Take a Bow

Question #1: Davening in Public

“I am traveling, and the only place to daven is in a
crowded terminal. Are there any special laws that I need to know?”

Question #2: Bowing or Genuflecting?

Have you ever genuflected?

Question #3: Bow and Arrow!

Does bowing have anything to do with bows and arrows?


Parshas Chayei Sarah mentions that Avraham bowed to
the descendants of Cheis, when they agreed to give him a burial area for Sarah
(Bereishis 23:7). The parsha also mentions that Eliezer bowed to Hashem
to thank Him that his mission appeared to be achieving success. These provide a
special opportunity to discuss some of the laws of bowing during the shemoneh
. As there is far more to this topic than can be covered in one
article, we will, bli neder, have to return to the topic at some time in
the future.

Thirteen components of tefillah

The Rambam rules that our daily mitzvah to daven
includes thirteen factors, five of which are essential components of prayer
that, if missing, require that davening be repeated. The headings of
these five requirements are: Clean hands, proper covering of the body,
cleanliness of the location, absence of physical bodily distractions, and
proper focus (kavanah).

The other eight categories are important aspects for
discharging the mitzvah, but someone who did not, or could not, observe them
has still fulfilled the mitzvah. For example, there is a requirement to daven
shemoneh esrei while standing and while facing the Beis Hamikdash.
However, if someone could not, or did not, do either, he has fulfilled his
mitzvah. Similarly, there is a requirement to bow at points during the shemoneh
, but someone who did not do so has fulfilled his mitzvah.

The Rambam (Hilchos Tefillah 5:10) explains
that, for most people, davening requires that we bow five times in the
course of the recital of the shemoneh esrei. I will explain shortly why
I wrote “for most people.”

These five times are:

At the beginning and end of the first brocha of shemoneh

At the beginning and end of the brocha of modim

At the very end of the shemoneh esrei

Most people?

Why did I say that the requirement to bow five times at
every prayer is for “most people?”

This is because the Rambam (Hilchos Tefillah 5:10)
alludes to the following passage of Talmud Yerushalmi (Brochos 1:5):
“For the following brochos, one should bow: For the first brocha,
both at the beginning and at the end, and for modim, both at the
beginning and at the end. Someone who bows for every brocha should be
taught not to do this. (See also Tosefta, Brochos 1:11 and Bavli,
34a.) Rabbi Yitzchak bar Nachman cited in the name of Rabbi
Yehoshua ben Levi, ‘A kohein gadol bows at the end of every brocha;
the king, at both the beginning and end of every brocha. Rabbi Simon
quoted from Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, ‘The king – once he bows, he does not
straighten up until he completes his entire prayer. What is my source? The
verse that teaches, and it was when Shelomoh completed praying to Hashem this
entire prayer and this entire supplication, that he then stood up from before
the mizbei’ach of Hashem from bowing on his knees
(Melachim I 8,

We see that there is a dispute between Rabbi Yitzchak bar Nachman
and Rabbi Simon (his name is not Shimon, but Simon, spelled with a samech,
and he is an amora frequently quoted in the Yerushalmi) whether Shelomoh
teaches us that a king should always daven shemoneh
while kneeling, or whether this was a one-time practice, but not
something that a king is always required to do.

Thus, those whom the Torah insists receive much honor must
bow more frequently during their daily tefillah. The kohein gadol
is required to bow in every brocha of shemoneh esrei, which is
forbidden for everyone else, as we see in the above-referenced Tosefta.
The Rambam rules according to Rabbi Simon, that the king, who receives
much greater honor, is required to bow for his entire prayer.

Term limits?

This poses a question: The Tosefta rules that we
should not bow in every brocha of shemoneh esrei; yet, we have
now been taught that both the kohein gadol and the king should bow in
each brocha of shemoneh esrei. How can it be that something is
forbidden for everyone else and is required of the kohein gadol and the

The answer to this question seems to lie in the following
explanation of Tosafos (Brochos 34a s.v. melamdin), who
asks, “What is wrong with bowing extra times?” Tosafos provides two
answers to the question (see also Tosafos Rabbeinu Yehudah and Bach,
Orach Chayim

1. If people develop the habit of bowing whenever they want
to, it will cause Chazal’s takkanah (requiring that we bow at the
beginning and end of only these two brochos) to become uprooted. Therefore,
we insist that they not bow any extra times.

2. It is being ostentatious about his religious observance,
a halachic concept called yohara.

The Tur (Orach Chayim 113) rules according to Tosafos.
Based on Tosafos’s first answer, he concludes that it is permitted to
bow in the middle of any brocha of shemoneh esrei, just
not at the beginning or end.

We can also explain why Rabbi Yitzchak bar Nachman ruled
that the kohein gadol and the king bowing in each brocha does not
violate the ruling of the Tosefta. This was the takkanah – that a
commoner bow only in two brochos, and the kohein gadol and king
bow in each brocha.

When the bow breaks

As I mentioned above, the halacha is that bowing is
not essential, which means that you fulfill the mitzvah to daven, even
if you did not bow. There are extenuating circumstances in which you are not
to bow, but you are required to daven without bowing. The Shulchan
(Orach Chayim 113:8) cites such a case — someone who must daven
in a public place, and a person opposite him is sporting a cross or other
idolatrous image. The halacha is that you should daven but you
should not bow, so that a bystander not think that you are bowing to the image.

Don’t bow to idols!

At this point, we can address our opening question: “I am
traveling, and the only place to daven is in a crowded terminal. Are
there any special laws that I need to know?”

The answer is that you should look around to see if any of
your co-travelers are sporting crosses or other signs of idolatry, and, if they
are, do not bow during your davening.

Take a bow

The Rambam mentioned that we are required to bow five
times, including another time at the end of the shemoneh esrei, whose
source is from a different passage of Gemara (Yoma 53b). “Rabbi
Chiya, the son of Rav Huna, reported that he saw that Abayei and Rava would
take three steps back while bowing.” This passage of Gemara is quoted
not only by the Rambam, but also by the Rif and the Rosh
(both at the end of the fifth chapter of Brochos, after they quote the
other halachos about bowing during davening). Because of space
considerations, we will have to leave the detailed discussion of the topic of
bowing at the end of shemoneh esrei for a different time.

How can you bow?

We now have some background to understand the words of the Rambam
and the other rishonim who rule that we are required to bow five times
during the shemoneh esrei. However, we do not yet know what type of
bowing is required. We do know  from the verse in Melachim quoted
above that when Shelomoh Hamelech bowed, he actually kneeled with both
knees on the ground. We do not usually consider this to be a Jewish way of
prayer, but associate it with other religions. What does the Torah teach about

In Tanach and Chazal we find at least five
different levels of bowing, each with its own defining terms.


Hishtachavayah is bowing in which a person is
completely prostrate, with arms and legs stretched out completely flat on the
ground(Megillah 22b; Shavuos 16b). The Gemara
proves this from the rebuke that Yaakov gave to Yosef, after the latter told
his father about his dream, havo navo ani ve’imcha ve’achecha lehishtachavos
lecha artzah,
“Will it happen that I, your mother and your brothers will bow
(root: hishtachavayah) down to you to the ground?” Thus, we see that the
word hishtachavayah refers to bowing all the way to the ground.

This type of bowing is mentioned several times in Tanach
and the Gemara. Some people bow this way during the repetition of musaf
on Yom Kippur when we “fall kor’im.”


Kidah is kneeling and placing one’s face against the
floor. On the basis of a posuk (Melachim I 1:31), the Gemara
(Brochos 34b; Megillah 22b; Shavuos 16b) proves that this is
the meaning of the word kidah. If you have ever seen how Moslems pray,
this is what kidah is.

Korei’a al birkav

Korei’a al birkav ­is called, in English,
kneeling. As I mentioned above, this is what the posuk describes
Shelomoh Hamelech
doing when he dedicated the Beis Hamikdash (Melachim
I 8:54).


Shocheh is what in English is called bowing, which
means lowering your head and upper part of your torso, but remain standing on
your feet.


Kor’im or more accurately, keri’a (the root is
spelled kof, reish, ayin, not to be confused with the word for reading,
which is spelled kuf, reish, alef) is used at times to mean when you
bow and also bend your knees as part of your bowing. In English, this is called

How do we bow?

The Gemara (Brochos 12a), cited by the Rambam
(Hilchos Tefillah 5:10), rules: “Someone who is praying should bow at
the word Boruch, and straighten himself to an upright position when he
says the name of Hashem.” The Gemara continues: “Rav Sheishes,
when he bowed, bowed down like a stick, when he straightened himself upright,
he straightened himself like a snake.” Although there are other interpretations
of this passage of Gemara, Rashi explains that Rav Sheishes bowed
down in one motion, but when he straightened himself upright upon reciting the
name of Hashem, he did so in two motions, his head first, and then the
rest of his body, so that he should not give the impression that bowing was
something that he did not want to do. The Rambam (Hilchos Tefillah 5:10)
and the later authorities codify this as the proper method of bowing in shemoneh
. To quote the Rambam, “How should one bow? When he says Boruch,
he should bend his knees; upon saying Attah, he should bow quickly; and
upon saying Hashem’s name, he should slowly rise, his head first and
then his body.” However, an older or ill person is not required to bow with his
entire body, and it is sufficient if he simply bends his head. This last ruling
is quoted in the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 113:5.)


In three of the places in the shemoneh esrei when we
bow, we do so when saying the words Boruch Attah Hashem, and, according
to the instructions that we have studied, we now know how to genuflect and bow
when we say these prayers. However, the other two places, at the end of davening,
and for modim, there is no “Boruch” in the tefillah when
we bow. Therefore, at these places, common custom is to bow, but not genuflect
(Mishnah Berurah).

Bow like a bow

This subtitle is not meant to be a corny pun, but an expression
of the halacha. The Rambam (Hilchos Tefillah 5:12)
rules: “All these bowings require that one bow until all the vertebrae in the
spine protrude and (his back) is shaped like a bow.” In Hebrew, this is not a
pun: the word for bow, keshes, and the word for bowing, korei’a,bear no similarity.

The source for the Rambam’s explanation is from the
following passage of Gemara (Brochos 28b): Rav Tanchum quoted
from Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, someone who is praying must bow until all the vertebrae
in his spine protrude. Ulla said: Until a coin the size of an issar can
be seen opposite his heart. Rav Chanina said, once he tilted his head, he is
not required to do more. Rava explained Rav Chanina to mean that this is true
when it is obvious that he is trying to bow more, but he is unable to do so,
because of age or infirmity (see Tur and Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim

The halachic authorities also rule that someone
should not bow so low that his mouth is opposite his belt (Shulchan Aruch,
Orach Chayim
113:5). This is because it looks like he is trying to show off
(Mishnah Berurah).

Bowing or genuflecting?

At this point, let us refer to our second opening question:
Have you ever genuflected?

Since we bend our knees when we say the word boruch,
someone who davens three times a day and bows by bending his knees at
the beginning and end of the first brocha and at the end of modim
genuflects nine times a day. Thus, the surprising answer is that you probably
genuflect many times a day, without knowing that you are doing so!

Genuflect, kneel, korei’a

There is a very interesting linguistic curiosity that I want
to point out. The word genuflect comes from a contraction of two words, genu,
related to knee, and flect, which means to bend. (Think of the English
verbs deflect, flex.) Language experts explain that the origin of the
word genu,which is Latin, and the words, knee and kneel, which
are German, are of common origin, both coming from a common cognate ancestor
that refers to the knee. This association is very surprising, because old
German and pre-Latin languages, although both of Indo-European origin, have few
common sources. When there are common roots in both, the origin of the word can
invariably be traced to the time of the dor ha’pelagah, when the
scattering of the nations occurred and the languages of mankind became divided.
In these instances, the true root of the word is invariably Hebrew,
notwithstanding that linguists categorize Hebrew as a Semitic language and not
Indo-European. This rule bears true here again, once we realize that it is not
unusual that a reish sound becomes a nun when changing languages,
as in the example of Nevuchadnetzar, called Nevuchadretzar at
times. Thus, since, according to Chazal (see Yoma 10a), German is
the older of the two languages (German and Latin), clearly the original root
was kof, reish, ayin, the shoresh of the word korei’a,
which means to bow on one’s knee or knees, or to genuflect or kneel, with the reish
becoming an “n” sound, first in German and then later in Latin. Thus, the
English words knee and kneel and the Latin word genu all
originate from the Hebrew word korei’a, or, more accurately, its root, kof,
, ayin.


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 are unique in the entire spectrum of creation.

Understanding how much concern Chazal placed in the
relatively minor aspects of davening should make us more aware of the
fact that davening is our attempt at building a relationship with Hashem.
As the Kuzari notes, every day should have three 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 all Klal Yisrael!

Bishul Akum for the Ill

Photo by rea einskisson from FreeImages

#1: Cooked on Shabbos

a non-Jew cooks on Shabbos for someone who is ill, is the food he cooks
prohibited because of bishul akum? Obviously, the ill person is permitted
to eat the food, but there are several ramifications to this question.

#2: Bishul akum equipment

a non-Jew cooked using my pots, do they require kashering because they
absorbed non-kosher food?


instituted the law of bishul akum to discourage inappropriate social
interaction, which could lead to intermarriage, and also to guarantee that kashrus
not be compromised (Rashi, Avodah Zarah 35b s.v. Vehashelakos and38a s.v. Miderabbanan and Tosafos ad loc.).

are two major exceptions to the law of bishul akum – that is, situations
in which a non-Jew cooked food that one may eat, despite the prohibition
against bishul akum. One exception is food that is usually eaten raw,
such as an apple. Therefore, if a non-Jew baked apples and did not use anything
non-kosher while doing so, the apples are kosher.

exception is something that would not be served on a king’s table. There are
many interpretations as to how to define this, but all poskim agree that
small fish and porridge are permitted when cooked by a non-Jew, as long as
nothing non-kosher was added – because these items are not served to a king.

article will discuss a possible third exception to bishul akum: Food
cooked by a non-Jew on Shabbos for someone who is ill.

for the ill

a different article, we learned that we may ask a non-Jew to do on Shabbos
whatever is required for the care of a person who is ill, even asking a non-Jew
to cook for the sick person. This is permitted even if no life-threatening
emergency exists, as long as the person is ill enough to be choleh kol gufo,
usually defined as someone ill enough to go to bed (Shulchan Aruch, Orach
328:17), or whose discomfort is intense enough that he feels that
his entire body is affected (Rema ad locum).

the previous article, I did not discuss an important question: If food cooked
by a non-Jew is prohibited because of bishul akum, how can a Jewish
person eat what the non-Jew cooked? There are two obvious answers to this question:

Food cooked by a non-Jew to take care of a sick person was excluded from the
prohibition of bishul akum.

Because of his medical needs, a choleh kol gufo is exempt from the
prohibition of bishul akum.

In either
event, we have several follow-up questions:

this heter apply only to what is cooked on Shabbos, when a Jew
may not cook for the sick person, or does it apply all the time? If this
dispensation applies only to what a non-Jew cooked on Shabbos,is
the ill person permitted to eat the leftovers after Shabbos, or does
that food become prohibited once a Jew can cook for him? And, assuming that the
sick person is permitted to eat the food after Shabbos, is it permitted
for a different Jew, who is perfectly healthy, to eat what the non-Jew cooked
on Shabbos?

bishul akum affect pots?

if the non-Jew used a Jew’s kosher pots to cook for the ill on Shabbos,
do the pots become non-kosher because they absorbed bishul akum? If so,
do the pots now need to be koshered before they may be used again? Or, since it
is permitted to ask the non-Jew to cook for the Jewish ill, do the pots not
need to be koshered afterward? Or, an even more lenient idea: perhaps bishul
applies only to food, but does not prohibit pots at all?

entire list of questions is discussed and debated by the rishonim. Their
differing approaches provide a goldmine for the scholar attempting to analyze
critically the legal (halachic) status of bishul akum and to
comprehend clearly Chazal’s ruling permitting asking a non-Jew to cook
for the ill. As we will soon see, there are various ways to answer the
questions that we raised, and differences in halachic opinion affect
decisions made in kosher nursing homes and hospital to this very day.

these issues also affords an opportunity to understand an important chapter in
Jewish history that is not as well known as it should be.

in Barcelona

is the second largest city in Spain and the capital of Catalonia, the
northeastern region of the country. Today, there is a tiny Jewish presence in
the city, but, in the times of the rishonim, Barcelona was a major
headquarters of Torah. At different times, many gedolei Yisroel lived in
the city, including the Raavad, the Ramban, Rav Yehudah Bartzeloni, theRashba,
the Rosh (who had fled from Germany, which had become very dangerous for rabbonim),
the Rosh’s distinguished sons (including his son Yaakov, who later 
authored the Tur), Rav Aharon Halevi (known as the Re’ah), the Ohr
(Rav Chasdai Kreskas), the Ritva, and the Nimukei Yosef, to list
some of the better-known gedolim who walked the streets of this city.

the thirteenth century, three major halachic works appeared in Barcelona
in quick succession. These works clarified the halachos observed in a frum
house. The first, written by theRashba, was aptly called Toras
(literally, the laws of the house), whichdiscussed,
in very organized and detailed fashion, the laws of kashrus, mikveh,
netilas yadayim
and other household laws. It was actually two different
works. One, a brief edition called the Toras Habayis Hakatzar,
offered instructions for household owners to manage their homes in accordance
with halacha. The other, Toras Habayis He’aruch,is
an extensive and thorough explanation of the halachic background to the
topics, quoting the original sources in the Mishnah, Gemara, and
early authorities. It discusses and explains the arguments, sources and
opinions cited by the various great, early poskim on the subject, and
then the Rashba reaches his conclusion.

after the Toras Habayis saw the light of day, another work, called Bedek
(literally, inspections [or repairs] of the house)
appeared, written by Rav Aharon Halevi ( the Re’ah) exclusively to disagree
with the conclusions of the Toras Habayis. The Bedek Habayis went
to great length to demonstrate where he felt the Toras Habayis’s
analysis and comparisons were incorrect.

a third work was produced anonymously, called the Mishmeres Habayis (protecting
the house
), the purpose of which was to explain that the original Toras
conclusions had been correct and that the Bedek Habayis
was incorrect.

works were all produced before the invention of the printing press, which means
that they were circulated via copying them by hand.

mystery is discovered

first, the members of the community were baffled trying to identify the author
of the Mishmeres Habayis. This should indicate the high level of
Talmudic scholarship that existed then in Barcelona – apparently, there were
enough Torah scholars in Barcelona capable of writing such an incredibly
scholarly work that it could be published anonymously, without the identity of
its author being immediately obvious.

it was discovered that the author of the Mishmeres Habayis was none
other than theRashba himself.

this point, let us return to our topic, and to our original opening questions:

If a non-Jew cooks on Shabbos for someone who is ill, is the food he
cooks prohibited because of bishul akum?

If a non-Jew cooked using my pots, do they require kashering because
they absorbed non-kosher food?

of the Re’ah

the Toras Habayis does not discuss these topics, both the Bedek
and the Mishmeres Habayis do. The Bedek Habayis (Bayis
3 Shaar 7) concludes that:

Food cooked by a non-Jew to take care of the needs of someone ill does not
carry the prohibition of bishul akum.

2. Bishul
does not affect equipment.

The Bedek
permits the first case for the following reason: At the time this
food was cooked, it was permitted to be eaten. A person who is well may not eat
it because of the laws of Shabbos – we are concerned that someone may
ask the non-Jew to do something on Shabbos that is not permitted for a
Jew to do – but not because of the prohibition of bishul akum. Since the
cooking was performed not for social reasons but in order to have fresh food for
ill people, no prohibition of bishul akum was incurred at the time that
the food was cooked. Therefore, it cannot become prohibited as bishul akum
after Shabbos is over. The Re’ah concludes that the food cooked by a
non-Jew for an ill Jewish person on Shabbos is permitted after Shabbos,
even for a perfectly healthy person.

reasons the Bedek Habayis, should a non-Jew cook for himself in a kosher
pot, the food is prohibited because of bishul akum but the pot itself
remains kosher. The reason is that the use of this pot does not create any
favorable social interaction between Jews and non-Jews that we must avoid. In
other words, the Bedek Habayis contends that since the prohibition of bishul
was limited to situations that encourage social interaction, the taste
of bishul akum that is absorbed into pots was never prohibited. Enjoying
the residual taste remaining in a pot does not encourage unwanted social

The Bedek
then quotes Rav Yitzchak beRabbi Manoach, who rules that what a
non-Jewish slave cooks as part of the responsibility to the household that owns
him or her is not prohibited as bishul akum, since there is no increased
social interaction when someone cooks as an aspect of being a slave. The point
of the Bedek Habayis is that Rav Yitzchak beRabbi Manoach contends that
eating what a gentile cooked is not included in the prohibition of bishul
when the circumstances do not encourage social interaction – and
certainly the residual absorption in the pots is permitted.

The Bedek
then quotes from “mori rabbeinu Moshe, z”l,” the Ramban (who
had headed a yeshivah in Barcelona and was the Re’ah’s primary rebbe),
that, lechatchilah, cooking in a Jewish house should not be performed by
a non-Jewish slave – but if it was, the food is permitted bedi’eved.


in his Mishmeres Habayis, disagrees with every point made by the Re’ah
in the Bedek Habayis. He compares a non-Jew cooking food for an ill
person on Shabbos to the situation of a person who is deathly ill and
there is no fresh meat to eat. The halacha in the latter situation is
that, if no shocheit is available, you are required to kill an animal,
rendering its meat neveilah, and cook it for the sick person. As soon as
a shocheit becomes available, you are no longer permitted to feed the
sick person non-kosher. Of course, the pot in which the neveilah was
cooked is not kosher and must be koshered. Similarly, Mishmeres Habayis
contends that although it is permitted to have a non-Jew cook for someone ill,
the food is permitted to be eaten only by the ill and only until there is
enough time after Shabbos to cook fresh food. Once that time arrives,
all the food that was cooked by the non-Jew becomes prohibited as bishul
even for the sick person, and certainly it was never permitted for
someone well to eat. In addition, the previously kosher pot used by the non-Jew
to cook for the ill on Shabbos is prohibited because of the bishul
absorbed in it, and the pot must be koshered before it can be used

The Mishmeres
explains the basis for this law as the general rule, “kol
detikun rabbanan ke’ein de’oraysa tikun
,”whatever the Sages
established they did in a system similar to the rules of the Torah” (Pesachim
30b, 39b, et al.). Therefore, when Chazal created the
prohibition of bishul akum, they gave the prohibited product all the
rules that apply to items prohibited min haTorah. Thus, we see that
Barcelona was the scene of a major halachic controversy that has
ramifications to this very day.

How do we

Well, who is
“we”? The Ran (Shu”t Haran 5:11-12), the primary Spanish halachic
authority in the generation following theRashba and Re’ah, discusses
the second question, whether bishul akum prohibits the equipment used to
cook it. He opines that logically the prohibition of bishul akum should
apply only to the food prepared and not to the equipment in which it was
produced, since concerns about social interaction apply only to the food, and
not to the equipment. However, that since there are poskim who disagreed
with the Re’ah, the Ran concludes that it is preferable to have the equipment
koshered, and, if this food was cooked in an earthenware pot (which cannot be kashered),
the earthenware pot should be broken (see Pesachim 30b; Avodah Zarah

contemporaries of the Ran also weigh in on the question of whether we require kashering
of equipment in which bishul akum occurred. The Tur (end of Yoreh
113) quotes that theRashba required kashering equipment
that cooked bishul akum, even if it was a case of non-Jewish servants
who cooked in a Jew’s house. He notes that theRashba holds that, to
avoid prohibiting the pots, when non-Jewish workers cook for themselves in a
Jewish house, someone Jewish must participate in the cooking, in a way that
avoids the prohibition of bishul akum.

The Tur himself
does not conclude this way. He quotes that his father, the Rosh, a contemporary
of theRashba, contends that Chazal prohibited only the food of bishul
, but did not extend the prohibition to flavor absorbed into pots and
other equipment. In other words, the Rosh accepts the approach of the Re’ah
that bishul akum is different from other proscriptions and is prohibited
only to the extent that it would cause unwanted social interactions.

The other
contemporary of the Ran who discusses this issue is Rabbeinu Yerucham, a
disciple of the Rosh, who writes that most authorities agreed with the Rosh
that bishul akum does not create a prohibition on the equipment used to
cook it. However, the Beis Yosef, after quoting Rabbeinu Yerucham,
disagrees with his conclusion that most authorities accept the Rosh’s opinion.
The Beis Yosef writes that most authorities who lived after theera
of the Rashba, Re’ah and Rosh accept the opinion of theRashba as the
conclusive halacha. In Shulchan Aruch,he mentions both
approaches, but concludes that the main approach is that equipment used for bishul
does require kashering.

times lucky

Above, I
quoted the Ran who states that if bishul akum prohibits the vessels, if
an earthenware pot was used, the pot must be broken. However, theRashba
himself did not rule this way. This is based on a passage of Talmud
(Terumos 11:4) that rules that a lenience applies when a
prohibition is rabbinic in origin, which is the case of bishul akum. In
these circumstances, Chazal permitted kashering earthenware by
boiling the vessel three times(Rashba, quoted by Tur Yoreh Deah 123).
This ruling is accepted by the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 113:16).

about for the ill?

Above, we
mentioned that theRashba and Re’ah also disagreed about whether food
cooked by a non-Jew on Shabbos for a Jewish person who is ill is
prohibited as bishul akum. How do we rule on this question? Again, it
depends on whom you ask: The Rema and the Shach conclude that the
food is permitted after Shabbos, even for a healthy person, whereas the Taz,
Mishnah Berurah
(328:63) and others rule that it is prohibited even for the
ill person once food cooked by a Jew becomes available.


According to
the Rambam, the reason Chazal prohibited asking a non-Jew to do
work on Shabbos is in order not to diminish sensitivity to doing melacha
ourselves. Refraining from having even a non-Jew work is testimony to our deep
conviction that Hashem created the world.

We have just
learned an exception to this rule: When someone is ill, we are permitted to ask
a non-Jew to cook for him. This will not diminish sensitivity to doing melacha
ourselves, but will increase our sensitivity to the needs of the ill and the
mitzvah of bikur cholim, ensuring that we attend to their needs as best
as we can.

The Torah’s Instructions to Non-Jews—The Laws of Bnei Noach

This article is dedicated to the memory of my much beloved and missed brother-in-law, Rabbi Yosef Azar, a very exceptional and popular teacher at various seminaries, who lost his protracted battle with cancer this past week. Rav Yosef leaves behind a widow, my sister Yocheved, and ten children, eight of whom are still living at home; the youngest is only five years old.

Although it may seem strange for a non-Jew to ask a rav
a shaylah, it should actually be commonplace. After all, there are
hundreds of times more non-Jews than Jews in the world, and each one of them
should be concerned about his or her halachic responsibility. Many
non-Jews are indeed concerned about their future place in Olam Haba, and
had the nations not been deceived by spurious religions, many thousands more
would observe the mitzvos that they are commanded. It is tragic that
they have been misled into false beliefs and practices.

An entire body of literature discusses the mitzvah
responsibilities of non-Jews. Although it was Adam who was originally commanded
to observe these mitzvos, they are usually referred to as the “Seven Mitzvos
of Bnei Noach,” since all of mankind is descended from Noach.

Furthermore, a Jew should be familiar with the halachos
that apply to a non-Jew, since it is forbidden to cause a non-Jew to transgress
his mitzvos. This is included under the Torah’s violation of lifnei
iver lo sitein michshol
, “Do not place a stumbling block before a blind
person.” In this case, this means do not cause someone to sin, if he is blind
to the severity of his violation (Avodah Zarah 6b).

In actuality, a non-Jew must observe more than seven mitzvos.
The “Seven Mitzvos” are really categories; furthermore, there are
additional mitzvos that apply, as we will explain.


The seven cardinal prohibitions that apply to a
non-Jew are:


It is forbidden for a non-Jew to worship idols in any
way. Most religions of the world are idolatrous, particularly the major
religions of the East.

Although Christianity constitutes idol worship for a
Jew, there is a dispute whether it is idolatry for a ben Noach. Some poskim
contend that its concepts of G-d do not violate the prohibition against Avodah
that was commanded to Adam and Noach (Tosafos, Bechoros
2b s.v. Shema; Rama, Orach Chayim 156). However, most later
contend that Christian belief does constitute Avodah Zarah,
even for a non-Jew (Shu’t Noda BiYehudah, Tenina, Yoreh Deah #148; Chazon
Ish, Likutim
, Sanhedrin 63b p. 536). In this regard, there is a
widespread misconception among Jews that only Catholicism is Avodah Zarah,
but not Protestantism. This is untrue. Every branch and type of Christianity
includes idolatrous beliefs.

2. GILUY ARAYOS, which prohibits many illicit

3. MURDER, including abortion (Sanhedrin 57b),
suicide, and mercy killing.

4. EIVER MIN HACHAI, eating flesh taken from a
live animal.

This prohibition includes eating a limb or flesh
removed from an animal while it was alive, even if the animal is now dead.

In the context of this mitzvah, the Rishonim
raise an interesting question. Adam was forbidden to eat meat (see Bereishis
1:29-30), but, after the Flood, Noach was permitted to do so (Bereishis 9:3;
see Rashi in both places). So, why was Adam prohibited from eating flesh
of a living animal, if he was prohibited from eating meat altogether?

Two differing approaches are presented to answer this
question. The Rambam explains that the prohibition to eat meat that was
given to Adam was rescinded after the Flood, and it was then that the
prohibition of Eiver Min HaChai was commanded to Noach for the first
time (Rambam, Hilchos Melachim 9:1). According to this approach, six of
the present day “Seven Mitzvos” were commanded to Adam, while the
seventh was commanded only at the time of Noach.

Other Rishonim contend that Adam was permitted
to eat the meat of an animal that was already dead, and was prohibited only
from killing animals for food. In addition, he was prohibited to eat
meat that was removed from a living animal, and this prohibition is one of the
“Seven Mitzvos” (Rashi, Sanhedrin 57a s.v. Lemishri and Bereishis
1:29; Tosafos, Sanhedrin 56b s.v. Achal). The first prohibition
was rescinded after the Flood, when mankind was permitted to slaughter animals
for food. Thus, according to the Rambam, Adam was prohibited both from
killing animals and from eating any meat, while according to the other Rishonim,
he was prohibited from killing animals but allowed to eat meat.


Although a non-Jew may not eat the flesh of a living
animal, he may eat blood drawn from a living animal (Rambam, Hilchos
9:10; cf. Sanhedrin 56b and 59a, and Rashi, Bereishis
9:3). Some African tribesmen extract blood from their livestock, mix it with
milk, and drink it for a nutritious beverage. Although we may consider this
practice very offensive, it does not in any way violate the mitzvos for
a non-Jew.


Cursing Hashem. As with his other mitzvos, a
non-Jew may not claim that he was unaware it is forbidden.


This prohibition includes taking even a very small
item that does not belong to him, eating something of the owner’s food on the
job without permission, or not paying his employees or contractors (Rambam,
Hilchos Melachim
9:9). According to some opinions, it includes not paying
his workers or contractors on time (Meiri, Sanhedrin).

7. DINIM, literally, laws.

This mitzvah includes the application of a code of
civil law, including laws of damages, torts, loans, assault, cheating, and
commerce (Ramban, Breishis 34:13; cf. Rambam, Hilchos Melachim 9:14).
Furthermore, there is a requirement to establish courts in every city and
region, to guarantee that people observe their mitzvos (Sanhedrin
56b; Rambam, Hilchos Melachim 9:14).


Does the mitzvah of Dinim require non-Jews to
establish their own system of law, or is the mitzvah to observe and enforce the
Torah’s mitzvos, which we usually refer to as the halachos of Choshen

In a long teshuvah, the Rama (Shu’t #10)
contends that this question is disputed by Amora’im in the Gemara.
He concludes that non-Jews are required to observe the laws of Choshen
just like Jews. Following this approach, a non-Jew may not sue in
a civil court that uses any system of law other than that of the Torah. Instead,
he must litigate in a beis din or in a court of non-Jewish judges who
follow halachic guidelines (see Rambam, Hilchos Melachim 10:11).
Therefore, a non-Jew who accepts money on the basis of civil litigation is
considered stealing, just like a Jew. The Rama’s opinion is accepted by
many early poskim (e.g., Tumim 110:3; Shu’t Chasam Sofer,
Choshen Mishpat

However, the Netziv disagrees with the Rama,
contending that non-Jews are not obligated to observe the laws of Choshen
. In his opinion, the Torah requires non-Jews to create their own
legal rules and procedures. Although a Jew is forbidden from using the
non-Jewish court system and laws, according to the Netziv a non-Jew may
use secular courts to resolve his litigation and indeed fulfills a mitzvah when
doing so (HaEmek Shaylah #2:3). Other poskim accept the Netziv’s
position (Chazon Ish, Bava Kama 10:1). Several major poskim
contend that the dispute between the Rama and Netziv is an
earlier dispute between the Rambam and Ramban (Shu’t Maharam
Schick, Orach Chayim
#142; Shu’t Maharsham 4:86; Shu’t Avnei
Nezer, Choshen Mishpat

What is a non-Jew to do if he wishes to sue someone?
May he litigate in civil court or must he sue in beis din? Because this
subject is disputed, we would have to decide whether the rule of safek
de’oraysa lechumra
(we are strict regarding a doubt concerning a Torah law)
applies to a non-Jew. If the non-Jew asks how to proceed in the most mehadrin
fashion, we would tell him to take his matter to beis din, because this
is permitted (and a mitzvah) according to all opinions.

It should be noted that, according to both opinions, a
non-Jew must observe dina demalchusa dina – laws established by civil
authorities for the common good. Therefore, he must certainly observe tax
codes, traffic laws, building and zoning codes, and regulations against


The Chasam Sofer (6:14) was asked the following
shaylah: A non-Jew sued a Jew falsely in a dishonest court. The Jew knew
that the non-Jewish judge would rule against him, despite the absence of any
evidence. However, bribing the judge may gain a ruling in the Jew’s favor. May
he bribe the dishonest judge to rule honestly?

Chasam Sofer
rules that it is permitted. The prohibition against bribing a non-Jew is
because he is responsible to have an honest court. However, if the result of
the bribe will be a legitimate ruling, it is permitted. (Of course, the Jewish
litigant must be absolutely certain that he is right.)


In addition to the “Seven Mitzvos,” there are
other activities that are also prohibited to a non-Jew. According to many
opinions, a non-Jew may not graft trees from different species or crossbreed
animals (Sanhedrin 56b; Rambam, Hilchos Melachim 10:6; Meiri
ad loc.; cf. Shach Yoreh Deah 297:3 and Dagul Mei’re’vavah ad
loc.; Chazon Ish, Kelayim 1:1). According to many poskim, a
non-Jew may not even own a grafted fruit tree, and a Jew may not sell him such
a tree, because that would cause a non-Jew to violate his mitzvah (Shu’t
Mahari Asad, Yoreh Deah
#350; Shu’t Maharsham 1:179).

Some poskim contend that non-Jews are
prohibited from engaging in sorcery (see Kesef Mishneh, Hilchos Avodah Zarah
11:4). According to this opinion, a non-Jew may not use any type of black
magic, necromancy or fortune telling. However, most opinions disagree (Radbaz,
Hilchos Melachim 10:6).


A non-Jew may not keep Shabbos or a day of rest
(without doing melacha) on any day of the week (Sanhedrin 58b).
The reason for this is subject to dispute. Rashi explains that a non-Jew
is obligated to work every day, because the Torah writes, “Yom Valayla Lo
,” which can be interpreted to mean, “Day and night they (i.e., the
non-Jews) may not rest.” The Rambam (Hilchos Melachim 10:9),
however, explains that a gentile is prohibited from making his own holiday or
religious observance, because the Torah is opposed to the creation of man-made
religions. In the words of the Rambam, “A non-Jew is not permitted to
create his own religion or mitzvah. Either he becomes a righteous convert (a ger
) and accepts the observance of all the mitzvos, or he remains
with the laws that he has, without adding or detracting.” A third reason
mentioned is that a Jew may mistakenly learn from a gentile who keeps a day of
rest, and the Jew may create his own mitzvos (Meiri).

Because of this halacha, a non-Jew studying for
conversion must perform a small act of Shabbos desecration every Shabbos. There
is a dispute among poskim whether this applies to a non-Jew who has
undergone bris milah and is awaiting immersion in a mikvah to
complete his conversion (Shu’t Binyan Tzion #91).


You probably noticed that there are few positive mitzvos
among the non-Jew’s commandments. They are required to believe that the mitzvos
were commanded by Hashem through Moshe Rabbeinu (Rambam, Hilchos Melachim 8:11).
They are also obligated to establish courts. A non-Jew is permitted to observe
the mitzvos of the Torah, with a few exceptions (for example, see Rambam,
Hilchos Melachim
10:10). He is even permitted to offer korbanos (Zevachim


The Gemara states that a non-Jew is not
permitted to study Torah (Sanhedrin 59a). One opinion of the Gemara
explains that the Torah belongs to the Jewish people, and by studying Torah the
gentile is “stealing” Jewish property. However, there are many exceptions to
this ruling. First, a gentile may study all the halachos applicable to
observing his mitzvos (Meiri). Rambam rules that it is a
mitzvah to teach a non-Jew the halachos of offering korbanos, if
he intends to bring them (Rambam, Maasei Hakorbanos 19:16). According to
the Rama’s opinion that a non-Jew must observe the Torah’s civil laws,
the non-Jew may study all the intricate laws of Choshen Mishpat.
Furthermore, since a non-Jew is permitted to observe most mitzvos of the
Torah, some opinions contend that he may learn the laws of those mitzvos
in order to observe them correctly (Meiri, Sanhedrin 58b).

There is a dispute among poskim whether one may
teach a non-Jew Torah if the non-Jew is planning to convert. The Meiri (Sanhedrin
58b) and Maharsha (Shabbos 31a s.v. Amar lei mikra) rule
that it is permitted, whereas Rabbi Akiva Eiger forbids it (Shu’t #41).
Others permit teaching Nevi’im and Kesuvim to non-Jews (Shiltei
, Avodah Zarah 20a, quoting Or Zarua), and other poskim
permit teaching a non-Jew about miracles that the Jews experienced (Shu’t
Melamed Leho’il Yoreh Deah

Incidentally, Rav Moshe Feinstein rules that one is
permitted to teach Torah to Jews while a non-Jew is listening (Shu’t Igros
Moshe, Yoreh Deah
2:132). For this reason, he permits conducting a Seder
with a non-Jew in attendance.


A gentile who observes his mitzvos because
Hashem commanded them through Moshe Rabbeinu is called one of the Chassidei
Umos HaOlam
and merits a place in Olam Haba. Observing these mitzvos
carefully does not suffice to make a non-Jew into a Chassid. He must observe
his mitzvos as a commandment of Hashem (Rambam, Hilchos Melachim

When I was a congregational rabbi, I often met
non-Jews who were interested in Judaism. I always presented the option of
becoming an observant ben Noach. I vividly recall meeting a woman whose
grandfather was Jewish, but who herself was halachically not Jewish. She
was keeping kosher – no small feat in her town, where there was no Jewish
community. Although she had come to speak about converting, since we do not
encourage conversion I explained the halachos of Bnei Noach to
her instead.

An even more interesting experience occurred when I
was once making a kashrus inspection at an ice cream plant. A worker
there asked me where I was from, and then informed me that he used to attend a
Reform Temple two blocks from my house! I was surprised, not expecting to find
a Jew in the plant. However, it turned out that he was not Jewish at all, but
had stopped attending church after rejecting its beliefs. Now, he was
concerned, because he had stopped attending the Reform Temple that was far from
his house. I discussed with him the religious beliefs and observances of Bnei
, explaining that they must be meticulously honest in all their
business dealings, just like Jews. I told him that Hashem gave mitzvos
to both Jews and non-Jews, and that Judaism is the only major religion that
does not claim a monopoly on heaven. Non-Jews, too, merit olam haba if
they observe their mitzvos.

Over the years, I have noticed that many churchgoing
non-Jews in the United States have rejected the tenets of Christianity. What
they have accepted is that Hashem appeared to Moshe and the Jewish people at
Sinai and commanded us about His mitzvos. This belief is vital for
non-Jews to qualify as Chassidei Umos HaOlam – they must accept that the
commandments of Bnei Noach were commanded to Moshe (Rambam, Hilchos


As Jews, we do not proselytize to gentiles, nor seek
converts. However, when we meet sincere non-Jews, we should direct them
correctly in their quest for truth by introducing them to the Seven Mitzvos
of Bnei Noach.

Writing a Sefer Torah

Question #1: Why not?

“Why doesn’t everyone write his own Sefer Torah?”

Question #2: Partners in Torah

“May two people partner
together to fulfill the mitzvah of writing a Sefer Torah?”

Question #3: Traditional

“Why did some gedolei
not use perakim and pesukim numbers to identify pesukim,
whereas others did?”


The last mitzvah mentioned in the Torah, which we are taught
in parshas Vayeileich, is that each individual is required to write a Sefer
. The words of the Torah from which we derive this mitzvah are, Ve’atah
kisvu lachem es hashirah hazos velamdah es Bnei Yisroel simah befihem lema’an
tihyeh li hashirah hazos le’eid bivnei Yisroel,
“And now, write for
yourselves this song, and teach it to the Children of Israel, place it in their
mouths, so that this song shall be a testimony among the Children of Israel” (Devorim
31:19). We should note that two of the targumim, the early Aramaic
translations of the Torah, authored by Onkelus and by Yonasan ben Uziel, both
translate the word shirah not as “song,” but as
“praise.” On the other hand, both Rashi and the Rambam (Hilchos
Sefer Torah
7:1) explain the posuk a bit differently from the Targum,
translating shirah as “song” and understanding it to refer to
the song of parshas Ha’azinu. The Rambam explains the posuk
to mean that one should “write the Torah, which contains the song of Ha’azinu.”

The Baal Haturim on the posuk
notes two gematriyos, one that the words velamdah es Bnei Yisroel
equal zeh Torah shebiksav,“this is the Written Torah,” and the
words simah befihem equal zeh Talmud, “this is the Oral Torah.”

Nothing missing

Fulfilling the mitzvah of writing a Sefer Torah
requires that one write an entire Sefer Torah — even if one letter is
missing, one has not fulfilled the mitzvah (Rambam). A Sefer Torah
must be written in black ink on parchment. Parchment is made from animal hide,
and the mitzvos of Sifrei Torah, tefillin and mezuzos
require that the parchment is produced from the hide of a kosher species. There
is no halachic requirement to make it from an animal that was
slaughtered in accordance with Jewish law, and, as a matter of fact, the hide
is usually not from animals that were slaughtered according to halacha.


The tanning of the hide into parchment must be done lishmah,
for the purpose of using it for a Sefer Torah. At the first step of the
tanning, the Jew who processes the hide into parchment should state that he is
processing it lishmah. Whether or not a non-Jew can perform some of the
tanning under a Jew’s supervision, or whether doing this undermines the
requirement that the processing must be lishmah, is a lengthy discussion
among early halachic authorities (Rosh, Hilchos Sefer Torah #3).

The writing of the Sefer Torah must also be performed
lishmah. Before he begins writing, the sofer should state aloud,
“I am writing this Sefer Torah for the sanctity of Moshe Rabbeinu’s
Torah” (Rosh, Hilchos Sefer Torah #4). There is an additional
requirement that, when writing the names of Hashem, the scribe write
them for the sake of creating holy names.

Dipping the quill

There is an interesting halacha that, when writing
the name of Hashem, the sofer should not dip his quill into the
ink immediately before writing His name. The reason is that the first letter
written after a quill is dipped into ink often smears, and one does not want
this to occur while one is writing Hashem‘s name.


Prior to writing the words of the Torah on the specially-made
parchment, one must score the parchment in a way that leaves no written marks.
This process, called sirtut, is accomplished by running an awl or other
sharp instrument across the parchmentto mark the lines on which one
plans to write (Rambam, Rosh, Tur; cf. Rabbeinu Tam, who disagrees).
This law is a halacha leMoshe miSinai, meaning that it is a mesorah,
a tradition, that we were taught by Moshe Rabbeinu, who learned it
directly from Hashem when he learned the Torah on Har Sinai.

Punctuating Torah

We have a mesorah how the words of the Torah are
vowelized and punctuated; the markings indicating this appear in every standard
chumash. However, in a Sefer Torah itself, halacha dictates
that no periods, other punctuation marks, reading aids or music notes appear.


Similarly, the division of the Torah into chapters,
, is originally from non-Jewish sources and is never used in
handwritten Sifrei Torah. Indeed, this is true not only of the Torah,
but also in most of the rest of Tanach. The chapter divisions that are
commonly used for most of Tanach do not originate in Jewish sources. The
two books that are exceptions, where the chapters are according to Jewish
sources, are Tehillim and Eicha. In all other kisvei hakodesh,
the division into pesukim is part of our tradition, but not the division
into chapters. Consequently, the numbering of the pesukim, which is
based on the non-Jewish chapter division, is also not our tradition.

At this point, we can address one of our opening questions:
“Why did some gedolei Yisroel not use perakim and pesukim
numbers to identify pesukim, whereas others did?”

Many of our gedolim, for example, the Chofetz
and the Ohr Somayach, refrained from referring to pesukim
according to chapter and posuk. Instead, they would refer to them by the
parsha of the week and its location within the parsha. Clearly,
they did not want to use a system that was non-Jewish in origin. Those who do
use the chapter and posuk system felt, presumably, that since there is no
prohibition to use this system, which makes it much easier for the student to
locate the posuk being quoted or studied, one may use it to facilitate
the student’s learning.

Pesuchos and sesumos

The Torah itself is divided into sections using a different
system, which are called pesuchos and sesumos. These are
indicated by the letter “pei” or “samach” in our standard chumashim.

There is a dispute among rishonim exactly how one is
to make the pesuchos and sesumos. Both approaches agree that when
the pesucha is in the middle or beginning of a line, it is indicated by
leaving the rest of the line blank, and then continuing the next passage on the
next line. When a sesumah is in the middle or beginning of a line, it is
indicated by leaving blank an area at least nine spaces long and then
continuing the next passage on the same line. However, when a pesucha or
sesumah is at the end or towards the end of a line, the poskim
dispute how it must be written. In order to avoid writing a Sefer Torah
that is kosher only according to some authorities, accepted practice is to
avoid having a pesucha or sesumah at the end or towards the end
of a line. We will see shortly how we make sure that this happens.

Write the letters carefully

The sofer must be careful to write the letters
clearly and to follow the halachic rules governing how the letters are
to be written. He must also make sure that each letter is completely surrounded
by parchment. This last requirement, called mukaf gevil, means that each
letter must be written in a way that it does not connect to another letter, nor
may it run to the top or bottom of the piece of parchment on which it is

One of the rules for writing a Sefer Torah is that
the scribe must have another Sefer Torah or a tikun in front of him
that has all the words of the Torah correctly spelled. In practice, sofrim
use a tikun not only to help them spell the words correctly, but to
mimic their exact placement on the line and column. Among other reasons, this
is to avoid having the sesumos and pesuchos occur towards or at
the ends of lines, which creates a halachic problem, as mentioned above.

Size of letters

A Sefer Torah may be written with very small letters
or with very large ones, but the relative size of the letters within the same Sefer
must be consistent, except for those few letters that have a
tradition to be written larger or smaller.

The scribe who writes a Sefer Torah must be a
shamayim and knowledgeable in all the laws of writing a Sefer
. There are many more details of these laws, far more than we can
discuss in this article. Suffice it to say that numerous works are devoted
entirely to the topic of the correct writing of letters in a Sefer Torah.

Someone who does not believe in the G-d-given nature of the
Torah at Har Sinai is ineligible to be a scribe for Sifrei Torah, tefillin
and mezuzos. Such a person may write a kesubah, which is halachically
a contract and not holy writing.

How does it dry?

After writing a section of parchment that needs to dry, it is
prohibited to suspend it upside down to prevent dust from settling on it.
Notwithstanding that this is a simple method for making sure that the parchment
remains clean while drying, it is a disrespectful way to treat the words of Hashem
(Tur, Yoreh Deah Chapter 277).


The pieces of parchment are stitched together with a
specially-made thread processed from sinews of kosher animals. (As before, the
animals must be of kosher species, but there is no requirement that they be
kosher-slaughtered.) It should not be stitched all the way to the top or all
the way to the bottom (Tur, Yoreh Deah Chapter 278).


Until now, we have been discussing the halachos
germane to writing a Sefer Torah, all of which are essential to fulfill
this mitzvah. At this point, we will discuss some of the other laws germane to
fulfilling the mitzvah.

The Gemara writes that a person who purchased a Sefer
that was not kosher, even if only because of one letter, and then
repaired the error, it is considered as if he wrote an entire Sefer Torah
(Menachos 30a). This is because one is not permitted to own an incorrect
Sefer Torah.

Why would someone get credit for writing the entire Sefer
when all he did was write one letter? The answer is that a Sefer
containing mistakes must be repaired or checked within 30 days.
Otherwise, one should place it in genizah. Thus, the individual who
corrected the one letter took an incomplete Sefer Torah that would have
required genizah and made it into a source that can be used for study
and reading the Torah.

Selling a Sefer Torah

The Gemara teaches that one may not sell a Sefer
even if he does not have food to put on his table (Megillah
27a). There are two situations in which one is permitted to sell a sefer Torah:
(1) one needs funds to study Torah, or (2) one needs funds to get married (ad
locum). The Rema (Yoreh Deah 270:1) adds a third case, permitting
the sale of a Sefer Torah in order to have funds with which to fulfill
the mitzvah of pidyon shevuyim, redeeming captives.

One may not sell a Sefer Torah, even if he owns
several already, and even if he wants to sell an older one in order to have the
funds with which to purchase a newer one (Tur, Yoreh Deah, Chapter 270).

Purchasing a Sefer Torah

Does one fulfill the mitzvah if one purchases a Sefer
? Based on his understanding of the Gemara (Menachos 30a),
the Rema rules that one fulfills the mitzvah only if the Sefer Torah
had mistakes and he purchased it and hired a sofer to repair it (or
repaired it himself); but, if the Sefer Torah was in good order, he has
not fulfilled the mitzvah of writing a Sefer Torah by purchasing it.

Indeed, there is a dispute among the rishonim
concerning this halacha: Rashi (Menachos 30a) and the Sefer
explain that one fulfills the mitzvah in a non-optimal way by
purchasing a Sefer Torah, whereas the Rambam, Smag, Shulchan
and Rema all rule that one is not yotzei by purchase,
because the Torah states that the mitzvah is to “write.”

The Minchas Chinuch notes that if he hired a sofer
to write a Sefer Torah and then failed to pay him, not only has he
violated the Torah prohibition of failing to pay a hiree, he has also not
fulfilled the mitzvah of writing a Sefer Torah.

Gave it away

According to the Toras Chayim (Sanhedrin 21,
quoted by Pischei Teshuvah, Yoreh Deah 270:3 and by Minchas
), someone who sold, lost or donated his Sefer Torah no
longer fulfills the mitzvah and he must write another one. The Sefer
implies that he agrees with this approach, since he writes that
the mitzvah is that each individual should own a Sefer Torah. However,
there are prominent authorities who dispute this conclusion, ruling that once
he fulfilled the mitzvah by writing a Sefer Torah, selling it or giving
it away does not invalidate his fulfilling of the mitzvah (see Pischei

Partners in Torah

At this point, let us examine another of our opening
questions: “May two people partner together to fulfill the mitzvah of
writing a Sefer Torah?”

The Pischei Teshuvah, an anthologized commentary on
the Shulchan Aruch, quotes a few poskim who discuss this
question. Most are inclined to rule that one has not fulfilled the mitzvah of
writing a Sefer Torah this way.

The Sefer Hachinuch defines the mitzvah as being that
each person must own a Sefer Torah, which sounds as if he also holds
that one does not fulfill the mitzvah by partnering with someone else to hire a
sofer to write it.

The Sefer Hachinuch also writes that the optimal hiddur
is to write the Torah himself, with his own hand. If someone is unable to
write it himself, he should hire someone to write it for him.

Purchasing seforim

Does one fulfill the mitzvah of writing a Sefer Torah
by purchasing seforim used to study Torah? The Rosh writes: Today,
when people write a Sefer Torah and it is then left in shul to be
used for the mitzvah of kerias haTorah, it is a positive mitzvah on
every Jewish male who can afford it to write Chumashim, Mishnayos,
Gemaras and their commentaries, in order that he and his children be
able to study them. This is because the mitzvah of the Torah specifies “in
order to learn from them,” and with the Gemara and commentaries one
understands the mitzvos and their details well (Hilchos Sefer Torah #1).

The Beis Yosef (Yoreh Deah 270) explains that
the Rosh was not coming to rule that there is no longer a mitzvah to
write a Sefer Torah, but that there is also a mitzvah to write
other seforim, and that this acquisition is a bigger mitzvah than
writing a Sefer Torah. In the Shulchan Aruch, he reflected this
opinion. However, there are prominent acharonim who disagree with the Shulchan
and understand that the Rosh’s conclusion is that there is no
mitzvah today to write a Sefer Torah (Perisha; Shach). This
understanding of the Rosh explains that the mitzvah of the Torah is to
produce materials used to study Torah. Since a Sefer Torah is not used
today for this purpose, writing one does not fulfill the 613th mitzvah of the

According to this approach, there
is an easy answer to our opening question: “Why doesn’t everyone write his
own Sefer Torah?”

There are other reasons to explain
why people do not write their own Sefer Torah. Another approach is that
one is not required to spend more than a fifth of what he owns to fulfill a
mitzvah (Minchas Chinuch). Thus, many poor and middle-class people are
exempt from the mitzvah. (See the Sha’agas Aryeh, Shu”t Chasam Sofer,
Yoreh Deah
#52 and #54 and the Minchas Chinuch for yet other reasons
to exempt people today from the mitzvah of writing a Sefer Torah.)


The goal of the Torah’s mitzvah to
write a Sefer Torah is so that, wherever Jews live, there should be
readily available seforim to study Torah. However, if this was the
Torah’s only concern, it would have required each individual to purchase seforim
according to his ability. Instead, the Torah required each individual to write
a Sefer Torah, thus implying two additional ideas. (1) The Torah wanted
each individual to be involved in the providing of Torah learning material,
regardless of his personal financial situation. (2) The Torah wanted each
individual to be involved, himself, in the writing of Torah materials and their
procurement, and not to deputize this mitzvah to others, even when they are
more skillful.

The Torah is referred to as a Tree
of Life.  B’nei Yisroel are depicted as an agricultural
people.  As the Torah is, indeed, a source — the Source — of life, it is
certainly appropriate that we care for its proper “planting” and
flourishing, as outlined in halacha.

Maaser Sheini

Photo by david Kadosh from FreeImages

Question #1: Where?

Many mitzvos can be performed only between the
“walls” of Yerushalayim. Do these laws apply to everywhere within the walls of
today’s “Old City”?

Question #2: What?

“What may I not remove from Yerushalayim?”

Question #3: When?

“When am I permitted to eat maaser sheini?”


This week’s parsha includes the mitzvah of maaser
sheini. Although people currently living in chutz la’aretz often
feel that they do not need to know the laws applicable to the agricultural mitzvos
of the Torah, everyone must know the basic laws of this mitzvah for many
reasons, including:

1. When in Eretz Yisroel, to which we all aspire, we
need to be sure that all terumos and maasros are properly
separated. Someone living outside of Eretz Yisroel also needs to know
the details of the laws on produce that grows in Eretz Yisroel.

2. We daven three times daily for Moshiach to come so that we can live in Eretz Yisroel and observe the mitzvos that apply there. Although most of the laws of maaser sheini do not apply today even in Eretz Yisroel, they will all apply again, iy’H, when the Beis Hamikdash is rebuilt and we can achieve a state of taharah by virtue of the ashes of the parah adumah.

3. Fruits of chutz la’aretz may have the status of neta
, which shares the laws of maaser sheini.

The basics

Produce grown in Eretz Yisroel and the lands nearby
must have several small portions separated from it before it may be consumed.
These are:


First, a small amount is separated as terumah, which
is property of the kohen. When we are all tahor, the owner gives
the terumah to a kohen of his choice. Terumah may be eaten
by any close member of the kohen’s family – including his wife, sons,
and unmarried daughters — as long as they are completely tahor.

Since no kohen is tahor today, terumah
may not be eaten. If the terumah is itself tamei, it is
destroyed, preferably by burning it. If the terumah is tahor, we are
not permitted to eat it, nor to destroy it. What does one do with it?

We put it in a place where no one will mistakenly eat it,
and leave it there until it decomposes to the point that people will not eat it.
At that point, it is disposed of. We will soon explain why decomposition
permits one to destroy terumah.

Maaser rishon

After terumah has been separated, a tenth of the
remaining produce is separated as maaser rishon, which is the
property of the Levi. The Levi is required to separate one tenth
of what he receives, which is called terumas maaser and has all
the laws of terumah as explained above. The remaining maaser rishon
has no sanctity, and therefore may be eaten by anyone, even when tamei.
Therefore, maaser rishon can be eaten today, even though we are
all tamei, and the Levi can sell it or give it away to whomever
he chooses. Furthermore, none of the restrictions we will discuss shortly
regarding redemption or use applies to maaser rishon.

Maaser sheini/maaser ani

After maaser rishon is separated, there is an
obligation to set aside a tenth of what is left. Depending which year it is
relative to the shemittah cycle, either maaser sheini or maaser
ani is separated.

These two types of maaser are halachically
very different. Maaser ani is the property of the poor and has no
sanctity, similar to maaser rishon. The owner of the field
decides to which poor person or persons he gives the maaser ani. There
is detailed halacha defining who qualifies as “poor” for the purposes of
this mitzvah, but since the theme of this article is maaser sheini
and not maaser ani, we will leave this question for a different

When is one required to separate maaser sheini,
and when is one required to separate maaser ani? The halacha is
that Eretz Yisroel follows a seven year shemittah cycle. In the
first, second, fourth and fifth years, the second tithe is maaser sheini,
and in the third and sixth years it is maaser ani. Since shemittah
produce is ownerless, there are usually no terumah and maasros
separations that year. In the unusual instances where there is, which is a
topic for a different time, there is extensive halachic discussion
whether the second tithe is maaser sheini or maaser ani.

Maaser sheini, the topic of our article, must
be eaten in Yerushalayim by people who are tahor. Any tahor Jew
is permitted to eat it, but it must be eaten within the walls of the ancient
city of Yerushalayim. We will soon discuss what that means and we will also see
that there are many other laws that apply to it. We will also discuss what can
be done if it is impractical to transport all of one’s maaser sheini to

Which maaser?

We should note that the term maaser, without
specifying which one, is used sometimes to refer to maaser rishon
and sometimes to refer to maaser sheini, notwithstanding that
their laws are very different from one another. Usually, one can understand
from context which maaser is intended. If the context alludes to maaser
owned by a Levi, or to the first maaser being separated, maaser
rishon is intended. If it refers to something that has sanctity, usually
maaser sheini is intended. Since the rest of this article will be
discussing the specific and unusual sanctity of maaser sheini, I
will henceforth use the term maaser to mean only maaser sheini.

The parsha

At this point, let us examine the appropriate pesukim
in this week’s parsha: “And you shall eat the maaser of your
grain, your wine, and your olive oil… before Hashem your G-d, in the
place that He will choose to rest His Name — so that you will thereby learn to
be in awe of Hashem at all times. However, when you are blessed by Hashem,
your G-d, such that you are unable to carry [the maaser sheini] to a
place as distant as the one that Hashem chooses, then you may exchange
it for money that you bring with you on your visit to that place that Hashem
has chosen. Once you are there, you shall exchange the money for cattle, sheep,
wine or anything else you desire, which you shall eat there, before Hashem,
your G-d. In this way, you and your family will celebrate” (Devarim 14:23-26).

Obviously, the place that He will choose to rest His Name
refers to the city of Yerushalayim. Thus, we are told the following halachos:
Maaser should be brought with you when you travel to Yerushalayim.
However, if you have more produce than you can easily carry to Yerushalayim,
you may redeem the maaser produce, a process that removes the sanctity
and special laws from the maaser produce and places it on coins. The
Torah shebe’al peh teaches that this redemption can be performed only
onto minted coins. When the owner is redeeming his own maaser produce,
he must redeem it for coinage that is worth 25% more than its value. Then he
brings this money to Yerushalayim, where it is used to purchase food to be
eaten within the confines of the city. This acquisition transfers the maaser
sanctity from the money to the food, which means that this newly
acquired food can be eaten only within the walls of Yerushalayim and must be
eaten while tahor.

Vacation fund

Whether one transports one’s maaser sheini produce
itself to Yerushalayim, or purchases food with the money to which the sanctity
has been transferred, the farmer remains with a lot of maaser sheini
that may be consumed only in Yerushalayim, a city bursting with sanctity and
special, holy people. The beauty of this mitzvah is that it entices the
farmer to ascend to the Holy City and be part of the spiritual growth
attainable only there.

One can even look at the maaser sheini as “vacation
fund” money that the Torah provides. Although the farmer may not be wealthy,
when he arrives in Yerushalayim, he can eat and drink like a king!

Sanctity and purity

As mentioned above, the original maaser sheini that
was separated and brought to Yerushalayim, and the food purchased in
Yerushalayim with the redemption money are holy and may be eaten only within
the walls of the old Yerushalayim and only when both the food and the
individual eating it are tahor, ritually pure.

In addition, there is another halacha pertaining to
Yerushalayim. Once maaser produce has been brought within the Holy
City’s walls, it may not be removed or redeemed.

O’ my Jerusalem!

By the way, the current “Old City” walls of Yerushalayim,
constructed by the Ottoman Turks almost 1500 years after the churban,
are not the borders that define the halachic sanctity of the city. The
Turkish walls encompass areas that were not part of the city at the times of Tanach
and Chazal, and therefore do not have the sanctity of Yerushalayim;
and, without question, parts endowed with the sanctity of the Holy City are
outside these walls. Thus, it will be necessary when Moshiach comes to
determine exactly where are the borders of the halachic “old city of

What food?

What food may one purchase with maaser sheini
money? There are many laws regarding what one may purchase. The Torah specifies
that, once in Yerushalayim, one may exchange maaser sheini money for
cattle, sheep, wine or anything else you desire
, which seems both wordy and
unusual. The Torah sheba’al peh explains this to mean that one may not
purchase any food with maaser sheini money, but only those that
grow either from the ground or meat and poultry, that grow “on the ground.”
Therefore, one may use maaser sheini money to purchase fruit,
vegetables, breads, pastry, meat or poultry; but not fish, which do not grow on
the ground; not salt or water, which do not grow; nor mushrooms, which are
fungi and are therefore not considered as growing from or on the ground.

The pasuk’s reference to purchasing cattle or sheep
teaches a new law. It is considered exemplary to purchase animals that will
then be offered in the Beis Hamikdash as korbanos shelamim. The
owner takes home most of the meat of these korbanos to eat with whomever
he chooses to invite. Of course, this must be eaten following all the laws of korbanos
, which includes that everyone eating it must be tahor and
that the meat is eaten only within the walls of the city, as explained above.
Among many other laws, the meat may be eaten only until nightfall of the day
following the offering of the korban. Whatever is not eaten by that time
must be burned.

There is an interesting halacha germane to those who
purchase animals for korbanos shelamim with maaser funds. One may
use maaser funds to purchase an animal as a korban, even though
it is not completely eaten. Parts of the animal are burned on the mizbei’ach,
and the hide and bones are not consumed by anyone. Notwithstanding the strict
rules governing the consumption of maaser, the hide, which was purchased
as part of the animal with maaser funds, has no sanctity and belongs to
the owner!

Sanctity of maaser sheini

Although any tahor Jew is permitted to consume maaser,
there are many detailed rules governing how one must consume maaser.
For example, one may not cook foods that are usually eaten raw, nor may one eat
raw produce that is usually cooked. Therefore, one may not eat raw maaser
sheini potatoes, nor may one cook maaser sheini cucumbers
or oranges.

Similarly, juicing vegetables and most kinds of fruit is
considered “ruining” maaser sheini produce and it is therefore
prohibited, although one may press grapes, olives and lemons, since the juice
and oil of these fruits are considered more valuable than the fruit itself.

How do we determine whether processing a food “ruins” it or
not? Some poskim contend that one may not process maaser in such
a way that its brocha is changed (Shu”t Mishpat Cohen #85, based
on Brachos 38a and Rambam, Hilchos Shevi’is 5:3). Others contend
that it is permitted when this is the most common use of this fruit (Minchas
Shelomoh, Shvi’is
pg. 185). A practical difference in halacha between
these two positions is whether one is permitted to squeeze oranges and

One must certainly be careful not to actively destroy maaser
sheini. Therefore, one may not destroy it when it could still be eaten.
Similarly, peels that are commonly eaten, such as those of cucumber or apple,
still have kedusha and may not simply be disposed of. One is required to
place them in a plastic bag and then place the bag in a small bin or box called
a pach maaser, where it remains until the food is inedible. When it
decomposes to this extent, one may dispose of it in the regular garbage.

Sanctity until spoilage

This leads us to a question: If indeed one may not throw maaser
sheini produce in the garbage because it has sanctity, why may one do so
after the produce decomposes? Does decomposition remove kedusha?

Indeed it does. Kedushas maaser sheini
means that as long as the food is still edible, one may not make it inedible or
use it atypically. This is because maaser sheini food is meant to
be eaten. However, once the maaser sheini is inedible, it loses
its special status and may be disposed of as trash.

This sounds very strange. Where do we find that something
holy loses its special status when it becomes inedible?

Although the concept that decay eliminates sanctity seems
unusual, this is only because we are unfamiliar with most of the mitzvos where
this principle applies. Other mitzvos where this concept exists are
shevi’is, terumah, challah
, bikkurim, and reva’ie (Rambam,
Hilchos Terumos
Chapter 11; Hilchos Maaser Sheini 3:11; Hilchos
5:3). Of these types of produce that are holy, but meant to
be eaten, only shevi’is may be eaten by someone tamei. Even
though someone tamei may not consume tahor terumah, challah, or
maaser sheini,
one also may not dispose of them or even burn them. Instead,
one must place them in a secure place until they decay and only then dispose of
them (Tur, Yoreh Deah 331).  We burn the special challah
portion after separating it, only because it has become tamei. If it did
not become tamei, one may not destroy the challah portion, but
must place it somewhere until it decays on its own.

Contemporary maaser sheini

The fact that one must be tahor to consume maaser
changes the way one observes this mitzvah today, since we cannot
become tahor. Without the ashes of a parah adumah with which to
purify ourselves of certain types of tumah, we cannot eat maaser
produce, nor the food purchased with the redeeming coins. Because we cannot eat
maaser food, it is pointless to purchase food with these coins; instead,
maaser coins remain unused and are eventually destroyed. To avoid
excessive loss, one is permitted to redeem large quantities of maaser sheini
onto a very small value within a coin, and this is the way we redeem maaser
today. Of course, we are missing the main spiritual gain of
consuming the foods in Yerushalayim, but this is one of the many reasons for
which we mourn the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash and pray many times
daily for its restoration.

There is another law that is different because of our
unfortunate circumstances. Since the maaser will not be consumed, it is
permitted to redeem tamei maaser produce onto coins, even within
the boundaries of the Holy City. Otherwise, one is permitted to redeem maaser
produce only in a place where it cannot be eaten.

In conclusion, when we buy produce that grew in Israel,
either we should check that there is a good hechsher that attended to
all the maaser needs or we should make sure to separate all the terumos
and maasros ourselves and redeem the maaser sheini.

Neta reva’ie

I mentioned above that all the laws that apply to maaser sheini also apply to reva’ie. Reva’ie is the fruit that grows in the fourth year of a tree’s life. In a different article, I have explained how we calculate the years of a tree’s life. There is also an article titled Could the Fruit of My Tree Be Orlah? where I discussed whether and when the laws of reva’ie apply to trees planted in chutz la’aretz or only to those in Eretz Yisroel.


A prominent talmid of Rav Moshe Feinstein once
related to me the following story. A female calf was born that was completely
red. Of course, conversations were abuzz: Could this possibly be a hint that Moshiach
will be coming soon, and that we would soon have a parah adumah to use
in removing our tumah?

Some of the talmidim in Rav Moshe’s yeshivah
approached him with this information, expecting to see his reaction to the
great news. Much to their astonishment, Rav Moshe did not react at all.
Surprised, one of them asked Rav Moshe: “Does not the Rosh Yeshivah
think that this might be a sign that Moshiach will be coming soon?” To
this, Rav Moshe answered: “A parah adumah is not kosher until it is
three years old. I daven that Moshiach should come today,
not in three years.”

We should all have Rav Moshe’s desire for Moshiach to
be here, today, and, to demonstrate this desire, be as knowledgeable as
we can in all the halachos that will then be germane. May we soon see
the day when we can bring our maaser sheini and our reva’ie and
eat them betaharah within the rebuilt walls of Yerushalayim!

It’s for the Birds

The Mitzvah of Shiluach Hakein

Photo by MojtabaT from FreeImages

Question #1: Required???

“Must I physically send away the mother bird? I am

Question #2: Keep the Babies

“Must I take the young to fulfill the mitzvah?”

Question #3: Educated!

“I am so excited about the opportunity to fulfill this
special mitzvah, with all its rewards, but I want to make sure I do it
properly. Can you please enlighten me?”

Well known and poorly understood

This week’s parsha includes the laws of a mitzvah,
or more accurately, two mitzvos that are both well-known and yet poorly
understood. The Torah teaches that when we happen to find a nest of birds, we
are to send away the mother and keep the young; that is, either the baby birds
or the eggs. An entire chapter of Mishnah and Gemara, the twelfth
and last perek of Chullin, is devoted to understanding this mitzvah,
which actually involves two mitzvos, a lo saaseh, a prohibition
against taking the mother, and a mitzvas aseih, a positive mitzvah
to send away the mother. At the same time, the Torah itself teaches of a very
specific reward gained by someone who observes this mitzvah. We will
therefore begin the study of this fascinating mitzvah in this article.

Let us rephrase briefly the first two of our opening

1. Should I find such a nest, may I simply ignore it and
continue on my way, or is doing so ignoring a requirement to fulfill a mitzvah?

2. “Must I take the young to fulfill the mitzvah?”
When I send away the mother bird, am I required to keep the young, or, at
least, to physically lift up the eggs or baby birds, thereby taking possession
of them? Or have I completed the performance of the mitzvah simply by
sending away the mother?


At this point, we should read the words of the Torah very
carefully, because answering some of our questions will depend on properly
understanding these words.

Ki yikarei kan tzipor lefanecha baderech, bechol eitz oh
al ha’aretz, efrochim oh beitzim, veha’eim rovetzes al ha’efrochim oh al
habeitzim, lo sikach ha’eim al habanim. Shalei’ach teshalach es ha’eim, ve’es
habanim tikach loch, lemaan yitav loch veha’archata yamim
.“If a
bird’s nest, containing either chicks or eggs, happens to be before you on the
road, whether it (the nest) is in a tree or on the ground, and the mother is
nesting upon the chicks or upon the eggs, you shall not take the mother
from/with the offspring. (I will explain shortly why I left the translation
this way.) You shall certainly send away the mother and take the young for
yourself, so that it will be good for you, and you shall lengthen your days” (Devorim

Off the derech

Several points in these pesukim are uncertain. The
Torah states that the nest must be on the derech, which means on the way
or road. Why does the Torah need to tell you that it was on the road? Does this
mitzvah not apply if the mother bird is off the derech?

The Gemara first suggests that the Torah is teaching
that there is no mitzvah of shiluach hakein if the bird built her
nest on the water. However, the Gemara demonstrates that this halacha
is inaccurate — a waterway is also called a derech, and, should one
find a nest on a waterway, the mitzvah of shiluach hakein

So, what case is exempt, because mommy bird is “off the
derech”? The Gemara concludes that there is no mitzvah
of shiluach hakein should the nest be on your property, since this is
not called “on the way,” which implies an ownerless area (Chullin 139b).
The Mishnah states that geese or chickens that set up their nests in an
orchard are included in the mitzvah of shiluach hakein, whereas
there is no requirement to send away the mother goose or hen if she set up her
nest in the house. The Mishnah’s term “chickens that set up their nests
in an orchard” means that they have run away from the owner’s jurisdiction.
However, if the chickens or geese are “rebellious,” occasionally wandering
beyond the confines of their usual home, but still returning to the owner’s
barn for nesting, they are still considered “owned.” Similarly, the laws of shiluach
apply to an ownerless bird that nests on your property (Shulchan
, Yoreh Deah 292:2).

Late poskim explain that you are exempt from
performing the mitzvah on birds that could easily become yours, even if
at the moment they are not your property. Without delving into the halachic
analysis entailed, they conclude that the mitzvah of shiluach hakein
does not apply to chickens and similar domesticated species, unless this particular
bird refuses to be domesticated (Shu”t Imrei Yosher #158; Minchas

On the other hand, the mitzvah does apply, in
general, to doves and pigeons, which, even when kept in dovecotes, are not as
domesticated as chickens. However, one is exempt from performing the mitzvah
of shiluach hakein in the case of homing pigeons, which accept human
domination. This means that someone can remove chickens or homing pigeons
roosting on a nest and bring them to the shocheit.

Mommy or daddy

There are species of birds in which the father roosts on the
nest, or the two parents take turns. In this instance, does the mitzvah
apply, regardless as to which parent is on the nest, or is the mitzvah
gender-specific, applying only if the mother bird is on the nest? This question
is debated in the Mishnah and discussed in the Gemara. Normative halacha
rules that the mitzvah applies only if mother bird is on the nest. This
conclusion is implied by the posuk when it says veha’eim rovetzes,
“and the mother is nesting.”

Therefore, in order to fulfill the mitzvah of shiluach
, one must first determine that the nesting bird is, indeed, the
mother. One does not require a DNA test to verify these facts – usually a bit
of observation will show you whether one bird or two are nesting.

This question is germane to pigeons, who present the most
common contemporary application of shiluach hakein, since
non-domesticated ones often create their nests near or in human habitation.
Pigeons, which are loyal to their mates for life, take turns roosting on the
nest. Usually, the daddy bird takes day shift and mommy does the night shift.
(During their time off, each parent goes out to earn a living. Not many
social-life options in a full nest.)

There are several halachic ramifications to this
social knowledge of pigeon family structure, of which I will share two. Should
someone be interested in harvesting both a pigeon parent and its eggs or young,
he can determine which parent is male, and then, at the appropriate time, seize
daddy bird and the young at the same time without violating any prohibition of
the Torah.

A second ramification applies to someone eager to fulfill
the mitzvah of shiluach hakein. Before sending away the nesting
bird, one should determine whether, at the moment, mommy or daddy is roosting
there. If it is daddy, no mitzvah is fulfilled by sending him away, even
if you are a father’s rights activist.

From or with?

Allow me to return to the laws that we derive from
understanding the posuk. The Torah writes, lo sikach ha’eim al
, which can be translated and explained in more than one way. It
could mean that you should not take the mommy from the young, which
would mean that the prohibition is taking the mother, even should you leave the
offspring, which is the way Rashi explains the verse (as explained by Maharal;
note that Mizrachi seems to have understood Rashi differently).
On the other hand, the Rambam (Sefer Hamitzvos, Lo Saaseh #306)
translates the phrase ha’eim al habanim as with the young,
meaning that one violates the lo saaseh prohibition only if one takes
both mother and offspring. Should someone take the mother and not the
offspring, in the Rambam’s opinion, he violated the mitzvas aseih
commanding him to send away the mother, but not the lo saaseh. According
to Rashi, this person also violated the lo saaseh. Thus, we see
that a halachic difference can hinge on how you translate the
preposition al.

Earlier in this article, I translated this passage as “You
shall not take the mother from/with the young.” This was in order to avoid
biasing someone from translating the posuk in a way that supports either
side of the dispute between rishonim.


Our opening question was: “Must I physically send away the
mother bird? I am squeamish!” Or, as I explained it: Should I find such a nest,
may I simply ignore it and continue on my way, or would I thereby be ignoring a
requirement to fulfill a mitzvah?

To explain this a bit better: The Torah includes mitzvos
that I am required to observe, such asputting on tefillin and
eating matzoh on Pesach. Shiluach hakein is certainly not
such a mitzvah, since it depends upon circumstance and applies only when
I find a nest. However, among mitzvos of the Torah that are
non-obligatory, there are different levels of requirement. Some mitzvos
are simply a matir, they permit me to do something, but I have no
obligation to do them, whereas others become obligatory when certain
circumstances apply.

Some examples will make our explanation clearer. Here is an
example of a mitzvah that is not required: shechitah. I am not
required to walk down the street looking for animals to shecht. Even if
I am a shocheit and someone asks me to shecht for them, it is not
a requirement. The mitzvah is simply: If you want to eat meat, the
animal must be shechted in a specific way. If one does not shecht
it correctly, one may not eat the meat.

This type of mitzvah is a matir. There is no
requirement to observe the mitzvah, but if I want to gain a certain
benefit, the Torah provides me with specific instruction how to permit it.

If we understand shiluach hakein to be a matir,
then what the Torah instructed is that if I find a nesting bird, I may not take
both the young and their mother for my purposes. If I want to take the young, I
must first send away the mother. (By the way, it is forbidden to take the
mother, even if I do not want to take the young.)


There is another way to understand shiluach hakein,
which holds that this mitzvah is not a matir, but a requirement,
should I encounter the appropriate situation. I will explain the second
approach by comparison to a different mitzvah.

One of the Torah’s mitzvos is to return lost objects.
There is no requirement for me to try to find lost objects in order to return
them to their owner. However, once I see a lost object, I am required to
retrieve the item and return it. If one understands that the mitzvah of shiluach
is comparable to hashavas aveidah, then, although I am not
required to go looking for nesting birds, should I find one, I am required to
send away the mother.

Based on Talmudic sources, early acharonim discuss
whether shiluach hakein should be considered a matir or a
requirement. If it is a matir, then our squeamish questioner is not
required to fulfill the mitzvah. However, if it is a requirement, then
it is a mitzvah that must be fulfilled. Halachically, it will be
approximately equivalent to living in a house and not putting mezuzos on
the doors.


The question is how one explains the words of the posuk,
which says Shalei’ach teshalach es ha’eim, “You shall certainly send
away the mother.” Here are two ways:

There is no requirement to send away the mother, but should
I happen upon a nest and want to eat the mother bird, the young, or both, I may
not take the mother, but must send her away. The act of sending away the mother
permits me to keep the young, should I want to take them. According to this
approach, the mitzvah of shiluach hakein is similar to shechitah.
There is no requirement to shecht, but should I want to eat meat, this
is the way to do so.

On the other hand, perhaps the mitzvah of shiluach
is similar to the mitzvah of hashavas aveidah. This
would mean that should I find a nest, I am now required to send away the

Among the early acharonim, we find a responsum from
the Chavos Ya’ir (#67) discussing this issue. To quote the Chavos
: “I was asked: if someone comes across a nest while he is walking
through a field, is he required to send away the mother, or may he just
continue on his way without doing anything?”

The Chavos Yair analyzes several passages of the Gemara
in his attempt to prove which approach is correct. Based on his analysis of
several texts of Chazal, he concludes that shiluach hakein is
like hashavas aveidah, and, should one find a nest that meets the halachic
requirements, there is an obligation to send away the mother, even though one
has no interest in the young. This position is also accepted by several other
prominent, later poskim (Shu”t Chacham Zvi #83; Rabbi Akiva
to Yoreh Deah 292:1; Aruch Hashulchan, Yoreh De’ah

On the other hand, there are several prominent poskim who
dispute this ruling, concluding that shiluach hakein is a matir, like
shechitah (Sefer Hamitzvos Hakatzar [of the Chofetz Chayim]
Mitzvos Aseh
#74; Chazon Ish (Yoreh De’ah 175:2); Shu”t
Avnei  Neizer, Orach Chayim
#48; Minchas Shelomoh 2:5:4 [5760

Keep the babies

Our second question that I quoted above was: “Must I take
the young to fulfill the mitzvah?” I explained that the question is:
When I send away the mother bird, am I required to keep the young, or, at
least, to physically lift up the eggs or baby birds, thereby taking possession
of them? Or have I completed the performance of the mitzvah simply by
sending away the mother?

This is another halachic question that is dependent
on the translation of a word of the posuk: The Torah says “You shall
certainly send away the mother and take the young for yourself.” Does the Torah
mean that you may take the young for yourself or that you are
required to take the young
? According to the second approach, the mitzvah
is fulfilled only if one picks up the eggs or baby birds. If one does not pick
them up, one has not fulfilled the mitzvah. According to the first
approach, the mitzvah is fulfilled by sending away the mother. Once one
has sent her away and fulfilled the mitzvah, one may pick up the eggs, should
one want them, or leave them as is.

Again, the correct interpretation depends on a proper
understanding of the posuk.

The Torah states, ve’es habanim tikach loch, “And
take the young for yourself.” Is this part of the requirement of the mitzvah?
In other words, did the Torah command that we perform two steps, send away the
mother and take the young? Or, more simply, the Torah instructed that once you
sent away the mother, you are permitted to keep the young for yourself.

This question is discussed by a prominent, early acharon,
the Chacham Tzvi (Shu”t Chacham Tzvi #83). To quote him: “That
which you asked me: One who sends away both the mother and the offspring, did
he fulfill the mitzvah of shiluach hakein? Do we say that the
words of the Torah, send away the mother and keep the young, must be
fulfilled literally to fulfill the mitzvah, or not? You wrote me that
the great scholars of Lublin were uncertain about this.”

The Chacham Tzvi rallies source material from the Gemara
that the mitzvah is to send away the mother, and one fulfills the mitzvah,
even if one does not take the young. Therefore, taking the young is not a
requirement for the fulfillment of the mitzvah, but presents an option
for the individual performing the mitzvah.  He compares this to the
words of the Torah, “Six days shall you work, and do all your melacha.”
Clearly, the Torah is not requiring one to work, but limiting one’s work time
to six days of the seven-day week. Similarly, shiluach hakein should be
understood that should you want to take the young, you may do so only after
sending away the mother, but there is no requirement to take the young. Put in
other terms, sending away the mother is a matir that permits taking the
young, similar to shechitah being the matir permitting one to
consume the meat. Just as shechitah does not require that someone eat
the meat, so too, it is not required to take the young, and one fulfills the mitzvah
without taking them.

Other acharonim disagree, demonstrating from the Zohar
that one is supposed to take the offspring (Beis Lechem Yehudah).
The Aruch Hashulchan (Yoreh Deah 292:3-4) concludes, like the Chacham
, that there is no requirement to take the offspring. Nevertheless,
since the posuk implies that one should, and there is evidence of this
approach from some rishonim, the Aruch Hashulchan concludes that
the proper approach is to make a kinyan on the young, such as by lifting
them up. Furthermore, he notes that, according to the reason for the mitzvah
of shiluach hakein proposed by many early authorities, which I hope to
discuss in a future article, one should take the young.


The mitzvah we have just studied teaches that although we
may eat kosher birds, we are prohibited to take a mother bird when she is in
her nest tending to her young. In explanation of the reason for this mitzvah,
Rav Hirsch sees a lesson to be learned regarding the sacred role of motherhood.
To quote him: “The respect that a nation accords to the woman’s calling is a
reliable barometer of that nation’s moral level… the paramount importance the
Torah attaches to the woman’s activities… traces even into the sphere of animal
life. It assures protection for a mother bird while she is engaged in her
activity as a mother and it demands that everyone… should demonstrate through
his actions this appreciation of the female as she carries out her task.”

Must I Toivel This?

Photo by Thomas Picard from FreeImages

Question #1: The Vanilla Cruet

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

Question #2: Restaurant Silverware

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

Question #3: The Salami Slicer

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

Question #4: The Box Cutter

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


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

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

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

Used without immersing

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

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

A matir or a takkanah?

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

A matir

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

A takkanah

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

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

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

Rushing to immerse

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

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

Better to borrow?

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

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

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

Only klei seudah

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

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

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

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

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

Kitchen or Leather?

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

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

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


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

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

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

We can therefore answer one of our opening questions:

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

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

The vanilla cruet

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

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

The salami knife

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

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

Klei sechorah — “merchandise”

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

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

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


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

The Haftarah for Pinchas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How can
this happen?

Kwiz Kwestion:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Call up
children for the remaining four aliyos.

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

What are the
reasons behind each of these approaches?

1. Call up
the same three people again

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

2. Call the
yisroel for five consecutive aliyos

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

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

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

3. Call up

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

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

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

4. Call up
consecutive kohanim

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

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

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

Taking Care of the Ill — The Mitzvah of Bikur Cholim

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


What does bikur cholim mean?

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

There are two main aspects of this mitzvah:

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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


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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

Do We Really Want to Be Tahor?

Question #1: Tanner Training

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

Question #2: Amorphous Amphibians

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(1) Neveilah

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

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

Tanner training

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

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

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

(2) Sheretz

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

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

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

Amorphous amphibians

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

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

Laws of sheratzim

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

Toad vs. frog

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

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

Utensils that become tamei

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

(3) Wooden utensils

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

(4-5) Garments and leather

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

(6) Sacks

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

(7) From slingshots to tefillin

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

What do slingshots have in
common with tefillin and envelopes?

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

(8) Earthenware

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

All other utensils fall under one of two categories:

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

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

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

How is earthenware different?

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

Contaminate from outside

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

Immersion does not help

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


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

Contaminating from the inside

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

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

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

(11) Ovens and stoves

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

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

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

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


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

* This translation follows Malbim.

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

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