Anyone for a Giraffe Burger?

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For that matter, what about a venison (deer meat) roast!

Reb Yehudah, a respected Israeli talmid chacham, calls me with the following question: His grandparents have retired and moved to Israel. Now they have invited the entire family over for a Chanukas HaBayis where Zeide is proudly planning to serve barbecued “buffalo steaks” that he brought from America. Reb Yehudah cannot figure out how his grandfather can serve buffalo, or more accurately, bison meat, and Zeide, a frum man all his life, cannot figure out what the problem is — after all, he specially purchased meat with the finest hechsher. I was called upon to mediate.

Before discussing the halachic issues regarding giraffe burgers and buffalo steaks, we will need some background information:

SOME BASIC ANIMAL FACTS

The Torah writes: “Hashem spoke to Moshe and to Aharon saying to them.’Speak to the children of Israel saying, these are the beasts from which you may eat. From the animals that are upon the ground: Whatever has a split hoof that is separated completely and ruminates (chews its cud) among the animals: Those you may eat'” (Vayikra 11:1-3). Thus the Torah defines any land animal with a totally split hoof that chews its cud as kosher. These two signs, or simanim, indicating that their proud owner is kosher, are possessed by sheep, goats, the many varieties of deer and antelope, as well as the entire bovine family, including Western domesticated cattle, Indian zebu cattle, Asian  water buffalo, African cape buffalo, European bison (also called the wisent), American bison (colloquially and inaccurately referred to in North America as buffalo), and Himalayan yak. On the other hand, although a camel chews its cud and has a split hoof, since its hoof is only partially split and not fully separated it is not kosher (Vayikra 11:4). Although I have read articles claiming otherwise, visual inspection of giraffe feet shows that they have fully split hooves.

ANIMALS VERSUS BIRDS

There is a major halachic difference between land animals and birds in determining whether it is a kosher species. Unlike kosher animals, which are identified by the above two simanim, birds are determined to be kosher if they are omitted from the Torah’s list of 24 non-Kosher birds. Since so many thousands of bird species exist, it is obvious that most are kosher. The question is how does one identify the non-kosher varieties?

SIMANIM VERSUS MESORAH

The Gemara (Chullin 61b) specifies four indicating features (simanim); any bird species that contains all four features is kosher. However, many Rishonim contend that we do not rely on our understanding of these simanim and only eat fowl for which we have an oral tradition, a mesorah, that they are kosher (Rashi, Chullin 62b s.v. Chazyuha). The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 82:2) rules that one may rely on simanim, while the Rama (82:3) cites the custom not to eat any species of bird without a mesorah.

In addition to our basic background about identifying kosher species of land animals and of birds, we need to distinguish between two categories of kosher animal.

BEHEIMAH VERSUS CHAYAH

Kosher land animals are divided into two categories, beheimah and chayah. Although beheimah (pl., beheimos) is often translated as domesticated species and chayah (pl., chayos) as wild species, these definitions are halachically inaccurate, as we will see.

There are three halachic differences between a beheimah and a chayah.

CHEILEV — FORBIDDEN FAT

1. The Torah forbade consuming certain fats called cheilev, most of which protect the stomachs and kidneys (Chullin 93a). Eating cheilev is a very serious halachic prohibition, similar in severity to eating on Yom Kippur (Mishnah Kereisus 2a)!

The prohibition of cheilev applies to all species of beheimah, but does not apply to chayos (Mishnah Chullin 89b). Thus, someone eating the fat protecting the kidney of a properly slaughtered kosher sheep or calf has violated a prohibition similar to eating on Yom Kippur for consuming cheilev, whereas the greatest tzadik may eat the cheilev of a deer, which is a chayah. Thus one may enjoy a sumptuous venison roast without concern that he is eating any forbidden fat!

KISUY HADAM — COVERING THE BLOOD

2. Another mitzvah that is affected by whether a species is a chayah or a beheimah is the mitzvah of kisuy hadam, covering the blood immediately after shechitah. This mitzvah applies to chayah species (and to fowl), but not to beheimos (Mishnah Chullin 83b). Prior to covering this blood, a bracha is recited, as we do when fulfilling most mitzvos.

Thus, if a species is a chayah, one is required to cover the blood spilled during shechitah, and one may eat its cheilev fat. If it is a beheimah, there is no requirement to cover the blood, but eating its cheilev is strictly forbidden. So, after performing shechitah on our deer, one recites a bracha and then covers the blood with dirt or sawdust.

KOY — AN ANIMAL WITHOUT A SENSE OF IDENTITY

The Mishnah (Bikkurim 2:8- 11) discusses a species called koy (sometimes pronounced kvee), whose status is unclear. Although it is certainly a kosher species, we do not know whether it is a beheimah or a chayah. Due to this uncertainty, it has the stringencies of both categories: its fat is forbidden and one must cover its shechitah blood, but without a bracha. We omit the bracha because we are uncertain whether the Torah required covering its blood. If there is indeed no mitzvah, reciting a bracha before covering its blood would be a bracha livatalah, a bracha recited in vain. As a result, we cover the blood, which may be a mitzvah, but do not recite a bracha, since perhaps it is not.

KORBANOS

3. A third mitzvah affected by whether a species is a chayah or a beheimah is korbanos. One may not offer chayos on the mizbeiach in the Beis HaMikdash; only beheimos are kosher for this purpose (Zevachim 34a; Rambam, Hilchos Issurei Mizbeiach 5:6). Thus, although deer are kosher, we may not use them as korbanos.

We have established that one can have kosher venison roast and need not be concerned about its cheilev and that, as a self-respecting chayah, it is not acceptable as a korban. Serving venison on Pesach will be a welcome change of pace and a conversation piece, although one may not eat roast venison at the Seder since the custom is not to eat any roast meat then (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 476:2).

Since there are several halachic differences between beheimah and chayah, we need to define which species are beheimah and which are chayah. After all, no one wants to eat kidney fat of a beheimah thinking that it was a chayah!

WHAT IS A CHAYAH?

The Written Torah did not indicate the defining characteristics distinguishing beheimos from chayos, leaving these rules to the Torah sheba’al peh, the Oral Torah. The Gemara (Chullin 59b) mentions several characteristics, mostly dependent on the animal’s horns: A branched horn defines its species as chayah, whereas non-branched horns may indicate either a chayah or a beheimah depending on whether they grow in layers, are grooved, and whether their tips are curved or straight (Rashi ad loc.; cf. Rabbeinu Chananel). Therefore, any species possessing branched horns or antlers like those found on most deer is a chayah, whereas those with straight horns may be either chayah or beheimah depending on the other criteria. Since all antelope (a general category that includes several dozen species) have un-branched horns, one would need to examine the horns of each species to determine whether it is a beheimah or a chayah. (Technically speaking, the difference between deer and antelope is that deer have antlers that shed and re-grow annually, whereas antelope have permanent un-branched horns.) (There is one halachic opinion [Shu”t Beis Yaakov #41, quoted by Pischei Teshuvah, Yoreh Deah 80:1] who contends that a chayah without horns is not kosher at all, but this approach is rejected by other halachic authorities [Pischei Teshuvah].)

Note that whether a species is categorized as a beheimah or as a chayah has no bearing on whether it is domesticated or not. Reindeer, although domesticated, are clearly a chayah since they have branched antlers, whereas there are non-domesticated species that are almost certainly beheimah according to halacha.

BUFFALO

The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 28:4) rules that one does not perform kisuy hadam for a buffalo; this determines it to be definitely a beheimah. (He is presumably referring to the Asian water buffalo, which was domesticated in Southern Europe hundreds of years before the Shulchan Aruch. He is certainly not referring to the American bison.) If there was any uncertainty regarding its status as a beheimah, the Shulchan Aruch would require kisuy hadam without a bracha – after all we would not ignore this mitzvah, particularly since it is easy to perform. However, the Rama (ad loc.) rules that the status of the buffalo is uncertain and contends that one should cover its blood but without a bracha. According to both opinions, the cheilev is forbidden — according to the Shulchan Aruch, definitely, as the cheilev of a beheimah, and according to the Rama, because of doubt.

A SECOND INTRODUCTION

According to everything that we have so far explained, the North American bison, which ruminates and has clearly split hooves, is clearly a kosher species. Referring back to our opening question: What made Reb Yehudah, our Israeli talmid chacham, think that bison is non-kosher?

The controversy that erupted in Reb Yehudah’s family originated in how to interpret the words of the major halacha authority, the Shach. Commenting on Shulchan Aruch’s definition of the differences between a beheimah and a chayah, the Shach (Yoreh Deah 80:1) writes “I did not elaborate… since today we only use what we have received with a mesorah.” He then concludes with a reference to the laws of kosher birds. The Shach’s comparison of the laws of animals to that of birds implies that accepted practice is to eat only land animal species that have a mesorah that they were eaten, and not to rely on the simanim that they are kosher, even when these simanim are obvious! This seems to run counter to the Gemara’s ruling that simanim are adequate to determine their kashrus.

The Pri Megadim, the major commentary on the Shach, discusses this difficulty and concludes that the Shach meant something else: since the defining distinctions between chayah and beheimah are sometimes unclear, we do not eat the cheilev of any species unless we have a mesorah that it is indeed a chayah. In practical terms, this means that the only land animals whose cheilev we permit are deer, since they are the only chayah species for which we have a definite mesorah. Therefore, according to the Pri Megadim, if someone moves to an area where he encounters a new species that has branched antlers like a deer, has split hooves and chews its cud, he may eat the meat of this animal (after properly shechting it) but he may not eat the cheilev even though it is certainly a chayah.

ANOTHER INTERPRETATION OF THE SHACH

Not all halachic authorities interpret the Shach as the Pri Megadim does. The Chazon Ish (Yoreh Deah 11:4, 5) explains the Shach literally and also understands the rulings of other authorities (Chochmas Odom; Aruch HaShulchan) as agreeing with his interpretation. In his opinion, Shach is referring to a minhag, established in his generation or earlier, to not eat any animal species for which there was no mesorah. Chazon Ish suggests several reasons why such a minhag may have begun, including the possibility that people would not know how to check whether this unfamiliar animal is a tereifah (has some flaw that renders it non-kosher) or that they may assume that it is a chayah and permit its cheilev when it is not.

On the other hand, several other prominent poskim (Kaf HaChayim 80:5;

Darkei Teshuvah 80:3) were unaware of such a minhag, and, in addition, many authorities question why early poskim never clearly mention such a practice.

CONTROVERSIAL RESULTS – 1950 IN MADAGASCAR

In 1950, there was an attempt to import Madagascar beef from a variety of cattle called zebu into the new State of Israel. The zebu, the common cattle of India, has some noticeable differences from the common European beef cattle, including a large hump between its shoulders, and a very large hanging fold of skin under its throat called a dewlap. It definitely ruminates and has fully split hooves.

A dispute developed between the Chazon Ish and Rav Herzog, first Chief Rabbi of the State of Israel, regarding whether this meat could be considered kosher and imported into Eretz Yisroel, Rav Herzog contending that there is no need to have a mesorah that a species of beef is kosher, and the Chazon Ish objecting. To avoid a major dispute within the fledgling country, Rav Herzog did not allow the beef into the country.

1990’S IN SOUTH AMERICA

A few years ago, a major controversy developed in Eretz Yisroel regarding the origin of the kosher beef raised in South America. Land in Israel is scarce, whereas much of South America is perfect for raising beef cattle. In recent years, even the hechsherim with the highest standards have arranged for shechitah in South America, significantly lowering the price of beef.

A question arose regarding the common breeds of South American beef cattle because they include animals crossbred from different varieties, including the zebu. Rav Elyashiv, who usually rules according to the Chazon Ish, contended that one should not slaughter these cattle for kosher use without verifying that they are not descended from zebu cattle. Other Eretz Yisroel poskim were not concerned about this possibility, contending that even if a minhag exists not to eat zebu, the practice does not include beef varieties that look like European cattle, even if their ancestral background may include zebu.

GIRAFFE BURGERS

Certainly the Chazon Ish would not approve of giraffe meat, even though giraffe has fully split hooves and ruminates. Contrary to a common misconception, a giraffe has perfectly split hooves, and also chews its cud. Other than the Chazon Ish’s concern about mesorah, there is only one halachic reason to ban giraffe meat – the opinion of the Beis Yaakov, quoted above, that a chayah must have horns. Although a giraffe has boney protrusions on the top of its head, some might argue that these are not true horns, thus concluding that a giraffe is non-kosher according to this opinion of the Beis Yaakov. However, since most authorities reject this approach, the giraffe can safely be regarded as a kosher species because of its simanim.

Actually, to the best of my knowledge, no one has ever shechted a giraffe because of several practical concerns. Giraffe meat is so tough that even non-Jews are not tempted to eat its meat. Also, giraffes are very expensive zoo animals, and are extremely powerful creatures difficult to convince that they should cooperate with the shocheit. However, there is no truth to the persistent rumor that no one knows where to shecht a giraffe. The area of its neck appropriate for shechitah may run up to seven feet long, certainly many times the length of the corresponding shechitah area of a dove.

BUFFALO BURGERS

At this point, we will return to our original discussion. Reb Yehudah, an Israeli avreich, has been invited to a bison barbecue hosted by his grandfather. Reb Yehudah follows all of Rav Elyashiv’s rulings, and certainly those of the Chazon Ish, to the letter. Someone like him may not eat from a species such as bison, which obviously cannot have a long-standing mesorah since it is a native American. Reb Yehudah could not comprehend how someone could provide a hechsher to a product that the Chazon Ish would prohibit.

On the other hand, not all chareidi Eretz Yisroel poskim accept the Chazon Ish’s ruling in this matter. Rav Vozner (Shu”t Shevet HaLevi 10:114), in a responsum addressed to some chassidic poskim, ruled that one may slaughter and eat species that do not have a mesorah. He was uncertain whether the Chochmas Odom and the Shach ever meant that land animal species require a mesorah. However, Rav Vozner ruled this way only for chutz la’aretz and alluded to the possibility that one should be stringent in Eretz Yisroel out of deference to the Chazon Ish.

CREATING SHALOM

With this background, I will explain how I mediated the family feud that had developed between Zeidi and Reb Yehudah. Reb Yehudah called me first. I explained to him that although Rav Elyashiv and the Chazon Ish would clearly prohibit bison because of minhag, many prominent poskim dispute that such a minhag exists, contending that one may eat a species identifiably kosher. Thus, someone who follows Rav Elyashiv or the Chazon Ish in halachic decisions should indeed not eat a species that has no mesorah. On the other hand, one who follows other poskim is entitled to rely on those opinions who consider these species to be kosher based on simanim.

I then spoke to Zeidi, who was perturbed that his grandson did not consider him kosher enough and that “Yehudala” was going off the deep end with his chumros. I explained that although American poskim rule bison to be kosher, once the Chazon Ish holds that a minhag exists to eat animals only with a mesorah, the people that Yehudah lives among will not be lenient against the Chazon Ish’s position. I assured Zeidi that Yehudah was not hunting (no pun intended) for chumros, but that in his circle this was accepted halacha. Although Zeidi was disappointed that Yehudah would never enjoy “buffalo,” he accepted my explanation and served beef steak, presumably not zebu, in addition to his buffalo burgers.

Proper Prayer Rejoinders, or To Brich or not to Brich

Yaakov, a relative newcomer to Yiddishkeit, visited a new community and davened each prayer at a different shul. He noticed that in each shul, the responses to Kaddish were different, which he found surprising. His rabbi explained to him the background.

When hearing Kaddish, we say “Amen” at several places in addition to saying the very important “Amen, y’hei shmei rabba mevorach le’olam ule’almei almaya”. (The poskim dispute whether one should also add “yisbarach to this sentence, the Shulchan Aruch [Orach Chayim 56:3] ruling that one should, and the Gr”a ruling that one should not.) In addition, Ashkenazim respond to the words, shmei dekudsha brich hu, His holy name, blessed is He, by repeating the Chazan’s words brich hu. (Nusach Sefard and Sefardim say Amen at this point.) However, most people do not realize how late this response of brich hu came into practice and also are not familiar with the halachos regarding it; many times one may not recite this response as it constitutes an interruption. The goal of this article is to explain both the historical background of brich hu, and when we should and should not recite it. We will also discuss when to respond to the other responses of the Kaddish.

The Gemara (Brachos 3a; Sotah 49a) mentions Kaddish and lays special emphasis on responding Amen, y’hei shmei rabba mevorach le’olam ule’almei almaya with fervent feeling. The poskim accentuate the importance of not talking while someone is reciting Kaddish. One should pay careful attention to the recital of the Kaddish and know to which praise of Hashem one is responding (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 56:1).

CHRONICLE OF A RESPONSE

What exactly is brich hu?

The words brich hu, are Aramaic for “blessed be He,” and are a repetition of two of the words of the Kaddish just said by the chazzan at that point viyis’halal shmei dekudsha brich hu li’eila min kal birchasa ve’shirasa… da’amiran be’alma ve’imru amen, exalted be the name of the Holy One, blessed be He Who shall be praised… beyond all blessing and song… that are declared in the world. And respond: Amen.

When did responding brich hu become a standard part of davening? Surprising as this may seem, no early poskim mention a custom of responding with just these two words. The custom started about four hundred years ago when it was not unusual to find people responding at this point of Kaddish with a refrain similar to the one we recite. The Taz (Orach Chayim 56:3) reports a practice to accentuate the praise of Hashem by joining the Chazzan at the point when he reaches the words shmei dekudsha, His holy name, by accompanying him when he recites the three words brich hu li’eila, which means that the Congregation recited words that translate as Blessed is He above. The Taz condemns this practice harshly since these three words may imply an unintended blasphemous statement — that Hashem is blessed only above, but not below. Therefore, the Taz rules that one should continue by reciting the subsequent three words, thus resulting in the following praise, brich hu li’eila min kal birchasa, which translates as Blessed is He above all blessing. This clarifies one’s intent and removes any concern about blasphemy. However, contemporary Ashkenazic practice does not recite this elongated response, but instead reduces the response to the two words, brich hu, blessed be He, which also accomplishes praising Hashem with no hint of blasphemy. Some Hassidic circles indeed follow the advice of the Taz and recite brich hu li’eila min kal birchasa.

This explains the origin of the custom to recite brich hu to Kaddish. What we still do not know is when we may not recite it. Explaining these halachos requires some introduction.

BARUCH HU UVARUCH SHEMO

The response brich hu is similar to our response Baruch Hu uvaruch shemo, blessed is He and blessed is His name, which we recite upon hearing Hashem’s name articulated as part of a bracha. The first halachic authority to mention this practice is the Rosh about 800 years ago. The Tur (Orach Chayim 124) states, “I heard from my father [the Rosh] that every time he heard a bracha he would say Baruch Hu uvaruch shemo. He based this practice on the pasuk that states, “When I call Hashem’s name, bring forth greatness to our G-d” (Devorim 32:3), thus upon hearing Hashem’s name, one should add a praise of one’s own. The Rosh added another halachic source for this practice based on the following translation of the pasuk, “Remember a tzadik for blessing” (Mishlei 10:7). This verse teaches that even when mentioning the name of a righteous human being one should bless him; if so, one should certainly bless Hashem when mentioning His name.

Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 124:5) rules that one should respond Baruch Hu uvaruch shemo whenever one hears a bracha. Nevertheless, one may not answer this refrain during birchos keriyas shma or during pesukei dezimra (Magen Avraham 124:9; Mishnah Berurah 124:21). Why not?

WHAT RESPONSES ARE PERMITTED WHILE RECITING THE BIRCHOS KERIYAS SHMA?

The part of davening following Borchu until the shmoneh esrei is called the birchos keriyas shma, because it consists of the brachos established by the Anshei Keneses HaGedolah (the leaders of the Jewish people in the era of Ezra, Mordechai and Esther, during the period prior to and the beginning of the second Beis HaMikdash) before and after reciting Shma. The Mishnah (Brachos 13a) teaches that although usually one may not interrupt these brachos, certain circumstances warrant disrupting them. For example, one may greet an unfamiliar person if one suspects that the person may become angry if one does not welcome him (Bach and Magen Avraham, Orach Chayim 66:2).

However, there is one place during this part of the davening that is so important that one should not interrupt unless it is a life-threatening emergency. This is while saying the pesukim of Shma Yisroel and Baruch shem kovod malchuso li’olam va’ed (Shulchan Aruch 66:1).

==It is not clear cut what the halacha is regarding responses to davening while one is davening. The Rishonim dispute whether one may respond to Borchu, to Kedusha, and Amen yehei shmei rabba to Kaddish during the birchos keriyas shma. The Rosh (Berachos 2:5) disputes with his rebbe, the Maharam Rotenberg, who prohibited this practice. Those who prohibited this practice contended that one may not interrupt the brachos of keriyas shma for the sake of a different praise, such as responding to Kaddish or Kedusha. Those who permitted held that responding appropriately to Hashem’s praises is no worse than responding to the greeting of a person, which is permitted under certain circumstances, as mentioned above.

The poskim conclude that one may answer the following responses while reciting the birchos keriyas shma:

A. “Amen, y’hei shmei rabba mevorach le’olam ule’almei almaya” in Kaddish.

B. “Amen” to the Chazzan’s da’amiran be’alma in Kaddish, but not at the other places in Kaddish (Chayei Odom 20:4).

C. One answers “Boruch Hashem hamevorach la’olam va’ed” to Borchu, whether the Borchu before birchos keriyas shma or the one that precedes an aliyah (Magen Avraham 66:6).

D. “Kodosh kodosh…” and “Boruch kvod Hashem mimkomo” in Kedusha. However one should not respond to the other parts of Kedusha we traditionally say, even the sentence beginning Yimloch (Ateres Zekeinim).

E. “Amen” to the brachos of Ha’Keil Hakadosh and to Shma Koleinu (Rama 66:3).

F. The words “Modim anachnu Loch” recited in response to the Chazan’s saying Modim in the repetition of Shmoneh Esrei (Rabbeinu Yonah, Brachos 7b; Mishna Berurah 66:20).

HALLEL AND MEGILLAH

The Gemara (Brachos 14a) discusses whether the same rules that apply to interrupting the birchos keriyas shma also apply to the full Hallel and recital of the Megillah. The Gemara questions whether the rules governing the birchos keriyas shma should be stricter than those for Hallel and Megillah, since the requirement to recite keriyas shma is min haTorah, whereas the mitzvos of Hallel and Megillah are only rabbinic in origin. Alternatively, the Gemara suggests that since both Hallel and Megillah publicize miraculous events, perhaps the rules of interrupting them should be stricter. The Gemara concludes that we should treat the rules of birchos keriyas shma Hallel and Megillah the same. Thus, all the responses listed above are recited when one is in the middle of Birchos keriyas shma, Hallel, or hearing the Megillah.

The poskim debate whether someone holding in the middle of the birchos keriyas shma may respond amen when he hears someone recite the brachos before or after an aliyah. Magen Avraham (66:6) rules that one should recite Amen to these brachos, whereas the Pri Megadim questions this practice. The Mishna Berurah (66:18) concludes that he may recite amen if he is between two of the brachos, such as he has just completed “Yotzeir HaMeoros” or “HaMaariv Aravim.”

This dispute is based on an interesting story. Someone was once delayed in davening, and was in the middle of the birchos keriyas shma when he was called up to the Torah for an aliyah. May he recite the brachos on the Torah even though it is an interruption in the middle of birchos keriyas shma?

The Sefer HaManhig ruled that he should accept the aliyah and recite the brachos (Tur 66). Not accepting an aliyah when one is called to the Torah is an insult to Hashem’s honor, and certainly Hashem deserves at least as much honor as the honored individual discussed earlier. Therefore reciting the brachos has the same status as greeting a person who deserves honor and may be recited during the birchos keriyas shma. The Magen Avraham apparently holds that answering amen to these brachos has the same halachic status as the Sefer HaManhig’s aliyah case and therefore one should recite this amen even in the middle of birchos keriyas shma. The Pri Megadim disputes with the Magen Avraham feeling that this amen is no different from amen to any other bracha.

However, the Rashba (Shu”t HaRashba 1:185) disagrees with the Sefer HaManhig’s conclusion, ruling that someone in the middle of this part of davening who is called to the Torah should not go up, but someone else should take his aliyah instead (Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 66). The Shulchan Aruch (66:4) follows the latter opinion, whereas most other opinions rule that he should take the aliyah and recite the brachos, but be careful not to interrupt in any other way (Magen Avraham 66:8).

A THUNDERING BRACHA

The poskim also dispute whether he may recite the bracha on thunder while in the middle of birchos keriyas shma. Magen Avraham 66:5 rules that one should, whereas the Bechor Shor (Brachos 13a) disagrees, contending that one should interrupt one praise of Hashem, the Shma, with another, the bracha on thunder. The Chayei Odom reaches a compromise, ruling that one should recite the bracha if he is between the brachos of keriyas shma, but not in the middle of a bracha. This last dispute remains unresolved (Mishna Berurah 66:19). Thus, if someone hears thunder while reciting Hallel or the birchos keriyas shma, or reading or hearing the Megillah, it is his choice whether to recite the bracha or not. He might want to ask his posek in advance what to do.

Although usually one should recite the bracha Asher Yatzar immediately after washing one’s hands when leaving the lavatory (see Shulchan Aruch 165:1), one should not recite it during birchos keriyas shma but should postpone its recital until after Shmoneh Esrei (Mishna Berurah 66:23). The same policy should follow during Hallel or Megillah; he should wait to recite Asher Yatzar until after Hallel and Megillah and their concluding brachos are completed.

The poskim dispute whether one may recite amen to a different bracha that one hears when he is between two brachos of birchos keriyas shma. Some contend that he may recite amen after hearing any bracha, since he is currently between brachos (Pri Megadim, Eishel Avraham 66:7). Others contend that he may only recite amen to the bracha that he just recited, such as he heard the end of the bracha from the chazzan or from a different individual (Chayei Odom 20:4).

TALIS AND TEFILLIN

What if someone did not have talis and tefillin available before davening, and they become available during birchos keriyas shma? May he recite a bracha prior to donning them or does the bracha qualify as a hefsek during the brachos?

The Rishonim debate this issue. Rashi’s rebbe, Rabbi Yitzchak the son of Rabbi Yehudah indeed recited the bracha before donning both his talis and his tefillin, and brought proof to his actions from the Gemara (Brachos 14b):

The great Amora Rav once began reciting keriyas shma and its brachos without having tefillin. Immediately after he completed Shma, his messenger brought him the tefillin, so Rav immediately donned the tefillin prior to reciting Shmoneh Esrei, and presumably recited the bracha before putting on the tefillin even though he was in the middle of the birchos keriyas shma.

Similarly, Rabbi Yitzchak the son of Rabbi Yehudah reasoned that in a similar situation when he first received talis and tefillin immediately before Shmoneh Esrei he reasoned that he should recite the bracha before donning either one. Tosafos (ad loc.) however disagrees with Rabbi Yitzchak the son of Rabbi Yehudah, reasoning that one is required to wear tefillin while davening and therefore donning them is a requirement of the tefillah. As such the bracha before also is not an interruption. However, one is not required to wear a talis during davening, and therefore the bracha before donning it should not preempt the laws of hefsek.

How do we conclude?

The Shulchan Aruch (66:2) rules like Rabbi Yitzchak the son of Rabbi Yehudah that he should recite both the bracha on the talis and the bracha on the tefillin; this is the practice of the Sefardim. The Rama rules like Tosafos that he should only recite the bracha on the tefillin but not on the talis.

WHAT RESPONSES ARE PERMITTED DURING PESUKEI DEZIMRA?

The Anshei Keneses HaGedolah established that one should recite daily praises written by Dovid HaMelech at the beginning of davening (Zohar, Parshas Terumah). We introduce these passages of praise, Pesukei Dezimra, with the bracha of Baruch She’amar and conclude them with the bracha of Yishtabach. The bracha of Yishtabach does not begin with a bracha begins it is linked directly to the bracha of Baruch She’amar. Because these two brachos are linked, one may not interrupt between the two brachos for anything that is not part of the davening. For this reason, it is strictly forbidden to talk during the Pesukei Dezimra (Tosafos, Brachos 46a s.v. kol; Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 51:4). Similarly, it is forbidden to answer Baruch Hu uvaruch shemo during this part of davening (Magen Avraham 124:9; Mishna Berurah 124:21). Although it is appropriate to praise Hashem this way when His name is mentioned, one does not interrupt praising Him to do so.

Some poskim contend that interrupting Pesukei Dezimra is halachically equivalent to interrupting the birchos keriyas shma; according to this opinion, one who hears a bracha from someone else during Pesukei Dezimra may not answer Amen to the bracha (Mishkenos Yaakov #68). Other poskim contend that one may answer Amen to any bracha while in the middle of Pesukei Dezimra, and even while in the middle of the bracha of Baruch She’amar (Magen Avraham 51:3). The consensus is that although it is clearly forbidden to talk during the Pesukei Dezimra, answering Amen to any bracha is permitted. Furthermore if someone needs to recite Asher Yatzar, or to recite the bracha on thunder or lightning, one may do so during Pesukei Dezimra and one may certainly answer the responses listed above in Kaddish, Borchu and Kedusha during this part of davening (Mishna Berurah 51:8. Nevertheless, Chayei Odom [20:3] rules that one should not recite Asher Yatzar until after Shmoneh Esrei.). However, reciting brich hu during Pesukei Dezimra is similar to reciting Baruch Hu uvaruch shemo and constitutes an interruption during Pesukei Dezimra. Thus, although many people are unaware of this halacha, someone in the middle of Pesukei Dezimra when the chazzan begins reciting Kaddish may not answer brich hu to the Kaddish or to the amen at the beginning of Kaddish. On the other hand, although he should answer Amen, y’hei shmei rabba mevorach le’olam ule’almei almaya and the amen at da’amiran be’alma. He may answer amen to the bracha of Yishtabach.

AFTER YISHTABACH

One may not interrupt between completing Yishtabach and beginning the next part of the tefillah (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 51:4), although if one needs to recite a bracha it is better to do so after completing Yishtabach before answering (or saying) Borchu then during the Pesukei Dezimra. For this reason, if someone did not have tzitzis or tefillin available before davening, and they become available during davening (or if he must begin davening when it is too early to recite a bracha on them) he should put them on immediately after Yishtabach and then recite the brachos on them. Better to recite these brachos between Yishtabach and Borchu (or the beginning of the next bracha) then to do so afterwards.

WHEN MAY ONE NOT SAY BRICH HU

We have seen that although it is a mitzvah to recite baruch hu uvaruch shemo upon hearing Hashem’s name said as part of a bracha, one may only say it in a place where one may interrupt. One may not say these words when one is in the middle of Pesukei Dezimra and certainly not once he has begun the brachos after Borchu. Brich hu, which is of later origin, should be treated the same way. Therefore, one may not recite this refrain when one is in the middle of Pesukei Dezimra or in the middle of birchos keriyas shma. Thus someone who is lagging behind the tzibur and has not yet completed Yishtabach when the Chazan begins the Kaddish should answer Amen Yehei Shma Rabba..., and the amen at the completion of the Kaddish, but should not recite “Brich hu.” In addition, since the Amen at the end of “shmei rabba” (and in Nusach Sfard after “meshichei”) is only custom, he should not recite these either while in the middle of Pesukei Dezimra and certainly not while in the middle of the birchos keriyas shma.

APPRECIATING KADDISH

For the many years Reb Zalman Estolin spent as a slave laborer in Soviet Siberia, he obviously had no minyan, nor any opportunity to answer Amen, y’hei shmei rabba. Upon his redemption from the Soviet Union, he moved to Eretz Yisroel as an old, ill man. The very first morning in Eretz Yisroel, he arose early to walk to shul on his crutches, full with the excitement that he would be davening with a minyan for the first time in decades!

Two hours after davening should have been over, Reb Zalman had not yet returned to his host’s home. The concerned family sent someone to look for the older man, and discovered him sitting in the shul. When asked why he was still there, Reb Zalman answered, “When my minyan ended, another began. And then another. I just could not bear to miss the opportunity to recite Amen, y’hei shmei rabba one more time.” (Just One Word by Esther Stern.)

We should always be zocheh to recite Amen, y’hei shmei rabba with this type of enthusiasm!

Explaining the Customs of Bris Milah

The mitzvah of Bris Milah has been enhanced by many beautiful customs. We will explain the background of these minhagim in the course of a guide to the honors bestowed during a bris and the steps of a bris procedure.

THE DIFFERENT HONORS AT THE BRIS

Each of the “kibbudim” at a bris performs a different mitzvah. The sandek is the greatest honor at a bris since the milah is performed upon his lap. The Zohar teaches that bringing one’s son to a Bris Milah is equivalent to building the mizbayach (the altar) in the Beis HaMikdash and offering all the korbanos of the whole world (Parshas Lech Lecha 95a). Since milah is compared to a korban, the sandek himself is like a mizbayach (altar). In addition, since holding the baby assists the mohel perform the bris, the sandek also partly fulfills the mitzvah of performing the bris.

The kvatter and kvattern perform the mitzvah of transporting the baby to the bris. Frequently, this honor is given to a couple who do not as yet have children. It is hoped that as reward for performing the mitzvah of bring a child to the bris, they will soon merit to bring their own child to a bris.

The other honors at a bris include: placing the baby on Eliyahu’s chair, reciting the b’rachos after the bris, naming the baby (in some places the last two honors are combined), and holding the baby during the b’rachos and the naming.

KVATTER

With this word, the mohel calls the assembled to attention. The “kvaterin” carries the baby in from the women’s area and hands him to her husband, the kvater, who brings the baby to the mohel. Some have the custom of sharing the mitzvah of bringing the baby to the bris among several people, an honor called “cheika.” Those who follow this practice should make sure that each honoree brings the baby closer to where the bris will take place. (I have seen brisin where the people honored with cheika carried the baby in the opposite direction from where the bris was to be held. These individuals did not realize that they were doing the opposite of what they were supposed to be doing and thus not performing a mitzvah.)

Two chairs of honor are set up, one for Eliyahu (Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 265:11) and one for the sandek who will hold the baby during the bris.

WHY IS THERE A CHAIR FOR ELIYAHU?

According to the Midrash Eliyahu Hanavi attends every bris, and the chair that the baby is placed upon before the bris is referred to as Kisay shel Eliyahu. Before Eliyahu rose to heaven and assumed the role of an angel, he was the prophet responsible to admonish the wicked monarchs Achav and Izevel. Eliyahu was a zealot for Hashem’s honor (Melachim 1:19:10, 14) and accused Bnei Yisrael of abrogating Bris Milah. As a response, Hashem decreed that Eliyahu will be present at every bris to see that the Jews indeed fulfill bris milah. Chazal therefore instituted that there should be a seat of honor for Eliyahu at every bris (Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer, Chapter 29; Zohar 93a). Eliyahu thus came to be called the “Angel of the Covenant,” since he attends and attests to every bris (Malachi 3:1, 23 with Rashi).

THE SANDEK

The poskim discuss whether it is better to give the mitzvah of sandek to a great tzadik or to a family member (see Shu’t Chacham Tzvi #70). Incidentally, some poskim contend that the father of the baby should be sandek since he thereby assists in the bris which is his mitzvah to perform (Shu’t Divrei Malkiel 4:86). However, the prevailing custom is to give the honor either to a grandparent or other honored family member or to a tzadik or talmid chacham.

Very special rewards and blessings are associated with being sandek. For this reason, the Rama cites a custom not to honor the same person with being sandek twice (Yoreh Deah 265:11; compare Gra and Noda Bi’yehudah, YD 86; see also Shu’t Chasam Sofer, Orach Chayim #159).

There is a custom, seven hundred years old, that the sandek immerse himself in a mikveh before the bris. Since the sandek is compared to the mizbayach, he must make every attempt to make himself pure and holy (Maharil).

B’RACHOS AT A BRIS

Several b’rachos are recited both before and after the bris. Immediately before performing the bris, the mohel recites the b’racha “asher kidishanu b’mitzvosav v’tzivanu al hamilah” (that He commanded us to observe the mitzvah of Bris Milah), and the father immediately recites “asher kidishanu b’mitzvosav v’tzivanu lihachniso bivriso shel Avraham Avinu” (that He commanded us to bring the child into the Covenant of Avraham). If the father is himself the mohel, he recites both b’rachos and then performs the bris. Among Sfardim, the father also recites the b’racha shehechiyanu (Yoreh Deah 265:7). In Eretz Yisrael, shehechiyanu is recited at a bris even by Ashkenazim. In Chutz LaAretz, most Ashkenazim do not recite shehechiyanu at a bris.

WHY ARE TWO B’RACHOS RECITED ON THE MITZVAH OF MILAH?

It is indeed unusual to recite two different b’rachos before fulfilling a mitzvah, each beginning with the words “asher kidishanu b’mitzvosav”. Why do we recite two such b’rachos?

According to one opinion, the b’racha of lihachniso is recited on the mitzvah of training the child in mitzvos (chinuch) rather than being exclusively about milah (Abudraham). It is recited at the bris since this is the first mitzvah that the father performs in raising his child as a Torah Jew.

An alternative approach is that this b’racha is an appreciation for bringing the child into the kedusha of Klal Yisrael (Aruch HaShulchan 265:5-8). According to this approach, the b’racha of lihachniso is a b’racha of thanks and praise rather than being a b’racha on the performance of a specific mitzvah (Tosafos Pesachim 7a).

WHY DO SOME COMMUNITIES RECITE SHEHECHIYANU AT A BRIS, AND OTHERS DO NOT?

This machlokes is hundreds of years old. Usually, we recite a shehechiyanu on a mitzvah that is observed on special occasions, such as Yom Tov, Pidyon HaBen, Shofar, and Lulav. Thus, it would seem that one should recite shehechiyanu at a Bris Milah. Nonetheless, the old minhag in Ashkenaz was to omit shehechiyanu at a Bris Milah (Tosafos Sukah 46a; Rama 265:7). What was the reason for this minhag? (The custom among Sfardim was, and is, to recite shehechiyanu at a bris.)

The poskim offer several reasons why there is no shehechiyanu. Some suggest that shehechiyanu is recited only on a mitzvah that is dependent on a date, such as a Yom Tov, or a very specific time, such as Pidyon HaBen, which is always performed on the thirtieth day after birth (Ran, Sukah Chapter 4). Although Bris Milah can only be performed beginning the eighth day, since there are occasions when one cannot perform the bris on the eighth day (such as when the baby is ill or when it is uncertain which day the baby was born), there was no establishment of shehechiyanu.

An alternative approach is that Chazal did not institute reciting shehechiyanu at a bris because it is not a totally joyous time, since the baby suffers pain. However, other poskim disagree with this reason, pointing out that one recites shehechiyanu when hearing news that includes both good and bad tidings (see Gemara Berachos 46b, 59b). Thus, suffering does not preclude reciting the b’racha of shehechiyanu (Hagahos Maimoniyos, Hilchos Milah 3:4, who also cites two other reasons for the Ashkenazic custom).

The Gra, himself an Ashkenazi, disagreed with the accepted practice and ruled that one should recite shehechiyanu at a bris (Yoreh Deah 265:36). Since disciples of the Gra established the contemporary Ashkenazic community in Eretz Yisrael, they followed his practice to recite shehechiyanu at a bris. As a result, the custom in Eretz Yisrael developed that everyone recites shehechiyanu at a bris. The prevalent Ashkenazic practice in Chutz La’Aretz follows the opinion of Tosafos and Rama not to recite shehechiyanu.

WHAT B’RACHOS ARE RECITED AFTER THE BRIS?

After the bris is performed, two more b’rachos are recited over a cup of wine- first a borei pri hagafen and then a lengthy special b’racha that begins with the words “Asher Kideish Y’did Mi’beten,” (Shabbos 137b). (Sfardim have the custom to recite an additional b’racha, “Borei Atzei Besamim” on a hadas, after the b’racha on the wine, see Shulchan Aruch 265:1.) This b’racha translates, “Praised are you, Hashem our G-d King of the Universe, Who sanctified Yitzchok Avinu from birth, placed a permanent mark on his body, and sealed the holy covenant upon his descendants. As a reward for fulfilling Bris Milah, Hashem the living G-d, command that Avrohom’s descendants be saved from the punishment of Gehenom (Shabbos 137b with Rashi; Shach Yoreh Deah 265:5).

An alternative interpretation of the beginning of the b’racha is that it refers to the three forefathers, Avraham, Yitzchok, and Yaakov (Tosafos Shabbos 137b).

WHY WAS THIS B’RACHA INSTITUTED?

It is unusual to have an additional b’racha recited AFTER a mitzvah is performed.

Some Rishonim explain that milah warrants an extra b’racha since it was commanded to the Avos before the Torah was given (Tosafos Rid to Shabbos 137b). This theme is reflected in the structure of the b’racha, since it refers to the Avos Avraham and Yitzchok (and also Yaakov according to the second explanation above).

The wording of the b’racha is unusual, since it instructs Hashem to command that Avrohom’s descendants be saved from the punishment of Gehenom. What is meant by this unusual b’racha?

This b’racha can be explained by the following Agada. The Gemara teaches that Avrohom Avinu rescues all of his descendents from Gehenom, no matter how many sins they performed during their time on Earth, provided they observed Bris Milah and did not intermarry (Gemara Eruvin 19a). Thus, the observance of just this one mitzvah may be enough to guarantee that a Jew not end up in Gehenom. We ask Hashem to command that all Jews be protected in this way (Shach 265:5).

An alternative approach to explain this bracha is that the Hebrew word “tzavei” should instead be pronounced “tzivah,” He commanded. In this interpretation of the bracha we are not asking Hashem to command- we are mentioning that in this merit he did command (Shaylas Yaavetz #146). Some prominent gedolim have the practice of saying both versions of the bracha, although others take issue with this practice (Shu’t Nimla Tal).

THE NAMING OF THE BABY

After the b’racha “Asher kideish”, the baby is named in a special text that quotes the Prophet Yechezkel (16:6), “vo’e’evor olayich vo’er’eich misbo’seses b’domoyich vo’omar loch ‘b’domayich chayi’ vo’omar loch ‘b’domayich chayi’,” “And I passed over you and I saw you wallowing in your blood. And I said to you, ‘By your blood, live!’ And I say to you, ‘By your blood, live!’

Reading this posuk presents us with the question: Why is the clause “And I say to you, ‘By your blood, live!’” repeated?

The Targum explains this posuk to be quoting Hashem, “When you, the Jews, were deeply enslaved in Mitzrayim, I remembered the covenant made with the Forefathers. I saw your suffering and told you that I will have mercy on you because of the blood of Bris Milah and will redeem you because of the blood of Korban Pesach.” Thus, according to Targum, the two statements “By your blood, live!” refer to the blood of two different mitzvos, Bris Milah and Korban Pesach. (Because of the latter reason, this posuk is also quoted in the Pesach Hagadah.)

A similar interpretation of this posuk appears in a Midrash: “When the Jews exited Mitzrayim they had Bris Milah performed. They took the blood of the milah and mixed it with the blood of Korban Pesach and placed it on the lintels of their doors. For this reason the pasuk repeats, ‘By your blood, live!’ one reference to blood of milah, and the other to blood of Korban Pesach (Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer, Chapter 29)

WHEN SHOULD ONE DRINK FROM THE CUP?

The custom is that one places a bit of the wine in the baby’s mouth when reciting the words, “b’domayich chayi.” However, when does the person reciting the b’rachos drink the wine?

According to some opinions, one should drink the wine immediately after completing the b’racha of “Asher Kideish” in order to avoid an interruption (a hefsek) between the b’racha of “HaGafen” and drinking the wine (Tur Yoreh Deah 265). Although the b’racha of “Asher Kideish” intervenes between HaGafen and drinking, this is not considered a hefsek just like reciting the b’rachos of kiddush or havdala between “HaGafen” and drinking the wine are not. However, naming the baby constitutes an interruption since it is not a b’racha. Others contend that naming the baby is not considered an interruption between the b’racha and the drinking of the wine since it is part of the procedure (Itur). To avoid this shaylah, the most common practice in Chutz La’Aretz is to honor one person with reciting the b’rachos and someone else with naming the baby. This way the honoree who recited the b’rachos can lick the wine off his fingers in a discreet way, thus avoiding the hefsek. In Eretz Yisrael, the prevalent custom is to honor one person with both kibudim; some follow the Tur’s approach that he drinks from the cup before he names the baby whereas others follow the Itur’s approach that he does not drink the wine until the baby is named.

WHO DRINKS THE WINE ON A FAST DAY?

Since one may not drink the cup of wine, can one recite a b’racha on the wine if it will not be drunk? Indeed, many poskim rule that making Borei Pri HaGafen on the wine constitutes a b’racha levatalah, a b’racha recited in vain (Itur; Shu’t Ran #52; Mordechai, end of Yoma). Others contend that reciting Borei Pri HaGafen without drinking the wine is not a b’racha levatalah since the b’racha is part of the procedure (Rabbeinu Tam). There are numerous opinions among early Rishonim what is the correct procedure to observe.

Some contend that one should not make the b’racha of HaGafen at all on a fast day (Itur; Shu’t Rashba 7:536). (There are poskim who distinguish between Yom Kippur, when the mother may not drink the wine, and other fast days, where the mother might be available to drink the wine.) In their opinion, when no adult will drink the wine, Borei Pri HaGafen should not be recited. (This follows the first opinion quoted above.)

Others go one step further, contending that one cannot even recite the b’racha of Asher Kideish. In their opinion, since the wine cannot be drunk it is not permitted even to pour a cup of wine for a mitzvah without drinking it subsequently (Mordechai end of Yoma, quoting Rabbeinu Yaakov ben Shimshon). Furthermore, they contend that Asher Kideish may not be recited in the absence of the wine.

This last point is disputed by a prominent Rishon, Rav Yitzchok ibn Giat, who contends that one recites the b’racha Asher Kideish without any wine (quoted by Abudraham and Beis Yosef 265). In his opinion, it is only preferential, but not essential, to recite Asher Kideish over a cup of wine.

Others rule that you make a b’racha on the cup of wine but don’t drink it until after the fast (Rav Tzemach Gaon, quoted by Itur). This opinion contends that when reciting “Borei Pri haGefen” on a mitzvah it is not necessary to drink the cup of wine to avoid a b’racha levatalah. The reason we drink the cup of wine is that it is not a kavod for a “kos shel b’racha” to be left undrunk. However, this requirement is fulfilled when the cup of wine is drunk the evening after the bris.

WHAT DO WE DO WITH THE FORESKIN AFTER THE BRIS?

The foreskin is placed in some sand or earth to remind us that the Jews in the desert buried the foreskins from the milah in the earth (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 265:10 from Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer, Chapter 29). It also reminds us that the Jews will be as plentiful as the dust of the earth (Breishis 28:14).

TWINS

If there are two milos (plural of milah) to be performed on the same day, such as when there are twins, should one repeat all the b’rachos when performing the second bris, or should one perform the bris on the second child without repeating the b’rachos? There is a dispute among poskim which to do, some poskim rule that when performing two mitzvos that cannot be performed simultaneously one should recite two separate b’rachos (Itur). Others contend that one should recite separate b’rachos because of “ayin hora” that could result (Rama, Prisha, and Beis Shmuel, Even HaEzer 62:3). Although Shulchan Aruch rules that one should recite only one set of b’rachos (Yoreh Deah 265:5), the widespread practice is to make separate b’rachos for each bris, and to interrupt between the two brisos by going outside to require a new b’racha (Shu’t Darchei Noam, Yoreh Deah #27, cited by Rabbi Akiva Eiger and Pischei Tshuvah to Yoreh Deah). (It should be noted that Mishnah Berurah [8:34 & 639:48] rules that changing one’s location after performing a mitzvah does not require a new b’racha.)

BRIS MILAH AND ATONEMENT

The Midrash tells us that Avraham Avinu’s bris took place on Yom Kippur on the place where the Mizbayach of the Beis HaMikdash was later built. Thus, the atonement both of Yom Kippur and of korbanos is combined in the observance of Birs Milah. In the words of the Midrash “Every year HaKodosh Boruch Hu sees the blood of the Bris of Avrohom Avinu and He atones for all our sins.” Thus, Bris Milah guarantees the future redemption of the Jewish people, and the kaparah (atonement) from all sins (Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer, Chapter 29).

A Critical Review – The Halachos of Book, Wine, and Restaurant Reviews

Recently, someone sent me the following series of shaylos:

“Dear Rabbi Kaganoff,

“1. Is a person allowed to write balanced reviews of books? This question concerns hashkafah-type works, halachic works, self-help books, as well as novels.

“Obviously, there are many halachic ramifications, including loshon hora, etc. I would specifically like to know if one is allowed to “pan” (to review unfavorably) a work that the reviewer finds seriously lacking.

“2. May one write reviews of other products, such as wine or restaurants? I am concerned primarily when the owner is Jewish.

“3. If a person asks my opinion of a book, a wine, or a restaurant, may I answer truthfully even if my personal negative opinion may result in the person choosing another product?

“With much thanks in advance,

“Aaron Bernstein”

Before I answer Aaron’s question, I must first present the halachos of loshon hora that apply here.

Saying something true that may damage someone’s professional or business reputation, or causes him financial harm, constitutes loshon hora, even when nothing negative is intended (Rambam, Hilchos De’os 7:5). Thus, random schmoozing about the quality of different workmen’s skills, the halachic prowess of different talmidei chachomim, or the quality of education provided by a certain school constitutes loshon hora.

However when I need certain information, I may ask people who might know. For example, if I need to do home repairs, I may “ask around” what experience other people have had with various professionals. I should tell them why I need to know, and they should tell me only what is relevant to my needs.

Examples:

1. Gilah hired a home improvements contractor who was skilled and efficient, but inexperienced in certain plumbing work. Ahuva asks Gilah whether the contractor was good. Gilah should reply that he was skilled and efficient, but does Ahuva intend to include any plumbing? If the reply is negative, Gilah should say nothing, since Ahuva understands that if she changes her mind and decides to include plumbing, she should discuss it with Gilah first. If the reply is that there is plumbing to be done, Gilah should tell her that the contractor’s work was excellent and efficient, but that he seemed somewhat inexperienced in plumbing. Perhaps by now he has the experience, or Ahuva should mention to him that she would prefer if he subcontracts out the plumbing.

 2. Yaakov moves to a new neighborhood and asks Michael who the local poskim are. Michael can mention one, some, or all of the local available poskim, but should not mention any disqualifying factors about them, such as, Rabbi X is curt, Rabbi Y is very machmir, or Rabbi Z’s shiurim are unclear. Michael may ask Yaakov what qualities he is looking for in a Rav and then make recommendations based on Yaakov’s answer.

WHAT IF I KNOW THE MECHANIC IS DISHONEST?

Yitzchok and Esther just moved to the neighborhood and mention to me that they are planning to bring their car, which is making unusual noise, to Gonif’s Service Station. My personal dealings with Gonif’s have been highly negative; I have found the proprietor very dishonest. May I say something to Yitzchok and Esther?

The halacha is that not only may I say something to them, but I am obligated to do so (Chofetz Chayim, Hil. Issurei Rechilus 9:1). This is because I am responsible to make sure that Yitzchok and Esther are not hurt financially by the crooked repair shop. This is included in the mitzvah of lo saamod al dam rei’echa, do not stand by idly while your friend becomes injured (see Be’er Mayim Chayim ad loc.).

However, exactly how I impart this information to Yitzchok and Esther depends on the circumstances.

Why is this?

In any situation where I must protect someone from harm, whether it is a potentially harmful shidduch, damaging chinuch, or a bad business deal, there are five rules that govern what I may say:

1. IS IT BAD?

Be certain that what may transpire (if I do not intercede) is indeed bad. Often, one thinks that something is bad, when it is not really that bad. Later in this article I will describe a case that appears bad, while halachically it is not considered bad. In the case at hand, I am responsible to see that Yitzchok and Esther are not deceived by the repair shop. Therefore, I have fulfilled the first rule.

2. NO EXAGGERATING

Do not exaggerate the situation as worse than it is. In this case, even if I need to describe Gonif’s dishonesty (which I can probably avoid, as we will explain later), I should describe only what I personally know, and I must be careful not to embellish or include hearsay.

3. GOOD MOTIVATION

One’s motivation must be to protect the innocent person from harm, not to bring retribution on the person doing the harming. In our case, this means that my goal is to protect Yitzchok and Esther from harm, not to “get back” at Gonif’s. The reason for this condition is that one violates the prohibition of saying loshon hora if one has evil intent even in a case when one may say the loshon hora (see Be’er Mayim Chayim, Hil. Issurei Rechilus 9:3).

4. NO OTHER CHOICE

Can I accomplish what I need to without saying loshon hora? The answer to this question depends on the situation. What do I need to accomplish? In the case of the crooked repair shop, my goal is that Yitzchok and Esther should not be victi miz ed by the shop. I can accomplish this in several different ways, some of which do not require tarnishing the repair shop’s reputation. For example, if Yitzchok and Esther will heed my advice to take their car to “Careful and Honest Repairs” instead, then I have no need to tell them that Gonif’s is a dishonest shop. In this instance, I have accomplished my purpose without mentioning the dishonest acts I witnessed.

 5. TOO DAMAGING

Will the result of my sharing the negative information be more harmful to the perpetrator than he should suffer according to halacha? For example, I know that Reuven’s professional work is sometimes substandard, and I discover that Shimon, who is known to back out on deals he has committed to, contracted Reuven to do work. Although under other circumstances I would not only be permitted, but even required to notify someone of Reuven’s lack of professional skill, in this situation I may not notify Shimon because he may back out on Reuven in a way that contravenes halacha.

WHEN IS SOMETHING NOT REALLY BAD?

In condition #1 above, I mentioned that there are situations that someone considers bad, but which are not considered bad according to halacha. The background behind this shaylah will impact directly on our original shaylah about reviewing books, wines, and restaurants.

What is an example of this situation?

Chani sees Miriam, who is new in the neighborhood; about to enter a grocery store that Chani knows is expensive. May Chani tell Miriam that this store overcharges slightly? The Chofetz Chayim rules that one may not reveal this information (Be’er Mayim Chayim, Hilchos Rechilus, 9:27).

Why is it not permitted to save Miriam from overpaying?

The Chofetz Chayim rules that overpaying slightly for an item is not considered a “bad thing,” provided the storekeeper is within the halachic range of what he may charge. (A full explanation of how much the storekeeper may charge is beyond the focus of this article.)

WHY IS BEING OVERCHARGED NOT CONSIDERED BEING HARMED?

Since the storekeeper who charges higher prices is not doing anything halachically wrong, one may not hurt his livelihood by encouraging someone to purchase elsewhere. And if one does, this is loshon hora, which includes hurting someone’s livelihood.

Thus, there is a major difference between a dishonest store and one that is more expensive. It is a mitzvah to steer someone away from a dishonest store, but it is forbidden to steer him away from a Jewish store that charges more.

What happens if someone new moves to town and asks me where he can find kosher groceries?

You should tell him which local groceries sell kosher products that have the hechsherim he wants. You do not need to supply a complete list of the stores in the neighborhood, but it is permissible to mention only the stores that are less expensive. However, you may not tell him which stores are more expensive.

If someone knows that a third party plans to purchase an item from a store that tends to be expensive, do not say anything. Even though the purchaser could save money by buying elsewhere, the storekeeper is losing from your actions. One should not get involved in saving one person’s money at someone else’s expense (see Be’er Mayim Chayim, Rechilus 9:27 and commentaries). However, if the proprietor of the store is not an observant Jew, you may warn the purchaser about his overcharging.

On the other hand, if the storekeeper is doing something that is halachically prohibited, such as selling defective or misrepresented products, one may and should warn someone about it.

BOOK REVIEWS

With this background, we can now discuss Aaron Bernstein’s first shaylah: “Is a person allowed to write balanced reviews of books?”

What does the review accomplish?

This depends on the type of book being reviewed. Let us begin with one category: Jewish novels.

Why do secular sources review books?

So that people can decide whether they will enjoy the book and whether they should spend the money to purchase it.

May I do this? What “harm” am I protecting someone from by telling him or her to avoid purchasing this book? On the other hand by warning people away from the book, I am hurting the livelihood of those who have invested time and money feeling that this book will provide them parnasah.

Is it not parallel to the case where one Jewish storeowner, in his desire to make a living, charges a bit more than his competitors? The halacha there is that I may not tell someone to avoid his store, since I am harming the storekeeper. Similarly, I may not tell people to save money by avoiding the purchase of a book. One may however, publish a review that describes the positive aspects of a book.

However, if a work contains flaws in hashkafah, then one is required to refute the author’s mistakes.

Similarly, if a halacha work is flawed, one should write a review to clarify that the work contains errors.

EXAMPLE:

Many years ago, I was asked by a well-known Jewish publication to review a particular halacha work. When I read the work I felt it sorely lacking in certain areas- particularly hashkafah, and that it could easily be used as a resource for someone who would then behave in a questionable or non-halachic fashion. I pointed out these concerns of mine in the review, because in this situation it was very important to avoid serious halachic mishaps.

If the work reflects an approach to halacha different from one’s own, then it depends – if the halacha quoted is reliable, one may identify that it reflects a different halacha approach.

Of course, this means that the most standard book reviews and other reviews common in secular contravene halacha guidelines. One may include a book review column only if it merely informs people of new publications but does not provide critical negative review.

Now we can look at the second question:

“2. May one write reviews of other products, such as wine or restaurants?”

Already, we know the answer to this question. If the purpose of the review is to discourage people from buying a product or eating in a restaurant, one may not write the review. But one may publish a review that contains the positive aspects of the product.

WHAT IF SOMEONE ASKS ME MY OPINION OF A CERTAIN WINE OR RESTAURANT?

If you have a poor opinion of the wine, restaurant or book, you should inquire, “What are you looking for?” Then based on what the person describes what they want, direct them to the product that most satisfies their needs and interests. If the wine or restaurant in question may not be what they want, then explain to them what aspects would meet their needs, and what might not. This is permitted because they have come to you to ask for information about the item. However, one may not simply put this information in the media for everyone, including readers who have no need or interest in the information.

For example, you do not have a positive opinion of a restaurant. Why? You think the service is poor. Would that be a factor to this person? If you are not certain, but you think there are other redeeming reasons why this person may want to eat in this restaurant anyway, say it in a way that does not reflect too negatively, such as, “Once, when I was there, the service was a bit slow. But I don’t dine there very often.”

One of the rabbonim to whom I sent this article for their opinion wrote me the following: “I don’t agree with what you wrote about restaurants. If one has a criticism that doesn’t necessarily make it an undesirable place for the one asking, I think that it is better to just say that ‘I don’t go there too often.’ The person won’t suffer by trying and he will decide if he is happy with it.”

According to halacha, may one publish a magazine like Consumer Reports?

Although the editors of this magazine have not sought my opinion, I think that they may publish the results of their research if they are read only by people interested in purchasing these items, and not by a general audience.

COULD THERE THEREFORE BE A FRUM KOSHER WINE REVIEW?

Possibly, but only if its readership was limited to people who are shopping for wines and looking for advice.

In conclusion, we see that halacha approaches this entire issue very differently than contemporary society. We must remember that we examine our behavior through the prism of halacha and not through the eye scope of modern society.

May a Cohen Go to the Dentist?

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This article was originally published in Yated Neeman.

Yankel Katz (*Names are fictitious) called me recently with a very surprising shaylah:

“I am scheduled to have a dental implant placed in my mouth.
My dentist told me that the procedure may require the insertion of cadaver bone
around the implant. Since I am a cohen, I
immediately realized that I may have a serious halacha problem on my hands, or
more accurately, in his hands and my mouth. May I have these products inserted?
May I even go into the dentist’s office knowing he has these remains (parts of
a corpse) on hand? Maybe I cannot even enter the building?”

I admit that I was more than a bit incredulous that human
remains are commonly used today in basic dentistry and medicine. I did some
research and discovered that indeed, Yankel’s information is accurate. Many
forms of dental, oral, podiatric and other kinds of surgery utilize cadaver
derived products. Surgeons and dentists use these human products (typically
bone, skin, and heart muscle) in various grafting procedures. Similarly, many
podiatrists use human remains in the construction of foot implants. Because of
this, most periodontists (gum specialists) and
dentists specializing in implants store human muscle and bone in their offices.
Thus, Yankel’s shaylah is realistic:
May a cohen enter an office building
knowing that there is probably a dental or foot clinic somewhere in the
building that contains human remains? Does this prohibit a cohen from freely entering large office buildings? Furthermore, a
non-cohen who causes a cohen to become tamei will also be violating
the Torah. Obviously, the ramifications of these shaylos are ominous, and the potential repercussions could be
catastrophic for people employed in most cities. Because of these
considerations, I researched this shaylah
with utmost seriousness.

There are three potential halacha issues involved in this shaylah:

I. Benefiting From Human Remains (Issur Hana’ah)

II. The Mitzvah of Burial

III. Tumah.

To answer these questions, I first needed to gather some
factual information. I began by asking Yankel’s dentist the following
questions:

1) How extensively are these bones
and muscle used?

2) How much material does a
dentist keep in his office?

I received the following answers:

1) Every periodontist and oral
surgeon has this material in his office. In addition, many general dentists
have it too if they perform gum surgery or implant surgery.

2) There is no practical way to answer
this question accurately. Specialists such as oral surgeons probably have a
lot. I keep between 2-10cc. They are usually stored in 0.5, 1, and 2cc bottles.

And now some background to the
halachic shaylos involved:

I. BENEFITING FROM A CORPSE

May one benefit from a corpse or
from human remains?

The Gemara rules that one may not benefit from a corpse (Avodah Zarah 29b). However, the Gemara
does not discuss whether this prohibition applies only to the remains of a Jew
or also to those of a non-Jew.

Why should it make a difference?

The Torah pasuk
teaching that one may not benefit from a corpse refers to a Jew. Thus, many poskim conclude that the prohibition is
restricted to the remains of a Jew (Tosafos
and Rashba, Bava Kamma
10a; Nekudos
HaKesef
and Gra, Yoreh Deah 349; Shu’t Radbaz #741; Mishneh LaMelech, Hilchos Aveil 14:21). Others rule that remains of
either Jews or non-Jews are equally forbidden (Shu’t Rashba 365; Shulchan
Aruch
, Yoreh Deah 349:1). Still
others compromise between these two positions, contending that the prohibition
to use a gentile cadaver is Rabbinic, whereas not using a Jewish corpse is
prohibited min haTorah (Pischei Teshuvah ad loc.).

In a circumstance of pikuach
nefesh
one may of course benefit, as is true with virtually all mitzvos of
the Torah. The question is that tooth replacement is not a case of life
threatening urgency. However, it may be very important to allow the patient to
use the best quality dental implant.

To quote Yankel’s dentist, himself an observant Jew:

“In my opinion, the severity of this
halachic issue should hinge on the detriment caused by tooth loss. Clearly
losing one tooth or even all the teeth will not result in death. However, tooth
loss often results in dietary/nutritional issues. People who have a difficult
time chewing will not have a proper diet. Although people who lose their teeth
can still eat, they tend to eat soft foods, which are usually high in
carbohydrates and low in protein, vitamins, and minerals. Foods that are high
in protein, vitamins, and minerals, such as meat, poultry, grains, and fresh
fruits and vegetables, tend to be harder to chew. Consequently, people who eat
mainly soft foods may become undernourished. I have seen many cases where
people receiving their first set of dentures lose a lot of weight due to the
difficulty involved in learning how to use them. Some people adapt and those who
do not often seek implants if they can afford it. The only thing preventing
most people from having implants is the exorbitant cost, since insurance does
not usually pay for them at this time.”

At this point, I think it is important to explain the
difference between dentures and implants. (I admit that I was unaware what
implants are until I was asked this shaylah.)

DENTURES VERSUS IMPLANTS

Dentures are removable appliances that replace some or all
of the teeth. They are usually not firm enough to allow a proper bite and chew,
and thus a patient using dentures usually regains only a very partial ability
to chew. In addition, they are often uncomfortable.

To install dental implants, the
dentist utilizes a surgical screw to which he cements crowns or bridges.
Alternatively, he uses the implants as anchors to hold complete dentures in
place. In either instance, the resultant bite is much stronger than dentures
and allows the patient an almost total ability to chew a regular diet.

Dental researchers introduced implants in the ‘60’s, and
they became mainstream practice in the ‘90’s. The last few years have seen a
huge surge in patient awareness and acceptance of the use of implants. Most
people consider them the “standard of care” for tooth replacement.

Therefore one can understand the practical importance of
using high-quality implants, assuming, of course, that no compromise of halacha
results for either the patient, the dentist, or other cohanim in the vicinity.

USE OF HUMAN TISSUE

Rav Moshe Feinstein wrote a teshuvah concerning transplanting human remains in non- lif e-threatening situations (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 1:229, 230). Clearly, one may
transplant such organs as kidneys, livers, and heart because of pikuach nefashos ( lif e-threatening
emergency). However, transplanting items such as bone, cornea, muscle, and
ligament are not usually for lif e-threatening
situations. As explained above, dental implants relieve a non- lif e-threatening emergency, although one could argue
that these situations are considered choleh
kol gufo
, where halachic rules are somewhat relaxed. Nevertheless, treating
a choleh kol gufo does not permit
violating a Torah prohibition.

We noted above that there is a dispute whether one may use
remains of a non-Jew; Rav Moshe concludes that under extenuating circumstances
one may rely on the lenient opinions. A second question now presents itself,
which is whether one may assume that the remains used are those of a non-Jew,
since using remains of a Jew is certainly prohibited min haTorah. Again, here also Rav Moshe ruled leniently that one
may assume that the remains are of non-Jewish source, since most people are not
Jewish (Mishneh LaMelech, Hil. Aveil 3:1).

NOT THE NORMAL
USE

Some poskim permit
the use of human remains for non-life-threatening emergencies because of a
different line of reasoning. The Gemara (Pesachim
25b) rules that someone who is ill, but does not have a life threatening
condition, may apply a balm made from arlah
fruit (that grow in the first three years of a tree’s growth),
notwithstanding that the Torah prohibits benefiting from such fruit.

Why is this permitted where the situation is not life
threatening?

This is because many prohibitions that are asur b’hana’ah (forbidden to benefit from),
are prohibited min hatorah only
when the prohibited item is used in its normal way. Smearing fruit on one’s
skin is not a typical, normal use. Since arlah is prohibited min
haTorah b’hana’ah
only when used in its normal way, smearing arlah fruit
as a balm involves only a rabbinic prohibition, which is relaxed for an ill
person.

However, this leniency does not apply to all prohibitions. For
example, the Torah prohibits using kilayim (that is, those of a
grapevine) min haTorah even in an atypical way. For this reason, an ill
person may not smear kilayim as a
balm, even though he may smear arlah
balm.

Where does the prohibition to use human remains fall? Is it
like arlah, and is permitted for an ill person to use in an atypical
manner, or like kilayim and prohibited.

The poskim dispute
whether the prohibition not to use human remains applies to using them in an
atypical way, Shu’t Radbaz #979 and Mishneh
L’Melech, Hilchos Aveil
14:21 are lenient, whereas Rabbi Akiva Eiger (notes
to Yoreh Deah 349) prohibits. If it is permitted, then there would be a
basis to permit the use of human remains from a Jew for someone who is ill, but
not life threatening. Rav Moshe rules that min
hatorah
one may not use human remains in an atypical way, although other poskim are lenient (Shu’t Har Tzvi,
Yoreh Deah
#277). Following the latter approach might allow using muscle
and bone even from a Jewish cadaver for implants.

However, since there are alternative sources for implants, such
as bovine tissue, it is halachically unclear whether this justifies use of
human implants when one can use non-human sources. Although some dentists feel
that the cadaver-based material is superior, others do not agree. Therefore,
someone who is considering cadaver implants should ask a shaylah from his or her Rav, whether or not one is a cohen.
In addition, although the dentist may have asked a shaylah and been told that he or she may use human implants, the
patient’s Rav may feel otherwise. Thus I believe that a frum dentist who received a psak that he must use human
tissue should advise his frum patients to ask their own shaylah.

II. THE REQUIREMENT TO BURY THE
DEAD

Is one required to bury a small amount of human remains?

The poskim dispute
how small an amount of Jewish remains requires the mitzvah of burying. Some
contend that one must bury even an amount as small as a k’zayis (Tosafos Yom Tov
to Shabbos 10:5). Others contend that
one is required to bury only that which could represent an entire body (Mishneh LaMelech, Hilchos Aveil 14:21). However, it seems that all agree that there
is no Torah mitzvah to bury the remains of a gentile, except due to tumah concerns. Thus, this question
would not affect our shaylah once we
assume that the remains involved are of a non-Jew.

III. TUMAH AND A COHEN

A human cadaver (meis)
of either Jew or gentile conveys
tumah when a person touches remains
or carries them. Although these halachos do not affect most Jews nowadays, a cohen is still forbidden to come in
contact with human remains in a way that he will become tamei.

Jewish remains convey tumah
through ohel, which means that a cohen may not be under the same roof or
in the same room as the remains. However, if all the doors and windows in the
room holding the remains are closed, the tumas
ohel
is probably contained within that room (see Nekudos HaKesef on Taz, Yoreh Deah 371:3; see also Shu’t Noda BiYehudah, Yoreh Deah #94).
However, there is a lesser form of tumah,
called sof tumah latzeis (lit., the tumah will eventually leave), that
extends beyond the closed doors or windows, though only in the direction that
one will eventually remove the tumah.

OHEL AND A NON-JEW

The poskim dispute
whether non-Jewish remains convey tumah
through ohel; that means, will
someone who is in the same room as non-Jewish remains become tamei? According to those who contend that non-Jewish remains convey tumas ohel, a cohen may not enter a room containing a gentile corpse or part of a
corpse. Thus, a cohen should be
careful not to enter any hospital except for a life-threatening emergency, since
there is likely to be human remains somewhere in the hospital. Similarly, a cohen may not enter a museum without carefully
verifying that it does not contain any human remains — an unusual
circumstance. According to those who contend that non-Jewish remains do not
convey tumas ohel, a cohen may enter a hospital when one may
assume that it contains no Jewish remains.

The Shulchan Aruch
rules that non-Jewish remains do not convey tumas
ohel
, yet a cohen should still be
machmir not to be in the same ohel
as gentile remains. Thus, a cohen
should not visit someone in the hospital unless there is an extenuating reason,
i.e., there is something important that only he may accomplish. Similarly, a cohen
should not enter a museum without verifying that it does not contain human
remains. [This discussion is limited to a case where the remains in the
hospital are of a non-Jew. In a situation where there are likely to be Jewish
remains in the hospital, a cohen would
be allowed to enter the hospital only for a life-threatening emergency (pikuach nefashos).]

Thus, if we assume that the remains contained in the dental
office are a non-Jew’s, then a cohen
entering the office would not entail a halachic violation, but would be something
that should be avoided (according to the above ruling of the Shulchan Aruch).
However because of other halachic factors (too complicated to explain in this
article), there is a basis to be lenient and enter the dentist’s office and
certainly the building. Personally, I would encourage the dentist to store the
remains in a way that guarantees that there is no tumas ohel, a procedure that
I will gladly explain to any dentist on an individual basis, but that is too
complicated to elucidate in this article.

WHAT ABOUT YANKEL KATZ’S
IMPLANT?

So far we have discussed whether one may use human remains
as an implant and whether a cohen may
enter the office. Assuming that Yankel’s Rav rules that he may rely on the
remains being of a non-Jew and that one may use gentile remains, the shaylah is still not completely resolved. Because Yankel has the bone
graft installed in his mouth, he will now be touching and carrying the remains,
and a cohen may not touch or carry
non-Jewish remains. Is there any possible solution to this issue, or must
Yankel opt for a non-human product? The answer to this question lies in a
different direction.

IS THERE A MINIMUM AMOUNT OF
REMAINS THAT CONVEYS TUMAH?

Here the issue is, how small an amount still conveys tumah? Although the amount of flesh that conveys tumah is one k’zayis, the
amount of human bone that conveys tumah in this situation may be as
small as a k’se’orah, the size of a barleycorn, which is tiny (Ohalos
2:7; Rambam, Tumas Meis 4:4).

How big is a k’zayis?
The estimates of the poskim range from
as little as 3 cc. to as much as 25 cc. A dentist typically uses less than this
amount in a patient, although sometimes he might use a larger amount. Thus, one
should verify this information in order to ask a shaylah. However the
amount of bone used is certainly greater than the size of a barleycorn, thus
precluding a cohen from receiving a dental implant of human origin.

There is one other aspect about dental offices that one
should know: Some dentists keep a human skull on hand for explanation and
education. A cohen should clarify in advance before visiting a dentist whether
he is a skull-bearer, and should make similar research before scheduling an
appointment at the podiatrist and other physicians, who often also use human
remains in their surgeries or have cadaver models on hand for visual explanations.
A concerned practitioner will procure plastic replicas rather than genuine
human parts to mini miz e difficult
situations for a cohen.

A cohen has the
privilege of blessing the people, in addition to serving in the Beis HaMikdash, may it be built speedily
in our day. Concurrent with these privileges come many responsibilities,
including the requirement of avoiding tumah.
This necessitates an awareness of possible tumah
situations and being constantly aware of new developments in our rapidly
changing society.

Bedeviled by Stirring Events – or Some Insights on the Melacha of Losh

I  was recently asked the following question:

“My daughter came home from school telling us that she was taught that we cannot make deviled eggs on Shabbos because adding mustard and shaping them is considered ‘kneading’ the yolks. But I remember my mother always mixed hard boiled eggs with minced onion and oil on Shabbos morning shortly before the meal. Could my mother have been wrong?”

As our readership is aware, the Torah prohibits melachos on Shabbos not because they are taxing, but because these activities are significant and important (Gemara Bava Kamma 2a). As the Yerushalmi relates, after toiling for three and a half years to understand all the prohibited activities of Shabbos, Rabbi Yochanan and Reish Lakish concluded that each of the 39 major melachos (avos) has at least 39 sub-categories, called tolados, which are also prohibited min haTorah (Yerushalmi, Shabbos, beginning of 7:2). As is clear from the passage, these eminent scholars realized that the Torah prohibited these types of significant activity. As Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch notes, the Torah does not prohibit avodah, which connotes hard work, but melacha, which implies purpose and accomplishment (Commentary to Shemos 20:10).

One of the melacha activities prohibited on Shabbos is losh, kneading (Mishnah Shabbos 73a). Although building the Mishkan did not involve kneading dough, dying the cloth used in its construction required kneading a thick paste (see Rashi, Shabbos 73a and Gemara Shabbos 156a). (Some Rishonim contend that we derive forbidden melachos also from activities performed for the service of the Mishkan and the Beis HaMikdash, and not only from the Mishkan’s construction. According to these opinions, the melacha of kneading could be derived from the meal offerings of the Mishkan that involved the kneading of dough [Rav Hai Gaon, quoted in introduction to Maasei Rokei’ach].)

WHAT IS LOSH?

The concept of losh is to combine fine powders or similar small items into a unit by adding liquid (Shevisas HaShabas). Thus, mixing clay for pottery, or cement and sand into concrete, violate the Torah prohibition of losh (see Rambam, Hilchos Shabbos 8:16; Rashi, Shabbos 74b). Similarly, mixing oatmeal or reconstituting instant mashed potatoes violates the Torah prohibition of losh (in addition to whatever prohibitions of cooking may be involved).

Similarly, preparing certain food items on Shabbos might fall under the rubric of losh. For example, the Gemara discusses how one may mix bran with water to feed one’s animals. Although bran and water do not form dough, this is nevertheless prohibited since the bran sticks together (Shabbos 155b).

The Tannayim dispute whether one may add water to bran on Shabbos to feed one’s animals, Rebbe prohibiting because he feels that this constitutes a Torah violation of losh, whereas Rabbi Yosi ben Rabbi Yehudah maintains that adding water to bran involves only a rabbinic prohibition and is permitted in order to feed one’s animals if performed in an indirect way. This introduces a new concept in the laws of losh – that one may perform a rabbinically prohibited activity in an indirect way in order to prepare food or feed on Shabbos (Shabbos 155b- 156a). Performing a prohibited activity in an indirect way is called a shinui or kil’achar yad (literally, using the back of one’s hand), and is usually prohibited miderabbanan. However, under extenuating circumstances, Chazal relaxed the prohibition.

Losh applies only when mixing fine items that stick together to form a unit. It does not apply when adding liquid to large items even if they stick together, since they do not combine into one item (Taz, Orach Chayim 321:12). Therefore, one may use oil or mayonnaise to make a potato salad or tuna salad on Shabbos if the pieces of potato or tuna are large enough to prevent the salad appearing like a single mass.

BATTER VERSUS DOUGH

The Gemara implies that there is a halachic difference between a belilah rakkah, the consistency of batter, and belilah avah, the consistency of dough. By batter we mean a mix that does hold together, so it is not a liquid, yet is fluid enough that one can pour it from one bowl to another (Chazon Ish, Orach Chayim 58:9). Creating a batter involves only a rabbinic violation, whereas mixing a consistency like dough, which is thick enough that one cannot pour it, has stricter rules, often involving a Torah violation.

If the mix does not hold together at all, then one may mix it without any concerns because it is considered a liquid (Chazon Ish, Orach Chayim 58:9).

DEVILING THE EGGS

Based on the above discussion, it would appear that one may not mix egg salad or deviled eggs on Shabbos without a shinui, and possibly not even with a shinui. The mix created when making these foods cannot be poured, and therefore does not qualify as a “batter” but as “dough,” which may entail a Torah prohibition of mixing on Shabbos. We may usually not perform Torah prohibitions with a shinui on Shabbos to prepare food.

However, a standard appetizer in many parts of Europe for the Shabbos day meal was to stir together hard-boiled eggs, minced onion and schmaltz, a dish called “eggs and onions” that required preparation immediately before serving. Was it permitted to mix “eggs and onions” on Shabbos or did it violate the prohibition against kneading on Shabbos since the finished product was mashed egg and onion held together with fat? Although it would seem to be prohibited to prepare this food on Shabbos, this food was commonly prepared every Shabbos morning prior to serving. Does this mean that all these observant Jews were violating the Torah’s command? When we consider that this was the standard appetizer eaten by thousands of Jewish households every Shabbos for hundreds of years, it is difficult to imagine that millions of eggs and onions were prepared in violation of the laws of Shabbos!

Several halachic authorities raise this question, providing a variety of approaches to explain why one may blend eggs and onions on Shabbos. Could the reason to allow this apply to contemporary devilled eggs or egg salad?

Some contend that this mixing was permitted only when the pieces of egg and onion were both large enough to prevent the mix from having a dough-like consistency, but rather looked more like large pieces stuck together. However, the prevalent approach was to chop the eggs and onions into a very fine consistency, in which case the above-mentioned leniency was not applicable.

Other authorities permitted mixing and stirring them together only with a shinui, although apparently the prevalent custom was to mix it without any shinui at all.

RAV SHELOMOH KLUGER’S APPROACH

Rav Shelomoh Kluger, a great luminary of Nineteenth Century Poland, proposed a highly original reasoning to legitimize the preparing of the eggs and onions on Shabbos. Regarding various halachos of the Torah, predominantly the laws of tumah and taharah, only seven substances are considered liquids — wine, blood, olive oil, milk, dew, honey and water. Rav Kluger contended that the halachos of losh are also dependent on the use of one of these seven liquids to create the “dough” (Shu”t HaElef Lecha Shelomoh, Orach Chayim #139). According to this novel approach, no losh prohibition is involved if one uses mayonnaise or any oil other than olive oil, nor if one makes dough on Shabbos using only juice other than grape juice.

We should note that following this line of reasoning, not only may one prepare the famous eggs and onions mixture, but one could also prepare devilled eggs or egg salad on Shabbos provided one does not use olive oil as the liquid. Although some may prefer use of olive oil for its cholesterol and other medical benefits, this would not justify violating the laws of Shabbos.

However, Rav Kluger’s approach is not without its detractors. For one thing, as he himself points out, his approach disputes the statement of a highly-respected earlier authority, the Pri Megadim (Mishbetzos Zahav 321:12), who contends that losh is violated when one mixes foods together with goose schmaltz (a common ingredient in European homes in his era). This demonstrates clearly that any substance that causes items to stick together violates losh, at least according to some widely-accepted opinions. For the most part, later authorities have not accepted Rav Kluger’s contention limiting losh to the “seven liquids.”

Rav Shelomoh Kluger applied a second reason to permit the preparation of eggs and onions on Shabbos. He theorized that losh only applies to the earth itself or to items that grow from the ground — thus precluding eggs from the prohibition of losh. Although this approach only resolves the losh consideration germane to the eggs in the mixture but not to the onions, Rav Kluger further contended that the onions are also exempt from losh since the eggs are the main ingredient. He maintained that when mixing several items, of which losh applies only to some, halacha considers only the major ingredient and ignores the rest (Shu”t HaElef Lecha Shelomoh, Orach Chayim #139).

This second approach of Rav Shelomoh Kluger is also not without its detractors. Both the contention that losh applies only to items that grow from the ground, and the further supposition that one ignores the lesser item are challenged by later authorities (see Tzitz Eliezer 11:36:3, quoting Yad Yosef).

OTHER APPROACHES

Other reasons are quoted to permit making “eggs and onions” on Shabbos, including a suggestion that there is no losh prohibition to stir in an ingredient added for taste even if it indeed causes the food to hold together. (This position is quoted by the Tzitz Eliezer 11:36 in the name of a great scholar; however, the Tzitz Eliezer rejects the argument.) According to this approach, one might argue that one may make deviled eggs on Shabbos since the mustard is primarily added for flavor, although one could argue alternatively that one’s intent is to create a consistent filling, which is losh.

Others permit the mixing of eggs and onions because they do not form into a gush, that is, a single unit (Shu”t Be’er Moshe 6:44). According to this reasoning, deviling eggs is forbidden since one is indeed forming units of seasoned mashed egg yolk.

RAV SHELOMOH ZALMAN AUERBACH’S APPROACH

Rav Shelomoh Zalman Auerbach presented a different reason to permit mixing “eggs and onions” on Shabbos, which requires a small introduction. At the time of the Gemara, neither Post nor General Mills had yet cornered the market on breakfast cereal, and people were forced to prepare their own breakfast. The Cheerios of the day involved mixing a specialty flour called kali, made from toasted kernels, with oil, water and salt. The Gemara quotes an opinion that permits mixing kali on Shabbos provided one uses a minor shinui while doing so (Shabbos 155b). Several authorities question why the Gemara is so lenient in this instance (Nishmas Odom; Biyur Halacha). Allow me to explain the basis of their concern:

Usually, a shinui may be used on Shabbos in only one of two circumstances:

1. To prepare food that without the shinui involves only a rabbinic prohibition.

2. To prepare the food in a radically different way than it is usually prepared. An example of the latter method is that although one may not chop items fine on Shabbos, one may crush them with the handle of a knife. Since this is a radical departure from the usual method of mashing items with mortar and pestle or other grinding implements, Chazal permitted crushing food this way (Shibolei HaLeket #92, based on Gemara Shabbos 141a).

Thus we are faced with the following anomaly: The Gemara permits mixing kali on Shabbos, seemingly permitting a Torah prohibition of losh by means of a minor deviation from the normal method of preparing this food. This should not be permitted on Shabbos.

The Biyur Halacha responds to this question with two different novel approaches to explain why this is permitted:

1. Mixing a food that is already cooked or toasted and ready to eat does not violate the prohibition of losh. Since these kernels are not used for bread, but are ready to eat after mixing them, this mixing is not considered the prohibited melacha of losh, but is to be treated no different min haTorah from any other preparing of food. Although Chazal prohibited this preparation because it looks like kneading, it is permitted with a shinui as are many other food preparations.

2. The Biyur Halacha suggests an alternative approach: there is no violation of losh while one is eating. This is similar to a concept found by other melachos, notably selecting and grinding, that permits performing these activities immediately before consuming them.

This approach has its detractors, since no early authorities note that this lenience applies to losh, and logically there is a big distinction between selecting and grinding, which are processes that are absolutely essential to normal eating, and kneading, which is not essential (see Magen Avraham 321:24).

RETURNING TO EGGS AND ONIONS

Based on both approaches of the Biyur Halacha, Rav Shelomoh Zalman Auerbach notes that preparing eggs and onions should be permitted because this food cannot be prepared before Shabbos and will become ruined if not prepared shortly before eating. (A similar approach to explain the custom of mixing eggs and onions is presented by an earlier authority, the Tehillah LeDavid 321:25).

In addition, Rav Shelomoh Zalman Auerbach reasons that losh is a process that one does while eating since one mixes food together in one’s mouth (Shulchan Shelomoh 321:16). This author does not understand the last statement of Rav Shelomoh Zalman Auerbach, since the processing of food that takes place in one’s mouth, chewing, reduces food to small particles and does not combine small particles into larger ones, which is the essence of losh.

According to Rav Shelomoh Zalman Auerbach’s approach, preparing “eggs and onions” requires a shinui, meaning that one should add the ingredients to the bowl in an inverted order than one usually does, and should also preferably stir the mix in an unusual fashion, such as not in normal circular strokes but with alternative crisscross motions instead.

However, the approaches mentioned earlier permit mixing eggs and onions without any shinui at all. When reading later halachic works, one finds many poskim who feel that one should avoid preparing eggs and onions on Shabbos, and at a minimum certainly not without a shinui, whereas others are suspicious of those who question such a time-hallowed practice (Be’er Moshe; Tzitz Eliezer).

It is also noteworthy that the first approach presented by the Biyur Halacha should permit not only the famous “eggs and onions” that were an essential part of Jewish cuisine for hundreds of years, but also preparing either egg salad or deviled eggs on Shabbos. Furthermore, according to the second approach one would be permitted to prepare them immediately before the meal just as one may select immediately before the meal. In both instances, one would need to use a shinui of mixing the ingredients in a different order and not stirring with the usual circular motions.

Where does that leave our deviled eggs or egg salad on Shabbos? As in all areas of halacha, one should consult with one’s posek how to prepare these items on Shabbos. The goal of this discussion is to present the background of the halachic issues that form the basis for the varying piskei halacha on this issue.

The Torah commanded us concerning the halachos of Shabbos by giving us the basic categories that are prohibited. Shabbos is a day that we refrain from altering the world for our own purposes but instead allow Hashem’s rule to be the focus of creation by refraining from our own creative acts (Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch’s Commentary to Shemos 20:10). By demonstrating Hashem’s rule even over non-exertive activities such as kneading, we demonstrate and acknowledge the true Creator of the world and all it contains.

Practical Halachos of Civil Litigation

A Jew lives his life hoping to manage his business relationships without ever resorting to litigation. Someone involved in a “misunderstanding,” should try to discuss the matter with the other party and if the matter remains unresolved, he should try discussing it with the guidance of a third party, possibly a Rav.

However, what happens if someone tried doing this and the problem remained unresolved? For such situations, the Torah commands us to establish batei din.

One may use either of two kinds of batei din. Either the parties can bring their litigation to an existent beis din or alternatively they can create an ad hoc beis din using a system called zabla. Zabla is an acronym for zeh borer lo echod, which means that each party chooses one of the dayanim who will judge the case, and then the two dayanim choose a third person to join them and form a beis din (Sanhedrin 23a). In either system, the two parties agree that they will be bound by the decision of the beis din that they use.

The Gemara (Gittin 88b) teaches that a Jew may not submit litigation against a fellow Jew to a secular court. This violation exists even if both parties agree (Ramban, beginning of Parshas Mishpatim), and is known as the prohibition against using Arkaos, secular courts. Using court systems not sanctioned by the Torah creates chillul Hashem, a desecration of Hashem’s name by implying a denial of Hashem and His Torah (Midrash Tanchuma, Mishpatim #3). Because the Torah created a system of courts, someone who uses a non-Torah source of litigation acts as if he denies the authenticity of the Torah, chas visholom, and the authority of He who commanded us to set up Torah courts.

In the words of the Rambam (Hilchos Sanhedrin 26:7), “Whoever has his case judged by non-Jewish laws or courts, even if their laws are the same (as the Torah), is a rosho. It is as if he blasphemed and raised his hand against the Torah of Moshe Rabbeinu”. (See also Rashi’s comments on Shmos 21:1). Someone who brought litigation to a secular court without halachic permission (as described later) may not serve as chazan for Yomim Norayim (Mishnah Berurah 53:82). In addition, he will invariably end up with property that is not his according to halacha and transgress the violation of gezel, stealing!

What if the Other Party Refuses to Go to Beis Din?

This problem is unfortunately neither uncommon nor recent, and apparently occurred even at the time of the Gemara (see Bava Kamma 92b, as explained by Rosh). When such an unfortunate event happens, the aggrieved party follows the following procedure: The plaintiff files with a beis din, which now summons the defendant to appear in beis din. If the defendant fails to appear in beis din or indicates that he will not appear, the beis din authorizes the plaintiff to bring his suit to secular court (Choshen Mishpat 26:2).

Under these circumstances, the plaintiff has not violated the prohibition of going to civil courts since beis din authorized his suit. Rav Sherira Gaon notes that, in his community, the custom was to summons the defendant three times before authorizing the plaintiff to sue in secular court (cited by Beis Yosef and Sma to Choshen Mishpat, Chapter 26). This is the usual practice, although it is not required.

It should be noted that even someone who was authorized to sue in secular court is still not entitled to more than he would have been entitled according to halacha. Therefore, after winning his case in secular court, he should ask a posek whether he may keep the entire award and/or how much of it he may keep.

What Happens if I am Summoned To Beis Din?

The answer is very simple: Respond to the summons. A person who receives a notification summoning him to beis din, is halachically obligated to respond. In the vast majority of cases, he has the right to request that the case be heard in a different beis din where he may feel more comfortable. He may also request that the matter be decided via zabla.

Being summoned to beis din may be an unpleasant experience, but that gives a person no right to ignore the summons.

Question I have been Asked:

“Someone told me that the prohibition against secular courts is only if the judges are idolaters. Is there any basis to this?

No. The poskim explicitly rule that it is forbidden to go to any secular court and that there is chillul Hashem every time one goes to a court that does not recognize Torah as its law system. (See for example, Tashbeitz 2:290; Chazon Ish, Sanhedrin 15:4).

May I Go to A Secular Court If the Judge is Jewish?

To answer this question I will quote the Chazon Ish: “There is no difference in halacha between going to judges who are not Jewish and going to Jewish judges who use non-Torah laws. As a matter of fact, it is far worse to go to Jewish judges who have traded away a Torah system for a worthless, vain system. Even if the city residents have accepted this court’s system and authority, their agreement has no validity. To force someone to follow this system has the status of stealing from them and raising one’s hand against the Torah given to us by Moshe Rabbeinu” (Chazon Ish, Sanhedrin 15:4). The identical ruling was issued by Rav Pesach Frank and Rav Yitzchok Herzog (see Shu”t Tzitz Eliezer 12:82).

But I Thought that Dina Di’malchusa Dina means that the Civil Law Determines Halacha in Business Matters?

This is an incorrect understanding of dina di’malchusa dina. Dina di’malchusa dina requires us to obey rules of the government such as paying taxes and obeying traffic and safety regulations, and prohibits us from smuggling and counterfeiting. Dina di’malchusa dina does not replace the civil laws of the Torah (the laws of Choshen Mishpat) that govern the relationships between Jews, nor does it supplant the responsibility incumbent upon the Jew to bring his litigation to a proper beis din.

Dina di’malchusa dina should not be confused with the following application. In some areas of halacha, particularly the contract law rules for buying and hiring, there is a concept of minhag hamakom – that normative business practice determines what is halachically accepted. For this reason, the halacha regarding sales and employee rights are often governed by what is accepted normal practice. Since normal practice is heavily influenced by secular law, the halachic practice in these areas is influenced by the secular law. This is not because halacha recognizes the secular law but because accepted business practice is influenced by secular law.

However, there will always be interpretations, questions of applicability, and various other halacha considerations that must be done via beis din. Beis din will take into account when and how to apply the rules of dina di’malchusa dina.

It should be noted that areas of halacha such as laws of inheritance are not affected by secular law at all (Shu”t Rashba quoted in Beis Yosef, Choshen Mishpat end of Chapter 26).

May a Lawyer File a Lawsuit in Civil Court on Behalf of a Jewish Client?

This is unfortunately very common. A Jewish lawyer represents a Jewish client who has litigation against another Jewish client. May the lawyer file a lawsuit in secular court? Rav Pesach Frank ruled that it is absolutely prohibited for the lawyer to file suit in secular court, and that it is a tremendous chilul Hashem to do so.

However, this situation provides the lawyer with a tremendous opportunity to perform a kiddush Hashem. He can explain to his not-yet-observant client the advantages of going to beis din – that it is less expensive and usually far more efficient. (Most frum communities have batei din where a din torah can be arranged within days.) Of course, to an observant Jew, the only selling point necessary is that this is what Hashem wants us to do. Certainly, the reward for proceeding according to halacha is millions of times greater than anything gained by going against halacha. However, since the non-observant client may not appreciate these considerations, the lawyer may convince his client by pointing out advantages of going to beis din that the client understands.

If the defendant fails to respond to the summons of the din torah, then the beis din will authorize the plaintiff and his lawyer to take the case to secular court. This action will be permitted because it was authorized by the beis din, as I explained above.

What Can I Do if I think that the Defendant will not Obey the Ruling of Beis din?

Beis din proceedings can be made be binding on the parties using an “arbitration agreement” that is recognized in civil law. Once the parties agree to use beis din for their arbitration, if one party subsequently fails to honor the psak of the beis din, beis din will enforce its ruling through the use of secular authorities if necessary. This will be binding in secular court because the litigants accepted the authority of the beis din as binding arbitration.

May One Testify in Secular Court That a Case was already Decided in Beis din?

Yes, it is permitted to do. Furthermore, it is even permitted and a mitzvah for the dayanim of the beis din themselves to testify in secular court regarding their adjudication. There is an interesting discussion in poskim whether it is a lack of kovod haTorah for the dayanim to testify as witnesses in a secular court. The Chasam Sofer permits it as long as the secular court is honest (Shu”t Chasam Sofer, Choshen Mishpat #3).

May A Lawyer Defend A Client in Secular Court?

If someone is sued in secular court, it is a mitzvah to defend his case to the best of one’s ability, since the suing party violated halacha by suing in civil court.

What Should I Do if the Defendant is Not Jewish?

A Jew is permitted to sue a non-Jew in secular court. Therefore, a lawyer can represent a Jew in his suit against the non-Jew.

What Happens If I Live Far Away from a Beis din?

The simplest solution is to have the representative of a beis din (usually called the mazkir beis din) contact the defendant to explain to him that he is required to have the matter adjudicated by a beis din. If the defendant refuses to accept the authority of beis din, then the beis din will authorize the plaintiff to submit his matter to a secular court.

Can I Submit the Matter to an Arbitration Board?

If beis din has authorized that the matter be brought before a secular court, then it is permitted to submit the matter to an arbitration board as well. (There is a dispute among poskim whether one may submit a case to a non-Jewish arbitration board without authorization from beis din. Shach 22:15 and Aruch HaShulchan 22:8 seem to permit this if the arbitrator bases his decision on common sense and fairness, rather than on a non-Jewish system of law; Nesivos HaMishpat prohibits even such a circumstance. However, a simpler solution to this issue is to summon the defendant to beis din, and get permission to adjudicate the matter through a secular court or arbitration board.)

Unfortunately, there are even frum people who sometimes assume that legal rights and responsibilities are governed by secular law. A Torah Jew must realize that Hashem’s Torah is all-encompassing, and that every aspect of his life is directed by Torah. The true believer in Hashem and His Torah understands that every aspect of his life is directed by Hashem and that the only procedures we follow in any part of our lives are those that the Torah sanctions.

Some Contemporary Bishul Akum Curiosities

Situation #1: THE GREAT CRANBERRY DEBATE

Avrumie calls me with the following question: “We are presently studying the laws of bishul akum in kollel, and someone asked how we can buy canned cranberries that are not bishul Yisrael, that is, not cooked by Jews. They seem to fulfill all the requirements of the prohibition.”

Situation #2: THE BISHUL YISRAEL QUIZZER

A different member of Avrumie’s kollel raised another question:

Is there a legitimate halachic reason why a hechsher would require the same product to be bishul Yisrael in one factory and not in another?

Situation #3: DRAMA IN REAL LIFE

Many years ago, I substituted for the mashgiach at a vegetable cannery that was producing products for a kosher manufacture who claimed his products were bishul Yisrael. After arriving at the factory first thing in the morning as instructed, a foreman directed me to push a certain button, which, I assumed, initiated the cooking process. Upon examining the equipment, however, I realized that this button simply directed the cans to enter the cooker. This would probably only make the first cans into bishul Yisrael, but not the rest of the entire day’s production. A different solution was necessary, such as momentarily adjusting the temperature of the cooker and then resetting it, which accomplishes that I had provided fuel and thereby had cooked the vegetables. When I notified the foreman of this requirement, he firmly asserted: “This is the only button the rabbis ever push.”

Having no connections at the factory, I called the rabbi responsible for the hechsher; he did not answer his phone at that time of the morning.

What was I to do? Let Jews eat non-kosher veggies?

INTRODUCTION TO BISHUL AKUM CUISINE

Modern food production and distribution affects us in many ways, including kashrus. One aspect of kashrus with many new and interesting applications is bishul akum, the prohibition against eating food cooked by a gentile. Chazal instituted this law to guarantee uncompromised kashrus and to discourage inappropriate social interaction, which in turn leads to the prohibition of idolatry (Rashi, Avodah Zarah Avodah Zarah 38a s.v. miderabbanan and Tosafos ad loc.; Rashi, Avodah Zarah 35b s. v. vehashelakos; see also Avodah Zarah 36b). This law has numerous ramifications for caterers and restaurants who need to guarantee that a Jew is involved in the cooking of their product. It also prohibits Jewish households from allowing a gentile to cook without appropriate arrangements.

SICHON’S FOLLY

In addition, the Gemara tries to find a source for the prohibition of bishul akum in the Torah itself. When the Bnei Yisrael offered to purchase all their victuals from Sichon and his nation, Emori, they could purchase only food that was unchanged through gentile cooking (see Devarim 2:26- 28; and Bamidbar 21:21- 25). Any food altered by Emori cooking was prohibited because of bishul akum (Avodah Zarah 37b).

Although the Gemara rejects this Biblical source and concludes that bishul akum is an injunction of the Sages, early authorities theorize that this proscription was enacted very early in Jewish history, otherwise how could the Gemara even suggest that its origins are Biblical (see Tosafos s.v. vehashelakos)?

Please note that throughout the article, whenever I say that something does not involve bishul akum, it might still be forbidden for a variety of other reasons. Also, the purpose of our column is not to furnish definitive halachic ruling but to provide background in order to know when and what to ask one’s rav.

BASIC HALACHIC BACKGROUND

When Chazal prohibited bishul akum, they did not prohibit all gentile-cooked foods, but only foods where the gentile’s cooking provides significant pleasure to the consumer. For example, there are three major categories of gentile-cooked foods that are permitted. We can remember them through the acronym: YUM, Yehudi, Uncooked, Monarch.

I. Yehudi

If a Jew participated in the cooking, the food is permitted even when a gentile did most of the cooking.

II. Uncooked

A food that could be eaten raw is exempt from the prohibition of bishul akum even when a non-Jew cooked it completely. This is because cooking such an item is not considered significant (Rashi, Beitzah 16a).

III. Monarch

Bishul akum applies only to food that one would serve on a king’s table. Chazal did not prohibit bishul akum when the food is less prominent because one would not invite a guest for such a meal, and therefore there is no concern that inappropriate social interaction may result (Rambam, Hil. Maachalos Asuros 17:15). Because of space considerations, I will leave further discussion of this important sub-topic for a future article. (Other aspects of the laws of bishul akum, such as the fact that smoked food is exempt from this prohibition, will also be left for future discussion.)

Let us explain some of these rules a bit more extensively.

I. Yehudi

WHAT IS CONSIDERED COOKED BY A JEW?

Extensive halachic discussion is devoted to defining how much of the cooking must be done by a Jew to avoid bishul akum. In practical terms, the Rama permits the food if a Jew lit the fire or increased the flame used to cook the food even if he was not actually involved in cooking the food in any other way. On the other hand, the Shulchan Aruch requires that a Jew must actually cook the food until it is edible (Yoreh Deah 113:7).

II. Uncooked

A cooked food that can be eaten raw is exempt from the prohibition of bishul akum. For example, one may eat apple sauce or canned pineapple cooked by a gentile, since both apples and pineapples are eaten raw. Similarly, if the concerns of chalav akum and gevinas akum are addressed, one may eat cheese cooked by a gentile since its raw material, milk, is consumable raw.

Understanding this rule leads to several key questions. When is a raw food called “inedible?” Must it be completely inedible prior to cooking? Assuming that this is so; would the definition of “completely inedible” be contingent on whether no one eats it, or whether most people do not eat it uncooked although some individuals do?

BUDDY’S SPUDS

An example will clarify my question. My friend, Buddy, enjoys eating raw potatoes, contrary to general preference. Do Buddy’s unusual taste buds mean that spuds are not a bishul akum concern?

The halachic authorities reject this approach, most concluding that we follow what most people would actually eat raw, even if they prefer eating it cooked (see, for example, Ritva, Avodah Zarah 38a; Pri Chodosh, Yoreh Deah 113:3; Birkei Yosef ad loc: 1, 9; Darkei Teshuvah 113:3, 4). In practice, different hechsherim and rabbanim follow divergent criteria to determine exactly which foods are prohibited because they are considered inedible raw.

BOGGED DOWN WITH THE CRANBERRIES.

Avrumie’s kollel’s question involves this very issue: “Someone asked how we can buy canned cranberries that are not bishul Yisrael. They seem to fulfill all the requirements of the prohibition.”

Here is a highly practical result of the debate regarding what is considered suitable for eating uncooked. Are cranberries considered edible when they are raw? Someone who attempts to pop raw cranberries will keep his dentist well supported since the rock-hard berries defy chewing. Thus, there is a strong argument that cranberries require cooking to become edible and consequently constitute a bishul akum concern.

On the other hand, the deeply revered Cranberry Council provides recipes for eating raw cranberries by slicing or grinding them. Does the opinion of the sagacious Council categorize this fruit as an item that one can eat without cooking so that we can remove from it the stigma of bishul akum? The advantage of this approach is a savings for a concerned hechsher since it can now approve the esteemed berry as kosher even when no mashgiach is present to push the buttons that cook the fruit.

GEOGRAPHIC INFLUENCES

What happens if a particular vegetable is commonly consumed uncooked in one country, but not in another? For example: I have been told that artichokes are commonly eaten raw in Egypt, but not in Spain, although they are grown for export in both countries. (Not being much of a traveler or of an artichoke connoisseur, we will assume that these facts are accurate for the purpose of our discussion.) Do we prohibit Spanish artichokes as bishul akum, whereas the Egyptian ones are permitted? Assuming that this boon to Egyptian is true, what happens if you shipped the Spanish ones to Egypt? Do they now become permitted? And do Egyptian artichokes become prohibited upon being shipped to Spain? Indeed, I have heard that some rabbanim prohibit those cooked in Spain while permitting those cooked in Egypt, depending, as we said, on whether local palates consider them edible at the time and place of production. The subsequent shipping overseas would not cause them to become prohibited since it is cooking that creates bishul akum, not transportation. On the other hand, some contemporary contend that shipping a product to a place where it is not eaten raw prohibits it as bishul akum (Kaf HaChayim, Yoreh Deah 113:20).

CULINARY INFLUENCES

We have recently witnessed changes in the consumption of several vegetables that affect their bishul akum status. Not long ago, it was unheard of to serve raw broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms, or zucchini, and therefore all these vegetables presented bishul akum concerns. Today, these vegetables are commonly eaten raw; for this reason, many rabbanim permit these vegetables cooked and do not prohibit them anymore as bishul akum.

A similar change might occur because of sushi production. When fish was not eaten raw, cooked fish was a bishul akum issue. Once normal people consider certain varieties of fish as food even when eaten uncooked, those fish varieties remain kosher even if a gentile cooked them. I therefore refer you to your local rav to determine whether a raw fish suitable for sushi is still a bishul akum concern. Similarly, when it becomes accepted to eat raw beef liver, there will no longer be a prohibition of bishul akum to eat it broiled by a gentile – provided, of course, that a mashgiach guarantees that it is kosher liver and was prepared correctly.

KOSHER CANNING

We are now in a far better position to analyze the issues that faced me that morning many years ago. I had been instructed to supervise a bishul Yisrael production, but I was not permitted to adjust the heat. Were the vegetables kosher or not?

The basic question is: Must a mashgiach participate in the cooking process in a modern cannery?

In the mid-80’s, when I was the Rabbinic Administrator of a local kashrus organization, I participated in a meeting of kashrus organizations and prominent rabbanim. At this meeting, one well-respected talmid chacham voiced concern at the then-prevalent assumption that canned vegetables do not present any bishul akum problem. At the time, virtually no kashrus organizations made any arrangement for canned vegetables to be bishul Yisrael, even when such foods were inedible unless cooked and of a type one would serve at a royal feast. Was all of klal Yisrael negligent, G-d forbid, in the prohibition of bishul akum?

STEAMING OUR VEGGIES

Indeed, many prominent authorities contend that contemporary commercial canning is exempt from bishul akum because of a variety of different factors. For example, in most canning operations, vegetables are cooked, not in boiling water, but by high temperature steam. Some authorities contend that Chazal never including steamed products under the prohibition of bishul akum because they categorize steaming as smoking, an atypical form of cooking which Chazal exempted from this prohibition (Darkei Teshuvah 113:16).

Others permit bishul akum in a production facility where there is no concern that social interactions between the producer and the consumer may result (see Birkei Yosef 112:9, quoting Maharit Tzalon). The Minchas Yitzchak (Shu”t 3:26:6) rules that one may combine these two above reasons to permit most canned vegetables today. Still others maintain that since a modern facility uses a cooking system that cannot be replicated in a household, Chazal never created bishul akum under such circumstances.

HONEST KASHRUS

Of course, someone marketing a product as bishul Yisrael is advertising that he is not relying on these heterim for his product; therefore it would be strictly prohibited to sell these vegetables as bishul Yisrael, although whether they are kosher or not would depend on your rav’s individual pesak.

SO WHAT HAPPENED IN THE CANNERY?

I presume that my readers have been patiently waiting to find out what happened to our ill-fated cannery.

A bit later in the morning, I was finally able to reach the rabbi whose number I had been supplied. He agreed that the production was not bishul Yisrael.

One would think that the hechsher would reward an alert mashgiach for correcting a kashrus error. Well, for those eager to develop a better world, let me tell you what ultimately resulted. A different rabbi was assigned to the job, someone less likely to call the overseeing rabbi so early in the morning. I guess that I was right that I did not have the right connections.

When May I Ask a Gentile for Help on Shabbos? Part II

While enslaved in Egypt, the Jews worked every day, and one of the special days celebrated to commemorate our Exodus is Shabbos. Observing Shabbos includes not only keeping the mitzvos ourselves, but also knowing when I may ask a non-Jew to perform prohibited activity, and when may I benefit from work performed by a gentile on Shabbos.

Each of the following questions describes a situation that people have asked me:

Question #1: A non-Jew turned on the lights for me on Shabbos. May I use this light to read?

Question #2: It is chilly in our house. May I ask a gentile neighbor to turn up the heat?

Question #3: There is problem with our electricity – the lights have gone out, and my son is terrified. May I ask a gentile electrician to repair the power on Shabbos?

Question #4: We left the air conditioning off, and it became very hot on Shabbos. May I ask a non-Jew to turn the air conditioning on?

Question #5: I did not realize that I parked my car in a place where it will be towed away. May I ask a gentile neighbor to move it?

A Jew may not ask a gentile to perform activity that a Jew himself may not do. Chazal prohibited this, because asking a gentile to work on Shabbos diminishes our sensitivity to doing melacha ourselves. Furthermore the gentile functions as my agent, and it is therefore considered as if I did melacha work on Shabbos.

One may not benefit from melacha performed for a Jew by a gentile on Shabbos even if the Jew did not ask him to do the work (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 276:1). Thus if a gentile turned on a light for the Jew’s benefit without being asked, a Jew may not use the light.

This article will discuss when I may directly ask a gentile to do melacha and when I may benefit from what he does.

BENEFITING FROM GENTILE LABOR

In general, if a gentile does melacha work for me on Shabbos, I may not benefit from what he did until enough time has elapsed after Shabbos for the work to have been performed after Shabbos (Gemara Beitzah 24b; Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 325:6). Thus if a gentile baked an apple for me on Shabbos, I may not eat it after Shabbos until the time it takes to bake an apple. This way I receive no benefit from the work he performed and I am not tempted to ask him to do melacha for me at a different time (Rashi and Tosafos, Beitzah 24b).

However, if a non-Jew did work specifically for himself or for another non-Jew, I may benefit from his work even on that Shabbos itself (Mishnah Shabbos 122a). Therefore, if he turned on a light to see where he is going or to be able to read, I may read by the light. There is an exception to this lenience that I will explain shortly.

The Gemara tells us the following story: The great Amora Shmuel was visiting a man named Avin in the town of Torin, when a gentile entered the room and kindled a light. Shmuel assumed that the non-Jew had ignited the light for Shmuel’s benefit, which would make it forbidden to use the light. In order to point out the fact that he was not using the light, Shmuel turned his chair around, with his back to the light, so that it was obvious that he was not using it. Shortly thereafter, the gentile returned with a document that he proceeded to read. Shmuel now realized that the gentile had kindled the light for his own benefit and that he (Shmuel) was permitted to read by the light (Gemara Shabbos 122b).

Sometimes I may not benefit from work performed by a gentile even though he performed the work to benefit a gentile. This is in a case where there is concern that my benefiting from the activity might encourage the gentile to do more work than he needs for himself in order to benefit me. For example, if a gentile who knows me heated up a kettle of water because he wants a cup of coffee, I may not drink a cup of hot water from this kettle. The reason is that at some time in the future, he might decide to add extra water to the kettle that he is heating so that I can benefit (Gemara Shabbos 122a).

REMOVING IMPEDIMENTS

If a gentile did work that results in removing an impediment that was disturbing a Jew, I need not be concerned about benefiting from the non-Jew’s melacha activity. For example, if he turned off the light so that a Jewish person can sleep, one may go to sleep. This is not considered as receiving benefit from a gentile’s Shabbos activity, since extinguishing the light only removed an obstacle and created nothing positive.

PARTIAL BENEFIT

Another instance that is not considered as receiving benefit from melacha activity is when I could already benefit before the gentile performed the melacha, and his melacha only makes it easier to do what I wanted. For example if there is enough light to read, and a gentile turns on additional light, I may continue to read even though it is now easier to read. This is not considered as benefiting from the gentile’s melacha since I could have read even if he did not do the melacha (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 276:4). Similarly, one may eat a meal by the light that he provides, if one could eat even without the additional light. (Note that one may not ask the gentile to turn on the light in any of these instances.)

The poskim dispute whether in the above scenario I may continue reading after the original light burns out. Some contend that once the light has gone out, I may no longer read in the room since I am now benefiting from what the gentile kindled on Shabbos (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 276:4; Bach; Magen Avraham). Others contend that since I was permitted to read when the light was kindled, I may continue to read even after the original light extinguished (Taz 276:3). Mishnah Berurah concludes that one should follow the first opinion.

I once spent Shabbos in a kosher hotel for a family simcha. I arrived early for davening Shabbos morning, intending to learn beforehand, to discover that the lights were still out in the shul. I assumed that the lights were set to go on by a Shabbos clock and sat down near a window to learn in the interim. Fifteen minutes before davening started, a gentile employee of the hotel arrived and turned on all the shul lights. This involved two prohibitions: 1. Since the gentile was an employee of the Jewish owned hotel, the hotel should not have arranged for him to do melacha on Shabbos. 2. One may not benefit from the work he did. Thus, it is forbidden to read in the shul if you need the light to read.

However, as long as enough light came in through the windows to read, I could continue to read using the artificial light, since I could in any case read near the window. However, I could not read anywhere else in the shul. Furthermore, once it gets dark outdoors and I can no longer read by the natural light, most authorities prohibit reading by the kindled light.

MUST I LEAVE HOME?

According to what we have just explained, it would seem that if a non-Jew turned on the light in a house because he wanted to benefit a Jew, one may not benefit from the light and would have to leave. However, Chazal ruled that one is not required to leave one’s house if one did not want the gentile to turn the light on. Although one may not benefit from a non-Jew’s melacha on Shabbos, one is not required to leave one’s house in order to avoid benefiting from melacha that he did against one’s will (Rama 276:1, quoting Yerushalmi). In all instances like this, one should tell the gentile that you do not want him to do the melacha.

WHEN MAY I ASK A GENTILE TO WORK ON SHABBOS?

Under certain extenuating circumstances, Chazal permitted asking a gentile to do melacha that a Jew may not do himself. I will group these situations under the following categories:

I. Situations when I may ask a gentile to perform work that would be prohibited min haTorah for a Jew.

II. Situations when I may ask a gentile to perform work that is prohibited mid’rabbanan.

I. There are a few situations where I may ask a gentile to perform something that would be a Torah prohibition if I did it myself. I may ask a non-Jew to perform a melacha for someone who is “choleh kol gufo,” literally, his entire body is sick. This means that although the person is in no danger, his illness is more than just a minor annoyance but affects his entire body (Gemara Shabbos 129a; Shulchan Aruch 328:17). For example, I may ask a gentile to drive this person to a doctor, to pick up a prescription, or to turn a light on or off. This leniency applies to someone whose illness affects his entire body, or who is sick enough to be bedridden. Later in the article, I will discuss the halachos that apply to someone who is not well, but who is feeling better than the person just described.

CHILDREN

Since children often get sick and are generally weaker than adults are, halacha considers a child as choleh kol gufo (Rama 276:1) when there is a great need (Mishnah Berurah ad loc.). Therefore if it is cold indoors, one may ask a non-Jew to turn on the heat for the sake of a child, and then an adult too may benefit from the heat.

Until what age do I consider a child a choleh kol gufo? Many poskim contend that any child under the age of nine is in this category (Shu’t Minchas Yitzchok 1:78), although other poskim are less lenient.

Halacha treats a child who is afraid of the dark as a choleh kol gufo (Ketzos HaShulchan 134:18). Therefore if the light went out and a child is afraid, one may ask a gentile to rectify the problem.

We can now answer Question #3 above: “There is problem with our electricity – the lights have gone out, and my son is terrified. May I ask a gentile electrician to repair the power on Shabbos?” Under these circumstances, one may.

COLD ADULTS

When it is very cold, one may ask a gentile to turn on the heat even for adults even if this involves doing a Torah prohibition. This is because everyone is considered sick when it comes to the cold. When it is chilly but not freezing, the poskim dispute whether I may ask a non-Jew to turn on the heat for the sake of adults when there are no children or ill people around (Shulchan Aruch 276:5 and commentaries).

Thus, we can now answer Question #2: “It is chilly in our house. May I ask the gentile next door neighbor to turn up the heat?” The answer is that it depends on how cold it is, and who is affected by the lack of heat.

WIDESPREAD TRANSGRESSION

Another situation where one may ask a gentile to do melacha that is prohibited min haTorah, is if it is necessary to prevent many people from transgressing the Torah. For example, if one discovered that the eruv is down, one may ask a non-Jew to repair it on Shabbos even though he will have to perform activities that would be prohibited min haTorah (Mishnah Berurah 276:25), such as driving his car, tying a knot, or carrying in a reshus harabim min HaTorah.

II. Situations when I may ask a gentile to perform work that is prohibited mid’rabbanan.

SHVUS DI’SHVUS

Under certain other circumstances, Chazal permitted asking a gentile to do something that would be prohibited mid’rabbanan for a Jew. The poskim usually refer to this lenience as shvus di’shvus. In general, this is permitted in any of the following situations:

(A) If a person is slightly ill.

(B) There is a major need.

(C) In order to fulfill the observing of a mitzvah (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 307:5).

I will now explain these three situations:

(A) Earlier, I noted that if someone is ill, one may ask a gentile to do something that would involve a Torah prohibition for a Jew — when the person’s illness affects his entire body, or if he is sick enough to go to bed. If the person is less ill, one may ask a gentile to do something that involves only a rabbinic prohibition (for a Jew), but not a Torah prohibition.

Included under this category is if the person is suffering from considerable pain (Gra on Orach Chayim 325:10; Aruch HaShulchan 307:18). Thus, someone who caught his finger in a door may ask a non-Jew to bring ice through an area without an eruv if he has no ice in his house. Similarly if an insect bit him, he may ask a gentile to buy medicine to alleviate the pain.

Based on the above heter, may one ask a gentile to turn on the air conditioner if it gets very hot? Does this qualify as alleviating a great deal of suffering? And is operating the air conditioning considered a Torah violation or a rabbinic violation, for which we may be lenient because of shvus di’shvus?

This question was the subject of a dispute by the last generation’s poskim. Minchas Yitzchok (3:23) permits asking a gentile to turn it on, quoting L’vush who explains that once people are unaccustomed to the cold, halacha considers them to be ill even if it is not that cold — Therefore one may ask a gentile to kindle a fire for them. However, he then quotes sources that contend that being too hot is not the same as being too cold. He concludes that someone who is accustomed to moderate weather suffers when it is very hot and humid and may therefore ask a non-Jew to turn on the air conditioning because it is shvus di’shvus bimakom tzaar (to alleviate suffering). Similarly, his mechutan, the Chelkas Yaakov (3:139) permitted having a non-Jew turn on the air conditioning because of shvus di’shvus bimakom tzaar.

On the other hand, Rav Moshe prohibited asking a gentile to turn on the air conditioner because it is benefiting from work performed by a gentile on Shabbos (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 3:47:2). Thus, Rav Moshe forbids benefiting even if one did not ask the gentile to turn on the air conditioning, but merely hinted, such as by telling him, “It is really hot here!” hoping that he catches the hint. Evidently, Rav Moshe did not consider this as a makom tzaar that permits one to benefit from a gentile’s activity on Shabbos.

Thus in answer to Question #4, “We left the air conditioning off, and it became very hot on Shabbos. May I ask a non-Jew to turn the air conditioning on?” we see that the poskim dispute whether this is permitted or not.

(B) One may ask a gentile to perform an issur d’rabbanan in case of major need. There are three opinions as to how much financial loss this must entail to be considered a major need.

(1) Some rule that one may ask the gentile even if there is no financial loss as long as there is a great need (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 307:5; Graz 307:12). According to these poskim, if one’s clothes became torn or dirty on Shabbos and he is embarrassed to wear them, he may ask a gentile to bring him clean clothes through an area not enclosed by an eruv.

(2) Other poskim rule more strictly, contending that one may be lenient only if a major financial loss will result (Magen Avraham 307:7). According to these poskim, if one discovered that the plug of one’s well-stocked freezer is disconnected, one may ask a non-Jew to reconnect it on Shabbos.

(3) A third opinion contends that major financial loss is not sufficient reason to permit shvus di’shvus unless there is some physical discomfort as well (Eliyah Rabbah 307:14). We usually follow the second opinion quoted and permit a shvus di’shvus in case of major financial loss. Furthermore, we allow shvus di’shvus even if it is uncertain that a major loss will result, but it is a good possibility (see Shaylas Yaavetz 2:139). As a result, one may ask a gentile to plug in the freezer even if one is uncertain whether the food will go bad.

Note that none of the opinions I quoted permits asking a gentile to violate a Torah law to avoid financial loss. Thus, this would answer Question #5 that I mentioned above: “I did not realize that I parked my car where the city will tow it away. May I ask a gentile neighbor to move it to avoid this major expense?” The answer is that one is not allowed to ask him. However, one may hint to the gentile in an indirect way by saying, “My car is parked in a place where it might get towed,” as I explained in a different article on this subject.

(C) I may ask a gentile to do something that is only an issur d’rabbanan in order to enable me to perform a mitzvah. For example, inviting a guest who is visiting from out of town, or a guest who otherwise would have nowhere to eat, fulfills the mitzvah of hachnasas orchim. (Inviting another family over for a Shabbos meal may be a very big chesed for the wife of the guest family, but it does not qualify as the mitzvah of hachnasas orchim [Rama 333:1]). Therefore, if one realizes on Shabbos that one does not have enough chairs for everyone to sit at the table, one may ask a gentile to bring chairs from a neighbor’s house even when there is no eruv. Other poskim are more lenient, permitting asking a gentile to bring any food or beverage that enhances Shabbos (Aruch HaShulchan 307:18).

Some authorities permit asking a gentile to perform a Torah melacha in order to allow the observance of a mitzvah. This is a minority opinion and should not be followed. However, there was an old custom among European Jewry to permit asking a gentile under these circumstances. This custom has halachic sources in the following Rama who rules:

“Some permit telling a gentile to kindle lights for the sake of the Shabbos meal because they contend that in order to fulfill a mitzvah (such as having a nice Shabbos meal) one may ask a gentile to perform even a real melacha that would be forbidden for a Jew to do min haTorah. Following this approach, many are accustomed to be lenient and command a gentile to kindle lights for the purpose of the Shabbos meal, particularly for wedding and bris meals, and no one rebukes them. However, one should be strict in this matter when there is no extenuating need since most of the halachic authorities disagree” (Rama 276:2).

In conclusion, we have discovered that in certain extenuating instances Chazal permitted melacha performed by a gentile, but that one should not extend these heterim to situations not included. When using a non-Jew to do normally forbidden work, one should focus that one’s intent is not, chas v’sholom, to weaken the importance of Shabbos, but rather the kavod Shabbos that will result.

When May I Ask a Gentile for Help on Shabbos?

Each of the following questions is an actual situation that people have asked me:

Question #1: My car needs repair work and the most convenient time to drop it off at Angelo’s Service Station is Friday afternoon. May I bring Angelo the car then knowing that he is going to repair it on Shabbos?

Question #2: A gala Shabbos sheva brachos is being held at an apartment several flights of stairs below street level, a very common situation in hilly Yerushalayim. The kallah’s elderly grandmother arrived before Shabbos by elevator, intending to return home by using the Shabbos elevator (a subject we will discuss at a different time iy’H). Indeed, the building’s elevator actually has a Shabbos setting, but we discovered on Shabbos that the Shabbos setting is not working. How does Grandma get home?

Question #3: My friend lives in a neighborhood that does not have an eruv. She arranges before Shabbos for a non-Jew to push the baby carriage on Shabbos. May she do this?

Question #4: “If this contract does not arrive at its destination ASAP, I could suffer huge losses. May I mail it as an express mail package on Friday?”

“What should I do if a registered letter arrives on Shabbos?”

Many people are under the mistaken impression that one may ask a non-Jew to do any type of prohibited activity on Shabbos. Unfortunately, this is not true. I have often seen a person ask gentiles to do work on Shabbos that is clearly prohibited. Our Sages prohibited asking a non-Jew to work for us on Shabbos out of concern that this diminishes our sensitivity to doing melacha ourselves (Rambam, Hilchos Shabbos 6:1). Chazal considered the gentile to be my agent — thus, if he works for me on Shabbos, it is considered that I worked on Shabbos through a hired agent (Rashi, Shabbos 153a s.v. mai taama).

By the way, the halachos of amira linachri, asking a gentile to perform a prohibited activity, are not restricted to the laws of Shabbos, but apply to all mitzvos of the Torah. Thus, one may not have a gentile muzzle his animal while it works (see Gemara Bava Metzia 90a; Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 338:6), ask him to graft fruit trees, nor may one ask a non-Jew to do prohibited work on Chol HaMoed (Gemara Moed Katan 12a).

There are many complicated details governing when I may ask a gentile to do something on Shabbos and when I may not. These are some of the factors that one must consider:

A. Is the gentile my employee or is he an “independent contractor”?

B. What type of benefit do I receive from his work?

C. Did I ask the non-Jew directly or indirectly?

D. Is the work I asked him to perform prohibited min haTorah or only midirabbanan?

E. Why do I want him to do this work?

F. Could I do the work myself, albeit in a different way than the gentile will likely do it?

To show how these details affect a practical case, I will analyze the halachic issues involved in each of our cases mentioned above, starting with our first case – leaving the car over Shabbos at a non-Jewish mechanic. The major issue here is that I did not ask the gentile to do the work on Shabbos – I am not permitted to do this. Instead, I brought him the car and allowed him to decide whether to do the work on Shabbos or not. Is he now my agent if he works on Shabbos, which is prohibited, or is it permitted?

In order to explain the issues involved in this shaylah, we need to introduce a few concepts.

AGENT VERSUS CONTRACTOR

There is a halachic difference whether the gentile is working as my agent (or employee) or whether he is an independent contractor who makes his own decisions. If he is my agent, I may not allow him to do prohibited activity on Shabbos. But if he is an independent contractor, then under certain circumstances I am not responsible if he actually does the work on Shabbos.

When is the gentile considered a contractor? If the non-Jew decides on his own when to do the work and I hired him by the job, he is a contractor. In these cases, I may give him work that he might decide to perform on Shabbos, provided that he could do the work on a different day and that he does the work on his own premises. (Under certain circumstances, the last condition may not apply.)

What are examples of contractors? The mailman, a repairman who repairs items on his own premises, the dry cleaner are all contractors. On the other hand, a regular employee whom I ask to do some work on Shabbos is not a contractor unless I pay him extra for this job.

Thus I may drop off my car at the auto mechanic before Shabbos and leave it over Shabbos, provided I allow him time to do the work when it is not Shabbos, either on Friday afternoon or Motzei Shabbos. Even though I know that the non-Jewish mechanic will not be working Saturday night and will actually do the work on Shabbos, I need not be concerned, since he could choose to do the work after Shabbos.

However, this is permitted only when (1) he does the work on his own premises (2) I pay him for the completed job and (3) he decides whether or not he does the work on Shabbos or not. (It should be noted that some poskim prohibit doing this when the mechanic is closed Motzei Shabbos. Since I know that he is closed Motzei Shabbos, they consider it asking him to do the work on Shabbos, which is prohibited.)

In a similar way, I could bring dry cleaning in on Friday afternoon expecting to pick up the cleaned clothes Saturday night, provided enough time exists to clean the clothes before or after Shabbos.

We will now explore our second question:

An elderly woman cannot ascend the several flights of stairs necessary to get to street level. The building has a Shabbos elevator, but we discover on Shabbos that the Shabbos setting is not working. How does Grandma get home? Can we have a non-Jew operate the elevator to get her home?

Before answering this question, I want to share another story with you:

A DARK SIMCHAS TORAH SHABBOS

The following story occurred on a Simchas Torah in Yerushalayim that fell on Shabbos. (Although Simchas Torah outside Eretz Yisroel cannot occur on Shabbos, Shmini Atzeres, which can fall on Shabbos, is observed as Simchas Torah in Eretz Yisroel.) Just as the hakafos were beginning, the power in the shul went out, plunging the entire shul into darkness. The shul’s emergency lights went on, leaving the shul dimly lit — sufficient for people to exit safely and to dance in honor of Simchas Torah, but certainly making it more difficult to observe the usual Simchas Torah celebrations. The Rav of the shul ruled that they could not ask a non-Jew to turn on the lights.

Although if there was any element of danger involved, one could certainly have asked a gentile to turn on the lights, the Rav felt that the situation was not dangerous, and therefore maintained that one may not ask a gentile to turn on the lights.

One of the congregants raised a suggestion that may help illuminate the shul. The same idea may get Grandma home! Before presenting his idea, I need to explain two concepts:

BENEFITING FROM GENTILE ACTIVITY

If a gentile does melacha on Shabbos for his own benefit, a Jew may use the results. For example, if a non-Jew builds a ramp to disembark from a boat on Shabbos, a Jew may now exit the boat via the same ramp since the gentile did no additional work in order to benefit the Jew. Similarly, if a non-Jew kindled a light so that he himself could read, a Jew may now use the light. One may use the light even if the gentile and the Jew know one another (Mishnah Shabbos 122a; Rambam 6:2; Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 325:11).

However, if the gentile gathered grass to feed his animals, the Jew cannot let his animals eat the leftover grass if the two people know one another. This is so that the gentile does not come to do melacha for the sake of the Jew in the future (Gemara Shabbos 122a).

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE RAMP AND THE GRASS?

Why are these cases halachically different? Why may the Jew use the light or the ramp, but may not allow his animal to eat the grass? In the first cases, no additional work is necessary for the gentile to provide a ramp or light for the Jew. Once the gentile has built the ramp or kindled the light, any number of people can benefit from them without any additional melacha. However, cutting each blade of grass is a separate melacha activity. Thus, allowing one’s animal to eat this grass might tempt the gentile to cut additional grass for the Jew’s animal, which we must avoid.

So far, we have calculated that if we can figure out how to get the gentile to turn on the light for his own benefit, one may use the light. Thus, we might be able to get lights in the shul for Shabbos, or a gentile to ride the elevator up to the main floor, and hopefully we can get Grandma onto the elevator at the same time. However, how does one get the gentile to turn on the light or the elevator for his own benefit when one may not ask him to do any work on Shabbos?

HINTING

May I hint to a gentile that I would like him to perform a prohibited activity on Shabbos? The poskim dispute this issue. Some rule that this is prohibited (Tur Orach Chayim 307), whereas others permit it (Bach, Orach Chayim 307 s.v. uma shekasav rabbeinu). Thus according to the second opinion one may ask a gentile on Shabbos, “Why didn’t you accompany Grandma on the elevator last Shabbos?” even though he clearly understands that you are asking him to take the elevator with her today. According to the first opinion, one may not do this, nor may one ask a gentile to clean up something in a dark room, since to do so means that he must turn on the light.

However, the majority of poskim hold a compromise position, contending that although one may not hint to a gentile on Shabbos, one may hint to him on a weekday (Smag). Thus one may tell him on Friday, “Why didn’t you do this last Shabbos,” but one may not tell him this on Shabbos (Shulchan Aruch 307:2; Rama 307:22). According to this last ruling, one could tell the gentile during the week, “Why did you leave Grandma downstairs without taking her up in the elevator,” but one could not mention this to him on Shabbos.

PERMITTED HINTING VERSUS PROHIBITED HINTING

However, the poskim rule that one may tell a non-Jewish mailman on Shabbos, “I cannot read this letter until it is opened.” What is the difference between the two types of hinting?

The difference is that the forbidden type of hinting implies either a command or a rebuke, whereas the permitted type does not (Magen Avraham 307:31). Telling a gentile to clean something up in a dark room on Shabbos is in essence commanding him to perform a prohibited activity — turning on the light. Similarly, when you rebuke him for not doing something last Shabbos, you are basically commanding him to do it the next Shabbos. However, one may make a statement of fact that is neither a command nor a rebuke. Therefore telling the gentile, “I cannot read this letter as long as it is not opened” does not command him to do anything, and for this reason it is permitted.

However, if the gentile then asks me, “Would you like me to open the letter for you?” I may not answer him “yes,” since this is itself a command. (It is as if you said, “Yes, I would like you to open the letter for me.”) I may tell him, “That’s not a bad idea,” or “I have no objections to your opening the letter” which again does not directly command him. I may even say, “I am not permitted to ask you to open it on Shabbos”.

How does this discussion affect our dark Simchas Torah or getting Grandma home?

The congregant suggested the following: One could create a situation whereby turning on the light is beneficial for the gentile, and then hint to him that if he wants to, he could benefit by turning the light on. One may do this because the non-Jew is turning on the light for his own use, and the Jew did not ask him directly to turn on the light. Thus, if you placed a bottle of whiskey or a gift of chocolate in the shul, and then notified the gentile that the bottle or chocolate is waiting for him there, you can show him how to turn on the lights so that he can find his present. This is permitted because the gentile is turning on the lights for his own benefit, and you did not ask him, nor even hint to him that you want him to turn on the lights. You simply notified him that if he wants to put on the lights, he could find himself a very nice present.

The same solution may help Grandma return home. Someone invited a non-Jew to the sheva brachos, and then told him that a present awaited him in the building’s entrance foyer. Does it bother him if Grandma shares the elevator with him while he goes to retrieve his present?

A word of caution: If one uses this approach, one must be careful that the gentile is indeed doing the melacha for his own purposes, such as to get the present as mentioned above. However, one may not ask the non-Jew to accompany you on a tour of the dark shul, and then he turns on the light to see his way. This is prohibited because the gentile is only interested in the light in order to accompany you on the walk, but not because he has any gain himself (see Shulchan Aruch 276:3).

And now on to Question #3: My friend lives in a neighborhood that does not have an eruv. She arranges before Shabbos for a non-Jew to push the baby carriage on Shabbos. Is this permitted? (See Mishnah Berurah 308:154.)

Recently, I was asked the following shaylah: Someone moved to a community where the Rav permits people to have a non-Jew carry the baby on Shabbos by arranging remizah (hinting) from before Shabbos. This means that one would tell a gentile before Shabbos, “I would like to go to shul on Shabbos, but I cannot leave the baby behind.” The non-Jew then responds, “What time would you like me to arrive at the house?” or “What time would you like to leave the house?” again neither party ever stating that you have asked the gentile what to do.

Personally, I have strong reservations about using this suggestion, since eventually one will end up commanding the non-Jew directly, such as, “Do you need me to take the baby’s blanket along?”- If you answer “Yes,” then you have commanded the gentile in violation of the halacha.

EXPRESS MAIL

At this point, we can begin to discuss the first part of shaylah #4: May I mail express mail on Friday?

At first glance, it would seem that one may not send an express mail package on Friday, since you are asking the gentile to transport and deliver the package on Shabbos. This is dissimilar from the case of bringing the car to the auto mechanic or clothes to the dry cleaner on Friday because in our case you are requesting him to do the job as quickly as possible. Thus, you are insisting that he do the job on Shabbos, which a Jew may not do.

A similar shaylah to our express mail case was asked in Amsterdam hundreds of years ago from Rav Yaakov Emden. The questioner wanted to ship precious stones by asking a non-Jewish employee to deliver them to the post office on Shabbos, reasoning that his gentile agent was carrying items within an eruv on Shabbos and therefore not doing any prohibited activity. Rav Yaakov Emden prohibited this, pointing out that the gentile would have to fill out paperwork at the post office to send off this shipment, and this would be considered having an agent work for me on Shabbos (Shaylas Yaavetz 2:139).

Although based on the above analysis it would seem that one may not send out express mail on Friday, there is a different reason why one may, but only under extenuating circumstances, as I will explain.

I may not ask a gentile on Shabbos to hire other non-Jewish workers (Gemara Shabbos 150a; Shulchan Aruch 307:2). Some poskim contend that although I may not ask a non-Jew to hire workers, which is a prohibited activity, I may ask him to ask another non-Jew to do something that is prohibited on Shabbos. The rationale behind this heter, usually called amira li’amira, is that asking one non-Jew to ask another is permitted because I am only asking a non-Jew to talk, which is not considered an activity (Shu’t Chavos Ya’ir #46, 49, 53). Other poskim contend that just as one may not ask a gentile to hire workers, which is just talk, I cannot ask him to do any other activity (Avodas HaGershuni). Mishnah Berurah (307:24) rules that one may be lenient in a case of major financial loss, thus under very extenuating circumstances one could be lenient.

This dispute is interesting historically because the two Seventeenth Century Torah giants involved in this dispute corresponded with one another. The Chavos Ya’ir permitted asking a non-Jew to ask another non-Jew to work on Shabbos, whereas the Avodas HaGershuni responded to him that this is forbidden. One can actually trace the give-and-take of their halachic debate on the issue, together with their lines of reasoning and proofs, simply by reading the correspondence published in their responsa. It is almost as if we are able to sit in their respective Batei Medrash and listen in to the two of them giving shiur on the subject!

The dispute has many ramifications, one of which is our case of express mail, since you place an order with one person, but a different gentile does the actual traveling and delivering. Thus, we have a case of amira li’amira, which is permitted according to the Chavos Yair. There is also another reason to be lenient: Since one is arranging the Express Mail delivery before Shabbos, the situation is indeed a bit more lenient than the above-mentioned dispute between the Chavos Yair and the Avodas HaGershuni. Indeed, the Chasam Sofer (Shu’t Orach Chayim #60) rules a compromise position between the two, permitting telling the non-Jew before Shabbos to ask the other non-Jew on Shabbos. Biyur Halacha (307:2) disagrees, quoting Rashba. Therefore, one should not rely on this ruling unless the situation is extenuating.

The story behind the Chasam Sofer’s responsum on this issue is worth noting. During the Napoleonic Wars, a battle took place in Pressburg (today known as Bratislava), where the Chasam Sofer was Rav, in which much of the Jewish area of town went up in flames. It was very important to rebuild the neighborhood before winter set in, and there was concern that the non-Jewish contractors would not construct the houses in a timely fashion if they were not allowed to work on the Jewish houses on Shabbos. One of the reasons that the Chasam Sofer ruled that they could allow the gentile contractors to work on Shabbos was that the Jews hired a gentile contractor, who in turn instructed his employees when to work. Thus it was a case of amira li’amira, which the Chasam Sofer permitted if the contractor received his instructions before Shabbos.

SHABBOS PICK-UP

If I hired a gentile to make a delivery for me, he may not pick up the item from my house on Shabbos (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 307:4). Thus, if I contract with a delivery service such as UPS, they must pick up the item before Shabbos.

What should I do if a registered letter arrives on Shabbos?

Now we should be prepared to answer this last question. I may not ask the gentile delivery person to sign for me, even by hinting to him. However, I may tell him, “I cannot sign for this today because it is my Sabbath.” If he asks me, “Would you like me to sign for the delivery?” I may not tell him, “Yes.” However I may answer him, “It is fine with me if you would like to” or “I may not ask someone else to do this on my Sabbath” or “I do not mind receiving the delivery, but I may not sign for it.”

According to the Rambam, the reason that Chazal prohibited one to ask a gentile to do work on Shabbos is so that we do not diminish sensitivity to doing melacha ourselves. One who refrains from having even a non-Jew work shows even deeper testimony to his conviction that Hashem created the world.

Note: For more on this topic, see “When May I Ask a Gentile for Help on Shabbos? Part II.”

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