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Meet the Adams Family

The Man

Today, I will be meeting someone who is extremely concerned and knowledgeable about halacha, yet doesn’t even keep a kosher home. Neither has he ever observed Shabbos. On the other hand, he is meticulous to observe every detail of Choshen Mishpat.

Who is this individual?

Allow me to introduce you to John Adams, who is a practicing Noahide, or, as he prefers to call himself, an Adamite.

Adams asserts that he descends from the two famous presidents, a claim that I have never verified and have no reason to question. Raised in New England and a graduate of Harvard Law School, John rejected the tenets of the major Westernreligions, but retained a very strong sense of G-d’s presence and the difference betweenright and wrong. Study and introspection led him to believe that G-d probably had detailed instructions for mankind, and sincere questioning led him to discover that, of the Western religions, only Judaism does not claim a monopoly on heaven. A non-Jew who observes the Seven Laws taught to Noah and believes that G-d commanded them at Har Sinai has an excellent place reserved for him in Olam Haba.

And so, John began the practice of these laws.John is quick to point out that, with only one exception, these laws were all commanded originally to Adam. Since John is proud of his family name and lineage, he likes calling himself an Adamite.

What are the basics of Noahide practice?

A gentile is required to observe seven mitzvos, six of them prohibitions: idolatry, incest, murder, blasphemy, theft, and eiver min hachai (which we will soon discuss).  The seventh mitzvah is to have dinim, the nature of which is controversial.The Sefer Hachinuch (Mitzvah #416) and others note that these seven mitzvos are really seven categories, and a non-Jew is really required to observe several dozen mitzvos.

Kosher, Noah style

I asked John if eating meat presents any religious problems for him.

“Well, you know that Noah was prohibited from eating meat or an organ that was severed before the animal died, a prohibition you call eiver min hachai,” said John, obviously proud that he could pronounce the expression correctly.“So, sometimes I come across meat that I may not eat. The following question once came up: Moslem slaughter, called halal, involves killing the animal in a way that many of its internal organs are technically severed from the animal before it is dead. Because of this, we are very careful where we purchase our organ meats.”

May a Noahide Eat Out?

“This problem went even further,” John continued. “Could we eat in a restaurant whereforbidden meats may have contaminated their equipment?”

I admit that I had never thought of this question before. Must a gentile be concerned that a restaurant’s equipment absorbed eiver min hachai? Does a Noahide need to “kasher” a treif restaurant before he can eat there? Shver tzu zein a goy! Oy, the difficulty of beinga goy!

“How did you resolve this dilemma?” I asked curiously.

“Well, for a short time our family stopped eating out,” he replied. “You could say that we ate treif only at home. My wife found the situation intolerable – no MacDonald’s or Wendy’s? Although I know that observant Jews do not understand why this is such a serious predicament, bear in mind that we made a conscious decision not to become Jewish. One of our reasons was that we enjoy eating out wherever we can.

“So, I decided to ask some rabbis I know, but, even then, the end of the road was not clearly in sight.”

“Why was that?”

“I had difficulty finding a rabbi who could answer the question. From what I understand, a rabbi’s ordination teaches him the basics necessary to answer questions that apply to kosher kitchens. But I don’t have a kosher house – we observe Adamite laws. As one rabbi told me, ‘I don’t know if Noahides need to be concerned about what was previously cooked in their pots.’”

“How did you resolve the predicament?”

How treif is treif?

“Eventually, we found a rabbi who contended that we need not be concerned about how pots and grills were previously used. He explained that we could assume that they had not been used for eiver min hachai in the past 24 hours, which certainly sounds like a viable assumption, and that, therefore, using them would only involve the possibility of a rabbinic prohibition, which we gentiles are not required to observe. The last part makes a lot of sense, since there is nothing in the Seven Laws about listening to the rabbis, although I agree that they are smart and sincere people. [Note: I am not certain who it was that John asked. According to Shu”t Chasam Sofer, Yoreh Deah #19 (at end), there is no heter for a non-Jew to use pots that once absorbed eiver min hachai. There are poskim who disagree with the Chasam Sofer (see Darchei Teshuvah 62:5), many of these holding that there is no prohibition altogether with a gentile using pots that had absorbed the taste of eiver min hachai.]

“The result is that we now go out to eat frequently, which makes my wife very happy. It was a good decision for our marital bliss, what you call shalom bayis. Although I understand that this is another idea we are not required to observe, it is good, common sense.”

Milah in the Adams Family

When John’s son was born, he raised an interesting shaylah. To quote him: “Circumcision as a religious practice originates with G-d’s covenant with Abraham, the first Jew. But my covenant with G-d predates Abraham and does not include circumcision. However, even though there was no religious reason for my son to be circumcised, my wife and I thought it was a good idea for health reasons. On the other hand, I know that many authorities forbid a gentile, which I technically am, from observing any commandments that he is not specifically commanded (see Rambam, Hilchos Melachim 10:9).”

John is a very gregarious type, and loves to explain things fully. “We actually had another concern about whether we could circ John Jr. The second one was that many authorities contend that the seventh mitzvah of establishing ‘Laws,’ which you call ‘Dinim,’ includes a prohibition against injuring someone (Ramban, Genesis, oops, I mean Bereishis, 34:13). According to this opinion, a non-Jew who strikes someone during a street protest may lose his world to come for violating one of the seven laws. I have come too far to risk losing my share in the world to come, so I try very hard not to violate any of the laws. I called some rabbi I know to ask whether there was any problem with circumcising my son for health reasons. The rabbis I asked felt that since we are doing this for medical reasons, it issimilar to donating blood or undergoing surgery, both of which are permitted. The upshot was that we did what no self-respecting Jew should ever do: We had a pediatrician circumcise John Jr. on the third day after his birth, to emphasize that we were not performing any mitzvah.”

No Bris

Proud to show off his Hebrew, John finished by saying: “So we had a milah, but no bris. We also decided to skip the bagels and lox. Instead, my wife and I thought it was more appropriate to celebrate with shrimp cocktails, even though primordial Adam didn’t eat shrimp. All types of meat were permitted to Noah only after the Deluge, which you call the mabul. I believe that some authorities rule that Adam was permitted road-kill and was only prohibited from slaughtering, while others understand he had to be strictly vegetarian. My wife and I discussed whether to go vegetarian and keep up the Adams tradition, but decided that if meat was ‘kosher’ enough for Noah, it is kosher enough for us. We decided we weren’t keeping any stringent practices,even if they become stylish.”

Earning a Living

“Have you experienced any other serious dilemmas due to your being an ‘Adamite’?”

“Oh, yes. I almost had to change my career.”

I found this very curious. As John Adams seemed like an honest individual, it was unlikely that he had made his living by stealing or any similar dishonest activity.

Non-Jews are forbidden to perform abortions, which might affect how a Noahide gynecologist earns a living, but John is a lawyer, not a doctor. Even if John used to worship idols or had the bad habit of blaspheming, how would that affect his career?

May a Gentile Practice Law?

John’s research into Noahide law led him to the very interesting conclusion that his job as an assistant district attorney was halachically problematic. Here is what led him to this conclusion.

One of the mitzvos, or probably more accurately, categories of mitzvos,in which a Noahide is commanded is the mitzvah of dinim, literally, laws. The authorities dispute the exact definition and nature of this mitzvah. It definitely includes a requirement that gentile societies establish courts and prosecute those who violate the Noahide laws (Tosefta, Avodah Zarah 9:4; Rambam, Hilchos Melachim 9:14). Some authorities contend that the mitzvah of dinim prohibits injuring or abusing others or damaging their property (Ramban, Breishis 34:13).

However, this dispute leads to another issue that was more germane to John’s case. The halachic authorities dispute whether Noahides are governed by the Torah’s rules of property laws, which we refer to as Choshen Mishpat (Shu”t Rama #10), or whether the Torah left it to non-Jews to formulate their own property and other civil laws. If the former is true, a non-Jew may not sue in a civil court that uses any system of law other than the Torah. Instead, he must litigate in a beis din or in a court of non-Jewish judges who follow halachic guidelines. Following this approach, if a gentile accepts money based on civil litigation, he is considered as stealing, just as a Jew is. This approach is accepted by many early poskim (e.g., Tumim 110:3). Some authorities extend this mitzvah further, contending that the mitzvos governing proper functioning of courts and civil laws apply to Noahides (Minchas Chinuch #414; 415).According to this view, enforcing a criminal code that does not follow the Torah rules violates the mitzvah of dinim.

As John discovered, some authorities extend this idea quite far. For example, one of the mitzvos of the Torah prohibits a beis din from convicting or punishing on the basis of circumstantial evidence (Rambam, Sefer Hamitzvos, Lo Saaseh #290; Sefer Hachinuch #82). If the same rule applies to the laws of dinim, a gentile court is prohibited from using circumstantial evidence in litigation (Minchas Chinuch #82, #409). Thus, John was faced with a predicament. According to these opinions, a gentile who prosecutes on the basis of circumstantial evidence may be violating the mitzvos of Noah, even if the accused party appears to be guilty. It is understood that, according to these opinions, one may not prosecute for the violation of a crime that the Torah does not consider to be criminal, or to sue for damages for a claim that has no halachic basis.

Napoleonic Code and Halacha

On the other hand, other authorities contend that non-Jews are not obligated to observe the laws of Choshen Mishpat; rather, the Torah requires them to create their own legal rules and procedures (Ha’eimek She’eilah, 2:3; Chazon Ish, Bava Kamma 10:1). These authorities rule that gentiles perform a mitzvah when creating a legal system for themselves such as the Napoleonic Code, English Common Law, or any other commercial code. Following this approach, a non-Jew may use secular courts to resolve his litigation and even fulfills a mitzvah by doing so. Thus, John could certainly continue his work as a D.A., and it would be a mitzvah for him to do so.

It is interesting to note that following the stricter ruling in this case also creates a leniency. According to those who rule that a gentile is not required to observe the laws of Choshen Mishpat, a gentile may not study these laws, since the Torah prohibits a gentile from studying Torah (see Tosafos, Bava Kamma 38a s.v. karu; cf., however, the Meiri, Sanhedrin 59a, who rules that a gentile who decides to observe a certain mitzvah may study the laws of that mitzvah in order to fulfill it correctly.)On the other hand, according to those who contend that the mitzvos of dinim follow the laws of Choshen Mishpat, a gentile is required to study these laws in order to observe his mitzvos properly (Shu”t Rama #10)).

John’s Dilemma

The rabbis with whom John consulted felt that a gentile could work as a district attorney. However, John had difficulty with this approach. He found it hard to imagine that G-d would allow man to decide the law for himself, and felt it more likely that mankind was expected to observe the Torah’s civil code. He therefore gravitated to the opinion of those who held that gentiles are required to observe the laws of Choshen Mishpat. As a result, he felt that he should no longer work in the D.A.’s office, since his job is to prosecute based on laws and a criminal justice system that the Torah does not accept.

“What did you do?”

“I decided to ‘switch sides’ and become a defense attorney, which has a practical advantage, because I make a lot more money.”

“How do you handle a case where you know that your client is guilty?”

“Firstly, is he guilty according to halachah? Did he perform a crime? Is there halachically acceptable evidence? If there is no halachically acceptable evidence, he is not required to plead guilty. Furthermore, since none of my clients are Noahides or observant Jews, they can’t make it to heaven anyway, so let them enjoy themselves here. Even if my client is guilty, the punishment determined by the court is not halachically acceptable. It is very unclear whether jail terms are halachically acceptable punishment for gentiles.

“Philosophically, I was always opposed to jail time. I think that there are better ways to teach someone to right their ways than by incarceration, which is a big expense for society.”

Interesting Noahide Laws

“Have you come across any other curious issues?”

“Here is a really unusual question I once raised,” John responded. “Am I permitted to vote in the elections for a local judge? According to some authorities, the Torah’s prohibition against appointing a judge who is halachically incompetent applies equally to gentiles (Minchas Chinuch #414). Thus, one may not appoint someone to the bench who does not know the appropriate Torah laws, which excludes all the candidates. When I vote, I am actively choosing a candidate who is halachically unqualified to judge. I therefore decided that, although there are authorities who permit such judging and therefore this voting is permitted, I wanted to be   consistent in my position. As a result, I vote religiously, but not for judgeships.

Becoming Jewish

“John, did you ever consider becoming Jewish?”

“First of all, I know that the rabbis will discourage me from becoming Jewish, particularly since I don’t really want to. I know exactly what I am required to keep and I keep that properly. I have no interest in being restricted to where and what I eat, and I have no interest in observing Shabbos, which, at present, I may not observe anyway, and that is fine with me (Sanhedrin 58b). I am very willing to be a ‘Shabbos goy’— and I understand well what the Jews need –but it is rare that I find myself in this role. Remember, I do not live anywhere near a Jewish community.

“Although I have never learned how to read Hebrew – why bother, I am not supposed to study Torah anyway – I ask enough questions from enough rabbis to find out all I need to know.”

In Conclusion

Although it seems strange for a non-Jew to ask a rav a shaylah, this should actually be commonplace. Indeed, many non-Jews are concerned about their future place in Olam Haba and, had the nations not been deceived by spurious religions, many thousands more would observe the mitzvos that they are commanded. When we meet sincere non-Jews, we should direct them correctly in their quest for truth. Gentiles who observe these mitzvos because Hashem commanded them through Moshe Rabbeinu are called “Chassidei Umos HaOlam” and merit a place in Olam Haba.




Bnei Noach and Korbanos

Question #1: Rite or Wrong?

“My neighbor is not Jewish and believes in G-d, but she has rejected any of the existent organized religions. She often burns incense, which she learned about in Eastern religions, and she says that she does this to feel G-d’s presence in her life. May I enter her house while the incense is burning?”

Question #2: Joining the Sprinklers

“This must be the strangest question that I have ever asked. While camping, I met a group of sincere non-Jews who told me that they believe in one G-d and have regular getaways to discuss how they can live more in His image. While I was with them, they sprinkled some wine and oil on a campfire in commemoration of the Biblical sacrifices. They invited me to join them, which I did not, but I am curious to know whether I could have sprinkled with them.”

Question #3: The Doubting Moslem

“My coworker, who still considers herself a Moslem, confides in me a lot of her doubts about her religion. Should I be encouraging her away from Islam, or is it not necessary to do so, since they do not worship idols?”

Answer: Mitzvos Bnei Noach

All the questions asked above were by Jews about non-Jews. Indeed, although it may seem strange for a non-Jew to ask a rav a shaylah, it should actually be commonplace. After all, there are hundreds of gentiles for every Jew in the world, and each one of them should be concerned about his or her halachic responsibility. As a matter of fact, there are many non-Jews who are indeed concerned about their future place in Olam Haba and, had the nations not been deceived by spurious religions, thousands and perhaps millions more would observe the mitzvos of Bnei Noach that they are commanded. It is tragic that they have been misled into false beliefs and practices.

Fortunately, there is a revival of interest among gentiles to observe the requirements given them in the Torah. There are now many groups and publications devoted to educating non-Jews about their halachic responsibilities. The mitzvah requirements of non-Jews are usually referred to as the “Seven Mitzvos of the Bnei Noach,” although in actuality, these “Seven Mitzvos” are really categories. A gentile is required to accept that these commandments were commanded by Hashem to Moshe Rabbeinu (Rambam, Hilchos Melachim 8:11). A non-Jew who follows these instructions qualifies to be a “righteous gentile,” one of the Chassidei Umos Ha’olam who merits a place in Olam Haba.

Jews should be familiar with the halachos that apply to a non-Jew, since it is forbidden to cause a gentile to transgress his mitzvos. This is included under the Torah’s violation of lifnei iver lo sitein michshol, “Do not place a stumbling block before a blind person.” In this context, the verse means: Do not cause someone to sin if he is blind to — that is, unaware of — the seriousness of his violation (Avodah Zarah 6b). For example, a Jew may not sell an item to a gentile that he will use for idol worship, or an item that is designed for criminal activity.

Gentiles and the Beis Hamikdash

May a gentile pray in the Beis Hamikdash?

The Beis Hamikdash was meant to serve gentiles as well as Jews, as the pasuk states: Ki beisi beis tefila yikarei lechol ha’amim; My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations (Yeshaya 56:7). This sentiment was expressed by Shlomoh Hamelech in his public prayer whereby he dedicated the Beis Hamikdash, “…and also to the gentile who is not from Your people Israel, and who comes for the sake of Your name from a distant land. When they will hear of Your great Name, Your powerful hand and Your outstretched arm and come to pray in this house, You will hear from Heaven, the place of Your abode, and do whatever the gentile requests of You, so that all the nations of the Earth will know Your Name and fear You (Melachim I 8:41- 43).

Gentiles and Sacrifices

Not only was the Beis Hamikdash a place where gentiles could pray and serve Hashem, it was also a place where they could offer korbanos (Zevachim 116b). A gentile who desired to bring a korban in the Beis Hamikdash could do so, and, when it is rebuilt, their offerings will be welcome. The laws governing how these korbanos are offered are fairly similar to what governs voluntary korbanos offered by a Jew. Allow me to explain.

A Jew may voluntarily offer several types of korbanos in the Beis Hamikdash. He may offer a korban shelomim (sometimes called a “peace-offering”), in which case the owner receives most of the meat to eat in Yerushalayim when he is in a state of purity (taharah). A Jew may also offer a korban olah, which is offered in its entirety on the mizbei’ach, the altar, in a specifically prescribed fashion.

A gentile may offer a korban olah in the Beis Hamikdash, but he may not offer a korban shelomim. When this olah is offered, the procedure of its offering is virtually identical to that of a Yisrael. This means that any Jewish shochet may slaughter the korban, but it may not be slaughtered by a gentile, since a gentile’s slaughtering is, by definition, invalid as shechitah. The Kohanim then proceed to offer the korban of the gentile, just as they would offer the korban of a Jew, following all the halachos of a korban olah.

Gentiles and Imperfections

The animal that a gentile offers in the Beis Hamikdash must be completely unblemished (Vayikra 22:25). An animal suffering from visible impairments or injuries is called a baal mum and is invalid. Some examples of this are an animal with a broken limb, one that cannot walk in a normal way, one whose limbs are noticeably disproportionate to one another or relative to its species, or a blind animal. All told, there are 73 different imperfections that invalidate a korban as a baal mum (Sefer Hachinuch). Were a kohen to offer the imperfect offering of a gentile, he would be violating the Torah’s express prohibition and be liable for the resultant punishments. For an in-depth discussion of this topic, the intrepid reader is referred to Minchas Chinuch, Mitzvah 292. The same author mentions that the laws governing a gentile’s korban may, in one situation, actually be more stringent that those governing a Jew’s korban. The details of how this could happen are beyond the scope of this article.

Treatment of Holy Bulls and Sheep

There are a few differences in halachah between the korban olah offering of a Jew and that of a gentile. Prior to a Jew offering a korban, he rests his hands on the head of the animal and presses down on the animal’s head. This procedure is called semichah, and, while doing so, the owner of the korban recites viduy, confessing his sins. However, when a gentile’s offering is brought, no semichah is performed (Temurah 2a).

There is another curious difference between the olah offered by a gentile and that offered by a Jew. When a Jew consecrates an animal as a korban olah, someone who subsequently uses the consecrated animal, such as one who sheared the wool of a consecrated ram or worked a consecrated bull, violates a serious prohibition of the Torah called me’ilah. The individual who committed this prohibition negligently must offer a special korban called an asham as atonement. However, when a gentile donates an olah there is no prohibition min haTorah to use the animal and there is no violation of the prohibition of me’ilah. The Gemara concludes that using the consecrated animal is prohibited only miderabbanan (Temurah 3a).

Gentile Exceptions

A Jew may also offer wine to the Beis Hamikdash, which is then poured onto the mizbei’ach. However, a gentile may not offer wine or other similar offerings (Temurah 2b, as explained by Rashi). On the other hand, a gentile may donate any item of value or cash to the Beis Hamikdash to assist in its upkeep (Bedek Habayis). This leads to a very surprising halachah. Although, as I mentioned above, there is no prohibition of me’ilah should one use the korban of a gentile, property that he donates to the Beis Hamikdash is subject to this prohibition in the same way that a Jew’s donation is (Temurah 3a).

Outside the Beis Hamikdash

Once the Beis Hamikdash was constructed, the Torah prohibited a Jew from offering korbanos anywhere else in the world (Devarim 12: 13, 14, 26, 27). Someone who sanctifies an animal to be a korban and then offers it on an altar outside the Beis Hamikdash violates two grave prohibitions of the Torah called shechutei chutz, slaughtering a korban outside the approved area, and ha’ala’ah bachutz, offering a korban outside its approved area. As a result, since our Beis Hamikdash unfortunately still lies in ruins, we cannot offer any korbanos to Hashem, and we must await its rebuilding to offer them.

A gentile is not required to observe these mitzvos, and, consequently, he may offer korbanos anywhere he chooses: in his backyard, on his camping trip or even in a shul! A Jew, however, may not assist in this endeavor, since this violates his mitzvos shechutei chutz and ha’ala’ah bachutz, notwithstanding the fact that the korbanos were sanctified by a gentile (Zevachim 45a; Rambam, Hilchos Maasei Hakorbanos 19:16).

Although a Jew may not offer these korbanos for the gentile, he may instruct the gentile how to offer them correctly. To quote the Rambam, “A gentile is permitted to offer korbanos olah to Hashem anywhere he would like, provided that he offers them on an altar that he constructed. A Jew may not help him, since a Jew is prohibited from offering korbanos outside the Beis Hamikdash. Nevertheless, a Jew may teach him how to bring the korban to Hashem properly” (Rambam, Hilchos Maaseh Hakorbanos 19:15).

The Rambam adds a requirement to this halachah — this korban must be offered on some type of constructed altar.

Blemished Offerings

Whereas the korban of a gentile offered in the Beis Hamikdash must be performed by kohanim, a gentile who offers a korban outside the Beis Hamikdash may perform the procedures himself, and actually must have the procedures performed by a non-Jew. In addition, he may offer from any kosher species (Bereishis 8:20 with Bereishis Rabbah and Rashi), whereas in the Beis Hamikdash one may offer only sheep, goats, bovines, turtledoves and pigeons. Furthermore, most of the 73 blemishes that invalidate a korban as a baal mum do not apply to what a gentile offers outside the Beis Hamikdash. The only such restriction that applies outside the Beis Hamikdash is a missing limb, but any other injury or physical impediment does not invalidate the korban (Temurah 7a; Avodah Zarah 5b).

Gentile Mitzvos

We need to address one more point before we can answer our opening questions: May a gentile observe mitzvos of the Torah, and may he create his own observances?

A gentile may not keep Shabbos or a day of rest (meaning, a day that he refrains from doing any activity that is forbidden on Shabbos, melachah) on any day of the week (Sanhedrin 58b). This is considered a very grievous violation of the Torah. I am aware of three approaches provided by the Rishonim to explain this law.

Rashi’s Reason

Rashi explains that a non-Jew is obligated to work every day, because the Torah writes, “Yom valayla lo yishbosu,” which can be interpreted to mean, “Day and night they (i.e., the non-Jews) may not rest.” According to his understanding, this prohibition has nothing to do with any ban against a gentile performing religious practices to Hashem. There is a specific requirement for gentiles to work every day – or, at least, to perform melachah.

Meiri’s Reason

The Meiri presents a different reason why a gentile may not observe a day of rest — that a Jew may mistakenly learn from him that it is acceptable to create his own mitzvos. Of course, creating one’s own mitzvos, which is a very popular idea among contemporary religions, defeats the entire reason of observing the Torah and keeping mitzvos. The purpose of the Torah is for us to become close to Hashem by following what He instructs us to do. Creating one’s own mitzvos implies that I can somehow bribe G-d to do what I want. Although we realize the foolishness of this approach, this idea underlies all of idolatry and greatly influences the way most of mankind views religion.

Rambam’s Reason

The Rambam’s approach is similar to the Meiri’s, in that he explains that a gentile is prohibited from making his own holiday or any other religious observance, because the Torah is opposed to the creation of man-made religions (Hilchos Melachim 10:9). In the words of the Rambam, “A non-Jew is not permitted to create his own religion or mitzvah. Either he becomes a righteous convert (a ger tzedek) and accepts the observance of all the mitzvos or he remains with the laws that he has without adding or subtracting.” Any attempt to create a mitzvah other than that of the Torah runs counter to Hashem’s goals for mankind, as I will soon explain.

Contradiction in Rambam

However, many authorities ask if the Rambam seems to be contradicting himself. The Mishnah states that the terumah or maaser separated by a gentile from his own crops is halachically valid, and his declaring his property to belong to the Beis Hamikdash (hekdesh) is similarly valid (Terumos 3:9). In his Commentary, the Rambam states that even though a gentile is not obligated to keep mitzvos, observing them allows him a small degree of reward. This statement implies that a gentile can receive reward for fulfilling mitzvos of the Torah.

There are several approaches to answer this seeming contradiction. According to Rav Moshe Feinstein, there are a few very specific mitzvos that a gentile is permitted to observe, and only in these instances will he reap any reward for observing them. Those are mitzvos where we find that a gentile was specifically included, such as tzedakah, prayer, offering korbanos and separating terumos and maasros (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 2:7). In Rav Moshe’s opinion, a gentile who observes any other mitzvah receives no reward. However, should he perform these mitzvos knowing that he is not commanded to do so, we do not stop him. On the other hand, if he performs these activities because he wants to consider himself obligated to keep them, we should prevent him from doing so if we can, and we should certainly discourage his observing them.

Others contend there are ways whereby a gentile can become obligated in Torah mitzvos (Biur Halachah, end of 304, in explanation of the Magen Avraham), and there are others who feel that a gentile who observes mitzvos, knowing that he is not required to do so, receives reward for his endeavor (see Sefer Hamafteiach, Melachim 10:10). Among those authorities who follow the last approach, some exclude a gentile from observing certain mitzvos. For example, the Radbaz (Hilchos Melachim 10:10) prohibits a gentile from wearing tefillin or placing a mezuzah on his door, and the Taz (Yoreh Deah 263:3) and the Levush prohibit him from performing bris milah (but see the Shulchan Aruch 268:9, Nekudos Hakesef ad locum, and the Shach, Yoreh Deah 263:8 and 268:19 who disagree).

Answering our Questions

At this point, we are equipped to examine the opening questions. The first question was:

“My neighbor is not Jewish and believes in G-d, but she has rejected any of the existent organized religions. She often burns incense, which she learned about in Eastern religions, and she says that she does this to feel G-d’s presence in her life. May I enter her house while the incense is burning?”

Is the neighbor doing something idolatrous? It may be, depending on what her understanding is of G-d. If, indeed, her acts comprise avodah zarah, then one should not be in her house when the incense is kindled, because one is benefiting from idol worship.

On the other hand, if she understands G-d similar to the way a Jew does, there is no idolatry in her act. Assuming that this is true, then there is nothing wrong with enjoying the fragrance of her incense.

Joining the Sprinklers

The second question was: “This must be the strangest question that I have ever asked. While camping, I met a group of sincere non-Jews who told me that they believe in one G-d and have regular getaways to discuss how they can live more in His image. While I was with them, they sprinkled some wine and oil on a campfire in commemoration of the Biblical sacrifices. They invited me to join them, which I did not, but I am curious to know whether I could have sprinkled with them.”

It is good that you did not join them. For a Jew to effect any type of korban outside the Beis Hamikdash is prohibited, although, because of certain halachic details, this situation would not have involved the severe violation of ha’ala’ah bachutz. Similarly, these individuals did not fulfill a gentile’s mitzvah of offering korbanos, because their fireplace did not meet the halachic requirements of an altar.

The Doubting Moslem

“My coworker, who still considers herself a Moslem, confides in me a lot of her doubts about her religion. Should I be encouraging her away from Islam, or is it not necessary to do so, since they do not worship idols?”

Without question, observing Islam is a grievous sin, even for a gentile, despite the fact that there is no idolatry involved (see also fRitva, Pesachim 25b). Hashem gave very specific instructions of how He wants mankind to worship Him, and any other attempt is prohibited. Therefore, if your coworker is asking you for direction in her life, you should explain to her the fallacies of Islam and how she could indeed fulfill Hashem’s wishes by becoming a proper bas Noach.

Conclusion

We are meant to be “a light unto the nations,” which charges us with the responsibility to act in a manner that we create a kiddush Hashem. If we have the opportunity to educate non-Jews how to live their lives as proper, G-d-fearing Bnei Noach, that is surely within the scope of our directives.




Hunting for Kosher Meat

Question #1:

Shem, the son of Noach, was traveling one day and realized that he had not packed enough peanut butter sandwiches for the trip. Now hungry, he witnessed a travel accident, the result of which was that an animal had been killed. Was he permitted to cook the carcass for lunch?

Question #2:

Shem’s descendant, Linda, lives in the modern era, and is Jewish. While traveling in an unfamiliar area, she hunts for kosher meat, discovering some with an unfamiliar supervision, and calls her rabbi to ask whether he recommends it. What factors does he consider in advising her whether to use this product?

Question #3:

In a previous position, I was responsible for researching sources of meat that our local Vaad HaKashrus would accept. I traveled to many cities, and visited many meat packing facilities. People have often asked why sometimes my hunt resulted in a new acceptable source, and why sometimes it did not. What was I looking for?

Before answering these questions, we need to understand what the Torah’s requirements for allowable meat are.

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When Noach emerged from the teivah (the ark), Hashem told him that he and his descendants may now eat meat for the very first time. According to some authorities, prior to this time, no one was permitted to sink his teeth into a steak or even a schnitzel (Sanhedrin 59b, based on Bereishis 1:29-30, 9:3; as interpreted by Rambam, Hilchos Melachim 9:1 and Gur Aryeh, Bereishis 1:29). In actuality, not all authorities agree that Adam and his pre-mabul descendents were required to be vegetarian – some maintain that they were permitted to eat the meat of animals that had already died, and were forbidden only from killing animals for meat (Tosafos, Sanhedrin 56b s.v. achal; Rashi, Bereishis 1:29 and Sanhedrin 57a s.v. limishri basar, as understood by Mizrachi, Bereishis 1:29, cf. Gur Aryeh ad loc.). According to this opinion, pre-Noach mankind may have eaten a steak or schnitzel provided that they did not take the animal’s life.

Thus, whether Adam could barbecue road kill depends upon whether he held like Tosafos, in which case he could, or like the Rambam, in which case he could not. Otherwise, he was restricted to a vegetarian diet, which may have included the responsibility to check that his veggies were insect-free. Presumably, he called the local Vaad HaKashrus to determine how to check each type of vegetable. I wonder what he did when he wanted to eat Brussels sprouts, particularly since he probably lived before the invention of the light box!

However, when Noach emerged from the teivah, he and his descendents were permitted to give up their vegetarian lifestyle, provided that they ate no meat that had been removed from an animal while it was still alive (eiver min hachai). Just think, had Sheis lived after the time of Noach, he could have included some tuna sandwiches in his lunchbox, or picked up a few tins of sardines at the local grocery, instead of going hungry!

When the Torah was given, it both limited the species that a Jew may eat and created many other regulations, including the requirement that kosher meat and poultry be slaughtered in the halachically-approved way (shechitah) and that they may be eaten only if they are without certain defects that render them tereifah. Even after ascertaining that the animal itself may be eaten, one must still remove from sheep, goats, cattle and other “beheimos[1] certain fats called cheilev, and one must remove the blood, and the sciatic nerve (the gid hanasheh) from all kosher animals, both beheimos and chayos. (The gid hanasheh of fowl is permitted.)

In the contemporary world, guaranteeing that one’s meat is appropriate for the Jewish table involves several trained and G-d-fearing people, including shochatim, bodekim, menakerim, mashgichim, and knowledgeable rabbonim to oversee the entire process.

THE SHOCHEIT’S JOB

Aside from the shocheit’s obvious responsibility to slaughter the animal the way Hashem commanded, he must also fulfill another very important task: following the slaughtering, he must verify that he performed the shechitah correctly. This is a very important step – without this inspection the animal or bird must be considered non-kosher – it will be acceptable for the table of Bnei Noach, but not for Klal Yisroel.

A common controversy in today’s modern packing facility is the use of a hydraulically-powered pen to restrain the animal while it is slaughtered. Although this pen usually makes the job safer and easier for the shocheit, there are concerns that the pen itself may render the animal a tereifah prior to its being slaughtered (Besheveilei Shechita). For this reason, no hechsher in Israel allows use of a pen during shechitah, but a different, equally safe and humane, system to restrain the animal is used instead.

Next, the animal or bird is examined to ensure that it is not tereifah. Although common use of the word “treif” means non-kosher for any reason whatsoever, the technical meaning of the word refers to an animal with a physical defect that renders it non-kosher even if it was the beneficiary of a proper shechitah.

THE BODEIK

In a meat packing plant (beef, veal or lamb), the individual accountable to check for these defects is called a bodeik (pl. bodekim). Most bodekim are trained shochatim, and, indeed, in many plants the bodekim and shochatim rotate their tasks, thus making it easier for them to be as attentive as the job requires. As a result, a person licensed both as a shocheit and as a bodeik is usually called a shocheit, although technically he should be called a shocheit ubodeik to truly reflect the extent of his training.

THE SECOND BODEIK

The responsibility to check for tereifos is divided between two bodekim. The first, the bodeik pnim, checks the lungs in situ, which is the only way one can properly check that the lungs do not adhere in an improper way to the ribs, the membrane surrounding the heart (the pericardium), or to themselves, all of which render the animal non-kosher. This checking is performed completely based on feel. The bodeik gently inserts his hand, and runs his fingers carefully over all eight lobes of the lung to see if he feels any adhesion between the lung and one of the other areas.

The second bodeik, the bodeik chutz, rechecks the lungs based on the report of the bodek pnim and makes a cursory check of other organs, particularly the stomachs and intestines, upon their removal from the carcass, for swallowed nails and for various imperfections that render the animal non-kosher.

After the two bodekim are satisfied that the animal is kosher, the second bodeik or a mashgiach tags or stamps the different parts of the animal as kosher. In many packing houses, the bodeik or a mashgiach makes small slits between the ribs that specifies the day and parsha of the week to identify that piece as kosher. A mark made when the meat is this fresh appears completely different from one made even a few hours later, making it difficult to counterfeit. Of course, this mark is not sufficient alone to verify that the meat is kosher, but it is an essential crosscheck, since tags can be tampered with.

The modern kosher poultry plant is organized slightly differently: The shochatim only perform shechitah, whereas the bedikah inspection is performed by mashgichim trained to notice abnormalities. If they notice any, they remove the bird from the production line; a rav or bodeik then rules whether these birds are kosher or not.

For both animals and birds, one needs only to check for commonly occurring tereifos and not for uncommon problems. For example, the established halachic practice is to check an animal’s lungs because of their relatively high rate of tereifos, and today it is common in Israel to check an area called the tzumas hagiddin on chicken thighs for specific kashrus problems. Animal lungs frequently have adhesions called sirchos which render them non-kosher (Chullin 46b), although Ashkenazic custom is that easily removed adhesions on mature animals do not render them treif (Rosh, Chullin 3:14; Rama, Yoreh Deah 39:13). An animal without any sircha adhesions is called glatt kosher, meaning that its lung is completely smooth – that is, without any adhesions, even of the easily removable variety. (I have written an article, What Makes Meat Kosher, which explains more about the complicated topic of glatt kosher, that is available on the website rabbikaganoff.com or that can be sent on request via e-mail.)

The rav hamachishir’s responsibilities include deciding which problems are prevalent enough to require scrutiny and what is considered an adequate method of inspection.

Depending on the factory, the next steps in the preparation of beef, veal or lamb are performed either in the same facility where the shechitah was performed, or at the butcher shop.

TRABERING

Prior to soaking and salting meat to remove the blood, certain non-kosher parts of the animal, including the gid hanasheh (the sciatic nerve), non-kosher fats called “cheilev,” and certain large blood vessels must be removed (Yoreh Deah 65:1). The Hebrew word for this process is “nikur,” excising, and the artisan who possesses the skill to properly perform it is called a menakeir (pl. menakerim). The Yiddish word for this process is traberen which derives from tarba, the Aramaic word for cheilev, the non-kosher fat. This step is omitted in the production of poultry, since it is exempt from the prohibitions of gid hanasheh and cheilev, and its blood vessels are small enough that it is sufficient to puncture them prior to the soaking and salting procedures.

Early in its butchering, a side of beef (which is half its carcass) is divided into its forequarter and hindquarter. Since the gid hanasheh and most of the cheilev are located in the hindquarter, trabering it is a tedious process that requires a highly skilled menakeir. (I have written an article on the history and halachic issues germane to this practice, which is not yet posted on the website, but is available from me directly. This article will iy’H be posted in the near future.) The forequarters must still be trabered prior to soaking and salting to remove blood vessels and some fat (Rama, Yoreh Deah 64:1; Pischei Teshuvah 64:3). Although a relatively easy skill to learn, Linda’s rabbi might need to check whether one can trust this hechsher as to the proper performance of this procedure, as the following story indicates:

I once investigated the kashrus of a certain well-known resort hotel, one not usually frequented by frum clientele. I called the hotel and asked who provided their hechsher, and was soon on the telephone with both the resident mashgiach and the rav hamachshir.

I began by introducing myself and the reason for my phone call, and then asked about the sources of the meat used in the hotel. In the course of the conversation, it became evident that neither the rabbi nor the mashgiach knew the slightest thing about traberen, although they were officially overseeing a staff of in-house butchers, none of whom was an observant Jew. I realized that the rather poor kashrus reputation of this establishment was indeed well deserved. The rabbi overseeing the hechsher himself did not know trabering, nor did he have anyone else halachically reliable supervising. What was he overseeing?

Indeed, I have discovered many facilities that do not traber meat properly or even places that do not bother to traber their meat at all. Thus, we have another reason why some products may not be approved for use.

SOAKING AND SALTING

Returning to our brief overview of the proper preparations for kosher meat — after the meat has been properly trabered, it is ready to be soaked and salted to remove its blood. In earlier generations, this process, usually called kashering meat, was performed exclusively at home, but today common practice is that this is performed by the butcher or at the abattoir. Almost all kosher poultry operations today soak and salt the meat immediately after shechitah, and this approach is now becoming increasingly more common in beef operations.

To kasher meat it should be rinsed well, soaked in water for half an hour, drained properly, salted for an hour, and then rinsed three times (Rama, Yoreh Deah 69:1, 5, 7). The halacha requires that the meat be covered with salt on all exposed surfaces (Yoreh Deah 69:4). Most packing plants that I have seen perform this part of the job effectively, although I have seen places where the salting was inadequate — entire areas of the meat were not salted. This is probably simple negligence; although when I called this problem to the attention of the mashgiach he insisted that it had been performed adequately, notwithstanding my observing the contrary. Needless to say, I did not approve this source.

Sometimes, there is also concern about the koshering of poultry. Poultry must also be salted with its meat covered with salt on all its exposed surfaces. There is a dispute among authorities whether a bird’s abdominal cavity must be opened fully to guarantee that it is salted properly (Beis Lechem Yehudah 69:20; Pri Megadim, Mishbetzos Zahav 69:15). Many contend that in modern facilities one should not rely that the employees, many of whom are not Jewish or are not observant of the laws of kashrus, will make sure to salt all exposed areas inside the bird’s cavity. To avoid this problem, one can either have observant staff be responsible to salt the meat, or alternatively, to have a mashgiach check that everything is done properly.

WASHED MEAT

The Geonim instituted a requirement that meat be soaked and salted within 72 hours of its slaughter (Yoreh Deah 69:12). This is because of concern that once 72 hours have passed the blood becomes hardened inside the meat and salting no longer removes it. If more than 72 hours passed without the meat being salted, the Geonim ruled that the meat may be eaten only if it is broiled since this process will still remove the blood (Yoreh Deah 69:12).

A question that developed with time was whether wetting the meat prevents the blood from hardening inside. Some early authorities permitted soaking meat to extend the 72 hour period (Shach 69:53). However, this leniency often led to highly liberal interpretations. I have seen butchers take a damp rag and wipe the outside of the meat and considered it washed. Thus, there are two different reasons why most reliable kashrus operations do not allow the use of “washed meat,” either because they do not accept this leniency altogether, or because of concern that once one accepts hosed meat, it becomes difficult to control what type of washing is acceptable.

THE RAV HAMACHSHIR

Thus far, I have described the tremendous responsibilities of most of the staff necessary to guarantee that the meat is of the highest kashrus standards. One person that I have not adequately discussed is the rav hamachshir, the supervising rabbi, who has the final say on the kashrus standards that the meat packer and butcher follow. Although a rav overseeing meat kashrus does not necessarily have to be a shocheit or a trained menakeir himself, he certainly must be expert in all of these areas, both in terms of thorough knowledge of halacha and in terms of practical experience. For most of Jewish history, the most basic requirement of every rav required him to be proficient in all the halachos of kosher meat production. As the local rav, all shechitah and bedikah in his town was his responsibility.

However, in the contemporary world of mass production and shipping, the local shul rav is rarely involved in the details of shechitah, and often has limited experience and training in these areas. Depending on the semicha program he attended, he may not have been required to study the laws of shechitah and tereifos. Thus, what was once the province of every rav has now become a specialty area, and sometimes rabbonim involved in the giving of meat hechsherim lack the proper training.

I was once given a tour of a meat packing plant by the supervising rabbi of the plant. During the course of the tour I became painfully aware of the rabbi’s incompetence in this area of kashrus. For example, he was clearly unaware of how to check shechitah knives properly, certainly a basic skill necessary to oversee this type of hechsher. Would you approve this meat supplier for your local Vaad HaKashrus?

At this point, I want to address the third question I raised above: Sometimes my visit to a meat packer resulted in a new acceptable source, and sometimes it did not. What was I looking for, and why would I disapprove a source that a different rav was approving?

The answers to these questions are sometimes subjective, but I will provide you with some observations of mine.

IS THE SYSTEM WORKABLE?

There are many subtle and not-so-subtle observations that a rav makes when examining a meat packer. I could not possibly list in one article all the types of problems I have seen, but I will mention certain specific concerns for which I would always be attentive.

Is the production line too quick for the shocheit or mashgiach to do his job properly? Are the shochatim or mashgichim expected to perform their job in an unrealistic manner, either because of a shortage of trained manpower or because of the speed or arrangement of the production line?

QUALITY OF PERSONNEL

Are the shochatim knowledgeable? Do they appear to be G-d fearing individuals? Although it is impossible to know whether someone is indeed a yarei shamayim, it is unfortunately often very obvious that he is not. It can indeed happen that one rav has questions about the staff – for this reason, he does not approve a source of supply.

I will give you an example that will better elucidate this problem. While visiting a plant to determine whether we should allow this shechitah, the conversation of one of the shochatim showed a shortcoming in tzniyus within his family. Although one cannot point to a specific law that disqualifies him as a shocheit, I personally was uncomfortable entrusting him with decisions that would affect what I eat. After discussion with the other rabbonim in our community, we decided not to accept meat from this shechitah.

Does this mean that we considered this meat non-kosher? G-d forbid. It simply means that we were uncomfortable allowing it and decided that we have that responsibility as rabbonim of our community.

Thus, it could indeed happen that what one rav considers acceptable another rav feels is not. The differences may be based on the interpretation of halacha, or they may result from a rav’s opinion as to how a plant should be run.

CONCLUSION

Based on the above information we can better understand many aspects of the preparation of kosher meat and why it is important to use only meat that has a proper hechsher. We can also gain a greater appreciation of how hard rabbonim and shochatim work to maintain a high kashrus standard. Now that we recognize the complexity involved in maintaining kosher meat standards, we should always hope and pray that the food we eat meets all the halachic requirements that the Torah commands us.



[1] Kosher land animals are divided into two categories, beheimah and chayah. Although beheimah (pl., beheimos) is often translated as domesticated species and chayah (pl., chayos) as wild species, these definitions are halachically inaccurate since whether a species is categorized as a beheimah or as a chayah has no bearing on whether it is domesticated or not. Reindeer, although domesticated, are clearly a chayah since they have branched antlers, whereas there are non-domesticated species, such as bison, that are almost certainly beheimah according to halacha.

The Written Torah did not indicate the defining characteristics distinguishing beheimos from chayos, leaving these rules to the Torah sheba’al peh, the Oral Torah. The Gemara (Chullin 59b) mentions several characteristics, mostly dependent on the animal’s horns: A branched horn defines its species as chayah, whereas non-branched horns may indicate either a chayah or a beheimah depending on whether they grow in layers, are grooved, and whether their tips are curved or straight (Rashi ad loc.; cf. Rabbeinu Chananel). Therefore, any species possessing branched horns or antlers like those found on most deer is a chayah, whereas those with straight horns may be either chayah or beheimah depending on the other criteria. Since all antelope (a general category that includes several dozen species) have un-branched horns, one would need to examine the horns of each species to determine whether it is a beheimah or a chayah. (Technically speaking, the difference between deer and antelope is that deer have antlers that shed and re-grow annually, whereas antelope have permanent un-branched horns.)