Fasting on the Wedding Day

Now that Shavuos is past, we enter the heaviest wedding season of the Jewish calendar. I decided to discuss this usually not-well-understood topic.

Question #1: Our wedding is going to be after nightfall. Do we fast until the wedding, or may we break the fast when it gets dark?

Question #2: Yocheved asks: I usually do not fast well, and I am concerned how I will feel at my wedding if I fast that day. What do I do?

Question #3: Sheryl’s dilemma: “What will I explain to my non-observant parents when they exclaim at my pre-chupah reception – ‘What! You can’t eat anything at your own wedding?’”

Sheryl comes from a very assimilated background. Let her explain:

“In my extended family, my parents were considered the religious ones, since they were the only ones who married Jewish. Furthermore, my Dad was the only one who fasted on Yom Kippur, albeit with a little cheating on the side. So, when my family members heard that I had become Orthodox, they were shocked at many of my new practices, despite my efforts to keep things as low-key as possible. None of them had a clue what it means to really keep kosher or Shabbos. Now that I’m getting married, many of them are curious to attend my wedding, and I would like to make the experience a Kiddush Hashem for them. Therefore, I intend to explain our mitzvos and customs to them in the best possible light.”

Sheryl’s goals are indeed noble. How will she explain the reason we fast on one’s wedding day to someone who knows little about Yiddishkeit? The prospect seems almost ominous.

Why do we fast?

Although early authorities cite at least six different reasons for this custom, most halachic authorities discuss only two of them (e.g., Levush, Even Ha’ezer 60:1; Magen Avraham and Elyah Rabbah, introduction to 573; Beis Shmuel 61:6; Chachmas Adam 129:2; Aruch Hashulchan, Even Ha’ezer 61:21):

Reason #1: To avoid inebriation

Some explain that the practice is to ensure that the chosson and kallah are fully sober when they participate in the wedding ceremony. By not eating and drinking, they will certainly drink nothing intoxicating prior to the ceremony. Some commentaries provide an interesting twist to this explanation. They explain that the concern is that if one of the marrying parties drinks anything intoxicating on the wedding day, they may subsequently claim that they were inebriated and that, therefore, the marriage is invalid (Levush, Even Ha’ezer 60:1)! As someone once said, love is not only blind, but also sometimes intoxicating.

Reason #2: To achieve atonement

Since a chosson is forgiven for all his sins, he should fast as atonement (Yevamos 63b; Yerushalmi, Bikkurim 3:3).

One allusion to this atonement is found in the Torah. In the very last verse of parshas Tolados, the Torah records that one of the additional wives Eisav married was Machalas, the daughter of Yishmael. The Yerushalmi points out that although her name was actually Basmas and not Machalas, the Torah calls her Machalas, to indicate that even someone as sinful as Eisav is forgiven on his wedding day (Shu”t Divrei Yatziv #259).

Who fasts?

I am sure you are already asking why I said that the chosson fasts on hiswedding day, and omitted the kallah. This leads us directly to our next question:

Are there any halachic differences between the two reasons given for the fast? Indeed, there are several. One issue that might be affected is whether only the chosson fasts or also the kallah. The authorities dispute whether the wedding day atones for both parties or only for the chosson. Indeed, Talmudic sources mention only the chosson in this connection, and some later authorities contend that the wedding is indeed an atonement day only for the chosson and not for the kallah. Following this approach, some authorities conclude that only the bridegroom fasts and not the bride (Ben Ish Chai, 1: Shoftim: 13). Others contend that despite the fact that the Gemara mentions only atonement for the chosson’s sins, since the kallah is a direct cause of his atonement, she also receives forgiveness on this day (Aishel Avraham Butchach 573).

However, if the reason for the fast is to guarantee the sobriety of the parties, the kallah, too, should fast, even if the day is not a day of atonement. Of course, it won’t be easy for Sheryl to explain all this to her family at the reception prior to her wedding. I will soon mention other reasons that she can provide them.

On the other hand, many authorities rule that the wedding day atones for both kallah and chosson, the same as Yom Kippur (Magen Avraham, introduction to 573; Elyah Rabbah 573:2; Beis Shmuel, 61:6). Following this approach, the kallah should fast also, even if we are not concerned about her becoming inebriated at her wedding (Rama, Even Ha’ezer 61:1). This, too, is why both chosson and kallah say viduy after mincha on the day of their wedding (Pischei Teshuvah, Even Ha’ezer 61:9). In addition, the couple should pray for a happy marriage that is blessed with children who bring great credit to themselves and to Hashem (Aruch Hashulchan, Even Ha’ezer 61:21).

Sheryl can certainly tell her family this reason for the sanctity of the day, and say that this is why she will be fasting. This will also provide her with the occasion to explain that a Torah marriage involves holiness, sanctity, and opportunity for spiritual growth, all ideas that will impress her family.

How long must one fast?

There are other halachic differences that result from the two reasons quoted above.If one fasts to ensure that the couple remains sober, then they should not break their fast until the wedding ceremony, even if it does not take place until after dark. Accordingly, if the ceremony takes place on a winter night, they should logically continue their fast, even if this means that it extends into a second halachic day (Shu”t Mahari Bruno #93; Aruch Hashulchan 61:21). On the other hand, if the fast is for atonement, then, once they have completed the day, they can break the fast. A third opinion holds that when the ceremony is at night, their fast does not begin until sunset that day – since prior to sunset is still the day before their wedding (Aishel Avraham Butchach 573). To the best of my knowledge, this last approach is not followed.

How do we rule?

The Chachmas Adam (129:2) concludes that since the fast is only a custom, one need not be stricter than the requirements of halacha for established fast days. Therefore, one may end the fast at dark and does not have to wait until the ceremony. However, one should be careful not to drink anything intoxicating until sipping the wine at the chupah (Pischei Teshuvah, Even Ha’ezer 61:9). The Aruch Hashulchan disagrees, but I believe accepted practice follows the Chachmas Adam.

What about the opposite situation — when the ceremony takes place before nightfall? According to the rationale that the fast is atonement, some contend that one should fast the entire day, even if the ceremony took place in the afternoon (Bach, Orach Chayim 562 at end; Beis Shmuel 61:6). This means that after the wedding ceremony is complete, the chosson and kallah continue to fast until nightfall, even through the chupah and the yichud room! However, accepted practice is for the couple to end their fast at the ceremony, even when it takes place before nightfall.

Do Sefardim fast?

Most sources citing the custom of fasting on one’s wedding day are Ashkenazic. Whether or not Sefardim fast on this day is dependent on local custom. The popular Hebrew halachic anthology, Hanisu’in Kehilchasam, mentions many Sefardic communities that followed the custom of fasting on the wedding day, at least for the chosson, including the communities of Algeria, Baghdad, the Crimea, Salonika and parts of Turkey (pg. 198, note 56). On the other hand, the prevalent custom in Constantinople (Istanbul), Egypt, and Eretz Yisroel was not to fast on the day of the wedding (see Birkei Yosef, Orach Chayim 470:2; Shu”t Yabia Omer 3: Even Ha’ezer: 9). It is interesting to note that some explain that the custom in Egypt was not to fast because the weddings were always conducted in the morning. They explain that when the wedding is held late in the day, we are concerned that the chosson and kallah may drink something intoxicating, but when the wedding is in the morning, there is no such concern (Birkei Yosef, Orach Chayim 470:2). One could thereby argue that when the Sefardim marry in the evening, they should follow Ashkenazic practice and fast.

Nevertheless, the common practice among Sefardim in Eretz Yisrael today is not to fast. Rav Ovadyah Yosef rules that Sefardim who moved to Eretz Yisrael should not fast on the day of the wedding, even if they come from communities where the custom was to fast. Although he respects this custom of the Ashkenazim to fast, he contends that since this is a day of celebration, those who do not have the practice are not permitted to fast.

Like receiving the Torah

What are the other reasons mentioned for the fast?

One early source states that the reason for the fast is that the wedding ceremony commemorates the giving of the Torah at Har Sinai. Indeed, many of our wedding customs, such as the carrying of candles or torches by those accompanying the chosson and kallah, commemorate our receiving the Torah. Continuing this analogy, one early source mentions that just as the Jews fasted prior to receiving the Torah, so too a chosson fasts the day of his wedding (Tashbeitz [Koton]#465). What I find interesting about this reason is that I am unaware of any Medrash that mentions the Jews fasting on the day they received the Torah. Obviously, the Tashbeitz was aware of such a Medrash.Perhaps this is why the later halachic authorities do not discuss this opinion or any halachic ramifications that result from it.

This is a beautiful reason to observe the fast, although I suspect that Sheryl’s family might not appreciate it.

To avoid rift

Here is another, very meaningful reason mentioned for the fast, although it is largely ignored by the later authorities: The Gemara (Shabbos 130a) states, “No kesubah is signed without an argument.” Unfortunately, it is common that differing opinions about wedding arrangements or setting up the newly- married couple cause friction between the families making the wedding. Since this problem is common, the couple should strive their utmost to avoid any conflict at all, and they should also pray and fast that the wedding pass with no disputes (Shu”t Mahari Bruno #93). Somehow, Sheryl did not think that her parents would appreciate this reason for her fast, and I tend to agree with her.

The king gets judged daily

Others explain that the origin for the custom is because the chosson is compared to a king, and we are taught by the Talmud Yerushalmi that a king is judged daily (Sanhedrin 2:3). Thus, the chosson fasts because he is being judged on his wedding day (Shu”t Mahari Bruno #93). Although we may not fully understand what this means, it is certainly a reason to do teshuvah and fast.

To appreciate the mitzvah

The above-mentioned anthology Hanisu’in Kehilchasam mentions yet another reason, which he attributes to the Rokei’ach. Great tzadikim were in such eager anticipation of performing rare mitzvos that they could not eat on the day they had an opportunity to perform one. Similarly, the chosson and kallah look forward to performing their mitzvah with such excitement that they cannot even eat!

Do they say Aneinu?

Do the chosson and kallah say Aneinu in their prayers, even if they will end their fast before the day ends?

The Rama (562:2) rules that the chosson recites Aneinu in his prayers, even if he is not going to complete the fast, such as when the wedding ceremony takes place during the daytime. In this latter situation, where he will not be completing the fast, many recommend that he omit the three words in Aneinu, BeYom Tzom Taaneiseinu, on this day of our fast, since for him it is not a full day of fasting (Rav Shelomoh Zalman Auerbach).

Accepting the fast

Usually, someone intending to have a voluntary fast must state at the end of mincha on the day before that he intends to fast the next day. Do the chosson and kallah accept the fast during mincha on the day before?

The halachic authorities recommend that the chosson and kallah make this declaration during mincha the day before the wedding, and recommend specifying that one intends to fast only until the time of the ceremony. Nevertheless, even if one did not declare the day to be a fast, and even if one did not mention the stipulation, one may assume that they should fast and they are required to fast only until the ceremony (Mishnah Berurah 562: 12). If the ceremony is before nightfall, the chosson and kallah should daven mincha before the wedding ceremony so that they can recite Aneinu, since once they break their fast, this prayer is inappropriate (Mishnah Berurah 562:12). By the way, if they forgot to say Aneinu, they do not repeat Shemoneh Esrei.

Are there days when they do not fast?

Indeed, a chosson and kallah must refrain from fasting on the many days when fasting is prohibited. This includes weddings taking place on Chanukah or Rosh Chodesh. The Magen Avraham (573:1) adds that they should not fast even on minor holidays, such as Isru Chag, Tu Bishvat and the Fifteenth of Av.

But maybe they will get intoxicated?

I understand that they are not allowed to fast—but if the reason for the fast is that they should not become inebriated, how will this be prevented? To avoid this danger, they must be careful not to drink any intoxicating beverages before the ceremony (Pri Megadim, Mishbetzos Zahav 573:1). Observing this precaution is a fulfillment of the custom to fast.

What about Lag BeOmer?

Technically speaking, there is no halachic problem with fasting on Lag BeOmer or during the month of Nisan, even though the custom is not to. Since halacha permits fasting on these days, the custom is for a chosson and kallah to fast. This applies also during the month of Tishrei or the first part of Sivan, even on days when we do not say Tachanun (Magen Avraham 573:1, 2). The Elyah Rabbah (573:3) records a practice that chasanim and kallahs not fast on days when we do not say Tachanun (quoting Nachalas Shivah). The Elyah Rabbah rallies many proofs from earlier authorities that this is not the halacha, but concludes that one who chooses to be lenient and not fast on these days will not lose by his lenient practice (hameikil lo hifsid).

What about a second marriage?

Does someone marrying for a second time fast on his wedding day?

According to the rationale that the fast is out of concern that someone might become intoxicated, there is no difference between a first or second marriage, and one is required to fast. Similarly, according to the reason that this is a day of atonement, they should also fast, since the day of a second marriage also atones. This is obvious from the Biblical source that teaches us that this day atones. When Eisav married Basmas/Machalas he was already married to two other women, yet the Torah teaches that the day atoned for him. Thus, we see that even a subsequent marriage atones, and someone marrying for second or third time should fast on the day.

What if they are not feeling well?

At this point we can address the second question raised above: Yocheved asks, “I usually do not fast well, and I am concerned how I will feel at my wedding if I fast that day. What do I do?”

We should be aware that on the least stringent of the required fasts, Taanis Esther, even someone suffering from a relatively minor ailment is not required to fast. The custom to fast the day of the wedding is certainly less of an obligation than fasting on Taanis Esther and, therefore, if either the chosson or the kallah suffers from a minor ailment or could get weak or dizzy from the fast, they should not fast (Aruch Hashulchan, Even Ha’ezer 61:21). Of course, specific questions should be addressed to one’s rav.

Conclusion

The Ashkenazic practice of fasting on the day of one’s wedding is within the category of custom, minhag, and therefore, as we have seen, includes many leniencies. Indeed, when these reasons apply, there is no reason to fast unnecessarily. Thus, if one is a Sefardi, not feeling well, or marrying on a day when Tachanun is not recited, one has a solid basis not to fast. However, when none of these reasons applies, one must follow the accepted minhag. The Gemara teaches that customs accepted by the Jewish people come under the category of al titosh toras imecha, do not forsake the laws of your mother, and that one is obligated to observe them.

May the fasts of our chasanim and kallahs contribute towards the increase of much shalom and kapparah and the creation of many happy marriages in Klal Yisroel.

Rus, David, and the Prohibition of Marrying Moavites

A critical feature of the Book of Rus is the question of whether Rus was allowed to marry into the Jewish people. The Torah prohibits a Moavite from marrying into Klal Yisroel to prevent damaging Klal Yisroel’s pristine moral nature by people who have inherited the disturbing character traits associated with the Moavite people:

An Ammonite or a Moavite should not enter the congregation of Hashem. Even the tenth generation should not enter the congregation of Hashem, forever. Because of the fact that they did not come forward with bread and water when you were on your way out of Mitzrayim and because of the fact that they hired Bilaam ben Be’or of Pesor, Aram Naharayim, to curse you (Devarim 23:4, 5).

Since there are no indications that the nation of Ammon participated in employing Bilaam, the Ramban (ad loc.) explains that each of the two reasons specified here applies to only one of the two nations involved: The Ammonites are excluded from marrying into Klal Yisroel because they did not provide food for the Jewish people, thus not demonstrating any hakaras hatov for the fact that Avraham Avinu had saved their ancestor Lot, and Moav is banned for hiring Bilaam.

The Mishnah (Yevamos 76b) rules Ammoni velo Ammonis, Moavi velo Moavis, that the prohibition of marrying into the Jewish people applies only to male Ammonites and Moavites and their male descendants. Thus, a male member of the Moavite people who converts to Judaism is still prohibited from marrying someone born Jewish. However, a female Moavite convert and all her descendants, and the female descendant of a male Moavite convert may freely marry within Klal Yisroel. It is for this reason that Boaz was permitted to marry Rus, who was a Moavite.

The Gemara explains that only Ammonite men are included in the ban, since only men would have been involved in going out to present food and drink to the Jews. The female Ammonites’ lack of involvement in this mitzvah may have been because of their extreme modesty – they never left their houses to be near unfamiliar men. Similarly, since we can assume that Bilaam was hired by the Moavite men, only they are prohibited from marrying into the Jewish people, not the women (see also Yerushalmi).

The Story of Rus

In addition to the above-quoted Mishnah, several other early sources discuss whether the prohibition preventing Moavites and Ammonites from marrying Jews is restricted to males or extends also to females. The first time we find this matter discussed is in the days of Rus. Megillas Rus tells us that Ploni Almoni, an uncle of Rus’s late husband Machlon, was concerned about marrying Rus pen ashchis nachalasi, lest I destroy my descendants (Rus 4:6), which Rashi explains to be a concern that his descendants born from Rus would not be allowed to marry other Jews, because of their Moavite ancestress. Rashi there explains that Ploni Almoni erred regarding the halachic rule of Ammoni velo Ammonis.

Yet, the comment of Ploni Almoni is peculiar. If he felt that female Moavites are prohibited from marrying Jews, why was he only concerned that his descendants would be banned and not about whether he himself was permitted to marry Rus? On the other hand, if he was willing to marry Rus because he knew that the prohibition is restricted to male Moavites, why was he concerned about his children? We will return to this question shortly.

The Story of David

The issue of whether Moavite women may marry Jews surfaced again concerning the lineage of King David, who was descended from Rus. A fascinating passage of Gemara describes an early halachic debate among several known Biblical personages – whom we see from this Gemara were exemplary Torah scholars. Doeig HaEdomi, a member of King Shaul’s retinue, and Avner ben Ner, Shaul’s chief-of-military-staff, debate the halachic issue concerning whether Moavite women may marry Jews. The discussion between them is what one expects from Talmidei Chachamim of the first order, vociferously debating a halachic issue in your local Beis Medrash. But first let us examine the historical context.

Background to the Story

After Shaul failed to destroy Amalek and he had been told that he would therefore lose the monarchy, Hashem commanded Shmuel to clandestinely anoint David, the youngest of Yishai’s eight sons, as the new King of Israel. Shmuel carried out this mission, but it had been kept a complete secret.

At this time, Shaul began suffering bouts of depression. Shaul’s advisers sought out someone who could play music and thereby help Shaul cope with his depression. One of Shaul’s attendants knew David and suggested him for the position. David tried out for the position and was very successful. Shaul then sent a message to Yishai, David’s father, requesting that David be allowed to assume this position permanently. David did fill the position, and Shaul loved David tremendously, and had David also assume the role of being the royal armor-bearer. Shaul sent a second message to Yishai, requesting that David remain with Shaul “for he has found favor in my eyes” (Shmuel I 16:14-23).

At this point, the Pelishtim (Philistines) waged war against the Jews. The Pelishtim had a giant warrior among them, Golyas (known in English as “Goliath”), who stood over six amos tall (well over ten feet!). Golyas would taunt the Jews with his powerful, terrifying voice. Golyas challenged the Jews to send one representative who would face off in battle against him, with the nation of the victor taking the members of the other nation as slaves. At the same time, Golyas screamed blasphemous declarations about Hashem. The Jewish troops were terrified of Golyas (Shmuel I 17:1-11).

At the time, David’s three oldest brothers served in Shaul’s army. Yishai, David’s father, who is described as zakein ba va’anashim, meaning a well known personage, sent David to bring provisions to his brothers at the battlefront (Shmuel I 17:12). David discovered that Shaul was offering a vast reward to whoever would vanquish Golyas.

David the Brave

David, after gathering information about the situation, volunteered to fight Golyas by himself. Shaul discouraged David, noting that Golyas was an experienced warrior, whereas David was not.

David replied that Hashem is the One who provides all salvation, and that Hashem often helped David fight lions and bears while he was tending his sheep. Shaul gave David his blessing.

Shaul’s armor was placed upon David, but David said that he could not move freely with the armor, and removed it. David then took five smooth stones from a stream and placed them in his shepherd’s bag.

When Golyas saw David, he taunted him, saying “I will offer your flesh to the birds of the heavens and the animals of the field,” to which David responded: “You come against me with sword, spear and javelin, and I come against you with the Name of Hashem, Master of Armies, the G-d of the troops of Israel.” At this point, David took his slingshot, shot one stone that struck Golyas on the forehead, and Golyas fell dead. David then took Golyas’s sword, chopped off his head and demonstrated to all the Pelishtim that their hero was dead. The Pelishtim fled, and on that day, the Jews vanquished their enemy.

Now we come to the strangest part of the story:

“And when Shaul saw David move forward against the Pelishti, he said to Avner, his general, ‘Avner, whose son is this lad?’ And Avner answered, ‘As you live, O King, I do not know.’ And the king responded, ‘Find out whose son is this lad’” (Shmuel I, 17:55-56).

This last part of the story is bizarre. Both Shaul and Avner certainly knew David well — David was Shaul’s armor-bearer and the one who played music to treat Shaul’s fits of depression. Furthermore, they were also familiar with Yishai, who was a well-known personage and with whom Shaul had negotiated twice for David’s employ.

The Gemara Passage

As we can imagine, we are not the first to ask these questions: They form the basis of a fascinating Talmudic discussion (Yevamos 76b-77a).

The Gemara asks why Shaul asked Avner who David and Yishai were; he knew them both, very well. The Gemara answers that he suspected that David might be the person who would be replacing him as king of the Jews. Shaul inquired whether David was descended from the branch of Yehudah that was destined to be the Jewish royal family. Thus, the question “Avner, whose son is this lad?” was not about David’s identity but about his genealogical roots.

At this point, Doeig HaEdomi piped up, “Rather than ask concerning whether he is appropriate to become king, you should ask whether he may marry into the Jewish people. After all, he is descended from Rus, the Moavite.” To this, Avner retorted that we know that the halachah is that only male descendants of Ammon and Moav are prohibited, and therefore Rus was permitted to marry into the Jewish people. Doeig, however, disputed the veracity of this ruling. A halachic debate ensued between Doeig and Avner, concerning whether one can prove from the verses that the prohibition against Ammon and Moav is limited to males, or whether it extends also to the female descendants. Doeig won the upper hand in the debate, producing irrefutable arguments that females are also prohibited.

What was Doeig’s Argument?

As explained by the Ritva (ad loc.), Doeig insisted that the prohibition against marrying Ammonites applies equally to men and women of this nation. In his opinion, the Ammonite women equally share blame for the discourtesy they showed the Israelites, since the Ammonite women should also have provided food and water. He disputes with excusing their not providing help as attributable to their extreme modesty, since the Ammonite women should have assisted the Jewish women.

But what about the Moavite women?

But wait one minute! This concern should not affect David, who was descended from Moav, not from Ammon, and the Moavite women cannot be accused of hiring Bilaam. However, Doeig contended that Moavite women are also prohibited. Although it may be true that Bilaam was hired by the men, since the prohibitions against marrying Moavites and Ammonites are mentioned together, just as female Ammonites may not marry Jews, the same applies to female Moavites (Rashba, Yevamos 76b).

When Avner was unable to disprove Doeig’s approach, Shaul referred the issue to the scholars who debated such matters in the Beis Medrash. These scholars also responded that the prohibition banning the marriage of Ammon and Moav applies only to males and not to females. Doeig then proceeded to demonstrate that their approach was incorrect, leading the scholars of the Beis Medrash to conclude that their previous assumption was wrong and that henceforth the halachah would be that female descendants of Ammon and Moav are prohibited from marrying into Klal Yisroel. This ruling would seriously affect David and all his family members. Boaz had married Rus assuming that the prohibition banning Moavites applied only to males, and now the scholars of the Beis Medrash were considering banning Moavite and Ammonite women and all their descendants.

Amasa to the Rescue!

They were about to conclude that this is the halachah, when another scholar, Amasa, who was also a general in Shaul’s army, rose and declared, “I have received a direct mesorah from Shmuel’s Beis Din that the prohibition relates only to male descendants and not to female ones.” This last argument apparently turned the entire debate back in favor of Avner’s original position, and it was accepted that David and all of Yishai’s descendants could marry within Klal Yisroel (Yevamos 76b-77a).

What did Amasa’s declaration change? In what way did this refute Doeig’s arguments?

Based on a halachic explanation of the Rambam (Hilchos Mamrim 1:2), the Brisker Rav explains what changed.

There are two basic types of Torah laws:

  • Those that are handed down as a mesorah from Moshe Rabbeinu at Har Sinai.
  • Those derived on the basis of the thirteen rules with which we derive new halachos, called in English the hermeneutic rules.

Let me explain each category by using examples:

Mesorah

We have a mesorah that the Torah’s requirement that we take “the fruit of a beautiful tree” on Sukkos refers to an esrog. No halachic authority in Klal Yisroel’s history ever questioned this fact, and for a very simple reason. We know this piece of information directly from the great leaders of Klal Yisroel who received this information from Moshe Rabbeinu, who heard it directly from Hashem (Rambam, Introduction to the Commentary on the Mishnah).

Logic

However, there are also Torah laws that were not taught with a direct mesorah from Har Sinai, but are derived through the hermeneutic rules of the Torah. For example, there is a dispute among tana’im whether a sukkah requires four walls to be kosher or whether it is sufficient if it has three. This debate is based on two different ways to explain the words of the Torah (Sukkah 6b).

Mesorah Versus Logic

Are there any halachic distinctions between the two categories of Torah-derived laws? Indeed, there are. The Rambam explains that when the position is based on logic, halachic authorities may disagree what is the halachah. Thus, there can be a dispute among tana’im whether a sukkah must have three walls or four. However, there can never be a dispute concerning a matter that Klal Yisroel received as a mesorah. Once a greatly respected Torah authority reports a mesorah from his rebbe,who in turn received this mesorah back to Moshe Rabbeinu, that a specific halachah or principle is true, no one can question this mesorah. Thus, any dispute about a halachah of the Torah can concern only something derived logically with hermeneutic principles.

There is another halachic difference between something taught by mesorah and something derived through logic. The final decider of all halachah in every generation (until the end of the era of the Talmud) was the Sanhedrin, also often called the Beis Din HaGadol, the supreme Beis Din. Once the great Torah scholars of Klal Yisroel participated in a debate in the Beis Din HaGadol, which then reached a decision, their conclusion is binding on all of Klal Yisroel (Rambam, Hilchos Mamrim 1:1; Comments of Ramban to Sefer HaMitzvos, Rule II).

There is a question whether a Beis Din HaGadol may overturn a ruling that had been decided previously, either its own decision or one made by an earlier Beis Din HaGadol. The answer to this question depends on whether the ruling involved was based on logic or whether it was taught by mesorah. When the original decision was reached by logic, then a later Beis Din HaGadol has the authority to reexamine the case, and, should it decide to, overturn the previous ruling.

However, this can never happen with a law whose source is mesorah. There can be no debate, no discussion and no overturning. Once a recognized scholar announces that he received this law as a mesorah from Sinai, this is accepted by all, and no debate or questioning of this mesorah may transpire.

Thus, it makes a tremendous difference in halachah whether something is a mesorah, which means it is not subject to argument or debate, or whether it is based on an interpretation of the hermeneutic rules, which is subject to argument and debate.

On the basis of these rules of the Rambam, the Brisker Rav (in his notes to the book of Rus in his Chiddushim on Tanach) explains why Amasa’s argument closed the debate in David’s favor. Doeig, Shaul, Avner, and the other members of Shaul’s Beis Medrash all assumed that limiting the prohibition of Ammoni and Moavi to males was based on hermeneutic exposition, and thus debatable. Furthermore, if Doeig demonstrated that his approach was logically correct, the long-established interpretation permitting Rus to marry into the Jewish people would be overturned. Indeed, the result of this ruling would be that Rus and all her descendants would be prohibited to marry into the Jewish people.

Amasa, however, explains the Brisker Rav, knew that the principle of Moavi velo Moavis, that female descendants of Moav could marry into Klal Yisroel, was a mesorah that Shmuel knew originated at Har Sinai. Thus, its basis was not a logical interpretation of the Torah, which can be refuted, but mesorah, which cannot. Therefore, a logical interpretation concluding otherwise was completely irrelevant.

At this point, we can return to an earlier question we asked about the story of Megillas Rus. Ploni Almoni, Machlon’s uncle, seems convinced that he may marry Rus, notwithstanding her Moavite origins, yet he was concerned that his descendants from her might not be allowed to marry other Jews. The Brisker Rav explains that Ploni Almoni assumed that the law permitting Moavite women to marry Jews was based on logic, which might at some time in the future be refuted, thus changing the accepted halachah. At that point, the ability of his descendants to marry Jews would be overturned. However, Ploni Almoni was incorrect, since the halachah that Moavite women may marry Jews is mesorah, and therefore irrefutable. There can and will never be a question as to whether the descendants of Boaz and David may marry Jews, notwithstanding their Moavite origins.

Conclusion

Besides the halachic issues regarding the pedigree of David, which are of supreme importance to us, since they are the basis of the lineage of Mashiach, we learn a very important lesson from the marital restrictions of the Moavites. One of the three identifying characteristics of the Jewish people is our quality that we are makir tov, we appreciate what others, and especially Hashem, have done for us and acknowledge that appreciation. From this mitzvah, we see how concerned we should be about developing the qualities that characterize the Jewish people.

Nu, so, what is new?

The laws of Chodosh

By Rabbi Yirmiyohu Kaganoff

Question #1: New mitzvah?!

“When I was young, I do not think I ever heard about a prohibition called chodosh, or that something was yoshon. These days, I am constantly hearing these terms. Do we now have a new mitzvah?”

Question #2: New\Old Visitor

“We have decided to stay permanently in Eretz Yisrael, but we visit the United States a few times a year. Do we need to be concerned about chodosh when we visit?”

The Basics

Before addressing the issue underlying both questions, which is whether the prohibition of chodosh applies outside Eretz Yisrael, we must first study some essential details of the mitzvah. The Torah teaches in parshas Emor:

“Bread, sweet flour made from toasted kernels, or the toasted kernels themselves, may not be eaten until that very day – until you bring the offering to your G-d. This is a law that you must always observe throughout your generations in all your dwelling places” (Vayikra 23:14). “That very day” refers to the second day of Pesach, the day that the korban omer, the “offering” mentioned in the pasuk, is brought. (This is the same day that we begin counting the omer, a practice we continue until Shavuos.)

The Mishnah (Menachos 70a) explains that this mitzvah applies only to the five species that we usually categorize as grain, which Rashi (Pesachim 35a) defines as wheat, barley, spelt, oats and rye. The Gemara (Menachos 70b) demonstrates that the laws of chodosh apply to the same varieties of grain that can become chometz.

What Permits the New Grain?

We should note that the Torah mentions two different factors that permit the new grain – it “may not be eaten until that very day – until you bring the offering to your G-d.” This seems to be a bit contradictory. What permits the new grain, the day or the offering that transpires in the course of the day?

Will It be Brought?

The Gemara (Menachos 68a) concludes that it depends on whether a korban omer will be offered that particular year. Until the Beis Hamikdash was destroyed, a korban omer was brought annually, and offering this korban permitted the new grain, thereby fulfilling “may not be eaten… until you bring the offering to your G-d.” After the Beis Hamikdash was destroyed, it is the day that permits the new grain.

There is a further question: When there is no korban omer at what point during the day does the new grain become permitted?

The Gemara quotes a dispute concerning this fact, whether, is it the beginning of the day or its end. The Gemara concludes that even those who permit the new grain at the beginning of the day, this is only min haTorah, but they agree that miderabbanan the new grain is not permitted until the day ends (Sukkah 41b).

“New” Grain versus “Old” Grain

This new grain is called chodosh, literally, new. Once Pesach passes, the grain is called yoshon, old, even though it may have been planted only a few days before. The promotion from chodosh to yoshon transpires automatically on the second day of Pesach – all the existing chodosh becomes yoshon grain on that day, even that which is still growing. The only requirement is that by then the grain has taken root. Thus, designating the grain as “old” does not mean that it is either wizened or rancid. Grain planted in the late winter or early spring often becomes permitted well before it even completed growing. On the other hand, grain that took root after the second day of Pesach is categorized as “new” grain that may not be eaten until the second day of the next Pesach, the following year.

How Do We Know That It Is Newly Rooted?

Since most of us spend little time subterraneanly, how are we to know when the newly planted seeds decided to take root? This question is already debated by the Tanna’im. The halachic authorities dispute whether we assume that seeds take root three days after planting or not until fourteen days after planting. If we assume that they take root in only three days, then grain planted on the thirteenth of Nisan is permitted after the sixteenth. This is because the remaining part of the thirteenth day counts as the first day, and the fifteenth day of Nisan (the first day of Pesach) is the third day, and we therefore assume that the new grain rooted early enough to become permitted. However, grain that was planted on the fourteenth, Erev Pesach, is forbidden until the following year (Terumas Hadeshen #151; Pischei Teshuvah, Yoreh Deah 293:4, 5; Aruch Hashulchan).

According to those who conclude that it takes fourteen days to take root, the grain that is planted on the thirteenth does not become permitted until the next year. In addition, any grain planted on the third of Nisan or afterwards will not be permitted until the coming year, whereas that planted on the second of Nisan becomes permitted. We count the second of Nisan as the first day, which makes the fifteenth of Nisan the fourteenth day, and the grain took root early enough so that the sixteenth of Nisan permits it (Nekudos Hakesef; Dagul Meirevavah; Shu”t Noda Biyehudah 2:Orach Chayim:84).

What’s New in Chutz La’aretz?

Now that we understand some basic information about chodosh, we can discuss whether this mitzvah applies to grain growing outside Eretz Yisrael. Following the general rule that agricultural mitzvos, mitzvos hateluyos ba’aretz, apply only in Eretz Yisrael, we should assume that this mitzvah does not apply to grain that grew in chutz la’aretz. Indeed, this is the position of the Tanna Rabbi Yishmael (Kiddushin 37a). However, Rabbi Eliezer disagrees, contending that the mitzvah applies also in chutz la’aretz.

This dispute is based on differing interpretations of an unusual verse. When closing its instructions concerning the mitzvah of chodosh, the Torah concludes: This is a law that you must always observe throughout your generations in all your dwelling places.” Why did the Torah add the last words, “in all your dwelling places”? Would we think that a mitzvah applies only in some dwellings and not in others?

The Tanna’im mentioned above dispute how we are to understand these unusual words. Rabbi Eliezer explains that “in all your dwelling places” teaches that this prohibition, chodosh, is an exception to the rule of mitzvos hateluyos ba’aretz and applies to all your dwelling places – even those outside Eretz Yisrael. Thus, although we have a usual rule that mitzvos hateluyos ba’aretz apply only in Eretz Yisrael, the Torah itself taught that chodosh is an exception and applies even in chutz la’aretz.

Rabbi Yishmael explains the words “in all your dwelling places” to mean the mitzvah applies only after the land was conquered and settled. As a result, he contends that chodosh indeed follows the general rule of agricultural mitzvos and applies only in Eretz Yisrael.

The New Planting

When a farmer plants his crops depends on many factors, including what variety or strain he is planting, climate and weather conditions, and even perhaps his own personal schedule. At times in history, even non-Jewish religious observances were considerations, as we see from the following incident:

The Rosh reports that, in his day, whether most of the new grain was chodosh or yoshon depended on when the gentiles’ religious seasons fell out. Apparently, in his day sometimes the gentiles planted well before Pesach, and in those years there was no chodosh concern, since the new grain became permitted while it was still growing. However, there were years in which the gentiles refrained from planting until much later, and in those years the new grain was chodosh (Shu”t HaRosh 2:1). In addition, they had a practice not to plant during the xian holiday season that they call Lent. Sometimes Lent fell during Pesach and the xians planted before, and sometimes it fell earlier and they planted after Pesach, in which case there was a chodosh problem. We therefore find the rather anomalous situation in which the Rosh needed to find out exactly when the gentiles observed their religious month to know whether the grain was chodosh or yoshon.

What is New in Agriculture?

But one minute — the Rosh lived in Europe, first in Germany and then in Spain. Why was he concerned about chodosh? Should this not be an agricultural mitzvah that does not apply to produce grown outside of Eretz Yisrael? From the citation above, we see that the Rosh ruled that chodosh is prohibited even in chutz la’aretz. The Rosh is not alone. Indeed, most, but not all, of the Rishonim and poskim conclude that chodosh applies to all grain regardless of where it grows, since we see from the Gemara that chodosh was practiced in Bavel, even though it is outside Eretz Yisrael (Menachos 68b). However, notwithstanding that the Rosh, the Tur and the Shulchan Aruch all prohibit chodosh grown in chutz la’aretz, the traditional approach among Ashkenazic Jewry was to permit the use of new grain. Why were they lenient when most authorities rule like Rabbi Eliezer that chodosh is prohibited even outside Eretz Yisrael?

Later authorities suggest several reasons to permit consuming the new grain.

Doubly Doubtful

Many authorities permitted the new grain because the new crop may have been planted early enough to be permitted, and, in addition, the possibility exists that the available grain is from a previous crop year, which is certainly permitted. This approach accepts that chodosh applies equally in chutz la’aretz as it does in Eretz Yisrael, but contends that when one is uncertain whether the grain available is chodosh or yoshon, one can rely that it is yoshon. Because of this double doubt, called a sefeik sefeika, many major authorities permitted people to consume the available grain (Rema, Yoreh Deah 293). However, we should note that this heter is dependent on available information, and these authorities agree that when one knows that the grain being used is chodosh one may not consume it.

The Rosh accepted this approach, and was careful to monitor the planting seasons so as to ascertain each year whether the grain was planted in a time that caused a chodosh issue. In years that there was a chodosh problem, he refrained from eating the new grain – however, it is interesting to note, that he was extremely careful not to point out his concerns to others. He further notes that his rebbe, the Maharam, followed the same practice, but said nothing about this to others. Thus, we see that some early gedolim were strict for themselves about observing chodosh but said nothing to others out of concern that they would be unable to observe chodosh. This practice was followed in the contemporary world by such great luminaries as Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky, who was personally stringent not to eat chodosh, but was careful not to tell anyone, even family members, who followed the lenient approaches that I will soon share.

Another Heter

Other authorities permitted the chutz la’aretz grain, relying on the minority of early poskim who treat chodosh as a mitzvah that applies only in Eretz Yisrael (Taz; Aruch Hashulchan). This is based on a Gemara that states that when something has not been ruled definitively, one may rely on a minority opinion under extenuating circumstances (Niddah 9b).

This dispute then embroils one in a different issue: When the Gemara rules that under extenuating circumstances one may rely on a minority opinion, is this true only when dealing with a rabbinic prohibition, or may one do so even when dealing with a potential Torah prohibition. The Taz and Aruch Hashulchan, who permitted chodosh for this reason, conclude that one may follow a minority opinion even when dealing with a potential Torah prohibition. The Shach rejects this approach, and concludes that one must be stringent when one knows that the grain is chodosh (Nekudos Hakesef. See also his Pilpul Behanhagos Horaah, located after Yoreh Deah 242; cf. the Bach’s essay on the same topic, published in the back of the Tur Yoreh Deah, where he rules leniently on this issue.)

The Bach’s Heter

Another halachic basis to permit use of the new grain is that chodosh applies only to grain that grows in a field owned by a Jew, and not to grain grown in a field owned by a non-Jew. Since most fields are owned by gentiles, one can be lenient when one does not know the origin of the grain and assume that it was grown in a gentile’s field, and it is therefore exempt from chodosh laws. This last approach, often referred to simply as “the Bach’s heter,” is the basis upon which most Ashkenazic Jewry relied.

We may note that the Rosh, quoted above, rejects this heter, and that Tosafos (Kiddushin 37a end of s.v. kol), the Tur and the Shulchan Aruch also reject this approach. Similarly, the above-quoted responsum from the Rosh explicitly rejects this logic and contends that chodosh applies to grain grown in a gentile’s field.

Nevertheless, common custom accepted this the heter that grain grown in a non-Jew’s field is exempt from chodosh; even many gedolei Yisroel accepted this approach. The Bach notes that many of the greatest luminaries of early Ashkenazic Jewry, including Rav Shachna and the Maharshal, were lenient regarding chodosh use in their native Europe. He shares that as a young man he advanced his theory that chodosh does not exist in a field owned by a gentile to the greatest scholars of that generation, and that they all accepted it.

The Bach himself further contends that although the Rosh in his responsum rejected this approach, the Rosh subsequently changed his mind, and in his halachic code, which was written after his responsa (see Tur, Choshen Mishpat, end of Chapter (72, he omits mention that the prohibition of chodosh applies to gentile-grown grain.

Thus, those residing in chutz la’aretz have a right to follow the accepted practice, as indeed did many, if not most, of the gedolei Yisrael. However, others, such as the Mishnah Berurah, rule strictly about this issue.

Until fairly recently, many rabbonim felt that those who are strict about the prohibition should observe the law of chodosh discreetly. Some contend that one should do so because they feel that observing chodosh has the status of chumrah, and the underlying principle when observing any chumrah is hatznei’ah leches – they should be observed modestly. (See Michtav Mei’eliyahu Volume 3, page 294.) Others feel that the practice of being lenient was based on an extenuating circumstance that is no longer valid, since yoshon is fairly available in most large Jewish communities, and that, on the contrary, we should let people be aware so that they can observe the mitzvah.

North American Hechsherim

The assumption of virtually all hechsherim is that unless mentioned otherwise, they rely on the halachic opinion of the Bach. Many decades ago, Rav Aharon Soloveichek pioneered his own personal hechsher that did not follow either the heter of the Bach or that of the Taz and the Aruch Hashulchan. He further insisted that the yeshivos that he served as Rosh Yeshivah serve exclusively food that did not rely on these heterim. Today, there are a few other hechsherim that follow this approach, whereas the majority of North American hechsherim accept the heter of the Bach.

With this background, we can now address the first question that began our article. “When I was young, I do not think I ever heard about a prohibition called chodosh, or that something was yoshon. These days, I am constantly hearing the term. Do we now have a new mitzvah?”

The answer is that the mitzvah is not new. When you were young, most halachic authorities either felt that one could rely on the opinion of the Bach, or felt that one should keep the topic quiet. Today, many feel that one may and should advertise the availability of yoshon products.

In addition, there is interesting agricultural background to this question. At one point in history, the flour commonly sold in the United States was from the previous year’s crop, and was always yoshon. Rav Yaakov used to monitor the situation, and when the United States no longer followed this practice, he began to freeze flour so that he would have a supply during the winter and spring months when chodosh is a concern.

In the spring and early summer, there is no concern about chodosh in the United States, since all fresh grain products then available became permitted on the sixteenth of Nisan. Usually, the earliest chodosh products begin coming to market is midsummer, and some products do not appear until the fall.

Visitors from Abroad

At this point, we can begin to answer the second question: “We have decided to stay permanently in Eretz Yisrael, but we visit the States a few times a year. Do we need to be concerned about chodosh when we visit?”

As I mentioned above, someone who lives in chutz la’aretz has the halachic right not to be concerned about observing chodosh on grain that grows in chutz la’aretz. The question is whether someone who has moved to Eretz Yisrael where the prevailing custom is to be stringent, and is now visiting chutz la’aretz has the same right. This matter is disputed, and I have discussed it with many poskim, most of whom felt that one should be machmir.

In Conclusion

In explaining the reason for this mitzvah, Rav Hirsch notes that one of man’s greatest enemies is success, for at that moment man easily forgets his Creator and views himself as master of his own success and his own destiny. For this reason, the Torah created several mitzvos whose goal is to remind and discipline us to always recognize Hashem‘s role. Among these is the mitzvah of chodosh, wherein we are forbidden from consuming the new grain until the offering of the korban omer, which thereby reminds us that this year’s crop is here only because of Hashem (Horeb, Section 2 Chapter 42). Whether one follows the Bach’s approach to the chodosh laws or not, one should make note every time he sees a reference to yoshon and chodosh to recognize that success is our enemy, and that humility is our savior.

The Mourning Period of Sefirah

What Are the Guidelines for Aveilus Observed During the Sefirah Weeks?

Reason for Mourning

The midrash teaches that one reason for the counting of the omer is so that we again experience the excitement of anticipating the receiving of the Torah (quoted by Ran, end of Pesachim). At the same time, it is unfortunate that this very same part of the year has witnessed much tragedy for the Jewish people. Indeed, the Mishnah (Eduyos 2:10) points out that the season between Pesach and Shavuos is a time of travail. One major calamity that befell us during this season is the plague that took the lives of the 24,000 disciples of Rabbi Akiva. They died within several weeks in one year between Pesach and Shavuos because they did not treat one another with proper respect (Yevamos 62b). The world was desolated by the loss of Torah until Rabbi Akiva went to the southern part of Eretz Yisroel to teach five great scholars, Rabbi Meir, Rabbi Yehudah, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, Rabbi Yosi, and Rabbi Elozor ben Shamua, who became the upholders of the future of Torah.

Again, in the time of the Crusades, terrible tragedies happened to the Jewish communities of the Rhine River Valley during the period between Pesach and Shavuos (Taz and Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chayim 493). Some of these catastrophes are recorded in the Kinos that we recite on Tisha B’Av. The reciting of “Av Harachamim” after Kerias HaTorah on Shabbos was introduced as a testimonial to remember these holy communities who perished in sanctification of Hashem’s Name rather than accept baptism.

What Practices Are Prohibited?

Because of the tragic passing of Rabbi Akiva’s disciples, the minhag was establishedto treat the sefirah period as a time of mourning and to prohibit the conducting of weddings during this season. It is interesting to note that, although it is forbidden to hold a wedding during this season, if someone schedules a wedding during this season in violation of the accepted practice of the community, we do not penalize him for having done so (Teshuvos Hage’onim #278). Thus, although this person violated the community rules by scheduling the wedding, others may attend the wedding (see Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 2:95). There are poskim who permit weddings under extenuating circumstances, such as concern that a delay may cause the engagement to be broken (Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chayim 493:2).

In addition to abstaining from weddings, certain other mourning practices are observed during the period of sefirah. One does not take a haircut during this season (Tur Orach Chayim Chapter 493). However, if there is a bris during sefirah, the mohel, the sandek, and the father of the baby are permitted to have their hair cut in honor of the occasion (Rema), but not the kvatter or those who are honored with “cheika,who are those who bring the baby closer to the bris (Mishnah Berurah 493:12). Those who are permitted to have their hair cut in honor of the occasion may even have their hair cut the evening before (Mishnah Berurah 493:13).

Dancing is not permitted during the sefirah season (Magen Avraham). Listening to music is likewise prohibited (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 1:166; Shu”t Minchas Yitzchok 1:111; Shu”t Yechaveh Daas 3:30). One is permitted to teach, learn, or play music if it is for his livelihood (Shu”t Igros Moshe 3:87). This is permitted since he is not playing for enjoyment. However, one should not take music lessons for pleasure.

Rav Moshe Feinstein ruled that if a wedding took place on Lag B’omer or before or on Rosh Chodesh Iyar (in places where this is the accepted practice, see below), it is permitted to celebrate the week of sheva berachos with live music and dancing (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 2:95). There are others who disagree (Shu”t Minchas Yitzchok 1:111. See Piskei Teshuvos Chapter 493 footnotes 39 and 81, who quotes many authorities on both sides of the question.).

Although certain mourning practices are observed during sefirah, many practices that are prohibited during the three weeks or the nine days preceding Tisha B’Av are permitted. For example, house remodeling, which is prohibited during “the Nine Days”is permitted during the sefirah period (Shu”t Yechaveh Daas 3:30). Similarly, although during the Nine Days one is discouraged from doing things that are dangerous, no such concern is mentioned in regard to the period of sefirah. Thus, although the Minchas Elozor reports that he knew of people who would not travel during sefirah, he rules that it is permitted and that this practice is without halachic basis (Shu”t Minchas Elozor 4:44).

In a similar vein, according to most poskim, one may recite a brocha of shehechiyanu on a new garment or a new fruitduring the period of sefirah (Maamar Mordechai 493:2; Kaf Hachayim, Orach Chayim 493:4). The Maamar Mordechai explains that the custom not to recite shehechiyanu is a mistake that developed because of confusion with the three weeks before Tisha B’Av, when one should not recite a shehechiyanu (Maamar Mordechai 493:2). However, there are early poskim who record a custom not to recite shehechiyanu during the mourning period of sefirah (Piskei Teshuvos, quoting Leket Yosher).

It is permitted during sefirah to sing or to have a festive meal without music (Graz; Aruch Hashulchan). It is also permitted to make an engagement party (a vort) or a tnoyim during the sefirah period, provided that there is no music or dancing (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim Chapter 493 and Magen Avraham).

When Do We Observe Mourning?

There are numerous customs regarding which days of sefirah are to be kept as a period of mourning. The Shulchan Aruch rules that the mourning period runs from the beginning of the sefirah counting and ends on the thirty-fourth day of the omer count (Beis Yosef and Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim Chapter 493; Kaf Hachayim 493:25). In his opinion, there is no celebration on Lag B’Omer, and it is forbidden to schedule a wedding on that day! The source for this opinion is a medrash that states that the plague that caused the deaths of the disciples of Rabbi Akiva ended fifteen days before Shavuos. According to the Shulchan Aruch’s understanding, the last day of the plague was the thirty-fourth day of the omer. Thus, the mourning ends fifteen days before Shavuos, on the day after Lag B’Omer.

However, the generally accepted practice is to treat the thirty-third day of the Omer count as a day of celebration (Rema and Darchei Moshe, Orach Chayim Chapter 493, quoting Maharil) because, according to this tradition, the last day of the tragedy was the thirty-third day of the Omer (Gra). There are several other reasons mentioned why Lag B’Omer should be treated as a day of celebration. Some record that it is celebrated because it is the yahrzeit of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, the author of the Zohar (Birkei Yosef; Chayei Adam, Klal 131:11; Aruch Hashulchan). Others say that it is celebrated because it is the day that Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai was able to leave the cave in which he had been hiding (Aruch Hashulchan). Another reason recorded for celebrating this day is because it was the day that Rabbi Akiva granted semichah to his surviving disciples (Kaf Hachayim, Orach Chayim 493:26). Others record that it was the first day that the mann began falling for the Jews in the desert (Shu”t Chasam Sofer, Yoreh Deah #233, s.v. Amnam yodati).

According to Maharil and Rema, the evening of Lag B’Omer should be included in the mourning period and the celebration should not begin until daytime. In their opinion, Lag B’Omer is still counted as one of the thirty-three days of mourning. The aveilos period ends on the morning of Lag B’Omer because of a concept called miktzas hayom ki’chulloh, which means that the last day of mourning does not need to be a complete day (Moed Katan 19b). If one observes the beginning of the day in mourning, the entire day is included in the count of the mourning days. For this reason, someone getting up from sitting shiva does so on the morning of the seventh day. Observing mourning requirements at the beginning of the seventh day satisfies the requirement to observe the seventh day of shiva. Similarly, one satisfies the requirement to observe the thirty-third day of sefirah mourning by observing mourning only at the beginning of that day. According to this approach, one should not conduct a wedding on the evening of Lag B’Omer, but only in the daytime. This is because we paskin according to the opinions that the principle of miktzas hayom ki’chulloh applies only if the mourning was observed in the daytime, and it is insufficient to observe aveilos only in the evening of the seventh day.

However, there are other opinions that permit scheduling a wedding already on the evening of the thirty-third, at least under extenuating circumstances (see Graz 493:5; Kaf Hachayim, Orach Chayim 493:28; Shu”t Igros Moshe 1:159). Some explain that, since we consider Lag B’Omer to be a day of celebration, it is not counted as one of the days of mourning (see Chok Yaakov 493:6 and Kaf Hachayim, Orach Chayim 493:28). Thus, there are some poskim who contend that there are only thirty-two days in the sefirah mourning period (Graz 493:5). Another reason to permit scheduling a wedding the evening of Lag B’Omer is based on the opinion that miktzas hayom ki’chulloh applies even when one observes the mourning only at night (Ramban, Toras Ho’adam, Chavel edition page 215). Thus, according to this approach, it is sufficient to have the beginning of the night of Lag B’Omer as a mourning period. (It should be noted that, according to this opinion, shiva ends in the evening of the seventh day, not in the morning.)

When Lag B’Omer falls on Shabbos or Sunday, there is a dispute among early poskim whether it is permitted to get a haircut on Friday in honor of Shabbos. The accepted practice is to permit it (Rema, Orach Chayim 493:2 and Be’er Heiteiv ad loc.). Apparently, the combined honor of Shabbos and the approaching Lag B’Omer together supersede the mourning of sefirah. Some poskim even permit a wedding to take place on the Friday afternoon before Lag B’Omer that falls out on Sunday (Shu”t Ha’elef Lecho Shelomoh, Orach Chayim #330). (Bear in mind that the custom in Eastern Europe, going back hundreds of years, was to schedule weddings on Friday afternoon.)

Are those who follow the practice of observing mourning during the beginning of sefirah permitted to play music during Chol Ha’moed? This subject is disputed by poskim, but the accepted practice is to permit music during Chol Ha’moed (see Piskei Teshuvos 493:6).

There are several other customs that observe the mourning dates of sefirah in different ways. Some observe the mourning period the entire time of sefirah until Shavuos except for Yom Tov, Chol Ha’moed, and Rosh Chodesh (and also, presumably, Lag B’Omer). Therefore, they permit the playing of music on Chol Ha’moed and holding weddings and playing music on Rosh Chodesh. (One cannot have a wedding on Chol Ha’moed for an unrelated reason. The sanctity of Yom Tov precludes celebrating a wedding on this day; see Moed Katan 8b.)This approach is based on an early source that states that Rabbi Akiva’s disciples died only on the thirty-three days of sefirah when tachanun is recited, thus excluding the days of Shabbos, Yom Tov, Chol Ha’moed, and Rosh Chodesh (Bach, Orach Chayim quoting Tosafos). If one subtracts from the forty-nine days of sefirah the days of Pesach, Chol Ha’moed, Rosh Chodesh, and the Shabbosos, one is left with thirty-three days. It is on these days that the mourning is observed. (This approach assumes that in earlier times tachanun was recited during the month of Nisan and during the several days before Shavuos.)

Another, similar, custom is to observe the mourning period only from the second day of Iyar until Rosh Chodesh, with the exception of Lag B’Omer. This approach assumes that the mourning period is only on the days when tachanun is said, but does not assume that there are thirty-three days of mourning.

Yet another custom recorded is to refrain from taking haircuts or making weddings from the beginning of sefirah until the morning of Lag B’Omer, but after Lag B’Omer to observe partial mourning by refraining from weddings, although haircuts are permitted. This approach follows the assumption that the original custom of aveilus during sefirah was based on the fact that the plague that killed the disciples of Rabbi Akiva ended on Lag B’Omer. Later, because of the tragedies of the Crusades period, the custom developed not to schedule weddings between Lag B’Omer and Shavuos. However, the mourning period instituted because of the tragedies of the Crusades was not accepted as strictly, and it was permitted to take haircuts(Taz, Orach Chayim 493:2). This is the prevalent custom followed today by Ashkenazim in Eretz Yisroel.

Still others have the custom that the mourning period does not begin until after Rosh Chodesh Iyar, but then continues until Shavuos (Maharil, quoted by Darchei Moshe, Orach Chayim 493:3). This approach assumes that the thirty-three days of mourning are contiguous, but that the mourning period does not begin until after the month of Nisan is over. In Salonica, they observed a Sefardic version of this custom: They practiced the mourning period of sefirah from after Rosh Chodesh Iyar until Shavuos. However, they took haircuts on the thirty-fourth day of the sefirah count (cited by Shu”t Dvar Moshe, Orach Chayim #32).

A similar custom existed in many communities in Lithuania and northern Poland, where they kept the mourning period of sefirah from the first day of Rosh Chodesh Iyar until the morning of the third day of Sivan. According to this practice, weddings were permitted during the three days before Shavuos. This practice was based on the assumption that the disciples of Rabbi Akiva died after Lag B’Omer until Shavuos (Aruch Hashulchan, based on Gemara Yevamos). Magen Avraham reports that this was the custom in his area (Danzig/Gdansk); Chayei Adam reports that this was the practice in his city (Vilna); and Aruch Hashulchan report that this was the custom in his community (Novardok). These customs are followed to this day in communities where weddings are allowed after Pesach until the end of the month of Nisan.

Rav Moshe Feinstein points out that although these customs differ as to which days are considered days of mourning, the premise of most of the customs is the same: Thirty-three days of sefirah should be observed as days of mourning in memory of the disciples of Rabbi Akiva. In Rav Moshe’s opinion, these different customs should be considered as one minhag, and the differences between them are variations in observing the same minhag (Shu”t Igros Moshe 1:159). This has major halachic ramifications, as we shall see.

Can One Change From One Custom to Another?

We would usually assume that someone must follow the same practice as his parents – or the practice of his community –­­ because of the principle of al titosh toras imecha, “do not forsake the Torah of your mother” (Mishlei 1:8). This posuk is understood by Chazal to mean that we are obligated to observe a practice that our parents observed. However, Rav Moshe Feinstein contends that many of the different customs currently observed are considered to be one minhag, and that, when this is the case, changing from one custom to another that is based on the same halachic considerations does not constitute changing one’s minhag and therefore permitted. There is evidence that other, earlier poskim  agreed that a community may change its custom how it observes the mourning days of sefirah (see Shu”t Chasam Sofer, Orach Chayim #142). According to this opinion, the specific dates that one observes are not considered part of the minhag and are not necessarily binding on each individual, as long as he observes thirty-three days of sefirah mourning.

How Should a Community Conduct Itself?

The Rema rules that, although each of the various customs mentioned has halachic validity (Darkei Moshe, Orach Chayim 493:3), each community should be careful to follow only one practice, and certainly not follow the leniencies of two different customs. If a community follows two different practices, it appears that Hashem’s chosen people are following two different versions of the Torah, G-d forbid.

Rav Moshe Feinstein points out that the Rema is discussing a community that has only one beis din or only one Rav. Under these circumstances, the entire community must follow the exact same practice for sefirah. However, in a city where there are many rabbonim and kehilos, each of which has its own custom regarding the observance of sefirah, there is no requirement for the entire community to follow one practice (Shu”t Igros Moshe Orach Chayim 1:159). Thus, there is no requirement that everyone in a large city follow the same custom for sefirah, unless it has been accepted that the community has one standard custom.

Of course, as in all matters of halacha, each community should follow its practices and rabbonim, and each individual should follow the ruling of his Rav.

Attending a Wedding During One’s Mourning Period

If a friend schedules a wedding for a time that one is keeping sefirah, one is permitted to attend and celebrate the wedding, even listening to music and dancing (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 1:159).

Thus, although I am required to have a mourning period during sefirah of at least thirty-three days, I may attend the wedding of a friend or acquaintance that is scheduled at a time that I keep the mourning period of sefirah. However, Rav Moshe rules that if one is going to a wedding on a day that he is keeping sefirah, he should not shave, unless his unshaved appearance will disturb the simcha (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 2:95).

We should all hope and pray that the season between Pesach and Shavuos should cease from being a time of travail, but instead revert to being a time of total excitement in anticipation of the receiving of the Torah.

How Fast Must I Eat?

Pesach – The First Question Is:

“How quickly must I eat my matzoh on Pesach to be able to bensch?”

Matzoh – The Second Question Is:

“How quickly must I eat my matzoh at the Seder to fulfill the mitzvah?”

Maror – The Third Question Is:

“How quickly must I eat my maror at the Seder to fulfill the mitzvah?”

Wine – The Fourth Question Is:

“How quickly must I drink the wine of the four kosos at the Seder?”

Foreword:

In some households, there is a big rush to eat the matzoh as quickly as possible, and similar pressure to eat the maror and drink the four cups of wine at the Seder. This article will research how quickly we must eat or drink mitzvah foods to fulfill the Torah’s requirements. Since this is a vast topic, our article will be focused on some of its specific aspects. Were we to attempt to cover more of the subtopics, we would be biting off more than we can chew.

Introduction:

In several places, the Gemara states that shiurim, the measurements that are a very important aspect of the halachos of the Torah, are halacha leMoshe miSinai (Eruvin 4a; Sukkah 5a). This means that when Moshe Rabbeinu was taught the Torah by Hashem, he was taught the quantities necessary to fulfill the mitzvos, although there is little or no allusion to these details in the written Torah. For example, the halacha that one must eat at least a kezayis (an olive-sized piece) of matzoh to fulfill the mitzvah is a halacha leMoshe miSinai (Brachos 37b; Rashi, Sukkah 42b).

Maror

The mitzvah to eat maror at the Seder is min haTorah only when there is also a korban Pesach. Until the time that we are again able to offer the korban Pesach, which we pray will be in time for this year, the mitzvah of eating maror is only a rabbinic requirement. Notwithstanding the fact that the requirement to eat maror is only miderabbanan, we are still required to eat a kezayis to fulfill the mitzvah (Rosh, Pesachim 10:25).

How big is an olive?

As we are aware, Hashem created olives, like most items, in different sizes. How big an olive is intended to fulfill the mitzvos? The Mishnah states that it is an average-sized olive (Keilim 17:8). Of course, this may not help us, since we do not know what the Mishnah considered to be “average-sized.” Among the acharonim, this became a very hot topic, with some prominent authorities ruling that the olives available in the contemporary world are considerably smaller than what was considered an “average” olive of the days of Chazal (Tzelach, Pesachim 116b). Although most authorities disagree with this approach, accepted practice is to be stringent and follow this opinion, at least in regard to fulfilling mitzvos min haTorah (see Shu”t Chasam Sofer, Orach Chayim 1:127; Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chayim 168:13, Yoreh Deah 324:5, 6; Shi’urei Torah of Rav Avraham Chayim Na’eh 3, note 19). This explains why the amounts we find that many authorities mention for the mitzvah of matzoh is much larger than the size of any olive that we have ever encountered. Also, since most authorities rule this way only germane to mitzvos that are min haTorah, this explains why the size of a kezayis for the mitzvah of achilas matzoh is greater than it is for the mitzvah of koreich or for bensching, which are not requirements min haTorah.

How much must I imbibe?

The mitzvah to drink four cups of wine at the Seder is rabbinic in origin, and, therefore, by definition, was not taught at Sinai. When Chazal instituted this mitzvah, they required that a person have a cup that contains at least what they called a revi’is. (Most late authorities calculate a revi’is to be a little more than three ounces, but some feel that it is closer to five ounces or even a bit more. Because of space constraints, we will not be able to discuss the details of this question.) Regarding how much must be drunk, most authorities contend that it is preferable to drink an entire revi’is, although all agree that someone who drank most, but not all, of the revi’is has fulfilled the mitzvah.

Heavy drinker

What is the halacha if someone is using a cup that is larger than a revi’is? Is it sufficient for him to drink most of a revi’is, or must he drink most of the volume of the cup, even when that is more than a revi’is? The rishonim discuss this issue, some contending that it is sufficient to drink most of a revi’is, whereas the Ramban rules that he must drink most of the contents of the cup that he is using (quoted by Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 472). To accommodate both opinions, the Magen Avraham advises that someone who cannot drink a lot of wine should use a goblet that holds only the minimum amount of a revi’is.

Other mitzvos

Although the minimal amount for most mitzvos that involve eating is a kezayis, this rule is not universal. Yom Kippur is one example that is different, where the minimum amount to be culpable for the Torah’s punishment of koreis is the eating of a koseves, the size of a large date, which is considerably larger than an olive. Based on a passage of Gemara, the rishonim conclude that a koseves is slightly smaller than a kebeitzah, the size of an egg (Yoma 79b; Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 612:1).

The Gemara (Yoma 73b) discusses whether it is prohibited min haTorah to eat less than a koseves on Yom Kippur. The universally accepted conclusion is that it is prohibited min haTorah to eat or drink even a small amount on Yom Kippur, unless the situation is life-threatening. The well-known concept called pachus mikeshiur, which permits eating less than a koseves or drinking an amount smaller than the minimal shiur and then waiting several minutes before eating or drinking again,is permitted only when fasting is potentially life-threatening. The principle of pachus mikeshiur is that, even when it is permitted for someone to eat on Yom Kippur, we are required to minimize the level of the violation (Ran, based on Yoma 82b). In other words, in a situation in which it is dangerous for someone to fast, he may eat or drink only the minimal amount that mitigates the life-threatening emergency. If he can eat a very small amount and then wait to eat more, he may not eat more, now.

Bensching

In parshas Eikev, where the Torah requires that we recite a blessing after eating, it states, Ve’achalta vesavata uveirachta es Hashem Elokecha, “When you eat and are satisfied, you should bless Hashem, your G-d.” The implication of the posuk is that the requirement to bensch is only when someone ate enough to be fully satisfied, meaning that he ate a full meal. Indeed, most halachic authorities rule that this is true min haTorah, and that the requirement to bensch when eating less than this amount is only rabbinic.

The Gemara quotes a dispute among tanna’im how much food requires the recital of birchas hamazon, and the conclusion is that it is required whenever someone ate a kezayis, the same minimum required for the mitzvos of matzoh and maror. Someone who ate less than a kezayis of bread, whether it is leavened or not, is not required to recite birkas hamazon, and, therefore, it is forbidden to recite birkas hamazon if one ate less than a kezayis.

At this point, we can begin discussing the opening question of today’s article: “How quickly must I eat my matzoh on Pesach to be able to bensch?” In other words, is there a minimum amount of time within which I must eat a kezayis of matzoh to be required to bensch? This question introduces our next subtopic.

Term limits

Among the many measurements that the Oral Torah teaches is the concept of kdei achilas pras. I will shortly explain what this term means, but first I will explain the principle. Fulfilling the mitzvos of eating matzoh and maror requires not only eating at least a kezayis, but also that the kezayis be eaten within a minimal period of time. Similarly, there is a requirement to bensch when eating at least a kezayis of bread, but only when it is eaten within a minimal timeframe. The minimal time limit required for all mitzvos germane to eating is to eat the specified amount within a period of time called kdei achilas pras (see Pesochim 114b).

Literally, kdei achilas pras means as much time as it takes to eat half a loaf of bread. This is, of course, meaningless, unless we know the size of the loaf, what type of bread it is, who is eating it, and under what circumstances. How big a loaf is the subject of a dispute among the tanna’im, and how we rule in this dispute is, itself, disputed by the most prominent of rishonim: The Rambam’s opinion is that kdei achilas pras is the amount of time it takes to eat white bread the size of three eggs (Hilchos Shevisas Asor 2:4; Hilchos Chometz Umatzoh 1:6; Hilchos Ma’achalos Asuros 14:8; see also Chazon Ish, Orach Chayim 39:18), whereas Rashi (Brachos 37b; Pesochim 44a; Avodah Zarah 67a) concludes that it is the amount of time it takes to eat white bread the size of four eggs. We will discuss shortly how we measure this in minutes, but it does mean that whatever the timeframe is according to the Rambam, Rashi holds that it is one third longer.

The time limit of kdei achilas pras applies not only to mitzvos but also to prohibitions. For example, there are Torah prohibitions against eating non-kosher species, or against eating blood or cheilev, certain fats. Although it is prohibited min haTorah to eat any amount of these substances, the punishments that the Torah describes are only when someone eats a kezayis of these prohibited foods within kdei achilas pras.

The Shulchan Aruch quotes the dispute between Rashi and the Rambam without making a decision which approach we should follow. For this reason, the consensus of the subsequent authorities is that we should always be stringent, at least when we are dealing with a de’oraysa case.

Individualism

Does the size of kdei achilas pras depend on how quickly this individual eats, or does it depend on how long it takes most people to eat? Germane to the law of consuming pachus mikeshiur on Yom Kippur, where we are trying to determine how long a person must wait between eating minimal portions of food, the Mishnah Berurah (618:21) states that this is contingent on how long it takes the person in question to eat bread the size of four eggs. However, the Mishnah Berurah then quotes the Chasam Sofer, who rules that someone eating pachus mikeshiur on Yom Kippur should allow at least nine minutes between one eating and the next. This ruling of an objective time figure assumes that the time of kdei achilas pras is dependent not on the individual, but is a standard measurement. The latter approach is what many later authorities conclude (Chazon Ish, Orach Chayim 39:18; Shi’urei Torah 3:13 and others). Because of questions germane to the Mishnah Berurah’s statement on this issue, some prominent later authorities conclude that the Mishnah Berurah himself did not mean that kdei achilas pras is dependent on the individual; he also agrees that kdei achilas pras is dependent on an “average” person, whatever that term means.

Kdei achilas pras

How many minutes constitute the time that we call kdei achilas pras? This question is discussed by the acharonim, with a wide range of opinions. Since the different approaches are based more on conjecture than on absolute proof, most authorities rule that we should follow a much longer amount of time when it is a chumra, such as on Yom Kippur, when we are gauging how to space the food in a way that mitigates the prohibition, whereas on Pesach night we should follow a much shorter amount of time, since we are deciding the minimum amount of time in which to eat the kezayis of matzoh.

I mentioned above the ruling of the Chasam Sofer that kdei achilas pras is nine minutes, which is the longest opinion of which I am aware. The Maharam Shik, a proud disciple of the Chasam Sofer, explains that this calculation should really be eight minutes, but that the Chasam Sofer added an extra minute to be on the safe side (Shu”t Maharam Shik, Orach Chayim #263). The Bikurei Yaakov,a prominent work on the laws of sukkah written by Rav Yaakov Ettlinger, the author of the classics Aruch Laneir and Binyan Tziyon, holds that it is sufficient to wait only 7.5 minutes. To quote him in context: “It is forbidden to eat more than a kebeitzah outside the sukkah… however it seems to me that this is only when he ate it within kdei achilas pras, which is approximately 1/8 of an hour” (Bikurei Yaakov 639:13). One eighth of an hour is seven and a half minutes; however, the Aruch Laneir does not tell us how he arrived at that figure. The Aruch Hashulchan (Orach Chayim 618:14) is more lenient than any of the opinions we have quoted so far, ruling that kdei achilas pras in regard to someone who is eating on Yom Kippur pachus mikeshiur is “six or seven” minutes.

Kezayis and matzoh

Thus far, we have been estimating kdei achilas pras when a longer period of time is a chumra, as it is germane to pachus mikeshiur on Yom Kippur and eating outside of the sukkah. However, in our opening questions regarding the minimum time within which we must eat our kezeisim of matzoh and maror on Pesach, the shorter period of time for kdei achilas pras is the chumra. There are a few opinions that contend that the amount of time within which to eat a kezayis of matzoh is less than three minutes. For example, the Marcheshes (Orach Chayim 1:14:6) rules that the minimum time within which it is required to eat a kezayis of matzoh is 2.7 minutes. Because of considerations beyond the scope of this article, Rav Avraham Chayim Na’eh (Shi’urei Torah 3:15) writes that this is too short a time. In a very lengthy essay, he discusses many opinions and analyzes their sources. He concludes that one should try to follow the most stringent approach, but he rejects those who consider kdei achilas pras to be less than four minutes. Therefore, he concludes that one should try to eat the first kezayis of matzoh within four minutes, but for pachus mikeshiur on Yom Kippur, one should assume that the time of kdei achilas pras is nine minutes.

However, other authorities rule that one should be stricter regarding the timeframe within which to eat the kezayis of matzoh and perhaps even other mitzvos. The Aruch Hashulchan (202:8) concludes that kdei achilas pras for these purposes should be calculated at “three or four minutes,” being more stringent than Rav Avraham Chayim Na’eh. Rav Moshe Feinstein concludes that one should eat the kezayis of matzoh within three minutes. He rules this way even regarding rabbinic laws, concluding that bensching requires eating a kezayis of bread within less than three minutes (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 4:41 s.v. Al kal panim).

Thus, we can now answer the second and third of our opening questions: “How quickly must I eat my matzoh at the Seder to fulfill the mitzvah?” and “How quickly must I eat my maror at the Seder to fulfill the mitzvah?”  Since the mitzvah of matzoh is min haTorah, according to Rav Na’eh, one should try to complete it within four minutes.

Food versus beverage

At this point, we will address the last of our four opening questions:

“How quickly must I drink the wine of the four kosos at the Seder?”

Until now, we have been discussing kdei achilas pras. To the best of my knowledge, this is universally accepted as the minimal timeframe for all mitzvos that involve eating. However, whether this is the minimal time for drinking of beverages is a dispute among the rishonim. The Maharitz Gei’us, one of the early Spanish rishonim (he was the Rif’s predecessor as the rav of Lucena, Spain), and the Rambam rule that the minimal time limit for drinking is the amount of time it takes to drink a revi’is, which, according to the Aruch Hashulchan, is perhaps as short as a minute (see Orach Chayim 202:8). (Some authorities rule that the amount of time to drink a revi’is is shorter.) On the other hand, other halachic authorities, including the Ra’avad (Hilchos Terumos 10:3), the Ran (Yoma) and the Gra (Orach Chayim 612:10), rule that the minimum timeframe for beverages is kdei achilas pras, the same as it is for foods. This dispute has major ramifications for many halachos, including what is the minimum time allowed to drink each of the four cups of wine.

How do we rule?

The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 612:10), in the laws of Yom Kippur, rules that the primary opinion is that the minimal timeframe for beverages is the time it takes to drink a revi’is, although he also mentions the approach that the timeframe is kdei achilas pras. Many late authorities assume that it remains unresolved whether the requirement for drinking the wine at the Seder is the very short amount of time it takes to drink a revi’is or the considerably longer time of kdei achilas pras, and, therefore, it is best to drink each of the four kosos without interruption, to accommodate the stricter approach.

Conclusion

As Rav Hirsch proves, the Bnei Yisroel were taught the details of the oral Torah years before we were given the finished written Torah, which we first received shortly before or shortly after Moshe Rabbeinu’s passing, depending on two opinions in the Gemara. Moshe taught us the oral Torah, including the shiurim of mitzvos throughout the forty years in the Desert. Thus, we see the importance of being careful with the details of these laws, even though they are not mentioned in the written Torah.

What Is the Brocha?

On Pesach, shaylos always come up regarding which brochos we should recite before eating matzoh brei, matzoh meal cakes and similar foods. The truth is that similar questions revolve around which brochos we should recite on foods such as French toast, English muffins, kishka and kneidlach.

Question: When I eat matzoh brei, I have been making the brachos of mezonos and al hamichyah on it. Now someone told me that I should wash and make hamotzi on some bread or matzoh instead. Is this true?

Question: The chef in our yeshiva stuffs the meatloaf with huge pieces of leftover challah. Do we need to wash netilas yadayim and make hamotzi before eating it?

Question: I have been told that the brocha on licorice is shehakol, even though the first ingredient listed on its label is flour. Why is this?

In the article Pizza, Pretzels and Pastry, we discuss the unusual halachic category called pas haba’ah bekisnin, and found that crackers, pretzels, and certain pastry-type items require the brocha of mezonos before eating them and al hamichyah afterward, unless they are eaten as a meal, in which case they require netilas yadayim, hamotzi, and bensching. (Please refer to that article for details of this complicated halacha.) However, there are numerous other foods prepared with flour that are not typical bread. In order to explore which brocha one recites on these foods, we will start our discussion with items made from bread that is then cooked or fried.

FRENCH TOAST

Although the words “French toast” were unknown in the times of Chazal, the Gemara (Brachos 37b) discusses which brocha to recite on chavitza, a dish that contains cooked pieces of bread. The Gemara rules that if the pieces are the size of a kezayis (the volume of an olive – for our purposes, we will assume this to be about one fluid ounce), the brocha before is hamotzi and it requires bensching afterward. This is because a large piece of bread does not lose its significance even if it is cooked or fried. However, if all of the pieces are smaller than a kezayis, the brocha is mezonos before and al hamichyah afterward. If some of the pieces are larger than a kezayis and others smaller, then one recites hamotzi as long as one piece is at least the size of a kezayis (Mishnah Berurah 168:53).

Based on this Gemara, we conclude that one must wash netilas yadayim and recite hamotzi before eating French toast, and bensch afterward, since the pieces are at least a kezayis (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 168:10).

WHICH BROCHA DOES ONE MAKE ON KNEIDLACH?

Kneidlach are made from ground matzoh that is mixed to form a new dough and then cooked. Most poskim rule that since the matzoh is ground into small pieces before it is cooked, the brochabrachos are mezonos and al hamichyah even if one eats a very large amount. Another opinion contends that if the pieces of matzoh meal are shaped into balls larger than a kezayis before they are cooked, their brocha is hamotzi (Magen Avraham 168:28). The accepted psak is to make a mezonos and al hamichyah on kneidlach (Mishnah Berurah 168:59).

This leads us to an unusual shaylah I was once asked:

YESHIVA MEATLOAF DELUXE

A yeshiva bachur once asked me whether one should make hamotzi on the meatloaf served at his yeshiva. I thought he was attempting to draw attention to the quality of the cuisine, but indeed, he was asking a serious shaylah. It turned out that the cook in his yeshiva would stuff large pieces of leftover challah into the meatloaf.

This is an unusual situation. Many people include matzoh meal or bread crumbs in their meatloaf, but these lose their importance in the finished product. However, Yeshiva Meatloaf Deluxe included pieces of challahfar larger than a kezayis. As we mentioned above, pieces of bread this size do not lose their status as bread. Thus, as strange as it might seem, one is required to wash al netilas yadayim before eating this meatloaf, and its correct brachos are hamotzi before and bensching afterward.

This situation was unusual for an additional reason – people usually soak challah or bread until it falls apart before adding it to a kugel or meatloaf. However, Yeshiva Meatloaf Deluxe calls for bread that is only moistened before being adding to the meatloaf, but does not fall apart.

BAKING AND SAUTÉING (frying in a small amount of oil)

On Pesach, my wife makes an item she refers to as “matzoh rolls,” which involves mixing matzoh meal together with oil and eggs, forming “rolls” and baking them. Although they are prepared from matzoh meal, the brocha on these items is hamotzi since the dough is subsequently baked rather than cooked and the finished product is very much similar to a type of bread, albeit Pesach-dik.

Similarly, if someone made matzoh rolls by sautéing the dough in a little oil (just enough so that the dough does not burn) the completed product should be treated as bread for all halachos (Mishnah Berurah 168:69). Thus, a matzoh kugel made on the top of the stove would be hamotzi, even if the pieces are smaller than a kezayis.

FRYING VS. COOKING – THE MATZOH BREI SAGA

Thus far, we have learned that one recites hamotzi on large pieces of bread even if they were subsequently cooked or fried, and that small pieces lose their status as bread when they are cooked. However, some poskim contend that frying small pieces of bread does not change their status and they still require netilas yadayim and hamotzi (Magen Avraham 168:39). According to this opinion, matzoh brei requires netilas yadayim, hamotzi and bensching. Other poskim disagree, contending that fried small pieces of bread lose their status as bread just like cooked pieces (see Mishnah Berurah 168:56). These poskim contend that one recites mezonos and al hamichyah on matzoh brei unless at least one of the pieces is the size of a kezayis. The Mishnah Berurah concludes that the halacha is uncertain, and one should avoid this problem by eating these items within a meal. Thus, an Ashkenazi should not eat matzoh brei without washing and making hamotzi on a piece of matzoh first. However, if at least one of the pieces if is the size of a kezayis, the matzoh brei requires netilas yadayim, hamotzi and bensching.

Sefardim recite mezonos before matzoh, except on Pesach, unless they eat more than four kebeitzim of matzoh. During Pesach they follow the same rules that I mentioned above for Ashkenazim. During the rest of the year, Sefardim recite mezonos before eating matzoh brei and al hamichyah afterward, and they need not eat it within a meal. However, a Sefardi who ate four kebeitzim of matzoh brei would be faced with the same concern mentioned above and should wash netilas yadayim and make hamotzi on some bread.

According to all opinions, deep frying small pieces of bread or matzoh is the same as cooking, since the oil completely covers the food. Thus, the correct brocha on deep-fried matzoh-meal latkes is mezonos and al hamichyah (Mishnah Berurah 168:59).

CROUTONS

Commercial croutons are produced by either frying or toasting small pieces of seasoned bread. If they are deep fried, then the brocha is mezonos and al hamichyah. If they are fried or toasted, then they are pas haba’ah bekisnin (requiring mezonos when eaten as a snack and hamotzi when eaten as a meal).

Homemade croutons toasted from leftover bread are hamotzi. Deep-fried, they are mezonos, and fried they are subject to the same shaylah mentioned above as to whether they are hamotzi or mezonos, and should therefore be eaten after making hamotzi on bread.

CHALLAH KUGEL

Most people make challah kugel (or matzoh kugel) by soaking the challah or matzoh, then mixing it with other ingredients and baking it. When the challah or matzoh disintegrates into mush before it is mixed with the other ingredients, the resulting kugel has the halachic status of pas haba’ah bekisninbrocha (mezonos when eaten as a snack and hamotzi when eaten as a meal).

Sometimes the challah remains in small pieces; this is often the case when making a matzoh kugel. When this is the case, the resulting kugel must be treated as bread, requiring netilas yadayim and hamotzi, as we pointed out earlier concerning baked goods. Since the halacha here depends on some complicated halachic details, it is better in this case to make hamotzi on a piece of matzoh or bread first.

MATZOH LASAGNA

A guest arrived at someone’s house and was served a portion of matzoh lasagna. In this particular recipe, the matzoh was soaked, mixed with meat and other ingredients, and then baked.

I now ask you, dear reader: Must they wash netilas yadayim and which brocha should they recite?

We can answer this question only after ascertaining whether there are noticeable pieces of matzoh in the lasagna. If there are noticeable pieces, even if they are small, the guest should wash netilas yadayim and make hamotzi on matzoh or bread before eating the lasagna kugel. If the matzoh all turned to mush, the lasagna should probably be treated as pas haba’ah bekisnin, and would require borei minei mezonos on a snack size, but would be hamotzi and require bensching if eaten as a meal. The exact definition of a meal for these purposes is discussed in our article on pas haba’ah bekisnin.

PANCAKES, BLINTZES AND CREPES

These items are all made from a batter rather than dough and then baked in a pan, form or griddle. Since they never have a bread-like appearance, they are always mezonos and al hamichyah. This is true even if one eats a large amount, since they are considered neither bread nor pas haba’ah bekisnin. Thus, one can have an entire, very satiating meal of pancakes or blintzes without washing netilas yadayim, and one recites the brocha of al hamichyah afterward.

WAFFLES, WAFERS, ICE CREAM CONES

These items are also made from a batter, but in this case the batter is poured into a mold or waffle iron that bakes it into its final shape. Although these items have a slightly more bread-like appearance than pancakes and blintzes, without the mold, these items would never have a bread-like shape, and they do not have a tzuras hapas (bread-like appearance) even after being baked. Therefore, they are not considered pas haba’ah bekisnin but rather regular mezonos. As a result, they do not require netilas yadayim, and the brachos are mezonos and al hamichyah even if one made a full meal out of them. Thus, one can enjoy as many wafers as one wants and recite al hamichyah when finished eating.

ENGLISH MUFFINS

Most English muffins have a consistency noticeably different from regular bread, and therefore are pas haba’ah bekisnin. However, an English muffin whose inside tastes like bread should be treated as bread.

KISHKA AND LICORICE

Although these are two very different foods, the halachic discussion that involves them is similar.

The Gemara (Berachos 37b and 36b) discusses a food called rihata, which was made of flour, oil and honey cooked or stirred together in a pot until they hardened. The Gemara cites a dispute whether the brocha is mezonos, because of the general halachic importance of flour; or shehakol, because the main taste comes from the honey. We rule that the brocha is mezonos because flour is usually considered the main ingredient of a food, unless the flour is there only to hold it together. Whenever the flour is added to provide taste, the brocha is mezonos, even if the main taste comes from the honey.

Kishka has the same halacha as rihata. Although the main taste comes from the other ingredients, the flour certainly adds taste as well.

Although licorice contains a significant amount of flour, the flour is included only to give licorice its shape, and not to add anything to the taste or to make it more filling. Therefore, the brocha on licorice is shehakol (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 208:2 and Mishnah Berurah ad loc.).

According to the Gemara (Bava Kama 30a), someone who desires to become exemplary in his behavior should toil in understanding the laws of brochos. By investing energy into understanding the details of how we praise Hashem, we realize the importance of each aspect of that praise and how we must recognize that everything we have is a gift from Hashem. Furthermore, when reciting the proper brocha, one is acquiring the item from Hashem in the proper way. Pas haba’ah bekisnin functions in two different ways, sometimes as our main sustenance and most of the time as a pleasant snack. Reciting the correct brocha focuses our understanding on the appropriate praise for Hashem at the correct moment.

Indigestible Matzos, or Performing Mitzvos When Suffering from Food Allergies

This week is Shabbos Rosh Chodesh and also Parshah Hachodesh, which discusses both the mitzvah of creating the calendar and the mitzvah of korban Pesach. Over the years, I have discussed these topics many times, and I have also written articles on some of the unique features of Shabbos Rosh Chodesh. These articles can all be found on this website. For those wanting to read up on the many topics germane to Pesach, the website also contains a variety of articles, which can be found by using the search words matzoh, Pesach, wine, kitniyos, sefiras ha’omer, hallel, yom tov, chol hamoed, or eruv tavshillin.

Question #1: I have acid reflux; as a result, I never drink any alcohol since it gives me severe heartburn. I also have difficulty tolerating grape juice, which does not agree with me. Am I required to drink either wine or grape juice for the four cups at the Seder?

Question #2: My body is intolerant of gluten. Am I required to eat matzoh on Pesach, and if so, how much?”

Question #3: How far must one go to fulfill the mitzvah of maror if the only variety available is horseradish?

Consuming matzoh, maror, wine or grape juice is uncomfortable for many people, for a variety of reasons. Consumption of these foods may exacerbate certain medical conditions, such as allergies, diabetes, celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome and reflux. To what extent must someone afflicted by these conditions extend him/herself to fulfill these mitzvos? Does it make a difference if the mitzvah is required min haTorah, such as matzoh, or only miderabbanan, such as arba kosos, the mitzvah of drinking the four cups of wine at the Seder. (Similarly, the mitzvah of maror is required today only miderabbanan, since the Torah requires eating maror only when we offer the korban pesach.)

PIKUACH NEFESH

One is never required to perform a positive mitzvah when there is a potential threat to one’s life. Quite the contrary, it is forbidden to carry out any mitzvah whose performance may be life- threatening. Therefore, someone who has a potentially life-threatening allergy or sensitivity to grain may not consume matzoh or any other grain product – ever — and this prohibition applies fully on Seder night.

NOT DANGEROUS, BUT UNPLEASANT

However, must one observe these mitzvos when the situation is not life threatening, but is painful or affects one’s wellbeing? Must one always fulfill the mitzvah, even though doing so is extremely uncomfortable or makes one unwell?

RABBI YEHUDAH’S HEADACHE

The Gemara reports that the great Tanna Rabbi Yehudah, who is quoted hundreds of times in the Mishnah and Gemara, suffered from the consumption of wine. The Gemara records the following anecdote:

Rabbi Yehudah looked so happy that a Roman woman accused him of being inebriated. He responded that he is a teetotaler, “Trust me that I taste wine only for kiddush, havdalah and the four cups of Pesach. Furthermore, after drinking four cups of wine at the Seder, I have a splitting headache that lasts until Shavuos” (see Nedarim 49b).

This passage implies that one is required to undergo a great deal of discomfort to fulfill even a mitzvah that is rabbinic in origin, and certainly a Torah-required law, such as consuming matzoh on Pesach. Based on this anecdote, the Rashba (Shu”t 1:238) requires someone who avoids wine because he despises its taste or because it harms him (“mazik”) to drink the four cups; this conclusion is quoted definitively in Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 472:10). Thus, one might conclude that one must fulfill arba kosos in any non-life-threatening situation, even when the consequences are unpleasant.

However, several authorities sanction abstaining from arba kosos under certain extenuating, but not life-threatening, circumstances, even though they also accept the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch! For example, the Aruch HaShulchan (472:14) permits someone who is ill to refrain from consuming the four cups on Seder night, and the Mishnah Berurah rules similarly (472:35). They explain that the harmone must experience to fulfill the mitzvah does not include physical harm, but is limited to discomfort or moderate pain.

DERECH CHEIRUS

In Shaar HaTziyun, the Mishnah Berurah explains why he permits refraining from arba kosos under such circumstances: Becoming bedridden because one consumed arba kosos is not derech cheirus, which I will translate as demonstrating freedom. His reference to derech cheirus alludes to the following Gemara:

One who drinks the wine undiluted has fulfilled the requirement of arba kosos, but he did not fulfill the requirement of demonstrating freedom (Pesachim 108b).

What does this Gemara mean? Why does drinking one’s wine straight not fulfill this mitzvah called demonstrating freedom?

The wine of the Gemara’s era required one to dilute it before drinking. Imbibing it straight was not the normal method of drinking and, therefore, would not demonstrate the freedom that the Seder emphasizes.

The Mishnah Berurah contends that a mitzvah whose purpose is to demonstrate that we are freemen cannot require becoming bedridden as a result. Although a potential massive headache, such as what affected Rabbi Yehudah, does not exempt one from the mitzvah, becoming bedridden is qualitatively worse. The Aruch HaShulchan rules similarly, although he omits the reasoning of derech cheirus and simply assumes that the mitzvah does not apply under these circumstances.

(There may be a difference of opinion between the Mishnah Berurah and the Aruch HaShulchan germane to mitzvas maror. The Mishnah Berurah’s reason of derech cheirus applies only to the arba kosos, and therefore he might hold that one must eat maror even if he becomes bedridden as a result. However, the Aruch HaShulchan’s ruling may apply to any rabbinic mitzvah, and thus permit someone who would become ill from eating maror to abstain from performing this mitzvah.)

ALCOHOLIC CONTENT

Let us assume that our patient could drink grape juice without any ill result, but may have some difficulty with wine. Is there a requirement for him/her to drink wine?

The Gemara states that “One may squeeze a cluster of grapes and then immediately recite Kiddush over it” (Bava Basra 97b). Obviously, this grape juice has no alcoholic content, and yet it is acceptable for Kiddush.

However, the Gemara’s ruling that someone who drank the arba kosos without dilution does not fulfill cheirus implies that the Seder mitzvah requires a wine with alcoholic content, and therefore grape juice does not perform this aspect of the mitzvah. Nevertheless, someone who cannot have any alcohol may fulfill the mitzvah of arba kosos with grape juice (Shu”t Shevet HaLevi 9:58).

DILUTING WINE

Is it better for someone to dilute their wine with water, rather than drink grape juice?

Some authorities contend that one fulfills the concept of cheirus as long as one can detect alcoholic content, even though the wine is diluted. However, before diluting our wine with water, contact the manufacturer or the hechsher, since some wines are already diluted to the maximum halachically allowable that one can and still recite over it hagafen. The Pri Megadim (Eishel Avraham 204:16) rules that although Chazal diluted their wine significantly (Shabbos 77a), our wine is very weak and should be diluted only moderately. He contends that if one adds more water than wine the bracha becomes shehakol; one can certainly not use this wine for Kiddush or arba kosos. The Aruch HaShulchan (204:14) rules even more strictly, that any added water renders our wines shehakol and invalidates them for Kiddush or arba kosos. I suspect that this was not a dispute, but a reflection of the quality of the wine available; the wine available to the Pri Megadim could be diluted without ruining it, as long as there was more wine than water, whereas that available to the Aruch HaShulchan was easily ruined.

On the other hand, diluting wine with grape juice does not jeopardize the bracha, and, if the alcohol content is still noticeable, one will fulfill the concept of cheirus.

ARBA KOSOS SUBSTITUTES

If someone cannot drink four cups of wine or grape juice, should they simply not drink anything for the arba kosos?

The Mishnah Berurah rules that one may substitute chamar medinah, literally, the national “wine.” This follows a ruling of the Rama (483) that someone who has no available wine may fulfill the mitzvah of arba kosos with chamar medinah.

Exactly what chamar medinah includes is beyond the scope of this article. For our purposes, I will simply note that there is much discussion about this matter, some rabbonim holding that tea or coffee qualifies, others contending that it must be alcoholic and still others maintaining that most places today have no chamar medinah.

SOME PRACTICAL SUGGESTIONS

Thus far, we have concluded that someone who becomes ill enough to be bedridden may not be obligated in arba kosos, but someone who finds drinking four cups of wine or grape juice uncomfortable and even painful, but does not become bedridden as a result, is required to drink them. However, note that sometimes one may be lenient and use a smaller cup and drink a smaller proportion of its wine than we would usually permit. These are matters to discuss with one’s rav.

WHAT ABOUT MATZOH?

Our second question above read: “My body is intolerant of gluten. Am I required to eat matzoh on Pesach, and if so, how much?”

Our previous discussion only explained the rules pursuant to drinking the four cups of wine, which is a rabbinic mitzvah. Does any leniency exist to exempt someone from eating matzoh Seder night, in non-life-threatening situations? Granted one is certainly not required or permitted to eat matzoh if doing so may be life-threatening; but if the results are simply discomfort, to what degree must one extend oneself to observe a positive mitzvah min hatorah?

The Binyan Shelomoh (#47), a nineteenth century work authored by Rav Shelomoh of Vilna, the city’s halachic authority at the time, discusses this very issue. (Out of deference to the Vilna Gaon, the Jewish community of Vilna appointed no one to the title of rav from the passing of the Gaon, until the government required them to do so, in the era of Rav Chayim Ozer Grodzenski, over a hundred and twenty years later.) In a lengthy responsum, The Binyan Shelomoh establishes how far someone who is ill must go to eat matzoh, when there is nothing life-threatening. He based his analysis on the following law:

Chazal prohibited spending more than one fifth of one’s money to fulfill a positive mitzvah (Rambam, Hilchos Arachin 8:13, based on Gemara Kesubos 50a. See also Rambam’s Peirush HaMishnayos Pei’ah 1:1).

The Binyan Shelomoh reasons that since maintaining good health is more important to most people than spending a fifth of one’s money, one is exempt from performing a mitzvah that will impair one’s health, even when there is no risk to one’s life. (We find other authorities who derive similar laws from this halacha. See for example, Shu”t Avnei Nezer, Yoreh Deah #321; Shu”t Igros Moshe, Even HaEzer 1:57). The Binyan Shelomoh applies this rule to all mitzvos: One is exempt from observing any mitzvah, if fulfilling it will seriously impair one’s health. Furthermore, one could conclude that, if fulfilling a mitzvah causes such intense discomfort that one would part with one fifth of one’s financial resources to avoid this pain, one may forgo the mitzvah.

According to the Binyan Shelomoh, if this law is true regarding matzoh, it will certainly hold true regarding arba kosos and maror, which are only rabbinic requirements. Thus, someone who will not be bedridden as a result of consuming arba kosos or maror, but whose health will be severely impaired as a result of this consumption is absolved from fulfilling this mitzvah, as will someone to whom the consumption is so unpleasant that he would gladly part with one fifth of his earthly possessions to avoid this situation.

DIFFERENCE BETWEEN MATZOH AND WINE

If we assume that the Mishnah Berurah accepts the Binyan Shelomoh’s approach and vice versa, we would reach the following conclusion:

MATZOH:

Someone whose health will be severely impaired is not required to eat matzoh on Pesach, even if no life-threatening emergency results.

ARBA KOSOS:

Aside from the above leniency regarding matzoh, there is an additional leniency regarding the arba kosos.Someone who will become sick enough that he will be bedridden is absolved from drinking four cups at the Seder, even though it will not result in any permanent health problems. However, it is unclear whether this latter leniency extends also to the rabbinic mitzvah of maror.

NON-WHEAT FLOURS

In the last few years, matzoh for Pesach produced from either spelt or oat flour has become available. For a variety of reasons beyond the scope of this article, only someone who may not eat regular matzoh should eat these matzohs on Pesach. However, someone who is absolved from eating matzoh on Pesach according to the above-mentioned definition, but who can eat either of these varieties of matzoh, should eat them to fulfill the mitzvah on the first night of Pesach. Someone who can tolerate both spelt and oat matzoh should eat spelt.

Regarding this topic, the following responsum by the great nineteenth century authority, the Maharam Shik (Shu”t #260) is of interest. Someone for whom eating matzoh or maror was potentially life-threatening insisted on eating them at the Seder, against the halacha. The Maharam Shik was asked whether this person should recite the bracha al achilas matzoh before eating the matzoh and al achilas maror before eating the maror!

The Maharam Shik responded that he is uncertain whether the patient may recite any bracha at all before eating the matzoh and the maror, even the bracha of hamotzi! His reason is that consuming harmful food is not considered eating, but is considered damaging oneself, and one does not recite a bracha prior to inflicting self-harm! The Maharam then questions his supposition, demonstrating that someone who overeats recites a bracha, even though he is clearly damaging himself. He therefore concludes that one does not recite a bracha when eating something that causes immediate damage. However, when eating something where the damage is not immediate, reciting a bracha before eating is required.

Pursuant to the original shaylah whether one recites al achilas matzoh before eating the matzoh and al achilas maror before eating the maror, the Maharam Shik concludes that one should not recite these brachos in this situation. Since the patient is not permitted to eat matzoh and maror which is dangerous to his life, he is not performing a mitzvah when eating them, but a sin of ignoring the proper care his body requires, and one does not recite a bracha prior to transgressing.

In conclusion, anyone to whom these shaylos are, unfortunately, relevant should discuss them with his/her rav. We found that the Shulchan Aruch rules that one is required to fulfill arba kosos, even if one will suffer a severe headache as a result, and certainly if one despises the taste. However, should one become bedridden as a result or suffer severe health consequences, there are authorities who permit forgoing drinking wine or grape juice and substituting a different beverage that qualifies as chamar medinah. Similarly, there are authorities who permit forgoing consuming matzoh at the Seder if one would suffer severe health consequences as a result — even if the situation is not life-threatening.

Although not everyone may be able to fulfill the mitzvos of eating matzoh, maror, and arba kosos, hopefully, all will be able to discuss the miracles that Hashem performed when removing us from Egypt. In the merit of joyously performing the mitzvos of Seder night, may we soon see the return of the Divine Presence to Yerushalayim, the rededication of the Beis HaMikdash, and be zocheh to fulfill all of these mitzvos, including the korban pesach!

Do We Really Want to Be Tahor?

Question #1: Tanner Training

“In my work, I tan animal hides. Should I train for a different parnasah, so that I can make a living after Moshiach comes?”

Question #2: Amorphous Amphibians

“What is the difference between a toad and a frog?”

Introduction:

Since, unfortunately, our Beis Hamikdash still lies in ruins, the laws of tumah and taharah do not affect our daily lives significantly. As a result, many people do not approach the study of these laws enthusiastically, and do not pay adequate attention to the Torah readings about this topic. Yet, our prayers for Moshiach to come at any moment require that we be fully knowledgeable of the laws of tumah and taharah and that we are prepared to observe them. As the Gemara teaches, in the days of Chizkiyahu Hamelech, they searched the entire Land of Israel, from the northern to the southern tips, and could not find a single man, woman or child who was not completely conversant in every detail of the laws of tumah and taharah (Sanhedrin 94b). The situation should be this way today. This is all the more so, since we have a responsibility to comprehend the weekly parshah, and some of these laws are discussed in parshas Shemini.

Someone who becomes tamei may not enter the Beis Hamikdash or consume terumah, ma’aser sheini, bikkurim or kodoshim, foods that have sanctity.

The following passage of this week’s parshah mentions eleven different categories of the laws of tumah, which I have numbered in the selection below to facilitate explaining them afterward. The Torah writes:

Among animals that walk on all fours (1), anything that walks upon its forepaws* is impure (tamei). Whoever touches the carcass of such an animal will be tamei until evening. And whoever carries their carcass must wash his clothes, and he is tamei until evening, because these animals are tamei for you.

And the following creatures that creep on the ground (2) are tamei for you: The weasel,** the mouse, and the various species of toad. Also the hedgehog, the koach,*** the lizard, the snail and the mole. These are tamei to you among all the creeping animals – whoever touches them after they are dead will be tamei until evening. And anything that falls upon them after they are dead will become tamei, whether it is a wooden vessel (3) or a garment (4) or leather (5) or sackcloth (6) – any vessel with which work is performed (7). It must be immersed in water, and then it remains tamei until evening, at which point it becomes tahor.

Furthermore, any part of them (that is, the eight tamei “creeping creatures”) that will fall inside any earthenware vessel (8), whatever is inside it will become tamei and you shall break it (that is,the earthenware vessel). And any edible food (9) that had water touch it can become tamei. Similarly, any liquid (10) that can be drunk will become tamei, if inside such a vessel. Furthermore, anything on which part of a carcass falls will become tamei. An oven or stove (11) should be destroyed, because they are tamei, and when you use them, they will be tamei (Vayikra 11:27-35).

The Torah describes many different types of tumah (spiritual contamination), each with its own laws. Every word used here has a very specific halachic meaning. Let us explore some of the laws of the different categories mentioned.

(1) Neveilah

When discussing someone who touched an animal carcass (neveilah), the Torah specifies that a person becomes tamei whether he touched it or carried it, but notes a halachic difference between the neveilah that was touched or was carried. Germane to carrying the carcass, which is called tumas masa, the Torah says that he must wash his clothes, but omits this detail when discussing someone who touches a carcass, which is called tumas maga. We see here a difference in halachah between the person who carries neveilah and one who touches it, without moving it. One who carries neveilah contaminates any utensils, food or beverage susceptible to tumah that he touches while he carries it. The clothes that he wears are used by the Torah as an example of any item that he touches while carrying or moving the neveilah. This tumah is called tumah be’chiburin, literally, tumah by connection. Any keilim, utensils or appliances, that now become tamei will require immersion in a mikveh or spring, and will become tahor again at the subsequent nightfall. (There is one type of utensil that is not affected by tumah be’chiburin — earthenware vessels that were touched by a person while he carried a neveilah remain tahor. Also, tumah be’chiburin of neveilah does not contaminate people – therefore someone touching the person who is carrying the neveilah remains tahor.) However, someone who touches a neveilah without causing it to move does not contaminate something he touches at the same time. Whereas he himself becomes tamei and remains tamei, until he immerses in a mikveh or spring and then awaits nightfall afterwards, what he touches at the time remains tahor.

By the way, for those in chutz la’aretz, becoming tamei by moving or touching neveilah is not an uncommon situation. For example, someone who moves a package of packaged non-kosher meat in the supermarket has just carried neveilah and made himself and his clothes tamei (although, in all likelihood, they were already tamei).

Tanner training

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

“In my work, I tan animal hides. Should I train for a different parnasah, so that I can make a living after Moshiach comes?”

The questioner realizes that someone who tans leather will make himself tamei, if he handles the carcasses of animals. However, once the flesh is removed, the hide itself does not generate tumah (see Mishnah Chullin 117b). Furthermore, even if our questioner handles neveilos, he can make himself tahor through immersion in a mikveh. It is indeed true that he may not enter the Beis Hamikdash or consume terumah, ma’aser sheini, bikkurim or kodoshim once he becomes tamei, but this does not preclude his earning his livelihood that way.

(2) Sheretz

The Torah lists eight creeping creatures that generate tumah, if one touches them after they are dead. As the Ibn Ezra already notes, we are uncertain as to the exact identity of these eight creatures. When Eliyahu arrives, he will identify them, so that we can properly observe these laws. If we follow the translation that I provided above, based on Rashi and other traditional commentaries, the eight include an interesting mixture of small mammals (mostly rodents), reptiles, amphibians and mollusks. All usually lie close to the ground, and most are small. However, if the koach is identified correctly as a monitor, it is the largest of the lizards and can grow as long as ten feet.

Yet, if our translation is correct, other small creatures, such as snakes, frogs, insects and other rodents are not included under the heading of tumas sheratzim. Although it may not seem very aesthetically pleasing to touch other dead insects, rodents or other small creatures, one does not become tamei when one touches them. One should wash one’s hands because of sanitary reasons, but being sanitary and becoming tamei are dissimilar concepts.

By the way, the word tzav, which is used in Modern Hebrew for turtle, is one of the sheratzim, but means toad, according to Rashi. I have no idea who decided to use this word for turtle, but it is not consistent with halachic authorities. There is no reason to assume that a turtle is tamei.

Amorphous amphibians

At this point, let us refer back to one of our opening questions: “What is the difference between a toad and a frog?”

A zoologist will note several differences between them, but this is a halachic article. According to Rashi (Vayikra 11:29), a toad is one of the eight sheratzim that are tamei, and a frog is not (see Rashi, Shemos 7:29 and also see Mishnayos Taharos 5:1,4 and Rash and Bartenura).

Laws of sheratzim

Regarding the tumah of sheratzim, the Torah states that one who touches them becomes tamei, but it mentions nothing about the person’s clothing requiring immersion, nor does it state that someone becomes tamei when he carries them. This is because a sheretz makes someone tamei only if he touches it, and not if he moves it without touching. Furthermore, his clothing or anything else he touches while touching the sheretz does not become tamei, unless it is in direct physical contact with the sheretz.

Toad vs. frog

Why did the Torah declare only these eight creatures to be tamei, but no others?

This is a question that we can ask, but probably not answer, other than to accept the gezeiras hakasuv, the declaration of the Torah, and observe it as Hashem’s will. Although we endeavor to explain the reasons for mitzvos, we realize that we can never assume that we understand the reason for a mitzvah. In the instance of most mitzvos, we explore possible reasons for a mitzvah in order to enhance our experience when we observe it. This we do, when we can. However, I have not found any commentary that endeavors to explain what it is about these eight specific creeping creatures, but not any of the others, that generates tumah.

Utensils that become tamei

Returning to our passage, after mentioning the tumah of neveilah and sheretz, the Torah lists eight categories of items that become tamei from contact with neveilah and sheretz. Among the specific items mentioned are: (3) wooden vessels, (4) garments, (5) leather items, (6) sackcloth, (7) vessels described by an obscure clause, “any vessel with which work is performed,” (8) earthenware, (9) food and (10) beverages. Each of these categories has its own specific laws, all of which are hinted at in the pasuk. For reasons that will soon become obvious, I will divide this list into three groups. First we will discuss items 3-7, which I will call, collectively, “immersible utensils.”

(3) Wooden utensils

Wooden vessels become tamei when they have a receptable which can hold liquid (called a beis kibul) or when people use them and place items atop them, such as a table (Rambam, Hilchos Keilim 4:1). These ideas are intimated by the Torah when it describes wooden vessels.

(4-5) Garments and leather

All types of garments are susceptible to tumah, although there is a dispute among late authorities concerning whether synthetic fabrics can become tamei.

(6) Sacks

Yes, I wrote sacks, not socks. Sackcloth means something manufactured from woven goat’s hair or animal hair, such as from the tail-hair of cows (Sifra). In general, goat hair is too coarse for use as clothing, but was used in earlier generations similar to the way that we would use burlap, as a bag or sack for storage or transportation. (There are varieties of goat, such as cashmere and mohair, that produce extremely fine wool used for garments, but most goats do not.)

(7) From slingshots to tefillin

The Torah mentions that any vessel with which work is performed can become tamei from a sheretz. What is included in this category? The Sifra explains that this verse teaches that the following three items become tamei: The sling of a slingshot, tefillin, and the envelope in which one places an amulet.

What do slingshots have in common with tefillin and envelopes?

These are three items that contain a beis kibul, a receptacle to hold something, yet someone might think that they do not qualify as “vessels.” The Torah is teaching that these are considered to be receptacles, or “vessels,” to become tamei. In the case of the sling, it is meant to hold the marble, stone or other projectile, albeit for a very brief period of time. In the case of tefillin, the batim of the tefillin contain the parshiyos, and similarly in the case of an amulet.

(8) Earthenware

Note that I have separated earthenware and not included it under the same category as I treated the other utensils. This is because earthenware has many halachic differences, both lenient and stringent, from all other utensils.

All other utensils fall under one of two categories:

(A) Utensils that do not become tamei, which is a topic we will not be discussing in this article.

(B) Utensils that do become tamei, but which can then become tahor again, after they are immersed in a mikveh or spring. This latter categoryis called klei shetifah, literally, immersible utensils.

(C) Earthenware vessels fall under a third category, because once they become tamei, the only way they can become tahor again is by breaking them. Immersing them in a mikveh or spring does not make them tahor.

How is earthenware different?

There are also several other ways whereby halachah treats earthenware vessels differently from how it treats immersible utensils. The section of the Torah that I quoted above alludes to four of the ways that earthenware vessels are different from immersible utensils.

Contaminate from outside

(I) Immersible utensils become contaminated when they come in contact with neveilah, sheretz or other tamei sources, regardless as to whether they are touched on their internal surface or on their outside. However, if something tamei touched the outside of an earthenware vessel, it remains tahor. An earthenware vessel contracts tumah only from its inside, and only when it has a beis kibul — an area that can service as a “container” to hold liquid. As a result, a flat earthenware board or an earthenware fork cannot become tamei since it has no “inside” that holds liquid.

Immersion does not help

(II) As I mentioned above, another way that earthenware vessels are different from other utensils is that once they become tamei, there is no means of making them tahor again, other than breaking them.

Airspace

(III) A third way that earthenware vessels are different from other utensils is that they become tamei if a tamei source, such as a sheretz or neveilah, is suspended inside the airspace of the earthenware vessel, even if the sheretz or neveilah does not touch the vessel. Halachically, there is no difference between the airspace of an earthenware vessel and touching it on the inside – either way makes the earthenware vessel tamei.

Contaminating from the inside

(IV) A fourth way that earthenware vessels are different from other utensils is that a tamei earthenware vessel spreads tumah to any food or beverage that is inside its airspace, even if the food or beverage never touched the vessel directly.

These four laws regarding earthenware vessels are all taught in a few words in the pasuk that I mentioned above: Furthermore, any part of them (that is, the eight tamei creatures) that will fall inside any earthenware vessel, whatever is inside it will become tamei and you shall break it (that is,the earthenware vessel).

The Torah mentions that an earthenware vessel contracts tumah only when something falls inside it, and, furthermore, it does not say that the tamei substance must actually touch the earthenware vessel. Also, note that what is inside the earthenware vessel becomes tamei, even if it did not touch the vessel. And, lastly, upon becoming tamei, the Torah mentions only one solution for the earthenware vessel –breaking it. There is no other way to make it tahor.

(11) Ovens and stoves

Let us return to the pesukim quoted above. At this point, we will discuss other halachos germane to earthenware vessels. The above-quoted passage states: Anything on which part of a carcass falls will become tamei. An oven or stove should be destroyed, because they are tamei, and when you use them, they will be tamei.

The ovens of the era of the Torah and Chazal were made of earthenware. Their shape was somewhat similar to a large donut, meaning they were completely open on top and bottom. The open bottom was placed over a hollow in the ground, and then the outside of the oven was lined with mud or clay to insulate it well. Fuel was placed inside the oven and kindled by means of an opening in the side. The food being cooked or baked was placed inside either through this opening or from on top. When they were used this way as ovens, the open top was covered, usually with a piece of earthenware. When these ovens were used as stoves, the pots of food were placed on the open top.

My reasons for explaining these facts is not as an archaeologist, but so that we can understand better both the pasuk of the Torah and the halachah. Although ovens and stoves were made of earthenware, the Torah mentions them under a different heading. This is because other earthenware vessels become tamei only when they have a beis kibul, a receptacle. Following this definition, earthenware ovens and stoves should not become tamei, since they have no bottom. The Torah teaches that ovens and stoves are susceptible to tumah, and have the rules of other earthenware vessels, notwithstanding the fact that they have no beis kibul.

There are halachic ramifications of this distinction, but we will not discuss that in this article. The intrepid reader is referred to a halachic discussion in Ohalos 12:1, and the commentaries thereon.

Conclusion

This article has served as an introduction to some of the basic rules of tumah and taharah, particularly as they relate to utensils. We hope and pray to be able to observe all of these laws soon.

* This translation follows Malbim.

** With the exception of the koach, our translation follows Rashi’s commentary.

*** Most commentators identify this either with the chameleon or with the monitor, both of which are varieties of lizard.

Is It a Red Heifer?

Although this week is not Parshas Parah, since I have a very exciting and germane article for next week that fits Parshas Shemini, I am sending out this article already this week.

Question #1: Cow or Heifer?

Which is the correct translation of parah adumah, “red cow” or “red heifer”?

Question # 2: How to?

How does a parah adumah make you tahor?

Introduction

Twice a year, once as maftir on Parshas Parah, and once when we read Parshas Chukas, we read the entire Torah portion that describes how the parah adumah is prepared. We also daven fervently three times a day for Moshiach to come, at which time the taharah process using the parah adumah will again become part of our lives. This is because this process is the only way to become tahor from tumas meis, tumah that is contracted from a corpse, and, in the post-Moshiach era, we will want to be tahor whenever we can. There is much detail about the laws of parah adumah, most of which is explained in the twelve chapters of Mishnayos Parah and the fifteen chapters of the laws of parah adumah in the Rambam’s Mishnah Torah. This article will discuss many of the basic laws that will apply when we use the parah adumah to become tahor, speedily and in our days.

Three topics

The Torah’s passage about parah adumah at the beginning of parshas Chukas can be divided into three sections. The first part discusses the processing of the parah adumah –how it must be processed into the special ashes necessary to make someone tahor. The second part, which we will not discuss in this article, contains the basic rules of tumas meis. The third part explains the process whereby parah adumah ashes make someone tahor.

History of the parah adumah

According to the Mishnah (Parah 3:4), a total of eight paros adumos were processed from the time of Moshe Rabbeinu until the destruction of the second Beis Hamikdash. The first was the one described in the Torah, in which the key player was Elazar, who was, at the time, the segan, the associate kohein gadol. The Mishnah (4:1) quotes a dispute among tanna’im whether the other paros adumus could be processed only by a kohein gadol, or whether any kohein hedyot was kosher. The Rambam (Hilchos Parah Adumah 1:11) concludes that a kohein hedyot could process the parah adumah, although, it appears that each time it was, indeed, the kohein gadol who did so (Parah 3:8). This is very logical. Since it was the kohein gadol’s decision who would be honored to process the parah adumah, and preparing the parah adumah was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, the kohein gadol would want to perform the mitzvah himself.

Cow or heifer?

One question we will address is whether the parah adumah is a cow or a heifer. It is popular to refer to the parah adumah as a red heifer; however, let us examine whether this term is accurate. To do so, we need to know the difference between a cow and a heifer and then to analyze the laws of parah adumah.

My desktop dictionary defines a heifer as: “a young cow, especially one that has not yet given birth.” The Wikipedia definition is: “A young female before she has had a calf of her own and is under three years of age.”

A cow is defined as a mature female. According to my desktop dictionary, it does not need to be fully mature to be a cow, since a heifer is called a “young cow.” In other words, “heifer” should be used to describe the bovine equivalent of a young teenager, and “cow” includes also a physically mature adult.

From some of the mishnayos in Mesechta Parah, we may be able to rally proof regarding which term is more accurate. The Mishnah cites a dispute among tanna’im whether a parah that is or was ever pregnant may be used as a parah adumah. The basis of the dispute concerns the following question: One of the laws of parah adumah is that it may never have performed any type of work. Since a pregnant cow is carrying her offspring, is this considered doing work? Most women will agree that being pregnant is far harder than most other physical work that they have ever performed.

Germane to our current discussion whether a parah adumah should be defined as a cow or as a heifer, cow appears to be the better choice, since a heifer precludes it having calved.

There is actually even stronger proof whether cow or heifer is the better translation of parah adumah.The opening Mishnah of Mesechta Parah cites a dispute regarding the age of a parah adumah. The Mishnah cites four opinions: Rabbi Eliezer rules that a parah adumah must be in its second year, or past its first birthday. The Chachomim rule that it must be past its second birthday, otherwise it is too young, and that, preferably, it should be before its fourth birthday. Rabbi Meir rules that it can be as old as its fifth birthday. According to both the Chachomim and Rabbi Meir, it could be older than four or five, but it is advised not to wait this long, since it could begin to become black, which would invalidate it. Rabbi Yehoshua, the fourth opinion, rules that it should be in its third year, and not older.

We see that most tanna’im accept that an animal more than three years old is kosher as a parah adumah. According to the Wikipedia definition of a heifer, this means that a parah adumah should no longer be called a heifer – it may be too old. However, according to Rabbi Eliezer, and possibly Rabbi Yehoshua, it is not incorrect to call a parah adumah a “red heifer,” although “red cow” would also be accurate. In conclusion, since we follow the ruling that a parah adumah may be more than three years old, the most accurate definition is “red cow” and not “red heifer.”

Processing the parah adumah

The Mishnah describes how the kohein who is in charge of processing the parah adumah spent a week preparing for his task, and how the parah was transported to Har Hazeisim, the Mount of Olives, where it was processed. Although the parah adumah had many of the laws of a korban, technically it was not a korban, and it was prepared outside the Beis Hamikdash grounds.

A huge wood pyre was constructed on Har Hazeisim, and the parah adumah, after being slaughtered and having its blood sprinkled in a very specific way by the kohein, was then burned together with the entire pyre. Many more details of this process are mentioned in the posuk and the Mishnah (third chapter of Parah).

We were permitted and encouraged to add as much wood as possible to the pyre on which the parah adumah was burned. Indeed, the ashes of the parah adumah used to make people tahor were predominantly ashes from the wood with which it was burned. The flesh of the parah adumah was completely burned, but its bones were ground up and mixed into the ashes (Parah 3:11).

There are many details involved in the processing of the parah adumah. Among the many interesting laws is that anyone who wanted to be involved in burning the parah adumah was required to first purify himself and all his clothes, expressly for the purposes of parah adumah. Also, anyone involved in burning the parah adumah could not do any other activity while was being burned.

Making someone tahor

After the parah adumah and its pyre were reduced to ashes, the ash was collected and divided into three parts: one part was kept on the Beis Hamikdash grounds, one part on Har Hazeisim, and the third part was distributed for people to use everywhere around the country (Parah 3:11). The parah adumah ash, which at this stage in its processing is called eifer chatas, was stored in closed containers, until needed for purification purposes.

Milui, kidush, and haza’ah

In order to make the next section easier to absorb, I will divide it into two subtopics. The first is called milui and kidush, whereby the ashes of the parah adumah are used to convert spring water (similar to what you would purchase for drinking) into mei chatas,the special water that makes people tahor. The second subtopic is called haza’ah, which refers to the sprinkling of the mei chatas water onto people or vessels to make them tahor.

Milui — drawing spring water

The first step in preparing the mei chatas is the drawing of the water. Drinkable spring water must be drawn directly from a spring with a tahor vessel. The vessel must be made either of material that is not susceptible to tumah (eino mekabel tumah), such as hollowed-out stone, or, if made from material that is susceptible to tumah (mekabel tumah), such as wood or metal, it must have been made tahor specifically to use for parah adumah. For this reason, someone who immersed a wooden or metal bowl or pot in order to eat or prepare with it terumah or korbanos or non-holy food (chullin) may not use the bowl or pot for the preparation of parah adumah. This rule is one of many takanos chachamim that Chazal instituted, to safeguard the special taharah status of the parah adumah.

Any person or vessel that is intended to come in contact with the eifer chatas, the mei chatas, or with the people and vessels used to process them may not touch anything that can potentially become tamei, unless the person or vessel was previously made tahor specifically for parah adumah purposes. Thus, although the individuals processing, guarding or transporting the parah adumah are permitted to eat and drink, they are severely restricted in what they are permitted to eat or drink. They may eat only food that never came in contact with most liquids (including water, milk, olive oil, wine, grape juice or honey), and they may drink only water that was drawn from a spring especially for the purpose of parah adumah.

The person who draws the water must be completely focused on his job. Performing any other activity not necessary for the production of the mei chatas while drawing the water or transporting it will invalidate it, even doing a task so simple as providing someone with directions or tossing a piece of fruit into a bin.

There is a requirement to be meticulously careful that no other water mix into the mei chatas from the time that it is drawn. For example, if it is left exposed in such a way that dew may enter it, it becomes invalid (Parah 9:1).

Kidush

The drawn spring water must be supervised by a tahor person, until the kidush procedure is performed. The kidush is done by taking some of the eifer chatas ashes and sprinkling them onto the water.

One may draw many buckets of water and pour them into a much larger vat until the vat is full. At that point, one may take a minimal amount of eifer chatas and sprinkle it onto the vat. The amount of ashes sprinkled must be enough that one can see it as it touches the water.

Because of a takanas chachomim, it is required that the person performing kidush do so while he is barefoot (Parah 8:2). This is because of concern that his shoes or sandals might become tamei while he is performing the kidush, and they will, in turn, make him tamei, which will invalidate the entire procedure. Those eager to understand the reason for this takanah more thoroughly are referred to the commentaries to Parah 8:2.

Milui and kidush do not require that they be performed by a kohein – a Yisroel is fine.

May a woman?

Because of a very complicated droshas Chazal, there is a dispute among tanna’im whether a woman or a child may perform milui or kidush. According to Rabbi Yehudah, a (male) child may perform them, but not a woman, whereas the majority opinion is that a woman may perform these activities, but not a child (Parah 5:4; Sotah 43a).

Haza’ah

The Torah teaches that to become tahor after contracting tumas meis, one must undergo the following procedure: On the third day after one became tamei, or later, one is sprinkled with the mei chatas. The sprinkling is repeated four or more days later. These two sprinklings are referred to transpiring on the “third” and “seventh” days. In reality, “third” and “seventh” are minimums. The mei chatas cannot be sprinkled earlier than the third day after the person or utensil contracted tumah. Whenever that sprinkling actually occurs, at least four days must past before the second sprinkling can take place. Sometime after the second sprinkling is performed, the person must immerse himself in a spring or a mikveh and then await the nightfall after his immersion to become completely tahor.

The same law applies to most vessels that become tamei from contact with a corpse. They require sprinkling on the third or later day after contracting tumah, a second sprinkling four or more days later, immersion in a spring or mikveh, and then waiting until nightfall. After these four steps have been taken, the vessel becomes completely tahor.

Eizov

This sprinkling is done with a special plant called an eizov, which is usually translated as “hyssop.” However, the word “hyssop” is simply the word eizov transliterated into Greek, which was then transliterated into Latin and then English, and someone decided that it might refer to an herb that they chose at random. According to different approaches to explaining a passage of Gemara (Shabbos 109b), eizov might mean oregano, sage or marjoram, all of which are fragrant shrubs. From the Mishnah (Parah 11:7), it is evident that the eizov was considered edible, presumably either as a salad green or in some form of dip. It is absolutely essential that one use the correct variety meant by the Torah as eizov (see Parah 11:7). We will not know for certain which species is intended until Eliyohu returns to identify it for us.

Intent

Although the people that are becoming tahor do not have to intend that they are becoming tahor, the person performing the haza’ah must have in mind that the procedure he is performing is for the purpose of making them tahor. If he did not have this in mind, they remain tamei.

Direct impact

The water that is being sprinkled must land on the tamei person or utensil directly – if it ricocheted off another item and then landed onto the tamei person or utensil, they remain tamei.

Minimum contact – substantive impact

The people or implements becoming tahor need be touched by only one drop of the mei chatas waters. Indeed, there is no halachic advantage to receiving a bigger sprinkling or more than one sprinkling on a day. As I mentioned above, to become tahor the person or implement must have mei chatas sprinkled on them twice – once on the third day (or later) from which they became tamei meis, and a second time, at least four days later (this is referred to as the “seventh day” – i. e., at least four days after the first sprinkling). The people or implements then require immersion in a mikveh or spring and become completely tahor on the next nightfall. Until that time, the people may not enter the Beis Hamikdash grounds, nor may they consume terumah or kodoshim. However, they are permitted to touch regular food without contaminating it, and they may also handle maaser sheini.

May a woman II

The tanna’im dispute whether a woman or a child can perform the haza’ah. Because of the hermeneutic rules, this dispute is the exact opposite of what I mentioned above, regarding the milui and kidush. According to Rabbi Yehudah, a woman may perform the haza’ah, but not a child, whereas according to the majority opinion, which is the way we rule, a (male) child can perform this ritual, but not a woman (Parah 12:10; Yoma 43a).

Since we mentioned above that the person performing the haza’ah must know that he is making someone tahor, a very young child cannot perform haza’ah, but only a child old enough to understand that his act is making someone tahor (Parah 12:10, see commentaries).

Conclusion

Because of space considerations, several important aspects of the parah adumah have been omitted in this article. Included in the topics that have been omitted is the full explanation of the famous statement that parah adumah is metaheir es hatemei’im umetamei es hatehorim: although it makes tamei things tahor, it also sometimes makes tahor things tamei. We also did not discuss what defines the parah adumah as being completely red, nor did we discuss the dispute with the tzedukim about the proper processing of the parah adumah, which had major halachic ramifications. We will have to return to the topic to discuss these laws in future articles.

Afterword

One of Rav Moshe Feinstein’s talmidim related to me the following story that he himself observed. A completely red, female calf had been born. Since this is indeed a rare occurrence, much conversation developed concerning whether this was positive indication that Moshiach would be arriving soon and this calf would provide the parah adumah necessary to make people and vessels tahor.

Someone approached Rav Moshe to see his reaction to hearing this welcome news, and was surprised that Rav Moshe did not react at all. When asked further whether he felt that this was any indication of Moshiach’s imminent arrival, Rav Moshe responded: “I daven every day for Moshiach to come NOW. The parah adumah is not kosher until it is past its second birthday. Do you mean to tell me that I must wait two more years for Moshiach?”

The Whys and Wherefores of Zachor

Question #1: Homebound

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

Question #2: Outreaching in the Afternoon

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

Question #3: Reading without a Brochah

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

Answer:

Introduction:

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

(1) A positive mitzvah, mitzvas aseh, to remember the evil that Amalek did (Sefer Hamitzvos, Positive Mitzvah #189).

(2) A lo saaseh commandment not to forget what happened (Sefer Hamitzvos, Negative Mitzvah #59).

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

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

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

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

Those who disagree

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

Hearing the parshah

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

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

Custom of the Gra

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

The Sefer Torah was pasul!

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

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

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

Birkas hamitzvah

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

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

What exactly is the mitzvah?

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

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

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

An afternoon reading

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

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

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

Rav Vozner compares this situation to the following responsum authored by the Chida.

On Shabbos Parshas Shekalim in a small town, the local townspeople forgot to read the special maftir on Shabbos morning, and realized it in the afternoon. The townspeople proposed three options:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

However, there might be a difference between Parshas Shekalim, whose reading does not fulfill any mitzvah of the Torah, and Parshas Zachor. Since Parshas Zachor might fulfill a Torah requirement, there is a responsibility to hear it, even if you were not in shul Shabbos morning. This is the reason why there is a widespread custom of having Parshas Zachor readings in the afternoon for those who cannot attend the reading in the morning.

Women and Parshas Zachor

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

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

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

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

With or without a brochah?

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the other hand, the Minchas Yitzchak was asked whether one makes a brochah for an auxiliary Parshas Zachor reading (Shu’t Minchas Yitzchak 9:68). He quotes those who contend that every public reading of the Torah requires a brochah, and then notes many authorities who did not share this opinion. The Minchas Yitzchak then specifically mentions the practice of those who read all of Sefer Devarim in shul on the night of Hoshanah Rabbah without reciting a brochah, noting that this was the practice of the Divrei Chayim of Sanz. He also quotes several other authorities who advocate reading the parshah of the day’s nasi after davening each day of the first twelve days of Nissan, also a custom performed without first reciting a brochah.

Thus, we have several precedents and authorities who ruled that one may have a public reading of the Torah without reciting a brochah, and there is, therefore, no need to change the established practice of reading Parshas Zachor and not reciting a brochah beforehand. We should also note that when the Magen Avraham (139:5) quotes the opinion of the Be’er Sheva, he opines that once one has recited birkos haTorah in the morning, he exempts himself from any requirement to recite further brochos on reading Torah that day, unless there is a specific institution of Chazal to recite them.

Reading on Purim

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

Conclusion

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