Should I Daven for Rain When We Need It?

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

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

 

Should I Daven for Rain When We Need It?

Question:

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

Introduction

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

Local needs

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

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

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

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

Why not add?

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

The rishonim present two answers to this question:

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

The Rambam

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

Germany and Spain

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rambam points

In reverse order, the Rambam made two halachic points:

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

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

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

Contradiction in Rambam

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

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

Kesef Mishneh and Toras Chayim

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

Disagree with Rosh

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

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

Out of season

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

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

The Bach

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

 

 

Over the Rainbow

Question #1: Showing a Rainbow

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

Are you supposed to look for a rainbow?

Question #2: Niagara Falls

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

Question #3: How much?

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

Introduction

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

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

Unusual brocha

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

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

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

Rainbow way up high

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

The dreams you dare to dream

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

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

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

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

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

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

Really do come true

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

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

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

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

Skies are blue

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

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

Text of brocha

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

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

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

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

Different text

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

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

Somewhere over the rainbow

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

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

Dreams really do come true

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

A land that I heard of once

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

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

Way up high

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

 

Who Drinks the Kiddush Wine in Shul?

In honor of Parshas Bereishis and the first Shabbos

Drinking in shul

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

Background

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

The source

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

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

(2) The prohibition against eating blood.

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

We will soon see the significance of the three sources.

What age child?

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

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

Friday night Kiddush in shul

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

A bit later in history

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

Why do we continue to recite Kiddush?

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

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

The Tur objects

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

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

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

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

Kiddush catch-22

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

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

Kiddush conundrum

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

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

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

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

Not yotzei, but may drink

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

A third approach

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

Halachic differences

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

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

Matzoh on Erev Pesach

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

Yet a fourth approach

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

Another difference in halacha

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

A minor kohen

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

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

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

An adult kohen

Another related question I was once asked:

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

Answer:

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

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

Conclusion

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

*Name has been changed to protect privacy.

 

May I Smell My Esrog and Hadasim on Sukkos?

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

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

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

MUKTZAH

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FRAGRANCES THAT ARE NOT FOR THE PLEASURE OF SMELL

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

EXAMPLE:

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

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

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

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

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

ESROG ON SHABBOS

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

Let us compare this shaylah to the following case:

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

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

PUTTING INTO YOUR HAND

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

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

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

SPICES IN THE KITCHEN

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

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

WHAT ABOUT MY ESROG ON SHABBOS?

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

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

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

WHICH BRACHA DO I RECITE ON AN ESROG?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

 

The Seder Avodah of Yom Kippur

Rav Goldberg was discussing the tefilos of Yom Kippur with the shul’s chazan, Reb Hershel.

“Probably the least understood part of the Yom Kippur davening is the Seder Avodah recited in the repetition of Musaf,” the rav began. “Although it is one of the most important parts of the Yom Kippur davening, I have seen many shuls race through it at a pace too fast for comprehension.”

“Let me quote you the Me’am Loez,” continued Rav Goldberg, pulling a sefer off the shelf. “He writes, ‘Many people doze off during the recital of the Avodah. They don’t realize that the most important part of Yom Kippur is during the repetition of the Sh’moneh Esrei, when the Seder Avodah is recited.’”

“I didn’t realize it was that important,” admitted Reb Hershel, “but it is very hard to understand.”

“Dozens of piyutim (liturgical pieces) have been written describing the Seder Avodah,” explained Rav Goldberg. “Most shuls that daven Nusach Ashkenaz recite the piyut that begins with the words Amitz Koach, which is indeed a very difficult, poetically-written piyut. The piyut used in Nusach S’fard, Atah Konanta, is much easier to comprehend.”

“So why do we recite Amitz Koach?”

“That is an excellent question that I cannot answer fully. Already in the time of the Gemara, we see that the Seder Avodah was recited, presumably from some type of piyut, although the text they used is long lost. The Geonim and Rishonim refer to many different piyutim that they had in their times. Amitz Koach was authored by Rabbeinu Meshulam ben Klonymos, who is quoted by Rashi with the greatest respect (see Rashi, Bava Metzia 69b s.v. Mafrin; Zevachim 45b s.v. h”g). In the course of time, Minhag Ashkenaz accepted the use of Amitz Koach, presumably out of respect for the author.”

“Why is it so important to recite the Seder Avodah? Is it a Takanas Chachomim?”

“There is no specific takanah requiring the recital of the Seder Avodah. However, reciting it fulfills the concept of ‘U’neshalma parim sefaseinu,’ ‘And let our lips replace the (sacrificial) bulls’ (Hoshea 14:3). The Midrash teaches that when we are unable to offer korbanos, our recital of the Avodah is accepted by Hashem as a replacement for the korbanos (Midrash Rabbah, Shir HaShirim 4:3). This implies that we accomplish kaparah (atonement) by reciting the Seder Avodah with kavanah. Therefore, a person who recites the viduy of the Seder Avodah and truly regrets his sins can accomplish atonement; this would be similar to the viduy recited by the Cohen Gadol.”

THE ATONEMENT OF YOM KIPPUR

Reb Hershel was curious. “What did the viduy of the Cohen Gadol accomplish?”

“Different korbanos offered by the Cohen Gadol atoned for different sins (see Gemara Yoma 61a). However, the greatest atonement was accomplished by the goat sent to Azazel, which atoned for all the sins of the Jewish people (Rambam, Hilchos Teshuvah 1:2; Mishnah Shevuos 2b).”

“Do you mean that a person could achieve atonement, even if he did not do Teshuvah?”

“Although there is such an opinion in the Gemara, the halacha is that Yom Kippur’s kaparah is effective only for those who do Teshuvah (Shevuos 13a). A person who does complete Teshuvah — which means that he regrets his sins, makes a decision that he will never commit this sin again, and recites viduy — is forgiven for his sins.”

“Does this mean that he will never be punished for them?”

“Not always. For very serious sins, including Chilul Hashem (desecrating Hashem’s name), he may still be punished in this world. But someone who completely repented his sins in this world is guaranteed that he will suffer no punishment in the next world (Rambam, Hilchos Teshuvah 1:3-4).”

“At the time of the Beis HaMikdash, did people know when their sins were forgiven?”

“When the Cohen Gadol was a tzadik, part of the Yom Kippur Avodah included a procedure that showed Klal Yisrael whether or not they were forgiven. Let me provide some background. The Beis HaMikdash treasurers purchased two goats at the same time that were identical in height, appearance and value (Mishnah Yoma 62a). One of these goats was a Yom Kippur korban, offered in the Beis HaMikdash, and the other was the Azazel goat.”

CHOOSING THE GOAT FOR AZAZEL

“The Cohen Gadol drew lots to determine which goat would be the korban for Hashem and which would be the Azazel. This was an elaborate procedure. The Cohen Gadol stood in the courtyard of the Beis HaMikdash, near the courtyard’s entrance, facing the two goats, one opposite his right hand, and the other opposite his left. The S’gan, the Associate Cohen Gadol, stood on the Cohen Gadol’s right, and the Rosh Beis Av, the head of the family unit of Cohanim on duty that week, stood on the Cohen Gadol’s left.

“The Cohen Gadol thrust his hands into a small wooden box containing two gold lots, one marked ‘for Hashem’ and the other ‘for Azazel,’ and removed the lots, one in each hand. He then raised his hands, exposing the lots to the S’gan and Rosh Beis Av. If the lot saying ‘for Hashem’ was in his right hand, the S’gan announced, ‘Master Cohen Gadol, raise your right hand.’ If it was in his left hand, the Rosh Beis Av announced, ‘Master Cohen Gadol, raise your left hand.’

“The Cohen Gadol then placed each lot on the head of the goat nearest that hand, and decreed, ‘For Hashem, a Chatos offering.’ The Cohen Gadol used the Ineffable Name of Hashem in this declaration, and everyone assembled responded by shouting ‘Baruch Shem K’vod Malchuso L’Olam Vo’ed’ (Mishnah Yoma 37a and 39a).”

THE RED THREAD

“The Cohen Gadol then tied a red thread to the horn of the Azazel goat, and another red thread around the neck of the Chatos goat (Mishnah Yoma 41b). Much later in the

procedure, the Cohen Gadol rested his hands and full weight on the head of the Azazel goat, and recited aloud a viduy on behalf of the entire Jewish people. He concluded his viduy by stating, ‘Because on this day He will atone and purify you from all your sins. Before Hashem shall you become pure (Vayikra 16:30),’ once again using the Ineffable Name of Hashem. When the assembled people heard the Name uttered in purity and holiness by the Cohen Gadol, they all bowed and prostrated themselves, until their faces were pressed to the ground. They then recited again, ‘Baruch Shem K’vod Malchuso L’Olam Vo’ed’ (Mishnah Yoma 66a).

“At one point in the procedure, the red thread tied to the Azazel goat was removed, torn in half, and one part tied again onto the Azazel goat’s horns. At the exact moment that the Jews were forgiven, both halves of the thread turned white” (Yoma 67a).

“You mentioned that the red thread was torn in half,” Hershel asked. “What happened to the other half?”

“This depends on the period of Jewish history. When the Cohen Gadol was a great tzadik, the Jews were forgiven on Yom Kippur, and the red thread turned white. During those years, the thread was left displayed in a prominent place in the Beis HaMikdash for everyone to see the miracle. However, in the later years of the Second Beis HaMikdash, when the Cohanim Gedolim were often not suitable for the position, the thread did not turn white. To save themselves embarrassment, the thread was placed where it would not be seen (Yoma 67a).

“How frequently did the thread turn white?”

“Apparently, during the period of the Bayis Rishon and the early period of the Bayis Sheni, the thread always turned white. In this period, the position of Cohen Gadol was awarded on the basis of merit. However, after the Cohanim Gedolim in the Bayis Sheni began purchasing the position, often, the thread did not turn white.”

THE COHANIM GEDOLIM OF THE SECOND BEIS HAMIKDASH

“You mentioned that there was a vast difference between the Cohanim Gedolim of the First Beis HaMikdash and those of the Second. Could you explain this more fully?”

“Yes, gladly. The Cohanim Gedolim of the First Beis HaMikdash were all great tzadikim who were worthy of their exalted position. Most of them had a long tenure as Cohen Gadol. In contrast, most of the Cohanim Gedolim of the Second Beis HaMikdash bribed the government for the position. Because they lacked the kedusha the position required, they died within a year of securing the appointment (Yoma 8b; 9a).”

“And yet they were eager to bribe the government for the job?”

“People do very strange things for kavod. As Chazal teach us, it is one of the three things that remove a person from this world.”

MUST BE DONE BY THE COHEN GADOL

Reb Hershel had many other questions. “What part of the Avodah of Yom Kippur was the Cohen Gadol obligated to perform himself?”

“Certain procedures took place in the Beis HaMikdash every day, such as clearing the two mizbeichos (altars); bringing the daily offerings (Korban Tamid); burning k’tores (incense) twice a day; and cleaning, setting up and lighting the Menorah. In addition, on Shabbos and Yom Tov, there were special korbanos called Korban Musaf, the origins of our Musaf prayers. The Torah mentions these korbanos in Parshas Pinchas. All these could be performed by any cohen.

“On Yom Kippur, in addition to the daily and Musaf korbanos, there was a special procedure unique to Yom Kippur, which is called the Seder Avodah, or the Seder Avodas Yom Kippur. This Avodah, involving the offering of several special korbanos and a unique offering of incense, is described in Parshas Acharei, the Keri’as HaTorah for Yom Kippur morning, and in great length in Mesechta Yoma. For this Avodah, the Cohen Gadol wore special white garments that were worn no other time. Although it was preferred that the Cohen Gadol perform everything in the Beis HaMikdash on Yom Kippur himself, the only part absolutely mandatory for him to perform was the special Yom Kippur Avodah.”

WERE LOTS USED ON YOM KIPPUR?

“I am confused,” admitted Hershel. “The Piyutim of Seder Avodah mention a lottery to determine which cohanim will bring korbanos on Yom Kippur. But why such a procedure, if the Cohen Gadol was doing everything anyway?”

“A lottery system was used each day to determine which cohanim would perform the different tasks in the Beis HaMikdash. Most poskim contend that the Cohen Gadol performed ALL the service in the Beis HaMikdash by himself on Yom Kippur (even though he was only required to perform the special Yom Kippur Avodah). In their opinion, there was no lottery on Yom Kippur to determine who performed any tasks. Other poskim contend that although the Cohen Gadol was to perform all the tasks in the Beis HaMikdash himself, if he was unable to perform the entire Avodah himself, other cohanim could do some parts of it, in his place. When this happened, the lottery system would determine which cohen was appointed to perform the avodah.”

CHANGING CLOTHES

“It is interesting to note,” continued the Rav, “that to perform every part of the special Seder Avodah of Yom Kippur, the Cohen Gadol was required to wear his special Yom Kippur vestments (described in Parshas Acharei). However, for every part of the service that was not part of the Yom Kippur Avodah, he wore the eight vestments described in Parshas Te’tzaveh. Thus, the Cohen Gadol changed his clothes five times during Yom Kippur. According to a special commandment received by Moshe Rabbeinu (Halacha l’Moshe mi’Sinai), he immersed himself in a mikveh each time he changed his clothes and also performed a special procedure involving washing his hands and feet twice each time.”

“I understand that when the Cohen Gadol entered the Kodesh HaKodoshim (The Holy of Holies), no one was allowed to be inside the entire Beis HaMikdash building, even the Kodesh (Vayikra 16:17),” interjected Hershel.

“Not only were no humans allowed in, even angels could not enter (Yerushalmi Yoma 1:5, cited by Tosafos Yeshanim, Yoma 19b).”

THE COHEN GADOL SWEARING

“I remember learning that the Cohen Gadol had to swear an oath before Yom Kippur,” queried Hershel. “Why was that?”

“The first time the Cohen Gadol entered the Kodesh HaKodoshim, he did so with a ladle of specially refined k’tores (incense) and a censer, a type of coal pan for burning incense. According to Halacha L’Moshe M’Sinai, he had to enter the Kodesh HaKodoshim first and then burn the k’tores inside. However, the Tzedukim, who did not accept Torah she’be’al peh, believed that he should kindle the k’tores first and then enter the Kodesh HaKodoshim. In the period of the Second Beis HaMikdash, when the position of Cohen Gadol was often purchased, there was concern that the Cohen Gadol might be a clandestine Tzeduki. Since no one could enter the Beis HaMikdash building while the k’tores was offered, there was no way of knowing what the Cohen Gadol actually did while inside. Therefore, he was required to swear before Yom Kippur that he would perform the service as instructed by the Gedolei Yisrael.”

“Were there any recorded instances of a Cohen Gadol who was a Tzeduki?”

“The Gemara records two such instances. In one case, the Cohen Gadol proudly told his father, who was also a Tzeduki, that he had offered the k’tores according to their practices. The Gemara records that this Cohen Gadol soon died a very ignominious death.”

“What happened in the other instance?”

“The Gemara records that the cohanim heard a loud sound in the Beis HaMikdash. They raced in to find the Cohen Gadol dead, with obvious signs that he had been killed by an angel (Yoma 19b).”

“But I thought even angels could not enter the Beis HaMikdash while the Cohen Gadol offered the k’tores?”

“This is an excellent question, and it is asked by the Gemara Yerushalmi. The Gemara answers that since the Cohen Gadol had performed the service incorrectly, the angels were permitted to enter.”

MULTIPLE ENTRIES INTO THE KODESH HAKODOSHIM

“How many times did the Cohen Gadol enter the Kodesh HaKodoshim on Yom Kippur?” asked Hershel.

“Most people don’t realize that the Cohen Gadol entered the Kodesh HaKodoshim four times on Yom Kippur. The first time was with the special Yom Kippur k’tores, the second time to begin the kaparah of his special Yom Kippur bull offering, and the third time to attend to the kaparah of the goat offering. During each of these last two visits he sprinkled eight times. These sprinklings have a significant place in the piyutim. These are the places when the chazan, followed by the congregation, shouts out, ‘Achas, achas v’achas, achas u’shtayim,’ until ‘achas va’sheva’ to commemorate this part of the Avodah.”

“You said that the Cohen Gadol entered the Kodesh HaKodoshim four times, but we mentioned only three.”

“Much later in the day, the Cohen Gadol changed into a different set of special Yom Kippur white garments and entered the Kodesh HaKodoshim to pick up the censer and the ladle that he had brought in earlier. This was a required part of the Yom Kippur service.”

“I reviewed the description of the Avodah mentioned in Parshas Acharei,” continued Hershel. “I notice that the Torah does not mention Yom Kippur until the twenty-ninth pasuk of the discussion. Why is this?”

“Although Aaron and the later Cohanim Gedolim never entered the Kodesh HaKodoshim, except on Yom Kippur, the Midrash says that Aaron was permitted to enter it at other times, provided he followed the procedure described in Parshas Acharei. On Yom Kippur, he was obligated to offer these korbanos and enter the Kodesh HaKodoshim. Thus, the beginning of the reading explains how Aaron could enter the Kodesh HaKodoshim, whereas the end teaches that this procedure must be performed on Yom Kippur.” (Note that Rashi, in his commentary on these verses in Chumash, seems to have a different approach to this question.)

“Is it true that a rope was tied around the Cohen Gadol’s waist before he entered, so that they could pull him out if he died?”

“In actuality, the source, which is a quotation in the Zohar, mentions that a rope was tied around his foot,” responded Rav Goldberg.

“Thanks a lot for all your time,” Reb Hershel concluded.  “I now understand the importance of reciting the Seder Avodah carefully, and why some people study the mishnayos of Meseches Yoma before Yom Kippur.”

“You are absolutely correct. Indeed, the Mateh Efrayim maintains that one’s main learning during the entire month of Elul should be devoted to understanding the Seder Avodah properly. So, don’t forget to study the mishnayos and gemaros we’ve just been discussing.”

 

Pas Yisroel and the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah

Question #1: Aseres Yemei Teshuvah

“Must I use pas Yisroel during the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah?”

Question #2: Friendly Baker

“A group of neighbors, both Jewish and non-Jewish, are getting together to make a surprise birthday party for one of the non-Jewish people on the block who has been incredibly helpful to us all. Since there are some frum people on the block, the party will be strictly kosher. One of the non-Jewish neighbors is a baker by trade and will be baking everything in one of the kosher houses. Is there any problem with his doing this, when the frum people are supplying all the ingredients?”

Question #3: Why Now?

Why are we discussing this topic before Rosh Hashanah?

Background

Pas Yisroel means bread baked by a Jew or with Jewish participation. The Mishnah teaches: The following items of a non-Jew are forbidden to be eaten, but are permitted for benefit: milk milked by a non-Jew without a Jew supervising; their bread and their oil, although Rebbe and his beis din permitted the oil; and cooked items (Avodah Zarah 35b). Thus, we see that Chazal prohibited consumption of bread made by gentiles. This bread, commonly called pas akum, means bread made by a non-Jew, without Jewish involvement. Yet, we will soon see that there are many unusual and confusing rules governing when this bread is prohibited and when not. Aside from our need to know how to apply these laws, understanding the reasons will allow us to appreciate several other areas of both halachah and hashkafah, including how a takanas Chazal is made. Furthermore, we need to know how to apply these laws during the aseres yemei teshuvah, when they have special significance. So, let us roll up our sleeves to get deep into this doughy topic!

Takanas Chachamim

When Chazal implement a takanah prohibiting an item or activity, it is binding on all Jews and remains so, permanently. This means that, as a general rule, a takanah cannot later be annulled. However, there are some limited instances in which something prohibited because of a takanah can later be permitted.

There are two ways that a takanas chachamim may be rescinded, both of which require the decision of a major beis din of klal Yisroel with the power of the Sanhedrin. One instance is when the rescinding beis din consists of greater Torah scholars who have a larger following of disciples than did the original beis din that created the takanah. However, even this method of rescinding an earlier takanah does not apply to a list of takanos created by the disciples of Hillel and Shammai. To quote the Gemara, no later beis din could rescind these takanos, which are called The Eighteen Matters. (The details of this topic we will leave for a different time.)

The second situation in which a takanas chachamim may be rescinded is when the original takanah had not been accepted – meaning that it was not kept properly by the Jewish people. In the latter situation, since the takanah was not observed, the major beis din of klal Yisroel has the ability to withdraw the original takanah.

Basic background

With this initial background, we can now examine the history and the halachah of the takanah of pas akum. In the days of the disciples of Hillel and Shammai, when the Second Beis Hamikdash still stood, Chazal forbade eating pas akum – even when there are no kashrus concerns about the ingredients or the equipment used to prepare the bread (Avodah Zarah 36a). The reason for this enactment was to discourage social interaction that can lead to intermarriage.

We find a dispute among the rishonim whether the prohibition was limited to bread that gentiles baked or whether it included even dough prepared by a gentile that was then baked by a Jew. According to the Ran and the Tur, the prohibition of pas akum includes even when a non-Jew mixed or otherwise prepared dough that was then baked by a Jew. The logic is that the reason for the takanah could apply equally to bread in which the dough was prepared by a gentile, and furthermore, the Mishnah does not limit the prohibition to bread baked by a gentile, but states simply their bread.

Resolving this dispute directly impacts the second of our opening questions:

“A group of neighbors, both Jewish and non-Jewish, are getting together to make a surprise birthday party for one of the non-Jewish people on the block who has been incredibly helpful to us all. Since there are some frum people on the block, the party will be strictly kosher. One of the non-Jewish neighbors is a baker by trade and will be baking everything in one of the kosher houses. Is there any problem with his doing this when the frum people are supplying all the ingredients?”

According to the Ran and the Tur, this bread would be prohibited, because it was prepared by a gentile, regardless of who baked it. However, notwithstanding their opinion, most authorities rule that pas akum is limited to bread baked by a gentile. Thus, as long as this bread is baked by a Jew, it will be kosher, regardless as to who mixed the dough and the ingredients. However, if the gentile neighbor baked the bread in a Jewish house without any Jewish participation, it is prohibited according to most authorities, even when all the ingredients are kosher.

Sometimes permitted?

We have seen that the Mishnah lists the prohibition of pas akum, and does not imply that this ban has any exceptions. Yet, we find passages in both the Talmud Bavli and in the Talmud Yerushalmi implying that the prohibition was not observed universally. Apparently, this was because bread is such a staple and, Jews often found themselves living in a place where there were no Jewish commercial bakeries; baking all one’s bread at home was impractical.

In the Bavli (Avodah Zarah 35b), we find the following:

Rav Kahana, quoting Rav Yochanan, said: “The prohibition of pas akum was not rescinded by beis din.” This statement implies that someone held that it was, and that Rabbi Yochanan, one of the greatest amora’im, is rejecting that approach. The Gemara then explains that, indeed, some people had, in error, understood that the prohibition of pas akum no longer applies.

To explain what happened, the Gemara shares with us some history: One time, while Rebbe (Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi, the author of the Mishnah) was traveling, a non-Jewish person brought him a large, nice loaf of bread. Subsequently, Rebbe was heard to exclaim: “What a nice loaf of bread this is! What did Chazal see to prohibit it?”

Based on this comment, some people understood Rebbe’s comment to mean that the takanah of pas akum indeed no longer applied. Although more than a hundred years before Rebbe the disciples of Hillel and Shammai had prohibited it, they understood that Rebbe had rescinded the takanah, and, therefore, he mused why Chazal had once declared this bread to be prohibited. The Gemara concludes that the understanding of these people was erroneous. Rebbe’s comment was whimsical; he never intended to permit pas akum (Avodah Zarah 35b).

Yerushalmi versus Bavli

The just-quoted passage of Gemara Bavli implies that there is no heter to use pas akum. On the other hand, a passage in the Yerushalmi (Avodah Zarah 2:8) disputes this. There, it quotes an early statement to the effect that the laws concerning the prohibition of pas akum appear to be inconsistent. The Yerushalmi then suggests several possibilities to explain what inconsistency exists regarding the laws of pas akum. The Yerushalmi concludes that this is the inconsistency: In a place where pas Yisroel is available, one would assume that one is not permitted to use pas akum, yet one may.

It thus appears that we have discovered a dispute between the Talmud Bavli and the Talmud Yerushalmi, in which the Bavli ruled that pas akum is prohibited and the Yerushalmi ruled that it is permitted. If this is true, then we should rule according to the Bavli and prohibit all forms of pas akum.

Yet, the Rif, the major early halachic authority, cites both the passage of the Bavli and that of the Yerushalmi, implying that there is no disagreement between them.

Resolving the Rif

To explain how one early authority, the Rashba, resolves this difficulty, I will follow Jewish tradition by answering a question with a question. Although the Gemara (Avodah Zarah 35b) ultimately rejects this conclusion, it had entertained the possibility that Rebbe rescinded the takanah of pas akum. Upon what halachic basis could Rebbe have been able been able to rescind a takanah? Since this takanah was created by the disciples of Hillel and Shamai, it cannot be abrogated by a later beis din. The only other possibility is that the takanah of pas akum had not been properly observed. Therefore, a later beis din could rescind the takanah. Thus, the conclusion of the Bavli implies that, although Rebbe didn’t rescind the takanah of pas akum, he could have, since it was not properly established.

At this point, we can explain what the Rif meant. There is no contradiction between the Bavli and the Yerushalmi. The Bavli teaches two things:

  1. That the takanah of pas akum could have been rescinded.
  2. That Rebbe was not the one who did so, and that it was still valid in his time.

The Yerushalmi teaches that at some point after Rebbe, someone did, indeed, rescind the takanah to a certain degree (Rashba, quoted by Ran). The Ran himself explains that even the Bavli can be read in a way that it implies that the prohibition was rescinded.

To what extent?

Based on the Rif, we know that there was some rescinding of the takanah. Our next question is: To what extent was the prohibition rescinded?

Among the rishonim, we find various approaches defining to what extent the prohibition of pas akum was relaxed. Some contend that this depends on location – in some places the takanah was not initially accepted, and in these places Chazal relaxed the takanah to a greater extent than they did elsewhere.

However, even in places where the custom was to be lenient, not all pas akum was permitted. In all places, bread baked by a gentile for personal use and not for sale is prohibited. This bread is called pas baalei batim.

The dispute whether and to what extent one may be lenient concerns only bread baked for sale. This bread is called pas paltur, literally, bread baked for a merchant, and is sometimes permitted. To what extend it is permitted is the subject of a controversy that we will discuss shortly.

Invitation to the White House

The next case might be an application of this law: Someone receives an invitation to a meal at the White House that will be supervised, so that all the ingredients are kosher and the equipment is all brand new, special for the event. If the mashgiach did not participate in the baking of the breads, they might be prohibited because of pas baalei batim. (See a dispute about this matter in Birkei Yosef, Yoreh Deah 112:2, 3, 6). This is because the bread was not baked for sale, but for the “personal use” of the residents of the White House and their guests.

When is pas paltur permitted?

Returning to our discussion, what conditions need to be met for pas paltur to be permitted? There is a wide range of opinion among halachic authorities. According to the Shulchan Aruch, one may use pas paltur whenever no Jewish bakery is available, even in a city with a sizable Jewish community. If pas Yisroel becomes available, then the pas paltur should not be used until the pas Yisroel is no longer available, even if the pas paltur has already been baked (Yoreh Deah 112:4).

Less tasty

The authorities disagree whether one may eat pas paltur even when there is a Jewish bakery, but the pas Yisroel is less tasty than the bread of the gentile (Tur). The Shulchan Aruch rules leniently that if the pas paltur is of better quality or is of a variety that is not available from a Yisroel, one may use it (Yoreh Deah 112:5).

A more lenient approach

The Rema is more lenient than either the Rambam or the Shulchan Aruch, concluding that, where the custom is to permit pas paltur, one may consume it, even when pas Yisroel is available (Yoreh Deah 112:2). The Bach and the Gra follow the opinion of the Rema, whereas other opinions agree with the Shulchan Aruch and permit pas paltur only when pas Yisroel is not available and in a place where the custom is to be lenient (Shach). All of the above opinions agree that it is prohibited to use pas baalei batim, bread baked by a gentile for personal use (Yoreh Deah 112:7).

The prevalent approach among most hechsherim in North America is to follow the opinion of the Rema and permit pas paltur. As a rule of thumb, most Mehadrin hechsherim in Eretz Yisroel are strict and do not permit pas paltur.

When was it baked?

What is the defining factor determining whether bread is pas paltur or pas baalei batim? Is this determined by what was intended when the bread was baked, or what ultimately happens with the bread? For example, if a gentile baked bread to sell, but found no customer for it, and therefore kept it for himself, may a Jew eat this bread? Indeed, this is the subject of an early dispute, most halachic authorities contending that the defining factor is what was intended when the bread is baked. According to this approach, bread baked by a gentile for his own use who then decided to sell it is prohibited. On the other hand, if he baked the bread intending to sell it and then brought it home for his own use, it may be consumed (Toras Habayis 3:7). However, most authorities seem to conclude that when a gentile invited someone over to eat, it is forbidden to break bread with him, regardless as to whether it was originally baked for sale or not (Shach; Pri Toar).

Friendly baker

Here is an interesting ramification of our current discussion, slightly modified from one of our opening questions: “A group of neighbors, both Jewish and non-Jewish, are making a strictly kosher party. One of the non-Jewish neighbors owns and operates a bakery that has a hechsher, but it is not pas Yisroel. Can he bring bread that was baked at his bakery for the party?”

According to most opinions, this bread is forbidden, since it was not baked for sale.

Jewish participation

The entire issue of whether and under what circumstances a Jew can eat bread baked by a non-Jew is problematic only when the entire baking procedure is done without any participation of a Jew. However, if a Jew increases the heat of the oven in any way, even by merely symbolically adding a splinter to the fire, the bread baked is considered pas Yisroel. The Rema furthermore states that if a Jew increased the fire once, and the oven was not turned off for twenty-four consecutive hours, then all the bread is considered pas Yisroel.

In a large, modern, industrial bakery, it is usually very easy to arrange that everything baked there should be pas Yisroel. Since these bakeries operate seven days a week, whenever the mashgiach visits, he needs simply to adjust upward the thermostat or dial until he sees that he has added fuel to the fire, and then return the dial to its setting. This will make the bread pas Yisroel for the foreseeable future. I have done this personally numerous times and so have many others.

The reason why this is not usually done is very simple: The consumer is not clamoring for it to be done, and the hechsherim follow the approach that pas paltur is permitted. If consumers would demand that the bread under hechsher be pas Yisroel, it all would be.

Aseres Yemei Teshuvah

We can now answer Questions #1 and #3 which we posed earlier. Notwithstanding the conclusion that, at least under certain circumstances, pas akum is permitted, several rishonim record that one should be stringent during the Ten Days of Repentance to use only pas Yisroel, even in a place where the custom is to be lenient and use pas paltur (for example, Rosh, Rosh Hashanah 4:14, at very end; Tur, Orach Chayim 603). This approach is quoted by the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 603) and all the later authorities. Those who rule leniently in allowing the use of pas paltur during the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah rely on the opinions that in a large, commercial bakery, where the consumer does not know any of the workers, there is no halachic concern of pas akum. One should be aware that this heter is not mentioned by most authorities, and it is disputed by many who quote it (see Birkei Yosef, Yoreh Deah 112:9). Shu”t Minchas Yitzchok 3:26:6 rules that one may combine this heter with another heter that would be insufficient on its own.

In conclusion, according to predominant opinion, if a Jew participated in the heating of the oven, the bread is considered pas Yisroel. If no Jew participated in heating the oven, the pas paltur bread baked by a non-Jew may be used, according to the Shulchan Aruch, when there is no pas Yisroel of equal quality available. According to the Rema, in a place where the custom is to be lenient, one may use pas paltur, even if pas Yisroel is available, except during the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah.

Conclusion

The Gemara teaches that the rabbinic laws are dearer to Hashem than the Torah laws. In this context, we can explain the vast halachic literature devoted to understanding this particular prohibition, created by Chazal to protect the Jewish people from major sins.

 

 

Who Knows Thirteen?

Question: What is the basis for the Selichos we recite before Rosh Hashanah and during the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah?

Answer:

From the beginning of Selichos, continuing with the closing sentences of the haftarah we recite on Shabbos Shuvah, and then again after Maftir Yonah, and climaxing with the Selichos we recite in ne’ilah, we repeatedly enumerate or allude to the thirteen attributes of Hashem’s kindness. The words mi keil kamochaalso allude to the thirteen attributes of Hashem’s kindness.

Why is the recital of the thirteen midos of Hashem’s mercy so important? Allow me to quote the relevant Talmudic passage:

Rabbi Yochanan said: “Were it not for the fact that the Torah itself wrote this, it would be impossible to say this. The Torah teaches that Hashem wrapped Himself in a talis like a chazzan and demonstrated to Moshe the order of prayer. Hashem told Moshe: ‘Whenever the Jews sin, they should perform this order, and I will forgive them”‘ (Rosh Hashanah 17b).

Rabbi Yochanan noted that the anthropomorphism of his own statement is rather shocking, and, without scriptural proof, we would refrain from saying it. Nevertheless, the Torah compelled us to say that Hashem revealed to Moshe a means whereby we can be pardoned for our iniquities. According to the Maharal, Moshe asked Hashem to elucidate, to the extent that a human can comprehend, how Hashem deals with the world in mercy. Hashem did, indeed, enlighten Moshe, and this enabled him to implore that the Jewish people be forgiven and taught him how to lead the Jews in their prayers (Chiddushei Agados, Rosh Hashanah 17b s.v. Melameid).

Source for Selichos

This, then, is the basis for Selichos. Indeed, it is not a takanah, but a custom; yet, who would not avail himself of the opportunity to prepare early for this chance? To quote the Leket Yosher: Someone who goes to daven on the High Holidays and did not say Selichos in preparation can be compared to an individual who desires to approach the king with an urgent request, and manages to acquire the key to the king’s inner sanctum, but fails to arrange how he will enter the outer office. All his efforts are therefore completely in vain, because he failed to prepare himself adequately. This can be compared to someone moving to an unsettled area who installs a modern kitchen, expecting to be able to turn on the tap and produce water, when there are no connecting water pipes!

A Word about Attributes

What, exactly, are the thirteen attributes? For that matter, can we attribute personality characteristics to Hashem?

Humans are not capable of understanding who Hashem is. The Torah requires that we understand that Hashem does not have moods (Rambam, Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah 1:11). When we describe Hashem’s different attributes, we are explaining Hashem in a way that we, as human beings, will be able to comprehend Him, since we cannot comprehend Him in any other way (Rambam, Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah 1:9). Thus, providing thirteen different attributes of Hashem’s mercy is simply a human way for us to appreciate more specifically and to a greater extent what Hashem does and has done for us, and what is our responsibility to fulfill the mitzvah of being like Hashem, which I will explain shortly.

To quote Rabbeinu Bachyei: Although we no longer know how to beseech nor do we properly understand the power of the thirteen attributes, and how they connect to Hashem’s mercy, we still know that the attributes of mercy plead on our behalf, since this is what Hashem promised. Today, when we are without a kohein gadol to atone for our sins and without a mizbei’ach on which to offer korbanos and no Beis Hamikdash in which to pray, we have left only our prayers and these thirteen attributes (Kad Hakemach, Kippurim 2).

Who Knows Thirteen?

To quote the Haggadah, “I know thirteen! Thirteen are the attributes.”

What are the thirteen midos?

The Torah says: Hashem, Hashem, Who is a merciful and gracious G-d, slow to anger, and abundant in kindness and truth. He preserves kindness for thousands of generations by forgiving sins, whether they are intentional, rebellious or negligent; and He exonerates (Shemos 34:6-7).

There are many opinions among the commentaries and the halachic authorities exactly how to calculate the thirteen merciful attributes of Hashem. The most commonly quoted approach is that of Rabbeinu Tam, who includes each of the Names of Hashem at the beginning as a separate attribute (Tosafos, Rosh Hashanah 17b).

What do I do?

At this point, I want to return to the above-quoted Talmudic source of the Selichos and note an important point.

Hashem told Moshe: “Whenever the Jews sin, they should perform this order and I will forgive them.” The Hebrew word that I have translated as should perform this order is yaasu, which means that the Jews must do something, definitely more than just reciting the words. If all that is required is reading the words, the Gemara should have said simply: They should read these words. Obviously, action, which always speaks louder than words, is required to fulfill these instructions and accomplish atonement. What does the Gemara mean?

Emulate Hashem

To answer this question, we need to realize that the most important of the 613 mitzvos is the commandment to emulate Hashem. To quote the Gemara: Just as Hashem is gracious and merciful, so should you become gracious and merciful (Shabbos 133b). When Hashem told Moshe: Whenever the Jews perform this order, I will forgive them, He meant that when we act towards one another with the same qualities of rachamim that Hashem does, He forgives us. Reciting the thirteen attributes of Hashem’s mercy is the first step towards making ourselves merciful people who emulate Hashem’s ways. Yaasu means learning to internalize these attributes by doing them, and thereby making ourselves G-dly people. “Doing” the thirteen attributes means not only understanding the absolutely incredible amount of tolerance that Hashem manifests, but includes, also, realizing how accepting we must be of people who annoy and harm us!

This sounds great in theory. What does it mean in practice?

Here are several examples, all taken from the sefer Tomer Devorah, to help us comprehend what our job is:

  1. Whenever someone does something wrong toward Hashem, at that very moment He provides all the needs of the offender. This is a tremendous amount of forbearance that Hashem demonstrates. Our mitzvah is to train ourselves to be accepting, to this great extent, of those who annoy and wrong us.
  2. We should appreciate the extent to which Hashem considers the Jews to be His people; we should identify with the needs of each Jew on a corresponding level.
  3. Hashem waits with infinite patience for the sinner to do teshuvah, always being confident in this person’s ability to repent and change, and continues to provide the sinner with all his needs. Similarly, we should not stand on ceremony to wait for someone who wronged us to apologize.
  4. Hashem emphasizes the positive acts that a person does and continues to shower the person with good, while, in the interim, He overlooks the sins a person has performed. Similarly, when I know that someone wronged me, but at the same time I have received chesed from him or her, I should ignore the fact that they wronged me – after all, they have also helped me. The Tomer Devorah emphasizes specifically the chesed that one receives from one’s spouse, which should, without question, supplant any criticisms one has of him or her.
  5. When a person does teshuvah after sinning, Hashem loves him more than He loved him before he sinned. As the Gemara states: In a place where baalei teshuvah stand, complete tzadikim are unable to stand. The parallel responsibility incumbent on a person to someone who wronged him is that when he sees that the person wants to makes amends, he should befriend and accept him at a greater level than he had previously.

We see that the recital of the thirteen attributes serves not only to help us appreciate all that Hashem does for us, but also as a training ground to teach how we should constantly treat our fellowman.

Conclusion

My rosh yeshivah, Rav Yaakov Ruderman zt”l, asked, Why do Ashkenazim not begin reciting Selichos until at most eight days before Rosh Hashanah? The custom of the Sefardim, who begin reciting selichos at the beginning of Elul, seems to make more sense. After all, the entire month is specially designated for doing teshuvah.

His answer was that proper prayer requires hachanah, proper preparation. We need the beginning of Elul to get prepared for properly reciting the Selichos (Sichos Avodas Halevi pg. 264). Now that we understand how much of a responsibility we are assuming when we recite the thirteen midos of Hashem, we can appreciate better why we need several weeks of preparation before we begin reciting the Selichos.

 

Blessings and Guardrails

Mitzvas maakeh is mentioned in this week’s parsha.

Blessings and Guardrails

Question #1: Who makes the brocha?

“If someone performs a mitzvah as my agent, can I still recite a brocha on the mitzvah?”

Question #2: Am I doing the mitzvah?

“Do I fulfill the mitzvah of building a maakeh if I hire a non-Jew to do it for me?”

Question #3: When do I bless?

“If I am performing a mitzvah that will take a long time to fulfill, when do I recite the brocha?”

Introduction:

Reb Gavriel*, a talmid chacham whom I know, is having his house remodeled, including adapting a roof area for use, which will require the assembly of a maakeh, a fence, wall or railing high enough and strong enough to prevent someone from falling (see Devorim 22:8). He asked me the following: “I will now have the first opportunity of my life to fulfill the mitzvah min hatorah of building a maakeh. My question is: The construction workers are not Jewish. Can I recite a brocha on performing this mitzvah, when gentiles are doing the work? And, if I recite a brocha, when do I recite it, since this construction will take several weeks?”

Let me explain Gavriel’s excellent questions. Prior to performing a mitzvas aseh, a positive mitzvah, we recite a brocha thanking Hashem for the opportunity to fulfill His commandments. These brochos are what we call birchos hamitzvah. They begin with the words Boruch Ata Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam asher kideshanu bemitzvosav vetzivanu and conclude with the words appropriate to the specific mitzvah. According to the majority of halachic authorities, one recites a brocha on constructing a maakeh, since by constructing this maakeh one fulfills a positive mitzvah of the Torah (Sedei Chemed, Volume 5, page 250, provides analysis of this point). The rishonim cite several slightly variant texts detailing how one concludes the brocha recited for fulfilling this mitzvah. (See commentaries She’eilas Shalom and Ha’eimek Hasheilah to She’iltos, Eikev #145, who discuss what is the proper text of the brocha.) I believe that the accepted Ashkenazic practice is to complete the brocha with the words: Al mitzvas maakeh.

In Reb Gavriel’s case, there are three questions:

  1. Can I recite a brocha when I am not performing the mitzvah myself?
  2. Do I fulfill a mitzvah when it is performed by hirees who are not Jewish?
  3. At what point in the construction should I recite the brocha?

Who recites the brocha?

Reuven asks Shimon to search his (Reuven’s) house for chometz. Can Reuven recite the brocha of al bedikas chometz on Shimon’s search? (We should note that, in general, someone obligated to perform a mitzvah should do the mitzvah himself, rather than assign it to someone else, a principle called mitzvah bo yoseir mibeshelucho, it is a bigger mitzvah to perform a mitzvah yourself than via proxy [Kiddushin 41a].)

On the one hand, Reuven is fulfilling the mitzvah, not Shimon. On the other hand, Shimon is the one who is actually performing the mitzvah.

The Magen Avraham states that the agent doing the act of the mitzvah can recite the brocha (432:6), but he also implies that should Reuven want to recite the brocha, he may do so, even if he himself did not participate at all in the act of performing the mitzvah (432:5). They should not both recite the brocha – for one of them, this would constitute a brocha levatalah, a brocha recited in vain.

Shelichus

The Torah teaches a principle that a person can perform a mitzvah, create a transaction, or discharge a legal requirement by having an agent act on his behalf, a concept called shelichus. Because of this rule, a husband can appoint someone to write a get on his behalf, or deliver a get to his wife. Similarly, I can appoint someone to separate challah from dough that I have prepared, or appoint someone to be my agent to carry out a transaction, such as having a rav sell my chometz.

Ein shelichus lenachri

Although I can appoint a proxy to separate terumos or challah for me or to carry out a transaction on my behalf, that agent must be Jewish. The Torah did not extend the concept of agency to non-Jews, either to allow a gentile to function as surrogate for someone else or to have a gentile appoint a surrogate on his own behalf. A result of this halachah is that a Jew cannot appoint a gentile to separate challah. Thus, a Jewish-owned bakery that has non-Jewish employees mixing dough must make provisions to have a Jew take challah. If a gentile did the act of separating challah, no mitzvah was performed.

According to this reason, it would seem that if Reb Gavriel has non-Jewish workers building his maakeh, the mitzvah was not fulfilled. He is not doing the construction himself, and the people he hired are ineligible to be his agents. It is true that there is no longer any danger of having an unfenced roof, and, therefore, one is not in violation of allowing a safety hazard to exist, lo sasim damim beveisecha (Devorim 22:8). Yet, it would seem that the positive mitzvah to build a railing was technically not observed, since it was constructed in a way that no one fulfilled the mitzvah.

Enter the Machaneh Efrayim

Yad po’el keyad baal habayis

  1. The Gemara teaches a principle; yad po’el keyad baal habayis, literally, the “hand” of the worker is treated as the hand of the employer (Bava Metzia 10a). If I hire someone to perform general work – regardless of what he is assigned to do — and he finds an unowned object in the course of his work, the employer becomes the owner of the object. How did the employer gain ownership of the item, when it was the employee who found it and picked it up? The Gemara explains that since the employer hired the worker to do whatever needs to be done during the period of his service, the employer owns even the worker’s ability to take possession of items, which is called a yad, a hand, in halachic jargon.

The Machaneh Efrayim extends the principle of yad po’el keyad baal habayis to Reb Gavriel’s situation. When I hire someone to be my general worker, it is considered that I built the railing myself. I have therefore fulfilled the mitzvah and may recite the brocha. This principle does not apply when I hire a worker for a specific job (see Aruch Hashulchan, Choshen Mishpat 427:3).

There are other ramifications of this principle of the Machaneh Efrayim. Although there is an obligation to separate terumos and maasros from produce growing in a Jew’s field in Eretz Yisroel or in the lands nearby, one is not required to separate them until the harvesting process is complete. At the time of the Mishnah/Gemara, this entailed leveling off the pile of grain or other produce, after all had been harvested. The Machaneh Efrayim contends that, even if this leveling was performed by a gentile employee or hiree, the owner becomes obligated to separate terumos and maasros. Despite the fact that a non-Jew cannot function as a proxy, the processing he performs as an employee obligates the owner to separate maasros.

Construction is different

  1. The Machaneh Efrayim presents a second line of reasoning why someone who hired a gentile to build a railing has fulfilled the mitzvah. The rule that a gentile cannot be my agent is only when something requires agency to be effective, such as the separation of challah, the delivery of a get, or creating a transaction. In each of these cases, a change of status or ownership is effected by someone’s intent. Without intent on the part of the person creating the change or transaction, nothing has happened – the dough  that was separated did not become challah, the woman did not become divorced, the chometz was not sold. In these instances, since the Torah did not create a concept of shelichus for gentiles; if I appointed someone non-Jewish to separate challah or to carry out agency, nothing has transpired.

However, contends the Machaneh Efrayim, when a physical act is being done, such as the construction of a railing, we are not dealing with a legal effect, but an on-the-ground, physical result. This is not a function of the laws of shelichus, but a practical matter. Since the railing now exists, I have fulfilled the mitzvah and can recite the brocha, regardless who actually constructed it.

Railing about the railing

Notwithstanding that the Machaneh Efrayim concludes that Reb Gavriel could recite a brocha when his gentile workers build the maakeh, many later authorities dispute either or both of his reasons (Shaar Hamelech, Terumos 1:11; Shu’t Shivas Tziyon #53; Nesivos Hamishpat, Chapter 188; Minchas Chinuch, Mitzvah #546; Shu’t Sha’ul Umeishiv, Volume 1, part 2 #110; Ulam Hamishpat, Chapter 188; Shu’t Birchas Retzei  #75; Sedei Chemed, Volume 5, pages 249-250). Regarding his first approach, that, because of the concept of yad po’el keyad baal habayis, it is considered that the employer built the railing himself, there are two different reasons to refute his position. Firstly, there is no evidence that the halachic concept yad po’el keyad baal habayis applies to non-Jewish employees. All the places in which the Gemara applies this rule involve Jewish workers, and there are valid reasons why one should not be able to compare the two.

Furthermore, even if yad po’el keyad baal habayis applies to gentile workers, there is a big jump in logic to apply this principle to the construction of a railing. If, in the course of his day’s work, an employee acquires something on behalf of the employer’s business, one could argue that the employer made the transaction, since he owns the employee’s yad.  However, how does the act of the gentile employee, such as constructing a railing, become the act of the Jewish employer, in such a way that he did the act of the mitzvah himself and can therefore recite a brocha? A mitzvah must be performed by someone who can be commanded to fulfill this mitzvah. The action performed by the gentile does not become the act of the employer because of yad po’el keyad baal habayis.

To demonstrate the difficulty with the Machaneh Efrayim’s approach, some authorities contend that, according to the Machaneh Efrayim, if a Jew instructed his gentile employee to plow using a donkey and an ox, the Jew will be liable for malkus, lashes, for violating the Torah violation of having them work together, since his gentile employee’s action is considered as if he did it himself (Shu’t Shivas Tziyon #53). Although it is prohibited to hire a gentile to do this, it is highly surprising to assume that the Jew should be liable for malkus in such a situation.

Is this chometz she’avar alav hapesach?

The Machaneh Efrayim’s principle created a problem for a community in a very different case. The local branch of a Jewish-owned business was managed completely by gentiles. The question was whether the chometz that the non-Jewish employees of the local branch purchased on behalf of the business before Pesach becomes prohibited because of chometz she’avar alav hapesach, chometz that was owned by a Jew in the course of the holiday. The questioner, Rav Yaakov Mendel Friedman, the rav of Nadvorna, wanted to permit the chometz on the basis that, since there is no agency of non-Jews, the chometz is halachically considered to have been owned by gentiles over Pesach. However, he noted that, according to the Machaneh Efrayim, since the gentiles are the employees of the Jewish owners, the chometz is deemed to have been owned by Jews over Pesach, and it is therefore prohibited. He sent the question to Rav Tzvi Hirsch Orenstein, a respected nineteenth century posek in Lithuania and Poland. (During his lifetime, he served successively as rav in Brisk, Reisha and Lvov.) Rav Orenstein ruled that accepted halachah does not follow the opinion of the Machaneh Efrayim (Shu’t Birchas Retzei #75).

Other railings

The second reason presented by the Machaneh Efrayim why someone could recite a brocha upon the assembly of a railing built by a non-Jew was that the owner fulfills the mitzvah of building a maakeh, no matter how the railing actually became constructed. Notwithstanding the Machaneh Efrayim’s contentions, others dispute his conclusion that this is considered that the Jew performed the mitzvah.

It appears that most authorities reject the position of the Machaneh Efrayim and contend that one should not recite a brocha, if a gentile built the railing. Those who reject the Machaneh Efrayim’s approach would require that a Jew participate in the construction of the railing, in order to be able to recite the brocha. However, one major authority rules that Reb Gavriel should recite a brocha on the assembly of the railing, regardless of whether it was assembled by Jews or by gentiles, and even if he did not participate at all (Aruch Hashulchan, Choshen Mishpat 427:3).

When do I recite a brocha?

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

“If I am performing a mitzvah that will take a long time to fulfill, when do I recite the brocha?” This exact question can be asked regarding the assembly of a railing, and we noted before that Reb Gavriel, indeed, asked it.

Allow me to provide some background. In general, one recites a brocha immediately prior to beginning the performance of a mitzvah or immediately prior to eating a food. The Gemara (Pesachim 119b) calls this oveir la’asiyasan. According to this, one should assume that one would recite the brocha on the railing immediately before one performs the mitzvah. However, the question, here, is that the mitzvah takes a long time to perform. It can also happen that someone may encounter a difficulty in the middle of the job that makes it impossible for him to complete the mitzvah. Because of these concerns, when should one recite the brocha for performing the mitzvah?

This question is raised by the Chasam Sofer (Shu’t Chasam Sofer, Orach Chayim 52), who concludes that one should recite the brocha immediately prior to completing the maakeh. In his opinion, since the railing does not provide adequate protection until it is complete, the act of the mitzvah is the last hammer blow that makes it into an effective railing.

However, a much earlier authority than the Chasam Sofer holds differently. The Baal Ha’itur (Hilchos Tzitzis, Shaar 3, Cheilek 2, page 152) rules that one recites the brocha at the beginning of the assembly of the railing, even though its manufacture takes time. He compares this to the brocha of al bi’ur chometz, which we recite at the beginning of the search, knowing that it may involve interruptions and considerable time until the mitzvah is completed, which is when one has finished burning the chometz.

A third approach

I found yet a third approach to when one should recite the brocha on assembling a railing, because of an interesting reasoning. Some late authorities suggest that if the owner is unable to construct the railing himself, he should wait to recite the brocha until the railing is in place, out of concern that the employee may not complete the job, and the brocha that he recited for the mitzvah would be in vain (see Sedei Chemed).

In conclusion

What should Reb Gavriel do? I found some late authorities who suggest that he should try to assist the workers at a critical time in the manufacture of the railing, in which case, he could recite the brocha, because he took an active part in its assembly (Sedei Chemed, quoting Nediv Leiv). According to the Chasam Sofer, he should help out at the last stage of the construction of the railing, which is when the mitzvah is being properly fulfilled. According to the Baal Ha’itur, he should help out at the beginning of the construction of the railing, so as to recite the brocha before the mitzvah is begun.

Just as we must make sure that we build a guardrail in a way that it will properly prevent physical injury, so must we also examine the laws governing how and when we thank Hashem for the opportunity to observe his mitzvos. And just as we hire a professional to ascertain that our guardrail does its job well, so should we strive to recite our brochos and prayers with careful attention to detail, performing them in the way Hashem wants.

* I was asked this exact question. The name was changed to protect the individual’s privacy.

Can a Sheitel be Prohibited Because of Avodah Zarah?

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

Can a Sheitel be Prohibited Because of Avodah Zarah?

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

Introduction to the Laws of Avodah Zarah

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

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

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

Takroves Avodah Zarah – An Item Used to Worship an Idol

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

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

Mitzvos Pertaining to Avodah Zarah

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

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

Some Background Facts in the Contemporary Shaylah About Indian Hair

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

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

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

The Earlier Ruling

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

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

What changed?

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

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

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

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

Bitul — Nullifying the Prohibited Hair

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Color of Sheitel

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

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

 

The Torah of Rav Yehosef Schwartz

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

The Torah of Rav Yehosef Schwartz

Question #1: Which minyan?

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

Question #2: Which chayah?

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

Question #3: Which borders?

“Where exactly are the borders of Eretz Yisroel?”

Question #4: Which question?

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

Answer:

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

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

Early Life

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

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

Go East, My Son

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

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

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

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

Personal Life

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

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

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

His Mussar

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

His Travels

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

His Research

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

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

His Published Works

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mussaf Before Shacharis?

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

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

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

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

The Four Questions

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

Question #1: Which Minyan?

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

Question #2: Which Chayah?

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

Question #3: Which Borders?

“Where exactly are the borders of Eretz Yisroel?”

Question #4: Which Question?

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

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

What’s Gnu?

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

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

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

Responsa from Early Nineteenth-Century America

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

The End

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