The Chanukah Miracle

By Rabbis Avraham Rosenthal and Yirmiyohu Kaganoff

Question #1: How did the Seleucid Greeks defile the oils?

 Question #2: How was the oil in the flask protected from tumah?

 Question #3: How did the Chashmona’im know that it was indeed tahor, ritually pure?

 Question #4: Is there a prohibition against lighting the golden menorah with oil that is tamei?

 Introduction:

We are all familiar with the story of the flask of olive oil found with the seal of the kohein gadol that was used to light the menorah in the Beis Hamikdash after the defeat of the Seleucid army. There is much discussion in halachic literature concerning this flask of oil. This week’s article will attempt to address the opening questions about that flask.

To begin, let us quote the Gemara’s explanation of the story: “What is Chanukah? (As Rashi explains this question,) on account of which miracle did the Rabbis establish Chanukah? The Rabbis taught: On the twenty-fifth of Kislev the days of Chanukah commence. They are eight days, on which it is not permitted to eulogize or to fast. For when the Greeks entered the Sanctuary, they contaminated all the oil that was in the Sanctuary. And when the royal Chashmona’im house gained the upper hand and vanquished them, they searched [the Beis Hamikdash] and found only one flask of oil that had the kohein gadols seal. It contained only enough oil to kindle the menorah for one day. A miracle happened with this oil and they kindled the lights with it for eight days. In the following year, they rendered [these eight days] into a festival with respect to the recital of Hallel and thanksgiving” (Shabbos 21b).

Defiling the Oil

Our first question was: “How did the Seleucid Greeks defile the oils?” Concerning this question, we find several opinions among the Rishonim and Acharonim:

1) One possibility, suggested by Tosafos (ad loc.), is that, miderabbanan, non-Jews are treated as tamei to the extent that they make people and utensils tamei via physical contact or by lifting or moving them (Shabbos 17b; Nidah 31a; Rambam, Hilchos Metamei Mishkav Umoshav 2:10). According to this approach, if the Greeks merely moved the flasks of oil, they became tamei.

2) Another suggestion is that the oil became tamei through tumas meis, the type generated by a corpse. This works as follows: Let us say, for example, that a person enters a room in which there is a corpse. Both he and his clothes are now tamei. If he or his clothes then come in contact with a utensil, the utensil is now tamei. In a situation where there is food or liquid in the container, it becomes tamei because it is in contact with the utensil.

Thus, the garments worn by the Greek soldiers who entered the Beis Hamikdash were, in all likelihood, tamei, as the soldiers had most likely come in contact with their dead Jewish victims. When those garments came in contact with the flasks of oil located in the Sanctuary, the flasks become tamei, which in turn caused the oil to become tamei as well (Re’eim, commentary to Semag, Hilchos Chanukah).

3) Another possibility, suggested by the Rogetchover Gaon (Tzafnas Panei’ach, Hilchos Chanukah 3:1), is based on a passage of Gemara (Chullin 123a) that rules that when a platoon of non-Jewish soldiers enters a house, everything in the house contracts tumas meis. This is because the soldiers were wont to carry skins taken from a corpse in order to use them for witchcraft against the enemy. Based on this, the Greeks soldiers also brought this tumah into the Beis Hamikdash, thereby causing the oil to become tamei.

4) Rav Avraham Halevi Gombiner, author of the famous Magen Avraham commentary on Shulchan Aruch, also wrote commentaries on the midrashim called Zayis Raanan. There he suggests that the oil found in the Beis Hamikdash was not tamei, but the Chashmona’im did not want to use it out of concern that it had been used as part of an idolatrous service (Yalkut Shimoni, Emor, #655, Zayis Raanan, s.v. af betumah).

The Oil was Protected

Our second and third questions were: How was the oil in the flask protected from tumah, and how did the Chashmona’im know that it was indeed tahor, ritually pure?

Again, concerning this issue we find numerous approaches:

1) Rashi, commenting on the Gemara (Shabbos 21b, s.v. bechosmo), writes that they found the sealed flask in a hidden place, where it was unlikely to have been handled by the Greeks.

2) The Ran (Shabbos, ad loc.) writes that the flask was made out of pottery, which has the unique quality that it does not become tamei when someone touches its exterior.

3) Tosafos (Shabbos 21b, s.v. shehayah) write that the flask was situated in the ground in such a fashion that it was evident that the Greeks did not move it. Several Rishonim propose various possibilities as to how it was evident. Some suggest that they found the flask hidden in the area under the mizbei’ach into which flowed the water and wine libations (Yotzros, second Shabbos Chanukah). Others suggest that the flask was in a sealed cubby (Meiri, Shabbos 21b, s.v. neis zeh; see also Kol Bo #44).

4) Some Rishonim write that it is clear that the Greek army was not even aware of the flask’s existence, for had they come across it they would have certainly broken it open to see if there was anything valuable inside (Ran and Meiri, Shabbos ad loc.).

Using Tamei Oil

Now let us address the last of our opening questions: Is there a prohibition against lighting the golden menorah with oil that is tamei?

The basis of this question is that there is a halachic principle, “tumah hutrah betzibbur,” when the only way to offer the required regular public korbanos is by violating the rules of tumah, the Divine service in the Beis Hamikdash is permitted. Only individuals who are tamei are prohibited from bringing offerings and the like. The source of this halachah is based on a pasuk: “Command the Bnei Yisrael and they shall take for you pure olive oil, pressed, for illumination, to kindle a continual lamp (ner tamid)” (Vayikra 24:2). The Sifra elaborates: “‘Tamid’ – even on Shabbos; ‘tamid’ – even in tumah.” The Rambam quotes this ruling (Hilchos Tamidin Umusafin 3:10). If so, the menorah could have been kindled with tamei oil.

Adding to the question as to the necessity of attaining oil that was tahor, the Acharonim point out that the other korbanos at the time were offered even though everyone was tamei (see Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chayim 670:3; Pnei Yehoshua, Shabbos 21b, s.v. mai chanuka).

We find several viewpoints in the Rishonim and Acharonim explaining why they required oil that was tahor.

1) Some Acharonim write that the permissibility of tumah hutrah betzibbur applies only to tumas meis, tumah generated by a corpse. However, this rule does not apply to other types of tumah. Therefore, since, according to some opinions, the oil was tamei for other reasons (see above), it could not be used (Pri Chadash 670).

2) Others contend that the rededication of the Beis Hamikdash by the Chashmona’im created a unique situation. The lighting of the menorah at that time was not merely a fulfillment of the daily mitzvah, but it initiated a new beginning, which required doing so in the purest way possible. This required that they attain oil that was tahor (Gilyonei Hashas [Mahari Engel], Shabbos 23).

A similar idea can be found in the Daas Zekeinim Mi’baalei Tosafos (Vayikra 10:4). Although a kohein gadol is not allowed to become tamei for one of his seven closest relatives, a kohein hedyot (regular kohein) is normally allowed to do so. The Daas Zekeinim points out that Aharon’s two remaining sons, Elazar and Isamar, were not allowed to become tamei upon the deaths of their brothers. This was because they were just then commencing their initiation as kohanim, and therefore they had the same restrictions as a kohein gadol.

3) Some explain that, in actuality, it was permitted to light with tamei oil because of the halachah of tumah hutrah betzibbur. Nevertheless, Hashem performed a miracle on their behalf allowing the one day’s worth of oil to burn for eight days in order to show them His love. This enabled them to light the menorah – the symbol that Hashem’s Divine Presence resides among the Jewish Nation – with oil that was tahor (Pnei Yehoshua, Shabbos 21b; Shu”t Chacham Tzvi #87; Rosh Yosef, Shabbos 21b).

4) According to the view of the Zayis Raanan mentioned earlier, the concern was that the oil had been contaminated by idol worship.  The Chasmona’im needed oil that did not have this problem, and the heter of tumah hutrah betzibbur did not apply.

Conclusion

Whereas Shabbos and most of our holidays include Kiddush and other festivities that we celebrate with the use of wine, on Chanukah we celebrate the miracle that happened with the olive oil in the Beis Hamikdash. Many of our customs, including the consumption of donuts and latkes, are to remind us of the miracle of the oil.

It is interesting to note the many comparisons made between olives and grapes, and this also has halachic overtones. Both vineyards and olive groves are called kerem in Tanach and Mishnaic Hebrew (see Berachos 35a). Wine and olive oil are the only fruit products used in korbanos on the mizbeiach. They are also the only liquids whose brocha is not shehakol; it is ha’eitz in the instance of olive oil and hagefen in the instance of wine and grape juice. They both have the halachic distinctiveness of being the only fruits with a Torah requirement of separating terumos and maasros; and they are the only fruits that may be squeezed for their product when they have terumah sanctity.

On the other hand, there is an interesting technical difference between grapes and olives, one with major hashkafic ramifications. Whereas it requires much tending to coax the vine to produce quality wine grapes, the olive tree requires little attention to produce quality olive oil. Once one has chosen the proper site for planting the trees, the main efforts required to produce quality oil are to harvest the olives exactly when they are ready and to crush them immediately without damaging them. Any significant delay reduces severely the quality of the oil extracted. This is also reflected in the halacha, which rules that one may harvest and process olives on Chol Hamoed, when work is usually prohibited, because delaying causes major loss (Mishnah, Moed Katan 11b).

The root of the word Chanukah is the same as that of chinuch; both instances include the concept of training or the beginning of performing mitzvos. Thus, the true translation of chinuch is not education, as it is ordinarily used, but training.  Similar to the grape, some children require constant involvement in their education. If you take your eyes off their chinuch for a moment, they will be in trouble. However, when you attend to them carefully and constantly, they’ll produce high quality wine. Other children resemble the olive. They require less oversight. Once they are planted correctly, they only require attentive oversight at key junctions. The rest of the time, they will do far better if left to grow on their own. This is indeed a manifestation of the other aspect of chinuch/Chanukah. As parents and teachers, it is our task to understand our children and apply the correct approach to maximize the potential of each child. As Mishlei (Proverbs) tells us, chanoch lanaar al pi darko (22:6), each child needs to be educated according to his own specific requirements. May the lights of Chanuka symbolize for us the dedication of our ancestors to direct their children and students in the way of Torah, and may they serve as a beacon for us to continue in that mission.

 

 

High in the Thigh: The Mitzvah of Gid Hano’she

In the process of vanquishing his opponent wrestler, Yaakov Avinu was left with an injured thigh. To commemorate this event, the Torah teaches al kein lo yochelu benei Yisroel es gid hano’she asher al kaf hayarech ad hayom hazeh ki naga bechaf yerech Yaakov begid hano’she, “Therefore, the children of Israel may not consume the sinew that was displaced, which lies upon the ‘spoon’ of the thigh, since he struck the ‘spoon’ of Yaakov’s thigh on the displaced sinew (Bereishis 32:33 with Rashi).” As we will see shortly, this pasuk is written with precision, and we derive most of the halachos of this mitzvah from its words.

We see from the pasuk that Yaakov’s injury was that his “sinew” was “displaced.” The word “sinew” is not a scientific term, but a household or butcher’s term. Its Hebrew equivalent, gid, describes stringy body parts whose texture is too tough to chew comfortably, and may refer to nerves, tendons, ligaments, or even blood vessels (see Rambam, Peirush Hamishnayos, Zevachim 3:4).

In Yaakov’s case, the sinew involved is what is known in anatomy as the sciatic nerve, which runs through the pelvis and upper leg, from the lower back over the top of the hip and down the leg, at which point it divides into other nerves. The Torah describes this as the sinew that lies across the kaf hayarech, which literally means the “spoon of the thigh.” This refers to a piece of muscle that lies atop the femur and that has a spoon-like shape. Part of the sciatic nerve lies on top of this muscle, wedged against the bone socket on the other side. The Torah prohibits the consumption of this nerve, notwithstanding that it is not tasty, nor really edible. (It is not technically accurate to translate kaf hayarech as the socket, since the socket is above or in front of the femur [depending on whether we are describing a two-legged or a four-legged animal] and above or in front of the sciatic nerve. I will note that this is not the only mistranslation of this verse I have found in works that are reputed to be authoritative.)

This mitzvah is not mentioned anywhere else in the Torah. According to the Sefer Hachinuch, which lists the mitzvos in the order of their appearance in the Torah, this is the third mitzvah and the first lo saaseh of the 613 mitzvos. An entire chapter of Mishnayos, the seventh chapter of Chullin, is devoted to this mitzvah. Let us understand its details.

Not for the birds

The Mishnah states that the prohibition of gid hano’she does not apply to birds, because they do not have a “kaf,” which I have translated as the “spoon” of the thigh. Although birds have both a femur and a sciatic nerve, they are excluded from the prohibition of gid hano’she because the shape of their bones and muscles is different and does not fit the Torah’s description of the mitzvah (Rambam, Hilchos Ma’achalos Asurus 8:4). The Rambam (Commentary to the Mishnah) explains that the reason for this law is because the structure of the bird’s leg is very different from that of a man, and therefore not reminiscent of the miracle that occurred to Yaakov. (Those who would like to see an explanation of the Talmudic passage involved should look at the encyclopedic work Sichas Chullin and other contemporary works.)

The Gemara (Chullin 92b) discusses whether the halacha exempting birds from the prohibition of gid hano’she is true if a particular individual bird has an unusually shaped leg that resembles the “socket” of an animal, or, conversely, if the prohibition of gid hano’she still applies if an animal’s leg is misshapen, such that the muscle on its upper femur is not shaped like a spoon. The Gemara does not reach a conclusion on this question. Since it is an unresolved halachic issue germane to a Torah prohibition, a safek de’oraysa, the Rambam (Hilchos Ma’achalos Asurus 8:4) and the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 65:5) conclude that both of these instances are prohibited.

Non-kosher species

Is the prohibition of gid hano’she limited to kosher species, or does it apply also to non-kosher species? This is actually a dispute among tanna’im. Rabbi Shimon contends that the prohibition of gid hano’she is limited to kosher species, whereas the tanna’im who disagree with him contend that the prohibition of gid hano’she applies equally to non-kosher species. In their opinion, the sciatic nerve of a horse, camel, pig or donkey is included in the prohibition of gid hano’she. The Rambam (Hilchos Ma’achalos Asurus 8:5) rules like Rabbi Shimon.

What difference does it make whether this sinew is prohibited as a gid hano’she, when it will be prohibited anyway as non-kosher? The answer is that since sinews have no flavor on their own, according to the opinion we will soon explain that ein begiddin benosein taam, sinews from a non-kosher species are not prohibited min haTorah. However, the gid hano’she would be prohibited min haTorah, according to the tanna’im who disagree with Rabbi Shimon.

Which thigh?

A person has two sciatic nerves, one on each leg. The verse implies that Yaakov was wounded on only one side. Which of his sciatic nerves was injured? Nothing overt in the story tells us. However, we can prove what happened from a passage of the Gemara, although we may be left to wonder how the Gemara knew this. There is a dispute among the tanna’im (Chullin 91a) whether the prohibition of gid hano’she applies to the sinews of both the right and left sides, or only to that of the right side. Both opinions understand that Yaakov was injured only in his right thigh. The question is whether Hashem prohibited the sciatic nerves of both sides so that we remember what happened, or only the one on the right thigh. We follow the opinion that it applies to both sides (Rambam, Hilchos Ma’achalos Asurus 8:1).

Inner and outer

On each thigh, there are actually two sinews that can be called the gid hano’she and are near one another. The inner gid, thus called because it runs alongside the bone on the interior of the animal, is the true gid hano’she, whose consumption is prohibited by the Torah. The outer gid does not lie on top of the thigh and is therefore not prohibited min haTorah. Nevertheless, Chazal prohibited eating the outer gid, also (Chullin 91a).

The tanna’im dispute how much of the inner gid is prohibited min haTorah. Rabbi Meir contends that the entire nerve is prohibited min haTorah (Chullin 92b), whereas the chachamim contend that, min haTorah, only the part of the gid lying atop the thigh bone is prohibited. In their opinion, the rest of the gid is prohibited only miderabbanan. A third opinion, that of Rabbi Yehudah, contends that the rest of the nerve is not prohibited even miderabbanan, and, therefore, he did not require its removal (Chullin 92b, 96a).

The dispute among the tanna’im appears to be how one translates the words of the Torah, the children of Israel may not consume the sinew that was displaced, which lies upon the “spoon” of the thigh. According to Rabbi Meir, the Torah is merely explaining the location of this sinew, but it is prohibited in its entirety. According to the other tanna’im, the prohibition is limited to the part of the sinew that “lies atop” the thigh, but not its continuation.

“Fat of the gid

The sciatic nerve lies protected in a layer of fat. This fat is called shumano shel gid and is permitted min haTorah. However, already in the time of the Gemara it was established practice not to eat it (Chullin 91a). It is therefore treated halachically as an issur derabbanan, a rabbinically established prohibition, and it must be removed together with both the inner and the outer giddin.

How early?

The tanna’im also dispute whether the prohibition of gid hano’she began already in the days of Yaakov Avinu, or whether it was first prohibited when the Jews received the Torah at Har Sinai (Mishnah, Chullin 100b).

Chayos

The Mishnah teaches that the mitzvah of gid hano’she applies to all kosher mammals. This includes the species of beheimah and of chayah. In other words, although there are mitzvos that apply to beheimah but not to chayah, and vice versa, the mitzvah of gid hano’she applies to both.

It is difficult to define the differences between beheimah and chayah.  Although we know that beheimah includes cattle and sheep, whereas chayah includes deer and antelope, the common definition of beheimah as domesticated species, and chayah as wild or non-domesticated species, is not halachically accurate. For example, reindeer, which qualify as chayah, are domesticated, whereas wisents and Cape buffalo, which are not domesticated, are probably varieties of beheimah. A more complicated, but far more accurate, definition of beheimah is a halachically recognized genus or category in which most common species qualify as livestock, and chayah is a halachically recognized genus or category in which most common species are not usually livestock.

The Gemara explains that it is dependent on the type of horn that the animal displays, but the terminology the Gemara uses to explain this is unclear and subject to disputes among the rishonim. Since we are uncertain which species are considered beheimah and which are considered chayah, we are stringent. This means any species of which we are uncertain is treated lechumra as both beheimah and chayah — unless we have a mesorah, an oral tradition, about the halachic status of this species (see Shach, Yoreh Deah 80:1, as explained by the Pri Megadim).

Cheilev

The Torah forbade consumption of certain internal fats, called cheilev — these are attached predominantly to the stomachs and the kidneys. Since the Torah prohibits consuming both cheilev and the gid hano’she, these forbidden parts must be removed from an animal before its meat can be eaten. This process is called “traberen,” a Yiddish word that derives from tarba, the Aramaic word for cheilev. The Hebrew word for the process is “nikur,” excising, and the artisan who possesses the skill to properly remove it is called a menakeir. It is interesting to note that the Rema (Yoreh Deah 64:7 and 65:8) points out in two different places that nikur cannot be learned from a text, only through apprenticeship.

Cheilev versus gid hano’she

There is a major difference between gid hano’she and the prohibition of cheilev. The prohibition of cheilev applies to species of beheimah, but not to chayah (Mishnah Chullin 89b). Thus, we have a difference in halacha between gid hano’she and cheilev, in that gid hano’she is prohibited in a chayah, whereas its cheilev is permitted.

This is germane in practical halacha. Because of the difficulty in removing all the cheilev correctly, many communities have the halachic custom not to traber the hindquarters, but, instead, to sell them to gentiles as non-kosher. However, many contemporary authorities have ruled that even those who have accepted this practice may still traber the hindquarters of a deer, which is definitely a chayah, to remove the gid hano’she, since the cheilev of a chayah is permitted. This is because the gid hano’she that is prohibited min haTorah is relatively easy to remove and does not involve as serious halachic issues as does the cheilev. Notwithstanding this heter, there is still a requirement that one who trabers the gid hano’she of a deer may do so only if he has been trained in performing this nikur.

The Mishnah

Having established the basic rules from the pasuk itself, we can now analyze more of the halachos of this mitzvah. An entire chapter of Mishnayos, the seventh chapter of Chullin, is devoted to understanding it. The opening Mishnah of this chapter begins as follows: (The prohibition of) gid hano’she applies both in Eretz Yisroel and in chutz la’aretz, both during the times of the Beis Hamikdash and when there is no Beis Hamikdash, regarding both chullin and sanctified offerings. It applies both to beheimos and to chayos, to both the right thigh and the left thigh. But it does not apply to birds, because they do not have a kaf.

The Gemara asks why the Mishnah needed to report that the prohibition of gid hano’she applies to kodoshim. Since animals are born as chullin, at the time of birth the animal’s sciatic nerve becomes prohibited as gid hano’she. Why would we think that the prohibition of gid hano’she might disappear when the animal is declared to be holy?

To resolve this difficulty, the Gemara proposes the following solution: There is a dispute among tanna’im referred to as yesh begiddin benosein taam, sinews have flavor, or ein begiddin benosein taam, sinews do not have flavor. “Sinews” refer to the parts of an animal that are not tasty, but are eaten incidentally while consuming the tasty meat. The dispute is as follows: Since sinews are eaten only as part of a piece of meat, are they considered food? If they are not considered food, then other prohibitions, such as the mixing of meat and milk, or the prohibition of non-kosher species, do not apply to them min haTorah, since these prohibitions apply only to edible parts of an animal.

Thus, regarding the giddin of a kodoshim animal, if giddin are not considered food (ein begiddin benosein taam), then the prohibition of kodoshim does not apply.  However, the sciatic nerve of a kodoshim animal is prohibited because of the prohibition of gid hano’she. The Shulchan Aruch concludes that ein begiddin benosein taam (Yoreh Deah 65:9).

Jewish identification

It is very interesting to note that, at times in Jewish history, the mitzvah of gid hano’she became the identifying characteristic of the Jew. Kaifeng, China, is a city of 4.5 million people on the southern bank of the Yellow River that attracts much tourism for its rich history. In the tenth and eleventh centuries, Kaifeng was the capital of China, and, for this reason, the city is known as one of the Seven Ancient Capitals of China. As history notes, when there are a lot of people, there is money to be earned, and when there is money to earn, one will usually find Jews.

At one point, over a thousand years ago, Jewish merchants from Persia and India settled in the area, created for themselves a Jewish community, and built shullen. Their shullen faced west toward Yerushalayim. Unfortunately, with the passing centuries, their descendants became completely intermarried and assimilated into the Chinese population. To this day, about 1,000 Kaifeng residents claim Jewish ancestry.

What does this have to do with the mitzvah of gid hano’she? The answer is that the Chinese identified the Jews with the practice of removing the gid hano’she, referring to Jews as the sinew-plucking people. Until recently, there was even a street in Kaifeng called “The Lane of the Sinew-Plucking Religion,” a reference to the Jews who once lived there.

Jewish American identification

Not only the Chinese identified the Jews because of the mitzvah of gid hano’she. Many years ago, when I was a rav in a small community in the United States, a non-observant Jew was interested in making a strictly kosher wedding for his daughter, because he had frum friends whom he wanted to accommodate. His daughter was willing to have a kosher wedding, as long as it did not look “too kosher.” I asked her what she meant that it should not look “too kosher,” to which she answered: “No ribs and no briskets.” I had been unaware that, to someone who did not keep kosher, forequarters meat, such as rib and brisket, is associated with “kosher-looking,” whereas hindquarters meat, not consumed in many places because of the difficulties in removing the gid hano’she and the cheilev, is viewed as “non-kosher looking.” Thus, the prohibition of gid hano’she defined a Jewish menu. (Fortunately, the executive chef of the hotel doing the kosher catering provided ideas for a perfectly kosher and very delicious meal that would, by the bride’s definition, not look too kosher.)

Conclusion

Although above I translated the word noshe as “displaced,” which is the approach of Rashi and therefore the most common rendering, Rav Hirsch understands that the root of the word noshe, similar to no’she, a creditor, means submission and powerlessness. Yaakov’s gid had been dislodged by his adversary; he was unable to control the muscle that moves the bone. The nerve, muscle and bone all existed, but their use was temporarily hampered. Thus, the gid hano’she denotes temporary relinquishment, but not permanent loss. Ya’akov is a no’she, a creditor, who has quite a large account to settle with Eisav and his angel.

To quote the Sefer Hachinuch: The underlying understanding of this mitzvah is to hint to the Jewish people that, while in the exile, although we will undergo many difficulties from the other nations, and particularly the descendants of Eisav, we should remain secure that we will not be lost as a people. At some point in the future, our offspring will rise and a redeemer will arrive to free us from our oppressor. By always remembering this concept through the observance of this mitzvah, we will remain strong in our faith and our righteousness will remain forever!

Certainly some very powerful food for thought the next time we sit down to a fleishig meal and note that we are eating only “kosher cuts!”

 

Follow the Ladder

Question #1: Ladders

“May I use a ladder on Yom Tov?”

Question #2: Maris ayin

“What is the ‘maris ayin conundrum’?”

Question #3 Chutes

“Is there a traditional source for the modern Hebrew word magleisha, which means a sliding board or a chute, or the word miglashayim, which means skis?”

Introduction

Since Yaakov Avinu witnessed the angels going up and down a ladder, it seems an appropriate week to discuss halachos germane to ladders. To begin, let us analyze a passage of Gemara that discusses ladders.

The ladder carrier

In our day of refrigeration and freezers, it is unusual for someone to shecht meat on Yom Tov. However, since the halacha is that one may prepare food on Yom Tov, this law permits not only kneading dough, chopping up vegetables, turning up a fire and cooking, but permits also shechting on Yom Tov. After all, freezing meat is only the second best way of keeping it fresh from spoilage. The best method is to keep the bird or animal alive, and this was common practice in the time of the Mishnah and Gemara. It was also the reason that, until the modern era, ships at sea kept a herd of livestock on board, to make sure that the crew did not starve on the high seas. (The British were also noted for keeping a supply of limes on board, but that was for a reason beyond the discussion of our current article.)

In this context, we find the following Mishnah (Beitzah 9a) regarding someone who is interested in preparing doves for his Yom Tov seudah: “Beis Shammai says that you may not move a ladder from one dovecote to another, but it is permitted to lean it from one window to another, and Beis Hillel permits (moving the ladder).”

What is wrong with moving a ladder on Yom Tov? After all, one is permitted to carry on Yom Tov, and one is permitted to shecht the birds for a Yom Tov seudah. So, why can’t I carry the ladder to get the birds down?

The Gemara cites several approaches to explain the dispute between Beis Shammai and Beis Hillel. Two of these approaches, which we will call “approach #1” and “approach #2,” understand that the dispute involves the principle called maris ayin, the requirement to avoid raising suspicion that one is doing wrong. Beis Shammai is concerned that a person observing someone carrying a ladder on Yom Tov may think that the latter is taking his ladder to repair his roof, which is, of course, forbidden on Yom Tov.

The Gemara explains that everyone agrees that one may not carry a large ladder which would ordinarily be used for roof repair. Carrying such a ladder would entail maris ayin.  The dispute between Beis Shammai and Beis Hillel concerns whether one may carry a small ladder, more likely used for getting doves than for roof work.  Approach #1 contends that Beis Hillel permits carrying a small ladder in a private place, but not in public, whereas Beis Shammai prohibits carrying the small ladder even in private. This opinion understands that Beis Shammai and Beis Hillel disagree about the following principle: Is maris ayin prohibited only in a public place, where there is a greater likelihood that someone will misinterpret the action, or even in a private place, notwithstanding that it is unlikely that someone will see this action and will think that the carrier is planning to violate halacha (see Ran, Shabbos 146b; note that the Mishnah Berurah 301:165 appears to have understood this dispute in a different way)? Beis Shammai contends that maris ayin is prohibited, even when the act is performed in a private area, completely out of view. The Gemara calls such a private area, bechadrei chadarim, in the innermost room.

Some rishonim draw a distinction between a situation in which an observer might think that someone is violating a Torah law, as opposed to one in which the action being done in private would violate only a rabbinic injunction, in which case one does not need to be concerned (Tosafos, Kesubos 60a s.v. Mema’achan; Tosafos, Moed Katan 8b s.v. Umenasran). However, other rishonim do not draw this distinction (Rashba, Ran, Beitzah ad loc.). The accepted halachic authorities appear to follow the lenient approach, meaning that if the violation is only rabbinic one does not need to be concerned (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 336:9; Taz, Orach Chayim 243:3, 301:28, 336:9; Magen Avraham 301:56; Mishnah Berurah 301:165; Biur Halacha ad locum s.v. Bechadrei. See also Rema, Yoreh Deah 87:3,4; Pri Chodosh ad locum; cf. Rambam, Hilchos Shemittah veYoveil 2:1; Shach, Yoreh Deah 87:6,8).

Maris ayin conundrum

I want to call attention to the fact that the concept of maris ayin is a fascinating curiosity, because it contradicts another important Torah mitzvah – to judge people favorably. This mitzvah requires us to judge a Torah Jew favorably when we see him act in a questionable way. (For further information on the mitzvah of judging people favorably, see Shaarei Teshuvah of Rabbeinu Yonah, 3:218.) If everyone judges others favorably at all times, there should be no reason for the law of maris ayin. Yet, we see that the Torah is concerned that someone may judge a person unfavorably and suspect him of violating a mitzvah. Indeed, a person’s actions must be above suspicion; at the same time, people who observe him act suspiciously are required to judge him favorably.

Tall ladders

At this point, we can now answer our opening question: “May I use a ladder on Yom Tov?” The answer is that I may not use a large ladder that is used primarily for climbing onto a roof, even if I have a reason to use it on Yom Tov that would, otherwise, be acceptable. It is unclear from the Mishnah and Gemara whether or not I may use a smaller ladder.

Chutes and ladders

At this point, let us address a different one of our opening questions:

“Is there a traditional source for the modern Hebrew word magleisha, which means a sliding board or a chute, or the word miglashayim, which means skis?”

The word magleisha in modern Hebrew, which means a chute or slide, is based on a posuk in Shir Hashirim (4:1), where we find the following accolade: “Your hair is like a flock of goats that descend (Hebrew, golshu) from Mount Gilead.” The book of Shir Hashirim is full of allegories that are to be understood on many levels. Often they express, poetically, the bond between Hashem and the Jewish people and also can be explained on a literal level, as depictive of the relationship between a man and a woman.

Har Gilad, or Mount Gilead, is today in northwestern Jordan on the eastern side of the Jordan River, but was part of Eretz Yisroel at the time when Shlomoh Hamelech wrote Shir Hashirim. Of course, the obvious question in understanding this posuk is – why are we complimenting someone for hair that appears like descending goats? According to Rashi, the accolade is as follows: Your hair has a beautiful sheen to it, similar to the white sheen that one sees from a great distance when observing a flock of white goats descend the mountain.

Seforno interprets the idea of the posuk in a way similar to what Rashi wrote, but there is a difference in nuance between their two interpretations. Seforno writes: “Your hair is fine as the cashmere on the back of the heads of the goats of Gilead.” In his opinion, there is no reference in this posuk at all to descent, gliding, or sliding. Similarly, ibn Ezra understands that the word golshu means “as they appear on Har Gilad.

According to Rashi, the word golshu carries the connotation of “descent,” whereas according to ibn Ezra and Seforno, it does not. Thus, according to Seforno, there is no basis to explain the root גלש as having anything to do with descending, sliding or skiing. Even according to Rashi’s interpretation which provides a source that the root golosh גלש means to descend, there is still quite a stretch to get the word to mean slide, glide, ski, or chute. However, as any linguist can attest, Modern Hebrew has taken many Hebrew, Aramaic or even English and Arabic words and given them meanings quite distant from their origins. However, the root גלש has been used for all of these meanings, and we are therefore left with Modern Hebrew terms such as magleisha, sliding board or chute, miglashayim, skis, and various other similar words. Do they have a traditional source? According to Rashi, perhaps; according to ibn Ezra and Seforno, they do not.

Conclusion

The gematria of the word sulam, Hebrew for ladder, is 136, which is the same gematria as that of the words tzom (fast), kol, and mammon. This certainly brings to mind the piyut, Unesaneh Tokef, that we recite on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, in which these three words are inserted in small letters in the machzor above the words teshuvah, tefillah and tzedakah, when we declare that they protect against harsh decrees. Teshuvah, tefillah and tzedakah demonstrate different steps a person must take to bring himself closer to Hashem. This is symbolized by the ladder, as we ascend one step at a time to bring ourselves closer to serving Hashem.

 

How Much May I Charge?

Question #1: Overcharged esrog

“My esrog dealer charged me $150 for an esrog. My brother-in-law, who knows the business, told me that he overcharged me, and the esrog is not worth more than $35. Can I get my money back?”

Question #2: Just a little bit

“Am I permitted to charge a little bit above the market price for an item?”

Question #3: Damaged coin

“I noticed that someone tried to scrape off some of the metal on a coin that I have. May I use it?”

Question #4: Expert error

“I purchased a rare coin from a dealer, and he clearly undercharged me. Am I required to tell him about it?”

Answer:

Upon graduation from olam hazeh, the first question asked upon entering the beis din shel maalah, the Heavenly Court, is: “Did you deal honestly with your fellowmen?” (Shabbos 31a). The Aruch Hashulchan (Orach Chayim 156:3) explains that this does not mean, “Did you steal?” or “Were your weights honest?” Someone who violated these laws, whether dealing with Jewish or non-Jewish clientele, qualifies as a rosho gamur. Rather, the Heavenly Court’s inquiries are: “Did you make unjustified claims about the quality of the merchandise that you are selling?” “Did you speak to people softly in your business dealings?” “Did you curse, scream, or act angrily with people?” “Did you realize that all livelihood comes only from Hashem and act within that framework?”

Anytime is ideal to discuss the details of this topic; I chose to do so this week, since the parsha involves an obvious question as to whether Rivkah and Yaakov were permitted to deceive Yitzchok about the brochos.

In parshas Behar, the Torah teaches, Lo sonu ish es amiso (Vayikra 25:17). The word sonu has the same root as the word onaah, the name by which we call this mitzvah. The word onaah is difficult to translate into English, but for the purposes of our article, I will use the word overcharging, although, as we will soon see, onaah also includes situations of underpayment or of misrepresentation. The purpose of this article is to present the basic principles; specific questions should be referred to your own rav or dayan. Just as everyone must have an ongoing relationship with a rav for psak and hadracha, one must also have an ongoing relationship with a dayan who can answer the myriad Choshen Mishpat questions that come up daily.

Three types of onaah

There are three types of overcharging that are included in the prohibition of onaah, all of which involve taking unfair advantage:

(1) Fraud – when the item being sold contains a significant flaw that the seller conceals or otherwise misrepresents.

(2) Overpricing – when one party to the transaction is unaware of the market value of the item.

(3) No recourse – when someone is aware that he is being overcharged, but he has no recourse, because of the circumstances.

I will now explain a bit more about each of these types of onaah.

(1) Fraud

It is prohibited to hide a defect or to misrepresent an item. For example, the Mishnah (Bava Metzia 60a) and the Gemara (ibid. 60b) prohibit selling watered-down products, or painting something to hide a flaw or to make it look newer than it is (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 228:9). One may not add inferior material to a quality product when the purchaser will see only the quality product (Bava Metzia 59b-60a; Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 228:10, 11).

Onaah is prohibited not only in sales, but also in other transactions, such as hiring people or contracting work (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 227:35, 36, 16).

Shidduchin

Holding back significant medical, emotional or spiritual issues that could affect a shidduch is also prohibited because of onaah. To quote the words of the Sefer Chassidim (#507): “When arranging matches for your children or other family members, do not hide from the other party medical issues that would have been reason for them to reject the shidduch, lest they afterwards choose to annul the marriage. Similarly, you should tell them about deficiencies in halachic observance significant enough that the other party would have rejected the marriage.”

By the way, there is no halachic requirement to reveal detrimental information to a shadchan, and one is not required to inform the other side before the couple meets. However, it must be told sometime before the shidduch is finalized. This particular topic is more detailed than we can discuss in this article. Indeed, I devoted a different article to this topic, entitled “Can I Keep My Skeletons in the Closet.” There are also other articles on the website that touch on this broad topic, which can be found with the search word shidduch.

Insider trading

Insider trading, meaning buying or selling a commodity or security on the basis of information that is not available to the general public, is now a heavily punished felony in the United States, but was once legal there and is still legal in many countries of the world. Halacha prohibits all forms of insider trading because of onaah, since the insider is taking advantage of the other party.

(2) Overpricing

A second type of onaah is when there is no flaw or other problem with the quality of the item being transacted, but the price paid is greater than the item’s market value. Overcharging of this nature is also prohibited because of onaah.

Over a sixth

When the price, or range of price, of an item can be established, if an item was sold at more than one sixth over the market price, the aggrieved party has a right to return the item for a full refund (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 227:4.) For example, the stores that stock this item sell it for up to $600, and the seller charged the purchaser over $700. In this instance, according to halacha, the purchaser can return the item and get his money back. (There are detailed halachos that govern how much time he has to make this claim.)

One can demand return compensation only when the party did not use the item once he realized that he had been overcharged.

Another case where the item cannot be returned: The aggrieved party realized that he was overcharged, but decided to keep the item anyway. In the interim, the price of the item dropped such that he can now get a much better deal. Since his reason to back out on the deal is not because of the original overcharge, he may not invalidate the original sale (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 227:9).

It is interesting to note that there are authorities who rule that even the aggrieving party can withdraw from the deal when the price was so much off mark. This is because they contend that someone does not agree to a transaction if he knows that the price was so disproportionate to the item’s value (Rema, Choshen Mishpat 227:4.)

One sixth

The halacha is that if the overcharge was by exactly one sixth, the deal holds, but the aggrieved party is entitled to be refunded the overcharge sum (one sixth of what he paid). Thus, if the item was worth $600 and it was sold for $700, the purchaser is entitled to receive $100 back.

Less than a sixth

If the overcharge was less than a sixth, which means that the price was clearly too high but less than a sixth over the market value, the deal is valid, and the aggrieved party is not entitled to any compensation. Thus, if the item was worth $600 and it was sold for $690, the deal remains as is.

Is it permitted?

At this stage, we can address one of our opening questions: “Am I permitted to charge a little bit above the market price for an item?” Granted that the deal will be valid if someone did this, is one permitted to do so lechatchilah?

Indeed, this is an issue that is disputed by the halachic authorities (Tur, Choshen Mishpat 227, quoting Rosh). The Tur explains that min haTorah, overcharging is prohibited if one is aware that this is the case, but Chazal were lenient, because it is difficult for anyone to be this accurate. However, many prominent authorities are of the opinion that it is prohibited to overcharge intentionally, even by a very small amount (Aruch Hashulchan, Choshen Mishpat 227:2).

The Tur concludes that a yarei shamayim, a G-d fearing person, should try to act strictly regarding this law.

The Shulchan Aruch rules that it is uncertain whether it is permitted to overcharge by less than a sixth (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 227:6). Some major authorities conclude that a yarei shamayim should return the difference, even in a case where it amounted to less than a sixth (Sma 227:14).

Furthermore, when the price on a specific item is very exact, because of government regulations or market conditions, even those authorities who are lenient about overcharging a small amount will agree in such a case that it is prohibited to charge any more than the accepted market price (Aruch Hashulchan, Choshen Mishpat 227:3).

Cash fast

Here is a situation in which someone cannot demand return compensation, even though he sold the item at way below its value: A seller needed to raise cash quickly and therefore sold items without checking their proper value. He cannot request his money back by claiming that he was underpaid, because it is clear that, at the time he sold them, he was interested in selling for whatever cash he could get (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 227:9).

All items?

The Mishnah (Bava Metzia 56b) quotes a dispute between tana’im whether the laws of overcharging by more than a sixth apply to items such as sifrei Torah, animals and precious stones. The tanna kamma contends that the laws of onaah apply, including the right to have the item returned, whereas Rabbi Yehudah holds that these laws do not apply to such items. In the case of sifrei Torah, this is because the pricing is difficult to determine, and in the cases of animals and precious stones, because the purchaser may have a special need for this specific animal or stone which makes it worth more to him than the usual market price. For example, this animal has the same strength as an animal the purchaser already owns, making it possible to pair them together in work, or the stone matches well to the specific color and size he is using for a piece of jewelry (Bava Metzia 58b).

Wartime

Although most tana’im disagree, the Gemara (Bava Metzia 58b) adds that Rabbi Yehudah ben Beseira ruled that there is no onaah for selling horses, shields or swords during wartime, because your life might depend on it. I presume that this means that during a war, the value of these items far exceeds their normal market price, and that, therefore, even an inflated price is not considered overcharging. The halacha does not follow the opinion of Rabbi Yehuda ben Beseira. Therefore, should someone be overcharged for the purchase of these materials during wartime, he is not required to pay more than the accepted market price.

Overcharged esrog

At this point, we are in a position to examine our opening question: “My esrog dealer charged me $150 for an esrog. My brother-in-law, who knows the business, told me that he overcharged me, and the esrog is not worth more than $35. Can I get my money back?”

This question is discussed in Shu”t Beis Yitzchak (Orach Chayim 108:4). He explains that the laws of invalidating a transaction because of an overcharge do not apply to an esrog purchased for use on Sukkos, unless the esrog was not kosher. His reason is that an individual has all sorts of reasons why he wants to purchase a specific esrog, and that, therefore, high-end esrogim do not have a definitive price. We could compare this to someone who purchases a painting at auction, and an art expert contends that the purchaser overpaid. The opinion of the expert does not allow the buyer to invalidate his acquisition.

Expert error

At this point, let us return to one of our opening questions: “I purchased a rare coin from a dealer, and he clearly undercharged me. Am I required to tell him about it?”

An expert can also be overcharged or underpaid (Mishnah, Bava Metzia 51a; Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 227:14). Therefore, the purchaser is required to point this out to the dealer.

Furthermore, if you know that the price of an item has gone up, but the seller is unaware of this, you are required to let him know (Aruch Hashulchan, Choshen Mishpat 227:1).

Mistaken overcharging

A person who overcharged someone in error is required to bring it to his attention. All the halachos mentioned above of overcharging apply, even if it was unintentional (Pischei Choshen 4:10:ftn #1).

Real estate

The Mishnah (Bava Metzia 56a) states that there is no onaah regarding real estate. This means that the concept of a deal being invalidated when the price is more than a sixth overpriced does not relate to land. Nevertheless, it is prohibited to deceive someone in matters germane to property, such as by withholding information that affects the value of the property or its utility (Sma 227:51, quoting Maharshal; Pischei Teshuvah 227:21, quoting Ramban and Sefer Hachinuch).

Title search

If someone sells a property based on his assumption that proper ownership has been established, which is later legally challenged, the purchaser has a claim to get his money back (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 226:5).

Legal tender

At this point, let us examine another of our opening questions: “I noticed that someone tried to scrape off some of the metal on a coin that I have. May I use it?”

In earlier days, a coin’s value was usually determined by its weight and purity. In today’s world, the value of a coin or other currency is determined predominantly by the market forces germane to that country’s currency, but not by the quality of the individual coin, unless it is damaged to the point that it will no longer be accepted in the marketplace. Therefore, today, it is acceptable to use a damaged coin or bill that the average merchant or the bank will accept (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 226:6). One is even lechatchilah permitted to give someone a damaged coin or bill and hoard the nice-looking ones for himself, since it is not harming the other party in any way (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 227:6 and Sma).

Counterfeit money

However, this is true only when the bill or the coin is damaged, but is still legitimate and legal currency. It is forbidden to use counterfeit money, even if you ended up with it in error. Once you know that the currency you are holding is counterfeit, it is not only forbidden to use it, you are required to destroy it (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 227:18). It would seem to me that it is permitted to turn the counterfeit item over to the authorities for investigation and enforcement.

Calculated profit

According to what we have said until now, a person is obligated to know the market value of a product that he is selling and he will violate onaah if he sells it at a price that is clearly significantly above the market price. This means that one must constantly be aware of the fluctuations in market price of all items he is selling. Is there any way one can avoid having to be constantly aware of the market values of the items he is selling?

Yes, there is. It is permitted, halachically, to do the following: A seller may tell the purchaser, “This is the cost at which I acquired this item, and I add this percentage for my profit margin. Therefore, I arrive at the following price” (Bava Metzia 51b as explained by Rambam, Hilchos Mechirah 13:5; Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 227:27).

(3) No recourse

Previously, I mentioned that there is a type of onaah in which a person is aware that he is being overcharged, but that circumstances force him to pay more than he should for the item. There are several examples of this. One is when a business or cartel creates a monopoly and then raises prices because they control the market. Since the halachos germane to this situation are somewhat complicated, I will leave this topic for a different time.

A second situation is when someone has a serious need for a product now – and the seller takes unfair advantage, insisting on a price that is well beyond what the item should fetch. For example, someone needs a medicine and can find it only at a certain place, which decides to increase the price tenfold, simply to gain huge, unfair profit. This is forbidden.

Was the seller wrong?

I once purchased a four volume reprint of an old, very hard-to-read edition of a relatively rare sefer. Subsequently, I discovered that the sefer had been reprinted in a beautiful format, a fact which the bookdealer must surely have known. Had I known that the new edition existed, no doubt that I would have purchased it instead. I will leave my readers with the following question: Was the bookdealer permitted to sell me the old edition without telling me that a new one exists? Does this qualify, halachically, as insider trading or deception, and is it therefore prohibited as onaah?

Conclusion

The Gemara tells us that the great tanna Rabbi Yehoshua, the rebbe of Rabbi Akiva, was asked: “What is the best means to become wealthy?” Rabbi Yehoshua advised that, aside from being very careful in one’s business dealings, the most important factor is to daven to He Who owns all wealth (Niddah 70b). A Jew must realize that Hashem’s Torah and His awareness and supervision of our fate is all-encompassing. Making this realization an integral part of our thinking is the true benchmark of how His kedusha influences our lives.

 

 

Davening for Rain in the Southern Hemisphere II

Question #1: Mixed Messages

“How can you have two shullen in the same city, one saying vesein tal umatar and the other not, on the same day?”

Question #2: South of the Border

“What do Buenos Aires, Melbourne, Montevideo, Recife, and Wellington and Auckland, New Zealand, have in common, but not Johannesburg, Perth, and Santiago, Chile?”

Introduction

In part I of this article, we discussed the unique halachic issues that surfaced when Jewish communities began settling in the southern hemisphere. We learned that the first published responsum on this question was authored by Rav Chayim Shabtai, who was the rav in Salonica until his passing in 1647, and whose responsa were published as Shu”t Toras Chayim. His undated responsum is addressed to someone inquiring about the practices of the Jewish community in Brazil, without identifying which city in the country. The questioner assumes that rain during their summer months between Sukkos and Pesach would be very harmful. Therefore, the Brazilian community wanted to recite mashiv haruach umorid hagashem and vesein tal umatar between Pesach and Sukkos and not recite them between Sukkos and Pesach.

We have previously discovered that the Rosh contended that, although in Eretz Yisroel rain is disadvantageous in the summer, in Europe, where he lived his entire life, rain was not only helpful in the summer, but it was essential. Since rain was important after Pesach, he felt that they should recite mashiv haruach umorid hagashem and vesein tal umatar even in the summer months. We also discovered that the Rosh was unsuccessful in changing the practice of his community, and that he, himself, eventually stopped reciting these prayers after Pesach. Although he had not changed his opinion, since he was unsuccessful in changing the accepted practice, he did not want there to be divergent approaches in the same community.

We also learned that the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 117:2) rules that the halacha does not follow the Rosh. He writes that all communities begin reciting mashiv haruach umorid hagashem on Shemini Atzeres and records only two practices regarding vesein tal umatar, the same two expressly mentioned in the Gemara. No other regional distinctions are recognized.

In addition, we noted that when someone recites mashiv haruach umorid hagashem or vesein tal umatar when he should not, he must repeat the davening. This presents us with the following intriguing question: Someone in Germany or Spain recites mashiv haruach umorid hagashem or vesein tal umatar during or after Pesach. According to the Shulchan Aruch, they have recited something that they should not have, whereas the Rosh contends that they have followed the correct procedure. The question is whether we accept the opinion of the Rosh to the extent of not repeating the shemoneh esrei in this situation. Rav Yitzchak Abuhav, a highly respected authority, contended that one should not repeat the shemoneh esrei out of respect for the Rosh’s position.

In his Beis Yosef commentary on the Tur, the author of the Shulchan Aruch was inclined to reject the Rosh’s ruling completely, to the extent of requiring the repetition of shemoneh esrei. However, because of the position of Rav Yitzchak Abuhav, the Beis Yosef modified his position, contending that someone who recited mashiv haruach umorid hagashem or vesein tal umatar in Spain or Germany on or after Pesach should repeat the shemoneh esrei as a donated prayer, called a tefillas nedavah, which one may recite when there is a question as to whether one is required to repeat the prayer. The Rema concludes, like Rav Yitzchak Abuhav, that one should not repeat the shemoneh esrei in this situation.

Melbourne, Australia, 1890’s

In the 1890’s, Rav Avraham Eiver Hirschowitz, whose origins were in Lithuania, became the rav of Melbourne. Upon Rav Hirschowitz’s arrival in Melbourne, he discovered that the local community was following the practice of the Toras Chayim: They were not reciting mashiv haruach umorid hagashem at all, and were reciting vesein tal umatar in shomei’a tefillah during the Australian winter between Pesach and Sukkos, and not reciting it at all during the months of Marcheshvan until Pesach. Rav Hirschowitz felt that this practice was an error in Australia, and immediately began addressing letters to several gedolei Yisroel regarding this practice. He explained that the Toras Chayim’s approach is based on the assumption that rain in the summer is detrimental, which he contended is not the case in Australia. Therefore, he concluded that Australia should follow the exact practice of everywhere else outside Eretz Yisroel and recite mashiv haruach umorid hagashem from Sukkos to Pesach, and vesein tal umatar in birchas hashanim, when everyone in chutz la’aretz does this.

Much of Rav Hirschowitz’s correspondence on the subject was published in his own work, Shu”t Beis Avraham. Apparently, Rav Hirschowitz was not in Melbourne for a long period of time, since it appears that he arrived there in 1892 and left in 1894. He writes in his introduction to Shu”t Beis Avraham that on Monday of parshas Devorim 5654 (1894), he left Australia by ship for the United States. He describes that one of his ports of call was Auckland, New Zealand, which at the time had a daily minyan and a Jewish community of some one hundred families. He also describes how they crossed the international dateline while en route, and he was uncertain what he should do regarding observing Shabbos while at sea. Rav Hirschowitz published his sefer in 1908, at which time he was a rav in Toledo, Ohio.

Why was the community following the ruling of the Toras Chayim? It appears that the community’s practice had originated with a question sent by them many decades earlier to Rav Shelomoh Hirschell, who had been the chief rabbi of the United Kingdom for forty years until his passing on Monday, the 31st of October, 1842, or fifty years before Rav Hirschowitz’s arrival in Australia. To appreciate why Rav Hirschell’s opinion carried so much weight, let me share a small description of his funeral that was published shortly after his passing in The Occident and American Jewish Advocate, published in the United States: “Rav Shelomoh Hirschell was the Chief Rabbi of the Jews (after the German ritual), in London, the British provinces, and dependencies. [The term “after the German ritual” apparently means that he was viewed as the chief rabbi of the Ashkenazim, but not of the Sefardim.] The funeral took place on Wednesday. The morning was ushered in by every Jew in the metropolis, with those demonstrations of respect becoming so solemn an occasion; all places of business were closed, and the blinds in every private house were drawn down. The day being yom kippur katan, the eve of the new moon, it was observed as a fast by a larger number of persons than are accustomed to the observance. The taharah had been performed at a very early hour by the Dayanim, the executors, and a select number of the immediate friends of the deceased.” The article continues to describe the loss felt by the community, and who were the maspidim.

Apparently, when the community in Australia first asked Rav Hirschell, he ruled that they should follow the practice as concluded by the Toras Chayim. At the time, this was probably the only published responsum on the question of reciting vesein tal umatar in the southern hemisphere. Therefore, the community refrained from reciting mashiv haruach umorid hagashem ever in their prayers. They refrained from doing so from Marcheshvan to Pesach because of concern that this was detrimental to their own needs.

We will never know why Rav Hirschell ruled that they should follow the approach of the Toras Chayim. Rav Hirschowitz’s approach appears to be what most authorities accept. For example, we find responsa on the subject from Rav Kook (Shu”t Orach Mishpat, Orach Chayim #24), Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank (Shu”t Har Tzvi, Orach Chayim #56), Dayan Yitzchok Weiss of Manchester and the Eidah Hachareidis (Shu”t Minchas Yitzchok 6:171), and Rav Betzalel Stern (Shu”t Betzeil Hachachmah 6:85), all of whom accept this approach also.

We should note that the two practices, that of the Toras Chayim and that of the Shulchan Aruch, do not dispute in halacha. The Toras Chayim ruled his way when there is a season locally in which rain is definitely detrimental. Since I have found no authority who disputes this ruling of the Rambam, as explained in our previous articles, I assume that, were this indeed the case, all would agree that one should refrain from reciting mashiv haruach umorid hagashem and vesein tal umatar when it would be detrimental, locally, for it to rain in this season.

South is very different

However, one major authority, Rav Shmuel Vozner of Bnei Braq, disagrees with this approach. In a responsum dated the 9th of Kislev 5721 (1961) addressed to Rabbi Avraham Leitner, the rav of a community named Adas Yerei’im in Montevideo, Uruguay, Rav Vozner disagrees with everyone since the time of the Toras Chayim, ruling that the discussions about the Gemara and the rishonim were germane only in the northern hemisphere, where the basic needs are for rain in the winter and some places might require rain even in the spring and summer. However, opines Rav Vozner, in the southern hemisphere, where the seasons are reversed, davening for rain between Sukkos and Pesach is tantamount to asking Hashem to change the climates completely and to make the southern hemisphere climates identical to the northern, which would, of course, be catastrophic. Therefore, Rav Vozner rules that, in the southern hemisphere, one should recite mashiv haruach umorid hagashem from Pesach until Sukkos, and daven for rain vesein tal umatar in birchos hashanim when it is appropriate there (Shu”t Shevet Halevi 1:21).

It would stand to reason that, according to Rav Vozner’s approach, the prayers of tefillas geshem and tefillas tal should also be reversed — southern hemisphere Jewry should recite tefillas geshem on Pesach and tefillas tal on Sukkos. In the ninth volume of Rav Vozner’s teshuvos, there is a lengthy responsum from his son, Rav Benzion Vozner, who served as a rav in Sydney, Australia, for six years, expanding and explaining his father’s position, which he himself advocates (Shu”t Shevet Halevi 9:148).

Halachic conclusion

Based on the entire discussion, I present five possible approaches one could follow regarding the recital of mashiv haruach umorid hagashem and vesein tal umatar in the southern hemisphere.

Rosh: Since these areas are regions and not just cities, the laws germane to both of these inserts in the davening should be dependent on local conditions. Although the Rosh himself held this way, as we have seen, the other halachic authorities did not accept his position.

Shulchan Aruch: The obvious reading of the Shulchan Aruch is that these communities should follow the same practice as is practiced in chutz la’aretz northern hemisphere communities.

Toras Chayim: Although he follows the general approach that I ascribed above to the Shulchan Aruch, he adds that in seasons when rain is unfavorable, one should omit mashiv haruach umorid hagashem and vesein tal umatar.

Rav Vozner: The entire discussion in early authorities is germane only to practices in the northern hemisphere, but in the southern hemisphere one should follow reverse practices, thus reciting mashiv haruach umorid hagashem and vesein tal umatar in its winter months, which correspond to the summer months in the northern hemisphere.

Lots of dew: Although I have not seen this position quoted in any halachic work, I have been told that there are individuals who follow an approach that makes sure that one will always fulfill the mitzvah of davening. All year long, they recite morid hatal in the second brocha of shemoneh esrei, and they recite vesein tal umatar in shomei’a tefillah whenever there is an opinion that one should recite vesein tal umatar. The advantage of this last approach is that one will never create a situation in which the prayer must be repeated.

What do they do?

While researching these questions, I sent out inquiries to various contacts I have who live or have lived in different southern hemisphere communities, asking them what is practiced in their various places. Here is what I discovered:

In general, the most common practice is to follow the approach that I called above that of the Shulchan Aruch, that one follows the schedule identically to what is done in the northern hemisphere.

In some places, indeed, we find different shullen following divergent approaches. When this is the situation, usually one congregation follows the standard, accepted approach of the Shulchan Aruch, whereas the other refrains from reciting vesein tal umatar or mashiv haruach umorid hagashem in its usual place, during the local summer. I will note that, logically, this should be true only in a place and season where rain is indeed detrimental to the locals.

Mixed Messages

At this point, we can address the opening questions of our article. Our first question was: “How can you have two shullen in the same city, one saying vesein tal umatar, and the other not, on the same day?”

One answer would be that we are describing two shullen located somewhere in the southern hemisphere, which are following differing piskei halacha as to what they should do. I am told that there are cities in which this is the case.

The second of our opening questions was: “What do Buenos Aires, Melbourne, Montevideo, Recife, and Auckland, New Zealand, have in common, but not Johannesburg, Perth, and Santiago, Chile?”

Even someone who has followed all the fine points in our discussion will probably still not be able to answer this question, although he will realize that every one of these places lies in the southern hemisphere. Buenos Aires, Melbourne, Montevideo, Recife, and Auckland, New Zealand all have in common that, in my research on this topic, I found each of these places to have been the basis of the question asked from a posek on this issue.

 

Davening for Rain in the Southern Hemisphere

Question #1: Mixed Messages

“How can you have two shullen in the same city, one saying vesein tal umatar, and the other not, on the same day?”

Question #2: Western Travelers

How early did western mankind begin traveling in the southern hemisphere?

Question #3: South of the Border

“What do Buenos Aires, Melbourne, Montevideo, Recife, and Wellington and Auckland, New Zealand have in common, but not Johannesburg, Perth, and Santiago, Chile?”

Introduction

Although we are all aware that we cease reciting both mashiv haruach umorid hagashem and vesein tal umatar on the first day of Pesach, most people are surprised to discover that there is a halachic controversy whether this is the correct procedure in America. This has halachic ramifications both for people in the United States and certainly for those who live in South America, particularly those living in Argentina, Chile and Brazil, which are in the southern hemisphere. We will also discover that there is a major dispute among halachic authorities as to when people living in South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and other parts of the southern hemisphere should recite mashiv haruach umorid hagashem and vesein tal umatar, in what part of shemoneh esrei they should recite vesein tal umatar, and when they recite tefilas tal and tefilas geshem.

But first we need to study the Talmudic sources on the topic. The early halachic sources discuss two special inserts to our davening, mashiv haruach umorid hagashem, “He who causes the wind to blow and the rain to fall,” and vesein tal umatar, “grant dew and rain upon the face of the earth.” The first is praise of Hashem and, therefore, it is inserted into the second brocha of our davening, both on weekdays and Shabbos, since the first three brochos of the shemoneh esrei are devoted to praise. The second is a prayer beseeching Hashem to provide rain, and as such is recited in birchas hashanim, the appropriate brocha of the weekday shemoneh esrei. Should one forget to recite vesein tal umatar in its appropriate place in birchas hashanim, one may still recite it during the brocha of shomei’a tefillah.

Missed them

Should one forget to recite either mashiv haruach umorid hagashem or vesein tal umatar when required, one is obligated to repeat the shemoneh esrei. However, there is a halachic difference between the two that is already noted by the Tur. Should one recite morid hatal, praising Hashem for providing dew, rather than mashiv haruach umorid hagashem, one is not required to repeat the shemoneh esrei. Nevertheless, when it is the time to recite vesein tal umatar, someone who prayed only for dew would be required to repeat the shemoneh esrei.

Mashiv haruach umorid hagashem

The Mishnah (Taanis 2a) cites a dispute between Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yehoshua concerning when one begins to recite mashiv haruach umorid hagashem, Rabbi Eliezer contending that we begin on the first day of Sukkos, whereas Rabbi Yehoshua maintains that we begin on Shemini Atzeres. The Gemara explains that Rabbi Eliezer’s basis is that there are two mitzvos observed on Sukkos that are associated with our need for rain, the ceremony of nisuch hamayim, which involves the pouring of water on the mizbeiach in the Beis Hamikdash, and the taking of the lulav, esrog, hadasim and aravos. In Rabbi Eliezer’s opinion, these mitzvos demonstrate that we should praise Hashem on Sukkos for His role as Rainmaker.

Both Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yehoshua agree that we do not want it to rain on Sukkos itself, because this makes it difficult or even impossible to observe the mitzvah of sukkah. As the Mishnah (Sukkah 28b) records, rain on Sukkos can be compared to a servant bringing his master a gift that the master pours into the servant’s face. We build a sukkah hoping to serve Hashem by observing His mitzvah, and then it rains on our party! For this reason, Rabbi Yehoshua says that we do not begin reciting mashiv haruach umorid hagashem until there is no longer a mitzvah of living in the sukkah.

Rabbi Eliezer agrees that we do not request rain during Sukkos, but he contends that reciting mashiv haruach umorid hagashem is appropriate, since it is praise of Hashem and not a request for rain. Rabbi Yehoshua responds that, even so, it is inappropriate for us to praise Hashem as Rainmaker at a time when rain is considered a siman kelalah, a sign of a curse, because it demonstrates that Hashem has rejected our observance of His mitzvos. The Gemara rules according to Rabbi Yehoshua.

Beginning Vesein tal umatar

Regarding when to begin reciting vesein tal umatar, the Mishnah (Taanis 10a) records a dispute between an anonymous tanna, who contends that we begin on the third day of Marcheshvan, and Rabban Gamliel, who says that we begin on the seventh day of Marcheshvan. This is fifteen days after Sukkos, which allows those who traveled for Yom Tov to Yerushalayim by foot to return home before it begins to rain. The Gemara rules that the halacha accords with Rabban Gamliel’s opinion.

Continuing this discussion, the Gemara quotes a beraisa stating that the Mishnah expresses the practice that is followed in Eretz Yisroel. However, in “the exile,” they begin praying for rain many weeks later, on the day the Gemara calls “sixty days after the equinox,” the details of which we will leave for a different time. Rashi explains that in Bavel, which is located in a river valley, there is less need for rain than in Eretz Yisroel. Too much rain in Bavel could cause dangerous flooding, and therefore they begin praying for rain later.

Thus far, we know that in Eretz Yisroel one begins recital of vesein tal umatar on the seventh of Marcheshvan, whereas in Bavel it is begun significantly later.

Southern hemisphere

All of this lengthy discussion and last week’s article are an introduction to our topic, since until now we have been discussing life in the northern hemisphere, the world north of the equator. In the era of the Mishnah, Gemara and rishonim, to the best of our knowledge, there were no Jews living south of the equator, which runs through the northern part of South America, mid-Africa, and through the Indian Ocean south of India. In today’s world, there are Jewish communities in the following countries south of the equator: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Chile, New Zealand, South Africa and Uruguay, and, to a lesser extent, in Ecuador and Bolivia. All of these lands were unknown to the European and Middle Eastern world until the era of discovery began in the days of Columbus. Of these lands, the first discovered was probably South Africa, discovered by Vasco da Gama during his voyage that began in 1497, and then Brazil, discovered in 1500 by Pedro Cabral.

By the early seventeenth century there was already a Jewish community in Brazil that sent questions germane to when they should recite mashiv haruach umorid hagashem and vesein tal umatar. The earliest responsum was written by a prominent posek of Salonica, Rav Chayim Shabtai, who was the rav in Salonica until his passing in 1647, and whose responsa were published as Shu”t Toras Chayim. His undated responsum is addressed to someone inquiring about the practices of the Jewish community in Brazil, without identifying which city in that country. The teshuvah identifies them as being south of the equator, which is indeed where almost all of Brazil is located. The letter could not have been from the two largest Jewish communities in Brazil today, Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, because neither of those cities existed yet in the 17th century, but it might have been from one of the earlier colonial cities of Belem or Recife (then called Pernambuco).

The questioner assumes that rain during their summer months, which are between Sukkos and Pesach, would be very harmful. Therefore, the Brazilian community wanted to recite mashiv haruach umorid hagashem and vesein tal umatar between Pesach and Sukkos and not recite them between Sukkos and Pesach.

In the article, “Should I daven for rain when we need it?” which I sent out last week, I mention the dispute in the Gemara whether these two prayers, mashiv haruach umorid hagashem and vesein tal umatar, are recited according to local conditions, such as those of a city whose weather pattern varies significantly from nearby locales. The Gemara’s example is the people of the city of Nineveh, where rain was necessary throughout the summer. Could they recite vesein tal umatar in Boreich aleinu, when it usually is recited, or should/must they recite it in Shema koleinu.

The halachic conclusion is that mashiv haruach umorid hagashem is never said according to local conditions, whereas vesein tal umatar is not said in the usual place in shemoneh esrei, but in the brocha of Shema koleinu.

I also discussed there the dispute among rishonim whether an entire country recites these brochos according to their local climate needs or not. The Rosh rules that they do, and thus he contended that Spain or Germany should follow local climate needs when reciting these two brochos. The Rosh further contended that the Rambam agreed with his interpretation of the halacha. We also noted that most authorities disagreed with the Rosh, and that some later authorities disagreed with the Rosh’s understanding of the Rambam’s opinion.

Contradiction in Rambam

At this point, we will examine how the Rosh explains the Rambam in a way that sustains his opinion. The Rosh noted that the Rambam’s statement in his commentary to the Mishnah in Taanis appears to conflict with what he wrote in Hilchos Tefillah, “Places that require rain in the summer, such as distant islands of the sea, ask for rain when they require it in shomei’a tefillah” (Rambam, Hilchos Tefillah 2:15-17). Yet, the Rambam in the Mishnah commentary states that they should treat their rainy season as Eretz Yisroel treats the 7th of Marcheshvan, which means that they should recite vesein tal umatar in birchas hashanim, not in shomei’a tefillah.

In the Rambam’s commentary to the Mishnah Taanis, while explaining the laws that we have shared above, he adds: “All these laws apply in Eretz Yisroel and the lands that are similar to it… However, in other lands, one should recite vesein tal umatar at the time that rain is beneficial for that place, and, in that time, one should follow the practice of (Eretz Yisroel on) the 7th of Marcheshvan (meaning that they should pray for rain when it is beneficial for them). This is because there are lands in which it does not begin to rain until Nissan. In lands in which the summer is in Marcheshvan and rain then is not good for them, but it is deadly and destructive, how can the people of such a place ask for rain in Marcheshvan? – this is a lie!” (Since rain is now detrimental for them, why are they asking for it?)

Tangentially, there is an observation that results from the Rambam’s words, which is of a historical nature rather than a halachic one. The Rambam was aware that there are places in the world in which the seasons are reversed from ours, such as in the southern hemisphere. Historically, this presents a tremendous curiousity, since I have been unable to ascertain that there was settlement of Jews in the southern hemisphere until four hundred years after the Rambam’s demise! However, it appears that, in the Rambam’s day, Arab traders had already visited the eastern coast of Africa south of the equator, or, alternatively, had sailed to islands in the Indian Ocean that were south of the equator. I have not seen any historians note this point.

In view of the Rambam’s words, we can address the second of our opening questions: “How early did western mankind begin traveling in the southern hemisphere?”

From the Rambam’s comments, it is evident that this was as early as the twelfth century. It may be that Vasco de Gama was the first European to sail around the southern tip of what is today South Africa, but he was certainly not the first old world explorer to sail to the southern hemisphere!

Returning to the comments of the Rosh:

The Rosh resolves the contradiction in the Rambam’s position by explaining that there is a difference between a city and a region. A city with exceptional needs should recite vesein tal umatar only in shomei’a tefillah. However, an entire region or country, such as Spain or Germany, should recite vesein tal umatar in birchas hashanim during the part of the year that this region requires rain.

Kesef Mishneh and Toras Chayim

Not all authorities accept the Rosh’s approach to explaining the Rambam. Several point out that if the Rambam meant to distinguish between a city and a region, he should have said so. Rather, they contend that the Rambam meant that if, in your location, there is now a need for rain, one should include vesein tal umatar in your daily weekday davening. Where in the prayer one recites this depends on what part of the year it is: Between the 7th of Marcheshvan and Pesach, one should say it in birchas hashanim. If it is after Pesach, one should recite it in shomei’a tefillah.

Several rishonim rule that local conditions do not determine when one recites vesein tal umatar in birchas hashanim, contending that reciting vesein tal umatar in that part of davening after Pesach requires one to repeat the shemoneh esrei, even in a place where there is a need for rain in this part of the year (Rabbeinu Yonah, Brochos 19b; Ritva, Taanis 3b). Thus, we understand why the Rosh’s position that mashiv haruach umorid hagashem and vesein tal umatar should be recited after Pesach in Europe was not accepted.

The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 117:2) rules that the halacha does not follow the Rosh. He writes that all communities begin reciting mashiv haruach umorid hagashem on Shemini Atzeres and records only two practices regarding vesein tal umatar, the same two expressly mentioned in the Gemara. No other regional distinctions are recognized.

Thus, in essence, the people of Brazil wanted to follow the approach of the Rosh. The Toras Chayim rules that they should not follow this practice, emphasizing:

(1) The Rosh’s approach was not accepted by the other authorities.

(2) In a lengthy discussion of the Rambam’s opinion, the Toras Chayim concludes that the Rambam also does not agree with the Rosh.

(3) The Rosh himself retracted his approach when he saw that it was not followed.

Based on the claim that rain between Sukkos and Pesach was detrimental to life where these Brazilian colonists lived, the Toras Chayim ruled that they should never recite mashiv haruach umorid hagashem at all, following the Rambam that one does not recite either mashiv haruach umorid hagashem or vesein tal umatar when it is detrimental for the local needs. During the months that the Brazilians need rain, he ruled that they should recite vesein tal umatar during shomei’a tefillah, like the practice of the city of Nineveh and unlike the Rosh.

Click here for part II of this article.

 

 

Should I Daven for Rain When We Need It?

Whereas in chutz la’aretz we do not recite vesein tal umatar (the prayer for rain added to the bracha of Boreich Aleinu in the weekday shmoneh esrei) until the evening of December fourth (the exact date varies upon the particular year), people in Eretz Yisroel begin reciting this prayer on the Seventh of Marcheshvan. This difference in practice leads to many interesting shaylos. One, which is discussed in an article that is posted on the website RabbiKaganoff.com, concerns someone who is traveling during this time period from Eretz Yisroel to chutz la’aretz or vice versa.

There is halachic discussion regarding the question whether the two passages that we recite in the shemoneh esrei, mashiv haruach umorid hagashem and vesein tal umatar, should be recited according to local conditions. This week’s article discusses the general topic and emphasizes the questions germane to it in the northern hemisphere. Next week, I will discuss the history and question concerning what one does in the southern hemisphere.

 

Should I Daven for Rain When We Need It?

Question:

If a city’s residents need rain at a different time in the year, when do they recite vesein tal umatar?

Introduction

Although we are all aware that we begin reciting mashiv haruach umorid hagashem on Shemini Atzeres and vesein tal umatar either on the evening of December fourth in chutz la’aretz) or on the Seventh of Marcheshvan in Eretz Yisroel, and that we cease reciting both mashiv haruach umorid hagashem and vesein tal umatar on the first day of Pesach, most people are surprised to discover that there is an extensive halachic controversy whether this is the correct procedure in most of the world. Specifically, as we will soon see, there are some early authorities who rule that one should pray for rain whenever it is usual to have rain in the region where one is located. Although we do not rule this way, there are ramifications for someone who errs and recites the wrong prayer in such locations.

Local needs

If a city’s residents need rain at a different time in the year, when do they recite vesein tal umatar? The Gemara (Taanis 14b) raises this question, citing the following story:

“The people of the city of Nineveh (in contemporary Iraq) sent a shaylah to Rebbe: Our city requires rain, even in the middle of the summer. Should we be treated like individuals and recite vesein tal umatar in the brocha of Shma Koleinu, or like a community, and recite it during the brocha of Boreich Aleinu (birchos hashanim)? Rebbe responded that they are considered individuals and should request rain during the brocha of Shma Koleinu.”

The Gemara subsequently demonstrates that the tanna Rabbi Yehudah disagreed with Rebbe, and contended that they should recite vesein tal umatar in the brocha of birchos hashanim.

This controversy recurred in the times of the early amora’im, approximately one hundred years later, when the disputants were Rav Nachman and Rav Sheishes. Rav Sheishes contended, like Rebbe, that the Nineveh residents should recite vesein tal umatar in shomei’a tefillah, whereas Rav Nachman ruled that they should recite it in birchos hashanim, following Rabbi Yehudah. The question is then resolved finally by the Gemara, which concludes that it should be recited in shomei’a tefillah, and this is the conclusion of all halachic authorities.

Why not add?

Germane to understanding this passage of Gemara, a concern is raised by the rishonim. There is a halacha that one can add to the supplication brochos of the shemoneh esrei personal requests appropriate to the theme of that brocha. For example, one may include a prayer for the recovery of an individual during the brocha of refa’einu, or a request for assistance in one’s Torah study in the brocha of chonein hadaas. The Gemara (Avodah Zarah 8a) rules that someone who needs livelihood may add a personal supplication for this to the brocha of birchos hashanim. The question is that if one may add his personal request for parnasah, why can the people of Nineveh not add their own personal requests for rain at this point in the davening?

The rishonim present two answers to this question:

  1. Since rain can be harmful in other places, one may not pray for rain in birchos hashanim for one’s own needs when rain may be detrimental in a different locale. A request for livelihood is different, since fulfilling it is never harmful to someone else.
  2. This is the version of the prayer that Chazal instituted for the winter months, and they established a different text for the summer months. Therefore, reciting vesein tal umatar in birchos hashanim during the summer conflicts with the text that Chazal established for this brocha, which is called matbei’a she’tav’uh chachamim. One is not permitted to change the text of Chazal’s established prayers, although one may add personal supplications to them.

The Rambam

When the Rambam cites the halachic conclusion of the story of the people of Nineveh, he modifies the story by replacing the reference to Nineveh with “distant islands of the sea.” Let us see the entire context of his ruling: “The entire rainy season (autumn and winter), one recites morid hagashem in the second brocha, and in the sunny season (spring and summer) one recites morid hatal. When does he begin reciting morid hagashem? From the musaf prayer of the last day of Sukkos until shacharis of the first day of Pesach. From musaf of the first day of Pesach one begins to recite morid hatal. From the seventh of Marcheshvan, we begin to ask for rain in birchos hashanim for as long a time as one still says mashiv haruach umorid hagashem. This is true in Eretz Yisroel, but in Shinar (Mesopotamia), Syria, Egypt and nearby places whose climate is similar, one should ask for rain from sixty days after the equinox. Places that require rain in the summer, such as distant islands of the sea, ask for rain — when they require it — in shomei’a tefillah” (Rambam, Hilchos Tefillah 2:15-17).

Germany and Spain

Why the Rambam mentions “distant islands of the sea” became an important factor in a related issue a bit more than one hundred years after his passing, during the lifetime of the Rosh. The Rosh was born in Germany and spent most of his life there. As an adult with grown children, he fled Germany because of persecutions, first spending a few months in Montpelier, in the area of southern France bordering on the Mediterranean Sea known as the Provence. He subsequently decided that he was not happy with the level of Jewish observance in the Provence, and he traveled onward to Barcelona, Spain, where he became the personal houseguest of the Rashba. Later, the rav of Toledo, the largest community of its time in central Spain, passed on, and the rabbinate of that prominent community, in which lived, apparently, many prominent talmidei chachamim, was offered to the Rosh, who accepted it. Shortly after his arrival in Toledo, the following event transpired:

“And it was in the year 5073 after the creation of the world (corresponding to the Common Era year 1313), that it rained very little the entire winter, and the community declared a fast day to beseech Hashem for rain. On the first night of Pesach after maariv, the Rosh was sitting in the entrance to his house with some of his disciples standing about him, when he declared:

“Now is the time to raise a matter that has always bothered me: Why don’t we continue reciting vesein tal umatar until Shavuos?” What bothered the Rosh is that, although in Eretz Yisroel rain is disadvantageous in the summer, in Europe, where he lived his entire life, rain was not only helpful in the summer, but it was essential. Since rain was important after Pesach, they should recite mashiv haruach umorid hagashem and vesein tal umatar even in the summer months.

Subsequently, the Rosh penned a lengthy responsum advocating this position. He rallied the following proof: When analyzing a dispute quoted in the Gemara, we ordinarily assume that the two differing authorities disputed concerning a relatively minor issue and held as closely as possible to one another’s position. The specific application of this principle is as follows: Both Rabbi Yehudah (the tanna) and Rav Nachman (the amora) held that the city of Nineveh should recite vesein tal umatar in the brocha of birchos hashanim. On the other hand, Rebbe and Rav Sheishes contended that the city of Ninevah should recite vesein tal umatar in shomei’a tefillah, because a city should not have its own practice of reciting vesein tal umatar in birchos hashanim when everyone else is not requesting rain in their tefilos. However, reasoned the Rosh, the dispute among these great scholars regards only a city. A large region or country should recite vesein tal umatar in birchos hashanim according to all opinions, just as we see that the practices of Eretz Yisroel and Bavel were not the same, but each country followed its own needs. Therefore, since Nineveh’s needs were analogous to those of central Spain, everyone would agree that in Spain, one should recite mashiv haruach umorid hagashem and vesein tal umatar according to the regional climate conditions.

At the end of his responsum, the Rosh notes that he was unsuccessful in changing the practice of his community, and that he, himself, eventually stopped reciting these prayers after Pesach. We see clearly that he had not changed his opinion. However, since he was not successful in changing the accepted practice, he did not want there to be divergent approaches in the same community.

The Rosh contended that he could prove that the Rambam also held as he did, that one should recite the prayers mashiv haruach umorid hagashem and vesein tal umatar according to the need of the local region. In the Rambam’s commentary to the Mishnah Taanis, while explaining the laws that we have shared above, he adds: “All these laws apply in Eretz Yisroel and the lands that are similar to it… However, in other lands, one should recite vesein tal umatar at the time that rain is beneficial for that place, and, in that time, one should follow the practice of (Eretz Yisroel on) the 7th of Marcheshvan (meaning that one should begin reciting vesein tal umatar when local conditions warrant it). This is because there are lands in which it does not begin to rain until Nissan. In lands in which the summer is in Marcheshvan and rain, then, is not good for them, but it is deadly and destructive, how can the people of such a place ask for rain in Marcheshvan? – this is a lie!” (Since rain is now detrimental for them, why are they asking for it?)

Rambam points

In reverse order, the Rambam made two halachic points:

  1. One should not pray for rain when it is detrimental to the local needs.

Note that I have not found any halachic authority who disputes this ruling, although, in truth, virtually every other rishon is mum on this topic.

  1. In places where rain is beneficial at a different time of the year, one should recite vesein tal umatar at the time that it is beneficial for the local needs.

Contradiction in Rambam

At this point, we will examine how the Rosh explains the Rambam in a way that sustains his opinion. The Rosh notes that the Rambam’s statement in his commentary to the Mishnah in Taanis appears to conflict with what he wrote in Hilchos Tefillah, “Places that require rain in the summer, such as distant islands of the sea, ask for rain — when they require it — in shomei’a tefillah” (Rambam, Hilchos Tefillah 2:15-17). Yet, the Rambam in the Mishnah commentary states that they should treat their rainy season as Eretz Yisroel treats the 7th of Marcheshvan, which means that they should recite vesein tal umatar in birchos hashanim, not in shomei’a tefillah.

The Rosh resolves this contradiction in the Rambam’s position by explaining that there is a difference between a city and a region. A city with exceptional needs should recite vesein tal umatar only in shomei’a tefillah. However, an entire region or country, such as Spain or Germany, should recite vesein tal umatar in birchos hashanim, during the part of the year that this region requires rain.

Kesef Mishneh and Toras Chayim

Not all authorities accept the Rosh’s approach to explaining the Rambam. Several point out that if the Rambam meant to distinguish between a city and a region, he should have said so. Rather, they contend that the Rambam meant that if, in your location, there is now a need for rain, one should include vesein tal umatar in your daily weekday davening. Where in the prayer one recites this depends on what part of the year it is: Between the 7th of Marcheshvan and Pesach, one should say it in birchos hashanim. If it is after Pesach, one should recite it in shomei’a tefillah.

Disagree with Rosh

Several rishonim disagree with the Rosh, contending that it is not permitted to recite vesein tal umatar in birchos hashanim at times that Chazal ruled we should not. They rule, further, that someone who does recite vesein tal umatar in birchos hashanim at those times did not fulfill his mitzvah to daven and is required to repeat the shemoneh esrei (Rabbeinu Yonah, Brochos 19b; Ritva, Taanis 3b). Thus, we understand why the Rosh’s position, that mashiv haruach umorid hagashem and vesein tal umatar should be recited after Pesach in Europe, was not accepted.

The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 117:2) rules that the halacha does not follow the Rosh. He records that all communities begin reciting mashiv haruach umorid hagashem on Shemini Atzeres, and records only two practices regarding vesein tal umatar, the same two expressly mentioned in the Gemara. No other regional distinctions are recognized.

Out of season

Notwithstanding that he rejects the halachic conclusion of the Rosh, the Shulchan Aruch discusses the following question. Someone who recites mashiv haruach umorid hagashem or vesein tal umatar when he should not must repeat the davening. This presents us with an intriguing question: Someone in Germany or Spain recites mashiv haruach umorid hagashem or vesein tal umatar during or after Pesach. According to the Shulchan Aruch, they have recited something that they should not have, whereas the Rosh contends that they have followed the correct procedure. The question is whether we accept the opinion of the Rosh to the extent of not repeating the shemoneh esrei in this situation. Indeed, Rav Yitzchak Abuhav, a highly respected authority, contended that one should not repeat the shemoneh esrei, out of respect for the Rosh’s position.

In his Beis Yosef commentary on the Tur, the author of the Shulchan Aruch was inclined to reject the Rosh’s ruling completely, to the extent of requiring the repetition of shemoneh esrei. However, because of the position of Rav Yitzchak Abuhav, the Beis Yosef modified his position, contending that someone who recited mashiv haruach umorid hagashem or vesein tal umatar in Spain or Germany on or after Pesach should repeat the shemoneh esrei as a donated prayer, called a tefillas nedavah, which may be recited when it is uncertain whether repeating the prayer is required. The Rema concludes, like Rav Yitzchak Abuhav, that one should not repeat the shemoneh esrei in this situation.

The Bach

There is yet another complication to this issue, based on a comment of the Bach. A different passage of Gemara is concerned about a concept called “bothering Heaven,” meaning asking for a miraculous deliverance when unnecessary, noting that people who have davened under these unusual circumstances have been punished as a result. The Bach mentions a longstanding practice not to add vesein tal umatar to the davening on dates not included in what Chazal established, even when there was a local need for rain. He writes that the custom was to include selichos and other prayers but not to add the specific words of vesein tal umatar. He further records that two great Torah leaders once added vesein tal umatar, and both passed away within the year, which was attributed to the fact that they had inserted vesein tal umatar into prayers when they should not have.

There is a major difficulty posed by these comments of the Bach. We learned above that the residents of Nineveh asked in which brochathey should recite vesein tal umatar, because of their local need for rain. No one questioned that they could recite vesein tal umatar, which seems to run counter to what the Bach stated.

The Taz explains that the Bach’s concerns are only about reciting vesein tal umatar in the repetition of the shemoneh esrei, but not in the private tefillah, and that the people of Nineveh recited vesein tal umatar only in their private tefillos, but not during the chazzan’s repetition. The Elya Rabbah, an early acharon, takes issue with the Taz’s approach, contending that the people of Nineveh certainly recited vesein tal umatar both in their private prayers and in the public ones. The Elya Rabbah suggests an alternative approach: The concern raised by the Bach is only when the need for rain is not that great. When there is a major need for rain, as no doubt existed for the people of Nineveh, there is no concern about bothering Heaven.

Conclusion

Rashi (Breishis 2:5) points out that until Adam Harishon appeared, there was no rain in the world. Rain fell and grasses sprouted only after Adam was created, understood that rain was necessary for the world, and prayed to Hashem for rain.  Whenever we pray for rain, we must always remember that the essence of prayer is drawing ourselves closer to Hashem.

 

 

Over the Rainbow

Question #1: Showing a Rainbow

Should you call someone’s attention to the fact that there is a rainbow?

Are you supposed to look for a rainbow?

Question #2: Niagara Falls

Does one recite a brocha when seeing a rainbow that is not after a storm, such as what one sees at Niagara Falls?

Question #3: How much?

How much of a rainbow must one see to recite a brocha?

Introduction

An entire chapter of Shulchan Aruch is devoted to two short brochos, one recited when one sees a rainbow, and one called birkas hachamah, which we recite only once every 28 years. Both of these brochos are included under the general category called birchos ha’re’iyah, brochos recited upon seeing specific things, whose halachos are spread across nine chapters of Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim, from chapter 221-229).

Since the next recital of birkas hachamah will not be for a number of years, and the brocha on the rainbow is based in this week’s parsha, this article will discuss the latter brocha. The common text that we recite for this brocha is, “Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech Ha’olam Zocheir habris ve’ne’eman bivriso vekayom bema’amaro,” “Blessed are You, Hashem our G-d, King of the Universe, Who remembers the covenant, is trustworthy in His covenant and fulfills His word.” It should be noted that the version quoted by the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 229:1) has a slight difference – it is missing a vov before the word “ne’eman,” thus reading: “Boruch… Zocheir habris, Ne’eman bivriso vekayom bema’amaro,” and is translated as two sentences, “Blessed are You, Hashem our G-d, King of the Universe, Who remembers the covenant. He is trustworthy in His covenant and fulfills His word.”

Unusual brocha

Isn’t this a strange text for a brocha referring to Hashem? In what other brocha do we discuss Hashem’s trustworthiness and memory?

The answer is that the world is full of evil people who could be the cause for its destruction. The reason that the world is not destroyed is because Hashem promised Noach that He would not put an end to it. The additional words, that “He… fulfills His word,” are because, as we will soon see, the Torah does not mention that there was any promise or oath — simply Hashem’s declaration to Noach (Avudraham, page 187).

Before analyzing further the brocha and the Gemara that teaches us this mitzvah, let us read the pesukim in this week’s parsha, upon which this brocha is based.

Rainbow way up high

After Noach and his family exited the teivah, Hashem tells them, “I am establishing My covenant with you and the descendants that will follow you… and I will confirm My covenant with you that I will never again destroy all flesh with the waters of the flood, and there never again will be a flood to destroy the earth. And G-d said: This is the sign of My covenant that I am providing between Me and between you and all living creatures that are among you, for all future generations. I have placed My rainbow in the clouds, and it will provide a sign of a covenant between Me and between the earth. And it should be, when I place a cloud over the earth and the rainbow becomes visible in the cloud. I will then remember My covenant that is between Me and you and all living creatures, and the water will never become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the rainbow is in the cloud, I will see it and remember the eternal covenant between G-d and between all living creatures on the earth” (Bereishis, 9:11-16).

The dreams you dare to dream

Seeing a rainbow should evoke mixed feelings in us. On the one hand, it is a beautiful phenomenon of nature that truly demonstrates the nifla’os haBorei, Hashem’s wondrous Creation. The Gemara shares with us an event that bears this out. Once, it was in the middle of the dry season in Eretz Yisroel, when it never rains. Several of the tanna’im were studying intently some deep kabbalistic ideas. Suddenly, the Heavens became covered with clouds and a rainbow appeared in them, and the ministering angels gathered together, the way people gather to see the celebrations of a bride and groom, in order to hear the kabbalistic words emanating from the scholars (Chagigah 14b).

Similarly, we have the following passage of Gemara (Brochos 59a): “Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said, ‘one who sees a rainbow in a cloud should fall on his face, as the verse states, Kemar’eih hakeshes asher yihyeh be’anan beyom hageshem kein mar’eih hanogah saviv shehu mar’eih demus kevod Hashem, As the rainbow appears in the cloud on a rainy day, so appeared the brilliant surrounding light; this is the image of the Honor of Hashem (Yechezkel 1:28).”

The Gemara there concludes not in accordance with the opinion of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, and therefore one should not prostrate himself upon seeing a rainbow, for the following reason: In Eretz Yisroel, they criticized the practice of bowing when seeing a rainbow, because it gives the appearance that one is worshiping the rainbow.

On the other hand, the rainbow also demonstrates Hashem’s covenant that He will never again bring a flood to destroy life on earth. Yet, seeing the rainbow implies that the covenant is necessary to avoid that destruction. This is not very reassuring about the state of mankind’s behavior and Hashem’s justified wrath. For this reason, in the era of the Gemara, it was a source of pride for one to have lived in a generation when a rainbow never appeared (Kesubos 77b)!

Indeed, the Shulchan Aruch concludes the laws of reciting the brocha on the rainbow with the following: “And it is prohibited to gaze at it (the rainbow) more than necessary.” The Gemara (Chagigah 16a) reports that gazing at the rainbow is bad for one’s eyes.

As a matter of fact, the rishonim ask this question: How can one look at the rainbow to recite the brocha, if gazing at it is harmful? They answer that it is only harmful to gaze at a rainbow, but not to notice it or glance at it. Thus, when noticing it, one should recite the brocha, but not look at it again afterwards (Rosh, cited by Avudraham).

Really do come true

Let us now examine our opening question: Should you call someone’s attention to the fact that there is a rainbow? Are you supposed to look for a rainbow?

The Chayei Odom (Klal 63:4) mentions, “I saw in a work, whose name I no longer remember, that one should not tell someone else that he saw a rainbow, since this is disparaging information.” The Mishnah Berurah and the Kaf Hachayim both quote this Chayei Odom. The question is that we usually assume that we are allowed to share bad news, for example, so that people know to attend a funeral or to make a shiva visit. Why not tell people about a rainbow, so that they can recite the brocha?

The answer appears to be that although the news of someone’s passing is something not good, it is not disparaging regarding anyone. However, the appearance of the rainbow is understood to demonstrate that Hashem is telling us that He is keeping His deal not to destroy the world with a flood. This statement has highly negative connotations for the entire world’s level of ethics and morality, and we want to avoid implying anything disparaging.

An alternative, similar explanation that I once heard is that one should not call attention to the rainbow, since it might make them dejected to see how wretched and undeserving the world is.

Skies are blue

A question relative to these verses is raised by the rishonim. The pesukim imply that the rainbow was created after the mabul, as a covenant. Indeed, the Ibn Ezra explains the verse this way, disputing an earlier interpretation of the posuk from Rav Saadiya Gaon. However, scientifically, if the correct factors of moisture in the air and sunlight exist, the resultant refraction of light causes a rainbow, which means that the factors causing the rainbow existed from Creation and not only after the mabul. This question was already asked by the Ramban in his commentary, which I will now quote: “‘This is the sign of My covenant that I am providing.’ One is given the impression that the rainbow in the clouds was not existent as part of Creation, but that now Hashem created a rainbow in the Heavens… . However, we are compelled to believe the words of the Greeks, that the light of the sun through moist air creates a rainbow, since taking a vessel of water before the sun will cause something similar in appearance to a rainbow.”

The Ramban continues: “When we examine further the phraseology of the verse, we will also understand (as did the Greeks), for it says ‘I have placed my rainbow in the cloud,’ rather than ‘I am now placing my rainbow in the cloud.’” The Ramban proceeds to explain that the rainbow, indeed, existed since Creation, but now, after the mabul, it became the testimony to the covenant. In other words, an already existing item now assumed a role as a testament and reminder to an agreement or covenant. The Ramban demonstrates that there are many other examples of this in Chumash.

Text of brocha

Germane to the text of the brocha we recite, the Gemara records the following: “One should certainly recite a brocha (upon seeing a rainbow). What brocha does he recite? ‘Blessed is He who remembers the covenant.’ A beraisa teaches a different text: Rabbi Yishmael the son of Rav Yochanan ben Beroka says, ‘He is trustworthy in His covenant and fulfills His word.’ Rav Papa ruled, ‘Therefore we should recite both texts: Blessed is He Who remembers the covenant, is trustworthy in His covenant and fulfills His word” (Brochos 59a). This is the source for the text of the brocha as we recite it, Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech Ha’olam zocheir habris vene’eman bevriso vekayom bema’amaro.

Nevertheless, we find that there were other ways of understanding the conclusion of the Gemara and different versions of its concluding text. There was an old custom to recite the following text to this brocha: Ne’eman bevriso vekayom bema’amaro, Boruch Attah Hashem Zocheir habris,” “He is trustworthy in His covenant and fulfills His word, Blessed are You, Hashem, Who remembers the covenant.” This version does not begin with our standard introduction for all brochos, nor does it mention at all that Hashem is King of the world. (The Shelah Hakodesh mentions a slight variation of this text which includes also Elokeinu Melech Ha’olam in its closing.) With the exception of a brocha that is a later one in a sequel, called a brocha hasemucha lachavertah, all brochos begin with our well-known formula Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech Ha’olam. (Examples of brocha hasemucha lachaverta are the brochos of shemoneh esrei, bensching, birchos kerias shma and sheva brochos. In these instances, the brochos that do not begin with the word boruch follow other brochos.) This is not the case with the brocha on a rainbow, which is not a sequel to another brocha, and therefore should begin with the words Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech Ha’olam.

In addition, brochos that are short and not multi-themed do not have a closing of Boruch Attah Hashem. These endings are restricted to brochos that are lengthier.

Precisely for these reasons, the authorities universally reject the text Ne’eman bevriso vekayom bema’amaro, Boruch Attah Hashem Zocheir habris, since it violates the structural rules for brochos established by Chazal (Bach; Pri Megadim). The poskim contend that this errant version was based on a misunderstanding of the text of the Gemara (Drisha, Orach Chayim 229, quoting his rebbe, the Maharshal).

Different text

Tosafos quotes a slightly different version of the brocha, which might have been based on a variant text of the Gemara passage: Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech Ha’olam ne’eman bivriso vekayom beshevuaso vezocheir habris,” “Blessed are You, Hashem our G-d, King of the Universe, Who is trustworthy in His covenant, fulfills His oath and remembers the covenant” (Tosafos, Brochos 59a s.v. Hilchach I).

One of the interesting points about this text is that it mentions that Hashem swore an oath regarding the rainbow. Although this idea is not mentioned in the Torah, it is mentioned by the prophet Yeshayohu (54:9), Ki mei Noach zos li asher nishbati mei’avor mei Noach od al ha’aretz, kein nishbati mi’ketzof alayich umi’ge’or boch, “These shall be for Me like the waters of Noach, which I swore never to bring again onto the earth. So, too, have I sworn not to become angry with you or to rebuke you.” These words are part of the reading for this week’s haftarah, as well as for that of parshas Ki Seitzei.

Somewhere over the rainbow

At this point, let us discuss our third opening question: “How much of a rainbow must one see to recite a brocha?”

Strangely enough, this question is not discussed by any of the standard, early authorities. The Mishnah Berurah, in his Biur Halacha commentary, does raise this question, stating that there are no halachic sources that clarify whether one recites the brocha only when he sees the entire arch of a rainbow, which is a 180 degree arc, or even if one sees only a small section.

Dreams really do come true

Among the things one sees that require a birchas ha’re’iyah, some require a brocha only when one has not seen them in the last thirty days, such as the brochos on magnificent mountains and seas, or the brochos upon seeing destroyed cities of Israel. There are also brochos that are recited more frequently, should the occasion present itself, such as the brocha recited when seeing lightning. The halacha is that, once the storm clears, should one see lightning accompanying a new thunderstorm, one recites the brocha again. What is the halacha regarding a rainbow? In the event that a new rainbow is the result of a different rainstorm, should one recite a new brocha? The halachic conclusion of the authorities is that one does (Shaarei Teshuvah 229:1 and other acharonim.).

A land that I heard of once

At this point, we can address the second of our opening questions: Does one recite the brocha only if one sees a rainbow after a storm? What is the halacha if one saw a rainbow elsewhere, such as at Niagara Falls or at Paterson Falls, right near New York City; does one recite a brocha?

The wording of the posuk, the Gemara and the poskim implies that the brocha is recited only when the rainbow appears in the clouds, related to a storm. Thus, there should be no brocha recited on a rainbow from any other source.

Way up high

A natural phenomenon that occasionally occurs is a double rainbow, in which a reversed-direction rainbow appears in the sky, high above a lower rainbow. There is an opinion among the late poskim that one recites the brocha only when seeing this particular type of rainbow, which means that one would rarely recite the brocha of Zocheir habris ve’ne’eman bivriso vekayom bema’amaro. One can rally an earlier comment as a source for this position, since one finds that the Seforno, in his commentary to the posuk in parshas Noach, understands that this was the type of rainbow that Hashem described to Noach as His covenant.

However, the well-known later authorities who quote this opinion conclude that one may ignore it, since none of the established early halachic authorities mentions this requirement for reciting the brocha (Ben Ish Chai, Parshas Eikev #17; Kaf Hachayim, 229:4). The Ben Ish Chai mentions that if an individual, when seeing a regular rainbow, chooses to omit the mention of Hashem’s name when reciting the brocha out of concern for this opinion, one should not rebuke him for this, notwithstanding that this approach is not the accepted halacha.

Conclusion

One of the understood messages of the rainbow is that it points upward, whereas the archer’s bow, which is a weapon, is always bent in the direction of its target. Thus, one of the symbolisms of the rainbow is that Hashem is pointing the potential weapon in the wrong direction, rendering it useless.

Rav Hirsch, in his beautiful explanation of Tehillim 75, notes that Asaf prophesies the end of warfare, when man’s weapons will become useless. Thus, our major hope is that man lose interest in his ability and his incentive for all warfare, and allow for the teaching of Hashem to permeate the earth. This fulfills the famous words of the prophet Yeshayohu (2:4) and echoed by Michah (4:3), Vechitesu charvosam le’itim vachanisoseihem lemazmeiros. Lo yisa goy el goy cherev velo yilmedu od milchamah, “They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning forks. No nation will raise a sword against another, and they will no longer learn warfare.”

 

Who Drinks the Kiddush Wine in Shul?

In honor of Parshas Bereishis and the first Shabbos

Drinking in shul

Why is the Kiddush wine in shul given to a child?  If an adult is not permitted to drink before he has personally fulfilled Kiddush, can we cause a child to drink?

Background

The underlying question here is the following: The Torah commands us not only to observe the mitzvos of the Torah, but also not to cause someone else to violate the Torah. This law prohibits even causing a child to violate the Torah, notwithstanding that a child himself is not required to observe the mitzvos. Furthermore, it applies even when the child is, unfortunately, not being raised in an observant way. It is therefore forbidden for someone who has a babysitting job to feed a Jewish child non-kosher food, or to serve non-kosher food to a Jewish adult in a nursing facility or to a Jewish child in a school cafeteria.

The source

There are three different places from which we derive that it is prohibited to cause a child to violate commandments of the Torah (Yevamos 114a). These hermeneutic allusions are in the context of the following three mitzvos:

(1) The prohibition against eating sheratzim, tiny creatures.

(2) The prohibition against eating blood.

(3) The prohibition for a kohen to come in contact with a corpse.

We will soon see the significance of the three sources.

What age child?

This law applies even to a child too young to understand what a mitzvah is (Magen Avraham 343:2). Therefore, one may not use a baby blanket or baby clothes made of shatnez (Shu”t HaRashba HaChadoshos #368; Shu”t Beis Yehudah, Yoreh Deah #45; Eishel Avraham [Butchatch], Orach Chayim 343:1). Similarly, one is prohibited to feed a newborn infant non-kosher food, unless it is a life-threatening emergency (Magen Avraham 343:2).

Based on the above sources, we can now appreciate our opening question. “Why is the Kiddush wine in shul given to a child?  If an adult is not permitted to drink before he has personally fulfilled Kiddush, can we cause a child to drink?” To explain this topic better, let us examine its halachic background.

Friday night Kiddush in shul

At the time of the Gemara, Kiddush was recited in shul Friday night because of visitors who would eat their meals in guest rooms that were located adjacent to the shul (see Pesachim 101a and Tosafos s.v. DeAchlu). The fact that the guests ate their meals nearby is significant because of the principle, ein Kiddush ela bimkom seudah — one fulfills the obligation for Kiddush only when it is recited or heard in the same place where one intends to eat one’s Shabbos repast. Someone who hears Kiddush but does not eat a “meal” where he heard it does not fulfill the mitzvah of hearing Kiddush. Discussing the details of ein Kiddush ela bimkom seudah requires a separate, lengthy article; but, for our purposes, we will say that most authorities conclude that eating a significant amount of food on which we recite a mezonos satisfies the requirement of a seudah.

A bit later in history

In the era of the Rishonim, several hundred years after the Gemara, no one ate Friday night meals in the shul building, yet the custom to recite Kiddush at the end of davening was still commonly observed. Although we find many authorities who ruled that one should not recite Kiddush under these circumstances, most communities continued the practice of reciting Kiddush in shul (Tur and Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 269).

Why do we continue to recite Kiddush?

If no one fulfills the mitzvah with the Kiddush recited in shul, why did the practice continue? This question is discussed by several of the Geonim and the Rishonim, and I will present here some of their approaches.

Rav Naturanai Gaon states that one should recite the Kiddush in shul because of the benefit that hearing Kiddush has for one’s vision. This idea is based on the Gemara’s statement that taking overly-long strides damages one’s vision, and that the Friday evening Kiddush restores the vision that has been lost (see Brachos 43b). Since not every household had wine on which to recite Kiddush, the custom developed to recite Kiddush in shul for this therapeutic purpose. It appears that, according to Rav Naturanai Gaon‘s reason, no one needs to drink the Kiddush wine in shul, since its purpose is not to fulfill the mitzvah.

The Tur objects

However, the Tur, who quotes Rav Naturanai Gaon, sharply disputes the reason. This is because the Gemara explains that the basis for Kiddush in shul is for guests and not the therapeutic reason of Rav Naturanai Gaon.

Another early authority, Rabbeinu Yonah, presents a different explanation for reciting Kiddush in shul, even though the reason mentioned by the Gemara no longer applies. Rabbeinu Yonah contends that the Kiddush was for the benefit of people who did not know how to recite Kiddush and who would simply not fulfill the mitzvah at all. When these people heard Kiddush in shul, they fulfilled the mitzvah min haTorah, notwithstanding the fact that they did not observe the mitzvah as Chazal instructed, since it was not Kiddush bimkom seudah (Rabbeinu Yonah, quoted by Rosh). Thus, Rabbeinu Yonah assumes that the requirement of Kiddush bimkom seudah is a rabbinic ordinance, and that we would recite the Kiddush in shul for the sake of those who would thereby fulfill the Torah mitzvah.

Not all authorities agree with this approach. The Rosh contends that the requirement of Kiddush bimkom seudah is min haTorah. Thus, simply hearing Kiddush without eating then and there does not fulfill any mitzvah and would, therefore, not provide a satisfactory reason to recite Kiddush in shul.

Other authorities explain that reciting Kiddush in shul has a status of a takkanah, a rabbinically-ordained practice that we continue to observe, even though the reason it was established no longer applies (Rashba and Ran, quoted by Beis Yosef). (We should note that although the Tur and the Shulchan Aruch discuss the practice and logistics of reciting Kiddush in shul, they both state that it is preferred not to recite Kiddush in shul. For this reason, many shuls do not recite Kiddush Friday night. However, where the custom is to recite Kiddush in shul, one should continue the practice.)

Kiddush catch-22

Regardless which rationale we use to explain why we recite Kiddush in shul, the Tur raises the following question: The halachah requires that someone drink from the Kiddush wine (Pesachim 105b; Eiruvin 40b), and also prohibits drinking before fulfilling the mitzvah of Kiddush. Since no one is eating in the shul building, no one fulfills the mitzvah with that Kiddush, because of ein Kiddush ela bimkom seudah. Thus, whoever drinks from the Kiddush wine in shul is drinking before he has fulfilled the mitzvah of Kiddush, which is prohibited; yet, someone must drink from the Kiddush wine.

To resolve this predicament, the Tur recommends that the Kiddush wine in shul be given to a child to drink, which, he notes, fulfills the requirement that someone drink from the Kiddush wine (Tur, Orach Chayim 269).

Kiddush conundrum

However, it is not clear how this innovation of the Tur resolves the predicament in a satisfactory way. How can we give a child the Kiddush wine? As we learned above, we are not permitted to cause a child to violate halachah – and he is drinking without fulfilling the mitzvah of Kiddush!

This difficulty is raised by the Beis Yosef, who suggests three solutions to the problem:

  • All three sources of the halacha not to cause a child to violate the Torah — not to eat tiny creatures, not to eat blood, and that a kohein not become tamei from a meis — are lo saaseh prohibitions of the Torah. There are halachic authorities who rule therefore that the proscription to cause a child to violate the Torah applies only to mitzvos of at least the level of a lo saaseh, but not to any prohibition that is considered halachically a lesser offense, such as an issur aseh or a mitzvas aseh, and that it certainly does not apply to a mitzvah miderabbanan (Hagahos Maimoniyos, Shabbos 29:40). Since Kiddush is a mitzvas aseh and not a lo saaseh, it is permitted to cause a child to violate its laws. As a result. some authorities permit causing a child to eat or drink before he has fulfilled the mitzvah of Kiddush.

Although this approach can be used to justify the Tur’s proposal, the Beis Yosef notes that many authorities reject this limitation and contend that one may not cause a child to violate any prohibited action. To justify the practice of giving the wine to a child according to their opinion, we need to find an alternative reason to explain why the shul Kiddush is given to a child. Therefore, the Beis Yosef presents two other approaches to explain the practice.

Not yotzei, but may drink

  • Although, in general, one may not drink before fulfilling the mitzvah of Kiddush, there is an opinion among Rishonim that one who recites Kiddush to benefit others may drink the wine of Kiddush, even when he is not now fulfilling the mitzvah (Rabbeinu Shemuel in the name of the Sar of Coucy [one of the Baalei Tosafos], quoted by Mordechai, Pesachim, Tosefes MeiArvei Pesachim, page 35a). The Beis Yosef explains that, although we do not usually follow this position, we may have the children rely on it, as a means of resolving what to do with the Kiddush

A third approach

  • The Beis Yosef presents a third approach, perhaps the most unusual, to explain why we permit a child to drink the wine of Kiddush. Because we must recite the Kiddush and we do not want the brocha of Kiddush to be recited in vain, we permit a child to drink the wine, even though this is an act that we would otherwise prohibit.

Halachic differences

There are obvious differences in practical halachah between these approaches. The first opinion holds that one may cause a child to do something that an adult may not do, provided that the prohibition is less severe than a lo saaseh (see also Rashba, Shabbos 121a; Ran, Yoma, 1a). (Even according to this approach, because of the laws of chinuch, the child’s father, and possibly the mother, may not have him drink, if the child is old enough to be educated. Thus, this heter may not apply if the father gives his own son the wine of Kiddush in shul.) Based on this opinion, some authorities permit directing a child to carry something on Shabbos in an area where carrying is prohibited only miderabbanan, if the child needs the item (see also, Shu”t Rabbi Akiva Eiger 1:15; Biur Halachah 343). However, the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 343:1) and the Magen Avraham (343:3) prohibit this.

According to the third approach, only one child should drink the Kiddush wine in order to minimize the amount of violation performed, whereas the other two answers permit serving the Kiddush wine to any child who desires. (I note that I have never seen any place that allows only one child to drink the Kiddush. Customarily, many of the children in shul line up to sip the Kiddush wine. This practice implies that this third approach was not accepted as the reason for the custom.)

Matzoh on Erev Pesach

Here is another case where the above-mentioned approaches may disagree: May I feed a child matzoh on Erev Pesach? The Terumas HaDeshen contends that, according to the answer that the prohibition is only to feed a child something that is prohibited with the stringency of a lo saaseh, one may feed a child matzoh on Erev Pesach, which is not as severe a prohibition (Terumas HaDeshen #125). However, he concludes that if the child is old enough to appreciate the Seder, one may not feed him matzoh on Erev Pesach for a different reason — because this runs counter to the experience of matzoh being special on Seder night. (Further discussion on this topic can be found in Rama, Orach Chayim 471:2 and the commentaries thereon.)

Yet a fourth approach

Some later authorities did not feel that the approaches suggested by the Beis Yosef explain the Tur’s ruling in a satisfactory way. They therefore presented other reasons to explain why it is permitted to give a child the Kiddush wine before he has fulfilled the mitzvah. One approach is that it is forbidden to cause a child to violate a Torah law only when the prohibition applies at all times. However, it is permitted to cause a child to perform an activity that is usually permitted, but that is prohibited at this particular time. Following this reason, one may feed a child on Yom Kippur, since eating and drinking are activities that are usually permitted, even though this is a very severe prohibition for an adult (Sefer HaYashar #52). (There are authorities who rule that, according to the previous answers, one is permitted to feed a child on Yom Kippur only when it is a life-threatening emergency, but a child old enough to feed himself should not be fed by an adult, but instead be told where food can be located [Minchas Chinuch, Mitzvah 313; see also Mikra’ei Kodesh of Rav Pesach Frank, Yamim Nora’im, page 149].) Therefore, there is no problem giving a child wine before he has fulfilled the mitzvah of Kiddush, since drinking wine, in general, is a permitted activity (Magen Avraham 269:1).

Another difference in halacha

This last answer also results in a different halachic practice than that of the previous approaches. According to this last answer, one may feed a child on Yom Kippur, even when the child could feed himself. It is also permitted to feed any child before he has heard Kiddush, as long as the child is below the age of bar or bas mitzvah.

A minor kohen

At this point, I would like to discuss a related question. Rivkah Katz* asks me: “My husband and sons are kohanim. Am I required to be careful where I take my infant son?”

In the first pasuk of parshas Emor, the Torah (Vayikra 21:1) states, Emor el hakohanim benei Aharon, ve’amarta aleihem lanefesh lo yitama be’amav — Say to the kohanim, the sons of Aharon, and you shall say to them, that they shall not contaminate themselves to a dead person among their people. Since the Torah repeats the word say, we derive that there are two levels of responsibility here, and since usually it says the sons of Aharon, the kohanim, and here it reverses the order, the Torah is commanding that an adult must not cause a child kohen to become tamei (Yevamos 114a, as explained by Bach, Yoreh Deah 373). From the wording of the Rambam (Hilchos Aveil 3:12), we see that every adult Jew, even a non-kohen, is commanded not to make a child kohen tamei. This requires everyone to know the halachos of what makes a kohen tamei. One cannot have the attitude that, since I am not a kohen, these laws are not relevant to me.

We can therefore answer Rivkah’s question: She is, indeed, required to find out all the halachos germane to kohanim becoming tamei, so that she knows where she may bring her son, and where she may not.

An adult kohen

Another related question I was once asked:

“My father-in-law, who is not observant, is a kohen, whereas I am a Yisroel. Are we required to be as stringent about where we go on family outings as we would if I myself were a kohen?”

Answer:

The Rambam rules that it is forbidden for a non-kohen to make an adult kohen tamei (Rambam, Hilchos Aveil 3:5). To quote the Rambam: “If the kohen is unaware that what he did is forbidden, and the adult who made him tamei knows that it is forbidden, then the adult violates the lo saaseh. If the adult kohen knows that it is forbidden, then the other person violates only lifnei iveir lo sitein michshol, do not place a stumbling block before a blind person (Vayikra 19:14).” Chazal interpret this pasuk to mean that one may not give someone bad advice, nor cause him to violate a prohibition (Pesachim 22b).

Thus, we see that, indeed, one must be concerned about where one takes grandpa, even if he himself is not concerned. For a reason that is beyond the scope of this article, this is true even if grandpa is already tamei meis.

Conclusion

Chazal say in Pirkei Avos: “Kol she’ruach habrios nocha heimenu ruach hamakom nocha heimenu,” One who is pleasing to his fellowman is pleasing to his Creator. Being concerned that we not harm others halachically is certainly part of both our social responsibility and our halachic responsibility. When we do our mitzvos properly, others will see us and say, “He is a frum Jew — he lives his life on a higher plane of caring for others.”

*Name has been changed to protect privacy.

 

May I Smell My Esrog and Hadasim on Sukkos?

Although this question may seem trivial, it is indeed a serious shaylah that requires explanation. Sometimes, one may smell an esrog, while at other times one may not. Why is this true? Also, when it is permitted to smell an esrog, do I recite a bracha beforehand? If I do, which bracha do I recite?

We may ask similar questions regarding the hadasim, although the answers are not always the same. May I smell my hadasim, and which bracha do I recite before smelling them?

In order to explain the background to these questions, I first need to explain two very different areas of halacha, one concerning the laws of muktzah, and the other concerning the laws of brachos on fragrances.

MUKTZAH

The Gemara teaches us the following: One may not smell (during Sukkos) the hadas that is set aside for the mitzvah, but one may smell the esrog. The Gemara asks, “Why is there a difference between the hadas and the esrog?” The Gemara replies that since the main use of a hadas is for fragrance, it becomes muktzah, and one may not smell it. But since the main “use” of an esrog is for food, one may not eat it, but one may smell it (Sukkah 37b). This is the explanation of what the Gemara means.

This Gemara teaches that an item used for a mitzvah becomes muktzah machmas mitzvah; that is, designated solely for its specific mitzvah and not for a different use. This category of muktzah is different from the more familiar types of muktzah in several ways:

  1. As the Gemara teaches elsewhere (Sukkah 9a), this type of muktzah is prohibited min Hatorah, whereas other forms of muktzah are prohibited only miderabbanan.
  2. These items are muktzah only to the extent that one may not use them, but one may move them. This is different from most types of muktzah, which one may not move on Shabbos or Yom Tov.
  3. These items are muktzah only with regard to their primary, normal purpose: for example, one may not smell a hadas that is muktzah machmas mitzvah because the primary purpose of a hadas is for fragrance. However, one may use it (or them) for a secondary use, and that is why, according to the Gemara, one may smell the esrog. (A person who is interested in purchasing a fragrant item would consider buying hadasim, not an esrog.)
  4. This type of muktzah is prohibited even on Chol Hamoed, whereas other types of muktzah are prohibited only on Shabbos and Yom Tov.

Thus, it would seem that we may answer the original question I asked: May I smell my esrog and hadas on Sukkos? And the answer is that I may smell my esrog, but I may not smell my hadas, because it is muktzah for its mitzvah.

However, the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 653:1) rules that I should also avoid smelling my esrog on Sukkos. Why does the Shulchan Aruch prohibit something that the Gemara explicitly permits?

The answer to this question takes us to the other topic — when does one recite a bracha before smelling a fragrance? Although the Gemara explicitly permits smelling an esrog on Sukkos, the Gemara does not mention whether one recites a bracha before smelling it.

Indeed, the Rishonim dispute whether one is required to recite a bracha before smelling an esrog. Rabbeinu Simcha, one of the late baalei Tosafos, rules that one may not recite a bracha before smelling an esrog that is being used for the mitzvah on Sukkos, whereas the Ravyah, an early Ashkenazi posek, rules that one must recite a bracha. The later poskim conclude that this dispute is unresolved, and that, therefore, one may not smell an esrog during Sukkos, when reciting a bracha would be a question. This topic requires some explanation: Why should an esrog on Sukkos be different from an esrog any other time of the year?

FRAGRANCES THAT ARE NOT FOR THE PLEASURE OF SMELL

One recites a bracha only on a fragrance that is avida lereicha, literally, “made for fragrance” (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 217:2). In the words of the Chazon Ish (Orach Chayim 35:1), “Anything whose current purpose is not for aroma is not considered a fragrance” (regarding recitation of a bracha). Therefore, one does not recite a bracha before smelling a deodorizer, even if it has an extremely pleasant fragrance, since its purpose is not aroma, but to mask unpleasant odor. Similarly, smelling the tantalizing aroma of a food or food flavoring does not warrant a bracha, since its purpose is not enjoyment of their aroma, per se. (I have written several other articles germane to the brachos on fragrances, which are available on the RabbiKaganoff.com website; to find them, use the search word fragrance.) Furthermore, when the halacha rules that one is not required to recite a bracha, one is not permitted to recite the bracha, as doing so constitutes a bracha l’vatalah, a bracha recited in vain.

EXAMPLE:

When showing a house that is for sale, some people toast cinnamon in the oven or open essential oils and other fragrances around the house to make the house more appealing. Since the purpose of these fragrances is to give the house a pleasant aroma and not to entice people to smell or purchase the fragrance, one does not recite a bracha.

Based on the foregoing introduction, we can now explain the above-quoted dispute whether to recite a bracha before smelling an esrog on Sukkos. Rabbeinu Simcha contends that although one may smell an esrog on Sukkos, and it is not prohibited due to its being muktzah, this does not warrant making a bracha. The esrog on Sukkos is still primarily intended for the mitzvah, and not for fragrance; therefore, smelling it does not require a bracha. In Rabbeinu Simcha’s opinion, reciting a bracha in this case constitutes a bracha l’vatalah.

The Ravyah disagrees, maintaining that since it is permitted to smell an esrog, it is considered to be meant for fragrance, and requires one to recite a bracha before smelling it (Mordechai, Sukkah #751; Tur Orach Chayim 653).

This dispute places us in a predicament. The halacha is that one may not benefit from something in this world without first reciting a bracha, and if, indeed, one is required to recite a bracha before smelling an esrog, then one may not smell it without reciting a bracha (Brachos 35a; Hagahos Smaq 193:11). On the other hand, if one is not required to recite a bracha before smelling it, then one may not recite the bracha, and doing so involves reciting a bracha in vain, a bracha l’vatalah.

Since we are not in a position to resolve this dispute, the poskim contend that one should avoid smelling the esrog used for the mitzvah during Sukkos (Shulchan Aruch 653), even though there is no muktzah violation in smelling it. Furthermore, one may smell the esrog if he first recited a bracha on a different fragrant fruit.

ESROG ON SHABBOS

As I mentioned above, Rabbeinu Simcha contends that an esrog is not considered avida lereicha, meant for fragrance, and therefore one does not recite a bracha before smelling it. Does this halacha apply the entire week of Sukkos, or only when I pick up the esrog to fulfill the mitzvah? What if I smell the esrog on Shabbos, when there is no mitzvah to perform, or I pick it up on a day of Sukkos after I have already fulfilled the mitzvah? Do I recite a bracha before smelling it, according to his opinion?

Let us compare this shaylah to the following case:

Someone who enters a spice merchant’s store recites a bracha, because the owner wants customers to smell his wares so that they will purchase them (Berachos 53a). If these items are in his warehouse, where he is not soliciting customers, one does not recite a bracha (Magen Avraham 217:1).

Why does one recite a bracha on the spices in the store, but not on those that are in the warehouse? This is because the spices in the store are there to be smelled and enjoyed, and are therefore avida lereicha. However, the spices in the warehouse are not meant to be smelled – therefore, they are not avida lereicha. Note that we are discussing the same spices, and the only difference is where they are located.

PUTTING INTO YOUR HAND

Let’s assume you are back in the spice merchant’s warehouse or in a flavor factory, and you know that you do not make a bracha on the incredible fragrance that is wafting through the air. What happens if you approach some of the spices to take a pleasant whiff, or you pick up some of the spice in order to smell it? Do you recite a bracha?

The poskim dispute what to do in this case. The Mishnah Berurah (217:1) contends that whenever you do something to smell the fragrance, such as moving towards the source of the fragrance in order to smell it, picking it up, or putting some into your hand, you should recite a bracha. Any such act makes the fragrance avida lereicha.

However, the Chazon Ish disagrees, maintaining that if you will return the spice afterwards to the storage bin in the warehouse, it is not avida lereicha, and you do not recite a bracha (Chazon Ish, Orach Chayim 35:1). The Chazon Ish agrees that if the manufacturer has samples available that he wants people to smell and buy, one does recite a bracha on them, and he also agrees that if you remove some of the spices to smell and will not return them, you do recite a bracha.

SPICES IN THE KITCHEN

There is a common, practical difference in halacha between the approaches of these two Gedolim regarding kitchen spices. Suppose you want to enjoy the smell of the cinnamon or the oregano on your kitchen shelf. According to the Mishnah Berurah, if you remove a container from the shelf to smell it, you recite a bracha on the spice, even though you intend to return the spice to the shelf after smelling it, and it will eventually be added to food. (By the way, the poskim dispute which bracha one recites before smelling cinnamon. The accepted practice is to recite borei minei besamim.) However, according to the Chazon Ish, you do not recite a bracha on this spice, unless you no longer intend to cook with it. Someone who wants to avoid the dispute should sprinkle a little bit of spice into his hand and make a bracha on that. Since you are neither going to return this spice to the container nor cook with it, according to all opinions, one recites a bracha before smelling it.

Some poskim explain that this opinion of the Chazon Ish is the reason for the widespread minhag to set aside special besamim for havdalah on Motza’ei Shabbos (Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasah, Vol. 2 pg. 262).

WHAT ABOUT MY ESROG ON SHABBOS?

A dispute similar to the one quoted above exists concerning smelling my esrog on Shabbos, or picking up the esrog to smell it after I have fulfilled the mitzvah for the day.

The Magen Avraham rules that I recite a bracha before smelling the esrog under these circumstances, even according to Rabbeinu Simcha. Therefore, in his opinion, one may pick up the esrog specifically to smell it, and one recites the bracha before smelling it.

However, the Taz implies that one may not smell the esrog anytime during Sukkos. According to the Chazon Ish’s analysis of the subject, one can explain the Taz’s approach as follows: Since the esrog is meant for the mitzvah, it is not considered avida lereicha that warrants a bracha, unless one permanently makes it into a fragrance. Thus, if an esrog became pasul, or for some other reason can no longer be used for the mitzvah, it will be called avida lereicha and warrant a bracha. Under any other circumstance, it remains a safek bracha, and one should not smell it until Yom Tov is over. One may recite a bracha and smell it on Shemini Atzeres or Simchas Torah, since it no longer serves any mitzvah purpose. Thus, it appears that the dispute between the Magen Avraham and the Taz is identical to the dispute between the Mishnah Berurah and the Chazon Ish.

WHICH BRACHA DO I RECITE ON AN ESROG?

Everyone agrees that one may smell an esrog that will no longer be used for the mitzvah, and that one must recite a bracha before smelling it. In such a case, which bracha do I recite?

Chazal established five different brachos that relate to scent, each for a different category of fragrance.

  1. Borei shemen areiv, “The Creator of pleasant oil,” is recited only on the fragrant oil extracted from the balsam tree (Mishnah Berurah 216:22). Because this tree was important and grew in Eretz Yisroel, Chazal established for it a special bracha (Rabbeinu Yonah, Brachos 43a).
  2. Hanosein rei’ach tov ba’peiros, “He who bestows pleasant fragrances in fruits” (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 216:2). We recite this bracha before smelling fragrant, edible fruits and other foods (Rama 216:14). Some poskim rule that the proper text for this bracha should be in past tense: Asher nasan rei’ach tov ba’peiros, “He who bestowed pleasant fragrances in fruits” (Mishnah Berurah 216:9). This is the bracha one recites before smelling an esrog.

Many poskim state that the custom today is to not make a bracha on smelling a fruit, unless it has a pronounced aroma (see Vezos Haberacha pg. 174). For this reason, one should be certain that the esrog one holds has a strong, pleasant fragrance before reciting a bracha. If one is uncertain, one may smell the esrog first to see that it is fragrant, and then, if it is fragrant, recite the bracha hanosein rei’ach tov ba’peiros and smell it again.

  1. Borei atzei besamim, “The Creator of fragrant wood (or trees).” One recites this bracha before smelling fragrant, woody plants and trees, or their leaves, flowers, wood, or oils. Hadasim are certainly in this category. Although we mentioned above that it is prohibited to smell a hadas that is being used for the mitzvah on Sukkos, hadasim that one does not intend to use for the mitzvah may be smelled on Sukkos, and he should recite this bracha before smelling them.

Incidentally, the correct bracha to recite before smelling citrus blossoms or flowers is Borei atzei besamim, since the flower is not edible.

  1. Borei isvei besamim, “The Creator of fragrant grasses.” We recite this bracha before smelling non-woody plants, their parts or extracts. Before smelling a fragrant hyacinth, narcissus, or lily one recites this bracha. The custom among Sefardim is to recite this bracha before smelling mint, although, for reasons beyond the scope of this article, Ashkenazim recite borei minei besamim before smelling mint.
  2. Borei minei besamim, “The Creator of different types of fragrances.” This is the “catch-all” bracha for all fragrances, the equivalent of reciting a shehakol on food. Sometimes, it is the preferred bracha, and sometimes it is the bracha used to resolve uncertainties. Although I have not seen poskim discuss this case, it would seem to be permitted to recite a bracha on an item whose bracha is borei minei besamim and have in mind to include the esrog and then be able to smell the esrog. This would provide a method whereby one could smell one’s esrog on Yom Tov, according to all opinions.

Question: Why did Chazal create a unique bracha prior to smelling aromatic fruits?

Answer: Whenever one benefits from this world, one must recite a bracha. Thus, Chazal instituted brachos that are appropriate for fragrances. However, the other brachos on fragrance are not appropriate for smelling fragrant foods, since they praise Hashem for creating fragrances, whereas fruits are not usually described as fragrances, but as foods that are fragrant. Therefore, Chazal needed to establish a special bracha for aromatic fruits (see Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim end of Chapter 297).

Conclusion

The Gemara (Berachos 43b) teaches, “How do we know that one must recite a bracha on a fragrance? Because the pasuk (Tehillim 150:6) says, ‘Every neshamah praises Hashem,’ – What exists in the world that the soul benefits from, but not the body? Only fragrance.”

Because fragrance provides some physical pleasure, but no nutritional benefit, the sense of smell represents an interface between the spiritual and the physical. Similarly, we find that we offer korbanos as rei’ach nicho’ach, a fragrance demonstrating one’s desire to be close to Hashem. We should always take advantage of the opportunity to smell fragrant items as a steppingstone towards greater mitzvah observance and spirituality.