Can a Sheitel be Prohibited Because of Avodah Zarah?

I wrote this article originally several years ago when this topic was very hot in the news. I have revised it, based on currently available information. The purpose of this article is not to give a final decision on the topic, but to present some background of the issues.

Can a Sheitel be Prohibited Because of Avodah Zarah?

A Background Discussion of the Halachic Issues Involved in the Use of Indian Hair

Introduction to the Laws of Avodah Zarah

In addition to the cardinal prohibition against worshipping idols, the Torah distanced us from any involvement with or benefit from avodah zarah. Furthermore, the money received in payment for the avodah zarah is also tainted with the stigma of avodah zarah and may not be used. As will be described later, this money must be destroyed in a way that no one will ever be able to use it.

Chazal prohibited benefit even from the wages earned for transporting an item used in idol worship. Thus, the wages of a person who hired himself to transport wine used in idol worship are prohibited (Mishnah, Avodah Zarah 62a). He is required to destroy whatever he received as payment, and he must destroy it in a way that no one else can use it. The Gemara rules that if he received coins as payment, he must grind up the coins and then scatter the dust to the wind, to guarantee that no one benefit from idolatry.

In this context, the Gemara recounts the following story: A man who had rented his boat to transport wine owned by idolaters was paid with a quantity of wheat. Since the wheat may not be used, the question was asked from Rav Chisda what to do with it. He ruled that the wheat should be burnt, and then the ashes should be buried. The Gemara asks why not scatter the ashes, rather than burn them? The Gemara responds that we do not permit this out of concern that the ashes will fertilize the ground where they fall. Thus, we see how concerned Chazal were that we not gain any benefit from idols, even so indirectly.

Takroves Avodah Zarah – An Item Used to Worship an Idol

One of the laws relating to idol worship is the prohibition against using takroves avodah zarah, that is, not to benefit from an item that was used to worship avodah zarah. According to the accepted halachic opinion, the prohibition against using takroves avodah zarah is min hatorah (Rambam, Hilchos Avodah Zarah 7:2; cf. Tosafos, Bava Kama 72b s.v. de’ei, who rules that the prohibition is only miderabbanan).

It should be noted that one is permitted to use items that are donated to avodah zarah, provided these items are not used for worship. Thus, gold, jewelry, and other valuables donated to a Hindu temple may be used.

Mitzvos Pertaining to Avodah Zarah

There are several mitzvos of the Torah pertaining to avodah zarah, all of which convey the Torah’s concerns that we be distanced extensively from avodah zarah. For example, the Torah forbids having an avodah zarah in one’s house (Avodah Zarah 15a). This is based on the verse, velo sovie so’eivah el beisecha, “you shall not bring an abomination into your house” (Devarim 7:26). Furthermore, we are prohibited from providing benefit to the avodah zarah (Avodah Zarah 13a). Thus, it is prohibited to make a donation if a neighbor or business contact solicits a contribution for his church.

There is also a positive mitzvah to destroy avodah zarah. This is mentioned in the verse, abeid te’abdun es kol hamekomos asher ovdu shom hagoyim … es eloheihem, “you shall completely destroy all the places where the nations worshipped their gods” (Devarim 12:2). According to Rambam, the mitzvah min hatorah applies only to destroy the avodah zarah itself and that which decorates and serves it. There is no Torah requirement to destroy items used in the worship of avodah zarah (Hilchos Avodah Zarah 7:1-2, as proved by Kehillas Yaakov, Bava Kamma end of #3). However, as mentioned above, one is required, miderabbanan, to destroy anything that is prohibited to use, to make sure that no one benefits from the avodah zarah items (see Avodah Zarah 51b; Rambam, Hilchos Avodah Zarah 8:6).

Some Background Facts in the Contemporary Shaylah About Indian Hair

The Indian sub-continent is the home of the largest population of Hindus in the world. Hinduism is a religion that falls under the category of avodah zarah.

Most Hindu sects do not cut their hair as part of any worship ceremony. However, there is one large sect whose members sometimes shave their hair as an acknowledgement of thanks to one of their deities. This practice is performed by thousands of Hindu men, women, and children daily at their temple in Tirupati, India. The temple then collects the hair shavings and sells the women’s hair for wig manufacture. Although the majority of human hair used in wig manufacture does not come from India, a significant percentage of hair in the international wig market comes from Indian idol worshippers.

A very important halachic issue is whether the hair shaving procedure that takes place in this Hindu Temple constitutes an act of idol worship, or whether the hair is simply donated for the use of the idol. This question is both a practical question, that is, what exactly do they do, and a halachic issue, whether what they do renders the hair takroves avodah zarah, which is prohibited to use min haTorah. As mentioned above, it is permitted to use an item that was donated to an avodah zarah. Such an item does not carry the halachic status of takroves avodah zarah, which is prohibited to use. However, if the shaving is an act of idol worship, then the hairs may not be used.

The Earlier Ruling

Many years ago, Rav Elyashiv ruled that there is no halachic problem with using hair from the Indian temples. This responsa is printed in Kovetz Teshuvos (1:77). The person who asked Rav Elyashiv the shaylah provided him with information based on the opinion of a university professor familiar with Hinduism. According to the professor, the Hindus who cut their hair did so only as a donation to the temple, just as they also donate gold, jewelry and other valuables to the temple. Although there is presumably still a prohibition in purchasing the hair from the temple (because of the prohibition against providing benefit to an idol), Rav Elyashiv ruled that, based on the information provided, there is no halachic prohibition to use this hair.

However, Rav Elyashiv and several other prominent gedolim later ruled that the hair sold by this Hindu temple is prohibited for use, because of takroves avodah zarah.

What changed?

The critical difference is that, although this professor did not consider the haircutting to be an act of idol worship, not all Hindus necessarily agree with his opinion about their religion. Although it may seem strange to quote the story of an idolater, I think this small quotation reflects how at least one Hindu views this ceremony of shaving hair:

Rathamma has made the two-day journey to India’s largest Hindu temple with her family and friends to fulfill a pledge to her god. Provide us with a good rice crop, she had prayed, and I’ll sacrifice my hair and surrender my beauty.

This quotation implies that this woman was not coming to make a donation of a present to her god, but that this is a method of worship. Of course, it could very well be that the author of these words is taking very liberal license with what Rathamma believes and does.

It should be noted that Rav Moshe Shternbuch, shlit”a, currently Rosh Av Beis Din of the Eidah HaChareidis in Yerushalayim, published a teshuvah on the question about the Indian hairs about the same time that Rav Elyashiv published his original ruling. Rav Shternbuch concluded that it is prohibited to use any sheitel produced with Indian hair, because of takroves avodah zarah.

Bitul — Nullifying the Prohibited Hair

What happens if the Hindu hair is mixed in with other hair? This is a very common case, since Indian hair is less expensive than European hair and, at the same time, is not readily discernible in a European sheitel. (As a matter of fact, it has been discovered that some manufacturers add Indian hair on a regular basis into their expensive “100% European hair sheitlach.”)

Assuming that hair shorn in the Hindu temple is prohibited because of takroves avodah zarah, does that mean that a sheitel that includes any Indian hair is prohibited to be used? What about the concept of bitul, whereby a prohibited substance that is mixed into other substances in a manner that it can no longer be identified is permitted?

The answer is that the concept of bitul does not apply in most cases when avodah zarah items became mixed into permitted items. Chazal restricted the concept of bitul as applied to avodah zarah because of the seriousness of the prohibition. Therefore, if a sheitel contains hair from different sources, such as hair made of European hair with some Hindu hair added, the sheitel should be treated as an Indian hair sheitel. Thus, according to Rav Elyashiv, this sheitel should be destroyed in a way that no one may end up using it. It is not necessary to burn the sheitel. It would be satisfactory to cut it up in a way that it cannot be used, and then place it in the trash.

However, there is some halachic lenience in this question. Since the concept that avodah zarah is not boteil is a rabbinic injunction and not a Torah law, one may be lenient, when it is uncertain that there is a prohibition. This is based on the halachic principle safek derabbanan lekulah, that one may be lenient in regard to a doubt involving a rabbinic prohibition.

Thus, in a situation where a sheitel is manufactured from predominantly synthetic material, European hair, or horse hair (this is actually quite common), and there is a question whether some prohibited hair might have been added, the halacha is that the sheitel may be worn.

It should be noted, that when attempting to determine the composition of a sheitel, one cannot rely on the information provided by a non-Jewish or non-frum manufacturer. In general, halacha accepts testimony from these sources only when certain requirements are fulfilled, which are not met in this instance.

Many synthetic sheitlach contain some natural hairs to strengthen the sheitel. In this instance, there is an interesting side-shaylah. One can determine whether there are human hairs in these sheitlach by checking the hairs of the sheitel under a microscope. The human hairs will look different from the synthetic material. However, there is no way that this can tell us the country of origin of the human hairs, and it certainly cannot tell us whether the hairs were involved in any worship. Is one required to check the hairs of a synthetic sheitel under a microscope to determine whether there are any human hairs? All the poskim I have heard from have ruled leniently about this issue – one is not required to have the sheitel checked.

Color of Sheitel

I have heard people say that there should be no halachic problem with blond- and red-headed sheitlach, since Indian women have dark hair. Unfortunately, based on my conversations with sheitel machers, there does not seem to be any basis for this assumption. In most instances, the hair used in sheitlach is bleached, removing all color, and then (much later in the process) dyed to a specific color. Thus, there is no reason to assume that simply because a sheitel is a fair color that it cannot have originated in a Hindu temple.

Who could imagine that in the modern world, shaylos about the laws of avodah zarah would affect virtually every frum household. It goes to show us how ein kol chodosh tachas hashemesh, there is nothing new under the sun (Koheles 1:9).

 

The Torah of Rav Yehosef Schwartz

Since this parsha, Re’eih, discusses the different species of kosher animals, a topic that will be included in this article, it provides an opportunity to learn about a very unique talmid chachom and tzadik, Rav Yehosef Schwartz.

The Torah of Rav Yehosef Schwartz

Question #1: Which minyan?

“In the minyan factory shtiebel that I often attend, it sometimes happens that most of my minyan has already heard the entire Chazoras Hashatz and answered Kedushah and Kaddish before we assemble to daven. Does this present us with any halachic questions?”

Question #2: Which chayah?

“A gnu is not listed in the Torah among the seven chayos, kosher wild animals, although it has split hooves and chews its cud. Why is it not listed?”

Question #3: Which borders?

“Where exactly are the borders of Eretz Yisroel?”

Question #4: Which question?

“What do the preceding three questions have to do with one another?”

Answer:

Rav Yehosef Schwartz, an outstanding talmid chochom and oveid Hashem, was also probably the greatest cartographer of Eretz Yisroel in history. We will study some background of this very unusual personality, and learn some of his Torah.

Rav Yehosef Schwartz was born in 1804 in a small Bavarian village where his antecedents had dwelled for many generations. A contemporary of Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch, he shared many of Rav Hirsch’s characteristics. Both men identified themselves as having a very specific, particular mission in serving Hashem, and pursued it despite living among people who neither shared nor necessarily understood their vision. Both maintained total humility, notwithstanding their considerable accomplishments, personal and communal. Both ended up becoming prolific and original authors on Torah subjects, in spite of the fact that neither had intended to do so early in life. Both married women whom they recognized would assist them in fulfilling their life’s goals, notwithstanding the difference in age between them. Both attended German universities with the specific goal of attaining knowledge they felt was necessary for them to fulfill their mission, yet neither one of them completed the requirements for the coveted doctoral degree. Both were involved extensively in providing chesed for their brethren, both journeyed widely to execute this goal, and both relocated to accomplish what they saw as their specific mission in fulfilling Hashem’s will. Both studied kabbalah, yet couched their knowledge in ways that their readers would not realize that they had drunk from those springs. Neither was always understood by the great halachic authorities of their generation, but both were highly respected gedolim, whose original contributions have withstood the test of time.

Early Life

Rav Yehosef Schwartz was born in Flos, a small Bavarian town, where, already as a youth, he distinguished himself for his hasmodah and sincerity. After studying in yeshiva, he attended the University of Wurzburg for several years, studying the subjects he felt he needed to augment his Torah knowledge: astronomy, mathematics, natural sciences and classical languages. He had already become an exceptional talmid chochom with extensive knowledge of Talmud Bavli and Yerushalmi, poskim, and midrashic literature. Rav Schwartz is known primarily for his encyclopedic and original work in mapping out Eretz Yisroel, but as we will soon see, this reflects only a small aspect of his greatness.

While quite young, he had already developed a profound love for Eretz Yisroel. At age 24, in 1829, while still living in Germany, he published his first map of the Holy Land. He revised this map twice before he left Europe for Eretz Yisroel.

Go East, My Son

When he was in his late 20’s, he had become convinced that his personal tikun was to move to Eretz Yisroel, no small endeavor at the time, which he proceeded to do despite strong family pressure. Because of various wars and other difficulties, the trip from Germany to Eretz Yisroel took him two years to complete. He finally arrived in Eretz Yisroel on the 13th of Nissan 5593 (1833).

He had originally planned to settle in Tzefas, presumably because of the kabbalistic orientation of the community, but upon arriving in Eretz Yisroel, he was invited to visit Yerushalayim. Once he arrived there, he decided to take up residence there, and he remained there for the rest of his life.

As was not uncommon among Ashkenazim who lived in Eretz Yisroel at this time, he adopted the local Sefardi dress and many of their customs, yet he maintained his very Ashkenazi family name. He never became a member of any of the various kehillos to the exclusion of the others, but considered himself part of all communities.

Upon after arriving in Eretz Yisroel, he taught himself two more languages, Ladino and Arabic, both of which would help him in his future research.

Personal Life

Shortly after moving to Yerushalayim, he married a twelve-year-old orphan. He was 29 years old at the time. They had eight children, four sons and four daughters; unfortunately six of their children perished during Rav Schwartz’s lifetime from the rampant diseases that plagued the country. Rav Schwartz merited taking only one daughter of his to the chupah; a younger daughter married the year after his passing. Although only two of his children survived him, a large number of his descendants are living today.

For the rest of his life, his livelihood was provided by his family, particularly by his older brother, Rav Chaim Schwartz, a rov in Europe who eventually even provided for Rav Yehosef’s widow after his passing. Rav Yehosef kept an active and lengthy correspondence with this brother, who often published the letters he received from Rav Yehosef in various periodicals in Europe. Rav Chaim Schwartz encouraged Rav Yehosef to write and publish his seforim, and arranged that many of Rav Yehosef’s works were translated into German and published in Europe, shortly after they were written.

Rav Yehosef, himself, was known as a great provider of tzedokah, notwithstanding that he and his family always lived in dire poverty and that he, personally, followed a very ascetic lifestyle. He fasted frequently and slept little. He and his wife were heavily involved in many chesed projects, including much hachnosas orchim and providing for widows and orphans.

His Mussar

Many of the observations shared by Rav Schwartz show us his perspective of “mah rabu ma’asechah Hashem.” For example, he notes the tremendous chesed that Hashem provides for us daily by having night very gradually turn to day, and having day so gradually darken to become night. If the day were to change suddenly, we would find the results blinding.

His Travels

Rav Schwartz devoted much of his life to traveling extensively throughout Eretz Yisroel, although we see from much of his correspondence that this travel involved a great deal of danger. We also know that, on at least one occasion, he traveled to England and the United States to attempt to raise funds for the yishuv in Yerushalayim.

His Research

Despite his fame for this area of research, it represents only a small part of Rav Schwartz’s published material. One of his areas of extensive study was to accurately determine the halachos of halachic daybreak, sunrise, sunset and nightfall, a topic to which he devoted an untold number of trips to check how long it took to get light and to get dark. He writes that both in Eretz Yisroel and in chutz la’aretz, he checked the physical features of sunrise over 4000 times in order to understand the topic well. He noted that calculating how much time it takes from dawn to sunrise and from sunset to nightfall depends on one’s location. He also demonstrates that one can prove, by observation, that the earth is round.

He was original in his approaches. In numerous places, he quotes great earlier halachic authorities such as the Ibn Ezra, the Radak, or the Gra, and then rallies proof to show why he feels that their interpretations of the halachic sources or their mathematical calculations were inaccurate.

His Published Works

For many years after Rav Schwartz arrived in Eretz Yisroel, he did not write or publish anything, despite his brother’s entreaties that he do so. Eventually, he produced numerous works, some published in Hebrew and printed in Eretz Yisroel, others printed in various European languages, mostly translated abridgments of his Hebrew works. Rav Hirsch quotes Rav Schwartz in his commentary to Devorim Chapter 11, Verse 29. Some of Rav Schwartz’s published material was used during his lifetime to produce educational materials for religious schools in Europe, particularly in Germany.

In his lifetime, Rav Schwartz published seforim on the following topics:

Tolodos Yosef, on astronomy and the halachos of zemanim. This work is full of charts and other demonstrative evidence.

Tevuos Ha’aretz, on the details of the land of Israel. This work places particular emphasis on its borders, and it is replete with many of his own original maps and drawings.

Ma’asei Ha’aretz, a history of the Jewish people in Eretz Yisroel from the time of the churbon to his time, in which he divided the history into various eras. He included highly detailed descriptions of the different rishonim who lived in Eretz Yisroel and the communities in which they lived. He includes all his sources.

He also wrote on linguistics, philology and phonemics, but always with a Torah perspective on how this research demonstrates the correctness of one halachic practice over another, or how we can thereby understand a passage of Gemara or Midrash.

In addition, he published a volume of his own responsa, called Rosh Hashoni, on a very eclectic list of topics. For example, he wrote a teshuvah discussing whether someone traveling through several dangerous areas, as was the situation in Eretz Yisroel in his day, bentches gomel only upon arriving at his final destination, or whether each day he should bentch gomel upon safely arriving for the night at a different community (#58). He explains why we find no dispute in Chazal regarding when the day begins, although we find much dispute when the day ends (#19). He asks if someone who says his prayers in a vernacular may say the name of Hashem in Hebrew while doing so (#35). In another teshuvah, he discusses whether the Rambam changed his mind about the fact that Judaism has 13 ikorei emunah (#57). The basis of this question is that although the Rambam devotes much discussion to this topic in his commentary on the Mishnah, which he wrote in his youth, he makes no mention of this basic topic in the Mishneh Torah.

Some of Rav Schwartz’s responsa answer contemporary questions. For example, he was asked the following shailah about a shul that has several daily Shacharis minyanim: The people who daven at the later minyan have already arrived in shul while the earlier minyan is still davening and thus, they have already answered Borchu, and answered Kedushah. Do they still have a minyan to daven the regular Shacharis? Is it considered that they have already fulfilled the requirement of tefillah betzibur by listening to Chazaras Hashatz and therefore cannot repeat Shemoneh Esrei for that davening (#55)?

Mussaf Before Shacharis?

Here is another, even more contemporary, question that Rav Schwartz addresses. Someone arrives late for shul on Shabbos, and the tzibur is ready to daven Mussaf. Should he recite Mussaf together with the tzibur, so that he has the merit of tefillah betzibur, and then daven Shacharis, or should he daven in the proper order, Shacharis and then Mussaf (#30)? He concludes that someone in this scenario should join the minyan for Mussaf and then daven Shacharis.

Several of the questions he talks about are discussed extensively by other authorities of his time. For example, he discusses the situation of a gentile in the process of conversion who has undergone bris milah, but did not yet have the opportunity to immerse in a mikvah to complete his geirus. Is he still required to break Shabbos?

An interesting question Rav Schwartz discusses that I have found in no other responsa work is as follows: There are two people; one is a perfect tzadik, whereas the other was born with very bad traits and is striving to improve. Which of the two will be rewarded in greater measure by Hashem? (#34)

When Rav Schwartz passed on, he left behind, in addition to his published works, extensive notes, notebooks, and even several works ready for publication.

The Four Questions

At this point, we can now address our opening four questions:

Question #1: Which Minyan?

“In the minyan factory shtiebel that I often attend, it sometimes happens that most of my minyan has already heard the entire Chazoras Hashatz and answered Kedushah and Kaddish before we assemble to daven. Does this present us with any halachic questions?”

Question #2: Which Chayah?

“A gnu is not listed in the Torah among the seven chayos, kosher wild animals, yet it has split hooves and chews its cud. Why is it not listed?”

Question #3: Which Borders?

“Where exactly are the borders of Eretz Yisroel?”

Question #4: Which Question?

“What do the preceding three questions have to do with one another?”

As I am sure you surmised, the first three questions are discussed in Rav Schwartz’s writings. He devotes one of his responsa (#55) to the first question. Apparently, already in his day Yerushalayim had a shtiebel in which minyanim took place in different parts of a large beis medrash. Frequently, a group of people would have heard the entire repetition of Shemoneh Esrei before a section of the beis medrash was available for them to conduct their minyan. Can one still conduct Chazoras Hashatz, when every member of the assembled group has already heard a repetition of Shemoneh Esrei, albeit without having yet davened themselves? Rav Schwartz concludes that if the minyan assembled does not have six people who did not yet hear the repetition of Shemoneh Esrei, they cannot have a Chazoras Hashatz for their minyan. If you are faced with the same question, I suggest consulting your rav or poseik.

What’s Gnu?

The gnu, also known as a wildebeest, is a variety of antelope native to Africa. Since the gnu both chews its cud (ruminates) and possesses split hooves, seeming to be a kosher animal, Rav Schwartz was asked as follows: The Torah lists only ten varieties of kosher animals: three beheimos and seven chayos. Which one is the gnu?

Rav Schwartz answers that the gnu is the yachmur. He writes that he has correctly identified the nine other kosher animal species mentioned by the Torah, and writes which species they are. The only one left unidentified is the yachmor, which, by process of elimination, must be the gnu.

(Personally, I would suggest a different approach to answering this question, since there are, according to my information, 91 species of antelope known to mankind, all of which ruminate and have split hooves. One is probably forced to say that some of the terms of the Torah include far more than what we would consider to be one species.)

Responsa from Early Nineteenth-Century America

Rav Schwartz wrote several teshuvos based on questions he was asked during his trip to England and the United States. One question was whether a citrus fruit native to the West Indies qualified as an esrog. He first writes that there was no question that this fruit had never been grafted onto another species, since such fruits grow in the wild in an area where the local native population has no interest or knowledge about grafting, nor do they have related species on which to graft it. The remaining question was whether this fruit, which looked very different from any esrog he had ever seen, qualified as an esrog. He ruled that it did qualify, and reports that he used it to fulfill the mitzvah during his stay in North America.

The End

Based on our contemporary understanding of the report of Rav Schwartz’s physician, he contracted scarlet fever, which developed into meningitis and took his life when he was 61 years old. Thus ended the life of an intense oveid Hashem, who devoted himself to becoming a master of areas of Torah that had been completely untrodden before him. Yehi zichro boruch.

 

 

Is This Considered a Mixture?

Since this week’s parsha, Eikev, includes the sources for the laws of brochos, it is certainly appropriate to discuss:

Is This Considered a Mixture?

Some Details of the Halachos of Ikar and Tafeil

Question #1: What bracha do I recite on a fruit salad?

Question #2: What is the difference between a mixture and an enhancer?

Question #3: Why should I sometimes recite the brachos of ha’adamah or shehakol before I recite the brocha of ha’eitz?

Answer:

In a different article, Important Eating, I noted that there are two general categories of ikar and tafeil; (1) enhancers and (2) mixtures.

(1) Enhancers: This category includes food items where the tafeil food makes the ikar food tastier. Some common examples include: eating cereal with fruit and milk or latkes with apple sauce; stirring herbal tea with a cinnamon stick; breading fish or meat (schnitzel). In all of these cases, one recites the bracha for the ikar; that is, the cereal, latkes, tea, or meat; and the tafeil is included.

(2) Mixtures: This category includes cases where one food is not specifically enhancing the other, but both foods are important. Examples of this type of ikar and tafeil: macaroni and cheese, blintzes (they always contain a filling), cholent, kugel, stew, soups. These mixtures are considered one complete food item and therefore have only one bracha. Thus, the concept of ikar and tafeil is very different here – it is the rule used to determine which bracha we recite on this food.

WHAT IS A MIXTURE?

Does a “meat and potatoes” roast require one bracha on both ingredients, or is it two items that require separate brachos?

Is the bracha on a mix of raisins and peanuts ha’eitz or ha’adamah?

Is a fruit salad containing melon or pineapple in addition to pears, apples, and peaches a mixture that requires one bracha or separate brachos?

When dealing with the correct bracha on a food mixture, one of the key questions one must ask is whether the food is indeed a mixture that requires one bracha or if it is considered two (or more) separate foods each of which requires a separate bracha.

Here is an obvious example: Suppose you dine on a chicken dinner with side dishes of noodle kugel and string beans. Although you are eating them all at the same time, these foods are not a mixture. Therefore, each item requires its own bracha.

FRUIT SALAD

Do the ingredients of a fruit salad that contains both ha’eitz and ha’adamah items require two separate brachos, or is the salad a mixture requiring one bracha? Whereas in a soup, peanut bar, or tzimmes, the foods were cooked or blended together and are difficult to isolate from one another, in most fruit salads the different fruits can be clearly distinguished and separated from one another. On the other hand, because the pieces are small, one usually eats the different varieties together.

The poskim dispute whether fruit salad warrants one bracha or two. According to most poskim, one should recite only one bracha over a mixture of this type. Following their opinion, one would recite a bracha on the majority item in a fruit salad. However, the Chayei Odom contends that when the items can be clearly distinguished from one another, they are not to be considered a mixture, and one should recite separate brachos on the components of the dish. Thus, in his opinion, one should recite a ha’eitz on the tree fruits and then ha’adamah on the melon in the fruit salad.

(I noted in other articles, entitled “Topical, Tropical Fruits”; “A Sweet Change of Pace”; and “Papaya, that although we recite ha’adamah on bananas, pineapples, and strawberries, and shehakol before eating chocolate, there are poskim who contend that one should recite ha’eitz on these fruits because they are perennial; that is, the root remains from one year to the next. Because the poskim dispute whether the correct bracha on these types of perennial fruits is ha’eitz or ha’adamah, we recite ha’adamah [and, in the case of chocolate, shehakol] to resolve the doubt. In all of these instances, we recite the more general bracha, because one who recites a ha’adamah when he was to have recited ha’eitz fulfills his obligation, since trees grow from the ground. Shehakol is the most general of all brochos on food, and fulfills the requirement bedei’evid whenever it is recited on any food.

However, since we recite this bracha only to resolve a safek, there are several ramifications of this ruling, one of which directly affects our case. If one will be eating both these fruits [bananas, pineapples, and strawberries] and definite ha’eitz fruits, one should recite the ha’adamah first and taste them before one recites ha’eitz. This is because, according to the opinion that the correct bracha on any perennial is ha’eitz, if one recited a ha’eitz on the tree fruits, reciting a different bracha afterwards on the banana, pineapple, or strawberry is a bracha levatalah, a bracha in vain. Although we do not rule according to this opinion, we should not ignore it.

Similarly, if you are going to recite shehakol on the chocolate, you should recite this bracha first and taste the chocolate before eating the tree fruits. This is because there are halachic authorities who rule that the brocha on chocolate is ha’eitz, as I explained in the above-referenced article, A Sweet Change of Pace.)

The same dispute about making one or two brachos on a mixture exists regarding a mix of raisins and peanuts; most poskim contend that one should recite the bracha of the majority item, and the Chayei Odom rules that they require two separate brachos.

The Mishnah Berurah (212:1) concludes that safek brachos lehakeil: when in doubt, we do not recite a bracha, and therefore, one should recite one bracha on both items. The bracha should follow whatever bracha one would recite on the majority of the mixture, even if it consists of different fruits (Mekor Haberacha pg. 182). If one cannot determine whether the majority is borei pri ha’eitz or borei pri ha’adamah, then one should recite borei pri ha’adamah, since when one recites pri ha’adamah on an item that is pri ha’eitz, one fulfills the requirement, but not vice versa.

Following the majority opinion that a person recites one bracha on the mixed fruit salad or the peanuts and raisins, we still need to clarify a very important issue. At what point do we consider the two items to be different foods requiring separate brachos? In the case mentioned above of a chicken dinner with side dishes of noodle kugel and string beans, it is obvious that they are different items. But is a roast of meat and potatoes or a shepherd’s pie (usually consisting of alternating layers of ground meat and potatoes) considered one item, or does it require two separate brachos?

The poskim rule as follows: When the two items are eaten together in one spoonful, he recites one bracha, even if there is an occasional spoonful where he is eating only one of them. However, if each spoonful usually contains one item exclusively, the two items should have separate brachos. Thus, meat and potatoes cooked together would have two separate brachos, since the meat and potatoes are usually not eaten together in the same forkful. However, shepherd’s pie or soup would require only one bracha, since each forkful or spoonful will probably contain parts of at least two different foods. In this case, he recites one bracha, even if an occasional forkful/spoonful has only one of the ingredients (Aruch Hashulchan 212:2).

WHAT ABOUT CHOLENT?

A cholent consisting of barley, kishka, meat, potatoes and beans contains some items whose bracha is mezonos (the barley and kishka) and others whose bracha is shehakol (the meat) or ha’adamah (potatoes and beans). Is cholent a mixture like a soup requiring only one bracha, or can it be compared to eating a meat and potatoes roast, where several brachos are recited on the components? Truthfully, it depends on the consistency of the cholent. If the cholent that includes barley or kishka is made in such a way that each forkful contains a mix of the various ingredients, its bracha is mezonos. However, if the potatoes or meat are large, discernable chunks, they will require their own brachos (Pri Megadim, Pesicha Kolleles, Hilchos Brachos s.v. klal amru; Vezos Haberacha pg. 110).

Conclusion

Not everything we do in life qualifies as our ikar purpose in life; often we must do things that are tafeil to more important things. However, paying attention to the halachos of ikar and tafeil should encourage us to focus on our priorities in life, and not allow the tafeil things we must do become more important than they really are.

 

Mezuzah Basics

The “Ten Commandments” of Mezuzah

The laws governing where one places a mezuzah are, indeed, complicated. The Rambam (Hilchos Mezuzah 6:1) codifies ten necessary requirements that must be fulfilled for a house or room to be obligated to have a mezuzah.

  1. The room must have a minimum area of four amos by four amos (which is about fifty square feet). In the Rambam’s opinion, it is not necessary that each side be at least four amos wide – if the room or building’s area is at least sixteen square amos, one must place a mezuzah on its entrance. Thus, according to the Rambam’s opinion, a room that is three amos wide and six amos long requires a mezuzah.

However, the Rosh and others disagree, contending that a room three amos wide and six amos long does not require a mezuzah, since it does not have four amos in each dimension. In other words, they contend that a normal living area must be at least four amos in both its length and its width.

Although the authorities accept the Rambam’s position as the primary halachic opinion, and therefore one is required to place a mezuzah at the doorway to a room that is sixteen square amos, even if it is narrower than four amos (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 286:13), we do not recite a beracha when placing only this mezuzah. Instead, should there be another doorway that is definitely required to have a mezuzah, one should recite a beracha prior to placing this mezuzah, following which he can put up a mezuzah on the door of the room that is narrower than four amos (Shach). (This is the general rule that is applied for any case when there is a safek whether one must install a mezuzah. One does not recite a beracha, but it is optimal to place this mezuzah immediately after putting up a different mezuzah that requires a beracha, thereby including the safek situation with the beracha.)

Let us now return to the Rambam’s Ten Mezuzah Rules – that is, the ten necessary conditions that require a house or room to have a mezuzah.

  1. The entrance must have sideposts on both sides. I will soon explain what this means.
  2. The entrance must have a mashkof, that is, something that comes down vertically, similar to the way a lintel functions as the top of a doorway.
  3. The room or house must be roofed. An enclosed yard or porch without a roof does not require a mezuzah, although sometimes the doorway to an unroofed yard or porch functions as an entrance to the house and requires a mezuzah for this reason. However, a doorway of an unroofed room or building that is not an entranceway to a house does not need a mezuzah.
  4. In the Rambam’s opinion, a mezuzah is required only when the house or room’s entrance has a door. In this instance, the Rambam’s position is a minority opinion, since most other Rishonim contend that the lack of a door does not absolve the requirement of a mezuzah. The accepted conclusion is to install a mezuzah in a doorway that has no door, but not to recite a beracha when doing so (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 286:15). (Again, the best option here is to place this mezuzah  immediately after putting up a mezuzah in a place that all opinions require one, with the beracha recited on the latter mezuzah.)
  5. The sideposts of the entrance are at least ten tefachim tall, which is between 32 and 38 inches.
  6. The house or room does not have the sanctity of a shul or beis medrash. In the Rambam’s opinion, a beis medrash does not require a mezuzah. Most authorities rule that one should place a mezuzah on a beis medrash, and, therefore, accepted practice is to place a mezuzah on any beis medrash, but without a beracha. Common practice today is to treat a shul as a beis medrash and, therefore, to place a mezuzah on its door without a beracha.
  7. The house or room is intended for human habitation. For example, stables and barns are absolved of the requirement of mezuzah.
  8. The house or room is meant for an honorable use, as opposed to a bathroom or similar rooms, where we do not install a mezuzah.
  9. The room or house is intended for permanent use. For this reason, we do not install a mezuzah on a sukkah.

The next section is an edited version of an actual correspondence that I was asked via e-mail.

Bs”d

Dear Rav Kaganoff,

I have a sad financial/gezel sheilah for the Rav.

My former employers owe me several hundred pounds.  In legal documents, through their lawyer, they have acknowledged that they owe me the money.  They have also made it clear that they are not going to pay it.  The only way to get the money, at this point, would be if I went to secular court, since it is quite clear, based on their track record, that they would not obey a ruling of a beis din.  My wife and I have decided that we cannot afford this. It would cost us more than we would probably win.

However, when we moved, the moving company accidentally packed mezuzos which belong to the former employer.  These mezuzos are now sitting in my lift boxes waiting to be unpacked when we move into our new apartment in two weeks. 

Prior to accepting this job, the employer had instructed me to purchase mezuzos that I would need for the house that we were renting. He reimbursed us for them two months later. 

The money the employer owes me is predominantly from unpaid reimbursements. Frequently, there were expenditures that I made out-of-pocket for which they were supposed to reimburse me. Each month when they reimbursed me, they never paid the full amount.  They always shortchanged me — 20 pounds here, 10 pounds there. At the end of my employment, they owed me several hundred pounds of out-of-pocket expenses. And, more recently, they stopped paying the reimbursements altogether.

Am I allowed to keep the mezuzos, since I was the one who originally bought them? 

Thanks very much

xx

 

My answer:

The fact that you had purchased the mezuzos is not relevant. What is germane is the issue of “tefisah” – a creditor (or other person owed money) taking something belonging to the debtor (or person who owes money) on account of the debt.

In this case, if the value of the mezuzos is certainly less that the amount you are owed, it is permitted to keep them.

Best wishes.

Sources:

The question of “grabbing” (taking hold of) property for purpose of reclaiming bad debt is discussed extensively by authorities.

Permission to do so, in appropriate circumstances, is found in a number of authorities (see Choshen Mishpat 4; Sema 4:3; see also Gra 4:15). In the case of your question, because you are already in possession of the mezuzos, the case is more lenient, and you can certainly rely on the permitting poskim.

A condition for this is that you can prove your case in Beis Din. From the question, I understand that this is the case – the documents you have prove the employer’s debt, and this will be admissible in Beis Din – so that it is permitted to keep the mezuzos on account of the debt.

It is indeed ironic, or perhaps not at all so, that this a mezuzah is to remind us that Hashem protects us, and that this question came from someone whose employer forgot that Who is in charge!

Mezuzah Rewards

Aside from fulfilling a mitzvah commanded by Hashem, the mitzvah of mezuzah serves to remind us constantly of His presence. We touch the mezuzah whenever we enter or exit a building to remind ourselves of Hashem’s constant presence, so that the mezuzah serves as a physical and spiritual protective shield. Whenever passing it, we should remind ourselves of Hashem’s constant protection. In addition, the Gemara teaches that someone who is meticulous in his observance of the laws of mezuzah will merit acquiring a nice home (Shabbos 23b). We thus see that care in observing this mitzvah not only protects one’s family against any calamity, but also rewards one with a beautiful domicile. May we all be zocheh to always be careful in our observance of the laws of mezuzah and the other mitzvos, and reap all the rewards, both material and spiritual, for doing so!

 

 


Is My Stove Kosher?

Question #1: Is my stove treif?

“I have always used my stove for both milchig and fleishig, which is what I saw my mother do. But why is this permitted? Food spills from both milchig and fleishig onto the stove burners and gets heated there. Doesn’t that make my stove treif?”

Question #2: Kashering their stove

“My parents do not keep kosher. I have my own pots that I use when I visit their house, but how do I kasher the stove each time I visit them?”

Question #3: Induction stoves

“How do I kasher the induction stove in the house I just moved into?”

Introduction

There are some allusions to the laws of kashrus in this week’s parshah, Devorim. This provides an opportunity to discuss one of the least understood areas germane to a frum household – the status of the stove.

Should I be discriminating?

Although our dairy and meat equipment are always kept separated, in most households, the same stovetop burners are used to cook both milchig and fleishig foods. Most people place a pot of meat on the same burner that earlier in the day may have been cooking something dairy. Why does this not pose a kashrus problem, since we know that food spills onto the stove grates and its flavor burns into the stove? Why doesn’t this make all of our pots treif?

Separate but not equal

At the same time, we will not use a chometzdik stove for Pesach without either kashering it, covering the grates carefully with aluminum foil, or both. If I may use the same stove for both milchig and fleishig, why must I kasher my chometzdik stove for Pesach? Am I being inconsistent?

The induction stove

In addition, our article will discuss a new type of stove now available on the market. The induction stove, marketed as a very energy efficient and safe model, contains its own halachic questions. I will explain shortly how this type of stove operates and then address its unique halachic issues.

In order to understand the halachic background to this issue, we need to explain the issues thoroughly. As always, the goal of our article is not to render piskei halachah, which is the role of each individual’s rav or posek. The purpose of this article is to provide some understanding of the topic at hand.

Introduction #1: Vessel to vessel

When the Torah prohibited eating meat cooked in milk, it also prohibited eating food that contains the flavors of both meat and dairy. For example, if one cooked meat and then milk in the same pot on the same day, meat flavor goes into the dairy product, thus creating a prohibited mix of meat and milk (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 93:1). Similarly, the Torah prohibited meat cooked in a pot or on a grill in a way that it will absorb flavor from dairy that was previously cooked in the same pot or on the same grill. For this reason, using a grill that today barbecued meat to make a grilled-cheese sandwich is prohibited min hatorah, since this is halachically equivalent to cooking meat and dairy together.

Not only are we prohibited from eating non-kosher foods, but we are also prohibited from eating food that includes a small taste or flavor of non-kosher foods, such as, when they contain a residue of the non-kosher substance that imparts an enjoyable flavor.

The halachic issue here is whether taste passes from one vessel into another vessel when they touch one another directly, and there is no food or liquid between them. In other words, we know that flavor of food cooked in a pot will transfer into other food cooked in that pot. However, perhaps the flavor transfers only into food that comes in direct contact with the pot. Is there transfer of taste when two pots touch, but there is no food or liquid at the points of contact through which the flavor can pass? Are we concerned that flavor might transfer into the stove grate and then into the food being cooked on top of that grate?

According to some early authorities, flavor does not pass between two vessels, whereas other authorities hold that it does (Hagahos Shaarei Dura [51:3; 56:1], quoting the author of the Terumas Hadeshen). Both opinions are mentioned by the Rema in his Darchei Moshe commentary on the Tur, Yoreh Deah 92:9.

Here are two practical examples that the Rema discusses there:

  1. Someone placed a covered milchig frying pan containing dairy ingredients on top of a stove. He then placed a fleishig pot in which meat is cooking directly on the covered pan cooking dairy. According to the lenient opinion, that of the Issur Vaheter (31:17), the pots and the food all remain kosher, because although the pan is cooking real dairy and the pot is cooking meat, no absorption of flavor passes from one vessel to the other. In other words, in this case, none of the dairy flavor transfers from the milchig pan to the fleishig pot resting on top of it, and no meat flavor transfers from the fleishig pot to the milchig pan on which it is resting.

However, there is a stricter opinion, that of the Hagahos Shaarei Dura, who contends that even if the area between the pot and the pan cover is completely clean and dry, the food and the vessels are now non-kosher, because we do view that there was transfer of flavor from the milchig pan to the fleishig pot, and vice versa.

  1. Two pots are cooking on the stove, one containing meat and the other dairy, and they touch one another. According to the lenient opinion, the food and the vessels remain kosher, since no food taste will transfer between the outside of the two pots (Mordechai, Chullin #691), whereas, according to the strict opinion, everything is now non-kosher: the food must be disposed of and the pots requires kashering.

How do we rule?

The Rema (Yoreh Deah 92:8) rules that in both of these instances the food may be eaten, and both pots remain kosher. However, he rules that one should be careful not to allow this to happen. Thus, we see that the Rema follows the opinion of the Mordechai that absorption does not pass from one vessel to another, unless there is food or liquid connecting them, although he contends that this is permitted only after the fact, bedei’evid.

Another application – the stovetop

According to this ruling, placing a kosher pot on top of a treif, but clean and dry, stovetop does not render the pot or its contents non-kosher, even if the stovetop absorbed non-kosher food earlier in the same day. This is because, although the stove is non-kosher, no non-kosher absorption transfers from the stove, which is dry, into the pot, unless there is either food or liquid on top of the stove.

Why are we not concerned that there is food or liquid that spilled on the stove which could allow transfer of taste from the non-kosher stove into the food and then into the pot resting on top of the stove? Later authorities explain that, since stovetops get very hot, one can presume that any liquid that lands on them will evaporate almost immediately. In addition, the hot stovetop will burn food that splatters on them beyond edibility. Therefore, one need not be concerned about liquid or food that splatters on the stovetop (see Mishnah Berurah 451:34; Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 1:124, Yoreh Deah 1:59). We will return to this part of the discussion shortly. But first, we will discover that the Rema, himself, in a ruling on a related topic, seems to contradict himself!

Why is this night of Pesach different?

When discussing the laws of koshering for Pesach, the Rema (Orach Chayim 451:4) rules that a chometzdik stovetop must be kashered with libun, which means that one must use direct heat to burn off the prohibited residue that has absorbed into it. The question is why this should be necessary. Assuming that the stovetop is clean and dry, no chometz that has absorbed into the stove will transfer to the Pesach pots that are placed upon it.

Among the acharonim, we find three approaches to explain why the Rema rules that one must kasher the stovetop for Pesach. The Mishnah Berurah (451:34) and Rav Moshe Feinstein (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 1:124 and Yoreh Deah 1:59) rule that this is a special ruling germane to the laws of Pesach — we act more strictly regarding the laws of Pesach than the halachah otherwise requires. According to this approach, there is no halachic requirement to kasher a treif stovetop before using it, nor is there any halachic problem with using the same stove burners for both milchig and fleishig.

Other authorities disagree, contending that although the Rema ruled that when the two pots, one containing meat and the other dairy, touch, absorption does not transfer directly from one vessel to another, this ruling is true only after the fact, but that one may not rely on this ruling lechatchilah. The result of this approach is that we are not permitted to use a non-kosher stovetop without kashering it – although if someone did use it, bedei’evid, the food and the pots are permitted. It is then very obvious why the Rema ruled that one must kasher a chometzdik stove before using it for Pesach. It is not a chumrah for Pesach; it is halachically required. Thus, we find that the Chachmas Odom (74:4) rules that someone who purchased from a gentile a tripod meant for cooking on top is required to kasher it with libun, because food spills onto it. In a similar approach, the Ksav Sofer concludes that anyone who is G-d-fearing should be careful not to use the same part of the stove for cooking both milchig and fleishig, but he should have separate designated facilities (Shu”t Ksav Sofer, Yoreh Deah #54).

According to this approach, one may not use a treif stove without kashering it, and one should preferably not use the same stove burners for both milchig and fleishig. Rather, one should designate that when cooking milchigs one uses only, say, the left burners on the stove, and when cooking fleishig, one uses the right burners.

A third approach is that a small amount of flavor does seep through from one vessel to another. This small amount is nullified and, therefore, not a kashrus concern germane to other prohibitions. However, we are strict and do not permit even a minute amount of chometz on Pesach, and for this reason the Rema is stricter regarding Pesach than he is in regard to milchig and fleishig. (See Igros Moshe who mentions this approach, but rejects it.)

Thus, we have three clearly dissenting approaches, one contending that one is required to kosher a treif stove grate or stovetop before using it, and the other two contending that one is not required to do so. This dispute will result in a major question regarding question #2: “My parents do not keep kosher. I have my own pots that I use when I visit their house, but how do I kasher the stove each time I visit them?”

According to the more lenient approach we have mentioned, the stove may be used without any kashering at all, which will make matters easier for our questioner. The other approach may not be so lenient, although it is possible that they would agree: Since it is permitted, bedei’evid, this establishes a basis to permit use of the stove under extenuating circumstances, such as the case at hand, without kashering it first. This decision I leave to the consulted rav or posek.

Induction stoves

At this point, let us examine the third question with which we opened our article:

“How do I kasher the induction stove in the house I just moved into?”

Firstly, what is an induction stove?

Considered the most energy-efficient and safest household stove, the induction stove contains no open flame. Instead, a coil of copper wire is located underneath the cooking pot, which must be made of iron or steel for the stove to work. Electric current flows through the coil, which produces a magnetic field, which in turn creates an electric current in the pot. Current flowing in the metal pot produces resistive heating in the pot, which cooks the food. Heat is created exclusively in the pot or pan; there is no flame or hot electric coil.

The surface below the cooking vessel is no hotter than the vessel; only the pot or pan generates heat. The stovetop is made of material which is a poor heat conductor, often glass, so that only a relatively small amount of heat is transferred from the pot to the cooking surface, usually not enough so that after the cooking vessel is removed it would burn someone seriously.

Because induction heats the cooking vessel itself, the possibility of burn injury is significantly less than with other methods; the surface of the cooking top is heated only from contact with the vessel. Since there are no flames or red-hot electric heating elements as found in traditional cooking equipment, an induction stove is ideal.

From a halachic perspective, there are several ways that an induction stove should be treated differently from a conventional stove. Since the cooking surface is not directly heated, spilled food does not burn on the surface. This means that food from spills will absorb into the cooking surface, rather than becoming burnt up. In addition, one cannot cover the cooktop with aluminum foil or anything else. The foil may melt and cause permanent damage or cracking of the top.

On the other hand, the induction stove does not change the concept, accepted by most authorities, that taste does not transfer from one vessel to another without food or beverage between them.

So, now we need to analyze the three halachic questions mentioned above, but specifically directed to the induction stovetop.

  1. Is one required to kasher an induction stovetop when it was previously used for non-kosher?
  2. May one use an induction stove interchangeably for meat and dairy products?
  3. How would one kasher an induction stove for Pesach use?

A treif inducer

Above we cited the dispute among halachic authorities whether one is required to kasher a stovetop that was used for non-kosher. According to some authorities, one is technically not required to kasher a stovetop, since the halachah is that taste does not transfer from one vessel to another. This line of reasoning should apply equally to an induction stove. However, the other reason to be lenient, that the food matter is constantly burning off a regular stovetop, does not apply to the induction stove. For this reason, a rav may feel that one is required to kasher an induction stove, which may be practically impossible, as I will explain in the next paragraph.

When a vessel or other item absorbs food directly over the flame, the halachah requires that kashering such an item requires libun, direct application of heat. In the case of an induction stovetop, this would be impossible. The stovetop, most often made of glass, usually cannot withstand the heat that would be necessary to kasher. The halachah is that one is not permitted to kasher an item that might crack or break while being kashered, because of concern that the process will not be performed properly.

On the other hand, someone could argue that since the induction stovetop becomes hot only because of the pot resting on it, that it does not require libun, but that it is considered equivalent halachically to something onto which hot foods are poured. These items require only iruy, pouring boiling water onto them, to kasher them, something that can certainly be done to an induction cooktop.

From milchig to fleishig:

Again, I mentioned above the dispute among authorities whether one may use a stovetop for both milchig and fleishig. Certainly, the prevalent practice is to use the same stovetop for both, and rely on the fact that since the surface is clean and dry, no absorption of residual food taste in the cooktop transfers to the pots or pans placed on it. This line of reasoning can also be applied to the induction stove. I would caution someone who has an induction stove to be careful to wipe off spills when they occur, since the spillage does not burn off, as it does with a conventional stove.

For Pesach use:

As we learned above, the Rema required kashering a stovetop for Pesach with libun. An alternative way to prepare a stovetop for Pesach is by covering it completely with aluminum foil, or the like, which now prevents chometzdik absorption in the grates from transferring to the Pesach pots.

However, neither of these kashering procedures can be done with an induction stovetop. The cooktop may crack if direct heat is applied, and it cannot be covered. Thus, the only heter that might apply would be to pour boiling water onto the surface and rely on this being a sufficient kashering procedure. Someone with this shaylah should discuss it with his posek.

Conclusion

Based on the above information, we can gain a greater appreciation of how complicated even a relatively common shaylah might be. We certainly have a greater incentive to understand all the aspects of maintaining a proper kosher household. We should always hope and pray that the food we eat fulfills all the halachos that the Torah commands us.

 

The Halachos of Pidyon Haben

This week’s parsha includes the mitzvah of pidyon haben, redeeming the bechor, the firstborn, if it is a boy. The mitzvah is performed optimally when the baby turns a month old, by giving a kohein five sela’im of silver, equal to about 96 grams of silver (Chazon Ish).

The dollar value of the five sela’im varies, depending on the market price of silver. Some people have the custom of giving the kohein six coins, in case one of the coins is defective and does not contain enough silver. The truth is that one has to research how much silver content there is in the coins. Old US silver dollars did have enough silver, but most coins today have little metallic value. We will talk more about this shortly.

WHO IS REQUIRED TO REDEEM THE BECHOR?

The obligation rests on the father of a boy who is the firstborn of his mother and was born through natural delivery. If the father is a kohein or a levi, or if the mother is the daughter of a kohein or a levi, there is no mitzvah of pidyon haben. Usually, the question of whether one’s mother is a bas kohein or levi does not affect a person’s halachic status; however, since pidyon haben is dependent on the boy being the firstborn of his mother, her yichus is taken into consideration (Bechoros 47a).

There is an interesting phenomenon that relates to the difference between the daughter of a kohein and the daughter of a levi. If a boy is born of a non-Jewish father and a bas kohein, there is a requirement for this child, upon becoming an adult, to perform a pidyon haben. Why is this true? Because his mother was together with a non-Jew, she loses her sanctity as a bas kohein – for example, she will never again be able to eat terumah. Therefore, her son is included in the mitzvah of pidyon haben. However, neither parent is obligated to perform the mitzvah for the child; the father, because he is not Jewish, and the mother, because there is no requirement for Mom to perform pidyon haben. Therefore, upon becoming an adult, this child should perform the mitzvah himself.

The halacha is different regarding a boy who is born of a non-Jewish father and a bas levi. Although Mom was involved in a prohibited relationship, this did not affect her yichus, since she loses no halachic rights as a result. Therefore, in this situation the child is exempt from the mitzvah of pidyon haben.

Incidentally, there are poskim who rule that the grandson of a non-Jewish father and a bas levi is also excluded from pidyon haben. This means that the son of a non-Jewish father and a bas levi does not have a mitzvah to redeem his son. Since this man is Jewish from birth but does not have a Jewish father, his yichus follows his mother, who is the daughter of a levi. Since the bas levi’s son’s only Jewish yichus is as a descendant of Levi, these authorities contend that he has no obligation to perform pidyon haben. (See Shu’t Maharam Shick, Yoreh De’ah #299 who disagrees with this ruling.) My impression is that the accepted practice in this situation is to perform an act of pidyon haben without a brocha; after which the kohein returns the money.

WHAT HAPPENS IF A KOHEIN MARRIED A DIVORCEE?

If a kohein married a divorcee or any other woman prohibited to a kohein, the children of this union are challalim, which means that they have become defiled and therefore lose their status as kohanim. The daughters may not marry kohanim, and the firstborn son born to a kohein from this woman needs to be redeemed, just like any yisroel. Furthermore, his son’s son will also require pidyon haben, like any other yisroel.

WHAT IS THE HALACHA OF A BECHOR BORN THROUGH CAESARIAN SECTION?

Switching sub-topics, only a naturally-born child has the status of a bechor for pidyon haben purposes. There is no mitzvah of pidyon haben if the boy was delivered through caesarian section. His younger brother is also not considered firstborn, even if he is born through natural delivery. Similarly, a boy born after a miscarriage is not a bechor for purposes of the mitzvah of pidyon haben (Bechoros 46a). This last halacha depends on how far advanced the terminated pregnancy was, a topic that we will leave for a different time.

WHAT HAPPENS IF NO ONE REDEEMS THE BECHOR?

If the father cannot or does not redeem the bechor, other people can redeem him, but are not required to do so. However, if no one redeemed the bechor as a child, he is required to redeem himself when he reaches adulthood (Kiddushin 29a).

Many men who are not from an observant background did not have a pidyon haben. At a pidyon haben that I once performed (I am a kohein), the grandfather of the newly redeemed baby came over to me, saying, “You know, I am also firstborn and a baal teshuvah. I can’t imagine anyone made a pidyon haben for me.” And so, two pidyonim were performed on the same day, one for the grandson and one for the grandfather!

WHAT IS THE PROCEDURE?

As opposed to other mitzvos, such as bris milah and a wedding, where the mitzvah is performed first and then the festive meal is eaten, pidyon haben is performed during the meal, in order to call attention to the mitzvah. (In some Yerushalmi circles, they actually perform the pidyon first, and then begin the seudah.)

The usual procedure is as follows: After the assembled have made hamotzi and taken their seats, the father brings the bechor to the kohein, who is seated at a place of honor. The custom is to bring the bechor on a large, silver platter. Many have the custom of placing sugar cubes, cloves of garlic, and jewelry on the platter. The father declares to the kohein that the baby is firstborn and must be redeemed.

The kohein then responds with the famous and enigmatic question: “Mai ba’is tefei?” Which do you prefer? Would you rather have your child or the five sela’im of pidyon?

The father responds that he would prefer his son, and that he is prepared to perform the redemption. He then recites the bracha on the mitzvah and the bracha of shehechiyanu, and places the coins into the kohein’s right hand. The kohein waves the coins over the head of the bechor while blessing him. Then, the kohein recites the birchas kohanim and other words of blessing over the head of the bechor. The procedure is completed by the kohein reciting a bracha on a cup of wine and drinking it.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN WHEN THE KOHEIN SAYS “MAI BA’IS TEFEI?” — DOES THE FATHER REALLY HAVE A CHOICE?

The wording of the kohein’s question, “Which do you prefer?” — implying that the father has a choice — i­­s extremely strange. Halachically, there is no choice or option. The father has a mitzvah to fulfill, which he is required to observe. So, why does the kohein suggest to the father that he has a choice?

The text of our pidyon haben ceremony goes back 1,000 years, and, since that time, probably tens of thousands of interpretations have been suggested for this question. Think of your own answer to this question, and you’ll have something to share with others the next time you attend a pidyon haben!

WHY DO SOME PEOPLE PLACE GARLIC CLOVES AND SUGAR CUBES ON THE PLATTER THAT HOLDS THE BABY?

There are many customs that have developed around the mitzvah of pidyon haben. Some people place pieces of garlic, sugar cubes, or candies alongside the bechor when he is brought in for the pidyon. The sugar cubes show that the mitzvos are sweet, and garlic is a symbol of and segulah for fertility. Some say that when participants take home the sugar and the garlic and use them for cooking their own meals at home, they increase the numbers of people who “participated” in the pidyon haben meal, all of whom will be blessed by this.

WHEN IS THE PIDYON PERFORMED? WHY IS THE MINHAG TO PERFORM PIDYON HABEN IN THE AFTERNOON?

The Torah says that the mitzvah is to redeem the bechor when he turns a month old.

How does one determine that a child is a month old? Although we are accustomed to thinking of a Jewish month as being either 29 or 30 days long, these are actually calendar calculations that deal only with complete days. Technically, a month is the amount of time it takes the moon to revolve around the earth, which varies slightly from month to month, but is always a bit more than 29½ days.

HOW LONG IS A MONTH?

There is a dispute in halacha as to how one determines that a bechor is a month old. One opinion follows the day-count method and rules that the pidyon haben should take place on the 31st day after the boy was born, counting his day of birth as day one (Magen Avraham 339:8).

Others rule that a month for pidyon haben is determined by the astronomical method, meaning the same amount of time that transpires from one new moon to the next. Since the time that transpires from one new moon to the next is estimated at 29 days, 12 hours and 793/1080 of an hour (usually called 793 chalakim), the time for pidyon haben begins when the bechor is exactly 29 days, 12 hours and 793 chalakim old (Shach, Yoreh De’ah 305:12). Common practice is to perform a pidyon haben after both opinions have been fulfilled.

By the morning of the 31st day, the bechor is usually 29 days, 12 hours and 793 chalakim old. However, if the bechor was born shortly before sunset on a long summer day, daybreak on the morning of the 31st day is less than 29 days, 12 hours and 793 chalakim since his birth. In this situation, one should wait to perform the pidyon until he is 29 days, 12 hours and 793 chalakim after birth (Pischei Tshuvah 305:17). For this reason, it is a common custom to schedule a pidyon haben on the afternoon of the 31st day, which is always an appropriate time according to both opinions.

When the earliest time to perform the pidyon is on an erev Shabbos or erev Yom Tov, the pidyon should be scheduled in the morning (Mishnah Berurah 249:13). In the rare case that it is not yet 29 days, 12 hours and 793 chalakim after birth, one should calculate when the 29 days, 12 hours and 793 chalakim after birth falls out and schedule the pidyon then.

When the 31st falls on Shabbos or Yom Tov, the pidyon should be scheduled for Motza’ei Shabbos or Motza’ei Yom Tov (Shu’t Noda Biyehuda Tenina, Yoreh De’ah #187).

WHAT DOES ONE DO IF THE THIRTY-FIRST DAY FALLS ON A FAST DAY?

There are two practices mentioned by the poskim. One approach is to perform the pidyon during the fast day, so as not to delay the opportunity to observe the mitzvah, and conduct the festive meal at night after the fast is over. The other approach is to delay the pidyon until the night after the fast, and then perform the pidyon during the meal (Shach, Yoreh De’ah 305:12).

CAN ONE PERFORM THE MITZVAH OF PIDYON HABEN BY GIVING THE KOHEIN A BOND?

One does not fulfill the mitzvah of pidyon haben if one gives the kohein a bond (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 305: 3,4). The yisroel must give the kohein something that has inherent value, such as merchandise. A check is an order of payment instructing the bank to release funds, but itself has no inherent value. Therefore, a check is not equal to cash and is not valid for pidyon haben.

It should be noted that according to many prominent poskim, paper money should not be used for pidyon haben because they also do not have inherent value (see Shu”t Chasam Sofer; Aruch Hashulchan, Yoreh De’ah 305:18; Shu”t Oneg Yom Tov, Yoreh De’ah #102). Since our coins today are not valued by their metal content, it would seem that they should also not be used for pidyon haben.

Usually the pidyon haben is performed with silver coins. These coins are supplied either by the father or by the kohein, in which case he sells them to the father before the pidyon. It is halachically acceptable for the father to pay for the coins by check when he buys them from the kohein.

I was once given by the father small pieces of silver. He had purchased the exact amount of silver necessary, probably from a jeweler, for pidyon haben and that is what he gave me. Although I have had this happen only once, I am told that in certain communities this is a common method.

On another occasion, I was asked, in advance, if I would afterwards sell back to the family the silver dollars that they were giving me. It turned out that the coins used had been used by the great-great-grandfather of the baby when he performed pidyon haben on his son, and these exact coins had been used for every generation in between!

CAN ONE FULFILL THE MITZVAH BY BUYING THE KOHEIN A PRESENT?

Yes, as long as the present is worth at least the value of five sela’im (96 grams of silver). However, the prevalent custom is to give the kohein silver coins, as mentioned above.

MAY THE KOHEIN RETURN THE MONEY TO THE FATHER OF THE BECHOR?

The kohein may return the money. However, this should not be his regular practice, since it might cause a loss of revenue to other kohanim, because yisraelim may stop using them for pidyon haben (Shulchan Aruch Yoreh De’ah 305:8). There are some poskim who contend that today the money should be returned, since the kohein cannot prove that he is a kohein (Shu”t Yaavetz #155). However, the accepted practice is that the kohein does not return the money (Pischei Tshuvah 305:12, quoting Chasam Sofer).

ONCE THE FATHER ASKED A KOHEIN TO BE THE KOHEIN AT HIS SON’S PIDYON HABEN, MAY HE SUBSEQUENTLY CHANGE HIS MIND AND USE A DIFFERENT KOHEIN?

Once the father has asked one kohein to “officiate” at the pidyon haben, he should not ask another kohein. However, if he gave the redemption money to a different kohein, the pidyon is valid (Rema, Yoreh De’ah 305:4).

MAY THE FATHER OF THE BECHOR DIVIDE THE MONEY FOR PIDYON HABEN BETWEEN TWO OR MORE KOHANIM?

It is preferable not to do this, but if he did so, the pidyon is valid (Pischei Tshuvah 305:10, quoting Chasam Sofer).

A RATIONALE FOR THE MITZVAH

It behooves us to consider the reason for the mitzvah of pidyon haben. Following the smiting of the firstborn in Egypt, all firstborn boys had a certain kedusha, which should have entitled them to a role of service in the Beis Hamikdash.

However, because the bechorim were involved in worshipping the Eigel Hazahav, the Golden Calf, they lost their unique status and could no longer perform any special role in the Beis Hamikdash. Therefore, the bechor must undergo a redemption ceremony to make amends — which is to pay the kohein as a means of “redeeming” his former kedusha.

 

 

Which Utensils Must I Immerse?

Question #1: With Cookie Cutter Precision!

Rivkah Baker asks:

“Do I need to toivel the cookie cutter that I just purchased?”

Question #2: Butch’s Cleaver

Butch Katzav, the proprietor of the local glatt kosher meat market, inquires: “Under my previous hechsher, I was told that I did not need to toivel my meat cleavers, since they are used only for raw meat. However, my new rav hamachshir requires me to toivel them. Why is there a difference?”

Introduction:

In Parshas Matos, the Torah teaches: Regarding the gold and the silver; the copper, the iron, the tin and the lead: any item that was used in fire needs to be placed in fire to become kosher, yet it must also be purified in mikveh water. In addition, that which was not used in fire must pass through water” (Bamidbar 31:22-23). From these verses, we derive the mitzvah of tevilas keilim — the mitzvah to immerse metal implements in a kosher mikveh or spring prior to using them for food. The Gemara (Avodah Zarah 75b) notes that this immersion is required, even if the vessel has never been used. In other words, this mitzvah is unrelated to the requirement of koshering equipment that was used for non-kosher food, or to the laws related to purifying implements that became tamei.

The Gemara (Avodah Zarah 75b) further states that in addition to metal items intended for food use, we are also required to immerse glass dishes, because both metal and glass share a similarity – they are repairable by melting and reconstructing, what we call today recyclable. This renders them different from vessels made of stone, bone, wood or earthenware, all of which cannot be repaired this way.

Immediately prior to immersing something that definitely requires tevilah, one recites a beracha: Asher kideshanu bemitzvosav vetzivanu al tevilas keilim. One does not recite this beracha when it is uncertain that immersion is required, such as, when the authorities dispute whether tevilah is necessary. When there is no mitzvah to immerse a utensil, reciting a beracha is prohibited, becauses it constitutes a beracha levatalah, one stated in vain. Therefore, when we are uncertain whether an item requires tevilah, we immerse it — but without reciting a beracha. A better solution is to immerse something that definitely requires a beracha at the same time that one immerses the “questionable” item, and to recite a beracha on the “definite” item/utensil. We will soon see an example.

Is this a kashrus law?

The Gemara cites a highly instructive dialogue about the mitzvah of immersing new vessels:

“Rav Nachman said in the name of Rabbah bar Avuha: ‘From the verse, one can derive that one must immerse even brand new items, because used vessels that were purged in fire are as kosher as those that are brand-new, and yet they require immersion.’

Rav Sheishes then asked him: ‘If it is true that the mitzvah of immersing vessels is not because of kashrus concerns, then maybe one is required to immerse even clothing shears?’

Rav Nachman responded: ‘The Torah mentions only vessels that are used for meals (klei seudah)'” (Avodah Zarah 75b).

Rav Sheishes suggested that if the immersion of utensils is not a means of koshering a non-kosher vessel, then perhaps we have many more opportunities to fulfill this mitzvah, and it applies to any type of paraphernalia — even cameras, cellphones and clothing shears!

To this, Rav Nachman retorted that the Torah includes only items used for klei seudah – as Rashi explains, household implements used with fire are normally pots, pans and other cooking implements. Thus, the mitzvah of tevilas keilim applies only to utensils used for preparing food, and not those intended for other purposes.

Klei Seudah – appliances used for meals

We should note that Rav Nachman did not say that all food preparation utensils require immersion, but he required immersion only of klei seudah, items used for meals. We will soon see how this detail affects many of the halachos of tevilas keilim.

What exactly are considered klei seudah, and how is this different from simply saying that all food implements must be immersed?

Early halachic authorities provide some direction about this issue. For example, the Mordechai (Chullin #577, quoted by Beis Yosef, Yoreh Deah 120) rules that a shechitah knife does not require immersion. Why not? After all, it is used to prepare food.

The answer is that since meat cannot be eaten immediately after shechitah, this knife does not qualify as klei seudah. Only utensils that prepare food to the point that they can be eaten are called klei seudah. This is the approach that the Shulchan Aruch follows (Yoreh Deah 120:5).

Making a point!

According to this approach, cleavers used for raw meat, tenderizers (mallets used to pound raw meat), and reidels, the implements used to perforate matzoh dough prior to baking, would all not require tevilah, since the meat or dough is not edible when these implements complete their task (Darkei Moshe, 120:4, quoting Issur VaHeter).

However, not all authorities reach this conclusion. Indeed, the same Darkei Moshe, who ruled that reidels do not require tevilah, quoted that both the Rash and the Tashbeitz, two prominent early authorities, toiveled shechitah knives before using them. Why did these poskim toivel their shechitah knives? Did they contend that any implement used to process food at any stage requires tevilah? If so, would they also require immersing reidels, meat grinders and rolling pins?

We find a dispute among halachic authorities how to explain this opinion. According to the Taz (120:7) and the Gra (120:14), the Rash and the Tashbeitz indeed require immersing appliances whose finished product is not yet edible. In their opinion, the Rash and the Tashbeitz require the toiveling of reidels and presumably, also, meat grinders. Since the matter is disputed – the Mordechai contending that these items do not require tevilah, and the Rash and the Tashbeitz requiring tevilah — the Taz and the Gra rule that we should follow a compromise position, immersing shechitah knife and reidels before use, but without reciting a beracha, because maybe there is no requirement to immerse them, and the beracha will be in vain.

What is the difference between a reidel and a knife?

On the other hand, the Shach (120:11) disputes the way the Taz and the Gra understand the opinion of the Rash and the Tashbeitz. The Shach contends that although the Rash and the Tashbeitz rule that one must toivel a shechitah knife, they would not require the immersion of a reidel before use. A shechitah knife must be toiveled because it can potentially be used for food that is ready to be eaten. The Shach concludes that an implement that can be used only for items that are not yet edible does not require immersion, and therefore a reidel does not require tevilah.

Cookie cutting precision!

Most of our readers probably do not regularly use shechitah knives or reidels, but may have more experience with cookie cutters. If a cookie cutter is used only for dough, then according to the conclusion of the Mordechai and the Shulchan Aruch, it would not require tevilah. However, my wife informs me that cookie cutters are often used to form shapes in melons or jello; therefore, they must be immersed.

There are other items where this question is germane, such as items that would be used only for kneading, e.g., a metal rolling pin; or for items used for processing raw meat, e.g., a meat grinder, or a schnitzel mallet. Must one immerse these items?

The answer is that it is dependent on the above-quoted dispute between the Gra and the Shach. According to the Gra, those early authorities who require the toiveling of a shechitah knife require that all food implements be toiveled. Since we usually require toiveling shechitah knives, we must also toivel reidels, meat grinders, and rolling pins, although we would toivel all of these items without a beracha (see Pri Megadim, Orach Chayim 451:6).

However, according to the Shach, there is a big difference between a shechitah knife, which can be used to cut ready-to-eat foods, and a reidel, which can be used only for food that is not ready to eat. Since reidels are never used for ready-to-eat food, they do not require tevilah.

Major improvements

There is yet a third approach to this issue. Some other authorities contend that an item used for a major tikun, or change, in the food, such as shechitah, requires tevilah, even if the food is not edible when this step is complete. However, an item that performs only a minor tikun, such as the reidel, does not require immersion, if the food is not yet edible (Pri Chodosh and Aruch Hashulchan). In their opinion, the potential use of the shechitah knife is not what requires the tevilah. It is the fact that the shechitah performed with this knife is a major stage in making the finished product, the meat, edible. Those who follow this approach would rule that one need not toivel a meat grinder, whereas the Gra and the Taz would rule that one should.

The saga of Butch’s cleaver

We can now address Butch Katzav’s question:

“Under my previous hechsher, I was told that I did not need to toivel my meat cleavers, since they are used only for raw meat. However, my new rav hamachshir requires me to toivel them. Why is there a difference?”

In true Jewish style, let us answer Butch’s question with a question. Is a cleaver like a shechitah knife or like a reidel?

In certain ways, a cleaver is like a knife, in that it can be used both for raw meat and for cooked, ready-to-eat food. On the other hand, it is unlike a shechitah knife which performs a major tikun by making the meat kosher, and in this way, the cleaver is more similar to a reidel which performs a relatively minor function.

Now we can answer Butch’s question. The previous hechsher may have ruled like the Pri Chodosh and the Aruch Hashulchan that an item used for a minor change does not require tevilah, unless it is used with edible food. The current rav hamachshir may follow the opinion of the Shach that an item, such as a knife or cleaver, requires tevilah when used for food that is not yet edible, since it could be used for ready-to-eat food. It is also possible that the current rav follows the opinion of the Gra and the Taz that any food implement requires tevilah without a beracha, and would require that even a reidel be immersed.

Conclusion

According to Rav Hirsch, metal vessels, which require mining, extracting and processing, represent man’s mastery over the earth and its materials, whereas vessels made of earthenware or wood only involve man’s shaping the world’s materials to fit his needs. The manufacture of metal utensils demonstrates man’s creative abilities to utilize natural mineral resources to fashion matter into a usable form. Consuming food, on the other hand, serves man’s most basic physical nature. Use of metal food vessels, then, represents the intellectual aspect of man serving his physical self, which, in a sense, is the opposite of why we were created — to use our physical self to assist our intellect to do Hashem’s will. Specifically in this instance, the Torah requires that the items thereby produced be immersed in a mikveh, to endow them with increased kedusha before they are put to food use. This demonstrates that although one may use one’s intellect for physical purposes, when doing so, one must first sanctify the item to focus on the spiritual.

 

 

Prayer by Non-Angels

Question #1: Ahavah Rabbah

Brocha Rishonah asks me: “In the middle of reciting the brocha of Ahavah Rabbah, I feel a mild need to use the bathroom. Must I stop davening immediately, or can I delay using the bathroom and finish davening first?”

Question #2: The Baal Keriyah

“I am a baal keri’ah (often mispronounced as baal korei). It occasionally happens that while I am leining, I realize that I need to use the facilities. May I continue leining until I have finished reading?”

Question #3: Cantorial Quandary

Mr. Fine Cantor calls me. “I just found out that one may not pray when one has a minor urinary urge, which for me is quite common. I often have such a need prior to repeating the chazaras hashatz. It is rather embarrassing for me to leave the shul prior to beginning the repetition. What do I do?”

Introduction

Since Tehillim (106:30) emphasizes that Pinchas was rewarded in the merit of his prayer, we have an ideal opportunity to discuss this aspect of the laws of davening.

In the fourth chapter of Hilchos Tefillah, the Rambam lists and explains five essential prerequisites of prayer. This means that one may not be permitted to daven if he is unable to fulfill these requirements. The five requirements are:

  1. One’s hands must be clean.
  2. One’s body must be covered.
  3. The place where one is praying must be clean.
  4. One may not be distracted by bodily needs.
  5. One must have proper kavanah when praying, meaning that there is a requirement that one’s thoughts be focused.

This article will be devoted to factor number 4, that one must not be distracted by bodily needs. This means that it is prohibited to daven when feeling an urge to relieve oneself. Chazal derive this requirement from several biblical sources. One verse reads hikon likras Elokecha, Yisroel, “Prepare yourself, Israel, when you approach your G-d” (Amos 4:12). Of course, that verse does not specify what type of preparation is necessary. According to the midrash, another verse, Shemor raglecha ka’asher teileich el beis HaElokim, “Pay attention to your legs when you walk into the House of G-d” (Koheles 4:17), serves as an allusion to this specific type of preparation.

The Gemara background

The passage of Gemara that provides the background to this discussion reads as follows: “One who needs to relieve himself may not pray, and if he did pray, it is an abomination” (Brochos 23a). The fact that the Gemara calls this prayer an “abomination” teaches that one who prayed when he needed to relieve himself is required to pray again (Kesef Mishneh, Hilchos Tefillah 4:10; see also Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 92:1). In this situation, the brochos of the tefillah are considered brochos levatalah, brochos recited in vain (Biur Halachah 92:1, s.v. Hayah).

In general, when one needs to relieve himself, it is prohibited to wait unnecessarily. We will continue the discussion on this point shortly.

When is the prayer invalid?

The Gemara explains that a prayer recited when one senses an urge to relieve oneself is not always invalid. This depends on how strong the need was to relieve oneself at the time that he prayed. The Gemara rules that if he could have waited for a parsah, then he has fulfilled his obligation to pray. However, if he davened knowing that he would not be able to wait this long, the davening is invalid and must be repeated, since it is considered an abomination.

How long is a parsah?

A parsah is a distance of 8000 amos, approximately 2½ to 3 miles, and the Gemara means the amount of time it takes to walk a parsah. The authorities dispute how much time this is, some ruling that it is an hour (Bach, Orach Chayim 92), whereas most authorities consider it longer. Some opinions consider it as long as 96 minutes. The consensus of the late authorities is that if one would not have been able to wait for 72 minutes, the prayer is invalid (Aruch Hashulchan 92:2; Mishnah Berurah 92:3).

Milder needs

What is the halachah if someone feels a mild urge to use the facilities – meaning that he knows that he could wait more than 72 minutes? Is he permitted to pray?

We find a dispute among the rishonim whether, under these circumstances, one is permitted to pray, the Rif and Rashi contending that one may, whereas most authorities rule that it is still not appropriate to daven without first relieving oneself (Rambam, Rosh, Rabbeinu Yonah, Tur and Shulchan Aruch). This dispute appears to depend on two variant texts of the passage of Gemara involved. (However, we should note that the Aruch Hashulchan proposes a completely different way to understand this topic, and he concludes that all rishonim prohibit davening when one feels any urge.)

The Rambam codifies this requirement as follows:

“One who needs to relieve himself may not pray. Furthermore, one who needs to relieve himself and prays, the prayer is an abomination, and upon relieving himself, he must pray again. However, if he could hold himself the amount of time it takes to walk a parsah, his tefillah is acceptable, after the fact. In any instance, one should not daven without first checking oneself very carefully. He should also remove any mucous and phlegm and anything else that distracts him, and only then pray” (Rambam, Hilchos Tefillah 4:10).

Type of need

There is a dispute among the authorities whether the requirement to daven again is only when one needed to defecate, or also when one needed to urinate. The Magen Avraham, the Chayei Odom and the Aruch Hashulchan are lenient, ruling that even if the need was intense, one is not required to repeat the davening if one needed only to urinate, whereas the Elyah Rabbah and the Derech Hachayim require one to daven again. When the Mishnah Berurah records this dispute (Mishnah Berurah 92:2), he writes that he is unable to render a decision as to which position is correct, since both sides have early sources that follow their opinion (Biur Halachah, 92:1, s.v. Vetzarich).

Should he miss tefillah betzibur?

What is the halachah if someone has a minor urge to use the facilities, and he will certainly be able to wait longer than a parsah: may he postpone relieving himself in order to be able to daven together with a minyan?

The conclusion is that even though the prayer would be valid after the fact, he should not pray until he has had a chance to relieve himself.

Should he miss praying altogether?

Let us assume that the latest time to daven is approaching, and, if our individual relieves himself, he may miss davening altogether. Is he permitted to daven, even though he feels a mild urge to relieve himself, or does the requirement to use the facilities before davening require that he miss davening?

There is a dispute among the early acharonim as to what one should do. According to the Bach, he may not daven when he needs to use the facilities, even when this means that he will miss davening as a result.

However, according to the Magen Avraham, this depends on how severe the need is to use the facilities. If it is strong enough that he feels that he will not be able to wait until a parsah, he cannot pray. However, if the need is not that great, the Magen Avraham rules that one can rely on the Rif that one may daven. The Mishnah Berurah concludes in accordance with the Magen Avraham.

Make-up

Under the circumstances in which he was not permitted to daven, he would be required to make up the prayer, called tefillas tashlumim. This means that immediately after davening the next shemoneh esrei, after taking three steps backward at the end of the prayer, he waits for a few seconds, then steps forward and recites the shemoneh esrei again, as a makeup for the missed prayer.

What parts of prayer?

Until now, the rules that we have been describing apply to the shemoneh esrei. How do these rules apply regarding the other parts of prayer and regarding other brochos or learning Torah?

The laws regarding all these other Torah and tefillah activities are as follows: If one is in the middle of reciting brochos or tefillos other than shemoneh esrei and he has an urge, but he knows that he can wait a parsah, he may continue and complete the section of davening in which he is holding and then relieve himself (Shu”t Harashba, Volume 1, #131; Mishnah Berurah 92:9). However, he should not continue the next section of davening without first relieving himself. Therefore, if this happens during pesukei dezimra, he may continue until the end of yishtabach and then relieve himself. However, he is required to relieve himself before he answers borchu, since this begins the next section of davening (Shoneh Halachos). If this happens during the brochos surrounding the Shma, he could continue davening before he relieves himself, but he cannot start shemoneh esrei without first relieving himself. However, in this instance, he should not wait until he completes the brocha of ga’al yisroel, since ga’al yisroel should be recited immediately before beginning shemoneh esrei (this is called semichas geulah litefilah). Instead, he should relieve himself beforehand, so that he can complete the brocha of ga’al yisroel and begin shemoneh esrei immediately (Mishnah Berurah 92:9).

In this last instance, he should not recite the brocha Asher Yatzar until completing the shemoneh esrei. Whether one can recite the brocha of Asher Yatzar in the middle of pesukei dezimra or not is a dispute among the late authorities, which we will leave for a different time.

What is considered a new topic?

All of hallel, all of the megillah or all of bensching are each considered one unit. Therefore, someone who was in the middle of any one of them and began to feel an urge may complete them first. However, the haftarah is considered a new unit after keriyas hatorah (Biur Halachah 92:2, s.v. Korei). Therefore, someone who felt an urge during keriyas hatorah may wait until it is complete, but should attend to his need prior to the beginning of the haftarah.

In all of these instances, if the urge is great enough that he could not wait a parsah, he should not recite any brochos or tefillos. However, according to most authorites, someone who recited a brocha or a tefillah when he could not wait a parsah does not need to repeat them, although it was prohibited for him to recite them (Milchemes Hashem, on Rif Brochos page 16a; Pri Megadim, Introduction to Mishbetzos Zahav, Orach Chayim, Chapter 92; Mishnah Berurah 92:7; Biur Halachah 92:1, s.v. Afilu; however, the Lechem Yehudah, cited by Biur Halachah ad locum, rules that one did not fulfill the requirement and needs to recite the prayer or brocha again.)

Ahavah Rabbah

At this point, we can address the first of our opening questions, from Brocha Rishonah: “In the middle of reciting the brocha of Ahavah Rabbah, I feel a mild need to use the bathroom. Must I stop davening immediately, or can I delay using the bathroom and finish davening first?”

Based on the information that we now have, we can analyze the details and provide Brocha with an answer.

Brocha may not begin shemoneh esrei until she uses the facilities. However, since this is only a minor need and also because her question is germane to the brochos surrounding Shma, she is permitted to continue davening and to complete Shma and its brochos before she does so. However, if she completes the prayer up to Boruch Atta Hashem Ga’al Yisroel, she will create a problem, in that she will not be able to recite shemoneh esrei immediately after completing that brocha. Therefore, she should take care of matters sometime between where she is now in davening and before she recites the words Tzur Yisroel. She should not recite Asher Yatzar until after she completes shemoneh esrei.

If she felt this need during pesukei dezimra, she should relieve herself some time before she begins reciting the brochos of Shma, meaning the brocha that begins with the words Boruch Ata Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam yotzeir or uvorei choshech. If she is in shul, she should take care of it before she answers borchu.

Are there any differences between men and women regarding these halachos?

No , there are no differences between men and women.

Learning and teaching Torah

If one has a great urge to relieve oneself, not only is it forbidden to pray, but it is also forbidden to learn Torah (Rema, Orach Chayim 92:1).

Public teaching

Someone who is in the middle of teaching a class or giving a public lecture who feels a need to relieve himself may finish the class he is teaching before doing so (Mishnah Berurah 92:7). Similarly, the baal keri’ah who feels such a need in the middle of the reading may complete it before relieving himself (Biur Halachah 92:1, s.v. Hayah). The reason is because we have a general halachic principle that kavod haberiyos, human dignity, supersedes a rabbinic prohibition, and the prohibition of teaching Torah when he needs to relieve himself is only miderabbanan (Magen Avraham 92:3).

The Baal Keri’ah

At this point, we can answer one of our opening questions: “I am a baal keri’ah. It occasionally happens that while I am leining, I realize that I need to use the facilities. May I continue leining until I have finished reading?”

The answer is that, based on the above, he may.

What about a Chazzan?

The later authorities are lenient, ruling that if the chazzan completed his personal shemoneh esrei and has a minor need to use the facilities, he may repeat the shemoneh esrei without first using them. The reason for this lenience is that the requirement to use the facilities is rabbinic, and the concept of kavod habriyos supersedes it (Brochos 19b). An additional reason that one may be lenient in this instance is because of the opinion of the Rif, mentioned above, that one who can wait for a parsah may daven lechatchilah. Although we do not usually follow the Rif’s minority opinion, under extenuating circumstances, one can rely upon it (Biur Halachah 92:1 s.v. Hayah).

Cantorial quandary

Back to our third question:

Mr. Fine Cantor calls me. “I just found out that one may not pray when one has a minor urinary urge, which for me is quite common. I often have such a need prior to repeating the chazaras hashatz. It is rather embarrassing for me to leave the shul prior to beginning the repetition. What do I do?”

Since Mr. Cantor is embarrassed to exit to use the facilities during the time that he is leading the davening, he may delay doing so until he finishes the davening. However, this is true only if his need is mild enough that he feels he can wait 72 minutes. If he feels that he cannot wait this long, he has no choice but to use the facilities, since, otherwise, he will not fulfill the mitzvah of davening, and his brochos will be in vain.

Caught in the middle

What is the law if someone is in the middle of the shemoneh esrei and he feels an urge to relieve himself? Should he interrupt the prayer to do so?

The halachah is that he should try to wait until he completes the tefillah and not interrupt the shemoneh esrei (Shu”t Harashba Volume 1, #131; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 92:2). However, he should not answer kedushah if his need is great, since this constitutes a new section of davening (Shoneh Halachos).

If his need to relieve himself is very great, he should go, even though he is in the middle of davening. When one needs to relieve himself, it is prohibited to wait unnecessarily. This prohibition is referred to as bal teshaketzu.

Must he repeat?

If someone needed to relieve himself in the middle of the shemoneh esrei, when he returns, does he continue the tefillah from where he was, or does he start it over again from the beginning?

Whether or not he returns to the beginning depends on the following:

Should his delay have been long enough that he could have recited the entire shemoneh esrei, then he is required to begin again from the beginning of the shemoneh esrei. If his delay was shorter, then he returns to the point where he interrupted his prayer.

In either instance, one should not talk during this interruption, and one should not recite Asher Yatzar until after he finishes the shemoneh esrei.

Men or women?

Are there any differences between men and women regarding these halachos?

No. Although I have been using male gender for this entire article, there are no differences between men and women.

Conclusion

The Rambam (Hilchos Yesodei Hatorah 2:3) explains that angels are made of a different type of matter than we are. They have no physical body, and Hashem made them in such a way that they have spiritual aspects and no true material appearance. This is why they can, at times, assume different forms. It is also a factor in their having no physical needs, and why they do not have free choice. Man was created by Hashem as the only creation that has free choice. Therefore, our serving Hashem and our davening is unique in the entire spectrum of creation.

Understanding how much concern Chazal placed in the seemingly minor aspects of davening should make us more aware of the fact that davening is our attempt at building a relationship with Hashem. As the Kuzari notes, every day should have three very high points — the three times that we daven. We should gain our strength and inspiration for the rest of the day from these three prayers.

 

Where Should I Pray

Certainly, both Bilaam’s desire to destroy the shullen of the Jews, and Pinchas’s praying that the plague end (see Tehillim 106:30), makes this a befitting week to discuss:

Where Should I Pray

Question #1: My Shul or my Minyan?

“Is it more important to daven with a minyan or to daven in shul?”

Question #2: Minyan-less

“I work nights, and by the time I am finished in the morning, there is no minyan with which I can daven. There is a shul near my workplace, but no minyan that accommodates my schedule. Should I go there to daven bi’yechidus?”

Question #3: The Shul I Don’t Attend

“From a halachic perspective, does it make any difference in which shul I daven?”

Question #4: Davening Privately

Davening with a minyan disturbs my learning schedule. May I therefore daven bi’yechidus?”

Introduction

As we will soon see, there are many halachos that determine the preferred location for prayer. Among other issues, I will be discussing the following questions:

What constitutes davening with a minyan?

Should one pray in a shul even when there is no minyan?

Is there a preference as to which shul one should attend?

With a minyan

The Gemara and authorities laud the advantages of praying with a minyan:

“The Holy One, blessed is He, said: ‘Whoever is involved in Torah and chesed and prays with the tzibur, I treat him as if he redeemed Me and My children from the nations of the earth’” (Brachos 8a).

“The prayers of the community are always listened to. Even when there are sinners among them, the prayers of the community are never viewed by Hashem with disfavor. Therefore, a person should always join with the community, and he should not pray by himself any time that he can pray with the tzibur. A person should always wake up early and go to shul, and should always attend shul in the evening, because prayer is not heard at all times, except when recited in a shul. One who has a shul in his city but does not daven there is called a bad neighbor” (Rambam, Hilchos Tefillah 8:1).

Segulah for longevity

In the merit of praying daily with a minyan, there is a segulah for living a long productive life, as we see from the following passage of Gemara:

They told Rabbi Yochanan: “There are old men in Bavel.” He responded with astonishment, noting that the Torah promises longevity only for those who keep the Torah carefully while living in Eretz Yisroel, but not for those who live in chutz la’aretz, including Bavel. When they told Rabbi Yochanan that these older people were wont to come to shul early and to stay late, he understood that they lived long in the merit of this mitzvah (Brachos 8a).

What constitutes tefillah betzibur?

Davening with a minyan means that one begins the shemoneh esrei at the same time that the tzibur does (Mishnah Berurah 90:28). One who arrives in shul late and therefore begins shemoneh esrei later than the minyan does, fulfills the mitzvah of davening in shul, but does not fulfill the mitzvah of davening with a minyan. If possible, he should attend a later minyan, in order to fulfill the mitzvah of davening with a minyan and in order to make sure that his prayers are heard.

Conflicts with my learning

Someone whose learning will be disturbed by his attending regular minyanim is still required to daven with a minyan (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 2:27; cf., however, Eimek Brocha, page 7). In the above responsum, Rav Moshe Feinstein does recognize one exception to this rule: Someone who learns in a place where there is no minyan davening is not required to interrupt his learning in order to daven at the same time as a minyan. This ruling will be explained shortly.

How far?

How far is someone required to travel in order to be able to daven with a minyan? This depends on whether he is at home or on the road. If he is at home, he is required to travel at least up to 18-24 minutes in order to be able to daven with a minyan (see Pri Chodosh, Orach Chayim 163:28 and Biur Halachah ad locum s.v. berichuk; however, cf. Pischei Teshuvah, Yoreh Deah 112:6, quoting Shu”t Beis Yaakov #35, who rules more leniently.) In his above-referenced responsum, Rav Moshe suggests that one might be required to travel even more than this to join a minyan.

I wrote 18-24 minutes because of a dispute among early halachic authorities. This dispute is dependent on how one understands a passage of Gemara (Pesachim 95), and discussing these details is beyond the scope of our current article.

On the road

If someone is on the road and there is a minyan that is not in the direction that he is going, he is required to travel up to 18-24 minutes out of his way in order to daven with a minyan (see Pesachim 46a, as explained by Rashi and Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 90:16). On the other hand, if he is traveling and knows that there is a minyan ahead of him, such that traveling to attend the minyan does not take him out of his way, then the halachah is more stringent. He is required to travel up to 72-96 minutes in order to participate in a minyan.

Davening at the time of the tzibur

If someone cannot daven together with a minyan, there is a halachic preference to daven at the same time that the tzibur davens, even though the individual is not davening in the same place where the tzibur is located. In other words, although his prayer will not qualify as tefillah betzibur, the fact that the tzibur is davening at the same time as this individual assists the acceptance of his tefillah. When someone davens with the tzibur, his prayer is always heard, even when his kavanah is subpar. (Of course, the better his kavanah, the more the tefillah is heard and responded to.) Davening at the same time as the tzibur, but in a different place, is considered to be on a somewhat lower level (Tosafos, Avodah Zarah 4b s.v. keivan; see also Machatzis Hashekel 90:17, quoting Shelah Hakodesh).

Rabbi Yitzchak and Rav Nachman

In this context, we are going to eavesdrop on a conversation that transpired between two great gedolim of the time of the Gemara, the great amora’im, Rabbi Yitzchak and Rav Nachman. (Both of these scholars were so well-known that they are usually referred to by their first names. Rav Nachman’s full name was actually Rav Nachman bar Yaakov [Tosafos, Bava Basra 46b s.v. Shalach], and the Rabbi Yitzchak referred to was probably Rabbi Yitzchak bar Pinchas [see Taanis 5a], but it might have been Rabbi Yitzchak bar Acha [see Brachos 27a and Rashi, Pesachim 114a].)

The conversation

Rabbi Yitzchak said to Rav Nachman: “Why did the master not come to shul to pray?” Rav Nachman replied, “I was unable.” Rabbi Yitzchak said to him: “Then you should have gathered ten people with whom to daven.” Rav Nachman responded that he found this difficult to arrange (tericha li milsa). Rabbi Yitzchak then advised, “The master should have instructed the sheliach tzibur to inform him when the tzibur is davening.” To this, Rav Nachman replied, “Is this so important?” Rabbi Yitzchak then quoted Rabbi Yochanan who, in turn, had cited Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai about the importance of davening at the time when the tzibur davens (Brachos 7b-8a).

This passage of Gemara teaches that the highest priority is to daven with a minyan in shul. The second choice, when one cannot daven with a minyan in shul, is to daven with a minyan that is not meeting in shul. Although there are advantages to the minyan in shul (see Mirkeves Hamishneh, Hilchos Tefillah, Chapter 8), davening with a minyan outside of shul is far preferred to davening without a minyan.

The third choice, when one cannot daven with a minyan at all, is to daven at the time that the minyan is davening in shul. The Rema (Orach Chayim 90:9) mentions that those who live in a place where there is no daily minyan should daven at the time that the tzibur davens. This demonstrates that the advantage of davening at the time that the tzibur davens is not limited to a tzibur that is within walking distance. The same rule is true for someone who is traveling – he should try to daven at the time that the tzibur is davening (Magen Avraham ad locum).

Exceptions

The Shelah Hakodesh mentions that there is an exception to this rule, meaning that there is a situation where one must daven bi’yechidus, and he should not daven at the time that the minyan is davening. If the minyan is davening maariv before it is fully dark, he should not daven at the same time that they are, since they have a heter to daven before it gets dark, but he does not. In this instance, he should wait until tzeis hakochavim, definite nightfall, before he davens (quoted by Magen Avraham).

Other poskim mention another instance in which one is not required to daven at the same time that the tzibur does, but can daven when it is convenient for him. If the tzibur davens shacharis later than he would like to, and he wants to be able to begin learning, he may daven before they do, in order to be able to begin his uninterrupted learning afterwards (Be’er Heiteiv). This ruling teaches that there is a difference between davening with a minyan and davening at the time that the minyan davens. As we mentioned before, the requirement to daven with a minyan supersedes his own desire to daven at a time that accommodates his own learning schedule. However, assuming that one cannot daven with the minyan anyway, but could, in theory, daven at the time that the minyan davens, he is not required to daven at their time, when his learning schedule is better accommodated in a different way.

Arranging a minyan

The Gemara mentioned that Rav Nachman did not arrange his own minyan because tericha milsa, it was difficult to arrange. Had it not been difficult to arrange, he certainly would have arranged a minyan. Thus, the halachah is that if someone cannot make it to the shul’s minyan, he is required to arrange his own minyan, unless it is a tircha to do so.

Tircha for whom?

What does it mean that it is a tircha to arrange the minyan? The Machatzis Hashekel cites a dispute among the rishonim whether this means that it is a tircha for the individual who cannot come to shul to make the arrangements that he have a minyan, or that the concern is that it is a tircha for the people to assemble especially for him (Semag). There would be an interesting difference in practical halachah that results from this dispute. According to the first opinion, in the days of Rav Nachman this would have required someone to go door to door or to look in the street for people to form a minyan for him. Today, when one could let one’s fingers do the walking, it would presumably not be considered a tircha to arrange a minyan. On the other hand, according to the second opinion, asking people to come especially to your house to form a minyan certainly involves a tircha for them. By the way, the words of our text of the Gemara, tericha li milsa, imply the first way of understanding the topic. Either way, someone who has this question should refer it to his rav or posek.

In shul

Until now, we have discussed davening either with a minyan or at the same time as a minyan davens. Aside from the importance of tefillah betzibur, it is also important to daven in shul, even when there is no minyan there. The Gemara (Brachos 6a) teaches: “Abba Binyamin says ‘a person’s prayers are answered only in shul, as the verse states, lishmo’a el harinah ve’el hatefillah,to hear the song and the prayer” (Melachim I 8:28). As Rashi explains, rinah means prayers in shul where the community as a whole recites praises of Hashem with beautiful song.

This statement of the Gemara surfaces another time in mesechta Brachos (8a), in this occasion in the name of Rabbi Yochanan, and it is quoted in the halachic works of the three major early halachic authorities, the Rif, the Rambam and the Rosh and by all later poskim. When the Tur (Orach Chayim 90) quotes this halachah, he states that a person should always daven in a shul with a minyan. However, Rabbeinu Yonah cites, in the name of the Geonim, that even if he needs to daven at a time when there is no minyan, he should still daven in a shul, since it is a place designated for the public to daven (Beis Yosef).

The Shulchan Aruch combines the conclusions of the last two discussions as follows: “A person should always try to daven in shul with a minyan. If an extenuating circumstance prevents his attending shul, then he should daven at the time that the tzibur does. And if this is also not possible and he must daven by himself, he should still daven in a shul.” (Orach Chayim 90:9). The Magen Avraham cites illness or weakness as reasons why someone missed the minyan in shul. He also notes that it is preferable to daven with a minyan at home, rather than daven at the time the tzibur is davening, but without a minyan. Again, this is based on the Gemara that we saw above.

Beis midrash versus shul

The Gemara teaches that the great scholars, Rav Ami and Rav Asi, davened in the place where they studied Torah, notwithstanding the fact that there were thirty shullen in their city (Brachos 8a, 30b). Thus, we see that davening in the beis midrash where one usually learns is more valuable than davening in shul. Among the early halachic authorities, we find two interpretations of this practice.

  • Rabbeinu Yonah explains that someone whose full time occupation is studying Torah (toraso umnaso) should daven in a beis midrash rather than in a shul, even at the expense of not being able to daven with a minyan. Alternatively, since he spends his entire day learning in one place without interruption, he should not waste potential learning time by leaving his home for shul (Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim, Chapter 90).
  • The Rambam disagrees and rules that he should daven with a minyan. According to his understanding, it appears that the Gemara is teaching that a Torah scholar should daven in a beis midrash with a minyan, and does not need to attend the shul’s minyan. The Rosh follows a similar approach, concluding that the Torah scholar who would not have a minyan where he learns should go to shul to daven for several reasons, including that others will learn from his example and not daven with a minyan (Shu”t HaRosh, cited by Tur Orach Chayim chapter 90).

Choosing between shuls

When one has a choice of shullen in which to daven, does halachah provide a priority as to which one he should choose? Indeed it does, mentioning three rules to follow.

Regular shul

One should preferably have a shul which one attends regularly (Mishnah Berurah 90:28).

Farther shul

Rabbi Yochanan said that he learned from a widow how one should earn reward for mitzvos by walking a greater distance. She would come daily from a different neighborhood to pray in the beis midrash of Rabbi Yochanan (obviously, in the women’s section). Rabbi Yochanan asked her, rhetorically, “Is there no shul in your neighborhood?” to which she answered, “Do I not get extra reward for walking to the farther shul?” (Sotah 22a). We find that Rabbi Yochanan reiterated this lesson in a different passage of Gemara, where he ruled that it is not an advantage to live next to a shul, since one thereby loses the merit of walking a greater distance to shul (Bava Metzia 107a). From both passages, we see that one should try to daven at a shul that involves a farther walk, in order to gain extra merit.

Larger minyan

The halachah is recorded that one should daven in the shul where more people are attending davening (Mishnah Berurah 90:28). This is because of the concept called Berov am hadras Melech (Mishlei 14:28): the more people that participate in a mitzvah, the greater is the honor for Hashem.

Conclusion

The power of tefillah is very great. Through tefillah one can save lives, bring people closer to Hashem and overturn harsh decrees. We have to believe in this power. One should not think, “Who am I to daven to Hashem?” Rather, we must continually drive home the concept that Hashem wants our tefillos and He listens to them! Man was created by Hashem as the only creation that has free choice. Therefore, our serving Hashem and our davening is unique in the entire spectrum of creation.

Understanding how much concern Chazal placed in the relatively minor aspects of davening should make us even more aware of the fact that davening is our attempt at building a relationship with Hashem. As the Kuzari notes, every day should have three very high points — the three times that we daven. Certainly, one should do whatever one can to make sure to pay attention to the meaning of the words of one’s Tefillah. We should gain our strength and inspiration for the rest of the day from these three prayers. Let us hope that Hashem will accept our tefillos together with those of Klal Yisrael!

 

A Tale of Four Islands

A brief introduction is in order so as to explain why I chose this topic for this week. A few years ago, as a kohein, I had to change my travel plans, and instead of flying from Ben Gurion airport to Newark, I had to fly via Haifa to Larnaca, Cyprus, and then to London and Reykjavik to reach my destination. The trip whetted my appetite to find out more about Cyprus, and this article is a result.

Those who want to read about that trip can access From Haifa to Reykjavik here. Since this week’s parsha includes most of the laws of tumas meis, which was the reason why I needed to travel via Haifa, I decided to share this article.

Question #1: When in Crete, do as the Cretans do?

“I was told that when I am in Crete, I should separate terumos and maasros from the vegetables and avoid the fruit, because of concerns of orlah. Is this halachically accurate?”

Question #2: Which esrog?

“Is it better to use an esrog from Corfu, from Corsica, or from the mainland in between?”

Question #3: Which minhag should I observe?

“I am of Greek/Sefardic background, but my immediate ancestors were not observant. Should I follow Sefardic custom or Greek custom?”

Introduction:

Among the many beautiful islands that grace the Mediterranean Sea, we will discuss four whose English names all begin with the letter “C.” Although none of these four – Corfu, Corsica, Crete and Cyprus – is currently home to a sizable Jewish community, at one time each figured significantly in Jewish history. I’ll provide a short description of the location and history of each of these islands, and then address the unique role that each had in Jewish history and halacha.

Cyprus

The largest of these four islands, Cyprus, is the third largest island in the Mediterranean. (The two largest islands in the Mediterranean are Sicily and Sardinia. Although they are both sounded with what phonetics calls a “soft ‘c’,” since both islands are spelled in English with the letter “s,” we will discuss their halachic significance in a different article.) Cyprus is located only forty miles south of Turkey, east of Greece, west of Syria and Lebanon and north of Egypt. Of the four islands that we are discussing, it is the closest to Eretz Yisroel, with a distance of less than three hundred miles.

Jews in Cyprus

We know of Jews living in Cyprus as early as the time of the Chashmonayim, over 2200 years ago. The Jewish population of Cyprus has waxed and waned; at times there was a substantial Jewish community there. When the traveler Binyamin of Tudela visited the island in the 12th century, he discovered three Jewish communities: a halachically abiding kehillah, a community of Kara’im, and yet another group that kept Shabbos from the morning of Shabbos until Sunday morning but desecrated it on Friday night.

Neither Sefardim nor Ashkenazim

Although historians usually group all Jews into either Sefardim or Ashkenazim, this categorization is simplistic and inaccurate. For example, there are several different groups of Italian Jews who are neither Sefardim nor Ashkenazim, but have their own distinct customs and practices. Similarly, although the Jewish communities of twelfth and thirteenth century Provence (southern France) are often referred to as Sefardim, they followed practices of neither Sefardim nor Ashkenazim but had their own unique way of doing things. For example, they began reciting vesein tal umatar on the 7th of Marcheshvan, which is the practice of Eretz Yisroel and not of either Sefardim or Ashkenazim in chutz la’aretz.

Greek Jews

The original Jewish population of Cyprus followed neither Ashkenazic nor Sefardic practice, but rather the very distinctive practices of the ancient Jewish communities of Greece, which is called Romaniote (not to be confused with Roman or Romanian; According to my research, the origin of the term Romaniote goes back to the days when they were part of the Eastern Roman Empire, usually referred to as the Byzantine Empire, after the fall of Rome.) They have their own unique nusach hatefillah, their own tune for reading the Torah and many other halachic practices that are different from both Sefardic and Ashkenazic custom. At one time in history, the customs of the Romaniote communities were widespread throughout Salonika, Athens, and other places in mainland Greece, and among the various Greek islands, including Cyprus, Crete and Corfu. However, the massive influx of Sefardic Jews after the Spanish expulsion caused many of the Greek communities to adopt Sefardic practices. Today, few communities, if any, left in the world follow the Romaniote nusach, although some Romaniote practices are still observed by some shullen in places as diverse as Eretz Yisroel and New York.

One common Romaniote shul practice is that Aleinu is recited not at the end of davening, but at the beginning. Another is that the shulchan for reading the Torah is placed towards the back of the shul, not in the middle.

Corsica

Corsica is the fourth largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, located due west and very close to the Italian Peninsula. It is probably most famous for its native son, Napoleon Bonaparte. Historically, it has been ruled by Greeks, Romans, Goths, Byzantines and Arabs; and later by Pisa, Genoa and many others. French rule is relatively recent, only since the 18th century, and the original, native Corsican language is really a dialect of Italian. Although Corsica is legally part of France, it is both physically and culturally much closer to southern Italy than to France. For this reason, there is a troubled relationship between the French mainland and Corsica, which benefited the Jews during World War II, as we will soon learn.

Corsica was the last of the four Mediterranean islands of our article to have an organized Jewish community. Nevertheless, there is some relevant history related to Jews and Corsica, which we will discuss shortly.

Crete

Crete is the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean and the largest and most populous of the islands of Greece. It is located southeast of mainland Greece, in the southern part of the Aegean Sea, and it is less than 600 miles from the coast of Eretz Yisroel.

Crete’s known archeological history is possibly the most ancient in the world – it dates back to the time of the dispersion after Migdal Bavel. Later, Crete was the home of the ancient Minoan civilization. Afterward, it became part of the Roman Empire and then the Byzantine Eastern Roman Empire. It was conquered by the Arabs, the Crusaders, and in 1204, by the Venetians, who ruled it for over four hundred years, until it was conquered by the Ottoman Turks. Muhammad Ali (the founder of the modern Egyptian dynasty, not the boxer) desired control over it as payment for his military services to the Ottoman Empire in the Greek Rebellion (1820s), in which case it would have become part of Egypt, but he did not succeed in procuring the island.

Jewish Crete

It is known that there was ongoing Jewish settlement in Crete since the times of the Maccabees. Crete’s Jewish community was existent from the time of the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash until the era of the Nazis, but by 1941, most Jews had moved to Athens or Salonika, both of which are in mainland Greece. When the Nazis conquered Crete, less than 400 Jews were known to be on the island. Unfortunately, my research indicates that they were all killed in the war.

Halachic Crete

At this point, we can address one of our opening questions: “I was told that when I am in Crete, I should avoid eating locally grown fruit because of concerns about orlah and be careful to separate terumos and maasros. Is this halachically correct?”

The laws of terumos and maasros apply min haTorah only in Eretz Yisroel, and the laws of orlah, the fruit that grows during a tree’s first three years, are far more stringent in Eretz Yisroel than they are in chutz la’aretz. It is therefore important to know whether something grew in Eretz Yisroel or in chutz la’aretz.

It is fascinating to note that, according to a minority opinion among the tanna’im, both Crete and Cyprus have the halachic status of being part of Eretz Yisroel (see Gittin 8a and Tosafos ad locum). Allow me to explain:

In Parshas Masei, the Torah describes the western border of Eretz Yisroel:

The western border will be the Great Sea, and its territory [“ugevul”]; that will be for you the western border. (I have followed the translation of Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch that the word gevul means its territory.) According to the Gemara (Gittin 8a), the word ugevul teaches that there are islands in the Mediterranean, the “Great Sea” of the pasuk, that are halachically considered part of Eretz Yisroel. There, the Gemara quotes a dispute between tanna’im regarding which islands located in the Mediterranean are halachically part of Eretz Yisroel and which are not. Rabi Yehudah contends that the word ugevul includes any island in the Mediterranean situated directly west of Eretz Yisroel. These islands are imbued with the sanctity of the Holy Land. Since, according to some opinions, the Biblically promised area of Eretz Yisroel extends quite far north, many of the southern Greek islands, including both Cyprus and Crete, are halachically Eretz Yisroel, according to Rabi Yehudah.

However, we do not follow this approach, but that of the rabbonon. They draw an imaginary line from the northwestern-most point of Eretz Yisroel to its southwestern-most point and include only islands that are east of this imaginary line. There are few islands in this area, and certainly both Cyprus and Crete are not included (Derech Emunah, Terumos 1:89).

Corfu

Corfu, by far the smallest of the four islands we are discussing, is today part of the country of Greece. It is on the opposite side of Greece from Crete, northwest of the Greek mainland; the second largest and most northern of the Ionian Islands. On the above map, Corfu is too small to be identified, but the island in the northeastern corner of the Ionian Sea, near the border of Greece and Albania, is Corfu.

Jews of Corfu

The 12th century Jewish traveler, Binyamin of Tudela, writes that he crossed the Ionian Sea from Otranto, Italy, to Corfu. From Corfu, he sailed to Arta on the Greek mainland, and from there he traversed the rest of Greece. In his day, there was no Jewish community in Corfu, but it appears that about a century after his trip, there was what we can call a “Jewvenation” of the island. It appears that Jews arrived there from Greece to the east, and from Italy to the west. The communities of southeastern Italy (the heel of the Italian boot) – again, neither Ashkenazim nor Sefardim – had their own customs, which were usually called Puglian, taken from a geographic term applied to this area of Italy. (In English, this area is usually called Apulia.) The Puglian Jews trace their history in the Italian boot to the time of the Second Beis Hamikdash, when Jews often settled in Italy as a result of the increasing influence of the Roman Empire.

Apparently, there were two different communities in Corfu, each with its own shul and its own cemetery. After the Spanish expulsion, a new ingredient was added to the Corfu mix, when the Sefardic Jews arrived. Thus, there were three distinct kehillos in this relatively small community: Romaniote, Puglian, and Sefardic. Still later, I found reference to a fourth kehillah in Corfu following the customs of the Sicilian communities (Shu”t Haredach #11). In a relatively unknown chapter of Jewish history, there was a vibrant Jewish community in Sicily (which begins with an S, not a C) that was expelled in 1492, at the same time the Jews were expelled from Spain.

As a result of this interesting background, the Jews of Corfu spoke their own distinctive local dialect, a mixture of Greek, Hebrew and Italian. This language was distinct from that of other Greek Jews, who spoke their own dialect of Greek called Yevanic. (Think of the relationship between German and Yiddish.) The Corfu Jews were the only significant minority among a population that was otherwise exclusively Greek Orthodox.

Of the four islands that we have discussed, Corfu contained the most prominent Jewish community, including many prominent rabbonim and poskim. For example, in the early sixteenth century, the Shu”t Binyamin Ze’ev refers to the city of Corfu as boasting of a resident, Rav Shabsi Kohen, as a great talmid chacham among a community of talmidei chachamim. We have extant a heter agunah signed by this Rav Shabsi together with two other local rabbonim in the year 1510.

Not long thereafter, the rav of the Romaniote kehillah of Corfu was Rabbi David ben Chaim Hacohen (the Radach) a prominent posek who corresponded with the great Sefardic poskim of his time. He may have had a yeshiva there, since the author of Teshuvos Mishpetei Shmuel calls himself a disciple of Rabbi David ben Chaim Hacohen.

Corfu is mentioned in the context of various halachic issues in hundreds of responsa. At one point, it even boasted its own Jewish printing house.

By the nineteenth century approximately 5,000 Jews lived on the island, each affiliated with one of the various kehillos. In the course of time, the Sefardic community became the strongest and, although the other shullen were still called the Greek, Puglian or Sicilian shullen, they all davened the nusach of the original Spanish communities.

The unfortunate destruction of this once-vibrant community occurred in two stages. In the late nineteenth century, there was a blood libel, the result of which was that the majority of the Jewish community dispersed to other lands. Of course, the final blow was the Nazis, who wiped out virtually the entire remaining population of about 2,000 Jews. Today, there are less than one hundred highly assimilated Jews on Corfu among a population of about 100,000 people, and only one shul is known to still exist.

Corfu esrog

Corfu’s semi-tropical climate allowed it to make a unique contribution to Jewish history. For well over a century, it was the primary source for esrogim used all over Europe. Corfu esrogim, which were apparently predominantly grown by non-Jewish farmers, were known for their beauty. Since they were grown by non-Jews for the Jewish market, there was much halachic discussion, beginning as far back as the 18th century, concerning whether one could rely that the esrogim had not been crossbred with other species, which would invalidate them according to most opinions. (Discussions about crossbred esrogim date back to the sixteenth century, with the majority of halachic authorities ruling that one cannot fulfill the mitzvah on Sukkos with an esrog grafted onto a tree of another species.) One very prominent authority, the Beis Meir, invalidated the Corfu esrogim (responsum at the end of the Orach Chayim volume of his commentary to Shulchan Aruch), while others ruled that they were kosher (Shu”t Beis Efrayim, Orach Chayim #56; Shaarei Teshuvah 649:7; Shu”t Zecher Yehosef #232).

Corfu vs. Corsica

Esrogim also grow on Corsica, which is on the other side of the Italian peninsula from Corfu. At one point, these three areas, the two islands of Corfu and Corsica, and the Italian mainland in between, were the main sources of esrogim shipped to central and Eastern Europe. Toward the end of the nineteenth century, we find various disputing responsa regarding which esrogim were acceptable or preferable. Some authorities ruled that one may use the Corfu esrogim but not those from Corsica, while others ruled just the opposite (Shu”t Tuv Taam Vadaas, #171; Shu”t Rabbi Yitzchak Elchanan Spektor #28; also see Shu”t Sho’eil Umeishiv, Mahadura Telisa’i #144; Shu”t Or Somayach 2:1; Shu”t Tzitz Eliezer 10:11:7). Still others ruled that both of these varieties of esrogim were kosher, but that it was preferable to purchase only from Eretz Yisroel, where the modern business of growing and shipping esrogim was just beginning (Shu”t Yeshuos Malko, Orach Chayim #46; Shu”t Avnei Neizer, Choshen Mishpat #115).

In 1875, we have recorded the following halachic inquiry: An esrog retailer in Poland received esrogim from Corsica, and wanted to return them to his distributor, claiming that he had always previously received esrogim from Corfu. Is the buyer entitled to a refund?

Shu”t Beis Yitzchok rules that he is entitled to get his money back. Since the esrogim sold in that area were from Corfu, the distributor was required to tell the retailer that the esrogim were from a different source before he shipped them (Orach Chayim #108).

At this point, we can answer the second of our opening questions: “Is it better to use an esrog from Corfu, from Corsica, or from the mainland in between?”

The answer is that in the 21st century, most authorities will tell you to purchase an esrog grown in Eretz Yisroel. In earlier times, there were halachic disputes about the subject.

Corsican salvation

I mentioned earlier the troubled relationship between the French mainland and Corsica, from which the Jews benefited during the Holocaust. During World War II, France was divided into Nazi-occupied northern France, and the collaborative Pétain government, colloquially referred to as Vichy France, named for its capital. (Paris was occupied by the Nazis.) Mainland France under Marshal Pétain organized a census of its Jewish population that was subsequently used to hunt thousands of Jews who were rounded up, placed on trains and sent to the death camps. The remaining French Jews tried frantically to find shelter with those comparatively few sympathetic French people who were willing to hide them. Many fled to Corsica, where a small Jewish community existed.

Post-war historians have discovered documents from France’s Vichy government archives that imply that relatively few Jews were turned over by the non-Jewish Corsicans. According to recently published magazine articles, the Corsicans’ hatred of the French was put to good use, as the Corsicans kept the Jewish presence a secret from prying French eyes. The Corsican authorities’ explanation for not handing over any Jews was that there were none on the island. This explanation was accepted by Vichy, because the mainland, too, widely believed that hardly any Jews were in Corsica. In fact, thousands of Jews survived the war there.

Thus we see that, although none of these islands has a significant Jewish community, each was important at one time. Perhaps of greatest interest is that although Corsica’s community was always small, it ended up being a refuge that saved thousands of Jewish lives. Hashem rules the world and clearly destined that each of these islands fulfill a role in Jewish history and halacha.