Of Umbrellas and Eruvs

umbrellasQuestion #1: Umbrellas and Eruvs

“Why can’t I use an umbrella on Yom Tov or on Shabbos within an eruv? Is it a mitzvah to get wet?”

Question #2: My Shabbos Nap

“May I shade an area for my Shabbos nap by throwing a blanket on top of some lawn chairs?”

Question #3: Cocktail Torah

“May I place a cocktail umbrella on top of a drink on Shabbos?”

Answer: The original sunscreen

The umbrella, or parasol, was invented in the eighteenth century and came into use very quickly as a simple and practical way to be protected from the rain and the harshest rays of the sun. Shortly after its invention, we already find discussion among great halachic authorities whether this “new apparatus” could be used on Yom Tov or Shabbos in a location where carrying is permitted. Before analyzing their positions, we need to discuss the laws regarding the construction of an ohel on Shabbos and Yom Tov.

Building and roofing

One of the 39 melachos, categories of work that the Torah forbids on Shabbos, is boneh, constructing (Mishnah Shabbos 73a). A subheading, or toldah, of boneh is making an ohel kavua, which translates literally as creating a permanent roof or shelter (Rambam, Hilchos Shabbos 10:13). Constructing an ohel arai, a “temporary” roof, on Shabbos or Yom Tov, was not forbidden by the Torah, but was prohibited by Chazal, our early Sages. Now we need to define:

  1. What is considered a permanent ohel that is prohibited min hatorah?
  2. How do we define a temporary ohel, so that we know what is prohibited because of a rabbinic injunction?
  3. What type of covering, if any, is permitted?

What is an ohel kavua?

Based on how the Rif (Shabbos, beginning of Chapter 20), the earliest of the great halachic codifiers, presented the topic, most respected authorities understand him to rule in the following way: Virtually anything that covers an empty area at least a tefach (about three to four inches) long, a tefach wide and a tefach high is halachically considered a permanent ohel. This “roof” does not need to be connected to the ground in any way. According to this approach, assembling such a covering is a violation of Torah law, even if the ohel is intended to exist for only a short period of time. The defining line between a permanent ohel and a “temporary” one (ohel arai), which was not prohibited by the Torah but only by the Sages, is that an ohel kavua has a “roof” that is one tefach squared, whereas an ohel arai’s “roof” is narrower than a tefach.

If the ohel is not flat on top, but peaked, yet it widens to a tefach squared within three tefachim of its peak, it is also an ohel kavua that is prohibited, min hatorah, to assemble on Shabbos. Only if it is very narrow on top and does not widen at all, or only widens at a lower point, does it qualify as an ohel arai, whose construction is prohibited only because of rabbinic injunction.

Thus, according to this opinion, throwing a blanket over a few lawn chairs so that you can crawl underneath to play or relax violates a Torah prohibition. Even those who hold that this does not violate a Torah law agree that it is prohibited because of a rabbinic injunction.

We can already answer one of the questions asked above: “May I shade an area for my Shabbos nap by throwing a blanket on top of some lawn chairs?”

According to all opinions, this is prohibited. Some opinions hold that this is prohibited min hatorah.

What is permitted?

When is it permitted to make a temporary ohel?

According to this opinion, there are two situations in which a temporary cover, roof or tent may be assembled on Shabbos or Yom Tov.

  1. When the area being covered is less than a tefach in height (see Shu’t Noda Biyehudah. Orach Chayim 2:30, s.v. Vehinei; Nimla Tal, Boneh, 15). Covering an area this low is not considered creating a “roof.”
  2. When the ohel is very narrow — less than a tefach wide — and it is attached to something to make it easier to open and close (see Shabbos 138a). Since the area being covered is less than a tefach wide, it is not considered an ohel area min hatorah. We mentioned above that covering such an area is usually still prohibited, because of a rabbinic injunction. However, when there is some form of hinge to make its opening and closing easier, or any other indication that the ohel is meant to be opened and closed frequently, Chazal permitted its use on Shabbos or Yom Tov.

In addition, if a temporary ohel exists from before Shabbos or Yom Tov, it is permitted to open and close it. It is also permitted to make the ohel wider (Eruvin 102a).

A differing approach

Not all authorities accept this approach that assembly of any “roof” over an area of a tefach squared is an ohel kavua prohibited min hatorah. Others rule that anything temporary is prohibited only because of a rabbinic injunction (Mishnah Berurah 315:34). This latter approach contends that any temporary ohel that is hinged, or has some other indication that it is meant to be opened and closed regularly, may be opened and closed on Shabbos, even when it covers an area a tefach squared. Thus, some authorities rule that one may open and close the hood of a baby carriage on Shabbos, since it is clearly meant to be closed temporarily, and it is hinged to facilitate its opening and closing (Chazon Ish, Orach Chayim 52:6). Other authorities are less lenient, requiring that opening the hood on Shabbos is permitted only when it was open the width of a tefach before Shabbos (Magen Avraham 315:4; Shu’t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 4:105:3; Ketzos Hashulchan 120:4).

London, 1782

One of the first internationally distinguished authorities to discuss whether one may use an umbrella on Yom Tov or Shabbos is the Noda Biyehudah, Rav Yechezkel Landau, renowned posek hador and Chief Rabbi of Prague (Shu’t Orach Chayim, 2:30). Sometime in late 1782, as the American Revolution was beginning to wind to a close, Rav Leib Hakohen, a talmid chacham in London, sent a missive to the Noda Biyehudah. Their correspondence was not about how the redcoats and their Hessian mercenaries were getting by in the western hemisphere, but about important halachic matters. Rav Hakohen wrote that he felt that one may not use an umbrella on Shabbos, but that he had sent the question to a different, unnamed posek who permitted it. Rav Hakohen was still not comfortable with the lenient approach and, therefore, wrote to the Noda Biyehudah, presenting the two reasons why the first rav had ruled leniently. (Based on his level of scholarship, we may assume that the first rav was not from the American colonies.)

The first reason to permit use of umbrellas on Shabbos and Yom Tov was this posek’s opinion that an ohel must cover a specific, defined area, and an item which is constantly being moved from place to place, such as an umbrella, does not qualify as an ohel. The permitting rabbi substantiated this position on the basis of his understanding of Rashi (Shabbos 138b s.v. ela) that an item meant only to cover a person does not qualify as an ohel for the purposes of the laws of Shabbos. This is based on the following:

The Gemara rules that a type of felt hat called a siyana may not be worn on Shabbos if its brim is a tefach wide. Rashi explains that the Gemara’s conclusion that a wide-brimmed siyana may not be worn on Shabbos is because of concern that it will be blown off, and when the wearer retrieves it he may come to carry it in a public area, thus desecrating Shabbos.

The posek questioned why Rashi did not prohibit wearing a siyana on Shabbos because of making an ohel arai on Shabbos, since the brim is a tefach wide. The posek answered that since a hat is meant only to shelter a person who moves, this does not qualify as an ohel, which he defines as something that shelters a location. He rallied further evidence substantiating the truth of this principle by noting that, regarding the laws of tumas ohel, the Mishnah mentions several items, a bird in flight, fluttering cloth, or a ship that is sailing, that are not considered an ohel because they are in motion (Ohalos 8:4).

The second reason to permit the umbrella was based on the fact that it is hinged, to ease opening and closing. The permitting rabbi held that any temporary covering cannot possibly involve a Torah prohibition — the issue with an umbrella is only whether opening and carrying it violates the rabbinic injunction of an ohel arai. Since an umbrella is hinged, he felt that there are two valid reasons to permit using an umbrella on Yom Tov and on Shabbos within an eruv, although he admitted that some of the evidence for his position might be refutable.

However, Rav Hakohen felt that the reasons to be lenient were not sufficient and therefore referred the question to the Noda Biyehudah.

First response: Prague, 1783

On the eighteenth of Shevat, 5543 (1783), the Noda Biyehudah responded to Rav Hakohen, disputing both reasons of the permitting rabbi. He pointed out that careful analysis of the sources would reach the opposite conclusion. The Noda Biyehudah explained that there are many other ways to understand what Rashi wrote, such that they do not prove that something covering only a person is not an ohel. Furthermore, most authorities disagree with Rashi and, indeed, understand that wearing a siyana is prohibited on Shabbos because of the laws of ohel.

The Noda Biyehudah reports that several years previously, when the umbrella was first introduced to Prague, he taught publicly that it is strictly forbidden to use it on Shabbos, and that the prohibition might be min hatorah. He bases his approach on the Rif’s opinion that it is forbidden, min hatorah, to create any ohel that covers an area that is a tefach squared, which will certainly forbid the use of an umbrella. The Noda Biyehudah mentions that the majority of the people of Prague do not use umbrellas on Shabbos, in accordance with his ruling. He contends that, notwithstanding the fact that other rishonim (Rosh, Shabbos 20:2) clearly dispute the Rif’s definition of ohel, the Rif’s opinion should not be disregarded. Furthermore, in this instance, the Rambam (Hilchos Shabbos 22:29) may agree with him. Thus, we have two of the three great halachic codifiers (the Rosh being the third) ruling that a roof or awning constructed for very short term use may be prohibited min hatorah, if it is more than a tefach squared. This description seems to fit an umbrella very accurately. The Noda Biyehudah concludes that, indeed, the Rosh may be the only early authority that disputes this conclusion of the Rif, and that even the Rosh would prohibit use of an umbrella on Shabbos, albeit only because of the rabbinic injunction on an ohel arai. Many other authorities accept the Noda Biyehudah’s analysis of the topic (Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chayim 301:113; 315:12; Shu’t Sho’el Umeishiv 3:2:42).

Nineteenth century Bratislava

On the other hand, the Chasam Sofer (Shu’t Orach Chayim #72) saw the responsum of the Noda Biyehudah and took issue with his analysis of the topic. In an undated halachic essay, the Chasam Sofer, posek hador of his generation and rav of Pressburg, concludes that although he does not recommend using an umbrella on Shabbos, he is not convinced that it is prohibited, and feels that if it is, it should be only because of rabbinic injunction, and not because it violates Torah law.

The Chasam Sofer first contends that no authorities hold that any type of temporary construction is prohibited min hatorah. Thus, he disputes those who interpret that the Rif and the Rambam hold that a temporary cover may be prohibited min hatorah. Second, the Chasam Sofer contends that something movable cannot be prohibited because of boneh, since all construction in the mishkan, which is the source of the melachos of Shabbos, was not movable. Third, there is no Torah concept of ohel unless the covering has walls that reach the ground. To sustain the last position, he notes that the Rif, himself, implies that this is a defining factor of an ohel kavua.

The Chasam Sofer contends that once he has established that an umbrella cannot possibly be an ohel according to Torah law, opening or carrying it on Shabbos is not even prohibited because of rabbinic injunction, because of its hinges, which are meant to facilitate its use. The Chasam Sofer thus concludes that although he does not advise using an umbrella on Shabbos, there is no technical violation in using it. He permits asking a gentile to open an umbrella on Shabbos for one to use, implying that he sees no problem at all with carrying it afterwards (obviously within the confines of an eruv). Several prominent halachic authorities follow this approach and permit use of an umbrella on Shabbos (Beis Meir, Orach Chayim 315; Daas Torah 301:40).

A lawn umbrella

We should note that the arguments raised by the Chasam Sofer as to why an umbrella is not an ohel may not apply to a lawn umbrella. This apparatus is meant for use in a backyard or garden, to provide shade against the sun. It is often left in its open position for months on end, or even indefinitely. Several prominent authorities contend that any ohel meant to remain open for more than a week is considered permanent, which would make it a Torah prohibition to open it (Pri Megadim, Mishbetzos Zahav 315:8; Eishel Avraham 315:1; Tiferes Yisroel, Kilkeles Shabbos 34:2).

In addition, since a lawn umbrella is not moved from one location to another, another of the Chasam Sofer’s reasons to permit a regular umbrella does not apply. Although one of the Chasam Sofer’s reasons, that an ohel is prohibited only when its “walls” reach the ground, applies to a lawn umbrella, it is difficult to rely only on this justification to permit opening a lawn umbrella on Shabbos. Therefore, there is strong reason to prohibit opening a lawn umbrella, even by a gentile, even according to the Chasam Sofer.

The position of the Chazon Ish

A third approach to the question of whether an umbrella may be used on Shabbos and Yom Tov is presented by the Chazon Ish (Orach Chayim 52:6). Although he concludes that it is prohibited to use an umbrella on Shabbos, his ruling is based on completely different considerations. He rejects the Noda Biyehudah’s position, contending that since umbrellas are meant for temporary use and are hinged for this purpose, opening them on Shabbos is not considered creating an ohel, just as opening and closing a door on Shabbos is not prohibited as an act of construction, since both are meant to be opened and closed frequently. The Chazon Ish rejects the position that any rishonim disagree with this definition of ohel. As I mentioned above, upon this basis, the Chazon Ish permits opening and closing the hood of a baby carriage on Shabbos. However, as I noted above, most authorities do not understand the Rif’s position as the Chazon Ish does, and consequently rule that one should leave the hood open at least a tefach before Shabbos.

Notwithstanding that the Chazon Ish rejects the Noda Biyehudah’s approach to the topic, he prohibits using an umbrella on Shabbos for two other, completely different reasons. First, he suggests that opening an umbrella might be prohibited because of tikun maneh, a general prohibition of completing items, which is a subcategory of the melachah of makeh bepatish. He then rules that opening an umbrella is forbidden as a takanas chachamim established by the Torah leadership of the recent generations to reinforce the sanctity of Shabbos.

Umbrellic conclusion

As I noted above, most authorities contend that there are rishonim who prohibit min hatorah creating a temporary ohel on Shabbos, if it is a tefach wide. It is indeed widespread custom to prohibit carrying an umbrella on Yom Tov or Shabbos, either because we are concerned about the prohibition of ohel, or, perhaps, because of the reasons advocated by the Chazon Ish.

A cocktail umbrella

At this point, I would like to discuss the last of our opening questions: “May I place a cocktail umbrella on a drink on Shabbos?”

A cocktail umbrella is a tiny umbrella used to decorate a glass. Since it does not resemble an ohel in any way, opening it on Shabbos is permitted.

Conclusion

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch (Shemos 20:10) notes that people mistakenly think that work is prohibited on Shabbos in order to provide a day of rest. This is incorrect, he points out, because the Torah does not prohibit doing avodah, which connotes hard work, but melachah, which implies purpose and accomplishment. On Shabbos, we refrain from constructing and altering the world for our own purposes. The goal of Shabbos is to emphasize Hashem’s dominion as the focus of creation by refraining from our own creative acts (Shemos 20:11). By refraining from building for one day a week, we acknowledge the true Builder of the world and all that it contains.

 

Starting Shabbos Early

sunsetQuestion #1: Asking for help

“If I accepted Shabbos early, may I ask my neighbor, who is beginning Shabbos at the regular time, to turn on a light?”

Question #2: Very early Shabbos

“How early can I begin Shabbos?”

Question #3: 18 versus 20

“Some communities schedule candle lighting 18 minutes before sunset on Friday, whereas others schedule it 20 minutes before sunset. Is there a halachic reason for the difference?”

Question #4: Some like it late

“If all the shullen in my neighborhood make Shabbos early, am I obligated to do so?”

Answer:

All the questions above involve a mitzvah called tosefes Shabbos, the halachic requirement to begin observing Shabbos before the day has yet arrived and, also, to continue observing Shabbos for some time after the day is over on Saturday night. The early authorities discuss whether tosefes Shabbos requires one to begin Shabbos a specific amount before the set hour, or whether it is left to the individual’s discretion to decide how much extra time one treats as Shabbos (Tosafos, Beitzah 30a s.v. Deha; cf. Toras Ha’adam page 252).

Why eighteen minutes?

There are different customs regulating how many minutes before sunset one should kindle the Shabbos lights. Most places today establish the official time as at least eighteen minutes before sunset. The reason for this is because there are opinions that Shabbos begins between 13½ and 18 minutes before sunset (Sefer Yere’im; see Mishnah Berurah 261:23 and Shaar Hatziyun ad locum). This approach is based on a method of understanding the Talmudic passages regarding the scientific phenomena that define the end of the day. Kindling Shabbos lights at least eighteen minutes before sunset accomplishes three things.

  1. It prevents one from doing melachah, even according to the opinion of the Sefer Yere’im.
  2. It guarantees that one fulfills the mitzvah of tosefes Shabbos.
  3. It provides time to prepare for the arrival of the sanctity of Shabbos.

18 versus 20

At this point, we can already address one of our opening questions:

“Some communities schedule candle lighting 18 minutes before sunset on Friday, whereas others schedule it 20 minutes before sunset. Is there a halachic reason for the difference?”

In order to fully accommodate the Yere’im’s opinion, some authorities contend that one should kindle the Shabbos lights before eighteen minutes prior to sunset, so that there is tosefes Shabbos, even according to those who understand that he held that Shabbos enters eighteen minutes before sunset (Mishnah Berurah 261:23 and Shaar Hatizyun). This is why many communities schedule candle lighting twenty minutes before sunset — the extra two minutes fulfill the mitzvah of tosefes Shabbos, even according to the most stringent position. Those who schedule candle-lighting for exactly eighteen minutes accept that this fulfills the vast majority of halachic opinions and all the major accepted approaches.

How does someone accept Shabbos?

Women usually accept Shabbos when they kindle the Shabbos candles. There is a difference between Ashkenazic and Sefardic practice as to how this is done. Ashkenazim assume that a woman accepts Shabbos when she recites the blessing on the kindling. Therefore, an Ashkenazic woman kindles her Shabbos lights before she recites the blessing, since, once she recites the blessings, she has accepted Shabbos and cannot light the candles or lamps. To accomplish having the brocha recited before the mitzvah, the Rema (Orach Chayim 263:5) advises that she block the light from herself with her hand. The common practice is that she covers her eyes with her hands while reciting the brocha and upon completing the brocha removes her hands, so that she can see and benefit from the kindled Shabbos lights.

Sefardic women recite the brocha of lehadlik neir shel Shabbos and then kindle the lights. They assume that she accepts Shabbos when she completes kindling the lights. Therefore, many have the practice that she does not extinguish the match with which she kindles the Shabbos lights, but instead places the match down so that it goes out by itself (see Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 263:10).

Both Sefardic and Ashkenazic women should recite the minchah prayers before lighting the candles, since once one has accepted Shabbos, one can no longer daven the weekday Friday minchah. However, if the day is drawing to a close and the candles still stand unkindled, one should kindle the Shabbos lights, even though, as a result, one will be unable to daven minchah (Mishnah Berurah 263:43). If this happens, a woman should daven maariv that night, and, immediately upon backing up the steps to complete “shemoneh esrei,” she should wait a few seconds, and then step forward to recite the same shemoneh esrei a second time (ibid.). This second prayer is a tefilas tashlumim, a make-up prayer, to replace the minchah that was missed (Brachos 26a). Reciting the Shabbos maariv amidah prayer a second time qualifies as restitution for the missing tefillah, notwithstanding that it is very different from the unrecited weekday minchah.

Conditional lighting

Should a woman not want to accept Shabbos upon kindling her lights, many authorities permit her to postpone accepting Shabbos until later (see Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 263:10). This stipulation should be performed only under extenuating circumstances (Magen Avraham 263:20). After making this condition, she may kindle her lights and, sometime before sunset, she must stop doing melachah and accept Shabbos.

Several authorities rule that, should someone decide not to accept Shabbos when kindling early, someone else in the household must accept Shabbos at that time. According to one opinion, if no one accepts Shabbos when she kindles, then the brocha recited upon kindling the lights is recited in vain, a brocha levatalah (Graz 263:11; however, see Mishnah Berurah 263:20 and Rema 263:10). However, if she herself will be accepting Shabbos within eight to ten minutes of her kindling, it is not necessary for someone else to accept Shabbos immediately after she kindles the lights (Shu’t Tzitz Eliezer 11:21).

Example:

For example, a family will be eating the Friday night meal at someone else’s house, and it is difficult for the lady of the house to walk both ways. She may decide that she is not accepting Shabbos when she kindles the lights and then travel by automobile (obviously before Shabbos) to the home where they are eating the seudah.

How do men accept Shabbos?

Even when men kindle Shabbos lights, they usually do not accept Shabbos at that time, but during the davening. The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 261:4) rules that reciting Borchu or Mizmor shir leyom haShabbos qualifies as accepting Shabbos. The Magen Avraham (ad locum) disagrees with the latter ruling, contending that people routinely do melachah after reciting Mizmor shir leyom haShabbos. This means that people do not consider reciting it to be a declaration that one is accepting Shabbos. The later authorities explain that, in the time of the Magen Avraham, people made an implied condition not to accept Shabbos when they said Mizmor shir leyom haShabbos, and that was why they continued to do melachah after reciting it. However, in the time of the later acharonim, such as the Pri Megadim, people accepted Shabbos upon reciting Mizmor shir and refrained from doing melachah from that point. Other authorities ruled that completing the song of Lecha Dodi, which closes with a welcoming of the Shabbos Queen, constitutes accepting Shabbos, and that, therefore, one is prohibited from doing melachah from then (Mishnah Berurah 261:31 quoting Derech Chachmah).

The early bird catches

How early may someone accept Shabbos and kindle lights? This question is already mentioned by the Gemara (Shabbos 23b) in the following passage:

Rav Yosef’s wife would delay lighting Shabbos lights until it was almost Shabbos. Rav Yosef admonished her, pointing out that in the Desert, the pillar of light that came at night arrived before the day ended. Thus, it is appropriate that the light for night should be kindled while it is still daytime.

Taking the admonition seriously, in a later week Rav Yosef’s rebbitzen decided to kindle the lights very early. An old man, possibly an incarnate of Eliyahu Hanavi (see Tosafos, Chullin 6a s.v. Ashkechei), told her that kindling too early is also not halachically correct (Shabbos 23b).

The Ran notes that the Gemara’s anecdote requires explanation. How close to Shabbos could Rebbitzen Yosef have been lighting that her husband felt it appropriate to correct her? She certainly did not kindle the lights at a time when it was questionably Shabbos, and, certainly, she also observed tosefes Shabbos correctly. If so, she was kindling at the correct time, so why was Rav Yosef admonishing her?

The Ran explains that Rebbitzen Yosef opined that kindling the lights is meant to sserve Shabbos and, as such, should be conducted as close to Shabbos as possible. In other words, although one should not perform any melachah during tosefes Shabbos, she mistakenly thought that kindling the Shabbos lights is an exception that could and should be done immediately before Shabbos. Rav Yosef corrected her, pointing out that tosefes Shabbos applies also to kindling the Shabbos lights.

Having accepted Rav Yosef’s admonition, she now felt that she should make sure to kindle her Shabbos lights before she finished her other last minute Shabbos preparations. This was also not correct – the kindling should be the last melachah activity performed before one accepts Shabbos.

How early is too early?

Some of the rishonim rule that one can kindle as early as plag haminchah, provided that, when doing so, one accepts upon himself the sanctity of Shabbos (Tur, Orach Chayim 267; Rabbeinu Yerucham, Tolados Adam Vechavah 12:2). Accepting Shabbos after kindling early is necessary in order to demonstrate that the kindling is for Shabbos. This is the ruling accepted by the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 263:4) and later authorities.

When is plag haminchah? Plag haminchah is the earliest time of day that one may daven maariv. It is definitely before sunset — the Gemara explains that plag haminchah is 43/48 of the day. This means that if one divides the daylight part of the day into 48 quarter-hours, counting back 5 of these quarter-hours from the end of the day is plag haminchah.

When does the day begin and end?

There is a major dispute among authorities whether these hours are calculated from alos hashachar, halachic dawn, which is halachically the beginning of the day, to tzeis hakochavim, when the stars appear, or whether they are calculated from sunrise to sunset. Accepted contemporary practice follows the opinion that plag haminchah is measured from sunrise to sunset, which makes plag haminchah in the summer about 1½ hours before sunset (Levush, Orach Chayim 267; Gra, to Orach Chayim 459:2; Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chayim 261:10).

Why no kindling earlier?

Why is it prohibited to kindle the Shabbos lights before plag?

Rashi (Shabbos 23b) explains that if one kindles the lights too early, it is not noticeable that one is kindling the lights for Shabbos. This implies that the reason one cannot light Shabbos lights this early has nothing to do with accepting Shabbos early – one can accept Shabbos as early as one wants. The problem is that one who kindles Shabbos lights this early does not properly fulfill his mitzvah of kindling lights in honor of Shabbos. Thus, the Aruch Hashulchan (263:19) assumes that although one may not kindle Shabbos lights earlier than plag haminchah, someone who accepted Shabbos earlier is required to begin observing Shabbos.

However, other early authorities (Tur, Orach Chayim 267) imply that it is impossible to accept tosefes Shabbos earlier than plag haminchah, and this is the approach accepted by the Magen Avraham (261:10) and the Mishnah Berurah (261:25). In their opinion, if someone accepted Shabbos upon himself before plag haminchah, it has no effect.

An earlier authority seems to agree fully with the position of the Aruch Hashulchan. The Terumas Hadeshen, who lived in 14th century Austria, records the following question:

“In most communities, they daven maariv in the long summer days three or four hours before the stars appear. Is there any halachic basis for this practice, particularly since many talmidei chachamim follow it?”

The Terumas Hadeshen then endeavors to explain why communities davened maariv this early, suggesting that people could not wait until it got dark to eat the Shabbos meals. One way to avoid this would be to eat a meal before minchah, but this practice was not followed out of concern that people would make this into their Shabbos meal and not attend shul later. The Terumas Hadeshen notes that, precisely for this reason, many halachic authorities prohibit eating even a small meal before one has davened minchah, even if one eats the meal very early in the afternoon (after minchah gedolah). Because people found it difficult to eat so late on Friday evening, the custom developed of davening the Friday night Shabbos prayers very early. He then quotes a few authorities who held that this may not be done, but they did not stop the practice. He then recounts a story of a city, whose rav was one of the gedolei Yisrael, where they davened so early that, after davening and the seudah, there was ample time for the entire community to go for a walk on the bank of the local river, the Danube, by daylight and return home before dark! Although he does not provide a halachic basis to permit davening this early, nevertheless, he concludes that a talmid chacham may join the tzibur and daven with them, if he is unable to influence them to daven later.

There are some other curious questions about this practice of davening very early that the Terumas Hadeshen does not address:

How could they accept Shabbos before plag haminchah?

How could they kindle Shabbos lights before plag?

It seems that the Terumas Hadeshen held that, since they were accepting Shabbos immediately after kindling the lights, there is no problem with kindling the Shabbos lights early, or with accepting Shabbos this early.

Asking for help

At this point, we can address another of our opening questions: “If I accepted Shabbos early, may I ask my neighbor, who is beginning Shabbos at the regular time, to turn on a light?”

The Rashba (Shabbos 151a) rules that someone who already accepted Shabbos may ask someone who did not yet accept Shabbos to do melachah. Accepting Shabbos early does not forbid me from asking someone else to do work (Magen Avraham 263:30). The Magen Avraham (261:7) rules that if the entire community accepted Shabbos, one may no longer ask another Jew to do work for him, but he may ask a gentile to do work (see also Rema, Orach Chayim 261:1).

Some like it late

We are now ready to discuss the next question: “If all the shullen in my neighborhood make Shabbos early, am I obligated to do so?”

Some rishonim rule that once a community began davening maariv Friday night, all individuals in that community are obligated to observe Shabbos (Mordechai, Shabbos #298, quoting Rivam). This approach is followed by the Shulchan Aruch as normative halachah (Orach Chayim 263:12); however, the ruling is true only if every shul in the community has already accepted Shabbos, or if every shul that this person usually attends has already accepted Shabbos (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 3:38). Some authorities suggest that if everyone is accepting Shabbos early only because it is convenient, but not because they want to be more machmir, an individual may not be bound to accept Shabbos when they do (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 3:38).

Early hubby

If a husband davens at an early minyan, must his wife began observing Shabbos as soon as he does, or can she wait until he returns home from shul?

Rav Moshe Feinstein rules that the fact that a husband was mekabeil Shabbos does not require his wife to do so, just as his making a personal vow or oath is not binding on her (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 3:38; cf. Shu’t Shevet Halevi 7:35, who disagrees). He discusses, at length, whether it is permitted for her to do melachah activities for her husband after he was mekabeil Shabbos, and concludes that it is proper that she does not.

Conclusion

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch (Shemos 20:10) notes that people mistakenly think that work is prohibited on Shabbos in order to provide a day of rest. This is incorrect, he points out, because the Torah does not prohibit doing avodah, which connotes hard work, but melachah, which implies work with purpose and accomplishment. On Shabbos, we refrain from altering the world with our own creative acts and, instead, emphasize Hashem’s role (Shemos 20:11). We thereby acknowledge the true Builder and Creator of the world and all that it contains.

 

Magen Avos on Seder Night — Which Bracha Is First?

Many articles on various Pesach-related topics can be read or downloaded from the website RabbiKaganoff.com

You should be able to find them by checking the following search titles: Chol Hamoed, chometz, eruv tavshillin, duchen, family, hallel, kitniyos, korban pesach, matzoh, Pesach, wine, Yom Tov

If you do not go online or cannot locate them, please tell me which topics you would like and I’ll gladly e-mail them to you as attachments.

With my best wishes to all for a chag kosher vesomayach!

Rabbi Yirmiyohu Kaganoff

Magen Avos on Seder Night — Which Bracha Is First?

Question:

The gabbai of a local minyan calls with the following question: “I do not remember what we did the last time that Pesach began on Shabbos, but I need to know whether at night we say Hallel first or the bracha Magen Avos?”

Answer:

No doubt, many of our readers will assume that the gabbai is making a mistake — that we do not recite the bracha Magen Avos, also known as the bracha mei’ein sheva, when the first night of Pesach falls on Shabbos. However, as we will soon see, our gabbai may be well informed about the minhag in his community. A quiz question for the detectives among our readership is to figure out which community this is.

Seder on Shabbos?

The first day of Pesach falls on Shabbos on three of the fourteen schedules that our calendar year follows. It happens this year, and again in the years 5776, 5778, 5779 and 5782. After 5782, there will be a break for seven years until our Seder returns to Shabbos, but it will occur again three times in the subsequent eight years. (Our calendar does not allow the second day of Pesach to fall on Shabbos because this would cause the succeeding Hoshanah Rabbah to fall on Shabbos.)

The question raised by our gabbai reflects two different practices:  reciting the bracha mei’ein sheva on Seder night, which is not a common practice today, and reciting Hallel in shul on Seder night, which is practiced by Sefardim, Chassidim, and is almost universally followed in Eretz Yisrael. Before answering his question as to which one should be recited first, we need to study the sources of both practices.

What is the Bracha Mei’ein Sheva?

The bracha mei’ein sheva, literally, an abbreviation of the seven brachos, is recited after we conclude the Friday night Shemoneh Esrei, immediately after the congregation recites together the pesukim of Vayechulu. (Although, technically, the term Shemoneh Esrei is an inaccurate description of the Shabbos davening, since it has only seven, and not eighteen, brachos, I will still use the common term Shemoneh Esrei.) This bracha is called mei’ein sheva because it is a synopsis of the seven brachos that comprise the Shabbos tefillah. The gabbai above referred to the bracha as Magen Avos, which is a common colloquial way of referring to this bracha, based on its opening words.

Why did Chazal institute the Bracha Mei’ein Sheva?

In ancient times, the shullen were often located outside the towns in which people lived, and walking home from shul alone at night was dangerous. Chazal, therefore, instituted this bracha after davening, so that someone who arrived late and was lagging behind the tzibur in davening would not be left to walk home unescorted (Rashi, Shabbos 24b). The recital of the extra bracha delayed everyone’s departure, thus allowing time for the latecomer to complete davening (Mordechai, Shabbos #407; Ran; Meiri).

According to an alternative approach, the bracha mei’ein sheva is a form of repetition of the prayer. The individual who arrived late could listen to the chazzan’s recital of this bracha and thereby fulfill his responsibility to pray, even though the chazzan recited only one bracha, and the regular Shabbos tefillah is seven (Rav Natrunai Gaon, as explained by Gra, Orach Chayim 269:13).

Although our shullen are no longer located outside our cities, once Chazal established this bracha, we continue with the practice, just as, in the time of the Gemara, the bracha was recited even in places where a person could safely walk home from shul unaccompanied (Meiri, Pesachim 100b; Ran [on Rif, Pesachim 20a]; Ohr Zarua, Hilchos Erev Shabbos #20; Kolbo #11, 35).

Mei’ein Sheva instead of Kiddush

Yet another reason is presented why Chazal introduced mei’ein sheva. In ancient times, there were occasions when it was difficult to obtain wine, and mei’ein sheva was instituted as a substitute for reciting Kiddush Friday night over wine (Yerushalmi, Brachos 8:1 and Pesachim 10:2; this passage of Talmud Yerushalmi is quoted by Tosafos, Pesachim 106b s.v. Mekadeish).

Why do we not recite mei’ein sheva on weekdays?

If reciting mei’ein sheva was because of concern that returning from shul alone was unsafe, why did Chazal not introduce a similar prayer after weeknight maariv, so that a delayed individual was not placed in danger?

Some Rishonim explain that in the era when the shullen were located outside the cities, someone who was delayed on a weekday would not have attended shul, but would have come home directly and davened there. On Shabbos and Yom Tov, however, he would not have wanted to miss the davening in shul. On the other hand, other Rishonim (Rosh, Berachos 1:5; Tur, Orach Chayim 236) explain that the bracha of Yiru Eineinu, recited during weekday Maariv by Ashkenazim in chutz la’aretz, was instituted so that someone delayed for maariv not be left alone in shul.

Do we recite mei’ein sheva on Yom Tov?

The Gemara states that the prayer mei’ein sheva was instituted only on Friday evening, and not on Yom Tov evenings that did not fall on Fridays (Shabbos 24b). Why was mei’ein sheva not said on Yom Tov?

In the writings of the Rishonim, I found several answers to this question. One approach is that although the concern that someone may be left behind may have equally existed on Yom Tov, since the more common situation was on Shabbos, Chazal did not include Yom Tov in the takkanah (see Meiri, Shabbos 24b).

Another approach is that on Yom Tov eve, people arrived punctually for davening, and there was no concern about individuals remaining alone (Mordechai, Pesachim #611).

Based on the Yerushalmi that the reason for mei’ein sheva was because of the inavailability of wine, some later commentaries present a third reason why the takkanah was established only for Shabbos and not for Yom Tov. Since most authorities hold that Kiddush on Yom Tov is not required min haTorah (Maggid Mishnah, Hilchos Shabbos 29:18), Chazal did not create a takkanah to make sure that someone fulfill a mitzvah that is miderabbanan (Marei Kohen, Pesachim 117b).

Reciting mei’ein sheva when Yom Tov falls on Friday

Do we recite the bracha mei’ein sheva when Yom Tov falls on Friday? (This case actually happens at the end of this coming Yom Tov, since the Seventh Day of Pesach falls on Friday.) The reason for reciting mei’ein sheva on a regular Shabbos was because people would work late on Friday afternoon, and as a result would arrive late to shul Friday evening. However, when Friday was Yom Tov, there would be no reason for someone to be delayed. Nevertheless, the poskim rule that we should recite mei’ein sheva, even when Yom Tov falls on Friday, notwithstanding that the reason for the takkanah does not apply (Kolbo #52).

Thirteenth century zeal

Actually, the question regarding recital of mei’ein sheva when Yom Tov falls on Friday resulted in a very heated dispute during the era of the Rishonim. In the time of the Rivash, Rabbi Amram ben Meroam, a frequent correspondent of the Rivash, wrote him the following shaylah:

Reuven was the chazzan for the Friday night davening on a Shabbos that immediately followed Yom Tov. He began reciting mei’ein sheva, when Shimon reprimanded him, contending that one should not recite this bracha when Shabbos follows Yom Tov — since no one was working on Friday, the reason for the takkanah did not apply. Levi then got involved, saying that it is accepted that one does recite mei’ein sheva on Friday night following a Yom Tov. The shul then burst into a cacophony of voices, with Shimon’s and Reuven’s backers screaming at one another. Finally, Shimon shouted that Reuven was desecrating Hashem’s holy Name, since he was willing to recite a bracha in vain, and that if he did, Shimon would declare him to be in cherem, excommunicated! Reuven did recite the bracha mei’ein sheva, and a day later, opened his door to find Shimon and twenty of his backers there to notify him that he had been excommunicated! The Rivash was asked to rule whether Reuven was indeed in cherem because of Shimon’s declaration that he recited a bracha in vain, or, perhaps, Shimon should be placed in cherem for excommunicating someone without proper cause.

The Rivash ruled that Shimon was mistaken, and that one should recite mei’ein sheva when Shabbos follows Yom Tov. Therefore, he concluded that Reuven, who followed the correct halachah, could completely ignore the cherem placed on him. However, he also concluded that since Shimon thought he was acting correctly, we do not excommunicate Shimon for his actions (Shu’t HaRivash #34).

Yom Tov falls on Shabbos

When Yom Tov falls on Shabbos and we recite the bracha mei’ein sheva on Friday night, do we mention Yom Tov in the bracha mei’ein sheva?

The Gemara rules that when Yom Tov falls on Shabbos, the chazzan makes no mention of Yom Tov, since on Yom Tov we do not recite this bracha (Shabbos 24b).

Reciting mei’ein sheva on Shabbos Yom Kippur

Do we recite mei’ein sheva when Shabbos falls on Yom Kippur? Logically, there is a strong reason that we should not, since no one arrives that late to shul on Kol Nidrei night, and, furthermore, the many piyutim recited allow for ample time for someone to finish davening and not be left behind. Nevertheless, the poskim rule that we recite mei’ein sheva when Yom Kippur falls on Shabbos (Kolbo #70).

Mei’ein Sheva and Seder night

What is the halachah regarding reciting mei’ein sheva when Seder night falls on Shabbos?

In the context of a different issue, the Gemara (Pesachim 109b) refers to Pesach night as leil shimurim, the night in which we are protected from harm (see Maharsha ad loc.). This is based on the pasuk that concludes: He [Hashem] will not permit the destroyer to enter your homes (Shemos 12:42). For this reason, many Rishonim rule that there is no reason to recite the mei’ein sheva on Seder night, since even in the era when the shullen were located outside the cities, the individual who arrived late was not in any danger, since Hashem guards us this night (Tur, Orach Chayim 487, quoting Rabbeinu Nissim and the Baal HaItur; Shu’t HaRivash #34; Ritva, Rosh Hashanah 11b; Kolbo #35, 50; Meiri, Pesachim 109b and many others). (The Rabbeinu Nissim quoted here is Rabbeinu Nissim ben Yaakov of Kairouan, North Africa, who was a contemporary and correspondent of Rav Hai Gaon and is sometimes called Rav Nissim Gaon, and should not be confused with the much later Rabbeinu Nissim ben Reuven of Gerona and Barcelona, Spain, known predominantly as one of the main commentators on the Rif.)

The Tur cites no disputing opinion to this statement of Rabbeinu Nissim, although when the Beis Yosef discusses this halachah, he quotes the Abudraham, who cites a dispute about the practice and concludes that common practice is to recite mei’ein sheva on Seder night. This is curious, because the Abudraham lived in Spain, whereas his contemporary, the Tur, who lived in Spain at the same time, mentions only the practice of omitting mei’ein sheva on Seder night. Another early authority who reports that one should recite mei’ein sheva on Seder night is the Shibbolei HaLeket (#219).

Other reasons to omit mei’ein sheva

In addition to the reason mentioned by Rabbeinu Nissim to omit mei’ein sheva on Seder night, I also found several other reasons to explain why one should not recite it then:

(1) According to the opinion of the Yerushalmi that mei’ein sheva was instituted to guarantee that everyone fulfilled the mitzvah of Kiddush Friday night, some authorities note that on Seder night, everyone would have wine for Kiddush and the arba kosos, thus rendering the bracha unnececessary (Mar’ei Kohen, Pesachim 117b).

(2) Since no one is permitted to work erev Pesach afternoon, there is no reason to assume that someone would come to shul late on Seder night.

(3) Everyone comes to shul early on Seder night so that they can get home early and begin the Seder in a timely fashion.

(4) The prayer is delayed anyway Seder night, because of Hallel. (I found all three of these last reasons in the anthology Sefer HaTodaah.)

The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 487:1), mentions only the practice of omitting mei’ein sheva on Seder night, which became the most common accepted practice. However, there are many places that do say mei’ein sheva on the first night of Pesach. For example, the old custom in many German communities was to recite mei’ein sheva on Seder night. Similarly, the Kaf HaChayim (487:22) quotes several prominent Sefardic authorities, including the Rashash and Rav Chayim Palachi, who recited mei’ein sheva on Seder night. The Kaf HaChayim furthermore quotes that the Sefardic minhag in Yerushalayim follows the practice of the Arizal, who recited mei’ein sheva on Seder night, although I found other sources quoting the Arizal as holding that one should not recite mei’ein sheva on Seder night (Shiyurei Bracha, Orach Chayim 642; Chazon Ovadiah, Pesach pages 231 and 235). The Kaf HaChayim quotes the Rashash as contending that, since the Gemara does not mention that Pesach should be treated differently because it is leil shimurim, one should recite mei’ein sheva on Seder night.

The question raised by these authorities is that there are several other occasions when the reasons for reciting mei’ein sheva do not apply, such as when Yom Kippur falls on Shabbos, or when Yom Tov fell on Friday, and yet universal accepted practice is to recite mei’ein sheva on these occasions.

This last argument is countered by the Radbaz, who contends that when the original takkanah was made concerning mei’ein sheva, Chazal specifically exempted Seder night because it is leil shimurim, but they did not exempt any of the other dates mentioned (Shu’t HaRadbaz 4:16).

As a matter of practice, many congregations that follow the old German customs indeed recite the bracha of mei’ein sheva on Seder night, but other Ashkenazi communities do not. Among Sefardi authorities, Rav Ovadyah Yosef (Shu’t Yabia Omer 2:OC:25; 4:OC:21; Chazon Ovadyah) feels very strongly that one should not recite mei’ein sheva on Seder night, whereas Rav Ben Zion Abba Shaul ruled that each congregation should follow its custom (Shu’t Or LaTzion, Volume 3 page 174).

Thus, we see that, although the prevalent practice is to omit mei’ein sheva on Seder night, there are communities that do recite it. Now let us explain the other part of the question: “Which comes first, Hallel or the bracha mei’ein sheva?

Hallel in shul on Seder night

In several places, Chazal mention reciting Hallel in shul on the first night of Pesach. Why recite Hallel in shul, if we are going to recite it anyway, as part of the Seder? Several explanations are presented for this practice:

(1) In Chazal’s times, there were no siddurim, and therefore the common people davened together with the chazzan or by listening to the chazzan’s prayer. (This is one reason why the chazzan is called a shaliach tzibur, which literally translates as the emissary of the community, since he indeed prayed on behalf of many individuals.) On the days that we are required to recite Hallel, these people listened and responded to the chazzan’s Hallel, thereby fulfilling their mitzvah. However, how could they fulfill the mitzvah of reciting Hallel on Seder night when they were home? They did so by reciting Hallel together with the chazzan in shul, before coming home (see Gra, Orach Chayim 487).

(2) A different approach contends that the community recited Hallel in shul the first night of Pesach in order to fulfill the mitzvah with a large group. Although one may recite Hallel by oneself, reciting it communally is a greater observance of the mitzvah.

Hallel in shul without a bracha

Neither of these two approaches necessarily assumes that Hallel on Seder night requires a bracha. Indeed, the Chazon Ish recited Hallel in shul Seder night without reciting a bracha beforehand, and there are congregations in Bnei Braq that follow this approach.

Hallel Seder night with a bracha

(3) A third approach contends that the primary reason for reciting Hallel in shul is to recite a bracha beforehand. These poskim contend that Hallel at the Seder would require a bracha, if it were not interrupted by the meal. To resolve this predicament, Hallel is recited twice, once in shul with a bracha and without interruption, and then a second time, during the Seder. This is the prevalent practice by Sefardim, Chassidim, and the most common approach followed in Eretz Yisrael today (see Gra, Orach Chayim 487).

Now, the quiz question: Of what type of community is our gabbai a member? One finds the practice of reciting mei’ein sheva Seder night only among two communities: some Sefardim and some German kehillos. The German kehillos do not recite Hallel in shul Seder night, but the Sefardim universally do. Thus, our gabbai‘s community is a Sefardic congregation that has the practice of reciting mei’ein sheva Seder night.

Halachic conclusion

Someone creating a new kehillah and establishing new customs should certainly not recite mei’ein sheva on Seder night, since this is the opinion of most Rishonim, and is followed by the Tur, the Shulchan Aruch and the vast majority of later authorities. In addition, the rules of safek bracha lehakeil imply not to recite a bracha when there is a question whether one should do so or not. Nevertheless, in a congregation or community where the practice is to recite mei’ein sheva Seder night, one should do so before Hallel.

The Spectrum of Muktzah Utensils

Our parsha opens by mentioning the supremacy of the importance of observing Shabbos. We therefore bring…

The Spectrum of Muktzah Utensils

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn the period of the construction of the second Beis HaMikdash, Nechemiah noticed that many Jews were extremely lax in Shabbos observance. In his own words, “In those days, I saw people in Judea operating their winepresses on Shabbos and loading their harvest on donkeys; and also their wine, grapes, and figs and all other burdens; and transporting them to Yerushalayim on Shabbos… the Tyrians would bring fish and other merchandise and sell them to the Jews” (Nechemiah 13:15-16). Nechemiah then describes how he succeeded in closing the city gates the entire Shabbos in order to keep the markets closed.

To strengthen Shabbos observance, Nechemiah established very strict rules concerning which utensils one may move on Shabbos. These rules form the foundation of the halachos of muktzah (Gemara Shabbos 123b). Initially, he prohibited using and moving on Shabbos virtually all utensils, excluding only basic eating appliances such as table knives. We will call this Nechemiah’s “First Takanah.” By prohibiting the moving of items even indoors, he reinforced the strictness of not carrying outdoors on Shabbos (Gemara Shabbos 124b; Raavad, Hilchos Shabbos 24:13). Furthermore, observing the laws of muktzah protects people from mistakenly doing forbidden melacha with these tools. In addition, the laws of muktzah guarantee that Shabbos is qualitatively different from the rest of the week even for someone whose daily life does not involve any manual labor (Rambam, Hilchos Shabbos 24:12-13).

As the Jews became more careful in their Shabbos observance, Nechemiah gradually relaxed the rules of muktzah, permitting limited use of some utensils on Shabbos. Eventually, Nechemiah established rules whereby most utensils may be moved and used on Shabbos when necessary, whereas certain utensils that one usually would not use on Shabbos remained prohibited (except for unusual circumstances such as danger). When discussing the halachos of muktzah as they apply today, I will refer to Nechemiah’s “Final Takanah.”

Nechemiah’s Final Takanah established four distinct categories of utensils:

  1. Not Muktzah. Items that one may move without any reason whatsoever. This category includes food, sifrei kodesh and, according to many poskim, tableware (Mishnah Berurah 308:23) and clothing (see Shitah La’Ran 123b s.v. Barishonah).
  2. Kli she’me’lachto l’heter, which means a utensil whose primary use is permitted on Shabbos, such as a chair or pillow. One may move this utensil if one needs to use it, if it is in the way, or if it may become damaged. However, one may not move it without any reason (Gemara Shabbos 123b-124a; Shulchan Aruch 308:4).
  3. Kli she’me’lachto l’issur, which means a utensil whose primary use is forbidden on Shabbos, such as a hammer, a saw, or a needle. Items in this category may be moved if they are in the way or if one has a need to use it for a purpose that is permitted on Shabbos (Gemara Shabbos 124a). Under normal circumstances, one may not move it for any other purpose.
  4. Completely Muktzah. These are utensils that one may not move under normal circumstances.

I will now explain the four categories.

  1. NOT MUKTZAH

One may move food and sifrei kodesh without any reason, and, according to many poskim, also tableware and clothing. Why may I move certain items on Shabbos without any purpose, whereas I may move other items only if I have a purpose?

The answer to this halachic question is historical. When Nechemiah declared his original gezeirah prohibiting muktzah, he applied the gezeirah only to utensils, not to food, and also excluded table knives and similar appliances. Thus, Nechemiah never declared food and table knives muktzah, even during the First Takanah. However, a kli she’me’lachto l’heter was included in the First Takanah, and at that time was completely muktzah. Later, Nechemiah relaxed the takanah to permit moving these utensils under the circumstances mentioned above; however, when these circumstances do not apply, the original prohibition declaring them muktzah remains in effect.

As mentioned above, many poskim rule that forks, spoons, dishes, and drinking glasses are also excluded from any halachos of muktzah (Mishnah Berurah 308:23, quoting Shiltei HaGibborim), although there are opinions who consider them keilim she’me’lachtam l’heter (Ben Ish Chai, 2:Mikeitz). The lenient opinion contends that Nechemiah permitted moving tableware just as he permitted moving table knives. The strict opinion contends that Nechemiah excluded only table knives, but no other tableware. They hold that forks, spoons, dishes, and drinking glasses are included in the gezeirah of muktzah as members of category # 2, kli she’me’lachto l’heter. (This means that they may be moved when needed but not otherwise.) I will soon explain the practical difference between these opinions.

  1. KLI SHE’ME’LACHTO L’HETER

A utensil that is used primarily for a task that is permitted on Shabbos, such as a chair or pillow, is categorized as a kli she’me’lachto l’heter. I may move such a utensil for one of three reasons:

  1. I want to use it on Shabbos. The Gemara (Shabbos 123b) calls this l’tzorech gufo, literally, for its own use.
  2. It is in my way. The Gemara calls this l’tzorech m’komo, literally, to use its place.
  3. I am concerned that it might become damaged. The Gemara refers to this as moving the utensil from the sun to the shade.

However, I may not move a kli she’me’lachto l’heter without any purpose, nor may I use it when I do not really need a utensil. Thus, I may not use a kli she’me’lachto l’heter to help me with a task that I can do it without any tool (Gemara Shabbos 124a; Shaar HaTziyun 308:13).

I mentioned above that the poskim dispute whether we categorize tableware as not muktzah at all, or as kli she’me’lachto l’heter. Ben Ish Chai and others, who contend that it should be considered kli she’me’lachto l’heter, rule that if one placed extra pieces of silverware on the table, one may not move them back into the kitchen simply because they serve no purpose on the table. He points out that this fulfills none of the three conditions mentioned above necessary to move a kli she’me’lachto l’heter. (Ben Ish Chai agrees that one may remove the silverware from the table if they are in the way or if one is concerned that they might become damaged.) However, the other opinion contends that silverware is not muktzah at all and may be returned it to its correct storage place even without any other need.

  1. KLI SHE’ME’LACHTO L’ISSUR

A utensil whose primary use is forbidden on Shabbos, such as a hammer, saw, or needle, may be moved if I need to use it for something permitted on Shabbos or if it is in the way of something I need to do. Thus, I may use a hammer to crack open a coconut on Shabbos or a needle to remove a splinter (Mishnah Shabbos 122b). (When removing the splinter, one must be careful not to intentionally cause bleeding [Magen Avraham 328:32; see also Biur Halacha 308:11]. Also, one may not sterilize the needle on Shabbos [Rambam, Hilchos Shabbos 12:1]. ) Similarly, on Shabbos I may remove a hammer or saw that was left on a table, counter, or chair, if I need to put something else there.

However, I may not move a kli she’me’lachto l’issur to save it from becoming broken. When Nechemiah relaxed the takanah that treated kli she’me’lachto l’issur as completely muktzah, he only allowed it to be moved if I need it or its place on Shabbos, but for no other reason.

If I know I will need a kli she’me’lachto l’issur later today, and I am afraid it will get broken or ruined and be unusable by then, I may save it from breaking (Tehillah LeDavid 308:5). This is because moving it now makes it available to me later and thus it is considered l’tzorech gufo.

Once someone picks up a kli she’me’lachto l’issur for a permitted reason, he may put it wherever he chooses (Gemara Shabbos 43a). Some poskim extend this rule further, permitting someone who picked up a kli she’me’lachto l’issur by mistake to place it down wherever he pleases since the item is already in his hand (Magen Avraham 308:7). However, many poskim dispute this, arguing that this lenience applies only when one has permission to pick up the utensil but not when it was picked up in error (Gra, Yoreh Deah 266:12). Thus, someone who picked up a hammer, saw, or needle by mistake may not continue to hold it. Mishnah Berurah (308:13) implies that one may follow the lenient approach when necessary. Therefore, in an extenuating situation, one may hold the kli she’me’lachto l’issur until he finds a convenient place to put it down.

DIFFERENCES BETWEEN KLI SHE’ME’LACHTO L’HETER AND SHE’ME’LACHTO L’ISSUR

After Nechemiah’s later takanos, both kli she’me’lachto l’heter and kli she’me’lachto l’issur have an interesting status: sometimes they are muktzah and sometimes not, depending on why one wants to move them. Even within this in-between category of sometimes-muktzah items, there is a “pecking order” whereby kli she’me’lachto l’heter is less muktzah than kli she’me’lachto l’issur. Several differences in halacha result:

  1. As mentioned above, one may move a kli she’me’lachto l’heter if one is concerned it may become damaged, whereas a kli she’me’lachto l’issur may not be moved.
  2. A kli she’me’lachto l’issur may not be moved when a kli she’me’lachto l’heter is available to do the job (Mishnah Berurah 308:12; Elyah Rabbah 308:32).
  3. One may carry a kli she’me’lachto l’heter early in the day even though he does not anticipate needing it until much later that day (Taz 308:2). This is considered as using the kli. On the other hand, a kli she’me’lachto l’issur may only be picked up when one needs to use it.
  4. Many poskim contend that a kli she’me’lachto l’issur that was intentionally left for Shabbos lying on top of a permitted item conveys the law of a kli she’me’lachto l’issur onto the lower item (Tehillah LeDavid 266:7 & 308:1; Aruch HaShulchan 310:9). The lower item becomes a “bosis l’davar ha’asur,” literally, a base for a prohibited item. Thus according to these poskim, if a hammer was intentionally left on a chair in the backyard for Shabbos, one may not move the chair afterwards if one is concerned that the chair may become damaged, just as one may not move the hammer itself. However, according to the poskim who contend that there is no concept of bosis l’davar ha’asur for a kli she’me’lachto l’issur, one may bring the chair into the house to save it from damage (Pri Megadim, introduction to 308). (We will leave a full discussion of the subject of bosis l’davar ha’asur for a different time.)

However, to the best of my knowledge, no posek contends that a kli she’me’lachto l’heter creates a “bosis l’davar ha’asur.” Thus, if someone intentionally left an ice cream scoop on top of a basket of fruit, the fruit does not have the laws of a kli she’me’lachto l’heter but retains the status of the fruit, which is not muktzah at all.

IS SOMETHING MELACHTO L’HETER OR MELACHTO L’ISSUR?

What is the halacha of an appliance that has two equal usages, one l’heter and the other l’issur? This appliance has the halachic status of a kli she’me’lachto l’heter (Magen Avraham 308:9). Thus, if I use an index card as a place mark although I also might write on it, it is melachto l’heter.

What about a utensil whose primary use is for a prohibited purpose, but its typical use includes a permitted purpose, such as a pot? Its primary use, cooking, renders it a kli she’me’lachto l’issur. However, it also functions as a storage vessel after the food finishes cooking, which is a permitted purpose on Shabbos. What is its status?

A FIFTH CATEGORY OF MUKZTAH UTENSIL

This type of utensil has an interesting status: It changes in the course of Shabbos from being a kli she’me’lachto l’heter to a kli she’me’lachto l’issur and back again. When storing food, it has the status of a kli she’me’lachto l’heter. However, when the food is emptied out, it reverts to its primary status and again becomes a kli she’me’lachto l’issur (Rashba, Shabbos 123a s.v. ha disnan, quoted by Pri Megadim, Eishel Avraham 308:9 and Mishnah Berurah 308:26).

Therefore, while it has food inside it, I may move it if I am concerned it might become damaged. However, once the food has been removed, I may not. I may still move it if I want to use the pot or it is in the way. (Furthermore, I may move a used pot out of the way because it looks disgusting [Gemara Shabbos 124a]. However, this is another topic that we will leave for a different article.)

  1. COMPLETELY MUKTZAH

Most items categorized as muktzah are not utensils and are muktzah because they usually have no Shabbos use. Thus, pieces of scrap wood, dirt, money, ashes and a useless broken item are all muktzah because we do not expect to use them on Shabbos. Even if a use presents itself on Shabbos, or the item is in one’s way, one may not use or move them.

(There are a few instances when one may move such items, such as when someone might get hurt, or when they are very disgusting.)

MUKTZAH MACHMAS CHISARON KIS

Several utensils are completely muktzah. One category includes specialized tools whose primary use is prohibited on Shabbos and are not used for other purposes lest they become damaged. Such utensils are muktzah machmas chisaron kis, muktzah because of financial loss. Since the owner would never use them for any other use, and their primary use is prohibited on Shabbos, he never expects to use them on Shabbos, which renders them muktzah (Tosafos Shabbos 123a s.v. basichi). Thus, a musical instrument, a mohel’s or shocheit’s knife, craftsman’s tools or any other specialty equipment whose owner would not allow it to be used except for its intended purpose is muktzah. Since a shocheit will not use his knife to carve a turkey or slice salami his knife is muktzah. However, an old shechitah knife that its owner no longer uses for shechitah is not muktzah.

MERCHANDISE

Merchandise that one intends to sell is usually muktzah on Shabbos, since one does not intend to use it oneself (Rama 308:1).

A kli that is muktzah machmas chisaron kis that becomes damaged on Shabbos so that it is no longer valuable, remains muktzah machmas chisaron kis for that Shabbos, although for future Shabbosos it will be treated like a kli she’me’lachto l’issur. This is because once a utensil is muktzah at the beginning of Shabbos, it remains muktzah the whole Shabbos (Magen Avraham 308:19; Tosafos Beitzah 2b).

Example: I sell fancy merchandise out of my house that I would never use myself.

On Shabbos, a child opens the package and uses one of the items, so that I could never sell it. Although I will now use the item myself, I must treat it as muktzah until Shabbos is over, since it was muktzah when Shabbos began.

BROKEN UTENSIL

A utensil that broke or tore on Shabbos does not become muktzah unless it has no use whatsoever. This is true even if you immediately threw it into the garbage. However, if it broke before Shabbos and you threw it into the garbage before Shabbos, it becomes muktzah (Gemara Shabbos 124b). Since it was in the garbage when Shabbos arrived, that renders it muktzah.

Thus, a shirt that tore on Shabbos does not become muktzah since you might use it as a rag, even if you threw the torn shirt into the garbage on Shabbos. However, if it tore before Shabbos and you disposed of it before Shabbos, it is muktzah.

TEFILLIN

Where do tefillin fit into the muktzah spectrum? Most people assume that Tefillin are muktzah since we do not wear them on Shabbos. However, the halacha is otherwise. Some poskim rule that Tefillin are kli she’me’lachto l’heter since one may don tefillin on Shabbos as long as one does not intend to fulfill the mitzvah (see Rama 308:4), whereas most poskim treat them as kli she’me’lachto l’issur (Taz, Magen Avraham and others ad loc.). Therefore, if a pair of tefillin are lying in an inconvenient place, one may remove them and then put them wherever is convenient.

Of course, this article cannot serve even as a primer in hilchos muktzah, but merely intends to mention some interesting aspects of the halachos of muktzah.

The entire takanah of muktzah is highly unusual. While observing Shabbos, we constantly need to focus on what we move and how we use it. Thus, hilchos muktzah become more absorbing than the halachos of Shabbos that the Torah itself mandated. Nechemiah instituted these halachos precisely for these reasons. By implementing the laws of muktzah, he accomplished that Shabbos observance is constantly on our minds.

 

Complex Clearings or Removing Muktzah from the Table

loaded tableIt is Mrs. Friedman’s* unmistakable and excitable voice on the phone. “Rabbi,” she begins in her trademark high pitch, “I am married almost twenty years, and have been clearing my Shabbos table the same way all these years: I brush the small items off the tablecloth and pick up the large ones. Last week, a guest, Aviva, politely suggested that I ask my rabbi whether I am doing this correctly. She was taught that she may not remove pistachio shells and used napkins by hand; instead, to place a disposable clear cover on the tablecloth before setting the table, and after clearing the dirty dishes at the end of the meal, to simply roll up the plastic. However, I place my candlesticks in the middle of the Shabbos table; furthermore, I do not consider it Shabbos-dik to have a cover on my exquisite linen tablecloth! Am I indeed doing something wrong for the last twenty years! I was never told this during all my years in Beis Yaakov!”

What would you tell Mrs. Friedman? In order to answer her accurately, we need to understand these halachos well.

In parshas Terumah, the Torah discusses building the Mishkan, which are the same activities that are categorized as melacha activity on Shabbos. As a fence around the Torah, Chazal banned moving items that do not have a use on Shabbos, a law we refer to as muktzah (see Rambam and Raavad, Hil. Shabbos 24:13). For this reason, we may not move on Shabbos items that are not considered utensils, such as stones and pieces of wood. The rules of muktzah are highly complex, and yet at the same time affect each of us every Shabbos. Although we deal with removing items from the table several times every Shabbos, most of us do not realize all the detailed laws that this simple, common activity entails.

HOW, WHAT, AND WHEN

Certain specific questions about the laws of muktzah directly influence how one may clear the table.

I. HOW

How does one remove a muktzah item without violating the laws of Shabbos?

II. WHAT

Which items commonly left on a table are muktzah?

III. WHEN

When may I move an item, notwithstanding that it is muktzah?

Answering these three questions will explain what Aviva was taught and provide Mrs. Friedman with some practical, level-headed advice to keep her table Shabbos-dik.

I. HOW

Since it is likely that the remnants of a meal contain muktzah, how does one remove them on Shabbos? The Mishnah (Shabbos 143a) permits tilting the tabletop, thereby tumbling the muktzah to the floor. However, this leads us to question: If one may not move a muktzah item, how may I tilt the tabletop? This is also moving muktzah!

INDIRECT CARRYING – TILTUL MIN HATZAD

The answer is that (under certain circumstances) Chazal permitted lifting a permitted item that indirectly moves something muktzah.

In addition to tilting the tabletop, the Shulchan Aruch (308:27) suggests two other options to clear the table, both of which permit carrying the entire tabletop to a place where one can then tilt off the muktzah:

  1. If there is bread on the table in addition to something muktzah, the muktzah item is treated as bateil, nullified, to the piece of bread. For this reason, one may now carry the entire table or tabletop to a place where it is convenient to drop off the muktzah. One may even place bread on the table expressly for this purpose (Rosh, as explained by Magen Avraham 308:51).

Based on the above, if nutshells, which are muktzah, ended up on a plate during Shabbos, one may place some bread on the plate and then remove it from the table. Upon arrival in the kitchen, one may tilt the muktzah items into the garbage can. Bear in mind, that when one empties the muktzah items into a garbage can, one can no longer move the garbage can itself. (In all likelihood, the garbage can is already muktzah because of other items it contains. My observation is that people are sometimes not meticulous to treat their household garbage cans as muktzah. One should always leave the garbage can in place. Only under certain unusual circumstances, beyond the scope of this article, may one remove the garbage.)

  1. Even if there is no bread on the tabletop or plate, the Shulchan Aruch permits moving them to remove muktzah if one needs to use the area. Since this is often the situation, one usually does not need to place bread on the table or plate to remove the muktzah.

(All cases in this article assume that both the table and the plates do not qualify as a basis ledavar he’asur, meaning that it was not intended to be a base for the muktzah [see Tosafos, Beitzah 2a s.v. Uveis; Magen Avraham 308:50]. An item that is a basis ledavar he’asur, intended to be a base for a muktzah item, becomes muktzah and cannot be moved on Shabbos, even if somehow the muktzah item was removed. Detailing the laws of basis ledavar he’asur is beyond the scope of this article.)

DISPOSABLES TO THE RESCUE!

Similarly, someone who places a disposable plastic cover atop the tablecloth may remove the plastic cover and dispose of it even though it is covered with muktzah, provided there is some bread on the plastic cover. As we explained, even if there is no bread on the table, one may remove the plastic if one needs to use the table on Shabbos and cannot do so with the muktzah items still there.

AVIVA’S PSAK

Based on the above halachic discussion, Aviva was taught that the easiest way to clear the table without concern about moving muktzah is to remove a plastic table cover with everything on it. In this method, any potential muktzah is being carried indirectly.

For those who do not like placing plastic covers over their tablecloths, one could follow the same rule by removing the plates with the muktzah items on them, and then removing the tablecloth. Alternatively, one could simply lift the entire tablecloth to a different area and shake it out — then return it to the table.

However, what may one do to clear the table if one leaves the candlesticks on the table, thus making it impossible to remove the tablecloth, and one does not cover the tablecloth with a plastic?

CLEARING MRS. FRIEDMAN’S TABLE

Certainly, Mrs. Friedman will not be satisfied with any of the above methods of clearing her table. Although her son Yanky may like the Mishnah’s method of tilting the tabletop, or the Shulchan Aruch’s suggestion of lifting the entire table, I would elect to be absent should he tilt her table and dump her candlesticks along with the leftovers onto the carpet. Therefore, to avoid receiving her phone call should Yanky clear the table this way, we should explore other options how to do so.

My best advice in this situation is to place the muktzah shells, pits, and napkins directly onto a plate rather than on the tablecloth. Afterwards, one may remove the plate with the muktzah on it. Following the conclusion of the Shulchan Aruch, if one places some bread on the plate, one may remove the plate even without knowing that he has any need to use that particular part of the table. If one knows that he will need that part of the table later on Shabbos, then one may remove the plate even without any bread on it.

However, what does one do if someone errantly placed their muktzah item directly on Mrs. Friedman’s gorgeous linen cloth, and there is no practical way to remove the tablecloth from the table?

In this situation, may one remove the muktzah items by picking them up or brushing them off the tablecloth? This is what Mrs. Friedman was doing that attracted Aviva’s attention.

Let us first analyze if indeed Mrs. Friedman’s pristine post-dinner table contains any items that are muktzah. This takes us back to our second original question:

II. WHAT

Which items commonly left on a table are muktzah?

BONES AND SHELLS

When humans consume food, we often leave behind bones, shells and pits that we consider inedible, although other creatures consider them a delicious dinner. Are these leftovers considered useless and therefore muktzah, or are they functional, permitting one to move them?

Indeed, the Mishnah discusses whether bones and shells are muktzah, ruling that food remnants that animals do not eat are muktzah, whereas those that they will eat are not (Tosafos, Shabbos 143a s.v. Atzamos).

However, this definition requires refinement since one can find some creature that will consume virtually every organic substance. Does this mean that no biodegradable substances are muktzah? The answer is that only substances eaten by normally available animals, birds, and fish are not muktzah.

What type of animal food is included?

Items eaten by an animal or bird that someone in your neighborhood may own are not muktzah. Therefore, provisions eaten by dogs, cats, gerbils, hamsters, rabbits, parakeets, or even household aquarium fish are not muktzah since it is not unusual to find these as pets. For this reason, bones that dogs may lick are not muktzah (see Shulchan Aruch 308:27). Similarly, crumbs are not muktzah, even though no one will be eating them. Halachically, these are still considered feed since one could leave them for animals.

ZOO ANIMALS

On the other hand, items that are eaten only by animals not commonly owned by people in your area are muktzah (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 308:29). Specifically, the Gemara concludes that items considered food only by a raven, an ostrich, or an elephant are muktzah since it is uncommon to find these as pets in someone’s house. Items eaten only by these types of creatures are muktzah unless one owns them. Therefore, a zoo may consider the feed common for any animal it keeps as non-muktzah, whereas in a private home, nutshells, bones, pits, and peels not suitable to feed locally available animals are muktzah unless there is some food still attached to them (Mishnah Berurah 308:114).

Potentially, other muktzah items could easily end up on a table, particularly if there are young children around who have a knack of placing crayons and similar items on the table. Furthermore, some authorities consider used napkins and tissues to be muktzah since no one utilizes them anymore.

MAY ONE REMOVE MUKTZAH?

We therefore see that one could easily find muktzah items on the table after a meal. How does one remove these items?

We noted above, that one may remove muktzah items if they are placed on a non-muktzah surface, particularly if some bread is placed on the same surface. Therefore, after licking clean a bone or pit one should place it onto a plate or other item that will later be removed. When shelling pistachios or other nuts, one should be careful to place the shells on a plate, and one should follow the same approach when one finishes using a tissue or napkin.

But what do you do with the shells that missed the plate? One now has muktzah items on Mrs. Friedman’s deluxe linen cloth!

This takes us to our third original question:

III. WHEN

When may I move an item by hand, notwithstanding that it is muktzah? Let us explore a possibility.

GRAF SHEL RE’I

The halacha is that a malodorous or otherwise disgusting but muktzah item that ends up in a residential place may be removed. For example, after changing a baby, one may remove the soiled Pamper notwithstanding that it is now muktzah. This halacha is called removing a graf shel re’i, a chamber pot, which one may remove from a residential place where its presence disgusts people.

Why may one remove a graf shel re’i? Chazal permitted the removal of a graf shel re’i, even when it is muktzah, because of their concern for kavod habriyos, human dignity (Pri Megadim, Eishel Avraham 308:58; Aruch HaShulchan 308:60). This means, that although moving muktzah is an ancient and sacred prohibition, Chazal permitted moving a muktzah item that affects one’s sense of self-dignity if the malodorous item is located in a place where one lives.

However, this halacha only permits the minimum necessary to restore one’s self dignity. For this reason, one usually may not create a kavod habriyus situation in order to facilitate removing muktzah. For example, if the unpleasant muktzah item is located in a part of the house that one does not normally use, one cannot decide to use that area on Shabbos to be able to remove the muktzah. (There is an exception to this rule that is beyond the scope of this article.) Similarly, one may not have a Jew move a graf shel re’i when a gentile could move it (Aruch HaShulchan 308:60).

The question we need to resolve is whether shells and dirty napkins are included under the heading of graf shel re’i. Perhaps one may remove only items far more disgusting, such as vomit and human soil (see Shulchan Aruch 308:34).

Furthermore, even though the lenience of graf shel re’i may not exist for bones, many authorities permit brushing them away with an implement (Taz, 308:18; however, the Chazon Ish 47:14 prohibits.)

Indeed, we find three opinions among the Rishonim regarding this subject. The Raavad prohibited moving muktzah bones and shells even if they are in a residential area, even by sweeping them and certainly by picking them up. He contends that only truly repulsive items are muktzah, and he further maintains that whereas removing a plate or cloth containing muktzah is considered moving muktzah indirectly, pushing muktzah with an implement is considered moving it directly.

On the other hand, the Rashba permitted sweeping away muktzah bones as an extension of the lenience of graf shel re’i (Ran, end of Tenth Chapter of Shabbos). The Ramban allowed sweeping these bones with a broom or other utensil because he considers it removing muktzah in an indirect way, but did not consider them to be a graf shel re’i.

CONCLUSION

The Shulchan Aruch and the Rama (337:2) both imply that one may remove shells and bones even when they are muktzah. The later authorities dispute whether they permitted sweeping muktzah only because this is removing it indirectly (see Shaar HaTziyun 337:7) or because we treat them as a graf shel re’i and permit removing them even by hand (Magen Avraham 337:4; Gra”z 337:2). This last dispute affects Mrs. Friedman’s table tremendously. The rav who advised Aviva suggested an approach that avoids all these questions: By lifting up the plastic tablecloth with all the rubbish on it, one avoids the entire question, since everyone rules that this is permitted. Whether Mrs. Friedman must push the muktzah items off the table with a knife or napkin or whether she may pick up some of the objectionable items by hand depends on the last dispute quoted. However, it is still preferable that as the muktzah items are created, one should place them directly on a plate.

Observing the halachos of muktzah properly forces us to constantly focus on what we move and how we use it. Thereby, these laws imbue our whole Shabbos observance with greater focus and meaning!

*all names have been changed

 

Do People Live in the Zoo, Part II

PENTACON DIGITAL CAMERALast week, I raised the following questions:

Question #1: Checking inside the eruv

“Can the eruv fences, walls, and wires be checked religiously every week, yet the eruv is invalid?”

Question #2: Shabbos in a warehouse

“May one carry in a warehouse on Shabbos?”

Question #3: Do people live in the zoo?

What do the previous two questions have to do with the title of this article?

One may carry inside such an area only when it is no larger than 5000 square amos (Mishnah Eruvin 23a), which equals approximately 1000* square meters or 10,000-11,000 square feet. For the balance of this article, I will refer to an area larger than a beis sasayim, that is, one that contains more than 5000 square amos, as a large area, and any area smaller than this as a small area. There is another factor that must be met to permit carrying in a small area that is not enclosed for residential use – its length may not exceed twice its width by more than one amoh (Mishnah, Eruvin 23a).

We will now continue our topic from where we left it last week.

Water sources

If a body of water, such as a lake or stream, is within an enclosed area, is the area still considered mukaf ledirah? Similarly, if an area was mukaf ledirah and then became flooded, may one still carry there (Eruvin 24a-b)?

On the one hand, since people do not live under water one could argue that any area covered by water is, by definition, not suitable for human habitation. On the other hand, mankind cannot survive without water; a nearby source of potable water is definitely a residential need.

The halachah is that water covering the ground does not usually create a problem, but there are three factors to be considered:

The quality of the water – can people use it?

How large an area is covered by water?

How deep is the water?

If the water is deep, not usable and covers a large area (more than 2500 square amos), that area is not mukaf ledirah, and the enclosures surrounding it do not permit one to carry there.

How deep?

According to most authorities, one need be concerned only when the water is ten tefachim deep, which is about 80 centimeters or about 2.5 feet (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 358:11). Others are more stringent and are concerned when the water is only three tefachim deep (quoted in Biur Halachah ad loc.).

Water quality

What is meant when we say that the water is usable? This issue is a subject of dispute among both early and late halachic authorities. There are two basic approaches, a stricter approach, which defines usable water as being drinkable (Rashi, Eruvin 24b s.v. Dechazi), and a more lenient approach, which rules that water suitable for laundry and similar uses is considered usable (Rashba, Avodas Hakodesh, Beis Nesivos 1:14:90 and 3:3:144; Ritva, Eruvin 24a).

In today’s world, this dispute would, seemingly, have a very common application. The run-off from rainstorms in suburbia crosses fertilized and pesticide-treated lawns. This water is definitely unsafe to drink. As a result, water accumulating to an appreciable depth over a large area could invalidate an eruv. However, when the water looks clear and is therefore suitable for laundry use, the Rashba would rule that it would not invalidate the eruv, even if it is deep and covers a large area. Thus, whether this water invalidates the eruv should be dependent on the dispute between Rashi and the Rasha.

How do we rule?

There is an interesting halachic curiousity that results here. Two of the most respected late halachic authorities are the Aruch Hashulchan and the Mishnah Berurah. In the vast majority of halachic issues, the Aruch Hashulchan rules more leniently than does the Mishnah Berurah. However, this is one of the instances in which the Mishnah Berurah (Shaar Hatziyun 358:81) rules more leniently, permitting carrying within an enclosed area that contains non-potable water that may be used for laundry or for animals to drink. The Aruch Hashulchan (358:23) requires that the water be potable.

Water seclusion

What does one do if there is an area of land covered by water in a way that it has the halachic status of a carmelis? The halachah is that, as in the instance of other areas that are not mukaf ledirah, carrying is prohibited in the adjacent residential area only when the area covered by water is not separated by a mechitzah. For example, a stream that contains unusable water runs through an area surrounded by an eruv. Does this render the entire eruv pasul?

One possible solution: To construct a tzuras hapesach that separates the prohibited area from the permitted.

A second possible solution: If the banks of the stream are sufficiently steep, these banks themselves serve to divide the water area from the eruv area and no further adaptation is necessary.

The city eruv

At this point, let us examine the first question I noted above:

“Can the eruv fences, walls, and wires be checked religiously every week, yet the eruv is invalid?”

We now are equipped to answer this question. Indeed, if the area within the eruv includes a large area that is planted or contains non-usable water, that area must be cordoned off from the eruv area in a halachically acceptable fashion. This requires essentially creating some type of halachically-approved divider. Otherwise, the eruv is invalid, and one may not carry there.

Thus, even if an eruv’s perimeters somehow, miraculously, survived the onslaught of a hurricane of the magnitude of Sandy, one will still not be permitted to carry within the eruv if there are areas of deep, unusable water that are more than ~5500 square feet.

Planting and the city eruv

Some authorities rule that planting an area is less of a problem in a city eruv than it is in someone’s private area. This is based on the reasoning, mentioned in the Gemara, that planting in a karpif invalidates an individual’s residential “wall.” However, if an entire city was enclosed, the planting of one individual cannot invalidate the enclosure. (Shu’t Dvar Shmuel #259, who introduces this approach, described planting which, by its nature is temporary, inside a city wall. It may not follow that this can be compared to a modern city and its eruv.) There are authorities who dispute this approach and rule that planting invalidates any type of enclosure (Maamar Mordechai 358:14; Chazon Ish, Orach Chayim 88:25).

Does an overgrown area invalidate an eruv?

Thus far, we have learned how planting or water can invalidate an eruv. What is the halachah if an area becomes overgrown with weeds or other shrubbery? Will this invalidate an eruv?

The late authorities debate whether only a planted area invalidates an eruv, or even an area that becomes overgrown on its own. I leave this question for the local eruv committee to discuss with its halachic authorities.

Do people live in the zoo?

The preceding discussion about mukad ledirah serves as an introduction to understanding the question, “Do people live in the zoo?” a practical question that was raised as early as the eighteenth century. The author of a series of scholarly Torah works, the Ohr Chodosh, Rabbi Elazar ben Elazar, sent a halachic inquiry to his mechutan, the Noda Biyehudah, Rav Yechezkel Landau, the chief rabbi of Prague. Where the Ohr Chodosh was then rav, in Cologne, there was a menagerie of wild animals within the area that they wanted to include within the town’s eruv. Based on his analysis of the dfference between the cases that are considered mukaf ledirah and those that are not, the Ohr Chodosh wanted to permit the zoo area as mukaf ledirah. He begins his analysis with the question:

Why is a vegetable garden or wood storage area considered non-residential, and yet an area in which animals are penned (a dir) is treated as residential?

The Ohr Chodosh, himself, felt that the dwelling of an animal is considered a residential use, and that this is true even regarding the dwellings of wild animals. Therefore, if someone builds a zoo with enclosures for the tigers, lions, bears and other species, each enclosure has the status of mukaf ledirah and can be more than a beis sasayim without prohibiting carrying.

A different scholar, identified in the responsum simply as Rabbi Nissan, disagreed with the Ohr Chodosh, contending that animal pens are considered mukaf ledirah only when they include a hut or other type of residence where the shepherd lives. He notes that Rabbeinu Yonasan, the major commentary on the Rif on Eruvin, mentions this distinction. The Ohr Chodosh retorted that he found this restriction, that a dir is considered mukaf ledirah only when it contains a residence of sorts for the shepherd, in no other halachic source, and therefore concluded that Rabbeinu Yonasan’s ruling is a minority opinion. The Ohr Chodosh contended that most authorities would accept his analysis.

On Rosh Chodesh Nisan 5548 (1788), the Noda Biyehudah answered the letter of the Ohr Chodosh, siding with Rabbi Nissan. Although the Noda Biyehudah agrees that the other authorities may not accept Rabbeinu Yonasan’s requirement of a guard hut, the key difference between a dir and a vegetable patch is that a dir requires a human presence, whereas a vegetable patch does not require a human presence. The Noda Biyehudah contends that an enclosure for wild animals will not be considered mukaf ledirah, and will be prohibited if the area is more than a beis sasayim, since people do not dwell among wild animals.

In his responsum, the Noda Biyehudah does not discuss what is the exact difference between a dir and a ginah, but other authorities do. The Tosafos Shabbos explains the difference to be that a dir is used by people at night, whereas a ginah is used only during the daytime. The Biur Halachah explains the dissimilarity in a different way, contending that a dir is adjacent to the house, and includes milking and other uses that are domestic. Therefore, its use is incorporated with the use of the residence.

Roofed

From the case of burgenin and some others, it appears that even a roofed area can be considered not mukaf ledirah. This is the opinion of most halachic authorities, although one major authority feels that burgenin is an exception, and that most roofed areas can be considered mukaf ledirah.

Based on this discussion, one can ask whether a warehouse, larger than a beis sasayim, that does not contain any type of residence, is considered mukaf ledirah. The use of a warehouse is not domestic and therefore could be conceived as not mukaf ledirah.

This question involved a dispute between the Mishnah Berurah and the Chazon Ish. The Mishnah Berurah holds that since a warehouse is a strongly constructed building, it qualifies as mukaf ledirah, regardless as to why it was constructed and how it is currently used. The Chazon Ish challenges this position, insisting that unless a structure includes some place to be used for sleeping, it is not considered mukaf ledirah, unless it meets one of the categories that the Mishnah or Gemara qualify as mukaf ledirah.

The dispute between the Mishnah Berurah and the Chazon Ish should affect only the status of the warehouse itself, and that only if it is larger than a beis sasayim. However, since a warehouse is completely enclosed its status will not prohibit an adjacent area. Thus, the area within the eruv surrounding the warehouse will remain unaffected by its status.

Shuls, batei medrash and bathhouses

The Aruch Hashulchan notes that shuls, batei medrash and bathhouses are all buildings whose purpose is not for residential purpose. One is not permitted to use a shul or a beis medrash for personal use, and a bathhouse is also not used for typical residential use. The Aruch Hashulchan therefore concludes that all of these areas do not qualify as mukaf ledirah, unless they include some type of residence for the building’s caretaker.

Conclusion

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch (Shemos 20:10) notes that people mistakenly think that work is prohibited on Shabbos in order to provide a day of rest. This is incorrect, he points out, because the Torah does not prohibit doing avodah, which connotes hard work, but melachah, which implies purpose and accomplishment. Certainly no more calories are expended when carrying from a reshus hayachid to a reshus harabim than when carrying a heavier item a greater distance within a reshus hayachid; yet, the first activity desecrates Shabbos and the second is permitted.

The goal of Shabbos is to emphasize Hashem’s rule as the focus of creation by refraining from our own creative acts (Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch Commentary to Shemos 20:11). Creating a beautiful Shabbos entails much planning and organization, realizing that preparation for Shabbos includes studying all the melachos of Shabbos. This helps us have a greater appreciation of Shabbos, and to get the maximum joy out of this special day.

* The measurements used in this article are meant only for rough calculation.

 

Do People Live in the Zoo?

PENTACON DIGITAL CAMERAQuestion #1: Checking inside the eruv

“Can the eruv fences, walls, and wires be checked religiously every week, yet the eruv is invalid?”

Question #2: Shabbos in a warehouse

“May one carry in a warehouse on Shabbos?”

Question #3: Do people live in the zoo?

What do the previous two questions have to do with the title of this article?

Answer: Invalidating an eruv from inside

With the direction of his rav, Yankel has joined the committee of makers and shakers working on building an eruv in his hometown. He now knows that the area in which he currently lives has the halachic status of a karmelis, an Aramaic word meaning an area in which one may not carry, but which can be enclosed to permit carrying. Creating the enclosure in a halachically approved way is what one does when building an eruv.

One of the benefits of his new project is that Yankel learns much about the laws of eruv. Among the laws he discovers is an entire area of halachah with which he was not familiar – that enclosing an area does not always permit carrying. Often, there is an area within the eruv that precludes carrying there. These areas are often called karpif, although Yankel discovers that this term is also not really accurate. As a result of his curiosity, he studies the relevant source material in the second chapter of Mesechta Eruvin, a topic that he, like most people, had never studied during his years in yeshivah.

What is a karpif?

Although min hatorah one may carry within any enclosed area, Chazal permitted carrying in a large area only when the enclosing of the area serves a residential purpose, which is called mukaf ledirah. If the enclosure was not mukaf ledirah, the area inside is also considered a karmelis in which one may not carry.

Technically, the word karpif means an enclosure outside the city in which one stores felled wood (Rashi, Eruvin 18a). However, the term is generally used to mean an enclosed area that is not mukaf ledirah.

Yankel learned that if an enclosure does not serve a residential purpose, one may carry within it only when it encloses an area that is no larger than the size of the courtyard of the mishkan, which was 50 amos (cubits) wide and 100 amos long, the size of 5000 square amos (Mishnah Eruvin 23a). An area this size is called a beis sasayim, an old farmers’ term based on how much seed they would plant there, and equals approximately 1000* square meters or 10,000-11,000 square feet. For the balance of this article, I will refer to an area larger than a beis sasayim, that is, one that contains more than 5000 square amos, as a large area, and any area smaller than this as a small area.

There is another factor that must be met to permit carrying in a small area that is not enclosed for residential use – its length may not exceed twice its width by more than one amoh (Mishnah, Eruvin 23a).

Why is a small karpif permitted?

Why may one carry in an area that is not mukaf ledirah when it is 5000 square amos or smaller? Was this size chosen arbitrarily?

Chazal permitted carrying in a small area, even when it is not mukaf ledirah, for the following reason: Since no one is permitted to live in the courtyard of the mishkan, the curtains that surround it do not make it mukaf ledirah. This would mean that carrying within the mishkan would be under the heading of a rabbinic prohibition. Yet this carrying was necessary on Shabbos for the regular functioning of the mishkan. Rather than treat the mishkan as an exception to the halachah, Chazal permitted carrying in any area that is this small, even when it is not mukaf ledirah (see Graz, Orach Chayim 358:3).

What is mukaf ledirah?

The definition of what qualifies as mukaf ledirah and what does not is, at times, not obvious. The Gemara (Eruvin 22a) itself states that there are instances when an enclosed area is roofed and resembles a building, yet it is considered not mukaf ledirah, and there are places that are open-air and yet have the status of mukaf ledirah. The Mishnah (Eruvin 18a) mentions four cases that qualify as mukaf ledirah, even though (according to Rashi) there is no roof over them. They are:

(1) Dir — a corralled area that one intends to plant eventually. At the moment, it is fallow, and one is grazing one’s livestock there, so that they naturally fertilize the field.

(2) Sohar, which is, according to Rashi, an area where the townspeople graze their animals, and, according to the Rambam, a prison.

(3) Muktzah — a backyard area.

(4) Chatzeir, a front yard.

The Ritva (Eruvin 22a) explains that the list is progressively more obvious; meaning that the first case, that of dir, is the least obvious “residential” area. Indeed, much halachic literature is devoted to explaining why an area enclosed for animals is considered residential, when, as we will soon see, areas enclosed for trees or vegetation are not.

Non-residential enclosures

Our next objective is to define what is considered a non-residential enclosure, eino mukaf ledirah, in which one may not carry unless it is small, as defined above. The Mishnah and the Gemara teach that several different types of enclosed areas are not mukafim ledirah. As I mentioned above, one of these is a karpif, an enclosure outside the city in which one stores felled wood (Rashi, Eruvin 18a). Similarly, a fenced-in orchard (Rambam, Hilchos Shabbos 16:1, based on Eruvin 25b), a vegetable patch or a grain field (Mishnah Eruvin 18a; Eruvin 23b) are not mukaf ledirah, even when they contain huts, called burgenin, for the watchmen (Eruvin 22a). In all of these instances, the fence built around the perimeter does not serve a residential need. Even the watchman’s hut is there not to serve as a residence, but to allow the watchman to remain nearby (Rashi, Eruvin 15a). (We should note that some authorities [Tosafos Shabbos, 358:1; Pri Megadim, Eishel Avraham 358:1] contend that if the watchman sleeps overnight in the hut, it is considered a residence. In their opinion, a burgenin is considered not mukaf ledirah because one uses it only in the daytime.)

We need to understand exactly why certain uses are considered residential, and others are not. However, prior to explaining these ideas, we need to clarify another aspect of this discussion.

Mixed neighborhoods

What is the halachah if an enclosure comprises both an area considered residential and an area that is not? For example, Yankel’s neighbor, Shmerel, has a large fenced-in backyard, which his family uses predominantly for barbecues and other recreation. It sounds as if this area should be treated as mukaf ledirah, even if it is larger than 5000 square amos. Indeed, its proximity to the house and its use would make this backyard mukaf ledirah.

However, this yard also includes a section planted with various spices and vegetables. As we learned above, a planted area is not mukaf ledirah. Do we consider the entire yard mukaf ledirah or not? May Shmerel’s family carry in the backyard? In the course of Yankel’s studying the laws of Eruvin, he discovered that carrying in his neighbor’s fenced-in yard might be prohibited!

A breached eruvNifratz bemilu’oh

To answer these questions, we need to explain a principle, called nifratz bemilu’oh, literally, breached in its entirety. Whenever an area in which one would otherwise be permitted to carry is open to an area where carrying is forbidden, the halachic result is that one may not carry in the otherwise permitted area (see Eruvin 25b). Thus, if it is prohibited to carry in the planted area, and the recreational part of Shmerel’s yard is nifratz bemilu’oh to the planted area, one cannot carry in any part of Shmerel’s yard (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 358:10). As we will soon see, this law has major ramifications for city eruvin also.

What is called “breached?”

Our next question, germane both to Shmerel’s yard and to our city eruv, is: How big a breach prohibits carrying?

There are two ways that a breach forbids carrying. One is when it is greater than ten amos, approximately seventeen feet or five meters. The other way is when the breach is smaller than ten amos but it comprises an entire side of the otherwise-permitted mukaf ledirah area. For example, if an otherwise-permitted rectangularly-shaped area is mukaf ledirah on three of its sides, but the remaining unwalled side opens to an area in which carrying is forbidden, even if the unwalled side is less than 10 amos wide one may not carry in the mukaf ledirah area.

In terms of Shmerel’s yard, this means that if the recreational part is not isolated from the garden, and the garden is large enough to prohibit carrying, the entire yard is prohibited. The same concept is true in a city eruv, as we will soon see.

How large a garden?

Before we can issue a ruling regarding Shmerel’s garden, we need one more piece of information. How large a garden will prohibit carrying?

The Gemara (Eruvin 23b-24a) states that if a planted area is larger than 5000 square amos, one may not carry in any part of the backyard. Even when the planted area is smaller than 5000 square amos, if the planted part is larger than the rest of the yard and the entire yard is larger than 5000 square amos, one may not carry in any part of it.

Healing a breach

Yankel and Shmerel measure the vegetable garden and the yard and discover that, lo and behold, one may not carry in Shmerel’s yard. Is there any way to fix the above problem to permit carrying within the recreational part of the yard?

Yes, there are at least two ways that one can do this. The first is to separate the recreational area from the planted area, and the second is to subdivide the planted area until it is small enough not to create a halachic issue. There are several ways of implementing either of these methods, but discussing them is beyond the scope of this article.

A flower garden

What is the halachah if Shmerel’s garden consists of a flower garden, rather than a vegetable patch? Does his flower garden invalidate the area for carrying, just as the vegetable garden did?

The halachic issue here is the following: People do not live in vegetable patches, but they do enjoy looking and smelling pretty and fragrant flowers. Is this a sufficient reason to consider a flower garden mukaf ledirah?

This matter is a subject of dispute, with different authorities on, shall we say, different sides of the fence. Although most authorities rule that a flower garden does not present a problem (see also Meiri, Eruvin 24a), the Divrei Chayim of Sanz (Shu’t Divrei Chayim, Orach Chayim 2:28) and the Sha’ul Umeishiv (Shu’t 3:131) were among the authorities who ruled that a flower garden will prohibit an eruv. Someone with a similar shaylah should refer it to his own rav or posek.

Fair lawn

As I mentioned above, the Gemara rules that a large, planted area for vegetables or grains will invalidate the eruv. Several halachic authorities say that a grass cover does not invalidate an eruv, since people relax by sitting or lying on the grass. However, can this logic apply when someone does not permit anyone to walk across their expensively tended lawn? This phenomenon, not uncommon in a modern suburban setting, implies that the contemporary lawn of this nature may not be considered mukaf ledirah and can therefore create a problem, if it is larger than a beis sasayim. I leave this question for the eruv movers and shakers to discuss with their posek.

Fenced first

Another halachic factor is that mukaf ledirah requires that the enclosure must have been constructed initially for residential use. This is called pasach u’le’besof hukaf, literally, he opened the entrance first and then afterwards enclosed the area (Eruvin 24a). However, if the area was enclosed when it did not yet have a residential use, providing it with a residential purpose later will not render the area one in which carrying is permitted.

For example, if Shmerel had originally decided to fence in his large yard because he wanted to plant vegetables, and only later decided to use it for domestic purposes, one may not carry in the yard, since its enclosure was originally not for domestic use. (There are ways to rectify such a situation, but this is a topic that we need to leave for a different time.)

Bitul mechitzos

We have yet to discuss another related question: What is the halachah if an area was originally mukaf ledirah, and then someone planted within the mukaf ledirah area? Does this now render the area a karmelis and prohibit carrying? As an example, let us imagine the following scenario: When Shmerel built the fence around his yard, his intention was for residential purposes, and it therefore had a status of mukaf ledirah. At this point, one could carry in the yard. Later, Shmerel decided to plant a large vegetable garden in the yard. Do we say that the yard remains permitted?

The halachah is that planting grain or vegetables invalidates the enclosure, and it is prohibited to carry in his yard.

However, there is an interesting halachah here. Not all planting invalidates the external walls. For example, the Gemara (Eruvin 23b) states explicitly that if one plants a large area of trees, one may continue carrying in the area. This ruling is very interesting, especially in light of the fact that a fence surrounding an orchard is not considered mukaf ledirah.

Trees versus veggies

What is the different between trees, which do not invalidate the eruv, and grain and vegetables, which do?

Rashi (Eruvin 23b) explains that people do not live in a vegetable patch; however, people will walk through an orchard to enjoy the shade. Thus, the planting of trees does not remove the designation of mukaf ledirah from the area.

As I noted above, the latter halachah applies only when one planted trees in an area that was already mukaf ledirah. In other words, there is a difference between enclosing the area, which requires that it initially is mukaf ledirah, and changing its status once it was mukaf ledirah. Enclosing an orchard is not considered mukaf ledirah.

We will continue this article next week…

* The measurements used in this article are meant only for rough calculation.

 

What’s Being Served for Haftarah This Week?

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Question #1: What Haftarah does Klal Yisrael read on Shabbos Parshas Shemos?

Question #2: Why do we read this Haftarah?

Question #3: What unusual fact about this week’s Haftarah inspired me to discuss this topic this week?

Before providing the clues to answering these questions; let’s first understand some background.

The Word Haftarah

I remember, as a child, assuming that the word Haftarah was pronounced half-Torah, because it was always much shorter than the Torah reading. Unfortunately, I occasionally hear adults mispronounce the word this way, too.

Although there are several interpretations of the word Haftarah, it is usually understood to mean completing, as in “completing the reading of the Torah” (Levush, Orach Chayim 284:1).

What Should We Read?

Chazal established specific Haftaros for some Shabbosos and Yomim Tovim (Megillah 29b- 31b). During weeks when no specific Haftarah was instituted, we should recite a Haftarah appropriate to the parsha.

Sometimes, the Haftarah relates not to the parsha, but to the season, such as during the Three Weeks and on the seven consecutive Shabbosos following Tisha B’Av. We also find that some places had a custom on a Shabbos aufruf to read the Haftarah from Yeshayahu that concludes, “And as a chosson rejoices with his kallah, so shall Hashem rejoice with you” (Terumas Hadeshen #20).

On most Shabbosos, when there was no requirement to read a specific section of Navi, each community would choose a selection of Navi reminiscent of the parsha. Indeed, if one looks at old Chumashim and books of community minhagim, one finds many variant practices. In addition, several sefarim mention different customs, and the Encyclopedia Talmudis provides a very extensive listing. Particularly, Sephardic and Ashkenazic practices often vary from one another, especially regarding minor differences, such as exactly where to begin or end the Haftarah, or whether to skip certain verses.

However, our Chumashim usually mention only the most common selections of Navi that have become generally accepted, only mentioning the differences between Sefardic, Ashkenazic and occasionally Italian practices.

Every Three Years

Today, the universal practice is to complete the entire Torah reading every year. However, in the times of the Gemara and for many centuries afterward, some communities read much smaller sections of the Torah every week and completed the Torah reading only every three years. Those communities also divided the Haftarah into three-year cycles by reciting a Haftarah that corresponded to their shorter readings. I have seen photographs of old manuscript Haftarah books based on the three-year system, where each sub-parsha has the name of the first words of the week’s portion. In the selection I saw, Parshas Vaeschanan was divided into three parts named Parshas Vaeschanan, Parshas Az Yavdil Moshe, and Parshas Shema Yisroel.

How is Parshas Shemos Unique?

Now is the time to address the questions I raised above:

Which Haftarah does Klal Yisrael read this Shabbos?

Why do we read this Haftarah?

What unusual fact about this week’s Haftarah inspired me to discuss this topic this week?

There are many different customs regarding which Haftarah to read. On no other Shabbos am I aware of as many different customs as this Shabbos. I am aware of five completely different choices for the Haftarah reading for Parshas Shemos! On many weeks, Ashkenazim and Sefardim either begin or end in different places, or add or skip certain pesukim, but the basic reading is the same. The five selections I saw mentioned for this week’s Haftarah are all from Neviim Acharonim, but they are five completely different readings. The Abudraham, who lists different customs regarding what to read on each week’s Haftarah, cites three alternate haftaros for Parshas Shemos, each from a different one of the three major seforim of Nevi’im Acharonim: Yeshayahu, Yirmiyohu and Yechezkel. And yet, the standard Haftarah read in Ashkenazi communities for this Shabbos is not any of the three that Avudraham quotes, which is highly unusual.

What do Ashkenazim read?

To the best of my knowledge, all Ashkenazic communities nowadays read Haba’im Yashreish Yaakov, from the Book of Yeshayahu (27:6 – 28:23). There does not seem to be any obvious reason to associate this passage from Yeshayahu with parshas Shemos. Why do we read this Haftarah? Rashi, in his commentary to the first words of the Haftarah, notes that the first words mentioned by Yeshayahu refer to the Bnei Yisroel going down to Mitzrayim, similar to the first words of this week’s Torah reading. Thus, although the rest of the Haftarah has little connection to the parsha, the beginning allusion was sufficient to choose this particular Haftarah for this week.

What do Sephardim and Edot Hamizrah read?

Some oriental communities, particularly those originating from parts of Yemen or Iraq, read from Yechezkel: Ben Adom Hoda es Yerushalayim (Yechezkel 16:1- 14), which is one of the three selections mentioned by Abudraham. This portion is also mentioned by the Rambam as the Haftarah for this week, which is probably the source for the Yemenite communities. Reading these words of Yechezkel, one can readily see why this was chosen for this week’s Haftarah. It describes the bleak origins of the Jewish people. Some of its verses have found their way into the Hagadah that is recited on Pesach-night, for the same reason.

However, most Sephardic communities read the beginning of the book of Yirmiyohu, Divrei Yirmiyohu. This Haftarah is very familiar to Ashkenazim because it is read on the first of the Three Weeks, usually parshas Pinchas, but occasionally on Parshas Matos.

Since this Haftarah discusses the impending attack of the Babylonians on Israel, it seems extremely appropriate to the Three Weeks; but why do Sephardim read it on parshas Shemos? Some note that several analogies between Moshe and Yirmiyohu surface in the parsha and Haftarah. Both Yirmiyahu and Moshe are beginning their careers as prophets, reluctantly. Yirmiyahu says that he is unable to speak, as he is little more than a child, and Moshe claims that he cannot speak due to physical impediment.

However, I must admit that I am baffled why it has become more commonly accepted to read either of these two haftaros: Habaim Yashreish Yaakov or Divrei Yirmiyohu, rather than Yechezkel Chapter 20, whose relationship to our parsha is more obvious. This passage mentions that Hashem made Himself known to the Jewish people in Mitzrayim, and that the Jews should not assimilate and follow Egyptian idolatrous practices. Indeed, this Haftarah was read by many Yemenite communities, yet it failed to gain acceptance in most other communities, either Ashkenazi or Sephardi, and furthermore, is not one of the three haftaros mentioned for this parsha by the Avudraham. (I refer our readers to Rav Mendel Hirsch’s commentary on the haftaros, where he suggests a connection between our Haftarah and parshas Shemos.)

Thus, I find two very surprising factors about the Haftarah we read this week.

  1. There are, or probably more accurately now, were at least five different accepted customs followed in choosing the Haftarah for this week, more than I am aware of for any other Shabbos.
  2. The ones standardly read in accordance with most Ashkenazi or Sephardi customs are the least obvious choices – meaning they are choices where we must strain to understand why they were chosen rather than other, more obvious candidates.

Conclusion:

We thus see that recital of the weekly Haftarah is an ancient custom and should be treated with respect. We may wonder why certain passages were chosen to be read on any given week; and at times, cannot even say that these were the most appropriate choices. In any event, we should pay attention to the Haftarah reading. We can gain much from understanding the inspiring messages that the navi is teaching.

 

Double Parshiyos and the Leap Year

Question #1: When is it a good idea to have doubles?

Question #2: Disproportionate readings

Why are the last four parshiyos of the Torah so short? Would it not make sense that the weekly readings be more evenly divided?

Question #3: Why does is take them so long to catch up?

Sometimes the weekly reading in Eretz Yisrael and chutz la’aretz are a week apart for months on end. Why don’t we coordinate things better?

Answer

Most doctors and other health professionals agree with the Rambam’s assessment that taking a double portion is not good for our health. Nevertheless, in most calendar years, our policy is to have several weeks of the year when we read a double parsha, and this is definitely good policy; otherwise, we would have difficulty completing the Torah every year and making a Siyum HaTorah on Simchas Torah. This year 5774 adds an unusual feature, in that there is only one parsha doubled the entire year, and that is not until the very last week of the year – almost as if we need to break the no-hitter in the ninth inning. Although this happened exactly three years ago, the time before that this happened was almost thirty years ago — back in 5744/1983/4, and we will not see this phenomenon again for another 21 years. Those who deplore long Shabbos davenings, and those curious to find out why this year was so singular – stay aboard.

There are a total of seven potential “double parshiyos,” meaning parshiyos that can sometimes be read as one reading on a Shabbos, but we rarely double them all in the same year. The reason for the doubling of most parshiyos is to accommodate the extra Shabbosos that are missing in a common (non-leap) year, which is a month shorter than a leap year; but, this is not the only reason for doubled parshiyos. Since the doubling of most parshiyos is to accommodate the four extra weeks of the leap year (or the four missing Shabbosos of the common year, depending on whether you look at the year as half-full or half-empty), four of the doubled parshiyos are at the end of Sefer Shemos or in Sefer Vayikra (Vayakheil-Pekudei; Tazria-Metzora; Acharei-Kedoshim and Behar-Bechukosei) – all of them falling between Adar, the new month added because of a leap year, and Shavuos.

Why do we want to “catch up” in time for Shavuos? This is so that we can fulfill a decree of Ezra, as presented in the Gemara:[1]

Ezra decreed that the Jews read the curses of the Tochacha in Vayikra before Shavuos and those of Devarim before Rosh Hashanah. [The Gemara then queries:] Why? In order to end the year together with its curses! [The Gemara then comments:] We well understand why we read the Tochacha of Devarim before Rosh Hashanah because the year is ending, but why is that of Vayikra read before Shavuos? Is Shavuos the beginning of a year? Yes, Shavuos is the beginning of a new year, as the Mishnah explains that the world is judged on Shavuos for fruit.” Tosafos (ad loc.) explains the Gemara to mean that the tochacha should be completed two weeks before each “New Year,” to allow there to be one Shabbos as a buffer between the Tochacha and the beginning of the year.[2] Therefore, the parsha of Bechukosei, which includes the tochacha, should be read at least two weeks before Shavuos, thus necessitating combining the parshiyos in a way that we complete them and are able to read Bamidbar before Shavuos. As a result, in most years there is one Shabbos between the tochacha of Bechukosei and Shavuos, when we read Parshas Bamidbar. In some leap years, there are two Shabbosos between Bechukosei and Shavuos; in those years, Naso is also read before Shavuos.

There are three other “double parshiyos” that do not come out during this part of the year, and each has its own reason for doubling the parshiyos, a reason that is unrelated to whether it is a leap year.

The “Double Parsha of the Exile”

Chukas-Balak is a double parsha that exists only outside Eretz Yisrael. I once heard it jokingly refered to as “Parsha Sheniyah shel Galiyus,” The Double Parsha of the Exile, a takeoff on the halachic term “Yom Tov Sheini shel Galiyus,” the second day of Yom Tov that is observed outside Eretz Yisrael. Indeed, the two days of Yom Tov in chutz la’aretz is the reason for combining Chukas and Balak into one parsha. When Shavous falls on Friday, its second day is on Shabbos, and, therefore, the communities of the exile read Aseir te’aseir in Parshas Re’eih, because it discusses the Yom Tov, whereas in Eretz Yisrael the next week’s parsha, Naso, is read, since it is no longer Shavuos. When this phenomenon occurs, the Jewish communities of Eretz Yisrael and of the Golah are reading different parshiyos for four weeks, from Parshas Naso through Parshas Chukas, with Eretz Yisrael always reading the parsha a week earlier, until the Golah “catches up” on the Shabbos that falls on the 12th of Tamuz, by reading both Chukas and Balak on one Shabbos, while in Eretz Yisrael they read only Parshas Balak. Thus, the following week, both communities read Parshas Pinchas.

The doubling of Matos and Masei

There are two other parshiyos, Matos and Masei, which are almost always read together, and are separated only when the year requires an extra Shabbos reading, as it did this year. Although we treat Matos and Masei as separate parshiyos, we should really view them as one long parsha (making the combination the largest parsha in the Torah), that occasionally needs to be divided to accommodate the need for an extra Torah reading.

In the occasional years when Matos and Masei are read separately, Parshas Pinchas falls before the Three Weeks — and we actually get to read the haftarah that is printed in the chumashim for Parshas Pinchas, Ve’yad Hashem, from the book of Melachim. In all other years, Parshas Pinchas is the first Shabbos of the three weeks, and the haftarah read is Divrei Yirmiyahu, the opening words of the book of Yirmiyahu, which is appropriate to the season. The printers of chumashim usually elect to print Divrei Yirmiyahu as if it is the haftarah for Parshas Matos, and then instruct you to read it on most years, instead, as the haftarah for Pinchas. What is more logical is to label this haftarah as the one appropriate for the first of the three weeks, and to print both after Pinchas; one for the occasional year when Pinchas falls before the 17th of Tamuz, and one for the far more frequent year when it falls after, and instruct people that when there is a haftarah to be read just for Parshas Matos, that they should read the second haftarah printed after Parshas Pinchas. But, alas, the printers do not usually consult with me, but look at what other printers have already done.

When do they go alone?

In what years are Matos and Masei separated? Only in leap years and only when there are no parshiyos doubled together from Simchas Torah until the week before Rosh Hashanah. (I will explain shortly why Parshas Netzavim is treated differently.) There are two types of leap years that require Matos and Masei to be separated:

(1) A leap year that begins on a Thursday.

A leap year adds an extra month, which is thirty days, not 28. Thus, a leap year sometimes adds five extra Shabbosos, not just four, and there is a need to add an extra reading. This occurs when a leap year begins on a Thursday. In calendar jargon, these years are called החא and השג, which both mean that Rosh Hashanah falls on Thursday. In these years, to accommodate the extra Shabbos, the parshiyos of Matos and Masei are separated. As we can imagine, this is not a very common occurrence – a leap year that begins with Rosh Hashanah on Thursday. However, not only did this happen this year, but it also continued an interesting and quirky streak: This was the fourth leap year in a row to begin on a Thursday. Leap years 5765 (the eighth year of the current cycle), 5768 (the eleventh year of the current cycle), and 5771 (the fourteenth year of the current cycle) all began on Thursday. Thus, Matos was separated from Masei this year for the fourth time in ten years. This streak is broken, finally, in the next leap year, 5776, when Rosh Hashanah occurs on a Monday, and Matos and Masei are again combined. At this point, one will have to get used to long davenings in the middle of the summer, since the next time that Matos and Masei are separate is not until 5795, the secular year 2034, which means that 21 years will pass before Matos and Masei are again read on separate Shabbosos.

(2) What I have said until now is accurate only if you are outside Eretz Yisrael. There is one other situation in Eretz Yisrael in which the parshiyos of Matos and Masei are read on separate weeks, because, otherwise, there are simply not enough readings for every Shabbos of the year. When Rosh Hashanah of a leap year falls on a Tuesday, or in some leap years, even when it falls on a Monday, Eretz Yisrael has to read every possible separate parsha from Rosh Hashanah until the next Rosh Hashanah to accommodate all the Shabbosos of the year. In these years, in Eretz Yisrael, there are no doubled parshiyos, and, therefore, Matos and Masei are separated.

Why is this dependent on being in Eretz Yisrael? The year is the same length no matter where you are, and there seem to be just as many Shabbosos in Eretz Yisrael as there are outside?

The difference is that in these years, the Eighth Day of Pesach, Acharon shel Pesach, falls on Shabbos. On this Yom Tov day, observed only outside Eretz Yisrael, the special Yom Tov reading in chutz la’aretz is Aseir te’aseir, whereas in Eretz Yisrael this Shabbos is after Pesach (although the house is still chometz-free!), and the reading is Parshas Acharei. Thus, in chutz la’aretz there is a need to double a parsha, and, according to what is today common practice, that parsha is Matos and Masei.

The practice I just mentioned however creates a very unusual phenomenon:

The subsequent Shabbos, the Jews of Eretz Yisrael are already reading Parshas Kedoshim, whereas outside Eretz Yisrael the reading is Parshas Acharei. The communities outside Eretz Yisrael ignore the opportunity of doubling up parshiyos Acharei and Kedoshim, Behar and Becholosai and Chukas and Balak, all of which are doubled together upon other occasions, and wait until the very last parsha of Bamidbar to combine Matos with Masei. Thus, the disparity between Eretz Yisrael and chutz la’aretz lasts for over three months, until Parshas Masei, which, as I mentioned above, outside Eretz Yisrael is doubled into MatosMasei. By the way, this phenomenon is fast approaching. Hebrew year 5776, to be here in two years, follows this pattern, so those who return to chutz la’aretz after spending Pesach in Eretz Yisrael will find that they have missed a parsha. Unless, of course, they decide to stay in Eretz Yisrael until the Nine Days.

The Long Wait to Double

This leads to a very interesting question: Why is the disparity between Eretz Yisrael and chutz la’aretz allowed to last for such a long period of time? There are three potential doubled parshiyos that are passed before one gets to Parshas Matos – all weeks in which those in chutz la’aretz could combine two parshiyos in order to catch up.

As you can imagine, we are not the first to raise this question, which is indeed raised by one of the great sixteenth-century poskim, the Maharit (Shu’t Volume II # 4). He answers that Shavuos should ideally fall between Bamidbar and Naso, and that combining either Acharei with Kedoshim, or Behar with Bechokosai would push Shavuos until after Parshas Naso. Indeed, in these years, this is what happens in Eretz Yisrael, but there is no option there, since there are simply not enough Shabbosos for all the parshiyos. In chutz la’aretz, since one can have the readings occur on the preferred weeks, we delay the combined parshiyos until after Shavuos.

However, the Maharit notes that this does not explain why the parshiyos of Chukas and Balak are not combined, although he notes that the Syrian communities indeed follow this practice — that is, on leap years when Acharon shel Pesach falls on Shabbos, they combine parshiyos Chukas and Balak, but read Matos and Masei on separate weeks, as is done in Eretz Yisrael.

To explain why the parshiyos of Chukas and Balak are not combined in other communities, the Maharit concludes that once most of the summer has passed and the difference is what to read on only three Shabbosos, we combine Matos with Masei, which are usually combined, rather than Chukas and Balak, which are usually separate.

NetzavimVayeilech

We have now explained the reason for every time we read a double parsha, with one important and anomalous exception – the two tiny parshiyos of Netzavim and Vayeilech. Tosafos already asks why we often combine the two huge parshiyos of Matos and Masei, and in the very same year, read the two tiny parshiyos of Netzavim and Vayeilech on separate weeks. His answer is based on his explanation to the Gemara that we quoted earlier:

Ezra decreed that the Jews read the curses of the Tochacha in Vayikra before Shavuos and those of Devarim before Rosh Hashanah. [The Gemara then queries:] Why? In order to end the year together with its curses, which Tosafos understood to mean that the tochacha should be completed two weeks before Rosh Hashanah to allow a week as a buffer between the tochacha and the beginning of the year.

That buffer parsha is Netzavim, which must always be read on the last Shabbos of the year; but, ultimately, this means that only a small part of the Torah is left to be read between Rosh Hashanah and Simchas Torah. This small part left is divided into three small parshiyos, Vayeilech, Haazinu, and Vezos Haberacha. Vezos Haberacha is, of course, read on Simchas Torah, and Haazinu on the last Shabbos of the cycle, which is either Shabbos Shuva or the Shabbos between Yom Kippur and Sukkos, if there is one. Thus, whether Vayeilech merits its own Shabbos or is combined with Netzavim depends on only one factor: if there is more than one Shabbos between Rosh Hashanah and Sukkos. When there are two such Shabbosos, Vayeilech is read on Shabbos Shuva, and Haazinu the week afterwards. When there is only one Shabbos between Rosh Hashanah and Sukkos, Vayeilech is combined with Netzavim on the week before Rosh Hashanah, and Haazinu is read the week of Shabbos Shuva.

Conclusion

From all of the above, we see the importance that Chazal placed on the public reading of the Torah and of completing its cycle annually. It goes without saying that we should be concerned with being attentive to the words of the Torah as they are being read, and that the baal keriah should make every effort to read them accurately.

 

[1] Gemara Megillah 31b; Rambam, Hilchos Tefillah 13:2

[2] The Levush explains that without the week as a buffer, the Satan could use te Tochacha as a means of prosecuting against us on the judgment day

Holding the Torah Upright

According to some rishonim, the mitzvah to raise the Torah (hagbahah) is mentioned in parshas Ki Savo.

Question #1: Holy Roller

“I was in a shul, and when they took out the sefer Torah, they opened it and carried it all around the shul, showing everyone with a yad where the beginning of the keri’ah is. I had never seen this before, and was wondering if this is a common practice. Is it mentioned in halachic sources, or does it simply manifest someone’s enthusiasm?”

Question #2: Reversing the Trend

Is there any halachic basis for the custom on Simchas Torah of reversing the sefer Torah so that the writing faces away from the magbiah?

Answer: Needing a Lift

The mitzvah of hagbahah is to raise the sefer Torah and show it, so that everyone in the shul can see the writing of the sefer Torah. The prevalent, but not exclusive, tradition among Ashkenazim is that this mitzvah is performed after each sefer Torah is read, whereas the exclusive practice among edot hamizrach (Jews of Middle Eastern and Sefardic descent) is that this lifting is performed prior to reading from the Torah. Among the edot hamizrach, some open the sefer Torah and lift it up immediately upon removing it from the Aron Kodesh, whereas others first bring the sefer Torah to the shulchan and then perform hagbahah, prior to calling up the kohen for the first aliyah (Ben Ish Chai II, Tolados #16). Some even perform hagbahah both before and after the reading (ibid.; Kaf Hachayim 134:17) As a matter of curiosity, it is interesting to mention that some Chassidim and Perushim in Eretz Yisrael observe the practice of the Sefardim and perform hagbahah before the Torah is read. When following this procedure, the magbiah does not sit down with the sefer Torah after he has completed his job, but places it down on the shulchan from which it is read.

As we will soon see, both customs – performing hagbahah before the reading and performing it after the reading – can be traced back to antiquity.

The earliest description of hagbahah

The earliest extant description of the procedure of hagbahas haTorah is found in Masechta Sofrim, as follows:

“One must raise the sefer Torah when reciting the words Shema Yisrael… and then raise it again upon reciting Echad Elokeinu Gadol Adoneinu Kadosh Shemo… Immediately, [the person performing the mitzvah] opens the sefer Torah to a width of three columns and lifts the sefer Torah — showing the writing to all the people standing to his right and his left. Then he moves the sefer Torah in a circular motion before him and behind him — because it is a mitzvah incumbent on all the men and women to see the text of the sefer Torah, to bow, and to say Vezos HaTorah asher sam Moshe lifnei Bnei Yisrael” (Masechta Sofrim 14:11-14).

What are the sources for the divergent customs?

As noted by the Beis Yosef and the Gra, the Masechta Sofrim describes performing hagbahah before keri’as haTorah. Nevertheless, the venerated practice of the Bnei Ashkenaz is to do hagbahah after we read the Torah (see Darkei Moshe 147:4; the practice is quoted at least as early as the Sefer HaItur, who lived over eight hundred years ago). This custom is based on the Gemara (Megillah 32a) that states, “After ten people read the Torah, the greatest of them should roll up the Torah,” which refers to hagbahah and implies that it is performed after the Torah has been read. Similarly, a different passage of Gemara (Sotah 39b) mentions that the person reading the haftarah should be careful not to begin until the rolling of the Torah is complete. This implies that the hagbahah and subsequent rolling closed of the Torah is performed immediately prior to the haftarah, and not before the Torah is read.

Two places in Shulchan Aruch

This difference in practice resulted in an anomalous situation. Because the Tur was an Ashkenazi, he included the laws of hagbahas haTorah after the reading of the Torah, in Chapter 147 of Orach Chayim. On the other hand, the Shulchan Aruch, who follows Sefardic practice, mentions hagbahas haTorah before the rules of the reading of the Torah in Chapter 134:2, yet he also discusses the laws of hagbahas HaTorah where the Tur placed the halachah in Chapter 147. As a result, the halachos of hagbahas haTorah are located in two different places in Shulchan Aruch, some in Chapter 134, others in Chapter 147, with the laws of keri’as haTorah sandwiched between.

Why do Ashkenazim do hagbahah afterwards?

Logically, it would seem that we should display the text of the sefer Torah prior to reading the Torah, so that people observe the section that is about to be read, as, indeed, the Sefardim do. Why do Ashkenazim delay displaying the words of the Torah until after the reading is concluded?

The authorities present the following basis for what seems to be an anomalous practice: In earlier generations, there were unlettered people who mistakenly assumed that it was more important to see the words of the Torah during the hagbahah than it was to hear the reading of the Torah. As a result, many of these people would leave shul immediately after the hagbahah and miss the reading. Therefore, the practice was introduced to postpone the hagbahah until after the reading was concluded — which now caused these people to stay in shul and hear the reading of the Torah (Shiyarei Keneses Hagedolah 134:2, quoted by Kaf Hachayim 134:17).

Are there any other ramifications to this dispute?

Indeed, there is another interesting ramification that results from the Ashkenazic practice of delaying the hagbahah until after the reading is concluded. Should one notice a pesul in the sefer Torah that does not require taking out another sefer Torah, but precludes reading from this sefer Torah until it is repaired, one should not recite the words Vezos HaTorah and Toras Hashem temimah when being magbiah the sefer Torah (Kaf Hachayim 134:17, quoting Shu’t Adnei Paz #13).

What is the proper way to do hagbahah?

A sefer Torah is written on sections of parchment that are stitched together. The person who is performing hagbahah should make sure that the stitching is in front of him before he lifts the Torah, so that if the sefer Torah tears from the stress of the lifting, the stitching, which is easy to repair, will tear and not, G-d forbid, the parchment itself (Megillah 32a, as explained by the Tur; see esp. Aruch HaShulchan 147:13; cf., however, how Rashi explains the Gemara).

“Reading” the Torah

When the sefer Torah is raised, each person in shul should try to actually read the letters of the sefer Torah. This causes a bright, spiritual light of the Torah to reach him (Arizal, quoted by Magen Avraham 134:3). Some have the practice of looking for a word in the sefer Torah that begins with the same letter as their name (Ben Ish Chai II, Tolados #16). In most Sefardic communities, someone points to the beginning of the day’s reading while the sefer Torah is held aloft for all to see. Some congregations consider this a great honor that is given to the rav or another scholar (Kaf Hachayim 134:13). This may be the origin of the custom that some people have of pointing at the sefer Torah during hagbahah (cf. Yalkut Me’am Lo’ez, Parshas Ki Savo, 27:26).

In order to make sure that everyone sees the text of the sefer Torah, some Sefardic congregations have the magbiah carry the open sefer Torah around the shul to display its holy words to every attendee (Kaf Hachayim 134:13).

In which direction is the Torah held?

The usual Ashkenazic practice is that the magbiah holds the sefer Torah with its writing facing him. Some congregations have the practice that, on Simchas Torah, the sefer Torah is lifted in the reverse way, so that the writing is away from the magbiah. Most people think that this is a “shtick” as part of the Simchas Torah celebration, but this is not halachically accurate.

The Bach (147) contends that the original approach was to hold the sefer Torah with the writing visible to the people — as we do on Simchas Torah. This is because when the magbiah lifts the sefer Torah the way we usually do, his body blocks the view, and for this reason, the Maharam and other great Torah leaders held the Torah with its text away from them when they performed hagbahah. Presumably, the reason this practice was abandoned is because it is much more difficult to do hagbahah this way, and there is concern that someone might, G-d forbid, drop the sefer Torah while doing it. Nevertheless, in places where the custom is to perform hagbahah this way on Simchas Torah, the reason is to show that on this joyous occasion we want to perform hagbahah in the optimal way.

The more the merrier!!

The above-quoted Masechta Sofrim requires that the magbiah open the sefer Torah three columns wide. The authorities dispute whether the magbiah may open the sefer Torah more than three columns. In other words, does Masechta Sofrim mean that one should open the sefer Torah exactly three columns, or does it mean that one should open it at least three columns, so that everyone can see the words of the Torah, but that someone may open it wider, should he choose? The Magen Avraham (134:3) suggests that one should open it exactly three columns, although he provides no reason why one should not open the sefer Torah more, whereas the Mishnah Berurah says that it depends on the strength of the magbiah — implying that if he can open it more, it is even better. It is possible that the Magen Avraham was concerned that opening the sefer Torah wider might cause people to show off their prowess and cause the important mitzvah of hagbahas haTorah to become a source of inappropriate pride — the exact opposite of the humility people should have when performing mitzvos.

Lift and roll!?

Most people who perform the mitzvah of hagbahah roll open the sefer Torah to the requisite width and then lift it, whereas others unroll it while they are lifting it. Which of these approaches is preferred?

The Shaar Efrayim discusses this issue, and implies that there is no preference between the two approaches, whereas the standard wording of Masechta Sofrim is that one should unroll the sefer Torah first.

Reciting Vezos HaTorah

When the sefer Torah is elevated, everyone should bow and recite the pasuk Vezos HaTorah asher sam Moshe lifnei Bnei Yisrael (Masechta Sofrim 14:14). Indeed, the Chida cites sources who hold that since Chazal mention saying Vezos HaTorah, it has the status of a davar shebekedushah and can be said even if one is in the middle of birchos keri’as shema (Kenesses Hagedolah, quoted by Birkei Yosef 134:4). Subsequently, the Chida wrote a lengthy responsum in which he concluded that reciting Vezos HaTorah does not have the status of a davar shebekedushah, and therefore should not be said in a place where it interrupts one’s davening (Shu’t Chayim She’al 1:68).

Vezos HaTorah should be said only while facing the words of the sefer Torah (Be’er Heiteiv 134:6, quoting several earlier sources). If one began reciting Vezos HaTorah while facing the writing of the sefer Torah, one may complete the pasuk after the text of the sefer Torah has been rotated away from one’s view (Shaar Efrayim).

In many siddurim, after the sentence Vezos HaTorah asher sam Moshe lifnei Bnei Yisrael, five words are added: Al pi Hashem beyad Moshe (Bamidbar 9:23), as if this is the continuation of the verse. Many halachic authorities question adding the words Al pi Hashem beyad Moshe, since these words are from a different passage of the Torah (Aruch Hashulchan 134:3). Others are concerned for a different reason, because these last five words are not an entire verse and they question the practice of reciting partial verses of the Torah. Indeed, many old siddurim do not quote this addition, and many halachic authorities contend that one should not recite it.

Who should be honored with hagbahah?

The Gemara (Megillah 32a) states “Ten people who read the Torah, the greatest of them should roll the Torah,” which refers to the mitzvah of hagbahah, since the magbiah rolls the Torah both prior to displaying it, and when he closes it, afterwards. The Baal HaItur quotes two opinions as to whom the “ten people” refers. Does it mean the attendees of the current minyan, and that the greatest of this group should be the one who is honored with the mitzvah of lifting and displaying the Torah? Or, does it means according the honor of lifting and displaying the Torah to the greatest of the ten people who were involved in that day’s reading (the seven who had aliyos, the maftir, the baal keriyah, and the person who recited the Targum after each pasuk was read, which was standard procedure at the time of the Gemara).

The halachic authorities rule according to the first approach, that one should honor the greatest person in the shul (Gra; Mishnah Berurah 147:6). They also refer to another practice, which was to auction off the mitzvah of hagbahah to the highest bidder (Tur; Shulchan Aruch). However, where the hagbahah is not auctioned, one should provide the honor to the greatest Torah scholar in attendance (Machatzis Hashekel). The prevalent practice of not necessarily offering hagbahah to the greatest scholar is in order to avoid any machlokes (Shaar Efrayim; Mishnah Berurah). Nevertheless, in a situation where no machlokes will develop, one should certainly accord the mitzvah to the greatest talmid chacham who can properly perform hagbahah. Whatever the situation may be, the gabbai is responsible to give hagbahah only to someone who is both knowledgeable and capable of performing the mitzvah properly.

The importance of performing hagbahah correctly

The Ramban, in his commentary on the verse, Cursed be he who does not uphold the words of this Torah (Devarim 27:26), explains that this curse includes someone who, when performing hagbahah, does not raise the sefer Torah in a way that everyone in the shul can see it properly. Apparently, there were places that did not perform the mitzvah of hagbahah at all out of concern that someone will be cursed for not performing hagbahah properly (Birkei Yosef, Shiyurei Brachah 134:2; Kaf Hachayim 134:15; Encyclopedia Talmudis, quoting Orchos Chayim). Although I certainly do not advocate eliminating the mitzvah of hagbahah, a person who knows that he cannot perform the mitzvah correctly should defer the honor, and the gabbai should offer the honor only to someone who fulfills the mitzvah properly.

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