The Seudah of a Bris

Question #1: Fleishig bris

“Must a bris meal be fleishig? I am between jobs, and even a bagel and tuna salad bris is really, at the moment, beyond my means.”

Question #2: How many people?

How many attendees does a bris seudah require?

Question #3: Day later?

Can you make the meal for a bris a day later?

Answer:

It is a well-established practice that when someone celebrates a bris milah, they make a seudah in honor of the occasion. The common, but not universal, custom in Eretz Yisroel is that the meal served in honor of a bris is fleishig, whereas, in the United States, the meal served is often milchig. This article will explore the origins of the practice of having a seudah in honor of the bris, discuss the parameters of chiyuv involved, and, at the same time, discover some interesting customs, cases and piskei halacha that we find in the halachic literature. As always, this column is to provide general background, but not meant to provide halachic ruling, which is the role of each individual’s rav or posek.

The first question is whether the bris meal is required min haTorah, miderabbanan or whether it is simply a common practice. This author found different midrashim on the subject with slightly variant implications regarding this issue.

“Someone who brought his son to a bris milah is required to make a celebration and a party for the occasion” (Pirkei Derabbi Eliezer, Chapter 29; Midrash Tehillim to Chapter 112). The basis for this celebration is that Avraham made a large party beyom higameil es Yitzchak,“on the day of the higameil of Yitzchok,” assuming that the word higameil refers to the day of his bris. Tosafos (Shabbos 130a s.v. Sas) quotes a midrash that this is derived by taking the four letters of the word הגמל and dividing them into הג, which is the gematriya of eight, and מל, meaning that Avraham made his big celebration on the eighth day after Yitzchak’s birth, the day of his milah.

Another midrash adds that the reward for a father making a “big mishteh” (party) on the day of his son’s bris is that he will have a child who will be a gibbor aretz, which could be translated as a “hero of the earth.” The examples in the midrash are “like Yitzchak, whose prayer allowed a barren woman to give birth” or “like Yaakov, who defeated an angel” (Midrash Tehillim to Chapter 112).

On the other hand, a different midrash describes the celebration of the bris as something highly praiseworthy, referring to it as something that people do out of joy – something performed notwithstanding that there is requirement to do so (Midrash Tanchuma, parshas Tetzaveh #1). This midrash implies that, unlike the Pirkei derabbi Eliezer quoted above, making a bris seudah is a commendable act, but not required. This last midrash then emphasizes, “not only do they make a massive celebration, but people even borrow money and collateralize themselves in order to make this celebration.” A possible way to explain what seems to be a dispute between midrashim is that the Torah never required making a huge celebration in honor of bris milah, but Chazal later made it into a chiyuv.

Other Biblical sources

Another posuk frequently quoted as a source for a celebration on the day of the bris is in Tehillim (119:162), sas anochi al imrasecha kemotzei shalal rav, “I rejoice about your utterances as he who finds a huge treasure.” The word imrasecha is interpreted to mean the mitzvah of bris milah, thus rendering the posuk: I rejoice when I have the opportunity of bris milah.

In this context, the Maharshal states that the seudah, itself, is a simchas mitzvah, on the same level as a wedding or sheva brachos, and it is therefore a big mitzvah to participate in it (Yam shel Shlomoh, Bava Kama 7:37).

Upon the eighth

Another midrash mentions a different posuk in Tehillim as the source for celebrating a bris: the opening words of the 12th Chapter, La’me’natzei’ach al hasheminis, usually translated as, “For the musician, upon the eight-stringed instrument.” This midrash explains that the posuk refers not to an instrument of eight strings, but to the celebration of bris milah on the eighth day after birth (Yalkut Shim’oni, Beshalach #250 and Va’eschanan #844; Midrash Tehillim 6:1, and others).

A difference that might potentially result between these various midrashic sources is whether we should make a festive meal when the bris needed to be delayed, for example, when the baby was not fully healthy on the eighth day. Another possibility is when the baby is born on Friday evening after sunset and before nightfall, in which case the bris cannot be made the next Friday, because it might be the seventh day, nor on Shabbos, since it might be the ninth day from the birth, and only a bris on the eighth day supersedes Shabbos. In these instances, is there still a mitzvah to have a bris seudah? If the source for this celebration is the posuk sas anochi al imrasecha, there should be no difference whether the bris falls on the eighth day or is postponed. On the other hand, if the source is from the words of the 12th chapter of Tehillim that refer to the eighth, or from the words הגמל meaning the eighth day, it is possible that the mitzvah of celebrating the bris with a festive mealis only when the bris falls on the eighth day.

Indeed, we find some halachic authorities who make such a distinction, but in a different context. Concerning a bris that takes place during the Nine Days, where eating fleishig is permitted, at least in certain situations (see Maharil, laws of Tisha Be’Av; Rema, Orach Chayim 551:10; Elya Rabbah 249:2; cf. Taz, Orach Chayim 551:12), there are authorities who contend that permission to eat meat during the nine days is limited to a bris on the eighth day after birth, but not when the bris is delayed (see Shaarei Teshuvah 551:33, quoting Shu”t Or Olam #9), notwithstanding that this is when it is the correct time to perform the bris.

Shulchan Aruch

Thus far, we have noted several midrashim as sources for the practice of a festive celebration in honor of a bris milah, and we noted a discrepancy whether this meal is required or only customary. The wording of the Shulchan Aruch is “nohagim,” which implies that the seudah is required because of Jewish practice (Yoreh Deah 265:12).

We should note that a minority opinion contends that a seudas bris is required min haTorah (Or Ne’elam, based on Rashi, Niddah 31b, quoted by Shaarei Teshuvah, 551:33).

Invite your enemies!

One early source emphasizes that the person making a bris should make peace with his enemies and invite them to the seudah (Orchos Chayim). The poor should also be invited, so that they can participate in a meal that is beyond their means. The custom of bringing home treats from the bris is also mentioned in early sources (Yalkut Mei’am Lo’eiz, parshas Lech Lecha).

Bris on the eighth

We all realize that a bris should take place on the eighth day after birth, unless it cannot, such as when the baby is not fully healthy.

Rescheduling bris to a legal holiday

While researching this article, I found an interesting responsum from the Divrei Malkiel, one of the leading Litvishe poskim of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The question was sent to him from the rav of Bucharest, Rumania, deploring the progressive attitudes towards shemiras mitzvos that existed among many wealthier members of his community. One issue was that they would postpone a bris milah from the eighth day to a secular legal holiday, to make it easier for people to attend. The Divrei Malkiel found this practice extremely abhorrent – the seudas bris is to celebrate that a mitzvah involving mesiras nefesh was observed to its fullest. By postponing the bris to accommodate the seudah, the baalei simcha are inverting the importance — making, quite literally, the tafeil into the ikar and the ikar into the tafeil. The Divrei Malkiel suggests that, under these circumstances, there would be no mitzvah accomplished with the seudas bris. Since the entire bris was delayed against halacha, it now becomes the celebration of an aveirah – the non-fulfillment of a bris on the eighth day, rather than the celebration of a mitzvah!

The Divrei Malkiel notes that this not only confuses the ikar (performing the bris at the first opportunity, and the mitzvah of performing it on the eighth day) with the tafeil (the seudah celebration), but that, if indeed the bris was delayed because of convenience, there is no mitzvah of having a celebratory meal. His rationale is simple: The purpose of the celebratory meal is to demonstrate our scrupulous observance of this mitzvah that involves sacrifice. But, in this instance, it is a declaration that the father did not want to perform the mitzvah properly. Therefore, any celebration becomes a farce and is not a simchas mitzvah(Shu”t Divrei Malkiel 4:86)!

The exact question asked of the Divrei Malkiel was asked many hundreds of years ago of the Tashbeitz, who ruled the same way. The case in this instance was that the eighth day after the birth fell on Sunday, the tenth of Av – in other words, Tisha Be’Av nidche, the day that the ninth of Av isobserved in practice. The family wanted to push off the bris to Monday in order to have it on a day when there would be a seudah. Similar to the Divrei Malkiel, the Tashbeitz writes that pushing off the bris to accommodate amore convenient seudah confuses the ikar with the tafeil and is sinful, for it violates performing the bris on the eighth day. He concludes, similarly to the Divrei Malkiel, that in this situation there is no mitzvah to have a seudah (Shu”t Tashbeitz 3:8).

Milchig or fleishig?

At this point, we are ready to discuss the first of our opening questions: “Must a bris be fleishig? I am between jobs, and even a bagel and tuna salad bris is really, at the moment, beyond my means.”

The early authorities discuss whether it is preferred to have a fleishig meal at a bris. The Shelah Hakadosh quotes a dispute that he had with his rebbe, the Maharash, who contended that a bris should be a fleishig meal, whereas the Shlah himself, at least prior to his rebbe voicing a disputing opinion, held that a milchig meal is fine (Mesechta Shabbos, Ner Mitzvah #7, quoted by Elya Zuta 249:2). The opinion of the Maharash is viewed as the primary halachic opinion by the Machatzis Hashekel (Orach Chayim 249:6). On the other hand, the Chasam Sofer notes that the accepted practice in his day was to serve a dairy meal (Shu”t Chasam Sofer Orach Chayim #69), and this practice is similarly quoted approvingly by others (Shaarei Teshuvah 551:33, quoting Shu”t Or Olam #9).

In this context, the Chochmas Odom states that having a bris seudah is a custom to demonstrate the simcha that Jews feel when we observe bris milah. To quote him, “Someone who could make a seudah, and pinches pennies to serve only coffee, schnapps and sweets, is not doing the right thing (149:24). In other words, if someone cannot afford an expensive meal, it is perfectly acceptable that he serve a snack, rather than a full meal. But someone who can afford to serve a nice meal should make a proper celebration.

At the same time, we must be careful that the expenses associated with a bris not become so lavish that it embarrasses someone who is unable to make such a nice bris. In many communities, over the ages, when this became a problem, takanos were established, limiting how many people could be invited to a bris seudah and what was served.

Minyan?

At this point, let us examine the second of our opening questions: “How many attendees does a bris seudah require?”

The Rema (Yoreh Deah 265:12) writes that the minhag is to have a minyan at a seudas bris. This is the earliest authority I know of who discusses this, and he does not cite either a source or a reason. Later authorities endeavor to understand what the source is for this Rema. Several options are mentioned, including the statement of the Gemara (Kesubos 8a) that the brocha of shehasimcha bi’me’ono, “that joy is in His abode”would be recited at a bris – just as we do at a wedding or sheva brachos – except for tzara leyanuka, the discomfort caused to the baby by the bris. This brocha, shehasimcha bi’me’ono, is never recited without a minyan. (However, this source does not demonstrate a requirement to have a minyan; rather, that even if a minyan is present, not to recite shehasimcha bi’me’ono.)

It is possible that the reason the bris seudah should have a minyan is to spread the happy tidings that the mitzvah was performed, pirsumei mitzvah, and pirsum usually requires at least a minyan. (These and other approaches are discussed in Sefer Habris by the late Rav Moshe Bunim Pirutinsky, 265:166, page 329.)

Bris seudah before Musaf?

In a responsum, the Chasam Sofer discusses the following situation. The rav of a certain town had succeeded in changing the davening time for the local shul on Shabbos, so that they would now daven Shacharis before zman kerias Shema. In order to accommodate this change, the people insisted that there should be a break before they davened Musaf, during which they would eat a milchig meal as their morning seudah of Shabbos. After Musaf, they had the fleishig meal of the day, with which they fulfilled the mitzvah of seudah shelishis. When they would celebrate a bris on Shabbos, they would perform the bris immediately after Shacharis, and then celebrate the bris seudah before Musaf. The rav was concerned, because it is prohibited to have a seudas gedolah before davening Musaf.

In his reply, the Chasam Sofer commends the rav for getting the community to daven Shacharis before the time of reciting kerias Shma. He then discusses whether it is permitted to eat the Shabbos seudah before davening Musaf, and whether it will be halachically worse if the morning seudah is also a bris seudah. Based on a psak of the Bach (Orach Chayim 286), the Chasam Sofer concludes that there is halachic basis to permit them to have a milchig seudah for the bris, since they do not want to have the added expense of a fleishig bris seudah, which is what would be involved if they held the seudah after Musaf. He then notes that a seudas bris is usually considered a seudah gedolah, which is prohibited to eat before Musaf. However, since the seudas bris would be milchig, and not a lot of wine drunk, although it would be preferred to have the seudas bris after Musaf, the rav is not required to correct them for having a milchig, non-intoxicating seudah before Musaf (Shu”t Chasam Sofer, Orach Chayim #69).

Bris on Friday

Although it is generally prohibited to make a large meal on Friday, in order not to infringe on the appetite one brings with him to his Shabbos meal, exception is made for a seudas mitzvah that should not be delayed. There are two instances of this: A pidyon haben and a bris milah (Rema, Orach Chayim 249:2). In these instances, the Bach rules that the seudah should be made before the “tenth” hour, which is usually understood to mean in the afternoon, halfway between midday and sunset.

The Levush contends that if you cannot have both seudos, Shabbos and bris, the bris seudah should be done even at the expense of the Shabbos seudah, because both are seudos mitzvah, and you should perform whichever one comes first, without concern that as a result the second will not take place (Orach Chayim249:2). The Bach appears to disagree with this Levush.

Postponing the Seudah until after Shabbos

Common practice for a Shabbos bris is to make the celebratory meal on Shabbos.

Apparently, however, this approach was not always universal. The Magen Avraham (131:11) quotes from the Hagahos Minhagim that there were places in which the custom was that the seudah for a Shabbos bris was postponed until after Shabbos. I did not find any commentaries who explain the source for this custom, but I suspect that the basis is that a seudas bris on Shabbos would not be apparent that the meal was in celebration of the bris; therefore, they made a special meal on motza’ei Shabbos in honor of the bris. This can be compared to the accepted practice today that when Purim falls on Shabbos (which happens in our calendar only in Yerushalayim and other walled cities) the seudah is postponed to Sunday, in order to assure that the special Purim meal be noticeable. Since this year Purim falls on Shabbos in Yerushalayim, I hope to discuss this topic with our readership prior to Purim.

Day later

At this point, let us discuss the last of our opening questions: Can you make the meal for a bris a day later?

Although some halachic authorities assume that the bris seudah should be celebrated on the day that the bris occurred (Yaavetz in Migdal Oz, quoted by Sefer Habris 255:170 [pg 329]; Yalkut Mei’am Lo’eiz, quoting Shlah), severalauthorities rule that when the seudah could not or did not take place on the day of the bris, that it can take place afterward (Tashbeitz 3:8; Pischei Teshuvah, Yoreh Deah 265:16 quoting Chamudei Daniel). The Tashbeitz proves this from the fact that, as mentioned above, the Purim seudah is postponed from Shabbos to Sunday, as well as a custom that he records of postponing the seudah of a bris celebrated on Friday to Shabbos (Shu”t Tashbeitz 3:8).

Conclusion

The Midrash tells us that Avraham Avinu’s bris took place on Yom Kippur, on the site where the mizbei’ach of the Beis Hamikdash was later built. Thus, the atonement both of Yom Kippur and of korbanos is combined in the observance of bris milah. In the words of the Midrash, “Every year, HaKodosh Boruch Hu sees the blood of the bris of Avrohom Avinu and He atones for all our sins.” Thus, bris milah guarantees the future redemption of the Jewish people and the atonement from all sins (Pirkei Derabbi Eliezer, Chapter 29; see also Rabbeinu Bachya commentary to Bereishis 17:13). This is certainly a major reason not to shortchange its celebration!




Meet the Adams Family

The Man

Today, I will be meeting someone who is extremely concerned and knowledgeable about halacha, yet doesn’t even keep a kosher home. Neither has he ever observed Shabbos. On the other hand, he is meticulous to observe every detail of Choshen Mishpat.

Who is this individual?

Allow me to introduce you to John Adams, who is a practicing Noahide, or, as he prefers to call himself, an Adamite.

Adams asserts that he descends from the two famous presidents, a claim that I have never verified and have no reason to question. Raised in New England and a graduate of Harvard Law School, John rejected the tenets of the major Westernreligions, but retained a very strong sense of G-d’s presence and the difference betweenright and wrong. Study and introspection led him to believe that G-d probably had detailed instructions for mankind, and sincere questioning led him to discover that, of the Western religions, only Judaism does not claim a monopoly on heaven. A non-Jew who observes the Seven Laws taught to Noah and believes that G-d commanded them at Har Sinai has an excellent place reserved for him in Olam Haba.

And so, John began the practice of these laws.John is quick to point out that, with only one exception, these laws were all commanded originally to Adam. Since John is proud of his family name and lineage, he likes calling himself an Adamite.

What are the basics of Noahide practice?

A gentile is required to observe seven mitzvos, six of them prohibitions: idolatry, incest, murder, blasphemy, theft, and eiver min hachai (which we will soon discuss).  The seventh mitzvah is to have dinim, the nature of which is controversial.The Sefer Hachinuch (Mitzvah #416) and others note that these seven mitzvos are really seven categories, and a non-Jew is really required to observe several dozen mitzvos.

Kosher, Noah style

I asked John if eating meat presents any religious problems for him.

“Well, you know that Noah was prohibited from eating meat or an organ that was severed before the animal died, a prohibition you call eiver min hachai,” said John, obviously proud that he could pronounce the expression correctly.“So, sometimes I come across meat that I may not eat. The following question once came up: Moslem slaughter, called halal, involves killing the animal in a way that many of its internal organs are technically severed from the animal before it is dead. Because of this, we are very careful where we purchase our organ meats.”

May a Noahide Eat Out?

“This problem went even further,” John continued. “Could we eat in a restaurant whereforbidden meats may have contaminated their equipment?”

I admit that I had never thought of this question before. Must a gentile be concerned that a restaurant’s equipment absorbed eiver min hachai? Does a Noahide need to “kasher” a treif restaurant before he can eat there? Shver tzu zein a goy! Oy, the difficulty of beinga goy!

“How did you resolve this dilemma?” I asked curiously.

“Well, for a short time our family stopped eating out,” he replied. “You could say that we ate treif only at home. My wife found the situation intolerable – no MacDonald’s or Wendy’s? Although I know that observant Jews do not understand why this is such a serious predicament, bear in mind that we made a conscious decision not to become Jewish. One of our reasons was that we enjoy eating out wherever we can.

“So, I decided to ask some rabbis I know, but, even then, the end of the road was not clearly in sight.”

“Why was that?”

“I had difficulty finding a rabbi who could answer the question. From what I understand, a rabbi’s ordination teaches him the basics necessary to answer questions that apply to kosher kitchens. But I don’t have a kosher house – we observe Adamite laws. As one rabbi told me, ‘I don’t know if Noahides need to be concerned about what was previously cooked in their pots.’”

“How did you resolve the predicament?”

How treif is treif?

“Eventually, we found a rabbi who contended that we need not be concerned about how pots and grills were previously used. He explained that we could assume that they had not been used for eiver min hachai in the past 24 hours, which certainly sounds like a viable assumption, and that, therefore, using them would only involve the possibility of a rabbinic prohibition, which we gentiles are not required to observe. The last part makes a lot of sense, since there is nothing in the Seven Laws about listening to the rabbis, although I agree that they are smart and sincere people. [Note: I am not certain who it was that John asked. According to Shu”t Chasam Sofer, Yoreh Deah #19 (at end), there is no heter for a non-Jew to use pots that once absorbed eiver min hachai. There are poskim who disagree with the Chasam Sofer (see Darchei Teshuvah 62:5), many of these holding that there is no prohibition altogether with a gentile using pots that had absorbed the taste of eiver min hachai.]

“The result is that we now go out to eat frequently, which makes my wife very happy. It was a good decision for our marital bliss, what you call shalom bayis. Although I understand that this is another idea we are not required to observe, it is good, common sense.”

Milah in the Adams Family

When John’s son was born, he raised an interesting shaylah. To quote him: “Circumcision as a religious practice originates with G-d’s covenant with Abraham, the first Jew. But my covenant with G-d predates Abraham and does not include circumcision. However, even though there was no religious reason for my son to be circumcised, my wife and I thought it was a good idea for health reasons. On the other hand, I know that many authorities forbid a gentile, which I technically am, from observing any commandments that he is not specifically commanded (see Rambam, Hilchos Melachim 10:9).”

John is a very gregarious type, and loves to explain things fully. “We actually had another concern about whether we could circ John Jr. The second one was that many authorities contend that the seventh mitzvah of establishing ‘Laws,’ which you call ‘Dinim,’ includes a prohibition against injuring someone (Ramban, Genesis, oops, I mean Bereishis, 34:13). According to this opinion, a non-Jew who strikes someone during a street protest may lose his world to come for violating one of the seven laws. I have come too far to risk losing my share in the world to come, so I try very hard not to violate any of the laws. I called some rabbi I know to ask whether there was any problem with circumcising my son for health reasons. The rabbis I asked felt that since we are doing this for medical reasons, it issimilar to donating blood or undergoing surgery, both of which are permitted. The upshot was that we did what no self-respecting Jew should ever do: We had a pediatrician circumcise John Jr. on the third day after his birth, to emphasize that we were not performing any mitzvah.”

No Bris

Proud to show off his Hebrew, John finished by saying: “So we had a milah, but no bris. We also decided to skip the bagels and lox. Instead, my wife and I thought it was more appropriate to celebrate with shrimp cocktails, even though primordial Adam didn’t eat shrimp. All types of meat were permitted to Noah only after the Deluge, which you call the mabul. I believe that some authorities rule that Adam was permitted road-kill and was only prohibited from slaughtering, while others understand he had to be strictly vegetarian. My wife and I discussed whether to go vegetarian and keep up the Adams tradition, but decided that if meat was ‘kosher’ enough for Noah, it is kosher enough for us. We decided we weren’t keeping any stringent practices,even if they become stylish.”

Earning a Living

“Have you experienced any other serious dilemmas due to your being an ‘Adamite’?”

“Oh, yes. I almost had to change my career.”

I found this very curious. As John Adams seemed like an honest individual, it was unlikely that he had made his living by stealing or any similar dishonest activity.

Non-Jews are forbidden to perform abortions, which might affect how a Noahide gynecologist earns a living, but John is a lawyer, not a doctor. Even if John used to worship idols or had the bad habit of blaspheming, how would that affect his career?

May a Gentile Practice Law?

John’s research into Noahide law led him to the very interesting conclusion that his job as an assistant district attorney was halachically problematic. Here is what led him to this conclusion.

One of the mitzvos, or probably more accurately, categories of mitzvos,in which a Noahide is commanded is the mitzvah of dinim, literally, laws. The authorities dispute the exact definition and nature of this mitzvah. It definitely includes a requirement that gentile societies establish courts and prosecute those who violate the Noahide laws (Tosefta, Avodah Zarah 9:4; Rambam, Hilchos Melachim 9:14). Some authorities contend that the mitzvah of dinim prohibits injuring or abusing others or damaging their property (Ramban, Breishis 34:13).

However, this dispute leads to another issue that was more germane to John’s case. The halachic authorities dispute whether Noahides are governed by the Torah’s rules of property laws, which we refer to as Choshen Mishpat (Shu”t Rama #10), or whether the Torah left it to non-Jews to formulate their own property and other civil laws. If the former is true, a non-Jew may not sue in a civil court that uses any system of law other than the Torah. Instead, he must litigate in a beis din or in a court of non-Jewish judges who follow halachic guidelines. Following this approach, if a gentile accepts money based on civil litigation, he is considered as stealing, just as a Jew is. This approach is accepted by many early poskim (e.g., Tumim 110:3). Some authorities extend this mitzvah further, contending that the mitzvos governing proper functioning of courts and civil laws apply to Noahides (Minchas Chinuch #414; 415).According to this view, enforcing a criminal code that does not follow the Torah rules violates the mitzvah of dinim.

As John discovered, some authorities extend this idea quite far. For example, one of the mitzvos of the Torah prohibits a beis din from convicting or punishing on the basis of circumstantial evidence (Rambam, Sefer Hamitzvos, Lo Saaseh #290; Sefer Hachinuch #82). If the same rule applies to the laws of dinim, a gentile court is prohibited from using circumstantial evidence in litigation (Minchas Chinuch #82, #409). Thus, John was faced with a predicament. According to these opinions, a gentile who prosecutes on the basis of circumstantial evidence may be violating the mitzvos of Noah, even if the accused party appears to be guilty. It is understood that, according to these opinions, one may not prosecute for the violation of a crime that the Torah does not consider to be criminal, or to sue for damages for a claim that has no halachic basis.

Napoleonic Code and Halacha

On the other hand, other authorities contend that non-Jews are not obligated to observe the laws of Choshen Mishpat; rather, the Torah requires them to create their own legal rules and procedures (Ha’eimek She’eilah, 2:3; Chazon Ish, Bava Kamma 10:1). These authorities rule that gentiles perform a mitzvah when creating a legal system for themselves such as the Napoleonic Code, English Common Law, or any other commercial code. Following this approach, a non-Jew may use secular courts to resolve his litigation and even fulfills a mitzvah by doing so. Thus, John could certainly continue his work as a D.A., and it would be a mitzvah for him to do so.

It is interesting to note that following the stricter ruling in this case also creates a leniency. According to those who rule that a gentile is not required to observe the laws of Choshen Mishpat, a gentile may not study these laws, since the Torah prohibits a gentile from studying Torah (see Tosafos, Bava Kamma 38a s.v. karu; cf., however, the Meiri, Sanhedrin 59a, who rules that a gentile who decides to observe a certain mitzvah may study the laws of that mitzvah in order to fulfill it correctly.)On the other hand, according to those who contend that the mitzvos of dinim follow the laws of Choshen Mishpat, a gentile is required to study these laws in order to observe his mitzvos properly (Shu”t Rama #10)).

John’s Dilemma

The rabbis with whom John consulted felt that a gentile could work as a district attorney. However, John had difficulty with this approach. He found it hard to imagine that G-d would allow man to decide the law for himself, and felt it more likely that mankind was expected to observe the Torah’s civil code. He therefore gravitated to the opinion of those who held that gentiles are required to observe the laws of Choshen Mishpat. As a result, he felt that he should no longer work in the D.A.’s office, since his job is to prosecute based on laws and a criminal justice system that the Torah does not accept.

“What did you do?”

“I decided to ‘switch sides’ and become a defense attorney, which has a practical advantage, because I make a lot more money.”

“How do you handle a case where you know that your client is guilty?”

“Firstly, is he guilty according to halachah? Did he perform a crime? Is there halachically acceptable evidence? If there is no halachically acceptable evidence, he is not required to plead guilty. Furthermore, since none of my clients are Noahides or observant Jews, they can’t make it to heaven anyway, so let them enjoy themselves here. Even if my client is guilty, the punishment determined by the court is not halachically acceptable. It is very unclear whether jail terms are halachically acceptable punishment for gentiles.

“Philosophically, I was always opposed to jail time. I think that there are better ways to teach someone to right their ways than by incarceration, which is a big expense for society.”

Interesting Noahide Laws

“Have you come across any other curious issues?”

“Here is a really unusual question I once raised,” John responded. “Am I permitted to vote in the elections for a local judge? According to some authorities, the Torah’s prohibition against appointing a judge who is halachically incompetent applies equally to gentiles (Minchas Chinuch #414). Thus, one may not appoint someone to the bench who does not know the appropriate Torah laws, which excludes all the candidates. When I vote, I am actively choosing a candidate who is halachically unqualified to judge. I therefore decided that, although there are authorities who permit such judging and therefore this voting is permitted, I wanted to be   consistent in my position. As a result, I vote religiously, but not for judgeships.

Becoming Jewish

“John, did you ever consider becoming Jewish?”

“First of all, I know that the rabbis will discourage me from becoming Jewish, particularly since I don’t really want to. I know exactly what I am required to keep and I keep that properly. I have no interest in being restricted to where and what I eat, and I have no interest in observing Shabbos, which, at present, I may not observe anyway, and that is fine with me (Sanhedrin 58b). I am very willing to be a ‘Shabbos goy’— and I understand well what the Jews need –but it is rare that I find myself in this role. Remember, I do not live anywhere near a Jewish community.

“Although I have never learned how to read Hebrew – why bother, I am not supposed to study Torah anyway – I ask enough questions from enough rabbis to find out all I need to know.”

In Conclusion

Although it seems strange for a non-Jew to ask a rav a shaylah, this should actually be commonplace. Indeed, many non-Jews are concerned about their future place in Olam Haba and, had the nations not been deceived by spurious religions, many thousands more would observe the mitzvos that they are commanded. When we meet sincere non-Jews, we should direct them correctly in their quest for truth. Gentiles who observe these mitzvos because Hashem commanded them through Moshe Rabbeinu are called “Chassidei Umos HaOlam” and merit a place in Olam Haba.




Carding, Combing and Disentangling

Photo by Melissa Ramirez from FreeImages

Question #1: Shabbos Prohibitions

“Does every av melacha of Shabbos have tolados?”

Question #2: Sinews

“How are sinews like wool?”

Question #3: Dog Grooming

“Is it prohibited min haTorah to comb out my dog’s hair on Shabbos?”

Introduction:

The Mishnah in the seventh chapter of Mesechta Shabbos lists the 39 avos melachos, or major categories of work, prohibited on Shabbos. These melachos were all involved in the building of the Mishkan, which is a major factor in determining whether something is prohibited on Shabbos min haTorah.

There is another rule that each av melacha has at least one toladah (see Bava Kama 2a). A toladah is an activity that is prohibited min haTorah, and is derived from one of the avos melachos.

The Talmud Yerushalmi (Shabbos 7:2) tells us a fascinating story how the great amora’im,Rabbi Yochanan and Reish Lakeish, studied diligently this one chapter of Mishnah, the seventh chapter of Mesechta Shabbos, for three and a half years! As a result of their studies, they discovered 39 tolados for each av melacha. We find this incredible, since, for some of the avos melacha, finding more than one or two tolados is difficult. Several of the rishonim, particularly the Rambam, the Sefer Yerei’im and the Semag, endeavor to find tolados for the melachos. Yet, even with all their considerable efforts, we often find no more than one or two tolados for a particular av melacha.

There are a few reasons why it is important to know how many melachos there are and how to categorize them. One reason is because a person who negligently violated one of the melacha categories on Shabbos is required to offer a korban chatos as atonement. Of course, we have no way of fulfilling this today, but, soon, when the Beis Hamikdash is rebuilt, this mitzvah will again become incumbent upon us.

This requirement to offer a korban chatos is only if the violation was min haTorah. There are many conditions that need to be met for a melacha activity to be a Torah prohibition. For example, someone who performed a melacha activity, but did so in an unusual way, does not violate Torah law. This is sometimes referred to as ein darko bekach, not the usual way of performing the particular activity. At other times the Gemara calls this, batlah da’atan eitzel kol odom, since most people do not consider this the normal way (Shabbos 92b).

Here is an example of this rule. Rabbah bar bar Channah, quoting Rabbi Yochanan, said, “One who twists wool into thread on Shabbos while it is still on the back of an animal is in violation of three melachos, one for shearing, one for menapeitz (I will explain this melacha shortly), and one for spinning thread.” Rav Kahana disagreed with Rabbah bar bar Channah, explaining that performing these activities while the wool is still attached to the animal is an atypical way of performing them. The Gemara then questioned Rav Kahana on the basis of a statement of an earlier authority, the tanna Rabbi Nechemyah, who noted that the women who spun the goat hair used for the Mishkan indeed spun the hair while it was still attached to the goats. Thus, if this was the way the melacha was performed when the Mishkan was built, it should automatically qualify as a melacha min haTorah! The Gemara retorts that, notwithstanding that the Mishkan was indeed constructed this way, Rav Kahana is correct that this is an atypical way to spin thread and therefore exempt from being a Torah violation of melacha. Since this method involves an unusually high level of skill, and, other than for the Mishkan, was certainly not the typical manner in which the melacha was performed, the way it was done in the Mishkan does not define what is a Torah violation of performing this melacha (Shabbos 74b).

Disentangling

The rest of this article will discuss the melacha called menapeitz, often translated as disentangling, combing or carding, but none of these terms explains the melachah adequately. When the Mishnah inventories the 39 melachos, it lists menapeitz in between melabein, which means either laundering or bleaching, and toveh, which is spinning fiber into thread.

As we see from several places in the Gemara, after wool and similar fibers were shorn from the animal and cleaned, they were combed or untangled in order to be able to continue processing them into cloth. The wool shorn from a sheep cannot be used immediately because it is filthy and very tangled. Cleaning it involves the melacha of melabein, which we will not discuss in this article. Menapeitz includes untangling the wool. Yet, as we will soon see, some authorities describe menapeitz in other ways, and, certainly, not all disentangling is menapeitz.

Tzadi or samach?

There is even a question as to whether the correct name for the melacha is menapeitz, with a tzadi at the end, or menafeis, with a samach, which is the way it is spelled by the Aruch. Rav Nosson ben Yechiel ben Avraham, was an early rishon who lived in Rome in the eleventh century. He was the head of a yeshivah located there, and authored a work called the Aruch, which is probably the earliest dictionary of Aramaic. In it, he quotes, at times extensively, various sources in the Gemara in which a term is used, translates the word into Hebrew and often explains the Gemara and other halachic concepts. The work, which is quoted by his contemporary, Rashi (see Shabbos 13b), and many times by Tosafos, had several addenda added to it in the centuries following, by such prominent poskim as the sixteenth-century Yerushalayim gadol Rav Menachem di Lunzano, and the nineteenth-century German dayan Rav Aharon Fuld. At times, only a seasoned reader can figure out which comments are from the original Aruch and which are additions from these latter figures. Other additions are from the seventeenth-century physician and philologist Binyomin Musafia, whose work was called originally Musaf Ha’Aruch, and from the renowned eighteenth-century Talmud chacham and editor Rav Yeshayah Pik.

Menapeitz in Tanach

Let us examine the root meaning of the word menapeitz in Tanach, and then see how the word is used in the context of the laws of Shabbos. The earliest use of the word is in parshas Noach (Bereishis 9:19), where the posuk says, “sheloshah eileh bnei Noach, umei’eileh noftzah chol ha’aretz, These are the three sons of Noach, and from them spread (the population) of the world.” We also find the word meaning to shatter, such as in the pasuk, “ki’chli yotzeir tenapetzeim, You will shatter them like a potter’s vessel” (Tehillim 2:9). The word conveys the same idea in Shoftim (7:19), “venafotz hakadim asher biyadam, They smashed the jugs that were in their hands,” and in Yirmiyohu (48:12) “venivleihem yenapeitzu, They will smash their barrels.” We find it used in a more figurative sense in Yeshayohu (33:3), “mei’romemusecha noftzu goyim, From Your loftiness, nations have dispersed.”

Furthermore, the Aruch provides three Talmudic references for the root nofatz: Shabbos 140, Avodah Zarah 7, and Chullin 72.

We now have a question on the Aruch. If the melacha on Shabbos is spelled with a samach, and there is clearly a word, both in Tanach and in Chazal, spelled with a tzadi,. why does the Aruch spell it with a samach? Are the letters samach and tzadi interchangeable, as we find occasionally? One could explain the variant spellings this way, although it is clear from the Talmudic references above that the Aruch himself understood that there are two roots with similar meanings. The root with a tzadi means to shatter, smash or disperse, whereas that with a samach means to disentangle.

Rishonim on the melacha

In his commentary to the Mishnah discussing the melacha of menapeitz, the Rambam (Shabbos 7:2) describes the melacha as beating wool with a stick. In the monumental recent work, Ma’aseh Oreg, which elucidates the various processes used in the days of Chazal to make cloth, Dayan Yisroel Gukovitski explains that after wool was washed and bleached, it was placed on a table and beaten with rods, which loosened the fibers and crushed any matter that prevented the wool from disentangling. This was an important stage in preparing the wool to be spun into thread or pressed into felt.

Rishonim other than the Rambam explain menapeitz in other ways. For example, in the context of the law of a nazir combing his hair, Rashi explains the word menapeitz to mean disentangling hair (see Rashi, Shabbos 50b; see Mishnah, Nazir 42a). In the context of the melacha menapeitz, Rashi understands this to mean picking apart and separating the clumped wool into fibers that can be properly spun.

Other authorities explain the melacha to mean combing the wool out with an iron comb (Meiri, Shabbos 73b; Chayei Odom 23:1). This is a later step in the processing of the fibers to make them ready for spinning into thread. By the way, Rashi (Bava Basra 19a s.v. Tzipei) also describes the act of menapeitz as combing, although that context is not discussing the laws of Shabbos.

It is unclear that there is any halachic dispute among these different approaches. They may simply be describing different stages in the melacha, and that the melacha includes any or all of these processes.

Carding

Some late commentators translate menapeitz as carding,because the word card as a verb

means to disentangle fibers. (The word card can also mean the specific brush used to disentangle fibers prior to spinning them.) This seems to fit Rashi’s old French word, carpir (Shabbos 73a, see Avnei Neizer 170:8 and Targum Hala’az #1618).

However, at this stage we are faced with a question asked by one of the great late acharonim, the Avnei Neizer (170:9). There are two steps involved in preparing clean fibers so that they can be spun into thread. First, one disentangles the wool; then, one combs the fibers together evenly so that they can be spun. Since we now know that menapeitz means disentangling, why isn’t the second step, combing it into a form that can be spun, a separate melacha? In other words, there should be two melachos – one called menapeitz and another called soreik, combing – between the melacha of melabein, which is laundering or bleaching, and the next melacha, toveh, spinning.

The Avnei Neizer (170:9) answers that since this is all one process, it is all included as one melacha, notwithstanding that it can be subdivided into two steps. He then asks why the melacha is called menapeitz and not soreik, combing, which is the final stage? To this he answers that combing is performed with an implement, whereas the disentangling can be performed either with an implement or by hand. The Mishnah called the melacha menapeitz so that we would realize that disentangling by hand is also considered the primary melacha.

Menapeitz times two

Now that we understand the basics of this melacha, we will discuss some of its details.

According to some authorities, one can violate the melacha of menapeitz twice on the same material. Certain methods of processing wool involve combing out the material and then soaking it in a special solution, so that it will absorb dye better. This soaking causes the wool to clump again, and one needs to comb it out a second time. According to the Maasei Rokei’ach, if both of these actions were performed on Shabbos, this second combing would be another Torah violation of the melacha of menapeitz (Hilchos Shabbos 9:12).

Sheep and other animals

Although the prohibition of shatnez applies min haTorah exclusively to the wool of sheep and not to the hair or wool of other animals, such as goats, camels, llamas and rabbits (see Kel’ayim 9:1), all opinions agree that menapeitz applies to the wool of all animals that may be used for clothing. By the way, the difference between wool and hair, the two English words that describe what grows on an animal, is that wool is hair that is soft and therefore suitable for clothing. Some goats, such as cashmere and angora varieties, produce soft wool, whereas others produce coarser hair, suitable for making into burlap sacks but not into clothing.

Carding coarser material unsuitable for cloth manufacture, but usable as burlap, also violates menapeitz.

Linen and cotton

There appears to be a dispute among rishonim whether the melacha of menapeitz applies min haTorah to textile materials that grow from the ground (plant-based), such as cotton, jute, or flax (which is processed into linen). Rashi seems to hold that menapeitz applies only to materials that do not grow from the ground (Rashi, Shabbos 73b; see also Meiri ad locum), whereas the Rambam (Hilchos Shabbos 9:12) and the Semag rule expressly that menapeitz applies to all materials. The Chayei Odom rules that menapeitz applies also to plant-based textiles.

Even according to those who accept the Rambam’s opinion that menapeitz applies to plant-based textiles, there is a further dispute whether beating a flax plant to soften and loosen its fibers violates menapeitz or tochein, grinding. In his commentary on the Semag, the fifteenth-century posek, Rav Isaac Stein, rules that beating flax violates the melacha of menapeitz. On the other hand, the Maharshal, in his comments on the Semag, disagrees, contending that menapeitz must involve disentangling and not simply beating.

Cottonseed

According to several rishonim, combing out cotton, which removes the seeds, violates a different melacha, dosh, threshing, because it separates the usable textile material from the seeds, which are unusable as clothing (Rashi, Shabbos 73b, Ran and Meiri ad locum). (Cottonseed is crushed for its oil. At the time of the Gemara, cottonseed oil was used as inferior kindling oil [see Rashi, Shabbos 21a s.v. Mish’cha]. Today, it is a source of cooking oil, used, for example, in the production of potato chips.) The melacha of dosh is violated when one breaks the natural, physical connection between two items that are dissimilar in their use, thus creating a product that can be used easily. For example, threshing breaks the connection between the kernels and the chaff, thus making the kernels usable; squeezing separates the juice or oil from the fruit. Since the Chayei Odom ruled like the Rambam that menapeitz is applicable to plant-based textiles, he concludes that combing out cotton or similar textiles, thereby removing the seeds while preparing the fibers for spinning into cloth, violates two melachos, dosh and menapeitz. However, the Bris Moshe disagrees (Commentary to Semag 65:134). It is beyond the topic of this article to explain the significance of an action violating two different melachos.

Sinews

Let us return to our second question, “How are sinews like wool?”

The halacha requires that Sifrei Torah and tefillin be sewn by a strong, very special type of “thread” made of sinew. The processing of these sinews so that they can be used as thread is also considered an act of menapeitz (Rambam, Hilchos Shabbos 9:15). The way these “threads” are processed is as follows: The thick sinews of an animal are dried and then smashed with a hammer, which makes them form a mushy mass, somewhat similar to the way wool appears after it has been carded. The beaten sinew can then be spun into thread, which constitutes the melacha of toveh.

The Avnei Neizer (170:6) asks why the hammering process that precedes the spinning of the giddin (sinews) is not a violation of a different melacha, tochein, grinding, since one is thereby pulverizing the dried sinew. He concludes that, indeed, both melachos are violated, tochein and menapeitz. The Rambam simply told us that the spinning is a toladah of menapeitz, but did not discuss the fact that one violated Shabbos already when hammering the sinew.

Combing hair

While showering, many people use hair conditioner to facilitate combing the tangles and knots out of their hair. Realize how much more difficult this is for a sheep, whose hair is much curlier, and it has been quite a while since it last brushed its hair! And it certainly didn’t use conditioner!

The halachic authorities discuss whether a woman can disentangle her hair on Shabbos, all ruling that this is permitted provided she does not do it in a way that will be a psik reisha whereby she definitely pulls out hair (end of Orach Chayim, 303). Pulling out hair is forbidden because of a different melacha, gozeiz, shearing. However, if, as we explained, any type of disentangling involves the melacha of menapeitz, why is disentangling hair not forbidden as menapeitz?

The answer is that the melacha of menapeitz is preparing material so that it can be spun into thread or made into cloth (Avnei Neizer, Orach Chayim 170:2, 171; Chayei Odom). Unless a woman is planning to spin her hair into cloth, it will not be prohibited as menapeitz.

Dog grooming

Thus, we can now address the third of our opening questions: “Is it prohibited min haTorah to comb out my dog’s hair on Shabbos?”

Unless one intends to use its hair as a textile, there is no melacha of menapeitz involved. It is presumably still prohibited because of muktzah,and because of a concern that someone will likely pull out hairs while combing.

In conclusion

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch (Shemos 20:10) notes that people mistakenly think that work is prohibited min Hatorah on Shabbos so that it be a day of rest. He points out that the Torah does not prohibit doing avodah, which connotes hard work, but melacha, activities or actions which bring purpose and accomplishment. Shabbos is a day that we refrain from constructing and altering the world for our own purposes. By refraining from our own creative acts on Shabbos, we allow Hashem’s rule to be the focus of creation (Shemos 20:11).




Interesting Chol Hamoed Questions

Photo by Caroline Hoos from FreeImages

Question #1: Trick

As a side parnasah, I perform tricks using ropes and knots. May I conduct a show during Chol Hamoed?

Question #2: Treat

May an indigent person work on Chol Hamoed in order to provide his children with treats for Yom Tov?

Question #3: Treasures

I discovered buried treasure on Chol Hamoed, and I’m afraid that if I wait until after Yom Tov someone else might find it. May I dig it up on Chol Hamoed?

Introduction:

Chol Hamoed is included among a very special category of mitzvos called osos – signs that that point out Klal Yisroel’s special relationship with Hashem. These signs include both positive and negative commandments. The positive ones include that Chol Hamoed should be noticeably different from ordinary weekdays; it should look like days in which we are celebrating – our dress and our meals should be clearly different from those of a weekday. The signs also manifest themselves in the delineation of which melacha activities are permitted on Chol Hamoed.

Theauthorities disagree concerning the extent to which dress on Chol Hamoed should be different from weekday garb. Some authorities rule that Chol Hamoed clothing should be on the same level as Yom Tov clothes, which are assumed to be fancier than those worn on Shabbos (Tanya, quoted by Magen Avraham 530:1). A second approach contends that it is sufficient that what one wears on Chol Hamoed is on the same level as Shabbos clothes (Magen Avraham 664:3). A third approach, that of the Mishnah Berurah (Shaar Hatziyun 530:4), concludes that Chol Hamoed dress should be nicer than weekday clothing, but does not have to be as nice as Shabbos clothes.

Melacha on Chol Hamoed

The Gemara (Chagigah 18a) implies that working on Chol Hamoed may be forbidden min haTorah, and this is the halachic position of many rishonim (see Biur Halacha530). Nevertheless, the majority conclude that the prohibition to work on Chol Hamoed is only a rabbinic ordinance. These authorities contend that the allusion in the Torah is not a drosha, that would make it an obligation min haTorah, but an asmachta, a hint, which is not a requirement min haTorah (Tosafos, Chagigah 18a s.v. Cholo). To quote the Rambam, “Notwithstanding that the Torah did not say, in regard to Chol Hamoed, ‘Cease from working,’ since it is called mikra kodesh and it is the time when the festival korban is offered in the Beis Hamikdash, it is prohibited to perform on it melacha, so that it should not be like the other weekdays that are not at all holy” (Hilchos Yom Tov 7:1). He then emphasizes that the prohibition is rabbinic.

Whether the prohibition of melacha is min haTorah or only miderabbanan, the purpose of Chol Hamoed is to devote one’s time to learning Torah (Yerushalmi, Moed Katan 2:3).

The laws of Chol Hamoed are often unclear. Since it is part of Yom Tov, many melacha activities are forbidden. On the other hand, activities that enhance the celebration of Yom Tov are usually permitted. What makes the laws of Chol Hamoed even more unusual is that there are activities that are permitted, such as some types of tzorchei rabbim, communal needs, despite the fact that this work actually decreases the spirit of Yom Tov. Chazal permitted communal needs to be performed on Chol Hamoed (Mishnah Moed Katan 2a), even when there is no Yom Tov need, even when it involves specialized, professional skills, and even when it is a major effort that will impact negatively on the celebration of Yom Tov. For example, it is permitted to mark graves or to pull out kelayim on Chol Hamoed, both of which are projects for which the community is responsible (Mishnah Moed Katan 2a). The reason this work is permitted is because these projects require availability of labor, and people are off from work on Chol Hamoed.

The Gemara itself notes that the halachos of Chol Hamoed are difficult to categorize, calling these laws akuros ve’ein lemeidos zu mizu (Moed Katan 12a), which Rashi explains to mean: like a barren woman (akarah), there is no “fruit.” This is an unusual way to say that one law of Chol Hamoed may not be compared easily to a different one – you cannot usually derive a “fruit,” an analytic conclusion, from one category to another. Even categories of melacha that are permitted contain subheadings that are not permitted, and creating clear, general rules is extremely difficult. Please note that, because of space restraints, I am providing only some background to the laws of Chol Hamoed and not a comprehensive work on its laws.

The poskim categorized the rulings of the Mishnah and Gemara, concluding that several types of work forbidden on Shabbos are permitted on Chol Hamoed. These include:

Davar ha’aveid

One of the categories of melacha permitted on Chol Hamoed is called davar ha’aveid, which means that not performing this activity could potentially cause financial loss. In general, this is permitted, provided that no excessive exertion is involved. The reason Chazal permitted this is because otherwise someone might worry about his loss and thereby spoil his enjoyment of Yom Tov (Ritva, Moed Katan 13a). However, working very hard – what I called here “excessive exertion” –  would spoil the Yom Tov spirit to a greater extent than his worry does, which is why it is forbidden.

The case of the Mishnah that reflects this principle is a field that does not receive sufficient rainfall and, therefore, requires irrigation. If this field was planted and irrigated before Yom Tov, it may be watered from a natural spring, but not from rainwater (Mishnah Moed Katan 2a). The difference between a spring and rainwater is that the latter requires far more exertion than simply directing the water flowing naturally from the spring to your field. Hoisting buckets of water, which is usually the case when using rainwater to irrigate a field (and is sometimes the case when using a spring, is prohibited on Chol Hamoed, because this involves excessive exertion (see Mishnah Berurah 537:7).

The Mishnah implies that it is permitted to irrigate only a beis hashalchin, a field that requires irrigation, but not a field that receives adequate rainfall for its crops to grow (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayiim 537:1). Why would you irrigate a field that receives adequate rainfall? Because even such a field produces better crops when it is irrigated. This is prohibited on Chol Hamoed, since this is not considered preventing a loss, but providing greater profit, which is not permitted (ibid.). We will return to this principle later in this article.

Here is another type of davar ha’aveid that Chazal permitted on Chol Hamoed. The Gemara (Moed Katan 10b) states that doing even a small amount of business is prohibited on Chol Hamoed. Nevertheless, Rav Pappa ruled that someone who has more dates than he can sell as fresh produce may slice open the dates and press them out to dry on Chol Hamoed, even though they will certainly not dry quickly enough to be eaten on Yom Tov. The activity of drying them is permitted because of davar ha’aveid, since the dates may get wormy if he does not begin the drying process when the fruit is ripe.

Tzorchei hamoed

Chazal permitted making and repairing items on Chol Hamoed that will be used to enhance the Yom Tov atmosphere, provided one does not use a skilled method (maaseh uman) to manufacture or repair them. For example, someone who is not skilled in sewing may repair a garment that became torn on Yom Tov, so that it can beworn on Chol Hamoed (Moed Katan 8b, 10b).

Here are some more unusual cases of tzorchei hamoed that later authorities mention: You may tune an instrument in order to play it on Chol Hamoed, if doing so requires no specialized skills (Shu’t Shevus Yaakov 1:25). Similarly, it is permitted to swat mosquitoes if they are bothering you (Shu’t HaRadbaz #727).

Po’eil she’ein lo mah le’echol

Literally, this means a worker who is so poor that he has nothing to eat. Such a person my work on Chol Hamoed. But is this to be taken literally, i.e., that he has nothing at all to eat, or does it mean that he does not have enough to celebrate Yom Tov properly? This is a dispute between the Magen Avraham (542:1) – who contends that it means that he does not have even bread to eat and water to drink on Yom Tov, but if he does, he cannot work on Chol Hamoed – and the Lechem Mishneh (as quoted by Elya Rabbah 542:3), who explains it to mean that he does not have enough to celebrate Yom Tov properly.

Tie yourself in knots

At this point, we can begin to address our opening question: “As a side parnasah, I perform tricks using ropes and knots. May I conduct a show during Chol Hamoed?”

Several issues require clarification. If the entertainer is so poor that he qualifies as a po’eil she’ein lo mah le’echol, he is permitted to perform his show, and people are doing a mitzvah when they attend. If he does not qualify, we have to research whether any halachic issue is involved when tying specialty knots on Chol Hamoed.

Knotty question

Is there any prohibition against tying knots on Chol Hamoed?

The Gemara (Moed Katan 2b) mentions that melacha is prohibited on Chol Hamoed, because it is tircha, work that takes away from the appreciation of Yom Tov. Does this mean that it is permitted to do melacha that does not involve strenuous activity? One very prominent acharon, the Elyah Rabbah (533:4), indeed rules this way.

Based on the comments of several rishonim, the Beis Yosef (Orach Chayiim 540) rules that if your house has a dirt floor and you discover on Yom Tov that the dirt floor has a bump, you may remove the earth creating the bump from the floor on Chol Hamoed. The Beis Yosefwrites that even though smoothing a bump constitutes an activity that is prohibited min haTorah on Shabbos and Yom Tov (Shabbos 73b), it is permitted on Chol Hamoed because it is not a strenuous activity. This implies that you may remove the dirt lump from your floor on Chol Hamoed, even if it does not accommodate any Yom Tov need – for example, if you notice the bump as you are leaving the house on Chol Hamoed and are not returning until after Yom Tov.We could then conclude that non-strenuous activity is permitted on Chol Hamoed, even when it is a melacha and has no Yom Tov purpose.

This would mean that our rope showman may perform his activities on Chol Hamoed, even if they involve tying knots in a way that would be a melacha min haTorah on Shabbos and Yom Tov.

Several early halachic authorities seem to support this approach. For example, Tosafos (Moed Kattan 10b s.v. Prakmatya) rules that it is permitted to lend money with interest to non-Jews on Chol Hamoed. (It is forbidden min haTorah to charge Jews interest because of the prohibition of ribis.) Although the Gemara prohibits business activities on Chol Hamoed, this means transporting merchandise to the market or opening your store, both of which involve a great deal of tircha (Sefer Yerei’im). Lending money simply means keeping track of your records and making sure that the collateral you receive is sufficient to sell easily for the value of the loan.

For this reason, some recent poskim permit purchasing and selling stocks, bonds and commodities on Chol Hamoed (Debreciner Rav, quoted in Chol Hamoed,page 91). (However, this work also quotes a psak of Rav Moshe Feinstein that purchasing and selling stocks, bonds and commodities is prohibited on Chol Hamoed.)

Melacha versus business

It is possible that the rishonim who permitted lending money on Chol Hamoed did so only for business activities that do not involve any melacha actions. However, a melacha activity not for the purpose of enhancing the enjoyment of Yom Tov is prohibited, even when it does not involve any tircha. This appears to be the position of the Pri Megadim, who permits removing earth from a dirt floor only when necessary for Yom Tov (Eishel Avraham 540:5, 7). In other words, the Pri Megadim disputes the ruling of the Elyah Rabbah and permits a non-strenuous act only when there is a Yom Tov benefit.

The Chayei Odom seems to have held a similar approach to that of the Pri Megadim, since he forbids tying knots on Chol Hamoed, unless there is a Yom Tov purpose in doing so (Klal 110:11). This ruling would put our rope entertainer out of business on Chol Hamoed, unless his show fulfills a Yom Tov purpose, or if he limits his knots to those permitted to be tied on Shabbos.

It appears that this issue, whether non-strenuous melachos may be performed on Chol Hamoed when they do not fulfill a Chol Hamoed purpose, can be traced to a dispute among early acharonim. The Hagahos Maimoniyos (Hilchos Yom Tov 8:9) cites that the Maharam of Rottenberg prohibited tearing grass out of the cemetery on Chol Hamoed. This is quoted by the Shulchan Aruch and accepted as normative halacha (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 547:12). But what exactly did the Maharam prohibit?

According to the Maamar Mordechai, the Maharam is referring to the common custom of pulling up some grass from the cemetery after a burial. The Maharam prohibited this on Chol Hamoed, because, although this involves no strenuous activity, it does not fulfill any Yom Tov need.

On the other hand, several prominent halachic authorities understood that the Maharam meant to ban something very different – mowing the grass on the cemetery property on Chol Hamoed, which is clearly a strenuous activity that does not serve a Yom Tov purpose. These authorities permit pulling up grass after a Chol Hamoed funeral the way it is usually done on other days of the year (Shu’t Mabit #250; Elyah Rabbah). We should note that the Elyah Rabbah is consistent in ruling that something non-strenuous is permitted on Chol Hamoed, even when there is no tzorech hamoed; the Maamar Mordechai agrees with the Pri Megadim that you cannot remove a dirt clod from the floor on Chol Hamoed, unless it is for a Yom Tov purpose, and also with the Chayei Odom, who prohibits tying knots if it is not a tzorech hamoed.

We could also, perhaps, prove that another earlier authority also held this way. The Radbaz, who lived in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, was asked whether it is permitted to swat mosquitoes on Chol Hamoed, when they are not bothering you. He rules that if the mosquitoes are not bothering you at the moment, it is forbidden (Shu’t HaRadbaz #727). Although swatting a mosquito is not a strenuous activity, the Radbaz prohibits it if it does not serve a Yom Tov purpose. This would appear to indicate that he also agrees that melacha that has no tircha is prohibited on Chol Hamoed. On the other hand, it would seem that the Mabit and the Elyah Rabbah,who permit pulling grass not for the purpose of Yom Tov, hold that melacha that involves no tircha is permitted on Chol Hamoed.

Buried treasure

At this point, let us discuss our third question:

I discovered buried treasure on Chol Hamoed, and I’m afraid that if I wait until after Yom Tov someone else might find it. May I dig it up on Chol Hamoed?

We noted above that it is permitted, at times, to perform melacha on Chol Hamoed in order to avoid a loss, but not in order to increase profits. This treasure is categorized as increased profit, for which performing melacha is prohibited on Chol Hamoed. So, this case should be treated the same as if you found treasure on Shabbos or Yom Tov — you must wait until after Yom Tov to dig it up.

Conclusion

Four mitzvos of the Torah are called os, a sign of Hashem’s special relationship with us: Bris Milah, Shabbos, Yom Tov (including Chol Hamoed) and Tefillin. Because Chol Hamoed is included in this very special category, Jews should treat Chol Hamoed with great respect. Indeed, the Gemara states that disregarding the sanctity of the Yomim Tovim, including Chol Hamoed, is like practicing idolatry (Pesachim 118a with Rashbam). Some commentators explain that this includes even someone who fails to serve special meals in honor of Chol Hamoed (Bartenura, Avos 3:11). By observing Chol Hamoed properly, we demonstrate that we recognize and appreciate this special relationship between Hashem and Klal Yisroel.




Between a Rock and a Hard Place

The subject of this article is Rav Shlomoh Levitan, whose yahrzeit falls out this week.

Question #1: May a Mechalel Shabbos Duchen?

“The only kohen in our shul operates his business on Shabbos. Until recently, he had never duchened, and the rav was comfortable with that. Recently, the shul’s chazzan encouraged the kohen to duchen, and he began doing so. Should we stop him?”

Question #2: The Strength of a Rock

How did a tremendous talmid chacham, a correspondent of the Rogatchover Gaon, a close talmid of both the Chofetz Chayim and Rav Itzele Ponevitzer, become the Rosh Av Beis Din of the thriving Jewish metropolis that included Rock Island, Illinois, and Davenport, Iowa?

Answer:

Our opening question was asked of Rav Moshe Feinstein by a first-class talmid chacham, Rav Shlomoh Yehudah Leib Levitan, then rav of Rock Island, Illinois. Rav Moshe’s response is published in Shu”t Igros Moshe, Volume 1, Number 33. Igros Moshe does not include the full correspondence on the topic, for which one needs to find a copy of Rav Levitan’s teshuvos, Yeri’os Shlomoh, where it is included as Siman #6.

Who was Rav Shlomoh Yehudah Leib Levitan, and what was he doing in Rock Island, Illinois?

Rav Ben Zion Levitan

Rav Shlomoh Yehudah Leib Levitan’s father, Rav Ben Zion Levitan, was one of the foremost poskim in Lithuania in his time. The older Rav Levitan had been the rav of Tzitavian, the tiny Lithuanian shtetl that, at different times, boasted several prominent gedolim as its rav, including, much later, Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky.

Rav Shlomoh Yehudah Leib Levitan studied in the Chofetz Chayim’s yeshivah in Radin. His entire life, he viewed the Chofetz Chayim as his primary rebbe. While a student in Radin, he was appointed as a rebbe to younger students. He also studied in the famed mussar yeshivah of Kelm (which, later, was the main yeshivah where Rav Eliyahu Dessler studied).

Rock-solid lamdus

Subsequently, Rav Levitan studied in the yeshivah of Ponevitz, Lithuania, under the famed tzadik and gaon, Rav Itzele Rabinovitch, who was known as Rav Itzele Ponevitzer, because he was also the rav of the city.

To illustrate Rav Itzele’s tremendous yiras shamayim, Rav Shach used to tell the following story: When, for the first time in Ponevitz, a Jew opened his business on Shabbos, Rav Itzele, whose sole income was from his position as rav, resigned from the position, explaining that he was petrified to go to the Beis Din shel Maalah (the heavenly tribunal) as the rav of a community where Shabbos was publicly desecrated. (Eventually, the chevrah kadisha forced the storeowner to close on Shabbos by refusing to bury his father, until he agreed to keep the store closed!)

Rav Itzele’s hasmadah (diligence in Torah study) was legendary. He would learn until his last ounce of energy was exhausted and, invariably, fell asleep with his boots on, even when they were covered with mud. (In his era, the streets of Ponevitz were unpaved.)

Rav Itzele was considered by many to be the genius of his era, a generation that included much competition for that distinction since it contained such luminaries as Rav Chayim Brisker, Rav Dovid Karliner, the Ohr Somayach, the Rogatchover Gaon, Rav Chayim Ozer, and the Aruch Hashulchan. Indeed, Rav Itzele and Rav Chayim Brisker had been chavrusos (study partners) for a few years, shortly after their marriages (in the 1870’s). Rav Itzele was a discipleof Rav Chayim’s father, Rav Yosef Dov Soloveichek, the Beis Halevi. Unfortunately, very few of Rav Itzele’s brilliant chiddushei Torah were saved for posterity, other than a small sefer entitled Zecher Yitzchak.

Thus, Rav Levitan’s two main rabbei’im, the Chofetz Chayim and Rav Itzele Ponevitzer, were both renowned gedolim, known both for their tzidkus and theirlomdus.

The rock of the yeshivah

After his years of study in these yeshivos, Rav Levitan taught in the yeshivah of Brisk, at the same time that Rav Elchonon Wasserman was also a magid shiur there. (This was prior to Rav Elchonon opening his yeshivah in Baranovitch.) Rav Levitan then became a magid shiur in the yeshivah in Shavel. Eventually, Rav Levitan became rav of Tver, Lithuania. Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky used to say that, in the Lithuania between the wars, the period of time that we are now discussing, there were at least 200 shtetlach and towns, each of which boasted a rav who was a complete baki in shas and poskim. The difference between the highly respected posek and one who was considered a rav of “ordinary” status was the depth to which the highly respected posek understood shas!

Between a rock and a hard place

Where is Rock Island? How did it get its unusual name? And, germane to our article, how did a gadol of Rav Levitan’s stature become rav there?

Rock Island is in western Illinois, across the Mississippi River from Davenport, Iowa. Although a visit there today would never reveal this, there was once a strong frum community there of immigrant Jews from Eastern Europe. It was a shul in this community, Bnai Jacob Congregation, that hired Rav Levitan as its rav after his arrival in the United States in the 1920’s. He remained the rav of the community for 38 years, until almost his last days, eventually becoming the rav of the other shul in the city, Beis Yisroel, and also of Congregation Anshei Emes of Davenport. He retired in 1965, two and a half years after his rebbitzen had passed away on the seventh day of Chanukah, 5723 (December 28, 1962). He was respected as one of the top rabbonim in the United States.

In 5724 (1964), Rav Levitan published a sefer, Siach Chein, droshos on the parshios, yomim tovim and special occasions. His sefer halachah, Yeri’os Shlomoh, from whose introduction the biographical information for this article was gleaned, was published posthumously by his children, and contains dialogues in halachah between Rav Levitan and a Who’s Who of gedolei Yisroel, including the Rogatchover Gaon and Rav Moshe Feinstein. Rav Levitan passed away on the sixteenth of Elul, 5726 (September 1, 1966).

On the rocks

Why is the city named Rock Island? Rock Island was the original name of what is now called Arsenal Island, the largest island in the Mississippi River. One of the largest employers in the area is a US-government-owned weapons’ manufacturing facility, which gave Arsenal Island its new name, but Rock Island remained the name of the city on the eastern side of the Mississippi. The metropolitan area of Davenport and Rock Island includes several other cities, and the current population estimate of the metropolitan area covering both states and both sides of the Mississippi is 380,000.

Rock bottom

Although the core of the community of Rock Island was solidly frum when Rav Levitan arrived, with time, the older generation of committed Jews passed on, and the younger people either moved away or did not remain staunch in their Yiddishkeit. Several of Rav Levitan’s teshuvos reflect the sad reality of being rav in a community that is slowly disappearing. Among these questions is a teshuvah concerning whether one may build a mikveh in a boarded-up, no longer functional shul.

Rock kohen echad

The halachic question that opened this article reflects another manifestation of this problem. In 1949, when Rav Levitan sent this question to Rav Moshe, the shul no longer had any shomer Shabbos kohanim, and there was no longer any duchening. There was one kohen who came to shul on yomim tovim, a man who owned and operated a store on Shabbos. He had not been duchening until the chazzan of the shul encouraged him to do so. The question was whether it was permitted to allow the kohen to continue duchening or whether Rav Levitan must insist that the kohen stop. He wrote a lengthy missive detailing the aspects of the question and mailed it to Rav Moshe Feinstein for the latter’s opinion. Here is the halachic background:

Rocky conflict

At first glance, whether a sinner may duchen appears to be a dispute between the two Talmudim, the Bavli and the Yerushalmi. The Talmud Yerushalmi (Gittin 5:9) states: “Don’t say, ‘this man violates prohibitions like arayos’, or ‘he is a shedder of blood –and he should bless me?’ The Holy One, blessed is He, said: ‘Who is blessing you? I am blessing you.’” This passage of Yerushalmi implies that even someone violating the most serious of crimes may recite the duchening.

However, this Yerushalmi seems to conflict with a ruling of the Talmud Bavli (Brochos 32b), which states that a kohen who killed someone should not duchen. The Kesef Mishneh (Hilchos Tefillah u’Birchas Kohanim 15:3) clarifies that the Yerushalmi may be understood in a way that it does not conflict with the Bavli. He explains that the Yerushalmi refers to a case where we do not know for certain whether the kohen actually sinned, but that there is a persistent rumor of his violating very serious sins. Even according to the Yerushalmi, the halachah is that were we certain that the kohen killed someone or worshipped idols, he would not be permitted to duchen, as stated in the Bavli.  However, definite knowledge that he committed other sins does not preclude his duchening, nor do rumors that he committed violations such as arayos or murder.

This approach is supported by the ruling of the Rambam (Hilchos Tefillah u’Birchas Kohanim 15:3, 6): “A kohen who killed someone, even if only through negligence, and even if he subsequently did teshuvah, should not duchen… a kohen who worshipped idols, even if he did so under coercion or negligently, may never duchen again, even if he did teshuvah… However, other sins do not prevent him… A kohen who does not have any of the things that prevent him from duchening, even if he is not a Torah scholar, is careless in his mitzvah observance, has a scandalous reputation, and his business dealings are dishonest, should nevertheless duchen. We do not stop him — because it is a positive mitzvah for every kohen who may duchen. Do not say to an evil person, ‘add more iniquity by not observing mitzvos.’”

Thus, the Rambam rules that a kohen who killed someone or worshipped idols may not duchen, but a kohen who violated any other mitzvos of the Torah may and should still duchen, even if his sinning was intentional and he has as yet not done teshuvah.

All of this does not present any reason to exclude a kohen who desecrates Shabbos from duchening. Although he performs heinous sins, even sinners, with very few exceptions, are encouraged to duchen. However, to understand Rav Levitan’s question, we need to do some more research.

Worshipping rocks

The Gemara (Chullin 5a) says that we accept korbanos from Jewish sinners, in order to encourage them to do teshuvah. One can infer that these sinners are treated just as the sinning kohanim whom we allow to duchen – even though they sin intentionally and have no thought of doing teshuvah!

Notwithstanding this “liberal” attitude to treating sinners, the Gemara makes two exceptions whose korbanos are not accepted — someone who worships idols and someone who desecrates Shabbos openly. We do not accept the korbanos of these two categories of sinners.

On the basis of this Gemara, the Pri Chodosh (Orach Chayim 128:39) explains that just as an idol worshipper is not permitted to duchen, so, too, a mechalel Shabbos in public may not duchen. In other words, although sinners are both permitted and encouraged to offer korbanos and to duchen, there are certain sins that place a perpetrator beyond the pale of permitting him to duchen. Since we see that a Shabbos breaker may not offer korbanos, because he is compared to an idol worshipper, so, too, he is prohibited from duchening. This position is shared by several other prominent acharonim (Pri Megadim, Mishbetzos Zahav 128:39; Rav Shulchan Aruch 128:52; Mishnah Berurah 128:134; Kaf Hachayim 128:217).

Thus, Rav Levitan was in a predicament. Now that the storeowner had begun to duchen, it would create a major ruckus to stop him. If the halachah requires that he be stopped, then there is no choice. On the other hand, if this kohen may duchen, there would be no reason to turn the situation into a battleground.

Rock of Gibraltar

This was the question that Rav Levitan sent to Rav Moshe, including an analysis of the sources in halachah on the topic. In his response, Rav Moshe noted that although the Gemara compares a Shabbos desecrater to an idol worshipper and rules that, in both instances, we do not accept their korbanos, there is, nevertheless, a qualitative difference between the gravity of these two aveiros. The possibility exists that, although someone who committed idolatry may not duchen, a blatant mechalel Shabbos might be permitted.

Rav Moshe then notes that this distinction can be proved. The Rambam rules that an idol worshipper may not duchen, even after he has done teshuvah, whereas Rav Moshe contends that a former Shabbos breaker who has done teshuvah may duchen. There is a qualitative difference between idolatry and desecrating Shabbos.

Rock of ages

Here is an even stronger proof that a Shabbos desecrator may duchen. The Mishnah (Menachos 109a) rules that “kohanim who served in the Temple of Chonyo may not serve in the Beis Hamikdash in Yerushalayim, and certainly those who once served avodah zarah may not… They are treated like blemished kohanim, who may receive a portion of the meat of the offerings and eat it, but they may not offer korbanos.”

What was the temple of Chonyo? Chonyo, who had been passed over as kohen gadol, built his own altar in Alexandria, Egypt (Menachos 109b). Constructing this place of worship was a clear violation of halachah, although the Mishnah concludes that Beis Chonyo, as it refers to this structure, was not a house of idol worship. Nevertheless, any kohen who ever served in Beis Chonyo was forever banned from serving in the Beis Hamikdash, even if he subsequently did full teshuvah for his sins.

Rock Gornish

Notwithstanding the Mishnah’s statement that anyone who served idols may never again serve in the Beis Hamikdash, the Gemara draws a distinction between how he served idols. Although slaughtering for an idol is a sin that merits capital punishment (Sanhedrin 7:6), the Gemara (Menachos 109a-b) rules that a kohen who slaughtered an animal for avodah zarah, but never performed any other idol worship, and who then did teshuvah, may perform the service (avodah) in the Beis Hamikdash (see Rashi). Slaughtering for idols is treated more leniently than other violations of idolatry, such as offering to the idol, which invalidate the kohen forever from serving in the Beis Hamikdash or duchening. Certainly, a kohen who slaughtered for avodah zarah and did teshuvah may still duchen, just as he may still serve in the Beis Hamikdash, in spite of the severity of his sin.

Rav Moshe notes that although flouting Shabbos publicly is as sinful as venerating idols, not all forms of idolatry invalidate the perpetrator from ever again offering korbanos or from duchening. Thus, although desecrating Shabbos is a grievous sin, we cannot prove that it invalidates the perpetrator from duchening. It may be parallel to slaughtering for idols, which does not invalidate the perpetrator from duchening. Rav Moshe notes that this ruling of his runs against the consensus of the acharonim on the subject.

Rav Moshe then adds another logical reason why a Shabbos desecrator may still duchen. The Gemara states that someone who brazenly desecrates Shabbos is treated like an idolater. The halachah is that only someone who desecrates Shabbos openly has this status, not a person who defiles Shabbos only behind closed doors. Why do we draw a distinction between violating Shabbos overtly and doing so clandestinely? The transgression is the same, and, truthfully, transgressing covertly is a more serious offence since it implies greater concern about what people think than about what Hashem knows!

Rav Moshe explains that someone who is mechalel Shabbos openly is considered an idolater because public chillul Shabbos is a colossal chillul Hashem. Rav Moshe suggests that perhaps it is such a colossal chillul Hashem only when the reason for the sin is his disdain for mitzvos, not when his motivation is for profit. Although Shabbos desecration for monetary gain is grievous, it may not be tantamount to idol worship, even when performed blatantly.

Rocking the boat

Rav Moshe then rules that, although it is permitted for the recalcitrant storeowner to duchen, the rav has the right to ban him from duchening in order to discourage chillul Shabbos, even when this ruling will discontinue duchening in shul. Nevertheless, Rav Moshe concludes that the rav should not ban a mechalel Shabbos from duchening if the chazzan recited the word kohanim aloud, or someone invited the kohen to duchen, since now it might be required min hatorah for him to duchen. In any instance, Rav Moshe suggests that one not “rock the boat” should a mechalel Shabbos want to duchen.

In conclusion – Falling from the rock

When I was a rav in a Buffalo, New York, suburb, I often had occasion to drive through the small towns in the area. In most of the towns, there was a building that one could easily identify as having once been a frum shul. Unfortunately, none of these towns has any frum presence anymore, and few have any recognizable Jewish presence, although, at one time, there may have been prominent rabbonim and talmidei chachamim living there.

The main reason that these cities disappeared Jewishly was the lack of chinuch. In the 1950’s, Torah Umesorah was created, with the mission of creating Jewish day schools in every town possible. Largely, the cities that today have frum communities are those that had day schools created in that era. We see how Torah education is of such paramount importance. The communities that flourish today survived because of their commitment to chinuch.




Liturgical Curiosities

Question #1:

I find that many of the selichos that we recite before Rosh Hashanah are very difficult, if not impossible, to understand. Is this to teach us how difficult it is to do teshuvah?

Question #2:

“I once heard a rav give a running commentary to the kinos of Tisha B’Av, and he mentioned that the first kinah is a continuation of the piyut recited during the repetition of the shemoneh esrei. But I never saw anyone recite piyutim during the repetition of Tisha B’Av shemoneh esrei and do not even know where to look for them.”

Question #3:

“As a child, I remember that all the shullen recited piyutim during Maariv on Yomim Tovim and during Kedushah on special Shabbosos. Now I see piyutim recited only on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. What has changed?”

Although these questions seem unrelated, they all focus on a central subject: the additions of piyutim, kinos and other special passages in our davening. Let us first understand the background to the piyutim.

What are Piyutim?

During the period of the Rishonim, the Geonim, and even earlier, great Torah scholars wrote prayers and other liturgical works that were inserted into many different places in the davening, particularly during the birkos keri’as shema (between borchu and shemoneh esrei) and during the repetition of the shemoneh esrei. Standard shul practice, particularly among Ashkenazic Jewry, was to recite these piyutim on special occasions, including Yomim Tovim, fast days, and special Shabbosos (see Rama, Orach Chayim 68:1; 112:2). These piyutim express the mood and the theme of the day, often recall the history of the day, and sometimes even provide the halachic background for the day’s observance. Studying these piyutim not only gives us tremendous appreciation for these days, but sometimes provides us with certain aspects of mystery, as I will explain.

There is also a humbling side to the study of piyutim. The piyutim predate the printing press and return us to the era when written works had to be painstakingly handcopied. Most communities could not afford handwritten manuscripts of all the piyutim, and therefore the job of every chazzan included committing the piyutim to memory. My father told me many times that he knew blind chazzanim who recited the entire yomim nora’im davening by heart!

Selichos

We are all aware of the selichos recited on fast days and during Elul and Aseres Yemei Teshuvah, which are a type of piyutim. Another famous part of davening that qualifies as piyut is Akdamus, recited prior to keri’as hatorah on Shavuos. This introduction to the keri’as haTorah for Shavuos was written by Rabbeinu Meir ben Yitzchak of Worms, Germany, who was one of the great leaders of Ashkenazic Jewry before Rashi. Other examples of piyutim that are commonly recited include Tefillas Tal and Tefillas Geshem. The poem Dvei Haseir – recited before bensching at a Sheva Berachos, authored by Dunash ibn Labrat, an early poet and grammarian who is cited by Rashi in several places – and Nodeh Leshimcha, which takes the same slot at a bris milah are other examples of piyut.

Double Duty

Some piyutim are used in two different contexts. For example, the song frequently chanted at a bris, Shirah Chadashah,originated as a piyut recited immediately before the close of the berachah of Ga’al Yisrael in birchas keri’as shema on the Seventh Day of Pesach. This piyut, written by Rabbi Yehudah HaLevi, refers both to the splitting of the Yam Suf and to bris milah, and is therefore appropriate on both occasions.

Teaching Torah through Piyutim

Many times, the rabbis used poetry as a means of teaching Torah. For example, a very extensive literature of piyutim lists and explains the 613 mitzvos. Most of these pieces date back to the times of the Geonim; indeed, the famous count of mitzvos by Rav Saadia Gaon is actually a poem. The Rambam, in his introduction to the Sefer Hamitzvos refers to many such poems. He quotes them disparagingly, because most followed the count of the 613 mitzvos according to the Baal Halachos Gedolos, with which the Rambam disagreed.

Other examples include piyutim that instruct about special observances of the Jewish calendar. Among the most famous is the Seder Avodah of Yom Kippur, which is already referred to in the Gemara, although the text they used is long lost. Dozens of different piyutim were written in the period of the Geonim and Rishonim describing the Seder Avodah in detail. The Rishonim devote much halachic discussion about the technical accuracy of several of the versions they received from earlier generations, often taking issue and making rectifications. Even as late a halachic authority as the Chayei Odom made many corrections to our Seder Avodah of Yom Kippur to correct its accuracy.

U’neshalma Parim Sefaseinu

Reciting the Seder Avodah also 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, Hashem accepts our recital of the procedure as a replacement for the korbanos (Midrash Rabbah, Shir HaShirim 4:3). This implies that we can achieve kapparah (atonement) by reciting these piyutim with kavanah. Therefore, a person who recites the viduy of the Seder Avodah and truly regrets his sins can accomplish atonement similar to that achieved through the viduy recited by the Kohen Gadol.

Other “Replacement” Prayers

The same idea of U’neshalma Parim Sefaseinu is followed when we recite piyutim that describe other korbanos, such as, for example, the korban omer, the water libation (nisuch hamayim) of Sukkos, or the korban Pesach. We can achieve the drawing close to Hashem that korbanos achieve by discussing them and by longing for their return. This expands the rationale for reciting piyutim.

Educate to Observe Mitzvos

Some piyutim serve not only to teach Torah, but also to educate people how to observe mitzvos correctly. For example, the piyut, Elokei HaRuchos,recited on Shabbos Hagadol, contains a lengthy halachic description of all the preparations for Pesach, including detailed instructions for kashering and preparing the house. This halachic-liturgical classic was authored by Rav Yosef Tuv-Elem, the rabbinic leader of French Jewry prior to Rashi. Tosafos and other Rishonim devote much debate to the halachic positions taken by Rav Yosef Tuv-Elem in this poem, and Rabbeinu Tam and others revised Elokei HaRuchos to reflect their opinion of the correct halachah. Since the goal of this piyut was to teach the correct way to observe the laws of Pesach, the Rishonim felt it vital that the it halachically accurate. Obviously, this piyut was meant to be read, studied, and understood.

Who Authored Them?

You might ask, how do we know who wrote the different piyutim, particularly when many are over a thousand years old!

In general, most piyutim follow an alef beis acrostic in order to facilitate recall. (Remember — the assumption was that the chazzan would recite them from memory!) Many times, the author completed the work by weaving his name into the acrostic pattern he used for the particular piyut. Thus, Elokei HaRuchos begins with the alef beis but closes by spelling Yosef Hakatan bar Shmuel Chazak, which is the way Rav Yosef Tuv-Elem chose to “sign” this piyut.

An Old Controversy

Early controversy surrounded the practice of interrupting the berachos of keri’as shema or the repetition of the shemoneh esrei to recite the yotzaros, the word frequently used as a generic word for all piyutim inserted into the regular davening. (The word “yotzaros” originally referred only to those piyutim inserted after Borchu, shortly after the words “yotzeir ohr uborei choshech… .” However, in standard use the word refers to all piyutim inserted into the berachos of keri’as shema or the repetition of the shemoneh esrei.) The Shulchan Aruch rules: “There are communities that interrupt the birkos keri’as shema to recite piyutim, but it is correct not to say them for they constitute an interruption” (Orach Chayim 68:1). On this point, the Rama, reflecting early Ashkenazic practice, adds: “Others say that this is not prohibited and the practice in all communities is to recite them.” Each country and city had its own special customs concerning what was said and when; this was usually recorded in a community ledger.

Mesod Chachamim Unevonim

To acknowledge that these piyutim interrupt the regular repetition of the shemoneh esrei, the chazzan introduces the piyutim with the words, Mesod chachamim unevonim (Based on the tradition of the wise and understanding). These words mention that early great Torah leaders permitted and encouraged the introduction of these praises.

The Vilna Gaon, in his commentary to Shulchan Aruch (ibid.), explains both the position of those who recommended the recital of yotzaros and those who discouraged them. For the most part, the Lithuanian yeshivos followed the personal practice of the Gra not to recite piyutim during the birkos keri’as shema, and did not recite yotzaros during the repetition of the shemoneh esrei (Maasei Rav #57). (The Yeshivos recite yotzaros during the repetition of the shemoneh esrei on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.) With the tremendous spreading of shullen that follow the practices of the yeshivos, rather than what was previously followed by the Ashkenazic communities, it is increasingly difficult to find a shul catering to yeshivah alumnithat recites the piyutim other than during the repetition of the shemoneh esrei on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. This answers the question asked above: “As a child, I remember reciting piyutim during Maariv on Yomim Tovim and during Kedushah on special Shabbosos. Now I see piyutim recited only on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. What has changed?”

Unfortunately, due to this change in custom,this vast treasured literature of the Jewish people is quickly becoming forgotten.

Who was the First Paytan?

The title of being the earliest prominent paytan presumably belongs to Rabbi Elazar HaKalir, often referred to as the Rosh HaPaytanim, who authored Tefillas Tal and Tefillas Geshem, the piyutim for the four special Shabbosos (Shekalim, Zachor, Parah and HaChodesh), for Purim, the lion’s share of the kinos that Ashkenazim recite on Tisha B’Av and as piyutim on Yom Tov. We know virtually nothing about him personally — we cannot even date when he lived with any accuracy. Indeed, some Rishonim place him in the era of the Tanna’im shortly after the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash, identifying him either as Rabbi Elazar ben Arach (Shu”t Rashba 1:469), a disciple of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai, or as Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai’s son Elazar, who hid in the cave with his father (Tosafos, Chagigah 13a s.v. Veraglei; Rosh, Berachos 5:21). Others date Rav Elazar HaKalir much later.

Many assume that Rav Elazar HaKalir lived in Eretz Yisrael, based on the fact that we have no piyutim written by him for the second day of Yom Tov (Tosafos, Chagigah 13a s.v. Veraglei; Rosh, Berachos 5:21). Moreover, Tosafos there uses this evidence to prove that Kalir lived at the time when the Beis Din determined Rosh Chodesh on the basis of visual evidence. However, the yotzaros recited immediately following Borchu on the second day of Sukkos clearly include his signature and follow his style. So perhaps he indeed lived in chutz la’aretz, and indeed there are those who assume he lived in Italy, which was the location of many of the very early Ashkenazi paytanim.

Could it be that Diaspora Jews moved yotzaros he wrote for the first day of Yom Tov to the second day?

If this approach is true, it creates another question: Since the yotzaros recited on the first day of Yom Tov were also written by him, would he have written two sets of yotzaros for Shacharis on Sukkos? There are other indications that, indeed, he did sometimes write more than one set of piyutim for the same day.

Kalirian Curiosities

We do not know for certain what the name “Kalir” means. Since there are several places where he uses the acronym “Elazar berabi Kalir,” it seems that his father’s name was Kalir. However, the Aruch explains that “kalir” means a type of cookie, and that he was called hakalir because he ate a cookie upon which had been written a special formula that blessed him with tremendous erudition (Aruch, eirech Kalar III).

Kalirian Controversies

The antiquity of Rabbi Elazar’s writing did not save him from controversy. No less a gadol than the ibn Ezra stridently opposes using Rav Kalir’s works, arguing that prayers and piyutim should be written very clearly and be readily understood (Commentary to Koheles 5:1). Ibn Ezra recommends reciting piyutim written by Rav Saadia Geon that are easy to understand, rather than those of Kalir.

Rav Kalir’s piyutim in general, and his kinos in particular, are written in an extremely difficult poetic Hebrew. Often his ideas are left in allusions, and the story or midrash to which he alludes is unclear or obscure. They certainly cannot be understood without careful preparation. Someone who takes the trouble to do this will be awed by the beauty of the thoughts and allusions. The Shibbolei HaLeket records that when Rabbi Elazar wrote his piyutim the angels surrounded him with fire (quoted by the Magen Avraham at the beginning of Orach Chayim 68.) The Arizal recited all of the Kalir’s piyutim, because he perceived their deep kabbalistic allusions (ibid.).

Why is Es Tzemach David Ignored?

There is another mysterious practice in some of his writings. The piyutim he wrote for the weekday shemoneh esrei (such as for Purim) include a paragraph for every berachah of shemoneh esrei except one,the berachah Es tzemach David that precedes Shema koleinu.

Why would Rav Kalir omit this berachah? Perhaps the answer to this mystery can help us understand more about when he lived.

Answering the Mystery

Our use of the title “shemoneh esrei” to identify the focal part of our daily prayer is actually a misnomer, dating back to when this tefillah included only eighteen berachos. In the times of the Mishnah, a nineteenth berachah, Velamalshinim, was added, and the Talmud Bavli notes that this increases the berachos of the “shemoneh esrei” to nineteen.

However, there is evidence that even after Velamalshinim was added, not everyone recited nineteen berachos. A Tosefta implies that they still recited eighteen berachos in the shemoneh esrei.  This was accomplished by combining together two of the berachos, Uvenei Yerushalayim and Es tzemach David. This would explain why someone would not write a piyut for the berachah Es tzemach David, since it was no longer an independent berachah. Thus, if we can identify a place and time when these two berachos were combined, we might more closely identify when Rav Elazar HaKalir lived. It would seem that this would be sometime between the introduction of the berachah Velamalshinim and the time the Talmud Bavli’s practice of a nineteen-berachahshemoneh esrei” became accepted.

Rabbi Elazar Hakalir’s piyutim and kinos require studying rather than reading. They are often extremely difficult pieces to read, relying on allusions to midrashim and historical events. Many commentators elucidated his works, attempting to illuminate the depths of his words. Also, sometimes he employed extremely complicated acrostics. This is cited as proof that he lived later, when such writing was stylish; of course, this does not prove his lack of antiquity.

The Kinos

As I mentioned above, most of the kinos we recite on Tisha B’Av are authored by Rabbi Elazar HaKalir. In his typical style, many of these can be understood only by preparing them in advance or to hear them explained by someone who understands them. Furthermore, they must be read slowly so that one can understand what the author meant. This may entail someone reciting only a few kinos for the entire morning of Tisha B’Av, but he will understand and experience what he read.

Conclusion

We see that liturgical poems enhance our appreciation of our special days, and that it is very worthwhile to prepare them in advance so that we can truly appreciate them while we recite them.




Is That Shofar Kosher?

Shofars come in many different sizes and prices, and they can be bought in many different places. But is that shofar on sale at Amazon.com fit for use on Rosh Hashanah? And if a shofar does need a hechsher, what should that kashrus certificate cover?

Yossi had always hoped to follow the family tradition of becoming a baal tokei’ah. But even though he had spent many hours during the summer months practicing on his grandfather’s shofar, he couldn’t manage to produce anything more than a weak sound. Then one day he was walking through the Arab shuk in Yerushalayim and his eye was caught by a beautiful shofar.

“Try it,” said the Arab shopkeeper, thrusting the shofar into Yossi’s hands.

Yossi did try it – and to his amazement, the tekiyos not only sounded loud and clear, but they took almost no effort. After some haggling, the shofar didn’t cost that much, either. Yossi was so excited by his purchase that when he got home he immediately called his family to listen to a recital.

“I’m sure it’s a very beautiful shofar,” said his brother, “but are you sure it’s kosher?”

“A shofar has to be kosher? What could be the problem? I am not going to eat it!”

Soon enough, Yossi learned that the potential for problems is far from negligible. And although we can’t repeat every detail of such a discussion in this article, we can look at a few key factors that go into making a shofar not only beautiful, but also kosher.

Beyond the Minimum

Most shofaros sold today in frum stores are made in one of numerous small, family-operated factories scattered around Eretz Yisrael. While some shofaros have no hechsher, others have one that covers the minimal standard: It certifies that the shofar is manufactured from a ram’s horn. Since all halachic authorities rule that a ram’s horn is preferred and that a horn from a different, kosher, non-bovine animal may be used only when there is no alternative, there is some value to this minimal hechsher. In addition to the concern that the shofar might have been made from the horn of a cow or a bull, which is not acceptable, there are commercially available “shofaros” made of quality plastic that but look, feel, and blow like a shofar. Thus, the “minimum standard” hechsher should hopefully ensure that the shofar is a genuine ram’s horn.

By the way, here is a simple, non-scientific way to verify that a shofar is plastic. Look at many available on display in the Arab shuk. Carefully examine them and you will notice that they all have their “natural” markings in exactly the same place. Some are oriented to the left and others to the right, and the color varies from shofar to shofar, but it is quite clear that they were poured into the same mold.

Boiled, Buffed, and Beautiful

The majority of rams’ horns used to make shofaros are imported from abroad. When they arrive at the factory, they are not a pretty sight. Not only is the horn’s exterior rough and lacking a pleasing shine, but the bone is still inside.

Although it is perfectly kosher to use a shofar by drilling a hole through the bone on its inside, commercial manufacturers remove the bone. The first step, therefore, is to boil the horn for several hours to soften it and make it more malleable, allowing for easy removal of the bone.

A hechsher that guarantees only that the shofar was originally a ram’s horn does not address problems that occur to the shofar during the manufacturing process. (While those problems may not occur with great frequency, my opinion is that someone giving a hechsher should assume responsibility for the product’s complete kashrus.)

Returning to our description of the process: After the skull bone has been removed, the wider end of the horn is hollow, whereas the narrower side of the horn, that is attached to the head, is not hollow. Since the horn grew thick on this side, it must be drilled and cleaned out to create an empty “tunnel” that reaches the hollow part of the horn. In addition, a usable mouthpiece on the narrow part of the horn has to be fashioned. In order to accomplish all of this, the narrower section of the horn is straightened. This creates the difference in appearance between the complete shofar, which is straight at this end, and the natural ram’s horn, which is curved along its entire length. Take a look the next time you are this close to a ram.

As part of this process, the factory might shorten an over-long shofar or trim its sides. This does not invalidate the shofar, which, unlike an esrog, doesn’t have to be complete. However, a shofar cannot be lengthened, not even by using material from another kosher shofar.

Overlaying the mouthpiece with gold invalidates the shofar, because that puts an intervening substance between the mouth of the baal teki’ah[O1]   and the shofar, meaning that he is not blowing the shofar itself. Even an overlay, such as gold or silver, on the external surface of a shofar invalidates the shofar if it modifies its sound.

On the other hand, there is no halachic problem with shaping the mouthpiece to whichever shape is comfortable to blow, provided one reshapes the shofar’s natural horn material and doesn’t add other material to coat it. In fact, a shofar’s mouthpiece is always created by opening a hole where the horn is naturally closed.

Buff and polish

The next step in the processing of a shofar is to sand, buff, and polish the exterior of the shofar. Sometimes a lacquer is added to give it a nice sheen. According to all sources I spoke to, the lacquer doesn’t modify the sound in a discernible way, so it does not invalidate the shofar.

Still, a shofar can be rendered unkosher if a hole is created during the manufacturing process (other than the hole for the mouthpiece). When that happens, the status of the shofar becomes a whole new story.

Hold the Super Glue

This article is not long enough to cover all the details of opinions concerning a shofar that is cracked or has a hole. Instead, I will summarize briefly those opinions:

  • The most stringent opinion contends that any lengthwise crack in the shofar requires repair.
  • The moderate opinion rules that any crack more than half the shofar’s length requires repair.
  • The most lenient opinion states that one may ignore a crack that is less than the full length of the shofar.

Assuming that a cracked shofar is invalid until it is mended, does it make a difference how the crack is repaired?

There is a dispute among early authorities as to whether the shofar will be kosher if repaired by gluing it together. Some, such as the Ramban, contend that since coating the inside of the shofar with foreign material invalidates it, gluing a hole in a shofar with a foreign substance also invalidates it. Those who advocate this approach contend that the only way to repair a cracked shofar is by heating the horn at the point of damage until the horn is welded together.

The Rosh disagrees with this approach, contending that there is a difference between plating a shofar with foreign material — which means that one is in essence combining a non-shofar material with the shofar — and glue, which becomes totally inconspicuous in the finished product. Although the halachah follows this last opinion, one should rely on this only if the crack did not affect the sound of the shofar and if the crack is not so big that the glue is obvious. Otherwise, one will be required to weld the horn as described above, so that the shofar is repaired with shofar material.

Herein then lies an issue. If we need to be concerned about the possibility that the shofar was cracked, do we need a guarantee that it was repaired by welding and not by gluing?

If we do, we have a problem. There is no reason to assume that a non-Jewish, nonobservant, or unknowledgeable shofar crafter would repair itby welding. To compound the concern, shofaros made for sale are always polished to provide the beautiful, but unnatural, sheen that the customer expects to see on his shofar. This polish may mask any damage and repair that was made when the shofar developed a crack; only a highly trained expert might be able to notice such a repair.

Unfortunately, few shofar crafters are that halachically concerned. The assumption is, therefore, that most shofar makers would simply take an acrylic or similar glue and fill the hole. Therefore, enter the potential need for a more reliable hechsher. We will return to this question later.

Holey Shofaros!

Another potential problem is if a hole was inadvertently made in the shofar during the drilling process. The Mishnah states: If a shofar has a hole in it that was subsequently plugged, if “it” affects the sound, then the shofar is invalid, and if not, the shofar is valid.

There are three critical questions here that impact on our discussion:

  • Does the Mishnah mean that the shofar is invalid because it has a hole? Or is the shofar invalid because the hole was plugged, but the hole itself is not a concern?
  • Does it make any difference what material is used to plug the hole?
  • What is the “it” that affects the sound? Does the Mishnah mean that the hole changed the sound of the shofar, or that the plugging changed the sound?

If the Mishnah means “because” the hole was plugged, the Mishnah is teaching that a shofar with a hole is kosher, and the plugging of the hole creates the problem.

But why might this be true? It seems counterintuitive that the hole in the shofar does not present a problem, but plugging it does.

The answer is that this opinion contends that any natural shofar sound is kosher — even if the shofar has a hole (Rosh, Tur). Although the air escaping through the hole may affect the sound the shofar produces, the sound produced is from the shofar and not from anything else. However, when the shofar’s hole is plugged, the sound is now partially produced by the plug. Therefore, this opinion rules that a plugged shofar is no longer kosher if it produces a different sound from what it produced before the shofar was plugged.

As a matter of fact, this is the way the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 586:7) actually rules. Following his approach, if a shofar develops a hole, it is best to do nothing to the shofar, since the unplugged hole allows the shofar to be perfectly kosher.

Although this solution is halachically acceptable according to many authorities, it does not provide us with a practical solution. A shofar manufacturer will not leave a hole in a shofar because customers won’t purchase such a shofar. In other words, customers want a holy shofar, not a holey one.

In addition, not all authorities accept this understanding of the Mishnah. The Rambam, in his Commentary to the Mishnah, rules that a shofar with a hole is not kosher; the Biur Halachah (586:7 s.v. Sh’ein) notes several other rishonim who agree with this conclusion. The Rema (Orach Chayim 586:7) concludes that one should not use such a shofar unless he has no other.

At this point, we should address a second question: The Mishnah states that a shofar with a plugged hole is not kosher. Does it make a difference which material plugs the hole?

The Gemara (Rosh Hashanah 27b) quotes a dispute between the Tanna Kamma and Rabbi Nosson whether the Mishnah’s plugged shofar is invalid regardless of what one used to plug it, or only if it was plugged with non-shofar material. Rabbi Nosson contends that a shofar repaired with shofar material remains kosher even though its sound changed. The Tanna Kamma disagrees, contending that regardless of whether the hole was plugged with shofar material or with non-shofar material, the shofar is invalid if its sound changed. Most rishonim rule according to Rabbi Nosson, which means that a “holey” shofar subsequently plugged with pieces of shofar is kosher.

We’ve now come to a third question: Does the Mishnah mean that the hole changed the sound of the shofar, or that the plugging changed the sound? According to the Rambam (Hilchos Shofar 1:5), a shofar with a plugged hole is kosher only if it sounds the same after the repair as it did before the hole developed and was repaired. If the shofar sounds different after the repair, the shofar is invalid. It is also invalid if the repair was with non-shofar material, even when the repaired shofar sounds identical to how it sounded before the damage. The Rosh, on the other hand, rules that the shofar is kosher if it sounds the same after the repair, even if it was repaired with non-shofar material. It is also kosher if it was repaired with shofar material, even if the sound changed as a result.

This dispute is mentioned in Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 586:7), who rules, like the Rambam, that one may not use a shofar plugged with non-shofar material, unless there is no other shofar available.

Do We Need To Worry?

Halachah makes a general assumption that there is no need to be concerned about a problem that is unusual. Do shofar cracks fall into this category? Just how frequently does a shofar develop a hole during its production?

Since no one has conducted a survey on the subject, and it would be almost impossible to perform one, we cannot answer this question definitively. A friend of mine who has attempted to visit shofar factories tells me that they usually do not allow visitors, and are probably not likely to reveal the type of information we are asking. We certainly do not know the track records of the Arab craftsmen, nor those of the shofaros made in China.

Despite this lack of information, I think we can assume that, since the people making shofaros are indeed craftsmen, and since it is highly disadvantageous to drill an extra hole while cleaning out the horn, the majority of shofaros are made without creating unwanted holes during the processing.

Thus, technically speaking, a shofar might not require a hechsher to guarantee that a hole did not develop in the shofar during its manufacture. However, is there a simple way to ascertain that the shofar you purchase was not damaged during the manufacturing process?

Some rabbanim do provide a “hechsher” for the manufacturer, stating that he is a halachah-abiding Jew who would not sell a shofar that has developed a crack or hole in the course of production.

What might the concerned manufacturer do when a shofar develops a hole? I asked this question of a particular manufacturer, and was told that he sells the damaged, rough shofar to a non-Jewish manufacturer. Many shofaros are sold to non-Jews who have a Biblical interest in blowing them. (I had hoped that the plastic variety mentioned above is also marketed exclusively to the same audience. However, I subsequently discovered otherwise, much to my chagrin.)

Unfortunately, most shofar manufacturers do not meet this standard. Although the person who began the business usually was an observant Jew, who may have been knowledgeable enough to merit this hechsher, often, the current business operators are not very observant. Therefore, a hechsher on the manufacture may have limited value, unless it is issued by a well-known rav.

There is yet another kind of hechsher, which has a different standard. In this case, the distributor or store interested in selling a particular shofar has it checked by a highly skilled rav or mashgiach who knows how to check a shofar for signs of damage or repair. A shofar that shows such signs is rejected.

Does a hechsher add significantly to the price of the shofar? The answer is that it does not. In some instances, the hechsher adds a small, non-significant premium to the price of the shofar — but the price is almost always primarily linked to its size and the particular retailer’s markup.

So what would I do if I wanted to buy a shofar for Rosh Hashanah? I would either ask for a hechsher that meets the last standard mentioned or, alternatively, ask for a letter from a known rav verifying that he knows that the manufacturer of this shofar is a halachah-abiding and knowledgeable Jew.

Outwitting the Satan

The shofar is blown to remind us of many things, including a wakeup call to do teshuvah and/or to herald Moshiach.The Gemara explains that the repeated blowing of the shofar — that is, both before the Shemoneh Esrei and then again afterward — is in order to confuse the Satan and to prevent him from prosecuting us (Rosh Hashanah 16b). This is surprising. Is the Satan so easily fooled? Most of us have firsthand experience with the Satan, and have found him to be extremely clever. Does he not remember that we pulled the same prank on him in previous years, when we blew the shofar twice?

Tosafos explains the Gemara on a deeper level. The Satan is constantly afraid that Mashiach will come and put him out of business. Therefore, every time the shofar blows, the Satan leaps up, terrified that Mashiach has come, and forgets to prosecute us! Then he realizes, too late, that it is just Rosh Hashanah again. By that time, Hashem has reached our verdict without the Satan’s input.

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


 Is this not to’kai’ah?




More on Bikkurim

Question #1: Pre-Mikdash Bikkurim

Were bikkurim brought before the first Beis Hamikdash was built?

Question #2: My very own kohein!

“May I choose which kohein receives my bikkurim, just as I can choose which kohein I use for pidyon haben?”

Question #3: Geirim and bikkurim

“Does a geir bring bikkurim, or perhaps this mitzvah is incumbent only on those who received an inherited portion in Eretz Yisroel?”

Question #4: Juice and oil?

Is a farmer allowed squeeze his bikkurim fruits into juice or oil, and bring the liquid as bikkurim?

Introduction

Although most of us are familiar with the basics of the mitzvah of bikkurim, the details of this mitzvah, which we have been unable to observe for thousands of years, are often unclear to us. Since we pray three times a day that Hashem rebuild the Beis Hamikdash where we will again be able to fulfill this beautiful mitzvah, we should be fully prepared to observe it. In addition, we want to comprehend the parsha of bikkurim thoroughly, fulfill the mitzvah of talmud Torah, and grow from internalizing the hashkafos associated with this mitzvah.

According to the Rambam and the Sefer Hachinuch, the mitzvah of bikkurim involves three different mitzvos. The first is the mitzvah of separating the bikkurim and bringing them to the Beis Hamikdash. The second is reciting parshas bikkurim, the special reading that the Torah records at the beginning of this week’s parsha, which is called viduy bikkurim. The third is a lo saaseh, a negative commandment, that the kohein may not eat bikkurim outside Yerushalayim. The first two mitzvos are observed by the farmer; the third is observed by the kohein.

In a previous article, I described the pomp and circumstance involved when bringing bikkurim. That article explained much of what is involved with the first of the three mitzvos I just mentioned, separating the bikkurim and bringing them to the Beis Hamikdash. The sources for these laws are in Mishnayos Maseches Bikkurim, which, with only three chapters, is one of the shortest mesechtos. Let us begin by explaining the pesukim that describe this mitzvah.

The Chumash

The opening words of parshas Ki Savo read: “And when you enter the land that Hashem your G-d is giving you as an inheritance, have taken possession of it and are dwelling there, then you should take from the first of the fruits of the soil that you bring home from your land that Hashem your G-d is giving to you, place them in a basket and go to the place that Hashem your G-d will choose to place His name there.”

Chazal explain that the words “you have taken possession of it and are dwelling there” mean that there was no requirement to separate bikkurim until after Bnei Yisroel had completed the conquest of Eretz Yisroel and the division of the land among the shevatim, a process that took fourteen years (Kiddushin 37b).

“To the place that Hashem your G-d will choose to place His Name there.”

This means that the pilgrims brought their bikkurim to the Beis Hamikdash. But the Beis Hamikdash was not constructed until 426 years after the Jews had completed dividing the land (see Melachim I, 6:1). Since we know that they were already required to bring bikkurim fourteen years after they crossed the Yarden, where did they bring bikkurim during those intervening years?

The Sifrei explains that the bikkurim were brought even prior to the building of the Beis Hamikdash. During these years, Klal Yisroel was required to bring the bikkurim to the mishkan when it was in Shiloh, where it stayed for 369 years. When the mishkan in Shiloh was destroyed (see Tehillim 78:60; Yirmiyohu 26:6), there was a period of 57 years prior to the building of the Beis Hamikdash when there was no mishkan, but there was a mizbei’ach for public use, which is where the korbanos tzibur were offered. This mizbei’ach was located first in the town of Nov, and then, when that town was destroyed by Shaul, in the town of Giv’on. The Ramban (Devorim 26:2) discusses whether bikkurim were offered when the main mizbei’ach was in Nov and in Givon, but he does not resolve the matter conclusively.

Reciting the declaration

“Then you will come to the kohein who is in that time and say to him: Today, I declare to Hashem, your G-d, that I have come to the land that Hashem swore to our forefathers to give to us.”

At this point, we are beginning the second of the three mitzvos associated with bikkurim: reciting parshas bikkurim.

The Targum Yonasan and the Targum Yerushalmi both rule that “the kohein” means specifically the kohein gadol – otherwise the Torah should simply write “a” kohein. However, nowhere does the Mishnah, Gemara or any other halachic source rule that bikkurim must be brought to the kohein gadol. Rather, the bikkurim are brought to a kohein hedyot who was working in the Beis Hamikdash on the day that the pilgrims arrived. Other authorities also rule, unlike the two Targumim, that bikkurim can be brought to any kohein who is on duty in the Beis Hamikdash on the day that the pilgrims arrived (Ramban).

“Who is in that time”

The Torah instructs us to bring the bikkurim to the kohein who is in your time. This raises a question: To which other kohein could you possibly bring your bikkurim? Since the Torah does not mention walking into a time machine, once we are told to bring bikkurim to a kohein, presumably you are bringing them to someone walking the face of the earth at the time that you arrive in Yerushalayim. Is it not clear that you are bringing bikkurim to a kohein “of that time”?

Rashi explains that you should not ignore the mitzvah of bikkurim with the excuse that, “Since the kohanim available are not as great tzaddikim or talmidei chachamim as those of earlier generations; these are not the kohanim to whom I have to bring my bikkurim.” No, you are required to bring bikkurim to a kohein who is in your generation, even if you think that a kohein from a previous generation may have been a bigger tzaddik or talmid chacham or might have provided a greater degree of positive influence on you.

The Ramban suggests a different approach to explain why the Torah says, who is in that time. The posuk requires you to give the bikkurim to a kohein who is on duty in the Beis Hamikdash on the day of your arrival. The kohanim were divided into 24 mishmoros, shifts (singular, mishmor), each of which left their hometown to serve for a week in the Beis Hamikdash. The halacha requires the pilgrim to give the bikkurim to one of the kohanim on duty, that is, a member of the mishmor of the week that the pilgrim farmer arrives in the Beis Hamikdash with his bikkurim; he is not permitted to give his bikkurim to any other kohein.

Thus, we can answer one of our opening questions: “May I choose which kohein receives my bikkurim, just as I can choose which kohein I use for pidyon haben?”

The answer is that I must give my bikkurim to a kohein who is on duty in the Beis Hamikdash at the time that I arrive with my bikkurim. I may choose which of the kohanim on duty I want to be the beneficiary of my bikkurim.

Continuing the declaration

And the kohein takes the basket from your hand and places it down in front of the altar of Hashem, your G-d. Then, you shall raise your voice and declare before Hashem, your G-d:

Arami oveid avi vayeireid mitzrayma vayagar shom bimsei me’at. Va’yehi shom legoy gadol atzum vorov.”

This quotation, which I have thus intentionally left untranslated, and its continuation, are well familiar to us from the haggadah of Pesach, where we quote the declaration of the pilgrim bringing his bikkurim to the Beis Hamikdash. In the haggadah, this is followed by an interpretation of these pesukim quoted from an early midrash. This practice at the seder is already recorded in the Mishnah (Pesachim 116a). The midrash that we quote in the haggadah is very similar to the midrash Sifrei on these pesukim.

Since there is a wide variation among early commentaries regarding how to translate the words, Arami oveid avi,any translation I provide forces me to choose sides in this basic dispute. Rashi, following the approach of the Targum Onkelos, explains the verse to mean: Lovon the Aramean destroyed my father. Although Lovon did not succeed in destroying Yaakov, the posuk states it as if he did, because he truly wanted to. This approach is followed also by the midrash quoted by the haggadah.

The ibn Ezra takes issue with this translation of the posuk, contending that the word oveid is intransitive, meaning that there is no object in this sentence to receive the “action”. He explains that if the posuk is to be translated as Rashi does, its wording should be ma’avid or me’abeid, which are transitive, and could be translated as “destroyed my father.” The ibn Ezra also questions why, according to this approach, the continuation of the posuk blames Lovon for the descent of Yaakov and his family to Egypt, since this was neither Lovon’s intention nor a result of his action.

Ibn Ezra’s approach

For these reasons, the ibn Ezra explains the phrase, “Arami oveid avi,”to mean, “a lost Aramean was my father,” with Yaakov, rather than Lovon, being referred to as an Aramean. He was considered “lost” because he arrived in Aram penniless, without any financial wherewithal, and he never owned any land with which to create a family home. The Seforno explains the verse in a similar manner.

Targum Yonasan’s approach

Targum Yonasan has a third approach, a cross between the two approaches, in which the words, Arami oveid avi, are explained: “Yaakov, my forefather, traveled to Aram. There, someone (Lovon) wanted to destroy him, but the Word of Hashem saved Yaakov from the hands of Lovon. Sometime afterward, Yaakov went down to Egypt…”

Rashbam’s approach

Yet a fourth approach is presented by the Rashbam, Rashi’s grandson. He accepts ibn Ezra’s point that the word oveid is intransitive. However, rather than explaining the posuk as a reference to Yaakov – as do ibn Ezra, Seforno and Targum Yonasan – he understands the “lost Aramean” to be Avraham, Yaakov’s grandfather. Avraham has a valid claim to being “an Aramean,” as he was born and raised in Aram. He is called a “lost” Aramean because he left Aram when commanded by Hashem: “Lech lecha mei’artzecha umi’molad’techa umi’beis avicha – leave your land, your birthplace and your father’s household,” and go “el ha’aretz asher ar’eka – to the land that I will show you,” which refers to the Promised Land, the possession of which is celebrated with the bikkurim. However (the posuk continues), this plan was interrupted by a rather extensive and unpleasant sojourn in Egypt.

Returning to bikkurim

After quoting these pesukim, the pilgrim bringing the bikkurim adds a brief statement that is not quoted in the haggadah: “And now, behold, I have brought the first of the fruits of the land that Hashem has given me.”

Dried or fresh?

Not all crops ripen at the same time. For that matter, certain crops need to be dried, or they will spoil before they reach Yerushalayim. For this reason, the Mishnah (Bikkurim 3:2) shares that people who lived some distance from Yerushalayim brought their bikkurim from figs and grapes in the form of dried figs and raisins. Otherwise, by the time they arrived, the fruit would not look nice, which would diminish the beauty of the mitzvah.

For a similar reason, the Mishnah (Bikkurim 1:3) reports that bikkurim are not brought from areas in which the fruit is not top quality, such as from date trees that grow in the mountains or from inferior olive orchards.

The verse then concludes by instructing how to complete the fulfillment of the mitzvah, “Then place the bikkurim down before Hashem, your G-d, and bow down to Hashem, your G-d. Now rejoice with all the good that Hashem, your G-d, has given you and your household.”

The posuk says: “Now rejoice with all the good.”

What additional halacha does this teach? The Mishnah (Bikkurim 1:4) teaches that bikkurim were not brought to the Beis Hamikdash until Shavuos. There are two verses that associate bikkurim with the festival of Shavuos. In parshas Ki Sisa, the Torah says, “You shall make for yourself the festival of Shavuos, with the bikkurim of your wheat harvest”(Shemos 34:22), and, in parshas Pinchas, the posuk refers to Shavuos as Chag Habikkurim (Bamidbar 28:26). When the bikkurim were brought to the Beis Hamikdash before Sukkos, meaning between Shavuos and Sukkos, the verses beginning with the words Arami oveid avi are declared. In other words, the second mitzvah mentioned above, that of reciting the pesukim, is seasonal, and can be fulfilled only between Shavuos and Sukkos. This is derived from the words of the posuk in our parsha, “Now rejoice with all the good,” meaning the season of rejoicing, Sukkos (Pesachim 36b). However, if the owner tarried and brought his bikkurim after Sukkos, these verses are not declared, because after Sukkos is no longer “the time of simcha.”

The association of bikkurim with Sukkos is also based on another posuk, “And [you should also observe] the festival of the harvest, with the bikkurim of your deeds that you planted in the field” (Shemos 23:16).

The Mishnah concludes that bikkurim can be brought only until Chanukah. This means that the first mitzvah mentioned above, that of designating and bringing the bikkurim to the Beis Hamikdash, can be fulfilled only until Chanukah.

Why Chanukah?

Why only until Chanukah?

The Ra’avad (Hilchos Bikkurim 2:6) explains that bikkurim are not brought after Chanukah because, by this time, the fruit being brought will be inferior.

The Rambam provides a completely different rationale why bikkurim are brought only until Chanukah. The Sifrei states that bikkurim are brought only once a year. Based on this Sifrei, the Rambam explains that bikkurim fruit that ripen after Chanukah should be brought with the coming year’s bikkurim.

The Levi and the convert

Continuing with the posuk: “This mitzvah applies to you and to the Levi and to the geir who is in your midst.”

Rashi notes that the posuk is emphasizing that the Levi and the geir also have the mitzvah of bringing bikkurim: The Levi, whom I might think does not bring bikkurim because he did not receive a true portion in Eretz Yisroel, and the geir, because he cannot make the declaration that accompanies the bikkurim, “behold I have brought the first of the fruits of the land that Hashem has given me,” since he does not receive a portion in the land of Israel. For this reason, the halacha is that a geir brings bikkurim, but he cannot recite the parsha (Bikkurim 1:4). In other words, the geir is required to observe the first mitzvah of bikkurim, but is exempt from the second.

Wine or pomegranate juice?

Could the farmer squeeze his bikkurim fruits into juice or oil, and bring the liquid as bikkurim?

This topic is a matter of dispute between early tanna’im, with Rabbi Eliezer ruling that he can, and Rabbi Yehoshua ruling that the liquid squeezed from grapes and olives can be brought, but not juice that is squeezed from dates, figs or pomegranates (Terumos 11:3; Chullin 120b). The halacha follows Rabbi Yehoshua (Rambam, Hilchos Bikkurim 2:4), and therefore, grape juice, wine or olive oil can be brought as bikkurim, but pomegranate wine or juice, fig juice, date honey or silan (date syrup) cannot.

Conclusion

Rabbeinu Yosef ibn Shu’ib, an early fourteenth century darshan, cites four reasons provided by the Rambam for the mitzvah of bringing bikkurim, the first fruits of one’s land, to the Beis Hamikdash (Drashos ibn Shu’ib, Parshas Ki Savo, s.v. U’ve’inyan habikkurim). Obviously, the main reason for bringing bikkurim is to express our gratitude to Hashem that He not only gave us Eretz Yisroel, but He also provided us with delicious fruits. Rav Hirsch notes that a careful reading of the pesukim highlights other important aspects of the mitzvah. The Beis Hamikdash represents our relationship to Eretz Yisroel as being completely dependent on the Torah; this is why the bikkurim must be brought to the Beis Hamikdash and placed at the southwest corner of the mizbei’ach, which, he explains, represents that “G-d’s land, with all its riches, is subordinated to the spirit imparted by the light of the Torah.” Our acquisition of Eretz Yisroel is only for the purpose of our observing the Torah.

Relating Hashem’s Kindness

The Sefer Hachinuch (#606) adds another element to the mitzvah of bikkurim. As we noted above, the farmer observes two separate mitzvos, one of separating bikkurim and bringing them to the Beis Hamikdash, and a separate mitzvah of declaring the viduy bikkurim. This appreciation thanks Hashem for His help way before the birth of our pilgrim farmer. He praises Hashem for foiling Lovon’s evil plans to destroy Yaakov. The declaration continues recapping the history of Klal Yisroel in Mitzrayim, and the miracles that He performed for us.

In explaining the reason for the second mitzvah, the Chinuch notes that there is a special requirement for the pilgrim to verbalize his thanks. It is through the power of speech that a person can awaken himself. When a person states how much Hashem blesses him, it awakens his heart to remember that everything comes from the Master of the world.




Semicha and Sanhedrin Controversies of the 16th and 21st Centuries

This article will be devoted to an explanation of the various halachic underpinnings of the Sanhedrin, including:

  • What are the roles and responsibilities of the Sanhedrin?
  • What exactly is semicha, and why is it such a central factor in the creation of the Sanhedrin?
  • What attempts have been made in the last hundreds of years to reconvene a Sanhedrin and reestablish semicha?

WHAT IS THE SANHEDRIN?

The Sanhedrin, also called the Beis Din Hagadol, is the final authority on all matters of halacha. Their interpretation of Torah she’be’al peh is authoritative.

Any halachic issue that is questionable and disputed by lower batei din is referred to the Beis Din Hagadol for a binding decision.

The Sanhedrin also fulfills several vital political and administrative roles. It appoints the Jewish king, as well as the judges who serve on the courts of the shevatim and the cities. Each shevet and each city was required to have a Beis Din of 23 that the Sanhedrin appoints. Thus, the Sanhedrin is not only the supreme halacha authority, but it is also, quite literally, the “power behind the throne,” “the power behind the courts,” – and, at the same time, the court of final appeal. It has the final say in all matters, both temporal and spiritual.

There are several other halachos that require the participation or agreement of the Sanhedrin, including a decision to wage war and expanding the halachic boundaries of the Beis HaMikdash or of Yerushalayim (Rambam, Hilchos Sanhedrin 5:1). (We are permitted to eat many holy items, including certain korbanos and maaser sheni, only in halachic Yerushalayim, which has nothing to do with its current municipal boundaries. Expanding the city requires a special procedure that includes participation of the Sanhedrin.)

In addition, several types of adjudication require the participation of the Sanhedrin, including prosecuting a false prophet, and the law of zakein mamrei, an elder who ruled against the Torah she’be’al peh (both taught in parshas Shoftim), the law of a city that went astray (ir hanidachas), the procedure of the and that of eglah arufah (Rambam, Hilchos Sanhedrin 5:1).

The Sanhedrin is also in charge of supervising the Jewish calendar through the appointing of a specially-designated committee. (In the absence of a Sanhedrin or Beis Din Hagadol, Hillel Hanasi established a permanent calendar over 1500 years ago, so that the calendar can continue to exist even though we no longer have a Sanhedrin.)

WHERE AND WHEN DOES THE SANHEDRIN MEET?

The Sanhedrin was open daily in its main headquarters inside the Beis HaMikdash, called the lishkas hagazis. When they are involved in litigation, the entire Sanhedrin, consisting of 71 members,is present. When not in session, there must still always be 23 members of the Sanhedrin in the lishkah.

WHO QUALIFIES TO BE IN THE SANHEDRIN?

There are many technical requirements that all members must meet, but as a basic requirement they must all be superior talmidei chachamim and yirei shamayim (G-d fearing individuals). In addition, all members of the Sanhedrin — and indeed, of all the lower courts — must also receive the special semicha that Moshe bestowed upon Yehoshua, authorizing him to rule on all areas of Jewish law.

DOESN’T EVERY RABBI HAVE SEMICHA?

There are several levels of semicha. The most basic semicha, called yoreh yoreh, authorizes the recipient to rule on matters of kashrus and similar areas. A more advanced level of semicha, called yodin yodin, authorizes its recipient to rule as a dayan on financial matters. A still higher level, no longer obtainable today, is called yatir bechoros, which authorizes its recipient to rule on whether a first-born animal is blemished and therefore inappropriate to offer as a korban (see Sanhedrin 5a). This semicha permits the firstborn animal to be slaughtered and eaten.

There was also a qualitatively different type of semicha that could be obtained from the time of Moshe Rabbeinu until the time of the Gemara. This semicha authorized the recipient to rule on capital and corporal cases (chayavei misas Beis Din and malkus) and to judge kenasos, penalties set by the Torah. Only a Beis Din consisting exclusively of dayanim ordained with this semicha may judge whether a person receives lashes or the death penalty for his actions.

In earlier days, each city and shevet had its own Beis Din of 23 judges, all of whom were possessors of the highest level of semicha. In addition, all 71 members of the Sanhedrin must have this form of semicha.

HOW MANY DAYANIM GIVE OUT SEMICHA?

A single judge who is himself a musmach may grant semicha to as many qualified people as he chooses, although the grantor must be accompanied by two other people, who need not be musmachim themselves. Dovid HaMelech (himself an expert judge and tremendous talmid chacham) once granted 30,000 semichos in one day (Rambam, Hilchos Sanhedrin, 4:7)!! Semicha that was granted to someone who is not an expert in all areas of halacha is not valid (Meiri, Sanhedrin 14a).

This special semicha must be issued within Eretz Yisroel. Thus, even if a talmid chacham is highly qualified, he may not receive semicha unless the grantor of the semicha and the recipient are both in Eretz Yisroel (Sanhedrin 14a). For this reason, most of the Amora’im, the great talmidei chachamim of the times of the Gemara, never received this semicha, because they lived in Bavel, not in Eretz Yisroel.

THE STORY OF RAV YEHUDA BEN BAVA

The Gemara (Sanhedrin 13b) tells us the following fascinating story which took place during the extreme persecutions that followed the failure of the Bar Cochva revolt: The Roman Empire once decreed that issuing semicha was a serious crime, punishable by death for both the grantor and the recipient. Furthermore, they ruled that the town in which the semicha was issued would be destroyed, and the areas near it would be razed.

After the execution of Rabbi Akiva, Rabbi Yehudah ben Bava realized that he was one of the last musmachim (recipients of this special semicha) still alive. If he failed to grant semicha to some young scholars, the semicha would terminate with his own death. He therefore endangered himself and granted semicha to five surviving disciples of Rabbi Akiva: Rabbi Meir, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, Rabbi Yehudah ben Ila’i, Rabbi Yosi ben Chalafta, and Rabbi Elazar ben Shamua – basically, to an entire generation of Torah leadership. In order not to endanger anyone else, Rabbi Yehuda ben Bava brought them to a place that was midway between two major cities and between two mountains. Thus, for the Romans to fulfill their decree they would need to level two mountains.

Rabbi Yehudah ben Bava succeeded in his mission, although he paid for it with his life. Because of his supreme sacrifice, the semicha continued among the Jewish people for several more generations.

With the increased persecution of the Jews by the Romans, the Jewish population of Eretz Yisroel dwindled, and with time, ordination through this semicha ended. Thus, no one received the semicha that qualifies someone to judge capital, corporal, or kenasos cases, and this aspect of halachic life came to an end.

CAN SEMICHA BE REINSTITUTED?

The Rambam writes: “It appears to me that if all the chachamim in Eretz Yisroel agree to appoint dayanim and grant them semicha, they have the law of musmachim, and they can judge penalty cases and are authorized to grant semicha to others… a person who received semicha from someone who already has semicha does not require authorization from all of them – he may judge penalty cases for everyone, since he received semicha from Beis Din. However, this matter requires a final decision” (Rambam, Hilchos Sanhedrin 4:11).

Thus, the Rambam suggested a method whereby the semicha can be re-created. However, several issues need to be clarified before this project can be implemented:

1. Did the Rambam conclude that this is the halacha, or is it merely a suggestion he is conjecturing? Don’t his final words, “However, this matter requires a final decision,” imply that he was uncertain about his suggestion and that he deferred making a final decision regarding this issue?

2. Assuming, unlike our previous sentence, that the Rambam ruled definitely that semicha can be reinstituted, did he require, literally, all of the Chachamim in Eretz Yisroel to agree, or does a majority suffice? Must the rabbonim be assembled all in one place, or is it sufficient if they are aware of the process and grant their approval?

3. Is the Rambam’s opinion on this subject universally held? And if not, do we rule like him?

THE 16th CENTURY CONTROVERSY– REINTRODUCING SEMICHA

After the Spanish expulsion, many Jews remained in Spain, practicing their Judaism in secret, while publicly appearing to be Christians. Thousands of these Marrano Jews, also often called by the Spanish term conversos or the Hebrew word, anusim, eventually escaped to areas where they could return to the religion of their fathers, yet they were haunted by the transgressions they had committed on Spanish soil. Many were concerned that they would never escape the specter of their more serious aveiros, many of which carried the punishment of kareis. Although they had become true ba’alei teshuvah, they lived in fear of their ultimate day of judgment, when they would have to provide a reckoning for their actions and face the serious consequences.

THE SOLUTION

The Mahari Beirav, Rav of Tzefas in the early sixteenth century, came up with a solution to the problem of these ba’alei teshuvah. He proposed the creation of batei din that could carry out the punishment of malkos, lashes, which releases a person from the punishment of kareis (Mishnah Makos 23a).

There was one serious problem with this proposal. In order to create batei din that can administer these punishments, one must have dayanim who have received a special semicha that can be traced to Moshe Rabbeinu. Since this semicha had terminated over a thousand years before, the Mahari Beirav needed a method of reintroducing the semicha.

TZEFAS, 5298 (1538)

In  5298 (1538), 25 gedolim of Tzefas, at the time the largest Torah community in Eretz Yisroel, granted semicha to the Mahari Beirav, based on the writings of the Rambam (Peirush Hamishnayos, Sanhedrin 1:3; Hilchos Sanhedrin 4:11). He then ordained four people with the new semicha, including Rav Yosef Karo, who had already written his monumental works Kesef Mishneh and Beis Yosef, and later authored the Shulchan Aruch, and Rav Moshe diTrani, the author of several major halacha works, including Beis Elokim, Kiryas Sefer, and Shu’t Mabit. Mahari Beirav also sent a semicha to the Rav of Yerushalayim, Rav Levi ibn Chaviv, known as the Maharalbach, who he assumed would be delighted to receive such a wonderful gift!

The Maharalbach was not happy with the gift and refused to accept the semicha. He took strong issue with their granting semicha, for the following several reasons:

1. The Rambam’s closing words, “This matter requires a final decision,” shows that he was not fully decided on this halacha, and therefore it cannot be relied upon.

2. The Ramban (Sefer Hamitzvos, Aseh 153) disagrees with the Rambam, contending that semicha can not be reinstituted until Moshiach arrives. Thus, since the Rambam was uncertain about this halacha, and the Ramban was certain that there is no such thing, the halacha follows the Ramban.

3. Even if we assume that the Rambam meant this ruling to be definitive, the Tzefas rabbonim had not fulfilled the procedure correctly, since all the gedolim of Eretz Yisroel must be together in one synod. (This opinion is actually mentioned earlier by the Meiri, Sanhedrin 14a.)

Furthermore, the Maharalbach insisted that all the scholars must be involved in the active debate and that all must agree. He also contended that even if someone holds that a majority of gedolim is sufficient, the minority must be aware of the debate and participate in it. He further contended that creating such a synod after the fact would not help, since, once the Tzefas rabbonim had ordained the Mahari Beirav, they now have a bias in their ruling (noge’a bedin), which invalidates their opinion on the subject.

The Maharalbach proved his opinion, that the Rambam’s suggestion was not accepted as normative halacha, from the fact that there had been numerous opportunities for gedolei Yisroel to create semicha, and yet, they refrained from doing so. The Maharalbach concludes that semicha will not exist again until the arrival of Moshiach.

WHAT ABOUT THE MARRANOS?

As for the ba’alei teshuvah that would be left without release from their kareis, the Maharalbach pointed out that if they performed sincere teshuvah, they would be forgiven for their sins, no matter how severe they were. Although it is possible that they may suffer somewhat in this world for these aveiros, despite their teshuvah, they would receive no punishment for their aveiros in the next world (Makos 13b).

On the other hand, the Maharalbach pointed out that he did not understand how semicha could accomplish what Mahari Beirav wanted, anyway, since Beis Din cannot punish someone for violating the Torah, unless several requirements are met, including:

The sinner must receive a warning, immediately prior to his violating the commandment, telling him that he is sinning, explaining to him that what he is planning to do is wrong, and informing him what punishment he will receive if he sins. The sinner must acknowledge that he heard and understood the warning, and then perform the sin, anyway. Furthermore, Beis Din does not punish a sinner unless two adult male Jews witness the entire procedure and then testify in front of Beis Din. Clearly, none of these Marranos had received warning prior to performing the aveiros, and, therefore, they were not punishable with malkus in Beis Din. Thus, how would these ba’alei teshuvah receive the malkus they desire, even if dayanim musmachim exist?

We will continue this article next week.




The Bankrupt Borrower

Photo by foxumon from FreeImages

Mr. Gomel Chessed shares with his rav, Rav Chacham,the following predicament: “I loaned someone money, but I did not pester him for payment when he told me that things were tough. Recently, I contacted him to ask if he is in any position to pay me back. He replied that he was forced into bankruptcy and, thereby, absolved of all his debts. Does he, indeed, no longer owe me for the loan?”

Gomel’s rav explains that although the Gemara and the Shulchan Aruch do not recognize a concept called bankruptcy, there are authorities who contend that, at least in some circumstances, halachah requires that we respect a bankruptcy court’s decision. Gomel is eager to hear the full explanation, so his rav provides him with some background material to read, and they make an appointment to discuss the matter at length.

Gomel truly enjoyed researching the topic, and discovered that he also wanted to know the related subjects. As a result, he became somewhat of an expert on much of the halachic material germane to his question.

Responsibilities of a Borrower

One of the first topics Gomel researched was the extent to which a borrower must go to pay his debts. He was surprised to discover how strongly halachah requires someone to repay his debts and to make his payments on time. In addition, it is strictly forbidden to claim that one is unable to pay his debts when he can, and it is similarly forbidden to hide money so that a creditor cannot collect. All this is true even if the creditor is very wealthy.

One may not borrow money that he does not think he will be able to repay. According to some authorities, money borrowed under a false pretense that the borrower intends to repay when he does not, is considered stolen, and not borrowed, funds. The halachic ramifications of this distinction are beyond the scope of this article.

If a debtor’s loan is due and he cannot pay, halachah requires that he sell his house, his furniture and his other household items, if necessary, to repay the debt, unless he can convince his creditor either to forgive the debt or, at least, to wait longer for payment (Graz, Hilchos Halvaah 1:5).

Since the debtor must use whatever money he has available to pay his debt, he is required to trim his expenditures so that he can pay his creditor. Until his debt is repaid, he may not make significant contributions to tzedakah (Sefer Chassidim #454). Furthermore, he may not purchase a lulav and esrog, but, instead, must fulfill the mitzvah by borrowing them from someone else (see Pischei Teshuvah, Choshen Mishpat 97:8). It goes without saying that luxuries and vacations are out. Someone who uses his money to purchase non-essential items when he has an overdue debt demonstrates a lack of understanding of the Torah’s priorities. One who squanders money and therefore is unable to repay his loans is called a rasha (Rambam, Hilchos Malveh 1:3).

Systematic Collection

Having researched how responsible a debtor must be, Gomel next studied the following topic: If a debtor, unfortunately, owes more money than he can pay, how does the halachah decide on the division of the debtor’s limited financial resources among his creditors?

Gomel discovered that the halachos governing who collects first are extremely complicated. He also discovered that in a case where a person’s financial resources are insufficient to cover his debts, halachah views the priorities of who receives, and how much, very differently from civil law. Here are some basic ideas.

The Gemara works with a concept called shi’bud, by which most debts are automatically secured with property that the debtor owned at the time he created the obligation. Under this system, if a debtor defaulted on an obligation, a creditor who exhausted all means of collecting directly from the debtor’s holdings could collect these secured debts from real properties that the debtor had owned at the time of the loan and subsequently sold. The system in place allowed potential purchasers to find out whether a property had a lien on it prior to purchasing it. (This would loosely parallel what we call today a “title search,” performed to ascertain ownership of a property and whether there are any liens on it.) The potential lien on all the properties of a debtor encouraged people to pay their debts so that they could sell their properties more easily, and also enabled people to borrow investment capital.

Who Collects First?

Under the Gemara’s shi’bud system, when there are two or more claims on a property whose value is less than the outstanding debt, the creditor with the earliest claim collects as much as he can, and, after his claim is paid, the creditor with the next earliest claim collects, and so on (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 104:1).

When Gomel asked contemporary halachic authorities if this system is used today, he was told that one would not be able to collect from such properties, unless they were mortgaged.

Why did the halachah change?

Rav Moshe Feinstein explains that since a creditor does not expect to be able to collect from properties that have been sold by the debtor, he does not acquire shi’bud on them (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Choshen Mishpat 2:62).

Bad Talmudic Debts

When there is no shi’bud claim on any properties, under the Gemara’s system, the outstanding creditors collect, but not in proportion to the amount that each is owed. According to most authorities, we still follow the FIFO (first in, first out) rule of paying the earliest claim first, although others rule that everyone is paid equally, according to the availability of resources (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 104:13 and Sm”a).

The latter approach also results in a major difference between the Gemara’s system and the modern approach. Under the modern approach, the court calculates the ratio of available resources to debt, and pays all creditors a percentage of their debt based on the result. According to halachah, if someone owes $500,000 to 50 different people but has only $5,000 with which to pay, and each individual is owed at least $100, then they each collect $100, regardless of the actual amount that each one is owed.

By now, Gomel has studied much of the Gemara and commentaries on the topic of debt collection, and he has a good idea of how bad debt was collected in the time of the Gemara. After reviewing his studies with Rav Chacham, Gomel was ready to understand how and if bankruptcy fits into a halachic system. He soon discovered that he now needs to master a different, complicated concept of halachah called dina demalchusa dina.

Dina Demalchusa Dina

In the time of the Gemara, most countries and governments were kingdoms. This meant that the people living in an area recognized one individual as being responsible to maintain law and order within the country and to protect the citizenry from external enemies and greedy neighbors. Without a government, people are in constant danger from the chaos that occurs when there is no respect for a central authority. To quote the Mishnah in Pirkei Avos (3:2), “Pray for the peace of the kingdom, for if people are not afraid of it, one man would swallow another alive.” Anyone who has seen or read of the mass looting that transpires when there is a breakdown of authority knows exactly what this means.

The king or government requires an army to protect the country from its external enemies, a police force to uphold law and order, and royal palaces and government offices that are well maintained, so that the king’s authority is respected. All this requires funding, and the people realize that they need to pay taxes so that the king and/or government can protect them (see Rashbam, Bava Basra 54b s.v. VeHa’amar). The halachah of dina demalchusa dina recognizes that the king and his properly appointed agents have the right to collect taxes (Nedarim 28a).

Din Melech

When the tribes of Israel approached their prophet, Shmuel, requesting that he appoint a king, Shmuel attempted to dissuade them by noting the tremendous power that a king has:, saying: He will draft the most talented sons to till his fields, harvest his crops and perform other services; he will draft their daughters as perfumers, bakers and cooks; and he will raise high taxes (Shmuel I 8:11-18). The Gemara (Sanhedrin 20a) cites a dispute as to whether a Jewish monarch has the extensive authority that Shmuel described, or if Shmuel was simply warning the people in an attempt to dissuade them from having a king. The Rambam (Hilchos Melachim 4:1) and most authorities rule that the king, indeed, does have this authority.

Some poskim understand that a non-Jewish king also draws his authority based on this concept of din melech. That is, the Torah reserved the rights described by the prophet Shmuel for any monarch. (Even those who contend that Shmuel was merely warning the people, and that the king does not have this extensive authority, accept the concept of dina demalchusa dina; they simply do not consider the din melech of Shmuel to be the source for the law of dina demalchusa dina.)

Democratic Taxes

Although the early authorities discuss dina demalchusa dina primarily in terms of the rights of a king, most later authorities understand that this halachic power exists, equally, in a democracy (see Shu”t Yechaveh Daas 5:63).

Gomel discovered that the vast majority of halachic authorities regard dina demalchusa dina as a Torah-mandated concept (see Shu”t Dvar Avraham 1:1; Avnei Meluim 28:2; Shu”t Chasam Sofer, Yoreh Deah #314), although  a minority opinion contends that dina demalchusa dina was introduced by Chazal (Beis Shemuel, 28:3).

Many authorities rule that a king may not arbitrarily create new taxes; he may collect only that which has been established previously (Ritva, Nedarim 28a; see lengthy list in Encyclopedia Talmudis, Volume 7, page 318, footnote 559). Why is this true? When people appointed the original king to protect them, they accepted certain taxes with which to pay him for his “services.” According to these rishonim, neither this king nor his successors have a right to create new taxes or increase taxes arbitrarily, without the consent of the governed.

Traffic and Safety Regulations

Thus far, we have seen that dina demalchusa dina governs the right of the king or the government to collect taxes. Dina demalchusa dina also obligates us to obey rules of the government, such as the prohibitions against smuggling and counterfeiting. However, dina demalchusa dina goes much further. Some authorities maintain that dina demalchusa dina requires everyone to obey government-created rules that are clearly for the common good (Ramban, Bava Basra 55a). One may argue that this includes rules governing traffic laws, sanitation, safety and health. Those who do not agree that dina demalchusa dina extends this far feel that dina demalchusa dina is limited to matters that more directly affect the government (see Maggid Mishnah, Hilchos Malveh 27:1). However, all opinions agree that dina demalchusa dina applies to matters that contravene the authority of the governing parties (Igros Moshe op. cit.). The exact extent to which this is applied in practice will affect Gomel’s original question: whether dina demalchusa dina applies to bankruptcy law.

No Government Influence

Which areas of halachah are not subject to dina demalchusa dina?

Dina demalchusa dina does not replace the civil laws of the Torah (the laws of Choshen Mishpat) that govern the relationships between Jews (Shu”t Harashba 3:109, quoted by Beis Yosef, Choshen Mishpat end of Chapter 26; Shach, Choshen Mishpat 73:39). For example, dina demalchusa dina does not affect the laws of inheritance. These laws are governed by the Torah’s laws of yerushah.

Similarly, the laws of damages (nezakin), the laws of shomrim – responsibility for taking care of someone else’s property – and the property laws involved in marriage are all areas of halachah in which Jews are required to follow the laws of the Torah. Therefore, when a Jew lends an item to another, the laws governing his responsibility are those of the Torah, not the local civil code. This is because there is no infringement on the government’s authority when people make their own arrangements regarding how to manage these areas of their lives (Igros Moshe).

Government Influence

On the other hand, certain areas of contract law are heavily influenced by dina demalchusa dina. For example, the laws of employee relations are governed by local custom (Yerushalmi, Bava Metzia 7:1), which is usually influenced greatly by civil law.

What about Bankruptcy?

As I wrote above, the Gemara and the Shulchan Aruch do not mention the concept of bankruptcy. Gomel began to research if anyone discusses whether halachah recognizes the laws of bankruptcy, under the laws of dina demalchusa dina. Indeed, he discovered a dispute among great twentieth-century authorities regarding whether dina demalchusa dina applies to the laws of bankruptcy. In a responsum, Rav Moshe Feinstein rules that dina demalchusa dina applies only to matters in which the government takes an interest, because they may affect the stability of the country. For example, if the country does not have sound markets, this could create problems that the government wants to avoid. Therefore, the government has a halachic right under dina demalchusa dina to insist that its laws governing stable markets are followed.

Rav Moshe concludes that the laws of bankruptcy are within the parameters of dina demalchusa dina, since the government has a right to insist that a consistent rule of law be applied throughout the country regarding the discharge of bad debts.

In the case brought before Rav Moshe, a company had gone bankrupt, and the directors had paid one of its creditors, in violation of the bankruptcy rulings. The question was whether the individual was required to return the money that he had been paid because of the lahachah of dina demalchusa dina.

Rav Moshe ruled that, if the company had already filed for bankruptcy when this money was paid, the creditor is halachically required to return the money. This is because dina demalchusa dina establishes the regulations of how a person or entity that has filed for bankruptcy may pay its debts.

On the other hand, we find responsa from two prominent European authorities, Rav Yitzchak Weiss (Shu”t Minchas Yitzchak 3:134), who was then the av beis din of Manchester (and later the Rosh Av Beis Din of the Eidah HaChareidis in Yerushalayim), and from Rav Yaakov Breisch of Zurich, Switzerland (Shu”t Chelkas Yaakov 3:160). (It is interesting to note that these two great poskim were mechutanim.) From the limited description of the cases that each responsum contains, it seems that they were asked about the same situation:

Reuven advanced Shimon a personal loan and Shimon subsequently declared bankruptcy. As required by law, Shimon notified all his creditors, Reuven included, that he had filed for bankruptcy protection and that Reuven had the right to protest the bankruptcy arrangements. Reuven did not protest the bankruptcy proceedings. Ultimately, the court ruled that Shimon was required to pay thirty cents per dollar of debt.

Subsequently, Reuven sued Shimon in beis din for the entire loan. Shimon contended that he was not required to pay Reuven more than the thirty cents to the dollar, as per the bankruptcy court’s ruling. Reuven, the creditor, claimed that he had never forgiven any part of the loan. He argued that he did not protest the bankruptcy proceedings for several reasons, among them that he was unaware that a personal loan without interest is included in bankruptcy proceedings.

The rav who was asked the shaylah referred it to these well-known poskim, both of whom contended that dina demalchusa dina does not apply to bankruptcy procedures. In their opinion, dina demalchusa dina never supplants an area of halachah in which the Torah provides its own guidelines.

They do agree that if there was evidence that Reuven had accepted the court’s ruling, he would no longer be entitled to full payment, because he had been mocheil, forgiven, the balance of the loan. Once someone was mocheil a loan or part thereof , he cannot subsequently claim it. However, in the situation at hand, there was no evidence that Reuven was mocheil the balance of the loan.

It would seem from Rav Moshe Feinstein’s responsum that he would have ruled differently, contending that once the court declared Shimon bankrupt, Reuven would have been obligated to honor the court’s decision because of dina demalchusa dina.

At this point, Gomel sat down to discuss with Rav Chacham whether his own debtor could claim protection for the balance of his loan, since he had declared bankruptcy. According to the Chelkas Yaakov, the Minchas Yitzchak, and other authorities, a debtor has no basis for claiming bankruptcy protection. On the other hand, in certain circumstances, Rav Moshe might contend that the debtor need not repay more than the court has ruled.

Conclusion

Lending money is a valuable mitzvah. When someone fulfills this precious mitzvah of lending money to a fellow Jew, he is not donating a gift. As the Tanna Rabbi Shimon notes in the second chapter of Pirkei Avos, “the evil path from which a person should distance himself” can be described by the words of Dovid Hamelech: The wicked borrow and do not repay; whereas the righteous is gracious in his giving. Someone who borrows must always have a plan as to how he intends to return the funds.