The Mitzvah of Duchening (Birchas Kohanim)

In Parshas Naso, the Torah teaches about the beautiful mitzvah of Birchas Kohanim, wherein the kohanim are commanded to bless the people of Israel. This mitzvah is usually referred to by Ashkenazic Jews as “duchening” and by Sefardic Jews as Birchat Kohanim, or occasionally as Nesiyat Kapayim, which refers to the raising of hands that the kohanim do in order to recite the blessings.

Why Is This Mitzvah Called Duchening?

Duchen is the Aramaic word for the platform that is in front of the Aron Kodesh. The duchen exists to remind us of the ulam, the antechamber that stood in front of the Kodesh and the Kodshei HaKodoshim, the holy chambers in the Beis HaMikdash. The Kodshei HaKodoshim was entered on only one day of the year, on Yom Kippur, and then only by the Kohen Gadol. The Kodesh was entered a few times daily, but only to perform the mitzvos of the Menorah, the Golden Mizbayach (altar), and the Shulchan (the Holy Table that held the Lechem HaPanim). Before entering the Kodesh, one ascended into the Ulam as a sign of respect, so as not to enter the Kodesh immediately.

Similarly, in our shuls the Aron Kodesh represents the Kodesh, since we are permitted to open it and to remove the Sifrei Torah when we need to. But, before entering the Kodesh, one ascends the duchen, in this case, also, to show respect by approaching the Aron Kodesh after a preliminary stage.

The duchen also serves other functions, one of which is that the kohanim stand upon it when they recite the blessings of Birchas Kohanim. For this reason, this mitzvah is called duchening (duchenen in Yiddish). In the absence of a duchen, or if there are more kohanim in the shul than there is room on the duchen, the kohanimduchen” while standing on the floor in the front of the shul.

Basics of Duchening

There is a basic order to the duchening that occurs during the repetition of the Shemoneh Esrai. When the chazan completes the brachah of modim and the congregation answers “amen” to his brocha, someone (either the chazan or a member of the congregation, depending on minhag) calls out “kohanim” to inform the kohanim that it is time for them to begin the brachah. After the kohanim recite the brachah on the mitzvah, the chazan then reads each word of the Birchas Kohanim that is recorded in the Torah (Bamidbar 6:24-26) for the kohanim to recite, and the kohanim respond. The congregation responds “amen” after each of the three brochos. After the last brachah of Birchas Kohanim is completed by the kohanim, the chazan returns to the repetition of the Shemoneh Esrai by reciting the brachahsim shalom“.

The Gemara and poskim teach that at each of these stages, one must be careful not to recite one’s part before the previous step has been completed. Thus, the person who calls out “kohanim” must be careful not to do so before the congregation has finished answering “amen” to the chazan’s brachah; the kohanim should be careful not to recite the words of the brachah before the chazan has completed saying the word “kohanim”; the chazan may not call out “yevarechecha” before the congregation has completed saying “amen” to the brachah of the kohanim, etc. It is important to be mindful of these halachos and allow each stage to be completed before beginning the next. Unfortunately, even well-learned people are sometimes not sufficiently careful and patient to wait until it is time for their part to be recited.

Wearing Shoes During Duchening

A kohen may not duchen while wearing shoes. The Gemara teaches that this was one of the nine takkanos that were instituted by Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai (Sotah 40a). Although there would seem to be an obvious association with the halacha that the kohanim were barefoot when they performed the service in the Beis HaMikdash, the actual reason for this takkanah is unrelated. Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai was concerned that a kohen’s shoelace would tear while he was on the way to the duchen and, while stopping to retie his shoelace, he would miss the duchening. However, people who saw that he missed the duchening would not realize what happened. They might start a rumor that he did not duchen because he is not a valid kohen! For this reason, Chazal instituted that every kohen simply removes his shoes before duchening.

What if the Chazan is a Kohen?

The mishnah states that when there is only one kohen in shul, and he is the chazan, then he may (and should) duchen (Berachos 34a). In this instance, the kohen will remove his shoes and wash his hands prior to beginning repetition of the Shemoneh Esrai. There is a dispute among poskim whether a kohen may duchen when he is the chazan and there are other kohanim who will be duchening. The Shulchan Aruch rules that he should not duchen under these circumstances, because of a concern that he will become confused where he is up to in the davening and have difficulty resuming his role as chazan (Orach Chayim 128:20). Chazal instituted this prohibition even when we are certain that the chazan will not become confused, such as today, when he has a siddur in front of him (Mishnah Berurah 128:72).

However, the Pri Chodosh rules that he may duchen, and that the concern referred to by the Shulchan Aruch was only when the chazan might become confused (such as when he does not have a siddur to daven from). In most communities in Eretz Yisrael, the custom is to follow the Pri Chodosh’s ruling allowing a kohen who is the chazan to duchen. However, in chutz la’aretz the practice is to follow the Shulchan Aruch, and the chazan does not duchen (unless he is the only kohen).

In a situation where the chazan is the only kohen and there is a platform (the “duchen”) in front of the aron kodesh, there is a very interesting halacha that results. Since the duchening should take place on the platform, the kohen walks up to the duchen in the middle of his repetition of the Shemoneh Esrai. After completing the duchening, he returns to his place as chazan and completes the repetition of the Shemoneh Esrai.

The Minyan Disappeared

What do you do if you started davening with a minyan, but in the middle of davening, some men left, leaving you with less than a minyan? Can you still duchen?

If the minyan started the duchening with ten men or more, and then some men left in the middle of the duchening, they should complete the duchening (Biur Halachah 128:1 s.v. bipachus).

What Happens if a Kohen Does Not Want to Duchen?

A kohen who does not want to duchen should stand outside the shul from before the time that the word “kohanim” is called out, until the duchening is completed.

The Days that We Duchen

The prevalent custom among Sefardim and other Edot Hamizrach is to duchen every day. There are many Ashkenazic poskim who contend that Ashkenazim should also duchen every day. However, the standard practice in chutz la’aretz is that Ashkenazim duchen only on Yomim Tovim. In most of Eretz Yisroel, the prevalent practice is that Ashkenazim duchen every day. However, in Tzfas and much of the Galil, the custom is that the kohanim duchen only on Shabbos and Yom Tov.

Why do Ashkenazim duchen in Eretz Yisrael every day, and in chutz la’aretz only on Yom Tov?

Several reasons are cited to explain this practice. Rama explains that a person can confer blessing only when he is fully happy. Unfortunately, except for the Yomim Tovim, the kohanim are distracted from true happiness by the difficulties involved in obtaining basic daily needs. However, on Yomim Tovim, the kohanim are in a mood of celebration. Thus, they forget their difficulties and can bless people with a complete heart (Rama 128:44; cf. Be’er Heiteiv ad loc.). Thus, only on Yom Tov do the kohanim duchen.

In Eretz Yisroel, the practice is to duchen daily, because the Ashkenazim there followed the ruling of the Vilna Gaon. He contended that Ashkenazim everywhere should duchen every day.

Why do the kohanim in Tzfas duchen only on Shabbos and Yom Tov?

The reason for this custom is unclear. I was once told in the name of Rav Kaplan, the Rav of Tzfas for many decades, that since Tzfas had many tzoros over the years, including many serious earthquakes and frequent attacks by bandits,  the people living there did not have true simcha. However, they were able to achieve enough simcha on Shabbos and Yom Tov to be able to duchen. This reason does not explain why the other communities in the Galil duchen only on Shabbos and Yom Tov.

It should be noted that the Sefardim in Tzfas duchen every day, not only on Shabbos.

Placement of Shoes

As I mentioned before, Chazal instituted that a kohen should remove his shoes before duchening. Unfortunately, some kohanim leave their shoes lying around in the front of the shul when they go up to duchen. This practice is incorrect. The kohanim are required to place their shoes under the benches or in some other inconspicuous place when they go up to duchen. It shows a lack of respect to leave the shoes lying about (Mishnah Berurah 128:15)

Washing Hands

Prior to duchening, there is a requirement that the kohanim wash their hands. In some shuls, the Kohanim wash their hands in the front of the shul before they go up to duchen. What is the reason for this practice?

This custom has a source in Rishonim and Poskim and should definitely be encouraged. Tosafos (Sotah 39a s.v. kol) rules that one should wash one’s hands relatively near the duchen, whereas washing further away and then walking to the duchen constitutes an interruption, a hefsek, similar to talking between washing netilas yadayim and making hamotzi  on eating bread. (His actual ruling is that one should wash one’s hands within twenty-two amos of the duchen, which is a distance of less than forty feet.) Thus, according to Tosafos, we are required to place a sink within that distance of the duchen where the kohanim stand to duchen. The Magen Avrohom rules according to this Tosafos and adds that since the kohanim wash their hands before Retzei, the chazan should recite the brachah of Retzei speedily. In his opinion, the time that transpires after the kohen washes his hands should be less time than it takes to walk twenty-two amos (128:9). Thus, Retzei must be recited in less time than it takes to walk twenty-two amos. The Biur Halachah adds that the kohanim should not converse between the washing of their hands and the duchening, because this, also, constitutes a hefsek.

Duchening and Dreams

A person who had a dream that requires interpretation and does know whether the dream bodes well should recite a prayer at the time of the duchening (Berachos 55b; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 130:1). It should be noted that the text of the prayer quoted by the Gemara is different from that quoted in the majority of siddurim. The Gemara cites the following text for this prayer:

“Master of the World, I am yours and my dreams are yours. I dreamed a dream that I do not understand its meaning — whether it is something I have dreamt about myself or it is something that my friends dreamt about me or whether it is something that I dreamt about them. If these dreams are indeed good, strengthen them like the dreams of Yosef. However, if the dreams need to be healed, heal them as Moshe healed the bitters waters of Marah, as Miriam was healed of her tzaraas, as Chizkiyahu was healed of his illness and as the waters of Yericho were healed by Elisha. Just as You changed the curse of Bilaam to a blessing, so, too, change all my dreams for the good.” According to the opinion of the Vilna Gaon, this prayer should be recited at the end of all three blessings, rather than reciting the “Yehi Ratzon” that is printed in most siddurim (Mishnah Berurah 130:5).

One should complete the prayer at the moment that the congregation answers Amen to the blessings of Birchas Kohanim. This prayer can be recited not only when one is uncertain of the interpretation of the dream, but even when one knows that the dream bodes evil (Mishnah Berurah 130:4).

Among Ashkenazim in chutz la’aretz, where the practice is to duchen only on Yom Tov, the custom is to recite this prayer every time one hears the duchening, because there is a likelihood that since the last Yom Tov one had a dream that requires interpretation (Mishnah Berurah 130:1). This prayer is not recited on Shabbos, unless one had a bad dream that night (Mishnah Berurah 130:4). In Eretz Yisrael, where the custom is to duchen daily, the practice among Ashkenazim is to recite the prayer for dreams at the last of the three berachos of the duchening at musaf on Yom Tov, when it does not fall on a Shabbos. The custom is that the kohanim chant the last word of the brachah on these Yom Tov days to allow people sufficient time to recite this prayer.

In all places, the custom among Sefardim is not to recite the prayer unless the person had such a dream.

As a kohen, myself, I find duchening to be the most beautiful of mitzvos. We are, indeed, so fortunate to have a commandment to bless our fellow Jews, the children of Our Creator. The nusach of the brachah is also worth noting. “Levarach es amo Yisrael b’ahava” — to bless His nation Israel with love. The blessings of a kohen must flow from a heart full of love for the Jews that he is privileged to bless.

 

This Is the Way We Salt Our Meat

raw meatQuestion

“When I shopped in Israel, I noticed that all the chickens were split open. I like to roast my chicken whole and stuff the inside, but you can’t do this once the chicken is split open. When I asked the butcher for an explanation, he told me that all the mehadrin hechsherim split the chicken open before kashering. What does a split chicken have to do with kashrus?”

Introduction to Meat Preparation

In parshas Korach, the Torah calls the covenant of the kohanim a bris melach, a covenant of salt. In parshas Tzav, the Torah presents both a positive and a negative mitzvah requiring that we salt meat and all other offerings that are placed on the fire of the mizbeiach. These must be salted on all sides (Menachos 21a). Someone who places any offering on the mizbeiach without salting it first abrogates a mitzvas aseh, and furthermore is subject to malkus for violating a lo saaseh.

As long as our Beis Hamikdash remains destroyed, we unfortunately cannot fulfill this mitzvah. Nevertheless, I will use these opportunities to discuss the basic laws of kashering meat, notwithstanding that the salting of kosher meat accomplishes a completely different purpose than does salting korbanos.

In several places, the Torah proscribes eating blood. Blood is the efficient transporter of nutrients to the entire body and permeates the animal’s flesh while it is still alive. Thus, blood is absorbed throughout the meat. If so, how can we possibly extract the prohibited blood from the permitted meat?

The Gemara and the halachic authorities provide the guidelines how to properly remove the forbidden blood. The process begins during the butchering, when one is required to remove certain veins to guarantee that the blood is properly removed (Chullin 93a; Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 65:1).

After these veins are removed, there are two methods of extracting the blood from the meat. One is by soaking and salting the meat, which is what we will discuss in this article. In practical terms, the first approach, usually referred to as kashering meat, involves soaking the meat for thirty minutes, shaking off the excess water, salting the meat thoroughly on all sides, and then placing it for an hour in a way that the blood can drain freely. A bird should be placed with its open cavity downward so that the liquid drains off as it is kashering; similarly, a piece of meat with a cavity, such as an un-boned brisket, should be placed with its cavity draining downward. One may stack meat that is being kashered high as one wants, as long as the liquid is able to drain off the meat properly. After the salting is complete, we rinse the meat thoroughly, in order to wash away all the blood and salt. The poskim instruct that one should rinse the meat three times (Rama, Yoreh Deah 69:7).

Until fairly recently, every Jewish daughter and housewife soaked and salted meat as part of regular meal preparation. Today, the kashering of meat is usually performed either in the factory or by the butcher. Still, every housewife should know how to kasher meat, before it becomes a forgotten skill, reserved only for the specialist!

Case in point: A talmid of mine is doing kiruv in a community without a lot of kashrus amenities, but that happens to be very near a kosher abattoir. Because of necessity, they are now proficient in the practical aspects of kashering their own meat, a skill that they were fortunate to learn. Thus, we see another example of the importance of being able to kasher meat yourself.

Another case in point:

I know a very fine Jew who, following the guidance of gedolei Yisrael, accepted a kabbalah before he married that he would only eat meat that was kashered at home. Someone wanted to invite him for a sheva berachos and wanted to be able to serve him what she prepared for all her guests, but was unable to do so because she never learned how to kasher meat. (Instead, she prepared him fish, but had to find out what brand and type of fish he would use.)

For these reasons, when I taught in Beis Yaakov, I made sure that the girls knew how to kasher meat, although frankly I was quite appalled to find out how little they knew about the process. In those days, most of their mothers still knew how to kasher meat, but today, even the mothers and teachers of Beis Yaakov students no longer know how to do so.

On the other hand, I am reminded of the time some Iranian talmidim of Ner Yisrael spent Pesach at a university in Oklahoma to be mekareiv Jewish students. Although the students, natives of Shiraz and Tehran, were no longer observing many mitzvos, they all assisted in the kashering of the chickens for the Seder. Every one of them remembered exactly how to kasher meat!

Why do we Soak our Meat?

Before addressing the question that I shared at the beginning of our article, we need to understand more thoroughly the process of kashering meat. The Gemara (Chullin 113a) teaches:

“Shmuel said: The meat does not rid itself of its blood unless it is well salted and well rinsed.” The Gemara subsequently explains that the meat must be rinsed both before the salting and afterwards. We well understand why we must rinse away the salt after kashering the meat, since it is now full of forbidden blood. But why does one need to rinse the meat before kashering the meat? And why emphasize that it must be “well rinsed”?

There are actually many different explanations for this law. Here are some approaches mentioned by the rishonim, as explained by the master of practical kashrus, the Pri Megadim (in his introduction to the laws of salting meat, Second Ikar, s.v. Va’atah):

(1) Soften the Meat

Soaking the meat softens it, so that the salt can now remove the blood, but if the meat is not saturated thoroughly with water, the salt will not successfully extract the blood from the hard meat, and the meat remains prohibited (Ran). According to this reason, the Gemara’s instruction that the meat is “well rinsed,” requires not simply rinsing the surface of the meat, but submerging the meat. The later authorities interpret that one should soak the entire piece of meat to be kashered for half an hour, to guarantee that it is soft enough for the salt to extract the blood (see Darchei Moshe 69:1; as explained by Gra, 69:4).

The authorities dispute whether one is required to submerge the entire piece of meat. Some contend that if part of the meat remained above the water, one is not required to submerge the meat that remained above the water line, since it will become softened by the water absorption of the lower part of the meat (Pischei Teshuvah 69:5). Others maintain that the upper part will not soften this way, and one must submerge it for half an hour before salting the meat (Yad Yehudah, Peirush HaAruch end of 69:10; Darkei Teshuvah 69:20).

(2) Remove the Surface Blood

A second approach to why the meat must be rinsed well contends that one must rinse blood off the surface of the meat, because, otherwise, this blood will impede the ability of the salt to remove the blood that is inside the meat (Mordechai). This approach, as well as all the others that the Pri Megadim quotes, does not require submerging the meat, but merely rinsing the surface well. However, according to this approach, if the meat was submerged for half an hour and then afterwards someone sliced into the meat, one must rerinse the area that was now cut. Failure to rerinse the newly cut area will result in making it impossible for the salt to remove the blood properly (Pri Megadim).

Case in point:

Once, when I was inspecting a butcher shop, I observed that after the meat was completely soaked, the mashgiach noticed that one piece had not been properly butchered – the butcher had failed to remove a vein that one is required to remove. The mashgiach took out his knife and sliced away the offending vein. But, is one now required to soak the meat for an additional half hour or to rinse it before kashering it?

The answer is that one must rinse the newly sliced area well to remove any blood, but one is not required to soak the meat for an additional half an hour, since the meat is now nice and soft and its blood will drain out freely.

(3) The Blood will Absorb into the Meat

A third opinion why the meat must be rinsed well before salting contends that salting meat when there is blood on its surface will cause the blood to absorb into the meat, thus prohibiting it. This approach also believes that the purpose for rinsing the meat before salting is to remove the blood on the surface. However, this opinion holds that not rinsing blood off the surface entails a more serious concern. If blood remains on the surface of the meat when it is salted, this blood will absorb into the meat and prohibit it. According to this reason, if someone salted the meat without rinsing it off, the meat is now prohibited, and resoaking it and salting it will not make it kosher. According to the other reasons we have mentioned, one who failed to soak or rinse the meat before salting it may rinse off the salt, soak (or rinse) the meat properly and then salt it.

The Shulchan Aruch (69:2) rules that if one salts meat without rinsing it first, he may rinse the salt off the meat and re-salt the meat. The Rama rules that one should not use the meat, unless it is a case of major financial loss.

(4) Moisten the Surface

Another Rishon, the Rosh, contends that the reason why one must rinse the meat before salting it is because the salt does not remove the blood properly unless the meat surface is moist. Although this approach may appear similar to the Ran’s approach that I mentioned first, the Ran contends that the entire piece of meat be soaked in order to soften it so that its blood will readily extract, whereas the Rosh requires only that the surface be moist at the time of the salting. Therefore, the Rosh does not require that the meat be soaked at all, certainly not for half an hour. On the other hand, if the meat soaked for a half-hour, and then was dried or sliced, the Rosh requires one to moisten the dry surface so that the salt will work. In this last case, the Ran does not require re-rinsing the surface, since the meat already soaked for half an hour.

In practical halacha, we, lechatchilah, prepare meat according to all opinions, and for this reason we soak all meat for half an hour before salting, but we drain off some of the water before salting it, so that the meat is moist but not dripping (Rama 69:1). If the meat is too wet, the salt will not do its job.

How thick must I salt the meat?

The Gemara quoted above states that one must salt the meat well, just as it mentions that one must wash it well. What does this mean, that I must salt it well?

Some authorities require that the meat be covered with salt, whereas others rule that it is satisfactory to salt it sufficiently that one would not be able to eat the meat without rinsing it off.

The Rishonim debate whether salting meat well means that it must be salted on all sides, or whether it is sufficient to salt the meat on one side. There are actually three different opinions on the matter:

  • The meat needs to be salted on only one side, and this satisfactorily removes the blood (Tur’s interpretation of Rashba).
  • One should preferably salt the meat on both sides, but if one failed to do so, the meat is kosher (Beis Yosef’s interpretation of Rashba).
  • If the meat is not salted on opposite sides, one will not remove all the blood and the meat is prohibited for consumption (Rama).

The Shulchan Aruch concludes that one should preferably salt the meat on both sides, but if one failed to do so, the meat is kosher. However, the Rama rules that under normal circumstances, one should consider the meat non-kosher. Under extenuating circumstances, or in case of great loss, the meat is kosher (Taz).

Stacking the Meat

According to all opinions, if one stacks two pieces of meat, one atop another, and salts only one of the pieces, the blood was not removed from unsalted piece. Even if one contends that salting meat on one side of a piece will draw out all the blood in that piece, it does not draw out the blood from a different piece that the salted piece is lying on.

Similarly, if one is kashering two organs, such as the heart and the lung, salting one piece does not draw the blood out of the other piece. This is true, even if the two organs are still connected together (see Pri Megadim, Mishbetzos Zahav end of 15).

Salting a bird only on the outside is similar to salting a piece of meat on only one side, because there is an open cavity in the middle. For this reason, one is required to salt a bird on the inside of the open cavity, also, and cannot simply salt the outside of the bird.

Splitting a Bird

At this point, we have enough information to address our opening question:

“When I shopped in Israel, I noticed that all the chickens were split open. I like to roast my chicken whole and stuff the inside, but you can’t do this once the chicken is split open. When I asked the butcher for an explanation, he told me that all the mehadrin hechsherim split the chicken open before kashering. What does a split chicken have to do with kashrus?”

How does one kasher a chicken or other bird? If one salts the outside of the chicken, one has salted the bird on only one side, since the inside cavity was not salted. The Shulchan Aruch answers that one places salt on the inside cavity of the chicken.

The Pri Megadim records a dispute among earlier authorities whether one is required to cut through the breast bone of a bird before kashering it. The Shulchan Aruch rules that one is not required to cut through the breast bone of a bird before kashering it, but can rely on placing salt inside the cavity. The Beis Hillel adds that cutting through the breast bone of the bird to make the cavity most accessible is not even considered a chumrah that one should try to observe. However, the Beis Lechem Yehudah rules that one is required to cut through the breast bone before kashering. His reasoning is that one who does not cut through the bone must rely on pushing salt into the cavity and that people tend not to push the salt sufficiently deep into the cavity. The Pri Megadim agrees with the Beis Lechem Yehudah, and mentions that he required his family members to cut through the breast bone to open the cavity before salting poultry, because it is impossible to salt properly all the places in the internal cavity without splitting the chicken open. (Although the Pri Megadim uses the term “split in half,” I presume that he means to open the chicken’s cavity. There seems no reason to require one to cut the entire chicken into two pieces.) Furthermore, several of the internal organs – including the lungs, kidneys, and spleen — are often not salted properly without splitting open the cavity. It is for this reason that mehadrin shechitos in Eretz Yisrael all cut through the bone before salting the chickens, although one can note from the Pri Megadim’s own comments that this was not standard practice.

Most hechsherim in the United States follow the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch and the Beis Hillel and do not insist on splitting the chicken open before salting it. One hechsher I know requires that the kidneys be removed and discarded before sale, because of the concern raised by the Pri Megadim that they cannot be salted properly without opening the chicken. (In our large scale manufacturing today, the lungs, heart and spleen are always removed anyway, and usually not sold for food.)

By the way, we can also understand some of the reasons why someone would take on a personal chumrah to eat meat only if it was kashered at home. Among the reasons that he would be makpid is better control of the kashering, guaranteeing that the chickens are split before they are salted, and making certain that the chickens are placed with their cavities down.

Conclusion

At this point, I would like to return to our opening explanation, when I mentioned the mitzvah of salting korbanos that are burnt on the mizbeiach. As I alluded to above, although both items are salted in a similar manner, the purpose is very different. Whereas the salting of our meat is to remove the blood, this blood and salt is washed away. The salted offerings, on the other hand, are burnt completely with their salt. Several commentaries note that salt represents that which exists forever, and can therefore represent the mitzvos of the Torah, which are never changed. In addition, the salt used for the korbanos must be purchased from public funds, from the machatzis hashekel collection, demonstrating that this responsibility to observe the mitzvos forever is communal and collective (Rav Hirsch).

 

This Is the Way We Wash Our Hands

washing cupQuestion #1: Cup after restroom?

“Do I need to use a cup when I wash upon leaving the restroom?”

Question #2: Netilah review

“Could you please review the basic laws of netilas yadayim?”

Question #3: Lost count

“Why do we wash our hands sometimes once, sometimes twice and sometimes three times?”

Answer:

Parshas Chukas tells us that after the passing of Miriam, the Jews were without water. Many daily activities, as varied as arising in the morning, praying, eating bread, clipping nails and exiting the lavatory require that we wash our hands, either before or afterwards (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 4:18, 92:7; Yoreh Deah 116:4, 5). The details of the laws that each of these washings requires vary, which people find confusing. Sometimes we are told to wash our hands alternately, and other times just the opposite. Sometimes we are told that the water may not have been used before, and other times there is no such requirement. Sometimes we require three washings, others only one; and still others do not even require water. This article will provide an overview explaining the basic various reasons and why there are, therefore, different halachic requirements, and then conclude with a brief guide to the instructions for the most complicated type of washing, the one required before eating bread.

Our first step to sort out this confusion is to categorize the different reasons why we wash under the following headings:

  1.          For hygiene
  2.        To remove ruach ra — harmful spiritual influence

Certain activities or situations cause a ruach ra, an impure spirit, that is removed by washing in a prescribed fashion.

III.       For kedushah

Whereas the aim of both categories mentioned thus far is to remove contaminants, either physical or spiritual, the purpose of other ablutions is to create sanctity. An example is the rinsing of hands and feet by the kohanim prior to performing the service in the Beis Hamikdash.

  1. For taharah

Washing hands prior to eating bread has many special requirements, and this is because this mitzvah is for yet a fourth reason, as I will soon explain.

Reasons make differences

Each of the different reasons for washing has its own laws. This explains why the requirements vary, as we will soon see.

Not mutually exclusive

The four reasons that we have now learned are not mutually exclusive – meaning that sometimes we wash our hands for several of these rationales. When this happens, the laws applicable for each reason must be met.

Here is one example: Cleansing one’s hands after using the lavatory is required both for hygiene and because of ruach ra. I will soon demonstrate how this explains some of the halachos that apply to that particular washing.

Our next step is to understand the basic requirements of each type of washing and the differences that exist between them.

  1. Hygiene

Halachah requires that a person clean his hands when they are dirty, or when he has touched his shoes or the parts of the body that are sweaty or are usually covered. When cleaning is only because of hygiene and not for any other objective, several lenient halachic rulings apply that do not apply when washing for one of the other reasons. The most obvious difference is that washing for hygienic reasons does not require water. It is sufficient to clean the soiled area in any way that one chooses, such as by rubbing one’s hands on a rough surface, by using alcohol or a disinfectant cleaning gel. The requirement is simply to insure that the dirt has been removed (Magen Avraham 92:5; Machatzis Hashekel 4:17; Kaf Hachayim 4:61). Similarly, washing for hygiene does not require cleaning hands a specific number of times.

Another lenience is that someone who will not be davening or studying Torah is not required to wash his hands immediately, but can clean them when it is convenient to do so (Mishnah Berurah 4:41).

On the other hand, there is a stringency that applies to washing for physical hygiene. Halachah prohibits reciting a brocha, praying or studying Torah until the dirt has been removed (Magen Avraham 227:2).

  1. For ruach ra

A second category of ablutions includes those performed to remove ruach ra, spiritual contaminants that may be harmful if not removed properly. These include: Washing after clipping fingernails or toenails, after giving or receiving a haircut, after leaving the lavatory or mikveh, after visiting a cemetery or attending a funeral.

As opposed to hygienic cleaning, washing to eliminate ruach ra requires using water (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 4:18) and necessitates washing until the wrist (see Kaf Hachayim 4:61). Another stringency that applies when removing ruach ra is that one should wash one’s hands as soon as possible, in order to purge the ruach ra without delay (see Magen Avraham 4:18 and Pri Megadim; Elyah Rabbah 4:12; Kaf Hachayim 4:63).

Yet another stringency is that one should be careful not to touch food without first washing away the ruach ra. However, if one did touch food prior to washing, the food may be eaten (Shu’t Shevus Yaakov 2:105; Artzos Hachayim, Eretz Yehudah 4:4; Darchei Teshuvah 116:35).

On the other hand, there are a few lenient rulings that apply when one is washing only to remove ruach ra: One may recite brachos, pray or study Torah even though one is contaminated by ruach ra and has not yet had the opportunity to wash properly. A second leniency that applies is that, with the exception of washing negel vasser and those ablutions required from having had contact with meisim (after visiting a cemetery or attending a funeral), these washings do not require pouring on one’s hands from a vessel (see Kaf Hachayim 4:61). If one does not have a vessel handy, he may wash negel vasser without one (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 4:7 and commentaries).

More than one reason

I mentioned above that after using the bathroom one washes both because of hygiene and because of ruach ra. Since each of these reasons has its own requirements, washing after using the lavatory carries both of them. For the reasons of hygiene, it is sufficient to wipe one’s hands or use a gel sanitizer. However, this cleansing does not remove ruach ra. Therefore, if there is no water available, one may wipe or rub one’s hands or use alcohol or gel sanitizer to clean them. This cleaning will allow someone to recite asher yatzar, daven, and learn Torah. Notwithstanding the fact that his body is still contaminated by a ruach ra that he should try to remove as soon as possible, this does not prevent him from reciting brachos, praying or studying Torah. Someone in this situation should wash his hands properly with water at his first opportunity.

Different levels of ruach ra

There are different varieties of ruach ra, some more potent than others. Therefore, some activities require pouring water three times on each hand, whereas others require only one pouring on each hand (Seder Hayom, quoted by Kaf Hachayim 4:61). Clipping nails, and giving or receiving a haircut involve a lighter ruach ra that requires only one washing (Elyah Rabbah 4:12). On the other hand, after leaving the lavatory or mikveh, visiting a cemetery or attending a funeral one should wash each hand three times.

When washing one’s hands more than one time to remove ruach ra, one should wash them alternately – first the right hand, then the left, then the right, and so on until each hand has been washed three times (Ben Ish Chai, Tolados 16; Kaf Hachayim 4:62). Both right-handed and left-handed people should follow this procedure (Mishnah Berurah 4:22).

Even when the type of ruach ra requires that we wash hands three times, one who is able to wash his hands only once may touch food afterwards (Biur Halachah 4:2 s.v. yedakdeik).

By the way, a person who clips someone else’s nails does not need to wash his hands (Kaf Hachayim 4:92). However, the person whose nails were clipped must wash his hands. Therefore, someone who clips the nails of a child who is old enough to touch food

should wash the child’s hands afterwards (Kaf Hachayim 4:92). A barber needs to wash his hands after giving a haircut, since he touches people’s hair (Kaf Hachayim 4:92).

III. For reasons of kedushah

Yet another reason for washing is to create more kedushah, similar to the kohanim washing their hands and feet before performing the service in the Beis Hamikdash (see Ramban, Shemos 30:17). For example, the kohein washes his hands until his wrists before duchening. Another activity that requires washing because of kedushah is davening shemoneh esrei (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 233:2). The laws germane both to washing before eating and washing prior to bensching are also because of kedushah, although in both instances there are other reasons to require these ablutions.

Brocha for washing

Whereas washing for hygiene or to remove ruach ra never requires a brocha, some washing performed because of kedushah does require a brocha.

I mentioned before that some activities require washing for more than one reason. Washing negel vasser in the morning is one such activity, which is required for three different reasons:

Hygiene: When a person is sleeping, he touches private and sweaty parts of his body.

To remove ruach ra: According to the Zohar (Parshas Vayeisheiv), a ruach ra descends upon a person while he sleeps and remains on his hands when he wakes up. Washing his hands three times removes it.

For kedushah: Every morning a person is like a kohein in the Beis Hamikdash who must wash from the Holy Laver (the kiyor) before beginning the daily service (Shu’t Rashba #191).

Because we wash negel vasser for all three reasons, the rules of negel vasser include stringencies from each of the categories.

Since the washing is for hygiene, one may not study Torah or recite prayers or blessings before washing.

Since it is to remove ruach ra, one should wash as soon as he can.

Since it is for kedushah, one recites a brocha upon this washing!

  1. Washing for bread

I am categorizing netilas yadayim, washing prior to eating bread, as a fourth category, because its laws are so different from the rest of the washings. For example, this washing has special instructions as to what type of water may be used, and requires that one use a vessel and dry one’s hands afterwards.

In the days of Shlomoh Hamelech, our Sages created a special mitzvah that we wash our hands in a very specific way prior to eating bread. There are two reasons for this takkanah:

  1. Chazal required that we wash hands in a very specific way prior to eating or handling terumah. To make certain that this takkanah was observed correctly, they extended the requirement to anytime a person eats bread.
  2. To create increased sanctity prior to eating our daily bread.

The reason Chazal required washing hands before handling terumah is because of a concept called tumas yadayim. Handling different items contaminates the hands to the extent that should they touch terumah, eating the terumah would be prohibited. This tumah is removed by washing one’s hands in a prescribed way. A minimum of a revi’is of water must be used, and must be poured by a person from an intact vessel meant for holding liquid. The entire hand that must be washed should be rinsed the first time one pours water onto the hand. If the water poured the first time did not wash the entire hand, one must dry the hand thoroughly and begin the procedure again.

With this overview, let us now study the proper procedure for netilas yadayim.

Chatzitzah, intervening substances

Prior to washing one’s hands, one should check that there are no intervening substances adhering to his hands. Any item that one prefers to remove, such as dough under one’s nails, will invalidate the netilas yadayim if it is not removed beforehand (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 161:1 and Mishnah Berurah 161:1).

Unused water

The water used for netilas yadayim must not have been previously used. For example, water that was used to rinse clothes or dishes or to cool off a baby bottle may not be used afterwards for netilas yadayim (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 160:2). Similarly, water kept in a basin that a workman used to cool off his tools may not be used for netilas yadayim (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 160:3).

Potable

Although water used for netilas yadayim does not have to be drinkable, one may not use water that is so salty, bitter or malodorous that a dog would not drink it (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 160:9).

Vessel

Netilas yadayim must be poured from a vessel large enough to hold at least a revi’is, approximately three ounces of liquid (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 159:1). A cup that is cracked or leaky may not be used (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 159:1). One may also not use a cap or other item that is not meant to hold water, even if, physically, it can (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 159:4).

Optimally, one should pour a revi’is of water on one’s hand each time he washes. As a rule, the Gemara advises using water generously when pouring for netilas yadayim, noting that this is a segulah to avoid poverty (Shabbos 62b).

Koach gavra

Washing for netilas yadayim requires that the water be poured over one’s hands by a person. This is called koach gavra, literally, the direct force of a person. Turning on a faucet and placing one’s hands under the water does not accomplish netilas yadayim for two reasons. First of all, the water did not fall from a vessel, and, second of all, the water was not poured directly by a person.

Wrist or knuckles?

The early authorities dispute whether netilas yadayim requires washing until the wrist or only until the knuckles. The Shulchan Aruch rules that one should preferably wash until the wrist (Orach Chayim 161:3). This means that when pouring water for the first time onto one’s hand, one must be careful to pour in such a way that every part of the hand gets wet.

Positioning the hands

The Gemara (Sotah 4b) requires that one hold one’s hands upright, fingers aloft, while washing netilas yadayim. There are numerous reasons mentioned in halachic authorities for these requirements. Explaining them all and the differences in halachah that result would take us beyond the scope of our article, so I will suffice by saying the following:

According to almost all opinions, holding the fingers upright while washing is not required when someone uses at least a revi’is of water and is careful that the water touches every part of his hand. Since most halachically concerned people wash their hands this way, I will leave the details of this discussion for another time.

It is preferred that even someone who washed his hands the way we just described should pour water onto his hands a second time. One should pour twice on one’s right hand, and then twice on one’s left hand (Chayei Odom 40:1; Mishnah Berurah 162:21). (This contrasts with washing because of ruach ra, where we wash our hands alternatively, as we learned above.) If a hand was washed with less than a revi’is of water, then halachah requires that one wash the hand a second time (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 162:2).

Rubbing hands together

After washing the hands, one should rub one’s hands together (Tosefta, Yadayim 1:2). This is done in case there is some dirt on them that has not already been removed (Rema, Orach Chayim 162:2, as explained by the Bach). This last step is not essential (Mishnah Berurah 162:24). One should be careful not to rub one’s hands together until both hands have been properly washed.

Drying

The Gemara teaches that one’s hands must be wiped dry after washing (Sotah 4b).

Washing wet hands

Must one’s hands be completely dry before you begin washing netilas yadayim? The authorities dispute what the halachah is in this case.

As we learned above, someone who, when pouring water for the first time, rinsed only part of his hand, must dry his hand thoroughly and begin the procedure over. The authorities dispute whether one must always have dry hands when beginning netilas yadayim or whether one may perform netilas yadayim even though his hands are wet or the handle of the cup is wet. According to the Magen Avraham (162:10) and the Mishnah Berurah (162:27), one may begin washing netilas yadayim, even though one’s hands are wet. The Chazon Ish (Orach Chayim 24:20) disagrees, contending that one’s hands must be dry when one begins washing netilas yadayim. Therefore, the handle of the cup must also be dry or, alternatively, one may grip the handle of the cup with a towel or some other item that keeps his hands dry until he washes netilas yadayim.

Optimal washing

Based on what we have learned, we can now present the optimal way to wash one’s hands prior to eating bread.

First one should check that one’s hands are clean. If they are not, he should clean them, and, according to the Chazon Ish, dry them. According to the Chazon Ish, the handle of the cup and the faucet handle must be dry, or one should be careful to touch the handles using something that will keep the hands dry.

One should pour twice over all parts of one’s right hand, and then pour twice over all parts of one’s left hand. The first pouring on each hand should be with at least a revi’is of water. One should use water generously and rub the hands together after washing. One then recites the brocha of al netilas yadayim prior to drying one’s hands.

Conclusion

The Gemara teaches that the rabbinic laws are dearer to Hashem than the Torah laws. This helps explain why there is such a vast halachic literature concerning this particular mitzvah.

 

Shidduchim and Lashon Hara

cell phone in handThis week’s parsha teaches about Miriam speaking loshon hora about her brother, thus providing an opportunity to discuss the questions about Shidduchim and Loshon Hora.

How should one ask and answer shidduch-related questions?

Question #1: “Someone called me inquiring about a neighbor for shidduchim purposes. From years of dealing with this boy, I know that his midos could use some polishing. What should I say?”

Question #2: Yaakov* calls to find out about a neighborhood girl, Rochel. She is one of the most wonderful people walking the face of the earth, and you would love to see her happily married; Yaakov sounds like a real mensch. However, her father, Mr. Weiss, is one of the most dishonest people you have ever met. Do you say anything to Yaakov about Rochel’s father?

* All stories in this article are actual situations, but the names have been changed.

Deciding what information to share about shidduchim often requires the wisdom of Solomon and the halachic prowess of Rav Moshe Feinstein. On the one hand, we want to assist people to find their proper zivug, while at the same time, we need to avoid transgressing any laws of speech, and imparting information that harms someone constitutes loshon hora (Rambam, Hilchos Dei’os 7:5). This is true, even if the information does not imply that he/she did anything wrong, such as mentioning that someone is in debt. While there is nothing evil about owing money, it is loshon hora to share this information, since the debtor may now find it difficult to borrow a necessary business loan, or have difficulty finding a partner for a commercial endeavor (Chofetz Chayim, end of Hilchos Rechilus, tziyur 2).

Similarly, telling people that one store tends to be expensive often involves the prohibition of loshon hora (Nesiv Chayim, Hilchos Rechilus, 9:8). A storekeeper is permitted to charge a little more than his competitor does, simply because his overhead costs are greater. Therefore, I may be affecting his halachically-permitted livelihood when I report to others that they can get a better deal elsewhere. Although my motivation to save someone money is noble, it is misplaced to do so at the expense of the other Jew, who needs to make a living. (There are circumstances when I may tell someone that he/she can get a better deal elsewhere, such as when the person I am advising is a family member or close friend, or the overcharge is unreasonable; I will need to discuss this subject at a different time.)

If someone asks me for advice, I am required to advise him/her to the best of my ability (Rambam, Hil. Rotzei’ach 12:14; Shaarei Teshuvah 3:54). Providing good advice fulfills two different mitzvahs: First, it is a positive implementation of the mitzvah of lifnei iveir, not to place a stumbling block before the blind. Just as the Torah prohibits giving bad advice and terms it misleading someone who is “blind” in this matter, providing good advice fulfills this mitzvah, since I am helping someone in a matter in which he lacks clarity (see Sefer Hamitzvos, Lo Saaseh #299). In addition, providing good advice fulfills the mitzvah of ve’ahavta le’rei’acha kamocha, love your neighbor as yourself.

Translating these issues as they relate to shidduchim, someone who shares information inappropriately and nixes a potentially good shidduch could violate the laws of loshon hora, because it causes someone harm. On the other hand, providing accurate and appropriate information about shidduchim fulfills the mitzvahs of giving good advice, and covering up negative information that one should tell may violate lo saamod al dam rei’echa, Do not stand by idly when your neighbor is endangered (Vayikra 19:16). Furthermore, not only is it permitted to investigate a potential shidduch, but one is required to research the background of the potential partner to ascertain that he/she has no issues that could disrupt married life (see Rabbeinu Yonah, Avos 1:7; Chofetz Chayim, Hil. Loshon Hora 4:11, based on Rashi to Shavuos 39b). Thus, I fulfill a third mitzvah by providing halachically appropriate information for a potential shidduch, since I am assisting someone to perform his or her necessary research.

So, when may I provide negative information, and when may I not? Answering shidduch inquiries is a difficult balancing act. One is responsible to see that someone entertaining making a shidduch has all the information that he or she needs, while, on the other hand, one must be careful not to provide superfluous negative information.

The answers to these questions vary according to circumstances and this article does not substitute for asking a rav a specific shaylah. Nevertheless, it will provide basic guidelines. As a starting point, we need to clarify several important details:

  1. Do you know the parties involved? Do you know whether this is an appropriate shidduch for this person?
  2. Would everyone consider the negative information to be important, or would it depend on the individual?

III. Do you know the caller? Do you know what his/her standards are?

Let us analyze these possibilities and see how the halacha applies in each situation. Again, the major rule is: Am I supplying information that they will use to decide whether to pursue this shidduch, or am I supplying negative information that has no purpose?

NO TACHLIS

Do you know whether this is an appropriate shidduch?

Consider the following case:

Leah’s parents, who are looking for a working man, ask you about Levi, who wants to study in kollel for several years. Before sharing any personal information, first find out whether this shidduch would be considered by both sides. Otherwise, one may be sharing loshon hora without any purpose, since the shidduch is, in any case, out of the question. Instead of giving information, simply point out that their life plans are very different. If the two sides want to consider the shidduch anyway, then proceed by providing important information, even if it is potentially negative, as I will explain.

The same is true if the two families would not be interested in a match because of radically different family backgrounds, styles of Yiddishkeit, or age.

Example: You are called to provide information about a neighbor, a fine family, but with some negatives. Before providing this information, first see if the shidduch makes sense: For example, if the caller is looking only for a litvisha family, and the neighbor is chassidish and would only entertain a chassidisha shidduch, then the shidduch would not be considered anyway, and you have told loshon hora without any purpose.

HIGHLY NEGATIVE FACTS

When the negative information will certainly cause the other party to reject this shidduch, it is better to simply convince the caller that the match is inappropriate, without being more specific. This is a situation in which one should perhaps be vague and say that you just do not think the shidduch will work. Many specific cases require further rabbinic guidance to clarify whether or not one is required to reveal the information.

If you cannot derail the shidduch without being specific, and you are aware of negative information that would concern most people, then you must reveal it, because of the halacha of lo saamod al dam rei’echa. Examples of such situations include: knowledge that someone cannot have children (Shu’t Tzitz Eliezer 16:4), of a medical condition that would concern most people, or of a history of violent behavior. This information can and should be shared. Similarly, one must reveal information about someone whose observance level is not what it is purported to be (see Sefer Chassidim #507; Shu’t Panim Meiros 1:35).

When the halacha requires or permits revealing negative information, several other factors must be kept in mind. One should share only information that one knows first-hand and not repeat what one has heard from others. (If one has strong evidence of a serious problem, one can suggest that they contact someone who has first-hand knowledge of the situation.) In addition, one must be careful not to exaggerate. Furthermore, one’s sole purpose in sharing the information must be out of motivation to advise the inquirers and not because one is angry or dislikes the person. In addition, one should only say the negatives if there is no other way to accomplish what one needs to (Chofetz Chayim, Hilchos Loshon Hora 10:2).

WHAT NOT TO TELL

Must one reveal every liability? No! The Chofetz Chayim distinguishes between someone who is ill and someone who is weak; the former being information one should reveal and the latter being information that one should not (Be’er Mayim Chayim, Hilchos Rechilus 9:8). Contemporary authors discuss which medical conditions are concerned “illnesses” or merely “weaknesses.” For example, poskim consider diabetes to be an illness, whereas hay fever would usually qualify as a “weakness.”

In an article entitled May I Keep my Skeletons in the Closet (available on RabbiKaganoff.com) I noted that someone considering a shidduch is required to reveal his having a serious medical issue, but does not need to do so before the two parties have become well acquainted. He certainly has no requirement to tell a shadchan. A third party being asked may also be governed by the same rules and should discuss this question and its details with a halachic authority.

KNOW NOTHING

At this stage, let us examine the first question I raised above: “Someone called me inquiring about a neighbor for shidduchim purposes. From years of dealing with this boy, I know that his midos could use some polishing. What should I say?”

Let us assume you receive a cold call inquiring about a neighbor about whom you have both positive and negative information and observations. In most instances, the liabilities one knows about a neighbor are relative: Even if you know that he has a temper that makes you uncomfortable, or that he is not particularly reliable or punctual, you have no idea what the standards of the caller or the party for whom he is researching are concerning these issues. Before sharing information, you need to know the standards of the caller. If you do not know the person who is calling, and are unable to quickly ascertain their standards, you should say only positive things about the neighbor.

A neighbor’s unbecoming details may be detrimental to one person and advantageous to another. It might indeed be that the caller or the potential bashert would consider your neighbor to be very reliable or would not be concerned about the degree of anger that your neighbor possesses. You might be nixing what could have been a potentially good shidduch. Therefore, if the neighbor does not have an anger problem that would alarm anyone considering a shidduch with him, one should not reveal this information without knowing the calling party. After all, it may be that your neighbor is a very appropriate shidduch choice for the caller.

An example is in order: Zahavah follows an approach to tzniyus that is common in many frum circles, but does not conform to how Sheina thinks one should dress. If someone Sheina does not know asks her about Zahavah, she should refrain from commenting on Zahavah’s mode of dress. If the caller asks her directly whether Zahavah dresses tzniyusly, Sheina should answer that she does, since she has no idea what the caller means by that question.

I personally know of a proposed shidduch where the couple did not meet because someone did not know this halacha. Daniella told the caller that she felt her former classmate’s standard was not that of a model Beis Yaakov girl. Although the classmate’s dress code did not meet Daniella’s, it was probably adequate for the family and young man who asked. However, because of the answer they received, the family assumed that the girl’s standards were way below theirs and would not consider the shidduch, notwithstanding that the standards on both sides were the same. To the best of my knowledge, both parties are still single, and several people who know both of them feel that their personalities are unusually well suited. However, his family will not consider this girl for their yarei shamayim son, and no one can convince them otherwise. As the expression goes, you do not get a second chance to make a first impression.

In this instance, Daniella violated the laws of both loshon hora and of motzi shem ra, relating disparaging, false information. She violated loshon hora, because she supplied unnecessary information that is harmful to the other person, and motzi shem ra because they were left with a false, negative impression.

A LITTLE KNOWLEDGE

All of this changes if the caller clarifies what standard of tzniyus she meant in her question, and it is a standard that Zahavah or the classmate does not follow. In this instance, the question should be answered fully and correctly, since one now comprehends clearly what the caller meant.

DOES HE “KNOW HOW TO LEARN?”

Similarly, if someone you do not know asks whether a person you are acquainted with “knows how to learn,” you should answer affirmatively, unless the person has little or no learning background. The rule here is, does he have enough learning background that someone would say that he “knows how to learn”? As long as he meets this minimal standard, one should answer affirmatively, until one knows what the caller’s definition and frame of reference is.

SELF-DEPRECATING

There is one other situation where personal or potentially negative information can be told: one may relate any information that you have heard the person say about himself or herself in public (Rashi, Arachin 16a). Similarly, it is permitted to relate something about a person that he/she does publicly. Thus, one may tell whether someone dresses stylishly or not, or that someone does or does not wear a hat when walking through the street. In all of these instances, one’s motivation should be pure – that is, simply to clarify to the person whether this is an appropriate shidduch or not.

A very common case is someone who is not of an observant background. If the person freely says in public that he/she is a baal teshuvah or of a non-observant family, one may tell a potential shidduch this information. However, if the information is not readily known, in most situations, one should not reveal this information.

HOW TO ASK

At this point, it is appropriate to explain how to ask about shidduch information when you need to call someone that you do not know. First, tell the other person who you are and for what type of person you are inquiring, before asking them for specific information. This way, the other party has some background to understand the context of the questions. Usually, the more specific your questions, the more accurately the other person will understand your standards and thereby be able to provide the information you seek.

KABBALAS LOSHON HORA

It is important to realize that although one may ask whatever is needed  about a potential shidduch, and may decide to pass up a shidduch based on the information received, one should not assume that any negative information received is absolutely true. The halacha of kabbalas loshon hora, accepting loshon hora, requires one to assume that there may have been a misunderstanding, or to interpret some other justification for the person’s actions or attributes.

As mentioned earlier, answering shidduch inquiries is a difficult balancing act. We should all daven for Hashem’s help to fulfill this tremendous mitzvah correctly and to be able to assist those who need shidduchim to swiftly find their bashert.

 

Starting Shabbos Early

sunsetQuestion #1: Asking for help

“If I accepted Shabbos early, may I ask my neighbor, who is beginning Shabbos at the regular time, to turn on a light?”

Question #2: Very early Shabbos

“How early can I begin Shabbos?”

Question #3: 18 versus 20

“Some communities schedule candle lighting 18 minutes before sunset on Friday, whereas others schedule it 20 minutes before sunset. Is there a halachic reason for the difference?”

Question #4: Some like it late

“If all the shullen in my neighborhood make Shabbos early, am I obligated to do so?”

Answer:

All the questions above involve a mitzvah called tosefes Shabbos, the halachic requirement to begin observing Shabbos before the day has yet arrived and, also, to continue observing Shabbos for some time after the day is over on Saturday night. The early authorities discuss whether tosefes Shabbos requires one to begin Shabbos a specific amount before the set hour, or whether it is left to the individual’s discretion to decide how much extra time one treats as Shabbos (Tosafos, Beitzah 30a s.v. Deha; cf. Toras Ha’adam page 252).

Why eighteen minutes?

There are different customs regulating how many minutes before sunset one should kindle the Shabbos lights. Most places today establish the official time as at least eighteen minutes before sunset. The reason for this is because there are opinions that Shabbos begins between 13½ and 18 minutes before sunset (Sefer Yere’im; see Mishnah Berurah 261:23 and Shaar Hatziyun ad locum). This approach is based on a method of understanding the Talmudic passages regarding the scientific phenomena that define the end of the day. Kindling Shabbos lights at least eighteen minutes before sunset accomplishes three things.

  1. It prevents one from doing melachah, even according to the opinion of the Sefer Yere’im.
  2. It guarantees that one fulfills the mitzvah of tosefes Shabbos.
  3. It provides time to prepare for the arrival of the sanctity of Shabbos.

18 versus 20

At this point, we can already address one of our opening questions:

“Some communities schedule candle lighting 18 minutes before sunset on Friday, whereas others schedule it 20 minutes before sunset. Is there a halachic reason for the difference?”

In order to fully accommodate the Yere’im’s opinion, some authorities contend that one should kindle the Shabbos lights before eighteen minutes prior to sunset, so that there is tosefes Shabbos, even according to those who understand that he held that Shabbos enters eighteen minutes before sunset (Mishnah Berurah 261:23 and Shaar Hatizyun). This is why many communities schedule candle lighting twenty minutes before sunset — the extra two minutes fulfill the mitzvah of tosefes Shabbos, even according to the most stringent position. Those who schedule candle-lighting for exactly eighteen minutes accept that this fulfills the vast majority of halachic opinions and all the major accepted approaches.

How does someone accept Shabbos?

Women usually accept Shabbos when they kindle the Shabbos candles. There is a difference between Ashkenazic and Sefardic practice as to how this is done. Ashkenazim assume that a woman accepts Shabbos when she recites the blessing on the kindling. Therefore, an Ashkenazic woman kindles her Shabbos lights before she recites the blessing, since, once she recites the blessings, she has accepted Shabbos and cannot light the candles or lamps. To accomplish having the brocha recited before the mitzvah, the Rema (Orach Chayim 263:5) advises that she block the light from herself with her hand. The common practice is that she covers her eyes with her hands while reciting the brocha and upon completing the brocha removes her hands, so that she can see and benefit from the kindled Shabbos lights.

Sefardic women recite the brocha of lehadlik neir shel Shabbos and then kindle the lights. They assume that she accepts Shabbos when she completes kindling the lights. Therefore, many have the practice that she does not extinguish the match with which she kindles the Shabbos lights, but instead places the match down so that it goes out by itself (see Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 263:10).

Both Sefardic and Ashkenazic women should recite the minchah prayers before lighting the candles, since once one has accepted Shabbos, one can no longer daven the weekday Friday minchah. However, if the day is drawing to a close and the candles still stand unkindled, one should kindle the Shabbos lights, even though, as a result, one will be unable to daven minchah (Mishnah Berurah 263:43). If this happens, a woman should daven maariv that night, and, immediately upon backing up the steps to complete “shemoneh esrei,” she should wait a few seconds, and then step forward to recite the same shemoneh esrei a second time (ibid.). This second prayer is a tefilas tashlumim, a make-up prayer, to replace the minchah that was missed (Brachos 26a). Reciting the Shabbos maariv amidah prayer a second time qualifies as restitution for the missing tefillah, notwithstanding that it is very different from the unrecited weekday minchah.

Conditional lighting

Should a woman not want to accept Shabbos upon kindling her lights, many authorities permit her to postpone accepting Shabbos until later (see Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 263:10). This stipulation should be performed only under extenuating circumstances (Magen Avraham 263:20). After making this condition, she may kindle her lights and, sometime before sunset, she must stop doing melachah and accept Shabbos.

Several authorities rule that, should someone decide not to accept Shabbos when kindling early, someone else in the household must accept Shabbos at that time. According to one opinion, if no one accepts Shabbos when she kindles, then the brocha recited upon kindling the lights is recited in vain, a brocha levatalah (Graz 263:11; however, see Mishnah Berurah 263:20 and Rema 263:10). However, if she herself will be accepting Shabbos within eight to ten minutes of her kindling, it is not necessary for someone else to accept Shabbos immediately after she kindles the lights (Shu’t Tzitz Eliezer 11:21).

Example:

For example, a family will be eating the Friday night meal at someone else’s house, and it is difficult for the lady of the house to walk both ways. She may decide that she is not accepting Shabbos when she kindles the lights and then travel by automobile (obviously before Shabbos) to the home where they are eating the seudah.

How do men accept Shabbos?

Even when men kindle Shabbos lights, they usually do not accept Shabbos at that time, but during the davening. The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 261:4) rules that reciting Borchu or Mizmor shir leyom haShabbos qualifies as accepting Shabbos. The Magen Avraham (ad locum) disagrees with the latter ruling, contending that people routinely do melachah after reciting Mizmor shir leyom haShabbos. This means that people do not consider reciting it to be a declaration that one is accepting Shabbos. The later authorities explain that, in the time of the Magen Avraham, people made an implied condition not to accept Shabbos when they said Mizmor shir leyom haShabbos, and that was why they continued to do melachah after reciting it. However, in the time of the later acharonim, such as the Pri Megadim, people accepted Shabbos upon reciting Mizmor shir and refrained from doing melachah from that point. Other authorities ruled that completing the song of Lecha Dodi, which closes with a welcoming of the Shabbos Queen, constitutes accepting Shabbos, and that, therefore, one is prohibited from doing melachah from then (Mishnah Berurah 261:31 quoting Derech Chachmah).

The early bird catches

How early may someone accept Shabbos and kindle lights? This question is already mentioned by the Gemara (Shabbos 23b) in the following passage:

Rav Yosef’s wife would delay lighting Shabbos lights until it was almost Shabbos. Rav Yosef admonished her, pointing out that in the Desert, the pillar of light that came at night arrived before the day ended. Thus, it is appropriate that the light for night should be kindled while it is still daytime.

Taking the admonition seriously, in a later week Rav Yosef’s rebbitzen decided to kindle the lights very early. An old man, possibly an incarnate of Eliyahu Hanavi (see Tosafos, Chullin 6a s.v. Ashkechei), told her that kindling too early is also not halachically correct (Shabbos 23b).

The Ran notes that the Gemara’s anecdote requires explanation. How close to Shabbos could Rebbitzen Yosef have been lighting that her husband felt it appropriate to correct her? She certainly did not kindle the lights at a time when it was questionably Shabbos, and, certainly, she also observed tosefes Shabbos correctly. If so, she was kindling at the correct time, so why was Rav Yosef admonishing her?

The Ran explains that Rebbitzen Yosef opined that kindling the lights is meant to sserve Shabbos and, as such, should be conducted as close to Shabbos as possible. In other words, although one should not perform any melachah during tosefes Shabbos, she mistakenly thought that kindling the Shabbos lights is an exception that could and should be done immediately before Shabbos. Rav Yosef corrected her, pointing out that tosefes Shabbos applies also to kindling the Shabbos lights.

Having accepted Rav Yosef’s admonition, she now felt that she should make sure to kindle her Shabbos lights before she finished her other last minute Shabbos preparations. This was also not correct – the kindling should be the last melachah activity performed before one accepts Shabbos.

How early is too early?

Some of the rishonim rule that one can kindle as early as plag haminchah, provided that, when doing so, one accepts upon himself the sanctity of Shabbos (Tur, Orach Chayim 267; Rabbeinu Yerucham, Tolados Adam Vechavah 12:2). Accepting Shabbos after kindling early is necessary in order to demonstrate that the kindling is for Shabbos. This is the ruling accepted by the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 263:4) and later authorities.

When is plag haminchah? Plag haminchah is the earliest time of day that one may daven maariv. It is definitely before sunset — the Gemara explains that plag haminchah is 43/48 of the day. This means that if one divides the daylight part of the day into 48 quarter-hours, counting back 5 of these quarter-hours from the end of the day is plag haminchah.

When does the day begin and end?

There is a major dispute among authorities whether these hours are calculated from alos hashachar, halachic dawn, which is halachically the beginning of the day, to tzeis hakochavim, when the stars appear, or whether they are calculated from sunrise to sunset. Accepted contemporary practice follows the opinion that plag haminchah is measured from sunrise to sunset, which makes plag haminchah in the summer about 1½ hours before sunset (Levush, Orach Chayim 267; Gra, to Orach Chayim 459:2; Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chayim 261:10).

Why no kindling earlier?

Why is it prohibited to kindle the Shabbos lights before plag?

Rashi (Shabbos 23b) explains that if one kindles the lights too early, it is not noticeable that one is kindling the lights for Shabbos. This implies that the reason one cannot light Shabbos lights this early has nothing to do with accepting Shabbos early – one can accept Shabbos as early as one wants. The problem is that one who kindles Shabbos lights this early does not properly fulfill his mitzvah of kindling lights in honor of Shabbos. Thus, the Aruch Hashulchan (263:19) assumes that although one may not kindle Shabbos lights earlier than plag haminchah, someone who accepted Shabbos earlier is required to begin observing Shabbos.

However, other early authorities (Tur, Orach Chayim 267) imply that it is impossible to accept tosefes Shabbos earlier than plag haminchah, and this is the approach accepted by the Magen Avraham (261:10) and the Mishnah Berurah (261:25). In their opinion, if someone accepted Shabbos upon himself before plag haminchah, it has no effect.

An earlier authority seems to agree fully with the position of the Aruch Hashulchan. The Terumas Hadeshen, who lived in 14th century Austria, records the following question:

“In most communities, they daven maariv in the long summer days three or four hours before the stars appear. Is there any halachic basis for this practice, particularly since many talmidei chachamim follow it?”

The Terumas Hadeshen then endeavors to explain why communities davened maariv this early, suggesting that people could not wait until it got dark to eat the Shabbos meals. One way to avoid this would be to eat a meal before minchah, but this practice was not followed out of concern that people would make this into their Shabbos meal and not attend shul later. The Terumas Hadeshen notes that, precisely for this reason, many halachic authorities prohibit eating even a small meal before one has davened minchah, even if one eats the meal very early in the afternoon (after minchah gedolah). Because people found it difficult to eat so late on Friday evening, the custom developed of davening the Friday night Shabbos prayers very early. He then quotes a few authorities who held that this may not be done, but they did not stop the practice. He then recounts a story of a city, whose rav was one of the gedolei Yisrael, where they davened so early that, after davening and the seudah, there was ample time for the entire community to go for a walk on the bank of the local river, the Danube, by daylight and return home before dark! Although he does not provide a halachic basis to permit davening this early, nevertheless, he concludes that a talmid chacham may join the tzibur and daven with them, if he is unable to influence them to daven later.

There are some other curious questions about this practice of davening very early that the Terumas Hadeshen does not address:

How could they accept Shabbos before plag haminchah?

How could they kindle Shabbos lights before plag?

It seems that the Terumas Hadeshen held that, since they were accepting Shabbos immediately after kindling the lights, there is no problem with kindling the Shabbos lights early, or with accepting Shabbos this early.

Asking for help

At this point, we can address another of our opening questions: “If I accepted Shabbos early, may I ask my neighbor, who is beginning Shabbos at the regular time, to turn on a light?”

The Rashba (Shabbos 151a) rules that someone who already accepted Shabbos may ask someone who did not yet accept Shabbos to do melachah. Accepting Shabbos early does not forbid me from asking someone else to do work (Magen Avraham 263:30). The Magen Avraham (261:7) rules that if the entire community accepted Shabbos, one may no longer ask another Jew to do work for him, but he may ask a gentile to do work (see also Rema, Orach Chayim 261:1).

Some like it late

We are now ready to discuss the next question: “If all the shullen in my neighborhood make Shabbos early, am I obligated to do so?”

Some rishonim rule that once a community began davening maariv Friday night, all individuals in that community are obligated to observe Shabbos (Mordechai, Shabbos #298, quoting Rivam). This approach is followed by the Shulchan Aruch as normative halachah (Orach Chayim 263:12); however, the ruling is true only if every shul in the community has already accepted Shabbos, or if every shul that this person usually attends has already accepted Shabbos (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 3:38). Some authorities suggest that if everyone is accepting Shabbos early only because it is convenient, but not because they want to be more machmir, an individual may not be bound to accept Shabbos when they do (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 3:38).

Early hubby

If a husband davens at an early minyan, must his wife began observing Shabbos as soon as he does, or can she wait until he returns home from shul?

Rav Moshe Feinstein rules that the fact that a husband was mekabeil Shabbos does not require his wife to do so, just as his making a personal vow or oath is not binding on her (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 3:38; cf. Shu’t Shevet Halevi 7:35, who disagrees). He discusses, at length, whether it is permitted for her to do melachah activities for her husband after he was mekabeil Shabbos, and concludes that it is proper that she does not.

Conclusion

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch (Shemos 20:10) notes that people mistakenly think that work is prohibited on Shabbos in order to provide a day of rest. This is incorrect, he points out, because the Torah does not prohibit doing avodah, which connotes hard work, but melachah, which implies work with purpose and accomplishment. On Shabbos, we refrain from altering the world with our own creative acts and, instead, emphasize Hashem’s role (Shemos 20:11). We thereby acknowledge the true Builder and Creator of the world and all that it contains.

 

Magen Avos on Seder Night — Which Bracha Is First?

Many articles on various Pesach-related topics can be read or downloaded from the website RabbiKaganoff.com

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With my best wishes to all for a chag kosher vesomayach!

Rabbi Yirmiyohu Kaganoff

Magen Avos on Seder Night — Which Bracha Is First?

Question:

The gabbai of a local minyan calls with the following question: “I do not remember what we did the last time that Pesach began on Shabbos, but I need to know whether at night we say Hallel first or the bracha Magen Avos?”

Answer:

No doubt, many of our readers will assume that the gabbai is making a mistake — that we do not recite the bracha Magen Avos, also known as the bracha mei’ein sheva, when the first night of Pesach falls on Shabbos. However, as we will soon see, our gabbai may be well informed about the minhag in his community. A quiz question for the detectives among our readership is to figure out which community this is.

Seder on Shabbos?

The first day of Pesach falls on Shabbos on three of the fourteen schedules that our calendar year follows. It happens this year, and again in the years 5776, 5778, 5779 and 5782. After 5782, there will be a break for seven years until our Seder returns to Shabbos, but it will occur again three times in the subsequent eight years. (Our calendar does not allow the second day of Pesach to fall on Shabbos because this would cause the succeeding Hoshanah Rabbah to fall on Shabbos.)

The question raised by our gabbai reflects two different practices:  reciting the bracha mei’ein sheva on Seder night, which is not a common practice today, and reciting Hallel in shul on Seder night, which is practiced by Sefardim, Chassidim, and is almost universally followed in Eretz Yisrael. Before answering his question as to which one should be recited first, we need to study the sources of both practices.

What is the Bracha Mei’ein Sheva?

The bracha mei’ein sheva, literally, an abbreviation of the seven brachos, is recited after we conclude the Friday night Shemoneh Esrei, immediately after the congregation recites together the pesukim of Vayechulu. (Although, technically, the term Shemoneh Esrei is an inaccurate description of the Shabbos davening, since it has only seven, and not eighteen, brachos, I will still use the common term Shemoneh Esrei.) This bracha is called mei’ein sheva because it is a synopsis of the seven brachos that comprise the Shabbos tefillah. The gabbai above referred to the bracha as Magen Avos, which is a common colloquial way of referring to this bracha, based on its opening words.

Why did Chazal institute the Bracha Mei’ein Sheva?

In ancient times, the shullen were often located outside the towns in which people lived, and walking home from shul alone at night was dangerous. Chazal, therefore, instituted this bracha after davening, so that someone who arrived late and was lagging behind the tzibur in davening would not be left to walk home unescorted (Rashi, Shabbos 24b). The recital of the extra bracha delayed everyone’s departure, thus allowing time for the latecomer to complete davening (Mordechai, Shabbos #407; Ran; Meiri).

According to an alternative approach, the bracha mei’ein sheva is a form of repetition of the prayer. The individual who arrived late could listen to the chazzan’s recital of this bracha and thereby fulfill his responsibility to pray, even though the chazzan recited only one bracha, and the regular Shabbos tefillah is seven (Rav Natrunai Gaon, as explained by Gra, Orach Chayim 269:13).

Although our shullen are no longer located outside our cities, once Chazal established this bracha, we continue with the practice, just as, in the time of the Gemara, the bracha was recited even in places where a person could safely walk home from shul unaccompanied (Meiri, Pesachim 100b; Ran [on Rif, Pesachim 20a]; Ohr Zarua, Hilchos Erev Shabbos #20; Kolbo #11, 35).

Mei’ein Sheva instead of Kiddush

Yet another reason is presented why Chazal introduced mei’ein sheva. In ancient times, there were occasions when it was difficult to obtain wine, and mei’ein sheva was instituted as a substitute for reciting Kiddush Friday night over wine (Yerushalmi, Brachos 8:1 and Pesachim 10:2; this passage of Talmud Yerushalmi is quoted by Tosafos, Pesachim 106b s.v. Mekadeish).

Why do we not recite mei’ein sheva on weekdays?

If reciting mei’ein sheva was because of concern that returning from shul alone was unsafe, why did Chazal not introduce a similar prayer after weeknight maariv, so that a delayed individual was not placed in danger?

Some Rishonim explain that in the era when the shullen were located outside the cities, someone who was delayed on a weekday would not have attended shul, but would have come home directly and davened there. On Shabbos and Yom Tov, however, he would not have wanted to miss the davening in shul. On the other hand, other Rishonim (Rosh, Berachos 1:5; Tur, Orach Chayim 236) explain that the bracha of Yiru Eineinu, recited during weekday Maariv by Ashkenazim in chutz la’aretz, was instituted so that someone delayed for maariv not be left alone in shul.

Do we recite mei’ein sheva on Yom Tov?

The Gemara states that the prayer mei’ein sheva was instituted only on Friday evening, and not on Yom Tov evenings that did not fall on Fridays (Shabbos 24b). Why was mei’ein sheva not said on Yom Tov?

In the writings of the Rishonim, I found several answers to this question. One approach is that although the concern that someone may be left behind may have equally existed on Yom Tov, since the more common situation was on Shabbos, Chazal did not include Yom Tov in the takkanah (see Meiri, Shabbos 24b).

Another approach is that on Yom Tov eve, people arrived punctually for davening, and there was no concern about individuals remaining alone (Mordechai, Pesachim #611).

Based on the Yerushalmi that the reason for mei’ein sheva was because of the inavailability of wine, some later commentaries present a third reason why the takkanah was established only for Shabbos and not for Yom Tov. Since most authorities hold that Kiddush on Yom Tov is not required min haTorah (Maggid Mishnah, Hilchos Shabbos 29:18), Chazal did not create a takkanah to make sure that someone fulfill a mitzvah that is miderabbanan (Marei Kohen, Pesachim 117b).

Reciting mei’ein sheva when Yom Tov falls on Friday

Do we recite the bracha mei’ein sheva when Yom Tov falls on Friday? (This case actually happens at the end of this coming Yom Tov, since the Seventh Day of Pesach falls on Friday.) The reason for reciting mei’ein sheva on a regular Shabbos was because people would work late on Friday afternoon, and as a result would arrive late to shul Friday evening. However, when Friday was Yom Tov, there would be no reason for someone to be delayed. Nevertheless, the poskim rule that we should recite mei’ein sheva, even when Yom Tov falls on Friday, notwithstanding that the reason for the takkanah does not apply (Kolbo #52).

Thirteenth century zeal

Actually, the question regarding recital of mei’ein sheva when Yom Tov falls on Friday resulted in a very heated dispute during the era of the Rishonim. In the time of the Rivash, Rabbi Amram ben Meroam, a frequent correspondent of the Rivash, wrote him the following shaylah:

Reuven was the chazzan for the Friday night davening on a Shabbos that immediately followed Yom Tov. He began reciting mei’ein sheva, when Shimon reprimanded him, contending that one should not recite this bracha when Shabbos follows Yom Tov — since no one was working on Friday, the reason for the takkanah did not apply. Levi then got involved, saying that it is accepted that one does recite mei’ein sheva on Friday night following a Yom Tov. The shul then burst into a cacophony of voices, with Shimon’s and Reuven’s backers screaming at one another. Finally, Shimon shouted that Reuven was desecrating Hashem’s holy Name, since he was willing to recite a bracha in vain, and that if he did, Shimon would declare him to be in cherem, excommunicated! Reuven did recite the bracha mei’ein sheva, and a day later, opened his door to find Shimon and twenty of his backers there to notify him that he had been excommunicated! The Rivash was asked to rule whether Reuven was indeed in cherem because of Shimon’s declaration that he recited a bracha in vain, or, perhaps, Shimon should be placed in cherem for excommunicating someone without proper cause.

The Rivash ruled that Shimon was mistaken, and that one should recite mei’ein sheva when Shabbos follows Yom Tov. Therefore, he concluded that Reuven, who followed the correct halachah, could completely ignore the cherem placed on him. However, he also concluded that since Shimon thought he was acting correctly, we do not excommunicate Shimon for his actions (Shu’t HaRivash #34).

Yom Tov falls on Shabbos

When Yom Tov falls on Shabbos and we recite the bracha mei’ein sheva on Friday night, do we mention Yom Tov in the bracha mei’ein sheva?

The Gemara rules that when Yom Tov falls on Shabbos, the chazzan makes no mention of Yom Tov, since on Yom Tov we do not recite this bracha (Shabbos 24b).

Reciting mei’ein sheva on Shabbos Yom Kippur

Do we recite mei’ein sheva when Shabbos falls on Yom Kippur? Logically, there is a strong reason that we should not, since no one arrives that late to shul on Kol Nidrei night, and, furthermore, the many piyutim recited allow for ample time for someone to finish davening and not be left behind. Nevertheless, the poskim rule that we recite mei’ein sheva when Yom Kippur falls on Shabbos (Kolbo #70).

Mei’ein Sheva and Seder night

What is the halachah regarding reciting mei’ein sheva when Seder night falls on Shabbos?

In the context of a different issue, the Gemara (Pesachim 109b) refers to Pesach night as leil shimurim, the night in which we are protected from harm (see Maharsha ad loc.). This is based on the pasuk that concludes: He [Hashem] will not permit the destroyer to enter your homes (Shemos 12:42). For this reason, many Rishonim rule that there is no reason to recite the mei’ein sheva on Seder night, since even in the era when the shullen were located outside the cities, the individual who arrived late was not in any danger, since Hashem guards us this night (Tur, Orach Chayim 487, quoting Rabbeinu Nissim and the Baal HaItur; Shu’t HaRivash #34; Ritva, Rosh Hashanah 11b; Kolbo #35, 50; Meiri, Pesachim 109b and many others). (The Rabbeinu Nissim quoted here is Rabbeinu Nissim ben Yaakov of Kairouan, North Africa, who was a contemporary and correspondent of Rav Hai Gaon and is sometimes called Rav Nissim Gaon, and should not be confused with the much later Rabbeinu Nissim ben Reuven of Gerona and Barcelona, Spain, known predominantly as one of the main commentators on the Rif.)

The Tur cites no disputing opinion to this statement of Rabbeinu Nissim, although when the Beis Yosef discusses this halachah, he quotes the Abudraham, who cites a dispute about the practice and concludes that common practice is to recite mei’ein sheva on Seder night. This is curious, because the Abudraham lived in Spain, whereas his contemporary, the Tur, who lived in Spain at the same time, mentions only the practice of omitting mei’ein sheva on Seder night. Another early authority who reports that one should recite mei’ein sheva on Seder night is the Shibbolei HaLeket (#219).

Other reasons to omit mei’ein sheva

In addition to the reason mentioned by Rabbeinu Nissim to omit mei’ein sheva on Seder night, I also found several other reasons to explain why one should not recite it then:

(1) According to the opinion of the Yerushalmi that mei’ein sheva was instituted to guarantee that everyone fulfilled the mitzvah of Kiddush Friday night, some authorities note that on Seder night, everyone would have wine for Kiddush and the arba kosos, thus rendering the bracha unnececessary (Mar’ei Kohen, Pesachim 117b).

(2) Since no one is permitted to work erev Pesach afternoon, there is no reason to assume that someone would come to shul late on Seder night.

(3) Everyone comes to shul early on Seder night so that they can get home early and begin the Seder in a timely fashion.

(4) The prayer is delayed anyway Seder night, because of Hallel. (I found all three of these last reasons in the anthology Sefer HaTodaah.)

The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 487:1), mentions only the practice of omitting mei’ein sheva on Seder night, which became the most common accepted practice. However, there are many places that do say mei’ein sheva on the first night of Pesach. For example, the old custom in many German communities was to recite mei’ein sheva on Seder night. Similarly, the Kaf HaChayim (487:22) quotes several prominent Sefardic authorities, including the Rashash and Rav Chayim Palachi, who recited mei’ein sheva on Seder night. The Kaf HaChayim furthermore quotes that the Sefardic minhag in Yerushalayim follows the practice of the Arizal, who recited mei’ein sheva on Seder night, although I found other sources quoting the Arizal as holding that one should not recite mei’ein sheva on Seder night (Shiyurei Bracha, Orach Chayim 642; Chazon Ovadiah, Pesach pages 231 and 235). The Kaf HaChayim quotes the Rashash as contending that, since the Gemara does not mention that Pesach should be treated differently because it is leil shimurim, one should recite mei’ein sheva on Seder night.

The question raised by these authorities is that there are several other occasions when the reasons for reciting mei’ein sheva do not apply, such as when Yom Kippur falls on Shabbos, or when Yom Tov fell on Friday, and yet universal accepted practice is to recite mei’ein sheva on these occasions.

This last argument is countered by the Radbaz, who contends that when the original takkanah was made concerning mei’ein sheva, Chazal specifically exempted Seder night because it is leil shimurim, but they did not exempt any of the other dates mentioned (Shu’t HaRadbaz 4:16).

As a matter of practice, many congregations that follow the old German customs indeed recite the bracha of mei’ein sheva on Seder night, but other Ashkenazi communities do not. Among Sefardi authorities, Rav Ovadyah Yosef (Shu’t Yabia Omer 2:OC:25; 4:OC:21; Chazon Ovadyah) feels very strongly that one should not recite mei’ein sheva on Seder night, whereas Rav Ben Zion Abba Shaul ruled that each congregation should follow its custom (Shu’t Or LaTzion, Volume 3 page 174).

Thus, we see that, although the prevalent practice is to omit mei’ein sheva on Seder night, there are communities that do recite it. Now let us explain the other part of the question: “Which comes first, Hallel or the bracha mei’ein sheva?

Hallel in shul on Seder night

In several places, Chazal mention reciting Hallel in shul on the first night of Pesach. Why recite Hallel in shul, if we are going to recite it anyway, as part of the Seder? Several explanations are presented for this practice:

(1) In Chazal’s times, there were no siddurim, and therefore the common people davened together with the chazzan or by listening to the chazzan’s prayer. (This is one reason why the chazzan is called a shaliach tzibur, which literally translates as the emissary of the community, since he indeed prayed on behalf of many individuals.) On the days that we are required to recite Hallel, these people listened and responded to the chazzan’s Hallel, thereby fulfilling their mitzvah. However, how could they fulfill the mitzvah of reciting Hallel on Seder night when they were home? They did so by reciting Hallel together with the chazzan in shul, before coming home (see Gra, Orach Chayim 487).

(2) A different approach contends that the community recited Hallel in shul the first night of Pesach in order to fulfill the mitzvah with a large group. Although one may recite Hallel by oneself, reciting it communally is a greater observance of the mitzvah.

Hallel in shul without a bracha

Neither of these two approaches necessarily assumes that Hallel on Seder night requires a bracha. Indeed, the Chazon Ish recited Hallel in shul Seder night without reciting a bracha beforehand, and there are congregations in Bnei Braq that follow this approach.

Hallel Seder night with a bracha

(3) A third approach contends that the primary reason for reciting Hallel in shul is to recite a bracha beforehand. These poskim contend that Hallel at the Seder would require a bracha, if it were not interrupted by the meal. To resolve this predicament, Hallel is recited twice, once in shul with a bracha and without interruption, and then a second time, during the Seder. This is the prevalent practice by Sefardim, Chassidim, and the most common approach followed in Eretz Yisrael today (see Gra, Orach Chayim 487).

Now, the quiz question: Of what type of community is our gabbai a member? One finds the practice of reciting mei’ein sheva Seder night only among two communities: some Sefardim and some German kehillos. The German kehillos do not recite Hallel in shul Seder night, but the Sefardim universally do. Thus, our gabbai‘s community is a Sefardic congregation that has the practice of reciting mei’ein sheva Seder night.

Halachic conclusion

Someone creating a new kehillah and establishing new customs should certainly not recite mei’ein sheva on Seder night, since this is the opinion of most Rishonim, and is followed by the Tur, the Shulchan Aruch and the vast majority of later authorities. In addition, the rules of safek bracha lehakeil imply not to recite a bracha when there is a question whether one should do so or not. Nevertheless, in a congregation or community where the practice is to recite mei’ein sheva Seder night, one should do so before Hallel.

Desktop Gardening, Or Growing Vegetables in Thin Air

vegetable gardenWell, not quite thin air, because plants, like the rest of us, require nutrients and water to grow. Although the word “aeroponics” does not show up in either of the dictionaries I use for handy reference, and is totally ignored by my spellchecker, it is actually common enough that it should be appearing in any current dictionary of the English language. I admit that I had no idea what the word meant when Yehudah asked me the following shaylah:

“To overcome the many problems that may be involved in purchasing products during shemittah, we want to purchase a large aeroponics kit and grow our own vegetables. Will this present us with any halachic problems in terms of either the laws of shemittah, or the laws of kelayim?”

And so, I began my education about this subject. This is what I discovered:

Aeroponics is a method of growing vegetables or herbs without soil by spraying the plant roots with water and nutrients (as opposed to hydroponics where the roots are submerged in a nutrient solution). Although it can be done on a commercial scale, the company Yehudah contacted sells aeroponic kits for growing herbs and vegetables in the comfort of one’s home. Each kit includes the seeds and nutrients required for specific types of plants, a complete, self-contained, open-top growing tank that includes its own light fixtures and instructions on how to make it all work. Just add water and electricity to run the pump and lights.

The company advises growing lettuce, herbs, tomatoes, peppers, or strawberries each in its own tank, since they have quite different needs. Nevertheless, the first question we will discuss is whether this is a halachic requirement to do so because of the prohibition of kelayim.

WHAT IS KELAYIM?

It is important to clarify a common misconception. The prohibition of kelayim is not the creation of a new species; it is the appearance that one is mingling two species together. This is why hauling loads with two species of animal, grafting one tree species onto another, mixing wool and linen in a garment or planting grains in a vineyard are all Torah violations of kelayim, although none of these acts affect the genetic make-up of the species.

Yehudah’s question involves two halachic topics:

  1. Kelayim

Could someone gardening on his desktop possibly violate the mitzvah of kilei zera’im, which prohibits planting two species together or near one another? Violating this prohibition requires three basic conditions, all of which Yehudah met:

  1. The prohibition applies to herbaceous, as opposed to woody plants, meaning that it does not apply to trees and shrubs, but it does apply to vegetables and many herbs. Thus, one may plant seeds of different trees together, yet one is forbidden to plant a mix of vegetable seeds (Rambam, Hilchos Kelayim 1:6).
  2. The prohibition of kilei zera’im applies only to edible crops (Rambam, Hilchos Kelayim 1:4). Thus, one may plant seeds of different ornamental flowers and grasses within close proximity.
  3. It applies only in Eretz Yisroel (Kiddushin 39a), and is min hatorah according to most halachic authorities, even today (implied by Rambam, Hilchos Kelayim 1:1). (However, note that in Rashi’s opinion [Shabbos 84b, s. v. ve’achas] the prohibition of kilei zera’im in Eretz Yisroel is only miderabbanan and Tosafos [Yevamos 81a, s.v. mai] contends that although kilei zera’im is essentially min hatorah, in our era it is only rabbinic because most of the Jewish people do not currently live in Eretz Yisroel.) Therefore, someone in Chutz La’Aretz may plant his backyard garden with a wide variety of herbs and vegetables, without any concern for how close they are, whereas in Eretz Yisroel, someone planting a garden patch must be very careful to keep the different species separate (Rambam, Hilchos Kelayim 1:3). I will discuss later how far apart one must plant different species to avoid violating this prohibition (see Chazon Ish, Hilchos Kelayim 6:1).
  4. Shemittah

One may not plant in Eretz Yisroel during shemittah. Does planting this indoor garden in Eretz Yisroel violate the laws of shemittah?

Yehuda’s question requires analyzing the following subjects:

Do these mitzvos apply when planting indoors?

Would they apply when planting outdoors in a pot or planter that is disconnected from the ground?

Do they apply when one is not planting in soil?

INDOORS

Two Talmudic passages discuss whether agricultural mitzvos apply indoors. In Eruvin (93a), the Gemara prohibits planting grain in a vineyard that is underneath a roof extending from a house. This passage implies that agricultural mitzvos apply within physical structures.

On the other hand, the Talmud Yerushalmi (Orlah 1:2) discusses whether three agricultural mitzvos, orlah (the prohibition to use fruit produced in the first three years of a tree’s life), maaser (tithing produce), and shemittah, apply to indoor plants. The Yerushalmi rules that whereas orlah applies, there is no requirement to separate maaser on produce grown indoors. The Yerushalmi questions whether shemittah applies to indoor produce, but does not conclude clearly whether it does or not.

WHY IS ORLAH DIFFERENT FROM MAASER?

The Yerushalmi notes that when the Torah instructs us to separate maaser, it states: You shall tithe all the produce of your planting, that which your field produces each year (Devarim 14:22). Since the Torah requires maaser only on produce of a field, there is no requirement to separate maaser from what grows indoors, since, by definition, a field is outdoors. Therefore, one need not separate maaser min hatorah when planting indoors, even if one is planting directly in the soil floor of the structure. (The Rishonim dispute whether there is a rabbinic requirement to separate terumos and maasros when planting in the ground within a building; see Rambam and Raavad, Hilchos Maasros 1:10.)

However, when the Torah describes the mitzvah of orlah, it introduces the subject by stating When you will enter the Land (Vayikra 19:23). A tree planted indoors is definitely in the Land of Israel, and thus is included within the parameters of this mitzvah, even if it is not in a field.

SHEMITTAH INDOORS

Do the laws of shemittah apply to produce grown indoors? Does shemittah apply only to a field, or to anything planted in the Land of Israel?

The Yerushalmi notes that when the Torah discusses the mitzvah of shemittah, it uses both terms, land (Vayikra 25:2) and field (Vayikra 25:4). It is unclear how the Yerushalmi concludes and the poskim dispute whether the mitzvah of shemittah applies indoors in Eretz Yisroel. Ridbaz (Hilchos Shevi’is, end of Chapter 1), Chazon Ish (Shevi’is 22), and Pnei Moshe all rule that it does; Pe’as Hashulchan (20:52) rules that it does not. Most later authorities conclude that one should not plant indoors during shemittah, at least not in the soil. I will discuss, shortly, whether one may plant during shemittah indoors hydroponically or in an indoor area where the dirt floor is covered.

INDOOR KELAYIM

May one plant different species next to one another indoors? Does the prohibition of kelayim apply to produce planted under a roof?

Based on the Talmud Yerushalmi we quoted above, we should be able to establish the following rule:

When the Torah commands that a specific mitzvah applies to the land, it is immaterial whether the planting is indoors or outdoors. However, when the Torah commands that a mitzvah applies to a field, it does not apply indoors. As noted above, an indoor area can never be called a field.

How does the Torah describe the mitzvah of kilei zera’im? The Torah states “you shall not plant kelayim in your field” (Vayikra 19:19), implying that the mitzvah does not apply indoors. Thus, we should conclude that there should be no prohibition min hatorah against planting herbs or vegetables proximately if they are indoors. (Nevertheless, both the Yeshuos Malko [Hilchos Kelayim 1:1] and the Chazon Ish rule that kilei zera’im does apply indoors and apparently disagree with the above analysis. I will take this into consideration later.) However, it is probably prohibited miderabbanan, according to the opinion that the Sages required tithing produce grown indoors.

BUT…

At this point, the discerning reader will note a seeming discrepancy with the passage from Eruvin 93a that I cited earlier. The Gemara rules that one may not plant grain in a roofed vineyard, implying that kelayim does apply indoors. This seemingly conflicts with my conclusion based on the Yerushalmi that one may plant different herbs or vegetables proximately indoors, without violating the prohibition of kelayim.

THE SOLUTION: GRAPES VERSUS VEGETABLES

The answer is that there is a major halachic difference between the two cases: Planting grain in a roofed vineyard violates kilei hakerem, planting other crops in a vineyard. Although both kilei hakerem and kilei zera’im are called kelayim, kilei hakerem is a separate mitzvah and is derived from a different pasuk than the one prohibiting kilei zera’im, planting herbaceous species together. The Torah commands us about kilei hakerem by stating: “You shall not plant your vineyard with kelayim (Devorim 22:9), using the word vineyard, not field. Whereas a field cannot be indoors, a vineyard could.

At this point, we have resolved the first of our questions asked above:

“Do these mitzvos apply when planting in a covered area?”

The answer is that planting kelayim species should seemingly not apply, although some prominent authorities disagree. Shemittah does apply, according to most poskim.

FLOWERPOTS

We now progress to our next question:

Do agricultural mitzvos apply to plants growing in Eretz Yisroel in closed pots and planters that are separated from the ground and yet exposed to the elements?

The Mishnah (Shabbos 95a) teaches that someone who plants in a flowerpot that has a hole in its bottom, called an atzitz nakuv, violates Shabbos as if he planted in the earth itself. However, planting in a flowerpot that is fully closed underneath, called an atzitz she’aino nakuv, is forbidden only because of rabbinic injunction and does not involve a Torah-prohibited violation of Shabbos. The same categories usually apply to agricultural mitzvos: plants in a pot with a hole in the bottom are equivalent to being in the ground itself; those whose bottom is completely sealed are included in agricultural mitzvos by rabbinic injunction.

Therefore, one must separate terumah and maaser from produce grown in pots or planters, whether or not the containers are completely closed underneath, and one would violate kelayim if one planted two species near one another in a flowerpot or other container.

There are some exceptions to this rule. In some instances, planting in a closed container is the same as planting in the ground. According to the Rambam [Hilchos Maaser Sheni 10:8] and the Shulchan Aruch [Yoreh Deah 294:26], orlah applies min hatorah to a tree planted in a closed flowerpot. The reason for this phenomenon is that a tree root will, with time, perforate the bottom of its pot, and therefore, it is already considered to have a hole and be part of the ground below.

SHEMITTAH IN A HOTHOUSE

On the other hand, there are also poskim who contend that shemittah does not apply at all, even miderabbanan, to items planted in a planter or flowerpot whose bottom is completely closed. What is the halacha if one plants in a covered area in a pot that is completely closed underneath? May one be lenient, since the pot is both indoors and is also an atzitz she’aino nakuv, which is not considered connected to the earth min hatorah? This question leads us directly to the following question that Israeli farmers asked, about sixty years ago: May one plant in a hothouse during shemittah, in a closed-bottom vessel? As I mentioned above, although some authorities permit planting in the soil indoors during shemittah, the consensus is to be more stringent. However, many poskim permit planting in pots in a hothouse, if its floor is covered with a thick material, such as heavy plastic or metal (see Chazon Ish, Shevi’is 26:4; Mishpatei Aretz pg. 239; however, cf. Shu’t Shevet HaLevi who prohibits this).

AEROPONICS AND SHEMITTAH

At this point, we can discuss our original question: Aeroponics, like a hothouse, means growing indoors, and is also similar to planting atop a floor that is covered with metal or heavy plastic. Based on the above discussion, we may conclude that most authorities would permit planting aeroponically during shemittah, provided that the bottoms of the tanks are metal or plastic.

WHAT ABOUT KIL’EI ZERAIM?

We still need to explore whether desktop planting violates the laws of kilei zera’im.

I concluded above that there is probably only a rabbinic prohibition of kilei zera’im on indoor planting, but that some prominent authorities prohibit it min hatorah. Can we offer a solution for Yehudah’s plans? To answer this we need to address another issue.

KEEP YOUR DISTANCE

As I mentioned in the beginning of this article, kelayim occurs when different species are mingled together. If there is enough distance between the plants, no mingling is transpiring.

How far apart must I plant herbs or vegetables to avoid violating kelayim? This is a complicated topic, and its answer is contingent on such factors as how and what one is planting. I will, however, go directly to the conclusion that affects our case.

Since the desktop garden involves only herbs and vegetables and only a single plant or a few plants of each species, the halacha requires only a relatively small distance between species. Min hatorah one is required to plant only one tefach apart; the additional space requirement is rabbinic (see Rambam, Hilchos Kelayim 3:10). The poskim dispute how distant one is required to avoid a rabbinic prohibition. Some require that the plants are at least three tefachim apart [about ten inches] (Rashi, Shabbos 85a), whereas others determine that it is sufficient for the plants to be only 1½ tefachim apart [about five inches] (Rambam, Hil. Kelayim 4:9; Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 297:5). In the case of the aeroponically-grown produce, since the tanks are completely closed underneath, they have, at worst, the halachic status of atzitz she’eino nakuv, a closed pot or planter, considered part of the ground only because of rabbinic injunction, but not min hatorah. We can, therefore, conclude that as long as the seeds are placed more than a tefach apart, we avoid any Torah prohibition. As far as the possible rabbinic prohibition if the plants are only a bit more than one tefach apart, we could additionally rely on the likelihood that kilei zera’im does not apply indoors in an eino nakuv planter.

Having completed the halachic research, we corresponded with the company that produces the desktop planting kits, asking them how far apart are the holes in which one “plants” the seeds, and how many different herbs and vegetables can be planted in a single tank.

The company replied that the kit usually has seven holes, each four inches apart from the other, center to center. When planting peppers and tomatoes, which grow larger than the greens or herbs, the company recommends plugging four of the holes and using only three, which are far enough apart to avoid any kelayim issue, according to our conclusion. However, when planting herbs and greens, the distance between the holes is just about the distance that might present a halachic problem. I therefore advised Yehudah to plant in alternative holes, even when planting herbs of different varieties.

The Spectrum of Muktzah Utensils

Our parsha opens by mentioning the supremacy of the importance of observing Shabbos. We therefore bring…

The Spectrum of Muktzah Utensils

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn the period of the construction of the second Beis HaMikdash, Nechemiah noticed that many Jews were extremely lax in Shabbos observance. In his own words, “In those days, I saw people in Judea operating their winepresses on Shabbos and loading their harvest on donkeys; and also their wine, grapes, and figs and all other burdens; and transporting them to Yerushalayim on Shabbos… the Tyrians would bring fish and other merchandise and sell them to the Jews” (Nechemiah 13:15-16). Nechemiah then describes how he succeeded in closing the city gates the entire Shabbos in order to keep the markets closed.

To strengthen Shabbos observance, Nechemiah established very strict rules concerning which utensils one may move on Shabbos. These rules form the foundation of the halachos of muktzah (Gemara Shabbos 123b). Initially, he prohibited using and moving on Shabbos virtually all utensils, excluding only basic eating appliances such as table knives. We will call this Nechemiah’s “First Takanah.” By prohibiting the moving of items even indoors, he reinforced the strictness of not carrying outdoors on Shabbos (Gemara Shabbos 124b; Raavad, Hilchos Shabbos 24:13). Furthermore, observing the laws of muktzah protects people from mistakenly doing forbidden melacha with these tools. In addition, the laws of muktzah guarantee that Shabbos is qualitatively different from the rest of the week even for someone whose daily life does not involve any manual labor (Rambam, Hilchos Shabbos 24:12-13).

As the Jews became more careful in their Shabbos observance, Nechemiah gradually relaxed the rules of muktzah, permitting limited use of some utensils on Shabbos. Eventually, Nechemiah established rules whereby most utensils may be moved and used on Shabbos when necessary, whereas certain utensils that one usually would not use on Shabbos remained prohibited (except for unusual circumstances such as danger). When discussing the halachos of muktzah as they apply today, I will refer to Nechemiah’s “Final Takanah.”

Nechemiah’s Final Takanah established four distinct categories of utensils:

  1. Not Muktzah. Items that one may move without any reason whatsoever. This category includes food, sifrei kodesh and, according to many poskim, tableware (Mishnah Berurah 308:23) and clothing (see Shitah La’Ran 123b s.v. Barishonah).
  2. Kli she’me’lachto l’heter, which means a utensil whose primary use is permitted on Shabbos, such as a chair or pillow. One may move this utensil if one needs to use it, if it is in the way, or if it may become damaged. However, one may not move it without any reason (Gemara Shabbos 123b-124a; Shulchan Aruch 308:4).
  3. Kli she’me’lachto l’issur, which means a utensil whose primary use is forbidden on Shabbos, such as a hammer, a saw, or a needle. Items in this category may be moved if they are in the way or if one has a need to use it for a purpose that is permitted on Shabbos (Gemara Shabbos 124a). Under normal circumstances, one may not move it for any other purpose.
  4. Completely Muktzah. These are utensils that one may not move under normal circumstances.

I will now explain the four categories.

  1. NOT MUKTZAH

One may move food and sifrei kodesh without any reason, and, according to many poskim, also tableware and clothing. Why may I move certain items on Shabbos without any purpose, whereas I may move other items only if I have a purpose?

The answer to this halachic question is historical. When Nechemiah declared his original gezeirah prohibiting muktzah, he applied the gezeirah only to utensils, not to food, and also excluded table knives and similar appliances. Thus, Nechemiah never declared food and table knives muktzah, even during the First Takanah. However, a kli she’me’lachto l’heter was included in the First Takanah, and at that time was completely muktzah. Later, Nechemiah relaxed the takanah to permit moving these utensils under the circumstances mentioned above; however, when these circumstances do not apply, the original prohibition declaring them muktzah remains in effect.

As mentioned above, many poskim rule that forks, spoons, dishes, and drinking glasses are also excluded from any halachos of muktzah (Mishnah Berurah 308:23, quoting Shiltei HaGibborim), although there are opinions who consider them keilim she’me’lachtam l’heter (Ben Ish Chai, 2:Mikeitz). The lenient opinion contends that Nechemiah permitted moving tableware just as he permitted moving table knives. The strict opinion contends that Nechemiah excluded only table knives, but no other tableware. They hold that forks, spoons, dishes, and drinking glasses are included in the gezeirah of muktzah as members of category # 2, kli she’me’lachto l’heter. (This means that they may be moved when needed but not otherwise.) I will soon explain the practical difference between these opinions.

  1. KLI SHE’ME’LACHTO L’HETER

A utensil that is used primarily for a task that is permitted on Shabbos, such as a chair or pillow, is categorized as a kli she’me’lachto l’heter. I may move such a utensil for one of three reasons:

  1. I want to use it on Shabbos. The Gemara (Shabbos 123b) calls this l’tzorech gufo, literally, for its own use.
  2. It is in my way. The Gemara calls this l’tzorech m’komo, literally, to use its place.
  3. I am concerned that it might become damaged. The Gemara refers to this as moving the utensil from the sun to the shade.

However, I may not move a kli she’me’lachto l’heter without any purpose, nor may I use it when I do not really need a utensil. Thus, I may not use a kli she’me’lachto l’heter to help me with a task that I can do it without any tool (Gemara Shabbos 124a; Shaar HaTziyun 308:13).

I mentioned above that the poskim dispute whether we categorize tableware as not muktzah at all, or as kli she’me’lachto l’heter. Ben Ish Chai and others, who contend that it should be considered kli she’me’lachto l’heter, rule that if one placed extra pieces of silverware on the table, one may not move them back into the kitchen simply because they serve no purpose on the table. He points out that this fulfills none of the three conditions mentioned above necessary to move a kli she’me’lachto l’heter. (Ben Ish Chai agrees that one may remove the silverware from the table if they are in the way or if one is concerned that they might become damaged.) However, the other opinion contends that silverware is not muktzah at all and may be returned it to its correct storage place even without any other need.

  1. KLI SHE’ME’LACHTO L’ISSUR

A utensil whose primary use is forbidden on Shabbos, such as a hammer, saw, or needle, may be moved if I need to use it for something permitted on Shabbos or if it is in the way of something I need to do. Thus, I may use a hammer to crack open a coconut on Shabbos or a needle to remove a splinter (Mishnah Shabbos 122b). (When removing the splinter, one must be careful not to intentionally cause bleeding [Magen Avraham 328:32; see also Biur Halacha 308:11]. Also, one may not sterilize the needle on Shabbos [Rambam, Hilchos Shabbos 12:1]. ) Similarly, on Shabbos I may remove a hammer or saw that was left on a table, counter, or chair, if I need to put something else there.

However, I may not move a kli she’me’lachto l’issur to save it from becoming broken. When Nechemiah relaxed the takanah that treated kli she’me’lachto l’issur as completely muktzah, he only allowed it to be moved if I need it or its place on Shabbos, but for no other reason.

If I know I will need a kli she’me’lachto l’issur later today, and I am afraid it will get broken or ruined and be unusable by then, I may save it from breaking (Tehillah LeDavid 308:5). This is because moving it now makes it available to me later and thus it is considered l’tzorech gufo.

Once someone picks up a kli she’me’lachto l’issur for a permitted reason, he may put it wherever he chooses (Gemara Shabbos 43a). Some poskim extend this rule further, permitting someone who picked up a kli she’me’lachto l’issur by mistake to place it down wherever he pleases since the item is already in his hand (Magen Avraham 308:7). However, many poskim dispute this, arguing that this lenience applies only when one has permission to pick up the utensil but not when it was picked up in error (Gra, Yoreh Deah 266:12). Thus, someone who picked up a hammer, saw, or needle by mistake may not continue to hold it. Mishnah Berurah (308:13) implies that one may follow the lenient approach when necessary. Therefore, in an extenuating situation, one may hold the kli she’me’lachto l’issur until he finds a convenient place to put it down.

DIFFERENCES BETWEEN KLI SHE’ME’LACHTO L’HETER AND SHE’ME’LACHTO L’ISSUR

After Nechemiah’s later takanos, both kli she’me’lachto l’heter and kli she’me’lachto l’issur have an interesting status: sometimes they are muktzah and sometimes not, depending on why one wants to move them. Even within this in-between category of sometimes-muktzah items, there is a “pecking order” whereby kli she’me’lachto l’heter is less muktzah than kli she’me’lachto l’issur. Several differences in halacha result:

  1. As mentioned above, one may move a kli she’me’lachto l’heter if one is concerned it may become damaged, whereas a kli she’me’lachto l’issur may not be moved.
  2. A kli she’me’lachto l’issur may not be moved when a kli she’me’lachto l’heter is available to do the job (Mishnah Berurah 308:12; Elyah Rabbah 308:32).
  3. One may carry a kli she’me’lachto l’heter early in the day even though he does not anticipate needing it until much later that day (Taz 308:2). This is considered as using the kli. On the other hand, a kli she’me’lachto l’issur may only be picked up when one needs to use it.
  4. Many poskim contend that a kli she’me’lachto l’issur that was intentionally left for Shabbos lying on top of a permitted item conveys the law of a kli she’me’lachto l’issur onto the lower item (Tehillah LeDavid 266:7 & 308:1; Aruch HaShulchan 310:9). The lower item becomes a “bosis l’davar ha’asur,” literally, a base for a prohibited item. Thus according to these poskim, if a hammer was intentionally left on a chair in the backyard for Shabbos, one may not move the chair afterwards if one is concerned that the chair may become damaged, just as one may not move the hammer itself. However, according to the poskim who contend that there is no concept of bosis l’davar ha’asur for a kli she’me’lachto l’issur, one may bring the chair into the house to save it from damage (Pri Megadim, introduction to 308). (We will leave a full discussion of the subject of bosis l’davar ha’asur for a different time.)

However, to the best of my knowledge, no posek contends that a kli she’me’lachto l’heter creates a “bosis l’davar ha’asur.” Thus, if someone intentionally left an ice cream scoop on top of a basket of fruit, the fruit does not have the laws of a kli she’me’lachto l’heter but retains the status of the fruit, which is not muktzah at all.

IS SOMETHING MELACHTO L’HETER OR MELACHTO L’ISSUR?

What is the halacha of an appliance that has two equal usages, one l’heter and the other l’issur? This appliance has the halachic status of a kli she’me’lachto l’heter (Magen Avraham 308:9). Thus, if I use an index card as a place mark although I also might write on it, it is melachto l’heter.

What about a utensil whose primary use is for a prohibited purpose, but its typical use includes a permitted purpose, such as a pot? Its primary use, cooking, renders it a kli she’me’lachto l’issur. However, it also functions as a storage vessel after the food finishes cooking, which is a permitted purpose on Shabbos. What is its status?

A FIFTH CATEGORY OF MUKZTAH UTENSIL

This type of utensil has an interesting status: It changes in the course of Shabbos from being a kli she’me’lachto l’heter to a kli she’me’lachto l’issur and back again. When storing food, it has the status of a kli she’me’lachto l’heter. However, when the food is emptied out, it reverts to its primary status and again becomes a kli she’me’lachto l’issur (Rashba, Shabbos 123a s.v. ha disnan, quoted by Pri Megadim, Eishel Avraham 308:9 and Mishnah Berurah 308:26).

Therefore, while it has food inside it, I may move it if I am concerned it might become damaged. However, once the food has been removed, I may not. I may still move it if I want to use the pot or it is in the way. (Furthermore, I may move a used pot out of the way because it looks disgusting [Gemara Shabbos 124a]. However, this is another topic that we will leave for a different article.)

  1. COMPLETELY MUKTZAH

Most items categorized as muktzah are not utensils and are muktzah because they usually have no Shabbos use. Thus, pieces of scrap wood, dirt, money, ashes and a useless broken item are all muktzah because we do not expect to use them on Shabbos. Even if a use presents itself on Shabbos, or the item is in one’s way, one may not use or move them.

(There are a few instances when one may move such items, such as when someone might get hurt, or when they are very disgusting.)

MUKTZAH MACHMAS CHISARON KIS

Several utensils are completely muktzah. One category includes specialized tools whose primary use is prohibited on Shabbos and are not used for other purposes lest they become damaged. Such utensils are muktzah machmas chisaron kis, muktzah because of financial loss. Since the owner would never use them for any other use, and their primary use is prohibited on Shabbos, he never expects to use them on Shabbos, which renders them muktzah (Tosafos Shabbos 123a s.v. basichi). Thus, a musical instrument, a mohel’s or shocheit’s knife, craftsman’s tools or any other specialty equipment whose owner would not allow it to be used except for its intended purpose is muktzah. Since a shocheit will not use his knife to carve a turkey or slice salami his knife is muktzah. However, an old shechitah knife that its owner no longer uses for shechitah is not muktzah.

MERCHANDISE

Merchandise that one intends to sell is usually muktzah on Shabbos, since one does not intend to use it oneself (Rama 308:1).

A kli that is muktzah machmas chisaron kis that becomes damaged on Shabbos so that it is no longer valuable, remains muktzah machmas chisaron kis for that Shabbos, although for future Shabbosos it will be treated like a kli she’me’lachto l’issur. This is because once a utensil is muktzah at the beginning of Shabbos, it remains muktzah the whole Shabbos (Magen Avraham 308:19; Tosafos Beitzah 2b).

Example: I sell fancy merchandise out of my house that I would never use myself.

On Shabbos, a child opens the package and uses one of the items, so that I could never sell it. Although I will now use the item myself, I must treat it as muktzah until Shabbos is over, since it was muktzah when Shabbos began.

BROKEN UTENSIL

A utensil that broke or tore on Shabbos does not become muktzah unless it has no use whatsoever. This is true even if you immediately threw it into the garbage. However, if it broke before Shabbos and you threw it into the garbage before Shabbos, it becomes muktzah (Gemara Shabbos 124b). Since it was in the garbage when Shabbos arrived, that renders it muktzah.

Thus, a shirt that tore on Shabbos does not become muktzah since you might use it as a rag, even if you threw the torn shirt into the garbage on Shabbos. However, if it tore before Shabbos and you disposed of it before Shabbos, it is muktzah.

TEFILLIN

Where do tefillin fit into the muktzah spectrum? Most people assume that Tefillin are muktzah since we do not wear them on Shabbos. However, the halacha is otherwise. Some poskim rule that Tefillin are kli she’me’lachto l’heter since one may don tefillin on Shabbos as long as one does not intend to fulfill the mitzvah (see Rama 308:4), whereas most poskim treat them as kli she’me’lachto l’issur (Taz, Magen Avraham and others ad loc.). Therefore, if a pair of tefillin are lying in an inconvenient place, one may remove them and then put them wherever is convenient.

Of course, this article cannot serve even as a primer in hilchos muktzah, but merely intends to mention some interesting aspects of the halachos of muktzah.

The entire takanah of muktzah is highly unusual. While observing Shabbos, we constantly need to focus on what we move and how we use it. Thus, hilchos muktzah become more absorbing than the halachos of Shabbos that the Torah itself mandated. Nechemiah instituted these halachos precisely for these reasons. By implementing the laws of muktzah, he accomplished that Shabbos observance is constantly on our minds.

 

From Cairo to Frankfurt, Part II

Purim Cairo and Purim Frankfurt

face maskIs there a halachic basis for the various local observances, such as Purim Frankfurt, Purim Cairo and Purim Ancona?

Answer: Local Purims

In the course of Jewish history, there have unfortunately been numerous occasions when communities suffered from major crises that threatened their survival. We began talking about this topic last week, and this article is a continuation of that discussion.

Other methods of celebration

Since the Pri Chodosh rejects the creation of new holidays as long as the Beis Hamikdash is destroyed, how should one thank Hashem for saving him? In the time of the Beis Hamikdash, an individual thanked Hashem by offering a korban todah (see Brachos 54b), but what does one do now that it is destroyed? Many authorities approve making a festive meal, called a seudas hodaah, instead, to commemorate the occasion, but the Pri Chodosh himself considers these meals seudos reshus and not seudos mitzvah, implying that he does not consider this the most appropriate way to acknowledge thanks to Hashem.

Another option is to bensch gomel as the fitting acknowledgment of thanks. However, bensching gomel is not always the appropriate approach, as the next discussion will indicate.

Should someone bensch gomel when saved from a situation where he was willing to give up his life al Kiddush Hashem?

The Chida, in his Machazik Brocha commentary to Shulchan Aruch (219:1-3), presents a lengthy correpondence that transpired between his father and another talmid chacham, Rav Eliezer Nachum. Rav Yitzchak Zerachyah Azulai, the Chida’s father, contended that only someone who was placed in a situation involuntarily, including one who traveled by sea or through the desert because circumstances compelled him to endanger himself, recites birkas hagomeil, but not someone who chose to give up his life to fulfill the mitzvah of Kiddush Hashem. Even when someone in the latter situation is saved by an obvious miracle, he should not recite birkas hagomeil since, had he lost his life, he would immediately have been elevated above all that this world could possibly offer. Similarly, he rules that the kohen gadol does not recite birkas hagomeil upon leaving the kodesh hakodoshim on Yom Kippur, since his entering was to fulfill the mitzvah of Hashem. Furthermore, he adds, a kohen gadol worthy of his position was never in any danger to begin with – only an unworthy kohen gadol need be concerned of the dangers of entering the kodesh hakodoshim on Yom Kippur.

Rav Elazar Nachum disagreed strongly with Rav Azulai’s position. Rav Nachum notes several midrashic and Talmudic passages that mention the tremendous songs of praise that were sung by great tzadikim upon surviving these travails. Certainly, upon surviving these dangers one is required to recite birkas hagomeil to thank Hashem for his salvation.

Hallel?

The Pri Chodosh could accept the ruling of the Meiri that one may recite Hallel without a brocha, since this does not declare that the day is holy. However, any observances that imply giving sanctity to the day, such as prohibiting fasting and eulogies or banning people from working, are not binding, according to the Pri Chodosh.

Later authorities

Notwithstanding that the Pri Chodosh disputed the conclusion of the Maharam Alashkar, two highly respected later authorities, the Chasam Sofer and the Chayei Odom, both reject the Pri Chodosh’s analysis and rule according to the Maharam Alashkar. The Chasam Sofer (Shu’t Orach Chayim #191) demonstrates that a holiday created to thank Hashem for a miracle He performed has halachic significance and must be observed — unlike the special days recorded in Megillas Taanis. Nevertheless, the Chasam Sofer adds a qualification — a community can create a special festival only when they were saved from a life-threatening situation.

The Chasam Sofer concludes, like the Maharam Alashkar, that the takkanah to observe a holiday may be binding even on descendants of town residents who no longer live where the salvation occurred. He notes that his rebbe, Rav Nosson Adler, a Frankfurt native, observed Purim Frankfurt even when he did not live in Frankfurt. However, when living out of Frankfurt, Rav Nosson Adler did not fast on the day before Purim Frankfurt. The Chasam Sofer assumes that this was because Rav Adler held that observing the fast while in a different community may conflict with the customs of where he was currently living, and halachah prohibits acting in a manner different from local practice. The Chasam Sofer, who was always proud that he had been born in Frankfurt, lived the rabbinic years of his life outside of Germany. He records that, although he did not fast on the day before Purim Frankfurt, he conducted a siyum mesechta on that day in order to supersede any requirement to fast, similar to our practice on Erev Pesach.

Chayei Odom

Another later authority who rejected the Pri Chodosh’s criticism of the Maharam Alashkar’s ruling was the Chayei Odom (155:41). He concluded that an individual, and certainly a community, can establish a day to be their own festival. Based on the ruling of the Maharshal, which I will quote shortly, the Chayei Odom ruled that a meal observed because of a community’s thanksgiving has the halachic status of a seudas mitzvah. Futhermore, the Chayei Odom contended that had the Pri Chodosh seen what the Maharshal wrote (Yam shel Shelomoh, Bava Kama 7:37), which the Chayei Odom notes was not yet printed in the days of the Pri Chodosh, the Pri Chodosh himself would also have accepted that these thanksgiving seudos qualify as seudos mitzvah.

What did the Maharshal write that the Chayei Odom felt was so authoritative?

Seudas Hodaah

The Maharshal cites a different Gemara source and rationale for the practice of celebrating a festive meal in honor of salvation. The Gemara (Bava Kama 80a-b) mentions that Rav, Shmuel and Rav Assi all attended a seudas mitzvah, which, according to one version of the Gemara, was probably a pidyon haben. The Maharshal notes that the Gemara (Chullin 95b) states that Rav never ate from a festive meal unless it was a seudas mitzvah. Furthemore, we do not find that the Gemara characterizes pidyon haben as a seudas mitzvah.  Therefore, asks the Maharshal, why Rav would have participated in this seudah? The Maharshal answers that making a festive meal in order to bring attention to the observance of a mitzvah or to thank Hashem that a miracle happened is a seudas mitzvah. He then quotes an earlier authority who held that a pidyon haben qualifies as a seudas mitzvah (Terumas Hadeshen #269).

The Chayei Odom concludes halachically like the Maharshal that celebrating salvation by Hashem with a festive meal qualifies as a seudas mitzvah.

Private Purim

The Chayei Odom closes his remarks on this topic by noting that he actually established a Yom Tov for himself and his descendants because of a salvation that his family experienced. On the evening of the 16th of Kislev 5564 (1803), a gunpowder explosion blew up several buildings in the area where the Chayei Odom lived, killing thirty-one people. Every member of the Chayei Odom’s family suffered injuries, his wife most severely. The windows and door of the room imploded and the walls and sections of the roof crashed. The Chayei Odom thanked Hashem that, although he suffered major financial loss from the catastrophe, every member of his family survived.

To commemorate the event, the Chayei Odom instituted that the physically-able members of his family and his descendants should fast on the 16th of Kislev. The night after the fast they should gather immediately after maariv to kindle lights as one does on Yom Tov, recite the entire Shir Hayichud, slowly and with the accustomed melody, as is the custom after maariv on Yom Kippur night. The Chayei Odom’s observance continues: After reciting Shir Hayichud, they should recite Anim Zemiros with a festive tune, and then read slowly through sixteen selected chapters of Tehillim. After this ceremony, they should give as much tzedakah as they are able and those descendants who can financially afford it should sponsor a seudah for scholars who study Torah.

Festival of the Tosafos Yom Tov

Similar to the way the Chayei Odom observed his own family Purim was the observance of a much earlier gadol beyisrael, the Tosafos Yom Tov. In 5387 (1627), the Tosafos Yom Tov became the rav of the entire region of Bohemia (now an area in the Czech Republic). The Thirty Years War was escalating, and the government imposed a heavy tax on the Jewish community to help pay war costs. As rav, the Tosafos Yom Tov headed the committee charged with the responsibility of levying the share each individual was required to pay of the collective tax. Naturally, there were those who felt that they had been assessed too high, and some unscrupulous individuals were vicious enough to turn to the government with a list of defamatory accusations against the Tosafos Yom Tov. On the 5th of Tammuz 5389 (1629), he was summoned to the capital, Vienna, and there he was sentenced to a large fine and imprisonment as punishment for the slanderous canards. When he was freed from prison, he declared the 5th of Tammuz, the day on which his troubles began, as a fast for his descendants, but he did not have it followed by any celebration since he was still in trouble and had no reason to rejoice. For fifteen years, he experienced repeated sufferings. However, when on Rosh Chodesh Adar, 5404 (1644), he became the rav of Krakow, Poland, which was out of the range of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, he felt that salvation was finally achieved and he proclaimed a family festival as a result. Unfortunately, there is a bitter ending to this celebration, because four years later the Chmielnitzki revolt and massacres began. I have written about this topic elsewhere (see RabbiKaganoff.com, The Twentieth of Sivan.)

Other commemorations

Other gedolei Yisrael chose to commemorate their salvation in other ways. The Pnei Yehoshua decided to write his sefer, which is one of the most basic works on Shas, because he survived a fire and explosion.

Halachic conclusion

The later halachic authorities did not accept the Pri Chodosh’s concern and ruled that one may observe special local festivals to thank Hashem for salvation. We have seen three different sources for observing local festivals:

  1. To recite Hallel to commemorate Hashem’s salvation.
  2. The authority of a community to establish a festival and regulations.
  3. A festive meal to thank Hashem qualifies as a seudas mitzvah.

Unusual local purims

Having discussed the halachic background for these festivals, let us note some curious aspects of some of these local celebrations.

Four Purims

To the best of my knowledge, the record for local Purims was held by the Jewish community of Ancona, Italy, which observed four different dates as special festivals, each in thanks to Hashem for being saved from a different catastrophe: revolutionary riots, an earthquake, and two fires. As was done with Purim Frankfurt and Taanis Esther, they observed a fast on the day before.

Double Purim

One of the unusual observances was Purim Rhodes, which was celebrated on the day of Purim itself! In 5600 (1840), a gentile child disappeared and the Jews were accused of the frightening blood libel — slaughtering the child to use his blood for matzohs. The local governor was behind the incitements against the Jews. As the Jews prepared for what they expected to be their last Purim, the child was found alive on a neighboring island. The sultan deposed the governor, and gave the Jews a firman declaring that the accusation of ritual murder was false. As a result, the Jews of Rhodes read special prayers and hymns on Purim to commemorate their communal miracle.

Kol Yisrael areivim

One very early observance serves as a reminder of how each Jew must assume responsibility for all his brethren. On the 21st of Adar, 1236, in Narbonne, France, the rash action of one Jew who struck a gentile in an argument, killing him, endangered the entire community. A mob rioted, threatening to kill everyone in the Jewish quarter. Fortunately, the local officer and his soldiers arrived just in time to avert calamity. This should serve as a powerful reminder of how one thoughtless Jew can endanger all.

Being locked in the ghetto

One of the oddest reasons for a local festival occurred on the 18th of Tammuz 5367 (1607) in Verona, Italy, the day after a fast day. The Jews there had been confined to sleeping overnight in a locked ghetto for the previous eight years. They requested that they be the holders of the keys to the gates of the ghetto, rather than being locked in. This plea was finally granted, and from then one the date the plea was granted was celebrated as a Purim!  Its observance continued until Napoleon abolished the ghetto. (We should note that according to the above-quoted Chasam Sofer, this would not have been sufficient reason to have created a local festival.)

Conclusion

Rav Hirsch (Commentary to Tehillim 100:1) notes that the root of the word for thanks is the same as that for viduy, confession and admitting wrongdoing. All kinds of salvation should elicit in us deep feelings of gratitude for what Hashem has done for us in the past and does in the present. This is why it can be both an acknowledgement of guilt and thanks.

We often cry out to Hashem in crisis, sigh in relief when the crisis passes, but fail to express our thanks adequately for the salvation. Our thanks to Hashem should match the intensity of our pleas. In our daily lives we hopefully do not encounter the types of dangers that we have described above, yet we should still fill our hearts with thanks, focus these thoughts during our recital of mizmor lesodah, az yashir, modim or at some other appropriate point in our prayers.

From Cairo to Frankfurt: Purim Cairo and Purim Frankfurt

face maskIs there a halachic basis for the various local observances, such as Purim Frankfurt, Purim Cairo and Purim Ancona?

Local Purims

In the course of Jewish history, there have unfortunately been numerous occasions when communities suffered from major crises that threatened their lives. Upon surviving these travails, many communities chose to commemorate the event by creating a Yom Tov with special observances to thank Hashem for His salvation. Many of these observances were called “Purim,” and in the course of the last several hundred years there were dozens of recorded local Purims, some that were celebrated by the Jewish community of a town or city, and others that were observed by families. Some of these commemorations included that the festival was preceded by a fast day, similar to Taanis Esther preceding Purim.

As the events of the last seventy years have emptied many of these communities of their Jews, most of these celebrations and the miracles they commemorate have become forgotten. This article will be concerned primarily with the halachic sources and controversies concerning these celebrations. But first, let me share some of the background events of a few of these local observances.

Purim Cairo

One of the earliest recorded local holidays is a festival that was celebrated in Cairo on the 28th of Adar, which bears a strong similarity to the original Purim. In 5284 (1524), the Governor of Egypt, Ahmed Pasha, became a very powerful ruler, although he was officially responsible to the Ottoman Empire and Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. Pasha craved the wealth of many of the Egyptian Jews and, in order to seize their possessions, he arrested twelve prominent leaders of the Jewish community, including the community’s rav, the Radbaz. Pasha demanded an exorbitant ransom, far more than the community could ever raise, to be paid by the 28th of Adar, or he would execute the captives and exile the rest of the community.

On the day set for the ransom deadline, Pasha was assassinated by some of his servants who knew that he was plotting to overthrow the sultan. The 28th of Adar was joyously proclaimed a local festival and was observed for as long as a sizable Jewish community existed in Cairo.

Purim Frankfurt
The rogue of the Purim Frankfurt story (5374/1614), Vincent Fettmilch, actually called himself the “new Haman of the Jews.” He was a fiery agitator whose hordes attacked the Jewish quarter of Frankfurt. After two years of anti-Semitic disturbance, he angered the Holy Roman Emperor, who had Fettmilch hanged. The Jewish community commemorated these events by creating a fast day, similar to Taanis Esther, on the 19th of Adar, and a festival on the 20th, which was called Purim Frankfurt. A special megillah was written, known as Megillas Vinz (for Vincent), to commemorate the occasion.

Tunis

Purim Kidebuni was a festival observed in parts of North Africa. In 5465 (1705), the governor of Tunis, warlord of one faction of the barbary pirates, laid siege to Tripoli, threatening to decimate the population should he conquer the city. Fortunately, disease broke out suddenly among his followers, and the siege failed. A festival was declared for the 24th of Teiveis.

Another North African Purim

On the 4th of Marcheshvan, 5302 (1541), Charles V of Spain attempted to seize Algiers, where many Jews had taken refuge fifty years earlier when fleeing during the Spanish expulsion. The Spaniards landed, but their fleet and army were destroyed by a storm because of the prayers of Rav Shelomoh Duran, a descendant of the Tashbeitz. Thus the Jews were spared facing expulsion a second time and the inquisition that the Spaniards would have brought with them. For obvious reasons, they called the holiday they established Purim Edom.

Shiraz

On the 2nd day of Marcheshvan, the Jews of Shiraz (Iran) celebrate a festival called “Moed Katan.” According to an old manuscript written in the Jewish-Persian language (similar to what Yiddish is to German, and Ladino to Spanish), a Jew who was supposed to have been both a shocheit and a kosher retail butcher was caught selling non-kosher meat. The criminal converted to Islam, changed his name to Abu al-chasan, and then became a moseir, accusing the Jews of many crimes. The Shiite rulers gave the Jews of Shiraz the choice between death and conversion to Islam. Suddenly and mysteriously, Abu al-chasan died on the 2nd of Marcheshvan, leaving behind a retraction that all his accusations were false. The evil decree against the Jews was rescinded. The incident was commemorated via a local festival called “Moed Katan.”

These are a few examples of the kinds of local festivals that were established to thank Hashem for His kindness. The first question we have is whether we can find a halachic source for a community establishing its own local festival.

Who introduced Hallel?

One source for the observance of local festivals is based on the following passage of Gemara (Pesachim 117a, as explained by Rashbam; cf. Rashi ad locum).  The Gemara asks: “Who originally declared the Hallel?” The Gemara proceeds to mention several instances in Jewish history when Hallel was recited spontaneously to thank Hashem for His salvation (Rashi ad loc.). Among the specific situations mentioned are:

— In addition to singing Az Yashir upon surviving keriyas yam suf, Moshe and the Bnei Yisrael also sang Hallel (Rashbam).

— Yehoshua and the Bnei Yisrael sang Hallel after their victory over the 31 kings.

— In addition to the song of Devorah, she and Barak recited Hallel after their victory over Sisra.

— Chizkiyah sang Hallel when he survived Sancheiriv.

— Chananyah, Misha’el and Azaryah sang Hallel when Hashem saved them from the fiery furnace.

— Mordechai and Esther recited Hallel when they were in control of the city of Shushan.

Chananyah, Misha’el and Azaryah

The reason for the reciting of Hallel by Chananyah, Misha’el and Azaryah is somewhat different from the other events recorded in the Gemara. In all the other instances, the entire Jewish nation was imperiled and saved, whereas, in their situation, Chananyah, Misha’el and Azaryah were saved as individuals. One may have thought that Hallel should be recited only to thank Hashem for the saving of the entire nation. However, we see from Chananyah, Misha’el and Azaryah that reciting Hallel is an appropriate way of thanking Hashem even for a salvation that affected only individuals.

In his halachic commentary on this Gemara, the Meiri (Pesachim 117a) rules that an individual or community may establish a practice of reciting Hallel every subsequent year as a commemorative way to celebrate their salvation, provided that they do not recite a brocha prior to reciting the Hallel. To quote the Meiri: “Any individual who was redeemed from a potential calamity may institute that he recite Hallel that day every year, albeit without reciting a brocha beforehand. The same is true for every community. In fact, a practice of the prophets was to recite Hallel whenever one was redeemed from trouble.” Thus, a community or an individual may establish the annual recital of Hallel on a specific date to commemorate an event of salvation.

After they move

Are individuals who have relocated from a community required to continue observing the local Purim? I found this question discussed about five hundred years ago by Rav Moshe ben Yitzchak Alashkar, known as the Maharam Alashkar, a gadol of his generation, who received halachic inquiries from the greatest gedolim of his era, including the Mahari Beirav, Rav Eliyahu Mizrahi, and the Maharalnach. It is interesting to note the difficulties and wanderings of the Maharam Alashkar himself. Born about 5226 (1466) in Spain, he was expelled in 1492 with all the other Jews, and in his escape from Spain was captured by pirates who threatened to execute him. Eventually, he escaped from the pirates and found refuge in Tunis, but the Jews of this community were then expelled. The Maharam Alashkar wandered onward to Greece, then later Cairo, and eventually succeeded in settling in Yerushalayim, where he passed on in 5302 (1542). In addition to probably being the posek hador in the Mediterranian basin, he was  also the source of many teshuvos of the geonim that would otherwise have been lost, and he translated responsa of the Rambam from Arabic into Hebrew.

The following question that the Maharam Alashkar discusses is germane to our discussion: A local takkanah (based on other evidence, I believe it was Sepanto, Italy) had established the 11th of Teiveis as a local festival, for the Jews of that town and their descendants wherever they would reside, in commemoration of some deliverance that had transpired on that date. The question was: The community is now destroyed. Must they continue to observe this takkanah?

The Maharam Alashkar first quotes the Talmudic sources that a community has the ability to establish regulations that are binding on its members. He writes that although regulations and customs of a community are, in general, not obligatory upon someone once he relocates, when the community accepted upon its members and their descendants to follow a certain practice regardless of whether they reside in the original location, they must continue observing the practice even after they relocate (Shu”t Maharam Alashkar #49). His conclusion is quoted by many prominent halachic authorities as definitive (Magen Avraham, 686:5, Elyah Rabbah, 686:5, Mishnah Berurah, 686:8; also see the Chayei Odom and the Chasam Sofer that I will quote later in this article).

Celebrating on the Tenth of Av

Our next discussion is the extent to which we go to celebrate a personal Purim.

Sena’ah was the name of one of the large Jewish family clans that returned from Bavel together with Ezra (Ezra 2:35; Nechemiah 7:38). According to the Mishnah (Taanis 26a), they were descended from the tribe of Binyamin (see Tosafos, Eruvin 41a s.v. Mivnei) and they brought wood to the Beis Hamikdash on the tenth of Av, which was then observed as a day of celebration. The Gemara (Eruvin 41a; Taanis 12a) records that the Tanna Rabbi Elazar ben Tzadok, continued to observe this date even after the churban (Tosafos, Taanis 12a s,v, Hasam), although the cause for the celebration no longer existed. This is even more surprising since Rabbi Elazar ben Tzadok himself was a kohen (see Bechoros 36a), and therefore not descended on his father’s side from Sena’ah and the tribe of Binyamin. As Tosafos (Eruvin 41a s.v. Mivnei) notes, his observance of this date as a family festival was either because his membership in this family clan was from his mother’s side or because his wife was a descendant of the tribe of Binyamin and a member of this family.

Tisha B’Av on the tenth

As we know, when Tisha B’Av falls on Shabbos, the fast day is observed on Sunday, which is the tenth of Av. Since we now know that the Sena’ah family observed the tenth of Av as a festival even after the churban, what did they do when Tisha B’Av fell on Shabbos, causing the national day of mourning to coincide with their personal festival? The Gemara quotes Rabbi Elazar ben Tzadok as saying that they began the fast together with the rest of klal Yisrael, but did not complete its observance to the end of the day since it was a family festival. This means that they ate on the day that the rest of klal Yisrael was still observing all the laws of Tisha B’Av! We see the extent to which the observance of the family festival was kept. Based on this Gemara, the Maharam Alashkar ruled that a local festival must continue to be observed.

[There is a curious halachah that results from this Gemara. Several rishonim record the following practice from the baal Tosafos, Rabbeinu Yaakov ben Rabbeinu Yitzchak Halevi, who is also called Yaavetz. (He should not be confused with much later gedolim, such as Rav Yaakov Emden, who are also called Yaavetz.) Yaavetz once celebrated a bris on the tenth of Av which was a Sunday and therefore a postponed Tisha B’Av. Several rishonim record that after davening mincha, Yaavetz bathed and broke the fast because it was his own personal Yom Tov (Mordechai, Taanis #630; Hagahos Maimoniyos, Taanis 5:8; Tur Orach Chayim, Chapter 559). This practice is recorded as normative halachah – that the baalei simcha, meaning the mohel, the sandek and the parents of a bris that falls on a postponed Tisha B’Av do not complete the fast because it is their own personal Yom Tov.]

Controversial custom

However, the Maharam Alashkar’s position on this question was not universally accepted. The Pri Chodosh (Orach Chayim 496:14) expressly disputes what the Maharam Alashkar writes, concluding that even a local resident does not need to observe the custom of local festivals and celebrations. The Pri Chodosh contends that the practice is not binding even while the original inhabitants continue to reside in the same city in which the miracle happened, and it is certainly not incumbent upon their descendants or anyone who relocated from the city.

Explaining the Pri Chodosh’s objection to the Maharam Alashkar’s ruling requires an introduction regarding an ancient manuscript called Megillas Taanis, which the Gemara (Shabbos 13b) teaches us was written by the Tanna Chananyah ben Chizkiyah, who lived at the end of the second Beis Hamikdash period (Rambam, Introduction to Peirush Hamishnah, towards the end). Megillas Taanis is a list of dates on which miraculous events occurred. To commemorate these celebrations, Chazal prohibited fasting and conducting eulogies on these dates. After the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash, a dispute (Rosh Hashanah 18b-19b) developed as to whether these dates remained minor festivals prohibiting hespedim and fasts, or whether, in light of the churban, these festive days are no longer significant, a position that the Gemara calls: batlah Megillas Taanis, Megillas Taanis is no longer in effect.” The Gemara (Rosh Hashanah 19b) concludes that, with the exception of Chanukah and Purim, batlah Megillas Taanis. It is also important to note the Gemara’s comment that if batlah Megillas Taanis, certainly no new days can be added as holidays (Rosh Hashanah (18b, 19a).

The Pri Chodosh contends that the creation of any of these local festivals runs counter to the Gemara’s conclusion that batlah Megillas Taanis. He, therefore, concludes that the community declaring specific practices on these days has no halachic legitimacy and that one is not required to observe them.

We will continue this topic next week…

 

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