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Kiddush Levanah

Question #1: Cloud cover

“Can I be mekadeish the levanah when there is just a slight cloud cover?”

Question #2: Northern lights

“I live very far north, and in the summer months, there is only a short period of time from when it gets dark until it begins becoming light, and that period of time is in the middle of the night. Am I permitted to be mekadeish the levanah either before it gets fully dark or during the post-dawn, pre-sunrise morning hours?”

Question #3: Where’s the Rif?

“My chavrusa and I were studying Mesechta Sanhedrin and found the fascinating topic of kiddush levanah there. When we went to look at the Rif and Rosh on the topic, we easily discovered the comments of the Rosh, but could not find the Rif? Did he not write on this topic? Why not?”

Introduction

The Gemara introduces us to a mitzvah, created by Chazal, which we usually call kiddush levanah, which literally translates as sanctifying the moon. Although today Ashkenazim always refer to the mitzvah by this name, this term is of relatively late origin and is confusing for several reasons. First of all, we are not sanctifying the moon. Rather, this is a mitzvah to praise Hashem for the moon’s regular cycle. As we will soon see, there are other hashkafos related to this mitzvah, but these relate to the relationship of the Jewish people and our royal family, the malchus beis Dovid, to Hashem.

Another difficulty is that the expression kiddush levanah creates confusion with a different mitzvah, kiddush hachodesh, which translates into English as sanctifying the month. Kiddush hachodesh is a mitzvah min haTorah that Hashem gave in parshas Bo and requires the Sanhedrin, or its specially appointed committee, to calculate when the new moon will be visible, to receive witnesses who may have seen the first crescent of the newly visible moon, and to declare Rosh Chodesh. Unfortunately, since we no longer have a Sanhedrin, our calendar is set up differently. Hillel Hanasi (a distant descendant of his more famous ancestor Hillel Hazakein) created the calendar that we currently use, because the Sanhedrin could no longer function in Eretz Yisroel, a halachic requirement for fulfilling this mitzvah. But the mitzvah of kiddush hachodesh is not the mitzvah of kiddush levanah.

Therefore, it is somewhat unusual that we refer to the mitzvah by this name, kiddush levanah. The earliest use of the term kiddush levanah that I found was by the Mahar”i Bruno, a talmid of the Terumas Hadeshen, a prominent Ashkenazi posek in the fifteenth century.

Notwithstanding that the term kiddush levanah does not surface in the Gemara or the early authorities, the mitzvah most certainly does. It is called birkas halevanah by Rav Amram Gaon, the rishonim and the Shulchan Aruch, which is what the Sefardim call the mitzvah and is also the way the mitzvah is identified in the siddur of Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch. In this article, I will use both terms, kiddush levanah and birkas halevanah.

Background

The background to the mitzvah of kiddush levanah, or birkas levanah, begins with the following passage of Gemara: One who blesses the moon in its correct time is as if he received the Shechinah… In Rabbi Yishmael’s beis midrash, they taught that, if the only merit the Jews have is that they received Hashem every month when they recited the birkas halevanah, this would be sufficient. (The Gemara does not explain — enough merit for what?) Abayei explained that, because birkas halevanah is such an important mitzvah, it should be recited standing. Mareimar and Mar Zutra used to lean on one another when they recited it (Sanhedrin 42a).

The reason why Abayei required people to stand when being mekadeish the levanah is because this is considered equivalent to receiving a monarch, which you would certainly do standing (Yad Ramah ad locum). Clearly, we are not sanctifying the moon; we are praising Hashem and using the moon’s cycles as our means of doing so (Pri Megadim, Eishel Avraham 426:9). There is much more to this idea, and we will shortly explain some of its basics.

Leaning on one another?

What does the Gemara mean that these two great amora’im, Mareimar and Mar Zutra, used to lean on one another when they recited the birkas halevanah? I found two explanations to this practice. According to the first, it was very difficult for either of them to stand, but they felt it important as a demonstration of proper respect for this brocha. They leaned on one another to be able to stand up.

There is an important halachic principle implicit here. In general, halacha considers leaning on something to be akin to sitting, not to standing. Yet, for fulfilling the mitzvah of kiddush levanah, these two great scholars, Mareimar and Mar Zutra, treated leaning as standing, since it was difficult for them to stand (Bi’ur Halacha, 426:2 s.v. Umevoreich).

A practical, but not overwhelming, difficulty with this approach is that it is uncommon for two people who have difficulty standing to be able to help one another remain standing. Usually, they would have people who are sturdy provide them assistance.

An answer to the above question is found in the Yad Ramah, who explains that these two amora’im each had a servant prop them up to recite the birkas halevanah.

An alternative approach is that of the Tur, who understands that the two amora’im were both steady, but that the Aramaic expression used, mekasfei ahadadi, describes a very respectful way of presenting yourself in the honor of a special guest – in this instance, the Shechinah.

Receiving the Shechinah

What does the Gemara mean when it says that reciting this monthly brocha on the new moon is the equivalent of receiving the Shechinah? Did we suddenly become moon worshippers, G-d forbid?!

Use the phase to praise!

The Pri Megadim (Mishbetzos Zahav 426:4) explains this to mean that the monthly phases of the moon teach us many things for which to praise Hashem, including that He decreased the size of the moon when it complained (see Rashi, Bereishis 1:16). The moon’s phases are also reminiscent of the royal family of David Hamelech, whose prominence has gone through many periods of waxing and waning. As the Pri Megadim concludes: “The entire brocha is praise to Hashem and it is always inappropriate to bless anything other than Hashem. We use the moon as a means for structuring a prayer to Hashem, for His greatness.”

Aleinu

Based on this explanation of the Pri Megadim, the Bi’ur Halacha explains the custom, common predominantly among those whose minhagim originate in Eastern Europe, of reciting Aleinu at the end of the kiddush levanah ceremony. The Bi’ur Halacha explains that to prevent anyone from thinking that this blessing is directed toward the moon, we clearly close the procedure with the prayer of Aleinu, which emphasizes that all our praises are only to Hashem.

What is the brocha?

The Gemara records a dispute as to what brocha one recites on the new moon. According to one opinion, the brocha is very simple: Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech Ha’olam Mechadeish Chadoshim, “Blessed are You, Hashem, our G-d, King of the universe, Who renews the months.”

The Gemara concludes that this is not a sufficient text of the brocha, but that the correct text is much longer. There are several versions with slightly variant readings, but these slight variations have major differences in nuance. Our standard accepted version translates as follows: Blessed are You, Hashem, our God, King of the universe, Who with His Word created the Heavens and, with the breath of His mouth, all the Hosts. He established rules and a time that they not change their roles. They rejoice and are happy to fulfill the Will of their Owner.

At this point, there are two variant texts, one which says in Hebrew, po’alei emes she’pe’ulasam emes, which translates as They are actors in the truth whose actions are true. This version means that these words refer to the moon and the other heavenly bodies, whose movements are highly predictable. The Pri Megadim prefers the following version, which is the most accepted text of this brocha: po’eil emes she’pe’uloso emes. I found two approaches how to translate these words. According to the Pri Megadim (Eishel Avraham 426:9), this text also refers to the moon, and means the moon’s path follows the dictates of Hashem and demonstrates to us Hashem’s greatness. Another approach is that it refers to Hashem and is a continuation of the previous sentence, meaning, They are happy to fulfill the Will of their Owner, the Worker of truth, Whose work is true (Hirsch Siddur).

Continuing the rest of the text of the brocha: And to the moon, He said that it should renew itself, a crown of glory to those (the Jewish people) who are burdened from birth, who, in the future, will renew themselves like the moon does, and to glorify their Creator in the Name of the glory of His kingdom. Blessed are You, Hashem, Who renews the months.

There are several versions of the closing text. For example, the Mesechta Sofrim (20:1) closes Boruch Attah Hashem, Mekadeish Roshei Chadoshim, He Who Sanctifies the new months.

What else do we say?

Practice has developed that we add many prayers to the procedure, including quoting many pesukim; in the Sefardic version, there are piyutim included. Many of these pesukim and short prayers are already mentioned by Chazal. For example, Mesechta Sofrim cites several of the passages that are customarily recited after the brocha. This passage of Mesechta Sofrim is quoted by rishonim and poskim, such as the Tur (Orach Chayim 426), Rabbeinu Bachya (Shemos 12), and the Rema (Orach Chayim 426).

Motza’ei Shabbos

Mesechta Sofrim (20:1) adds that one should recite birkas levanah when in a festive mood and while wearing nice clothes. According to the text of Mesechta Sofrim that we have, it also recommends that kiddush levanah be recited on motza’ei Shabbos. However, it is apparent from several rishonim that their editions of Mesechta Sofrim did not include mention of this practice. Nevertheless, most, but not all, poskim reached the same conclusion: it is preferable to recite kiddush levanah on motza’ei Shabbos (Terumas Hadeshen #35). It is well known that the Vilna Gaon disagreed, contending that it is better to perform the mitzvah at the first opportunity (Maaseh Rav #159). Most communities follow the practice of the Terumas Hadeshen.

Three or seven?

The Rema rules that one should not be mekadeish the levanah until 72 hours have passed since the molad, the exact moment calculated for the new moon. Sefardim and some Chassidim follow the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 426:2), who contends that one should wait until seven days after the molad to recite the birkas halevanah. This is one of the unusual places where the Shulchan Aruch’s ruling is based on kabbalistic sources (see Beis Yosef ad locum). The Shulchan Aruch rules, also, in accordance with the opinion of the Terumas Hadeshen that one should wait until motza’ei Shabbos to recite birkas halevanah. The Rema stipulates that this is true only when motza’ei Shabbos is before the tenth of the month. If one needs to be mekadeish the levanah on weekdays, first change into Shabbos clothes.

The light of the moon

The Zohar (parshas Ki Sissa) adds another insight and halachic requirement to the mitzvah: we should be able to benefit from the moonlight. Based on this Zohar, the Rema (Orach Chayim 426:1) rules that the mitzvah of kiddush levanah can be performed only at night, when you can benefit from the moon.

The early poskim discuss whether you can be mekadeish the levanah when there is a mild cloud cover. They conclude that when the outline of the moon can be seen clearly and some of its light shines through, you can be mekadeish the levanah.

There is a dispute concerning whether you can recite kiddush levanah when the moon is visible, but you estimate that, in the course of your reciting the brocha, it will slide behind a cloud cover. Some authorities rule that you can recite kiddush levanah under these circumstances, just as you can recite the brocha on seeing lightning or hearing thunder, and there is no concern that you will not hear or see them after you recite the brocha (Rav Chayim Sanzer’s notes to Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 426). However, the consensus of opinion is that the rules for kiddush levanah are different from the rules for the other brochos mentioned. Proof of this is the halacha that you are not to recite kiddush levanah just for seeing the moon, but only when you can receive some benefit from its light (see Mishnah Berurah 426:3 and Bi’ur Halacha 426:1 s. v. Asher). There is no requirement that you benefit from thunder or lightning before reciting the brocha.

Before sunrise?

At this point, let us examine one of our opening questions: I live very far north, and in the summer months there is only a short period of time from when it gets dark until it begins becoming light, and that period of time is in the middle of the night. Am I permitted to be mekadeish the levanah either before it gets fully dark or during the post-dawn, pre-sunrise morning hours?

In other words, is it permitted to recite birkas halevanah when the moon is clearly visible, even when it is halachically considered daytime? Halachically, the day begins at alos hashachar (Brachos 2b), when there is some light across the entire eastern horizon. How long this is before sunrise depends primarily on the latitude you are at and the time of the year, although humidity, elevation, amount of light pollution and other details also factor. In Yerushalayim, it usually varies from between 72 to 96 minutes before sunrise.

Whether you can recite kiddush levanah when it is halachically daytime is debated by late authorities (see Hisorarus Teshuvah 1:199, authored by Rav Shimon Sofer, Erlau Rebbe; Shu”t Yaskil Avdi 8:20:53, by Rav Ovadiah Hadayah, a Sefardic mekubal and posek who lived in Yerushalayim; Chut Shani, Yom Tov, Shu”t #12 by Rav Nissim Karelitz). Those who need a definitive answer to this question should discuss it with their rav or posek.

Where’s the Rif?

At this point, let us discuss the last of our opening questions:

“My chavrusa and I were studying Mesechta Sanhedrin and found the fascinating topic of kiddush levanah there. When we went to look at the Rif and Rosh on the topic, we easily discovered the comments of the Rosh, but could not find the Rif? Did he not write on this topic? Why not?”

Of the three major halachic authorities upon which Rav Yosef Karo, author of Beis Yosef and Shulchan Aruch, heavily relied, the Rif, the Rambam, and the Rosh, the works of the Rif and the Rosh are organized following the layout of the Gemara. As a rule of thumb, they discuss the halachic topic in the same place that the Gemara discusses it, but eliminate all but the final halachic conclusion. Nevertheless, there are a few places where their discussion is not in the same place that the Gemara discusses the topic, but placed elsewhere, where it fits more smoothly.

In general, the Rosh follows the system set up by the Rif, who preceded him by several hundred years. However, there are a few exceptions, one of which is the mitzvah of kiddush levanah. Although the Gemara discusses the topic in Mesechta Sanhedrin, the Rif chose not to discuss this within his comments to that mesechta, but, instead, to quote it among his comments on Mesechta Brachos. The Rosh chose not to follow the Rif in this instance, but to place his comments in Mesechta Sanhedrin, where the Gemara’s discussion is located. Thus, this question really should be why the Rosh chose not to follow the Rif in this instance. Since the Rosh never explains why he organizes his material as he does, it will be completely conjecture on our part to suggest an answer.

Conclusion

We understand well why our calendar involves use of the solar year – after all, our seasons, and the appropriate times for our holidays, are based on the sun. But why did the Torah insist that our months follow the moon? It seems that we could live just fine without months that are dependent on the moon’s rotation around the earth! The accepted calendar for all world commerce is the western calendar, which is completely solar, and all farmers use this calendar almost exclusively.

In parshas Bereishis, the Torah states that the moon will serve as an os, a “sign.” In what way is the moon an os? Rabbeinu Bachya (Bereishis 1:18) explains that this refers to birkas halevanah, when we have the opportunity to fulfill the mitzvah. As far as I understand, he means that the waxing and waning of the moon is symbolic of our own relationship with Hashem– which is sometimes better and, sometimes, less so. However, we know that we can always improve that relationship, just as the moon renews itself after waning and nearly disappearing.




Believing Is Seeing

Question #1: Kiddush Levanah on an Airplane

“It was cloudy on motzaei Shabbos, so I was unable to be mekadeish levanah after davening in shul. Later that night, I left for the airport, and I am now sitting in my window seat, which includes a beautiful view of the new moon. May I be mekadeish levanah now, although I am indoors, and I am also obviously looking at the moon through a window?”

Question #2: Havdalah on a Lightbulb

“I have been told that Rav Chayim Ozer, the posek hador before the Second World War, deliberately recited the brocha of borei me’orei ha’eish on an electric light. How could he have done this when a lightbulb must be encased in glass for it to burn?”

Question #3: This Week’s Parsha

“What do the above questions have to do with this week’s parsha?”

Foreword

Of the many mesechtos of Mishnayos, the tractate named Nega’im, so germane to a proper understanding of both of this week’s parshios, may have the distinction of being the least familiar mesechta. Since few of us regard the laws concerning tzaraas on people, clothes and houses to be applicable, there is a tendency to assume that these are difficult topics and, therefore, they are often not studied. Nevertheless, a tremendous amount of Torah knowledge lies in this mesechta, in addition to it being essential to understand this week’s Torah readings correctly.

Mesechta Nega’im is arguably the most organized of the mesechtos of Shas.

Notwithstanding its length (it is the fourth longest mesechta), someone familiar with it can locate any Mishnah or subtopic effortlessly, since each of its 14 chapters is focused on a very specific aspect of the laws of nega’im and tzaraas.

The first chapter describes the various colors that a nega may have; the second, the details concerning how a nega is examined; the third is an overview and comparison of the various types of negaim. The fourth chapter discusses the symptoms of white hair and expansion that are mentioned prominently in the Torah; the fifth chapter discusses cases of questionable tzaraas; the sixth explains the laws of healthy-looking skin inside a nega, known as michyah. The seventh chapter discusses cases of nega’im that are not tamei; the eighth analyses the laws of a nega that covers the entire body; the ninth chapter explains the laws of nega’im on injured skin; and the tenth chapter teaches the laws of negaim on the scalp and beard.

The last four chapters are also very clearly organized, dealing, in order, with nega’im on clothing (Chapter 11), on houses (Chapters 12 and 13) and the process of making someone tahor after he became a metzora (Chapter 14).

Viewing

As I mentioned above, the second chapter of Mishnayos Nega’im is devoted to the details concerning how a nega is examined. Among the many issues discussed here are the times of the day that the lighting is adequate for a kohen to view and rule on nega’im, the quality of vision required of a kohen to do this, and how a kohen examines a nega inside a house that does not have quality lighting.

This week’s parsha

Notwithstanding the fact that I have just sung the praises of the importance of proper organization and how much was invested in mesechta Nega’im, I am going to discuss the last of our opening questions first. “What do the above questions have to do with this week’s parsha?” To answer this question we need to explore a relatively minor detail germane to the laws of nega’im.

Seeing is believing

Among the issues discussed by the later halachic authorities is: What is the halacha if the kohen’s vision is impaired and he cannot see the nega properly without eyeglasses? Is this considered that the kohen saw the nega, a necessary requirement to rule the person, cloth or house tamei? Or is this considered that he did not see the nega correctly, and the person, cloth or house remains tahor?

One of the later commentaries on the Mishnah, the Tiferes Yisroel, discusses this issue, and draws analogy to several areas of halacha where we find discussion whether use of an implement to view something is considered as seeing it (Boaz, Nega’im 2:4).

Waxen wane

The first comparison the Tiferes Yisroel draws is to the laws of the reading of the Torah. An early authority discusses the following question: Wax, presumably from a candle in the shul, fell on a Sefer Torah. In the course of reading the Torah on Shabbos, this wax was discovered, and the laws of Shabbos prohibit scraping off the wax. Assuming that the wax is opaque enough that one can read the words underneath, is this considered that the baal keriyah read the Sefer Torah and the mitzvah has been fulfilled, or do we consider those words to be covered and that it is impossible to observe the mitzvah with this Sefer Torah until the wax is removed? According to the first approach, they can continue with the Torah reading, whereas according to the second approach, they must put the Sefer Torah back and take out a different one to continue reading the Torah portion for this Shabbos.

The Tiferes Yisroel quotes an earlier source, the Leket Hakemach, as ruling that it is permitted to continue using this Torah by reading through the wax. The Leket Hakemach is one of several halachic works by Rav Moshe ibn Chagiz, one of the gedolei hador in Eretz Yisroel in the early eighteenth century. The sefer Leket Hakemach is unusual in that it is an anthology in which Rav ibn Chagiz often quotes the conclusion of many halachic sources without discussing the details of the issues involved. This style became popular over two hundred years later, as evidenced by such works as the Pischei Teshuvah, the Sdei Chemed and the Darchei Teshuvah. In this instance, the Leket Hakemach concludes that it is permitted to read from this Sefer Torah, provided that the baal keriyah can see the word clearly through the wax. This means that the intervening wax is not considered a chatzitzah (block or intervention) from reading the Torah. The Tiferes Yisroel concludes that there is certainly no problem for the baal keriyah or the person receiving an aliyah reading the Sefer Torah to use eyeglasses. Similarly, the Tiferes Yisroel suggests at the outset of his discussion that a kohen could rule on a nega on the basis of what he sees with his eyeglasses.

Chalitzah

A similar question is asked by an early acharon. Can one perform a chalitzah when one of the dayanim can see the procedure only with the aid of his eyeglasses? Is this considered that he witnessed the chalitzah, which is necessary for the validity of the procedure?

The Shevus Yaakov rules that it is perfectly acceptable to perform the chalitzah this way (Shu”t Shevus Yaakov 1:126).

Kiddush levanah and borei me’orei ha’eish

The Tiferes Yisroel then compares his question to an area that has more halachic discussion – whether one can recite the brochos of kiddush levanah and borei me’orei ha’eish, should one see the moon or the flame through glass.

Let’s trace this halachic discussion from its sources. The tanna’im (Mishnah Megillah 24a) dispute whether a blind man is obligated to recite the brocha that we recite every morning immediately after Borchu, which closes with the words yotzeir hame’oros, praising Hashem for providing the world with light. Rabbi Yehudah contends that since the blind cannot see sunlight, it is inappropriate for them to praise Hashem for something from which they cannot benefit. The Tanna Kamma disagrees, noting that they do benefit from light, since it enables other people to look out for them. The Gemara proceeds to tell us an anecdote about a blind man who was seen walking in the pitch-black night holding a torch. Rabbi Yosi asked him why he was holding a light, to which the man answered, “As long as the torch is in my hand, people see me and save me from pits and thorns.” Thus, although he may not be able to see the light, he certainly benefits from it. The halachic authorities conclude in accordance with the Tanna Kamma that a blind person does recite yotzeir hame’oros (Shulchan Aruch 69:2).

Borei me’orei ha’eish

The Mishnah (Brochos 51b) states that the brocha of borei me’orei ha’eish cannot be recited unless the person can benefit from the light. How much benefit is enough to recite the brocha? The Gemara (53b) states: Enough that he can distinguish by the light between two coins of different size and value.

Upon this basis, the authorities conclude that there is a difference between the brocha of yotzeir hame’oros, which a blind person recites, and the brocha of borei me’orei ha’eish (Ra’avyah, Megillah, and all subsequent authorities). As we just saw, the Gemara provided a quantitative visual criterion for the recital of this brocha, that is, the ability to use the light to discern between two coins. Reciting borei me’orei ha’eish requires not only that one can benefit from the light, but that one must actually be able to see something specific with it. This precludes the blind man from reciting this brocha: although he gains benefit from the light, he cannot fulfill the second requirement, which defines something physical that he can see.

Kiddush levanah

To review, the halachic conclusion was that the brocha of yotzeir hame’oros requires benefiting from the light, but not necessarily seeing the light whereas the brocha of borei me’orei ha’eish requires actually seeing the light and discerning something with its aid.

At this point, we need to discuss the brocha of kiddush levanah, about which the Gemara states that he does not recite a brocha unless he can differentiate by its light between two coins. Should it be compared to yotzeir hame’oros, which would imply that a blind man can recite the brocha, or should it be compared to borei me’orei ha’eish, in which case he cannot?

We find that sixteenth-century authorities dispute this question, the Maharshal ruling that a blind person may and should recite kiddush levanah, whereas his younger contemporary, Rav Yaakov Castro (known as the Maharikash), ruled that he should not. (The Maharikash was born in Egypt around 1525. As a youth he traveled to Yerushalayim, where he studied under the Maharlnach, Rabbi Levi ibn Habib, the posek hador and the rav of Jerusalem. In 1570, the Maharikash, who at that time was a dayan in Egypt, visited Tzefat, where he was a house guest of Rav Yosef Karo, and later recorded in his own writings many of the halachic practices he noticed there. Among the Maharikash’s many scholarly works, he authored footnotes to the Shulchan Aruch, sometimes referred to as the “second set” — the first set being those written by the Rema. The Maharikash named his notes on the Shulchan Aruch, Eirech Lechem, based on the posuk, Shemos 40:23, which means the bread laid out on the table of the Shulchan Aruch. The Rema’s notes were called the mapah, the tablecloth on the table. Thus, the three works describe a table perfectly set with bread on it, ready for a meal to be served.)

The Maharshal contends that there is a difference between the brocha of borei me’orei ha’eish and the brocha of kiddush levanah, writing that “the mitzvah of borei me’orei ha’eish is not dependent only on benefiting from the light, but also on being able to see… however this distinction is relative only to borei me’orei ha’eish, but regarding kiddush levanah, it seems to me that someone (who cannot see) can certainly recite the brocha, since the Gemara implies that it is sufficient if mankind in general can benefit from the moonlight” (Shu”t Maharshal #77).

The consensus of the later authorities is to follow the conclusion of the Maharshal that a blind man recites kiddush levanah, unlike the position of the Maharikash (Magen Avraham; Elya Rabbah; Pri Chadash, Biur Halacha , etc., all in Orach Chayim 426).

Kohen and nega

Notwithstanding the many proofs that seeing somethingthrough glass is valid, Tiferes Yisroel notes that some halachic sources indicate that a difference exists between the quality of viewing required for a brocha, versus that necessary for testimony. For example, he contends that someone cannot give testimony in court on the basis of something that he saw through a window. (His proof to this position is arguable, but we will not belabor the details.) Tiferes Yisroel contends that germane to testimony, we must be absolutely certain, and we must therefore be concerned that the tinting of color through glass might affect what we see. Similarly, he concludes that a kohen would not be allowed to rule on a nega on the basis of what he sees with his eyeglasses, or through any other glass.

Returning to glass

Let us return to our previous discussion about the mitzvos of kiddush levanah and borei me’orei ha’eish. May one recite borei me’orei ha’eish when the light is covered with glass? We find a dispute among earlier authorities whether one may recite borei me’orei ha’eish when one can see and use the light, but there is a pane of glass separating you from it. The Beis Yosef (Orach Chayim 428) quotes a dispute between the Orchos Chayim and the Rashba (Brochos 53b s.v. Hayesa), the Orchos Chayim forbids reciting a brocha on such a light until it is removed from inside the glass, whereas the Rashba permits it. The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 298:15) rules that one may not recite a brocha on such a light, whereas the Magen Avraham concludes that one may.

Kiddush levanah on an airplane

At this point, we can discuss the opening question of our article. “It was cloudy on motzaei Shabbos, so I was unable to be mekadeish levanah after davening in shul. Later that night, I left for the airport, and I am now sitting in my window seat, which includes a beautiful view of the new moon. May I be mekadeish levanah now, although I am indoors, and I am also obviously looking at the moon through a window?”

There are two questions here:

(1) Is it permitted to recite kiddush levanah indoors?

(2) Is it permitted to recite kiddush levanah when seeing the moon through a pane of glass?

Technically, these are two unrelated questions: one can physically see the moon when indoors by looking at it through an open skylight or window, and one can be outdoors and yet see the moon through glass.

Kiddush levanah indoors

Early authorities rule that kiddush levanah should be recited outdoors, since this demonstrates more respect (Shiltei Hagiborim). However, the consensus is that this requirement is only when it is practical to recite kiddush levanah outdoors. A person who is ill is permitted to recite kiddush levanah indoors, and the same law holds true for someone in other extenuating circumstances (Bach; Pri Chodosh).

What a pane!

Shu”t Radbaz (#341) asks an interesting question. What is the halacha if the moon is covered by a very thin cloud in a way that you can see the moon clearly, and it sheds enough light that you can use its light to tell the difference between two coins? The Radbaz rules that kiddush levanah may be recited under this circumstance. Similarly, kiddush levanah may be recited when the moon is clearly visible through glass and there is no practical way to see the moon directly, such as when you are on an airplane.

Havdalah on a lightbulb

At this point, let us examine the second of our opening questions: “I have been told that Rav Chayim Ozer, the posek hador before the War, deliberately recited the brocha of borei me’orei ha’eish on an electric light. How could he have done this when a lightbulb must be encased in glass for it to burn?”

On many occasions, I was told by my Rosh Yeshivah, Rav Yaakov Ruderman, zt”l, that Rav Chayim Ozer recited the brocha of borei me’orei ha’eish on an electric light. Rav Chayim Ozer’s reason for doing so was for people to realize that turning on an electric light on Shabbos involves a Torah prohibition of desecrating Shabbos.

Because of Rav Chayim Ozer’s efforts, today this is realized. However, in his day there were those who contended that turning on an electric switch was considered an indirect way (grama) of doing melacha and, therefore, did not involve a violation of Torah law. In order to demonstrate convincingly how strongly he felt about the issue, Rav Chayim Ozer deliberately recited the brocha of borei me’orei ha’eish on an electric light so that people would realize that turning on this light is prohibited min haTorah.

We see that the fact that the “flame” of an electric light must be encased in glass did not disturb Rav Chayim Ozer, since it can be seen clearly through the glass.

In summation

The Magen Avraham and most later authorities rule that one can fulfill the mitzvos of kiddush levanah 426:1) and borei me’orei ha’eish (298:20) when seeing the moon or the light through glass. It might be that this is insufficient for a kohen checking a nega, where there is a good possibility that he must see the nega without anything intervening.

Conclusion

Through this discussion, we see how understanding Torah properly involves deep familiarity with halachic sources that are ostensibly dealing with other topics. The rishonim referred to this as divrei Torah aniyim bimkomam va’ashirim bimkom acheir, the words of Torah are few in the discussion at hand, but vast and more explanatory in other places (see, for example, Tosafos, Kerisus 14a). Thus a posek must have a broad base of halachic knowledge.