Purim Mishaps, Part II

Question #1: Purim Damage

An inebriated Purim drop-in damaged some property in our house. May we collect damages?

Question #2: Hurt at a Wedding

At a wedding, two people collided, causing one of them to break a leg and lose work time. Is the person who hurt him liable?

Question #3: Purim Dress

Is it permitted for a man to wear a woman’s dress on Purim?

Introduction:

In part I of this article, we discussed whether someone who damaged property in the course of festivities is required to make compensation. We learned that there are sources on this topic dating back to the time of the Beis Hamikdash!

As we noted in the earlier article, early sources in the Mishnah and Gemara discuss whether one is required to pay for harm that occurred in the course of a celebration. According to Rashi’s interpretation, after the completion of the hakafos in the Beis Hamikdash on Hoshanah Rabbah, the adults would grab the lulavim and esrogim from the children and eat the esrogim. Rashi explains that there was no prohibition involved, because this was part of the holiday festivities.

Most, but not all, authorities accept this approach. The Beis Yosef (Orach Chayim 695) quotes some of the sources that excuse the merrymaker from damages, but states that this immunity exists only in communities where this type of rowdy behavior is commonplace. He then notes that in the area in which he lives, this type of raucous celebrating does not exist. Therefore, we understand why he omits any discussion of exempting merrymakers from damages in the Shulchan Aruch. On the other hand, numerous other authorities, predominantly Ashkenazim, exempt a person from paying damages that occur as a result of mitzvah gaiety (e.g., Mordechai, Sukkah 743; Agudah, Sukkah; Terumas Hadeshen 2:210; Yam shel Shelomoh, Bava Kama 5:10). The Rema rules this way in three different places (Orach Chayim 695:2; 696:8; Choshen Mishpat 378:9), and it is accepted subsequently as normative halacha.

Limitations

Notwithstanding the generally accepted approach that a merrymaker is exempt from paying damages, there are exceptions.

Physical injury

Does this exemption of liability apply, even when there is physical injury? The Magen Avraham raises this question and notes that it is the subject of a dispute among halachic authorities. He quotes the Keneses Hagedolah, who rules that one is obligated to pay for physical harm, whereas the Agudah rules that one is not. I noted in the first part of this article that the Terumas Hadeshen appears to agree with the Agudah that one is exempt, even when there is physical injury. His case was someone who used holiday festivities as an excuse to push another person very hard, causing major injury. The Terumas Hadeshen obligated him to pay, because the injury was intentional, but seemed to accept that if the damage had been a result of merrymaking, there would be no obligation to pay.

Why is he exempt?

Until now, we have been talking about whether a merrymaker is excused from financial compensation for damages, and we have discussed sources that exempt him, at least under certain circumstances, and other sources that do not. The next step in our discussion is to understand why he should be exempt. The halachic rule is that odom mu’ad le’olam, a person is always responsible to pay for damage that he causes (Mishnah, Bava Kama 26a). Why is there an exception for a merrymaker?

I have found three halachic approaches that suggest why the person responsible for causing damage is exempt from paying. As we will see, there are practical differences in halacha that result from the different approaches.

  1. Implied mechilah

When people participate in an activity together, there is an implied mechilah that one will not collect damages.

  1. Hefker beis din hefker

In order to not put a damper on people’s celebrating, Chazal exercised their authority of hefker beis din hefker (Bach, Yoreh Deah 182).

  1. Mitzvos are different

There is a special exemption for people participating in a mitzvah.

Not mutually exclusive

We should note that the three reasons we have mentioned are not mutually exclusive. A halachic authority might hold that two or three of the reasons apply. In other words, someone might contend that whenever damage occurs in the course of a simcha shel mitzvah, the party responsible is exempt for any of the reasons provided.

  1. Implied mechilah

One possible reason to exempt the merrymaker from damages is because of a principle that when people participate in an activity together, there is an implied mechilah that one will not collect damages. Here is an early example of such a ruling:

Two people were wrestling. In the course of their bout, one of the combatants knocked the other to the floor and then pounced on him. Unfortunately, his opponent suffered serious permanent injury as a result. The question asked of the Rosh is whether there is an obligation to pay damages.

The Rosh ruled that two people who decide to wrestle agree implicitly that each is mocheil the other for damages that happen as a result of their activity. Therefore, one cannot afterward submit a financial claim for injury (Teshuvos HaRosh #101:6). The Rosh is teaching us a halachic principle that one cannot claim damages that result from an activity that he joined willfully. Similarly, if someone stomps inadvertently on another person’s foot during dancing at a wedding or on Simchas Torah, there is no requirement to pay damages. Everyone knows that, in the course of the dancing in a crowded shul on Simchas Torah or at a wedding, occasionally someone is going to step on your foot. It is quite clear that everyone accepts that this may happen and is mocheil the person responsible. If you want to be certain not to get hurt, don’t participate in the dancing.

Minor damage

Notwithstanding that the logic asserted by the Rosh is undoubtedly true, it cannot be the only reason for the halacha exempting merrymakers from damage, for the following reason: According to Rashi’s understanding of the Mishnah quoted above, adults took the lulavim and esrogim of children, and this was acceptable because it was part of the holiday celebration. Yet, children do not have the halachic ability to be mocheil. Thus, at least according to Rashi, the heter releasing a merrymaker from liability must be based on a different halachic principle.

  1. Hefker beis din hefker

The principle of hefker beis din hefker allows a rabbinic court, or someone with equivalent authority, the halachic ability to forfeit a person’s ownership or claims. In our instance, it means that they rescinded the claimant’s rights to collect for damages that he incurred. The Bach assumes that the reason for exempting a merrymaker from paying damages is because Chazal exercised their authority of hefker beis din hefker in order not to put a damper on people celebrating (Bach, Yoreh Deah 182). In other words, someone may be reluctant to join the dancing at a wedding or on Simchas Torah out of concern that he may inadvertently hurt someone and be liable for damages. In order that people celebrate without reservation, Chazal exempted participants in certain semachos from paying damages.

This approach explains why adults were permitted to commandeer the property of children as part the Sukkos celebration, even though children cannot be mocheil. Although a child’s statement that he forgives someone’s liability to him has no legal status, Chazal have the ability to forfeit such a claim.

  1. Mitzvos are different

Here is yet another explanation why a merrymaker is exempt from paying damages: This is because the merrymaker was performing a mitzvah whose proper fulfillment precludes being as careful about one’s actions as one ordinarily must be. We find a similar idea in the following passage of Gemara (Bava Kama 32a): Someone running through a public area – an action that is otherwise considered unacceptable and liable – is exempt from paying damages if, in his rush to be ready for Shabbos, he collides with another person. Since he is racing for a mitzvah, he is not liable (see Piskei Rid ad locum).

The same approach can be applied to our merrymaker. He will be unable to entertain properly if he is constantly thinking of the legal responsibility that might result from his actions. Therefore, as long as his celebrating is within normally accepted limits, he is exempt from damages that result. Later in this article, I am going to suggest that an early halachic authority, Rav Yehudah Mintz, usually called the Mahari Mintz, held this way.

Hurt at a wedding

At this point, let us examine the second of our opening questions: At a wedding, two people collided, causing one of them to break a leg and lose work time. Is the person who hurt him liable?

According to the Terumas Hadeshen and the Agudah, there is no requirement in this instance to pay damages, since they rule that a merrymaker is exempt from damages even if there was physical injury. In this instance, the Bach would also agree that he is exempt since, although there is physical injury, it is likely to heal, and he rules that as long as no permanent damage resulted, a merrymaker is exempt from making compensation. However, it would seem that the Keneses Hagedolah, who rules that physical injury is not included in this exemption from compensation, would require our merrymaker to pay.

Purim Dress

At this point, we will examine the third question asked above: “Is it permitted for a man to wear a woman’s dress on Purim?”

The Mahari Mintz was one of the greatest halachic authorities of 15th century Ashkenaz. Born in Germany, he was the rav of Padua, Italy, for 47 years, where he founded one of the most famous yeshivos of his era. (To play a bit of Jewish geography, the Maharam Padua, one of the Mahari Mintz’s renowned disciples, who married the Mahari Mintz’s granddaughter and also became his successor, was a cousin of the Rema.)

In a responsum, the Mahari Mintz addresses whether it is permitted for men to wear women’s clothing as part of the Purim celebration and, vice versa, whether a woman may wear men’s clothing. The Mahari Mintz quotes a mechutan of his, Rav Elyakim – whom the Mahari Mintz describes as knowing all areas of Torah and being the greatest halachic authority of his time – as having permitted this. The Mahari Mintz agrees with his mechutan, explaining that the prohibition against wearing other gender clothing is only when one’s interest is to dress or act like the other gender, but not when one’s goal is to celebrate. He quotes as proof an early ruling of the Riva, one of the baalei Tosafos, that all food grabbed by young men in the course of the Purim celebration is not considered stolen, provided that this happened sometime between the reading of the Megillah at night and the end of the Purim seudah (Shu”t Mahari Mintz, end of #16). Thus we see that celebrating Purim can sometimes exempt one from other obligations.

The Bach took great issue with the Mahari Mintz’s ruling permitting the wearing of other gender clothing on Purim. Allow me to quote some of the Bach’s discussion on the subject. “One should note that there is a practice on Purim that men wear women’s clothing, and vice versa, without anyone protesting that this is a violation of halacha. According to what I explained above, wearing clothing of the opposite gender to appear like them is certainly forbidden. Rav Yehudah Mintz already discussed this issue in his responsum, saying that, since their intention is to celebrate Purim, there is no prohibition, similar to the ruling that a man may shave his underarm hair when it is uncomfortable (an act that is usually prohibited, because of the prohibition of men wearing women’s clothing and performing activities that are considered feminine). However, it appears to me that what Rav Yehudah Mintz wrote is inaccurate, since Rabbi Eliezer of Metz [one of the baalei Tosafos, a disciple of Rabbeinu Tam, who lived in the 12th century] wrote explicitly that one may not wear clothing of the other gender in order to enhance the celebration of a choson and kallah… Without any question, had Rabbi Yehudah Mintz seen the words of Rabbi Eliezer of Metz, he would not have written what he did. Rabbi Yehudah Mintz also wrote that, since there is the established heter of grabbing food on Purim and it is not considered theft, similarly, changing clothing [to that of the other gender] is permitted. However, his logic here is erroneous, because in regard to money, there is a halachic rule of hefker beis din hefker… however, the city elders cannot permit something that is prohibited [such as wearing clothing of the other gender]” (Bach, Yoreh Deah 182).

Notwithstanding the Bach’s disagreement, the Rema (Orach Chayim 696:8) rules that it is permitted to wear clothing of the other gender as part of the celebration of Purim, provided that one does so only on the day of Purim itself. (We should note that the Mishnah Berurah and many other late authorities frown on the practice.)

The question that we need to address is, what did Rabbi Yehudah Mintz hold is the reason to exempt a merrymaker from paying for damage that he caused? He could not have held either of the first two reasons we mentioned above, since neither reason would allow someone to celebrate by wearing clothing of the other gender, and Rabbi Yehudah Mintz compares the two practices. Apparently, he understood that the basis for exempting someone from payment is because he was involved in performing a mitzvah (celebrating Purim), and that wearing clothes of the opposite gender is prohibited only when one’s motivation is to look somewhat like the other gender, but not when one is doing so to perform a mitzvah.

Conclusion

In general, we must realize that we should perform Hashem’s mitzvos with much enthusiasm. Although this is an important value, we must also always be careful that our enthusiastic observance of mitzvos does not cause harm. Nevertheless, we now know that there are instances when someone might be exempt from payment for damage he caused while he was performing a mitzvah, particularly when the mitzvah involved celebrating.

 

 

Purim Mishaps

In honor of Parshas Zochor, we will be discussing:

Purim Mishaps

Question #1: Stole a Brocha?

Someone walked into our Purim seudah, helped himself to some kreplach, recited a loud brocha and then disappeared. Should we have answered “amen” to his brocha?

Question #2: Purim Damage

An inebriated Purim drop-in damaged some property in our house. May we collect damages?

Question #3: Hurt at a Wedding

At a wedding, two people collided, causing one of them to break a leg and lose work time. Is the person who hurt him liable?

Introduction

Although we certainly hope that our Purim celebrations do not result in anyone getting hurt, the topic of this week’s article is whether someone is required to pay compensation, should he cause damage in the course of festivities. As we will discover, this is an old question, with sources dating back to the time of the Beis Hamikdash! As always, our discussion is not meant for halachic conclusion – for that we refer the reader to his own rav, dayan or posek. The purpose of our article is to provide educational background.

Early sources in the Mishnah and Gemara discuss whether one is required to pay for harm that transpired in the course of a celebration. Let us begin with an anecdote mentioned in the Mishnah (Sukkah 45a), which states, according to Rashi’s interpretation, that after the completion of the hakafos in the Beis Hamikdash on Hoshanah Rabbah, the adults would grab the lulavim and esrogim from the children and eat the esrogim. Rashi explains that there was no prohibition involved because this was part of the holiday festivities. To quote Rashi’s actual words, Ve’ein badavar lo mishum gezel velo mishum darchei shalom shekein nohagu machmas simcha, “there is no violation of the laws of theft or of darchei shalom, because this practice was part of the celebration.” Rashi’s unusual reference to “theft or darchei shalom” is presumably based on the fact that children who were underage could have acquired their esrogim in one of two ways:

(1) Their fathers could have purchased them, in which case the lulavim and esrogim belong to the children min haTorah, and one would have thought that taking them violates stealing.

(2) The children found the lulavim and esrogim, in which case the violation is because of darchei shalom. (See Mishnah, Gittin 59b, for further discussion on this last point.)

(Those who would like to research this subtopic in more detail should note that the approach is based on the comments of the Kapos Temarim, who disagrees with the view of the Tosafos Yom Tov.

The Kapos Temarim was authored by Rav Moshe ibn Chabib, a distant cousin of the author of the Ein Yaakov [both of them were descendants of the Nimukei Yosef]. Rav Moshe ibn Chabib was born in Salonica about the year 1654, attended yeshivah in Istanbul and was sent to Yerushalayim by Rav Moshe Ya’ish, a businessman in Istanbul, to become a magid shiur of the yeshivah there that Rav Ya’ish supported. As hakaras hatov to his benefactor, for the first three years after his arrival in Yerushalayim, Rav Moshe ibn Chabib sent back to Rav Ya’ish notes from his shiurim in the yeshivah, which he developed into seforim on mesechtos Rosh Hashanah, Yoma, and Sukkah. Rav Ya’ish arranged for these chiddushim to be published in Istanbul.

After three years in Yerushalayim, Rav Moshe Galanti, the first to hold the position called rishon letziyon, passed on, and Rav Moshe ibn Chabib, then only about thirty-five years old, was appointed as his replacement to be the rishon letziyon. This is quite astounding, since there were approximately one hundred great talmidei chachamin at the time in the very small community of Yerushalayim, many of them decades older than he. This underscores his tremendous status as a gaon in learning.

Unfortunately for us, his responsibilities as rishon letziyon apparently precluded his continuing his series on Shas. We do have scattered responsa from him and a monumental work on the laws of gittin. Rav Moshe ibn Chabib served as rishon letziyon until his premature passing at the age of 47.)

Wedding jousting

Tosafos notes that, according to Rashi, the following halacha would result.

“We can learn from here that young men who ride on their horses to greet a chosson and they fight together (probably a jousting match or something similar, performed to entertain the celebrants) – if one of them tears the other’s clothing or injures his horse, they are not liable, because this is the minhag established because of simcha.” In other words, when people are involved in celebration, even should it get somewhat rowdy, the established practice exempts a person from paying damages that may result.

We should note that Tosafos mentions that one young man tore another’s clothing or injured his mount, both of which are instances of property damage – but Tosafos does not discuss whether there is liability in the event of physical injury. We will discuss more on this point shortly.

Tosafos then suggests an alternative way to explain the Mishnah: After the last of the hakafos, the children removed their own lulavim from the hadasim and aravos and began to play with their lulavim and eat their own esrogim (and not that the adults grabbed the children’s lulavim and esrogim). According to this approach, the Mishnah contains no reference to someone taking another person’s property as part of the celebration, and it therefore provides no source that a celebration exempts liability should one damage someone else’s property. However, although the second approach does not provide a source exempting a simcha situation from liability, this does not necessarily mean that those who understand the Mishnah this way require that a celebrant pay damages. It simply means that there is no source from the Mishnah regarding this law.

It is interesting to note that Rashi on the Gemara (46b) cites Tosafos’ approach in explaining the Gemara and disagrees with it on the basis of a Midrash Rabbah that he quotes. This leads to an interesting discussion among the early acharonim.

The Maharam notes that Tosafos does not point out in either place that Rashi himself mentions the other approach and disagrees with it. The Maharam concludes that Tosafos obviously did not have this text in Rashi; he also notes that he found other editions of the Gemara that do not have this Rashi. The Gra similarly states that this text is not part of what Rashi wrote but was written by someone later, and then added to our editions by an errant copyist. However, we should note that these comments are attributed to Rashi’s commentary even in the very earliest printed Shas, the Bomberg edition, printed in Venice in 1521. That would mean that the Maharam and the Gra are noting that this mistake crept into Rashi even earlier, probably before the era of printing.

We find evidence that not all rishonim agree that someone who caused damage while celebrating a simcha is exempt. This disagreement is borne out by a ruling of the Rosh, recorded in the following responsum (Teshuvos Harosh 101:5).

Just muling around

For the occasion of his wedding and sheva brochos, a chosson rented an elegant mule. The rental agreement from the non-Jewish owner included a provision that, if the mule was injured, the renter/chosson would be required to pay not only damages but also a substantial fine, far more than the market value of the animal.

In the course of the merriment, a celebrant who was on horseback playfully chased after the chosson. His steed collided with the chosson’s mule, severely injuring the mule. Subsequently, there was a din Torah concerning payment for the damage to the chosson’s rented mule. (Some friend! And what a way to celebrate your wedding!) The Rosh rules that the friend is obligated to pay the damages for the mule, but he is not obligated to pay the cost of the contractual fine over and above the value of the mule, for reasons unrelated to our discussion.

The Maharshal notes that if a celebrant at a simcha is exempt from damages, the chosson’s friend should have no legal responsibility to make restitution. He therefore concludes that the Rosh disagrees with those who contend that there is an exemption from paying damages caused by mitzvah merriment (Yam shel Shelomoh, Bava Kama 5:10).

Rowdy Ashkenazim

The Beis Yosef (Orach Chayim 695) quotes some of the sources that excuse the merrymaker from damages, but notes that this immunity exists only in communities where this type of rowdy merrymaking is common practice. He then notes that in the area in which he lives, this type of rowdy celebrating does not exist. Therefore, we understand why he omitted any discussion of exempting merrymakers from damages when he wrote the Shulchan Aruch. On the other hand, numerous other authorities, predominantly Ashkenazim, exempt the person from paying damages caused by mitzvah gaiety (e.g., Mordechai, Sukkah 743; Agudah, Sukkah ad locum; Terumas Hadeshen 2:210; Yam shel Shelomoh, Bava Kama 5:10). The Rema rules this way in three different places (Orach Chayim 695:2; 696:8; Choshen Mishpat 378:9), and it is accepted subsequently as normative halacha. (One later authority who disagrees with the Rema is the Yesh Seder Lemishnah, in his commentary to the Mishnah in Sukkah.) Here I will quote one of the places where the Rema cites this law: Young men who ride to greet the chosson and kallah, and damage one another’s property while celebrating, are exempt from paying, since this is the accepted custom. However, if it appears to beis din that this practice needs to be curtailed, it is authorized to require payment.

Limitations

Notwithstanding the generally accepted approach that a merrymaker is exempt from paying damages, there are exceptions. Here is an extreme example, mentioned by the Terumas Hadeshen:

Eliezer claims that Gershom pushed him extremely hard during the Hoshanos and the subsequent impact broke Eliezer’s shoulder blade. Eliezer is now suing Gershom for compensation for his medical expenses, lost work time, and other damages. Gershom retorts that since it happened in the course of the Sukkos celebrations, he is exempt from paying. Testimony was introduced that Gershom’s act was premeditated – he was angry at Eliezer and used the Hoshanos observance as a ruse to disguise his reprehensible intentions. The two men were indeed involved in a serious tiff.

Indeed, although the Torah would require someone who injures someone intentionally to pay not only for the other abovementioned costs, but also for embarrassment and pain, such claims require the authorization of judges who have semicha for these laws in a mesorah that traces itself back to Moshe Rabbeinu. In addition, these claims can be collected only when they can be proven. Nevertheless, the Terumas Hadeshen rules that since the damage was malicious, and Gershom attempted to mask his intentions in a way that he would not be liable, the situation requires punishment beyond what the law would necessarily require (Terumas Hadeshen 2:210).

We should note that the Terumas Hadeshen contends that Gershom is responsible because he intended to injure Eliezer. However, had the injury been unintentional, the Terumas Hadeshen agrees that there would be no financial liability, notwithstanding the fact that there was physical injury and fairly extensive damages. This leads us to our next subtopic.

Physical injury

Does the exemption of liability caused in the course of mitzvah merriment apply even when there is physical injury? The Magen Avraham raises this question, and notes that it is subject to a dispute among halachic authorities. He quotes the Keneses Hagedolah, who rules that one is obligated to pay for physical harm, whereas the Agudah rules that one is not. We also noted above that the Terumas Hadeshen held, like the Agudah, that one is not obligated to pay even in the instance of physical injury, should the cause of damage be the merriment and not someone’s despicable intentions.

A similar question was asked of the Bach. During a wedding meal, one of the celebrants smashed his drinking glass against a wall and the flying glass caused someone serious, permanent injury. Is the glass smasher obligated to compensate for the damages, or is he exempt because of the rule of merrymaking? The Bach cites the dispute about whether a merrymaker is obligated to compensate for physical injuries. He rules that, even according to those who rule that physical injuries are included in the exemption, permanent physical injury is not included (Shu”t Habach #62). This opinion of the Bach is cited by some later authorities (He’aros Rav Boruch Frankel on Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 695; Mishnah Berurah 695:13).

Stole a Brocha

At this point, let us examine the first of our opening questions:

Someone walked into our Purim seudah, helped himself to some kreplach, recited a loud brocha, and then disappeared. Should we have answered “amen” to his brocha?

The halachic question here is that, in general, it is forbidden to recite a brocha on stolen food, and, therefore, one may not answer amen to such a blessing. The question is whether this food is considered stolen.

Some prominent 15th century halachic authorities quote an early ruling of the Riva, one of the baalei Tosafos, that all food grabbed by young men in the course of a Purim celebration is not considered stolen, provided that this happened sometime between the reading of the Megillah at night and the end of the Purim seudah (Terumas Hadeshen 1:110; Shu”t Maharam Mintz, end of #16). The Beis Yosef (Orach Chayim 696) quotes this ruling as normative halacha. As a result, the Mishnah Berurah rules that someone who took food from another person during the Purim celebrations may recite a brocha. Nevertheless, he also quotes the Shelah (quoted by the Elya Rabbah) who frowns on this behavior, stating that anyone concerned about his Judaism should not conduct himself this way. Nevertheless, notwithstanding the conclusion that the Mishnah Berurah applies to this ruling, the halacha remains that, since the individual who helped himself to the kreplach did not steal, he was required to recite a brocha prior to eating it, and the brocha was therefore not recited in vain. The result is that one is required to answer amen to this brocha.

Please click here for Part II of this article. .

 

Megillas Esther and the Hard of Hearing

Question #1: Congregation Shomei’a Kol

gragger“Our long-standing baal keri’ah for the Megillah has unfortunately become very hard-of-hearing, yet he still insists on reading the Megillah. Do we fulfill the mitzvah if he cannot hear his own reading?”

Question #2: Mrs. Senior Citizen

“At my age, I no longer hear every word of the Megillah. What should I do?”

Answer:

How clearly must one hear the Megillah to fulfill the mitzvah? Do I fulfill the mitzvah if the reader is hard of hearing? These are the first questions we will discuss. As we will see, answering them impacts on the laws of several other mitzvos.

We will start our discussion with the Mishnah (Megillah 19b), which states: Everyone is kosher to read the Megillah, except for someone who is deaf, deranged, or a minor. This seems to provide Congregation Shomei’a Kol with an answer: A deaf person may not read the Megillah.

However, further examination makes this less obvious. The Gemara, expounding upon this Mishnah, discusses a dispute (Mishnah, Berachos 15a) concerning a person who read Shema so softly that he could not hear himself. Has he fulfilled the mitzvah? The Gemara equates the law of one who reads Shema softly to the issue of listening to the Megillah read by a deaf person.

Tanna’ic opinion

The Gemara concludes with four opinions:

  1. Must hear

Rabbi Yosi contends that fulfilling the mitzvos of Shema, Birchas Hamazon, berachos, or the Megillah requires that one hear one’s voice. (As we will see shortly, this understanding of Rabbi Yosi is not universal.) One who recited any of these so softly that he did not hear himself has not performed the mitzvah. Consequently, someone whose hearing is impaired to the extent that he cannot hear himself is absolved from observing these mitzvos, since there is no way for him to perform them. Furthermore, due to the halachic principle that only one commanded to perform a particular mitzvah may be motzi (discharge) others from their responsibility, he cannot read these mitzvos for anyone else. Thus, according to Rabbi Yosi, such a person may also not recite Kiddush or be the sheliach tzibur for others.

  1. Rav Yosef’s understanding of Rabbi Yosi

The Gemara mentions an alternative interpretation of Rabbi Yosi’s position, that only Shema requires one to hear his own words, since there the Torah states Shema Yisrael.  According to this opinion, even a completely deaf person is commanded to read the Megillah and recite all berachos, and someone who recites the Megillah and berachos very softly has fulfilled the mitzvah.

  1. The better to hear you, my dear

The tanna Rabbi Yehudah agrees that one is required to recite Shema, Birchas Hamazon, berachos and the Megillah loudly enough to hear them, yet he maintains that saying them in a softer voice fulfills the mitzvah bedei’evid, after the fact. One who cannot hear is still required to observe all of these mitzvos, including Shema. The Gemara concludes that, according to Rabbi Yehudah, although it is preferable that a deaf person not be motzi others, if he did so, they have fulfilled the obligation.

  1. No need to hear

The most lenient position is that of Rabbi Meir. He maintains that there is nothing wrong, even lechatchilah, with reciting any of these passages so softly that one cannot hear what he said, and he fulfills the mitzvah. A deaf person is obligated in all of these mitzvos and can be motzi others.

The halacha

The Gemara (Berachos) concludes that the halacha follows Rabbi Yehudah.  Preferably, one should read loudly enough to hear, but if one read softly, one fulfilled the mitzvah. This conclusion implies that a deaf person is obligated in all of these mitzvos and that he may be motzi others, at least after the fact.

At this point of our discussion, it would seem that Congregation Shomei’a Kol should determine whether the baal keri’ah can still hear himself speak. If he can, he may read the Megillah for the tzibur. If he cannot hear himself speak, he should not lechatchilah be the reader, but those who hear him have performed the mitzvah bedi’eved. This is indeed the halachic conclusion of several authorities (Bach; Magen Avraham; Gra).

However, the Beis Yosef (Orach Chayim 689) notes a problem: According to his interpretation of the Rif and the Rosh, and the standard text of the Rambam, all three of these major halachic authorities rule that someone who is deaf cannot be motzi others in reading the Megillah, for all three cite the Mishnah we mentioned earlier: Everyone is kosher for reading the Megillah, except for someone who is deaf, deranged, or a minor. This conflicts with the Gemara ruling that reading without hearing fulfills the mitzvah. This conundrum is even more challenging in light of the Beis Yosef’s policy to generally rule according to these three authorities.

(The Beis Yosef notes that there are alternative readings of the Rambam’s Mishneh Torah on this topic. According to some of the readings, the question we just raised will not be difficult according to the Rambam, but only according to the Rif and the Rosh.)

Position of the Bach

For reasons beyond the scope of this article, the Bach disputes the Beis Yosef’s analysis of the Rif’s position on this matter. However, he agrees with the Beis Yosef’s understanding that the Rosh held that a deaf person cannot be motzi others in reading the Megillah. Thus, he is also faced with the Beis Yosef‘s conundrum that this ruling contradicts the conclusion of the Gemara. How one resolves this contradiction will affect several halachic issues, and will impact the questions mentioned in the beginning of our article.

I am aware of two approaches presented by the early poskim to resolve the problem. The Beis Yosef himself suggests that, because reading Megillah is a mitzvah that requires pirsumei nisa, publicizing the miracle, this quality is lacking when the Megillah is read by a deaf person. Therefore, hearing the Megillah read by a deaf person does not fulfill the mitzvah.

Incapable of hearing himself

Other authorities explain the ruling of the Rosh by drawing a distinction between a deaf person and someone who spoke very softly. They explain that someone who is absolutely deaf cannot fulfill the mitzvos of Shema, Birchas Hamazon, berachos or hearing the Megillah (Bach; Taz). But someone who read them softly fulfills the mitzvah, provided that he is capable of hearing these words were he to recite them louder.

Based on these answers, the Shulchan Aruch and the Taz conclude that someone who heard the Megillah from a deaf person did not fulfill his mitzvah. Other authorities disagree, concluding that those who heard the Megillah from a deaf person have fulfilled their obligation (Bach; Magen Avraham; Gra).

Let us now examine one of our opening questions: “Our long-standing baal keri’ah for the Megillah has, unfortunately, become very hard-of-hearing, yet he still insists on reading the Megillah. Do we fulfill the mitzvah when he reads it?”

As long as he can still hear what he reads, he can be motzi people in Megillah reading. If his hearing is so impaired that he cannot hear himself, the Shulchan Aruch rules that those who hear his Megillah reading have not fulfilled the mitzvah. Although there are authorities who are more lenient bedei’evid, they agree that lechatchilah he should not read the Megillah for others.

Must a deaf person read the Megillah?

Is a deaf person obligated to read the Megillah? (Obviously, he is incapable of hearing it from others.) Most authorities conclude that he must read the Megillah, unlike the conclusion of the Shulchan Aruch. The Mishnah Berurah notes that several rishonim rule that a deaf person is required to read the Megillah, and that this approach should be treated as the primary halachic opinion.

With this background, we can now discuss another of our opening questions:

Mrs. Senior Citizen

“At my age, I no longer hear every word of the Megillah. What should I do?”

We should note that women are obligated to hear Megillah to the same degree that men are. Many elderly people share the problem raised by Mrs. Citizen. Technically, they must hear every word of the Megillah read by someone else, or they must read it themselves. Another option is to read along with someone who knows how to read it correctly. If this person whose hearing is impaired is following this last option, he or she must be careful to read from a kosher Megillah (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 490:4, 7). However, reading from a kosher Megillah is a daunting task for people who never learned to read the Megillah in their youth.

What to do?

Here is a lucrative, and very useful, suggestion for sofrim. Halacha prohibits adding anything unnecessary to a sefer Torah. But a Megillah is kosher, even if it contains vowel signs (nikud) and/or taamei hamikra (often called trop) to instruct how to chant it correctly. (One fulfills the mitzvah even if one cannot read the taamei hamikra at all, as long as one is able to read the words.)

One should note, however, that some early authorities maintain that one should not place nikud in a Megillah, although they agree that a Megillah with added nikud is still kosher (Levush, Orach Chayim 691:5). Other authorities rule that if there is no proficient Megillah reader available, one may add nikud to a Megillah and use it for public reading (Elyah Rabbah 691:6, quoting Be’er Sheva). Thus, we have a halachic basis for this niche market.

Suggestion for an enterprising sofer

Here is a suggestion that should be acceptable according to all opinions – to prepare transparencies with nikud and trop to place directly over the Megillah. Thus, nothing has been written into the Megillah itself, accomodating the Levush’s position, yet anyone able to read Hebrew can read the Megillah with the transparency on it, enabling the hard-of-hearing to fulfill the mitzvah. If a sofer prepares standard-sized megillos, he can mass-produce the corresponding transparencies. People would be forced to purchase his megillos, since other megillos would be out of sync with his transparencies.

Conclusive hearing

In conclusion, most authorities require even completely deaf people to read the Megillah (see Biur Halacha 689:2 s.v. Cheiresh). Since they cannot hear it from someone else, they must obviously read it themselves from a kosher Megillah. We suggested that people who find this difficult can overcome the challenge by having nikud and trop written in a kosher Megillah or by using a transparency that includes them.

 

The Whys and Wherefores of Parshas Zachor

Purim maskQuestion #1: Homebound

“As a mother of several small children, it is not easy for me to go out on Shabbos to hear Parshas Zachor. Am I required to do so?”

Question #2: Outreaching in the Afternoon

“At the outreach program that I run, many of our students do not arrive until Shabbos afternoon. Should we conduct a Parshas Zachor reading then for them?”

Question #3: Reading without a Brochah

“Why is no brochah recited on Parshas Zachor at a women’s reading?”

Introduction

This Shabbos we read the special maftir that begins with the words Zachor es asher asah lecha Amalek baderech be’tzeis’chem mimitzrayim, “Remember what Amalek did to you on the road as you were leaving Egypt.” According to the Rambam and many others, this short maftir reading actually includes three different commandments:

(1) A positive mitzvah, mitzvas aseh, to remember the evil that Amalek did.

(2) A lo saaseh commandment not to forget what happened.

(3) The mitzvah to blot out the people of Amalek, mechiyas Amalek (Rambam, Hilchos Melachim 5:5, and Sefer Hamitzvos, Positive Mitzvos #188, 189; Negative Mitzvah #59; Semag).

The Torah’s repetitive emphasis, remember and do not forget, teaches that the commandment “remember” means to express, to state it as a declaration. This is similar to the mitzvah of Kiddush, Zachor es yom haShabbos lekadsho, which is a requirement to state the sanctity of Shabbos, and not simply to remember Shabbos (Sifra, beginning of Parshas Bechukosei). In addition, many authorities derive from the doubled command that the Torah requires us to review this declaration annually, since, after a year, one might forget (see Sefer Hachinuch, Mitzvah 603). The Sefer Hachinuch explains that since the mitzvah is to make sure that one does not forget, the Torah requirement is to restate this reminder every one to three years. The requirement of the mitzvah is fulfilled both in one’s heart and on one’s lips (Sefer Hachinuch).

(We should note that some authorities [Behag, Rav Saadiya] count all three of these as one mitzvah in the count of the 613. Presumably, they consider these additional statements of the Torah as encouraging us to remember to fulfill the mitzvah of destroying Amalek.)

The Gemara (Megillah 18a) states that the positive mitzvah of remembering what Amalek did requires reading from a Sefer Torah. For this reason, many authorities conclude that the annual public reading of Parshas Zachor from a Sefer Torah is required min haTorah (see Tosafos, Megillah 17b s.v. kol and Ritva ad loc.; Tosafos, Brachos 13a; Rosh, Brachos 7:20). Some conclude that the requirement to hear Parshas Zachor is even greater than that of hearing Megillas Esther, since the mitzvah of reading Megillah is miderabbanan, whereas Parshas Zachor is required by the Torah (Terumas Hadeshen #108). For this reason, the Terumas Hadeshen concludes that those who live in settlements that have no minyan are required to go to a place where there is a minyan for Shabbos Zachor to hear this reading, a ruling codified in the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 685:7).

Those that disagree

Notwithstanding the long list of recognized early authorities who rule that an annual reading of Parshas Zachor is required min haTorah, several later authorities find this position difficult to sustain, contending that the requirement was introduced by Chazal. For example, the Minchas Chinuch (#603) states that the requirements for a minyan and a Sefer Torah can be only miderabbanan. Similarly, Shu’t Toras Chesed (Orach Chayim #37) provides a lengthy analysis why he feels that it is difficult to rule that reading Parshas Zachor annually is a Torah requirement. Nevertheless, in his final conclusion, he accepts the decision of the many earlier authorities, who rule that the Torah requires that we hear Parshas Zachor every year.

Hearing the parshah

At this point, we should address the following question: If we are required to read Parshas Zachor, how do we perform the mitzvah by listening to the reading, without actually saying the words? The answer is that there is a halachic principle called shomei’a ke’oneh: hearing someone recite the appropriate passage fulfills a mitzvah responsibility the same way reciting it does. Shomei’a ke’oneh explains how we observe the mitzvah of Kiddush when we hear someone else recite it, and applies in numerous other situations, such as reading Megillas Esther and hearing shofar.

For shomei’a ke’oneh to work, the individual who is reciting must have in mind that he is performing the mitzvah on behalf of those listening, and the listeners must have in mind that they are fulfilling their duty to perform the mitzvah by listening. It is for this reason that, in most shullen, prior to the reading of Parshas Zachor the gabbai, baal keriyah or rabbi announces that everyone should focus on fulfilling the mitzvah.

Custom of the Gra

The Maaseh Rav (#133) records that the Gra not only received the aliyah for Parshas Zachor, but used to read the Torah himself for that aliyah. Presumably, the reason that he did this was because of the general principle of mitzvah bo yoseir mibeshelucho, “it is a bigger mitzvah to fulfill a commandment by performing the mitzvah oneself than by relying on someone else to perform it.”

The Sefer Torah was pasul!

What is the halachah if one discovers that the Sefer Torah used for reading Parshas Zachor was missing a letter or sustained some other shortcoming that renders it invalid? Must one re-read Parshas Zachor?

Allow me to provide some background. Although there are Rishonim who rule that the mitzvah of keri’as haTorah in general does not require one to read from a kosher Sefer Torah, the halachic conclusion requires that we do. However, if, during or after keri’as haTorah, one finds that the Sefer Torah was not kosher, one is not required to repeat what was already read (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 143:4). The rationale behind this is that since the mitzvah of reading the Torah is miderabbanan, one can rule that, bedei’evid, after the Torah has been read, the mitzvah has been fulfilled.

The same ruling would apply if the mitzvah of reading Parshas Zachor is miderabbanan. Based on the assumption that the mitzvah of Parshas Zachor is min haTorah, the Pri Megadim suggests that if the Sefer Torah used was found to be invalid, one is required to read Parshas Zachor a second time, from a different Sefer Torah (Mishbetzos Zahav, Orach Chayim 143:1).

Birchas hamitzvah

When Parshas Zachor is read as the maftir, the person receiving the aliyah recites birchas haTorah before it is read, as we do with all aliyos to the Torah. Why is no birchas hamitzvah recited before reading Zachor es asher asah lecha Amalek, since it is one of the 613 mitzvos?

The authorities answer that we do not recite a brochah on an act of destruction, even though the world benefits from the removal of evildoers. This can be compared to one of the reasons cited why one does not recite the full Hallel on the last day of Pesach. “My creations are drowning, and you are singing praise?!” Similarly, it is inappropriate to bless Hashem for the ability to destroy evil (Kaf Hachayim 685:29, quoting Yafeh Leleiv).

What exactly is the mitzvah?

Among the Rishonim and Geonim, we actually find differing opinions as to exactly what the mitzvah entails. Some understand that the mitzvah of remembering Amalek is a requirement to know the laws involved in destroying Amalek (Raavad and Rash to Sifra, beginning of Parshas Bechukosai, as explained by the Encyclopedia Talmudis). According to this approach, the mitzvah of zechiras Amalek is primarily a mitzvah of learning Torah.

On the other hand, most authorities seem to understand that the mitzvah is to take to heart the evil that Amalek did and represents, and that it is our responsibility to combat evil in the world and help make the world a more G-dly place.

Why specifically Amalek? Because after the Exodus from Egypt and the splitting of the sea, all the nations were afraid of the Jews until the moment that Amalek attacked. Although Amalek was beaten, he decreased the tremendous awe and fear that the nations had of the Jews (Rashi).

An afternoon reading

At this point, I would like to address one of the questions cited above:

“At the outreach program that I run, many of our students do not arrive until Shabbos afternoon. Should we conduct a Parshas Zachor reading then for them?”

This actual question was posed to Rav Shmuel Vozner, of Bnei Braq, by someone doing outreach in a small community in Brazil (Shu’t Shevet Halevi 4:71). The community had a minyan in the morning, but most of the people did not come that early. The question was whether they should have a second Parshas Zachor reading late in the day.

Rav Vozner compares this situation to the following responsum authored by the Chida. On Shabbos Parshas Shekalim in a small town, the local townspeople forgot to read the special maftir on Shabbos morning, and realized it in the afternoon. The townspeople, themselves, proposed three suggestions:

Some suggested that at minchah they read Shekalim for the kohen, and for the other two aliyos they read the regular minchah reading from the next week’s parshah.

Others suggested that they read Shekalim on Monday instead of the weekday reading, since it was still before Rosh Chodesh Adar.

Still others suggested that they read Parshas Shekalim the next Shabbos as maftir.

The Chida disputed all three approaches, contending that Shekalim may be read only in the morning, and can be read only on the Shabbos on which it is designated to be read. In his opinion, one who missed reading Shekalim at its appropriate time does not fulfill the takanas chachamim by reading it any other time (Shu’t Yosef Ometz #27).

Rav Vozner contends that, according to the Chida, just as one cannot read Parshas Shekalim after its designated time, one cannot read Parshas Zachor after its designated time, and that, therefore, one cannot read it in the afternoon for those who missed it in the morning.

However, it appears that not all authorities accepted this ruling of the Chida. The Dagul Meirevavah (Orach Chayim 135) rules that a community that was unable to have keri’as haTorah on Shabbos morning, but was able to have it on Shabbos afternoon, should read the full reading and call up seven people prior to beginning minchah. Then, after reciting Ashrei and Uva Letzion, they should take out the Sefer Torah again and read the appropriate minchah reading from the following week’s parshah. Thus, he holds that one may read the main Shabbos reading in the afternoon, if necessary, which conflicts with the Chida’s ruling to the contrary.

One could argue, however, that the Dagul Meirevavah might accept the Chida’s ruling that one cannot read Parshas Shekalim in the afternoon, but for a different reason: maftir may be read only immediately following the rest of the week’s reading, and not by itself.

On the other hand, there might be a difference between Shekalim, whose reading does not fulfill any mitzvah of the Torah, and Zachor, which fulfills a Torah mitzvah that we are required to observe, even if Chazal had not made any special takanah. This is the reason why there is a widespread custom of having Parshas Zachor readings in the afternoon for those who cannot attend the reading in the morning.

Women and Parshas Zachor

Now that we understand the basics of the mitzvah, we can address the question of whether women are obligated to hear Parshas Zachor annually. The Chinuch states that women are excluded from the requirement to remember to destroy Amalek, since they are not the ones who are expected to wage war. Therefore, in his opinion, women have no obligation to hear Parshas Zachor, although they certainly may hear it and receive reward for doing so, as one who observes a mitzvah that he/she is not required.

However, other authorities dispute the Sefer Hachinuch’s approach. In Adar 5628 (1868), Rav Yaakov Ettlinger, the author of the classic Aruch Laneir commentary on several mesechtos of the Gemara, was asked by his son-in-law, Rav Moshe Leib Bamberger, whether women are required to hear Parshas Zachor. The Aruch Laneir reports that he asked his rebbe, Rav Avraham Bing, who told him that Rav Nosson Adler (who was also the rebbe of the Chasam Sofer) ruled that women are required to hear Parshas Zachor, and he insisted that they all go to hear it. The Aruch Laneir explains that Parshas Zachor is not a time-bound mitzvah, since one can read Parshas Zachor whenever one wants, as long as one reads it once a year. He then quotes the Chinuch’s reason to absolve women from the obligation, and notes that it should not make any difference whether women are the actual warriors; they still are involved in destroying Amalek, as evidenced by Esther’s participation (Shu’t Binyan Tziyon 2:8).

Others dispute the basic assumption of the Chinuch, since, in a milchemes mitzvah, everyone is obligated to contribute to the war effort, even a newlywed bride (Sotah 44b). Evidence of this is drawn from Yael, who eliminated Sisra, and Devorah, who led the war effort (Minchas Chinuch). On the other hand, others find creative reasons to explain and justify the Sefer Hachinuch’s position. (The intrepid reader is referred to the responsum on the subject penned by Rav Avraham of Sochatzov [Shu’t Avnei Nezer, Orach Chayim #509].)

The Kaf Hachayim (685:30) presents a compromise position, ruling that women are obligated in the mitzvah to remember the events of Amalek, but that they are absolved of hearing Parshas Zachor, since this is a timebound mitzvah. (See also the Toras Chesed, who reaches a similar conclusion, but based on a different reason. More sources on this topic are cited by Shu’t Yechaveh Daas 1:84.)

With or without a brochah?

It has become fairly common today to have special women’s readings of Parshas Zachor later in the day, for the benefit of those who must take care of their children in the morning during regular shul davening. It is also universal practice not to recite a brochah before these readings. There are three reasons why one should not recite a brochah on the afternoon reading:

(1) We do not recite a brochah on the mitzvah of Zachor.

(2) It is not certain that women are obligated to hear this reading.

(3) It is not clear that one may recite maftir when it does not immediately follow the reading of the Torah.

Notwithstanding what we have just written, some authorities contend that whenever one reads from a Sefer Torah in public, one is required to recite a brochah, because of the Torah-ordained mitzvah of birchas haTorah. In their opinion, this is true even when the reading itself is not required, and even when one has already recited birchas haTorah in the morning (Be’er Sheva and Shu’t Mishkenos Yaakov, both quoted by the Toras Refael #2). Although the Toras Refael concludes that most Rishonim dispute that reciting birchas haTorah under these circumstances is a Torah requirement, he nevertheless understands that the Shulchan Aruch rules that birchos haTorah is required miderabbanan whenever the Torah is read in public.

Based on this opinion of the Toras Refael, some contemporary authorities feel that one should avoid the entire practice of extra Shabbos Zachor readings, since the special reading creates a safek brochah, a question as to whether one should recite a brochah on the reading (seen in print in the name of Rav Elyashiv). Nevertheless, the accepted practice is to have these special readings to enable women to fulfill the mitzvah.

On the other hand, the Minchas Yitzchak was asked whether one makes a brochah for an auxiliary Parshas Zachor reading (Shu’t Minchas Yitzchak 9:68). He quotes those who contend that every public reading of the Torah requires a brochah and then notes many authorities who did not share this opinion. The Minchas Yitzchak then specifically mentions the practice of those who read all of Sefer Devarim in shul on the night of Hoshanah Rabbah without reciting a brochah, noting that this was the practice of the Divrei Chayim of Sanz. He also quotes several other authorities who advocate reading the parshah of the day’s nasi after davening each day of the first twelve days of Nissan, also a custom performed without first reciting a brochah. Thus, we have several precedents and authorities who ruled that one may have a public reading of the Torah without reciting a brochah, and there is, therefore, no need to change the established practice of reading Parshas Zachor and not reciting a brochah beforehand. We should also note that when the Magen Avraham (139:5) quotes the opinion of the Be’er Sheva, he opines that once one has recited the birchos haTorah in the morning, he exempts himself from any requirement to recite further brochos on reading Torah that day, unless there is a specific institution of Chazal to recite them.

Reading on Purim

Some authorities contend that a woman may fulfill her responsibility to hear the mitzvah of mechiyas amalek by hearing the Torah reading on Purim that begins with the words Vayavo Amalek (Magen Avraham 685). Since many later poskim dispute this, I refer you to your halachic authority regarding this question.

Conclusion

The Semak (Mitzvah #23) explains that the reason for the mitzvah not to forget what Amalek did is so that we always remember that Hashem saved us from Amalek’s hands. Constant perpetuation of this remembrance will keep us in awe of Hashem, and this will inspire us to act in accordance with His wishes.

 

 

From Cairo to Frankfurt, Part II

Purim Cairo and Purim Frankfurt

face maskIs there a halachic basis for the various local observances, such as Purim Frankfurt, Purim Cairo and Purim Ancona?

Answer: Local Purims

In the course of Jewish history, there have unfortunately been numerous occasions when communities suffered from major crises that threatened their survival. We began talking about this topic last week, and this article is a continuation of that discussion.

Other methods of celebration

Since the Pri Chodosh rejects the creation of new holidays as long as the Beis Hamikdash is destroyed, how should one thank Hashem for saving him? In the time of the Beis Hamikdash, an individual thanked Hashem by offering a korban todah (see Brachos 54b), but what does one do now that it is destroyed? Many authorities approve making a festive meal, called a seudas hodaah, instead, to commemorate the occasion, but the Pri Chodosh himself considers these meals seudos reshus and not seudos mitzvah, implying that he does not consider this the most appropriate way to acknowledge thanks to Hashem.

Another option is to bensch gomel as the fitting acknowledgment of thanks. However, bensching gomel is not always the appropriate approach, as the next discussion will indicate.

Should someone bensch gomel when saved from a situation where he was willing to give up his life al Kiddush Hashem?

The Chida, in his Machazik Brocha commentary to Shulchan Aruch (219:1-3), presents a lengthy correpondence that transpired between his father and another talmid chacham, Rav Eliezer Nachum. Rav Yitzchak Zerachyah Azulai, the Chida’s father, contended that only someone who was placed in a situation involuntarily, including one who traveled by sea or through the desert because circumstances compelled him to endanger himself, recites birkas hagomeil, but not someone who chose to give up his life to fulfill the mitzvah of Kiddush Hashem. Even when someone in the latter situation is saved by an obvious miracle, he should not recite birkas hagomeil since, had he lost his life, he would immediately have been elevated above all that this world could possibly offer. Similarly, he rules that the kohen gadol does not recite birkas hagomeil upon leaving the kodesh hakodoshim on Yom Kippur, since his entering was to fulfill the mitzvah of Hashem. Furthermore, he adds, a kohen gadol worthy of his position was never in any danger to begin with – only an unworthy kohen gadol need be concerned of the dangers of entering the kodesh hakodoshim on Yom Kippur.

Rav Elazar Nachum disagreed strongly with Rav Azulai’s position. Rav Nachum notes several midrashic and Talmudic passages that mention the tremendous songs of praise that were sung by great tzadikim upon surviving these travails. Certainly, upon surviving these dangers one is required to recite birkas hagomeil to thank Hashem for his salvation.

Hallel?

The Pri Chodosh could accept the ruling of the Meiri that one may recite Hallel without a brocha, since this does not declare that the day is holy. However, any observances that imply giving sanctity to the day, such as prohibiting fasting and eulogies or banning people from working, are not binding, according to the Pri Chodosh.

Later authorities

Notwithstanding that the Pri Chodosh disputed the conclusion of the Maharam Alashkar, two highly respected later authorities, the Chasam Sofer and the Chayei Odom, both reject the Pri Chodosh’s analysis and rule according to the Maharam Alashkar. The Chasam Sofer (Shu’t Orach Chayim #191) demonstrates that a holiday created to thank Hashem for a miracle He performed has halachic significance and must be observed — unlike the special days recorded in Megillas Taanis. Nevertheless, the Chasam Sofer adds a qualification — a community can create a special festival only when they were saved from a life-threatening situation.

The Chasam Sofer concludes, like the Maharam Alashkar, that the takkanah to observe a holiday may be binding even on descendants of town residents who no longer live where the salvation occurred. He notes that his rebbe, Rav Nosson Adler, a Frankfurt native, observed Purim Frankfurt even when he did not live in Frankfurt. However, when living out of Frankfurt, Rav Nosson Adler did not fast on the day before Purim Frankfurt. The Chasam Sofer assumes that this was because Rav Adler held that observing the fast while in a different community may conflict with the customs of where he was currently living, and halachah prohibits acting in a manner different from local practice. The Chasam Sofer, who was always proud that he had been born in Frankfurt, lived the rabbinic years of his life outside of Germany. He records that, although he did not fast on the day before Purim Frankfurt, he conducted a siyum mesechta on that day in order to supersede any requirement to fast, similar to our practice on Erev Pesach.

Chayei Odom

Another later authority who rejected the Pri Chodosh’s criticism of the Maharam Alashkar’s ruling was the Chayei Odom (155:41). He concluded that an individual, and certainly a community, can establish a day to be their own festival. Based on the ruling of the Maharshal, which I will quote shortly, the Chayei Odom ruled that a meal observed because of a community’s thanksgiving has the halachic status of a seudas mitzvah. Futhermore, the Chayei Odom contended that had the Pri Chodosh seen what the Maharshal wrote (Yam shel Shelomoh, Bava Kama 7:37), which the Chayei Odom notes was not yet printed in the days of the Pri Chodosh, the Pri Chodosh himself would also have accepted that these thanksgiving seudos qualify as seudos mitzvah.

What did the Maharshal write that the Chayei Odom felt was so authoritative?

Seudas Hodaah

The Maharshal cites a different Gemara source and rationale for the practice of celebrating a festive meal in honor of salvation. The Gemara (Bava Kama 80a-b) mentions that Rav, Shmuel and Rav Assi all attended a seudas mitzvah, which, according to one version of the Gemara, was probably a pidyon haben. The Maharshal notes that the Gemara (Chullin 95b) states that Rav never ate from a festive meal unless it was a seudas mitzvah. Furthemore, we do not find that the Gemara characterizes pidyon haben as a seudas mitzvah.  Therefore, asks the Maharshal, why Rav would have participated in this seudah? The Maharshal answers that making a festive meal in order to bring attention to the observance of a mitzvah or to thank Hashem that a miracle happened is a seudas mitzvah. He then quotes an earlier authority who held that a pidyon haben qualifies as a seudas mitzvah (Terumas Hadeshen #269).

The Chayei Odom concludes halachically like the Maharshal that celebrating salvation by Hashem with a festive meal qualifies as a seudas mitzvah.

Private Purim

The Chayei Odom closes his remarks on this topic by noting that he actually established a Yom Tov for himself and his descendants because of a salvation that his family experienced. On the evening of the 16th of Kislev 5564 (1803), a gunpowder explosion blew up several buildings in the area where the Chayei Odom lived, killing thirty-one people. Every member of the Chayei Odom’s family suffered injuries, his wife most severely. The windows and door of the room imploded and the walls and sections of the roof crashed. The Chayei Odom thanked Hashem that, although he suffered major financial loss from the catastrophe, every member of his family survived.

To commemorate the event, the Chayei Odom instituted that the physically-able members of his family and his descendants should fast on the 16th of Kislev. The night after the fast they should gather immediately after maariv to kindle lights as one does on Yom Tov, recite the entire Shir Hayichud, slowly and with the accustomed melody, as is the custom after maariv on Yom Kippur night. The Chayei Odom’s observance continues: After reciting Shir Hayichud, they should recite Anim Zemiros with a festive tune, and then read slowly through sixteen selected chapters of Tehillim. After this ceremony, they should give as much tzedakah as they are able and those descendants who can financially afford it should sponsor a seudah for scholars who study Torah.

Festival of the Tosafos Yom Tov

Similar to the way the Chayei Odom observed his own family Purim was the observance of a much earlier gadol beyisrael, the Tosafos Yom Tov. In 5387 (1627), the Tosafos Yom Tov became the rav of the entire region of Bohemia (now an area in the Czech Republic). The Thirty Years War was escalating, and the government imposed a heavy tax on the Jewish community to help pay war costs. As rav, the Tosafos Yom Tov headed the committee charged with the responsibility of levying the share each individual was required to pay of the collective tax. Naturally, there were those who felt that they had been assessed too high, and some unscrupulous individuals were vicious enough to turn to the government with a list of defamatory accusations against the Tosafos Yom Tov. On the 5th of Tammuz 5389 (1629), he was summoned to the capital, Vienna, and there he was sentenced to a large fine and imprisonment as punishment for the slanderous canards. When he was freed from prison, he declared the 5th of Tammuz, the day on which his troubles began, as a fast for his descendants, but he did not have it followed by any celebration since he was still in trouble and had no reason to rejoice. For fifteen years, he experienced repeated sufferings. However, when on Rosh Chodesh Adar, 5404 (1644), he became the rav of Krakow, Poland, which was out of the range of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, he felt that salvation was finally achieved and he proclaimed a family festival as a result. Unfortunately, there is a bitter ending to this celebration, because four years later the Chmielnitzki revolt and massacres began. I have written about this topic elsewhere (see RabbiKaganoff.com, The Twentieth of Sivan.)

Other commemorations

Other gedolei Yisrael chose to commemorate their salvation in other ways. The Pnei Yehoshua decided to write his sefer, which is one of the most basic works on Shas, because he survived a fire and explosion.

Halachic conclusion

The later halachic authorities did not accept the Pri Chodosh’s concern and ruled that one may observe special local festivals to thank Hashem for salvation. We have seen three different sources for observing local festivals:

  1. To recite Hallel to commemorate Hashem’s salvation.
  2. The authority of a community to establish a festival and regulations.
  3. A festive meal to thank Hashem qualifies as a seudas mitzvah.

Unusual local purims

Having discussed the halachic background for these festivals, let us note some curious aspects of some of these local celebrations.

Four Purims

To the best of my knowledge, the record for local Purims was held by the Jewish community of Ancona, Italy, which observed four different dates as special festivals, each in thanks to Hashem for being saved from a different catastrophe: revolutionary riots, an earthquake, and two fires. As was done with Purim Frankfurt and Taanis Esther, they observed a fast on the day before.

Double Purim

One of the unusual observances was Purim Rhodes, which was celebrated on the day of Purim itself! In 5600 (1840), a gentile child disappeared and the Jews were accused of the frightening blood libel — slaughtering the child to use his blood for matzohs. The local governor was behind the incitements against the Jews. As the Jews prepared for what they expected to be their last Purim, the child was found alive on a neighboring island. The sultan deposed the governor, and gave the Jews a firman declaring that the accusation of ritual murder was false. As a result, the Jews of Rhodes read special prayers and hymns on Purim to commemorate their communal miracle.

Kol Yisrael areivim

One very early observance serves as a reminder of how each Jew must assume responsibility for all his brethren. On the 21st of Adar, 1236, in Narbonne, France, the rash action of one Jew who struck a gentile in an argument, killing him, endangered the entire community. A mob rioted, threatening to kill everyone in the Jewish quarter. Fortunately, the local officer and his soldiers arrived just in time to avert calamity. This should serve as a powerful reminder of how one thoughtless Jew can endanger all.

Being locked in the ghetto

One of the oddest reasons for a local festival occurred on the 18th of Tammuz 5367 (1607) in Verona, Italy, the day after a fast day. The Jews there had been confined to sleeping overnight in a locked ghetto for the previous eight years. They requested that they be the holders of the keys to the gates of the ghetto, rather than being locked in. This plea was finally granted, and from then one the date the plea was granted was celebrated as a Purim!  Its observance continued until Napoleon abolished the ghetto. (We should note that according to the above-quoted Chasam Sofer, this would not have been sufficient reason to have created a local festival.)

Conclusion

Rav Hirsch (Commentary to Tehillim 100:1) notes that the root of the word for thanks is the same as that for viduy, confession and admitting wrongdoing. All kinds of salvation should elicit in us deep feelings of gratitude for what Hashem has done for us in the past and does in the present. This is why it can be both an acknowledgement of guilt and thanks.

We often cry out to Hashem in crisis, sigh in relief when the crisis passes, but fail to express our thanks adequately for the salvation. Our thanks to Hashem should match the intensity of our pleas. In our daily lives we hopefully do not encounter the types of dangers that we have described above, yet we should still fill our hearts with thanks, focus these thoughts during our recital of mizmor lesodah, az yashir, modim or at some other appropriate point in our prayers.

From Cairo to Frankfurt: Purim Cairo and Purim Frankfurt

face maskIs there a halachic basis for the various local observances, such as Purim Frankfurt, Purim Cairo and Purim Ancona?

Local Purims

In the course of Jewish history, there have unfortunately been numerous occasions when communities suffered from major crises that threatened their lives. Upon surviving these travails, many communities chose to commemorate the event by creating a Yom Tov with special observances to thank Hashem for His salvation. Many of these observances were called “Purim,” and in the course of the last several hundred years there were dozens of recorded local Purims, some that were celebrated by the Jewish community of a town or city, and others that were observed by families. Some of these commemorations included that the festival was preceded by a fast day, similar to Taanis Esther preceding Purim.

As the events of the last seventy years have emptied many of these communities of their Jews, most of these celebrations and the miracles they commemorate have become forgotten. This article will be concerned primarily with the halachic sources and controversies concerning these celebrations. But first, let me share some of the background events of a few of these local observances.

Purim Cairo

One of the earliest recorded local holidays is a festival that was celebrated in Cairo on the 28th of Adar, which bears a strong similarity to the original Purim. In 5284 (1524), the Governor of Egypt, Ahmed Pasha, became a very powerful ruler, although he was officially responsible to the Ottoman Empire and Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. Pasha craved the wealth of many of the Egyptian Jews and, in order to seize their possessions, he arrested twelve prominent leaders of the Jewish community, including the community’s rav, the Radbaz. Pasha demanded an exorbitant ransom, far more than the community could ever raise, to be paid by the 28th of Adar, or he would execute the captives and exile the rest of the community.

On the day set for the ransom deadline, Pasha was assassinated by some of his servants who knew that he was plotting to overthrow the sultan. The 28th of Adar was joyously proclaimed a local festival and was observed for as long as a sizable Jewish community existed in Cairo.

Purim Frankfurt
The rogue of the Purim Frankfurt story (5374/1614), Vincent Fettmilch, actually called himself the “new Haman of the Jews.” He was a fiery agitator whose hordes attacked the Jewish quarter of Frankfurt. After two years of anti-Semitic disturbance, he angered the Holy Roman Emperor, who had Fettmilch hanged. The Jewish community commemorated these events by creating a fast day, similar to Taanis Esther, on the 19th of Adar, and a festival on the 20th, which was called Purim Frankfurt. A special megillah was written, known as Megillas Vinz (for Vincent), to commemorate the occasion.

Tunis

Purim Kidebuni was a festival observed in parts of North Africa. In 5465 (1705), the governor of Tunis, warlord of one faction of the barbary pirates, laid siege to Tripoli, threatening to decimate the population should he conquer the city. Fortunately, disease broke out suddenly among his followers, and the siege failed. A festival was declared for the 24th of Teiveis.

Another North African Purim

On the 4th of Marcheshvan, 5302 (1541), Charles V of Spain attempted to seize Algiers, where many Jews had taken refuge fifty years earlier when fleeing during the Spanish expulsion. The Spaniards landed, but their fleet and army were destroyed by a storm because of the prayers of Rav Shelomoh Duran, a descendant of the Tashbeitz. Thus the Jews were spared facing expulsion a second time and the inquisition that the Spaniards would have brought with them. For obvious reasons, they called the holiday they established Purim Edom.

Shiraz

On the 2nd day of Marcheshvan, the Jews of Shiraz (Iran) celebrate a festival called “Moed Katan.” According to an old manuscript written in the Jewish-Persian language (similar to what Yiddish is to German, and Ladino to Spanish), a Jew who was supposed to have been both a shocheit and a kosher retail butcher was caught selling non-kosher meat. The criminal converted to Islam, changed his name to Abu al-chasan, and then became a moseir, accusing the Jews of many crimes. The Shiite rulers gave the Jews of Shiraz the choice between death and conversion to Islam. Suddenly and mysteriously, Abu al-chasan died on the 2nd of Marcheshvan, leaving behind a retraction that all his accusations were false. The evil decree against the Jews was rescinded. The incident was commemorated via a local festival called “Moed Katan.”

These are a few examples of the kinds of local festivals that were established to thank Hashem for His kindness. The first question we have is whether we can find a halachic source for a community establishing its own local festival.

Who introduced Hallel?

One source for the observance of local festivals is based on the following passage of Gemara (Pesachim 117a, as explained by Rashbam; cf. Rashi ad locum).  The Gemara asks: “Who originally declared the Hallel?” The Gemara proceeds to mention several instances in Jewish history when Hallel was recited spontaneously to thank Hashem for His salvation (Rashi ad loc.). Among the specific situations mentioned are:

— In addition to singing Az Yashir upon surviving keriyas yam suf, Moshe and the Bnei Yisrael also sang Hallel (Rashbam).

— Yehoshua and the Bnei Yisrael sang Hallel after their victory over the 31 kings.

— In addition to the song of Devorah, she and Barak recited Hallel after their victory over Sisra.

— Chizkiyah sang Hallel when he survived Sancheiriv.

— Chananyah, Misha’el and Azaryah sang Hallel when Hashem saved them from the fiery furnace.

— Mordechai and Esther recited Hallel when they were in control of the city of Shushan.

Chananyah, Misha’el and Azaryah

The reason for the reciting of Hallel by Chananyah, Misha’el and Azaryah is somewhat different from the other events recorded in the Gemara. In all the other instances, the entire Jewish nation was imperiled and saved, whereas, in their situation, Chananyah, Misha’el and Azaryah were saved as individuals. One may have thought that Hallel should be recited only to thank Hashem for the saving of the entire nation. However, we see from Chananyah, Misha’el and Azaryah that reciting Hallel is an appropriate way of thanking Hashem even for a salvation that affected only individuals.

In his halachic commentary on this Gemara, the Meiri (Pesachim 117a) rules that an individual or community may establish a practice of reciting Hallel every subsequent year as a commemorative way to celebrate their salvation, provided that they do not recite a brocha prior to reciting the Hallel. To quote the Meiri: “Any individual who was redeemed from a potential calamity may institute that he recite Hallel that day every year, albeit without reciting a brocha beforehand. The same is true for every community. In fact, a practice of the prophets was to recite Hallel whenever one was redeemed from trouble.” Thus, a community or an individual may establish the annual recital of Hallel on a specific date to commemorate an event of salvation.

After they move

Are individuals who have relocated from a community required to continue observing the local Purim? I found this question discussed about five hundred years ago by Rav Moshe ben Yitzchak Alashkar, known as the Maharam Alashkar, a gadol of his generation, who received halachic inquiries from the greatest gedolim of his era, including the Mahari Beirav, Rav Eliyahu Mizrahi, and the Maharalnach. It is interesting to note the difficulties and wanderings of the Maharam Alashkar himself. Born about 5226 (1466) in Spain, he was expelled in 1492 with all the other Jews, and in his escape from Spain was captured by pirates who threatened to execute him. Eventually, he escaped from the pirates and found refuge in Tunis, but the Jews of this community were then expelled. The Maharam Alashkar wandered onward to Greece, then later Cairo, and eventually succeeded in settling in Yerushalayim, where he passed on in 5302 (1542). In addition to probably being the posek hador in the Mediterranian basin, he was  also the source of many teshuvos of the geonim that would otherwise have been lost, and he translated responsa of the Rambam from Arabic into Hebrew.

The following question that the Maharam Alashkar discusses is germane to our discussion: A local takkanah (based on other evidence, I believe it was Sepanto, Italy) had established the 11th of Teiveis as a local festival, for the Jews of that town and their descendants wherever they would reside, in commemoration of some deliverance that had transpired on that date. The question was: The community is now destroyed. Must they continue to observe this takkanah?

The Maharam Alashkar first quotes the Talmudic sources that a community has the ability to establish regulations that are binding on its members. He writes that although regulations and customs of a community are, in general, not obligatory upon someone once he relocates, when the community accepted upon its members and their descendants to follow a certain practice regardless of whether they reside in the original location, they must continue observing the practice even after they relocate (Shu”t Maharam Alashkar #49). His conclusion is quoted by many prominent halachic authorities as definitive (Magen Avraham, 686:5, Elyah Rabbah, 686:5, Mishnah Berurah, 686:8; also see the Chayei Odom and the Chasam Sofer that I will quote later in this article).

Celebrating on the Tenth of Av

Our next discussion is the extent to which we go to celebrate a personal Purim.

Sena’ah was the name of one of the large Jewish family clans that returned from Bavel together with Ezra (Ezra 2:35; Nechemiah 7:38). According to the Mishnah (Taanis 26a), they were descended from the tribe of Binyamin (see Tosafos, Eruvin 41a s.v. Mivnei) and they brought wood to the Beis Hamikdash on the tenth of Av, which was then observed as a day of celebration. The Gemara (Eruvin 41a; Taanis 12a) records that the Tanna Rabbi Elazar ben Tzadok, continued to observe this date even after the churban (Tosafos, Taanis 12a s,v, Hasam), although the cause for the celebration no longer existed. This is even more surprising since Rabbi Elazar ben Tzadok himself was a kohen (see Bechoros 36a), and therefore not descended on his father’s side from Sena’ah and the tribe of Binyamin. As Tosafos (Eruvin 41a s.v. Mivnei) notes, his observance of this date as a family festival was either because his membership in this family clan was from his mother’s side or because his wife was a descendant of the tribe of Binyamin and a member of this family.

Tisha B’Av on the tenth

As we know, when Tisha B’Av falls on Shabbos, the fast day is observed on Sunday, which is the tenth of Av. Since we now know that the Sena’ah family observed the tenth of Av as a festival even after the churban, what did they do when Tisha B’Av fell on Shabbos, causing the national day of mourning to coincide with their personal festival? The Gemara quotes Rabbi Elazar ben Tzadok as saying that they began the fast together with the rest of klal Yisrael, but did not complete its observance to the end of the day since it was a family festival. This means that they ate on the day that the rest of klal Yisrael was still observing all the laws of Tisha B’Av! We see the extent to which the observance of the family festival was kept. Based on this Gemara, the Maharam Alashkar ruled that a local festival must continue to be observed.

[There is a curious halachah that results from this Gemara. Several rishonim record the following practice from the baal Tosafos, Rabbeinu Yaakov ben Rabbeinu Yitzchak Halevi, who is also called Yaavetz. (He should not be confused with much later gedolim, such as Rav Yaakov Emden, who are also called Yaavetz.) Yaavetz once celebrated a bris on the tenth of Av which was a Sunday and therefore a postponed Tisha B’Av. Several rishonim record that after davening mincha, Yaavetz bathed and broke the fast because it was his own personal Yom Tov (Mordechai, Taanis #630; Hagahos Maimoniyos, Taanis 5:8; Tur Orach Chayim, Chapter 559). This practice is recorded as normative halachah – that the baalei simcha, meaning the mohel, the sandek and the parents of a bris that falls on a postponed Tisha B’Av do not complete the fast because it is their own personal Yom Tov.]

Controversial custom

However, the Maharam Alashkar’s position on this question was not universally accepted. The Pri Chodosh (Orach Chayim 496:14) expressly disputes what the Maharam Alashkar writes, concluding that even a local resident does not need to observe the custom of local festivals and celebrations. The Pri Chodosh contends that the practice is not binding even while the original inhabitants continue to reside in the same city in which the miracle happened, and it is certainly not incumbent upon their descendants or anyone who relocated from the city.

Explaining the Pri Chodosh’s objection to the Maharam Alashkar’s ruling requires an introduction regarding an ancient manuscript called Megillas Taanis, which the Gemara (Shabbos 13b) teaches us was written by the Tanna Chananyah ben Chizkiyah, who lived at the end of the second Beis Hamikdash period (Rambam, Introduction to Peirush Hamishnah, towards the end). Megillas Taanis is a list of dates on which miraculous events occurred. To commemorate these celebrations, Chazal prohibited fasting and conducting eulogies on these dates. After the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash, a dispute (Rosh Hashanah 18b-19b) developed as to whether these dates remained minor festivals prohibiting hespedim and fasts, or whether, in light of the churban, these festive days are no longer significant, a position that the Gemara calls: batlah Megillas Taanis, Megillas Taanis is no longer in effect.” The Gemara (Rosh Hashanah 19b) concludes that, with the exception of Chanukah and Purim, batlah Megillas Taanis. It is also important to note the Gemara’s comment that if batlah Megillas Taanis, certainly no new days can be added as holidays (Rosh Hashanah (18b, 19a).

The Pri Chodosh contends that the creation of any of these local festivals runs counter to the Gemara’s conclusion that batlah Megillas Taanis. He, therefore, concludes that the community declaring specific practices on these days has no halachic legitimacy and that one is not required to observe them.

We will continue this topic next week…

 

Matanos La’evyonim

clip_image002_thumb.gifMegillas Esther teaches that one of the mitzvos established by Mordechai and Esther was “matanos la’evyonim,” giving gifts to the poor. Since the megillah states one should give gifts “La’evyonim,” which is plural, we derive that one must give gifts to at least two poor people (Gemara Megillah 7b).

WHAT IS THE MINIMUM GIFT TO FULFILL THE MITZVAH?

There are several opinions regarding the minimum gift needed to fulfill the mitzvah. The Maharasha contends that one must give each person an amount significant enough to be respectable (Chiddushei Agados, Megillah 7a s.v. shadar). Some contemporary poskim rule this way.

Zera Yaakov (Shu”t #11) contends that it is sufficient if the poor person could purchase a minimum meal with the gift, which he defines as bread the size of three eggs (quoted in Pischei Teshuvah 694:1). Thus according to this opinion, one fulfills matanos la’evyonim if one gives three slices of bread to each of two poor people (or enough money for each to purchase three slices of bread).

Ritva contends that one is required to give only the value of a prutah, a copper coin worth only a few cents (Ritva, Megillah 7b; Menoras HaMaor; Shu”t Maharil #56). Mishnah Berurah (694:2) rules this way and one can certainly follow this approach.

HOW MUCH SHOULD ONE STRIVE TO GIVE?

The above amounts are indeed extremely paltry matanos la’evyonim and only define the minimum amount to fulfill the mitzvah. There are two other rules that are important:

Firstly, one should give money to every person who asks for a tzedakah donation on Purim without verifying whether he has a legitimate tzedakah need (see Yerushalmi Megillah 1:4). We will explain the details of this halacha later. (It is obvious that one should not make a major donation without verifying that the need is legitimate.)

Secondly, one should calculate how much one intends to spend for shalach manos and the Purim seudah and then designate a greater amount of money for matanos la’evyonim (Rambam, Hilchos Megillah 2:17).

MATANOS LA’EVYONIM VERSUS SHALACH MANOS

Question: Assuming that one has limited resources, which is more important to give, many gifts to the poor or many shalach manos?

One should give a greater amount of matanos la’evyonim and limit how much shalach manos he sends (Rambam, Hilchos Megillah 2:17).

IS IT BETTER TO GIVE A LOT TO A FEW POOR, OR A LITTLE TO EACH?

The Bach rules that someone with 100 gold coins to distribute for matanos la’evyonim should distribute one coin to each of 100 poor people rather than give it all to one individual because this makes more people happy (Bach 695 s.v. v’tzarich lishloach). According to Rav Elyashiv, it is better to give two large gifts that will make two aniyim happy than to give many small gifts that are insufficient to make the recipients happy (quoted in Shevus Yitzchok on Purim, pg. 98).

These two Piskei halacha are not in conflict — quite the contrary, they complement one another. The mitzvah of matanos la’evyonim is to make as many poor people happy as possible. Receiving a very small gift does not place a smile on a poor man’s face, although it fulfills the minimal requirements of the mitzvah as noted above. However, both the Bach’s gold coin and Rav Elyashiv’s large gift accomplish that the poor person becomes happy. Therefore, giving each person enough of a gift to bring a smile to his face is a bigger mitzvah than giving a very large gift to one person and being unable to bring a smile to the others. Thus, the optimal way to perform the mitzvah is to make as many people happy as possible.

MAY MATANOS LA’EVYONIM COME FROM MAASER FUNDS?

The minimal amount that I am required to give may not be from maaser funds just as one may not spend maaser money on other mitzvos (Shu”t Maharil #56; Magen Avraham 694:1). The additional money that I give may be from maaser (Magen Avraham 694:1). However, since I concluded that one is not required to give more than one perutah to each of two poor people, two perutos are worth only a few cents. Therefore, once can assume that virtually all one’s matanos la’evyonim may come from maaser money.

DO I FULFILL THE MITZVAH WITH MONEY GIVEN BEFORE PURIM?

If the poor person receives the money on Purim, one is yotzei (Be’er Heiteiv 695:7; Aruch HaShulchan 694:2). Therefore, one can fulfill the mitzvah by mailing a contribution if one is certain that the poor person will receive it on Purim. If the poor person receives the money before Purim, one is not yotzei (Magen Avraham 694:1).

Similarly, one does not fulfill the mitzvah of matanos la’evyonim if the ani does not receive the money until after Purim.

DO I FULFILL MATANOS LA’EVYONIM BY DONATING MONEY TO AN ORGANIZATION?

If the organization distributes the money to the poor on Purim, I can perform my mitzvah this way.

DOES GETTING A TAX DEDUCTION PRECLUDE ME FROM FULFILLING MATANOS LA’EVYONIM?

If I donate the money through an institution that will distribute the money on Purim, I can fulfill the mitzvah and also deduct the donation from my tax liability.

CAN I FULFILL THE MITZVAH BY CHECK?

If the poor person can convert the check into cash or food on Purim, then I fulfill the mitzvah (Shvus Yitzchok pg. 99, quoting Rav Elyashiv).

DOES MY WIFE NEED TO GIVE HER OWN MATANOS LA’EVYONIM?

A woman is obligated in matanos la’evyonim (Shulchan Aruch 695:4). Magen Avraham states “I did not see that people are careful about this, possibly because this rule applies only to a widow or other woman who does not have a husband but that a married woman fulfills her obligation by having her husband distribute for her. However, one should be more machmir.” Thus according to the Magen Avraham, a woman should distribute her own money to the poor. It would be acceptable for a husband to tell his wife, “I am giving matanos la’evyonim specifically on your behalf,” but it is better if he gives her the money for her to distribute or gives the money to a shaliach to be zocheh for her, and then gives the money to the ani. Although most poskim follow the Magen Avraham’s ruling, some rule that a married woman fulfills the mitzvah when her husband gives, even without making any special arrangements (Aruch HaShulchan 694:2), and others contend that a married woman has no responsibility to give matanos la’evyonim (Pri Chodosh, quoting Maharikash).

MUST I GIVE MONEY?

No. One fulfills the mitzvah by giving the poor either food or money (Rambam). However, one should give the poor person something that he can use to enhance his celebration of Purim (see Pri Megadim, Mishbetzos Zahav 694:1).

MUST THE POOR PERSON USE THE MONEY FOR PURIM?

No. The poor person may do whatever he wants with the money (see Gemara Bava Metzia 78b).

MAY ONE FULFILL THE MITZVAH AT NIGHT?

One does not fulfill the mitzvos of matanos la’evyonim, shalach manos, or the Purim meal if they are performed at night (see Machatzis HaShekel 694:1).

HOW POOR MUST A PERSON BE TO QUALIFY FOR MATANOS LA’EVYONIM?

The Mishnah (Peah 8:8) states that someone who owns less than 200 zuz qualifies to collect most of the Torah’s gifts to the poor, including maaser ani, the second tithe reserved for the poor, and peah, the corner of the field left for them. What is the modern equivalent of owning 200 zuz? Contemporary poskim rule that someone whose income is insufficient to pay for his family’s expenses qualifies as a poor person for all halachos including matanos la’evyonim. This is assuming that he does not have enough income or savings to support his family without selling basic essentials (Piskei Teshuvos 694:2).

DOES A POOR PERSON HAVE A MITZVAH OF GIVING TO THE POOR?

Does the mitzvah of matanos la’evyonim apply to the poor? Is there an easy way for him to perform it?

The Tur (694) states that “Chayov kol adam litein matanos la’aniyim,” “Every person is obligated to give matanos la’evyonim.” What is added by emphasizing “kol,” everyone? The Bach explains that this emphasizes that even a poor person, who is himself a tzedakah recipient, must also give.

Is there an inexpensive way for a poor person to give matanos la’evyonim?

Yes, he can give part of his seudas Purim to another poor person and the other poor person reciprocates. Thereby, they both fulfill matanos la’evyonim (Mishnah Berurah 694:2). Also, note that according to what I concluded above, a poor person can give a quarter to each of two other paupers and thereby fulfill the mitzvah.

MAY ONE USE MONEY COLLECTED FOR MATANOS LA’EVYONIM FOR A DIFFERENT PURPOSE?

One may not use money collected for matanos la’evyonim for a different tzedakah (Gemara Bava Metzia 78b). This is because the people who donated the money expect to fulfill two mitzvos with their donation: tzedakah and the special mitzvah of matanos la’evyonim. Thus, if one uses the money for a different tzedakah purpose, they fulfilled the mitzvah of tzedakah, but not the mitzvah of matanos la’evyonim.

If someone decided to give money for matanos la’evyonim, he is required to give it for this purpose even if he did not say so (Mishnah Berurah 694:6, quoting Hagahos Ashri).

PURIM VERSUS SHUSHAN PURIM

Do residents of Yerushalayim and other ancient walled cities who observe Purim on the fifteenth of Adar (often referred to as “Shushan Purim”) fulfill the mitzvah of matanos la’evyonim by giving to the poor who observed Purim the day before? Do people who observe Purim on the Fourteenth fulfill the mitzvah by giving to the poor of Yerushalayim when it is not yet Purim for them? These are good questions that are debated by contemporary poskim.

In the words of the Rambam (Hilchos Megillah 2:17), “It is more important to provide more gifts to the poor than to have a more lavish Purim seudah or send more shalach manos. This is because there is no greater and honored joy than bringing happiness to orphans, widows and the needy. Someone who makes the unfortunate happy is likened to Hashem’s Divine Presence, as the pasuk says: ‘He who revives the spirit of the lowly and brings to life the heart of the crushed,’” (Yeshayah 57:15).