Chumash and the Fall of the Ghetto, part II

This article is for the occasion of Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch’s yahrzeit, on the 27th of Teiveis.

Chumash and the Fall of the Ghetto, part II

Last week, I presented the first part of this article, which was an introduction to the commentaries on Chumash of the Malbim, Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch, and Hakesav Vehakabalah, by Rav Yaakov Tzvi Mecklenburg. We continue our review of Rav Hirsch’s commentary from where I left off.

Rav Hirsch’s commentary has a component that the other two do not. The focus of his commentary was not only to prove the accuracy or authenticity of Chazal’s understanding of Torah, but, also, to demonstrate how Torah provides for man’s growth in spirituality, the development of his personality, and his worldview. Thus, he rarely comments simply for the sake of explaining a difficult verse.

Ta’amei hamikra

Rav Hirsch emphasized that his commentary is based on a careful reading of the words of Chumash. Included in this was his study of the ta’amei hamikra, which are meant to teach how to break a pasuk into smaller units for proper understanding. As an example, his interpretation of the pasuk in shiras Ha’azinu, shicheis lo lo, banav mumam, reflects the accentuation implied by the ta’amei hamikra, whereby this is one sentence with only a small break (a tipcha) after the second word lo (with an alef). Thus, disagreeing with all the previous commentaries that I have seen, he translates the sentence as: Their moral frailty has corrupted it to become non-children.

Grammar — Dikduk and shoresh

Rav Hirsch developed an understanding of Torah ideas upon the principle of shorashim where there are phonetic cognates. This idea, which has sources in Chazal and the rishonim,[i] is that different consonants that are articulated by using the same part of the mouth are related to each other.[ii] Thus, there is a relationship among the guttural consonants (א ה ח ע) that can be used to explain the meaning of related roots in which they appear. The same is true for the palatals (ג י כ ק), the dentals (ד ט ל נ ת),[iii] the sibilants (ז ס צ ר ש), and the labials (ב ו מ פ).[iv] Based on similar roots, Rav Hirsch develops a philosophic underpinning of the comparative roots, and then creates an associative meaning for each root. For example, the roots ברא (to create, which means to bring into reality that which previously existed only in one’s mind), ברח, to escape, פרא, to be undisciplined, פרח, to flower and פרה, to reproduce, seem to be unrelated verbs. However, the first letter of the root in each instance is a labial, the second is ר , and the third is a guttural. There is an underlying idea in all of these roots – getting out of a state of being constrained.

Often included within this system is a relationship pattern between similar consonants. For example, the tzadi often reflects a more intensive version of the other similar sounds, such as the sin. Thus, there is a conceptual relationship between יצר, which means to limit something for a specific purpose, and יסר, which educates, shapes and disciplines the spirit. In literally hundreds of applications of these ideas, Rav Hirsch demonstrates an entire world of educational themes.

In Rav Hirsch’s view, the shoresh of a word can often provide educational and religious lessons. For example, in describing Avraham Avinu’s travels in Eretz Canaan, the Torah uses the unusual word ויעתק, which Rav Hirsch translates as He gave orders to move on.[v] Rav Hirsch notes that the common thread of the usage of this root in Tanach is that someone or something is moved unexpectedly or forcibly to another setting. Rav Hirsch thereby explains that Avraham realized that in order to succeed in educating his followers, they needed to be isolated from the society around them, but he needed to overcome their resistance in doing so. Thus, the root of the word used teaches us about Avraham’s pedagogic approach.

Controversial Aspects

Probably the most controversial aspect of Rav Hirsch’s commentary on Chumash is his view that even our greatest leaders are not beyond reproach, and that a late Torah commentary can include lessons for us to learn from their shortcomings and errors. Indeed, the Ramban, whom Rav Hirsch quotes in this context, also felt that we have the right to criticize our greatest Torah leaders, even in places where Chazal did not. Rav Hirsch’s critiques of Yitzchak and Rivkah’s raising of Eisav, of Yosef’s relationship with his brothers, of Moshe, Tziporah, and others have certainly raised more than one eyebrow. Yet Rav Hirsch’s position in all these cases is clear. Only Hashem is perfect. The fact that the Torah goes out of its way to show the errors made by our greatest leaders demonstrates that Torah is true and Divine. Man’s purpose in this world is to learn and to grow, and we can do so both by emulating the great actions of our greatest leaders and also by noting their errors.

Did Rav Hirsch Use the Hakesav Vehakabalah or Hatorah Vehamitzvah?

In his beautiful essay introducing the first edition of the first English translation of Rav Hirsch’s commentary to Chumash, Dayan Dr. Isaac Grunfeld writes: “When Samson Raphael Hirsch began his commentary in 1867, he had the works of Mecklenburg (Hakesav Vehakabalah) and Hatorah Vehamitzvah of Malbim in front of him.” I presume that Dayan Grunfeld has some mesorah to substantiate his comment. However, from my work on Rav Hirsch’s commentary, and after comparing this work to the other two, I, personally, am not convinced that this statement is accurate, for the following reasons.

When Rav Hirsch felt indebted to an earlier commentator, he always quoted his source. In the course of his commentary of Chumash, he quotes a wide variety of sources, including the rishonim, his rabbeyim, Chacham Bernays and Rav Yaakov Ettlinger, the Aruch Laneir, and works published shortly before his time, such as Harechasim Levik’ah and the writings of the highly controversial Naftali Wessely. Yet, there is not a single reference anywhere in his commentary to either Hakesav Vehakabalah or Hatorah Vehamitzvah.

There are places in which Rav Hirsch presents no explanation, while Hakesav Vehakabalah presents approaches that lend themselves perfectly to Rav Hirsch’s style of commentary. For example, Rav Hirsch offers almost no commentary to the lengthy list of travels that the Bnei Yisroel made through the desert. Yet, Hakesav Vehakabalah has a beautiful explanation of the place names along the route of these travels. Had Rav Hirsch read Hakesav Vehakabalah, I presume that he would have used his approach here to develop musar haskeil, just as Rav Hirsch, himself, does in explaining the list of names of the descendants of Sheis. Had he been as familiar with Hakesav Vehakabalah as Dayan Grunfeld suggests, it is indeed puzzling why he would not use the opportunity to include these lessons in his Torah commentary, and attribute them to Hakesav Vehakabalah. Although it is always difficult to prove anything on the basis of it not being present, Rav Hirsch’s omission of any musar haskeil here, when use of Hakesav Vehakabalah would provide this, certainly implies that he did not use the commentary on any regular basis.

On the other hand, Hakesav Vehakabalah used approaches to explain pesukim that Rav Hirsch would never accept. For example, Hakesav Vehakabalah explains that the source for the word asheirah is yashar, straight, and suggests that it was originally used to mean a straight, tall tree.[vi] Rav Hirsch provides a much deeper insight into the meaning of the word asheirah and its apparent root א ש ר, which means growth and striving. Thus, the word asheirah means a tree “that was considered to be under the special protection of a god, whose presence and influence supposedly could be obtained through the growth and thriving of this tree.”[vii]

Conclusion

Rav Hirsch viewed his commentary as a means of showing how to use Chumash as a springboard for mussar and hashkafah. From a mussar perspective, Rav Hirsch’s Torah commentary can provide a complete life-instruction manual on its own. One can learn from it a Torah perspective of hashakafah, and detailed lessons in mussar.

We understand well why Rav Shraga Feivel Mendelowitz told his students at Yeshiva Torah Vodaas that it would be worth their investment of time to learn to read German, just for the sake of being able to read Rav Hirsch’s commentary on Chumash, which, at the time, was not available in translation.

 

[i] For example, see Rashi, Vayikra 19:16, where he explains that the word רכיל stems from the word רגל. See, similarly, Ra’avad, Eduyos 4:3; Ramban, Shemos 15:10; Vayikra 19:20, Devorim 7:12; Rash, Peah 6:1

[ii] Language specialists use the term homorganic consonants to describe these words.

[iii] While I was preparing this article for publication, a reviewer noted to me that a rearrangement of these letters ד נ ט ל ת  can be read as dentals.

[iv] Those interested in seeing a systematic dictionary of Rav Hirsch’s work in this area are referred to Matityahu Clark’s Etymological Dictionary of Biblical Hebrew, Feldheim Publishers, which Rabbi Clark writes is “based on the commentaries of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch.”

[v] Bereishis 12:8. Translation is from the Haberman edition.

[vi] Hakesav Vehakabalah, Devorim 16:21.

[vii] Commentary of Rav Hirsch to Shemos 34:13. Translation is from the Haberman edition, page 809.

Chumash and the Fall of the Ghetto

This article is for the occasion of Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch’s yahrzeit.

Chumash and the Fall of the Ghetto

With the falling of the ghetto walls that had kept the Jews in central Europe isolated from the world around them, many Jews began to assimilate into the surrounding environment and distance themselves from Judaism. Although it was far more difficult for Jews in Eastern Europe to assimilate fully into non-Jewish society, different forces, the haskalah, socialism, Communism and various other movements similarly severed many Jews from keeping mitzvos. Among those who abandoned Torah observance were Jews who felt that Chazal’s interpretation of the mitzvos was not based on the Written Torah.

In response, several new and original commentaries on Chumash appeared. Among them, we find Hakesav Vehakabalah, by Rav Yaakov Tzvi Mecklenburg, the commentaries[i] of the Malbim to Tanach, the commentary of Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch, and the Ha’ameik Davar, the commentary of Rav Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin (also known as the Netziv). All four of these commentaries, although very different from each other in important ways, were written to explain the Written Torah in the spirit of Chazal.

Hakesav Vehakabalah

Rav Yaakov Tzvi Mecklenburg was a disciple of Rabbi Akiva Eiger and served as the rav of Koenigsberg, Prussia (today, Kaliningrad, Russia), for thirty-four years. Koenigsberg was in the far east of Germany, giving Rav Mecklenburg a clear view of the challenges posed by the rise of the Reform movement in Germany and the haskalah and other anti-religious movements in Eastern Europe. Hakesav Vehakabalah, first published in 1839 and followed by three more editions in the author’s lifetime, was intended as a response to attacks on Chazal’s understanding of the Torah.

Hakesav Vehakabalah carefully analyzes the root meanings and grammar of the words of the Chumash, using them to provide a clear interpretation of the pesukim. Although his approach is highly original, he also often cites the different approaches of the earlier commentaries, opting for the one that he demonstrates to be the most accurate.

The Malbim

Rav Meir Leibush ben Yechiel Michel, known by his acronym, Malbim, served as the rav of many different Eastern European communities. A brilliant talmid chacham and a warrior against the haskalah, his magnum opus is his commentary to Tanach and accompanying essays. [ii] His first work, a commentary on Yeshayah, includes an introduction in which he elucidates the principles that form the basis for his commentary to Tanach as a whole.

Two such principles are that no two words in Tanachic Hebrew have precisely the same meaning, and that there are no repeated phrases or clauses — each word in Tanach was chosen to provide a very specific nuance of meaning.

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch held rabbinic positions in Oldenberg and Emden, Germany, and as Chief Rabbi of Moravia, before returning to Germany to establish a modern, Torah-committed community in Frankfurt. Toward the end of his life, he produced his commentaries to the Chumash, Tehillim and the Siddur.

The Netziv

Rav Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin married the daughter of Rav Yitzchak of Volozhin, the son and successor of the founder and Rosh Yeshivah of the famed yeshivah in that city, Rav Chayim of Volozhin, the esteemed disciple of the Vilna Gaon. The Netziv eventually became Rosh Yeshivah of the yeshivah in Volozhin, a position he held for almost forty years, until its closing in 1892. The Netziv authored many works, including responsa and commentaries on Chumash, Shas, the She’iltos of Rav Achai Gaon, the halachic midrashim.

Linking Torah shebiksav to Torah shebe’al peh

Both Hakesav Vehakabalah and Malbim write that a major purpose of their commentaries is to demonstrate the unity of Torah shebiksav and Torah shebe’al peh. In the introduction to the first volume of commentary he wrote on Chumash, Vayikra, the Malbim mentions specifically the tragedy of the Reform convention that had taken place in 1844 in Braunschweig (called Brunswick in English), a city in Germany about 40 miles southeast of Hanover. The Malbim writes that when he heard of the disgraceful attitude toward Torah that had been demonstrated there, he realized that klal Yisroel required a new commentary on Tanach, written according to the mesorah. He notes many rules that he will be following in his commentaries, one of which is to show the unity of Torah shebiksav and Torah shebe’al peh.

Although Rav Hirsch’s very brief introduction to his commentary does not emphasize this relationship between Torah shebiksav and Torah shebe’al peh, this foundation shows up literally hundreds of times in his commentary.[iii] Rav Hirsch, too, maintained that proper study of Torah shebiksav leads directly to the conclusions of Torah shebe’al peh. Among examples where he demonstrates this are when he explains that Chazal’s understanding of “an eye for an eye” as financial remuneration (Shemos 21:24) is indeed the only proper way to understand the pasuk, and that no halachic requirement exists to name the firstborn child of a levirate marriage (yibum) for the deceased brother (see Devorim 25:6).

Rav Hirsch noted that the Torah shebe’al peh was actually taught to the Jews first.[iv] Moshe received all the laws of Torah shebe’al peh at Har Sinai and taught them to the Jewish people gradually. The completed Torah shebiksav, by contrast, was not received by the Jews until the very end of Moshe’s life, immediately prior to the Jews’ entering Eretz Yisroel, or forty years after they had received the Torah shebe’al peh. This explains numerous passages in the Torah, including the commandment to slaughter animals ka’asher tzivisicha “as you were instructed,” meaning the sets of regulations that had been transmitted to Moshe at Har Sinai and previously taught to the Bnei Yisroel.

Uniqueness of Rav Hirsch’s commentary

The most obvious difference between Rav Hirsch’s commentary and the others is the language in which it was written. Whereas the other commentaries are written in traditional rabbinic Hebrew, Rav Hirsch published his commentary on Chumash and, indeed, all of his works, in German. Long before Rav Hirsch’s time, many Torah works had been authored in the vernacular, such as all of Rav Saadiya Gaon’s writings and those of the Rambam, with the exception of the Mishneh Torah.

Yet, sefarim in the vernacular had fallen into disuse in the hundreds of years since the era of the rishonim. As a young rabbi in Oldenberg, however, Rav Hirsch recognized the need to present Torah teachings in German, in order to reach his generation and impress upon them Torah’s eternal relevance.

In Rav Hirsch’s commentary, there are various instances in which he includes a comment in Hebrew. Invariably, these are the comments of a Torah scholar on a point in Talmudic discussion which was not appropriate to make for the general audience for whom his work was intended. Yet, he was concerned that posterity not lose the important halachic point he had realized. To accommodate this, he chose to write these points in scholarly, rabbinic Hebrew.

Aside from his use of the vernacular, there are many other novel features in Rav Hirsch’s approach. Beyond being an interpretation of Chumash, Rav Hirsch uses his commentary to demonstrate how to use the Torah as the primary educational tool for man to grow as a human being. There is virtually not a comment of his on the Torah that does not provide a moral lesson, or musar haskeil.

Indeed, there are many occasions when he did not comment upon questions about pshat in a verse where it would appear appropriate for him to have done so. Clearly, he refrained from providing commentary where the conclusion would not provide any lesson one can utilize for personal growth.

Rav Hirsch called his Torah hashkafah by the term Torah im Derech Eretz, the details of which he developed in different places in his commentary.[v] Although the expression is often misunderstood, Rav Hirsch used it to mean that Torah and its observance must always be the primary focus of a Jew’s life, and that this can and must pervade a Jew’s behavior in all places, times and situations. Everything else that this world has to offer, including livelihood, education, culture, and social mores, must be subsumed within a Torah framework.

Reasons for mitzvos

One of Rav Hirsch’s great innovations is his explanation of the ta’amei hamitzvos. The Sefer Hachinuch explains that the term ta’amei hamitzvah means the taste of a mitzvah, not its reason, and it is this taste that Rav Hirsch sought to provide.

The concept of deriving educational reasons for mitzvos was certainly not originated by Rav Hirsch. Rav Hirsch himself quotes dozens of places where Chazal discuss what lesson one can derive from the observance of the mitzvos, and rishonim like the Rambam in his Moreh Nevuchim, Ramban in his commentary on the Torah, and the Sefer Hachinuch devote much space to this study.

However, Rav Hirsch added several dimensions to the concept of ta’amei hamitzvah. For Rav Hirsch, an explanation of a mitzvah must always fit in with every detail of the halachos of that mitzvah. For this reason, Rav Hirsch first develops and explains all the halachic details of the mitzvah and then weaves an explanation for the mitzvah that comports with all those details. At times, this required him to first resolve halachic details regarding the laws of the mitzvah.

Here is an example in which we see the difference between the approach of Rav Hirsch and that of his predecessors. The Ramban explains that the reason for the mitzvah not to mix meat and milk together is because cooking a newly slaughtered kid in the milk of its mother will create cruelty in the person who does this.[vi] However, this reason for the mitzvah has little to do with the halachos of this mitzvah, which prohibit any meat and any milk of two kosher species cooked together.

Rav Hirsch, on the other hand, first explains the laws of the mitzvah, and then demonstrates why the Torah’s description of cooking a goat in the milk of its mother is the simplest way to express these ideas. He subsequently proceeds to explain a philosophic reason for the mitzvah that we can appreciate and that can teach us a moral lesson, while observing the mitzvah. In this instance, Rav Hirsch provides a brilliant and extensive seven-page essay presenting why this prohibition is limited to the meat and the milk of kosher, domesticated animal species, and why it includes not only the consumption, but also the cooking of and benefit from this mixture.[vii]

Here is another example. The Torah forbids planting any trees near the mizbei’ach.[viii] As an explanation of this mitzvah, the Ramban explains that even though one is planting a shade tree that will enhance the area of the Beis Hamikdash, this is still prohibited, since it was the custom of the idol worshippers to plant trees near the entrance to their temples.

Rav Hirsch is not satisfied with approaches like this to explain mitzvos. Instead he notes that the thriving of a tree near an idol was considered a sign of the influence of the god. This idea fits very appropriately to the heathen notion that gods are primarily forces of nature, whose rule manifests itself in the phenomena of the physical world. However, such notions are diametrically opposite to the Jewish concept of G-d. A Jew is obligated to subordinate all his aspirations, including his moral and spiritual world, to the sphere of G-d’s sovereignty. Only through this can he expect to succeed in the physical world.[ix]

Frequently, Rav Hirsch presents highly original approaches to ta’amei hamitzvos, such as his explanations for the mitzvos of arayos, keifel, arachin, and tum’ah and taharah, and the disqualification of blemished animals and blemished kohanim from the service of korbanos. Regarding tum’ah, for example, he notes that the foundation of most religions is the fear of death, and it is at this time that the priest assumes his greatest role. The Torah, in contrast, bans the kohen from being involved with the dead, to demonstrate that the Torah’s goal is that we grow and develop throughout life – when we are in our best health. To emphasize this, the kohen, whose role is to educate how to live as a Jew, is distanced from death.

Rav Hirsch uses the same concept to explain why a kohen with a physical blemish or injury is forbidden to serve in the Beis Hamikdash and why a similarly impaired animal is prohibited as a korban. This emphasis on physical beauty or selectivity seems to run counter to the Torah’s idea of equal access for all to a relationship with Hashem.

Rav Hirsch explains that religions generally become the home of the marginalized and alienated in society. By prohibiting the physically impaired from performing the service in the holiest of places, the Torah emphasizes that its goal is to foster in all Jews the development of a relationship with Hashem, rather than to simply provide a refuge for the disenfranchised.

For the continuation of this article, see here.

 

[i] I refer to the commentaries of the Malbim because, although he wrote on almost the entire Tanach, a rare accomplishment, his treatment of different parts of Tanach is so varied as to make it difficult to refer to it as one commentary.

[ii] On Chumash, the Malbim follows two different styles. As I mention in the article, his commentary on Vayikra and parts of Devorim is an explanation of the midrashei halachah, the Sifra and the Sifrei, in which he delves into Chazal’s method of understanding Torah Shebiskav. On the other hand, his commentaries to other parts of Chumash bear close similarity to the commentary of the Abarbanel, which, as he says himself, he used. He presents many questions on the topic at hand, and then weaves an explanation to answer them. Yet another style is presented in his commentaries to Esther and Shir Hashirim, in which he presents his own midrashic-style approach to these works.

[iii] This point is the main thrust of Dayan Isaac Grunfeld’s introduction to Rav Hirsch’s commentary, which I will quote in the sequel of this article.

[iv] Commentary of Rav Hirsch to Bereishis 1:19.

[v] See, for example, commentary of Rav Hirsch to Vayikra 18:4.

[vi]  Ramban, Devorim 14:21.

[vii] Commentary of Rav Hirsch to Shemos 23:19.

[viii] Devorim 16:21.

[ix] Commentary of Rav Hirsch to Devorim 16:21. Based on the Haberman translation.

Nine and a Child

torah-1427213-639x479Since the beginning of parshas Tolados discusses the education of Yaakov and Esav, it is appropriate for us to discuss the topic of:

Nine and a Child

Question #1: Nine and a Chumash?

“A friend of mine once moved to a community where the local daily minyan was not that reliable. On a regular basis, services were conducted by having a ten-year old hold a chumash as the tenth man. Is there a basis for this practice?”

Question #2: Studying Chumash

“When the rishonim referred to a chumash, what did they mean? After all, they lived before the invention of the printing press.”

Answer:

When Avraham prayed for the people of Sodom and its four sister cities, he asked Hashem to save them if forty-five righteous people lived among them, which Rashi (18:28) explains would be the equivalent of a minyan of righteous people per city: nine plus Hashem counting as the Tenth. Can one consider that there is a minyan present with a quorum of less than ten?

The basis of this topic is the Gemara (Brachos 47b-48a), which discusses whether one may conduct services requiring a minyan or a mezuman when one appears to be short of the requisite quorum. Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi ruled that if one has nine adults and a baby, one can bensch as if one has a minyan. Rav Huna stated that if one has nine adults present one can count the aron hakodesh to form a minyan. To this, Rav Nachman retorted, “Is the aron a person?” Rav Huna explained that he meant that there are situations in which a group of nine people can act as if they are a minyan. Rav Ami ruled that two great talmidei chachamim who sharpen one another in their halachic discussions can be considered the equivalent of three for a zimun. Rabbi Yochanan stated that a child who is almost bar mitzvah can be included as the third for a zimun. Some rishonim (Rabbeinu Yonah) quote a text that concludes that, on Shabbos, one can make a mezuman with two adults – with the day of Shabbos counting as the third “person.”

However, the Gemara concludes that we do not permit a mezuman with less than three adults or a minyan with less than ten — the only exception being that we can count a child for a zimun, if he is old enough to know to Whom we are reciting a brocha. Nevertheless, Rabbeinu Tam rules that one may rely on the above-quoted opinion of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi that nine adults and a baby qualify as a minyan even for prayer (Tosafos, Brachos 48a). The Rivash feels that one should not follow the lenient approach, but rules that those who do rely on it can do so only when the child is at least nine years old (Shu’t Harivash #451). Others understand that a minor can be counted as the tenth man, but only if he is twelve years old, which halachah recognizes as an age of majority regarding oaths and vows (Rabbeinu Yonah). We should note that none of these authorities permit counting more than one child to complete a minyan.

Nine and a chumash

Tosafos (Brachos 48a s.v. Veleis) reports that some people counted a child holding a chumash as the tenth “man.” He then notes that Rabbeinu Tam criticized this approach, explaining that if we follow Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi’s opinion, a child qualifies as the tenth man even if he is not holding a chumash, and if we do not follow that opinion, counting a child holding a chumash is without halachic basis. Rabbeinu Tam explained further that even should one locate a statement of Chazal that a child holding a chumash completes a minyan, the ruling would mean a chumash as was commonly used in the days of Chazal, which comprised one of the five chumashim (Bereishis, Shemos, Vayikra, Bamidbar, or Devorim) of the Torah written as a scroll, similar in style and appearance to a small sefer Torah or a navi scroll used for reading the haftarah. However, in the time of Rabbeinu Tam, although chumashim were still handwritten, they were no longer written as scrolls, but were bound into books. Thus, there would be no basis to permit counting a child holding the type of chumash used in his era.

What is the source?

What is the source for this custom of counting a child with a chumash for a minyan? Rabbeinu Tam was unaware of any such source in the halachic literature that he knew. However, since the practice was widespread, the possibility existed that there was a halachic source somewhere. Bear in mind that in the days of the rishonim, all halachic material was handwritten, almost always on parchment, and that it was therefore very expensive and difficult to have access to seforim. (Rabbeinu Tam lived approximately 300 years before the invention of the printing press.) Rabbeinu Tam had such profound respect for this custom of Klal Yisroel that he assumed that there probably was a statement of Chazal somewhere, one that he had never seen, with a source for the custom. This is what the Gemara refers to as hanach lahem leyisroel, im ein nevi’im hein, bnei nevi’im hein (see Pesachim 66a), “allow Jews [to continue their practice], if they are no longer prophets, they are descended from prophets,” and their customs are based on solid foundations.

However, Rabbeinu Tam understood that should such a statement of Chazal exist permitting a child holding a chumash to be counted as the tenth, it would include only a chumash written as a scroll and would not apply to what existed in his day.

Later authorities note that having a child hold a sefer Torah would count as the tenth man, according to this custom. Furthermore, Rav Moshe Feinstein (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 2:18) notes that the requirement of having the child hold a sefer Torah scroll would not require that it be a kosher sefer Torah. Even a sefer Torah that is invalid because some words are no longer legible would qualify as a holy scroll for the purpose of counting towards a minyan.

Do we permit a child+Torah?

Most rishonim rule that one cannot count a child as the tenth man even when he is holding a chumash or a Torah. For example, the Rambam (Hilchos Tefillah 8:4) rules that a minyan for prayer must be a minimum of ten men, although for bensching he allows that the tenth “man” be a child who is seven years old or more (Hilchos Brachos 5:7). This is based on his understanding of the conclusion of the Gemara (Brachos 48a) we quoted above that allows counting a child for a mezuman or minyan for bensching, and this forms the basis of Sefardic practice. However, regarding prayer the Rambam does not allow counting a child who is holding a chumash or a sefer Torah. Praying with a minyan requires ten adult men, no exceptions.

Nevertheless, the Tur mentions that “some permit the inclusion of one child with nine adults if they place a chumash in his hand.” The Tur then notes that his father, the Rosh, wrote that one should never count a child as part of a minyan or a mezuman. This Rosh is the main approach followed by Ashkenazim.

Kerias Hatorah

Some early authorities conclude that a minor cannot be counted as the tenth “man” of a minyan for bensching or for prayer, but can be counted to allow the reading of the Torah (Tashbeitz Katan #201). The reason for this distinction is that a minor can sometimes be given an aliyah to the Torah (see Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 282:3 and commentaries). Some authorities permit giving a child even one of the seven aliyos, and all authorities permit giving a child maftir and having him read the haftarah. Thus, for this mitzvah he is indeed considered a man.

The Magen Avraham (55:4; 690:24) cites this position of the Tashbeitz, but does not accept it, demonstrating that both the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 143:1) and the Rema (Orach Chayim 690:18) do not accept the line of reasoning proposed by the Tashbeitz (see also Pri Megadim, Eishel Avraham 55:4).

Shulchan Aruch and Rema

In regard to prayer, the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 55:4) concludes: “Some permit the recital of devarim she’be’kedusha [meaning kaddish, borchu, kedusha, reading of the Torah, etc.] when there are nine adults and one minor who is older than six years and understands to Whom we pray. However, this opinion is not accepted by the greatest of the authorities.” With these words, the Shulchan Aruch provides honorable mention to Rabbeinu Tam’s opinion that a child can count, on his own, as the tenth man, but he follows the majority of rishonim who reject it. The Rema comments that although one should not count a child as part of the minyan even if he is holding a chumash, there are those who permit it under extenuating circumstances.

Difference between bensching and davening

Some authorities note a curious reversal in the positions of the Shulchan Aruch and the Rema. The Shulchan Aruch rejects counting a child as the tenth man for tefillah (Orach Chayim 55:4), but accepts counting him as the tenth or third man for bensching purposes (Orach Chayim 199:10). This, of course, reflects the position of the Rambam and most Sefardic Rishonim.

On the other hand, although the Rema mentions the practice of counting a child as the tenth man under extenuating circumstances, he absolutely rejects counting him as the third or tenth for bensching (Orach Chayim 199:10). Thus, he accepts the Rosh’s ruling not to count a child as the third or tenth man for bensching, and cites a leniency only with regard to davening. This is strange, since the halachic sources imply that there is more basis to be lenient regarding bensching than there is regarding davening.

The Maharsham explains that the Rema rules that a minor can count as part of the minyan only if he holds a scroll, which to us would mean that he must hold a sefer Torah. In shul, one may take a sefer Torah out of the aron hakodesh and place it in a child’s arms in order to have a minyan. However, one would not be permitted to bring a sefer Torah to the dining room, and for this reason the Rema rules that one can never include a child in the count of a minyan or mezuman for bensching.

Later authorities

The Magen Avraham (55:5), whose opinion is highly respected by the later authorities, concludes that one may include one minor holding a chumash, but not more than one, to enable the recital of borchu, kedusha or a kaddish that is a required part of davening. However, when relying on a child to complete the minyan, one should not recite any of the kaddeishim at the end of davening (other than the full kaddish recited by the chazzan), since they are not obligatory. This means that when having a minyan of nine plus a child holding a sefer Torah, one may not recite kaddish after Aleinu, or after the shir shel yom.

After quoting this statement of the Magen Avraham, the Mishnah Berurah writes that many later authorities rule that one should not count a child as part of a minyan even under the limited circumstances established by the Magen Avraham. However, the Graz (Rav Shulchan Aruch 55:5) rules that one should not correct someone who completes a minyan under extenuating circumstances by counting a child at least six years old who understands to Whom we are davening, even if the child is not holding a chumash.

We should note that, although the Magen Avraham ruled that even those who are lenient permit the inclusion of only one child, a much earlier authority (Shu’t Min Hashamayim #53) ruled that one may include even two children, provided they are old enough to daven. He explains that since the mitzvah of davening with a community is rabbinic in origin, a child old enough to daven can be included in the count since he is also required to daven as part of his training in the performance of mitzvos (Mishnah, Brachos 20). (The obvious question is that this reasoning should permit counting more than two children, yet Shu’t Min Hashamayim permits only two, but we will leave this question for the moment.)

The shul in which I don’t daven!

In this context, it is highly educational to study two relatively recent cases recorded in the responsa literature. In the late nineteenth century, the Bruzhaner Rav, known also as the Maharsham, Rav Shalom Mordechai Hakohen Shvadron (the grandfather of Rav Shalom Shvadron, the famed maggid of Yerushalayim), was asked the following (Shu’t Maharsham 3:162): The only minyan in a small community in Hungary has been meeting for the past 25 years on Shabbos and Yom Tov in the house of a local wealthy individual. Recently, this individual has been insisting that they incorporate certain innovations in the davening, including changing the nusach of the “shul,” and requiring that the audience recite the entire davening extremely quietly and that not even amen should be answered aloud. The individual who owns the house where the minyan has been davening has now agreed to allow some members of the community to form their own separate minyan whereby they will be able to daven as they are accustomed. However, the group desiring to form their own shul has only nine adult men. Their question: May they lechatchilah begin their own shul, knowing that, according to most authorities, they will not have a minyan?

After listing many of the authorities who rule that they are forbidden to conduct services because they do not have a proper minyan, the Maharsham concludes that he is highly wary of the baal habayis of the original shul and therefore feels that they should rely on the lenient opinions and form their own minyan. He further concludes that they could rely on the opinion that, if necessary, upon occasion, they could have two children holding sifrei Torah to complete the minyan, thus ruling according to the above-quoted Tashbeitz and against the Magen Avraham. The Maharsham is the only late authority, of whom I am aware, who permits eight men plus two children to be considered a minyan.

Another responsum

Rav Moshe Feinstein was asked a similar question in which an established shul’s membership had dwindled to the point where there were only nine adults at its daily minyan. If the shul cannot count a child for the daily minyan, it will be forced to disband. Rav Moshe discusses whether they may continue their minyan notwithstanding the fact that there is another shul in the neighborhood, although it is a bit distant. Rav Moshe notes that although a majority of poskim contend that one should not allow the recital of kaddish, kedusha, etc. when there are less than ten adult men present, maintaining the existence of this shul is considered extenuating circumstance. Since the prohibition of reciting a davar she’be’kedusha without a minyan is only rabbinic, this extenuating circumstance would allow one to follow the minority opinion against the majority. He concludes that since the members of this shul may not make the trek to the other shul, and will also stop attending the shiurim provided in their current shul, the minyan should be continued.

Rav Moshe then raises a few practical questions. The Magen Avraham, upon whom Rav Moshe is relying, permits counting a child for the tenth man only if he is holding a sefer Torah. However, this creates two interesting halachic questions.

  1. One is not permitted to hold something while reciting shma and the shemoneh esrei, so how can the child be holding the sefer Torah then?
  2. While the sefer Torah is being held by someone who is standing, everyone is required to be standing, which means that the entire membership of this shul will be required to stand for the entire davening. (It appears that Rav Moshe understands that one may count the child for a minyan only when he is standing. I am unaware of the source for this ruling.) Therefore, Rav Moshe suggests that the sefer Torah be placed on a table, and that the child stand next to the sefer Torah with his hands holding the atzei chayim, the “handles” of the sefer Torah, which Rav Moshe considers equivalent to holding the sefer Torah.

Rav Moshe writes that it is preferable to have a 12-year-old child hold the sefer Torah, citing the authorities we quoted above who permit a 12-year old to be the tenth man of a minyan.

Rav Moshe recommends that the shul relying on these heterim not have a repetition of shemoneh esrei (chazaras hashatz). This is because reciting chazaras hashatz without a minyan present involves a brocha levatalah, a brocha in vain, which, according to some authorities is prohibited min hatorah. Rav Moshe rules that the chazzan should not recite the quiet the shemoneh esrei, but, instead, should wait until everyone has finished their shemoneh esrei and then he should recite his own shemoneh esrei aloud.

Conclusion

At this point, let us return to our opening question: “A friend of mine once moved to a community where the local daily minyan was not that reliable. On a regular basis, services were conducted by having a ten-year old hold a chumash as the tenth man. Is there a basis for this practice?”

If we follow Rav Moshe’s psak and consider it applicable to their situation, then a child should hold the atzei chayim of a sefer Torah that is placed on the table. Only the kaddeishim required according to halachah should be recited, and no mourner’s kaddish or kaddish derabbanan. The chazzan should preferably not recite his own quiet shemoneh esrei.

The Gemara teaches that Ein Hakadosh Baruch Hu mo’eis bitefillasan shel rabim, Hashem never despises the prayers of the community. Certainly, this should inspire all of us to daven with the tzibur whenever we can.