How to Live in the Sukkah

Question #1: Where?

“Where should I learn Torah during Sukkos?”

Question #2: What?

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

Question #3: When?

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

Introduction:

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

Home sweet sukkah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lamp in the sukkah?

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

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

Studying in the sukkah

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

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

Snacking outside the sukkah?

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

In this context, the Mishnah reports:

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

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

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

Stopping for a drink

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

Kiddush, hamotzi, but not brocha?

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

Leniencies about sukkah

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

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

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

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

The first night of Sukkos

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

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

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

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

Mitzta’er the first night

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

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

How do we rule?

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

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

Second night in chutz la’aretz

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

The stars and the sukkah

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

Writing a Sefer Torah

Question #1: Why not?

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

Question #2: Partners in Torah

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

Question #3: Traditional Chapters

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

Introduction:

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

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

Nothing missing

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

Lishmah

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

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

Dipping the quill

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

Scoring

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

Punctuating Torah

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

Chapters

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

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

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

Pesuchos and sesumos

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

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

Write the letters carefully

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

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

Size of letters

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

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

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

How does it dry?

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

Stitching

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

Requirement

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

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

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

Selling a Sefer Torah

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

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

Purchasing a Sefer Torah

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

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

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

Gave it away

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

Partners in Torah

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

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

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

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

Purchasing seforim

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

When Tekias Shofar Goes Wrong

Photo by elboim from FreeImages

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

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

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

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

THE TORAH’S MITZVAH OF SHOFAR

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

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

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

“How was this question resolved?”

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

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

Tekiah, Shevarim, Tekiah (TaSHaT) three times

Tekiah, Teruah, Tekiah (TaRaT) three times

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

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

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

WHY DON’T WE BLOW A TERUAHSHEVARIM?

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

AN ALTERNATIVE INTERPRETATION

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

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

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

AN INTERESTING STORY AND ITS EXPLANATION

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

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

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

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

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

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

HOW LONG IS A TERUAH?

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

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

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

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

HOW LONG MUST THE SHEVARIM BE?

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

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

ANOTHER STORY FROM ROSH HASHANAH, 1144.

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

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

HOW IS THE SHEVARIM BLOWN?

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

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

HOW LONG MUST THE TEKIAH BE?

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

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

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

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

SHOULD THE BLOWER PAUSE BETWEEN THE SHEVARIM AND THE TERUAH?

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

HOW DO WE RULE IN THIS ISSUE?

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

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

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

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

DOES A WOMAN MAKE A BRACHA ON SHOFAR BLOWING?

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

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

WHY DO WE BLOW SHOFAR BOTH BEFORE AND DURING MUSAF?

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

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

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

Maaser Sheini

Photo by david Kadosh from FreeImages

Question #1: Where?

Many mitzvos can be performed only between the “walls” of Yerushalayim. Do these laws apply to everywhere within the walls of today’s “Old City”?

Question #2: What?

“What may I not remove from Yerushalayim?”

Question #3: When?

“When am I permitted to eat maaser sheini?”

Introduction:

This week’s parsha includes the mitzvah of maaser sheini. Although people currently living in chutz la’aretz often feel that they do not need to know the laws applicable to the agricultural mitzvos of the Torah, everyone must know the basic laws of this mitzvah for many reasons, including:

1. When in Eretz Yisroel, to which we all aspire, we need to be sure that all terumos and maasros are properly separated. Someone living outside of Eretz Yisroel also needs to know the details of the laws on produce that grows in Eretz Yisroel.

2. We daven three times daily for Moshiach to come so that we can live in Eretz Yisroel and observe the mitzvos that apply there. Although most of the laws of maaser sheini do not apply today even in Eretz Yisroel, they will all apply again, iy’H, when the Beis Hamikdash is rebuilt and we can achieve a state of taharah by virtue of the ashes of the parah adumah.

3. Fruits of chutz la’aretz may have the status of neta reva’ie, which shares the laws of maaser sheini.

The basics

Produce grown in Eretz Yisroel and the lands nearby must have several small portions separated from it before it may be consumed. These are:

Terumah

First, a small amount is separated as terumah, which is property of the kohen. When we are all tahor, the owner gives the terumah to a kohen of his choice. Terumah may be eaten by any close member of the kohen’s family – including his wife, sons, and unmarried daughters — as long as they are completely tahor.

Since no kohen is tahor today, terumah may not be eaten. If the terumah is itself tamei, it is destroyed, preferably by burning it. If the terumah is tahor, we are not permitted to eat it, nor to destroy it. What does one do with it?

We put it in a place where no one will mistakenly eat it, and leave it there until it decomposes to the point that people will not eat it. At that point, it is disposed of. We will soon explain why decomposition permits one to destroy terumah.

Maaser rishon

After terumah has been separated, a tenth of the remaining produce is separated as maaser rishon, which is the property of the Levi. The Levi is required to separate one tenth of what he receives, which is called terumas maaser and has all the laws of terumah as explained above. The remaining maaser rishon has no sanctity, and therefore may be eaten by anyone, even when tamei. Therefore, maaser rishon can be eaten today, even though we are all tamei, and the Levi can sell it or give it away to whomever he chooses. Furthermore, none of the restrictions we will discuss shortly regarding redemption or use applies to maaser rishon.

Maaser sheini/maaser ani

After maaser rishon is separated, there is an obligation to set aside a tenth of what is left. Depending which year it is relative to the shemittah cycle, either maaser sheini or maaser ani is separated.

These two types of maaser are halachically very different. Maaser ani is the property of the poor and has no sanctity, similar to maaser rishon. The owner of the field decides to which poor person or persons he gives the maaser ani. There is detailed halacha defining who qualifies as “poor” for the purposes of this mitzvah, but since the theme of this article is maaser sheini and not maaser ani, we will leave this question for a different time.

When is one required to separate maaser sheini, and when is one required to separate maaser ani? The halacha is that Eretz Yisroel follows a seven year shemittah cycle. In the first, second, fourth and fifth years, the second tithe is maaser sheini, and in the third and sixth years it is maaser ani. Since shemittah produce is ownerless, there are usually no terumah and maasros separations that year. In the unusual instances where there is, which is a topic for a different time, there is extensive halachic discussion whether the second tithe is maaser sheini or maaser ani.

Maaser sheini, the topic of our article, must be eaten in Yerushalayim by people who are tahor. Any tahor Jew is permitted to eat it, but it must be eaten within the walls of the ancient city of Yerushalayim. We will soon discuss what that means and we will also see that there are many other laws that apply to it. We will also discuss what can be done if it is impractical to transport all of one’s maaser sheini to Yerushalayim.

Which maaser?

We should note that the term maaser, without specifying which one, is used sometimes to refer to maaser rishon and sometimes to refer to maaser sheini, notwithstanding that their laws are very different from one another. Usually, one can understand from context which maaser is intended. If the context alludes to maaser owned by a Levi, or to the first maaser being separated, maaser rishon is intended. If it refers to something that has sanctity, usually maaser sheini is intended. Since the rest of this article will be discussing the specific and unusual sanctity of maaser sheini, I will henceforth use the term maaser to mean only maaser sheini.

The parsha

At this point, let us examine the appropriate pesukim in this week’s parsha: “And you shall eat the maaser of your grain, your wine, and your olive oil… before Hashem your G-d, in the place that He will choose to rest His Name — so that you will thereby learn to be in awe of Hashem at all times. However, when you are blessed by Hashem, your G-d, such that you are unable to carry [the maaser sheini] to a place as distant as the one that Hashem chooses, then you may exchange it for money that you bring with you on your visit to that place that Hashem has chosen. Once you are there, you shall exchange the money for cattle, sheep, wine or anything else you desire, which you shall eat there, before Hashem, your G-d. In this way, you and your family will celebrate” (Devarim 14:23-26).

Obviously, the place that He will choose to rest His Name refers to the city of Yerushalayim. Thus, we are told the following halachos: Maaser should be brought with you when you travel to Yerushalayim. However, if you have more produce than you can easily carry to Yerushalayim, you may redeem the maaser produce, a process that removes the sanctity and special laws from the maaser produce and places it on coins. The Torah shebe’al peh teaches that this redemption can be performed only onto minted coins. When the owner is redeeming his own maaser produce, he must redeem it for coinage that is worth 25% more than its value. Then he brings this money to Yerushalayim, where it is used to purchase food to be eaten within the confines of the city. This acquisition transfers the maaser sheini sanctity from the money to the food, which means that this newly acquired food can be eaten only within the walls of Yerushalayim and must be eaten while tahor.

Vacation fund

Whether one transports one’s maaser sheini produce itself to Yerushalayim, or purchases food with the money to which the sanctity has been transferred, the farmer remains with a lot of maaser sheini that may be consumed only in Yerushalayim, a city bursting with sanctity and special, holy people. The beauty of this mitzvah is that it entices the farmer to ascend to the Holy City and be part of the spiritual growth attainable only there.

One can even look at the maaser sheini as “vacation fund” money that the Torah provides. Although the farmer may not be wealthy, when he arrives in Yerushalayim, he can eat and drink like a king!

Sanctity and purity

As mentioned above, the original maaser sheini that was separated and brought to Yerushalayim, and the food purchased in Yerushalayim with the redemption money are holy and may be eaten only within the walls of the old Yerushalayim and only when both the food and the individual eating it are tahor, ritually pure.

In addition, there is another halacha pertaining to Yerushalayim. Once maaser produce has been brought within the Holy City’s walls, it may not be removed or redeemed.

O’ my Jerusalem!

By the way, the current “Old City” walls of Yerushalayim, constructed by the Ottoman Turks almost 1500 years after the churban, are not the borders that define the halachic sanctity of the city. The Turkish walls encompass areas that were not part of the city at the times of Tanach and Chazal, and therefore do not have the sanctity of Yerushalayim; and, without question, parts endowed with the sanctity of the Holy City are outside these walls. Thus, it will be necessary when Moshiach comes to determine exactly where are the borders of the halachic “old city of Yerushalayim.”

What food?

What food may one purchase with maaser sheini money? There are many laws regarding what one may purchase. The Torah specifies that, once in Yerushalayim, one may exchange maaser sheini money for cattle, sheep, wine or anything else you desire, which seems both wordy and unusual. The Torah sheba’al peh explains this to mean that one may not purchase any food with maaser sheini money, but only those that grow either from the ground or meat and poultry, that grow “on the ground.” Therefore, one may use maaser sheini money to purchase fruit, vegetables, breads, pastry, meat or poultry; but not fish, which do not grow on the ground; not salt or water, which do not grow; nor mushrooms, which are fungi and are therefore not considered as growing from or on the ground.

The pasuk’s reference to purchasing cattle or sheep teaches a new law. It is considered exemplary to purchase animals that will then be offered in the Beis Hamikdash as korbanos shelamim. The owner takes home most of the meat of these korbanos to eat with whomever he chooses to invite. Of course, this must be eaten following all the laws of korbanos shelamim, which includes that everyone eating it must be tahor and that the meat is eaten only within the walls of the city, as explained above. Among many other laws, the meat may be eaten only until nightfall of the day following the offering of the korban. Whatever is not eaten by that time must be burned.

There is an interesting halacha germane to those who purchase animals for korbanos shelamim with maaser funds. One may use maaser funds to purchase an animal as a korban, even though it is not completely eaten. Parts of the animal are burned on the mizbei’ach, and the hide and bones are not consumed by anyone. Notwithstanding the strict rules governing the consumption of maaser, the hide, which was purchased as part of the animal with maaser funds, has no sanctity and belongs to the owner!

Sanctity of maaser sheini

Although any tahor Jew is permitted to consume maaser, there are many detailed rules governing how one must consume maaser. For example, one may not cook foods that are usually eaten raw, nor may one eat raw produce that is usually cooked. Therefore, one may not eat raw maaser sheini potatoes, nor may one cook maaser sheini cucumbers or oranges.

Similarly, juicing vegetables and most kinds of fruit is considered “ruining” maaser sheini produce and it is therefore prohibited, although one may press grapes, olives and lemons, since the juice and oil of these fruits are considered more valuable than the fruit itself.

How do we determine whether processing a food “ruins” it or not? Some poskim contend that one may not process maaser in such a way that its brocha is changed (Shu”t Mishpat Cohen #85, based on Brachos 38a and Rambam, Hilchos Shevi’is 5:3). Others contend that it is permitted when this is the most common use of this fruit (Minchas Shelomoh, Shvi’is pg. 185). A practical difference in halacha between these two positions is whether one is permitted to squeeze oranges and grapefruits.

One must certainly be careful not to actively destroy maaser sheini. Therefore, one may not destroy it when it could still be eaten. Similarly, peels that are commonly eaten, such as those of cucumber or apple, still have kedusha and may not simply be disposed of. One is required to place them in a plastic bag and then place the bag in a small bin or box called a pach maaser, where it remains until the food is inedible. When it decomposes to this extent, one may dispose of it in the regular garbage.

Sanctity until spoilage

This leads us to a question: If indeed one may not throw maaser sheini produce in the garbage because it has sanctity, why may one do so after the produce decomposes? Does decomposition remove kedusha?

Indeed it does. Kedushas maaser sheini means that as long as the food is still edible, one may not make it inedible or use it atypically. This is because maaser sheini food is meant to be eaten. However, once the maaser sheini is inedible, it loses its special status and may be disposed of as trash.

This sounds very strange. Where do we find that something holy loses its special status when it becomes inedible?

Although the concept that decay eliminates sanctity seems unusual, this is only because we are unfamiliar with most of the mitzvos where this principle applies. Other mitzvos where this concept exists are shevi’is, terumah, challah, bikkurim, and reva’ie (Rambam, Hilchos Terumos Chapter 11; Hilchos Maaser Sheini 3:11; Hilchos Shevi’is 5:3). Of these types of produce that are holy, but meant to be eaten, only shevi’is may be eaten by someone tamei. Even though someone tamei may not consume tahor terumah, challah, or maaser sheini, one also may not dispose of them or even burn them. Instead, one must place them in a secure place until they decay and only then dispose of them (Tur, Yoreh Deah 331).  We burn the special challah portion after separating it, only because it has become tamei. If it did not become tamei, one may not destroy the challah portion, but must place it somewhere until it decays on its own.

Contemporary maaser sheini

The fact that one must be tahor to consume maaser sheini changes the way one observes this mitzvah today, since we cannot become tahor. Without the ashes of a parah adumah with which to purify ourselves of certain types of tumah, we cannot eat maaser produce, nor the food purchased with the redeeming coins. Because we cannot eat maaser food, it is pointless to purchase food with these coins; instead, maaser coins remain unused and are eventually destroyed. To avoid excessive loss, one is permitted to redeem large quantities of maaser sheini onto a very small value within a coin, and this is the way we redeem maaser sheini today. Of course, we are missing the main spiritual gain of consuming the foods in Yerushalayim, but this is one of the many reasons for which we mourn the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash and pray many times daily for its restoration.

There is another law that is different because of our unfortunate circumstances. Since the maaser will not be consumed, it is permitted to redeem tamei maaser produce onto coins, even within the boundaries of the Holy City. Otherwise, one is permitted to redeem maaser produce only in a place where it cannot be eaten.

In conclusion, when we buy produce that grew in Israel, either we should check that there is a good hechsher that attended to all the maaser needs or we should make sure to separate all the terumos and maasros ourselves and redeem the maaser sheini.

Neta reva’ie

I mentioned above that all the laws that apply to maaser sheini also apply to reva’ie. Reva’ie is the fruit that grows in the fourth year of a tree’s life. In a different article, I have explained how we calculate the years of a tree’s life. There is also an article titled Could the Fruit of My Tree Be Orlah? where I discussed whether and when the laws of reva’ie apply to trees planted in chutz la’aretz or only to those in Eretz Yisroel.

Conclusion

A prominent talmid of Rav Moshe Feinstein once related to me the following story. A female calf was born that was completely red. Of course, conversations were abuzz: Could this possibly be a hint that Moshiach will be coming soon, and that we would soon have a parah adumah to use in removing our tumah?

Some of the talmidim in Rav Moshe’s yeshivah approached him with this information, expecting to see his reaction to the great news. Much to their astonishment, Rav Moshe did not react at all. Surprised, one of them asked Rav Moshe: “Does not the Rosh Yeshivah think that this might be a sign that Moshiach will be coming soon?” To this, Rav Moshe answered: “A parah adumah is not kosher until it is three years old. I daven that Moshiach should come today, not in three years.”

We should all have Rav Moshe’s desire for Moshiach to be here, today, and, to demonstrate this desire, be as knowledgeable as we can in all the halachos that will then be germane. May we soon see the day when we can bring our maaser sheini and our reva’ie and eat them betaharah within the rebuilt walls of Yerushalayim!

It’s for the Birds

The Mitzvah of Shiluach Hakein

Photo by MojtabaT from FreeImages

Question #1: Required???

“Must I physically send away the mother bird? I am squeamish!”

Question #2: Keep the Babies

“Must I take the young to fulfill the mitzvah?”

Question #3: Educated!

“I am so excited about the opportunity to fulfill this special mitzvah, with all its rewards, but I want to make sure I do it properly. Can you please enlighten me?”

Well known and poorly understood

This week’s parsha includes the laws of a mitzvah, or more accurately, two mitzvos that are both well-known and yet poorly understood. The Torah teaches that when we happen to find a nest of birds, we are to send away the mother and keep the young; that is, either the baby birds or the eggs. An entire chapter of Mishnah and Gemara, the twelfth and last perek of Chullin, is devoted to understanding this mitzvah, which actually involves two mitzvos, a lo saaseh, a prohibition against taking the mother, and a mitzvas aseih, a positive mitzvah to send away the mother. At the same time, the Torah itself teaches of a very specific reward gained by someone who observes this mitzvah. We will therefore begin the study of this fascinating mitzvah in this article.

Let us rephrase briefly the first two of our opening questions:

1. Should I find such a nest, may I simply ignore it and continue on my way, or is doing so ignoring a requirement to fulfill a mitzvah?

2. “Must I take the young to fulfill the mitzvah?” When I send away the mother bird, am I required to keep the young, or, at least, to physically lift up the eggs or baby birds, thereby taking possession of them? Or have I completed the performance of the mitzvah simply by sending away the mother?

Introduction

At this point, we should read the words of the Torah very carefully, because answering some of our questions will depend on properly understanding these words.

Ki yikarei kan tzipor lefanecha baderech, bechol eitz oh al ha’aretz, efrochim oh beitzim, veha’eim rovetzes al ha’efrochim oh al habeitzim, lo sikach ha’eim al habanim. Shalei’ach teshalach es ha’eim, ve’es habanim tikach loch, lemaan yitav loch veha’archata yamim.“If a bird’s nest, containing either chicks or eggs, happens to be before you on the road, whether it (the nest) is in a tree or on the ground, and the mother is nesting upon the chicks or upon the eggs, you shall not take the mother from/with the offspring. (I will explain shortly why I left the translation this way.) You shall certainly send away the mother and take the young for yourself, so that it will be good for you, and you shall lengthen your days” (Devorim 22:6-7).

Off the derech

Several points in these pesukim are uncertain. The Torah states that the nest must be on the derech, which means on the way or road. Why does the Torah need to tell you that it was on the road? Does this mitzvah not apply if the mother bird is off the derech?

The Gemara first suggests that the Torah is teaching that there is no mitzvah of shiluach hakein if the bird built her nest on the water. However, the Gemara demonstrates that this halacha is inaccurate — a waterway is also called a derech, and, should one find a nest on a waterway, the mitzvah of shiluach hakein applies.

So, what case is exempt, because mommy bird is “off the derech”? The Gemara concludes that there is no mitzvah of shiluach hakein should the nest be on your property, since this is not called “on the way,” which implies an ownerless area (Chullin 139b). The Mishnah states that geese or chickens that set up their nests in an orchard are included in the mitzvah of shiluach hakein, whereas there is no requirement to send away the mother goose or hen if she set up her nest in the house. The Mishnah’s term “chickens that set up their nests in an orchard” means that they have run away from the owner’s jurisdiction. However, if the chickens or geese are “rebellious,” occasionally wandering beyond the confines of their usual home, but still returning to the owner’s barn for nesting, they are still considered “owned.” Similarly, the laws of shiluach hakein apply to an ownerless bird that nests on your property (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 292:2).

Late poskim explain that you are exempt from performing the mitzvah on birds that could easily become yours, even if at the moment they are not your property. Without delving into the halachic analysis entailed, they conclude that the mitzvah of shiluach hakein does not apply to chickens and similar domesticated species, unless this particular bird refuses to be domesticated (Shu”t Imrei Yosher #158; Minchas Shelomoh 2:97:26).

On the other hand, the mitzvah does apply, in general, to doves and pigeons, which, even when kept in dovecotes, are not as domesticated as chickens. However, one is exempt from performing the mitzvah of shiluach hakein in the case of homing pigeons, which accept human domination. This means that someone can remove chickens or homing pigeons roosting on a nest and bring them to the shocheit.

Mommy or daddy

There are species of birds in which the father roosts on the nest, or the two parents take turns. In this instance, does the mitzvah apply, regardless as to which parent is on the nest, or is the mitzvah gender-specific, applying only if the mother bird is on the nest? This question is debated in the Mishnah and discussed in the Gemara. Normative halacha rules that the mitzvah applies only if mother bird is on the nest. This conclusion is implied by the posuk when it says veha’eim rovetzes, “and the mother is nesting.”

Therefore, in order to fulfill the mitzvah of shiluach hakein, one must first determine that the nesting bird is, indeed, the mother. One does not require a DNA test to verify these facts – usually a bit of observation will show you whether one bird or two are nesting.

This question is germane to pigeons, who present the most common contemporary application of shiluach hakein, since non-domesticated ones often create their nests near or in human habitation. Pigeons, which are loyal to their mates for life, take turns roosting on the nest. Usually, the daddy bird takes day shift and mommy does the night shift. (During their time off, each parent goes out to earn a living. Not many social-life options in a full nest.)

There are several halachic ramifications to this social knowledge of pigeon family structure, of which I will share two. Should someone be interested in harvesting both a pigeon parent and its eggs or young, he can determine which parent is male, and then, at the appropriate time, seize daddy bird and the young at the same time without violating any prohibition of the Torah.

A second ramification applies to someone eager to fulfill the mitzvah of shiluach hakein. Before sending away the nesting bird, one should determine whether, at the moment, mommy or daddy is roosting there. If it is daddy, no mitzvah is fulfilled by sending him away, even if you are a father’s rights activist.

From or with?

Allow me to return to the laws that we derive from understanding the posuk. The Torah writes, lo sikach ha’eim al habanim, which can be translated and explained in more than one way. It could mean that you should not take the mommy from the young, which would mean that the prohibition is taking the mother, even should you leave the offspring, which is the way Rashi explains the verse (as explained by Maharal; note that Mizrachi seems to have understood Rashi differently). On the other hand, the Rambam (Sefer Hamitzvos, Lo Saaseh #306) translates the phrase ha’eim al habanim as with the young, meaning that one violates the lo saaseh prohibition only if one takes both mother and offspring. Should someone take the mother and not the offspring, in the Rambam’s opinion, he violated the mitzvas aseih commanding him to send away the mother, but not the lo saaseh. According to Rashi, this person also violated the lo saaseh. Thus, we see that a halachic difference can hinge on how you translate the preposition al.

Earlier in this article, I translated this passage as “You shall not take the mother from/with the young.” This was in order to avoid biasing someone from translating the posuk in a way that supports either side of the dispute between rishonim.

Required???

Our opening question was: “Must I physically send away the mother bird? I am squeamish!” Or, as I explained it: Should I find such a nest, may I simply ignore it and continue on my way, or would I thereby be ignoring a requirement to fulfill a mitzvah?

To explain this a bit better: The Torah includes mitzvos that I am required to observe, such asputting on tefillin and eating matzoh on Pesach. Shiluach hakein is certainly not such a mitzvah, since it depends upon circumstance and applies only when I find a nest. However, among mitzvos of the Torah that are non-obligatory, there are different levels of requirement. Some mitzvos are simply a matir, they permit me to do something, but I have no obligation to do them, whereas others become obligatory when certain circumstances apply.

Some examples will make our explanation clearer. Here is an example of a mitzvah that is not required: shechitah. I am not required to walk down the street looking for animals to shecht. Even if I am a shocheit and someone asks me to shecht for them, it is not a requirement. The mitzvah is simply: If you want to eat meat, the animal must be shechted in a specific way. If one does not shecht it correctly, one may not eat the meat.

This type of mitzvah is a matir. There is no requirement to observe the mitzvah, but if I want to gain a certain benefit, the Torah provides me with specific instruction how to permit it.

If we understand shiluach hakein to be a matir, then what the Torah instructed is that if I find a nesting bird, I may not take both the young and their mother for my purposes. If I want to take the young, I must first send away the mother. (By the way, it is forbidden to take the mother, even if I do not want to take the young.)

Required

There is another way to understand shiluach hakein, which holds that this mitzvah is not a matir, but a requirement, should I encounter the appropriate situation. I will explain the second approach by comparison to a different mitzvah.

One of the Torah’s mitzvos is to return lost objects. There is no requirement for me to try to find lost objects in order to return them to their owner. However, once I see a lost object, I am required to retrieve the item and return it. If one understands that the mitzvah of shiluach hakein is comparable to hashavas aveidah, then, although I am not required to go looking for nesting birds, should I find one, I am required to send away the mother.

Based on Talmudic sources, early acharonim discuss whether shiluach hakein should be considered a matir or a requirement. If it is a matir, then our squeamish questioner is not required to fulfill the mitzvah. However, if it is a requirement, then it is a mitzvah that must be fulfilled. Halachically, it will be approximately equivalent to living in a house and not putting mezuzos on the doors.

Shalei’ach

The question is how one explains the words of the posuk, which says Shalei’ach teshalach es ha’eim, “You shall certainly send away the mother.” Here are two ways:

There is no requirement to send away the mother, but should I happen upon a nest and want to eat the mother bird, the young, or both, I may not take the mother, but must send her away. The act of sending away the mother permits me to keep the young, should I want to take them. According to this approach, the mitzvah of shiluach hakein is similar to shechitah. There is no requirement to shecht, but should I want to eat meat, this is the way to do so.

On the other hand, perhaps the mitzvah of shiluach hakein is similar to the mitzvah of hashavas aveidah. This would mean that should I find a nest, I am now required to send away the mother.

Among the early acharonim, we find a responsum from the Chavos Ya’ir (#67) discussing this issue. To quote the Chavos Yair: “I was asked: if someone comes across a nest while he is walking through a field, is he required to send away the mother, or may he just continue on his way without doing anything?”

The Chavos Yair analyzes several passages of the Gemara in his attempt to prove which approach is correct. Based on his analysis of several texts of Chazal, he concludes that shiluach hakein is like hashavas aveidah, and, should one find a nest that meets the halachic requirements, there is an obligation to send away the mother, even though one has no interest in the young. This position is also accepted by several other prominent, later poskim (Shu”t Chacham Zvi #83; Rabbi Akiva Eiger to Yoreh Deah 292:1; Aruch Hashulchan, Yoreh De’ah 292:1-2).

On the other hand, there are several prominent poskim who dispute this ruling, concluding that shiluach hakein is a matir, like shechitah (Sefer Hamitzvos Hakatzar [of the Chofetz Chayim] Mitzvos Aseh #74; Chazon Ish (Yoreh De’ah 175:2); Shu”t Avnei  Neizer, Orach Chayim #48; Minchas Shelomoh 2:5:4 [5760 edition].

Keep the babies

Our second question that I quoted above was: “Must I take the young to fulfill the mitzvah?” I explained that the question is: When I send away the mother bird, am I required to keep the young, or, at least, to physically lift up the eggs or baby birds, thereby taking possession of them? Or have I completed the performance of the mitzvah simply by sending away the mother?

This is another halachic question that is dependent on the translation of a word of the posuk: The Torah says “You shall certainly send away the mother and take the young for yourself.” Does the Torah mean that you may take the young for yourself or that you are required to take the young? According to the second approach, the mitzvah is fulfilled only if one picks up the eggs or baby birds. If one does not pick them up, one has not fulfilled the mitzvah. According to the first approach, the mitzvah is fulfilled by sending away the mother. Once one has sent her away and fulfilled the mitzvah, one may pick up the eggs, should one want them, or leave them as is.

Again, the correct interpretation depends on a proper understanding of the posuk.

The Torah states, ve’es habanim tikach loch, “And take the young for yourself.” Is this part of the requirement of the mitzvah? In other words, did the Torah command that we perform two steps, send away the mother and take the young? Or, more simply, the Torah instructed that once you sent away the mother, you are permitted to keep the young for yourself.

This question is discussed by a prominent, early acharon, the Chacham Tzvi (Shu”t Chacham Tzvi #83). To quote him: “That which you asked me: One who sends away both the mother and the offspring, did he fulfill the mitzvah of shiluach hakein? Do we say that the words of the Torah, send away the mother and keep the young, must be fulfilled literally to fulfill the mitzvah, or not? You wrote me that the great scholars of Lublin were uncertain about this.”

The Chacham Tzvi rallies source material from the Gemara that the mitzvah is to send away the mother, and one fulfills the mitzvah, even if one does not take the young. Therefore, taking the young is not a requirement for the fulfillment of the mitzvah, but presents an option for the individual performing the mitzvah.  He compares this to the words of the Torah, “Six days shall you work, and do all your melacha.” Clearly, the Torah is not requiring one to work, but limiting one’s work time to six days of the seven-day week. Similarly, shiluach hakein should be understood that should you want to take the young, you may do so only after sending away the mother, but there is no requirement to take the young. Put in other terms, sending away the mother is a matir that permits taking the young, similar to shechitah being the matir permitting one to consume the meat. Just as shechitah does not require that someone eat the meat, so too, it is not required to take the young, and one fulfills the mitzvah without taking them.

Other acharonim disagree, demonstrating from the Zohar that one is supposed to take the offspring (Beis Lechem Yehudah). The Aruch Hashulchan (Yoreh Deah 292:3-4) concludes, like the Chacham Tzvi, that there is no requirement to take the offspring. Nevertheless, since the posuk implies that one should, and there is evidence of this approach from some rishonim, the Aruch Hashulchan concludes that the proper approach is to make a kinyan on the young, such as by lifting them up. Furthermore, he notes that, according to the reason for the mitzvah of shiluach hakein proposed by many early authorities, which I hope to discuss in a future article, one should take the young.

Conclusion

The mitzvah we have just studied teaches that although we may eat kosher birds, we are prohibited to take a mother bird when she is in her nest tending to her young. In explanation of the reason for this mitzvah, Rav Hirsch sees a lesson to be learned regarding the sacred role of motherhood. To quote him: “The respect that a nation accords to the woman’s calling is a reliable barometer of that nation’s moral level… the paramount importance the Torah attaches to the woman’s activities… traces even into the sphere of animal life. It assures protection for a mother bird while she is engaged in her activity as a mother and it demands that everyone… should demonstrate through his actions this appreciation of the female as she carries out her task.”

Tefillin Retzuos, Maintenance, and Purchasing Instructions

Question #1: How are tefillin retzuos made?

Question #2: My tefillin did not come with an “owner’s manual.” What should I do to maintain them in good condition?

Question #3: How can I make sure I get “quality” tefillin?

Introduction:

This week’s parsha has a very indirect allusion to the mitzvah of tefillin, since it refers to the mitzvah of zakein mamrei, the rebellious elder. The details of zakein mamrei are rather extensive and will not be discussed in this article. However, the example chosen for establishing a person as a zakein mamrei is someone who declares that tefillin are supposed to contain five parshios rather than four (Rambam, Hilchos Mamrim 4:3).

As I sent out two articles on the topic of tefillin manufacture only weeks ago, this article will be our “wrap-up” of the topic, and will discuss the halachos of tefillin straps, what one should ask when purchasing them and how to maintain your tefillin in perfect “operating” order.

For the sake of tefillin!

Tefillin must be manufactured lishmah – for the sake of the mitzvah. In practical terms, this means that an observant Jew begins each process and declares that the production is for the sake of the mitzvah of tefillin (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 32:8).

The contemporary process of tanning hide for parchment, batim and straps is a multi-stage process, similar to the method used to tan leather for mundane uses, such as belts, shoes and handbags. However, as I mentioned above, the parchment, batim and straps for tefillin must be tanned lishmah, for the sake of the mitzvah (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 32:37 and 33:3). For this reason, it is preferable that each step be performed, or at least begun, by an observant Jew, lishmah. Therefore, one of the questions to be ascertained when purchasing tefillin is to what extent an observant Jew was involved in the processing of the hide. This issue impacts on the question of machine-made vs. handmade retzuos.

Is there a halachic preference for handmade retzuos?

In earlier days, tanning retzuos and other leather items involved salting the hide and then soaking it in lime wash. Today, although both salt and lime are still used in the tanning process, most of the tanning of retzuos is usually accomplished by the gradual, automated adding of other chemicals to the soaking leather after the salt and lime have been rinsed out. Thus, although many early poskim ruled that placing the hide into the water lishmah (after the salt and lime have been added) is sufficient to make retzuos lishmah, this may not be true today. The hide must be processed in a way that it meets the requirements of lishmah, which, in today’s world, probably requires that the other chemicals were added to the water lishmah by a Torah-observant person (Zichron Eliyahu).

Most Torah-observant Jews use hand matzos for the seder, because of concern that machine matzos are not considered lishmah. (I am not ruling that machine matzos are a problem for seder use. The majority of poskim contend that they are fine.) In all likelihood, the manufacture and painting of machine-made retzuos has greater halachic concerns than the shaylos involved in machine matzos, for several reasons, including the fact that the processing of retzuos is not one continuous process, as I explained above. In addition, there are and were halachic authorities who preferred the use of machine matzos because they are baked much faster, and therefore might reduce the chance of chometz. This is not a factor in the manufacture of tefillin retzuos. It is clearly advantageous to use handmade retzuos, and, to the best of my knowledge, no disadvantage. When one realizes that the mitzvah of eating matzoh is only once a year, yet most people use only hand matzos rather than machine-made, whereas the tefillin will iy”h be worn daily for decades, I believe the choice is obvious.

An additional question is whether lishmah can be created by pushing the buttons that start the electric process. Although most, but not all, halachic authorities accept that this is considered lishmah, it is easier to comprehend that this works for matzoh than for retzuos.  The lishmah for matzoh is to make sure it does not become chometz and therefore an observant Jew supervising the process to make sure everything is kosher lepesach who starts the machine’s operation lishmah is sufficient.However, germane to retzuos and the like, the goal of tanning the leather lishmah is to create kedusha on the leather so that it can be used for a sacred purpose. It might follow that pushing buttons cannot be considered an act that creates kedusha.

Painting

After the tanning of the retzuos is completed, they are painted jet-black lishmah (Mishnah Berurah 33:18).

Must the side of the retzua be black?

The underside of the retzua, the part that lies on the skin, need not be dyed at all. There is an opinion that the edges of the retzuos must also be painted black (Keses Hasofer 23:2). However, this opinion is not accepted in halachic practice (see, for example, Mishnah Berurah 33:24, quoting Pri Megadim, Eishel Avraham 33:7).

Thoroughly black

Some manufacturers of tefillin retzuos soak the entire leather in a kosher black solution, so that the entire thickness of the strap is now black. Although I see no halachic requirement in this additional process, there is a practical advantage that is up to the consumer to decide. As the retzuos age, they develop cracks. If the retzua was originally soaked in black solution, when the leather cracks, the retzua may still be black and not require painting. However, if the retzua is not soaked, the now-showing cracked area is light colored and requires painting. I have found it annoying to constantly check to see whether my retzuos are still black, and therefore, when I purchase retzuos, I ask for those that have been soaked black to avoid this issue. (Although from my own observation, how black the inner part of the retzua gets when this is done varies tremendously from batch to batch, I still usually find it worthwhile.) From a consumer perspective, I think the additional cost is worthwhile, because it is probable that these retzuos can be used for a longer period of time before they become so difficult to paint constantly that one replaces them. Again, I note that this is not a halachic consideration.

How wide are my retzuos?

The retzuos should be about half an inch wide. When purchasing new retzuos, they should be wider, so that they remain the proper width, even after they become stretched out.

How to maintain your tefillin

What should I do to maintain my tefillin in good, kosher condition?

Maintaining the batim and parshios of your tefillin is fairly easy. Never leave your tefillin in direct sunlight, in a very hot place, or inside your car during the daytime. As much as possible, your hair should be dry while wearing your tefillin. When going to mikvah before weekday davening, make sure to dry your hair well before putting on your tefillin.

Protect the corners of the batim by leaving the cover on the shel yad. (It should be noted that some poskim contend that one should not place these covers on the shel yad while one is wearing them, or while making the brocha. However, since most poskim permit leaving these covers on, one may be lenient.)

Checking retzuos

It is important to check periodically that the retzuos on one’s tefillin are still completely black and are not cracked or faded. Although a good quality pair of tefillin should last a lifetime, the straps on the tefillin do wear out and periodically need to be replaced.

The Mishnah Berurah, whom many people consider the finalauthority in these areas of halacha, implies that the entire length of the retzua must always be black (Biur Halacha 33:3 s.v. haretzuos). (There are authorities who disagree, most notably Rav Yosef Chayim Sonnenfeld, who contends that it is adequate for most of the retzua to be black.) Check that the retzuos are black all the way to their tip. Be particular to check that they are black near where the retzua is tightened daily, because at that point the paint often rubs off. One should also check that the retzua is still wide enough where it is tightened near the knot and that the yud of the shel yad is touching the ketzitzah of the tefillin. If it is not, this can be corrected by a knowledgeable sofer or a batim macher (a trained tefillin manufacturer).

If the retzuos are no longer fully black, blacken them with kosher tefillin paint. Everyone who wears tefillin should have access to kosher tefillin paint or kosher tefillin markers.

Depending on where you live, this might be an easy item to purchase; it usually comes either as a pen-looking marker or in a small container reminiscent of correction fluid.

Before painting the retzuos, one must state that he is doing it lesheim kedushas tefillin. I once wrote a halachic teshuvah (in Hebrew) in which I concluded that someone who painted the faded parts of their retzuos, but forgot to say that they were doing it lishmah, has not invalidated the tefillin, and they may be worn as they are. Still, one should lechatchilah (the preferred way) be careful to say that one is blackening them lesheim kedushas tefillin.

If someone’s retzuos are cracking in several places, he should consider replacing them.

While checking the retzuos, check that the batim, titura, and stitches are all perfectly square. This means that, to the naked eye, the width and the length appear to be the same, and that there are no dents, nicks, or projections along the sides or in the corners of the bayis. The back corners of the batim often become rounded because of hats or taleisim that are constantly rubbing against them.  By the way, the edges of the ma’avarta (the part of the tefillin bayis  through which the straps (retzuos) are inserted) do not need to be square.

If the stitch of the titura is not taut or it loops in the middle, it is not kosher, and you should contact your batim expert. With time or damage, the stitches often loosen or move, or the batim get banged or nicked and are no longer properly square. Your local batim expert has the equipment and know-how to repair them.

Know a batim macher or batim repair expert. Every major Jewish community should have at least one person who is trained and has the equipment to repair batim. Just as the community has shatnez testers, a mohel, a butcher, a mikvah for dishes, sefarim stores, and talmidei chachamim who are trained to check mezuzos, a community must have a talmid chacham who is trained properly in the repair of batim.

Where should I buy my tefillin?

The individual selling tefillin and tefillin accessories (such as replacement retzuos) should be a halachically reliable person, and preferably a talmid chacham. Furthermore, he should be fully familiar not only with the halachos of tefillin but also with the details of tefillin manufacture. From my personal experience, it is not uncommon for a person selling tefillin to be extremely ehrlich but totally unfamiliar with the halachic issues and concerns involved. Unfortunately, many sofrim and rabbanim lack sufficient training in the practical details of tefillin manufacture.

Where not to buy your tefillin!

I’ll share with you one frightening story of my personal experience. I was once “tipped off” by someone about a manufacturer of tefillin batim who was personally not observant. Shortly thereafter, I realized that an errand would require me to be in the same city in which this manufacturer was located. I presented myself to the owner, who was clearly not observant, as a rabbi from America looking for a supplier of tefillin for his congregation, but who would like to familiarize himself with the process of how tefillin are made. One would think that the manufacturer might be interested in the possibility of making some sales, but, indeed, he would not even let me past his front door! When one realizes the myriad details involved in tefillin manufacture that require yiras shamayim, one grasps how unlikely it is that these tefillin were kosher. We will never know how many pairs of tefillin this manufacturer produces annually, but clearly, lots of people are, unfortunately, purchasing these tefillin.

The price of tefillin

Considering how much time, labor and trained skill are required to produce a kosher pair of tefillin, it amazes me how inexpensive tefillin are. Imagine purchasing an item that requires tens of hours of skilled, expert workmanship! What would you expect to pay for such an item? Probably thousands of dollars! And note that one wears tefillin every weekday of one’s life, without exception. The tefillin are certainly hundreds of times more valuable than a top-quality suit! Remember that a top-quality pair of tefillin should last many decades. A pair of tefillin that costs $1,500 and lasts for sixty years is worn approximately 300 times a year, or a total of 18,000 times. Thus, this pair of tefillin cost about 8½ cents a day. Compare this to the cost per wearing of a nice suit!

Ask for what you want

Assuming that one is purchasing tefillin from someone familiar with the halachos and practical aspects of tefillin manufacture, be specific as to the level of tefillin kashrus you are seeking. If you don’t tell him that you want tefillin that are kosher lechatchilah, you might receive tefillin that meet only the very minimum standards of kashrus. A person who discriminately buys food with high kashrus standards should not settle for less when purchasing tefillin. Such a person should order “kosher mehudar tefillin,” or “kosher tefillin with extra hiddurim.” These descriptions may also affect other questions that we have not discussed in this series of articles, such as the quality of the writing of the parshios or the source of the batim.

What to ask when ordering tefillin?

When ordering a pair of tefillin, one is entitled to ask as many questions about the tefillin as one chooses. After all, one is making a major purchase. In addition, asking these questions informs the seller that one wants tefillin that are mehadrin and are not simply minimally kosher.

Thus, it is perfectly acceptable to ask whether the seller knows the sofer personally, or at least by reputation. Why did he choose this sofer? Is the sofer licensed by an organization that tests him periodically on the relevant halachos? One should definitely request that the sofer be instructed to write parshios that are kosher lemehadrin, and not simply kosher or even kosher lechatchilah.

Request that the parshios be checked by two different examiners and also by computer. Also insist that the examiner be instructed that the parshios should be kosher lemehadrin. Usually, the examiners are only checking to see if the parshios are minimally kosher.

From which manufacturer are the batim being ordered? Why did the seller choose this batim macher? Do the batim carry a hechsher? Order batim that are kosher lemehadrin. Clarify that the batim macher cuts between the compartments of the shel rosh after painting to guarantee that they are properly separated.

Of course, one needs to verify that the tefillin are set up for someone left-handed or right-handed, and whether the ksav (the script) and the knots are for nusach Ashkenaz, Sfard (Chassidish) or Edot Hamizrah. Clarify, in advance, how large the batim of the tefillin will be. If the bar-mitzvah bochur is small, one may have a shaylah whether the tefillin are too large to fit correctly on his arm. Clarify this issue in advance with your tefillin seller and with your rav.

None of the items above should cost anything additional, and therefore one should always ask for them, even if one’s budget is limited. These questions also make your seller aware that you are looking for tefillin that are kosher lemehadrin, just as you shop for food that is kosher lemehadrin.

What extra items should I ask for when ordering tefillin?

There are several other hiddurim one can order when purchasing new tefillin. Bear in mind that each of these items will add to the price of your tefillin and may require that you order the tefillin more in advance.

1. Ask your rav whether you should order tefillin that were manufactured originally perudos ad hatefer legamrei, literally, separated completely down to the stitch, referring to the stitching on the top of the titura. This means that the batim were manufactured without any glue between the compartments of the batim.

Although all poskim agree that it is halachically preferable to have batim that are constructed without any glue between the compartments, there is a risk that these batim could separate, with time, and thus, no longer be properly square. For this reason, if the person wearing the tefillin will not be checking periodically to ensure that his tefillin are still properly square, it may be preferable to have the compartments glued together. This is one of the many reasons why your rav or posek should be consulted.

If you are ordering tefillin that are perudos ad hatefer legamrei, ask for batim that were made originally this way, from the beginning of their manufacture. Sometimes a batim macher receiving an order for “perudos ad hatefer legamrei” will take a knife and attempt to cut through the glue that is holding the compartments of the bayis together, in order to separate them. If you are purchasing perudos ad hatefer legamrei, then you should ask not to have these batim. Firstly, the cutting could damage the batim. Secondly, if you are paying for tefillin that are mehudar, why settle for second best? Furthermore, the batim macher may have made his batim assuming that they will hold together with glue, and without glue in the middle, they will quickly separate and become posul.

2. Order batim, parshios, gidin, and retzuos that are avodas yad. Discuss with the sofer whether the parshios should be written on extra-thin parchment.

3. Order tefillin where the shin was pulled out by hand, and the mold was used only to enhance an existing shin.

What should I check when the tefillin arrive?

The big day arrives. Your local seforim store, sofer, or rav tells you that your tefillin have arrived!  Is there anything you should check on the tefillin?

Check if the batim, titura and stitching are all properly square. You do not need to have a trained eye to check. Look if they appear perfectly square to you. Pay special attention that the titura area that faces the ma’avarta is smooth. It is not unusual that this area is not finished to the extent that it should be.

What should I be checking on my own tefillin?

Just as a car owner knows that he must check the level of the motor oil periodically, the tefillin owner should know to periodically check certain things on his tefillin.

Check that the retzuos and batim are completely black and are not rubbed out, cracked or faded. Are the retzuos black all the way to their tip? Be particular to check that they are black near where the retzua is tightened daily, because at that point the paint often rubs off. One should also check that the retzua is still wide enough near the knot. If they are not fully black, blacken them with kosher tefillin paint.

The yud of the shel yad should be connected in such a way that it touches the ketzitzah of the tefillin.

Tefillin are one of the special signs that Hashem gave the Jewish people, and we should certainly excel in treating this mitzvah with the appropriate dignity. When Yidden request that their tefillin be mehadrin, they demonstrate their reverence for the sign that bonds us to Hashem.

Glycerin in Today’s World

Photo by Artem Zhushman from FreeImages

Question #1:

“In what types of food products is glycerin used?”

Question #2:

“Is glycerin kosher?”

Question #3:

“What is the difference between glycerin, glycerine, and glycerol?”

Question #4:

“The other day, I was using some vanilla extract in a recipe and noticed that the extract itself had a sweet taste. I know that vanilla is usually extracted with alcohol, but this particular product was labeled “alcohol-free,” and apparently used glycerin instead.I am curious about the nutritional properties of glycerin. Does it affect the body like sugar? Is it calorie-free?”

Introduction:

Glycerin comes from fats (either animal, vegetable or mineral) and originally was a by-product of soap or candle manufacture. The process of producing soap has not changed significantly since it was first discovered thousands of years ago. The method is very similar to that described by the halachic authorities, who refer to a process of cooking fat and ashes together. Today, we call these ashes lye, and it usually consists predominantly of sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide, both alkalis. Cooking these together with fat creates a chemical reaction called saponification, from the Latin word sapo, meaning soap. The process converts the fat and alkali into soap and an alcohol such as glycerin. The glycerin splits off from the fatty acids and mixes together with water, forming an odorless, sweet-tasting, syrup-like liquid.

Glycerin is also created naturally in the process of manufacturing some alcoholic beverages. It can also be produced chemically from petroleum, but, in the United States, glycerin from petroleum is not generally used in food.

Properties of glycerin

Glycerin, sometimes spelled glycerine, and sometimes called glycerol, has a number of interesting properties. Mixing glycerin with nitric acid creates nitroglycerine, which can be used to treat chest pain or to blow up mountains or enemies. Glycerin attracts water like a sponge, making it useful for skin care, since adding it to a lotion or cosmetic will help your skin remain moist. It is also commonly added to soaps, candles, deodorants and makeup. You might find glycerin in toothpaste, which will help prevent drying out or hardening in the tube.

Glycerin is a common ingredient in pharmaceuticals, including heart medication, suppositories, cough remedies and anesthetics. For example, it allows the medicinal agent in the cough syrup to coat the throat of the patient. Since glycerin is water based, it is very useful for this application. In addition, glycerin’s sweetness may mask the distaste of the anti-cough agent, thus making the syrup smoother and tastier. Mixed into wax and used as a suppository, glycerin’s moisture-attracting properties draws water from the body into the colon, which stimulates a bowel movement.

Athletics and glycerin

Athletes run a constant concern about dehydration, and drinking large quantities of water or sports drinks usually results in quickly losing a sizable portion of the fluid through urination. One still-being-researched suggestion is to add a tiny amount of glycerin to water drunk before exercise. Some contend that this increases fluid retention considerably.

Food uses of glycerin

Since glycerin absorbs moisture, it may keep a product moist for a longer period of time. Thus, it is useful as a safe preservative, and, has a marketing advantage that it does not to be listed as a preservative. Used in a product like a cereal bar, glycerin helps it avoid becoming hard and brittle. When used to coat raisins, glycerin keeps them from sticking to one another. Since glycerin has a syrupy texture, it may be used in a glaze or as a thickener. Since it coats the throat, it is sometimes used as an ingredient in whiskeys.

Glycerin is often added to foods to help oil-based and water-based ingredients mix. It can be used to prevent ice crystals from forming in frozen foods, such as frozen yogurt, ice cream and other desserts.

Is glycerin used as a sweetener?

Who would expect that a processed derivative of oils or fats would be sweet? Glycerin’s sweetness is one of the great, low-key gifts that Hashem bestows on us. Because it is sweet, baked goods, confections, and pharmaceuticals sometimes have glycerin incorporated into their formulas. However, glycerin, unlike sugar, is not a classic carbohydrate. For this reason, companies eager to make low-carb claims use glycerin, sometimes as a substitute for sugar, but it also has many other valuable properties.

Glycerin belongs to a special category of carbohydrates called polyols. A polyol is an organic compound containing multiple hydroxyl groups, meaning that its chemical description includes an OH, because it contains an oxygen atom bonded to a hydrogen atom. Polyols are low-calorie sugar replacers with a clean, sweet taste and are approved for food. Among the polyols that we eat are: erythritol, hydrogenated starch, hydrolysates, isomalt, lactitol, maltitol, mannitol, sorbitol and xylitol. Erythritol, chemical formulaC4H10O4, for example, is a sugar alcohol that is considered safe as a food additive in the United States and throughout much of the world. It was discovered in 1848 by Scottish chemist John Stenhouse, and was first isolated in 1852. It occurs naturally in some fruits. When used to replace sugar, polyols cause smaller increases in blood glucose and insulin levels than do sugars and other carbohydrates. Therefore, snacks sweetened with polyols may be useful.

Like sugar alcohols, glycerin tastes sweet, but it is not metabolized as sugar in the body, and doesn’t cause a rise in blood sugar. For that reason, it is sometimes used as a sweetener in foods marketed to diabetics and low-carb dieters.

Kashrus of glycerin

Glycerin is perhaps the most kosher-sensitive ingredient that any company can have. There is no way to test chemically whether the glycerin is manufactured from an animal, vegetable or mineral source, and non-kosher glycerin produced from animal fat is plentiful and often less expensive than are the other varieties. To compound the problem, as bio-diesel and other processes using vegetable oil have increased, less vegetable oil is available for the production of glycerin and this is being replaced by increasing the amount of animal fat used to manufacture glycerin.

Kosher glycerin is generally derived from vegetable oil, although it can also be chemically synthesized from petroleum. It is claimed that vegetable glycerin was originally discovered accidentally more than two centuries ago, by heating a mixture of olive oil and lead monoxide. But it became economically and industrially significant only in the late 1800s, when it was first used to make dynamite. Until that point, all glycerin was manufactured from animal fat.

Much of the kosher, vegetable-based glycerin is made from triglyceride-rich vegetable fats, such as palm, soy or coconut oil, and usually comes from countries like Malaysia and Indonesia that have an abundance of coconut and palm trees, although some kosher vegetable glycerin is made in the United States. Supervisors of kosher glycerin production need to oversee that the equipment used to produce it and the trucks and ships used to ship it in bulk are used only for kosher product or are koshered before use.

As with almost any substance, a small number of people have sensitivities or allergies to glycerin, and it can be toxic, if consumed in sufficient quantities. But, in its typical food uses, predominantly as a safe method of keeping foods fresh or as a low-glycemic sweetener, glycerin is generally safe. It is not, however, calorie-free.

This entire preamble was to provide background to an event that happened when I made a random kosher inspection of a factory several years ago. The company, which we will call Quality Bakery Products, was a manufacturer of wholesale products for the bakery and dairy industries, such as fruit mixes and toppings, glazes, maraschino cherries, fudges, etc. Thus, the fruit flavors in your yogurt, the fudge on your cookies, the fruit mixes in your fruit cakes may have originated in this factory. They did not produce retail sizes; everything was packed only in gallons, tubs and drums.

On that particular visit, I discovered a partially used drum of glycerin, without kosher markings. Glycerin was not a product that the company ordinarily used in their products and was not listed as an approved raw material by the hechsher. I was fairly certain that this glycerin was from non-kosher animal sources, and indeed, a small amount of research proved that I was correct. Since glycerin has a sweet taste and was certainly not bateil, the product or products manufactured with this glycerin were unquestionably treif.

Why did the company order glycerin? In what was it used? And where was it sent?

Within a short period of time, I was able to unravel what had happened. A new customer, a donut manufacturer that we will call “Diamond Donuts,” contacted Quality Bakery with a large order for a donut glaze. Diamond Donuts had very specific requirements for the glaze – including glycerin as an ingredient. Presumably, Diamond Donut wanted glycerin in its glaze because it is sweet, syrupy and keeps the donuts fresher without any requirement to mention the nasty word “preservatives” on the label.

The sales staff accepted the order, the manufacturing department placed it on the schedule, sending on to the purchasing department the ingredient requirements that were not in house. The glycerin was ordered. No one at Quality Bakery picked up on several obvious errors they had made. For example, they were required by contract to contact the hechsher before purchasing new raw materials or changing suppliers, and glycerin was not an ingredient listed on their approved list.

The distributor through whom they ordered the glycerin sent them the least expensive product he had in stock, which happened to have been animal-derived glycerin. The ingredient was used, an entire container of drums of glaze was produced and was on the highway to Diamond Donuts by the time I discovered the problem. I was able to contact the rabbis at both hechsherim, Quality Bakery and Diamond, and the mashgiach who handled Diamond Donuts, to alert them that the glaze marked kosher was indeed very treif. The glaze and the leftover drum of glycerin were both destroyed, and many, many neshamos were fortunately saved from mistakenly eating treif donuts.

What is the moral of the story? For one, that hechsherim should have tighter controls on their companies. There should be a system in place so that new raw materials are not used without having the mashgiach sign off that they have been checked for kashrus concerns, just as these materials are checked for safety and efficacy.

For another, they should make sure that all key personnel at their companies fully understand the reasons for, and the details of, their kosher program. Included in the granting of the hechsher should be a periodic, scheduled meeting with all decision-making plant personnel, including the plant manager, production managers, purchasing agents, and the quality assurance staff, to guarantee that they all understand the responsibilities of a kashrus program.

And that we should all daven daily that we do not eat anything non-kosher.

A Tefillin Shoppers Guide, Part II

What does one look for when purchasing a pair of tefillin? In my earlier article, I presented some of the basics of tefillin manufacture. The four parshios in which the Torah mentions mitzvas tefillin — “Kadeish li kol bechor” and “Vehayah ki yeviacha” in parshas Bo, “Shema” in parshas Va’eschanan, and “Vehayah im shamo’a” in parshas Eikev — are handwritten by a sofer. Each parsha of the tefillin shel rosh is written on a separate piece of parchment and placed in a separate compartment, whereas those of the shel yad are written on one parchment and placed in a single large compartment.

As explained in last week’s article, the batim consist of three parts: (a) the box part, called the ketzitzah, in which the parshios are placed, (b) the titura, the base on which the ketzitzah rests, and (c) the ma’avarta, through which the straps (retzuos) are inserted. The width of both the ketzitzah and the titura must be exactly the same as the corresponding length so that they are perfectly square, and there should be no nicks, dents, or bulges that ruin their perfect squareness or the evenness of their sides. Someone concerned about the mitzvah should therefore purchase batim made from gasos, which means the hide of a mature animal. Gasos batim last much longer, have many hiddurim in halacha, and can be repaired if they become damaged.

We also discussed two halachic disputes regarding the manufacture of the shel rosh. One shaylah concerned gluing the compartments of the shel rosh together, and another concerned whether the shin on the outside must be pulled out manually before it is molded.

As explained last week, most stages of tefillin production, from tanning to painting and sewing, must be performed “lishmah.” Therefore, each stage is begun by an observant Jew who declares that his work is for the sake of kedushas tefillin.

In last week’s article, I discussed the manufacturing of the batim. Several steps of tefillin manufacture were not described last week, including painting, making the retzuos, and placing the parshios in the bayis and sealing it. We also did not discuss at all the writing of the parshios, which is where we will begin this week’s article.

Writing the parshios

Before starting to write, the sofer must state that he is writing these parshios for the sake of the mitzvah of tefillin (see Rosh, Hilchos Sefer Torah Ch. 2; Tur Orach Chaim Chapter 32). In addition, every time he writes any of the names of Hashem, he must first state that he is writing the name for kedushas Hashem. If he did not make these statements verbally, it is questionable whether the tefillin are kosher (see Rama, Orach Chaim 32:19; Rabbi Akiva Eiger comments on Shulchan Aruch 32:8).

The parshios must be written with meticulous care, since an error that affects the kashrus of a single letter invalidates the entire tefillin (Menachos 28a). Thus, if only one letter is missing or written incorrectly, the tefillin are posul, and the person who wears these tefillin has not fulfilled the mitzvah (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 32:23). Furthermore, all the brachos he recites on the tefillin are in vain.

Here are some examples of mistakes that can occur while writing tefillin. If two letters touch one another, the tefillin are posul (Menachos 34a; Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 32:4).

The same thing is true if the sofer intended to write one letter and, instead, wrote something that looks like a different letter or does not meet the halachic requirements of how the required letter must be written. For example, if a sofer intended to write the letter “zayin” and made it so long that it could be read as a “nun sofis,” the tefillin are invalid. Similarly, if the sofer intended to write the letter “reish,” which is supposed to have a rounded upper right corner, and instead wrote it with a square corner, the tefillin are invalid.

Sometimes the letters of the parshios may seem perfect, and yet the tefillin are absolutely posul. For example, the letters written in tefillin (as well as sifrei Torah and mezuzos) must be written or formed directly. A letter cannot be formed indirectly by scratching off ink around the letter, until only the letter remains. This halacha is called “chok tochos,” which literally means, “hollowing out the inside.”

(The origin of this expression is from a case in the Gemara where a get was written by carving a piece of wood until the letters projected. This get is invalid, since the letters of the get were not written but were formed indirectly by removing the area around them. This does not fulfill the Torah’s requirement that a get be written [Gittin 20a]. “Writing” requires that the letters must be formed, and not created indirectly.)

Therefore, if a sofer wrote the letter “dalet” instead of a “reish,” it is halachically invalid to erase the sharp corner of the “dalet” and form a “reish” (Tur Orach Chaim Chapter 32, quoting Sefer Haterumos). If someone did this, he has not written a “reish” but rather he formed a “reish” indirectly, and this is not considered “writing.” Any tefillin, sefer Torah or mezuzah made this way will be invalid (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 32:18).

If a sefer Torah was written through “chok tochos,” the letter can be erased and rewritten. However, if this problem occurs in tefillin or mezuzos, the parsha will often be irreparable (Taz 32:16), and the parsha will have to be put into sheimos (genizah).

Why not fix it?

Why can’t this mistake be corrected?

Halacha requires that the parshios of tefillin and mezuzos be written in the order in which the words appear in the Torah (rishonim, quoting Mechilta, end of Parshas Bo). This requirement is referred to as being written “kesidran,” in their proper sequence. For this reason, if a letter was skipped and filled in afterwards, the tefillin or mezuzah is posul and cannot be corrected. Similarly, if a “reish” was mistakenly written as a “dalet,” and the problem was discovered after more letters were written, the parsha is posul, unless one erases all the letters written after the invalid “reish.”

The law of kesidran (in their proper sequence) applies only to tefillin and mezuzos. Sifrei Torah, megillos, and other holy writings do not have this rule, and their letters may be written out of order. Therefore if some of their letters become posul, they can be corrected.

Thus, we see that there are instances that cannot be checked, in which we are completely dependent on the integrity of the sofer. After investing many hours writing a beautiful parsha, a sofer checks the parsha and discovers that one of its letters was written incorrectly in a way that might invalidate the parsha. He takes the parsha to his rav, who paskins that the parsha is indeed posul and cannot be rectified. If the sofer lacks integrity, what is to stop him from fixing the invalid letter so that it now appears one hundred percent kosher?

Fortunately, tefillin and mezuzos purchased from reputable sources should not have problems of dishonesty like that just described. However, one should still try to find out about the sofer whose tefillin one’s son will be wearing. Although it is difficult to check whether someone is a yarei Shamayim, one should at least attempt to ascertain whether the sofer appears to be a yarei Shamayim.

Furthermore, the sofer must be thoroughly familiar with the halachos of writing tefillin or he will certainly produce posul tefillin. There are literally hundreds of ways that a non-knowledgeable sofer can write tefillin that will be invalid. Thus, when purchasing tefillin, one must insist that the sofer who wrote them is knowledgeable in the halachos of safrus and that he has up-to-date certification from a recognized organization or posek. Some of these organizations insist that the sofrim they certify take periodic examinations to ascertain that they are still competent in the halachos required for their profession.

A modern innovation

After the sofer finishes writing the tefillin parshios, he reads them over several times, and then they are checked by a specially trained examiner, or even better, by two trained examiners. In our era, the checking process has been tremendously enhanced by a modern innovation – computer-checking. The written parshios are scanned into a computer that has a program comparing the written parshios with the computer’s version. The computer checks for missing and extra letters and words, for poorly and mistakenly formed letters, for connected or cracked letters and for other errors.

Experience has proven that computers have an infinite attention span and never get distracted by boredom or exhaustion. (Of course, the computer’s proper performance depends on an alert operator.) So, it is common for computers to catch mistakes that humans overlook. There is a recorded instance of a pair of tefillin that was checked nine different times without discovering that a word was missing, until it underwent a computer-check! When purchasing tefillin, one should insist that the parshios be computer-checked.

However, one may not rely only on a computer-check of the tefillin since, at present, computers cannot check for certain items such as proper spacing between letters and words.

It should be noted that neither the examiner nor the computer can detect certain problems that occur, such as letters written out of order and letters formed through “chok tochos.” This is why the sofer’s yiras shamayim and his halachic knowledge are absolutely indispensable.

Painting

The batim are painted jet-black using paint containing only kosher ingredients (Shulchan Aruch 32:40). Because there is little space between the compartments of the shel rosh, it often happens that after the painting one can no longer see the separation between the compartments. Since the individual compartments must be visible, the batim macher carefully separates the compartments from one another with a razor.

On inferior batim, non-scrupulous batim machers may merely scratch the outside of the bayis to mark where the four compartments actually are. This is invalid; there must be four separate compartments, both inside and outside. Alternatively, sometimes a deep groove is mistakenly scratched in the wrong place and does not demonstrate the actual separation between the compartments. This is also invalid. A responsible batim macher cuts between the compartments, to guarantee that they are indeed fully separate, even after the painting.

Some poskim contend that one should also request that the parchment used for the parshios be only avodas yad. If one chooses to order avodas yad parchment, ask for extra thin parchment. This special parchment is less likely to crack when rolled and inserted into the batim, and thus, there is less likelihood that the letters will eventually crack. It is also easier to fit the thin parchment properly into the batim. The difference in cost for this parchment is fairly small, relative to the overall cost of the investment in the pair of tefillin.

Rolling up the parshios

All the components of the tefillin are now complete, and it is time to insert the parshios into the bayis. Before being placed into the ketzitzah, each parsha is rolled from left to right, and then tied closed with a bovine tail hair (Elyah Rabbah 32:43). These hairs should preferably be from a calf, to remind us of the sin of the eigel hazahav, the golden calf (Beis Yosef, quoting Shimusha Rabba). The parsha is then wrapped in a blank piece of parchment, and this parchment is then tied closed with another bovine hair. (According to Rambam, Hilchos Tefillin 3:1, these last two steps are both halacha leMoshe miSinai.) One or more of these hairs is pulled through a hole on the right side (from the perspective of the wearer) in front of the bayis. This hole is one of those that will be soon be used to stitch the titura closed. Thus, the hair used to tie the parsha closed is visible on the outside of the tefillin (Zohar).

According to Rashi’s opinion, which is the halacha, the parshios are now inserted according to the order that they appear in the Torah. Thus, the first parsha, Kadeish li kol bechor (Shemos 13:1-10), fills the leftmost compartment (from the perspective of the wearer), with Vehayah ki yeviacha  (Shemos 13:11-16) next to it. Shema (Devorim 6:4-9) is placed next; and Vehayah im shamo’a  (Devorim 11:13-21) is inserted inside the rightmost compartment. However, according to Rabbeinu Tam, the last two parshios are reversed, with Shema in the rightmost compartment and Vehayah im shamo’a next to it. (There are, also, at least two other opinions concerning the correct order of the parshios.)

Although we fulfill the mitzvah with Rashi tefillin, the Shulchan Aruch states that a G-d fearing person should wear Rabbeinu Tam tefillin, in addition to wearing Rashi tefillin (Orach Chaim 34:2). However, the Shulchan Aruch qualifies this ruling by stating that only a person known to observe beyond the requirements of halacha is permitted to wear Rabbeinu Tam tefillin (Orach Chaim 34:3). This is because of the prohibition against being pretentious in one’s Yiddishkeit. Ashkenazim follow the Shulchan Aruch’s ruling. However, the practice among many Sefardim and chassidim is that all married men wear Rabbeinu Tam tefillin. In their opinion, once many people follow a certain practice, it is no longer ostentatious for an individual to observe it.

Big parshios

The parsha should fit completely inside its compartment. Sometimes the shel yad parsha is too tall to fit properly in the ketzitzah and the bottom of the parsha protrudes into the titura, a situation that should be avoided (Shu”t Shevet Halevi 3:3; Shu”t Yabia Omer 1:2:5). If the person who orders the tefillin coordinates the correct size with the sofer and the batim macher, this problem can be avoided.

Sewing the titura

After the parshios are placed into their appropriate compartments, the titura is sewn closed. There is a halacha leMoshe miSinai that this stitching must be made with sinews (giddin; singular, gid) of a kosher animal (Shabbos 108a). There is another halacha leMoshe miSinai that these stitches must form a perfect square (Menachos 35a). This is something that a person can readily check on his own tefillin. I have often seen tefillin where the stitching or the punching of the holes is sloppy, making the stitching not square. This makes the entire pair of tefillin posul!

The tefillin should be stitched with a single length thread of sinew (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 32:51). Although there are lenient opinions that one can tie two pieces of gid together, insist that your tefillin be stitched with a single gid.

Some batim machers glue the top and bottom titura together, in addition to the stitching, to help the titura stay closed. Some poskim contend that this practice invalidates the tefillin, since the halacha leMoshe miSinai is that the titura should be closed only by stitching with giddin and with no other materials (Chazon Ish, Orach Chaim 11:10). One should consult with his rav whether to request that the titura not be glued.

We have now completed our lessons on the manufacture of the batim and the parshios. In our next and last installment, in two weeks, we will discuss the manufacture of the retzuos, proper maintenance of kosher tefillin, and how to purchase them.

A Tefillin Shoppers Guide

Question: I am in the process of purchasing tefillin for my son. This is a major purchase, since I hope that he will use these tefillin for many, many years to come, and tefillin are such an important mitzvah. Therefore, I have been making a lot of inquiries as to what to look for. Unfortunately, the more questions I ask, the more confused I become. Rather than gaining clarity, I am hearing many unfamiliar terms such as avodas yad (handmade), devek bein habatim (glue between the compartments of the tefillin shel rosh), perudos (separated), and gasos batim (tefillin made from the hide of a mature animal). Could you please explain what I should be looking for in my search for mehudar tefillin?

Answer: Your questions are all very valid, and I am very glad that you have provided me the opportunity to explain these issues. Your quest is also complicated by the fact that because most tefillin are made in Eretz Yisroel, it is sometimes difficult for someone who lives elsewhere to find out all the details about their manufacture. However, I hope to present you with enough halachic and practical basics to assist you in your search.

First, we need to understand the basics of tefillin manufacture.

As we will see, many details of the halachos of tefillin are halacha leMoshe miSinai, meaning that they were taught to Moshe Rabbeinu directly by Hashem, even though there is no reference or allusion to these halachos in the written Torah. The Rambam counts ten such examples (Hilchos Tefillin 1:3, 3:1).

There are four places in the Torah where the mitzvah of tefillin is mentioned, twice in parshas Bo, a third time in parshas Va’eschanan,and a fourth time in parshas Eikev. Handwritten copies of these four sections of the Torah are placed inside specially-made cases, and this comprises each of the tefillin worn on the arm and the head.

COMPONENTS OF THE TEFILLIN

Tefillin have three major components:

  1. The parshios (singular, parsha). These are the parchments on which the sofer painstakingly and carefully writes the four sections of the Torah mentioned above. For the tefillin shel yad (arm tefillin), all four parshios are written on one piece of parchment, whereas for the tefillin shel rosh (head tefillin), each parsha is written on a separate piece of parchment.
  2. The batim (singular, bayis). These are the housing of the parshios. The bayis itself has three subcomponents: (a) the ketzitzah, the cube-shaped box inside which the parshios are placed; (b) the titura, the base on which the ketzitzah rests; (c) the ma’avarta (Aramaic for “bridge”), the extension of the titura through which the straps are inserted. In good quality tefillin, the entire bayis — that is the ketzitzah, titura, and ma’avarta — are all made from one piece of hide.
  3.  The retzuos, the straps.

Processing of the hide

Every pair of tefillin contains parts made from three different types of animal hide: the parchment on which the parshios are written; the thick hide from which the batim are manufactured; and the softer leather used for the retzuos.

The parchment, hide and leather used for making tefillin and all other devarim she’bi’kedusha (holy items) must come from a kosher species, although not necessarily from an animal that was slaughtered in a kosher way (Shabbos 108a; Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 32:12).

Tefillin must be manufactured “lishmah,” for the sake of the mitzvah. Practically speaking, this means that the beginning of each process should be performed by an observant Jew who declares that the production is for the sake of the mitzvah of tefillin (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 32:8).

Modern tanning of hide for parchment, batim and straps is a multi-stage process. For this reason, it is preferable that each step be performed, or at least begun, by an observant Jew, lishmah. Because of this, one of the questions to be ascertained when purchasing tefillin is to what extent an observant Jew was involved in the processing of the hide. This issue impacts on the question of machine-made vs. hand-made parchment and retzuos, which I will discuss later.

Manufacture of the batim

At this point, we will investigate the complicated process of making proper tefillin batim. The manufacturer of batim is generally referred to by the Yiddish term, “batim macher.”

Several basic types of tefillin batim are manufactured. The highest quality batim are called “gasos,” large ones, because they are made from the hide of mature (large) cattle. Their leather is high-quality and very durable. From the buyer’s perspective, these batim are well worth the higher cost. In additional to their superior durability, gasos batim have halachic advantages. Furthermore, they can be repaired easily, if the tefillin are damaged. These are the type of batim purchased by people concerned about doing mitzvos properly.

A modern innovation

In fact, gasos batim are a relatively new development, made possible through the invention of the hydraulic press. Until this invention, the tough gasos hide could not be worked into the form required for the shaping of tefillin. Today, a huge amount of pressure can be applied to the leather with a hydraulic press to produce the finest tefillin from the thick hide of gasos animals.

Gasos batim take several months to manufacture. Since the hide is very strong and tough, each step requires moistening it to make it malleable, forming it with the assistance of molds and a hydraulic press, and then allowing several weeks for the hide to dry.

Forming the separate sections of the tefillin shel rosh into four compartments is a delicate task. The hide must be bent and squeezed into separate compartments without tearing it. Although one internal tear does not invalidate the batim, more than one tear can render the bayis posul. For this and other reasons, one must be confident in the expertise, halachic knowledge and yiras shamayim of the batim macher.

The shin of the shel rosh

There is a halacha leMoshe miSinai that the tefillin shel rosh must have the letter “shin” on each side, a normal three-headed shin on the right side of the wearer and an unusual four-headed shin on the left side (Tosafos, Menachos 35a, quoting Shimusha Rabba; Rambam, Hilchos Tefillin 3:1). The commentaries cite many reasons why the left side of the tefillin must have a four-headed shin (see Smag, Smak, Beis Yosef, Bach). Some say that the four-headed shin is reminiscent of the letter shin as it appeared in the luchos (Taz 32:35).

There is a dispute among early poskim whether the shin on the tefillin can be made completely by placing the leather of the batim in a mold. According to the lenient opinions, one can simply take a mold, soften the leather, push the mold onto the bayis and press out the shin on the tefillin shel rosh (Or Zarua, quoted by Darkei Moshe 32:18; Beis Yosef). However, the accepted practice is to be machmir and form the letter in a direct way first (many rishonim quoted by Beis Yosef; Magen Avraham 32:57). This is done by painstakingly picking and pulling the leather until a kosher shin has been directly formed by hand. Only after the shin has been formed to the point that it is a halachically kosher letter is the mold applied to enhance and beautify it. This is permitted, since the minimum halachic requirements of the letter shin have been already met. It is worthwhile to clarify how the shin of the tefillin one purchases was made.

The dispute whether the shin may be molded takes us to a different discussion. Creating the shin through a mold is an act of “chok tochos,” indirectly creating a letter. Letters written for a sefer Torah, tefillin, mezuzos or a get, are invalid when written as chok tochos, but must be created “directly,” by forming the letter, not by scraping away around the letter. If so, why do so many poskim rule that the shin of the shel rosh may be created through a mold?

The answer is that the Torah never states that one must “write” a shin on the side of the tefillin. The halacha leMoshe miSinai merely states that there must be a shin on the side of the tefillin, without specifying that the shin must be written there. Therefore, the lenient opinions contend that there is no requirement to “write” a shin on the tefillin, and it is sufficient for the shin to be made in any way, even through chok tochos. As mentioned above, we paskin that the shin should be formed in a direct way first.

Tefillin must be square

There is another halacha leMoshe miSinai that the tefillin must be perfectly square (Menachos 35a). The rishonim dispute whether min haTorah both the bayis and the titura must be square, or only one of them. Since this matter is a controversy, and, furthermore, since some opinions require that they must both be square, accepted practice is that both the bayis and the titura be perfectly square.

The width of the bayis must be the exact same measurement as its length, and there may be no nicks, indentations, or bulges that ruin its perfect squareness. The height of the tefillin does not need to be the same as the width and length (Rambam, Hilchos Tefillin 3:1). As a matter of fact, some batim machers deliberately make tefillin that are taller than they are wide. This is so that the tefillin will fit properly on the arm, without requiring that the parshios be made very small.

Similarly, the titura is shaped so that its length and width are equal.

In order to get the four compartments of the shel rosh to form a perfect square, many batim machers paste the sections of the bayis together to help them hold together. Although there is much halachic controversy about gluing the compartments together, many prominent poskim in earlier generations permitted it (such as Yeshuas Yaakov 32:24; Shu”t Chasam Sofer Orach Chaim #5, however cf. Vol. 6 #68; Shu”t Beis Yitzchok, Orach Chaim 7:6; Daas Torah 32:40).

Other poskim permit gluing the compartments only if the paste is applied to less than half the height of the wall of the compartment and is not applied along the outside edges. However, since there are poskim who disapprove of using any paste, it is certainly a hiddur not to use any at all (Chayei Adam 14:4). These batim are referred to as “perudos ad hatefer legamri,” which literally means, separated completely down to the stitch, referring to the stitching on the top of the titura (which will be explained later).

Germane to this discussion is a well-known ruling from Rav Chaim Volozhiner. When asked whether pasting the compartments of the shel rosh together is permitted, he responded that he would not permit it, because the two gedolei hador of the previous generation, the Vilna Gaon and the Shaagas Aryeh, both contended that pasting the compartments invalidates the tefillin.

In earlier generations, when tefillin batim were made from much softer calf leather or even flimsier parchment, it was very difficult to make tefillin that would remain square unless the compartments were pasted together. However, today’s gasos batim are kept square through the stiffness of the hide and the pressure of the hydraulic press. Since the gasos batim are not dependent on paste to hold their shape, many contemporary poskim contend that one should refrain from placing any paste in the batim.

Why not glue?

What is wrong with gluing the compartments together?

The problem is that the shel rosh is required to have four separate compartments, one for each parsha. The poskim who prohibit pasting the compartments contend that glue makes them into one connected compartment, thus invalidating the tefillin. Those who are lenient contend that pasting the compartments together does not halachically make them into one compartment.

The compromise position contends that the compartments are considered separate, if they are pasted less than half way up and the outside edge is clearly not connected. This makes the batim noticeably separate, which they contend is all that is required. Ask one’s rav whether one should request batim in which no paste was used, at all.

The titura

The titura consists of two parts, the widening at the bottom of the ketzitzah (upper titura) and the flap that closes and seals the parshios inside (lower titura). In gasos tefillin, the titura is formed out of the same piece of leather as the ketzitzah. The lower titura is bent 180 degrees until it is directly beneath the upper titura. The gap between the two is filled with pieces of leather, and then the hide is shaved until it is perfectly square.

At one point in time, ordinary scrap leather was often used as filler, but this is rarely done today. Although batim using ordinary scrap leather as filler are kosher, it is preferable that the filler be hide that was tanned lishmah (Shu”t Minchas Yitzchak 6:1). This is standard contemporary practice.

Some poskim contend that it is acceptable to fill small nicks in the side of the titura with glue. Others feel that it is not kosher, lechatchilah, to do this, but that nicks should be patched with hide or parchment tanned lishmah (Shu”t Minchas Yitzchak 6:1; Shu”t Shevet Halevi 3:2; 9:4).

When the titura is completed and perfectly square, twelve holes are punched through it so that it can later be stitched closed. The stitching must also be square. Therefore, it is vital that these holes form a perfect square and that they are not too large (which may cause the stitching not to be square).

At this point, the batim are almost ready, except that they need painting and the parshios have not yet been inserted. But we have not yet discussed the writing of the parshios. We also need to talk about the processing of the retzuos, the finishing and sewing of the titura, and various other hiddurim of tefillin. See part II of this article for more on this topic.

How Far for Bread?

Photo by barbara bar from FreeImages

Question #1: For a Crust of Bread

“How far must I travel to get pas Yisroel?”

Question #2: Camp Bread

“When camping in the Shenandoah Mountains, we happened upon another group of campers who clearly were not Jewish. They invited us to join them for their meal, which we obviously could not. However, I saw that they made their bread on site by mixing only flour, water, yeast and salt, and baking it on a grill. If we had koshered the grill before they baked, could we have eaten their bread?”

Question #3: A Caring Host

“I usually purchase bread only from Jewish bakeries. We have an out-of-town guest visiting who brought a kosher specialty bread as a gift, which I am sure is not pas Yisroel. I don’t want to offend him, but may I eat it?”

Based on a posuk in this week’s parsha, the Gemara suggests that the prohibition against non-Jewish cooked food is min haTorah. Although this is not the halachic conclusion, it is certainly an appropriate time to discuss the laws of kosher bread.

Basic background

In other articles, I have discussed the laws of pas akum and pas Yisroel. Bread baked with Jewish participation, as described in those articles, is called pas Yisroel, and may be eaten without any reservation. Pas akum means bread baked by a non-Jew, without Jewish participation. Pas akum is subdivided into two categories, pas baalei batim, bread baked by a gentile for personal use, which is usually prohibited, and pas paltur, bread baked for sale. We should note that pas baalei batim is prohibited, even when there are no other kashrus concerns either about the ingredients or about the equipment used to prepare the bread (Avodah Zarah 36a). Furthermore, one may not sell this bread to a non-Jew, out of concern that he will in turn sell it to a Jew, who is forbidden to eat it (Toras Chatas 75:4, quoting Shaarei Dura).

However, there is an instance when one is permitted to consume pas baalei batim. If one is in a place where there is no bakery, and the only bread available is homemade bread, one may eat even pas baalei batim, provided one can assume that all the ingredients are kosher (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 112:8). Thus, we can now answer one of our opening questions:

“When camping in the Shenandoah Mountains, we happened upon another group of campers who clearly were not Jewish. They invited us to join them for their meal, which we obviously could not. However, I saw that they made their bread on site by mixing only flour, water, yeast and salt, and baking it on a grill. If we had koshered the grill before they baked, could we have eaten their bread?”

Since this bread was baked by a gentile for personal use and not for sale, it has the status of pas baalei batim, and would usually be prohibited, even if we are absolutely certain that all the ingredients and the equipment are kosher. However, if indeed no other bread is available, it is permitted to eat this bread.

By the way, if a Jew was there while they were baking the bread, he could easily make this bread into pas Yisroel by adding a charcoal or a piece of wood to the fire. In the case of a gas grill, a Jew could simply turn the gas flow down and immediately up again to make it pas Yisroel.

Must one use only pas Yisroel?

In the previous articles on the topic of pas Yisroel, we learned that, according to the Shulchan Aruch and the Shach, one may not use pas paltur unless comparable pas Yisroel is not available. However, the Rema ruled that standard Ashkenazic practice is to permit use of pas paltur, except for Shabbos and during the aseres yemei teshuvah. Both opinions agree that using pas Yisroel when pas paltur is permitted qualifies as a hiddur, observing halachah in a more exemplary fashion.

As I noted, most supervised, kosher commercially baked bread is pas paltur and not pas Yisroel, particularly those produced in factories. One of those articles also noted that it is very easy to make bread and rolls produced in factories into pas Yisroel, and that the hechsherim would make the appropriate arrangements if consumers would demand it.

How available?

As we just learned, all opinions agree that one may use pas paltur when pas Yisroel is not available. At this point, we need to define: What do we mean when we say that pas Yisroel bread is “not available”? If there is no Jewish bakery in my neighborhood, but there is one relatively nearby, is this called that pas Yisroel is “not available”? What if the nearest pas Yisroel is a twenty-minute walk, and the nearest pas paltur can be purchased at the supermarket next door; does the Shulchan Aruch require me to walk twenty minutes to acquire pas Yisroel, or may I use the more accessible pas paltur? Is the halachah affected by whether I have access to an automobile, and now a bakery that is a forty-five-minute walk can be reached in ten minutes by car?

How far?

Neither the Gemara nor the early rishonim discuss the question: What do we mean when we say that pas Yisroel bread is “not available”? However, the Gemara (Pesachim 46a) discusses a related issue. This passage examines three situations in which one is usually obligated to observe a halachah, but, under extenuating circumstances, Chazal relaxed the requirement. In the first case, a baker, who at the time of the Gemara was required to produce bread that is tahor, ritually pure, has only tamei equipment available. Using this equipment to produce his bread will render it tamei, which is not ideal in a situation when people are trying to be always tahor.

The baker knows that, in the direction in which he is traveling, a mikveh is available for him to purify his equipment, but it is four millin away (roughly between two and three miles, see below). Is he permitted to produce bread in the interim, knowing that what he produces will be tamei?

The halachah requires him to travel ahead to the mikveh and immerse his equipment, rather than manufacture tamei bread. If, however, the nearest mikveh is more than four millin down the road, he may stop now and prepare his bread.

A second case of the Gemara: Someone is traveling and would like to stop for the night. He knows that four millin ahead of him on the road there is a minyan. Is he required to push onward the four millin, so that he will be able to daven with a minyan, or may he stop, knowing that he will be forced to daven without a minyan? The Gemara concludes that he is required to travel up to four millin in order to daven with a minyan. If, however, the nearest minyan is more than four millin down the road, he may stop for the night where he is, even though that means that he will be davening without a minyan.

A third case: Someone is traveling and has no water with which to wash netilas yadayim for eating bread. He knows that he will find water within four millin of his travels. May he eat now, without washing, by wrapping his hands in cloth or by wearing gloves, or is he required to wait until he reaches the water so that he can wash netilas yadayim before he eats his bread (see Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 163:1)? The Gemara concludes that he is required to travel ahead up to four millin in order to wash before eating. However, if the nearest appropriate and available water is more than four millin down the road, he may wrap his hands in cloth and eat his bread without first washing netilas yadayim.

How far is four millin?

A mil is 2000 amos, or cubits, which means that four millin is more than two miles, and probably less than three. This range of distance is because there are different opinions as to the length of an amoh.

How long does it take to walk a mil?

There is a dispute among halachic authorities how long it takes for an “average” individual to walk a mil. Some contend that walking a mil takes the average person about 18 minutes, which means that it takes 72 minutes to walk four millin. A second opinion contends that it takes 22.5 minutes to walk a mil and 90 minutes to walk four. A third opinion maintains that it takes 24 minutes to walk a mil and 96 minutes to walk four. The different opinions in this dispute represent three differing approaches to explain a complicated passage of Gemara (Pesachim 95).

Many halachos are dependent on this dispute, including such questions as:

When does a fast begin?

How long must meat be salted to kosher it?

When does Shabbos end?

In how much time does dough become chometz?

Most, but by no means all, later authorities, conclude that the average person can walk one mil in 18 minutes and four millin in 72 (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 459:2 and Yoreh Deah 69:6).

Today

Of the three cases mentioned in the Gemara Pesachim, two are still relevant in our generation. Unfortunately, until we again have a parah adumah, we are all tamei, and therefore, the first of the three cases, the baker whose equipment is tamei, is not germane to us at the moment. But the questions about someone traveling and seeking a minyan, or water to wash for bread, are both very relevant and, indeed, are discussed by the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 90:16 and163:1).

Out of my way

Thus far, we have quoted the part of the Gemara that discusses someone who knows that there is a mikveh, minyan or water ahead of him in the same direction in which he is traveling. What is the law when the nearest mikveh, minyan or water is not located in the direction in which I am traveling? Am I required to travel out of my way to fulfill these mitzvos, and, if I am, how far out of my way must I go?

The Gemara’s conclusion is that he is required to travel up to one mil out of his way to reach a mikveh, minyan, or washing water, whichever is relevant to the question. Thus, someone who would like to eat bread, and who is in a place where he has no water with which to wash, is required to travel up to one mil out of his direction to wash his hands. However, if the nearest water is a mil or more distant and in a direction that is out of his way, he is permitted to wrap his hands and eat bread without washing netilas yadayim (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 163:1). The same rules apply to someone needing a minyan with which to daven.

At home

What is the law if someone is at home, must he go to daven with a minyan. The Pri Chodosh (Orach Chayim 163:28) concludes that he has the same law as someone who would have to travel out of his way to find a mikveh, minyan or water. In other words, he is required to leave his house, if the minyan is located within a mil of where he is.

Pas Yisroel at a distance

The same question can be asked by someone at home wanting to know how far he is required to travel to obtain pas Yisroel?

Although the Gemara does not discuss how far one must travel to obtain pas Yisroel, there are rishonim who compare the halachah regarding pas Yisroel to the other three situations mentioned in the Gemara. They reason that this Gemara provides a framework for understanding what is considered a distance at which one is required to inconvenience oneself to fulfill similar mitzvos. The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 112:16)follows this interpretation, ruling that if someone is traveling and there is pas Yisroel available further down the road, he is required to travel for as long as four millin in order to eat pas Yisroel, rather than pas paltur. If he would need to travel out of his way, he is required to travel up to a distance of one mil to obtain pas Yisroel, but no farther.

As we noted before, the Shulchan Aruch rules that it is permitted to eat pas paltur only when pas Yisroel is not available. The Rema is more lenient, concluding that it is permitted to eat pas paltur even when pas Yisroel is readily available. Thus, according to common Ashkenazic practice, there is no requirement to travel at all to obtain pas Yisroel. However, during the aseres yemei teshuvah and for Shabbos, when most authorities require that we eat only pas Yisroel, the rules above are appropriate. If pas Yisroel is available only by traveling a mil out of one’s way, one is not required to get it.

How far or how long?

At this point, we need to discuss a very practical issue. When Chazal required that I go one mil out of my way to get pas Yisroel, was this requirement based on time or distance? What if someone is traveling in a way swifter than by foot, be it horse, automobile, or camel? Is his requirement for these mitzvos determined by the distance he must travel to fulfill the mitzvah in its optimal way, or is it determined by the time it will take him to get there? In other words, did they establish that within a one mil radius of a Jewish bakery one may not use pas paltur, or did they rule that one is required to travel eighteen minutes to obtain pas Yisroel? The difference in practical halachah is major.

This question is disputed by later authorities. Some contend that if pas Yisroel is more than one mil distant from where I am, I may use pas paltur, even though I could get there faster by riding a horse (Pischei Teshuvah, Yoreh Deah 112:6, quoting the Beis Yaakov). Since, in my entire life, I have never traveled on horseback to acquire bread, this opinion would impact on me, regarding if I am required to drive an automobile this far when pas paltur is more readily available.

On the other hand, the Mishnah Berurah (Chapter 163, Biur Halachah s.v. berichuk), writing germane to netilas yadayim, comments that it is more likely that the concern is the amount of time the travel would take and the physical distance should not make a difference.

Being a good host

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

“I usually purchase bread only from Jewish bakeries. We have an out-of-town guest visiting who brought us a gift of a kosher specialty bread, which I am sure is not pas Yisroel. I don’t want to offend him, but may I eat it?”

This question has an early source. Several early authorities discuss the following case: Someone who is careful to use only pas Yisroel invited a guest who brought with him quality pas paltur that he would like to share with his host. The question here is that the guest would prefer to eat the bread that he brought, yet the host would not usually eat this bread, because it is not pas Yisroel. The halachic etiquette is for the host to be the one who recites the brocha of hamotzi for everyone at the beginning of the meal, and then he slices and serves the bread that will accompany the meal. This accomplishes that, when the host distributes an ample amount of bread, the guests feel comfortable eating their fill. Thus, to be a proper host, the host should recite hamotzi and serve the guest the pas paltur bread that he brought.

Now, we add another halachah to the question: When one intends to serve two types of bread at a meal, one should recite the hamotzi blessing over the better quality bread and eat from it immediately after reciting hamotzi.

The combination of all these halachos creates a conundrum for the host. If he follows his own usual practice, he would make hamotzi on the pas Yisroel, which is of lesser quality than the pas paltur that his guest provided. On the other hand, his guest is under no requirement to refrain from eating the better-quality pas paltur. Thus, the etiquette of being a good host should have the host reciting hamotzi over the pas paltur, something he would not usually eat.

The halachah is that, indeed, the host should recite the hamotzi over the guest’s pas paltur, and he is permitted to eat the pas paltur for that entire meal in order to properly accommodate his guest (Mordechai, Avodah Zarah #830; Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 112:13). This is notwithstanding his usual practice not to eat pas paltur. Since the halachah rules this way, in this situation, the host does not need to perform hataras nedarim before he partakes of the pas paltur.

Conclusion

The Gemara teaches that rabbinic laws are dearer to Hashem than the Torah laws. We see that there is a vast halachic literature devoted to the laws of pas akum, which was created by Chazal to protect the Jewish people.

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