Personal Supplications on Shabbos and Yom Tov

In Parshas Eikev, the Torah tells us that Moshe Rabbeinu prayed for the Jewish people. Would he have been permitted to do this on Shabbos? And would he have been permitted to pray for the needs of an individual on Shabbos, or perhaps just for the entire community?

Personal Supplications on Shabbos and Yom Tov

Question # 1: Harachaman Hullabaloo

“I know that some people do not recite the harachamans at the end of bensching on Shabbos, but I was raised saying them. Am I doing something wrong?”

Question #2: The Monotonous Mishebeirach Mode

Iam Impatient calls me with the following question: “Can we do anything to reduce the number of mishebeirachs in our shul? It is taking longer and longer, and I find the delay quite disturbing.”

Question #3: Kibud Av versus Kavod Shabbos

Michal’s father asks her to arrange a minyan to daven on his behalf on Shabbos. May she?

Question #4: On Shabbos morning, Shlomoh asks the shul’s gabbai. “My father will be having surgery this week. Can we say a chapter of Tehillim on his behalf after davening when everyone is still in shul?”

Answer:

In several places, the Gemara mentions that one may not pray for individual needs on Shabbos (e.g., Taanis 19a; Bava Basra 91a; Yerushalmi, Shabbos, 15:3). At least two reasons are quoted for this prohibition. Some sources include it under what the Navi Yeshaya (58:13) commanded when he declared, Vechibadto mei’asos derachecha mimetzo cheftzecha vedabeir davar, “You shall honor the Shabbos by not performing your own matters, seeking out your own needs and speaking of them” (Vayikra Rabbah 34:16; Rashba, Shabbos 113a). This proscription is usually simply called dabeir davar.

A second opinion

Others prohibit praying for personal requests on Shabbos because it violates one’s oneg Shabbos. Praying for personal needs causes one to focus on what troubles him, which leads a person to be sorrowful (see Rambam, Hilchos Shabbos 30:12 and Ran, Shabbos, Rif page 5b). Shabbos is to be a day of joy.

According to both reasons, dabeir davar and oneg Shabbos, we now understand why, on Motza’ei Shabbos, we insert the passage atah chonantanu, which is a declaration of havdalah ending Shabbos, in the fourth brocha of shemoneh esrei, which is the first of the weekday brachos. The reason is that we may not recite the middle brachos of the shemoneh esrei until we have recited havdalah (Yerushalmi, Brachos end of 5:2; Shu”t HaRashba #739; Magen Avraham 294:1). Someone who forgot to recite atah chonantanu and realizes while in the middle of shemoneh esrei may continue the shemoneh esrei, but should not add any personal supplications to his prayer. The reason for this ruling will be explained shortly.

“Provide us, sustain us…”

If personal supplications are prohibited on Shabbos, how can we say in our bensching the personal requests to Hashem “Provide us, sustain us…”? The same question exists in many of the prayers that we recite on Shabbos, such as the Yehi ratzon prayer we recite at the end of the morning birchos hashachar. How are we permitted to recite this prayer on Shabbos?

This question is asked in the Gemara Yerushalmi, which I quote:

We learned: It is prohibited to pray for one’s needs on Shabbos. Rabbi Ze’eira asked Rabbi Chiya bar Abba, “When reciting the bensching, may one say ‘Tend to us, provide us with livelihood’ [re’einu, zuneinu, in the third brocha]?” Rabbi Chiya bar Abba answered him that this is permitted because this is the standard structure of the brocha (Yerushalmi, Shabbos 15:3).

Thus, the Yerushalmi introduces a new idea: that something that is a standard part of a tefillah or brocha may be recited on Shabbos, a concept called tofeis brocha. For this reason, we do not modify the words of bensching or the other brachos that we usually recite.

What is the logic behind permitting tofeis brocha? This is still a request that should be prohibited for one of the two reasons mentioned above.

I found three interpretations to explain why we may recite a prayer that is included in a tofeis brocha.

I. Distorted brachos

The Korban HaEidah, one of the primary commentaries on the Yerushalmi, explains that tofeis brocha is permitted because of concern that changing the wording on Shabbos might cause one to get confused and recite the entire brocha incorrectly.

II. Changing the nusach

The Rivash (Shu”t HaRivash #512) explains the reason for tofeis brocha is because one does not change a text established by Chazal. Thus, the prohibition against making personal requests on Shabbos never applied to standard texts. The Rivash then extends this idea even to selichos and piyutim – and it is for this reason that when we recite these passages on Shabbos that falls on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we recite the exact same text as we do when Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur fall on a weekday.

III. Familiarity breeds content

Others provide yet a third reason to explain why one may recite a supplication that is incorporated in a tofeis brocha: something that one says regularly does not cause him suffering (Kuntrus Bakashos BeShabbos page 3, quoting Yafeh Mareh and Atares Paz 1:2:2). This approach assumes that the reason we may not pray for personal supplications on Shabbos is not because of the takkanah of dabeir davar but only because of the reason of oneg Shabbos.

Harachaman Hullabaloo

At this point, we can already discuss the first question raised above:

“I know that some people do not recite the harachamans at the end of bensching on Shabbos, but I was raised saying them. Am I doing something wrong?”

No, you are in good company, together with many well-respected poskim. The Mishnah Berurah (188:9) rules that one may recite the harachamans on Shabbos – they are also considered tofeis brachos.

Some authorities extend the lenience of tofeis brocha considerably, ruling that the prohibition against reciting supplications on Shabbos applies only to a prayer that one constructs oneself, but does not apply to any standardized prayer (Shu”t Rav Pe’alim, Orach Chayim 2:46).

Pikuach nefesh

Aside from the situation of tofeis brachos, there is another case when one may recite personal supplications on Shabbos, and that is when the situation is one of pikuach nefesh, life-threatening emergency. Just as saving lives supersedes Shabbos and most mitzvos of the Torah, so one is permitted to pray for deliverance when faced by an immediate life-threatening emergency. For example, the Mishnah (Taanis 19a) teaches that one prays on Shabbos that Hashem save the people when a city is surrounded by invaders, when a river overflows, or when a boat is floundering at sea.

The same is true for an individual.  Just as pikuach nefesh of an individual supersedes Shabbos, so, too, praying for an individual’s deliverance in a life-threatening circumstance supersedes Shabbos when it is a sakanas hayom – a circumstance that presents an immediate, life-threatening emergency (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 288:9, 10). Therefore, if someone is very seriously ill and his life is in immediate danger, we say Tehillim and pray on his behalf, even on Shabbos. However, if the person is seriously ill but not in immediate danger, we do not say Tehillim for him on Shabbos, but wait until after Shabbos. Thus, the Mishnah Berurah (288:28) rules that a woman giving birth or a woman who gave birth within the past week are both considered sakanas hayom, and one may pray for them on Shabbos.

Out-of-town ill

Is one permitted to daven on Shabbos for an ill person who is not in his city? Why does it make a difference where the ill person is?

Some authorities contend that since one does not know if his condition is a sakanas hayom, these prayers might be desecrating Shabbos unnecessarily (Maharil cited by Machatzis HaShekel 288:14). The accepted practice follows those who permit these prayers, considering them a safek pikuach nefesh (Nachalas Shivah).

Can I get rid of all those mishebeirachs?

At this point, let us examine a different one of our opening questions.

Iam Impatient asked: “Can we do anything to reduce the number of mishebeirachs in our shul? It is taking longer and longer, and I find the delay quite disturbing.”

I mentioned above the dispute as to whether the prohibition of personal supplications on Shabbos is because of the law of dabeir davar, meaning that one should not discuss this-worldly matters on Shabbos, or it is because of oneg Shabbos — praying for personal needs may cause one to become sorrowful. Is there any difference in halachah between the two reasons?

Indeed, there are some differences in halachah that result from this disagreement. One dispute that results is germane to whether one may recite a mishebeirach for an ill person on Shabbos. The standard text for this mishebeirach when recited on a weekday includes a short prayer that the ill person should have a complete recovery. Logically, it should be prohibited to recite this on Shabbos, since it is a private request. Yet, some early authorities rule that when the ill person is not nearby, one may recite these mishebeirachs on Shabbos, reasoning that one does not become sorrowful when reciting a mishebeirach for someone not present (responsum of Rav Yaakov Beirav, in Shu”t Avkas Rocheil #11). This line of reasoning assumes that the prohibition of praying for personal requests on Shabbos is because it causes suffering.

However, several other authorities prohibit reciting a mishebeirach for ill people on Shabbos, expressly stating that it is forbidden because of dabeir davar (She’ei’las Yaavetz #64; Gra”z, Orach Chayim 288:9). The She’ei’las Yaavetz prohibits reciting a mishebeirach for the ill on Shabbos except for a choleh who is in the category of sakanas hayom. He also prohibits reciting these mishebeirachs for an additional reason that will make Iam happy: Yaavetz contends that they are prohibited because they inconvenience the community by delaying the services (tircha de’tzibura).

A compromise position rules that one may recite a mishebeirach for ill people on Shabbos provided that one modifies the text, and instead of closing with a prayer for a swift recovery, one blesses the ill person, and then makes a statement that on Shabbos we are not permitted to cry out, but recovery is soon to come (Magen Avraham 288:14).

The prevalent custom in most places today follows the last approach, and that is why, in many shullen, mishebeirachs are recited for the ill even when it is not a sakanas hayom. Of course, this ruling, which is probably the practice in Iam’s shul, is what is upsetting Iam.

Some authorities add an additional factor in favor of the reciting of the mishebeirach: it is considered a special merit to pray for someone during, or immediately after, the reading of the Torah. To quote the Aruch HaShulchan (Yoreh Deah 335:12): “If one has a family member who is ill… the custom is to pray in shul during kerias haTorah for those who are sick, for then Divine Compassion is aroused.”

In answer to what is the best thing to do, I refer to a responsum of an earlier authority, the Rivash (Shu”t HaRivash #512) on a related topic: whether one should recite Avinu Malkeinu on Shabbos of Rosh Hashanah, Shabbos Shuvah and Yom Kippur. After noting the different customs that he saw in several communities, and explaining the reasons why reciting Avinu Malkeinu on Shabbos does or does not violate the prohibition against reciting personal requests on Shabbos, he concludes that one should follow the prevalent local custom. Similarly, regarding whether one recites a mishebeirach on Shabbos, he should follow established community or shul custom.

May I pray for personal spiritual requests?

The Mishnah Berurah (288:22) permits praying on Shabbos for spiritual help or for any other request that is not a result of difficult circumstances. It seems that this should be permitted according to both reasons mentioned above. According to the first reason, one should not pray on Shabbos about one’s own needs, but spiritual needs are Hashem’s realm. According to the second reason, most people do not become saddened regarding their spiritual failings and “troubles.”

Based on the above, on Shabbos one may recite the prayer of Rav Nechunia ben Hakanah requesting divine assistance for one’s Torah learning (Halichos Shlomoh, 14:11).

Yom Tov versus Shabbos

Does the prohibition against requesting personal supplications apply only on Shabbos, or does it apply equally on Yom Tov? This topic is discussed by the halachic authorities in a variety of places.

The Magen Avraham (128:70) notes that although the custom among Ashkenazim outside Eretz Yisroel is to duchen only on Yom Tov, some communities do not duchen when Yom Tov falls on Shabbos. He suggests the reason for this practice is because the members of the congregation recite the prayer for bad dreams when the kohanim duchen, and that, if the kohanim duchen on Shabbos, people will say this prayer on Shabbos, which violates the prohibition against reciting personal supplications. The Magen Avraham states that there is no concern with reciting this prayer on Yom Tov, notwithstanding the fact that it qualifies as a personal supplication. Although he certainly agrees that one may not recite personal supplications on Yom Tov, he rallies evidence that there is a difference between Yom Tov and Shabbos regarding the severity of this prohibition. After all, we omit reciting the prayer Avinu Malkeinu on Rosh Hashanah when it falls on Shabbos, yet we have no problem with reciting Avinu Malkeinu when Rosh Hashanah falls on a weekday. We could similarly demonstrate this difference between Yom Tov and Shabbos from the fact that we recite certain personal requests and the 13 midos of Hashem when we take out the sefer Torah on Yom Tov, but refrain from reciting these prayers when Yom Tov falls on Shabbos.

However, the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 576:12) implies that there is no difference between Yom Tov and Shabbos – that personal requests are prohibited equally on both days, a position reiterated by other later authorities (Shu”t Rav Pe’alim 2:46). It appears that Ashkenazim and Sefardim differ as to the accepted position. Ashkenazim follow the ruling of the Magen Avraham and are more lenient on Yom Tov, whereas Sefardim are stricter about reciting personal requests on Yom Tov.

Kibud Av versus Kavod Shabbos

At this point, I would like to address the third question asked above: “Michal’s father asks her to arrange a minyan to daven on his behalf on Shabbos. May she?”

To answer this question, I refer to a responsum on a related topic from Rav Moshe Feinstein.

On the last day of Pesach, someone who was seriously ill, but not a sakanas yom, requested that the members of a shul pray on his behalf. They then recited a few chapters of Tehillim on his behalf and recited the appropriate prayer. After Yom Tov, they were able to ask Rav Moshe whether they had done the correct thing.

Rav Moshe ruled that although this was not a sakanas yom, since the ill person himself had requested that they pray on his behalf, and he was in a situation of general pikuach nefesh, it was proper that they prayed on his behalf. Although ordinarily one may not pray on someone’s behalf if it is not a sakanas yom, in this situation we do pray on his behalf out of concern that he would become upset, which could aggravate his precarious condition. This concept is called shelo titrof daato, that the ill person should not become distressed, and is used in several different halachic contexts.

However, Rav Moshe notes, this ruling applies only when the ill person himself made the request. If family members ask that people pray on his behalf on Shabbos, one should not accede to their request, if it is not a case of sakanas yom (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 1:105).

At this point, I would like to refer to the last question I raised above: “On Shabbos morning, Shlomoh asks the shul’s gabbai. “My father will be having surgery this week. Can we say a chapter of Tehillim on his behalf after davening, when everyone is still in shul?”

The answer to the question is that since there is no sakanas hayom here and the ill person himself was not the source of the request, one should not say Tehillim and daven for him until after Shabbos.

Conclusion

The words of Yeshaya that include the words dabeir davar are read as part of the haftarah that we recite on Yom Kippur. There the Navi concludes “If you remove your internal yoke from yourself, pointing fingers at one another and evil speech… then Hashem will always guide you… if you refrain from doing your matters on My holy day… you honor it by not performing your own matters, seeking out your own needs and speaking of them. Then you will delight with Hashem and I will mount you on the highest places on Earth. I will feed you the heritage of your father Yaakov, for Hashem has spoken.”

 

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Dishes, Detergent and Malachos

The Aseres Hadibros include the mitzvah of Shabbos, providing the opportunity to continue our discussion from parshas Pinchas.

Dishes, Detergent and Malachos

Question #1: Washing dishes

“Whenever I ask my son to help wash the dishes on Shabbos, he claims that it is prohibited. Is he pulling my leg in his attempt to avoid family responsibilities?”

Question #2: No detergent

“Is it prohibited to wash clothes on Shabbos if I do not use detergent?”

Question #3: Six in one!

Can six people consecutively launder a garment?

Three weeks ago, we began our discussion about the melacha of melabein. We learned that there is a dispute among rishonim whether this melacha should be defined as laundering or as bleaching, although in practical terms, the halachos remain the same either way, and it is prohibited min haTorah to launder or to bleach on Shabbos. We also discovered that there are numerous ways that one can violate this melacha, such as by soaking, scrubbing, wringing, or rinsing, and, according to some authorities,  even by brushing a garment. At this point, we will continue our discussion where we left off.

Washing dishes

There is no prohibition of melabein for soaking, scouring, or cleaning a hard substance such as wood or metal. This is because the grime lies on top of the material and is not absorbed inside or between the fibers. This is the reason why it is permitted to wash dishes on Shabbos, provided that one does not squeeze a cloth or something similar in the process.

One may explain the difference between fabrics, that are included in the melacha of melabein, and hard substances that are not, in the following way. All melachos involve changing an object to make it more useful for mankind. In the instance of most melachos, this involves some type of physical or chemical change to the object upon which the melacha is performed. Regarding some melachos, such as trapping, carrying and selecting, no real physical or chemical change occurs in the item, but there is a difference in utility. The undomesticated animal was useless to mankind, and trapping made it available for mankind. Prior to removing the bad part of the item, one could not eat or use this food, and selecting made it useful. In carrying, the most difficult of the melachos to explain conceptually, the item is made useful by changing its location.

By the way, if we remember the dispute between Rashi and the Rambam that I mentioned earlier, the approach of the Rambam allows an easier explanation why washing dishes is not included under the melacha. According to the Rambam, the av melacha is bleaching, or changing the color of the fiber or fabric. All laundering changes the inherent appearance of the cloth, and, in this way, the toladah, laundering, is similar to the av melacha, bleaching. However, dirt on top of a plate does not change the inherent appearance of the plate – one merely needs to scrape off the leftover food on its surface, and the plate is clean. This contrasts with laundering cloth, where the dirt is embedded in the fiber.

All or nothing?

Does one violate melabein only if one performs all of the above-prohibited activities (soaking, scrubbing, wringing, and rinsing), or even if one performs any one of them? A ramification of the second approach is that cleaning an item only a bit violates melabein, despite the fact that the garment is still dirty.

The halacha is that each of these stages constitutes infringements of melabein min haTorah, and this is true even if one does not add any detergent to the water. In other words, although one ordinarily uses detergent to launder clothes, and without detergent the clothes are usually not clean, since performing each of the above-mentioned laundering steps does clean the garment a little bit, that is sufficient to contravene the Torah law of melabein.

Six in one

Thus, theoretically six different people could each be doing a different activity to a garment or cloth, each one violating the melacha of melabein min haTorah! The first one brushes the garment, removing some of the dirt. The second one places the garment in a bucket to soak it. The third one scrubs the garment on a scouring board; the fourth squeezes water out of the garment; the fifth rinses the garment clean; and the sixth bleaches the now clean garment.

Cleaning versus cooking

Since the halacha is that each of the laundering stages constitutes a Torah violation of melabein, we are faced with an interesting contrast between the melacha of melabein and that of cooking. The halacha is that someone who began cooking food, but the food is not yet cooked to the point where it is edible, has not yet violated the melacha min haTorah, but only a rabbinic injunction. Violating the melacha min haTorah requires that the food is cooked enough to make it edible. Yet, soaking an item of clothing contravenes the prohibition of laundering, even though removing it from the water without any other cleaning process may still leave the garment too soiled to wear. Why is there a difference between laundering, which one violates even if the item is still not fully clean, and cooking, which one violates only when the item is cooked?

The answer appears to be that cooking an item to the point that it is still inedible does not benefit mankind, since no one will eat it. On the other hand, although most people do not enjoy wearing dirty clothing, it is more pleasant to wear clothes that are somewhat laundered than clothes that are completely filthy. In other words, although laundering something a little bit made the item cleaner, cooking it a little bit did not make it edible.

According to the Rambam’s approach in the dispute over the definition of melabein, the distinction between laundering and cooking is more easily understood. The av melacha, in his opinion, is bleaching, which means that the basic melacha is changing the coloring, not cleaning it. Laundering is a toladah because it changes the appearance of the cloth. Thus, each stage of melabein changes the appearance of the cloth, which is the nature of the melacha.

Wringing versus stirring

At this point, we should discuss the following interesting phenomenon. When discussing the prohibition of wringing laundry on Shabbos, the Rambam (Hilchos Shabbos 9:11) states the following: “One who wrings out a garment until he extracts the water that is absorbed inside it desecrates Shabbos for laundering, since wringing is necessary (mitzorchei) for laundering just as stirring is necessary (mitzorchei) for cooking.”

This is certainly an unusual statement. Why does the Rambam need to compare wringing water to stirring food in order to explain why it is prohibited on Shabbos? And, the Rambam uses a very interesting term to describe this relationship — the word mitzorchei, which he uses in only three contexts in his entire thirty chapters of the laws of Shabbos. Aside from using this term here to describe wringing laundry and stirring food, he uses it also in the context of meleches tofeir (Hilchos Shabbos 10:9 and Magid Mishnah, Kesef Mishneh, and Mirkeves Hamishneh ad locum; Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 340 and Elyah Rabbah 340:14)  .

Perhaps one could say that since wringing out water looks different from other laundering acts, one might think that it is not prohibited under the heading of this melacha. However, this is probably not what was bothering the Rambam. My proof is that there are many other melacha activities that do not look like the av melacha under which they are listed. For example, weeding is prohibited min haTorah because it is an aspect of plowing, notwithstanding that weeding does not look at all like plowing. It violates plowing because weeding prepares the ground to allow growth, which is the same concept involved when plowing. Similarly, pruning trees is prohibited as a subheading of planting. Although pruning appears to be the exact opposite of planting, since it is a method of having vines and trees grow better it is included under planting. In these instances, a melacha is performed because the goals of pruning and weeding are respectively similar to planting and plowing. Thus, we see that melacha prohibitions are often categorized by their purpose.Yet, in these instances, the Rambam finds no need to compare weeding or pruning to stirring, nor does he use the word tzorchei to describe what they do.

A possible approach to explain the Rambam is that both wringing and stirring are done after the basic melacha has already been performed. If you are stirring a cooking pot, someone already placed a pot of food on a fire, thereby violating the melacha of cooking. The Rambam is pointing out that stirring a pot is a full violation of cooking on Shabbos – and that we do not mitigate liability for this act on the basis that someone else already performed the actions necessary to cook this food.

Similarly, a person can wring out clothes only when someone else already soaked them in water – which, in and of itself, constitutes laundering according to halacha. Thus, one might contend that the wringer did not violate the melacha (Nimla Tal, meleches melabein #18; meleches tofeir #26).

Separate melacha

Heretofore, we have been assuming that wringing out clothes, socheit, is a subcategory of melabein. Actually, there is a dispute among tana’im concerning this matter. Indeed, most tana’im, including the anonymous author of the Mishnah, consider squeezing to be not its own melacha but a toladah of one of the other 39 melachos listed in the seventh perek of mishnayos Shabbos. (According to most rishonim, this violates the melacha of laundering, whereas the Ramban [Shabbos 111a, as understood by the Magen Avraham end of chapter 302 and Shu”t Avnei Neizer, Orach Chayim #159:20] explains that it violates the melacha of dyeing; cf. Lechem Mishneh, Hilchos Shabbos 9:11, who understands that the Ramban agrees with the other rishonim that it is prohibited because of melabein.) However, the tanna, Rabbi Yishmael, the son of Rabbi Yochanan ben Beroka, contends that squeezing is a completely separate av melacha (Yerushalmi, Shabbos 7:2), although it is not explained in halachic sources why he feels this way. (Nimla Tal Melabein #24 suggests some possible approaches.) The Gemara notes that the Mishnah disagrees with Rabbi Yishmael, the son of Rabbi Yochanan ben Beroka, since, according to him, there are forty melachos, and the Mishnah counts only 39.

39 or 40?

But wait one moment! I thought there were 39 melachos. How can a tanna have 40 melachos?

The answer to this question lies in a passage of Gemara (Shabbos 49b) that says as follows:

What is the basis upon which it has been established that there are 39 melachos? …Rabbi Yehonasan, the son of Rabbi Elazar, told them, “This is what Rabbi Shimon, the son of Rabbi Yosi ben Lekunia, said: ‘They correspond to the thirty-nine times that the word melacha is written in the Torah!’” Rav Yosef then asked, “Is the pasuk (Bereishis 39:11, regarding Yosef), Vayavo habaysa laasos melachto, included in the count or not?” To this, Abayei replied, “Let us bring a sefer Torah and count how many times the word melacha is mentioned in the Torah.” Rav Yosef replied that Abayei had misunderstood his query. Rav Yosef knew that the word melacha shows up in the Torah a total of forty times. When the tanna’im use the word melacha to count melachos, they are counting only instances when the word melacha in the Torah actually refers to work being performed. Rav Yosef’s question was whether the count of the Shabbos melachos included the pasuk regarding Yosef (which may be using the word melacha in a borrowed sense), or whether that pasuk was not included in the count, but instead they were counting a different pasuk, the one that concludes the construction of the Mishkan, which reads, Vehamelacha hoyso dayom. In the latter pasuk, also, the word melacha does not really mean work, but means the materials assembled for the work of the Mishkan. The tanna of the Mishnah, who counts only 39 melachos, felt that one of these places should not be included in the count of the melachos regarding the laws of Shabbos. The Gemara there remains unresolved which of these two pesukim is included in that count and which not. However, it is quite clear that the tanna quoted in the Yerushalmi, Rabbi Yishmael, the son of Rabbi Yochanan ben Beroka, counted both pesukim, thus reaching a total of 40 melachos.

At this point, let us return to our opening questions:

Question #1: Washing dishes

“Whenever I ask my son to help wash the dishes on Shabbos, he claims that it is prohibited. Is he pulling my leg in his attempt to avoid family responsibilities?”

Washing dishes on Shabbos is certainly permitted, as long as one does not use an item that might involve squeezing. (Details of that question we will leave for a different time.)  It is safe to assume that your son’s motivation here is not halacha but laziness.

Question #2: No detergent

“Is it prohibited to wash clothes on Shabbos if I do not use detergent?”

As we now know, one can violate the prohibition of melabein min haTorah without use of detergent.

Question #3: Six in one!

Can six people consecutively launder a garment?

The simple answer is, “Yes.”

In conclusion

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

 

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Poetic Controversies

Ashkenazim and Sefardim recite very different kinos on Tisha B’Av and different piyutim on most other occasions. This provides an opportunity to discuss:

Poetic Controversies

Question #1: How many machzorim?

“I am a Sefardiyah by birth, and recently became engaged to a wonderful Ashkenazi man who gave me a beautiful, five-volume set of machzorim. I looked at my new set of machzorim and could not find the selichot recited in Elul anywhere in the Rosh Hashanah machzor, nor in any of the other volumes. Where will I find them? I also could not find any volume for Tisha B’Av, but I also could not find those prayers in the Ashkenazi siddur my chatan bought me.”

Question #2: The Italian connection

“Why are so many of our piyutim written by Italian authors?”

Introduction:

Our prayers have been enhanced by the inclusion of many religious poems written by various authors over the years. During the yomim nora’im, virtually every Jewish community recites piyutim, poetic liturgy, as part of the davening. We also prepare for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur with the recital of selichos, which also includes piyutim. Such famous and standard prayers as Yigdal, Adon Olam, and An’im Zemiros all qualify as piyutim. The zemiros that we sing at our Shabbos meals are also piyutim, as is Dvei Haseir, written by Dunash, recited prior to bensching at a wedding or sheva brachos, and Yom Le’yabasha, written by Rav Yehudah Halevi, that is chanted at a seudas bris. And do you know of a community that does not begin Shabbos by singing Lecha Dodi, written by Rav Shlomoh Alkabetz?

At one time, in Ashkenazic circles, the davening of all the yomim tovim, all special Shabbosos, and even Purim and Tisha B’Av was graced with piyutim specially suited to the occasion. The themes, history and emotions of each season and special day were expressed through these beautiful writings.

In the last generation, the recital of piyutim is definitely on the downswing. When I was young, during the birchos kerias shema of maariv on Pesach, Sukkos and Shavuos, most shullen recited piyutim, a custom that is in most places not observed today. About the only shullen where I hear this being practiced today are chassidishe minyanim or those following the nusach Ashkenaz traditions of the old German communities.

In the yeshivish world, what is left over from our long tradition of these piyutim are the zemiros of Shabbos, the piyutim recited during yomim nora’im, the kinos, and the selichos.

One interesting exception that has survived is the recital of Akdamus at the beginning of kerias haTorah on Shavuos, which is still recited in every Ashkenazi shul I have ever attended. (Sefardim do not recite Akdamus, as I will soon explain.)

Kinos versus selichos

Since I mentioned the remaining use of piyutim for both selichos and kinos, it is interesting to note a difference between the selichos and the kinos of Tisha B’Av. Although the same basic structure of selichos is followed by most Ashkenazic communities, different practices developed concerning which selichos are recited on which days and in what order. The differences are significant enough so as to make it necessary to make sure that one has a copy of the selichos that follows the exact minhag followed by the shul that one is attending.

On the other hand, with very slight differences, the same kinos for Tisha B’Av are recited virtually universally by all the different communities of Ashkenaz.

Ashkenazim and Sefardim

I once attended Rosh Hashanah davening with a Sefardic minyan, and I can advise someone doing this to have a Sefardic machzor handy, which I did not. Although many different customs have developed among various Ashkenazic communities, the same sources and the same style of piyutim are used by all. However, the piyutim recited by the Sefardim are completely different. Very few of the piyutim recited by Sefardim are familiar to Ashkenazim and vice versa. For example, the writings of the Italian school of paytanim (authors of piyutim) who figure so significantly among the Ashkenazim are never part of the Sefardic prayer. Similarly, Rav Elazar Hakalir, who figures so predominantly in the Ashkenazim’s prayer, is not used by the Sefardim. Most of their piyutim are of relatively late vintage and from four authors. The predominant paytanim used by the Sefardim are Rav Shelomoh ibn Gabirol, Rav Yehudah Halevi, Rav Moshe ibn Ezra and Rav Avraham ibn Ezra, all of the Spanish school of talmidei chachamim.

It is also interesting to note that in the Sefardic custom, fewer piyutim are recited, which is surprising, since the Jews of medieval Spain were far more noted for their poetry than were the Ashkenazim. Still, Sefardim recite piyutim as part of the selichos, during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur davening and on Tisha B’Av, which Ashkenazim call the reciting of kinos. By the way, although Sefardim say far less piyutim than Ashkenazim, they do say selichos after all five tefilos on Yom Kippur as well as piyutim before kedusha.

How many machzorim?

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

“I am a Sefardiyah by birth, and recently became engaged to a wonderful Ashkenazi man who gave me a beautiful, five-volume set of machzorim. I looked at my new set of machzorim and could not find the selichot recited in Elul anywhere in the Rosh Hashanah machzor, nor in any of the other volumes. Where will I find it? I also could not find any volume for Tisha B’Av, but I also could not find this in the Ashkenazi siddur my chatan bought me.”

The answer to this question is interesting. In the customs of bnei Ashkenaz, every day’s selichos is completely different from every other day. Although the Sefardim recite selichos the entire month of Elul, they have no separate selichos book. This is because they recite the same selichos every day, and the selichos are usually included in their Rosh Hashanah machzor. A Sefardi set of machzorim might include three volumes: one for Rosh Hashanah, one for Yom Kippur and one for Tisha B’Av. Since they do not recite piyutim on the other holidays, the printers did not always find it worthwhile to produce machzorim for those days, since a standard siddur and chumash suffice. Others include a fourth volume, which is for all three regalim.

On the other hand, when a publisher sells an Ashkenazic set of machzorim, he includes a volume for each Yom Tov because each Yom Tov had its own special piyutim. However, the selichos recited on fast days, during Elul and aseres yemei teshuvah, and the kinos recited on Tisha B’Av are not included in a set of machzorim and are sold as separate volumes.

History through piyutim

There is a tremendous amount of history that can be derived from learning about the authors of our piyutim. We get quite an education as we see where the wandering Jew has found himself over the centuries of our dispersal. Here is a sampling of the names and geographic areas of some of our predominant paytanim, organized according to the periods of history. In all likelihood, many of our more common piyutim predate even the earliest dates I have mentioned here. However, since we are without any means of dating them, I have omitted them.

Bavel

Some of our piyutim are known to date back to the era of the geonim 1200-1300 years ago. Among the authors of this period we find Rav Sa’adia Gaon, Rav Nissim Gaon, and Rav Amram Gaon.

The early Italians

Not long after the period of the geonim that I just mentioned, there was a period of significant production of piyutim that dates back to the late 9th century in Italy. Among the many Italian paytanim of this era whose works we recite are a grandfather and grandson both named Amitai, Shefatyah, who was the son of one Amitai and the father of the other, Zevadyah, and Rav Shlomoh Habavli. (Historians do not know for certain why he was called Habavli, since he lived in Italy. The most obvious explanation is that either he was originally from Bavel or that his family origins were there. This would be similar to someone with obvious German roots carrying the family name Pollack, or someone of eastern European background with a family name of a central or western European city, such as Shapiro, from the city Speyer in western Germany, because of some earlier family history.)

Early Ashkenaz

The word Ashkenaz is associated with Germany, and the historical origins of these practices are usually traced to the Jewish communities that lived a thousand years ago in the Rhine river valley. The most famous three of these communities were Speyer, Worms and Mainz. Many of our piyutim are authored by gedolim of this period, including Rabbeinu Gershom, Rabbi Shimon Hagadol of Mainz and Rav Meir ben Yitzchak, the chazzan of Worms, who was the author of Akdamus. By the way, this will explain why Sefardim do not recite Akdamus on Shavuos, since its author lived after the time that Sefardim and Ashkenazim were physically separated into different areas.

Spanish

Beginning around this era is the Golden Age of Spain, which included much writing of piyutim. The major body of the attributable piyutim recited by the Sefardim goes back to this period, most of it written by Rav Shlomo ibn Gabirol, Rav Yehudah Halevi, Rav Moshe ibn Ezra, and Rav Avraham ibn Ezra, as I noted above. Ashkenazim do recite some piyutim from these authors, for example, Shomron Kol Titein, recited in the kinos of Tisha B’Av, authored by ibn Gabirol, and Tziyon halo Sish’ali, also one of the kinos, and the above-mentioned Yom Le’yabasha by Rav Yehudah Halevi, recited commonly at a bris. By the way, you will find Yom Le’yabasha  in your Ashkenazi machzor for Pesach, where it exists as the piyut to be recited at shacharis of the seventh day of Pesach, immediately before the brocha of Ga’al Yisroel.

Later Ashkenaz

In this era, many of the piyutim were written by rishonim who are familiar to us from their halachic and Talmudic writings. These include several baalei Tosafos, such as the Rivam (Rashi’s grandson and the older brother of Rabbeinu Tam), Rav Elchanan, Rav Yehudah Hachasid, Rav Yitzchak Ohr Zarua, the Maharam, Rav Yosef Bechor Shor, Rav Yoel Halevi (the father of the Ra’avyah).

The Italian angle

Having studied a quick overview of the various places where our paytanim lived, we can now explain why Ashkenazim recite many selichos and other piyutim written by the early Italian paytanim, whereas the Sefardim do not recite piyutim from these authors. The answer is that the ancestors of what came to be called Ashkenazic Jewry probably predominantly migrated northward from Italy, bringing with them their customs and their piyutim that had been written during this early golden age of piyut.

Rav Elazar Hakalir

No discussion of piyutim is complete without presenting Rav Elazar Hakalir, who authored the lion’s share of the kinos we recite on Tisha B’Av, as well as many of our other piyutim, including Tefillas Tal and Tefillas Geshem, the piyutim for the four special Shabbosos (Shekalim, Zachor, Parah and Hachodesh), and many of the yotzros for Yomim Tovim. We know absolutely nothing about him personally — we cannot even date when he lived with any accuracy. Some Rishonim place him in the era of the Tanna’im, shortly after the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash, identifying him either as Rabbi Elazar ben Arach (Shu”t Harashba 1:469), a disciple of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai, or as Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai’s son Elazar, who hid in the cave with his father (Tosafos, Chagigah 13a s.v. Veraglei; Rosh, Berachos 5:21; Shibbolei Haleket #28). On the other hand, others date Rav Elazar HaKalir hundreds of years later.

We do not know for certain what the name “Kalir” means. Since there are several places where he used the acronym “Elazar berabi Kalir,” it seems that his father’s name was Kalir. However, the Aruch explains that “kalir” means a type of cookie, and that he was called hakalir because he ate a cookie upon which had been written a special formula that blessed him with tremendous erudition (Aruch, eirech Kalar III).

Many of Rabbi Elazar Hakalir’s piyutim and kinos require studying rather than reading, since they rely on allusions to midrashim and historical events. Many commentators elucidated his works, attempting to illuminate the depths of his words. Often, his ideas are expressed in difficult allusions, and the story or midrash to which he hints is unclear or obscure. They certainly cannot be understood without careful preparation. Someone who takes the trouble to do this will be awed by the beauty of the thoughts and allusions.

When did he live?

Most assume that Rav Elazar HaKalir lived in Eretz Yisrael, based on the fact that we have no piyutim written by him for the second day of Yom Tov (Tosafos, Chagigah 13a s.v. Veraglei; Rosh, Berachos 5:21.) However, the yotzros of the second day of Sukkos clearly include Rav Kalir’s signature and follow his style. Could it be that Diaspora Jews moved yotzros he wrote for the first day of Yom Tov to the second day? This approach creates another question: Since the yotzros recited on the first day of Yom Tov were also written by him, would he have written two sets of yotzros for Shacharis on Sukkos? There are other indications that he did, indeed, sometimes write more than one set of piyutim for the same day, and this approach is followed by the Shibbolei Haleket (#28).

Kalirian controversy

Notwithstanding the brilliance and prevalence of Rav Kalir’s piyutim, reciting them was not without controversy. No less a gadol than the Ibn Ezra stridently opposes using Rav Kalir’s works. In an essay incorporated in his commentary to Koheles (5:1), the ibn Ezra levels extremely harsh criticism of the piyutim authored by Rav Kalir. He divides the nature of his arguments into four headings.

Simplicity of language

Ibn Ezra notes that prayers should be recited in simple language that can be understood on a very basic level. After all, the goal of prayer is to understand what one is saying. Since piyutim are usually intended to be forms of prayer, one should not recite any prayer whose intent is not obviously clear. Because of this criticism, Ibn Ezra advises reciting the piyutim written by Rav Sa’adia Gaon, which are written so that they can be understood in a very literal way.

Mixed language

Ibn Ezra’s second criticism of Kalir is that he mixed into the Hebrew of his piyutim vocabulary whose basis is in the Gemara, treating Talmudic language on the same level of Hebrew as that of Tanach. As Ibn Ezra notes, the Gemara says loshon mikra lechud uloshon Talmud lechud, which he understands to mean that the Hebrew used by the Gemara should be treated as a different language from that of Tanach. Therefore, one should not mix the two languages together when reciting prayers.

Grammatical creativity

The third criticism of ibn Ezra is that he is unhappy with Kalir’s creative approach to Hebrew grammar and structure, allowing poetic style to influence the Hebrew that he used. Ibn Ezra also criticized Kalir’s creation of new words by changing masculine words to feminine and vice versa for poetic effect or to accomplish his allusions.

Use of midrashim

Ibn Ezra’s fourth criticism of Kalir is that his piyutim are filled with midrashim, and that these should not be included in one’s prayers.

Ibn Ezra notes that there were those who took issue with his criticisms, since Kalir had passed on many years before and would be unable to respond. Ibn Ezra himself dispenses with this disapproval by noting that prayer must be whole-hearted, and how can one pray when one does not understand what one is saying? Ibn Ezra notes that when Rav Sa’adia wrote piyutim, he steered clear of these four problems.

In fact, Sefardim do not recite piyutim of Rav Kalir, whereas among Ashkenazim, he is the single, most commonly used paytan.

Response to ibn Ezra

We should note that the Shibbolei Haleket saw this essay of the ibn Ezra and quoted selections from it, but he omitted any of the ibn Ezra’s criticism of Rav Kalir’s writings.

Furthermore, none of ibn Ezra’s criticisms should be taken as casting aspersion on Rav Elazar Hakalir’s greatness. Shibbolei Haleket records that when Rabbi Elazar Hakalir wrote his poem Vechayos Asher Heinah Meruba’os (recited in the kedusha of musaf of Rosh Hashanah), the angels surrounded him with fire (quoted by the Magen Avraham at the beginning of Siman 68). Similarly, R’ Chaim Vital writes that his teacher, the Arizal, recited only the piyutim written by the early paytanim, such as R’ Elazar Hakalir, since they are based on kabbalah.

Which seder ha’avodah?

This dispute between Ashkenazic practice and Sefardic manifests itself in the choice of piyut used for the seder ha’avodah recited towards the end of musaf on Yom Kippur. Dozens of piyutim explaining the seder ha’avodah were written, some dating back to the time of the Gemara, some perhaps earlier. Notwithstanding the antiquity of some of these pieces of poetry, the ones currently used are of relatively late origin. Ashkenazim recite Amitz Koach, which is highly poetic and difficult to understand. On the other hand, Sefardim recite Atah Konanta, which is written in clear Hebrew.

Conclusion

Now that we have had an opportunity to appreciate some of the background to our piyutim, it should motivate us to utilize our davening better to build a relationship with Hashem. As the Kuzari notes, every day should have three very high points — the three times that we daven. We should gain our strength and inspiration for the rest of the day from these three prayers.

 

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Where Do I Toivel My Keilim?

Since this is the parsha in which the mitzvah of tevilas keilim is taught, we ask:

Where Do I Toivel My Keilim?

Question #1: Gently in the stream

“Where I live, there is no mikveh that can be used for immersing new cutlery. May I dip the flatware in a local stream?”

Question #2: Make my own mikveh

“Alternatively, how difficult is it to make my own keilim mikveh?”

Question #3: Tap water mikveh

“If I make my own mikveh, may I use regular tap water exclusively?”

Background:

Metal and glass food implements that were previously owned by a gentile must be immersed in a spring or a mikveh prior to using them (Avodah Zarah 75b). I have written articles in the past on many of the halachos of this mitzvah. However, I have never written on the questions pertaining to where one may immerse these implements, so that will be the topic of this article. As always, the discussion here is not intended to provide final halachic guidance – that is for one’s rav or posek. The purpose of this article is to provide halachic background.

In many communities, a local keilim mikveh exists that was built under rabbinic supervision to expedite observance of this mitzvah. However, not all communities have such a facility, forcing people to seek alternative arrangements. Also, at times a person is traveling and needs to immerse some items that he has just acquired to use on the trip. May one use a nearby stream for this purpose? This is one of the questions we will be addressing in this article.

Introduction:

The Torah describes many different types of tumah (spiritual contamination), each with its own highly detailed laws. Although people or items contaminated by some of the more severe types of tumah, such as tumas meis or tzaraas, require other steps prior to immersion to become tahor (spiritually clean), the common denominator to remove all types of tumah is the requirement to immerse them in water. This means submerging the entire tamei person or item at one time, either in a spring or in a mikveh. (As we will see shortly, one category of tamei person, a zav, can become tahor only by immersion in a spring, not in a mikveh, and only in a spring whose water is potable.)

Conversion and tevilas keilim

In addition to purification from tumah, there are two other instances that require immersion in order to create sanctity. Someone converting to Judaism completes the process by immersing in a spring or mikveh. Similarly, a metal or glass food utensil previously owned by a gentile requires immersion when it is acquired by a Jewish person (see Talmud Yerushalmi, Avodah Zarah 5:15; Issur Vaheter 58:76; Ritva, Avodah Zarah 75b).

Ma’ayan versus mikveh

There are two types of water that can be used for these required ablutions. One is a natural spring that runs from underground, which is called a ma’ayan in Hebrew. The other type is a mikveh consisting of rainwater.

There are several halachic differences between a ma’ayan and a mikveh. As I mentioned before, although the immersion for virtually all types of tumah may be performed either in a mikveh or in a spring, the Torah specifies that one type of tumah, zav, becomes tahor only via immersion in a spring consisting of potable water (Mikva’os 1:8). There are two other halachos where use of drinkable spring water is essential. The ashes of a parah adumah must be mixed into spring water for its purification to be valid, and the purification of a metzora that involves two birds requires the use of spring water. In both of the latter instances, a small amount of spring water is drawn into a vessel to facilitate the procedure.

For the purposes of the rest of our article, we will focus on a different, critical distinction that exists between a mikveh and a ma’ayan. Whereas a spring can make things tahor even when its water is flowing, a mikveh’s water must be stationary for it to make people or items tahor. Even a leak in a mikveh could invalidate it; one should consult a rav for guideline as to when a leak is severe enough to nullify the mikveh.

Snow

We should also note that snow is treated like rain, and that, therefore, snow, or the water that results when snow melts, can be used for immersion only when it is stationary. We will soon learn of a major halachic ramification that results from this information.

Minimal mikveh

The minimal quantity of water required for a mikveh is 40 sa’ah, which Chazal say is the amount required for someone to immerse fully and properly at one time. There are many opinions how much this equals in contemporary measures of volume. Accepted practice is to construct mikva’os that are far larger than halachah requires, even when building a mikveh that is meant only for keilim.

Mekabeil tumah

An essential requirement is that nothing that can become tamei may be part of the mikveh, may move the water into the mikveh or may be used to keep its water stationary. This means that the piping used to transport the rainwater to the mikveh must not be susceptible to become tamei, and that no part of the mikveh itself be made of anything that is mekabeil tumah. Therefore, if a mikveh has a plug somewhere, it may not be made of material that is susceptible to tumah.

To apply this halachah, we need to define what it means that something is mekabeil tumah. Usually, it means that the item has been fashioned in a way that it is now considered to be a “vessel” or a “utensil.” Most vessels that can hold a liquid qualify as mekabeil tumah, although the term mekabeil tumah is not restricted to such utensils. For example, a metal plug is mekabeil tumah and therefore cannot be used as a stopper in a mikveh. If a mikveh requires a stopper, a rubber plug is used, since this is an item that is not susceptible to tumah. A full treatment of the topic of what is mekabeil tumah is beyond the parameters of this article, and it is one reason why someone who is constructing a mikveh should always be in contact with a posek familiar with mikveh construction, even if it is meant only for keilim.

Drawn water

For a mikveh to be kosher it must also meet several other requirements. The mikveh must, originally, be filled with water that was never inside a vessel. Water that was once in a bucket, drum or similar container is called she’uvim (literally, drawn) and invalid for use for purification, unless it became connected to a kosher mikveh or spring. The laws here are highly complicated, again providing a reason why one should not construct a mikveh without guidance from someone well familiar with these halachos.

Once a mikveh contains the minimal amount of water needed to be kosher, one may add she’uvim water to the mikveh, and it remains kosher. There are early authorities who contend that this holds true only as long as one is not actively removing water from the mikveh, but that once one begins to remove water from the mikveh one must be certain that the majority of the remaining water in the mikveh is not she’uvim. Although many authorities rule that one does not need to be concerned about this minority opinion, the Shach (Yoreh Deah 201:63) and others rule that one should build a mikveh that is kosher even according to this opinion, and that is the usual practice. (However, see Shu”t Chasam Sofer, Yoreh Deah #203, 212, 214, who did not feel it necessary to take this into consideration when constructing a mikveh.)

In order to accommodate the Shach’s concern, most mikva’os are built according to one of three basic designs or a combination of them. In one design, a mikveh that was originally filled with rainwater lies alongside the pool used for immersion, but with a concrete wall between them in which there is an opening in the concrete above the point to which the pool will be filled. Regular tap water is added to the mikveh until its water rises high enough so that it spills through the hole into the adjacent pool that is meant for immersion. After this process is performed, the pool may be used for ablution according to all opinions. This approach, which is called zeriyah, was the approach recommended by the Chazon Ish (Yoreh Deah 123:5) and the Taharas Hamayim (Chapter 46), and is the most common construction used in most mikva’os today.

The second approach has a similar appearance, in that there are two adjacent pools separated by a concrete wall which has an opening between them that is high on the wall. However, in this instance, the water is added to the side that is used for immersion until the water level raises high enough that its water touches the mikveh water which is located adjacent to it. The minimum size for such an opening is kishefoferes hanod, the opening of a flask, which means that it is large enough for one to place two fingers inside and rotate them comfortably. This approach is called hashakah.

A third approach, used in some mikva’os, is that they are constructed such that there is an additional rainwater mikveh immediately below or alongside the ablution pool, and that there remains a small opening between the ablution pool and the mikveh that is always open. This approach is called hashakah beshaas tevilah. The intrepid reader wishing to read up on the controversy concerning this mikveh will read Shu”t Divrei Chayim 2:98 and Pischei Mikva’os by Rav Yaakov Blau, Chapter 9, footnote 41.

Sink or swim

As we have now seen, constructing a mikveh requires that one knows how to do so in a halachically correct way. It is unlikely that someone without this knowledge will be able to construct a mikveh correctly. It is for this reason that one should be careful not to use a mikveh without finding out which halachic authority sanctioned it. I have found mikva’os in hotels that were halachically problematic, because they were not constructed according to proper halachic instruction. Similarly, in many places it is common that hardware and houseware stores construct their own keilim mikveh on the premises. These mikva’os may indeed be kosher, but one should not rely on their kashrus without finding out which rav verifies that the mikveh was manufactured correctly or having the mikveh checked by someone familiar with the laws of mikva’os.

Make my own mikveh

The simplest type of mikveh, far easier to make than those described above, is sometimes constructed for immersing vessels. In these instances, water, usually gathered from the roof of an adjacent building, is channeled into a concrete basin. The pipes used for this endeavor may not be mekabeil tumah, susceptible to tumah, something not difficult to arrange, and the walls of the mikveh must be constructed in a way that they contain nothing that is mekabeil tumah.

By the way, there is nothing wrong with having steel mesh reinforcing the concrete walls of a mikveh. Although a steel vessel would be mekabeil tumah and is therefore unacceptable in the construction of a mikveh, steel mesh is not itself an implement and it may therefore be used to reinforce the concrete basin of a mikveh.

At this point, we can address the second of the questions raised at the beginning of this article: “How difficult is it to make my own keilim mikveh?”

If someone is looking to make a small keilim mikveh, it is not that difficult or expensive a project. However, prior to making the mikveh, he should contact a rav or posek who knows how a mikveh is constructed. Indeed, someone building a proper keilim mikveh is performing a major chesed for his community and receives reward for everyone who ultimately uses it.

Let me explain what one needs to do. A keilim mikveh requires two basic factors: a pool where the keilim will be dipped, and the means of draining rainwater into that pool. The manufacture of the pool requires only that one pour concrete in a way that the pool will hold the requisite volume of water. Since this is being used only for vessels, there is no need to construct any building around it, and one does not need to be concerned about hot water, plumbing, or heating. Again, I suggest that this construction should not be undertaken without first consulting with someone who has the halachic expertise to ascertain that it is done properly.

City water

Why don’t we use only regular tap water for the mikveh? What could be wrong with this?

Although indeed some have advocated that regular piped water does not qualify as she’uvim and can therefore be used all by itself for filling mikva’os (see, for example, the work, The Secret of the Jew, by Rabbi David Miller), most authorities are hesitant in recommending its use. To understand why, there is a thorough essay on the topic in Chapter 40 of Taharas Hamayim, an encyclopedic work on the laws of mikveh with an emphasis on contemporary issues, authored by the late Rav Nissen Telushkin. In that chapter, Rav Telushkin describes how he made an exhaustive study of the New York City water system, and includes the various sources of water that New York City used in the 1950’s when he performed his study. The chapter includes detailed diagrams and descriptions of the various pumps, holding tanks, filters, meters, and pressure tanks that were used then in the processing and the transporting of the water. Rav Telushkin carefully analyzed each piece of equipment to see whether it was mekabeil tumah. He concluded that, in his day, in most places of New York City, the city water supply could be used, if needed, as the main source for the water in a mikveh, but that there were areas where this would not be allowed. The reason for these exceptions was that in these places, the water was transported through a pressure tank that, halachically, might have been equivalent to it being in a vessel. Based on all his research, he concludes that one should never use the publicly- supplied tap water as the original water of a mikveh unless one has done the exhaustive research necessary to see that in your locale such water is indeed kosher for mikveh use.

In the stream

At this point, let us examine the first of our opening questions: “Where I live, there is no mikveh that can be used for immersing new cutlery. May I dip the flatware in a local stream?”

Obviously, this stream is not a kosher mikveh, because its water is flowing. The question that we need to determine is whether a stream qualifies as a ma’ayan, according to halachah, in which case it can be used, even though its water is flowing constantly. How does halachah determine whether the water source of a stream is a spring, or whether it is rainwater?

Halachah recognizes three types of streams. One is a stream which is fed mostly by spring water, but has a minority of its water (that is, less than fifty percent) from rainwater. Since a majority of its water volume is composed of spring water, this stream can be used while it is flowing (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 201:2).

A second type is a stream that normally consists of spring water but that now has swollen to more than twice its volume after a rainfall, or when the snow melts. According to the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch, since most of the volume of the stream is now rainwater, it may not be used to make items tahor, unless one can make its waters stationary. The Rema (ad loc.), however, rules that, although it is preferable to follow this ruling, there was a prevalent custom based on halachic sources to permit use of this stream, even when it is flowing. He concludes that one need not correct someone who relies on this approach.

The third type of stream

The third type is a stream that dries up completely when there has been no rainfall. Such a stream may not be used as a spring and can be used only if one can make its water stationary (Rema ad loc.).

We can now answer the question raised: May a stream be used to dip vessels that require immersion? When the stream’s volume does not double after a rainfall, all opinions agree that one may use it, even when its water is flowing. When its volume is doubled, or more, there is halachic basis to permit its use when its water is flowing, although the Shulchan Aruch and others prohibit this. A stream that dries up completely when there is no rain may be used to immerse utensils only as a mikveh, which means one would have to make the water stationary in order to use it.

Conclusion

The Torah provides us with a mitzvah to immerse food utensils, because this immersing elevates their sanctity so that they can now be used for a Jew’s table. Thus, we see that not only is the food that a Jew eats required to have special care, but also the equipment with which he prepares and eats that food.

 

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Bleaching or Laundering?

Parshas Pinchas is the only parsha that mentions specifically the korbanos offered on Shabbos, thus, providing a reason to discuss the laws of Shabbos.

 

Bleaching or Laundering?

 

Question #1: Bleaching or laundering?

 

“Is the name of the melacha bleaching or laundering?”

 

Question #2: Painting white

 

“If someone whitewashes his wall or paints something white, what melacha has he performed?”

 

Question #3: Threading a thread

 

“What could possibly be wrong with moistening a thread on Shabbos?”

 

Among the 39 melachos of Shabbos listed in the Mishnah is melabein, which I will translate and define shortly. It is the second of the thirteen melachos involved in manufacturing a garment, which is referred to as sidura debeged. In order, they are: Gozeiz (shearing), melabein, menapeitz (carding or untangling), tzovei’a (dyeing), toveh (spinning thread), meisach (warping, a step in preparing to weave), oseh batei nirim (creating a heddle, a further step in preparing to weave, oreig (weaving), potzei’a (undoing a weave), kosheir (tying), matir (untying), tofeir (sewing), and korei’a (tearing).

 

Bleaching or laundering?

 

The rishonim dispute what is the definition and the proper translation of melabein. According to Rashi (Shabbos 73a), the correct translation of the melacha is laundering. The Rambam (Hilchos Shabbos 9:10) disagrees, contending that the actual definition of the av melacha is bleaching, which means removing the color from a fabric or fiber. Although the Rambam agrees that laundering on Shabbos is prohibited min haTorah, in his opinion, laundering is a toladah, or subcategory, of the melacha of melabein, not the av melacha, or primary category.

 

A question that one would ask on this ruling of the Rambam is why bleaching is not considered the same melacha as tzovei’a, dyeing, which is also concerned with changing the color of a fiber. Since melabein is bleaching, which changes the color of an item, and tzovei’a is dyeing, which changes the color of an item, why are these two separate melachos?

 

The answer appears to be that whereas tzovei’a adds color to the fiber, bleaching removes color from the fiber. In the Rambam’s opinion, a distinction is made between adding color to an item, which constitutes tzovei’a, and bleaching it, which removes the color and constitutes melabein. Laundering, which removes impurities from the cloth that detract from its appearance, is therefore a toladah of melabein.

 

An advantage to the Rambam’s approach is that melabein shares its root with lavan, which means white. (As a curiosity, the Modern Hebrew word for bleaching is malbin, derived from the same root, lavan. The word malbin is used in the Mishnah [Nega’im 4:4], although there it has a different meaning from the modern word. In the Mishnah the word means turning white. [See a similar usage in Parah 2:5.]) Since Rashi understands that the av melacha melabein means laundering, it is strange that the Mishnah did not call the melacha mechabeis, which means laundering.

 

It should be noted that there is a rishon who appears to hold that bleaching is not included under melabein at all, but is forbidden because of tzovei’a (see Tosafos, Bava Kamma 93b s.v. ha). This approach follows Rashi that melabein means laundering, but restricts laundering to actions that clean, and does not extend it to those that change the material’s color. Any activities that change an item’s color are considered tzovei’a, according to this opinion.

 

Clean or color?

 

This dispute between Rashi and the Rambam reflects different ways of understanding the concept of the melacha. According to Rashi, the focus of the melacha is the cleaning of cloth, whereas the Rambam understands its focus to be changing the cloth’s appearance. Laundering is included, according to the Rambam, because it changes the appearance of the cloth, albeit by removing dirt rather than by removing color.

 

There are halachic differences that result from this dispute, although I am unaware of any that affect us today. When the Beis Hamikdash is rebuilt, bimheira biyameinu, there will be questions regarding offering korbanos chatos that will be affected by the dispute between Rashi and the Rambam.

 

Notwithstanding their dispute, both Rashi and the Rambam agree that all forms of laundering are prohibited on Shabbos. In the modern world, most laundering is performed by dropping clothes into a washing machine, adding detergent, and turning the machine on to its appropriate cycle. However, prior to the invention of the washing machine, mankind was familiar with the different stages involved when laundering clothing. There are numerous questions germane to the details of how one launders clothing that affect the halachic application of melabein.

 

Several stages

 

There are several stages involved in laundering. First, one soaks the clothing or fiber, which loosens the grime. Then, one scrubs the clothing or fiber, which separates the loosened grime from the fibers of the material. One then wrings out the water, which removes much of the dirt. Finally, one rinses out the material, which washes away the remaining dirt residue. Thus, the standard way of laundering clothes involves four different steps: soaking, scrubbing, wringing, and rinsing. Let us now understand some other halachic ramification of these steps.

 

Soaking

 

The Gemara teaches that throwing a kerchief into water violates Shabbos min haTorah as an act of laundering (Zevachim 94b). As we will see shortly, this is prohibited not only if one soaks the cloth, but even if one only moistens it (Rashi, Shabbos 142b).

 

The rishonim disagree as to whether one violates melabein if one soaks cloth that one is not trying to clean. There is also a dispute whether soaking or moistening cloth is prohibited if one does it in a way that one is soiling the cloth, such as by mopping up a spill with a piece of cloth or a rag on Shabbos. Because of space limitations, we will need to discuss these topics at a future time.

 

Rashi (Shabbos 142b) notes that pouring a small amount of water onto cloth similarly violates laundering. For this reason, one must always be careful not to place even a small amount of water or spittle on a stain on Shabbos. This is prohibited min haTorah even if one is concerned that the stain will set and ruin the garment.

 

Moistening a thread

 

The Yerushalmi (Shabbos 7:2) rules that moistening a thread in one’s mouth on Shabbos, such as what one would do to thread a needle, violates a Torah violation of soaking the thread. It is unclear whether the Yerushalmi considers any moistening of a thread, even with water, to be laundering, or if the concern is only because one is using saliva, which has a special ability to launder, something that was well-known in the days of Chazal (Mishnah, Niddah 9:6).

 

Here is an interesting ramification of this ruling. Someone sewed a button onto their garment shortly before Shabbos. On Shabbos, he noticed that there was extra thread dangling from the button of a garment. The logical, short-term solution for this problem is to moisten the offending extra thread and wrap it around under a button. However, halachically, doing this presents a serious problem. According to the above-quoted Yerushalmi, moistening the thread in order to facilitate this winding is prohibited min haTorah!

 

Squeezing

 

One of the steps in laundering clothing is that one wrings the dirty water out of the clothing. Wringing out cloth is a kind of squeezing. This sometimes creates confusion, because, the laws of Shabbos recognize two types of squeezing, what I will call (1) extracting and (2) wringing. The first type involves extracting juice or oil from fruit, such as grapes or olives, which is prohibited on Shabbos but has nothing to do with the laws of laundering. According to most rishonim, this type of squeezing is a violation of the melacha of dosh, threshing. The melacha of dosh is violated when one breaks the natural, physical connection between two items that are dissimilar in their use, thus creating a product that can be used easily. Further discussion of this type of squeezing, extracting, is beyond the scope of this article, whose topic is laundering.

 

Wringing

 

Wringing cloth to clean it is a different type of squeezing, and this is involved only when one squeezes out something that can be laundered, such as cloth or fabric. According to all opinions, it is forbidden min haTorah to squeeze water out of cloth. The rishonim debate whether this melacha is violated when one wrings out a cloth to remove absorbed wine, beer, oil or other liquids that are not customarily used for cleaning. Rabbeinu Tam contends that squeezing these liquids out of cloth is not prohibited min haTorah unless one wants to use the liquid (in which case it would be prohibited because it is considered extracting), whereas his nephew, Rabbeinu Yitzchok (whose name is usually abbreviated to R’Y), ruled that it is prohibited min haTorah (Tosafos, Kesubos 6a s.v. Hei, and other rishonim ad locum; Sefer Hayoshor #283; Tosafos, Shabbos 111a). Because of space considerations, further discussion on this subtopic will be left for a future article.

 

Brushing a garment

 

According to many authorities, one can violate melabein even without use of water by brushing out a garment, at least under certain circumstances (Rema, Orach Chayim 302:1; Bach, Elyah Rabbah, Mishnah Berurah, Biur Halacha). For this reason, one should refrain from brushing clothes on Shabbos. The Mishnah Berurah (302:6) rules that one should be careful on Shabbos to place his clothes in places where they will not fall into dust or dirt, so that he does not come to brush the clothes.

 

At this point, we can answer the three questions that we posed at the beginning of our article:

 

Bleaching or laundering?

 

“Is the name of the melacha bleaching or laundering?”

 

Actually, it is a dispute among rishonim whether the melacha should be defined as

 

bleaching or as laundering, although for our contemporary purposes there may not be a halacha lemaaseh difference.

 

Painting white

 

“If someone whitewashes his wall or paints something white, what melacha has he performed?”

 

The answer is that he violated the melacha of tzovei’a, dyeing, not of melabein.

 

Threading a thread

 

“What could possibly be wrong with moistening a thread on Shabbos?”

 

Indeed, it might be prohibited min haTorah to do so, because it is considered that one laundered the thread.

 

We will continue our discussion of meleches melabein in three weeks.

 

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Of Umbrellas, Trees and Other Kohen Concerns

Question #1: Does tumah spread under umbrellas?

Question #2: The exit off the highway I take to work borders on a non-Jewish cemetery, and there are trees overhanging the road. One of the fellows I carpool with is a kohen, but he is not bothered about this issue. Even though I am not a kohen, should I be concerned?

INTRODUCTION

Parshas Chukas discusses tumas meis, the spiritual defilement that results from contact with a corpse or other human remains. When the parah adumah is restored and we endeavor to keep ourselves tahor whenever possible, Jews will be more mindful of how tumah spreads. In that era, every Jew will be careful to be tahor when separating challah and terumah, eating maaser sheini and korbanos, and entering the Beis HaMikdash, all of which should be performed only when tahor. (Unfortunately, today we separate challah, terumah and maaser sheni when we are tamei because we have no other option.) For these and many other reasons, the laws of tumah and taharah will then affect everyone.

In the interim, the laws of tumas meis do not directly concern most people, but they certainly affect kohanim, since the Torah prohibits them from contracting tumas meis. Nevertheless, every Jew should be familiar with these halachos since a knowledgeable non-kohen can often prevent a kohen from becoming tamei, as we will soon see. Furthermore, a non-kohen may not cause a kohen to become tamei.

SOME BASIC LAWS OF TUMAH

A person can become tamei meis in three different ways: 1) maga (touching), 2) masa (carrying or moving, even if one does not touch the remains), and 3) being under the same ohel (roof). A kohen is prohibited from becoming tamei meis by any of these methods and therefore he may not touch, move, or be in the same ohel as human remains. (There are two exceptions when a kohen must become tamei: either to a close relative, or to a meis mitzvah, the corpse of a Jew that has no one else to take care of it.)

DO REMAINS OF A NON-JEW CONVEY TUMAH?

The remains of a gentile convey tumas meis if they are touched or carried. There is a dispute whether these remains convey tumas ohel, and the Shulchan Aruch rules that it is proper to be careful (Yoreh Deah 372:2). Therefore, a kohen should not enter a room containing the remains of a non-Jew. This last halacha affects kohanim entering hospitals when it is not a life threatening emergency, and visiting museums which may have human remains. (My experience is that most museums contain some form of tumas meis.)

AN OHEL IS NOT JUST A TENT

Although the word ohel also means “tent,” or “roof,”  tumas ohel has much broader connotations and  is conveyed via almost any cover or overhang at least a tefach wide (about three inches) [Ohalos 3:7]. Therefore, a protrusion, overhang, umbrella, or branch with this width is an ohel; if it is over a grave or corpse, it conveys tumah to anyone standing anywhere underneath.

NARROW BRANCHES

Many authorities contend that an ohel that is a tefach wide at one point spreads tumah under its entirety, even under a narrower part (Rambam, Tumas Meis 12:6; 18:1; cf. the Rosh’s commentary to Ohalos 15:10, who disagrees). According to this approach, a tree branch that is a tefach-wide at one point continues to be an ohel when it narrows and can thus spread tumah rather extensively. Some contend that this is true only when the branch or protrusion is a tefach-wide for a majority of its length (Aruch HaShulchan, Yoreh Deah 371:25; the Tosafos Yom Tov seems to disagree.), whereas others maintain that it becomes an ohel only if the tumah is located beneath its tefach-wide section (Sidrei Taharos, Ohalos 12:6).

CONNECTING OHEL AREAS

Tumas ohel spreads from one ohel area to any other ohel that overlaps or connects even if the different ohel “roofs” are of very different heights. Therefore, a series of overlapping or connecting roofs, ledges, caves, umbrellas, tree branches, or even people, can create a continuous ohel that transfers tumah for great distances. Indeed, what appears to be separate buildings or structures may be one large ohel connected by open doors and windows (under certain circumstances, even through closed ones), ledges or tunnels, and tumah in one building may spread across an entire complex of buildings. This is particularly common in hospitals, museums, shopping malls, university campuses and airport terminals where remains in one part of the building, or even on an airplane connected to the terminal through a jetway, may spread tumah throughout the entire facility.

Another example of this principle is that if human remains are transported into an airport terminal or medical facility that connects to a subway station, tumah spreads throughout the entire subway system and prohibits any kohen from remaining anywhere in the subway, since the entire system qualifies as one large ohel. Therefore someone dying in a Bronx subway station contaminates a kohen awaiting his commuter train in Penn Station!

KEEP YOUR DISTANCE

The human body can also function as an ohel that conveys tumah. For this reason, a person leaning out of a window over a corpse or grave becomes an ohel that transfers tumah into the house (Ohalos 11:4). Similarly, people crowded around a corpse or a grave can create a continuous ohel that transfers tumah to anyone who touches them. Because of this, a kohen attending a funeral should keep his distance from the crowd.

In the same vein, when a crowd of people escort a meis on a rainy day, one person whose body is partly above the casket spreads tumah via his body to the area under an umbrella, and then the tumah spreads throughout the crowd from umbrella to overlapping umbrella. Some authorities contend that a kohen must distance himself four amos (about seven feet) away from the umbrella nearest him.

I once attended a funeral in a yeshiva beis hamedrash where the tumas meis spread through an open door under the building’s awning, under umbrellas outside, and then from umbrella to umbrella for a very extended area. The tumah eventually reached an area where many kohanim had gone to avoid becoming tamei, but they were completely unaware that they had violated a Torah prohibition! All this could and should have been avoided with a little foresight and planning, such as arranging an assembly area for kohanim distant enough to keep them tahor. A well-educated yisroel could have resolved the unfortunate problem. Since many people have told me that this is not an uncommon problem, I advise that funerals be arranged for sunny days!

TREES

As we saw above, a kohen must be careful not to pass beneath a tree branch that also overshadows a grave. It is common to find large trees overhanging a cemetery and a section of roadway at the same time. As I pointed out, even if the cemetery is not Jewish the Shulchan Aruch advises that a kohen should avoid defiling himself in the ohel of a non-Jew. It is certainly a problem if the cemetery is Jewish. If this case affects you, I suggest asking a shaylah what to do.

Also, it often happens that one side or one lane of a road passes under trees that overhang a cemetery while the other side or lanes do not. Sometimes, while driving down a city street, a kohen suddenly realizes that the street ahead passes alongside a cemetery and that there are trees overhanging the roadway. Obviously, he should not swerve suddenly and endanger people in order to avoid defiling his kedusha; however, people should prevent this situation by notifying kohanim that the road is problematic.

LEAVES OR ONLY BRANCHES?

Although several places in the Mishnah and Gemara (Bava Basra 27b; Negaim 13:7; Kiddushin 33b) assume that tumas meis spreads underneath trees, the authorities dispute whether leaves and twigs create an ohel, or only branches. Some poskim contend that leaves and twigs rarely become an ohel; others make a distinction between sturdy ones that can bear weight and those that cannot; others distinguish between large leaves and small ones; and still others discriminate between leaves of deciduous trees and those of evergreens that have leaves all year round (see Sukkah 13b; Rambam, Tumas Meis 13:3).

DATELINE: LVOV, POLAND, ROSH HASHANAH, 1620

The halachic questions raised above became mired in controversy in 17th Century Lvov (more commonly known to Jews as Lemberg), Poland. (Because of the extensive shift of international borders at the end of World War II, this city is now located in the Ukraine.)

On Rosh Hashanah 5381 (corresponding to September 1620), Lvov’s new rav, Rav Yaakov Kopel Katz, noticed that people were walking into a nearby forested area. Rav Katz noticed that the dense foliage under which people were relaxing continued until the local cemetery. Rav Katz prohibited kohanim from entering this area, contending that tumah from the cemetery spread under the tree canopy, contaminating the entire area. Thus, he felt that kohanim relaxing in this area were violating the Torah prohibition of contracting tumas meis.

The townspeople claimed that the Drisha, possibly the greatest posek of his generation, who had himself been a kohen, had walked and sat under these same trees when he had served as Rav of Lvov only a few years before. Rav Katz countered that at the time of the Drisha, the tree canopy must not have extended so far, and the areas he walked under were not connected to the cemetery.

What exactly was the question? Apparently, the trees in question did not have wide branches, but did have dense foliage comprised of small leaves that touched together, leaving no space between them. Rav Katz held that even twigs and leaves not strong enough to support any weight can still combine to form an ohel. He also held that although plants that die in the winter are not significant enough to be an ohel, the deciduous leaves of trees that survive from year to year do qualify as an ohel.

Rav Katz wrote an extensive responsum outlining his halachic concerns and sent it to a different kohen in Lvov, a talmid chacham named Rav Avraham Rapaport. Rav Rapaport disagreed with Rav Katz and penned his own correspondence wherein he maintained that these trees did not spread tumah. Rav Rapaport contended that twigs and leaves form an ohel only when they fulfill the following conditions:

  1. They are strong enough to bear the weight of a layer of plaster applied to them.
  2. Each leaf is itself the size of a square tefach, approximately three inches by three inches. He maintained that one does combine different leaves and/or twigs to form an ohel, even if there is no space between them at all.
  3. The leaves are evergreen (see also Gesher HaChayim pg. 87).

According to Rav Rapaport, the Drisha might indeed have been relaxing under the same foliage that still existed in 1620! (Of course, we will never know.)

Rav Rapaport then mailed the two responsa, his own and Rav Katz’s, to a third scholar, Rav Aharon Abba HaLevi, who concluded like Rav Rapaport, although for slightly variant reasons. He agreed with Rav Katz that leaves combine to form an ohel, but in addition to remaining through the winter and being strong enough to withstand the weight of a layer of plaster, he added yet another condition: They must be sturdy enough not to be blown by a typical wind (see Tosafos, Sukkah 13b).

Rav Rapaport then sent the three responsa to the gadol hador, the Tosafos Yom Tov, for his ruling on the famed trees of Lvov. The Tosafos Yom Tov sided with Rav Rapaport and Rav Aharon HaLevi that the leaves involved were not an ohel. However, the Tosafos Yom Tov held a stringent opinion concerning a related issue that none of the other scholars had addressed. He contended that if the branches are a tefach wide at any point, tumah continues to spread even when they narrow. (As I mentioned above, this is subject to a dispute between the Rambam and the Rosh. Among the later authorities, most rule like the Rambam and the Tosafos Yom Tov [Dagul MeiRevavah on Shach 371:14; Chochmas Odom; Aruch HaShulchan], whereas some rule like the Rosh [Chasam Sofer, Chullin 125a].) (Rav Rapaport printed the correspondence of the four rabbonim as a chapter in his own magnum opus, Shu”t Eisan HaEzrahi #7.)

FROM LVOV TO NORTH AMERICA

This last distinction is critical. It is very common that the branches of a mature tree are a tefach wide near the trunk although they narrow as they grow. According to Tosafos Yom Tov’s conclusion, these trees will spread tumah under their boughs even if they narrow considerably, thus spreading tumah to a considerable extent. The result is that if the branch of a tree one tefach wide at one point spreads over the graves, and this branch then extends over or under a branch from another tree, which in turn stretches over or under a branch from another tree, the tumah will continue to spread as long as each branch is a tefach wide at some point. (As mentioned above, some commentaries contend that the tumah spreads from one branch to another only when both branches are a tefach wide at the point that they cross one another.) This is because beneath each branch is an ohel, and the tumah extends from one ohel to another.

In the contemporary world, this shaylah is extremely germane due to the widespread use of large trees as urban landscape. It is very common for trees to overhang cemeteries in a way that spreads tumah onto nearby highways, streets, and sidewalks. With this information, we can now address the first question raised above: “The exit off the highway I take to work borders on a non-Jewish cemetery, and there are trees that overhang the road. One of the fellows I carpool with is a kohen, but he is not concerned about this issue. Do I need to be?”

There is indeed cause for concern. Due to technical factors such as the width of the branches and the locations of the graves, and halachic factors, one should ask one’s rav what course of action to follow in this situation.

EIGHTEENTH CENTURY

A shaylah very similar to our contemporary case involved a dispute between two mechutanim, both of them prominent rabbonim, Rav Yosef Hock and the Teshuvah Mei’ahavah, Rav Elazar Flekelis, who was the primary disciple and successor of the Noda BiYehudah. The case involved a shul adjacent to a cemetery that was used for fetuses and stillborns, whose unmarked graves convey tumas meis and tumas ohel. A tree’s branches extended over the cemetery and its branches brushed against the shul building. When the windows of the shul were open, if indeed the tree conveyed tumah, the tumah would now spread from the tree through open windows into the shul, creating a problem for kohanim. Rav Hock contended that the tree limbs did not require trimming since they were very weak and would not withstand any weight. Furthermore, it was uncertain whether the tree overhung the unmarked graves, since no one was certain exactly where the fetuses were laid to rest.

However, the Teshuvah Mei’ahavah took issue with many of the facts presented by his mechutan, contending that it was possible that the entire cemetery was already filled with graves, that the tree branches would eventually grow strong enough to bear weight, and that it is far better to accustom the community to trim the branches regularly and avoid any problem. Furthermore, he notes that it is not certain that a branch too weak to support any weight is not an ohel (Teshuvah Mei’ahavah Vol. 1 #89).

CONCLUSION

Certainly umbrellas and trees can convey tumas meis; the halacha discussion is whether thin branches, twigs, and leaves do. Thus, a tree overhanging both a cemetery and a highway provides good reason to research whether a halachic problem exists. The checking of the layout and other factors should be performed by a non-kohen who is highly knowledgeable in the laws of tumas meis.

WHY IS IT PROHIBITED FOR A KOHEN TO COME IN CONTACT WITH A MEIS?

Although it is beyond our ability to fathom the reasons for the mitzvos, we can and should attempt to glean a taste of Hashem’s mitzvos in order to grow from the experience of observing them. Thus, it behooves us to attempt to explain why the Torah bans a kohen from having contact with a meis under normal circumstances.

Rav Hirsch, in his commentary on Vayikra 21:5, provides us with a beautiful insight into this mitzvah. In most religions, fear of death and what happens afterwards are the major “selling points.” Thus, the role of the priest is most important when dealing with death. However, the Torah’s focus is how to live like a Jew—to learn Torah and perform mitzvos, and devote our energies to developing ourselves in Hashem’s image. To emphasize that the Torah is the blueprint of perfect living, the kohen, who is the nation’s teacher, is excluded from anything to do with death. The kohen’s role is to imbue us with the knowledge and enthusiasm to live!!

 

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Shul Shaylos: The Rulings of the Gadol of Brownsville

Since Bilaam’s agenda included destroying all our shullen, it is an appropriate week to discuss:

Shul Shaylos: The Rulings of the Gadol of Brownsville

Question #1: Keeping them Waiting

“Unfortunately, some of those who attend my morning minyan come late, so that the minyan usually forms around Borchu time. Should the chazzan wait until ten people are ready to begin the quiet shemoneh esrei together?”

Question #2: Dwindling Minyan

“For many years, I have attended a minyan that is now severely dwindling. In addition, not all the attendees are capable of davening, and, therefore, there are usually less than ten people praying at a time. Should I continue to attend this shul, or should I begin attending another shul, where there will be a minyan of people who all daven together?”

Question #3: Lowering the Bar

“Some of the ladies who attend our shul are now aging, and it is difficult for them to climb the steps to the ezras nashim, the ladies’ section. May we take part of the downstairs men’s section, place a mechitzah between it and the men, and make it into an auxiliary women’s section?”

Introduction: The Gadol of Brownsville

What do the above questions have to do with a gadol of Brownsville? Actually, there were many great talmidei chachamim who lived in the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn during its heyday as a Jewish neighborhood. This article will discuss two shaylos that were asked of a world-class gadol who served as a rav in Brownsville, Rav Moshe Rosen. Rav Rosen is usually known by the name of a series of sefarim he authored, the Neizer Hakodesh, which plows original ground on the entirety of Seder Kodoshim, and also includes volumes on Pesachim, Yoma, Makkos and Niddah.

Rav Rosen was born in the 1870’s in Brainsk, in Polish Lithuania (then part of the Russian Empire). After marriage and five years of kest (the equivalent of kollel that existed for promising young talmidei chachamim in pre-World War I Eastern Europe), he became rav in Kveidan, a town near Kovno, Lithuania, where he remained through World War I before he moved to America. Even in his youth, he was a profound talmid chacham – as early an author as the Sedei Chemed quotes Rav Rosen with tremendous respect.[i]

In Europe, while yet a young man, the Neizer Hakodesh exchanged halachic correspondence with such luminaries as the nineteenth century’s poseik hador, Rav Yitzchak Elchanan Spector, the Or Somayach, the Chofeitz Chayim, Rav Chayim Ozer Grodzensky, Rav Itzele Ponovitcher and Rav Menachem Ziemba.[ii] The Ponovitcher Rav, Rav Yosef Kahaneman, said that the Neizer Hakodesh’s Torah scholarship and brilliance was in the league of the greatest gedolim of Europe, an opinion that was echoed by another Lithuanian gadol, Rav Yechezkel Abramsky.

One of the other gedolim who knew and admired Rav Rosen when he was still a young man in Europe was the Chazon Ish, whose rebbitzen was a native of Kveidan and where he (the Chazon Ish) resided immediately after his marriage. One short anecdote demonstrates the respect the Chazon Ish had for the Torah greatness of Rav Rosen: Shortly after World War I, the Chazon Ish wanted to print a new edition of the very difficult mesechta, Keilim, with three commentaries, those authored by Rav Chayim Ozer, the Chazon Ish himself and the Neizer Hakodesh.[iii] Apparently, this initiative never saw fruition.

At the beginning of World War I, the Eastern Front of the war — between Germany and Russia — passed right through Kveidan and its environs, and most of the Jews fled to avoid the battlefront. Since no other rav was nearby, the Neizer Hakodesh remained in the area to oversee the chesed and mitzvos that needed to be performed. By the end of the war, there was no Jewish community left in Kveidan,[iv] and the Neizer Hakodesh relocated to America, where he settled in Brownsville.

Once in New York, the Neizer Hakodesh became the first Rosh Yeshivah of Yeshiva Torah Vodaas. Among his early talmidim, was a young man named Avraham Pam, future Rosh Yeshivah of Torah Vodaas and future Chairman of the Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah. In a later period, the Neizer Hakodesh would test (farher) the talmidim of Yeshivah Chayim Berlin. Decades later, he was also involved in the organization of the yeshivah Beis Hatalmud of Bensonhurst and of Beth Medrash Govoha of Lakewood.

Upon arriving in America, Rav Rosen became rav of Khal Anshei Radishkovitz, colloquially known as the Amboy Street shul, one of the largest shuls in Brownsville. He later founded his own beis medrash, which, after his passing, was headed by his son, and later his son-in-law. The shul, now called Beis Hamedrash Harav, was subsequently relocated to Far Rockaway.

Rav Rosen authored over twenty sefarim, of which at least eighteen were subsequently published, most of them called Neizer Hakodesh. Many decades before the Brisker Rav popularized studying Seder Kodoshim in depth, Rav Rosen was attempting to re-breathe life into Kodoshim through his work, out of his home in Brownsville. He also authored several volumes of responsa and commentaries on Shulchan Aruch and Chumash.

Also a man of action, Rav Rosen raised money to support the Chazon Ish when he arrived in Bnei Beraq, and to assist the Brisker Rav when he arrived in Eretz Yisrael. Rav Rosen predeceased the Brisker Rav, passing away on Sukkos 5717 (1957).

A teshuvah from Brownsville

In one of his responsa, Rav Rosen deals with the second question that I asked above: “For many years, I have attended a minyan that is now severely dwindling. In addition, not all the attendees are capable of davening, and, therefore, there are usually less than ten people praying at a time. Should I continue to attend this shul, or should I begin attending another shul, where there will be a minyan of people who all daven together?”

Before I quote his response to this question, we should analyze the background of the issue.

What is a minyan?

We are all aware that several parts of our tefillah may be recited only when there is a quorum of at least ten adult men (a minyan) present. We are also aware that prayers recited together with a minyan accomplish more than when one prays by himself. To quote the Rambam: “The prayer of the community is always heard. Even when there are sinners among them, the Holy One, Blessed is He, does not despise the prayer of a group of people. Therefore, everyone is required to make himself part of the tzibur. One should not pray in private any time that one is able to pray with a community” (Hilchos Tefillah 8:1).

In a related discussion, the Rambam notes that the repetition of the shemoneh esrei requires that ten adult men be in attendance. He explains that it is not necessary that all ten are davening at this moment, provided that at least six people in attendance daven their quiet shemoneh esrei together prior to the repetition of the shemoneh esrei.

At this point, let us quote the first question asked above:

“Unfortunately, some of those who attend my morning minyan come late, so that the minyan usually forms around Borchu time. Should the chazzan wait until ten people are ready to begin the quiet shemoneh esrei together?”

The questioner is raising the following issue: Do six people davening together while ten are in attendance have all the value of tefillah betzibur, or does their joint prayer not carry all the merits of tefillah betzibur unless ten men are actually praying simultaneously? A corollary of this question is whether there is a preference to daven with a minyan where ten people are actually davening over one where less than ten are actually davening.

To answer this question, many authorities quote the words of the Chayei Adam (19:1):

“Someone who wants his prayers to be accepted should be careful to daven together with the tzibur… the main part of tefillah betzibur is the shemoneh esrei prayer, which means that ten adult males should pray together. The masses think, in error, that the purpose of tefillah betzibur is only to hear Kaddish, Kedushah and Borchu, and, as a result, they are not concerned about davening together, as long as there are ten people in shul. This is a major error. Therefore, it is a personal responsibility of each man to arrive in shul early and begin davening with the chazzan, so that he can daven in the proper order.”

Clearly, the main concern of the Chayei Adam was the bad habit of arriving late for services, resulting in not davening the shemoneh esrei together with the tzibur. However, while emphasizing the importance of reciting one’s prayers at the same time that the tzibur does, the Chayei Adam wrote, “the main part of tefillah betzibur is… that ten adult males pray together.” This is understood by many authorities to mean that although one may repeat the shemoneh esrei (chazaras hashatz) even if only six of the people in attendance have davened, it is not considered full-fledged tefillah betzibur unless at least ten actually davened together. These significant words of the Chayei Adam are quoted by the Mishnah Berurah.

The logic used to explain this position is that a minyan should be treated no different from any other minimum amount required for the performance of a mitzvah. When the Torah requires that we eat a kezayis (the volume-equivalent of an olive) of matzoh on Seder night, it is insufficient for someone to eat most of the volume-equivalent of an olive. The mitzvah is fulfilled only when one consumes an entire olive-sized piece. So, too, although six people davening with four others in attendance allows one to repeat the shemoneh esrei and to recite Kedushah, Kaddish and Borchu, ultimately one does not have a minyan of people davening simultaneously (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 1:28, 29, 30). Rav Shlomoh Zalman Auerbach also held this position (Halichos Shlomoh 5:8).

Other authorities dispute this conclusion, contending that if ten people are in attendance, tefillah betzibur is accomplished even when only six of them daven at the same time. They contend that the first approach is reading more into the Chayei Adam’s comments than the author intended. The purpose of the Chayei Adam’s comments is only to show that reciting the shemoneh esrei with the tzibur is the primary focus of attending public prayer and not only the recital of Kaddish and Kedushah, unlike  the errant understanding of the common folk.

Those who espouse the latter position note that the Rambam’s comments imply that six people praying with four others in attendance constitutes tefillah betzibur. They note that since the Rambam implies that six people praying together with a minyan in attendance qualifies as tefillah betzibur, how can one infer from the Chayei Adam otherwise? If the Chayei Adam intended to dispute the Rambam’s conclusion, he would explain that he is doing so. Therefore, it is more likely that he agrees with the Rambam and that having six people davening does qualify as tefillah betizbur (Beis Baruch commentary on Chayei Adam). The Eimek Beracha (Tefillah #6) provides several indications that this is true, and rules that this is unquestionably accurate.

Returning to our first question: “Unfortunately, some of those who attend my morning minyan come late, so that the minyan usually forms around Borchu time. Should the chazzan wait until ten people are ready to begin the quiet shemoneh esrei together?”

Well, dear reader, what do you answer our friend? It depends which opinion of the two approaches one holds. According to the first approach, it is preferable to wait until ten people begin shemoneh esrei simultaneously, which accomplishes tefillah betzibur. According to the second approach, it is not required. The rav of the shul should decide which approach they should follow.

Dwindling minyan

At this point, I would like to address the second question posed above:

“For many years, I have attended a minyan that is now severely dwindling. In addition, not all the attendees are capable of davening, and, therefore, there are usually less than ten people praying at a time. Should I continue to attend this shul, or should I begin attending another shul, where there will be a minyan of people who all daven together?”

This actual question was asked of the Neizer Hakodesh. The first step in this question is: Assuming that at least six people are davening, is this considered tefillah betzibur?

The answer to this question is, of course, dependent on our previous discussion. In his responsum, the Neizer Hakodesh assumes that if ten people are not davening shemoneh esrei together, the resultant tefillah does not qualify as tefillah betzibur. However, notwithstanding that remaining in the dying shul deprives the questioner of the mitzvah of tefillah betzibur, Rav Rosen still concludes that he should remain at that shul — for a different reason, based on the following well-known Talmudic story (Berachos 47b):

Rabbi Eliezer, attended by his slave, entered a shul to discover that it was short one Jew for a minyan. Although a non-Jewish slave owned by a Jew is required to observe most mitzvos, he is still not considered a full-fledged Jew until he is freed, and he does not count towards a minyan. Rabbi Eliezer promptly freed his slave so that there would be a minyan and davening could begin. The Gemara asks: Upon what halachic basis did Rabbi Eliezer free his slave, since this act is prohibited by the Torah? The Gemara replies that since freeing his slave in this instance allowed a “community” of Jews to perform a mitzvah, a mitzvah of the community supersedes the prohibition of freeing one’s slave. Thus, we see the importance of enabling the tzibur to perform the various mitzvos, including reciting Kaddish, Kedusha, and Borchu, repeating the shemoneh esrei, and reading the Torah. Rav Rosen ruled that the community’s ability to observe these mitzvos holds greater halachic weight than the individual being able to daven with a proper minyan of ten people davening at the same time (Neizer Hakodesh U’she’eilos U’teshuvos #14).

Moving the ezras nashim

At this point, I would like to address the last of our opening questions:

“Some of the ladies who attend our shul are now aging, and it is difficult for them to climb the steps to the ezras nashim. May we take part of the downstairs men’s section, place a mechitzah between it and the men, and make it into an auxiliary women’s section?”

The question here is based on the following halachic issue. The Gemara states that one may not take an item that is designated for a greater kedusha and now use it for a lesser kedusha (see Megillah 26a). The question is whether, since both the ezras nashim and the men’s section are designated for prayer, they have the same level of sanctity, or if there is any distinction between them.

The Neizer Hakodesh writes that a respected earlier authority, the Divrei Chayim, previously analyzed this question, noting that there are many mitzvos, such as reading the Torah, blowing Shofar, lighting the menorah on Chanukah, and the recital of elements of davening that require a minyan are based in the men’s shul. As a result, the Divrei Chayim concluded that although the ezras nashim certainly has great sanctity, there is more sanctity in the main shul. This precludes changing a section of the shul for use as an ezras nashim (Shu”t Divrei Chayim, Orach Chayim 2:14).

After discussing the issues at length, Rav Rosen voiced concern that should the shul not construct a lower ezras nashim, some women would begin to attend non-Orthodox congregations. He therefore recommended the following: Notwithstanding that the main shul cannot be converted to an ezras nashim, under the extenuating circumstances, one may be lenient that the area above the men’s height does not have the kedusha of the shul, and construct an auxiliary ezras nashim in the air space above part of the men’s section. Since this would not be much taller than the main shul, it would be easy to access with a short ramp or short set of stairs, thus being available to those who require it.

In the responsa of Rav Moshe Feinstein, we find a teshuvah where he was asked a similar question regarding changing the ezras nashim of a shul from a balcony to a section alongside the main shul with a proper mechitzah (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 2:43). Rav Moshe rules that one may not do this, because we see from the Gemara (Sukkah 51b) that it is preferred for the women’s section to be in a balcony. Although a shul whose ezras nashim is alongside the main shul and separated by a mechitzah is kosher, one should not replace a balcony mechitzah, which is the preferred choice, with one alongside the main shul. Rav Moshe is also clearly concerned that the attempt to change the mechitzah is meant to be a liberalizing step in the shul and could lead to other “innovations” with more serious halachic ramifications. He rules that the rav should fight this innovation of relocating the ezras nashim with all his might. Nevertheless, Rav Moshe rules that if the congregation moves the women’s section from a balcony to an area alongside the main shul with a kosher mechitzah, that the rav of the shul may keep his position, since the shul still has a kosher mechitzah.

Conclusion

I personally enjoy knowing something of the life of a gadol whose Torah I am studying. I hope that our readers similarly enjoyed reading a bit about Rav Moshe Rosen while studying some of his halachic rulings.

 

 

[i] The Sedei Chemed cites Rav Rosen in Volume 8 at the beginning of his exposition on the issues of Chanukah.

[ii] Most of the biographical information was obtained from Volume 3 of Rav Yisrael Shurin’s Morei Ha’umah and a published interview of Rav Rosen’s grandson, Rav Hillel Litwack of Flatbush.

[iii] Finkelman, Shimon, The Chazon Ish, Page 35.

[iv] Finkelman, Shimon, The Chazon Ish, Page 43.

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This Is the Way We Salt Our Meat

In parshas Korach, the kodoshim part given to the kohanim is referred to as a “covenant of salt,” thus providing an opportunity to explain:

This Is the Way We Salt Our Meat

Question

“When I shopped in Israel, I noticed that all the chickens were split open. I like to roast my chicken whole and stuff the inside, but you can’t do this once the chicken is split open. When I asked the butcher for an explanation, he told me that all the mehadrin hechsherim split the chicken open before koshering. What does a split chicken have anything to do with kashrus?

Introduction to Meat Preparation

In several places, the Torah proscribes eating blood. Blood is the transporter of nutrients to the entire body, and therefore blood must flow through all parts on an animal. If so, how can we possibly extract the prohibited blood from meat and still have edible meat?

The Gemara and the halachic authorities provide the guidelines how to properly remove the forbidden blood from the allowed meat. The process begins during the butchering, when one is required to remove certain veins to guarantee that the blood is properly removed (Chullin 93a; Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 65:1).

After these veins are removed, there are two methods of extracting the blood from the meat. One is by soaking and salting the meat, which is what we will discuss in this article. In practical terms, the first approach, usually referred to as kashering meat, involves soaking the meat for thirty minutes, shaking off the excess water, salting the meat thoroughly on all sides, and then placing it for an hour in a way that the blood can drain freely. A bird should be placed with its open cavity downward so that the liquid drains off as it is koshering, and similarly, a piece of meat with a cavity, such as an unboned brisket, should be placed with its cavity draining downward. One may stack meat that one is koshering as high as one wants, as long as the liquid can drain off the meat properly. After the salting is complete, the meat is rinsed thoroughly in order to wash away all the blood and salt. The poskim instruct that one should rinse the meat three times (Rama, Yoreh Deah 69:7).

Until fairly recently, every Jewish daughter and housewife soaked and salted meat as part of regular meal preparation. Today, the koshering of meat is usually performed either in the meat processing plant or by the butcher. Still every housewife should know how to kasher meat before it becomes a forgotten skill, reserved only for the specialist!

Case in point: A talmid of mine is doing kiruv in a community that does not have a lot of kashrus amenities, but happens to be near a kosher abattoir. Because of necessity, he and his wife are now proficient in the practical aspects of koshering their own meat, a skill that they were fortunate to learn.

Another case in point:

I know a very fine Jew who, following guidance of gedolei Yisrael, accepted a kabbalah before he married that he would eat meat only that was koshered at home. Someone wanted to invite him for a sheva berachos and serve him what she prepared for all her guests, but was unable to do so because she never learned how to kasher meat. (Instead, she prepared him fish.)

For these reasons, when I taught in Beis Yaakov, I made sure that the girls knew how to kasher meat, although, frankly, I was quite appalled to find out how little they knew about the process. In those days, most of their mothers still knew how to kasher meat, but today, even the mothers and teachers of Beis Yaakov students no longer necessarily know how.

On the other hand, I am reminded of the time some Iranian talmidim of Ner Yisrael spent Pesach at a university in Oklahoma to be mekareiv Jewish students. Although the students, natives of Shiraz, Tehran and other Iranian cities, were no longer observant, they all assisted in the koshering of the chickens for the Seder. Every one of them remembered exactly how to kasher meat!

Why do we Soak our Meat?

Before addressing the question that I shared in the beginning of our article, we need to understand more thoroughly the process of koshering meat. The Gemara (Chullin 113a) teaches:

“Shmuel said: The meat does not rid itself of its blood unless it is well salted and well rinsed.” The Gemara subsequently explains that the meat must be rinsed both before the salting and afterwards. We well understand why we must rinse away the salt after koshering the meat, since it is now full of forbidden blood. But why does one need to rinse the meat before koshering the meat? And why emphasize that it must be “well rinsed”?

There are actually many different explanations for this law. Here are some approaches mentioned by the Rishonim, as explained by the master of practical kashrus, the Pri Megadim (in his introduction to the laws of salting meat, Second Ikar, s.v. VaAtah):

(1) Soften the Meat

Soaking the meat softens it so that the salt can now remove the blood. If the meat is not saturated thoroughly with water, the salt will not successfully extract the blood from the hard meat, and the meat remains prohibited (Ran). According to this reason, the Gemara’s instruction that the meat is “well rinsed” requires not simply rinsing the surface of the meat, but submerging the meat. The later authorities interpret that one should soak the entire meat for a half hour to guarantee that it is soft enough for the salt to extract the blood (see Darchei Moshe 69:1, as explained by Gr”a, 69:4).

The authorities dispute whether one is required to submerge the entire piece of meat. Some contend that if part of the meat remained above the water, it will become softened by the water absorption of the lower part of the meat (Pischei Teshuvah 69:5). Others maintain that the upper part will not soften this way and one must submerge the piece of meat entirely (Yad Yehudah, Peirush HaAruch end of 69:10; Darkei Teshuvah 69:20).

(2) Remove the Surface Blood

A second approach why the meat must be rinsed well before salting contends that one must rinse blood off the surface of the meat because otherwise this blood will impede the ability of the salt to remove the blood that is inside the meat (Mordechai). This approach, as well as all the others that the Pri Megadim quotes, does not require submerging the meat, but merely rinsing the surface well. However, according to this approach, if the meat was submerged for half an hour and then afterwards someone sliced into the meat, one must rerinse the area that was now cut. Failure to rerinse the newly cut area will result in the salt not removing the blood properly (Pri Megadim)

Case in point:

Once, when I was inspecting a butcher shop, I observed that after the meat was completely soaked, the mashgiach noticed that one piece had not been properly butchered – the butcher had failed to remove a vein that one is required to remove. The mashgiach took out his knife and sliced away the offending vein. Was the butcher now required to soak the meat for an additional half hour or was it sufficient to rinse the meat before kashering it?

The answer is that one must rinse the newly sliced area well to remove any blood, but one is not required to soak the meat for an additional half an hour since the meat is now nice and soft and its blood will drain out freely.

(3) The Blood will Absorb into the Meat

A third opinion contends that one must rinse the meat before salting it because salting meat when there is blood on its surface will cause the blood to absorb into the meat. Like the second approach, this opinion also believes that the reason meat is rinsed before salting is to remove the blood on the surface. However, this opinion holds that not rinsing blood off the surface entails a more serious concern. If blood remains on the surface of the meat when it is salted, this blood will absorb into the meat and prohibit it. Therefore, if someone salted the meat without rinsing it off, the meat is now prohibited, and resoaking and resalting it will not make it kosher. According to the other reasons we have mentioned, one who failed to soak or rinse the meat before salting it may rinse off the salt, soak (or rinse) the meat properly and then salt it.

The Shulchan Aruch (69:2) rules that if one salts meat without rinsing it first, he may rinse off the salt and resalt the meat. The Rama rules that one should not use the meat unless it is a case of major financial loss.

(4) Moisten the Surface

Another Rishon, the Rosh, contends that the reason why one must rinse the meat before salting it is because the salt does not remove the blood properly unless the meat surface is moist (Rosh). Although this approach may appear similar to the Ran’s approach that I mentioned first, the Ran contends that the entire piece of meat must be soaked in order to soften it so that its blood will be readily extracted, whereas the Rosh requires only that the surface be moist at the time of the salting. Therefore, the Rosh does not require that the meat be soaked at all, certainly not for half an hour. On the other hand, if the meat soaked for a half-hour and then was dried or sliced, the Rosh would require one to moisten the dry surface so that the salt will work. In this last case, the Ran would not require re-rinsing the surface since the meat already soaked for half an hour.

In practical halacha, we lechatchilah prepare meat according to all opinions, and for this reason we soak all meat for half an hour before salting. We then drain off some of the water before salting so that the meat is moist but not dripping (Rama 69:1). If the meat is too wet, the salt will not do its job.

How thick must I salt the meat?

The Gemara states that one must salt the meat well, just as it mentions that one must wash it well. What does this mean that I must salt it well?

Some authorities require that the meat be covered with salt, whereas others rule that it is satisfactory to salt it sufficiently that one would not be able to eat the meat without rinsing it off.

The Rishonim debate whether salting meat well means that it must be salted on all sides, or whether it is sufficient to salt the meat on one side. There are actually three different opinions on the matter:

  • The meat needs to be salted on only one side, and this satisfactorily removes the blood (Tur’s interpretation of Rashba).
  • One should preferably salt the meat on both sides, but if one failed to do so, the meat is kosher (Beis Yosef’s interpretation of Rashba).
  • If the meat is not salted on opposite sides, one will not remove all the blood and the meat is prohibited for consumption (Rama).

The Shulchan Aruch concludes that one should preferably salt the meat on both sides, but if one failed to do so, the meat is kosher. However, the Rama rules that under normal circumstances one should consider the meat non-kosher. Under extenuating circumstances, or in case of great loss, the meat is kosher (Taz).

Stacking the Meat

According to all opinions, if one stacks two pieces of meat, one atop another, and salts only one of the pieces, the blood was not removed from unsalted piece. Even if one contends that salting meat on one side of a piece will draw out all the blood in that piece, it does not draw out the blood from a different piece that the salted piece is lying on.

Similarly, if one is koshering two organs, such as the heart and the lung, salting one piece does not draw the blood out of the other piece. This is true even if the two organs are still connected together (see Pri Megadim, Mishbetzos Zahav end of 15).

Salting a bird only on the outside is similar to salting a piece of meat on only one side, because there is an open cavity in the middle. For this reason, one is required to salt a bird on the inside of the open cavity also and cannot simply salt the outside of the bird.

Splitting a Bird

At this point, we have enough information to address our opening question:

“When I shopped in Israel, I noticed that all the chickens were split open. I like to roast my chicken whole and stuff the inside, but you can’t do this once the chicken is split open. When I asked the butcher for an explanation, he told me that all the mehadrin hechsherim split the chicken open before koshering. What does a split chicken have anything to do with kashrus?”

How does one kasher a chicken or any other bird? If one salts the outside of the chicken, one has salted the bird on only one side, since the inside cavity was not salted. The Shulchan Aruch answers that one places salt on the inside cavity of the chicken.

The Pri Megadim records a dispute among earlier authorities whether one is required to cut through the breast bone of a bird before koshering it. The Shulchan Aruch rules that one is not required to cut through the breast bone of a bird before koshering it, but can rely on placing salt inside the cavity. The Beis Hillel adds that cutting through the breast bone of the bird to make the cavity most accessible is not even considered a chumrah that one should try to observe. However, the Beis Lechem Yehudah rules that one is required to cut through the breast bone before koshering. His reasoning is that one who does not cut through the bone must rely on pushing salt into the cavity and that people tend to not push the salt sufficiently deep into the cavity. The Pri Megadim agrees with the Beis Lechem Yehudah, and mentions that he required his family members to cut through the breast bone to open the cavity before salting poultry, because it is impossible to salt properly all the places in the internal cavity without splitting the chicken open. (Although the Pri Megadim uses the term “split in half,” I presume that he means to open the chicken’s cavity. There seems no reason to require one to cut the entire chicken into two pieces.) Furthermore, several of the internal organs – including the lungs, kidneys, and spleen — are often not salted properly when salting without splitting open the cavity. It is for this reason that mehadrin shechitos in Eretz Yisrael all cut through the bone before salting the chickens, although one can note from the Pri Megadim’s own comments that this was not standard practice.

Most hechsherim in the United States follow the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch and Beis Hillel and do not insist on splitting the chicken open before salting it. One hechsher I know requires that the kidneys be removed and discarded before sale because of the concern raised by the Pri Megadim that they cannot be salted properly without opening the chicken. (In our large scale manufacturing today, the lungs, heart and spleen are always removed anyway, and usually not sold for food.)

By the way, we can also understand some of the reasons why someone would take on a personal chumrah to eat meat or chicken only if it was koshered at home. Among the reasons that he would be makpid is better control of the koshering, guaranteeing that the chickens are split before they are salted, and making certain that the chickens are placed with their cavities down.

Conclusion

At this point, I would like to return to our opening explanation, when I mentioned the mitzvah of salting korbanos that are burnt on the mizbeiach. As I alluded to above, although both items are salted in a similar manner, the purpose is very different. The salting of our meat is to remove the blood, this blood and salt is then washed away, whereas the salted offerings are burnt completely with their salt. Several commentaries note that salt represents that which exists forever, and can therefore represent the mitzvos of the Torah, which are never changed. In addition, the salt used for the korbanos must be purchased from public funds, from the machatzis hashekel collection, demonstrating that this responsibility to observe the mitzvos forever is communal and collective (Rav Hirsch).

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A Woman’s Guide to Tzitzis

The Torn Hole

Question # 1

Mrs. Friedman wants to know:

“The hole on my son’s talis koton in which the tzitzis strings are inserted is torn. Does this invalidate Yanki’s tzitzis?”

The Unraveled Knot

Question #2

Mrs. Weiss notices that the knots on her son’s tzitzis have untied. Are his tzitzis still kosher?

A Bicycle Casualty

Question #3, from Mrs. Goldberg:

“My son’s tzitzis got caught in his bicycle and several strings were torn. Are the tzitzis invalid?”

The Woman’s Tzitzis Guide

Why write a woman’s guide to tzitzis, when women are not required to observe the mitzvah, and, according to many authorities, are not even permitted to wear them? (See Targum Yonasan to Devarim 22:5, that a woman wearing tzitzis violates the prohibition of wearing a man’s garment.) In addition, some authorities contend that because women are exempt from fulfilling the mitzvah, they should not attach the tzitzis strings to the garment (Rama, Orach Chayim 14:1 and commentaries). (The Rama concludes that if a woman did attach the tzitzis to the garment, the tzitzis are kosher.)

The reason for this guide is that women are often responsible for the purchase, supervision, upkeep, and laundering of the tzitzis of their boys and men. Indeed, women often ask me questions relevant to these halachos. Men will also find this guide very useful.

In order to answer the above questions thoroughly, we must first understand some basics about how tzitzis are produced.

Please note that throughout this article, “tzitzis” refers to the strings placed on the corners of the garment; the garment itself will be called a “talis koton.”

Special Strings

Tzitzis are not manufactured from ordinary thread, but only from thread manufactured lishmah, meaning that the threads were spun with the intent that they be used to fulfill the mitzvah of tzitzis.

After completing the spinning, one takes several of these specially-spun threads and twists them together into a thicker string. This twisting, called shezirah, is also performed lishmah, with the intent of producing string for the mitzvah of tzitzis. Although, to the best of my knowledge, no early halachic sources discuss how many threads one needs to twist together, some have the custom of twisting eight such threads, which are called kaful shemonah.

The authorities dispute whether attaching the tzitzis strings to the garment and tying them must also be performed lishmah. In practice, we are stringent (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 14:2 and commentaries).

Combing Lishmah?

Some authorities require that even combing the fibers — the process that precedes the spinning — must be performed lishmah. The authorities conclude that this is not required, although some recommend manufacturing or acquiring tzitzis with this hiddur (Mishnah Berurah 11:3).

Articulation

Many authorities contend that when manufacturing an item lishmah, one must articulate this intent (Rosh, Hilchos Sefer Torah Chapter 3). This means that the person spinning or twisting the tzitzis must say that he is doing so in order to make tzitzis for the sake of the mitzvah (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 11:1 and Mishnah Berurah, ad locum). Once one made this declaration (leshem mitzvas tzitzis) at the beginning of the spinning, it is unnecessary to repeat it (Mishnah Berurah).

Hand or Machine?

Regarding whether to buy hand- or machine-spun tzitzis, there is much discussion among authorities as to whether one may rely on machine spinning with the machine operator declaring that the tzitzis are being made lishmah (see for example, Achiezer 3:69; Har Tzvi, Orach Chayim 1:10). This is similar to the dispute concerning whether one may fulfill the mitzvah of eating matzoh on Seder night with machine matzoh, an issue that involved a huge dispute among the halachic authorities of 19th century Poland.

As far as I am aware, a talis koton sold for children’s use is probably made using machine-made tzitzis. (At the time I first wrote this article, I saw a talis koton meant for children with a hechsher describing that it was made by having the beginning of the spinning done by hand, as a hiddur on the regular machine-made variety.) Both hand- and machine- spun types are readily available for men’s tzitzis,  for talisim kotonim and for talisim gedolim. One should consult his Rav if he is uncertain whether to purchase the more expensive hand-made variety.

What Material Should Be Used?

Although one may make tzitzis threads from other material, universal practice today is to use sheep’s wool.

The Garment Does Not Require Lishmah

The law requiring that the tzitzis be manufactured lishmah applies only to the tzitzis strings, not the garment to which the strings are attached. This garment, the talis or talis koton itself, does not need to be made for the sake of the mitzvah – any cloth may be used.

For reasons beyond the scope of this guide, the custom is to make the talis gadol, that is worn for davening, from wool. Some have the custom to insist on woolen material for the talis koton also, though most are satisfied with a cotton talis koton. Authorities discuss and dispute whether the talis koton can be made of polyester or other synthetic materials, and I leave it to our readers to discuss this issue with their halachic authorities. Perhaps one day I’ll have a chance to write an article on this fascinating topic.

To review:

Before spinning wool to be used for tzitzis, the spinning machine operator, or the hand spinner, should say that he is spinning the threads with the intent that they will be used for the mitzvah of tzitzis. After spinning the wool into threads, one twists several tzitzis threads together into a thick, strong tzitzis string. This latter process also requires lishmah. There is no requirement to make the talis or talis koton garment lishmah.

Inserting the Tzitzis

Having completed the tzitzis string manufacturing process, we are now ready to learn how to insert the tzitzis strings into the garment. One takes four of these specially lishmah-made strings and inserts them through a hole in the corner of the garment, in order to fulfill the verse’s requirement that the tzitzis threads lie over the corner of the garment. The hole must be not so distant from the corner that the tzitzis are considered to be hanging from the main part of the garment (rather than on the corner), and yet not so close that the tzitzis hang completely below the garment (Menachos 42a; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 11:9). Thus, the hole should be placed in a way that after attaching the tzitzis to the garment, only the upper part of the tzitzis rests on the garment.

Where Should the Hole Be?

The Gemara explains that the hole through which the tzitzis are placed should be closer to the corner than “three fingerwidths,” which means three times the width of a finger. Whose finger and which finger?

Most poskim conclude that a fingerwidth is the width of an average-sized man’s thumb at its widest point.

Measure this distance, multiply it by three, and you have “three fingerwidths.” Now, measure three fingerwidths from the two sides of the garment near the corner (not from the actual right-angle corner of the garment) and you can create a square in the corner of the garment (Rama, Orach Chayim 11:9). If the tzitzis are attached beyond this area, they are not considered to be on the corner. Although there is a range of opinion as to exactly how much area this is, most poskim conclude that it is about six centimeters,* or about 2 1/2 inches, from each side.

Others follow a different interpretation of which finger is used to measure this distance, and according to their opinion, the area is a bit smaller (Artzos Hachayim; Mishnah Berurah 11:42).

Closest Hole

The closest the hole should be to the sides of the talis or talis koton is the distance from the end of the thumb nail to the thumb joint, measured by the thumb of an average-sized man. (This measures less than two centimeters or less than .75 inches.) If the hole is made closer than this, the tzitzis are not kosher, because the tzitzis strings will hang below the garment and, as I explained above, they are required to be resting partly on the garment itself. However, if one inserted and knotted the tzitzis threads in a hole that was in the correct place, and then subsequently the garment shrunk or was shortened, or the hole tore, resulting in the tzitzis being closer to the corner than they should, the tzitzis are nonetheless kosher (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 11:10).

To sum up:

To determine where the hole should be, one can examine the corner of the talis or talis koton and mark inward from the two adjacent sides that form the corner. Within two centimeters of either side is too close to the edge of the garment to attach the tzitzis, and more than six centimeters is too far.

Yes, Mrs. Friedman

Although we have not finished our description of tzitzis production, we have sufficient information to discuss Mrs. Friedman’s question. The hole through which the tzitzis strings are placed tore, and, as a result, the tzitzis are now closer to the corner of the garment than they should be. Does this invalidate the tzitzis?

Since the tzitzis strings were originally inserted into a hole that was correctly located, the tzitzis remain kosher.

I advised Mrs. Friedman to mend and reinforce the garment before it tears so badly that the tzitzis strings fall off, which will invalidate the garment, requiring sewing the clothing and undoing and restringing the tzitzis again to make it kosher.

Four in One

Let us now return to tzitzis production. After making the hole in its correct place, one takes four tzitzis strings that have been spun and twisted lishmah. Three of the threads are the same length, but one of the strings is much longer than the others since it will be coiled around them. After this string is wrapped around the others, it should be about the same length as the other strings.

The strings should be long enough that when they are completely coiled and tied (as I will describe) the free-hanging eight strings should be the length of eight fingerwidths (as described above), which is about 16–20 centimeters or about eight inches.

The Torah requires that there be exactly four tzitzis strings per corner. Using fewer or more strings invalidates the mitzvah and, according to some opinions, violates the Torah prohibitions of bal tosif or bal tigra, adding to or detracting from a Torah commandment (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 11:12 and commentaries).

Pulling Strings

At this point, one pulls the four strings through the hole in the talis or talis koton until the three shorter strings are halfway through the hole. The longer string should be pulled through so that on one side it is the same length as the other strings, but the other side is much longer, since this extra length will be wrapped around the other strings.

After the four strings are threaded through the garment, there will be eight strings hanging off the garment, which are then knotted together in a tight double knot. This permanent knot is Torah-required. This knot is made by tying a set of four strings from one side with the set of four strings from the opposite side.  To make sure that the two sets of four strings stay together throughout the process of coiling and knotting, one takes the four strings from the side that does not include the long string and loops them together at their end. We will soon see why we perform this step (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 12:1).

The longer string is now coiled several times around the seven others and then the two sets of four strings are knotted tightly. The coiled tzitzis strings are called the gedil.

The accepted custom is to tie the eight strings together in five different places, each separated by an area where the long string is coiled around the others several times. Thus, there are four areas of coiled tzitzis strings, each held in place by double knots.

Remember the Mitzvos!

The five knots help us remember all the mitzvos. As Rashi writes, the gematriya (numerical value) of the word tzitzis (when spelled with the letter yud twice) equals 600. When one adds eight for the eight hanging tzitzis strings and five for the five knots that tie them, adds up to 613. Additionally, the five knots remind us of the Torah’s five chumashim.

The Torah, itself, did not require all these coilings and knots, but required only one knot and one coiled area. The other knots and coilings are only lichatchilah, the proper way to make the tzitzis. However, if one failed to make these coilings or knots, the tzitzis are nevertheless kosher, provided there is at least one coiled gedil area and at least one knot.

Similarly, if the coiling unravels in the middle — not an uncommon occurrence — the tzitzis are still fully kosher, as long as one gedil area remains.

This will help answer Mrs. Weiss’ question about some of her son’s tzitzis knots being untied. As long as one knot remains, and there is some area where the tzitzis strings are coiled together, the tzitzis are still kosher. Of course, one should re-wind the longer tzitzis string around the others and retie the knots, but in the interim the tzitzis are kosher.

Jewish Labor

The person attaching the strings to the garment must be Jewish (Menachos 42a; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 14:1). There was a major scandal a few years ago when unscrupulous manufacturers were discovered to have hired non-Jews to make tzitzis. Hopefully, this problem has been resolved, but one should check that the tzitzis have a reliable hechsher. Based on shaylos I have been asked, I have discovered that many people are unaware that children’s talisim kotonim must also be reliably kosher.

By the way, it is preferable that women not be the ones who insert the tzitzis strings onto the garment and tie them, since women are absolved from fulfilling this mitzvah (Rama, Orach Chayim 14:1 and commentaries).

How Many Coils?

The number of coils between the knots is a matter of custom. (Based on the Arizal’s tradition, common practice is to coil the thread seven times between the first two knots, eight between the next two, eleven between the third and fourth, and thirteen times between the fourth and fifth knots.

To recap, we twist the longer string around the others and tie the tzitzis strings into knots in a way that creates five knots and between them four areas of tightly coiled string that resemble a cable. Torah law requires only that we tie one knot and that there be some area of coiled string.

Hang Loose!

After completing the coiling and tying, the rest of the strings are allowed to hang freely. The free-hanging strings are referred to as the “pesil.” As I mentioned above, when making the tzitzis, the pesil should be at least eight fingerwidths long, which is about eight inches (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 11:14). However, if the strings become torn afterward, the tzitzis are still kosher, if even a very small amount of pesil remains – long enough to make a loop and knot it, which is probably about an inch (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 12:1).

Tear Near the Top

If the tzitzis strings become torn above the first knot, the tzitzis are invalid.

As I explained, tzitzis are made from four strings inserted into the garment, and then knotted and coiled. The Torah requires that each of these four strings be attached and hang from the corner of the garment and be included both in the gedil, the coiled part, and the pesil, the loose, hanging strings.

If the thread tore at the top, then it is no longer hanging from the corner of the garment, but held in place by the other threads.

Torn String

We can now explain whether tzitzis become invalid when the tzitzis strings are torn, which depends on where the strings tore. If only one of the eight strings tore and only below the first knot, then the tzitzis are still kosher. This is because all four of the original tzitzis still have both gedil, the coiled part, and pesil, the hanging part.

If two of the eight strings tore at a point that there is no pesil anymore, then whether the tzitzis are still kosher depends on whether these were part of the same original tzitzis string or not. If they were two sides of the same original tzitzis string, then the tzitzis are invalid, because one of the four original strings now lacks pesil. This is the reason why one should be careful to loop four of the strings together before beginning the coiling and knotting, since this helps keep track in case two or more strings tear, whether they are the two parts of the same string, which will invalidate the tzitzis if no pesil remains, or parts of two different strings, in which case the tzitzis are kosher, if the other end of the string still has pesil.

If a tear takes place somewhere between the first knot and the pesil, we treat the remaining part of that string as nonexistent since it no longer hangs from the garment, but is being kept in place by the coiling and knotting. Thus, if this happens to only one string of the eight, the tzitzis are still kosher, because all four original tzitzis still have some pesil. However, if this happens to two or more strings, one must be concerned that it was two sides of the same original string and the tzitzis may be invalid, because only three of the original strings now have pesil.

Conclusion

Rav Hirsch notes that the root of the word tzitzis is “sprout” or “blossom,” a strange concept to associate with garments, which do not grow. He explains that the message of our clothing is extended, that is, sprouts and blossoms, by virtue of our tzitzis.

The introduction of clothing to Adam and Chavah was to teach man that his destiny is greater than an animal’s, and that his responsibility is to make all his decisions according to Hashem’s laws, and not his own desires. Introducing tzitzis onto a Jew’s garments reinforces this message; we must act according to what Hashem expects. Thus, whether we are wearing, shopping for, examining, or laundering tzitzis, we must remember our life’s goal: fulfilling Hashem’s instructions, not our own desires.

* All measurements in this article are approximate. One should check with a Rav for exact figures.

 

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Blessing over the Candles

The beginning of parshas Behaalos’cha discusses the kindling of the menorah. This provides me with enough of an excuse to talk about a different kindling mitzvah.

Blessing over the Candles

Question #1: When Do I Kindle?

“What is the optimal way to recite the brochos and kindle the Shabbos lights?”

Question #2: Purchasing the Candlesticks

Is there a halachic basis for the custom that the chosson’s family purchases candlesticks for his bride?

Question #3: Who Kindles the Candles?

“My mother can no longer light the Shabbos candles herself, but instead has her non-Jewish caretaker kindle them, and then Mother recites the brocha. Should I tell Mom not to do this, since one cannot recite a brocha on a mitzvah performed by a gentile?”

Question #4: When Do We Kindle the Candles?

“My father-in-law insists that whoever kindles Shabbos lights in his house should recite the brocha before kindling, which is not my family’s custom. What should we do when we visit them?”

Introduction

The questions above concern reciting brochos prior to lighting the Shabbos candles. We are all aware that immediately prior to accepting Shabbos, women kindle the Shabbos candles or lamps, cover their eyes, recite the appropriate brocha and thereby usher in Shabbos. However, most of us do not realize that this is not a universal practice. As a matter of fact, the Gemara never even mentions reciting a brocha upon the mitzvah of kindling Shabbos lights, and the practice of reciting the brocha after kindling them was not exclusive practice, even among Ashkenazim, until relatively lately. As we will soon see, most Sefardim follow a slightly different procedure than what was described above.

Why do we light Shabbos candles?

Let us start with a basic understanding of the mitzvah of having Shabbos lights. The rishonim provide several reasons why we kindle lights before Shabbos.

(1) Respect the meal

The Shabbos seudah should be treated with the respect of a festive banquet. The venue of formal dinners is always well illuminated (Rashi, Shabbos 25b s.v.Chovah; see Rambam, Hilchos Shabbos 30:5).

(2) Enjoy the meal

When someone cannot see what he is eating, he does not enjoy the meal. Therefore, there must be enough light to see the Shabbos meal (She’iltos #63).

(3) Avoid unpleasant atmosphere

It is depressing to sit in the dark, which is contrary to the atmosphere appropriate for Shabbos (Rashi, Shabbos 23b s.v. Shalom).

(4) Avoid getting hurt

If the house is dark, someone might stumble or collide with something and hurt himself, which is certainly not conducive to the enjoyment of Shabbos (Rashi, Shabbos 25b s.v. Hadlakas).

Differences in halacha

The different reasons mentioned may result in dissimilar halachic repercussions. For example, the first two reasons, honoring the Shabbos meal and enjoying it, require light only in the room where the Shabbos meal will be eaten. On the other hand, the fourth reason, preventing a person from hurting himself, requires illumination in any part of the house through which one walks. Therefore, we should kindle lights in all areas of the house that may be used in the course of Shabbos (Magen Avraham 263:1, quoting Maharshal). Some authorities go further, contending that one should make sure that there are lights that burn all night in any such area (Kaf Hachayim). In earlier generations, this probably required a long-burning oil lamp; in today’s world, this is easy to accomplish with electric lighting.

Other authorities suggest that the halachic obligation might extend even further – that we are required to make sure any dark area that may be entered on Shabbos day, such as a walk-in closet, be properly illuminated for the entire Shabbos. The Ketzos Hashulchan (74:1), who discusses this issue, does not reach a conclusion whether this is indeed required or not.

Whose mitzvah is it?

Who is required to kindle the Shabbos lights? Most people are surprised to discover that the mitzvah of kindling Shabbos lights is incumbent upon every individual. To quote the Rambam (Hilchos Shabbos 5:1): “Everyone is required to have a lamp lit in his house on Shabbos.” Although usually the lady of the house kindles the Shabbos lights, she does so as the agent of the rest of the family and also for their guests (Levush, Orach Chayim 263:3; Graz, Kuntros Acharon 263:2). Therefore, if there is no lady of the house, or if she is away for Shabbos, someone else must kindle the lights, instead. A man or group of men together for Shabbos are obligated to kindle lights, and students in a dormitory, whether in a yeshiva or a seminary, are required to kindle Shabbos lights. The requirement is not that each individual kindle his own Shabbos lights — one person can function as an agent for the rest. Usually, this means that they have candles lit in a safe place, and that someone makes certain that there are electric lights burning in other places, as needed.

The Shabbos lights must be kindled by an adult. Although many have the custom that girls under bas mitzvah kindle their own Shabbos lights, this is always done in addition to an adult lighting.

When several women kindle Shabbos lights in one house, it is preferable that each light in a different place, so that each lamp provides illumination in a different area of the house.

Although the lady of the house usually is the one who does the actual kindling, her husband should participate in the mitzvah by preparing the lights for her (see Rabbi Akiva Eiger’s comments to the Mishnah, Shabbos 2:6; Mishnah Berurah 263:12, 264:28). The proper practice is that her husband prepares the lights and the wicks, or sets up the candles so that they are ready for her to light. Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasah (43:41) reports that he heard that this is the basis for the custom that the chosson purchases the candlesticks that his bride will be kindling after their marriage.

Rekindling lights

Assuming that, when Shabbos begins, the area is already illuminated with lighting that was turned on earlier in the day, is one required to extinguish the light and rekindle it for the sake of Shabbos? In other words: Is there a specific mitzvah to kindle lights, or is it sufficient to make sure that the area one plans to use is illuminated?

There actually appears to be a dispute among the rishonim regarding this question, and there are differences in halachic observance that result from those rulings. Some maintain that Chazal required only that one make certain that there is adequate illumination for Shabbos, but that it is sufficient to use lighting that was kindled earlier, not for the purpose of Shabbos (see Rambam, Hilchos Shabbos 5:1). Others maintain that Chazal required kindling lights especially for Shabbos. In their opinion, leaving lights already kindled does not fulfill the mitzvah that Chazal established (Tosafos, Shabbos 25b s.v. chovah).

Later authorities conclude that one needs to kindle only one light specifically in honor of Shabbos. Thus, if there are many lights kindled around the house, one is not required to extinguish all of them and rekindle them all for the sake of Shabbos, but one may leave most of the lights burning, provided one light is lit especially for Shabbos (see Ketzos Hashulchan 74:1). The brocha is recited on the light that is kindled in the area where one will be eating (see Rema, Orach Chayim 263:10; Mishnah Berurah 263:2).

Some contemporary authorities have pointed out the following: The main illumination in our houses is electric lighting, which was not turned on specifically for the mitzvah of kindling Shabbos lights. Often, the illumination provided by the Shabbos candles is so insignificant that one hardly notices their light. Thus, if the primary purpose of kindling Shabbos lights is to provide illumination, the Shabbos candles are not really fulfilling their role. For this reason, the Shabbos lights should be placed where they provide illumination. Alternatively, one should turn the electric lights off immediately prior to kindling the Shabbos lamps, turn them on again for the sake of fulfilling the mitzvah of kindling Shabbos lights, then kindle the Shabbos oil or candles and recite a brocha which now includes both the electric lights and the oil or candles. (This is assuming that one is following the practice of reciting the brocha after kindling the lights. The order would be modified for those who recite the brocha before kindling the lights. See ahead.)

When to light?

When is the optimal time to kindle the Shabbos lights? In this context, the Gemara recounts an interesting story (Shabbos 23b). Rav Yosef’s wife was accustomed to kindle the Shabbos lights immediately before Shabbos. She reasoned that it was a bigger honor for Shabbos if it was obvious that the kindling was being done for Shabbos (as explained by Ran). Rav Yosef corrected her, saying that it was better to kindle somewhat earlier in the day and not wait until right before sunset to light Shabbos candles.

Mrs. Yosef then thought that she should kindle much earlier, until an older scholar taught her that a beraisa (a halachic teaching dating back to the era of the Mishnah) teaches that it is best not to kindle the lights too early and not too late. Rashi explains that if one kindles the lights too early, it will not be noticeable that they are being kindled for Shabbos.

When is too early?

When is too early? The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 263:4) rules that one should not kindle the lights earlier than plag hamincha, and that one should accept Shabbos shortly after one kindles the lights. The decision to accept Shabbos at the time of the kindling demonstrates that it was performed specifically for the sake of Shabbos.

Did I automatically accept Shabbos?

Does kindling the Shabbos lights always mean that one is now accepting Shabbos?

This involves a dispute among early authorities. One of the geonim, the Baal Halachos Gedolos, contends that kindling the lights for Shabbos indicates that one intends to accept Shabbos immediately afterwards. This kindling is the symbolic acceptance of Shabbos. Others disagree with the Baal Halachos Gedolos, contending that although one is required to kindle lights for Shabbos, this kindling does not constitute accepting Shabbos (Ramban, quoted by Ran Shabbos 10 in the standard edition of the Rif’s halachic code; Tosafos quoted by Tur Orach Chayim 263). The Ramban cites several reasons to support his approach: One reason is that since kindling the Shabbos lights is a forbidden melacha activity, how could performing a melacha be an act of accepting Shabbos? Furthermore, the Ramban contends that one might want to kindle the lights early, so that they are ready for Shabbos, and then take care of other Shabbos preparations that are more time consuming. This would be similar to someone setting up their Shabbos clocks on Friday morning in order to make sure that this task has been done. Could this possibly be considered an act of accepting Shabbos immediately?

Notwithstanding the Ramban’s objections, the Ran, who quotes both sides of the dispute, concludes in accordance with the Baal Halachos Gedolos, that kindling the lights is considered accepting Shabbos.

When does one recite the brocha?

The Rema, when he quotes these laws, mentions two practices:

  1. To recite the brocha before kindling.
  2. To kindle the lights first, which today is common Ashkenazi

Although one always recites the brocha on a mitzvah prior to performing it (see Pesachim 7b), in this instance, reciting the brocha is considered accepting Shabbos (Magen Avraham). If that is true, how can one kindle the lights after one has already accepted Shabbos?

Women who follow this approach kindle the lights and then place their hand in front of the lights. Upon completing the brocha, they remove the hand so that the brocha is recited immediately before benefitting from the lights. Alternatively, a woman closes her eyes until she completes the brocha, and then opens them immediately after reciting the brocha.

The Shulchan Aruch cites both opinions in the dispute between the Baal Halachos Gedolos and the Ramban. He then notes that those who follow the Baal Halachos Gedolos’ approach should recite the brocha, kindle the lights and then drop the match, but not shake it out. This is because kindling the last light is the actual acceptance of Shabbos. Thus, we see three different approaches:

  1. The Ramban, who contends that kindling the lights is not an acceptance of Shabbos.
  2. The standard Ashkenazi practice that reciting the brocha on the Shabbos lights accepts Shabbos.
  3. The custom mentioned by the Shulchan Aruch that kindling the last of the Shabbos lights is the act of accepting Shabbos.

Mincha before lighting

According to the opinions mentioned above that kindling the lights constitutes an acceptance of Shabbos, women should daven mincha prior to kindling the Shabbos lights. Once one has accepted Shabbos, one may no longer daven a weekday mincha.

When men kindle the Shabbos lights, they generally do not accept Shabbos immediately. This is because a man who must kindle the Shabbos lights has yet to go to shul to daven mincha, which he could not do if he had already accepted Shabbos.

There are extenuating circumstances in which a woman may not want to accept Shabbos immediately at the time that she kindles. The authorities conclude that it is preferable for a woman who does not want to accept Shabbos to verbalize, before she kindles the lights, that she is making a condition not to accept Shabbos this week when she recites the brocha on the lights.

In these situations, should an Ashkenazi woman recite the brocha before she kindles, or should she follow her usual practice of kindling the lights and then reciting the brocha? We find a dispute among later authorities as to which is the better procedure (see Bi’ur Halacha 263:5 s.v. Achar).

Brocha before kindling

At this point, let us examine one of our opening questions: “My father-in-law insists that whoever kindles Shabbos lights in his house should recite the brocha before kindling, which is not my family’s custom. What should we do when we visit them?”

Most people refer to this as the difference between Ashkenazi and Sefardi customs. But, as we noted above, even the Rema, the primary halachic codifier of Ashkenazi practice, did not consider lighting before making the brocha to be a universal Ashkenazi custom. Furthermore, as we noted above, all authorities agree that, if one has a valid reason for not accepting Shabbos when kindling, one is not required to do so.

Consequently, it would seem to me that the goal of shalom bayis, in this instance maintaining peace in the house between the visiting married children and their father (father-in-law), is a valid enough reason that the married daughter should not accept Shabbos when she recites the brocha. Once she decided not to accept Shabbos with the reciting of the brocha, she has halachic basis to follow her father’s request and recite the brocha before kindling. (Please do not draw a conclusion that I agree with the father’s approach, either to halacha or to hachnasas orchim. I don’t.)

Having a gentile light

At this point, let us examine the last of our opening questions: “My mother can no longer light the Shabbos candles herself, but, instead, has her non-Jewish caretaker kindle them, and then Mother recites the brocha. Should I tell Mom not to do this, since one cannot recite a brocha on a mitzvah performed by a gentile?”

If I am unable to kindle the Shabbos lights myself, may I ask a non-Jew to kindle them for me? If the mitzvah is to kindle the lights, then I have not fulfilled a mitzvah this way, since a non-Jew cannot be my agent to fulfill a mitzvah. On the other hand, if the mitzvah is for the house to be illuminated, having a gentile kindle lights for me fulfills the mitzvah, since the house is now illuminated.

We usually assume that the mitzvah is indeed to kindle a light especially for Shabbos. Therefore, it would seem that I cannot have a non-Jew light for me, and this is indeed the conclusion of several authorities (Magen Avraham 263:11; Mishnah Berurah 263:21). However, there is an early authority who rules that one can have a gentile kindle the lights and the Jew may recite the brocha (Maharam, quoted by Magen Avraham 263:11). (Among the later authorities, Rabbi Akiva Eiger [ad locum] questions the Maharam’s suggestion, but Rav Pesach Frank [Shu”t Har Tzvi #141] justifies it. I suggest that this she’eilah  be discussed with one’s rav or posek.

In conclusion

The Gemara (Shabbos 23b) teaches that someone who kindles Shabbos lights regularly will merit having sons who are Torah scholars. It is for this reason that, immediately after kindling the Shabbos lights, women recite prayers asking that their children grow in this direction. Let us hope and pray that in the merit of observing these halachos correctly, we will have children and grandchildren who light up the world with their Torah!

 

 

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