The Tumah of Utensils

Since the beginning of this week’s parsha is all about the laws of tumah and taharah, we will be studying these laws in preparation for the arrival of the Moshiach!

Question #1: Slingshots like Tefillin?!?

How are slingshots like Tefillin?

Question #2: Sack or sock?

What is the difference between a sack and a sock?

Question #3: Very earthy

How is an earthenware oven different from other earthenware utensils?


Since, unfortunately, our Beis Hamikdash still lies in ruins, the laws of tumah and taharah do not affect our daily lives significantly. As a result, many people do not approach the study of these laws enthusiastically, and do not pay adequate attention to the Torah readings when they concern this topic. Yet, our prayers for Moshiach to come at any moment require us to be fully knowledgeable of the laws of tumah and taharah, so that we are prepared to observe them.

Some tumah basics

Someone who becomes tamei may not enter the Beis Hamikdash or consume terumah, ma’aser sheini, bikkurim, kodoshim or any other foods that have sanctity.

The following passage of the Torah in parshas Shemini mentions eleven different categories of the laws of tumah, which are numbered in the selection below to facilitate explaining them afterward. The Torah writes:

Among animals that walk on all fours (1), anything that walks upon its forepaws is impure (tamei). Whoever touches the carcass of such an animal will be tamei until evening. And whoever carries their carcass must wash his clothes, and he is tamei until evening, because these animals are tamei for you.

And the following creatures that creep on the ground (2) are tamei for you: The weasel, the mouse, and the various species of toad; also, the hedgehog, the ko’ach, the lizard, the snail and the mole. These are tamei to you, among all the creeping animals – whoever touches them after they are dead will be tamei, until evening. And anything that falls upon them after they are dead will become tamei, whether it is a wooden vessel (3) or a garment (4) or leather (5) or sackcloth (6) – any vessel with which work is performed (7). It must be immersed in water, and then it remains tamei until evening, at which point it becomes tahor.

Furthermore, any part of them (that is, the eight tamei “creeping creatures”) that will fall inside any earthenware vessel (8), whatever is inside it will become tamei and you shall break it (that is,the earthenware vessel). And any edible food (9) that had water touch it can become tamei. Similarly, any liquid (10) that can be drunk will become tamei, if inside such a vessel. Furthermore, anything on which part of a carcass falls will become tamei. An oven or stove (11) should be destroyed, because they are tamei, and when you use them, they will be tamei (Vayikra 11:27-35).

The Torah described many different types of tumah (spiritual contamination). In a previous article on this topic, I explained the laws of neveilah and sheretz (numbers 1 and 2 above).

Utensils that become tamei

Returning to our passage, after mentioning the tumah of neveilah and sheretz, the Torah lists nine categories of items that become tamei from contact with neveilah or sheretz. The specific items mentioned are: (3) wooden vessels, (4) garments, (5) leather items, (6) sackcloth, (7) vessels described by a not-easily-understood clause, “any vessel with which work is performed,” (8) earthenware, (9) food, (10) beverages and (11) ovens and stoves. Each of these categories has its own specific laws, which are hinted at in the pasuk. For reasons that will soon become obvious, I will divide this list into three groups. The first group consists of the first five items, which I will call, collectively, “immersible utensils.”

(3) Wooden utensils

Wooden vessels have the potential to become tamei if they can hold liquid (called a beis kibul) or when people use them and place items on them, such as a table (Rambam, Hilchos Keilim 4:1). These ideas are suggested by the Torah when it describes wooden items that can become tamei as “vessels” (keilim).

(4-5) Garments and leather

All types of garments are susceptible to tumah, although there is a dispute among late authorities concerning whether synthetic fabrics can become tamei.

(6) Sack

Yes, I wrote sack, not sock. Sackcloth means something manufactured from woven goat’s hair or animal hair, such as from the tail hair of cows (Sifra). In general, goat hair is too coarse to use as clothing, but it was used in earlier generations as a bag or sack for storage or transportation, similar to the way we use burlap today. (Some varieties of goat produce extremely fine wool used for garments, such as cashmere and mohair, but most goats do not.)

(7) From slingshots to tefillin

The Torah mentions that any vessel with which work is performed can become tamei from a sheretz. What is included in this category? The Sifra, the halachic midrash on the book of Vayikra that dates back to the era of the tanna’im, explains that this verse teaches that the following three items become tamei: The sling of a slingshot, tefillin, and a pouch in which one places an amulet.

What do slingshots have in common with tefillin?

These three items contain a beis kibul, a receptacle to hold something, yet some might mistakenly think that they do not qualify as “vessels.” The Torah is teaching that these are considered receptacles, or “vessels,” able to become tamei. In the case of the sling, it is meant to hold a marble, stone or other projectile, albeit for a very brief period of time. In the case of tefillin, this is because the batim of the tefillin contain the parshi’os, and, similarly, in the case of an amulet.

(8) Earthenware

Note that I have separated earthenware and not included it under the same category as the other utensils. This is because earthenware has many halachic differences, some lenient and some stringent, from all other utensils.

All other utensils fall under one of two categories:

(A) Utensils that do not become tamei, which is a topic we are not discussing in this article. An example of this is vessels manufactured from stone. By the way, this explains why excavations in the old city and other areas around Israel have found many vessels and utensils made of stone. Since these items are not susceptible to tumah, kohanim who needed to be concerned not to make their terumah and challah tamei often used stone vessels that could not become tamei.

(B) Utensils that do become tamei but can become tahor again by immersion in a mikveh or spring. This latter categoryis called klei shetef, literally, immersible utensils.

How is earthenware different?

(C) Earthenware vessels fall under a third category, because once they become tamei, the only way they can become tahor again is by being broken. Immersing them in a mikveh or spring does not make them tahor.

There are also several other ways whereby halacha treats earthenware vessels differently than it treats immersible utensils. The section of the Torah quoted above alludes to four of the ways that earthenware vessels are different.

Contaminate from outside

(I) Immersible utensils become contaminated when they come in contact with neveilah, sheretz or other tamei sources, regardless whether they are touched on their internal surface or on their outside. However, if something tamei touched the outside of an earthenware vessel, it remains tahor. An earthenware vessel contracts tumah only from its inside, and only when it has a beis kibul – an area that can serve as a “container” to hold liquid. As a result, a flat earthenware board or an earthenware fork cannot become tamei, since it has no “inside” that holds liquid.

Immersion does not help

(II) As mentioned above, another way that earthenware vessels are different from other utensils is that, once they become tamei, there is no means of making them tahor again, other than breaking them.


(III) A third way that earthenware vessels are different from other utensils is that they become tamei if a tamei source, such as a sheretz or neveilah, is suspended within the airspace of the earthenware vessel, even if the sheretz or neveilah does not touch the vessel. Halachically, there is no difference between touching the airspace of an earthenware vessel and touching it on the inside – either way makes the earthenware vessel tamei.

Contaminating from within

(IV) A fourth way that earthenware vessels are different from other utensils is that a tamei earthenware vessel spreads tumah to any food or beverage that is inside the vessel, even if the food or beverage never actually touched the vessel.

These four laws regarding earthenware vessels are all taught in a few words in the pasuk mentioned above: Furthermore, any part of them [the eight tamei creatures] that will fall inside any earthenware vessel, whatever is inside it will become tamei and you shall break it [the earthenware vessel].

The Torah mentions that an earthenware vessel contracts tumah only when something falls inside it, and does not say that the tamei substance must actually touch the earthenware vessel. Also, note that any food or beverage inside the earthenware vessel becomes tamei, even if it did not touch the earthenware vessel, but is suspended inside it. And, lastly, upon becoming tamei, the Torah mentions only one solution for the earthenware vessel: breaking it. There is no other way to make it tahor.

(11) Ovens and stoves

Let us return to the final pasuk quoted above, which discusses a special type of earthenware vessel: Anything on which part of a carcass falls will become tamei. An oven or stove should be destroyed, because they are tamei, and when you use them, they will be tamei.

The ovens of the era of the Torah and Chazal were made of earthenware. Their shape was tubular, meaning that they were completely open on top and bottom. The open bottom was placed over a hollow in the ground, and then the outside of the oven was lined with mud or clay to insulate it well. Fuel was placed in the hollow inside the oven and kindled by means of an opening in the side. The food being cooked or baked was placed inside, either through this opening or through an opening at the top. When these ovens were used as stoves, pots of food were placed on the open top. When they were used as ovens, the open top was covered, usually with a piece of earthenware.

I explain these facts not for anthropological documentation, but so that we can better understand both the pasuk of the Torah and the halacha. Although ovens and stoves were made of earthenware, the Torah mentions them as a different category. This is because other earthenware vessels become tamei only when they have a beis kibul, a receptacle. Under this definition, earthenware ovens and stoves should not become tamei, since they have no bottom. The Torah teaches that ovens and stoves are susceptible to tumah, and have the rules of other earthenware vessels, despite the fact that they have no beis kibul.

There are halachic ramifications to this distinction, but we will not discuss that in this article. The intrepid reader is referred to a halachic discussion in Ohalos 12:1, and the commentaries thereon.


This article and one I sent out for parshas Shemini have served to introduce some of the basic rules of tumah and taharah; this one, as these laws relate to utensils. We hope and pray to be able to observe all of these laws soon.

Lessons of Parshas Shemini

Question #1: Tanner Training

“I work as a leather tanner. Should I train for a different parnasah, so that I can make a living after Moshiach comes?”

Question #2: Amorphous Amphibians

“What is the difference between a toad and a frog?”

Question #3: Lessons of Parshas Shemini

What does either of the previous two questions have to do with this week’s parshah?


Since, unfortunately, our Beis Hamikdash still lies in ruins, the laws of tumah and taharah do not affect our daily lives significantly. As a result, many people do not approach the study of these laws enthusiastically, and do not pay adequate attention to the Torah readings when they are about this topic. Yet, our prayers for Moshiach to come at any moment require us to be fully knowledgeable of the laws of tumah and taharah, so that we are prepared to observe them. As the Gemara teaches, in the days of Chizkiyahu Hamelech, they searched the entire Land of Israel, from the northern to the southern tip, and could not find a single man, woman or child who was not completely conversant in every detail of the laws of tumah and taharah (Sanhedrin 94b). The situation should be similar today or even better, since we have a responsibility to comprehend the weekly parshah, and some of these laws are discussed in parshas Shemini.

Some tumah basics

Someone who becomes tamei may not enter the Beis Hamikdash or consume terumah, ma’aser sheini, bikkurim or kodoshim, foods that have sanctity.

The following passage of this week’s parshah mentions eleven different categories of the laws of tumah, which are numbered in the selection below to facilitate explaining them afterward. The Torah writes:

Among animals that walk on all fours (1), anything that walks upon its forepaws* is impure (tamei). Whoever touches the carcass of such an animal will be tamei until evening. And whoever carries their carcass must wash his clothes, and he is tamei until evening, because these animals are tamei for you.

And the following creatures that creep on the ground (2) are tamei for you: The weasel,** the mouse, and the various species of toad. Also the hedgehog, the ko’ach,*** the lizard, the snail and the mole. These are tamei to you, among all the creeping animals – whoever touches them after they are dead will be tamei until evening. And anything that falls upon them after they are dead will become tamei, whether it is a wooden vessel (3) or a garment (4) or leather (5) or sackcloth (6) – any vessel with which work is performed (7). It must be immersed in water, and then it remains tamei until evening, at which point it becomes tahor.

Furthermore, any part of them (that is, the eight tamei “creeping creatures”) that will fall inside any earthenware vessel (8), whatever is inside it will become tamei, and you shall break it (that is,the earthenware vessel). And any edible food (9) that had water touch it can become tamei. Similarly, any liquid (10) that can be drunk will become tamei, if inside such a vessel. Furthermore, anything on which part of a carcass falls will become tamei. An oven or stove (11) should be destroyed, because they are tamei, and when you use them, they will be tamei (Vayikra 11:27-35).

The Torah describes many different types of tumah (spiritual contamination), each with its own laws. Every word used in this passage has a very specific meaning. Let us explore some of the laws of the different categories mentioned.

(1) Neveilah

When discussing someone who touched a non-shechted animal carcass (neveilah), the Torah specifies that a person becomes tamei whether he touched it or carried it, but notes a halachic difference between a neveilah that was touched and one that was carried. Regarding carrying the carcass, which creates a status called tumas masa, the Torah says that he must wash his clothes, but omits this detail regarding one who touches the carcass, which is called tumas maga. We see here a difference in halachah between the person who carries a neveilah and one who touches it without moving it. One who carries a neveilah contaminates any utensils, food or beverage susceptible to tumah that he touches while he carries it. The clothes that he wears are used by the Torah as an example of any item that he touches while carrying or moving the neveilah. This tumah is called tumah be’chiburin, meaning tumah by connection. Any keilim, utensils or appliances that now become tamei will require immersion in a mikveh or spring, and then will become tahor again at the subsequent nightfall. (There is one type of utensil that is not affected by tumah be’chiburin – earthenware vessels that were touched by a person while he carried a neveilah remain tahor. Also, tumah be’chiburin of neveilah does not contaminate people – therefore, someone touching the person who is carrying the neveilah remains tahor.) However, someone who touches a neveilah without causing it to move does not contaminate something else he touches at the same time. While he himself becomes tamei and remains tamei until he immerses in a mikveh or spring and waits until nightfall, what he touches at the time remains tahor.

Tanner training

At this point, let us examine our first opening question:

“I work as a leather tanner. Should I train for a different parnasah, so that I can make a living after Moshiach comes?”

The questioner realizes that someone who tans leather will make himself tamei if he handles the carcasses of animals. However, once the flesh is removed, the hide itself is not considered neveilah and does not generate tumah (see Mishnah Chullin 117b). Even should our questioner handle neveilos, he can make himself tahor through immersion in a mikveh. It is, indeed, true that he may not enter the Beis Hamikdash or consume terumah, ma’aser sheini, bikkurim or kodoshim while he is tamei, but this does not preclude his earning his livelihood in this way.

(2) Sheretz

The Torah lists eight creeping creatures that generate tumah if one touches them after they are dead. As the Ibn Ezra already notes, we are uncertain as to the exact identity of these eight creatures. When Eliyahu arrives, he will teach us their proper identifications, so that we can properly observe the laws. According to the translation that I provided above, which is based on Rashi and other traditional commentaries, the eight include an interesting mixture of small mammals (mostly rodents), reptiles, amphibians and mollusks. All usually lie close to the ground, and most are small. However, if the ko’ach is identified correctly as a monitor, it is the largest of the lizards and can grow as long as ten feet.

If our translation is correct, other small creatures – such as snakes, frogs, insects and other rodents – are not included under the heading of tamei sheratzim. Although it may not seem aesthetically pleasing to touch live creatures or dead insects, rodents and other small animals, you do not become tamei from touching them. I recommend washing your hands for hygienic reasons, but maintaining hygiene and becoming tamei are unrelated concepts.

By the way, the word tzav, used in Modern Hebrew for turtle, is one of the sheratzim, but means toad, according to Rashi. I have no idea who decided to use this word for turtle, but it is not consistent with halachic authorities. There is no reason to assume that a dead turtle makes one tamei.

Amorphous amphibians

At this point, let us refer back to one of our opening questions: “What is the difference between a toad and a frog?”

A zoologist will note several differences, but this is a halachic article. According to Rashi, a toad is one of the eight sheratzim that are tamei, and a frog is not (Taharos 5:1, 4).

Laws of sheratzim

Regarding the tumah of sheratzim, the Torah states that one who touches them becomes tamei, but it mentions nothing about the person’s clothing requiring immersion, nor does it state that someone becomes tamei when he carries them. This is because a sheretz makes someone tamei only if he touches it, and not if he moves it without touching. Furthermore, his clothing and anything else he touches while touching the sheretz, donot become tamei, unless they are in direct physical contact with the sheretz.

Toad vs. frog

Why did the Torah declare only these eight creatures to be tamei, but no others?

This is a question that we can ask, but probably not answer, other than to accept the gezeiras hakasuv, the declaration of the Torah, and observe it as Hashem’s will. Although we endeavor to explain the reasons for our commandments, we realize that we can never assume that we understand the reason for a mitzvah. We explore possible reasons for a mitzvah in order to enhance our experience when we observe it. We do this when we can. However, I have not found any commentary that endeavors to explain what it is about these eight specific creeping creatures, but no others, that generates tumah.

I will be continuing this topic in my next article.


This article has served as an introduction to some of the basic rules of tumah and taharah relating to neveilah and sheratzim. We hope and pray to be able to observe all of these laws soon.

* This translation follows Malbim.

** With the exception of the ko’ach, our translation follows Rashi’s commentary.

*** Most commentators identify this either with the chameleon or with the monitor, both of which are varieties of lizard.

Blemished in Our Day

Since parshas Balak mentions that Balak and Bil’am offered korbanos, it is appropriate to discuss the details of these mitzvos.

Question #1: Not Politically Correct?

“Why does the Torah ban ‘blemished’ people and animals from the service in the Beis Hamikdash? Does this not convey the incorrect message that people with disabilities are inferior in Hashem’s Eyes?”

Question #2: Are We Affected by Blemishes?

“Do the halachos defining which animals are blemished affect us before the Beis Hamikdash is rebuilt?”

Question #3: Selling a Bechor that is Treif

“May I sell a bechor that is treif to a non-Jew?”

Question #4: In the Midst of Calf-Birth

“May I sell an animal that is in the process of calving?”


In parshas Emor, the Torah discusses the laws of blemishes mumim (singular, mum) that affect both kohanim performing the service in the Beis Hamikdash and animals that can be brought for korbanos. Notwithstanding that we daven three times a day for the Beis Hamikdash to be rebuilt, most people do not focus on the laws of korbanos, assuming that they have no need to know these laws. Yet, if we truly want the Beis Hamikdash to be rebuilt, we should familiarize ourselves with the relevant halachos. Doing so demonstrates that we indeed anticipate the reinstating of the korbanos every minute. In addition, there are applications of these halachos that affect us even when the Beis Hamikdash lies in ruin.

Here is an example: What is the halacha if someone has an animal that has the sanctity of a korban? Although many people assume that this cannot happen in today’s world, this is a mistake – it can happen with any kosher beheimah. The question is even more germane to the laws of bechor, a firstborn animal (Shulchan Aruch Yorah Deah, 306:1).

Torah farm

Many years ago, I was asked about the following situation: A couple, whom we will call the Brauns, purchased a farm. They planned to use it to develop a Torah educational museum to teach about many less-known or less-understood mitzvos – such as the laws of mixing species (kelayim) of plants, mesorah of kosher bird species, orlah, different varieties of wool and plants that will and will not constitute shatnez, reishis hageiz — the mitzvah of giving to the kohen a percentage of the shearing — and so on. (I strongly encourage anyone who would like to entertain such an educational process to do so, since people learn much more from seeing and experiencing than from textbooks.)

A question came up when one of the Brauns’ heifers became pregnant for her first time. If this heifer would give birth to a male offspring, the calf would be a bechor, which has the halachic status of a korban. When the Beis Hamikdash is rebuilt, the bechor of a kosher animal is given to a kohen, who brings it as a korban and then eats its meat. Someone who ignores the sanctity of this bechor and uses, slaughters or sells it violates a serious Torah prohibition.

Today’s bechor

When there is no Beis Hamikdash, what do you do with a kosher beheimah that is a bechor?

It is strictly forbidden to use the animal in any way while it is still alive. The custom is to avoid any contact with the bechor animal, in order to make sure that no one mistakenly uses it.

Regarding using the animal, the only solution is to wait until the animal injures itself to the point that it becomes permanently blemished. At that point, the bechor that now has a mum may be shechted and eaten; however, it is still prohibited min haTorah to use it in any other way.

It is prohibited to place impediments in the animal’s way or to cause the bechor to injure itself (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 313:1). The halacha is that should the owner tell a non-Jewish employee that the animal cannot be shechted until it becomes injured, and the non-Jew then chops off its ear, knowing that this benefits his employer, one may not shecht the animal on this basis. This is considered as if you instructed your employee to damage the bechor (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah (313:3).

Ruling it permitted

Assuming the bechor “successfully” injured itself, whose authority can be used to permit shechting it? In other words, how do we know that the injury it has sustained is indeed permanent, and meets the halachic status of a mum?

In this context, we have a fascinating passage of Gemara (Sanhedrin 5a-b): Rabbah bar Channah was planning to return to Bavel, his birthplace, after attending Rebbe’s yeshivah in Eretz Yisroel for many years. Rav Chiya, Rabbah bar Channah’s uncle, asked Rebbe to give his nephew semicha covering three distinct areas of halacha: the most basic level, the laws of kashrus (subsequently called yoreh yoreh); a more advanced semicha on money matters (subsequently called yadin yadin); and the highest level, to rule that firstborn animals are blemished sufficiently and permanently to permit their slaughter, called yatir bechoros. Rebbe granted Rabbah bar Channah all three levels of semicha. Subsequently, Rav, who was also a nephew of Rav Chiya and a first cousin of Rabbah bar Channah, and who was known for being a much bigger talmid chacham than Rabbah bar Channah (which does not detract from Rabbah bar Channah’s greatness in Torah learning), applied for the same levels of semicha. Rebbe granted him only the lower two levels, yoreh yoreh and yadin yadin, but did not grant him authorization to permit blemished firstborn animals. When asked why Rav was not granted the highest level, Rebbe answered because Rav was so experienced with the subject that he would permit blemishes in cases where other people would not understand how he was able to be so lenient!

We see from this Gemara that only a properly authorized expert may rule that an animal is permanently blemished. Today, when we lack this expertise, three scholars may rule a blemish to be very obviously permanent, and, on this basis, permit shechting and eating the bechor (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 309:1). Even if it has an obviously permanent blemish, we do not allow it to be shechted until a ruling to this effect has been issued (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 310:1).

Once the animal is blemished, the owner gives it as a gift to a kohen, who arranges for the animal to be shechted. Anyone may eat the meat of this bechor, which the Gemara (Temurah 8b) mentions is very nutritious.


Our firstborn calf, lamb or kid has successfully injured itself so that it is now a baal mum, which permits its shechitah. We are not yet finished with its saga. After it is shechted, it is permitted to be eaten only if it completely kosher and is not a tereifah¸which means that it has internal damage that prohibits it from being eaten. There is a stringency that applies to bechor that does not apply to other animals. Any other animal that is a tereifah may be sold to non-Jews as non-kosher, or may be given to animals to eat, since they are not required to keep kosher. A bechor is different. It is prohibited for any benefit until it becomes permitted for a Jew to eat, by having a blemish and yet still being kesheirah. However, if it became a tereifah, and therefore cannot be eaten by a Jew, it remains prohibited for benefit (Yam shel Shelomoh, Chullin 4:4).

Selling a Bechor that is Treif

At this point, we can begin to discuss the third of our opening questions. “May I sell a bechor that is treif to a non-Jew?”

Since the heter to shecht the bechor is only to allow it to be eaten, slaughtering this bechor is not permitted. If it found to be a tereifah after shechitah, as is usually the case, the meat may not be given or sold to a non-Jew, nor given to an animal to eat.

Avoiding the problem

Having figured out what to do with a bechor after it damages itself permanently, we are faced with a new question: Is there a simpler and safer method to avoid having a firstborn animal running around on your property?

Leg of lamb

There is a simple solution to the problem. The halacha is that, as long as a non-Jew owns some part of the mother at the time that it gives birth, its firstborn has no sanctity whatsoever. Therefore, we arrange a sale, similar to the mechiras chometz we perform before Pesach, in which the Jewish owner sells part of the mother, such as a leg, to a non-Jew. (When the Beis Hamikdash exists and we have a mitzvah of offering korbanos, such a sale would constitute an attempt to evade the performance of a mitzvah, and would be forbidden. However, when we cannot offer the korban, and the bechor becomes a potential michshol –  a stumbling block that might cause people to sin — we avoid creating the sanctity of bechor by selling part of the mother to a non-Jew.)

In the midst of calf-birth

In this context, we can now address another of our opening questions: “May I sell an animal that is in the process of calving?”

Your cow is in labor, and you realize that you have not yet sold it to a non-Jew. The Gemara (Chullin 69b) discusses this case where the calf is in the process of being born, to the point in which one third of it has already emerged, and at the moment there is a transaction that makes the mother the property of a non-Jew. When the rest of the calf is born, do we say that it has sanctity or not? The Gemara (Chullin 69b) quotes a dispute among amora’im. Rav Huna rules that the calf is holy, because once its birth begins, it is already considered a bechor. Rabbah disagrees, ruling that it is not considered a bechor until the birth is complete (or, more technically, when more than half has emerged), at which point its mother was already sold. It is unclear what the halachic conclusion is (Maharit Algazi, Bechoros 3:33).

In the situation at hand, the Braun family asked a local rabbi to take care of the sale, so that it would be performed correctly according to halacha. However, Nellie, the cow, had no interest in waiting for either the rabbi or the vet to show up, nor did she inquire who owned her leg. Nellie and her newborn son were both doing fine, notwithstanding the unattended farm birth. Thus, we now had a bechor to deal with. Unlike the mitzvos of pidyon haben, peter chamor, maaser sheini and reva’i,whose sanctity can be redeemed, the sanctity of a bechor cannot.

Not politically correct

At this point, let us discuss the opening question: “Why does the Torah ban ‘blemished’ people and animals from the service in the Beis Hamikdash? Does this not convey the incorrect message that people with disabilities are inferior in Hashem’s Eyes?”

Certainly, Hashem and His Torah do not look down on someone whose abilities or appearances are irregular. Rav Hirsch explains that non-Torah religions thrive on people who suffer, and on fears of the unknown. Their temples become gathering points for those whom life appears to have treated unfairly, or who suffer from illness, injury or worse. Religion, for them, becomes something to comfort the pained and the oppressed.

Torah’s purpose, on the other hand, is to be a guide to teach every person how to use their limited years on this world to grow. Serving Hashem, whether in His Mikdash or outside, demands that man is completely devoted to serving Hashem and to growing.

With this introduction, Rav Hirsch explains many concepts of the Torah, including such diverse ideas as tumah, baalei mum and kehunah. The only reason that those with blemishes cannot perform the service is to demonstrate that all people, certainly even the healthy, have their place in serving Hashem.

Yehudah, Dovid and Moshiach

Since the mitzvah of hakheil is in this week’s parsha, I present:

Yehudah, Dovid and Moshiach

Vector parchment with a pen and ink. Icon for recordsIn parshas Vayechi, Yehudah is blessed by his father Yaakov: “The scepter will not depart from Yehudah, nor will the lawmaker [depart] from his descendants, even when Shiloh [Moshiach] arrives. To him will the nations gather” (Bereishis 49:10). Some explain the pasuk in the following way: “Both the monarchy and the teaching of Torah will remain among the descendants of Yehudah, both in the short term, and certainly when Moshiach (Shiloh) arrives. Also, he will be the one who teaches the Jewish people when they gather every seven years for hakheil.” Thus, the blessing received by Yehudah is: Dovid Hamelech and the royal Jewish family will be his descendants, they will reign over the Jewish people, both early in Jewish history as the monarchs of the Kingdom of Judea; later, for a thousand years in Bavel, under the title of Reish Gelusa; and then, eventually, for the rest of history, when Moshiach rules over the Jewish people and, indirectly, over the entire world.

One of the manifestations of this rule will be the mitzvah of hakheil, when the entire Jewish people — men, women, and even babies — gather to the grounds of the Beis Hamikdash to hear the king of the Jewish people read selections of the book of Devorim to the entire nation. This was done on Chol Hamoed Sukkos in the year following shemittah (see Devorim 31:10-13 and Mishnah, Sotah 41a). Indeed, one of Shelomoh Hamelech’s names is Koheles, because of his central role in the mitzvah of hakheil. Similarly, we have a Biblical allusion to the fulfillment of this mitzvah by Yoshiyahu Hamelech in Divrei Hayamim (2:34:29-33).


With this introduction, let us examine the following questions:

What exactly is done at hakheil?

When is hakheil performed?

Why was hakheil not observed on Shabbos?

Who is obligated to attend hakheil?

Was the reading of hakheil performed only by kings of the house of Dovid?

Is hakheil one mitzvah or two?

What is done at hakheil?

Hakheil is a public gathering and ceremony whose focal point is a kerias haTorah read by the king of the Jewish people on the grounds of the Beis Hamikdash. When we have a Beis Hamikdash, bimheirah veyameinu, this mitzvah will again be performed. The king of the Jews will read selections of the book of Devorim from a special sefer Torah kept in the Beis Hamikdash area.

The procedure

As reported by the Tosefta (a source of halachah dating back to the era of the Mishnah), prior to the reading, “a wood platform was constructed in the Azarah (an inner section of the Beis Hamikdash), and the king sat upon it” (Tosefta, Sotah 7:8). The fact that anyone was permitted to sit in the Azarah area was unique, because no one other than a king of the line of Dovid Hamelech was ever permitted to sit in the Azarah or any of the holier sections of the Beis Hamikdash (Yoma 25a et al.). This halachah is derived from a verse in the Book of Shemuel (2:7:18).

According to an alternative opinion quoted by the Tosefta, the platform was constructed on the Har Habayis, the Temple Mount area, which is outside the Beis Hamikdash, and, therefore, anyone may sit there. Thus, we have a dispute whether hakheil was performed in the Beis Hamikdash itself, or right outside. Either way, the area where hakheil is performed requires that all the people who attend be tehorim, ritually pure as defined by halachah.

The kohanim and hakheil

As should be appropriate for a public reading of the sefer Torah, there was much pomp and circumstance preceding the mitzvah of hakheil. To continue the Tosefta: “On that day, the kohanim stood on the fences (of Yerushalayim), and in the breaches (between the fences), holding golden bugles. (I translated the word chatzotzeres as bugle, because trumpets that use valves or keys were not invented until relatively recently. The word trumpet used to mean an instrument that had no valves, but today all trumpets have valves.) They blew tekiah, teruah, tekiah. People said that any kohen who was not holding a bugle might be accused of being an imposter. The people of Yerushalayim made considerable money by renting the golden bugles at the price of a golden dinar each.” The kohanim’s blowing was to make sure everyone remembered to come for hakheil, somewhat reminiscent of the soundtrucks that blast their way through Yerushalayim to announce everything from funerals, sifrei Torah dedications, and tzedakah collections to sales and chol hamoed entertainment.

There is a question here about the bugles, because the Torah requires that chatzotzeros be manufactured from silver, not gold. Why should inviting people for hakheil require gold bugles?

I was told an answer in the name of Rav Avraham Sherman, a prominent dayan in Eretz Yisroel, that the chatzotzeros for hakheil were, indeed, made of silver, not gold. They were called the “golden chatzotzeros” not because they were made of gold, but because the rental fee was charged in gold, as the Tosefta states.

Taking out the sefer Torah

The sefer Torah was taken out with much ceremony, as should always be done. On the occasion of hakheil, the sefer Torah was first brought by the gabbai, called the chazzan hakenesses, who then handed it to a higher official, called the rosh hakenesses. In turn, the rosh hakenesses handed the sefer Torah to the segan, the associate kohen gadol, who handed it to the kohen gadol, who then handed the sefer Torah to the king. The king received the sefer Torah while standing and then sat down to read, which, as we mentioned above, was a special prerogative allowed only to kings who were descendants of Dovid Hamelech (Sotah 41a). The king recited a brocha as we do before the reading when we receive an aliyah. He was the only person to receive an aliyah for this reading, and he himself read the Torah. After the reading, he recited a series of eight brachos (Sotah 40b-41a).

Date of hakheil

When exactly is hakheil performed?

Actually, there are two versions of the Mishnah as to exactly on which date hakheil took place. According to the more common text, hakheil was performed on the first day of chol hamoed Sukkos, or, in the words of the Mishnah, motza’ei Yom Tov harishon shel chag, the sixteenth of Tishrei (which corresponds to the second day of Yom Tov in chutz la’aretz). However, there is another text that reads motza’ei Yom Tov ha’acharon shel chag (cited by Yerushalmi, Sotah, and Rashi, Megillah 5a). According to this text, hakheil occurred on isru chag, the day after Yom Tov, the 23rd of Tishrei. (This date corresponds to the date celebrated in chutz la’aretz as Simchas Torah.) From the wording of the Rambam (Hilchos Chagigah 3:1), it appears that one could fulfill the mitzvah either way, although he rules that one should perform hakheil at the beginning of Chol Hamoed.

Hakheil on Shabbos

The Mishnah (Megillah 5a) notes that sometimes hakheil was postponed. When and why was it postponed? The Gemara Yerushalmi and Rashi explain that when the preferred day for hakheil (which was the day after either the first or last day of Sukkos) fell on Shabbos, hakheil was postponed to the next day.

But, check your calendar — neither the second day of Sukkos, the 16th of Tishrei, nor the 23rd of Tishrei can ever fall on Shabbos! Since this can occur only if Rosh Hashanah were to fall on a Friday, this violates the calendar rule of lo adu rosh, that the first day of Rosh Hashanah can never fall on Sunday, Wednesday or Friday.

The answer to this question is historical. The mitzvah of hakheil was observed while the Beis Hamikdash stood, which was prior to the establishment of our current calendar. Our contemporary Jewish calendar was instituted by Hillel Hanasi, the great-grandson of Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi (not to be confused with Hillel Hazakein, who was their ancestor), about 250 years after the destruction of the second Beis Hamikdash (Rambam, Hilchos Kiddush Hachodesh 5:3). In our current calendar, the second day of Sukkos cannot fall on Shabbos. However, prior to Hillel Hanasi, the Jewish calendar was determined by the Sanhedrin, and Rosh Hashanah, Sukkos and all other holidays could fall on any day of the week. When Rosh Hashanah and Sukkos fell on Friday, the first day of chol hamoed and isru chag in Eretz Yisroel would fall on Shabbos. It is this situation that the Mishnah is discussing.

Never on Saturday

Why was hakheil not observed on Shabbos?

Several reasons are provided:

  1. As I mentioned above, to help the people hear the recital of hakheil, a platform from which the king read the Torah was constructed in the Beis Hamikdash. This platform could not be constructed on Shabbos or Yom Tov. Furthermore, were they to construct it before it was needed, it would have gotten in the way of the crowds that attended the Beis Hamikdash on the yomim tovim. Therefore, if the first day of chol hamoed fell on Shabbos, hakheil was postponed to Sunday, so that the platform could be built that day (Yerushalmi, Megillah 1:4, quoted by Rashi, Megillah 5a).
  2. Another opinion, also quoted in the above-mentioned passage of Talmud Yerushalmi, contends that hakheil was postponed from Shabbos so that the bugles could be blown.
  3. A third reason is that the people were required to carry their young children to hakheil, which they would have been unable to do on Shabbos (Rashi, Megillah 5a).

Who is obligated to attend hakheil?

The Torah states clearly that “Men, women and children” are obligated in hakheil. Even someone who does not understand any Hebrew is obligated to join the assembly for hakheil (Rambam, Hilchos Chagigah 3:6). Nevertheless, not all men and women are obligated to make the trip to Yerushalayim to hear hakheil. The mitzvah of hakheil does not obligate people who are exempt because of medical reasons from the mitzvah of re’eiah — the commandment incumbent on all Jewish male adults to come to the Beis Hamikdash and offer korbanos on the three regalim (Pesach, Shevuos, and Sukkos). Therefore, the elderly, the ill, someone who has difficulty walking, one who cannot hear (even if only out of one ear), and someone who cannot see (even if only out of one eye) — all of whom are exempt from the mitzvah of re’eiah — are exempt from hakheil (Rambam, Hilchos Chagigah 2:1, 3:2). Many authorities rule that someone who does not own land in Eretz Yisroel is similarly exempt from hakheil (Turei Even, Chagigah 3a s.v. Kedei). However, the Rambam rules that this is not a factor, and that someone who does not own land in Eretz Yisroel is required to observe hakheil.

Someone who is tamei is exempt from coming to hakheil, and, indeed, is forbidden to do so, since he is forbidden to enter the Beis Hamikdash where hakheil was held (Rambam, Hilchos Chagigah 2:1, 3:2).

There is a major difference between the various categories of exemptions from hakheil. People excused from the mitzvah for medical reasons may perform the mitzvah, and if they do so, they will be rewarded as einam metzuvim ve’osim, those who perform a mitzvah that they are not obligated to perform. However, someone who is tamei is forbidden to participate in hakheil, since doing so would cause him to violate the sanctity of the Beis Hamikdash. He should try to make himself tahor as soon as possible.

Unfortunately, in our day, it is very common for people to desecrate this sanctity, as there are groups actively involved in causing and encouraging Jews to ascend Har Habayis, notwithstanding the halachic prohibitions involved.

Which children should hear?

There is a dispute among the acharonim whether every child is required to be brought to hear hakheil, or only children who, when they become adults, will be obligated in the mitzvah. According to this latter opinion, held by the highly respected author of the classic work, Shaagas Aryeh, one is usually not obligated to bring children to hakheil, unless the child already owns his own real estate in Eretz Yisroel (Turei Even, Chagigah 3a s.v. Kedei). However, other, later authorities contend that one is required to bring any minor to the hakheil ceremony (Minchas Chinuch, Mitzvah 612). Indications are that a much earlier authority, the Rambam, held in accordance with the second approach.

House of David?

Could the reading of the hakheil be recited by anyone other than a king of the House of Dovid? The explanation I shared above to interpret Yehudah’s blessing in parshas Vayechi suggests that the hakheil reading could be done by Dovid and his descendants.

However, this approach runs contradictory both to a Mishnah and to a passage of Gemara. The Mishnah teaches that when Agrippas, who was not a descendant of David, was king over the Jews, he read hakheil, although he read it while standing, because he was not of David’s royal line (Sotah 41a). This demonstrates that a Jewish king not from David’s dynasty could read hakheil. Thus, hakheil was performed during the entire period of the second Beis Hamikdash, notwithstanding that there was no king descended from Dovid Hamelech.

Moreover, the following passage of Talmud Yerushalmi implies that someone not descended from malchus beis Dovid could read hakheil, even when there is a king from David’s dynasty!

“Rabbi Yosi ben Yaakov said: Yeravam became king over the Kingdom of Israel in the year after shemittah. He realized that should he arrive in Yerushalayim and demand the honor due him as king, the local gentry of Yerushalayim would contend that the local king (Rechavam, the son of Shelomoh) comes first. Yeravam then said: ‘If I read second, I will feel mortified, and if I do not read at all, it will be a public humiliation. If I allow the people to go on their own to Yerushalayim, they will accept Rechavam, Shelomoh’s son, as king.’ What did Yeravam do? He constructed two golden calves” (Yerushalmi, Avodah Zarah 1:1; see also Sanhedrin 101b). This passage of Yerushalmi explains the events of Melachim I 12-27.

Yeravam was not from the tribe of Yehudah, and yet the Gemara implies that, even with Rechavam, David’s grandson, as Jewish monarch, it would have been appropriate for Yeravam to have read part of the hakheil.

Thus, from the Mishnah and this passage of Gemara we see mitzvas hakheil could be fulfilled even when the Torah was read by someone other than a king descended from Yehudah (Minchas Chinuch).

By the way, the Talmud Bavli (Sanhedrin 101b) recounts the story of Yeravam with a slightly variant version: “We have a tradition that no one may sit in the Azarah area of the Beis Hamikdash but kings who are descended from Yehudah. When the people see Rechavam sitting in the Azarah while I am standing, they will say that he is the king and I am his subject. If, on the other hand, I sit down, they will kill me for rebelling against his monarchy.”

Too distant

As mentioned above, almost all of the Jewish people came to hakheil. The number of people was vast, and the king’s voice could carry only so far. How did the people hear him, in the days before the invention of a microphone?

The answer is that one was required to strive to hear the king to the best of one’s ability. If you tried as hard as you could, and you could not hear the reading, you fulfilled the mitzvah (Lechem Mishneh, Hilchos Chagigah 3:6 and Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 1:32).

Is hakheil one mitzvah or two?

We are all aware that the Torah commanded the Jewish people to observe 613 mitzvos. These mitzvos are listed by many different early authorities, and, in many instances, there are disputes among them as to what qualifies as a mitzvah, or how to count them. In the case of hakheil, there is a dispute whether hakheil should be counted as one or as two of the 613 mitzvos. According to many authorities, hakheil is counted as two of the 613 mitzvos. One mitzvah is that it is incumbent upon the king (or other leader) to read the Torah, as described above. The other mitzvah is for the Jews to assemble – thus requiring each individual member of the Jewish people to make sure that he attends the hakheil service, and to bring along his children (Behag, Yerei’im). According to the Rambam’s opinion, both of these aspects of the mitzvah are included under the heading of one mitzvah (Rambam, Chinuch, Semag). In other words, there is a mitzvah for the individuals of the Jewish community to perform hakheil, with each individual having a different aspect of the mitzvah to observe. The king is required to do the reading, whereas the individual members of klal Yisroel have a requirement to attend and to listen.


As Rav Hirsch notes (Commentary, Devorim 31:11), the mitzvah of hakheil is not intended to teach people the basic laws of the Torah. Rather, its special purpose is to have the nation’s supreme representative develop in our people an awareness of the goals of Hashem’s nation. When the king, the “political leader,” led the religious ceremony of reading from the Torah, it reinforced to the whole nation the idea that the Torah is our guiding light.


Contemporary Mechir Kelev Questions

Question #1: Practical applications of Mechir Kelev


“Are there any practical applications of the mitzvos of esnan zonah and mechir kelev that apply before the Beis Hamikdash is rebuilt?”

Question #2: Unusual Rashi

Stew Dent asked me the following question:

“Someone told me that there is a comment of Rashi in this week’s parshah that does not follow the accepted halachah. Is this true? Why would Rashi explain a pasuk not according to the accepted halachah?”

Question #3: Doug from the Outback

Doug, originally from the Outback, asked one of the most unusual questions of my rabbinic career:

“Rabbi, I am a recent baal teshuvah, and I discovered that the Torah prohibits offering a korban of an animal that was once exchanged for a dog. Although this problem should not be germane when we have no Beis Hamikdash, I believe I created such a problem, and I want to rectify the situation. I grew up in a rural area, where my folks still live. They own sheep and other livestock. My folks, like all their neighbors, own watchdogs, sheep dogs, and a few pet dogs, one of which, Charlie, was always regarded as mine. A neighbor’s child had taken a liking to Charlie, and, before I left home for yeshivah in Israel, I wanted to give Charlie to the neighbor, figuring that this child would provide Charlie with a good, loving home, and plenty of attention. My neighbor insisted on giving us something in return for Charlie – a yearling lamb — which I accepted.

“Although I understand that I did nothing wrong in exchanging Charlie for a lamb, I also understand that this lamb is no longer kosher for a korban. I am concerned that this lamb may get confused with the other lambs and sheep on Dad’s ranch, and then none of them will be usable for korbanos. May I have them brand the lamb, so that it does not get confused with the other lambs on the ranch? After all, it would be nice to be a purveyor of animals for korbanos in the rebuilt Beis Hamikdash!”


I am quite certain that I have not been asked previously about the mitzvah of mechir kelev, which is mentioned in this week’s parshah. To quote the Torah:

Lo savi esnan zonah umechir kelev beis Hashem Elokecha lechol neder, ki so’avas Hashem Elokecha gam sheneihem, “You shall not bring the gift of a harlot or something exchanged for a dog to the house of Hashem your G-d as a donation, for both of them are despicable to Hashem, your G-d (Devarim 23:19). The animal, or item, bartered for a dog is called mechir kelev, and this term is also used to describe the prohibition. Before answering the above questions, we need to discuss the basic laws of this mitzvah.

If someone exchanged a dog for a lamb, a calf, or some doves, none of these animals may be used any longer as korbanos; and the same is true if he exchanged a dog for flour, wine or oil: they may no longer be used for korbanos (Temurah 30b).

However, the prohibition applies only to the actual item that was exchanged for a dog. If someone sold a dog, and then used the cash to purchase a lamb, this lamb may see service as a korban (see Temurah 30b; Aruch Hashulchan He’asid 56:18).

Shinuy – the item changed

What if the original exchanged item has undergone major modification? Is there still a prohibition of mechir kelev?

The Gemara (Temurah 30b) records a dispute between Beis Shammai and Beis Hillel whether an esnan zonah or a mechir kelev that underwent a permanent physical change is still prohibited to be used as a korban. According to Beis Hillel, only an esnan zonah or a mechir kelev that appears as it originally did, or could be converted back to its original appearance, is prohibited, but not if it has been processed into a different form (see Minchas Chinuch 571; Aruch Hashulchan He’asid 56:23). Thus, for example, if grain, grapes or olives were used either as an esnan zonah or as a mechir kelev, and then the grain was ground into flour, the grapes were pressed into wine or the olives were crushed into oil, the resultant flour, wine and oil may be used for korbanos, since they have undergone a permanent transformation. This change is called a shinuy.

Beis Shammai disagrees, contending that a transformation, even a permanent one, does not remove the stigma of the item being an esnan zonah or a mechir kelev. This approach contends that grain, grapes or olives used as an esnan zonah or a mechir kelev remain prohibited forever as korbanos, even after they have been processed into flour, wine or oil.

What is the basis of the dispute between Beis Hillel and Beis Shammai? It is based on a dispute regarding how one understands the end of our verse: Lo savi esnan zonah umechir kelev beis Hashem Elokecha lechol neder, ki so’avas Hashem Elokecha gam sheneihem. The Gemara (Temurah 30b) notes that the words gam sheneihem, literally, “for both of them,” appear to be redundant, which provides basis for deriving halachos from the seemingly extra words of the Torah. Both Beis Shammai and Beis Hillel interpret the word them in the verse to mean that the offspring of a ewe or cow that became an esnan zonah or a mechir kelev may be offered as a korban – the stigma of esnan zonah or mechir kelev is restricted to the animal that was, itself, presented as a gift or exchanged, not to its offspring. The offspring is permitted, unless the original “business deal” of esnan zonah or mechir kelev specified that the unborn offspring was included in the transaction of the esnan zonah or the mechir kelev (Minchas Chinuch 571; Aruch Hashulchan He’asid 56:23).

Beis Shammai explains that the additional word gam, “for,” expands the items included in the prohibition of esnan zonah and mechir kelev to teach that even if the original esnan zonah or mechir kelev became transformed permanently, it remains prohibited. Thus, Beis Shammai derives from the word gam that the grain, grapes or olives used as an esnan zonah or a mechir kelev remain prohibited as korbanos, even after they have been processed into flour, wine or oil.

Beis Hillel, on the other hand, holds that the word them in the verse teaches both that the offspring of an esnan zonah or mechir kelev mother may be used as a korban and that an esnan zonah or a mechir kelev that underwent a change become permitted as a korban. Thus, Beis Hillel derives two laws from one extra word of the verse, and no law from the other extra word, which is unusual. The Gemara notes this difficulty with Beis Hillel’s approach, but does not resolve it. Nevertheless, the authorities assume that the halachah is in accordance with the opinion of Beis Hillel, as it usually is (Rambam, Hilchos Issurei Mizbeiach 4:18).

An obscure Rashi

At this point, I would like to examine Stew Dent’s question, quoted at the beginning of our article:

“Someone told me that there is a passage of Rashi in this week’s parshah that does not follow the accepted halachah. Is this true? Why would Rashi explain a pasuk not according to the accepted halachah?”

Rashi explains that the word gam teaches that if someone gave wheat as an esnan zonah or a mechir kelev and it was then processed into flour, the prohibition remains intact, and the flour cannot be offered as a korban. Thus, Rashi explains the verse in a way that follows Beis Shammai’s opinion. The Ramban questions how Rashi can explain the verse in accordance with Beis Shammai, when the halachic conclusion follows Beis Hillel.

One of the answers provided to explain Rashi’s opinion allows much food for thought. The Mizrachi contends that Rashi follows Beis Shammai’s opinion since the Gemara raises a question on Beis Hillel’s opinion that it does not resolve. Thus, Beis Shammai’s ruling is the approach that fits the verse with more clarity. According to the Mizrachi, this means that, in this instance, Rashi disputed the halachic conclusion of the other authorities and ruled according to Beis Shammai. Alternatively, Rashi felt it more important to explain the Chumash in a clearer way, regardless of the halachic ramifications (Sifsei Chachamim).

Thus, indeed, Stew’s question is very much in order.

Which of the nineteen?

The Gemara discusses the following case: Reuven owned ten lambs, whereas Shimon owned a dog and nine lambs that were smaller or otherwise less valuable than Reuven’s ten lambs. The two of them agreed to trade Reuven’s ten lambs in exchange for Shimon’s  dog and nine scrawny lambs. The Gemara asks whether any or all of these lambs are now prohibited as mechir kelev.

The Gemara concludes as follows: The nine scrawny lambs that were swapped along with the dog may be used for korbanos, whereas the ten lambs that were received in exchange all qualify now as mechir kelev and are therefore prohibited as korbanos.

Why is this so? The answer is that, since the dog is clearly worth more than any of the lambs, part of the value of the dog was included in the exchange differential when ten more expensive lambs were traded for nine of lesser value. Therefore, each of the ten is considered to have been exchanged, albeit only partially, for a dog, and this is sufficient to confer on them the status of mechir kelev (Temurah 30a). However, the nine scrawnier lambs were never exchanged for a dog – they were on the same side of the deal as the dog.

Similarly, in a case where two brothers divided an estate in such a way that one received a lamb while his brother received a dog, the lamb is now considered a mechir kelev, prohibited for a korban (Temurah 30a).

What is prohibited?

Someone who shechted (slaughtered) either an esnan zonah or a mechir kelev as a korban, or performed zerikah or haktarah, putting parts of these animals on the mizbeiach, the altar, is subject to the punishment of malkus for violating the Torah’s prohibition (Minchas Chinuch 571).

It is curious to note that, although one may not offer an esnan zonah or a mechir kelev as a korban, someone who declares them to be a korban does not violate any technical prohibition of the Torah. Furthermore, it is permitted to declare these animals as property of the Beis Hamikdash (bedek habayis), in which case, the treasurers of the Beis Hamikdash sell the esnan zonah or the mechir kelev and use the money for repairs in the Beis Hamikdash. This is permitted, since the esnan zonah or the mechir kelev will not be used for a korban.

One prohibition or two?

Are esnan zonah and mechir kelev two different prohibitions, lo saaseh commandments, of the 613 mitzvos of the Torah, or are they counted together as one lo saaseh commandment?

This matter is the subject of a dispute between rishonim. The Rambam contends that esnan zonah and mechir kelev are counted together as one of the 613 mitzvos of the Torah, whereas the Ramban contends that they are counted as two different mitzvos. The practical dispute between them is whether someone who offered both an esnan zonah and a mechir kelev at the same time receives punishment for violating two different offenses of the Torah, which means that he incurs two sets of malkus, or whether he is punished with malkus only once.

Mitzvos other than korbanos

The opening question of our article was: “Are there any practical applications of the mitzvos of esnan zonah and mechir kelev that apply before the Beis Hamikdash is rebuilt?” I would like to first expand this question a bit. Do the mitzvos of esnan zonah and mechir kelev apply to any laws other than korbanos?

The answer is that the prohibitions of esnan zonah and mechir kelev are not restricted to the korbanos offered on the mizbeiach in the Beis Hamikdash, but extend to several other mitzvos of the Torah. For example, one may not bring bikkurim, brought of the seven types of produce for which Eretz Yisroel is celebrated, from produce that has the status of esnan zonah (Yerushalmi, Bikkurim 1:6; Aruch Hashulchan He’asid 56:22). This is because bikkurim are also brought to the Beis Hamikdash, and the Torah states: “You shall not bring the gift of a harlot or something exchanged for a dog to the house of Hashem, your G-d.”

The mitzvos of esnan zonah and mechir kelev apply also to items used to decorate the Beis Hamikdash itself, such as the gold plate applied to its walls (Temurah 30b). Some authorities contend that a parah adumah may also not be from either an esnan zonah or a mechir kelev, since the Torah calls parah adumah a chatas, a sin offering (Minchas Chinuch 571). There is also discussion about whether an eglah arufah may be from either an esnan zonah or a mechir kelev, since the Torah says that its purpose is to atone, similar to a korban. However, the halachic conclusion is that an esnan zonah or a mechir kelev calf may be used for the mitzvah of eglah arufah (Minchas Chinuch #571).

A shul donation

Do the mitzvos of esnan zonah and mechir kelev have any practical application today? In actuality, there is a halachic ramification of these two mitzvos that is applicable today. The halachah is that the prohibitions of esnan zonah and mechir kelev both apply to an item donated for use in a shul (Rema, Orach Chayim 153:21). This is understood to mean that the Torah’s prohibition “You shall not bring the gift of a harlot or something exchanged for a dog to the house of Hashem, your G-d, as a donation” should be applied to any house of G-d, even a shul or a Beis Medrash. Therefore, a candelabrum or other item that was once exchanged for a dog, cannot be used in a shul or as building material for a shul (Minchas Chinuch 571:2). However, if someone sold a dog for money, the money received may be donated to the shul, since the money itself is not being used.

We are now ready to analyze Doug’s question. Doug correctly noted one of the interesting aspects of mechir kelev: It is permitted to trade something for a dog, yet the item received in exchange becomes prohibited as a korban. This juxtaposes to esnan zonah, which is banned only when the gift was in exchange for an illicit relationship (Temurah 30a).

Korbanos from outside Eretz Yisroel

Doug is also correct that korbanos may be brought from animals from outside of Eretz Yisroel (Parah 2:1; Temurah 21a; Rambam, Hilchos Maasei Hakorbanos 18:1). Therefore, any sheep in Dad’s flock that are unblemished are all valid for korbanos, at least until the introduction of a mechir kelev into their midst.

Went along with the herd

Doug is also correct that if one animal that is a mechir kelev was in a large herd of cattle, and one does not know which one is the mechir kelev, none of the animals in that herd may be offered as korbanos (Mishnah, Temurah 28a). Thus, there is a basis for his concern that the introduction of one mechir kelev could invalidate his father’s entire flock from use for korbanos.


The Sefer Hachinuch explains that although we never know why Hashem commanded us to observe specific mitzvos of the Torah, we can, nevertheless, derive a moral lesson, a taste, of what the mitzvah teaches. The Ramban presents a very nice explanation why the animals acquired by way of esnan zonah and mechir kelev may not be used as korbanos. Often, it happens that a person performs activities that are unacceptable, but feels that he can redeem himself by donating a percentage of his profits to a good, charitable cause. In his mind, he has now justified his misdeeds, because of the mitzvah he performed afterwards. By prohibiting esnan zonah, the Torah demonstrates that this is completely unacceptable. A person must face the sinful nature of his actions and not try to create an excuse with which to cover them up. Similarly, says the Ramban, those who use dogs for hunting and for other ill-advised activities may want to donate their exchanged value as atonement for their own misdeeds. The Torah wants it to be clearly understood that such donations are, themselves, misdeeds and are unacceptable; the perpetrator cannot attempt to hide his sins behind his charitable activities.


What Is a Temurah?

Question: Two Temurahs

“Why does the Torah mention the mitzvah of temurah twice at the end of this week’s parshah, Bechukosay, once at the beginning of Chapter 27 and again at its end?”


The concept of offering korbanos is foreign to us, since, unfortunately, our Beis Hamikdash still remains in ruin and we are neither required nor permitted to offer korbanos anywhere else. Precisely because this topic is so unfamiliar, we should utilize every opportunity to familiarize ourselves with these laws. There are numerous reasons that underscore the importance of this topic, including:

(1) When our Beis Hamikdash is rebuilt — may it be speedily in our days — we will have to know all the laws about offering korbanos.

(2) It is part of the Torah we are required to know, and will also help us better understand this week’s Torah reading.

(3) The concept of uneshalmah parim sefaseinu (Hoshea 14:3), that when we are unable to offer korbanos, our reading and studying these Torah sections fulfills our requirement to offer the korbanos.

(4) There are some very important and little known laws that affect us today. We will soon study them.

What Is Temurah?

Towards the end of this week’s parshah, the Torah mentions a very unusual concept called temurah. Someone who had consecrated an animal to be his korban subsequently changes his mind and decides to substitute a different animal for the korban. By doing so, he violates the Torah’s prohibitions of lo yachalifenu velo yamir oso, “do not exchange it and do not substitute in its stead.” The Torah teaches that as a result of his declaration, both animals now have the sanctity of that korban (Vayikra 27:10). This means that the declaration succeeded in creating sanctity on the new animal, but failed to remove the sanctity from the original animal. Now, use of either animal for personal benefit is prohibited min hatorah. The animal that attained sanctity because of the second declaration is itself called a temurah (pl., temuros), so the word temurah refers both to the prohibited act and to the animal that is now affected by that act.

What Happens to the Animal?

What ultimately happens to an animal that has just become a temurah?

Each of the several types of korbanos has specific details as to how it is offered. Consequently, although every temurah animal has sanctity, its status will be determined by the specific korban for which it was dedicated.


One of the most common types of consecrated korbanos is the shelamim, whose name comes from the word shalom, peace. Rashi (Vayikra 3:1) explains two approaches for its name:

(1) The purpose of a shelamim is to bring peace to the world.

(2) The meat of a korban shelamim is divided: most of it is eaten by the owner in Yerushalayim. He may share it with any tahor person he chooses. A portion of the shelamim, the breast meats and the right thigh, is given to the kohen to eat in Yerushalayim and share with whomever he desires. The mizbei’ach (the altar) receives much of the fat of the animal, the kidneys, its diaphragm meat (which butchers often call the “skirt steak”), and a small part of the liver. Thus, “everyone” is made happy by this korban, and it brings peace to the world.

No Gender Discrimination

Shelamim is unique among the commonly consecrated korbanos in that one may offer an animal of either gender of any of the three types of kosher beheimah (domesticated animal — bovines, sheep or goats) and that there is no age restriction once the animal is seven days old. Of the other three main types of common consecrated korbanos, chatas must be female, whereas both olah and asham must be male. Both chatas and asham have other requirements as far as species, and asham has specific age requirements.

Temuras Shelamim

Now that we understand some of the basics of shelamim, our question is what happens to a temuras shelamim. This is the subject of a dispute in the Mishnah (Temurah 17b, 18a), but the halachic conclusion is that a temuras shelamim is treated just as a shelamim. It is offered as a korban and its meat is then divided: part eaten by the kohen and his family, a small part burnt on the mizbei’ach and the majority eaten by its owner.

Temuras Olah

The other very common type of consecrated korban is the olah, which is completely burnt on the mizbei’ach. In the case of olah, both the original korban and its temurah are offered in the Beis Hamikdash with all the details of the appropriate halachos observed. In this way, a temuras olah is treated similarly to temuras shelamim.

There is, however, one case when this cannot be done, which is when the temuras olah is a female animal. Since an olah must be male, the female temurah cannot be offered. This creates a very interesting predicament, since the female now has the sanctity of an olah, yet it cannot be offered as such because of its gender.

To resolve this difficulty, the temurah is sent out to pasture temporarily. The plan is that, left to her own devices, she will eventually develop a blemish that invalidates her as a korban. This requires a bit of explanation:

The Torah requires that all animals offered in the Beis Hamikdash be unblemished. There is an extensive list of physical shortcomings that invalidate an animal from being offered as a korban. For example, an animal whose legs are of uneven length is invalid as a korban, even though the animal is otherwise perfectly healthy. Also, an animal that shows evidence of damage, such as a split lip, is invalid as a korban. A blemish is called a moom and an animal bearing such a blemish is called a baal moom.

In the case of most korbanos, a consecrated animal that has become blemished is redeemed with the redemption money used to purchase a replacement korban. After the baal moom korban is redeemed, it may be slaughtered and eaten, but one may not work it.

This is what happens to a female temuras olah. She is sent out to pasture with the hope that she will eventually develop a moom that will invalidate her as a korban. When that happens, she will be redeemed, the redemption money being used to purchase a new korban olah.

It is prohibited min hatorah to blemish a korban intentionally (Rambam, Hilchos Issurei Mizbei’ach 1:7); however, one may release the animal to the pasture in the hope that it becomes blemished.

Temuras Chatas

There are other instances when one cannot offer the temurah animal in the Beis Hamikdash. For example, both chatas and asham korbanos are offered to atone for specific sins. If someone creates a temurah of either a chatas or an asham, the temurah has sanctity that will preclude its being used any more by the owner, although it will be invalid for offering in the Beis Hamikdash. Exactly what one does with these animals is discussed by the Gemara and the rishonim but includes too many details to discuss in this article.


The temurah of another korban, bechor, has yet a third status. A bechor is a firstborn male animal of a kosher species whose mother is fully owned by a Jew or Jews. An unblemished firstborn male was given to a kohen who brought it as an offering in the Beis Hamikdash. Its meat was eaten by the kohen and his family anywhere in Yerushalayim when they were tahor, and the kohen was able to share it with any tahor person, similar to the laws of a shelamim.

If the bechor is blemished, the halachah is unlike other korbanos, where the blemished animal is redeemed with redemption money that is used to purchase a replacement korban. The owner of a blemished bechor gives the animal to a kohen, who now owns it as his personal property, although he is still forbidden to work the animal and may use it only to slaughter for meat. It is one of the matanos kehunah, the gifts provided to the kohen, so that he can devote himself to his responsibilities as a teacher of the Jewish People. Should the kohen choose to, he may sell it to someone else. There are some other specific laws regarding where it may be slaughtered and how it may be sold, but it may be eaten by anyone, even a person who is tamei.

Temurah of Bechor

We have now seen that the korban of bechor is unusual, in that a blemished bechor loses some of its sanctity as a korban and as a result is slaughtered and eaten. The temurah of a bechor, therefore, also has halachic status different from other temuros. The owner gives the temuras bechor to a kohen, who sends the animal to pasture until it develops a blemish, at which point he may slaughter it and consume it (Mishnah Temurah 21a).

Temuras Maaser

When the Beis Hamikdash stood, every farmer was required to gather all his newborn kosher animals three times a year and send them though the opening of a pen, one at a time. The farmer counted each animal aloud, and marked each tenth animal exiting the pen with a red mark (Mishnah Bechoros, Chapter 9). This tenth animal has the halachic status of maaser, which is a type of korban. One could not work this animal. Instead, the owner was required to bring it to the Beis Hamikdash, where it was offered as a korban. The owner received most of the meat of this korban, which he was required to eat in Yerushalayim.

This korban shares many halachos with the bechor mentioned above. For example, just as a blemished bechor is not redeemed but is slaughtered and eaten, so too, a blemished maaser is slaughtered and eaten.

There is a difference between the bechor and the maaser, in that the owner is required to give the bechor to a kohen, whereas the maaser he keeps for himself.

There is a similarity between the temurah of bechor and that of maaser in that the temurah is not offered, although it, also, may not be worked, but one waits until it develops a blemish, at which point it can be slaughtered and eaten. In the case of maaser, the owner keeps the animal which he now may eat.

With this information, we can now answer the question asked above:

“Why does the Torah mention the mitzvah of temurah twice at the end of this week’s parshah, once at the beginning of Chapter 27 and again at its end?”

Checking the two pesukim, one will see clearly that the first verse (Vayikra 27:10) is addressing temurah of most korbanos, whereas the second verse (Vayikra 27:33) is addressing the temurah of a maaser animal. As Rashi explains on the latter verse, the halachah of temurah for maaser is different from that of other korbanos, which are usually either offered as a korban or redeemed. Whereas it has the sanctity of a korban, the temurah of a maaser prohibits only working the animal. One awaits its developing a blemish, and then slaughters it for its meat.

Who Can Make Temurah?

A person cannot create a temurah unless he is the owner of a korban. This means that if Jerry walks down the street one day and decides that he wants to substitute a different animal for Yosef’s korban, no temurah has happened. Yosef has to make the temurah for his own korban, or, alternatively, authorize someone to make temurah on his korban.

Who Is the “Owner” of a Korban?

Technically, the person who creates the temurah does not have to be the person who originally declared the animal to be a korban, although temurah can be declared only with the authority of the “owner” of the korban, meaning the person who is to benefit from its offering. If one person declared an animal to be a korban for the benefit of another, it is the beneficiary of the korban who is considered its “owner,” not the donor. Therefore, if the beneficiary of the korban subsequently decided to substitute a different animal, he will violate temurah and both animals will become sanctified, whereas if the donor did so, he did not violate temurah, and only the original animal has the sanctity of the korban. In the latter case, the replacement animal has no sanctity at all and can be worked with or used as one chooses.

Temurah on Birds?

The laws of temurah apply only to animal korbanos and not to korbanos of birds or of flour (Mishnah Temurah 13a). Therefore, if someone who has turtledoves set aside for his offerings decided to substitute something, whether a bird, an animal or anything else for the turtledoves, he has not violated the prohibition of creating temurah. Since the declaration was totally ineffective, the original turtledoves will be offered and the substitute animal or bird has no sanctity whatsoever.

Unusual Temurah Laws

There are several curious aspects to the laws of temurah and sanctifying offerings. One can create a temurah only when the original offering is owned by an individual, but not when it is a communal offering (korban tzibur) or even when it is a korban owned by two or more partners (Mishnah Temurah 13a). Notwithstanding the fact that one cannot make such a temurah, the Rambam (Hilchos Temurah 1:1) rules that one who attempts to substitute an animal for a communal korban violates the Torah’s prohibition and incurs the punishment of malkus. Nevertheless, since the temurah is completely ineffective, the new animal has no sanctity whatsoever. (The original animal is also, of course, not affected, and it is offered as the korban for which it was intended.)

Multiple Temurah

Someone can even create several temurah animals at the same time. For example, if the owner tried to remove the sanctity of the original animal by substituting two or more animals in its place, all the new animals become consecrated as korbanos, and the original animal still retains its korban status (Mishnah Temurah 9a).

Negligent Temurah

One of the interesting laws of temurah is that someone can create temurah even though he did not intentionally violate the Torah’s prohibition (Temurah 17a; Rambam, Hilchos Temurah 1:2; Tosafos, Temurah 2a s.v. Ha). For example, someone who did not realize that temurah is prohibited will still have created two animals that are holy.

Minor Temurah

Here is another unusual aspect to the laws of Temurah. The Gemara teaches that, under certain circumstances, an eleven-year-old girl or a twelve-year-old boy can declare an animal to have the sanctity of a korban, provided that he or she is the owner of the animal (Temurah 2b). This is true even though they are halachically minors and not obligated to observe mitzvos.

The Gemara (2b) discusses whether a minor who can consecrate a korban can also create a temurah. This is highly surprising; a minor cannot violate the prohibition of creating temurah, one would think that he cannot create a temurah either. Evidently, the creation of a temurah is not dependent on violating the prohibition of temurah.


Do we live with a burning desire to see the Beis Hamikdash rebuilt speedily in our days? Studying the halachos of the korbanos should help us develop our sensitivity and desire to see the Beis Hamikdash again in all its glory. May we soon merit seeing the kohanim offering all the korbanos in the Beis Hamikdash in purity and sanctity and Klal Yisrael in our rightful place in Eretz Yisrael as a light unto the nations!

The Nine Days

The Mishnah teaches that “Mishenichnas Av mema’atim b’simchah,” “When Av enters, we decrease our happiness,” (Taanis 26b). Although the Mishnah does not clarify exactly how we demonstrate our decreased happiness, the Gemara (Yevamos 43a) includes four activities that are banned: (1) one should decrease one’s business activities, (2) one should refrain from construction and planting intended for joyous reasons (Yerushalmi Taanis, cited by Tosafos to Yevamos 43a s.v. Milisa), (3) one should not conduct weddings and (4) one should not make a festive meal to celebrate an engagement. (This is the interpretation of the Gemara as explained by the Tur Orach Chayim 551 and by the Ramban in Toras Ha’adam; cf. Rashi ad loc., who explains the Gemara differently.)


The Mishnah Berurah rules that any construction not necessary for one’s dwelling, but performed for expansion, is prohibited (551:12). Similarly, an improvement to the appearance of a house such as painting, hanging new drapes, wall papering and all house decorating cannot be done during the Nine Days (Piskei Teshuvos). Gardening to enhance the appearance of the property is also forbidden. However, it is permitted to weed, water or mow the lawn during the Nine Days, since these activities are not for enhancement. It is also permitted to plant and maintain a vegetable garden during the Nine Days.


While writing this article, I was asked the following shaylah: A family is expanding their residence to accommodate an additional apartment for a married daughter and her family. For the apartment to be ready on schedule, the contractor needs to work during the Nine Days. Is this permitted? It would seem that it is permitted to do this expansion during the Nine Days, since its purpose is to provide normal living accommodations, and not for enhancement.


Renovations and enhancements for purposes of a mitzvah are permitted during the Nine Days. Therefore, it is permitted to beautify and enhance a shul, yeshivah, or mikvah building or grounds during the Nine Days (Rama 551:3). All repair work on existing structures is permitted during the Nine Days (Shulchan Aruch 551:1).


There is a halachic difference between a non-Jew working as a Jew’s employee, or as a contractor who is paid for the job. One may not hire a non-Jewish employee to do work that a Jew himself may not do. However, a non-Jewish contractor may build an addition on a Jew’s property during the Nine Days (see Bach; Eliyahu Rabbah; Mishnah Berurah). One should offer the contractor some financial compensation to refrain from working on your property during the Nine Days, but one is not required to offer a significant amount of money to get him to wait until after Tisha B’Av (Mishnah Berurah).


The Talmud Yerushalmi cites an early custom not to weave during the Nine Days. The reason for this custom is fascinating. The Hebrew word for “warp” (the lengthwise threads on a loom) is “shesi.” This word reminds us of the “shesiyah” stone, which is the foundation stone of the world on which the aron rested in the Beis HaMikdash. In order to remind ourselves that the Beis HaMikdash was destroyed, we refrain from weaving during the Nine Days (cited by the Tur and Shulchan Aruch 551:8).


One may not wear new clothes during the Nine Days, nor may one tailor or purchase new clothes or shoes (Shulchan Aruch 551:6-7). Similarly, it is prohibited to dry clean clothes or iron them (Shulchan Aruch 551:3). We also refrain from changing tablecloths, towels, and bed linens (Shulchan Aruch 551:3). However, it is permitted to repair shoes and clothes during the Nine Days (Piskei Teshuvos 551:ftn. 157). Although the Mishnah and the Gemara (Taanis 26b and 29b) prohibit doing laundry and wearing freshly laundered clothing only from the Motza’ei Shabbos preceding Tisha B’Av, the Ashkenazic custom is to refrain from Rosh Chodesh (Rama 551:3). Because we do not wear freshly laundered clothes during the Nine Days, one should prepare before Rosh Chodesh sufficient clothing already worn since it was last laundered. Towels should also be used at least once before Rosh Chodesh in order to allow their use during the Nine Days. If one’s clothing becomes sweaty or soiled during the Nine Days, one is permitted to change into clean clothes (see Aruch HaShulchan 389:7). It is permitted to launder children’s clothes and linens until the Shabbos before Tisha B’Av (Mishnah Berurah 551:82, quoting Chayei Odom). There is a dispute among poskim until what age this applies. The Rama is lenient and implies that one may launder all children’s clothing, whereas several later poskim are stricter (see Piskei Teshuvos ftn. 232, and Chanoch Lanaar, 21:2). It is permitted to spot-clean a garment if one is concerned that the stain will set. Furthermore, it is permitted to soak a garment that is dirty without completing its laundering in order to make it easier to clean after Tisha B’Av (Piskei Teshuvos 511:18).


If I am forbidden to use freshly laundered bed linens during the Nine Days, what do I do if I am staying in a hotel or as a guest in someone’s home during the Nine Days? May I use the freshly laundered sheets? The poskim permit guests to use fresh bed linens, since most people are very uncomfortable using unlaundered bed linens slept on by someone else (Shu”t Minchas Yitzchak 10:44; Shu”t Tzitz Eliezer 13:61). The Minchas Yitzchak suggests dirtying the linens on the floor a little before using them. Depending on circumstances, one might also be able to bring one’s own used linens. In any instance, one should instruct the hotel not to change the linens once he has used them (until after Tisha B’Av) since the basis to be lenient no longer applies.


The Gemara does not mention any prohibition regarding bathing during the Nine Days. To quote the Ran, “Washing one’s body is permitted whether in hot water or cold – and even the entire body – for Chazal only prohibited washing on Tisha B’Av itself. However, meticulous people have the custom not to bathe the entire week.” On the other hand, the Tur, quoting Avi Ezri, writes that the widespread custom is to forbid bathing from Rosh Chodesh until after Tisha B’Av. Furthermore, he states that one who violates this custom is in violation of “al titosh toras imecha,” – do not forsake the teaching of your mother, here referring to the customs of the Jewish people. The Shulchan Aruch records two customs; one to refrain from bathing from Rosh Chodesh and the second to refrain only during the week of Tisha B’Av. The accepted Ashkenazic custom is to not bathe for pleasure during the entire Nine Days, but bathing for hygienic and health purposes is permitted. A rav should be consulted as to when and how this applies.


In the times of chazal, the memories of the Beis HaMikdash were still very fresh and a shorter period of mourning was a sufficient reminder. Unfortunately, with the golus continuing for so long, we require a longer period of mourning to bring us into the frame of mind of mourning for the loss of the Beis HaMikdash.


One may not wear Shabbos clothes or other unusually nice clothing during the weekdays of the Nine Days. (In most places, the custom is to wear Shabbos clothes on Shabbos Chazon.) A notable exception is that the celebrants of a bris are permitted to wear Shabbos clothes, since for them the mitzvah is a bit of a Yom Tov. In some places, the accepted custom is that they do not do so when the bris falls between Shabbos Chazon and Tisha B’Av.


According to all opinions, the baby’s parents, the sandek, the mohel, and the woman who brings the baby to the bris (the kvaterin) may wear Shabbos clothes (Rama 551:1). Other opinions extend this heter to include the grandparents and other relatives (Shaarei Teshuvah end of 551:3; see also Piskei Teshuvos), as well as the people who are honored with placing the baby on the kisei shel Eliyahu, those who bring the baby closer to the bris (“cheika”), and the man who functions as the kvatter (Eliyah Rabbah). One should ask one’s rav for directions as to what to do. (Incidentally, this discussion is a source on which the ruling that family members attending a bris the rest of the year should wear Shabbos clothes is based!)


Although the Gemara prohibits eating meat and drinking wine only on the day before Tisha B’Av, the accepted Ashkenazic practice is to refrain from eating meat and drinking wine or grape juice from Rosh Chodesh. (Many Sefardim permit eating meat on Rosh Chodesh itself, while others permit this until the Motzei Shabbos before Tisha B’Av.) Early poskim rule that someone who ignores this minhag violates the prohibition of “al titosh toras imecha,” (Mordechai Taanis #639). In addition, some poskim rule that a person who eats meat or drinks wine during the Nine Days violates a Torah law, since the Jewish people have accepted this custom as a vow (Aruch HaShulchan 551:23). IF A MOURNER IS PERMITTED TO EAT MEAT, WHY IS ONE NOT PERMITTED TO EAT MEAT DURING THE NINE DAYS?

This is a very good question. Indeed, the halachos of mourning do not prohibit a mourner from eating meat or drinking wine. The reason one refrains from eating meat and drinking wine during the Nine Days is to remind one of the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash, where Hashem was served by offering korbanos of meat and wine. This reason does not apply to mourning for the loss of a close relative. An alternative reason given is that the mourning of the Nine Days is so one does not forget the loss of the Beis HaMikdash, and by forgoing meat and wine, we are more likely to remember this loss (Tur Orach Chayim 552). A mourner will not forget his loss during the week of shivah, and therefore there is no need to forbid meat as a reminder. It is permitted to eat meat at a seudas mitzvah such as on Shabbos or at a bris, pidyon haben, or siyum. People who would usually attend the seudah may join and eat meat. During the week of Tisha B’Av, only a small number of people may eat fleishig at a seudas mitzvah. For example, eating fleishig is restricted to close family members, the sandek and mohel, and an additional minyan of people. A sick person is permitted to eat meat during the Nine Days. Similarly, someone who has a digestive disorder but can tolerate poultry may eat poultry during the Nine Days. Also, a woman who is nursing or pregnant and is having difficulty obtaining enough protein in her diet may eat poultry or meat during the Nine Days. In these situations, it is preferable for her to eat poultry rather than meat, if that will satisfy her protein needs (Aruch HaShulchan 551:26). A person who eats meat because he is ill or attending a seudas mitzvah will not violate either the vow discussed above or “al titosh” because klal Yisroel accepted the minhag of not eating meat with these exceptions in mind (Aruch HaShulchan 551:26).


One may serve meat at a siyum where the completion of the learning coincides with the Nine Days and where one would usually serve a festive fleishig meal. One should not deliberately rush or slow down the learning in order to have a fleishig siyum during the Nine Days (Eliyah Rabbah 551:26; Mishnah Berurah 551:73; Aruch HaShulchan 551:28). However, it is permitted to deliberately schedule a seder of learning in advance so that its siyum falls during the Nine Days if this will encourage more Torah to be learned (Aruch HaShulchan 551:28). Some poskim record that they deliberately delayed siyumim that fell during the Nine Days and celebrated them after Tisha B’Av (Aruch HaShulchan 551:28). One may not eat fleishig leftovers of a seudas mitzvah during the Nine Days (Eliyah Rabbah 551:26; Mishnah Berurah 551:73). Incidentally, one sees from these sources that a bris should be celebrated with a fleishig meal, because if not, why are allowances made to eat meat at a seudas bris during the Nine Days? This proves that the seudas bris is not complete without serving fleishigs.


Yes, it is permitted to use wine vinegar since it tastes totally different from wine (Rama 551:9). It is also permitted to drink beer, whiskey and other alcoholic beverages during the Nine Days (see Rama 551:11).


In general, it is a mitzvah of kavod Shabbos to taste the food being cooked for Shabbos to make sure that it tastes good (Magen Avraham 250:1, quoting Kisvei Ari). On Erev Shabbos during the Nine Days, one may also taste the food. However, one should try not to swallow food containing meat ingredients (Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasah 42:61). No bracha is recited when tasting a small amount of food, unless one swallows it (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 210:2).


In general, it is not permitted to feed children meat during the Nine Days, including erev Shabbos. Rav Moshe Feinstein ruled that if the children are fed their Shabbos evening meal before the rest of the family has accepted Shabbos, one may feed them meat at this meal because this is their Shabbos meal (Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 4:21:4).


One recites Havdalah on wine or grape juice. If a young child present is old enough to make brachos but not old enough to understand that we do not eat meat during the Nine Days, that child should drink the Havdalah cup. If there is no such child available, the person reciting Havdalah should drink the wine or grape juice himself.


Rav Moshe Feinstein ruled that one may not, since it is not a universal practice to have a fleishig melava malka (Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 4:21:4).


A person who recites a bracha on meat and then realizes that it is the Nine Days, should eat a little of the meat so that his bracha is not in vain, a bracha levatalah. Eating a tiny bit does not provide any simcha and therefore does not conflict with mourning (Sdei Chemed 5:278:5 and 5:368:4). Furthermore, the person is eating the meat only in order to avoid reciting a bracha in vain.

MAY ONE EAT FLEISHIG SOUP DURING THE NINE DAYS? Although it is a dispute among poskim whether this is prohibited, Ashkenazim are strict not to eat soup made with meat or chicken. However, it is permitted to eat food cooked in a fleishig pot that contains only pareve ingredients (Mishnah Berurah 511:63).


The Gemara (Taanis 29b) teaches that a Jew who has litigation with a non-Jew should avoid scheduling the adjudication during Av, since this is a month in which the mazel for Jews is bad. Should one avoid litigation for the entire month, or only until after Tisha B’Av? Some poskim assume that one should avoid litigation the entire month of Av because the entire month has the same mazel (Magen Avraham). Other poskim rule, however, that the bad mazel is only until the 10th of Av, when the mourning period for Tisha B’Av ends, or until the 15th, which is considered a Yom Tov. The Chasam Sofer (commentary to Shulchan Aruch) explains that Av has two different mazelos, one before Tisha B’Av and another one afterwards. While the earlier mazel is bad for the Jews, after Tisha B’Av a new mazel begins that is good for the Jews. Thus according to these opinions, there is no problem with scheduling the litigation for shortly after Tisha B’Av.


The Midrash (Midrash Rabbah, Shmos 15:21) teaches that Hashem will bring forth ten new creations in the era of Moshiach: 1. He will create a new light for the world. 2. He will bring forth a freshwater spring from Yerushalayim whose waters will heal all illness. 3. He will create trees that every month will produce new fruits that have curative powers. 4. All the cities of Eretz Yisroel will be rebuilt, including even Sodom and Amora. 5. Hashem will rebuild Yerushalayim with sapphire stone that will glow and thereby attract all the nations of the world to come and marvel at the beauty of the city. 6. The cow and the bear will graze together, and their young will play together. (See Yeshaya 11:7). 7. Hashem will make a covenant with all the creatures of the world and banish all weapons and warfare. (See Hoshea 2:20.) 8. There will be no more crying in the city of Yerushalayim. 9. Death will perish forever. 10. Everyone will be joyful, and there will be an end to all sighing or worry. The Kaf HaChayim (551:1) states that everyone who meticulously observes the halachos of the first ten days of Av, thereby demonstrating his personal mourning over the churban of Yerushalayim, will merit to witness these ten miracles. May we all merit to see these miracles speedily and in our days.

Can We Offer the Korban Pesach without the Beis HaMikdash?

In the year 5017 (1257), several hundred Baalei Tosafos, led by Rav Yechiel of Paris, headed for Eretz Yisroel. A younger contemporary, Rav Ashtori HaParchi, the author of Kaftor VaFerech, records a fascinating story (Vol. 1, page 101 in the 5757 edition). The Kaftor VaFerech had gone to Yerushalayim to have his sefer reviewed by a talmid chacham named Rav Baruch. Rav Baruch told the Kaftor VaFerech that Rav Yechiel had planned to offer korbanos upon arriving in Yerushalayim. Kaftor VaFerech records that at the time he was preoccupied readying his sefer for publication and did not think about the halachic issues involved, but after the pressures of his publishing deadline passed, he realized that there were practical halachic problems with Rav Yechiel’s plan, as we will discuss shortly.

It seems that Rav Yechiel’s plan to offer korbanos failed, presumably because Yerushalayim was under Crusader rule at the time. His community of Baalei Tosafos settled in Acco, as we know from a report of the Ramban about ten years later. (The Ramban reports that he spent Rosh HaShanah that year with the community of the Baalei Tosafos in Acco and delivered to them a drasha that was recorded for posterity. This is quoted in Kisvei HaRamban, Vol. 1 pg. 211.)

Let us fast forward to the early nineteenth century. Rav Tzvi Hersh Kalisher, the rav of Thorn, Germany, who had studied as a youth in the yeshivos headed by Rabbi Akiva Eiger and the Nesivos HaMishpat (Rav Yaakov of Lisa), published a sefer advocating bringing korbanos in the location where the Beis HaMikdash once stood in Yerushalayim. Rav Kalisher considered it not only permissible to offer korbanos before the Beis HaMikdash is rebuilt, but even obligatory.

As one can well imagine, his sefer created a huge furor. Rav Kalisher corresponded extensively with his own rabbonim, Rabbi Akiva Eiger and the Nesivos, and other well-known luminaries of his era including the Chasam Sofer and the Aruch LaNer. All of them opposed Rav Kalisher’s opinion, although not necessarily for the same reasons.

We can categorize the opposition to Rav Kalisher’s proposal under three headings:

  1. There was almost universal disagreement with his opinion that there is a requirement to offer korbanos before the reconstruction of the Beis HaMikdash.
  2. Some rabbonim, notably Rav Yaakov Ettlinger, the author of the Aruch LaNer, prohibited offering korbanos before the reconstruction of the Beis HaMikdash even if we could resolve all the other halachic issues involved (Shu”t Binyan Tzion #1). However, it should be noted that this question did not bother either Rav Yechiel of Paris or Rav Ashtori HaParchi. Furthermore, Rabbi Akiva Eiger asked his son-in-law, the Chasam Sofer, to request permission from the ruler of Yerushalayim to allow the offering of korbanos. Presumably, Rabbi Akiva Eiger felt that his son-in-law, who had a close connection to the Austro-Hungarian royal family, might be able to use their influence to gain access to the Ottoman Empire who ruled over Yerushalayim at the time. The Chasam Sofer responded with great respect to his father-in-law, but pointed out that the Beis HaMikdash area is unfortunately covered by a mosque that is sacred to its Moslem rulers who will not permit any non-Moslem to enter (Shu’t Chasam Sofer, Yoreh Deah #236). Thus, we see that both Rabbi Akiva Eiger and the Chasam Sofer agreed with Rav Kalisher that we are permitted to bring korbanos before the reconstruction of the Beis HaMikdash.
  3. Numerous halachic hurdles need to be overcome in order to offer korbanos. The discussion of these issues constitutes the lion’s share of the debate.

Rav Kalisher responded to the correspondence, eventually producing a sefer “Derishas Tzion” (published many years after the demise of Rabbi Akiva Eiger, the Chasam Sofer, and the Nesivos) and subsequent essays where he presented and clarified his position. At least three full-length books and numerous essays and responsa were published opposing Rav Kalisher’s thesis.

Before quoting this discussion, we need to clarify several points. First, can we indeed offer korbanos without the existence of the Beis HaMikdash?


The Mishnah (Eduyos 8:6) quotes Rabbi Yehoshua as saying, “I heard that we can offer korbanos even though there is no Beis HaMikdash.” The Gemara (Zevachim 62a) tells us a story that provides us with some background about this statement. “Three prophets returned with the Jews from Bavel (prior to the building of the second Beis HaMikdash), Chaggai, Zecharyah and Malachi, each bringing with him a halachic tradition that would be necessary for the implementation of korbanos. One of them testified about the maximum size of the mizbeiach, one testified about the location of the mizbeiach, and the third testified that we may offer korbanos even when there is no Beis HaMikdash.” Based on these testimonies, the Jews returning to Eretz Yisroel began offering korbanos before the Beis HaMikdash was rebuilt.

Obviously, Rav Kalisher and Rav Ettlinger interpret this Gemara differently. According to Rav Kalisher and those who agreed with him, the prophet testified that we may offer korbanos at any time, even if there is no Beis HaMikdash. Rav Ettlinger, however, understands the Gemara to mean that one may offer korbanos once the construction of the Beis HaMikdash has begun, even though it is still incomplete. But in the view of Rav Ettlinger, after the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash we may not offer korbanos until Eliyahu announces the building of the third Beis HaMikdash.

An earlier posek, Rav Yaakov Emden, clearly agreed with Rav Kalisher in this dispute. Rav Emden, often referred to as “The Yaavetz,” contends that Jews offered korbanos, at least occasionally, even after the second Beis HaMikdash was destroyed, which would be forbidden according to Rav Ettlinger’s position (She’aylas Yaavetz #89). This is based on an anecdote cited by a mishnah (Pesachim 74a) that Rabban Gamliel instructed his slave, Tevi, to roast the Korban Pesach for him. There were two Tanna’im named Rabban Gamliel, a grandfather and a grandson. The earlier Rabban Gamliel, referred to as “Rabban Gamliel the Elder,” lived at the time of the second Beis HaMikdash, whereas his grandson, “Rabban Gamliel of Yavneh,” was the head of the Yeshivah in Yavneh and was renowned after the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash. Thus, if we can determine which Rabban Gamliel is the protagonist of the mishnah’s story, we may be able to determine whether Jews offered korbanos after the Churban. This would verify Rav Kalisher’s opinion.

Rav Emden assumes that the Rabban Gamliel who owned a slave named Tevi was the later one. He thus concludes that Rabban Gamliel of Yavneh offered korbanos after the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash. Although the Yaavetz brings no proof that the Rabban Gamliel in the above-quoted mishnah is Rabban Gamliel of Yavneh, he may have based his assumption on a different Gemara (Bava Kamma 74b), which records a conversation between Rabbi Yehoshua and Rabban Gamliel concerning Tevi. Since Rabbi Yehoshua was a contemporary of Rabban Gamliel of Yavneh, this would imply that the later Rabban Gamliel indeed offered the Korban Pesach after the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash.

However, this does not solve the numerous halachic issues that need to be resolved in order to allow the offering of korbanos. Although Rav Kalisher responded to these issues, the other gedolim considered his replies insufficient.


The Brisker Rav, Rav Velvel Soloveichek, raised a different objection to Rav Kalisher’s proposal. Basing himself on several pesukim and halachic sources, he contended that the Beis HaMikdash site only has kedusha when it is a high mountain. Since the Romans razed the present site and it is no longer the prominent height it once was, it is not kosher for offering korbanos until the mountain is raised again to its former glory (quoted in Moadim U’Zemanim Volume 5, pg. 222). Thus, according to this approach, one of Moshiach’s jobs will be to raise the mountain to its former height. Presumably, Rav Kalisher felt that although the mountain should and will be raised, korbanos may be offered before that time.

I will now present some of the other questions involved in ascertaining whether we may bring korbanos before the coming of Eliyahu and Moshiach.


Virtually all opinions agree that it is a Torah prohibition to offer korbanos anywhere in the world except for the designated place in the Beis HaMikdash called the mizbeiach. This creates a halachic problem, because it is a severe Torah prohibition to enter the Beis HaMikdash grounds while tamei, and virtually everyone today has become tamei meis through contact with a corpse. (Someone who was ever in the same room or under the same roof as a corpse also becomes tamei meis.) Although other forms of tumah can be removed by immersion in a mikveh at the appropriate time, tumas meis can be removed only by sprinkling ashes of the parah adumah (the red heifer). Since the ashes of the previously prepared paros adumos are lost, we cannot purify ourselves from tumas meis. Thus, we would be prohibited from bringing most korbanos because every kohen is presumed to be tamei meis.

Gedolim have discussed whether a new parah adumah can be prepared before the arrival of the Moshiach, but I am refraining from citing this discussion because of space considerations.

However, although we have no available tahor cohanim, this would not preclude our offering Korban Pesach or certain other public korbanos (korbanos tzibur).


Most korbanos cannot be brought when either the owner of the korban or the kohen offering the korban is tamei. However, the Torah decrees that korbanos that are offered on a specific day must be brought even when every kohen is tamei. Thus, the Korban Pesach, the daily korban tamid, and the special mussaf korbanos that are brought on Shabbos, Yom Tov and Rosh Chodesh may be offered by a kohen who is tamei meis if necessary.

Other korbanos, however, may not be offered by a tamei kohen even if this results in them not being brought at all. Thus, since there is no tahor kohen available today, we would assume that Rav Yechiel only planned to offer one of the above korbanos (Shu”t Chasam Sofer, Yoreh Deah #236).


As mentioned above, the debate over Rav Kalisher’s proposal concerned other halachic issues that must be resolved before we may offer korbanos. The Kaftor VaFerech raised two of these issues over five hundred years before Rav Kalisher. How could Rav Yechiel offer korbanos when we do not know the exact location of the mizbeiach? As the Rambam writes, “The location of the mizbeiach is extremely exact and it may never be moved from its location…. We have an established tradition that the place where David and Shlomoh built the mizbeiach is the same place where Avraham built the mizbeiach and bound Yitzchak. This is the same place where Noach built a mizbeiach when he left the Ark and where Kayin and Hevel built their mizbeiach. It is the same place where Adam offered the first korban, and it is the place where he (Adam) was created.

“The dimensions and shape of the mizbeiach are very exact. The mizbeiach constructed when the Jews returned from the first exile was built according to the dimensions of the mizbeiach that will be built in the future. One may not add or detract from its size,” (Hilchos Beis HaBechirah 2:1-3).

As noted above, prior to building the second Beis HaMikdash, the prophets Chaggai, Zecharyah and Malachi testified regarding three halachos about the mizbeiach that were necessary to reinstitute the korbanos, one of which was the exact location the mizbeiach and. If so, how can we offer korbanos without knowing the location of the mizbeiach?

Rav Kalisher offered an answer to this question, contending that the prophets’ testimonies were necessary only after the destruction of the first Beis HaMikdash, because the Babylonians razed it to its very foundations. However, Rav Kalisher contended that sufficient remnants exist of the second Beis HaMikdash to determine the mizbeiach’s precise location, thus eliminating the need for prophecy or testimony to establish its location.

Rav Kalisher’s correspondents were dissatisfied with this response, maintaining that the calculations based on the Beis HaMikdash remnants could not be sufficiently precise to determine the mizbeiach’s exact location. Thus, they felt that we must await the arrival of Eliyahu HaNavi to ascertain the mizbeiach’s correct place.


Do we have “real” cohanim today? Only a kohen who can prove the purity of his lineage may serve in the Beis HaMikdash (see Rambam, Hilchos Issurei Biah 20:2). The Gemara calls such cohanimcohanim meyuchasim.” Cohanim who cannot prove their lineage, but who have such a family tradition, are called “cohanei chazakah,” cohanim because of traditional practice. Although they may observe other mitzvos of cohanim, they may not serve in the Beis HaMikdash.

An early source for the distinction between cohanim who can prove their lineage and those who cannot is the story found in Tanach about the sons of Barzilai the Kohen. When these cohanim came to bring korbanos in the second Beis HaMikdash, Nechemiah rebuffed them because of concerns about their ancestry (Ezra 2:61-63; Nechemiah 7:63-65). The Gemara states that although Nechemiah permitted them to eat terumah and to duchen, he prohibited them from eating korbanos or serving in the Beis HaMikdash (Kesubos 24b). Similarly, today’s cohanim who cannot prove their kehunah status should be unable to serve in the Beis HaMikdash. This would eliminate the possibility of offering korbanos today.

However, Rav Kalisher permits cohanei chazakah to offer korbanos. He contends that only in the generation of Ezra and Nechemiah, when there was a serious problem of intermarriage (see Ezra, Chapter 9), did they restrict service in the Beis HaMikdash to cohanim meyuchasim. However, in subsequent generations, any kohen with a mesorah may serve in the Beis HaMikdash.

Chasam Sofer (Shu”t Yoreh Deah #236) also permits cohanei chazakah to offer korbanos, but for a different reason, contending that although using a kohen meyuchas is preferred, a non-meyuchas kohen may serve in the Beis HaMikdash when no kohen meyuchas is available.

Other poskim dispute this, maintaining that a kohen who is not meyuchas may not serve in the Beis HaMikdash (Kaftor VaFerech).

The question then becomes – If only a kohen who can prove his kehunah may offer korbanos, and there are no surviving cohanim who can prove their kehunah, how will we ever again be able to bring korbanos?

The answer is that Moshiach will use his Ruach HaKodesh to determine who is indeed a kosher kohen that may serve in the Beis HaMikdash (Rambam, Hilchos Melachim 12:3). This approach preempts Rav Kalisher’s proposal completely.


Before korbanos are reintroduced, gedolei poskim will have to decide several other matters, including the definitive determination of several materials necessary for the kohen’s vestments.

The Torah describes the garments worn to serve in the Beis HaMikdash as follows: “Aharon and his sons shall put on their belt and their hat, and they (the garments) shall be for them as kehunah as a statute forever,” (Shmos 29:9). The Gemara deduces, “When their clothes are on them, their kehunah is on them. When their clothes are not on them, their kehunah is not on them,” (Zevachim 17b). This means that korbanos are valid only if the kohen offering them wears the appropriate garments.

One of the vestments worn by the cohanim is the avneit, the belt. Although the Torah never describes the avneit worn by the regular kohen, the halachic conclusion is that his avneit includes threads made of techeiles, argaman, and tola’as shani (Gemara Yoma 6a). There is uncertainty about the identification of each of these items. For example, the Rambam and the Ravad dispute the color of argaman (Hilchos Klei HaMikdash 8:13). The identity of techeiles is also unknown. Most poskim conclude that Hashem hid the source of techeiles, a fish known as chilazon, and that it will only be revealed at the time of Moshiach. Thus, even if we rule that our cohanim are kosher for performing the service, they cannot serve without valid garments! (It should be noted that several great poskim, including the Radziner Rebbe, the Maharsham, Rav Herzog and Rav Yechiel Michel Tukochinski, contended that we could research the correct identity of the techeiles. I have written a different article on the subject of identifying the techeiles.)

Rav Kalisher himself contended that the garments of the kohen do not require chilazon as the dye source, only the color of techeiles. In his opinion, chilazon dye is only necessary for tzitzis. (He based this approach on the wording of the Rambam in Hilchos Tzitzis 2:1-2.) Therefore, in Rabbi Kalisher’s opinion, one may dye the threads of the avneit the correct color and perform the service. However, other poskim did not accept this interpretation but require the specific dye source of chilazon blood to dye the vestments (Likutei Halachos, Zevachim Chapter 13 pg. 67a).

Rav Kalisher did not discuss the dispute between the Rambam and the Ravad about the color of the argaman. Apparently, he felt that we could determine the answer and dye the avneit threads appropriately.


The poskim raised several other issues concerning Rav Kalisher’s proposal. One problem raised is that Klal Yisroel must purchase all public korbanos from the funds of the machatzis hashekel, which would require arranging the collection of these funds before the publically owned korbanos could be offered. However, this question would not preclude offering Korban Pesach, which is a privately owned korban.

Rav Kalisher’s disputants raised several other questions, more than can be presented here. As we know, the gedolei haposkim rejected Rav Kalisher’s plan to reintroduce korbanos before the rebuilding of the Beis HaMikdash.

However, we have much to learn from Rav Kalisher’s intense desire to offer korbanos. Do we live with a burning desire to see the Beis HaMikdash rebuilt speedily in our days? Even if, chas veshalom, we are still not able to offer Korban Pesach this year, we should still devote Erev Pesach to studying the halachos of that korban. And may we soon merit seeing the cohanim offering all the korbanos in the Beis HaMikdash in purity and sanctity, Amen.

Do Clothes Make the Kohen?

In the year 5017 (1257), several hundred Baalei Tosafos, led by Rav Yechiel of Paris, left Northern France on a journey to Eretz Yisroel. Rav Eshtori HaParchi, the author of Kaftor VaFarech, who lived two generations later, records a fascinating story (Vol. 1, page 101 in the 5757 edition) he heard when he went to Yerushalayim to have his sefer reviewed by a talmid chacham named Rav Baruch. Rav Baruch told him that Rav Yechiel had planned to offer korbanos upon arriving in Yerushalayim! Rav Eshtori writes that he was too preoccupied with his sefer at the time to realize that there were several halachic problems with Rav Yechiel’s plan. In Kaftor VaFarech he mentions some of his own concerns; in addition, later poskim discuss many other potential difficulties. Among the concerns raised is identifying several of the materials necessary for the kohanim’s vestments.


The Torah describes the garments worn by the kohanim in the Beis HaMikdash as follows: “Aharon and his sons shall don their belt and their hat, and they (the garments) shall be for them as kehunah as a statute forever,” (Shemos 29:9). The Gemara (Zevachim 17b) deduces, “When they wear their special vestments, they have the status of kehunah. When they are not wearing these vestments, they do not have this status.” This means that korbanos are valid only if the kohen offering them attires himself correctly.

The regular kohen (kohen hedyot) wears four garments when performing service in the Beis HaMikdash; three of them, his undergarment, his robe, and his turban are woven exclusively from white linen. The Torah never describes how one makes the fourth garment, the kohen’s avneit, or belt, but it does mention that the belt worn by the kohen gadol on Yom Kippur is woven exclusively from linen, whereas the one he wears the rest of the year also contains techeiles, argaman, and tola’as shani, different colored materials that I will describe shortly. The Gemara cites a dispute whether the kohen hedyot’s belt also includes these special threads or whether he wears one of pure linen (Gemara Yoma 6a, 12a, 69a) The Rambam concludes that the regular kohen’s avneit includes threads of techeiles, argaman, and tola’as shani (Hilchos Klei HaMikdash 8:2).

Assuming that Rav Yechiel also concluded that the regular kohen’s avneit includes techeiles, argaman, and tola’as shani, his proposal to offer korbanos required proper identification of these materials, a necessary prerequisite to offer korbanos. This article will be devoted to the fascinating questions that we must resolve to accomplish this task.


What is argaman?

The Midrash Rabbah (Naso 12:4) reports that argaman is the most valuable of these four threads and is the color of royal garments. The Rishonim dispute its color , the Rambam ruling that it is red, whereas the Raavad understands that it is multicolored cloth woven either from different species or of different color threads (Hilchos Klei HaMikdash 8:13). The Raavad explains that the word argaman is a composite of arug min, meaning woven of different types. This approach appears to be supported by a pasuk in Divrei HaYamim (II, 2:6) that lists argavan, rather than argaman, as the material used in building the Beis HaMikdash (see also Daniel 5:7; Rashi to Divrei HaYamim II, 2:6). The word argavan seems to be a composite of two words arug gavna meaning woven from several colors, an approach that fits the Raavad’s description much better than it fits the Rambam’s (see Ibn Ezra to Shemos 25:4).

The Raavad’s approach that argaman is multicolored is further supported by a comment in the Zohar (Parshas Naso) that describes argaman as multicolored. However, the Radak (to Divrei HaYamim II, 2:6) understands the word argavan according to Rambam’s approach, and Kesef Mishneh similarly states that the primary commentaries followed Rambam’s interpretation. The Rekanti (Shemos 25:3) quotes both approaches but implies that he considers the Raavad’s approach to be primary.

By the way, the Ibn Ezra (Shemos 25:4) implies that argaman might have been dyed silk rather than wool, whereas most opinions assume that it is wool (Rambam, Hilchos Klei HaMikdash 8:13; Rashi, Shemos 25:4; 26:1; Rashbam, Shemos 25:4). Rabbeinu Bachya (Shemos 25:3) contends that silk could not have been used for the mishkan or the Beis HaMikdash since it is manufactured from non-kosher species. This is based on the Gemara Shabbos 28a that non-kosher items may not be used for mitzvos. I will discuss this point further below.


It is unclear if the requirement to use argaman thread means that the thread used for the kohen’s belt must be a certain shade of color, or whether it must be dyed with a specific dye. Rambam implies that the source for the argaman color is irrelevant. These are his words:

“Argaman is wool dyed red and tola’as shani is wool dyed with a worm” (Hilchos Klei HaMikdash 8:13). (The Rambam explains elsewhere what he means when he says “dyed with a worm.” It should also be noted that the Hebrew word tola’as, which is usually translated worm may include insects and other small invertebrates.) The Rambam’s wording implies that the source of the argaman dye is immaterial as long as the thread is red. Thus, there may be no halachically required source for the dye, provided one knows the correct appearance of its shade.


One of the dye colors mentioned above is tola’as shani. In addition to its use for dyeing the kohen’s belt and some of the Kohen Gadol’s vestments, tola’as shani was also used for some of the curtains in the Mishkan and the Beis HaMikdash, in the manufacture of the purifying ashes of the parah adumah (Bamidbar 19:6) and for the purifying procedure both of a metzora and of a house that became tamei because of tzaraas (Vayikra 14:4, 49).

Tola’as shani is a red color (see Yeshaya 1:18). This presents us with a question: According to the Rambam that argaman is red of a nondescript source, what is the difference between the shade of argaman and that of tola’as shani? The Radak (Divrei HaYamim II 2:6) explains that they are different shades of red, although he provides us with no details of what this difference entails.

Must tola’as shani be derived from a specific source, or is it sufficient for it to be a distinctive shade of red, just as I suggested above that argaman is a color and not necessarily a specific dye source?

The words of the Rambam that I quoted above answer this question: “Argaman is wool dyed red and tola’as shani is wool dyed with a worm.” These words imply that although argaman can be used from any source that produces this particular color, tola’as shani must be from a very specific source.


Can the pesukim help us identify what is tola’as shani? The description of tola’as, which means worm, implies that the source of this dye is an invertebrate of some type. For this reason, some authorities seem to identify tola’as shani as “kermes,” a shade of scarlet derived from scale insects or some similar animal-derived red color (see Radak to Divrei HaYamim II 2:6). Support for this approach could be rallied from a pasuk in Divrei HaYamim (II 3:14) which describes the paroches curtain that served as the entrance to the kodoshei hakodoshim, the Holy of Holies of the Beis HaMikdash, as woven from the following four types of thread: techeiles, argaman, karmil, and butz, which is linen. The Torah in describing the same paroches refers to it as made of techeiles, argaman, tolaas shani, and linen. Obviously, karmil is another way of describing tola’as shani (Rashi ad loc.). Similarly in Divrei HaYamim II (2:13), when describing the artisans sent by the Tyrian King Hiram to help his friend King Shlomo, the pasuk mentions karmil as one of the materials in place of tola’as shani. Thus, karmil, a word cognate to kermes, is the same as tola’as shani (see Radak to Divrei HaYamim II 2:6).

However as I mentioned above, Rabbeinu Bachyei takes issue with this approach, insisting that only kosher species may be used for building the mishkan and the garments of the kohanim. He bases his criticism on the Gemara (Shabbos 28a) that states that “only items that one may eat may be used for the work of heaven,” which teaches that only kosher items may be used in tefillin manufacture. How does this fit with the description of tola’as shani as a worm derivative?

The Rambam states that the dye called tola’as shani does not originate from the worm itself but from a berry that the worm consumes (Hilchos Parah Adumah 3:2; see Rashi to Yeshaya 1:18 who explains it similarly).

Although this is probably the primary approach we would follow in a halachic decision, we cannot summarily dismiss those who identify tola’as shani as kermes or a different invertebrate-based dye. Although Rabbeinu Bachya objects to a non-kosher source for tola’as shani, those who accept that its source is kermes have several ways to resolve this issue. One possibility is that this halacha applies only to a substance used as the primary item to fulfill the mitzvah but not if it serves only as a dye (Shu”t Noda Bi’Yehudah 2, Orach Chayim #3).

Others resolve the objection raised by Rabbeinu Bachya by contending that the color derived from these non-kosher creatures may indeed be kosher. Several different reasons have been advanced to explain this approach. Some contend that this coloring is kosher since the creatures are first dried until they are inedible or because a dead insect dried for twelve months is considered an innocuous powder and no longer non-kosher (see Shu”t Minchas Yitzchak 3:96:2). (The halachic debate on this issue actually concerns a colorant called carmine red that is derived from a South American insect called cochineal. This color, which is derived from the powdered bodies of this insect, is used extensively as a “natural red color” in food production. To the best of my knowledge, all major kashrus organizations and hechsherim treat carmine as non-kosher, although I have read teshuvos contending that it is kosher.)

A similar approach asserts that kermes dye is kosher since it is no longer recognizable as coming from its original source (Pesil Techeiles, pg. 48 in the 1990 edition). This approach is based on a dispute among early poskim whether a prohibited substance remains non-kosher after its appearance has completely transformed. The Rosh (Berachos 6:35) cites Rabbeinu Yonah who permitted using musk, a fragrance derived from the gland of several different animals, as a flavor because it has transformed into a new substance that is permitted. The Rosh disputes Rabbeinu Yonah’s conclusion, although in a responsum (24:6) he quotes Rabbeinu Yonah’s approach approvingly.

It is noteworthy that this dispute between the Rosh and Rabbeinu Yonah appears to be identical to a disagreement between the Rambam and the Raavad (Hilchos Klei HaMikdash 1:3) in determining the source of the mor, one of the ingredients burnt as part of the fragrant ketores offering in the Beis HaMikdash (see Shemos 30:23). The Rambam rules that mor is musk, which he describes as the blood of an undomesticated Indian species. (Although the Rambam calls it blood, he probably means any body fluid.) The Raavad disagrees, objecting that blood would be used in the Beis HaMikdash, even if it was derived from a kosher species, certainly of a non-kosher one. In explaining the Rambam’s position, Kesef Mishneh contends that once musk is reduced to a powder that bears no resemblance to its origin it is kosher. Thus, the disagreement between the Rambam and the Raavad as to whether a major change of physical appearance changes the halachos of a substance may be identical to the dispute between Rabbeinu Yonah and the Rosh. It turns out that the Radak, who implies that tola’as shani derives from non-kosher invertebrates, may also accept the approach of Rabbeinu Yonah.

Some authorities have a different approach that would explain how tola’as shani may be acceptable for Beis HaMikdash use even if it derives from a non-kosher source. They contend that the rule prohibiting the use of non-kosher items applies only to tefillin and other mitzvos that utilize kisvei hakodesh, holy writings, but does not apply to most mitzvos or to items used in the Beis HaMikdash (Shu”t Noda Bi’Yehudah 2, Orach Chayim# 3; cf. Magen Avraham 586:13). This approach requires some explanation.

The Gemara states that tefillin may be manufactured only from kosher substances, deriving this halacha from the following verse: Limaan tihyeh toras Hashem b’ficha, in order that the law of Hashem should always be in your mouth (Shemos 13:9); i.e., whatever is used for the Torah of Hashem must be from kosher items that one may place into one’s mouth. In order to resolve a certain question that results from the Gemara’s discussion, some authorities explain that this halacha refers only to items that have words of the Torah or Hashem’s name in them, such as tefillin, mezuzos or a sefer torah, but does not include the garments worn by the kohen hedyot in the Beis HaMikdash, which do not contain Hashem’s name (Shu”t Noda Bi’Yehudah II, Orach Chayim #3). (The halacha requiring kosher substances would still apply to the tzitz and the choshen, garments of the kohen gadol, both of which have Hashem’s name.)


The next material or shade we need to identify, the techeiles, is also a factor in the wearing of our daily tzitzis. Indeed, the Torah requires us to wear techeiles threads as part of this mitzvah. Nevertheless, Jews stopped wearing techeiles about 1300 to 1500 years ago and with time its source became forgotten. Although the Gemara (see Menachos 42b) mentions a creature called chilazon whose blood is the source of techeiles and even discusses how to manufacture the dye, the use of techeiles ended some time after the period of the Gemara. The Midrash states that “now we have only white tzitzis since the techeiles was concealed” (Midrash Tanchuma, Shelach 15; Midrash Rabbah, Shelach 17:5), which implies that Hashem hid the source for the techeiles. Indeed some poskim interpret the writings of the Arizal as saying that techeiles should not be worn until moshiach comes (Shu”t Yeshuos Malko #1-3).


In 5647 (1887), the Radziner Rebbe, Rav Gershon Henoch Leiner, zt”l, published a small sefer, Sefunei Temunei Chol, which concluded that the mitzvah of wearing techeiles applies even today. In his opinion, the Midrash quoted above means that techeiles will become unavailable, but we are both permitted and required to wear it. Based on his analysis of every place the Gemara mentions the word chilazon, the Radziner drew up a list of eleven requirements whereby one could identify the chilazon and concluded that if one locates a marine animal that meets all these requirements, one may assume that it is the chilazon. He then traveled to Naples, Italy, to study marine animals that might meet all the requirements of techeiles, and concluded that a squid-like creature called the cuttlefish, which in many languages is called the inkfish, is indeed the chilazon from which one produces techeiles. The Radziner then published his second volume on the subject, Pesil Techeiles, in which he announced his discovery of the chilazon and his proofs why the cuttlefish meets all the requirements of the chilazon. Subsequently, the Radziner published a third volume, Ayn HaTecheiles to refute those who disagreed with him.

The Radziner attempted to convince the great poskim of his generation to accept his thesis, particularly, Rav Yitzchok Elchonon Spector (the Rav of Kovno and the Posek HaDor at the time), the Beis HaLevi (then the Rav of Brisk), Rav Yehoshua Kutno (author of Yeshuos Malko, the Rav of Kutno), the Maharil Diskin (who had been Rav of Brisk and was living in Yerushalayim), and Rav Shmuel Salant (the Rav of Yerushalayim). None of these Rabbonim accepted the Radziner’s proposal, although the Maharsham, the posek hador of the time in Galicia, felt that the Radziner’s approach had merit and wore a talis with the Radziner’s techeiles, although apparently only in private. Nowadays, only Radziner Hasidim and some Breslever Hasidim wear the techeiles that the Radziner introduced.

Some later authorities have attempted to identify the techeiles as being one of several varieties of sea snail, although the objections raised by the generation of poskim of the Radziner’s own time apply to these species as well. (Several years ago, I discussed their position and the position of their opponents.)

Among the many objections to both of these identifications of the chilazon is the contention that neither the cuttlefish nor a snail could possibly be the source of the techeiles since they are not kosher. In addition to the reasons I mentioned above, the Radziner presents a novel approach to explain why techeiles may derive from a non-kosher source. He contends that although the flesh of a non-kosher fish is forbidden min hatorah, the blood of a non-kosher species is forbidden only miderabbanan. Since min haTorah one may eat this blood, it is permitted as a source for a kosher dye.

It is noteworthy that a nineteenth century posek, Rav Tzvi Hirsch Kalisher, contended that the garments of the kohen do not require chilazon as the dye source, only the color of techeiles. In his opinion, chilazon dye is only necessary for tzitzis. (He based this approach on the wording of the Rambam in Hilchos Tzitzis 2:1-2.) In Rav Kalisher’s opinion, one may dye the threads of the avneit the correct techeiles color and perform the service. However, not all poskim accept this interpretation but require the specific dye source of chilazon to dye the vestments (Likutei Halachos, Zevachim Chapter 13, pg. 67a in the original edition).

In review, we know for certain is that the regular kohen (kohen hedyot) wears four garments when performing service in the Beis HaMikdash, including the avneit, or belt, which the Rambam rules includes threads of techeiles, argaman, and tola’as shani. In identifying these materials, however, we have a dispute whether the techeiles derived from chilazon is necessary for offering korbanos, or merely dyeing clothes the appropriate color, a second dispute whether the chilazon has been hidden until Moshiach comes, and a third dispute whether the chilazon must be kosher or not. In identifying the argaman, we are faced with a dispute between Rishonim whether its color is red or a mix of different colors. And in identifying the tola’as shani, we face a dispute whether its source is a berry that worms eat or a worm of some type. All these questions will need to be resolved before we can again manufacture kosher bigdei kehunah, either by having Eliyahu Hanavi teach us how the bigdei kehunah were made or by having the poskim of Klal Yisroel determine what the halacha is.

Several earlier poskim devoted much time and energy into clarifying the correct procedures to offer korbanos because of their intense desire to bring sacrificial offerings. Do we too have such a burning desire to see the Beis HaMikdash rebuilt speedily in our days? May we soon merit seeing the kohanim offering the korbanos in the Beis HaMikdash in purity and sanctity, Amen.