiting of the firstborn in Egypt, all firstborn boys had a certain kedusha, which should have entitled them to a role of service in the Beis Hamikdash.

However, because the bechorim were involved in worshipping the Eigel Hazahav, the Golden Calf, they lost their unique status and could no longer perform any special role in the Beis Hamikdash. Therefore, the bechor must undergo a redemption ceremony to make amends — which is to pay the kohein as a means of “redeeming” his former kedusha.

 

 

Which Utensils Must I Immerse?

Question #1: With Cookie Cutter Precision!

Rivkah Baker asks:

“Do I need to toivel the cookie cutter that I just purchased?”

Question #2: Butch’s Cleaver

Butch Katzav, the proprietor of the local glatt kosher meat market, inquires: “Under my previous hechsher, I was told that I did not need to toivel my meat cleavers, since they are used only for raw meat. However, my new rav hamachshir requires me to toivel them. Why is there a difference?”

Introduction:

In Parshas Matos, the Torah teaches: Regarding 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 kosher, yet it must also be purified in mikveh water. In addition, that which was not used in fire must pass through water” (Bamidbar 31:22-23). From these verses, we derive the mitzvah of tevilas keilim — the mitzvah to immerse metal implements in a kosher mikveh or spring prior to using them for food. The Gemara (Avodah Zarah 75b) notes that this immersion is required, even if the vessel has never been used. In other words, this mitzvah is unrelated to the requirement of koshering equipment that was used for non-kosher food, or to the laws related to purifying implements that became tamei.

The Gemara (Avodah Zarah 75b) further states that in addition to metal items intended for food use, we are also required to immerse glass dishes, because both metal and glass share a similarity – they are repairable by melting and reconstructing, what we call today recyclable. This renders them different from vessels made of stone, bone, wood or earthenware, all of which cannot be repaired this way.

Immediately prior to immersing something that definitely requires tevilah, one recites a beracha: Asher kideshanu bemitzvosav vetzivanu al tevilas keilim. One does not recite this beracha when it is uncertain that immersion is required, such as, when the authorities dispute whether tevilah is necessary. When there is no mitzvah to immerse a utensil, reciting a beracha is prohibited, becauses it constitutes a beracha levatalah, one stated in vain. Therefore, when we are uncertain whether an item requires tevilah, we immerse it — but without reciting a beracha. A better solution is to immerse something that definitely requires a beracha at the same time that one immerses the “questionable” item, and to recite a beracha on the “definite” item/utensil. We will soon see an example.

Is this a kashrus law?

The Gemara cites a highly instructive dialogue about the mitzvah of immersing new vessels:

“Rav Nachman said in the name of Rabbah bar Avuha: ‘From the verse, one can derive that one must immerse even brand new items, because used vessels that were purged in fire are as kosher as those that are 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 koshering 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!

To this, Rav Nachman retorted that the Torah includes only items used for klei seudah – as Rashi explains, household implements used with fire are normally pots, pans and other cooking implements. Thus, the mitzvah of tevilas keilim applies only to utensils used for preparing food, and not those intended for other purposes.

Klei Seudah – appliances used for meals

We should note that Rav Nachman did not say that all food preparation utensils require immersion, but he required immersion only of klei seudah, items used for meals. We will soon see how this detail affects many of the halachos of tevilas keilim.

What exactly are considered klei seudah, and how is this different from simply saying that all food implements must be immersed?

Early halachic authorities provide some direction about this issue. For example, the Mordechai (Chullin #577, quoted by Beis Yosef, Yoreh Deah 120) rules that a shechitah knife does not require immersion. Why not? After all, it is used to prepare food.

The answer is that since meat cannot be eaten immediately after shechitah, this knife does not qualify as klei seudah. Only utensils that prepare food to the point that they can be eaten are called klei seudah. This is the approach that the Shulchan Aruch follows (Yoreh Deah 120:5).

Making a point!

According to this approach, cleavers used for raw meat, tenderizers (mallets used to pound raw meat), and reidels, the implements used to perforate matzoh dough prior to baking, would all not require tevilah, since the meat or dough is not edible when these implements complete their task (Darkei Moshe, 120:4, quoting Issur VaHeter).

However, not all authorities reach this conclusion. Indeed, the same Darkei Moshe, who ruled that reidels do not require tevilah, quoted that both the Rash and the Tashbeitz, two prominent early authorities, toiveled shechitah knives before using them. Why did these poskim toivel their shechitah knives? Did they contend that any implement used to process food at any stage requires tevilah? If so, would they also require immersing reidels, meat grinders and rolling pins?

We find a dispute among halachic authorities how to explain this opinion. According to the Taz (120:7) and the Gra (120:14), the Rash and the Tashbeitz indeed require immersing appliances whose finished product is not yet edible. In their opinion, the Rash and the Tashbeitz require the toiveling of reidels and presumably, also, meat grinders. Since the matter is disputed – the Mordechai contending that these items do not require tevilah, and the Rash and the Tashbeitz requiring tevilah — the Taz and the Gra rule that we should follow a compromise position, immersing shechitah knife and reidels before use, but without reciting a beracha, because maybe there is no requirement to immerse them, and the beracha will be in vain.

What is the difference between a reidel and a knife?

On the other hand, the Shach (120:11) disputes the way the Taz and the Gra understand the opinion of the Rash and the Tashbeitz. The Shach contends that although the Rash and the Tashbeitz rule that one must toivel a shechitah knife, they would not require the immersion of a reidel before use. A shechitah knife must be toiveled because it can potentially be used for food that is ready to be eaten. The Shach concludes that an implement that can be used only for items that are not yet edible does not require immersion, and therefore a reidel does not require tevilah.

Cookie cutting precision!

Most of our readers probably do not regularly use shechitah knives or reidels, but may have more experience with cookie cutters. If a cookie cutter is used only for dough, then according to the conclusion of the Mordechai and the Shulchan Aruch, it would not require tevilah. However, my wife informs me that cookie cutters are often used to form shapes in melons or jello; therefore, they must be immersed.

There are other items where this question is germane, such as items that would be used only for kneading, e.g., a metal rolling pin; or for items used for processing raw meat, e.g., a meat grinder, or a schnitzel mallet. Must one immerse these items?

The answer is that it is dependent on the above-quoted dispute between the Gra and the Shach. According to the Gra, those early authorities who require the toiveling of a shechitah knife require that all food implements be toiveled. Since we usually require toiveling shechitah knives, we must also toivel reidels, meat grinders, and rolling pins, although we would toivel all of these items without a beracha (see Pri Megadim, Orach Chayim 451:6).

However, according to the Shach, there is a big difference between a shechitah knife, which can be used to cut ready-to-eat foods, and a reidel, which can be used only for food that is not ready to eat. Since reidels are never used for ready-to-eat food, they do not require tevilah.

Major improvements

There is yet a third approach to this issue. Some other authorities contend that an item used for a major tikun, or change, in the food, such as shechitah, requires tevilah, even if the food is not edible when this step is complete. However, an item that performs only a minor tikun, such as the reidel, does not require immersion, if the food is not yet edible (Pri Chodosh and Aruch Hashulchan). In their opinion, the potential use of the shechitah knife is not what requires the tevilah. It is the fact that the shechitah performed with this knife is a major stage in making the finished product, the meat, edible. Those who follow this approach would rule that one need not toivel a meat grinder, whereas the Gra and the Taz would rule that one should.

The saga of Butch’s cleaver

We can now address Butch Katzav’s question:

“Under my previous hechsher, I was told that I did not need to toivel my meat cleavers, since they are used only for raw meat. However, my new rav hamachshir requires me to toivel them. Why is there a difference?”

In true Jewish style, let us answer Butch’s question with a question. Is a cleaver like a shechitah knife or like a reidel?

In certain ways, a cleaver is like a knife, in that it can be used both for raw meat and for cooked, ready-to-eat food. On the other hand, it is unlike a shechitah knife which performs a major tikun by making the meat kosher, and in this way, the cleaver is more similar to a reidel which performs a relatively minor function.

Now we can answer Butch’s question. The previous hechsher may have ruled like the Pri Chodosh and the Aruch Hashulchan that an item used for a minor change does not require tevilah, unless it is used with edible food. The current rav hamachshir may follow the opinion of the Shach that an item, such as a knife or cleaver, requires tevilah when used for food that is not yet edible, since it could be used for ready-to-eat food. It is also possible that the current rav follows the opinion of the Gra and the Taz that any food implement requires tevilah without a beracha, and would require that even a reidel be immersed.

Conclusion

According to Rav Hirsch, metal vessels, which require mining, extracting and processing, represent man’s mastery over the earth and its materials, whereas vessels made of earthenware or wood only involve man’s shaping the world’s materials to fit his needs. The manufacture of metal utensils 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 thereby 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, when doing so, one must first sanctify the item to focus on the spiritual.

 

 

Prayer by Non-Angels

Question #1: Ahavah Rabbah

Brocha Rishonah asks me: “In the middle of reciting the brocha of Ahavah Rabbah, I feel a mild need to use the bathroom. Must I stop davening immediately, or can I delay using the bathroom and finish davening first?”

Question #2: The Baal Keriyah

“I am a baal keri’ah (often mispronounced as baal korei). It occasionally happens that while I am leining, I realize that I need to use the facilities. May I continue leining until I have finished reading?”

Question #3: Cantorial Quandary

Mr. Fine Cantor calls me. “I just found out that one may not pray when one has a minor urinary urge, which for me is quite common. I often have such a need prior to repeating the chazaras hashatz. It is rather embarrassing for me to leave the shul prior to beginning the repetition. What do I do?”

Introduction

Since Tehillim (106:30) emphasizes that Pinchas was rewarded in the merit of his prayer, we have an ideal opportunity to discuss this aspect of the laws of davening.

In the fourth chapter of Hilchos Tefillah, the Rambam lists and explains five essential prerequisites of prayer. This means that one may not be permitted to daven if he is unable to fulfill these requirements. The five requirements are:

  1. One’s hands must be clean.
  2. One’s body must be covered.
  3. The place where one is praying must be clean.
  4. One may not be distracted by bodily needs.
  5. One must have proper kavanah when praying, meaning that there is a requirement that one’s thoughts be focused.

This article will be devoted to factor number 4, that one must not be distracted by bodily needs. This means that it is prohibited to daven when feeling an urge to relieve oneself. Chazal derive this requirement from several biblical sources. One verse reads hikon likras Elokecha, Yisroel, “Prepare yourself, Israel, when you approach your G-d” (Amos 4:12). Of course, that verse does not specify what type of preparation is necessary. According to the midrash, another verse, Shemor raglecha ka’asher teileich el beis HaElokim, “Pay attention to your legs when you walk into the House of G-d” (Koheles 4:17), serves as an allusion to this specific type of preparation.

The Gemara background

The passage of Gemara that provides the background to this discussion reads as follows: “One who needs to relieve himself may not pray, and if he did pray, it is an abomination” (Brochos 23a). The fact that the Gemara calls this prayer an “abomination” teaches that one who prayed when he needed to relieve himself is required to pray again (Kesef Mishneh, Hilchos Tefillah 4:10; see also Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 92:1). In this situation, the brochos of the tefillah are considered brochos levatalah, brochos recited in vain (Biur Halachah 92:1, s.v. Hayah).

In general, when one needs to relieve himself, it is prohibited to wait unnecessarily. We will continue the discussion on this point shortly.

When is the prayer invalid?

The Gemara explains that a prayer recited when one senses an urge to relieve oneself is not always invalid. This depends on how strong the need was to relieve oneself at the time that he prayed. The Gemara rules that if he could have waited for a parsah, then he has fulfilled his obligation to pray. However, if he davened knowing that he would not be able to wait this long, the davening is invalid and must be repeated, since it is considered an abomination.

How long is a parsah?

A parsah is a distance of 8000 amos, approximately 2½ to 3 miles, and the Gemara means the amount of time it takes to walk a parsah. The authorities dispute how much time this is, some ruling that it is an hour (Bach, Orach Chayim 92), whereas most authorities consider it longer. Some opinions consider it as long as 96 minutes. The consensus of the late authorities is that if one would not have been able to wait for 72 minutes, the prayer is invalid (Aruch Hashulchan 92:2; Mishnah Berurah 92:3).

Milder needs

What is the halachah if someone feels a mild urge to use the facilities – meaning that he knows that he could wait more than 72 minutes? Is he permitted to pray?

We find a dispute among the rishonim whether, under these circumstances, one is permitted to pray, the Rif and Rashi contending that one may, whereas most authorities rule that it is still not appropriate to daven without first relieving oneself (Rambam, Rosh, Rabbeinu Yonah, Tur and Shulchan Aruch). This dispute appears to depend on two variant texts of the passage of Gemara involved. (However, we should note that the Aruch Hashulchan proposes a completely different way to understand this topic, and he concludes that all rishonim prohibit davening when one feels any urge.)

The Rambam codifies this requirement as follows:

“One who needs to relieve himself may not pray. Furthermore, one who needs to relieve himself and prays, the prayer is an abomination, and upon relieving himself, he must pray again. However, if he could hold himself the amount of time it takes to walk a parsah, his tefillah is acceptable, after the fact. In any instance, one should not daven without first checking oneself very carefully. He should also remove any mucous and phlegm and anything else that distracts him, and only then pray” (Rambam, Hilchos Tefillah 4:10).

Type of need

There is a dispute among the authorities whether the requirement to daven again is only when one needed to defecate, or also when one needed to urinate. The Magen Avraham, the Chayei Odom and the Aruch Hashulchan are lenient, ruling that even if the need was intense, one is not required to repeat the davening if one needed only to urinate, whereas the Elyah Rabbah and the Derech Hachayim require one to daven again. When the Mishnah Berurah records this dispute (Mishnah Berurah 92:2), he writes that he is unable to render a decision as to which position is correct, since both sides have early sources that follow their opinion (Biur Halachah, 92:1, s.v. Vetzarich).

Should he miss tefillah betzibur?

What is the halachah if someone has a minor urge to use the facilities, and he will certainly be able to wait longer than a parsah: may he postpone relieving himself in order to be able to daven together with a minyan?

The conclusion is that even though the prayer would be valid after the fact, he should not pray until he has had a chance to relieve himself.

Should he miss praying altogether?

Let us assume that the latest time to daven is approaching, and, if our individual relieves himself, he may miss davening altogether. Is he permitted to daven, even though he feels a mild urge to relieve himself, or does the requirement to use the facilities before davening require that he miss davening?

There is a dispute among the early acharonim as to what one should do. According to the Bach, he may not daven when he needs to use the facilities, even when this means that he will miss davening as a result.

However, according to the Magen Avraham, this depends on how severe the need is to use the facilities. If it is strong enough that he feels that he will not be able to wait until a parsah, he cannot pray. However, if the need is not that great, the Magen Avraham rules that one can rely on the Rif that one may daven. The Mishnah Berurah concludes in accordance with the Magen Avraham.

Make-up

Under the circumstances in which he was not permitted to daven, he would be required to make up the prayer, called tefillas tashlumim. This means that immediately after davening the next shemoneh esrei, after taking three steps backward at the end of the prayer, he waits for a few seconds, then steps forward and recites the shemoneh esrei again, as a makeup for the missed prayer.

What parts of prayer?

Until now, the rules that we have been describing apply to the shemoneh esrei. How do these rules apply regarding the other parts of prayer and regarding other brochos or learning Torah?

The laws regarding all these other Torah and tefillah activities are as follows: If one is in the middle of reciting brochos or tefillos other than shemoneh esrei and he has an urge, but he knows that he can wait a parsah, he may continue and complete the section of davening in which he is holding and then relieve himself (Shu”t Harashba, Volume 1, #131; Mishnah Berurah 92:9). However, he should not continue the next section of davening without first relieving himself. Therefore, if this happens during pesukei dezimra, he may continue until the end of yishtabach and then relieve himself. However, he is required to relieve himself before he answers borchu, since this begins the next section of davening (Shoneh Halachos). If this happens during the brochos surrounding the Shma, he could continue davening before he relieves himself, but he cannot start shemoneh esrei without first relieving himself. However, in this instance, he should not wait until he completes the brocha of ga’al yisroel, since ga’al yisroel should be recited immediately before beginning shemoneh esrei (this is called semichas geulah litefilah). Instead, he should relieve himself beforehand, so that he can complete the brocha of ga’al yisroel and begin shemoneh esrei immediately (Mishnah Berurah 92:9).

In this last instance, he should not recite the brocha Asher Yatzar until completing the shemoneh esrei. Whether one can recite the brocha of Asher Yatzar in the middle of pesukei dezimra or not is a dispute among the late authorities, which we will leave for a different time.

What is considered a new topic?

All of hallel, all of the megillah or all of bensching are each considered one unit. Therefore, someone who was in the middle of any one of them and began to feel an urge may complete them first. However, the haftarah is considered a new unit after keriyas hatorah (Biur Halachah 92:2, s.v. Korei). Therefore, someone who felt an urge during keriyas hatorah may wait until it is complete, but should attend to his need prior to the beginning of the haftarah.

In all of these instances, if the urge is great enough that he could not wait a parsah, he should not recite any brochos or tefillos. However, according to most authorites, someone who recited a brocha or a tefillah when he could not wait a parsah does not need to repeat them, although it was prohibited for him to recite them (Milchemes Hashem, on Rif Brochos page 16a; Pri Megadim, Introduction to Mishbetzos Zahav, Orach Chayim, Chapter 92; Mishnah Berurah 92:7; Biur Halachah 92:1, s.v. Afilu; however, the Lechem Yehudah, cited by Biur Halachah ad locum, rules that one did not fulfill the requirement and needs to recite the prayer or brocha again.)

Ahavah Rabbah

At this point, we can address the first of our opening questions, from Brocha Rishonah: “In the middle of reciting the brocha of Ahavah Rabbah, I feel a mild need to use the bathroom. Must I stop davening immediately, or can I delay using the bathroom and finish davening first?”

Based on the information that we now have, we can analyze the details and provide Brocha with an answer.

Brocha may not begin shemoneh esrei until she uses the facilities. However, since this is only a minor need and also because her question is germane to the brochos surrounding Shma, she is permitted to continue davening and to complete Shma and its brochos before she does so. However, if she completes the prayer up to Boruch Atta Hashem Ga’al Yisroel, she will create a problem, in that she will not be able to recite shemoneh esrei immediately after completing that brocha. Therefore, she should take care of matters sometime between where she is now in davening and before she recites the words Tzur Yisroel. She should not recite Asher Yatzar until after she completes shemoneh esrei.

If she felt this need during pesukei dezimra, she should relieve herself some time before she begins reciting the brochos of Shma, meaning the brocha that begins with the words Boruch Ata Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam yotzeir or uvorei choshech. If she is in shul, she should take care of it before she answers borchu.

Are there any differences between men and women regarding these halachos?

No , there are no differences between men and women.

Learning and teaching Torah

If one has a great urge to relieve oneself, not only is it forbidden to pray, but it is also forbidden to learn Torah (Rema, Orach Chayim 92:1).

Public teaching

Someone who is in the middle of teaching a class or giving a public lecture who feels a need to relieve himself may finish the class he is teaching before doing so (Mishnah Berurah 92:7). Similarly, the baal keri’ah who feels such a need in the middle of the reading may complete it before relieving himself (Biur Halachah 92:1, s.v. Hayah). The reason is because we have a general halachic principle that kavod haberiyos, human dignity, supersedes a rabbinic prohibition, and the prohibition of teaching Torah when he needs to relieve himself is only miderabbanan (Magen Avraham 92:3).

The Baal Keri’ah

At this point, we can answer one of our opening questions: “I am a baal keri’ah. It occasionally happens that while I am leining, I realize that I need to use the facilities. May I continue leining until I have finished reading?”

The answer is that, based on the above, he may.

What about a Chazzan?

The later authorities are lenient, ruling that if the chazzan completed his personal shemoneh esrei and has a minor need to use the facilities, he may repeat the shemoneh esrei without first using them. The reason for this lenience is that the requirement to use the facilities is rabbinic, and the concept of kavod habriyos supersedes it (Brochos 19b). An additional reason that one may be lenient in this instance is because of the opinion of the Rif, mentioned above, that one who can wait for a parsah may daven lechatchilah. Although we do not usually follow the Rif’s minority opinion, under extenuating circumstances, one can rely upon it (Biur Halachah 92:1 s.v. Hayah).

Cantorial quandary

Back to our third question:

Mr. Fine Cantor calls me. “I just found out that one may not pray when one has a minor urinary urge, which for me is quite common. I often have such a need prior to repeating the chazaras hashatz. It is rather embarrassing for me to leave the shul prior to beginning the repetition. What do I do?”

Since Mr. Cantor is embarrassed to exit to use the facilities during the time that he is leading the davening, he may delay doing so until he finishes the davening. However, this is true only if his need is mild enough that he feels he can wait 72 minutes. If he feels that he cannot wait this long, he has no choice but to use the facilities, since, otherwise, he will not fulfill the mitzvah of davening, and his brochos will be in vain.

Caught in the middle

What is the law if someone is in the middle of the shemoneh esrei and he feels an urge to relieve himself? Should he interrupt the prayer to do so?

The halachah is that he should try to wait until he completes the tefillah and not interrupt the shemoneh esrei (Shu”t Harashba Volume 1, #131; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 92:2). However, he should not answer kedushah if his need is great, since this constitutes a new section of davening (Shoneh Halachos).

If his need to relieve himself is very great, he should go, even though he is in the middle of davening. When one needs to relieve himself, it is prohibited to wait unnecessarily. This prohibition is referred to as bal teshaketzu.

Must he repeat?

If someone needed to relieve himself in the middle of the shemoneh esrei, when he returns, does he continue the tefillah from where he was, or does he start it over again from the beginning?

Whether or not he returns to the beginning depends on the following:

Should his delay have been long enough that he could have recited the entire shemoneh esrei, then he is required to begin again from the beginning of the shemoneh esrei. If his delay was shorter, then he returns to the point where he interrupted his prayer.

In either instance, one should not talk during this interruption, and one should not recite Asher Yatzar until after he finishes the shemoneh esrei.

Men or women?

Are there any differences between men and women regarding these halachos?

No. Although I have been using male gender for this entire article, there are no differences between men and women.

Conclusion

The Rambam (Hilchos Yesodei Hatorah 2:3) explains that angels are made of a different type of matter than we are. They have no physical body, and Hashem made them in such a way that they have spiritual aspects and no true material appearance. This is why they can, at times, assume different forms. It is also a factor in their having no physical needs, and why they do not have free choice. 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.

Understanding how much concern Chazal placed in the seemingly 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 very 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.

 

Where Should I Pray

Certainly, both Bilaam’s desire to destroy the shullen of the Jews, and Pinchas’s praying that the plague end (see Tehillim 106:30), makes this a befitting week to discuss:

Where Should I Pray

Question #1: My Shul or my Minyan?

“Is it more important to daven with a minyan or to daven in shul?”

Question #2: Minyan-less

“I work nights, and by the time I am finished in the morning, there is no minyan with which I can daven. There is a shul near my workplace, but no minyan that accommodates my schedule. Should I go there to daven bi’yechidus?”

Question #3: The Shul I Don’t Attend

“From a halachic perspective, does it make any difference in which shul I daven?”

Question #4: Davening Privately

Davening with a minyan disturbs my learning schedule. May I therefore daven bi’yechidus?”

Introduction

As we will soon see, there are many halachos that determine the preferred location for prayer. Among other issues, I will be discussing the following questions:

What constitutes davening with a minyan?

Should one pray in a shul even when there is no minyan?

Is there a preference as to which shul one should attend?

With a minyan

The Gemara and authorities laud the advantages of praying with a minyan:

“The Holy One, blessed is He, said: ‘Whoever is involved in Torah and chesed and prays with the tzibur, I treat him as if he redeemed Me and My children from the nations of the earth’” (Brachos 8a).

“The prayers of the community are always listened to. Even when there are sinners among them, the prayers of the community are never viewed by Hashem with disfavor. Therefore, a person should always join with the community, and he should not pray by himself any time that he can pray with the tzibur. A person should always wake up early and go to shul, and should always attend shul in the evening, because prayer is not heard at all times, except when recited in a shul. One who has a shul in his city but does not daven there is called a bad neighbor” (Rambam, Hilchos Tefillah 8:1).

Segulah for longevity

In the merit of praying daily with a minyan, there is a segulah for living a long productive life, as we see from the following passage of Gemara:

They told Rabbi Yochanan: “There are old men in Bavel.” He responded with astonishment, noting that the Torah promises longevity only for those who keep the Torah carefully while living in Eretz Yisroel, but not for those who live in chutz la’aretz, including Bavel. When they told Rabbi Yochanan that these older people were wont to come to shul early and to stay late, he understood that they lived long in the merit of this mitzvah (Brachos 8a).

What constitutes tefillah betzibur?

Davening with a minyan means that one begins the shemoneh esrei at the same time that the tzibur does (Mishnah Berurah 90:28). One who arrives in shul late and therefore begins shemoneh esrei later than the minyan does, fulfills the mitzvah of davening in shul, but does not fulfill the mitzvah of davening with a minyan. If possible, he should attend a later minyan, in order to fulfill the mitzvah of davening with a minyan and in order to make sure that his prayers are heard.

Conflicts with my learning

Someone whose learning will be disturbed by his attending regular minyanim is still required to daven with a minyan (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 2:27; cf., however, Eimek Brocha, page 7). In the above responsum, Rav Moshe Feinstein does recognize one exception to this rule: Someone who learns in a place where there is no minyan davening is not required to interrupt his learning in order to daven at the same time as a minyan. This ruling will be explained shortly.

How far?

How far is someone required to travel in order to be able to daven with a minyan? This depends on whether he is at home or on the road. If he is at home, he is required to travel at least up to 18-24 minutes in order to be able to daven with a minyan (see Pri Chodosh, Orach Chayim 163:28 and Biur Halachah ad locum s.v. berichuk; however, cf. Pischei Teshuvah, Yoreh Deah 112:6, quoting Shu”t Beis Yaakov #35, who rules more leniently.) In his above-referenced responsum, Rav Moshe suggests that one might be required to travel even more than this to join a minyan.

I wrote 18-24 minutes because of a dispute among early halachic authorities. This dispute is dependent on how one understands a passage of Gemara (Pesachim 95), and discussing these details is beyond the scope of our current article.

On the road

If someone is on the road and there is a minyan that is not in the direction that he is going, he is required to travel up to 18-24 minutes out of his way in order to daven with a minyan (see Pesachim 46a, as explained by Rashi and Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 90:16). On the other hand, if he is traveling and knows that there is a minyan ahead of him, such that traveling to attend the minyan does not take him out of his way, then the halachah is more stringent. He is required to travel up to 72-96 minutes in order to participate in a minyan.

Davening at the time of the tzibur

If someone cannot daven together with a minyan, there is a halachic preference to daven at the same time that the tzibur davens, even though the individual is not davening in the same place where the tzibur is located. In other words, although his prayer will not qualify as tefillah betzibur, the fact that the tzibur is davening at the same time as this individual assists the acceptance of his tefillah. When someone davens with the tzibur, his prayer is always heard, even when his kavanah is subpar. (Of course, the better his kavanah, the more the tefillah is heard and responded to.) Davening at the same time as the tzibur, but in a different place, is considered to be on a somewhat lower level (Tosafos, Avodah Zarah 4b s.v. keivan; see also Machatzis Hashekel 90:17, quoting Shelah Hakodesh).

Rabbi Yitzchak and Rav Nachman

In this context, we are going to eavesdrop on a conversation that transpired between two great gedolim of the time of the Gemara, the great amora’im, Rabbi Yitzchak and Rav Nachman. (Both of these scholars were so well-known that they are usually referred to by their first names. Rav Nachman’s full name was actually Rav Nachman bar Yaakov [Tosafos, Bava Basra 46b s.v. Shalach], and the Rabbi Yitzchak referred to was probably Rabbi Yitzchak bar Pinchas [see Taanis 5a], but it might have been Rabbi Yitzchak bar Acha [see Brachos 27a and Rashi, Pesachim 114a].)

The conversation

Rabbi Yitzchak said to Rav Nachman: “Why did the master not come to shul to pray?” Rav Nachman replied, “I was unable.” Rabbi Yitzchak said to him: “Then you should have gathered ten people with whom to daven.” Rav Nachman responded that he found this difficult to arrange (tericha li milsa). Rabbi Yitzchak then advised, “The master should have instructed the sheliach tzibur to inform him when the tzibur is davening.” To this, Rav Nachman replied, “Is this so important?” Rabbi Yitzchak then quoted Rabbi Yochanan who, in turn, had cited Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai about the importance of davening at the time when the tzibur davens (Brachos 7b-8a).

This passage of Gemara teaches that the highest priority is to daven with a minyan in shul. The second choice, when one cannot daven with a minyan in shul, is to daven with a minyan that is not meeting in shul. Although there are advantages to the minyan in shul (see Mirkeves Hamishneh, Hilchos Tefillah, Chapter 8), davening with a minyan outside of shul is far preferred to davening without a minyan.

The third choice, when one cannot daven with a minyan at all, is to daven at the time that the minyan is davening in shul. The Rema (Orach Chayim 90:9) mentions that those who live in a place where there is no daily minyan should daven at the time that the tzibur davens. This demonstrates that the advantage of davening at the time that the tzibur davens is not limited to a tzibur that is within walking distance. The same rule is true for someone who is traveling – he should try to daven at the time that the tzibur is davening (Magen Avraham ad locum).

Exceptions

The Shelah Hakodesh mentions that there is an exception to this rule, meaning that there is a situation where one must daven bi’yechidus, and he should not daven at the time that the minyan is davening. If the minyan is davening maariv before it is fully dark, he should not daven at the same time that they are, since they have a heter to daven before it gets dark, but he does not. In this instance, he should wait until tzeis hakochavim, definite nightfall, before he davens (quoted by Magen Avraham).

Other poskim mention another instance in which one is not required to daven at the same time that the tzibur does, but can daven when it is convenient for him. If the tzibur davens shacharis later than he would like to, and he wants to be able to begin learning, he may daven before they do, in order to be able to begin his uninterrupted learning afterwards (Be’er Heiteiv). This ruling teaches that there is a difference between davening with a minyan and davening at the time that the minyan davens. As we mentioned before, the requirement to daven with a minyan supersedes his own desire to daven at a time that accommodates his own learning schedule. However, assuming that one cannot daven with the minyan anyway, but could, in theory, daven at the time that the minyan davens, he is not required to daven at their time, when his learning schedule is better accommodated in a different way.

Arranging a minyan

The Gemara mentioned that Rav Nachman did not arrange his own minyan because tericha milsa, it was difficult to arrange. Had it not been difficult to arrange, he certainly would have arranged a minyan. Thus, the halachah is that if someone cannot make it to the shul’s minyan, he is required to arrange his own minyan, unless it is a tircha to do so.

Tircha for whom?

What does it mean that it is a tircha to arrange the minyan? The Machatzis Hashekel cites a dispute among the rishonim whether this means that it is a tircha for the individual who cannot come to shul to make the arrangements that he have a minyan, or that the concern is that it is a tircha for the people to assemble especially for him (Semag). There would be an interesting difference in practical halachah that results from this dispute. According to the first opinion, in the days of Rav Nachman this would have required someone to go door to door or to look in the street for people to form a minyan for him. Today, when one could let one’s fingers do the walking, it would presumably not be considered a tircha to arrange a minyan. On the other hand, according to the second opinion, asking people to come especially to your house to form a minyan certainly involves a tircha for them. By the way, the words of our text of the Gemara, tericha li milsa, imply the first way of understanding the topic. Either way, someone who has this question should refer it to his rav or posek.

In shul

Until now, we have discussed davening either with a minyan or at the same time as a minyan davens. Aside from the importance of tefillah betzibur, it is also important to daven in shul, even when there is no minyan there. The Gemara (Brachos 6a) teaches: “Abba Binyamin says ‘a person’s prayers are answered only in shul, as the verse states, lishmo’a el harinah ve’el hatefillah,to hear the song and the prayer” (Melachim I 8:28). As Rashi explains, rinah means prayers in shul where the community as a whole recites praises of Hashem with beautiful song.

This statement of the Gemara surfaces another time in mesechta Brachos (8a), in this occasion in the name of Rabbi Yochanan, and it is quoted in the halachic works of the three major early halachic authorities, the Rif, the Rambam and the Rosh and by all later poskim. When the Tur (Orach Chayim 90) quotes this halachah, he states that a person should always daven in a shul with a minyan. However, Rabbeinu Yonah cites, in the name of the Geonim, that even if he needs to daven at a time when there is no minyan, he should still daven in a shul, since it is a place designated for the public to daven (Beis Yosef).

The Shulchan Aruch combines the conclusions of the last two discussions as follows: “A person should always try to daven in shul with a minyan. If an extenuating circumstance prevents his attending shul, then he should daven at the time that the tzibur does. And if this is also not possible and he must daven by himself, he should still daven in a shul.” (Orach Chayim 90:9). The Magen Avraham cites illness or weakness as reasons why someone missed the minyan in shul. He also notes that it is preferable to daven with a minyan at home, rather than daven at the time the tzibur is davening, but without a minyan. Again, this is based on the Gemara that we saw above.

Beis midrash versus shul

The Gemara teaches that the great scholars, Rav Ami and Rav Asi, davened in the place where they studied Torah, notwithstanding the fact that there were thirty shullen in their city (Brachos 8a, 30b). Thus, we see that davening in the beis midrash where one usually learns is more valuable than davening in shul. Among the early halachic authorities, we find two interpretations of this practice.

  • Rabbeinu Yonah explains that someone whose full time occupation is studying Torah (toraso umnaso) should daven in a beis midrash rather than in a shul, even at the expense of not being able to daven with a minyan. Alternatively, since he spends his entire day learning in one place without interruption, he should not waste potential learning time by leaving his home for shul (Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim, Chapter 90).
  • The Rambam disagrees and rules that he should daven with a minyan. According to his understanding, it appears that the Gemara is teaching that a Torah scholar should daven in a beis midrash with a minyan, and does not need to attend the shul’s minyan. The Rosh follows a similar approach, concluding that the Torah scholar who would not have a minyan where he learns should go to shul to daven for several reasons, including that others will learn from his example and not daven with a minyan (Shu”t HaRosh, cited by Tur Orach Chayim chapter 90).

Choosing between shuls

When one has a choice of shullen in which to daven, does halachah provide a priority as to which one he should choose? Indeed it does, mentioning three rules to follow.

Regular shul

One should preferably have a shul which one attends regularly (Mishnah Berurah 90:28).

Farther shul

Rabbi Yochanan said that he learned from a widow how one should earn reward for mitzvos by walking a greater distance. She would come daily from a different neighborhood to pray in the beis midrash of Rabbi Yochanan (obviously, in the women’s section). Rabbi Yochanan asked her, rhetorically, “Is there no shul in your neighborhood?” to which she answered, “Do I not get extra reward for walking to the farther shul?” (Sotah 22a). We find that Rabbi Yochanan reiterated this lesson in a different passage of Gemara, where he ruled that it is not an advantage to live next to a shul, since one thereby loses the merit of walking a greater distance to shul (Bava Metzia 107a). From both passages, we see that one should try to daven at a shul that involves a farther walk, in order to gain extra merit.

Larger minyan

The halachah is recorded that one should daven in the shul where more people are attending davening (Mishnah Berurah 90:28). This is because of the concept called Berov am hadras Melech (Mishlei 14:28): the more people that participate in a mitzvah, the greater is the honor for Hashem.

Conclusion

The power of tefillah is very great. Through tefillah one can save lives, bring people closer to Hashem and overturn harsh decrees. We have to believe in this power. One should not think, “Who am I to daven to Hashem?” Rather, we must continually drive home the concept that Hashem wants our tefillos and He listens to them! 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.

Understanding how much concern Chazal placed in the relatively minor aspects of davening should make us even 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 very high points — the three times that we daven. Certainly, one should do whatever one can to make sure to pay attention to the meaning of the words of one’s Tefillah. We should gain our strength and inspiration for the rest of the day from these three prayers. Let us hope that Hashem will accept our tefillos together with those of Klal Yisrael!

 

A Tale of Four Islands

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

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

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

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

Question #2: Which esrog?

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

Question #3: Which minhag should I observe?

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

Introduction:

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

Cyprus

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

Jews in Cyprus

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

Neither Sefardim nor Ashkenazim

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

Greek Jews

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

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

Corsica

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

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

Crete

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

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

Jewish Crete

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

Halachic Crete

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

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

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

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

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

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

Corfu

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

Jews of Corfu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Corfu esrog

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

Corfu vs. Corsica

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

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

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

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

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

Corsican salvation

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

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

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

 

Symphony of the Soul

Question #1: Trumpets

“Can there be a mitzvah in the Torah of blowing trumpets if this instrument was not invented until relatively recently?”

Question #2: Bugles

“Someone told me that the correct translation of chatzotzeres is “bugle.” Can that possibly be true?”

Introduction:

The association between music and Torah is not usually explored in halachic articles, which is an oversight, since several mitzvos demonstrate this relationship. Among those mitzvos are the singing of select chapters of Tehillim by the levi’im that accompanies the korbanos in the Beis Hamikdash, and the rendition of Hallel on joyous days and occasions. There are also the mitzvos of blowing shofar and of blowing the chatzotzeros, which will be the focus of this week’s article.

The Sefer Hachinuch counts five mitzvos in parshas Beha’alos’cha, Mitzvos #380–384, four of them related to the offering of the korban Pesach on Pesach sheini. The offering of korban Pesach was accompanied with a joyous rendition of Hallel. The fifth mitzvah mentioned by the Sefer Hachinuch is that of blowing trumpets, and can function as a commentary on the following verses:

“And Hashem spoke to Moshe saying, ‘Make for yourself two trumpets of silver; make them (out of silver) by hammering them. And their purpose shall be for calling the community and having the camps embark on their journey. When they are blown a continuous blast, all the community shall gather to the entrance of the ohel mo’eid. But if one trumpet is sounded, then the leaders, the heads of the thousands of Yisraelites, shall gather to you. Upon blowing a staccato sound, then the camps that are easternmost shall embark. Upon blowing a second staccato sound, then the southernmost camps shall begin the journey. They shall blow a staccato sound to begin their journey. And when you gather the congregation, blow a continuous sound and not a staccato one. The sons of Aharon, the kohanim, shall blow the horns, and this should be for them a law for all generations. Furthermore, when you enter into a war in your land against an oppressor who afflicts you, you shall blow a staccato sound on the trumpets. Thereby, you will be remembered before Hashem, your G-d, and you will be saved from your enemies. And on the days that you celebrate — your festivals and your new moons — you shall blow a continuous sound on the trumpets upon your ascent offerings and your peace offerings and it will be a remembrance for you before your G-d, for I am Hashem, your G-d” (Bamidbar 10 1-10).

What does the Torah mean in the last verse we quoted: “You shall blow a continuous sound on the trumpets upon your ascent offerings and your peace offerings?” This means that when these korbanos are offered, they are accompanied by the tekiah blasts (the continuous sounds) of the two silver trumpets.

The Sifrei adds that, when the staccato teruah was sounded, it was accompanied by a tekiah sound before and after, and that this is done three times, similar to the order that we blow on Rosh Hashanah. (We blow more than nine sounds on Rosh Hashanah, but that is not the topic of this article.) However, this is only when blowing the teruah sounds that announce the traveling of the camps. When the trumpet blows a tekiah to beckon the elders or the people to come, it is sounded alone (Sifrei).

Horn or trumpet?

Above, I translated the word chatzotzeres as trumpet, as does every translator that I have seen, although it is not fully accurate. The modern trumpet contains valves that allow it a range of pitch which the chatzotzeres does not have. The modern instrument that resembles the chatzotzeres most closely is probably a bugle, which has no keys or valves. However, since most people associate the bugle with such melodious pieces as taps and reveille, neither of which has halachic significance, translating chatzotzeres as bugle will raise a lot of eyebrows. Instead, I decided to use the word trumpet, and we will assume that we are referring to the ancient version of this instrument, not its modern update.

At this point, let us spend a few minutes discussing some of the technical halachos of this mitzvah of blowing trumpets.

Identical

Although I have found no halacha describing the size or the appearance of the trumpets, the halacha is that the two trumpets should be manufactured in such a way that they appear identical – they should have the same exterior form, size, height, and beauty (Sifrei).

Hammered from silver

The mitzvah of the Torah is that each chatzotzeres be hammered from a solid piece of silver. It may not be manufactured the easy way – by melting the silver and pouring it into a mold – which would also make it quite easy to have identical instruments. By comparison, no two handcrafted Stradivarius violins are identical, whereas standard, commercially-made instruments, including the Chinese-made, full-sized, plastic shofaros ubiquitously sold in the Arab shuk in Yerushalayim in Elul, are identical, down to their natural-looking scratch marks, except for their color and whether they are curved towards the right or towards the left.

The chatzotzeres could not be made of copper, brass (a copper-zinc alloy often used for the manufacture of musical instruments), or any other metal, but only of silver (Menachos 28a). If fashioned from any metal other than silver, it is not kosher for fulfilling the mitzvah.

How many trumpets?

In addition to the function of the trumpets mentioned in this week’s parsha, they were also played as part of the orchestra that joined the levi’im’s singing when korbanos were offered. The Mishnah (Arachin 13a) teaches that this orchestra had many instruments, including at least two trumpets, but it could have as many as 120 trumpets. Based on the report (Divrei Hayamim II 5:12) that when Shelomoh Hamelech dedicated the Beis Hamikdash, the orchestra included 120 chatzotzeros as well as many other instruments, the Gemara (Arachin 13b) rules that the orchestra performing with the levi’im singing the shira could add as desired, as many as 120 trumpets! Tosafos (Arachin 13a) discusses whether one could actually have more, but that the Gemara means that once one’s orchestra has 120, there is no need to seek more.

However, germane to the mitzvah of blowing the chatzotzeros, the Sifrei writes explicitly that one may use only two trumpets.

Who blows?

The posuk that we quoted above states explicitly that “the sons of Aharon, the kohanim, shall blow the horns” and this point is noted by several authorities (Sefer Hachinuch; Turei Even, Rosh Hashanah 26b s.v. ushetei; Maharam Shik Mitzvah #385). The Rambam (Hilchos Klei Hamikdash 3:4-5, as explained by Sefer Hachinuch) draws a distinction between the blowing of the trumpets that was a special mitzvah performed on the festivals, when they were blown only by kohanim, and the orchestra that accompanied the daily korbanos, when the trumpets were blown by levi’im.

The tana’im dispute whether a kohein who is a baal mum, blemished and therefore not permitted to perform the avodah in the Beis Hamikdash, may blow the chatzotzeres when it is required to be blown by a kohein. Rabbi Akiva rules that he may not, and that it must be blown by a kohein who may perform the avodah, whereas Rabbi Tarfon permits it (Sifrei).

A master blaster

In this context, the Sifrei quotes an interesting anecdote. After Rabbi Tarfon and Rabbi Akiva each demonstrated the halachic source for his position, Rabbi Tarfon exclaimed: “I can no longer take this! You keep gathering and creating new laws! I know that I saw my mother’s brother, Shimon, who was a kohein with a severe blemish in his leg, blow the chatzotzeres in the Beis Hamikdash!” To this Rabbi Akiva calmly answered, “Perhaps he was blowing the trumpet on Rosh Hashanah or on Yom Kippur of the yoveil year,” when the blowing of the trumpet could be performed even by a Yisroel and certainly by a blemished kohein. Rabbi Tarfon then replied, “You are correct! How fortunate are you, Avraham Avinu, that you produced a descendant, Akiva! Tarfon sees things and misunderstands them, whereas Akiva figures out what is the correct halacha! One who separates himself from you, Akiva, is separating himself from life!”

(Although Rabbi Akiva’s father was a geir tzedek, he was descended from Avraham Avinu on his mother’s side, since she was born of a Jewish family.)

Two mitzvos of shofar

Thus far we have been discussing the mitzvah of blowing the trumpets. There is also a different mitzvah of the Torah, or actually two, to blow the shofar, which is, of course, an animal horn. Most people are surprised to discover that the 613 mitzvos include two mitzvos of shofar. In addition to blowing shofar on Rosh Hashanah, there is a mitzvah to blow the shofar on Yom Kippur of the yoveil year, the fiftieth year of the calendar cycle. This is to fulfill what the Torah teaches in parshas Behar, Veha’avarta shofar teruah bachodesh hashevi’i be’asor lachodesh beyom hakippurim, “And you shall blow a staccato sound on the shofar in the seventh month on the tenth of the month – on Yom Kippur” (Vayikra 25:9).

This blowing of the shofar announces that the Jewish slave, the eved ivri, now goes free, and that the land returns to the ownership of its previous inhabitants. It is, of course, made famous to non-Jewish inhabitants of the United States by its use on the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, where the end of this posuk in parshas Behar (Vayikra 25:10) is quoted, “And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.”

The shofar is blown on Yom Kippur of the yoveil year the exact same way that it is blown on Rosh Hashanah (Rambam, Hilchos Shemittah Vayoveil 10:10-11). This mitzvah, which the Rambam counts as mitzvas aseih #137 and the Sefer Hachinuch counts as mitzvah #331, applies only when each sheivet of the Jewish people lives in Eretz Yisroel on its own land (Rambam, Hilchos Shemittah Vayoveil 10:8). The custom of blowing the shofar at the close of Yom Kippur is so that we remember the mitzvah of blowing shofar on Yom Kippur of the yoveil year.

Bell versus shofar

It is interesting that the founders of the American republic decided to proclaim liberty with a bell, albeit one that cracked the first time it was used, rather than with a shofar, as the Torah states. However, this does not mean that bells were never used in the Beis Hamikdash. As a matter of fact, a bell was used as part of the orchestra in the Beis Hamikdash (see Mishnah, Arachin 13a).

Trumpets with shofar

The Mishnah (Rosh Hashanah 26b) and Gemara (ibid. 27a) record that, in the Beis Hamikdash, the trumpets were accompanied by the shofar, and, vice versa, when there was a mitzvah to blow shofar, the trumpets accompanied the shofar. Whichever was the primary mitzvah on that day was blown in the middle, and the other instrument was blown alongside (Mishnah Rosh Hashanah 26b). Thus, on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur of the yoveil year, the shofar was in the middle with two trumpets, one on each side, whereas on a fast day, the trumpets were in the middle and two shofaros were blown, one on each side (Rashi ad locum).

This practice of blowing the shofar and the trumpets simultaneously is derived from the posuk in Tehillim (98:6): Bachatzotzaros vekol shofar heiri’u lifnei hamelech, Hashem, “With trumpets and the sound of the shofar, call out before The King, Hashem.” The Gemara explains that only “before The King,” that is, in the Beis Hamikdash, should one blow both trumpets and shofar at the same time. Outside the Beis Hamikdash, one should blow either a shofar or the trumpets, but they were never both blown on the same occasion (Rosh Hashanah 27a).

Celebration or fast?

All of this important discussion also serves as an introduction to the following. When the Rambam counts blowing the chatzotzeros as one of the 613 mitzvos, he includes as one mitzvah both blowing them on the festivals and blowing them during times of travail. Let me quote his words in the Sefer Hamitzvos:

Mitzvah #59 is that He commanded us to blow the trumpets in the Mikdash when we offer the korbanos on the festivals… Similarly, we are commanded to blow the trumpets during times of necessity and difficulty.” We see that the Rambam extends the Torah’s requirement to blow the trumpets when an enemy threatens to include any communal difficulty.

The Rambam explains the law at greater length in the Mishneh Torah, where he writes:

“One of the mitzvos of the Torah is to cry out and to blow the trumpets for any travail that comes on the community… whether it is drought, plague, locusts, or anything similar… This is one of the steps whereby one does teshuvah. When a difficulty occurs, they should cry out…. They must all realize that the difficulties are a result of their misdeeds… and that teshuvah is what will relieve the difficulty. However, should they not cry out nor blow the trumpets, and, instead, attribute the malady to happenstance and coincidence — this is a cruel way to live one’s life that causes one to entrench himself in his evil ways. This results in increased strife. This is precisely what the Torah describes when it refers to vahalachtem imi bakeri... The Rabbis extended this idea to include fasting on every malady that happens to the community, until Heaven has mercy. During these fast days, one cries out in prayer and beseeches and blows the trumpets. In the Beis Hamikdash, one also blows shofar… Blowing trumpets and shofar together take place only in the Beis Hamikdash…” (Rambam, Hilchos Taanis 1:1-4)

Thus, we see that the Rambam understands that the mitzvah of blowing trumpets is not simply a specific single act of blowing the horns, but it is a mitzvah used to create days which the community devotes to collective teshuvah.

Altogether, the Rambam counts three different mitzvos that involve sounding instruments: Blowing shofar on Rosh Hashanah, blowing shofar on yoveil, and blowing the trumpets on festivals and fast days.

The Rambam (Sefer Hamitzvos #137) explains why he counts the mitzvos of shofar as two separate mitzvos.  “It is known that this shofar blowing, which is in yoveil, is intended to publicize the freedom. It is a type of a declaration, as said, ‘And you shall call out freedom in the land to all the inhabitants of the designated land.’ And it is a different theme from the blowing on Rosh Hashanah, which is to provide a commemoration of ourselves before Hashem, whereas this one (of yoveil) is to free the slaves” (See Pri Megadim, Orach Chayim, Mishbetzos Zahav 576:2.)

One mitzvah or two?

A very basic question is raised by the primary commentary on the Rambam, the Magid Mishnah: Why does the Rambam count shofar as two mitzvos, one on Rosh Hashanah, and one in the yoveil year Yom Kippur, yet he counts the blowing of the trumpets for the festivals and for the fast days as one mitzvah? Several answers are provided to this question; I will share with you some of them:

Tooting a different mitzvah

The Maharam Shik, who wrote a book on the 613 mitzvos, explains that the Rambam, indeed, did not combine the two types of horn blowing as one mitzvah. Rather, the Rambam considered blowing trumpets as a detail that would be included as part of the laws of offering each korban. In other words, the offering of each type of korban is counted as a mitzvah of the Torah. However, the specific details and steps involved in offering each korban are not counted as separate mitzvos. Similarly, explains the Maharam Shik, blowing the trumpets to accompany the offerings is included as a detail in the offering of that particular korban, rather than as a separate mitzvah (Maharam Shik, Mitzvah #385).

A similar approach is suggested by a different commentary (Mirkeves Hamishneh, Hilchos Taanis 1:1), which explains that blowing the trumpet is not counted as a separate mitzvah but is included under the mitzvah that the levi is responsible for his tasks in the Mikdash, which includes also singing the psalms, guarding the Mikdash and opening the gates (see Rambam, Hilchos Klei Hamikdash 3:2).

These two approaches can be used to explain how a different rishon, the Semag, understood these mitzvos. When in parshas Beha’aloscha he quotes the mitzvah of blowing the trumpets, he limits it to the blowing that transpires when the offerings are brought on the festivals (Semag, Mitzvas Aseih #170). He counts as a separate mitzvah the levi’im carrying out their responsibility in the Mikdash, and includes the laws of their blowing of the trumpets there (Semag, Mitzvas Aseih #169). Furthermore, he counts a different mitzvas aseih (#17), which the Rambam does not, that might include the observance of days of public teshuvah. He defines mitzvas aseih #17 as a positive mitzvah of the Torah to recognize that everything that happens is divinely controlled, and to understand that when difficult situations arise it is Hashem’s admonition to us to return to Him. This would seemingly include the same mitzvah as the Rambam’s extended responsibility to the community that they cry out “rather than attribute the malady to happenstance and coincidence.”

Although we have rallied support for such an approach to the organization of these mitzvos, the Rambam himself did not explain the organization of the mitzvos this way, since he states very clearly that mitzvah #59 includes blowing the trumpets both for the festivals and for the fast days. Allow me to quote him again, “Mitzvah 59 is that He commanded us to blow the trumpets in the Mikdash when we offer the korbanos of the festivals… We are also commanded to blow the trumpets in times of difficulty and trouble, when we cry out to Hashem.” Thus, we see that the Rambam felt that these two aspects of trumpet blowing count as one mitzvah, notwithstanding his position that the two mitzvos of blowing shofar should be counted as two different mitzvos. Thus we revert to the Magid Mishnah’s question: Why did the Rambam count the two occasions that we blow shofar, Rosh Hashanah and yoveil, as two different mitzvos, yet he counted the two occasions that we blow the trumpets, for korbanos and in times of travail, as one?

Difference between shofar and trumpets

The Sefer Hachinuch explains that blowing the trumpets, whether to accompany the korbanos on the festivals or on the days of travail, has the same purpose: To get people to focus on why they are offering korbanos or fasting – they serve as a wake-up call.

Conclusion

Rav Hirsch explains that, notwithstanding the doubled letter tzadi, the root of the word chatzotzeres is the same as the word chatzeir, which means court or courtyard. The verb chatzeir means to form a court around oneself. The word chatzotzeres means an instrument whose purpose is to draw together people to form a court. Thus, the entire meaning of the Hebrew word for trumpet is its use to bring Klal Yisroel together. As we now understand, this function might be because it is a time of difficulty, but it might also be in a time of joy to celebrate as a community.  May Hashem help us come together to celebrate, as an entire community, ultimate happiness!

 

Eat Kosher! Part 2

 Question #1: How many mitzvos?

“Is keeping kosher more than one mitzvah?”

Question #2: Food for thought

“Am I required to eat each of the kosher species?”

Question #3: Check your scales

“Must I check fish for scales each time I purchase one?”

Introduction:

Two weeks ago, in part I of this article, we discovered that when the Torah discusses which species are kosher, it says (in parshas Shemini), “These are the living things from which you may eat,” which the midrashei halacha and the Rambam count as mitzvos aseih. We noted that the Rambam considers these as lav haba miklal aseih, a prohibition verbalized as a mitzvas aseih, which is sometimes called an issur aseih. We also noted that the Rambam counts four different mitzvos aseih, one to eat only kosher animals, one to eat only kosher fish, one to eat only kosher fowl, and one to eat only kosher grasshoppers. We also learned that the Rambam explains that he wrote the Sefer Hamitzvos to explain the rules that govern what is included in the listing of the 613 mitzvos. We now continue with part two of our article.

What type of positive mitzvah?

The first half of Sefer Hamitzvos consists of fourteen rules, called sherashim, that the Rambam established to determine whether something is counted as one of the 613 mitzvos or not. In the sixth shoresh, the Rambam rules that if a mitzvah is commanded in the Torah both as a positive commandment and as a negative prohibition, then it is counted as two of the 613 mitzvos — both as a positive mitzvah and a negative one. The Rambam explains that there are three types of mitzvos aseih in which this occurs.

  1. In some instances, there is a positive mitzvah that is a flipside of the negative prohibition. For example, someone who observes Shabbos or Yom Tov fulfills a positive mitzvah (Pesachim 84a). There is also a negative prohibition which one violates by performing prohibited activity on Shabbos or Yom Tov.

Similarly, there is a positive mitzvah to observe shemittah, and negative ones involving performing prohibited activity during shemittah. Another example is fasting on Yom Kippur, which involves both a positive mitzvah of afflicting oneself and a lo sa’aseh.

  1. A second type of positive mitzvah that accompanies a lo sa’aseh is what is called a lav shekadmo aseih — there is a mitzvah to do something, but one who violates the intent of the positive mitzvah will, at that time, also violate a lo sa’aseh. Two examples of this rule are the cases of the oneis and the motzi shem ra, both of whom are required by a mitzvas aseih to marry and remain married to the wronged woman (should she agree). Should he subsequently divorce her, he will violate a lo sa’aseh.
  2. A third type of positive mitzvah that accompanies a lo sa’aseh is called lav hanitak le’aseih, in which the mitzvas aseih is the instruction that the Torah provided if someone violates the lo sa’aseh. Here are two examples of this situation: The mitzvas lo sa’aseh of nosar is to make sure not to leave over edible parts of a korban past the time that the Torah established for that particular korban. One who does leave over and violates the lo sa’aseh now becomes commanded to observe a mitzvah aseih of burning the leftovers.

A second example is the mitzvah of shiluach hakein, in which one is prohibited from taking the mother bird while she is fulfilling her motherly duties to her eggs or young. One who violates this prohibition by seizing the mother bird is now required to observe the positive mitzvah of setting her free.

We are now faced with a question: If the word tocheilu is a positive mitzvah, what is the Torah commanding us to do? It certainly does not fit the second or third of the three categories mentioned above. The second category would mean that there is a positive mitzvah that one is required to perform whose result one now wishes to abrogate. The mitzvah of tocheilu certainly does not fit this category. Similarly, tocheilu cannot fit the third category, because this mitzvah is not correcting an error.

If tocheilu is included in the first category, it would mean that one who eats non-kosher violates an aseih, also. Whether we can look at the mitzvah this way appears to be the point of departure between the Rambam and the Ramban. The Ramban wrote the earliest commentary to the Rambam’s Sefer Hamitzvos, with a goal of explaining the Behag’s approach and answering the questions that the Rambam asks on the Behag. At times, the Ramban takes issue with some of the Rambam’s 14 rules. However, the Ramban accepts the Rambam’s sixth rule that a mitzvah, such as Shabbos or Yom Tov, when expressed by the Torah both in a positive way and a negative one, is counted twice, both as a mitzvas aseih and as a mitzvas lo sa’aseh. The Ramban disagrees with the Rambam regarding these four mitzvos of identifying kosher species.

To quote the Ramban, “I see in this matter a major dispute (between the Behag and the Rambam) and, without any question, one of the opinions is erroneous. There are instances in which there is both a lo sa’aseh and an aseih in the same topic; however, both are not counted as mitzvos. An example is the permitted and forbidden animals, fish and fowl, where the Torah includes a positive statement, ‘this is the animal that you may eat,’ and Chazal interpret this to be a mitzvas aseih. Similarly, when it says, ‘you may eat any pure bird’ and it is counted as a positive mitzvah. And again, when it says, ‘this you may eat, from whatever is in the water.’ It is obvious that the intent of the Torah is not to say that when one eats an animal or a fish with the proper kosher signs that one fulfills a mitzvah, and that someone who traps them and then does not eat them is in violation of his observance of a positive mitzvah. The intent, clearly, is that one may eat only these species and not the non-kosher ones. This is called a lo sa’aseh that is derived from a positive statement (in Hebrew, this is called a lav haba miklal aseih), whose purpose is to establish that someone who violates the lo sa’aseh also violates an aseih.”

The Ramban then notes that in all of these instances, the Rambam counts as positive mitzvos that one check whether a species of animal, bird, fish or grasshopper is kosher. However, concludes the Ramban, “The Behag did not count them, because they do not include a positive activity, whereas avoiding eating the prohibited is already included in the lo sa’aseh. Consequently, referring to the prohibition in a positive way does not add to the mitzvah count in these instances, just as repeating the lo sa’aseh several times does not add an extra lo sa’aseh to the mitzvah count.”

The last point raised by the Ramban is mentioned by the Rambam and others. The Torah often repeats a prohibition many times. When the additional pasuk does not add any new halachic information, the additional reference does not constitute an additional mitzvah.

Be positive!

Many authorities rally to address the final point of the Ramban, that the Rambam’s inclusion of these four positive mitzvos must include some additional component or ruling to the halacha. Additional support for this approach can be brought from the way the Rambam, himself, mentions these mitzvos. In all four instances, the Rambam writes that we are commanded to check for the signs that the particular species is kosher. And he writes this in two places, once in the Mishneh Torah and another time in the Sefer Hamitzvos. There is also one time in the Mishneh Torah where the Rambam writes that the mitzvah is to “know” the kosher signs. What exactly does this mitzvah of checking or knowing entail?

What does a mitzvah add?

Many approaches are suggested to explain what the positive mitzvah might be including, according to the Rambam. Some understand that the mitzvah requires that one be completely familiar with the simanim of the kosher species and have hands-on experience. Book knowledge that split hooves and chewing cud are kosher signs, without knowing what these two terms mean, does not fulfill the mitzvah (Darchei Teshuvah 79:1, quoting Korban Aharon and Yad David). It is somewhat implied by them that the mitzvah of studying Torah is fulfilled by knowing the laws, without necessarily knowing what one is to look for; but, without hands-on experience, there is no fulfillment of the mitzvas aseih.

A second approach is that someone who consumes food from a certain species, not knowing if it is kosher or not, who then discovers that he indeed ate a kosher animal, violates the mitzvas aseih for not checking the indicative factors first (Sefer Hachinuch; Pri To’ar, Yoreh Deah 79:1; Kinas Sofrim; see also Darchei Teshuvah 79:1). To quote the Sefer Hachinuch (Mitzvah #153) “One who violates this mitzvah because he checked only one siman and relied on that without checking for the other siman, even though it turns out that he ate from the kosher species, has neglected his observance of this mitzvah of checking simanim.”

What’s in a horn?

When the Sefer Hachinuch mentions this approach to explain the Rambam’s position, he adds a further comment that appears somewhat strange. He writes that there is also a requirement to know the simanim that identify whether a particular species is a beheimah or whether it is a chayah. There are several laws that are affected by this distinction, and the Gemara provides criteria, depending on the appearance of the animal’s horns, whereby one can identify whether a particular kosher species is a beheimah or a chayah.

However, this comment of the Sefer Hachinuch is very surprising. The Torah, as explained by the above-quoted comments of the Sifrei and the Sifra, includes a mitzvah that we identify whether a species is kosher or not. No matter how we understand this mitzvah of the Torah, and I will soon provide several other approaches, the mitzvah applies only to places where the Torah states that we may eat a certain variety of creature and then provides a defining characteristic or nomenclature. However, where do we see any mitzvah requiring one to identify whether a specific kosher species is a beheimah or a chayah?

The Minchas Chinuch answers that this is true, because horns function as a secondary siman to determine whether a beheimah is kosher, although they do not function as a siman to determine whether a chayah is kosher. In other words, there are no non-kosher beheimos that bear horns, although there are non-kosher chayos that do. Thus, having kosher beheimah horns can be used to determine whether a species is kosher.

This explanation of the Minchas Chinuch also includes a very novel interpretation. The Torah provides two criteria to determine whether a mammal is of a kosher species: does it ruminate, and does it have completely split hooves. Granted that horns are a secondary characteristic, where do we see that this is included in the Torah’s mitzvah?

More positive attitudes

There are also numerous technical answers why the Rambam counted these as separate mitzvos. Some authorities explain that one who checks the simanim on an unfamiliar species that he would like to eat to see if it is kosher fulfills a mitzvas aseih. This author is inclined to think that, according to this opinion, he should recite a brocha before checking, because that is what the Torah commanded one to do. We do not recite a brocha because of the machlokes haposkim as to whether this act indeed fulfills a mitzvas aseih.

We should note that the halachic authorities accept that once one recognizes a particular species as kosher, there is no further requirement to continue checking the kosher signs of this species (Minchas Chinuch 153; Darchei Teshuvah 79:1). Thus, there is no mitzvah to check for the scales of an obviously identifiable salmon.

Other positive approaches

Still others explain that the requirement of the Rambam’s mitzvas aseih is that one may not rely on the fact that a specific species is probably kosher. In general, there is a halacha that one may rely on rov. Upon this basis, someone not knowing whether a certain variety of bird or fish is kosher could rely on the fact that most fishes with a certain appearance are kosher, or that most birds are kosher. Although, in general, the halachic rule is that one may assume that what is before you is from the majority that are kosher, one may not consume an unfamiliar species, based on the information that there is a rov that this species is kosher (Shu”t HaRivosh #192).

There are other answers, which are basically technical, to explain the Rambam’s position. Some explain that one violates the mitzvas aseih by eating less than a kezayis, even though this is too small an amount to be culpable for violating the lo sa’aseh (Pri Megadim, quoted by Minchas Chinuch, Mitzvah #470 and by Maharam Shik, Mitzvah #154). The Minchas Chinuch (ad loc.), himself, suggests an alternative approach. One who consumes a non-kosher specias in an unusual manner will not violate the lo sa’aseh. The Minchas Chinuch suggests that he will violate the mitzvas aseih min haTorah, if one eats something that is not edible. This would be a very novel and stringent idea in halacha, which has ramifications regarding the consumption of medicines and vitamins, a topic we have discussed in the past.

Conclusion

At this point, we see that there are halachic ramifications to the dispute between the Rambam and the Ramban as to whether there is a positive mitzvah to keep kosher, or at least, to eat only from kosher species. We should always hope and pray that the food we eat fulfills all the halachos that the Torah commands us.

Some Applications of the Laws of Loshon Hora

This article consists of two original shaylos that I wrote in Hebrew. These teshuvos are in the process of being edited for the next volume of Shu”t Nimla Tal. Both teshuvos are germane to atypical questions I have been asked about the laws of loshon hora. The two questions were:

  1. A therapist requesting guidance concerning what she should or should not say about a couple that she had counseled through a divorce.
  2. Is it loshon hora to tell over something that the person himself is not embarrassed about and does in public? For example, when these is no reason for the other person to know (no to’eles), is it loshon hora to say that someone has extreme political positions that he himself espouses in public? Or, is it loshon hora to say that a woman does not dress according to halacha, when she appears in public this way?

The first responsum is to a question asked by a psychiatric social worker. A couple had become divorced from a marriage in which both parties were unstable. The social worker asking the shaylah, who I happen to know is an excellent therapist, was their marriage therapist. She feels that, although the husband and wife were both at fault for the dissolution of the marriage, the ex-wife is not currently a candidate for future marriage, whereas the ex-husband could handle a future marriage, but only with professional involvement (that is, marital therapy) from the very beginning of the marriage and perhaps even earlier. What may the therapist answer someone who asks her about these individuals for a future marriage? Both members of the former couple have given her authorization to speak freely.

What follows is an approximate rendition of the teshuvah.

Firstly, I want to clarify the ex-husband’s obligations to tell about his marital history to a future prospective mate or to a shadchan.

Until he is dating someone very seriously, he is not obligated to forewarn any woman whom he is dating about his previous difficulties and his need for pre-marital therapy. I advise that he tell a prospective bride after a certain number of dates, say three or four, at a point when the woman can evaluate fairly whether she wants to proceed. However, technically speaking, as long as he notifies her at a time that she can back out without creating a publicly embarrassing situation, he has not violated any halacha. In other words, he is not required to tell her until they are ready to become engaged.

Furthermore, he is under no obligation to tell a shadchan about any shortcomings.

In general, I would not recommend setting him up for a shidduch when it is fairly certain that the other party will back out of the shidduch upon hearing about his shortcomings and the necessity for marriage therapy. However, this is only if the shadchan happens to know about the background; as mentioned above, he is not obligated to tell a shadchan.

If the therapist is asked about his first marriage, she should say that what happened does not concern a different, new marriage. Regarding her assessment that, in a future marriage, the ex-husband should have counseling in advance, it is the ex-husband’s obligation to tell the other party, not the counselor’s. If the counselor is confident that he will follow instructions, both in terms of having therapy early in the relationship and in terms of his notifying the other party that this is necessary, she need not say anything. She is obligated to reveal this information only if she is concerned that the man will not tell.

Regarding the ex-wife, in the situation that happened, she was not emotionally prepared to consider dating for marriage, and therefore there was no issue for the therapist. Had the question been asked, I would have told the therapist that if the young woman is not suitable for marriage, yet is pursuing shidduchin anyway, the therapist is responsible to tell those who call her what she professionally feels. It might be better if she can couch the information in a way that is potentially less damaging for the woman. For example, if she is asked about someone specific, she could say that, from her knowing the woman so intimately through therapy, she does not think that this shidduch should be pursued – that the woman needs a different type of man.

She is not required to reveal any information if she could lose her license or get into legal trouble as a result. Instead, she should say that she cannot discuss the matter for professional reasons or any other answer that is legally acceptable. She should not say something that is not true.

I want to share that the answer to this shaylah may vary significantly depending on the circumstances. There are certainly situations in which I would rule differently. This teshuvah is being discussed here only for general direction, and each particular case must be asked specifically.

The second question:

Is it forbidden to tell someone that a person does not observe certain halachos when the person about whom one is talking is not embarrassed or concerned about others finding out their level of observance? For example, may someone who is from an irreligious background tell someone else how far his family is from observing mitzvos when the person being told has no reason to know? Similarly, is it permitted to mention that a woman dresses immodestly in public when obviously she has no concerns that people know?

There is some interesting background to this question. I know a prominent posek who considers these conversations to be prohibited. I have challenged him on the subject, and believe that they are permitted — subject to certain conditions, such as when revealing the information is not harmful to a third party. An example where this would not be permitted might be a case where revealing the information could be harmful to a grandchild, such as if acceptance to a school or a shidduch might be pre-empted because of the now-public knowledge of a grandparent’s lack of observance. This would be prohibited because the Rambam (Hilchos Dei’os 7:5) states that it is loshon hora to say something that may cause harm to a third party, even when it does not reflect badly on him. (I am not judging whether the school or the potential shidduch policy is correct, or even whether it is halachically acceptable. Indeed, such school policy may be highly reprehensible. I am simply presenting the reality that an innocent party could be harmed because certain information is revealed.)

I have observed prominent poskim following the approach that it is permitted to say this without concerns for the prohibition of loshon hora. Furthermore, I contend that, according to the approach of the rav who rules that this is prohibited and considered loshon hora, someone who is opposed to Chassidim may not say that a person is chassidish; someone opposed to any form of Zionism is prohibited to refer to someone as Zionistic, notwithstanding that the person about whom he is talking is quite proud to be chassidish or Zionistic. The rav who disagrees with me indeed contends that these conversations constitute loshon hora if either the speaker or the listener considers this to be negative. I respectfully disagree and do not consider any of these conversations to be loshon hora.

I want to point out that the dispute here may be getting to a basic definition of what is the nature of the prohibition of loshon hora. It is quite clear from the Rambam’s ruling that the prohibition includes sharing information that may harm someone, even if it is inherently not negative about them. Thus, it is fair to say that the prohibition of loshon hora is the harm it brings upon the person about whom it is said.

In the classic situations of loshon hora, when one shares negative information about a third party that the person being told has no need to know, the loshon hora is the negative feeling about this third party that the listening party now knows. Prior to hearing the loshon hora, he was unaware of this damaging information.

Thus, the dispute between myself and the other rav concerns the following: When the person himself is not at all concerned about people knowing that they have unusual beliefs, or that they believe in something that other people disdain, or that they do not consider certain activities to be within the framework of what they are required to do, can there still be loshon hora to inform someone about this activity or belief. The other rav holds that the person’s being unaware that his approach is mistaken does not change the fact that saying over the information constitutes loshon hora. I believe that I can demonstrate that, should the information not be harmful to a third party, it is not loshon hora when the person himself acts this way in public.

Here is the edited responsum that I sent him:

The Gemara (Arachin 16) states, “Rabbah bar Rav Huna said: Anything stated in the presence of three people is not a violation of loshon hora. This is because your friend has a friend, and his friend has a friend.” Rashi explains the Gemara to mean that, once someone revealed information about himself in the presence of three people, it is not loshon hora to repeat this information to others because the revealer assumes that it will become common knowledge. By revealing it before three people, he has demonstrated that he is not concerned that others will find out. The listeners can assume that they have permission to share this information with others, which, had he not told it in the presence of three people, they would not be able to assume.

From this discussion we see that, once someone declares information about himself in public, he assumes that people will find out, and there is no longer any prohibition of loshon hora. Certainly, it follows that telling what someone does in public cannot involve any loshon hora.

However, a superficial reading of a passage of Gemara (Bava Metzia 58b) might lead one to the opposite conclusion. There the Gemara states that everyone whose misdeeds land him in Gehenna will ultimately be released, with the exception of three categories of sinners. One is someone who embarrasses his fellowman in public; another is someone who calls his fellowman by a derogatory nickname. The Gemara asks why we need two such similar categories – isn’t someone who calls his fellowman by a derogatory nickname simply a subcategory of one who embarrasses his fellowman in public? The Gemara answers that the second category includes a situation in which the person is commonly called in public by the derogatory nickname. Rashi explains that, notwithstanding the fact that he is accustomed to the nickname and is no longer embarrassed by it, someone who intends to embarrass him by calling him by this nickname will not be released from Gehenna.

From this we see that, if one intends to embarrass someone, it is prohibited to say something even when it is well known. However, the Gemara passage implies that it is prohibited only when you speak in his presence and your intention is to embarrass him. In the instance of a woman who does not dress according to halachic standard, or someone who holds unconventional positions, when the person is not present, we have no evidence that informing a third party is prohibited. Furthermore, the discussion in Bava Metzia is not concerned about loshon hora, but of embarrassing someone. Therefore, calling someone by a derogatory nickname is forbidden because the person may be embarrassed. However, when someone is proud of what he is doing, even when the action is wrong according to halacha, there is no violation of loshon hora and presumably no violation of embarrassing them. This is even more so true when it is unclear whether the action is wrong.

Thus, we can reach the following conclusion: If one is trying to embarrass a woman who dresses improperly, it is forbidden to reprove her in public for her inappropriate attire. However, there is no prohibition in mentioning to a third party, when the woman is not present, that she dresses inappropriately, provided one does not exaggerate what she does wrong. Exaggerating would certainly be prohibited because one is spreading untruth about what she does.

Can we demonstrate from the story of Miriam that it is prohibited to say something truthful about a third party, regardless of their concern? After all, Miriam was punished for saying loshon hora about Moshe despite the fact that he was not concerned. She thought she was doing the correct thing, since she was convinced that Moshe was in error. The answer appears to be that what she did was loshon hora precisely because she was wrong. In other words, she thought she was planning an appropriate admonition of Moshe for his wrong activity, but since his actions were correct and she was wrong, this constituted loshon hora, even though her violation was beshogeig, inadvertent.

Thus, when the information qualifies as loshon hora, the prohibition is violated even if one did not realize that it is loshon hora. However, if the party himself acts or speaks in a way that the derogatory information is public knowledge, it is permitted to say it, provided one is not intending to embarrass anyone.

The rav who disputed with me feels that, if indeed the information is negative, even if the person himself does not consider it to be so, this may constitute loshon hora.

We are both in agreement that if the speaker said negative things about himself that might harm relatives or others, it is prohibited to repeat these negative things, as per the above-quoted Rambam.

 

 

Eat Kosher!

In chutz la’aretz, this week parshas Shemini is read, which includes much of the Torah’s discussion regarding which species are kosher. Although in Eretz Yisroel this reading was last week, none of the material in this article is outdated.

Eat Kosher!

Question #1: What’s gnu?

Zoe Oligist asked me: “If the wildebeest chews its cud and has split hooves, which of the ten kosher animals is it?”

Question #2: Food for thought

“Am I required to eat each of the kosher species?”

Question #3:

“Is a tzvi a deer or an antelope? For that matter, what is the difference between a deer and an antelope?”

Question #4:

“Must I check a fish for scales each time I purchase one?”

Introduction:

The Torah discusses which species are kosher and which are not in two places, in parshas Shemini and in parshas Re’eih. In parshas Shemini, the Torah introduces the topic as follows: “Hashem spoke to Moshe and to Aharon, saying to them, ‘Speak to the children of Israel, saying, these are the living things from which you may eat. From the animals that are upon the ground: whichever has a split hoof that is separated completely and ruminates among the animals, those you may eat'” (Vayikra 11:1-3). The Torah then explains that species that possess only one of the two kosher signs are not to be eaten, such as the camel, which chews its cud and has a partially split hoof, but is not kosher, since its hoof is not fully separated (Vayikra 11:4). The Torah then provides the rules governing which sea creatures may be eaten. Following this, it lists which birds we may not eat, and then provides the rules regarding which grasshoppers are kosher and which are not.

Parshas Re’eih includes a review of most of the basic laws of kashrus, including a reiteration of which species of animal, fish and bird are kosher for the Jewish palate. The instructions regarding kosher grasshoppers do not appear in parshas Re’eih, but only in parshas Shemini. In parshas Re’eih, the Torah begins its discussion by listing the ten types of beheimah that are kosher, without mention of their kosher signs until later. To quote the Chumash (Devorim 14:4-5): Zos habeheimah asher tocheilu: shor, seh kesavim, veseh izim, ayil, utzvi, veyachmur, ve’ako, vedishon, use’o, vazamer, “these are the animals that you may eat.” The ten that are listed are the only species of mammal that ruminate and have totally split hooves, indicating that they are kosher.

What are these species? We can readily identify some of them: shor is cattle, kesavim are sheep, and izim are goats. However, from that point, the going gets more confusing, since it is unclear whether ayil is an antelope and tzvi is a deer, or vice versa (see Tosafos, Chullin 59b s.v. Veharei Tzvi). (The difference between antelope and deer is that antelope have permanent horns, whereas deer have antlers, which shed and regrow every year.)

What’s gnu?

At this point, let us address one of our original questions. “Zoe Oligist asked me: ‘If the wildebeest chews its cud and has split hooves, which of the ten kosher animals is it?’”

Although I have invented the name of the questioner, this exact query is, indeed, genuine, and was asked of Rav Yehoseif  Schwartz, a unique gadol and poseik of the early nineteenth century (Responsa Rosh Hashoni #18). Most modern Torah authorities would refrain from providing positive identification of the species mentioned in the Torah, other than the five mentioned above. (See, for example, the translation of Rav Hirsch to our verse.) However, Rav Schwartz concluded that yachmur is the wildebeest, also called a gnu, a variety of large antelope native to central and southern Africa. (Whether you refer to this antelope as wildebeest or gnu depends on whether you prefer to use a name whose linguistic origin is Afrikaans, a language that began as a dialect of seventeenth-century Dutch, or Bantu, a family of languages of the native peoples of south and central Africa. From what I understand, the gnu does not mind being called a wildebeest.) Rav Schwartz based his determination on the following: He writes that he had positively identified the other nine species mentioned by the Torah, and he also knew that the wildebeest, being a ruminant with split hooves, is kosher and not one of those nine. Since he did not know what a yachmur is, and he knew that the wildebeest is kosher, simple deductive logic proved that the wildebeest and the yachmur must be the same creature. (By the way, he cites there, authoritatively, Rav Saadiyah Gaon’s identifying the zamer as the giraffe. Although I have read articles claiming otherwise, giraffes chew their cud and have fully split hooves; thus, they are kosher.)

Personally, I have difficulty with Rabbi Schwartz’s method of identifying the yachmur. According to my primitive research, there are 91 species of antelope known to man, all of which are ruminants and have split hooves. There are also many species of deer, all of which are split-hooved ruminants, and a wide variety of species of sheep and goats. In addition, the entire bovine family, including Western domesticated cattle, Indian zebu cattle, musk oxen, Asian water buffalo, African cape buffalo, European bison (also called the wisent), American bison (colloquially, but somewhat inaccurately, referred to as buffalo), and Himalayan yaks are all ruminants and have split hooves. Clearly, since we have enumerated here many, many times the ten species listed by the Torah as kosher, the Torah must be providing us with categories of kosher animals, not specific species. Or, in more accurate words, the Torah’s categorization of species probably varies considerably from that of the zoologist. Therefore, those venturing on an African safari may consider the gnu to be kosher, without necessarily knowing under which of the seven chayos it is classed.

Food for thought

Let us return to the second of our opening questions: “Am I required to eat each of the kosher species?”

To analyze this question, we need two introductions. The first is to try to understand how to translate the Torah’s word tocheilu. This word can be translated into English as You should eat or as You are to eat or as You may eat. If we translate it You should eat or You are to eat, does this mean that there is a requirement to eat each of the kosher species? The midrash halacha on this pasuk, the Sifra, provides one way of understanding these words. There it states, “This teaches that Moshe held each living creature and showed it to the Bnei Yisroel, instructing them: ‘This tocheilu, and this you may not eat’ (Vayikra 11:2, #62 in the Malbim’s numbering).” I deliberately did not translate the word tocheilu here, so as not to bias our understanding of a later passage of Sifra, which I will mention shortly.

The Ramban, in his commentary to the Sefer Hamitzvos of the Rambam, writes that it cannot mean that the Torah requires that we eat these species. And he is not alone. All halachic authorities dating back more than a thousand years assume that the Torah is not commanding that we eat kosher species. The Ramban notes that it is a machlokes between the Behag, who does not count these four mitzvos, and the Rambam, who does. The Ramban explains that the Rambam understood that one who violates the lo sa’aseh by eating a non-kosher species also violates the aseih. On the other hand, the Behag does not count them because there is no positive mitzvah. The Ramban explains that just as a repeated mitzvah does not get counted twice, repeating it as an aseih does not add to the mitzvah count.

Is it a mitzvah?

There is a dispute among the rishonim whether the mitzvah of tocheilu is counted among the 613 mitzvos. The Rambam, both in his Sefer Hamitzvos (positive mitzvos 149), his work on the listing of the 613 mitzvos, and in the Mishneh Torah, counts tocheilu as one of the mitzvos (Hilchos Ma’achalos Asuros, introduction and 1:1). He counts not only this mitzvah, but also three other mitzvos aseih, one to identify kosher fish, another to identify kosher grasshoppers and a third to identify kosher birds (Rambam positive mitzvos 150-152). According to the Sefer Hachinuch, three of these mitzvos are first mentioned in parshas Shemini and therefore counted there, and the last, identifying kosher birds, is mentioned only in parshas Re’eih.

Actually, the Rambam has strong sources in Chazal for his position, since both the Sifra  (Vayikra 11:4, #69 in the Malbim’s numbering) and the Sifrei (Devorim 14:4, #96 in the Malbim’s numbering) state the following: “‘Osah tocheilu, this you may eat, but you may not eat non-kosher animals.’ This teaches me that this is prohibited because of a mitzvas aseih; how do I know that there is a lo sa’aseh? The Torah teaches, ‘The camel, the rabbit, the hyrax, and the pig – from their flesh you shall not eat.’ This includes only these four species; how do I know that I may not eat other non-kosher species? I derive it logically: If there is a lo sa’aseh prohibiting the consumption of the varieties that possess one indication that they are kosher, certainly those that do not possess either indication… are definitely not kosher.” In conclusion, all non-kosher varieties are prohibited directly from the Torah with a mitzvas aseih, and a lo sa’aseh, by virtue of a kal vachomer.

Notwithstanding the above quotation from the Sifra, most other early authorities who count the 613 mitzvos, including the Baal Halachos Gedolos, Rav Saadiya Gaon, and the Ramban, omit these four mitzvos, apparently because they feel that their inclusion as a positive mitzvah does not add any halachic factors.

In order to understand this dispute better, we need to explain some background to the counting of the 613 mitzvos.

The Sefer Hamitzvos includes the Rambam’s listing and explanation of the 613 mitzvos, but also includes an extensive explanation regarding the rules that govern what is included in their listing. The Rambam explains in his introduction to the Sefer Hamitzvos, that he was planning to write a halachic work that would include all the laws of the entire Torah, but realized that before he began writing this sefer halacha, he first needed to explain extensively what is included in the 613 mitzvos and why. (Indeed, the Rambam did write this work, which is the Mishneh Torah.)

Baal Halachos Gedolos

The Rambam mentions that the accepted counting of the 613 mitzvos, prior to his own Sefer Hamitzvos, was that of the Baal Halachos Gedolos, a halachic work authored by Rav Shimon Kaira in the era of the Geonim. (Although the Behag is often cited as the work of an earlier gaon, Rav Yehudai Gaon, since the Halachos Gedolos quotes Rav Yehudai Gaon many times, he obviously cannot be the author.) Subsequent to the Behag’s list, many other authors followed this list, while others amended it in minor ways. In addition, it spawned many liturgical poems. However, it appears that until the Rambam penned his Sefer Hamitzvos, no one disputed the basic approach that the Behag used to determine what counts as a mitzvah.

Why the Sefer Hamitzvos?

The Rambam writes that he realized that if he listed the mitzvos before each section of his Mishneh Torah according to his own list, he would be disputing an accepted approach to Judaism. Thus, he was in a quandary. On the one hand, his Mishneh Torah would be incomplete without listing the mitzvos involved in each of its sections; on the other hand, people might reject his list of mitzvos, unless he explained its rules and why he disputed what had been, heretofore, accepted. For this reason, the Rambam explains, he wrote the entire Sefer Hamitzvos as an introduction to his Mishneh Torah, in order to explain the rules that determine what counts as a mitzvah and what does not.

What difference does it make whether something is a mitzvah or not?

Although many authors discuss what to include in the count of the 613 mitzvos, it is interesting to note that few of them discuss why it is important to know what are the 613 mitzvos.

On the other hand, the Rambam contends that it is essential to a proper perception of Torah to understand the relationship between the halachos of the Torah and the 613 mitzvos. As part of this understanding, the Rambam describes that he decided to structure the Mishneh Torah according to related mitzvah topics, rather than follow the order of the Mishnah. The Rambam then mentions that he decided to precede each section of the Mishneh Torah with an introduction, in which he would list the mitzvos included in that section.

But does it count?

How does this debate affect kashrus? What we have quoted, until now, appears to be a rather theoretical discussion. How does this affect what I eat? To explain this, we need to examine one of the points that the Rambam makes in his Sefer Hamitzvos.

For part II of this article, click here.

 

 

 

The Halachos of Borrowing

 

Question: Shattered Shield

“A friend left for a few weeks, leaving me the keys for his car and permission to use it whenever I wanted. The first morning, when I went to get the car, I discovered that the windshield had been shattered by a stone or brick. Am I obligated to replace the windshield?”

Introduction:

Answering this question requires that we understand the legal responsibilities of someone who borrows an item. As always, the purpose of our article is not to offer a definitive halachic ruling, but to present background and knowledge. In this instance, as in all cases, a person should address any particular question to his rav or posek. And, since there are probably two parties involved, to resolve a matter amicably, I suggest that the two of you agree on a specific rav or dayan whose expertise you both recognize.

The Basics:

In parshas Mishpatim, the Torah presents three types of shomrim, people who assume responsibility for other people’s property. The Torah shebe’al peh, our Oral Torah, explains that these are the three categories:

  1. A shomer chinam takes care of someone else’s property without any compensation and has no right to use the item. He is responsible to pay if the item was damaged due to his negligence, or if he used it without permission. If there are factual issues that are unresolved, such as determining whether the shomer was negligent, the owner may insist that the shomer swear a shevuah, an oath, to exonerate himself from liability. This last rule, that the owner is not required to accept the shomer’s version of what happened without corroborating evidence, is true also in regard to the other shomrim that we will soon discuss.

In recent history, batei din have been reticent about requiring someone to swear an oath, and therefore a beis din might effect a financial compromise in lieu of an oath.

  1. A shomer sachar is one who takes care of an item and receives financial benefit. He is liable if the item is lost or stolen, but he is not obligated if it became lost or damaged for some reason beyond his control, which includes, for example, armed robbery.
  2. A sho’eil borrows an item, receiving benefit without providing the owner with any compensation. As stated in the Mishnah (Bava Metzia 93a), a sho’eil is obligated to pay for any damage that happens to the item, even if it is completely beyond his control. The obvious reason why this is so is that since the sho’eil received benefit from the item gratis, he must make sure that he returns what he received, paying its full value, if need be.

Notwithstanding this obligation on the part of the borrower, there are two exceptional situations where the item is damaged, stolen or destroyed and the sho’eil is not obligated to make compensation. These are:

  1. Meisah machmas melacha, literally, the item or animal “died” or became damaged in some way as a result of the work for which it was borrowed. We will soon explain the rationale for this. In addition, the borrower is exempt only when he used the item without abusing it.
  2. Be’alav imo, the owner of the borrowed item was in the employ of the borrower at the time of the loan (Mishnah, Bava Metzia 94a).

Verification

As noted above, should there be a question about verifying the facts, whether the circumstances were indeed a case of meisah machmas melacha, the lender may demand that the borrower swear an oath to verify them. Also, if the event occurred in a time and place that there should have been eyewitnesses, the lender may insist that the borrower produce witnesses to verify what happened, rather than be satisfied with an oath.

In this context, the Gemara records the following din Torah (Bava Metzia 97a): A man borrowed a bucket that broke while he was using it. The two parties appeared before Rav Papa to adjudicate whether the borrower was obligated to pay. Rav Papa ruled that this is considered meisah machmas melacha. However, he first asked the borrower to produce witnesses that he did not use the bucket in an unusual fashion, for if he used it in an unusual way, the exemption of meisah machmas melacha would not apply.

Kinyan

There is a basic dispute among the rishonim concerning whether a shomer becomes liable as soon as he agrees to the arrangement (Rosh, Bava Metzia 8:15), or only when he makes a kinyan on the borrowed item (Raavad, quoted by Shitah Mekubetzes, Bava Metzia 98b). Kinyan refers to the act that effects loans, rentals, transfers of ownership of property and other legal agreements. In our situation, this question arises in the event that the borrowed item was left in the shomer’s care, but he never lifted, moved or did anything else that would legally make the item “his.” Some rishonim hold that the shomer becomes responsible only when he performs a kinyan, whereas others hold that he becomes responsible even when no kinyan is performed.

Among the halachic authorities, this matter is disputed by the Shulchan Aruch and the Rema, the latter ruling that a shomer becomes legally responsible as soon as he agrees to the arrangement (Choshen Mishpat 340:4).

In the case of an automobile, driving the car off when someone borrowed it constitutes a kinyan. According to some rishonim, taking possession of the keys is also a kinyan, but this is a minority opinion (see Rashi, Pesachim 4a, as explained by Korban Nesanel).

With this background, let us now examine our opening question:

Shattered Shield

“A friend left for a few weeks, leaving me the keys for his car and permission to use it whenever I wanted. The first morning, when I went to get the car, I discovered that the windshield had been shattered by a stone or brick. Am I obligated to replace the windshield?”

The damage caused here had nothing to do with the sho’eil, but, as we explained before, he is obligated to make compensation even then. However, according to the opinion that a shomer is not obligated until he makes a kinyan on the item, if the borrower did not drive the car, he has not yet become obligated. Thus, he would be exempt from paying for the damages, according to that opinion, which is the way many halachic authorities rule.

Establishing a condition

It is important to note that the system explained above regarding the responsibility of shomrim applies only when the two parties did not establish their own policy. However, if a sho’eil tells the owner that he is not assuming responsibility and the owner agrees, or if a shomer chinam assumes total responsibility, or if any other arrangement is made that both parties accept, that agreement will govern what liability exists (Mishnah, Bava Metzia 94a). Similarly, an agreement may also be made to eliminate any obligation on the shomer to swear an oath to verify the facts (ibid.).

Therefore, if a shomer chinam wants to avoid any potential liability, either to pay or to swear an oath, he should tell the owner that he will gladly watch the item, but that he is assuming no responsibility for the item, even should he be negligent, and that the owner must relinquish his right to have the shomer swear to prove his innocence. A sho’eil may make a similar condition before he borrows the item. However, bear in mind that if the sho’eil does make such a precondition, the owner may refuse to lend him the item. Since the sho’eil is aware of this, he is usually reluctant to make such a precondition. Our article is discussing the halacha that applies when they do not make their own arrangements.

Be’alav imo and Meisah machmas melacha

We mentioned above that a sho’eil is obligated to pay for all damages that happen to the item he borrowed, with the exception of two cases: meisah machmas melacha and be’alav imo. It is interesting to note that these two exemptions are, in one way, complete opposites. The exemption of be’alav imo is expressly mentioned in the Torah and thus fits the halachic category that we call gezeiras hakasuv. In this case, this means that attempts to explain the reason for this law will not affect the halacha. (Although the commentaries present many reasons for be’alav imo, these reasons will not change the halacha – they may qualify under the general heading of lo darshinan ta’ama dikra, we do not derive halachic conclusions based on reasons for mitzvos. Because of space considerations, we will not discuss in this article the topic of darshinan ta’ama dikra and how it relates to be’alav imo.)

On the other hand, since the exemption of meisah machmas melacha is never mentioned in the Torah shebiksav, we assume that the basis for this law is logic. Chazal understood that the sho’eil is not obligated to pay for an item that was damaged as a result of expected use.

The question is why this rule is true when the Torah obligates the borrower to replace the item, even should it be destroyed by a complete accident over which he had no control. The Gemara, when explaining this idea, states very succinctly that the animal was not borrowed for it to have a vacation. There are several ways to understand this statement of the Gemara. I will now present four of them.

Lender’s negligence

Among the halachic authorities, we find several approaches to explain the phenomenon of meisah machmas melacha, and there are differences in practical halacha that result. The Ramban explains that the reason for meisah machmas melacha is because the lender is considered negligent. He should have realized that his object or animal could not withstand the work for which he was lending it! Since he did not check this out, he has no claim on the borrower to replace it (Ramban, Bava Metzia 96b, quoted by Beis Yosef, Choshen Mishpat 340). For ease of presentation, we will refer to this approach as lender’s negligence.

Wear and tear

A second approach is that the person lending an item knows that there will be a certain amount of wear and tear, and he does not expect to be reimbursed for this (Nimukei Yosef, Rosh as explained by Machaneh Efrayim, Hilchos She’eilah Upikadon #4). If the animal or item could not withstand normal use, this is an extension of the wear-and-tear principle.

Mechilas hamash’il

A third reason is that when lending an item, one knows that the item can become damaged while it is being used, and this is included in the mechilah implied by the loan. This approach contends that a sho’eil is exempt when damage occurs as a result of the loan, even when it cannot be attributed to wear and tear. For example, the borrower told the owner that his intent is to take a trip to a certain place, which he did, and while there the animal was stolen (see Ramah, quoted by Tur, Choshen Mishpat #340). Since the owner knew the animal was being borrowed to take it to a specific place, any damage that happens because of that place is included as meisah machmas melacha, according to this third opinion. I will henceforth refer to this approach as mechilas hamash’il, meaning that, in advance, the lender forgives damage that occurs while the item is being used.

Of the three opinions cited so far, only the third exempts the sho’eil from paying when an animal is stolen. The previous two opinions both contend that meisah machmas melacha can include only damage that was a result of normal, expected work. According to the reason of lender’s negligence, the owner was not negligent if the animal was stolen, and, according to the wear and tear reason, the loss from theft was not a result of use.

Mekach ta’us

A fourth approach, mentioned in acharonim, is that when someone borrows an item or animal, he accepts responsibility only because he assumes that it can withstand the work for which he borrowed it. If it is incapable of performing that task, then we assume the borrower never assumed responsibility (Machaneh Efrayim, Hilchos She’eilah Upikadon #4). I will call this approach mekach ta’us, that the implied “contract” of responsibility was never agreed to by both parties.

To simplify our four approaches, they are:

  1. Lender’s negligence: The lender was negligent in not checking the item’s condition before lending it.
  2. Wear and tear: Lending includes the assumption that a borrower is not responsible for normal use.
  3. Mechilas hamash’il: The lender assumes responsibility for damage that resulted from the loan.
  4. Mekach ta’us: The borrower never assumed this responsibility.

Practical differences

Are there practical differences that result from this dispute? Indeed, there are many. Here is an early example: The Tur (Choshen Mishpat 340) quotes a dispute between the early rishonim, the Ramah (Rabbi Meir Abulafia, an early rishon living in Spain, not to be confused with Rabbi Moshe Isserlis, the Rema, who lived in Poland over three hundred years later, whose notes to the Shulchan Aruch we will be quoting shortly) and the Rosh, concerning the following case: Someone borrowed an animal for a specific trip, and the animal was stolen on the trip by armed robbers. The Ramah rules that this is considered meisah machmas melacha and the borrower is not obligated to pay, whereas the Rosh rules that it is not meisah machmas melacha and he is obligated to pay.

A careful study of the way the Tur presents the dispute implies that the Ramah assumes that the lender was mocheil any damages expected to happen as part of the lending (approach #3 above, mechilas hamash’il), whereas the Rosh assumes that the lender is mocheil only on expected wear and tear (approach #2 above, wear and tear). The Ramah appears to understand that any damage that results from the loan is included under meisah machmas melacha. (The approach to explain this dispute is presented by the Machaneh Efrayim.)

How do we rule?

The Shulchan Aruch (Choshen Mishpat 340:3) rules according to the Ramah: When the animal was stolen by armed robbers during the time that it was borrowed, the borrower is exempt from making compensation, because it is considered a case of meisah machmas melacha.

On the other hand, the Rema cites the Rosh’s opinion. The Shach agrees with the halachic conclusion of the Rema in this case, because he feels that the Ramban’s approach (#1 above, which I called lender’s negligence) should be followed, and this approach is in agreement with the Rema’s position in this case.

Playing cat and mouse

The following interesting case is mentioned in the Gemara (Bava Metzia 97a): Someone’s house was infested with mice, and the owner wanted to use an inexpensive, safe and environmentally-friendly way to eliminate the problem. He borrowed a neighbor’s cat to “exterminate” the mice.

Strength in numbers

The Gemara tells us that a very unusual thing happened. The mice gathered together and launched a counterattack on the cat, killing it! The question now was whether the borrower was required to compensate the lender for the deceased cat, and the matter became the subject of one of the most famous dinei Torah in history, presided over by Rav Ashi. The conclusion was that the borrower was exempt from paying, because this is a case of meisah machmas melacha.

Contemporary case

In a contemporary work, I found discussion about the following case: Reuven borrowed a car for a day. While he was driving the car, a child darted into the street in front of the car. Reuven braked, fortunately succeeding in avoiding striking the child. However, a truck behind him was following too closely. The truck hit the car, severely damaging it, and then escaped without providing any identifying information (hit and run) – leaving Reuven with a damaged, borrowed car. To complicate matters, the owner was not carrying collision insurance that would cover the damage. Is Reuven obligated to pay the owner for the damage?

According to the Ramban, approach #1, that meisah machmas melacha is exempt because the lender was negligent, Reuven is certainly obligated to pay. Although the damage was completely accidental, a sho’eil is obligated to compensate for accidental damage that happened while the item is in his care. Meisah machmas melacha does not apply, according to this approach, because the automobile was not deficient in any way.

The same halacha is true according to the Rosh (approach #2), who contends that the law of meisah machmas melacha exempts only wear and tear, which was not the cause for the damage. Furthermore, according to the fourth approach  (mekach ta’us) Reuven is obligated, again, because the automobile was in fine condition when he borrowed it.

However, what is the law according to the third approach, that I called mechilas hamash’il? This approach contends that an owner is mocheil any damage that might result from the loan. A contemporary author that I saw ruled that, according to this opinion, the sho’eil would be exempt from paying in this instance, since the damage happened as a result of the loan (Mishpetei HaTorah 1:35).

Conclusion

As we can see, the laws regarding responsibility for items are very complex and sometimes lead to surprising conclusions. In general, we should be vigilant when we assume responsibility for items belonging to others. A Torah Jew observes his contractual commitments with trust and faith. He certainly realizes that Hashem’s Torah is all-encompassing and directs every aspect of his life, certainly the details of his financial dealings.