What Could be Wrong with the Steak?

Since this week’s parsha includes the prohibition of gid hanasheh, we have the opportunity to discuss certain issues of shechitah.

One of my editors suggested that I mention to those who are squeamish that this article will be graphic about aspects of shechitah, so I am fulfilling this request.

Question #1:

When Yankel returns from kollel one day, his wife Miriam asks for his advice about the following situation. While visiting a neighbor, Miriam noticed her neighbor using a brand of meat that nobody she knows considers reliably kosher. “Should I tell her that her meat does not have a good hechsher?”

Question #2: Chayim asks me the following: “In parshas Vayeishev, Rashi mentions that Yosef reported to his father that his brothers ate meat that was prohibited, even for a Ben Noach; but Yosef was mistaken — the brothers were very careful to eat only properly shechted meat. Could it be that they were following different kashrus standards, so that Yosef thought what they were eating was treif, whereas the brothers were convinced that it was kosher?”

The Torah requires that kosher meat and poultry be slaughtered in a specific, halachically approved way (shechitah) and may be eaten only if they are without certain defects that render them tereifah. In Parshas Re’eih, the Torah (Devarim 12:20-21) teaches, When Hashem will enlarge your border as He has promised you, and you will say, “I will eat meat” because you desire to eat meat, to your heart’s desire you may eat meat… And you shall slaughter as I have commanded you. Yet,nowhere in all of Chumash does the Torah provide such instructions. This is one of the internal proofs that the written Torah was accompanied by an explanatory Oral Torah, and, indeed, the laws referred to in the verse, And you shall slaughter as I have commanded you, are part of this Torah she’baal peh. Via halacha leMoshe miSinai, an oral communication that Hashem taught Moshe at Har Sinai, the Torah provided five regulations that must be followed for a shechitah to be kosher (Chullin 9a). Violating any one of these regulations means that the meat was not slaughtered as I have commanded you, and is not kosher.

The five rules are:

  1. Shehiyah — Pausing during the act of shechitah invalidates it, even if the shechitah is subsequently completed (Mishnah Chullin 32a).
  2. Drasah – Pressing down or chopping with the knife invalidates the shechitah. A proper shechitah involves a slicing motion, usually with a back-and-forth stroke (Mishnah Chullin 30b).
  3. Chaladah – Burrowing the knife into the neck and then cutting in an outward direction invalidates the shechitah. Proper shechitah requires that the back of the knife is always exposed (Mishnah Chullin 32a).
  4. Hagramah – Cutting above or below the area of the neck designated by the Torah for proper shechitah (Mishnah Chullin 18a).
  5. Ikur – Tearing, rather than cutting, is not kosher (Tosafos, Chullin 9a s.v. Kulhu, in explanation of Rashi). If the shechitah knife has nicks in it, it may tear, rather than cut. 

Thus, a shocheit must be highly competent, both in the halachos of shechitah and in the skills necessary to do the job correctly. His shechitah blade must not only be sharper than a razor, but also totally smooth, because a slight nick invalidates the shechitah (see Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 18:2). It takes a considerable amount of time and effort for a shocheit to learn all the skills of his trade adequately, including how to quickly hone his knife to the required sharpness and how to check with his fingernail that its blade is completely smooth. These are difficult skills to learn. I recently borrowed the shechitah knife of someone who is in the process of learning the skill, and although his knife was adequately smooth, it was not nearly sharp enough to pass muster. Indeed, halachic literature is replete with anecdotes of rabbonim who discovered that shochatim active in the profession were not as proficient in their skills as the halacha requires. The Maharshal reports checking the knife of a well-experienced shocheit doing his rounds of shechting chickens for kaparos Erev Yom Kippur, and discovering that not only was the shocheit’s knife nicked, but the shocheit repeatedly checked his knife too speedily  to notice it! (Yam shel Shelomoh, Chullin 1:39)

Furthermore, a shocheit must be fully proficient in the detailed laws applying to his profession; he is expected to review the laws of his field every thirty days to maintain his expertise.

Since it is easy for a shocheit to invalidate a shechitah without anyone but him knowing about it, one should use only a shocheit who is known to be G-d-fearing, a yarei shamayim. We now understand why the old European shtetl people viewed the shocheit with tremendous esteem. He was respected second only to the rav for his erudition and his fear of heaven.

Other rules regarding shechitah include that the shechitah must be performed by an observant Jew. A gentile’s shechitah is not kosher, even if a knowledgeable observant Jew supervises to ensure that everything is done correctly.

We can already see why people sometimes hesitate to use a particular shechitah. Although one cannot be sure whether a shocheit is a yarei shamayim, one can sometimes sense that he is not. Indeed, the responsa literature is full of cases concerning shochatim whose behavior or personal shortcomings caused concern about their trustworthiness. Unfortunately, I, too, have met shochtim whose lackadaisical attitude to mitzvah observance did not reflect the type of person I would want to entrust with this responsibility.

But maybe it’s treif!

Even if the animal passed muster and merited a flawless kosher shechitah, it may still not be kosher. The Torah prohibits eating meat of a bird or animal that is tereifah, meaning that the animal has certain physical defects (Chullin Chapter Three). For example, a bird or animal that has a perforated lung, gall bladder or intestine; that has a torn spinal cord; or that has been attacked with the fang of a predator, is tereifah. Although people colloquially use the word tereifah for any non-kosher food, technically speaking, it refers to an animal or bird with one of these defects. Not only is a tereifah animal non-kosher, but so, too, are its milk or eggs that were produced after it became tereifah.

This leads us to an interesting question. If the milk produced by a tereifah cow is not kosher, how can we drink milk without checking to see if the milked cow has none of these defects? Most signs of tereifah are internal and cannot be verified on a living animal without a CT scan or MRI equipment, not commonly available on a farm.  Obviously, such testing would drive up the price of eggs and dairy products, even more than last year’s heat wave.

The answer is that although the milk of an animal and the eggs of a bird with any of these imperfections is indeed tereifah, so long as we do not know that the animals or birds are tereifah, we assume that most animals and birds are kosher and follow the majority. Therefore, we can rely on milk and eggs being kosher, unless there is reason to assume that there is a problem.

Regarding meat, we are not required to check for a particular tereifah unless the defect occurs frequently. Thus, since animals commonly have lung problems, one is required to check their lungs, even if they do not smoke. Another example is a perforation in the intestinal wall that renders its possessor treif. There is a section of the small intestine, called Meckel’s diverticulum, that in poultry frequently becomes infected and swollen, often resulting in a perforation that renders the bird tereifah. Since this defect is not unusual, mashgichim in kosher poultry plants routinely check this part of the intestine.

How do I check?

There are often different opinions among rabbonim how carefully one needs to check for these tereifos, and, at times, whether one needs to check altogether. There may also be a disagreement over other subtle details, such as whether the factory is set up in a way that allows the shochatim sufficient time to do their work properly. The rav overseeing the packing plant may feel that all is in order, whereas another rav may feel it is lacking.

At this point, I return to the question that Miriam asked her husband Yankel: “While in my friend’s house, I noticed that they were using a brand of meat that no one I know uses. Should I tell her that her meat does not meet a proper kashrus standard?” The answer here would depend on circumstances: If there is indeed a real, serious problem at that abattoir, then Miriam should certainly tell her friend not to purchase that meat. However, this applies only if Miriam has firsthand knowledge of this issue, which is rarely the case. In the vast majority of situations, Miriam herself has no idea why the people in “her circle” do not use that shechitah. It may indeed be for the reasons we have mentioned, but sometimes it is not.

Yankel realized that besides the laws of loshon hora involved here, he would also need active kashrus experience to answer her question. Lacking this qualification, he decided to educate himself on the subject by asking a rav who is experienced with the kashrus of meat. Since this rav requested not to be identified, we will call him Rav Posek as we present their conversation.

No brisket for me!

“I want to give you a bit of a history of shechitah,” began the rav. “Originally, almost all American kosher meat packers used a method called shechitah teluyah, which means ‘hanging shechitah.’ This method of shechitah was highly popular, because a non-kosher meat packing plant can very easily be used to produce kosher meat. This was  advantageous, since the kosher market in America does not use the meat from the hindquarters, and the non-kosher market considers hindquarter cuts to be the highest quality cuts. The non-kosher meat packers had trouble selling their forequarters, so arranging a shechitah was a very convenient way of finding a new market for their product without jeopardizing their existing customers. It was a classic win-win arrangement that encouraged large, non-kosher meat plants to have kosher shechitah and was responsible for making kosher meat widely available and keeping its price down.

“The standard method of shechitah in these packing plants involved hanging the animal from a hind leg, while gentile employees held the animal’s head still for the shocheit. Although the abattoir owners encouraged this method because it involved no investment on their part, it was not viewed favorably among most of the other people involved. Not the rabbanim, for reasons I will shortly explain; not animals’ rights advocates, who justifiably noted that this method is cruel; not the shochatim and plant workers, because it is unnecessarily dangerous; and, presumably, not the animals themselves, although they were not consulted.

“Many rabbonim frowned on shechitah teluyah because it inflicts unnecessary pain on the animals (Shu”t Mishneh Halachos 16:2). Although this was perhaps the most popular method of shechitah both in North and South America until fairly recently, many rabbonim had additional reasons to disapprove of shechitah teluyah.”

Pulling a sefer off his bookshelf, the rav continued. “Let me read you a teshuvah from Rav Pesach Frank, the Rav of Yerushalayim for several decades, written on the 19th of Elul, 5755, to Rav Shmuel Yaakov Glicksburg, then the rav of Buenos Aires, Argentina:

‘I rejoiced when I read your letter saying that you have succeeded to organize a shechitah where the animals are not hung, similar to what we have here in Eretz Yisrael. This is a tremendous accomplishment, and the merits of the public are yours. If you have any other news about the kashrus of the shechitah, please notify me, as I am often asked whether one may eat the meat from Argentina and am constantly uncertain how to respond. I would like to hear from his dignity if I can guarantee to a G-d-fearing person that this meat is kosher without any concerns, because this is what they ask me’ (Shu”t Har Tzvi, Even HaEzer #189).

“In an article published in the rabbinic journal Hamaor, in Teiveis, 5719 Rabbi Eliezer Silver ruled that one may not use shechitah teluyah because he had concerns about the actual shechitah being non-kosher. He felt that the gentile holding the animal might actually push the animal into the shechitah knife, which would involve the gentile partially performing the shechitah and thereby invalidating it.

“Rav Silver recorded that during the years the Ridbaz (who served as the Rav of Slutzk, Tzefas, and served briefly as the Chief Rabbi of Chicago) spent in the United States, he once saw a shechitah teluyah in Denver and prohibited it. Also, when a shaylah about this matter was sent from Caracas, Venezuela to Rav Menashe Klein, he prohibited it (Shu”t Mishneh Halachos 9:151). Similarly, in an interesting letter to Rav Pinchas Hirschsprung of Montreal, Rav Moshe Feinstein describes a shechitah teluyah facility that he saw in Toronto. Although his initial reaction was that there was basis to allow the shechitah, he told them that he would need to examine the matter further. Upon further research, Rav Moshe withdrew his original psak permitting this shechitah and permitted it only if the animal’s head was secured during the shechitah, and not if it was simply held by workers (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 2:13). Rav Moshe makes no mention of any of the other concerns about this shechitah, such as the possibility that the gentile may move the animal into the shechitah or about tzaar baalei chayim.

“Nevertheless, this method of shechitah was very popular in the United States even among some of the most responsible hechsherim. When I was involved in examining shechitos, back in the 1980’s, most shechitos that I saw were still shechitah teluyah.

“As the animals’ advocacy organizations became stronger and plant procedures came under the scrutiny of the general public, shechitah teluyah became less popular and was replaced with shechitah in a pen. Although the pen would certainly resolve Rav Moshe’s concern that the head must be secured during the shechitah, it may have created its own issues.”

At this point Yankel interrupted the Rav’s monologue: “What do you mean by shechitah in a pen?”

“I have seen many such pens, each one with a slightly variant design. The basic idea is that the entire animal, especially its head, is secured by a pen operated either by electricity or through hydraulic power, which holds the animal securely during the shechitah. This appliance makes the shechitah very safe for the shocheit, and he has plenty of time in which to perform the shechitah and to check afterwards that it was performed correctly. In the United States, this became the standard method for most shechitos, but it is unusual to find such a shechitah in Europe, in Eretz Yisroel, or in those in South America that shecht for a chareidi market.

“Why do they not use this method in Europe?”

Again the Rav perused his well-stocked bookshelves and produced a sefer Yankel had never seen before.

“In 1988, a movement was afoot in England to require that all animals be shechted only while standing in a pen. However, there was fierce opposition to requiring all Anglo-Jewish hechsherim to shecht with this device. This volume, Bishvilei Hashechitah, by an English shocheit named Rabbi Simcha Bunim Lieberman, includes an essay that cites many reasons to oppose the change.

“1. The shocheit has to shecht upwards. This is a highly technical halacha, but there are authorities who contend that it is prohibited to shecht upwards, predominantly out of concern that this might cause the shocheit to press rather than slice while he is shechting, violating the Torah rule of drasah.

“2. A shocheit who is shechting in a manner to which he is accustomed should not suddenly be required to shecht in a different way, foreign to his experience.

“3. The greatest concern was that since these devices are usually custom made, it is possible that the mechanical force used to control the animal’s head may be so strong that it renders the animal tereifah, before the shechitah takes place. The contention was that such a device should not be used, without first seeing whether the animal appears physically unharmed, and, ideally, the animal should be checked carefully afterwards.”

Yankel asked Rav Posek if he was familiar with the particular hechsher that Miriam had seen in the neighbor’s house.

“Although I have not been in that shechitah recently, I was there once many years ago. I cannot say that I was that happy with the operation. The shochatim and bodakim all needed to work quickly to keep pace with the speed of the assembly line production. I found it difficult to imagine that they could do their jobs properly in the time allowed. As I recall, I even mentioned this to the rav hamachshir, who responded that he hires exclusively competent personnel who are up to the task. I left very unsatisfied.”

“What would you tell our neighbor?”

“If she seems to be the type of person who wants to do the correct thing, tell her: ‘According to what I have heard, people feel that the kashrus standard used by that company is not the highest.’ This statement is accurate and reflects exactly what you know.”

CONCLUSION

We now more fully appreciate the difficulties in maintaining high kashrus standards, particularly when producing meat. We should always hope and pray that the food we eat fulfills all the halachos that the Torah commands.

Paying Workers on Time – The Mitzvah of “Bal Talin”

In honor of Yaakov Avinu’s contractual dealings with his father-in-law, I present:

In parshas Ki Seitzei, the Torah instructs, “Beyomo sitein secharo ve’lo sa’avor alav hashemesh – On that day [the day the work was completed] you should pay his wage, and the sun shall not set [without him receiving payment]” (Devarim 24:15). The Torah mentions two mitzvos; a positive mitzvah (mitzvas aseh) and a negative mitzvah (mitzvas lo sa’aseh) to guarantee that a worker is paid before sunset of the day that he performed his job. Thus, someone who pays his worker on time fulfills a positive mitzvah, whereas if he neglects to pay him on time and the worker demands payment, he has transgressed a lo sa’aseh.

The Torah gives us a definition of “on time” – before sunset. This mitzvah is mentioned in parshas Kedoshim as well. However, there the Torah presents the mitzvah somewhat differently: Lo salin pe’ulas sachir it’cha ad boker, “The wages of a worker shall not remain with you until morning” (Vayikra 19:13). Here, the Torah requires that the worker be paid before morning, implying that one has the entire night to pay him, rather than being responsible to pay him before the day is over. The two verses appear to be contradictory, one implying that I must pay my worker before sunset, the other implying that I have until morning.

Chazal resolve this conflict by explaining that there are indeed two deadlines, the end of the day and the end of the night, but that the two pesukim discuss different cases. The pasuk in Ki Seitzei discusses a worker whose job finished during the day or precisely at the end of the night. Such a worker must be paid before the following sunset, which is the first deadline that arrives after he completed his job. However, the pasuk in Kedoshim refers to a worker who completed his job at the end of the day or during the night. Such a worker must be paid by morning.

Thus, the two verses together teach that there are two payment deadlines, one at sunset and the other at daybreak. One is obligated to pay his worker before the next deadline that occurs after the job is completed. If the work was completed before the end of the day, he must be paid by sunset. If the work was completed at night, he must be paid before daybreak (Bava Metzia 111a, quoting the amora, Rav). It should be noted that one violates the lo sa’aseh only in a case where the worker demanded payment and the owner refused to pay. Furthermore, as we will note, there is no violation if it is understood or prearranged that payment will be delayed.

WHAT TYPE OF WORK IS INCLUDED IN THIS MITZVAH?

The Torah was very concerned that a worker be paid on time. This mitzvah applies not only to an employee, but also to a contractor hired to perform a specific job; he must be paid by the first deadline after the job is completed. It also applies to someone who works on the client’s item on his own premises, such as a repairman of small appliances, or people who do dry cleaning and tailoring. Payment on these items is due by the first deadline after the item is returned (Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 339:6).

Likewise, someone hired for a specific length of time must be paid by the first deadline after completion of employment. In all these situations, if the job is completed (or the item returned) during the day, the worker should be paid by sunset. If the job is completed by night, he should be paid by morning.

This mitzvah applies to all kinds of hired work, whether the worker is a contractor or an employee, permanent or temporary, poor or wealthy, adult or minor. Thus, by paying on the day we receive the service, we fulfill the mitzvah of beyomo sitein secharo, paying a worker on the day he completes a job, as well as fulfilling other mitzvos mentioned later in this article. The following is a partial list of workers included in this mitzvah: automobile and appliance repairmen, babysitters, dentists, dry cleaners, house cleaners, housing contractors, gardeners, lawyers, physicians, psychologists, rebbes, teachers and tutors.

EXAMPLE:

Shimon picked up his garment from the tailor, who asked him for payment. Shimon forgot to bring money to pay the tailor, and asked the tailor if he minds waiting a couple of days until Shimon would be back in the neighborhood. The tailor answered that his rent is due today, and he is short on funds. Shimon is obligated min haTorah to make a special trip to pay the tailor today. Of course, his reward for fulfilling the mitzvah is increased many times because of the inconvenience involved.

Similarly, one is required to pay the doctor on the day of the appointment, unless other provisions have been prearranged. If I hire a teenager to mow the lawn, I must pay him when he finishes the job. I should not delay payment to a later date because of my convenience.

The employee or hiree must be paid in cash (Tosafos, Bava Basra 92b; Shach Choshen Mishpat 336:4) or by check that he can readily convert into cash. One may not pay a worker or contractor with merchandise unless this was arranged in advance.

The employer has not fulfilled his mitzvah if he pays with a post-dated check or a check that cannot be cashed immediately (such as, if the bank is closed that day). Again, if the employee is told before he is hired that these are the arrangements, then there is no violation.

In keeping with the Torah’s concept of protecting workers’ rights, it is prohibited to call a repairman knowing that I have no money to pay him, without telling him that payment will be delayed (see Ahavas Chesed 1:10:12).

RENTALS

Bal talin also applies to rental arrangements. Thus, if I rent an appliance or an automobile, I must pay the rental fee by the sunset or daybreak after the rental is completed.

EXAMPLE:

Leah borrows a wedding dress from a gemach that charges a fee for dry cleaning and other expenses. When she returns the dress, she should pay the gemach before sunset or daybreak, whichever comes first.

SMALL WAGES AND SMALL EMPLOYEES

Even the delay of a wage less than a perutah is a violation of bal talin (Ritva, Bava Metzia 111b). As mentioned above, I am required to pay a minor on the day he performs a job for me. Thus, if I hire a child to run an errand for me, I must pay him that day (Ahavas Chesed 1:9:5). Furthermore, if I offer a young child a candy to do a job, I am required to give him the candy on the day he did the job.

EXAMPLE:

Reuven asked an eight-year-old to buy him an ice cream cone, offering the child to buy himself a cone at the same time. The grocery had only one cone left. If Reuven takes the cone for himself, he must make sure to buy the child a cone before sunset that day. (In this instance, it will not help Reuven if the child says that he does not mind, since a child cannot waive his legal rights.)

Running a large business or being preoccupied is not a valid reason for not paying on time (Tosafos, Bava Metzia 111a s.v. Amar). Furthermore, arranging that someone else pay the workers or contractors does not exempt the owner from responsibility if the agent is remiss. This is because of a halachic principle that one may not assume that an agent carried out a Torah command on my behalf (see Nesiv Hachesed 1:10:25).

WHAT IF I DIDN’T REALIZE I WOULD BE EXPECTED TO PAY THAT DAY?

Unless there was a reason to assume that I was not expected to pay until later, I am responsible to pay the day the work is performed.

EXAMPLE:   

Mr. Siegal enters the doctor’s office and sees a sign on the wall, “Payment is due when service is rendered.” Mr. Siegal had assumed that he would pay when the bill arrives, and he has no money until his next payday. He should tell the receptionist of his inability to pay and request that the doctor be so informed before the appointment.

WHAT IF IT IS ASSUMED THAT THE WORKER IS PAID LATER?

The Gemara (Bava Metzia 111a) discusses the following situation and rules it halachically acceptable. The Jewish merchants of Sura hired workers and paid them at the end of the next market day, when the merchants had cash. Until market day, it was assumed that the merchants would use their available cash to purchase more merchandise (Ritva ad loc.), and the workers were always paid after market day. The Gemara states that these merchants did not violate bal talin, since it was assumed that the workers would not be paid until the following market day.

A contemporary analogy is when a business pays its workers on Tuesdays for the week’s work or on the first of the month for the previous month. In these situations, there is no violation of bal talin, since this is the agreed arrangement.

WHAT IS THE HALACHA IF AN AGENT HIRED THE WORKERS?

The Gemara (Bava Metzia 110b) discusses a case where the foreman hired workers on behalf of the employer, notifying them that he is not responsible for their wages. Subsequently, the wages were delayed. The Gemara states that neither the foreman nor the employer violated bal talin. The foreman was not personally obligated to pay the workers, and the owner did not violate bal talin, because he did not hire the workers himself. Nevertheless, he is still required to pay them on time, if possible (Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 339:7).

WHAT SHOULD I DO IF I MAY NOT BE ABLE TO PAY ON THE DUE DATE?

To avoid violating any Torah mitzvos, the owner should tell the workers before they begin working that he is making a condition that they forgo their right to be paid on time (Nesiv Hachesed 1:10:24).

WHAT SHOULD THE OWNER DO IF HE WILL BE OUT OF TOWN ON PAYDAY?

The owner is responsible for having his workers paid on time. If he will be absent when his workers finish, he must make provisions to pay them on time (Ahavas Chesed 1:10:12).

EXAMPLE:

Mrs. Schwartz is taking her child to the doctor and has hired a babysitter to take care of her other young children until her teenage daughter comes home at 4:00 p.m. Unless Mrs. Schwartz arranges otherwise, she must see that her babysitter is paid before sunset.

There are several ways Mrs. Schwartz can avoid violating the Torah’s law. When hiring the sitter, Mrs. Schwartz can tell her that she is hiring her with the understanding that the sitter waives her right to be paid before the day ends. In this case, if Mrs. Schwartz fails to pay the sitter before sunset, she will not violate any prohibition, although she will have missed the opportunity to perform a mitzvah. Therefore, it is better if Mrs. Schwartz gives her teenage daughter money to pay the sitter. This way Mrs. Schwartz has fulfilled the mitzvah of paying her worker on time. Optimally, Mrs. Schwartz should do both; that is, she should ask her sitter to waive her right, just in case the sitter is not paid on time, and arrange for her daughter to pay, so Mrs. Schwartz fulfills an extra mitzvah.

If the sitter did not waive her right to be paid before sunset, Mrs. Schwartz must check with her daughter later in the day to see that she did, indeed, pay the babysitter (see Nesiv Hachesed 1:10:25).

WHAT IF THE OWNER HAS NO MONEY WITH WHICH TO PAY?

Kalman Mandel’s business is running into a cash-flow problem, and he is having difficulty paying his contractors. There are several shaylos he should ask his rav:

(1) Is he required to pay his contractors from his own personal money, or can he assume that, since his business is incorporated, he is obligated to pay them only from his business account?

(2) How much is the business required to liquidate to pay the contractors?

(3) How aggressively is the business required to collect its receivables?

(4) Is he required to sell merchandise at a lower price? At a loss?

Chofetz Chayim (Ahavas Chesed 1:9:7) rules that one is required to borrow money to pay one’s workers on time, whereas Pischei Tshuva (339:8) and Graz rule that it is the correct thing to do (midas chassidus), but it is not required.

According to Biur Halacha (242:1), if one does not have enough money both to pay wages due on Friday and to make Shabbos, one is required to pay the wages, even if, as a result, he will not have money for Shabbos.

Similarly, if sunset is approaching and the owner has not yet paid wages that are due today, he must attend to paying his workers, if they are demanding payment, even if the result is that he is unable to daven mincha.

As we have mentioned before, if the employee does not claim payment or states that he doesn’t mind if the payment is delayed, the employer does not violate bal talin. Nevertheless, the employer should still attempt to pay on time, and he fulfills a mitzvah by doing so.

It is wrong for the owner to delay paying the worker, forcing him to repeatedly return for payment. These actions violate the mitzvah taught by the pasuk in Mishlei, “Al tomar le’rei’acha lech vashoov umachar etein ve’yeish itach – Do not tell your neighbor ‘Go and come back, I’ll pay you tomorrow,’ when you have [the money] with you” (Mishlei 3:28).

If the employer refuses to pay his worker altogether, he violates the prohibition of Lo sa’ashok es rei’acha, “Do not hold back payment due your neighbor” (Vayikra 19:13). If the employee or contractor is needy, the employer violates an additional prohibition, Lo sa’ashok sachir ani ve’evyon, “Do not hold back payment due to a poor or destitute person” (Devarim 24:14).

The Gemara (Bava Metzia 111a) counts a total of seven Biblical mitzvos involved in withholding wages, including gezel, stealing, as well as the above-mentioned mitzvos.

WHAT SHOULD THE OWNER DO IF HE IS SHORT ON MONEY?

What should the owner do when he does not have enough money to pay all his employees and contractors? The Chofetz Chayim discusses this exact shaylah in his sefer Ahavas Chesed. He rules that if some of the workers are poor, he should pay those workers first. If all or none of the workers are poor, he should divide the available funds among them equally.

MAY THE OWNER OFFER COMPENSATION FOR DELAYED PAYMENT?

The owner missed his deadline. Feeling bad, he considers compensating his workers by providing them with a bonus for their patience. Unfortunately, although he means well, the owner has now incurred a different prohibition, because this is considered as paying interest (ribis). Since he is obligated to pay his workers, the amount owed is a debt. The prohibition against interest applies to any debt, even if it did not originate as a loan. Therefore, an employer who delayed paying his workers or contractors cannot offer them compensation for the delay, nor can they charge him a late fee (Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 173:12; Rema ibid. 176:6).

Similarly, if the owner is tight on cash, he may not offer his workers, contractors or other creditors a bonus if they agree to wait for payment. This situation might entail a Torah prohibition of ribis (see Bris Yehudah pg. 451 ftn 15). If necessary, he could arrange this with a heter iska, and a rav should be consulted.

THE CONTRACTOR IS OVERCHARGING ME. WILL I VIOLATE BAL TALIN IF I HOLD BACK PAYMENT?

When a person feels he is being overcharged, he usually considers withholding part of the payment until the matter is clarified. If indeed he is correct, this plan is not a problem. However, if he is mistaken and the contractor deserves, and demands payment for, the total amount, it means that he has violated bal talin by not paying the contractor on time. For this reason, the Chofetz Chayim suggests always negotiating a price with a contractor or repairman in advance.

SUGGESTION:

If the repairman is uncertain how much the work will cost, tell him before he starts that you are stipulating that he waive his right to be paid on time (see Graz Vol. 5 pg. 890 #18). This avoids violating the prohibition of bal talin should a dispute develop between the parties.

If this was not stipulated in advance, and a dispute develops, discuss with a rav or posek how to proceed. Bear in mind that if the worker is demanding payment and the contracting party is wrong, he might end up violating a serious Torah prohibition by not paying on time.

It is important that people become more familiar with the details of bal talin in order to conduct their business dealings according to halacha. Unfortunately, not everyone realizes that they perform a mitzvah each time they pay their workers on time. Apparently, this is not a recent phenomenon. Over a hundred years ago, the Chofetz Chayim decried the fact that otherwise observant people were inattentive to the observance of this mitzvah. He attributed this to ignorance of its details. Hopefully, this article will spur people to learn more about this mitzvah and the great reward for being attentive about its observance.

A Special Bar Mitzvah Brocha

We will shortly see a midrash that describes the childhood of Yaakov and Eisav, and how they went their separate ways after they turned bar mitzvah. Certainly, the most appropriate week to discuss:

Question #1: When?

When does a father recite the brochashe’petorani”?

Question #2: What?

What does this brocha mean?

Question #3: Why?

Why do we not recite this brocha at a bas mitzvah?

Question #4: Whether?

Does an adoptive father recite this brocha at his son’s bar mitzvah?

Introduction

After a bochur habar mitzvah receives his aliyah to the Torah, his father recites the following passage: Boruch she’petorani mei’onsho shel zeh. We will be discussing many questions about this passage, including:

What does it mean?

Is it a brocha or a prayer?

Why does it have such an impersonal text? The brocha does not even say that the bar mitzvah is his child!

Background: With Sheim and Malchus

In the Sefer Maharil, an early and highly respected source for accepted Ashkenazi halachic practice, we find the following:

“When the Maharil’s son turned bar mitzvah and read from the Torah, the Maharil recited a brocha, Boruch Atah Hashem Elokeinu Melech Ha’olam asher petorani mei’onsho shel zeh. Furthermore, we find this brocha in the works of the Mordechai with Sheim and malchus” (Sefer Maharil, Hilchos Kerias HaTorah). Thus, the Maharil rules that there is a regular brocha, including the words Hashem Elokeinu Melech Ha’olam (which is referred to as sheim umalchus), that is recited by a father when his son reaches the age of bar mitzvah and demonstrates this by reading from the Torah. It should be noted that although the Maharil attributes this ruling to an early rishon, the Mordechai, this ruling is not found in any extant editions of the Mordechai, although, as we will soon see, we do find it quoted in other authorities of the same era and school.

Some mention a custom that the father should place his hand on his son’s head when he recites the brocha, although I have never seen this in practice (mentioned in the Meshivas Nefesh [Vayikra 9] of R. Yochanan Luria, a prominent posek in fifteenth-century western Germany).

The ruling of the Maharil to recite the brocha of Boruch she’petorani with sheim umalchus is quoted by the Rema in his Darchei Moshe commentary on the Tur (Orach Chayim 225:1), where he adds the following, “However, I did not find this brocha in the Gemara, and I find it difficult to recite a brocha that is not mentioned in the Gemara and in the halachic authorities, although Bereishis Rabbah mentions it at the beginning of parshas Tolados.

Rosh

Presumably, what bothered the Rema is the following statement of the Rosh (Kiddushin 1:41), “We do not find that we recite any brocha that is not mentioned in the Mishnah, Tosefta, or Gemara.” Thus, the Rema was concerned that the brocha of Boruch she’petorani was never established by Chazal, and reciting it with sheim umalchus constitutes a brocha levatalah, a brocha recited in vain.

Bereishis Rabbah

The Bereishis Rabbah that the Rema quotes says as follows: “‘And the lads [Yaakov and Eisav] grew up (Bereishis 25:27).’ Rabbi Levi explained, ‘this can be compared to a hadas and a thorn bush that grew next to one another. Once they grew and blossomed, the hadas provided its beautiful fragrance and the thorn bush produced its thorns. Similarly, for thirteen years, both lads went to yeshivah and came home from yeshivah. After they turned thirteen, one went to batei midrash and the other went to houses of idolatry.’ Rabbi Elazar explained, ‘A person is obligated to work with his son until he turns thirteen years old. After that time, he should declare, “Boruch she’petorani mei’onsho shel zeh”’” (Bereishis Rabbah ad loc.).

Commentaries on Shulchan Aruch

In his glosses to the Shulchan Aruch, the Rema alludes to what he wrote in his Darkei Moshe commentary on the Tur and reaches the same conclusion: “Some say that when one’s son turns bar mitzvah, he should recite Boruch Atah Hashem Elokeinu Melech Ha’olam she’petorani mei’onsho shel zeh, but it is better to recite it without sheim umalchus” (Orach Chayim 225:2). We should note that I found no reference to this brocha in any Sefardic authorities, until the very late poskim. All the discussion about reciting it, and whether it should be a full brocha with sheim umalchus, I found only among the Ashkenazic authorities.

The Rema’s conclusion that Boruch she’petorani should be recited without sheim umalchus is followed by most, but not all, subsequent halachic authorities, including the Derisha, Levush, Tosafos Yom Tov (in his Divrei Chamudos commentary on the Rosh, Brochos 9:30), Shelah, Magen Avraham, Mishnah Berurah, and the Kaf Hachayim. The Kaf Hachayim, a very late authority who quotes many Ashkenazic sources, is the first Sefardic authority that I saw who makes any reference at all to the brocha of Boruch she’petorani.

(In the standard, older editions of the Derisha, his comments on this topic were omitted by the publisher, since the Derisha there merely quoted the comments of the Darchei Moshe written by his rebbe, the Rema. However, the Shelah had this quotation in his edition of the Derisha, and it is published in the newer editions of the Tur.)

With sheim umalchus

Thus far, I have quoted predominantly the majority who rule that Boruch she’petorani should be recited without sheim umalchus – in other words, not as a real brocha. However, there are several major authorities who rule that one must recite this brocha with sheim umalchus. In their opinion, since a brocha must include sheim umalchus, reciting this brocha without sheim umalchus does not fulfill the requirement. The Gra, in his comments to the Rema on Shulchan Aruch, simply states that the decision of the Maharil to recite the brocha with sheim umalchus is correct. This approach is subsequently quoted as the primary opinion by both the Chayei Odom (Klal 65:3) and the Aruch Hashulchan. The Chayei Odom rules very directly, “One whose son turns bar mitzvah, when he reads the Torah for the first time, he [the father] should recite the following brocha, Boruch Atah Hashem Elokeinu Melech Ha’olam asher petorani mei’onsho shel zeh.” He then reviews the discussion of the Rema, adding the following points:

Although the Bereishis Rabbah does not state explicitly that one should recite the brocha with sheim umalchus, the Gemara uses the same abbreviated wording when it means that one should recite a regular brocha with sheim umalchus.

The Chayei Odom then refers to a discussion in which the Maharshal ruled that we are not to introduce brochos that are not mentioned in the Gemara, and notes that this includes only brochos that are not mentioned in midrashim, either. However, a brocha that is mentioned in a midrash is halachically valid. The Chayei Odom completes his discussion by noting that his own halachic conclusion (in Klal 8:1) was that reciting a brocha in vain is only a rabbinic prohibition. Therefore, he concludes that once the Maharil and the Gra both rule that Boruch she’petorani should be considered a regular brocha, and we have a source for it in a midrash, then hamevoreich lo hifsid – one who recites it as a regular brocha does not lose. He notes that this is despite the fact that the prevalent custom follows the Rema. Even if Chazal never introduced such a brocha, reciting it would constitute only a rabbinic violation, and one may rely on the many opinions who rule that this brocha does exist (safek derabbanan lehakeil).

It is interesting to note that the Aruch Hashulchan, who usually follows accepted custom even when it appears to run against halachic literature, also rules to recite Boruch she’petorani with sheim umalchus. In other words, he agrees with the position of the Maharil, Gra and Chayei Odom, even though the general custom is not to follow that approach.

As mentioned above, the Maharil notes that he found this practice recorded in the Mordechai. We do not have this in our editions of the Mordechai, but obviously it was in the Maharil’s edition. Furthermore, we do have this practice mentioned in other sources from the same era and area. For example, the Tashbeitz Koton, who lived in the same place and time as the Mordechai (13th century Germany), writes the following: “In Bereishis Rabbah it says that a person should work with his son until he turns thirteen. Afterward, he is required to recite Boruch Atah Hashem Elokeinu Melech Ha’olam she’petorani mei’onsho shel zeh (Tashbeitz Koton #390).”

Early disputants

On the other hand, there are other rishonim who believe that Boruch she’petorani should not be treated as a regular brocha. For example, Rabbeinu Yehonoson, a talmid of the Raavad, cites the text of the brocha as Boruch Hamakom she’petorani mei’onsho shel zeh, which, clearly, avoids reciting Hashem’s Name as one does in a brocha (notes to Rif, Shabbos 55b). We should note that this is not from an Ashkenazic source, but from Provence. Although today Provence is often referred to as an area that followed Sefardic custom, that is not truly accurate. Provence, the area of southern France that borders on the Mediterranean Sea, was at the time of the rishonim an area that had its own minhagim, neither Sefardic nor Ashkenazic. It had absorbed from the traditions and authorities of both areas, yet had developed independently. For example, they began recital of ve’sein tal umatar on the 7th of Marcheshvan, which follows neither Sefardic nor Ashkenazic practice in chutz la’aretz.

What does the brocha mean?

Until this point, I have carefully avoided translating and explaining the words of Boruch she’petorani. An early posek, the Levush, upon recording the halachic discussion germane to the brocha of Boruch she’petorani, states the following: “The text of this brocha is not clear, since one who continues in the evil ways of his ancestors can be punished for their misdeeds for several generations, as the Torah states, pokeid avon avos al banim al shileishim ve’al ribei’im – that Hashem will remember the sins of someone who performed evil to four generations, if the descendants continue the nefarious practices of their antecedents.”

Apparently, the Levush understood the brocha to mean that the son is now exempt from the sins of his father. This means that until bar mitzvah, what happens to the son is because of the father’s misdeeds, and that, therefore, the father will be punished for harm that he caused to the son. This is based on the Gemara (Shabbos 149b) that a person is responsible for punishment that he caused to someone else. It is also borne out by a statement in a midrash, concerning the deaths of Machlon and Kilyon, Naomi’s sons, “Rav Chiya bar Abba said: ‘Until a child turns thirteen, the son is punished for the sins of his father; afterward, he is punished for his own sins.’”

Challenges to the Levush

The Tosafos Yom Tov, in his commentary to the Rosh (Divrei Chamudos 9:30), reviews much of the above material and then challenges the Levush’s approach to explaining the brocha. He writes, “This approach [of the Levush] is forced and difficult to reconcile with the words of the brocha. The intention of the brocha is that, until now, the father was responsible to educate his child in mitzvos and to have him grow in Torah. If the father did not fulfill his responsibility, he will be punished for this. Now that the son has become bar mitzvah, the responsibilities fall on the son himself, and the father will no longer be punished.” This approach is also recorded by the Magen Avraham.

When should the brocha be recited?

The Maharil mentions reciting the brocha when the son receives his first aliyah. The authorities explain this to mean that he performs a mitzvah activity that a child cannot perform (Divrei Chamudos; Magen Avraham). Thus, they rule that if the son led the services (davened in front of the amud), the father should already recite the brocha at that time, since a child cannot fulfill this mitzvah. One may also argue that a father should not recite it when his son has been called up to maftir and read only the maftir and the haftarah, since these activities can be performed by a minor –  a topic that we will need to address a different time. However, if the son read a different part of the parsha, and certainly, if he read the entire parsha, the father can recite Boruch she’petorani then.

Under which category of brochos does this fit?

We know that we have birchos hanehenin – brochos of benefit, including the brochos we recite before and after eating and the brochos before we smell certain fragrances. We also have brochos of praise, which include brochos upon seeing or otherwise experiencing wondrous creations of Hashem, such as the brochos recited when one sees the sea, sees something unusual, hears thunder, or witnesses lightning. And we have brochos of prayer, such as davening, tefilas haderech, and some of the brochos of sheva brochos. Under which heading does the brocha of Boruch she’petorani fit?

From the way the halachic authorities discuss it, it appears that it should be categorized under the heading of brochos of praise.

Why no malchus?

When the Rema ruled that one should not recite the name of Hashem when reciting Boruch she’petorani because he was concerned that it might be a brocha levatalah, why didn’t he suggest the following text: Boruch Atah Melech Ha’olam she’petorani mei’onsho shel zeh? Since one is not reciting the words Hashem and Elokeinu, there is no question about reciting a brocha levatalah, yet one is reciting a text closer to the brocha advocated by the Maharil,and this text includes the concept of malchus.

Indeed, this question can be asked on the Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 218:9, in a different context. There, the Shulchan Aruch discusses someone reciting a brocha on a personal miracle that he has experienced, and it states as follows: “Some say that one should not recite this brocha unless it was a miracle that was beyond what usually happens in the world; but on a miracle that is within natural experience, such as, he was endangered by thieves at night and saved, or something similar, he is not required to recite a brocha. There are other authorities – who disagree with this [and require a brocha in this instance also]. Therefore, it is proper to recite this brocha without sheim umalchus.” The question to be asked on this ruling of the Shulchan Aruch is that there would be no question of brocha levatalah should one recite the brocha with the words Melech Ha’olam, so why does he omit them?

Rav Yosef Chayim Sonnenfeld answers that one does not recite Melech Ha’olam in these situations so that people will not think that someone fulfills a brocha by reciting Melech Ha’olam without reciting Hashem’s Name and Elokeinu (Shu”t Salmas Chayim, Orach Chayim #197).

Why an impersonal brocha?

Why did Chazal institute such an impersonal wording for this brocha, which makes no reference to the fact that the child is his son? I found this question in the sefer Alei Tamar, authored by Rav Yissochor Tamar, an eastern European rav who moved to Eretz Yisroel in 1933, where he became a rav in Tel Aviv. He suggests the following: The father is reciting a brocha that he is thankful that he is no longer responsible for his son’s sins (if we explain the brocha according to the Tosafos Yom Tov and the Magen Avraham). This implies that he thinks that his son will sin, certainly not something he wants to advertise in his role as father.

Daughters?

Why don’t we recite Boruch she’petorani when a daughter turns bas mitzvah? This question is raised by some of the later poskim, and I found two quite variant answers. The Pri Megodim explains that since min haTorah a father has the ability to marry off his daughter, in which case he would no longer be responsible for her education and not be punished for her aveiros, Chazal did not institute a brocha (Eishel Avraham 225:5). Explained in other terms, a father recites this brocha when he is no longer responsible for his son’s sins, because he has no other way of avoiding this responsibility, whereas he has a technical way to avoid responsibility for his daughter’s sins.

The Kaf Hachayim (225:15) provides a different answer to this question, which looks at the topic from almost the opposite angle. Since a daughter usually remains living in the home of her birth family until she marries, a father remains responsible for her, even after she becomes an adult. Therefore, reciting this brocha at her bas mitzvah would be premature.

One could perhaps suggest a third answer: Although a son who reads the Torah, receives an aliyah to the Torah, or leads the services has publicly demonstrated that he is now an adult, what equivalent action does a daughter perform at which we would expect her father to recite Boruch she’petorani?

Adoptive father

And now, for our last question: Does an adoptive father recite this brocha at his son’s bar mitzvah?

Rav Yitzchok Silberstein, in his sefer Chashukei Chemed,rules that an adoptive father is not responsible for his son’s aveiros, and, therefore, does not recite the brocha of Boruch she’petorani.

Conclusion

The father gets up to announce that he realizes the scope of his responsibility. Delving into the details of this brocha make us realize that raising a child to be G-d fearing is a serious task, incumbent on all those who are blessed with children. There are many factors that interplay in the raising of a child, especially in our age, but this brocha reminds us of our responsibility to do our best to imbue our children with a knowledge and love of Hashem and His Torah and mitzvos.

Take a Bow

Question #1: Davening in Public

“I am traveling, and the only place to daven is in a crowded terminal. Are there any special laws that I need to know?”

Question #2: Bowing or Genuflecting?

Have you ever genuflected?

Question #3: Bow and Arrow!

Does bowing have anything to do with bows and arrows?

Introduction:

Parshas Chayei Sarah mentions that Avraham bowed to the descendants of Cheis, when they agreed to give him a burial area for Sarah (Bereishis 23:7). The parsha also mentions that Eliezer bowed to Hashem to thank Him that his mission appeared to be achieving success. These provide a special opportunity to discuss some of the laws of bowing during the shemoneh esrei. As there is far more to this topic than can be covered in one article, we will, bli neder, have to return to the topic at some time in the future.

Thirteen components of tefillah

The Rambam rules that our daily mitzvah to daven includes thirteen factors, five of which are essential components of prayer that, if missing, require that davening be repeated. The headings of these five requirements are: Clean hands, proper covering of the body, cleanliness of the location, absence of physical bodily distractions, and proper focus (kavanah).

The other eight categories are important aspects for discharging the mitzvah, but someone who did not, or could not, observe them has still fulfilled the mitzvah. For example, there is a requirement to daven shemoneh esrei while standing and while facing the Beis Hamikdash. However, if someone could not, or did not, do either, he has fulfilled his mitzvah. Similarly, there is a requirement to bow at points during the shemoneh esrei, but someone who did not do so has fulfilled his mitzvah.

The Rambam (Hilchos Tefillah 5:10) explains that, for most people, davening requires that we bow five times in the course of the recital of the shemoneh esrei. I will explain shortly why I wrote “for most people.”

These five times are:

At the beginning and end of the first brocha of shemoneh esrei

At the beginning and end of the brocha of modim

At the very end of the shemoneh esrei

Most people?

Why did I say that the requirement to bow five times at every prayer is for “most people?”

This is because the Rambam (Hilchos Tefillah 5:10) alludes to the following passage of Talmud Yerushalmi (Brochos 1:5): “For the following brochos, one should bow: For the first brocha, both at the beginning and at the end, and for modim, both at the beginning and at the end. Someone who bows for every brocha should be taught not to do this. (See also Tosefta, Brochos 1:11 and Bavli, Brochos 34a.) Rabbi Yitzchak bar Nachman cited in the name of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, ‘A kohein gadol bows at the end of every brocha; the king, at both the beginning and end of every brocha. Rabbi Simon quoted from Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, ‘The king – once he bows, he does not straighten up until he completes his entire prayer. What is my source? The verse that teaches, and it was when Shelomoh completed praying to Hashem this entire prayer and this entire supplication, that he then stood up from before the mizbei’ach of Hashem from bowing on his knees (Melachim I 8, 54).’”

We see that there is a dispute between Rabbi Yitzchak bar Nachman and Rabbi Simon (his name is not Shimon, but Simon, spelled with a samech, and he is an amora frequently quoted in the Yerushalmi) whether Shelomoh Hamelech teaches us that a king should always daven shemoneh esrei while kneeling, or whether this was a one-time practice, but not something that a king is always required to do.

Thus, those whom the Torah insists receive much honor must bow more frequently during their daily tefillah. The kohein gadol is required to bow in every brocha of shemoneh esrei, which is forbidden for everyone else, as we see in the above-referenced Tosefta. The Rambam rules according to Rabbi Simon, that the king, who receives much greater honor, is required to bow for his entire prayer.

Term limits?

This poses a question: The Tosefta rules that we should not bow in every brocha of shemoneh esrei; yet, we have now been taught that both the kohein gadol and the king should bow in each brocha of shemoneh esrei. How can it be that something is forbidden for everyone else and is required of the kohein gadol and the king?

The answer to this question seems to lie in the following explanation of Tosafos (Brochos 34a s.v. melamdin), who asks, “What is wrong with bowing extra times?” Tosafos provides two answers to the question (see also Tosafos Rabbeinu Yehudah and Bach, Orach Chayim 113):

1. If people develop the habit of bowing whenever they want to, it will cause Chazal’s takkanah (requiring that we bow at the beginning and end of only these two brochos) to become uprooted. Therefore, we insist that they not bow any extra times.

2. It is being ostentatious about his religious observance, a halachic concept called yohara.

The Tur (Orach Chayim 113) rules according to Tosafos. Based on Tosafos’s first answer, he concludes that it is permitted to bow in the middle of any brocha of shemoneh esrei, just not at the beginning or end.

We can also explain why Rabbi Yitzchak bar Nachman ruled that the kohein gadol and the king bowing in each brocha does not violate the ruling of the Tosefta. This was the takkanah – that a commoner bow only in two brochos, and the kohein gadol and king bow in each brocha.

When the bow breaks

As I mentioned above, the halacha is that bowing is not essential, which means that you fulfill the mitzvah to daven, even if you did not bow. There are extenuating circumstances in which you are not permitted to bow, but you are required to daven without bowing. The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 113:8) cites such a case — someone who must daven in a public place, and a person opposite him is sporting a cross or other idolatrous image. The halacha is that you should daven but you should not bow, so that a bystander not think that you are bowing to the image.

Don’t bow to idols!

At this point, we can address our opening question: “I am traveling, and the only place to daven is in a crowded terminal. Are there any special laws that I need to know?”

The answer is that you should look around to see if any of your co-travelers are sporting crosses or other signs of idolatry, and, if they are, do not bow during your davening.

Take a bow

The Rambam mentioned that we are required to bow five times, including another time at the end of the shemoneh esrei, whose source is from a different passage of Gemara (Yoma 53b). “Rabbi Chiya, the son of Rav Huna, reported that he saw that Abayei and Rava would take three steps back while bowing.” This passage of Gemara is quoted not only by the Rambam, but also by the Rif and the Rosh (both at the end of the fifth chapter of Brochos, after they quote the other halachos about bowing during davening). Because of space considerations, we will have to leave the detailed discussion of the topic of bowing at the end of shemoneh esrei for a different time.

How can you bow?

We now have some background to understand the words of the Rambam and the other rishonim who rule that we are required to bow five times during the shemoneh esrei. However, we do not yet know what type of bowing is required. We do know  from the verse in Melachim quoted above that when Shelomoh Hamelech bowed, he actually kneeled with both knees on the ground. We do not usually consider this to be a Jewish way of prayer, but associate it with other religions. What does the Torah teach about this?

In Tanach and Chazal we find at least five different levels of bowing, each with its own defining terms.

Hishtachavayah

Hishtachavayah is bowing in which a person is completely prostrate, with arms and legs stretched out completely flat on the ground(Megillah 22b; Shavuos 16b). The Gemara proves this from the rebuke that Yaakov gave to Yosef, after the latter told his father about his dream, havo navo ani ve’imcha ve’achecha lehishtachavos lecha artzah, “Will it happen that I, your mother and your brothers will bow (root: hishtachavayah) down to you to the ground?” Thus, we see that the word hishtachavayah refers to bowing all the way to the ground.

This type of bowing is mentioned several times in Tanach and the Gemara. Some people bow this way during the repetition of musaf on Yom Kippur when we “fall kor’im.”

Kidah

Kidah is kneeling and placing one’s face against the floor. On the basis of a posuk (Melachim I 1:31), the Gemara (Brochos 34b; Megillah 22b; Shavuos 16b) proves that this is the meaning of the word kidah. If you have ever seen how Moslems pray, this is what kidah is.

Korei’a al birkav

Korei’a al birkav ­is called, in English, kneeling. As I mentioned above, this is what the posuk describes Shelomoh Hamelech doing when he dedicated the Beis Hamikdash (Melachim I 8:54).

Shocheh

Shocheh is what in English is called bowing, which means lowering your head and upper part of your torso, but remain standing on your feet.

Kor’im

Kor’im or more accurately, keri’a (the root is spelled kof, reish, ayin, not to be confused with the word for reading, which is spelled kuf, reish, alef) is used at times to mean when you bow and also bend your knees as part of your bowing. In English, this is called genuflecting.

How do we bow?

The Gemara (Brochos 12a), cited by the Rambam (Hilchos Tefillah 5:10), rules: “Someone who is praying should bow at the word Boruch, and straighten himself to an upright position when he says the name of Hashem.” The Gemara continues: “Rav Sheishes, when he bowed, bowed down like a stick, when he straightened himself upright, he straightened himself like a snake.” Although there are other interpretations of this passage of Gemara, Rashi explains that Rav Sheishes bowed down in one motion, but when he straightened himself upright upon reciting the name of Hashem, he did so in two motions, his head first, and then the rest of his body, so that he should not give the impression that bowing was something that he did not want to do. The Rambam (Hilchos Tefillah 5:10) and the later authorities codify this as the proper method of bowing in shemoneh esrei. To quote the Rambam, “How should one bow? When he says Boruch, he should bend his knees; upon saying Attah, he should bow quickly; and upon saying Hashem’s name, he should slowly rise, his head first and then his body.” However, an older or ill person is not required to bow with his entire body, and it is sufficient if he simply bends his head. This last ruling is quoted in the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 113:5.)

Modim

In three of the places in the shemoneh esrei when we bow, we do so when saying the words Boruch Attah Hashem, and, according to the instructions that we have studied, we now know how to genuflect and bow when we say these prayers. However, the other two places, at the end of davening, and for modim, there is no “Boruch” in the tefillah when we bow. Therefore, at these places, common custom is to bow, but not genuflect (Mishnah Berurah).

Bow like a bow

This subtitle is not meant to be a corny pun, but an expression of the halacha. The Rambam (Hilchos Tefillah 5:12) rules: “All these bowings require that one bow until all the vertebrae in the spine protrude and (his back) is shaped like a bow.” In Hebrew, this is not a pun: the word for bow, keshes, and the word for bowing, korei’a,bear no similarity.

The source for the Rambam’s explanation is from the following passage of Gemara (Brochos 28b): Rav Tanchum quoted from Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, someone who is praying must bow until all the vertebrae in his spine protrude. Ulla said: Until a coin the size of an issar can be seen opposite his heart. Rav Chanina said, once he tilted his head, he is not required to do more. Rava explained Rav Chanina to mean that this is true when it is obvious that he is trying to bow more, but he is unable to do so, because of age or infirmity (see Tur and Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 113).

The halachic authorities also rule that someone should not bow so low that his mouth is opposite his belt (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 113:5). This is because it looks like he is trying to show off (Mishnah Berurah).

Bowing or genuflecting?

At this point, let us refer to our second opening question: Have you ever genuflected?

Since we bend our knees when we say the word boruch, someone who davens three times a day and bows by bending his knees at the beginning and end of the first brocha and at the end of modim genuflects nine times a day. Thus, the surprising answer is that you probably genuflect many times a day, without knowing that you are doing so!

Genuflect, kneel, korei’a

There is a very interesting linguistic curiosity that I want to point out. The word genuflect comes from a contraction of two words, genu, related to knee, and flect, which means to bend. (Think of the English verbs deflect, flex.) Language experts explain that the origin of the word genu,which is Latin, and the words, knee and kneel, which are German, are of common origin, both coming from a common cognate ancestor that refers to the knee. This association is very surprising, because old German and pre-Latin languages, although both of Indo-European origin, have few common sources. When there are common roots in both, the origin of the word can invariably be traced to the time of the dor ha’pelagah, when the scattering of the nations occurred and the languages of mankind became divided. In these instances, the true root of the word is invariably Hebrew, notwithstanding that linguists categorize Hebrew as a Semitic language and not Indo-European. This rule bears true here again, once we realize that it is not unusual that a reish sound becomes a nun when changing languages, as in the example of Nevuchadnetzar, called Nevuchadretzar at times. Thus, since, according to Chazal (see Yoma 10a), German is the older of the two languages (German and Latin), clearly the original root was kof, reish, ayin, the shoresh of the word korei’a, which means to bow on one’s knee or knees, or to genuflect or kneel, with the reish becoming an “n” sound, first in German and then later in Latin. Thus, the English words knee and kneel and the Latin word genu all originate from the Hebrew word korei’a, or, more accurately, its root, kof, reish, ayin.

Conclusion

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

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

Bishul Akum for the Ill

Photo by rea einskisson from FreeImages

Question #1: Cooked on Shabbos

If a non-Jew cooks on Shabbos for someone who is ill, is the food he cooks prohibited because of bishul akum? Obviously, the ill person is permitted to eat the food, but there are several ramifications to this question.

Question #2: Bishul akum equipment

If a non-Jew cooked using my pots, do they require kashering because they absorbed non-kosher food?

Background:

Chazal instituted the law of bishul akum to discourage inappropriate social interaction, which could lead to intermarriage, and also to guarantee that kashrus not be compromised (Rashi, Avodah Zarah 35b s.v. Vehashelakos and38a s.v. Miderabbanan and Tosafos ad loc.).

There are two major exceptions to the law of bishul akum – that is, situations in which a non-Jew cooked food that one may eat, despite the prohibition against bishul akum. One exception is food that is usually eaten raw, such as an apple. Therefore, if a non-Jew baked apples and did not use anything non-kosher while doing so, the apples are kosher.

Another exception is something that would not be served on a king’s table. There are many interpretations as to how to define this, but all poskim agree that small fish and porridge are permitted when cooked by a non-Jew, as long as nothing non-kosher was added – because these items are not served to a king.

This article will discuss a possible third exception to bishul akum: Food cooked by a non-Jew on Shabbos for someone who is ill.

Bishul akum for the ill

In a different article, we learned that we may ask a non-Jew to do on Shabbos whatever is required for the care of a person who is ill, even asking a non-Jew to cook for the sick person. This is permitted even if no life-threatening emergency exists, as long as the person is ill enough to be choleh kol gufo, usually defined as someone ill enough to go to bed (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 328:17), or whose discomfort is intense enough that he feels that his entire body is affected (Rema ad locum).

In the previous article, I did not discuss an important question: If food cooked by a non-Jew is prohibited because of bishul akum, how can a Jewish person eat what the non-Jew cooked? There are two obvious answers to this question:

1. Food cooked by a non-Jew to take care of a sick person was excluded from the prohibition of bishul akum.

2. Because of his medical needs, a choleh kol gufo is exempt from the prohibition of bishul akum.

In either event, we have several follow-up questions:

Does this heter apply only to what is cooked on Shabbos, when a Jew may not cook for the sick person, or does it apply all the time? If this dispensation applies only to what a non-Jew cooked on Shabbos,is the ill person permitted to eat the leftovers after Shabbos, or does that food become prohibited once a Jew can cook for him? And, assuming that the sick person is permitted to eat the food after Shabbos, is it permitted for a different Jew, who is perfectly healthy, to eat what the non-Jew cooked on Shabbos?

Does bishul akum affect pots?

Finally, if the non-Jew used a Jew’s kosher pots to cook for the ill on Shabbos, do the pots become non-kosher because they absorbed bishul akum? If so, do the pots now need to be koshered before they may be used again? Or, since it is permitted to ask the non-Jew to cook for the Jewish ill, do the pots not need to be koshered afterward? Or, an even more lenient idea: perhaps bishul akum applies only to food, but does not prohibit pots at all?

This entire list of questions is discussed and debated by the rishonim. Their differing approaches provide a goldmine for the scholar attempting to analyze critically the legal (halachic) status of bishul akum and to comprehend clearly Chazal’s ruling permitting asking a non-Jew to cook for the ill. As we will soon see, there are various ways to answer the questions that we raised, and differences in halachic opinion affect decisions made in kosher nursing homes and hospital to this very day.

Explaining these issues also affords an opportunity to understand an important chapter in Jewish history that is not as well known as it should be.

Debate in Barcelona

Barcelona is the second largest city in Spain and the capital of Catalonia, the northeastern region of the country. Today, there is a tiny Jewish presence in the city, but, in the times of the rishonim, Barcelona was a major headquarters of Torah. At different times, many gedolei Yisroel lived in the city, including the Raavad, the Ramban, Rav Yehudah Bartzeloni, theRashba, the Rosh (who had fled from Germany, which had become very dangerous for rabbonim), the Rosh’s distinguished sons (including his son Yaakov, who later  authored the Tur), Rav Aharon Halevi (known as the Re’ah), the Ohr Hashem (Rav Chasdai Kreskas), the Ritva, and the Nimukei Yosef, to list some of the better-known gedolim who walked the streets of this city.

In the thirteenth century, three major halachic works appeared in Barcelona in quick succession. These works clarified the halachos observed in a frum house. The first, written by theRashba, was aptly called Toras Habayis (literally, the laws of the house), whichdiscussed, in very organized and detailed fashion, the laws of kashrus, mikveh, netilas yadayim and other household laws. It was actually two different works. One, a brief edition called the Toras Habayis Hakatzar, offered instructions for household owners to manage their homes in accordance with halacha. The other, Toras Habayis He’aruch,is an extensive and thorough explanation of the halachic background to the topics, quoting the original sources in the Mishnah, Gemara, and early authorities. It discusses and explains the arguments, sources and opinions cited by the various great, early poskim on the subject, and then the Rashba reaches his conclusion.

Shortly after the Toras Habayis saw the light of day, another work, called Bedek Habayis (literally, inspections [or repairs] of the house) appeared, written by Rav Aharon Halevi ( the Re’ah) exclusively to disagree with the conclusions of the Toras Habayis. The Bedek Habayis went to great length to demonstrate where he felt the Toras Habayis’s analysis and comparisons were incorrect.

Eventually, a third work was produced anonymously, called the Mishmeres Habayis (protecting the house), the purpose of which was to explain that the original Toras Habayis’s conclusions had been correct and that the Bedek Habayis was incorrect.

These works were all produced before the invention of the printing press, which means that they were circulated via copying them by hand.

The mystery is discovered

At first, the members of the community were baffled trying to identify the author of the Mishmeres Habayis. This should indicate the high level of Talmudic scholarship that existed then in Barcelona – apparently, there were enough Torah scholars in Barcelona capable of writing such an incredibly scholarly work that it could be published anonymously, without the identity of its author being immediately obvious.

Eventually, it was discovered that the author of the Mishmeres Habayis was none other than theRashba himself.

At this point, let us return to our topic, and to our original opening questions:

1. If a non-Jew cooks on Shabbos for someone who is ill, is the food he cooks prohibited because of bishul akum?

2. If a non-Jew cooked using my pots, do they require kashering because they absorbed non-kosher food?

Opinion of the Re’ah

Although the Toras Habayis does not discuss these topics, both the Bedek Habayis and the Mishmeres Habayis do. The Bedek Habayis (Bayis 3 Shaar 7) concludes that:

1. Food cooked by a non-Jew to take care of the needs of someone ill does not carry the prohibition of bishul akum.

2. Bishul akum does not affect equipment.

The Bedek Habayis permits the first case for the following reason: At the time this food was cooked, it was permitted to be eaten. A person who is well may not eat it because of the laws of Shabbos – we are concerned that someone may ask the non-Jew to do something on Shabbos that is not permitted for a Jew to do – but not because of the prohibition of bishul akum. Since the cooking was performed not for social reasons but in order to have fresh food for ill people, no prohibition of bishul akum was incurred at the time that the food was cooked. Therefore, it cannot become prohibited as bishul akum after Shabbos is over. The Re’ah concludes that the food cooked by a non-Jew for an ill Jewish person on Shabbos is permitted after Shabbos, even for a perfectly healthy person.

Furthermore, reasons the Bedek Habayis, should a non-Jew cook for himself in a kosher pot, the food is prohibited because of bishul akum but the pot itself remains kosher. The reason is that the use of this pot does not create any favorable social interaction between Jews and non-Jews that we must avoid. In other words, the Bedek Habayis contends that since the prohibition of bishul akum was limited to situations that encourage social interaction, the taste of bishul akum that is absorbed into pots was never prohibited. Enjoying the residual taste remaining in a pot does not encourage unwanted social interaction.

The Bedek Habayis then quotes Rav Yitzchak beRabbi Manoach, who rules that what a non-Jewish slave cooks as part of the responsibility to the household that owns him or her is not prohibited as bishul akum, since there is no increased social interaction when someone cooks as an aspect of being a slave. The point of the Bedek Habayis is that Rav Yitzchak beRabbi Manoach contends that eating what a gentile cooked is not included in the prohibition of bishul akum when the circumstances do not encourage social interaction – and certainly the residual absorption in the pots is permitted.

The Bedek Habayis then quotes from “mori rabbeinu Moshe, z”l,” the Ramban (who had headed a yeshivah in Barcelona and was the Re’ah’s primary rebbe), that, lechatchilah, cooking in a Jewish house should not be performed by a non-Jewish slave – but if it was, the food is permitted bedi’eved.

TheRashba’s response

TheRashba, in his Mishmeres Habayis, disagrees with every point made by the Re’ah in the Bedek Habayis. He compares a non-Jew cooking food for an ill person on Shabbos to the situation of a person who is deathly ill and there is no fresh meat to eat. The halacha in the latter situation is that, if no shocheit is available, you are required to kill an animal, rendering its meat neveilah, and cook it for the sick person. As soon as a shocheit becomes available, you are no longer permitted to feed the sick person non-kosher. Of course, the pot in which the neveilah was cooked is not kosher and must be koshered. Similarly, Mishmeres Habayis contends that although it is permitted to have a non-Jew cook for someone ill, the food is permitted to be eaten only by the ill and only until there is enough time after Shabbos to cook fresh food. Once that time arrives, all the food that was cooked by the non-Jew becomes prohibited as bishul akum, even for the sick person, and certainly it was never permitted for someone well to eat. In addition, the previously kosher pot used by the non-Jew to cook for the ill on Shabbos is prohibited because of the bishul akum absorbed in it, and the pot must be koshered before it can be used again.

The Mishmeres Habayis explains the basis for this law as the general rule, “kol detikun rabbanan ke’ein de’oraysa tikun,”whatever the Sages established they did in a system similar to the rules of the Torah” (Pesachim 30b, 39b, et al.). Therefore, when Chazal created the prohibition of bishul akum, they gave the prohibited product all the rules that apply to items prohibited min haTorah. Thus, we see that Barcelona was the scene of a major halachic controversy that has ramifications to this very day.

How do we rule?

Well, who is “we”? The Ran (Shu”t Haran 5:11-12), the primary Spanish halachic authority in the generation following theRashba and Re’ah, discusses the second question, whether bishul akum prohibits the equipment used to cook it. He opines that logically the prohibition of bishul akum should apply only to the food prepared and not to the equipment in which it was produced, since concerns about social interaction apply only to the food, and not to the equipment. However, that since there are poskim who disagreed with the Re’ah, the Ran concludes that it is preferable to have the equipment koshered, and, if this food was cooked in an earthenware pot (which cannot be kashered), the earthenware pot should be broken (see Pesachim 30b; Avodah Zarah 33b-34a).

Two contemporaries of the Ran also weigh in on the question of whether we require kashering of equipment in which bishul akum occurred. The Tur (end of Yoreh Deah 113) quotes that theRashba required kashering equipment that cooked bishul akum, even if it was a case of non-Jewish servants who cooked in a Jew’s house. He notes that theRashba holds that, to avoid prohibiting the pots, when non-Jewish workers cook for themselves in a Jewish house, someone Jewish must participate in the cooking, in a way that avoids the prohibition of bishul akum.

The Tur himself does not conclude this way. He quotes that his father, the Rosh, a contemporary of theRashba, contends that Chazal prohibited only the food of bishul akum, but did not extend the prohibition to flavor absorbed into pots and other equipment. In other words, the Rosh accepts the approach of the Re’ah that bishul akum is different from other proscriptions and is prohibited only to the extent that it would cause unwanted social interactions.

The other contemporary of the Ran who discusses this issue is Rabbeinu Yerucham, a disciple of the Rosh, who writes that most authorities agreed with the Rosh that bishul akum does not create a prohibition on the equipment used to cook it. However, the Beis Yosef, after quoting Rabbeinu Yerucham, disagrees with his conclusion that most authorities accept the Rosh’s opinion. The Beis Yosef writes that most authorities who lived after theera of the Rashba, Re’ah and Rosh accept the opinion of theRashba as the conclusive halacha. In Shulchan Aruch,he mentions both approaches, but concludes that the main approach is that equipment used for bishul akum does require kashering.

Three times lucky

Above, I quoted the Ran who states that if bishul akum prohibits the vessels, if an earthenware pot was used, the pot must be broken. However, theRashba himself did not rule this way. This is based on a passage of Talmud Yerushalmi (Terumos 11:4) that rules that a lenience applies when a prohibition is rabbinic in origin, which is the case of bishul akum. In these circumstances, Chazal permitted kashering earthenware by boiling the vessel three times(Rashba, quoted by Tur Yoreh Deah 123). This ruling is accepted by the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 113:16).

What about for the ill?

Above, we mentioned that theRashba and Re’ah also disagreed about whether food cooked by a non-Jew on Shabbos for a Jewish person who is ill is prohibited as bishul akum. How do we rule on this question? Again, it depends on whom you ask: The Rema and the Shach conclude that the food is permitted after Shabbos, even for a healthy person, whereas the Taz, Mishnah Berurah (328:63) and others rule that it is prohibited even for the ill person once food cooked by a Jew becomes available.

Conclusion

According to the Rambam, the reason Chazal prohibited asking a non-Jew to do work on Shabbos is in order not to diminish sensitivity to doing melacha ourselves. Refraining from having even a non-Jew work is testimony to our deep conviction that Hashem created the world.

We have just learned an exception to this rule: When someone is ill, we are permitted to ask a non-Jew to cook for him. This will not diminish sensitivity to doing melacha ourselves, but will increase our sensitivity to the needs of the ill and the mitzvah of bikur cholim, ensuring that we attend to their needs as best as we can.

The Torah’s Instructions to Non-Jews—The Laws of Bnei Noach

This article is dedicated to the memory of my much beloved and missed brother-in-law, Rabbi Yosef Azar, a very exceptional and popular teacher at various seminaries, who lost his protracted battle with cancer this past week. Rav Yosef leaves behind a widow, my sister Yocheved, and ten children, eight of whom are still living at home; the youngest is only five years old.

Although it may seem strange for a non-Jew to ask a rav a shaylah, it should actually be commonplace. After all, there are hundreds of times more non-Jews than Jews in the world, and each one of them should be concerned about his or her halachic responsibility. Many non-Jews are indeed concerned about their future place in Olam Haba, and had the nations not been deceived by spurious religions, many thousands more would observe the mitzvos that they are commanded. It is tragic that they have been misled into false beliefs and practices.

An entire body of literature discusses the mitzvah responsibilities of non-Jews. Although it was Adam who was originally commanded to observe these mitzvos, they are usually referred to as the “Seven Mitzvos of Bnei Noach,” since all of mankind is descended from Noach.

Furthermore, a Jew should be familiar with the halachos that apply to a non-Jew, since it is forbidden to cause a non-Jew to transgress his mitzvos. This is included under the Torah’s violation of lifnei iver lo sitein michshol, “Do not place a stumbling block before a blind person.” In this case, this means do not cause someone to sin, if he is blind to the severity of his violation (Avodah Zarah 6b).

In actuality, a non-Jew must observe more than seven mitzvos. The “Seven Mitzvos” are really categories; furthermore, there are additional mitzvos that apply, as we will explain.

THE BASICS

The seven cardinal prohibitions that apply to a non-Jew are:

1. AVODAH ZARAH

It is forbidden for a non-Jew to worship idols in any way. Most religions of the world are idolatrous, particularly the major religions of the East.

Although Christianity constitutes idol worship for a Jew, there is a dispute whether it is idolatry for a ben Noach. Some poskim contend that its concepts of G-d do not violate the prohibition against Avodah Zarah that was commanded to Adam and Noach (Tosafos, Bechoros 2b s.v. Shema; Rama, Orach Chayim 156). However, most later poskim contend that Christian belief does constitute Avodah Zarah, even for a non-Jew (Shu’t Noda BiYehudah, Tenina, Yoreh Deah #148; Chazon Ish, Likutim, Sanhedrin 63b p. 536). In this regard, there is a widespread misconception among Jews that only Catholicism is Avodah Zarah, but not Protestantism. This is untrue. Every branch and type of Christianity includes idolatrous beliefs.

2. GILUY ARAYOS, which prohibits many illicit relationships.

3. MURDER, including abortion (Sanhedrin 57b), suicide, and mercy killing.

4. EIVER MIN HACHAI, eating flesh taken from a live animal.

This prohibition includes eating a limb or flesh removed from an animal while it was alive, even if the animal is now dead.

In the context of this mitzvah, the Rishonim raise an interesting question. Adam was forbidden to eat meat (see Bereishis 1:29-30), but, after the Flood, Noach was permitted to do so (Bereishis 9:3; see Rashi in both places). So, why was Adam prohibited from eating flesh of a living animal, if he was prohibited from eating meat altogether?

Two differing approaches are presented to answer this question. The Rambam explains that the prohibition to eat meat that was given to Adam was rescinded after the Flood, and it was then that the prohibition of Eiver Min HaChai was commanded to Noach for the first time (Rambam, Hilchos Melachim 9:1). According to this approach, six of the present day “Seven Mitzvos” were commanded to Adam, while the seventh was commanded only at the time of Noach.

Other Rishonim contend that Adam was permitted to eat the meat of an animal that was already dead, and was prohibited only from killing animals for food. In addition, he was prohibited to eat meat that was removed from a living animal, and this prohibition is one of the “Seven Mitzvos” (Rashi, Sanhedrin 57a s.v. Lemishri and Bereishis 1:29; Tosafos, Sanhedrin 56b s.v. Achal). The first prohibition was rescinded after the Flood, when mankind was permitted to slaughter animals for food. Thus, according to the Rambam, Adam was prohibited both from killing animals and from eating any meat, while according to the other Rishonim, he was prohibited from killing animals but allowed to eat meat.

ANIMAL BLOOD

Although a non-Jew may not eat the flesh of a living animal, he may eat blood drawn from a living animal (Rambam, Hilchos Melachim 9:10; cf. Sanhedrin 56b and 59a, and Rashi, Bereishis 9:3). Some African tribesmen extract blood from their livestock, mix it with milk, and drink it for a nutritious beverage. Although we may consider this practice very offensive, it does not in any way violate the mitzvos for a non-Jew.

5. BLASPHEMY.

Cursing Hashem. As with his other mitzvos, a non-Jew may not claim that he was unaware it is forbidden.

6. STEALING.

This prohibition includes taking even a very small item that does not belong to him, eating something of the owner’s food on the job without permission, or not paying his employees or contractors (Rambam, Hilchos Melachim 9:9). According to some opinions, it includes not paying his workers or contractors on time (Meiri, Sanhedrin).

7. DINIM, literally, laws.

This mitzvah includes the application of a code of civil law, including laws of damages, torts, loans, assault, cheating, and commerce (Ramban, Breishis 34:13; cf. Rambam, Hilchos Melachim 9:14). Furthermore, there is a requirement to establish courts in every city and region, to guarantee that people observe their mitzvos (Sanhedrin 56b; Rambam, Hilchos Melachim 9:14).

ARE NON-JEWS REQUIRED TO OBSERVE THE COMMERCIAL LAW OF THE TORAH?

Does the mitzvah of Dinim require non-Jews to establish their own system of law, or is the mitzvah to observe and enforce the Torah’s mitzvos, which we usually refer to as the halachos of Choshen Mishpat?

In a long teshuvah, the Rama (Shu’t #10) contends that this question is disputed by Amora’im in the Gemara. He concludes that non-Jews are required to observe the laws of Choshen Mishpat, just like Jews. Following this approach, a non-Jew may not sue in a civil court that uses any system of law other than that of the Torah. Instead, he must litigate in a beis din or in a court of non-Jewish judges who follow halachic guidelines (see Rambam, Hilchos Melachim 10:11). Therefore, a non-Jew who accepts money on the basis of civil litigation is considered stealing, just like a Jew. The Rama’s opinion is accepted by many early poskim (e.g., Tumim 110:3; Shu’t Chasam Sofer, Choshen Mishpat #91).

However, the Netziv disagrees with the Rama, contending that non-Jews are not obligated to observe the laws of Choshen Mishpat. In his opinion, the Torah requires non-Jews to create their own legal rules and procedures. Although a Jew is forbidden from using the non-Jewish court system and laws, according to the Netziv a non-Jew may use secular courts to resolve his litigation and indeed fulfills a mitzvah when doing so (HaEmek Shaylah #2:3). Other poskim accept the Netziv’s position (Chazon Ish, Bava Kama 10:1). Several major poskim contend that the dispute between the Rama and Netziv is an earlier dispute between the Rambam and Ramban (Shu’t Maharam Schick, Orach Chayim #142; Shu’t Maharsham 4:86; Shu’t Avnei Nezer, Choshen Mishpat #55).

What is a non-Jew to do if he wishes to sue someone? May he litigate in civil court or must he sue in beis din? Because this subject is disputed, we would have to decide whether the rule of safek de’oraysa lechumra (we are strict regarding a doubt concerning a Torah law) applies to a non-Jew. If the non-Jew asks how to proceed in the most mehadrin fashion, we would tell him to take his matter to beis din, because this is permitted (and a mitzvah) according to all opinions.

It should be noted that, according to both opinions, a non-Jew must observe dina demalchusa dina – laws established by civil authorities for the common good. Therefore, he must certainly observe tax codes, traffic laws, building and zoning codes, and regulations against smuggling.

AN INTERESTING SHAYLAH – BRIBING A DISHONEST JUDGE

The Chasam Sofer (6:14) was asked the following shaylah: A non-Jew sued a Jew falsely in a dishonest court. The Jew knew that the non-Jewish judge would rule against him, despite the absence of any evidence. However, bribing the judge may gain a ruling in the Jew’s favor. May he bribe the dishonest judge to rule honestly?

Chasam Sofer rules that it is permitted. The prohibition against bribing a non-Jew is because he is responsible to have an honest court. However, if the result of the bribe will be a legitimate ruling, it is permitted. (Of course, the Jewish litigant must be absolutely certain that he is right.)

OTHER PROHIBITIONS

In addition to the “Seven Mitzvos,” there are other activities that are also prohibited to a non-Jew. According to many opinions, a non-Jew may not graft trees from different species or crossbreed animals (Sanhedrin 56b; Rambam, Hilchos Melachim 10:6; Meiri ad loc.; cf. Shach Yoreh Deah 297:3 and Dagul Mei’re’vavah ad loc.; Chazon Ish, Kelayim 1:1). According to many poskim, a non-Jew may not even own a grafted fruit tree, and a Jew may not sell him such a tree, because that would cause a non-Jew to violate his mitzvah (Shu’t Mahari Asad, Yoreh Deah #350; Shu’t Maharsham 1:179).

Some poskim contend that non-Jews are prohibited from engaging in sorcery (see Kesef Mishneh, Hilchos Avodah Zarah 11:4). According to this opinion, a non-Jew may not use any type of black magic, necromancy or fortune telling. However, most opinions disagree (Radbaz, Hilchos Melachim 10:6).

MAY A NON-JEW OBSERVE MITZVOS?

A non-Jew may not keep Shabbos or a day of rest (without doing melacha) on any day of the week (Sanhedrin 58b). The reason for this is subject to dispute. Rashi explains that a non-Jew is obligated to work every day, because the Torah writes, “Yom Valayla Lo Yishbosu,” which can be interpreted to mean, “Day and night they (i.e., the non-Jews) may not rest.” The Rambam (Hilchos Melachim 10:9), however, explains that a gentile is prohibited from making his own holiday or religious observance, because the Torah is opposed to the creation of man-made religions. In the words of the Rambam, “A non-Jew is not permitted to create his own religion or mitzvah. Either he becomes a righteous convert (a ger tzedek) and accepts the observance of all the mitzvos, or he remains with the laws that he has, without adding or detracting.” A third reason mentioned is that a Jew may mistakenly learn from a gentile who keeps a day of rest, and the Jew may create his own mitzvos (Meiri).

Because of this halacha, a non-Jew studying for conversion must perform a small act of Shabbos desecration every Shabbos. There is a dispute among poskim whether this applies to a non-Jew who has undergone bris milah and is awaiting immersion in a mikvah to complete his conversion (Shu’t Binyan Tzion #91).

POSITIVE MITZVOS

You probably noticed that there are few positive mitzvos among the non-Jew’s commandments. They are required to believe that the mitzvos were commanded by Hashem through Moshe Rabbeinu (Rambam, Hilchos Melachim 8:11). They are also obligated to establish courts. A non-Jew is permitted to observe the mitzvos of the Torah, with a few exceptions (for example, see Rambam, Hilchos Melachim 10:10). He is even permitted to offer korbanos (Zevachim 116b).

STUDYING TORAH

The Gemara states that a non-Jew is not permitted to study Torah (Sanhedrin 59a). One opinion of the Gemara explains that the Torah belongs to the Jewish people, and by studying Torah the gentile is “stealing” Jewish property. However, there are many exceptions to this ruling. First, a gentile may study all the halachos applicable to observing his mitzvos (Meiri). Rambam rules that it is a mitzvah to teach a non-Jew the halachos of offering korbanos, if he intends to bring them (Rambam, Maasei Hakorbanos 19:16). According to the Rama’s opinion that a non-Jew must observe the Torah’s civil laws, the non-Jew may study all the intricate laws of Choshen Mishpat. Furthermore, since a non-Jew is permitted to observe most mitzvos of the Torah, some opinions contend that he may learn the laws of those mitzvos in order to observe them correctly (Meiri, Sanhedrin 58b).

There is a dispute among poskim whether one may teach a non-Jew Torah if the non-Jew is planning to convert. The Meiri (Sanhedrin 58b) and Maharsha (Shabbos 31a s.v. Amar lei mikra) rule that it is permitted, whereas Rabbi Akiva Eiger forbids it (Shu’t #41). Others permit teaching Nevi’im and Kesuvim to non-Jews (Shiltei HaGibborim, Avodah Zarah 20a, quoting Or Zarua), and other poskim permit teaching a non-Jew about miracles that the Jews experienced (Shu’t Melamed Leho’il Yoreh Deah #77).

Incidentally, Rav Moshe Feinstein rules that one is permitted to teach Torah to Jews while a non-Jew is listening (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 2:132). For this reason, he permits conducting a Seder with a non-Jew in attendance.

OLAM HABA FOR A NON-JEW

A gentile who observes his mitzvos because Hashem commanded them through Moshe Rabbeinu is called one of the Chassidei Umos HaOlam and merits a place in Olam Haba. Observing these mitzvos carefully does not suffice to make a non-Jew into a Chassid. He must observe his mitzvos as a commandment of Hashem (Rambam, Hilchos Melachim 8:11).

When I was a congregational rabbi, I often met non-Jews who were interested in Judaism. I always presented the option of becoming an observant ben Noach. I vividly recall meeting a woman whose grandfather was Jewish, but who herself was halachically not Jewish. She was keeping kosher – no small feat in her town, where there was no Jewish community. Although she had come to speak about converting, since we do not encourage conversion I explained the halachos of Bnei Noach to her instead.

An even more interesting experience occurred when I was once making a kashrus inspection at an ice cream plant. A worker there asked me where I was from, and then informed me that he used to attend a Reform Temple two blocks from my house! I was surprised, not expecting to find a Jew in the plant. However, it turned out that he was not Jewish at all, but had stopped attending church after rejecting its beliefs. Now, he was concerned, because he had stopped attending the Reform Temple that was far from his house. I discussed with him the religious beliefs and observances of Bnei Noach, explaining that they must be meticulously honest in all their business dealings, just like Jews. I told him that Hashem gave mitzvos to both Jews and non-Jews, and that Judaism is the only major religion that does not claim a monopoly on heaven. Non-Jews, too, merit olam haba if they observe their mitzvos.

Over the years, I have noticed that many churchgoing non-Jews in the United States have rejected the tenets of Christianity. What they have accepted is that Hashem appeared to Moshe and the Jewish people at Sinai and commanded us about His mitzvos. This belief is vital for non-Jews to qualify as Chassidei Umos HaOlam – they must accept that the commandments of Bnei Noach were commanded to Moshe (Rambam, Hilchos Melachim 8:11).

CONCLUSION

As Jews, we do not proselytize to gentiles, nor seek converts. However, when we meet sincere non-Jews, we should direct them correctly in their quest for truth by introducing them to the Seven Mitzvos of Bnei Noach.

Can a Lens be Laundered? How do I Care for my Soft Contacts on Shabbos?

Certainly, on Shabbos Bereishis it is appropriate to discuss hilchos Shabbos.

Photo by Julia R. from FreeImages

Question: My friend and I both wear soft contact lens, but we received very different instructions how to care for them on Shabbos. Could you please explain the background to the shailohs involved?

Answer: From a halachic perspective, the question is whether cleaning soft lenses on Shabbos is different from washing the older, hard lenses or from cleaning ordinary eyeglasses, for that matter. The technical difference between them is that soft lenses absorb water, whereas the other lenses do not. Therefore, contemporary poskim dispute whether cleaning soft lenses involves a prohibition of laundering on Shabbos. To explain this dispute, we must first introduce the halachic concepts of laundering on Shabbos.

One of the activities necessary to construct the mishkan was cleaning and bleaching the wool for its curtains. Therefore, one of the thirty-nine avos melachos (main categories) of Shabbos is melabein, which translates either as laundering (Rashi, Shabbos 73a) or as bleaching (Rambam, Hilchos Shabbos 9:11). Both opinions agree that laundering fiber or clothing is prohibited min haTorah because it improves the wool’s appearance.

To illustrate this melacha’s details, we will first explain the halachos of regular laundering. Washing clothes involves three steps;

(1) soaking them in water or another cleaning liquid.

(2) scrubbing out the dirt. 

(3) wringing the water out of the clothes.

Each of these steps is prohibited min haTorah because of laundering.

SOAKING

The first step is soaking. Simply placing dirty clothes into water to soak is a Torah violation of melabein. In the words of the amora, Rava, “Someone who threw a handkerchief into water violated a Torah prohibition of laundering on Shabbos” (Zevachim 94b).

Some poskim forbid soaking clean clothes (Yerei’im; see Rema, Orach Chayim 302:9), since this whitens or brightens them. (For purposes of meleches melabein, a “clean garment” means one without noticeable stains or obvious dirt.) Others contend that soaking a garment is prohibited only if there is noticeable dirt that will thereby be removed (Tosafos Yeshanim and Rosh, Yoma 74b). Although most poskim are lenient, one should preferably follow the more stringent opinion (Mishnah Berurah 302:48).

Some later poskim contend that the opinion forbidding soaking a “clean garment” does so only when the soaking causes a noticeable change, e.g., the garment looks brighter afterward. However, it is permitted to soak a clean item that never brightens when it is soaked (Shu”t Avnei Nezer 159:10; Koveitz Teshuvos #18; cf. Graz 302:21 who disagrees.) Later in this article, we will see how this factor affects our discussion about contact lenses.

Sprinkling water on clothing is also considered soaking, and this is certainly so if one intends to clean it. Therefore, if food splatters on your shirt or blouse on Shabbos, placing some water or even saliva on the stain so that it does not set is a Torah violation of laundering.

The poskim dispute whether one may moisten cloth while making it dirty. For example, may one mop up spilled juice with a rag? If this is prohibited because it is considered melabein, then one is required to shake the excess water off one’s hands before drying them on a towel, even though drying one’s hands soils the towel.

Other poskim contend that it is permitted to moisten cloth while making it dirty. In their opinion, one may dry drenched hands on a towel. The halacha is like the latter opinion, and, therefore, it is permitted to throw a towel onto a spill (Shulchan Aruch and Rema, Orach Chayim 302:10).

To wipe up a spill, one should use a towel or rag, rather than a garment, if it will get drenched. This is out of concern that one might squeeze out a soaked garment (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 302 11). We are not concerned that he will forget and squeeze a towel or rag, since they are meant for this purpose.

When absorbent paper towels came on the market, there was a need to clarify their halachic status. Rav Moshe Feinstein rules that one may wipe up a spill with a paper towel because paper is not an item that is laundered (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 2:70). (However, one should not squeeze out the paper towel because of the prohibition of “mefareik,” extracting a liquid from a solid, which we will discuss a different time iy”H.)

SCRUBBING

The second stage of laundering is scrubbing, which actively dislodges dirt from the garment. This is the main step in cleaning a garment. Any type of scrubbing or scouring clothing or material violates the prohibition of laundering on Shabbos.

WRINGING

The final stage in laundering is squeezing out the water. This is prohibited because the garment’s appearance is improved by squeezing out absorbed liquid (Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim end of 301, quoting Kolbo). Thus, one can violate melabein by wringing out a garment, even if it is totally clean. Furthermore, when squeezing water out of a garment, one generally also squeezes out dirt (Shu”t Avnei Nezer 159:19, 23).

WASHING DISHES

Why are we permitted to wash dishes on Shabbos? Aren’t we removing dirt from the dishes and improving their appearance?

Laundering clothing is different because this removes dirt that became absorbed between the fibers of the fabric. However, the food and dirt on dishes sticks to their surface and does not absorb into the dish. Thus, washing dishes is halachically different from laundering (Shu”t Avnei Nezer, Orach Chayim 157:4).

(Note that it is prohibited to wash dishes on Shabbos when one is obviously washing them to use after Shabbos [Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 323:6]. However, this is a violation of preparing on Shabbos for after Shabbos and has nothing to do with the prohibition of laundering. Note also that since most poskim prohibit using hot water from the faucet in modern homes on Shabbos, we are discussing washing dishes in cold water or with hot water from an urn.)

LEATHER

We have seen that soaking, scrubbing, or wringing out clothing violates melabein on Shabbos and that soaking or scrubbing dirty dishes does not. There is a material that falls in between dishes and normal clothing: leather. It is permitted to soak leather, although it is prohibited to scrub it or to wring liquid out of it, as I will explain.

Halacha forbids scrubbing soft leather on Shabbos, although it is disputed whether this is prohibited min haTorah or only miderabbanan (Graz, Orach Chayim 302:19; Shu”t Avnei Nezer, Orach Chayim 157:2; Orach Chayim 302:9 s.v. Aval). Those who contend that it is miderabbanan are of the opinion that dirt never absorbs into leather – it merely adheres to its surface, like it does to dishes (Shu”t Avnei Nezer, Orach Chayim 157:5). However, since leather is not as hard as dishes, it is still prohibited miderabbanan to scrub dirt off the leather, even though it is permitted to scrub dishes clean.

All opinions agree that one may soak leather on Shabbos. Thus, one may pour water on shoes and leather jackets that became dirty on Shabbos and even rub lightly to remove the dirt. However, one may not scrub dirt off shoes and jackets (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 302:9). (Shoes and leather jackets are considered soft leather, whereas many leather-bound books are considered hard leather. One must check that the entire shoe is leather because many leather shoes have cloth parts that may not be soaked on Shabbos.)

Although soaking is generally considered the first step in laundering, this only applies to clothes and fabrics where the soaking begins the cleaning process. Leather is different because, although soaking dirty leather or hide loosens the dirt, it does not significantly improve the appearance of the leather.  Nevertheless, it is prohibited miderabbanan to squeeze wet leather (Rambam, Hilchos Shabbos 9:11).

HARD LEATHER

Most poskim allow scrubbing hard leather on Shabbos (and certainly soaking it), although some contend that this is prohibited miderabbanan (She’iltos, quoted by Mishnah Berurah 302:39). Thus, if a leather-bound book becomes soiled with mud on Shabbos, it is permitted to scrub it clean before the mud dries. Once the mud dries, this would be prohibited because of tochein, grinding (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 302:7).

PLASTIC

Hard plastic plates or cups are considered like dishes and may be washed on Shabbos.

What is the halachic status of soft plastic items, such as disposable tablecloth covers? Is there a prohibition of melabein in washing these plastic tablecloths? Are they considered like dishes, like leather, or like cloth?

The great poskim who lived after the invention of these tablecloths discuss whether they should be treated like leather or like dishes. They conclude that, although they are probably most comparable to dishes, one should be strict and treat them like soft leather. Thus, one may rinse or soak them, but should be stringent not to scrub them (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 2:76; Shulchan Shelomoh, Hilchos Shabbos I 302:15). Following this approach, children’s rubber pants (if anyone still has them) or plastic sheets can be soaked since they do not absorb liquid, but if one has a cloth item with a plastic lining, that cannot be soaked. 

PLASTIC LENSES

Now that we have explained these cases, we can return to our original question about cleaning contact lenses.

To the best of my knowledge, all contemporary poskim agree that hard contact lenses and eyeglass lenses, whether glass or plastic, may be washed on Shabbos, just like dishes. Since they are hard, we assume that the dirt adheres to their surface and does not absorb inside them.

The standard care of soft lenses is to remove them from the wearer’s eyes and place them in a special antiseptic solution overnight. In the morning, one removes the lenses from the solution, rubs a finger over them to remove any remaining dirt, and reinserts them.

The lenses are soaked for three reasons.

First, to sanitize the lens from microscopic germs that can cause infection. This is why the solution is antiseptic.

Second, to clean the lens from dirt and tears; although they are initially unnoticeable, eventually they collect on the lens and make it cloudy. Rubbing one’s finger over the lens before reinserting it removes the dirt and tears that are not always removed simply by soaking the lenses.

The third reason to soak the lens is to keep it soft and pliable. If the lens is not kept moist, it will dry out and become unusable. For this purpose, however, it is unnecessary to soak the lens in a cleaning solution – soaking it in a sterile saline solution suffices.

Under normal circumstances, no dirt is noticeable on the lens. It is unclear whether the dirt and tears are absorbed into the lens or lie on the surface, and this lack of clarity makes a big difference in our shailah.

The halachic question is whether placing the lenses into the solution, removing them from the solution, and rubbing them involve any violation of laundering on Shabbos. Does placing the lens into solution constitute soaking? Is removing them considered squeezing since the cleaning fluid is now being removed or “squeezed” out of the lens? Is rubbing them equivalent to scrubbing? Or do we say that these lenses are no different from hard lenses?

As mentioned above, the critical difference is that, whereas hard lenses do not absorb liquid, soft contact lenses do, and actually absorb considerably more liquid than leather does. Whereas some lenses absorb as much as 70% water content by weight, most leather absorbs little or no water at all. (Some leather absorbs liquid, but never this much.) Because lenses absorb so much water, it can be argued that they are like cloth and, therefore, all these steps should be prohibited.

However, every posek I saw disputes this conclusion because the lens remains unchanged when the liquid is added and removed. As mentioned above, soaking a clean garment is prohibited only when it causes a noticeable improvement, such as the garment looks brighter afterwards. However, the appearance of soft lenses are unchanged by the soaking, and therefore soaking alone does not violate any laws of Shabbos (Orchos Shabbos; Shu”t Yevakeish Torah 5:11).

Some poskim distinguish between the normal cleaning solution and a pure saline solution (Kovetz Teshuvos #18). In their opinion, placing leather in a powerful cleaning solution is equivalent to scrubbing leather and is prohibited on Shabbos. Similarly, since placing the lenses in the normal cleaning solution removes the dirt from them, it is considered as if one scrubbed them on Shabbos and is forbidden (Orchos Shabbos). However, placing them in a saline solution to keep them moist is permitted since no improvement is noticeable.

Poskim who follow this approach usually tell people to wash the lenses before Shabbos with cleaning solution, reinsert them, and then place the lenses into regular saline solution when removing them for the night on Shabbos.

However, if one follows this last opinion, one should be very careful. The saline solution does not prevent infection from developing on the lens, whereas the normal cleaning solution is also a disinfectant. A physician I spoke to advised someone using saline solution to place the solution containing the lenses into a refrigerator overnight. Even after removing the lenses from the saline solution Shabbos morning, one should keep the solution refrigerated the whole week until next Shabbos. He also recommended replacing the saline solution every few weeks.

Rav Shlomoh Zalman Auerbach zt”l had a different approach to this issue, contending that the soft contact lenses do not really absorb liquid. He maintained that plastic does not absorb liquid the same way that cloth does. Whereas the liquid actually enters the cloth and becomes absorbed inside, liquid does not actually enter into the plastic of the soft lenses, but remains between the strands of the plastic. Soft lenses are constructed of a plastic that has space between its strands to allow water to enter. However, the water never enters the “fiber” of the plastic the same way it enters the fiber of the cloth. Thus, in his opinion, it is permitted to clean soft contact lenses on Shabbos the same way one would on weekdays (Nishmas Avraham, Volume 5, pg. 20; see Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasah pg. 181).

Rav Shlomo Zalman held that one must place the contact lenses into solution only when they are still moist, out of concern that wetting them after they are dry is considered repairing them. In point of fact, everyone who has these lenses keeps them moist at all times, exactly for this reason.

I have heard rabbonim paskin a compromise position between these two above-mentioned positions, contending that there is no problem with soaking the lenses, since this does not clean them, but when removing the lenses from the solution one should not rub them, since this might be considered scrubbing the lenses.

Conclusion

The Torah commanded us concerning the halachos of Shabbos by giving us the basic categories that are prohibited. Our poskim analyze the rules the Torah gives us and then compare these rules to new circumstances that appear. The greatness of the Torah is that even though the world is constantly changing and developing, the words of Torah are timeless and can be applied to all of these new situations.

How to Live in the Sukkah

Question #1: Where?

“Where should I learn Torah during Sukkos?”

Question #2: What?

“What are the rules about having dirty plates and glasses in the sukkah?”

Question #3: When?

“When it is raining on the first night of Sukkos, why do we make kiddush and hamotzi in the sukkah, but without reciting the brocha on the mitzvah?”

Introduction:

The laws of the mitzvah of sukkah are highly detailed and very unusual. In the course of answering the opening questions, we will be studying an overview of the unique laws of this beautiful mitzvah.

Home sweet sukkah

The proper observance of this mitzvah is to treat the sukkah as one’s home for the entire seven days of Sukkos (Mishnah and Gemara Sukkah 28b). This is derived from the Torah’s words: “You shall dwell (teishevu) in the Sukkah for seven days.” This is the only mitzvah of the Torah that is worded this way, and, as a result, there are many interesting and unique halachic details, both lekulah and lechumrah. (Women are exempt from the mitzvah of sukkah, and, therefore, the halachos that we describe in this article apply only to men. However, a woman who eats or spends time in the sukkah fulfills a mitzvah. According to Ashkenazic practice, she recites a brocha prior to fulfilling the mitzvah; according to Sephardic practice, she does not.)

The Gemara explains that a person should not only eat all his meals in the sukkah, but he should sleep and relax in the sukkah (Sukkah 28b; Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 639:1). Although in many places in chutz la’aretz, people are not accustomed to sleeping in the sukkah because of safety, weather or personal concerns (see Rema and acharonim, Orach Chayim 639:2), we should still spend most of the day in the sukkah, and not simply use it as a place to eat our meals, and then leave it for the rest of the day.

To quote the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 639:1): “How does one fulfill the mitzvah of living in the sukkah? One should eat, drink, sleep, relax, and live in the sukkah all seven days, both in the daytime and at night, just as he lives in his house the rest of the year. For these seven days, he should make his house temporary and his sukkah into his regular residence. What are some examples of this? His nicest vessels, tablecloths and bedspreads should be in the sukkah. His drinking vessels, both the serving vessels and the drinking glasses, should be in the sukkah. However, utensils used to prepare food, such as pots and pans, should be outside the sukkah. The lamp should be in the sukkah; however, if the sukkah is small, it should be placed outside the sukkah.”

What does the Shulchan Aruch mean when it makes a distinction between drinking vessels, which are inside the sukkah, and utensils to prepare food, which it says should be outside the sukkah?

Here, the Shulchan Aruch introduces the following concept. Although we are supposed to use and live in the sukkah as we do in our house, we are required to treat the sukkah with a degree of respect, as it has some level of kedusha. The Rema (639:1) notes that unbecoming things should not be performed in the sukkah. The Beis Yosef chooses washing dishes as an example of something inappropriate in the sukkah. The Magen Avraham explains that washing drinking glasses is permitted in the sukkah, because this is not considered something unaesthetic, whereas washing pots and dirty dishes is.

Regarding eating and cooking vessels, there are two aspects to this distinction.

According to custom, pots and other cooking vessels that are not brought to the table when there are guests should not be brought into the sukkah (Mishnah Berurah 639:5). Similarly, other items that are not appropriate for public view, such as a child’s potty, should never be brought into the sukkah. However, presentable “oven-to-table” cookware may be brought into the sukkah.

The second aspect is that plates and platters that are dirty must be removed from the sukkah (Sukkah 29a). This is because, once they have been used, they look unpleasant.

Both of these laws do not apply to drinking vessels, which are usually not repulsive, even when dirty (ibid.).

A rule of thumb I have adopted is: Something that would be in the dining room, living room or bedrooms when you are entertaining guests can be in the sukkah. Items that you would ordinarily leave in the kitchen, bathroom or laundry area should not be in the sukkah.

Lamp in the sukkah?

The Shulchan Aruch stated: “The lamp should be in the sukkah; however, if the sukkah is small, it should placed outside the sukkah.” What does this mean?

In today’s post-Edison world, lighting usually means electric lighting, which, if properly installed, should not present any safety hazards. However, when lighting was oil or other flammable material, placing a light inside a small sukkah could pose a safety hazard. Therefore, the sukkah’s lighting would, of necessity, be placed outside when the sukkah was small. Although this situation is not ideal, it is, under the circumstances, an acceptable way to observe the mitzvah, notwithstanding that your household lighting would be indoors.

Studying in the sukkah

The Gemara (Sukkah 28b) discusses whether learning Torah should be in the sukkah or outside. The conclusion is that learning requiring focus is usually best accomplished outside the sukkah, where someone can learn with better concentration. On the other hand, learning that will not suffer as a result of heing outside home or a beis medrash should, indeed, be done in the sukkah. However, if someone needs access to many seforim while learning, it may not be practical to bring all of them to the sukkah. The Mishnah Berurah (639:29) recommends bringing the seforim that he will need to the sukkah for the entire Yom Tov, if he can create a place there to keep them. I will add that, depending on the climate, he may need a place where they will not get wet.

Thus, we can answer our opening question: “Where should I learn Torah during Sukkos?” The answer is: If someone can conveniently learn in the sukkah, he should; but if he cannot, he should learn where he will be able to accomplish the most.

Snacking outside the sukkah?

Although the Shulchan Aruch requires that all meals be eaten in the sukkah, it does not require that snacks be eaten in the sukkah. This ruling is also derived from the Torah’s wording of mitzvas sukkah: “You shall dwell (teishevu) in the Sukkah for seven days,” which implies that we should treat the sukkah as we treat our house the rest of the year. In this instance, the result is lenient. Just as we do not eat all snacks in the house, but eat them wherever we find ourselves, the same is true regarding eating snacks on Sukkos – there is no requirement to eat them in the sukkah.

In this context, the Mishnah reports:

“It once happened that someone brought Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai some food to taste, and (in another anecdote) someone brought Rabban Gamliel two dates and a pitcher of water. In both instances, the rabbonim asked that the food be brought to the sukkah for them to eat it there. However, when someone brought Rabbi Tzadok a small amount of bread, he ate a very small amount — less than the size-equivalency of an egg — outside the sukkah” (Mishnah, Sukkah 26b).

The Gemara explains: The halacha does not require eating any of these items in the sukkah, but one is permitted to be more stringent. In other words, someone who desires to be stringent and not eat anything or drink even water outside the sukkah is praiseworthy. Ordinarily, it is prohibited to act more stringently than the halacha requires, because of a concern called yohara, showing off that one is more careful in halacha than other people. This concern does not exist germane to being strict about eating snacks in the sukkah, and, therefore, Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai and Rabban Gamliel ate in the sukkah, even when it was not mandated. On the other hand, since this is a stringency and not halachically required, Rabbi Tzadok ate his snack outside the sukkah.

How much is still considered a snack that is permitted outside of the sukkah? If you are eating bread, you may eat a piece that is equal to, but not greater than, the size of an average-sized egg. Someone who wants to determine this size exactly should discuss it with his rav or posek. Fruit, as much as you want, may be eaten outside the sukkah. A cereal produced from the five grains may not be eaten outside the sukkah, if it constitutes a meal.

Stopping for a drink

It is permitted to drink water or any other beverage, even wine, outside the sukkah. However, be aware that if a person is in the middle of a meal that requires being in the sukkah, he may not eat or drink anything outside the sukkah (see Ran). This is because every part of a meal must be eaten in the sukkah, even while in the house getting the next course. (Of course, since women are exempt from the mitzvah of sukkah, they may eat or help themselves to something in the house during the meal.)

Kiddush, hamotzi, but not brocha?

At this point, let us discuss the third of our opening questions: “When it is raining on the first night of Sukkos, why do we make kiddush and hamotzi in the sukkah, but without reciting the brocha on the mitzvah?”

Leniencies about sukkah

Answering this question requires two introductions about different aspects of the laws of sukkah. The first is:

As I noted above, when the mitzvah of sukkah is discussed, the Torah writes “You shall dwell (teishevu) in the Sukkah for seven days.” Seemingly, the Torah could just as easily have instructed, “You shall be (tihyu) in the sukkah for seven days.” Why did the Torah use the word teishevu, dwell, rather than the word tihyu, be?Either term teishevu (dwell) or tihyu (be)implies that a person should use his sukkah as his primary residence through the Yom Tov!

The answer is because  the word teishevu implies something that tihyu does not: Teishevu implies that there is no requirement to use the sukkah in circumstances that you would not use your house the rest of the year (Tosafos Yom Tov, Sukkah 2:4). This is referred to as teishevu ke’ein taduru, you should live in the sukkah similarly to the way you normally live in your house. Since the mitzvah of the Torah is to treat the sukkah as you ordinarily treat your house, there are leniencies that do not apply to any other mitzvah. One case of these is mitzta’er, someone for whom being in the sukkah causes discomfort. A mitzta’er is exempt from being in the sukkah (Sukkah 26a).

For example, a person whose house is very chilly will relocate temporarily to a warmer dwelling; if bees infest your house, you will find alternative accommodations; if the roof leaks, you will find a dry location until it is repaired. Just as people evacuate their houses when uncomfortable and find more suitable accommodations, so may they relocate from their sukkah when uncomfortable and seek more pleasant arrangements. Therefore, if a bad smell develops near the sukkah, one is exempt from staying in the sukkah.

The first night of Sukkos

The second introduction is to explain that there are two aspects to the mitzvah of sukkah.

(1) The mitzvah to dwell in a sukkah the entire Yom Tov. This is the aspect of the mitzvah that we have been discussing until this point.

(2) The requirement to eat in a sukkah onthe first night of the Yom Tov. Chazal derive this requirement by way of a hermeneutic comparison to the mitzvah of eating matzah on the first night of Pesach (Sukkah 27a). Although there is no requirement to eat matzah all of Pesach, on the first night there is a requirement, as the Torah specifies, ba’erev to’chelu matzos, on the first night of Pesach one is required to eat matzah.

This means that Hashem taught Moshe at Har Sinai that there are two aspects to the mitzvah of living in the sukkah. The first night one has an obligation to eat in the sukkah. The rest of Sukkos, the requirement is to treat the sukkah as you treat your house. Therefore, should you spend all of Sukkos in a circumstance where you would usually never be home – such as a meshulach on a fundraising trip – you could potentially avoid being in the sukkah the entire Yom Tov without violating the mitzvah. However, on the first night, there is an obligation to eat in the sukkah. Even if someone chooses not to eat a meal all of Sukkos, but to subsist completely on snacks, the first night, he is still required to eat a kezayis of bread in the sukkah.

Mitzta’er the first night

Our next question is whether a mitzta’er is required to eat in the sukkah the first night of Sukkos. For example, when the weather is inclement, and it is permitted to eat in the house, does this also exempt someone from eating a kezayis of bread in the sukkah on the first night? This question is the subject of a dispute among the rishonim. Some contend that this exemption does not apply to the mitzvah to eat a kezayis in the sukkah on the first night. Just as a mitzta’er is required to eat a kezayis of matzoh the first night of Pesach, so too a mitzta’er is required to eat a kezayis of bread in the sukkah on the first night of Sukkos (Tur Orach Chayim 639).

Other rishonim disagree, contending that the rules of teishevu ke’ein taduru apply on the first night, just as they apply throughout the rest of the week (Shu”t Rashba, quoted by Beis Yosef).

How do we rule?

The Rema (Orach Chayim 640:4) concludes that although a mitzta’er is absolved from fulfilling mitzvas sukkah the rest of the week, he must, nevertheless, eat a kezayis of bread in the sukkah the first night of Sukkos (see also Meiri, Sukkah 26a; Rema, Orach Chayim 639:5). Ashkenazim, who follow the Rema’s opinion the vast majority of the time, consider this to be an unresolved halachic issue. Therefore, if it rains on the first night of Sukkos, they eat at least a kezayis of bread in the sukkah. However, since there are rishonim who contend that a mitzta’er is exempt even from eating a kezayis on the first night, they do not recite a brocha leisheiv basukah (consensus of most acharonim, see Mishnah Berurah 639:35).

Sefardim should ask their rav what to do, since there is a dispute among Sefardic poskim whether one is obligated to eat in the sukkah on the first night of Yom Tov under these circumstances.

Second night in chutz la’aretz

The acharonim dispute whether the practice of Ashkenazim to make kiddush and eat a kezayis in the sukkah even when it is raining applies only on the first night of Sukkos, or even on the second night of Sukkos in chutz la’aretz. I refer our readers to their rav or posek to discuss this question, should it become germane.

The stars and the sukkah

The halacha is that, lechatchilah, one should be able to see the stars through the sukkah’s schach. What is the reason behind this requirement?

The following thought was suggested: The sukkah, a temporary dwelling with a leaky thatched roof, represents the Jew in exile. Yet, there are a wide variety of kosher Sukkos. Some sukkos are constructed with four complete and sturdy walls that reach all the way to the schach. On the other hand, there are Sukkos that are much less sturdy and yet they are still kosher. For example a sukkah with just two fairly narrow walls accompanied by a third “wall” that is a mere plank the width of one’s fist is kosher. Such a shabby sukkah can be kosher, even if its walls are only ten tefachim tall, which is less than forty inches, with open air between the top of the short “walls” and the schach, notwithstanding that such a sukkah provides virtually no privacy. Do you know anyone who would live in such a house?

The different types of sukkos represent different forms of exile. In some times and places, we were welcomed and had a sense of security; in others, we had to cringe in fear.

Yet, there is one common factor in all the various exiles that we have been through – the stars. The stars remind us that when Klal Yisrael merits it, instead of being like the dust of the earth, we will be like the stars in the sky! (This approach is cited in the contemporary work, Shalal Rav, Sukkos volume, page 114.) Thus, regardless of the difficulties of the moment, we have a Divine promise that one day we will be stars!

Conclusion

We all hope to merit performing this beautiful mitzvah in the best way possible.  After having davened for a good, sweet, new year, the logical continuation is to observe mitzvas sukkah in a halachically correct manner, getting our year off to a wonderful start!

Writing a Sefer Torah

Question #1: Why not?

“Why doesn’t everyone write his own Sefer Torah?”

Question #2: Partners in Torah

“May two people partner together to fulfill the mitzvah of writing a Sefer Torah?”

Question #3: Traditional Chapters

“Why did some gedolei Yisroel not use perakim and pesukim numbers to identify pesukim, whereas others did?”

Introduction:

The last mitzvah mentioned in the Torah, which we are taught in parshas Vayeileich, is that each individual is required to write a Sefer Torah. The words of the Torah from which we derive this mitzvah are, Ve’atah kisvu lachem es hashirah hazos velamdah es Bnei Yisroel simah befihem lema’an tihyeh li hashirah hazos le’eid bivnei Yisroel, “And now, write for yourselves this song, and teach it to the Children of Israel, place it in their mouths, so that this song shall be a testimony among the Children of Israel” (Devorim 31:19). We should note that two of the targumim, the early Aramaic translations of the Torah, authored by Onkelus and by Yonasan ben Uziel, both translate the word shirah not as “song,” but as “praise.” On the other hand, both Rashi and the Rambam (Hilchos Sefer Torah 7:1) explain the posuk a bit differently from the Targum, translating shirah as “song” and understanding it to refer to the song of parshas Ha’azinu. The Rambam explains the posuk to mean that one should “write the Torah, which contains the song of Ha’azinu.”

The Baal Haturim on the posuk notes two gematriyos, one that the words velamdah es Bnei Yisroel equal zeh Torah shebiksav,“this is the Written Torah,” and the words simah befihem equal zeh Talmud, “this is the Oral Torah.”

Nothing missing

Fulfilling the mitzvah of writing a Sefer Torah requires that one write an entire Sefer Torah — even if one letter is missing, one has not fulfilled the mitzvah (Rambam). A Sefer Torah must be written in black ink on parchment. Parchment is made from animal hide, and the mitzvos of Sifrei Torah, tefillin and mezuzos require that the parchment is produced from the hide of a kosher species. There is no halachic requirement to make it from an animal that was slaughtered in accordance with Jewish law, and, as a matter of fact, the hide is usually not from animals that were slaughtered according to halacha.

Lishmah

The tanning of the hide into parchment must be done lishmah, for the purpose of using it for a Sefer Torah. At the first step of the tanning, the Jew who processes the hide into parchment should state that he is processing it lishmah. Whether or not a non-Jew can perform some of the tanning under a Jew’s supervision, or whether doing this undermines the requirement that the processing must be lishmah, is a lengthy discussion among early halachic authorities (Rosh, Hilchos Sefer Torah #3).

The writing of the Sefer Torah must also be performed lishmah. Before he begins writing, the sofer should state aloud, “I am writing this Sefer Torah for the sanctity of Moshe Rabbeinu’s Torah” (Rosh, Hilchos Sefer Torah #4). There is an additional requirement that, when writing the names of Hashem, the scribe write them for the sake of creating holy names.

Dipping the quill

There is an interesting halacha that, when writing the name of Hashem, the sofer should not dip his quill into the ink immediately before writing His name. The reason is that the first letter written after a quill is dipped into ink often smears, and one does not want this to occur while one is writing Hashem‘s name.

Scoring

Prior to writing the words of the Torah on the specially-made parchment, one must score the parchment in a way that leaves no written marks. This process, called sirtut, is accomplished by running an awl or other sharp instrument across the parchmentto mark the lines on which one plans to write (Rambam, Rosh, Tur; cf. Rabbeinu Tam, who disagrees). This law is a halacha leMoshe miSinai, meaning that it is a mesorah, a tradition, that we were taught by Moshe Rabbeinu, who learned it directly from Hashem when he learned the Torah on Har Sinai.

Punctuating Torah

We have a mesorah how the words of the Torah are vowelized and punctuated; the markings indicating this appear in every standard chumash. However, in a Sefer Torah itself, halacha dictates that no periods, other punctuation marks, reading aids or music notes appear.

Chapters

Similarly, the division of the Torah into chapters, perakim, is originally from non-Jewish sources and is never used in handwritten Sifrei Torah. Indeed, this is true not only of the Torah, but also in most of the rest of Tanach. The chapter divisions that are commonly used for most of Tanach do not originate in Jewish sources. The two books that are exceptions, where the chapters are according to Jewish sources, are Tehillim and Eicha. In all other kisvei hakodesh, the division into pesukim is part of our tradition, but not the division into chapters. Consequently, the numbering of the pesukim, which is based on the non-Jewish chapter division, is also not our tradition.

At this point, we can address one of our opening questions: “Why did some gedolei Yisroel not use perakim and pesukim numbers to identify pesukim, whereas others did?”

Many of our gedolim, for example, the Chofetz Chayim and the Ohr Somayach, refrained from referring to pesukim according to chapter and posuk. Instead, they would refer to them by the parsha of the week and its location within the parsha. Clearly, they did not want to use a system that was non-Jewish in origin. Those who do use the chapter and posuk system felt, presumably, that since there is no prohibition to use this system, which makes it much easier for the student to locate the posuk being quoted or studied, one may use it to facilitate the student’s learning.

Pesuchos and sesumos

The Torah itself is divided into sections using a different system, which are called pesuchos and sesumos. These are indicated by the letter “pei” or “samach” in our standard chumashim.

There is a dispute among rishonim exactly how one is to make the pesuchos and sesumos. Both approaches agree that when the pesucha is in the middle or beginning of a line, it is indicated by leaving the rest of the line blank, and then continuing the next passage on the next line. When a sesumah is in the middle or beginning of a line, it is indicated by leaving blank an area at least nine spaces long and then continuing the next passage on the same line. However, when a pesucha or sesumah is at the end or towards the end of a line, the poskim dispute how it must be written. In order to avoid writing a Sefer Torah that is kosher only according to some authorities, accepted practice is to avoid having a pesucha or sesumah at the end or towards the end of a line. We will see shortly how we make sure that this happens.

Write the letters carefully

The sofer must be careful to write the letters clearly and to follow the halachic rules governing how the letters are to be written. He must also make sure that each letter is completely surrounded by parchment. This last requirement, called mukaf gevil, means that each letter must be written in a way that it does not connect to another letter, nor may it run to the top or bottom of the piece of parchment on which it is written.

One of the rules for writing a Sefer Torah is that the scribe must have another Sefer Torah or a tikun in front of him that has all the words of the Torah correctly spelled. In practice, sofrim use a tikun not only to help them spell the words correctly, but to mimic their exact placement on the line and column. Among other reasons, this is to avoid having the sesumos and pesuchos occur towards or at the ends of lines, which creates a halachic problem, as mentioned above.

Size of letters

A Sefer Torah may be written with very small letters or with very large ones, but the relative size of the letters within the same Sefer Torah must be consistent, except for those few letters that have a tradition to be written larger or smaller.

The scribe who writes a Sefer Torah must be a yarei shamayim and knowledgeable in all the laws of writing a Sefer Torah. There are many more details of these laws, far more than we can discuss in this article. Suffice it to say that numerous works are devoted entirely to the topic of the correct writing of letters in a Sefer Torah.

Someone who does not believe in the G-d-given nature of the Torah at Har Sinai is ineligible to be a scribe for Sifrei Torah, tefillin and mezuzos. Such a person may write a kesubah, which is halachically a contract and not holy writing.

How does it dry?

After writing a section of parchment that needs to dry, it is prohibited to suspend it upside down to prevent dust from settling on it. Notwithstanding that this is a simple method for making sure that the parchment remains clean while drying, it is a disrespectful way to treat the words of Hashem (Tur, Yoreh Deah Chapter 277).

Stitching

The pieces of parchment are stitched together with a specially-made thread processed from sinews of kosher animals. (As before, the animals must be of kosher species, but there is no requirement that they be kosher-slaughtered.) It should not be stitched all the way to the top or all the way to the bottom (Tur, Yoreh Deah Chapter 278).

Requirement

Until now, we have been discussing the halachos germane to writing a Sefer Torah, all of which are essential to fulfill this mitzvah. At this point, we will discuss some of the other laws germane to fulfilling the mitzvah.

The Gemara writes that a person who purchased a Sefer Torah that was not kosher, even if only because of one letter, and then repaired the error, it is considered as if he wrote an entire Sefer Torah (Menachos 30a). This is because one is not permitted to own an incorrect Sefer Torah.

Why would someone get credit for writing the entire Sefer Torah when all he did was write one letter? The answer is that a Sefer Torah containing mistakes must be repaired or checked within 30 days. Otherwise, one should place it in genizah. Thus, the individual who corrected the one letter took an incomplete Sefer Torah that would have required genizah and made it into a source that can be used for study and reading the Torah.

Selling a Sefer Torah

The Gemara teaches that one may not sell a Sefer Torah, even if he does not have food to put on his table (Megillah 27a). There are two situations in which one is permitted to sell a sefer Torah: (1) one needs funds to study Torah, or (2) one needs funds to get married (ad locum). The Rema (Yoreh Deah 270:1) adds a third case, permitting the sale of a Sefer Torah in order to have funds with which to fulfill the mitzvah of pidyon shevuyim, redeeming captives.

One may not sell a Sefer Torah, even if he owns several already, and even if he wants to sell an older one in order to have the funds with which to purchase a newer one (Tur, Yoreh Deah, Chapter 270).

Purchasing a Sefer Torah

Does one fulfill the mitzvah if one purchases a Sefer Torah? Based on his understanding of the Gemara (Menachos 30a), the Rema rules that one fulfills the mitzvah only if the Sefer Torah had mistakes and he purchased it and hired a sofer to repair it (or repaired it himself); but, if the Sefer Torah was in good order, he has not fulfilled the mitzvah of writing a Sefer Torah by purchasing it.

Indeed, there is a dispute among the rishonim concerning this halacha: Rashi (Menachos 30a) and the Sefer Hachinuch explain that one fulfills the mitzvah in a non-optimal way by purchasing a Sefer Torah, whereas the Rambam, Smag, Shulchan Aruch and Rema all rule that one is not yotzei by purchase, because the Torah states that the mitzvah is to “write.”

The Minchas Chinuch notes that if he hired a sofer to write a Sefer Torah and then failed to pay him, not only has he violated the Torah prohibition of failing to pay a hiree, he has also not fulfilled the mitzvah of writing a Sefer Torah.

Gave it away

According to the Toras Chayim (Sanhedrin 21, quoted by Pischei Teshuvah, Yoreh Deah 270:3 and by Minchas Chinuch), someone who sold, lost or donated his Sefer Torah no longer fulfills the mitzvah and he must write another one. The Sefer Hachinuch implies that he agrees with this approach, since he writes that the mitzvah is that each individual should own a Sefer Torah. However, there are prominent authorities who dispute this conclusion, ruling that once he fulfilled the mitzvah by writing a Sefer Torah, selling it or giving it away does not invalidate his fulfilling of the mitzvah (see Pischei Teshuvah).

Partners in Torah

At this point, let us examine another of our opening questions: “May two people partner together to fulfill the mitzvah of writing a Sefer Torah?”

The Pischei Teshuvah, an anthologized commentary on the Shulchan Aruch, quotes a few poskim who discuss this question. Most are inclined to rule that one has not fulfilled the mitzvah of writing a Sefer Torah this way.

The Sefer Hachinuch defines the mitzvah as being that each person must own a Sefer Torah, which sounds as if he also holds that one does not fulfill the mitzvah by partnering with someone else to hire a sofer to write it.

The Sefer Hachinuch also writes that the optimal hiddur is to write the Torah himself, with his own hand. If someone is unable to write it himself, he should hire someone to write it for him.

Purchasing seforim

Does one fulfill the mitzvah of writing a Sefer Torah by purchasing seforim used to study Torah? The Rosh writes: Today, when people write a Sefer Torah and it is then left in shul to be used for the mitzvah of kerias haTorah, it is a positive mitzvah on every Jewish male who can afford it to write Chumashim, Mishnayos, Gemaras and their commentaries, in order that he and his children be able to study them. This is because the mitzvah of the Torah specifies “in order to learn from them,” and with the Gemara and commentaries one understands the mitzvos and their details well (Hilchos Sefer Torah #1).

The Beis Yosef (Yoreh Deah 270) explains that the Rosh was not coming to rule that there is no longer a mitzvah to write a Sefer Torah, but that there is also a mitzvah to write other seforim, and that this acquisition is a bigger mitzvah than writing a Sefer Torah. In the Shulchan Aruch, he reflected this opinion. However, there are prominent acharonim who disagree with the Shulchan Aruch and understand that the Rosh’s conclusion is that there is no mitzvah today to write a Sefer Torah (Perisha; Shach). This understanding of the Rosh explains that the mitzvah of the Torah is to produce materials used to study Torah. Since a Sefer Torah is not used today for this purpose, writing one does not fulfill the 613th mitzvah of the Torah.

According to this approach, there is an easy answer to our opening question: “Why doesn’t everyone write his own Sefer Torah?”

There are other reasons to explain why people do not write their own Sefer Torah. Another approach is that one is not required to spend more than a fifth of what he owns to fulfill a mitzvah (Minchas Chinuch). Thus, many poor and middle-class people are exempt from the mitzvah. (See the Sha’agas Aryeh, Shu”t Chasam Sofer, Yoreh Deah #52 and #54 and the Minchas Chinuch for yet other reasons to exempt people today from the mitzvah of writing a Sefer Torah.)

Conclusion

The goal of the Torah’s mitzvah to write a Sefer Torah is so that, wherever Jews live, there should be readily available seforim to study Torah. However, if this was the Torah’s only concern, it would have required each individual to purchase seforim according to his ability. Instead, the Torah required each individual to write a Sefer Torah, thus implying two additional ideas. (1) The Torah wanted each individual to be involved in the providing of Torah learning material, regardless of his personal financial situation. (2) The Torah wanted each individual to be involved, himself, in the writing of Torah materials and their procurement, and not to deputize this mitzvah to others, even when they are more skillful.

The Torah is referred to as a Tree of Life.  B’nei Yisroel are depicted as an agricultural people.  As the Torah is, indeed, a source — the Source — of life, it is certainly appropriate that we care for its proper “planting” and flourishing, as outlined in halacha.

When Tekias Shofar Goes Wrong

Photo by elboim from FreeImages

Every year before Rosh Hashanah, Rav Goldberg reviews the halachos of shofar blowing with the shul’s baal tekiah (shofar blower/master blaster). This year the baal tekiah, Reb Muttel, had more questions than usual.

“I have been a baal tekiah for several years now,” began Reb Muttel. “Each year I feel a stronger sense of responsibility and privilege. Privilege, because it is through my shofar blowing that our shul joins Jews around the world in the coronation of Hashem as King. Also, the shofar is a wake-up call to teshuva and reminds us of many historical events in our history, including Matan Torah and Akeidas Yitzchak. At the same time, it is an awesome responsibility to blow the shofar correctly, so that everyone fulfills his obligation of hearing tekiahs shofar according to halacha.”

“Not every blast is perfect,” continued Reb Muttel, “and I’m curious to know when a blast is acceptable and when it must be repeated. I’d also like to know why sometimes I am told to repeat just a blast, and other times I am told to repeat several. I have also been in shuls where the entire series of nine or more blasts was repeated. In short, I would like a deeper understanding of the halachos.”

Rav Goldberg realized that it would take several sessions to teach Muttel all the details of shofar blowing. Before presenting a synopsis of their discussion, an introduction is in order.

THE TORAH’S MITZVAH OF SHOFAR

As in many other mitzvos, there is no clear command in the Written Torah to blow the shofar on Rosh Hashana. The Torah does refer to Rosh Hashanah as “Yom Teruah,” but this could be translated either as “a day of crying,” “a day of praying” or “a day of shofar blowing.” The Torah Shebe’al Peh teaches that there is a mitzvah min haTorah to blow shofar. The mitzvah is to blow three broken sounds called Teruos, each preceded and followed by a long straight sound called a Tekiah. These sounds add up to a total of nine blasts.

“How do we know that Teruah is a broken sound in the first place?” asked Reb Muttel.

Targum Onkelos translates the word Teruah as ‘yevavah,’ which means crying,” replied the Rav. “This teaches us that the Teruah is a broken, crying sound (Rosh Hashanah 33b). However, it is not clear from the Targum what type of crying sound ‘Teruah’ means.”

“How was this question resolved?”

The Gemara (Rosh Hashanah 34a) reports that Rabbi Abahu was uncertain whether Teruah is a series of sobs (what we call Shevarim), or a staccato, panting cry (Teruah) or a combination of both, first sobbing and then panting (Shevarim-Teruah). To be certain that we fulfill the Torah’s obligation, he mandated blowing three different series, each with a different broken sound. Each broken sound is blown three times to fulfill the Torah mitzvah, and each one is preceded and followed by a Tekiah. Thus, Rabbi Abahu’s arrangement results in a total of thirty shofar sounds:

Tekiah, Shevarim-Teruah, Tekiah (TaSHRaT) three times

Tekiah, Shevarim, Tekiah (TaSHaT) three times

Tekiah, Teruah, Tekiah (TaRaT) three times

But why didn’t Rabbi Abahu institute a shorter procedure, and blow only Tekiah, Shevarim, Teruah, Tekiah (the TaSHRaT mentioned before) three times? This way a person would blow all three varieties of broken sound three times, and each would be surrounded by two teki’os.

The Gemara explains that if the mitzvah is to blow only a Shevarim, blowing a Teruah immediately after the Shevarim is an interruption that invalidates the mitzvah. Similarly, if the mitzvah is to blow only a Teruah, then a Shevarim preceding it interrupts between the Tekiah and the Teruah and invalidates the mitzvah. Thus, the only way to fulfill the mitzvah correctly is to blow three series, one with each type of broken sound (Shevarim, Teruah, and Shevarim-Teruah) in the middle.

“This last statement of the Gemara teaches us an important lesson. If one blows an inappropriate sound between the Tekiah and the correct broken sound, that series is invalid. Early poskim dispute how much of the series is invalid and must be blown again. The stringent opinion contends that one must begin the series he is blowing all over again. The lenient opinion rules that it suffices to return to the most recent Tekiah; the earlier sounds are kosher (Tur Orach Chayim end of 590). There is a very interesting story related to this dispute that we will discuss shortly.”

WHY DON’T WE BLOW A TERUAHSHEVARIM?

The Gemara points out that Rabbi Abahu omitted a fourth option — he did not require a Teruah followed by a Shevarim. The Gemara explains that Rabbi Abahu omitted this combination because the Torah’s Teruah is a broken sound that imitates human crying. Since it is unusual for a crying person to pant and then sob afterwards, this sound cannot be what the Torah commanded.

AN ALTERNATIVE INTERPRETATION

There is another explanation why Rabbi Abahu instituted three different Teruah sounds. Rav Hai Gaon contends that the mitzvah of tekias shofar is fulfilled with ANY broken sound. In his opinion, blowing three times either TaSHRaT or TaShaT or TaRaT or any combination of the three fulfills the Torah mitzvah. In Rav Hai’s opinion, Rabbi Abahu instituted the blowing of thirty shofar sounds for a different reason.

In Rabbi Abahu’s day, different communities blew the broken, crying sound in different ways. In some communities it was a Shevarim, others blew what we call Teruah (short, staccato sounds), while others blew Shevarim-Teruah. Rabbi Abahu was concerned that an unlearned person visiting different communities might conclude that there is a dispute how to blow shofar. To avoid even the appearance of conflict, Rabbi Abahu instituted that all Jews observe all three customs.

Thus, we have two different explanations why Rav Abahu instituted the blowing of thirty shofar sounds. The first opinion, which is held by most poskim, contends that blowing thirty sounds guarantees that we have fulfilled the Torah’s mitzvah. The second opinion maintains that we blow thirty sounds to avoid the appearance of a machlokes.

AN INTERESTING STORY AND ITS EXPLANATION

Almost nine hundred years ago, on Rosh Hashanah 4905/1144, the shofar blower of Mainz, a community with many Talmidei Chachomim, erred in the middle of the blowing. After blasting two kosher rounds of “TaSHRaT” he made a mistake in the third round. Instead of blowing a three-part Shevarim and then a Teruah, he mistakenly blew two parts of a Shevarim and then began blowing the Teruah. Immediately realizing his error, the baal tekiah stopped blowing the Teruah after only one stacatto beat. The question was how to continue.

A dispute ensued among the scholarly congregants. Some advocated that ALL the TaSHRaT soundings must be blown again. Apparently, they contended that ANY inappropriate sound blown in the middle of the shofar blowing invalidates the entire series. Since TaSHRaT is blown to fulfill one interpretation of the Torah’s mitzvah, any inappropriate blast blown in the middle invalidates that entire attempt and the series must begin again.

Other scholars were more lenient. They contended that the sounds already blown need not be repeated. In their opinion, only a sound that has halachic status invalidates a series, not a sound that is neither a Shevarim nor a Teruah. Furthermore, they felt that in a case where the sounds need to be repeated, such as where an unnecessary Teruah was blown in the middle, one need return only to the Tekiah preceding the errant broken sound. Thus, in a case where someone blew in the third TaSHRaT Tekiah, Shevarim-Teruah, Teruah, only the last Tekiah and Shevarim-Teruah need to be blown again but no earlier sounds.

In Mainz, 1144, the first group had its way, and the baal tekiah started blowing again from the the beginning of the TaShRaT series.

After Rosh Hashanah, the shaylah was referred to the gedolim,Rav Elyakim bar Yosef and the Raavan, both of whom ruled that the second group was correct. The Raavan also contended that the extra blasts blown desecrated Yom Tov since they were unnecessary and blowing shofar on Yom Tov is permitted only to perform the mitzvah (Rosh, Rosh Hashanah 4:11).

Returning to Muttel’s lessons with Rav Goldberg, the Rav pointed out that the ruling of Rav Elyakim bar Yosef and the Raavan — that nothing needs to be repeated if the errant sound is neither a Shevarim nor a Teruah — is true only when the baal tekiah blew one or two Teruah sounds. However, if he blew three Teruah sounds in the wrong place, such as before the Shevarim is completed, the Tekiah before it is invalidated, because a Teruah blown immediately before a Shevarim is an invalid sound.

HOW LONG IS A TERUAH?

“I am confused,” protested Reb Muttel. “Why did you say that three short sounds is considered a Teruah? Doesn’t a Teruah have nine sounds!”

“Actually, not everyone agrees that a Teruah requires nine sounds,” the Rav replied patiently. “According to Rashi, a Teruah need be only three sounds. The Riva and Rivam disagree, contending that the Teruah must be at least nine sounds. Since everyone agrees that a Teruah may have extra sounds, we blow a Teruah of nine sounds, which is kosher according to all opinions.”

What happens if the shofar blower blew a Teruah shorter than nine sounds?

According to Rashi, one has fulfilled the mitzvah, provided the Teruah was at least three sounds. According to Riva and Rivam, one has not. The rav or posek in the shul will pasken whether to blow the Teruah again. The Mishnah Berurah (590:12) rules that it is unnecessary to repeat the Teruah. However, if the rav rules that the Teruah should be repeated, the Tekiah preceding the Teruah must also be repeated. Since, according to Rashi, the short Teruah is kosher, blowing another Teruah without repeating the Tekiah interrupts between the Teruah and the following Tekiah.

HOW LONG MUST THE SHEVARIM BE?

A Shevarim must be a minimum of three broken sounds, each called a shever. The shever should preferably be as long as three swift, staccato sounds (three “kochos”), making the entire Shevarim the length of nine staccato sounds (Mishnah Berurah 590:13).

However, there are opinions that each shever should be shorter than three staccato sounds, making the entire Shevarim about the length of six staccato sounds (Tosafos Rosh Hashanah 32b; first opinion quoted in Shulchan Aruch 590:3; Mateh Efrayim). In some communities, the practice is to blow some of the Shevarim according to this opinion.

ANOTHER STORY FROM ROSH HASHANAH, 1144.

“Is it kosher to blow a Shevarim of four or five sounds?” asked Muttel.

“To answer that, we must return to that memorable Rosh Hashanah almost nine hundred years ago in Mainz,” explained Rav Goldberg. “After blowing Tekiah, Shevarim, Tekiah, twice without incident, the baal tekiah blew a successful Tekiah and then a Shevarim that was four sounds instead of the usual three. The congregation considered this sound invalid and made him begin the blowing of TaSHaT from the beginning, repeating a total of eight sounds (the entire TaSHaT twice and a new Tekiah and Shevarim). Rabbi Elyakim bar Yosef took them to task for two different reasons. Even if there was a need to repeat the blowing, they did not need to blow the two previous TaSHaT blowings again, since those were successful blowings. (As we learned above, some scholars in Mainz held that a bad sound invalidates the entire series.) In addition, Rav Elyakim ruled that the Shevarim of four sounds is perfectly valid; there is nothing wrong with adding an extra shever to the Shevarim (Tosafos Rosh Hashanah 33b; Rosh). We rule, like Rav Elyakim, that an extra shever does not invalidate a Shevarim; however, it is preferable to blow a Shevarim that is exactly three sounds, out of deference to the scholars of Mainz who disagreed” (see Mishnah Berurah 590:11).

HOW IS THE SHEVARIM BLOWN?

Some poskim contend that each short shever sound should change pitch in the middle, either once or twice. Some people refer to these as “tu-U-tu” or “UU-tu” or “tu-UU” Shevarim sounds.

Others contend that the shever sound should be without change in pitch – and should sound exactly like a very short Tekiah. Each community should follow the ruling of its rav or its established custom.

HOW LONG MUST THE TEKIAH BE?

There are several opinions. Whereas Raavad’s opinion is that every Tekiah must be nine kochos, regardless which broken sound it accompanies (Hilchos Shofar 3:4), Tosafos and most rishonim contend that the Tekiah must be as long as the broken sound that it accompanies. Since the length of both the Shevarim and the Teruah are disputed, as mentioned above, the length of the Tekiah is also disputed. According to the Riva and Rivam, the combined length of a Shevarim-Teruah is about eighteen kochos, or perhaps a bit longer to accommodate the length of the pause in the middle. (Each “koach” is the length of a minimum beat. The entire Shevarim-Teruah can be blown in about three seconds.) Therefore, the Tekiah before and after the Shevarim-Teruah should also be that long (Mateh Efrayim; Mishnah Berurah 590:14,15).

According to Rashi’s opinion that the Teruah need be only three kochos and the Shevarim only six-to-nine kochos, the Tekiah accompanying the Shevarim-Teruah need be only nine-to-twelve kochos long.

Based on the above, poskim conclude that the Tekiah for TaSHRaT should preferably be a bit more than eighteen kochos long, whereas the Tekiah for TaSHaT and TaRaT need be only nine kochos long.

What if the Tekiah ended earlier? It is not unusual that the teki’os that accompany TaSHRaT are not eighteen kochos long. Again the rav will make the decision. (For example, the Mateh Efrayim rules that a Tekiah for TaSHRaT that was only nine kochos long is kosher b’dei’evid, after the fact.)

SHOULD THE BLOWER PAUSE BETWEEN THE SHEVARIM AND THE TERUAH?

This interesting question is an early dispute. According to most opinions, there should be only a slight interruption between the Shevarim and Teruah of the Shevarim-Teruah (most rishonim, as explained by the Mishnah Berurah 590:18.) It should be noted that according to the Chazon Ish 136:1 and Avnei Nezer #443 there should be no interruption whatsoever between the Shevarim and the Teruah. Some even contend that a significant interruption between the Shevarim and the Teruah invalidates the blowing (see Mishnah Berurah 590:16 and Shaar HaTziyun ad loc.). Rabbeinu Tam disagrees, maintaining that someone would not change from a sobbing cry to a panting cry without stopping for a breath in between. Therefore, he maintains that one should pause, although not extensively, between the Shevarim and the Teruah.

HOW DO WE RULE IN THIS ISSUE?

There are different customs. Some communities follow Rabbeinu Tam’s opinion and blow every Shevarim-Teruah with a brief pause in the middle (Rama 590:4). However, most congregations today follow the Chayei Adam’s recommendation that the Shevarim-Teruah of the first blowings (before Musaf) are blown without a pause, whereas the baal tekiah should pause between Shevarim and Teruah when blowing during the repetition of Shemoneh Esrei.

Incidentally, the shofar soundings blown during Musaf should be treated with the same degree of importance as those blown earlier. According to many poskim, they are the main mitzvah of shofar blowing (see Tosafos, Pesachim 115a s.v. maskif; Mishnah Berurah.)

WHAT IF A WOMAN CANNOT BE IN SHUL FOR BOTH SETS OF SHOFAR BLOWINGS?

Shofar blowing is one of the time-bound positive mitzvos (mitzvas aseh she’hazman grama) from which women are exempt. Nevertheless, generations of women have been careful to hear shofar blowing, just as they are careful to shake the lulav and esrog on Sukos, another time-bound mitzvah from which they are exempt. Many poskim rule that since women have assumed responsibility to hear shofar blowing, they are now required to do so (Chayei Adam 141:7; on the other hand, see Shu’t Salmas Chayim #349). However, a woman does not need to hear more than thirty shofar sounds, although it is meritorious for her to hear the sounds blown during the repetition of Shemoneh Esrei.

DOES A WOMAN MAKE A BRACHA ON SHOFAR BLOWING?

The rishonim dispute whether one can recite a bracha on a mitzvah that one is not commanded to perform. Some contend that women should not recite the bracha because one cannot say “asher kideshanu be’mitzvosav ve’tzivanu,” “He who sanctified us in His mitzvos and commanded us,” when Hashem never commanded women to perform this mitzvah. Sefardim follow this opinion, and therefore Sefardic women do not recite a bracha on mitzvos such as shofar and lulav. Ashkenazim rule that one may recite ve’tzivanu even if one is not personally obligated, since Klal Yisrael collectively observes the mitzvos.

For the above reason, an Ashkenazic woman who did not hear the first blowings should recite the bracha before the shofar soundings during the repetition of Shemoneh Esrei or at the end of davening.

WHY DO WE BLOW SHOFAR BOTH BEFORE AND DURING MUSAF?

The Gemara explains that we repeat the shofar blowings in order to confuse the Satan and prevent him from prosecuting us (Rosh Hashanah 16b). This is surprising. Is the Satan so easily fooled? Most of us have discovered the Satan to be extremely clever. Does he not remember that we pulled the same prank on him in previous years and blew the shofar twice?

Tosafos explains the Gemara more deeply. The Satan is constantly afraid that Moshiach will come and put him out of business. Therefore, every time the shofar blows, the Satan leaps up, terrified that Moshiach has come, and forgets to prosecute us! When it is blown the first time, he is petrified that it might be the advent of Moshiach. When it is blown the second time, he is absolutely certain, and is beside himself with shock and consternation. Then he realizes, too late, that it is just Rosh Hashanah again. By that time, Hashem has reached our verdict without Satan’s interference.

How nice it would be if we sat on the edge of our chairs waiting for the Moshiach with the same intensity as the Satan!

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