Corona-virus Takeaways – One Man’s Perspective

This morning, I rather suddenly and perhaps rashly decided that I would put my thoughts on paper about the current world crisis. I take responsibility for these as my own opinions, although I believe that they are solidly built on Torah sources. Then again, I believe that everything I write falls under that category, and not everyone always agrees.

My first observation:

None of us has ever experienced this type of pandemic before. Indeed, the world has become much more populated and much more of a global village in the last few years. There is no question that technology has added hours to our days and years to our lives. Technology provides medical care for the ill, at the same time that it indirectly caused the spread of this pandemic to places unimaginable previously, and with unprecedented speed.

My second observation:

Most, if not all, of the worldwide crises that we have experienced in recent decades have been caused by man. Although there have been earthquakes, hurricanes, mine collapses, avalanches, tornadoes, and devastating forest fires, these are all relatively local crises, where people and nations distant from the catastrophe are not affected directly. Even the tsunami that killed hundreds of thousands of people affected only those near the Indian Ocean.

In contrast are man-made crises: Terrorism of all types has become and remains a worldwide dilemma, and the 20th century took us through two catastrophic world wars.

I do not want to enter scientific and political debate as to whether the crisis of global warming is manmade or not; even assuming that it is not manmade, it is not as acute a problem as the coronavirus is.

Although many may be to blame for how they have dealt with this crisis, no one serious blames mankind for intentionally creating the coronavirus. Without question, this is a direct communication to all of mankind from Hashem. The entire world may perhaps not have had such a direct communication since all the rivers and oceans split along with the Yam Suf. And yet, few people seem to be attempting to learn any lessons from this. Now and again, I read or hear of an individual Rav expressing his personal takeaways from the crisis, but I have seen and heard no response from a world leader regarding any type of ethical or moral response. Quite the contrary: Politicians have been acting as politicians, rather than as the statesmen whose true leadership we would like to see. I have seen no one act as the King of Nineveh did upon hearing Yonah’s castigation – or, more accurately, Yonah’s threat.

I want to focus on obvious lessons that Hashem is clearly telling everyone in the world.

The basic instruction in order to limit the virus’s spread is social distancing. No hugging, kissing, or even handshaking. Eliminate all social gatherings. Maintain a social distance of several feet. Of what does that remind you?

Around the world, people have been placed in social quarantine for fourteen days. Again, this is reminiscent of the laws of metzora, where the maximum time for someone who is a metzora musgar is two weeks. (Although the halacha is that for a metzora, “two weeks” means thirteen days, the association is there. Furthermore, the vast world of Bible readers who do not know about Chazal certainly associate this with two full weeks.) Aside from the prohibition of loshon hora, with which metzora is associated, Chazal have told us that there are many other social malpractices for which the punishment of tzaraas is a reminder and admonishment (see Arachin 16a; Midrash Rabbah on the verses of tzaraas).

My third observation

For whatever reason, I had tremendous difficulty remembering the name COVID-19, the official name of this virus. However, two fairly simple memory devices have helped me: The word kavod, כבוד, (COVID) – and the gematriya of the word cheit,sin, including its kolel (a term for gematriya enthusiasts) equals 19.

My fourth observation:

Do we need a crisis of this proportion in order to interact with our children on a daily basis?

My fifth observation:

All of life is so unpredictable these days (I guess that’s another lesson) that I’ll wait to see what tomorrow brings, and then we’ll plan. I say this in a country in which until this point, thank G-d, there is some degree of control regarding the spread of the contagious malady; in many countries, the medical facilities have completely collapsed or are in serious danger of doing so. A physician in New York City dealing with the crisis reported to me earlier today that medical supplies are critically low and running out quickly – in the country that many, if not most, people consider the epitome of world civilization and development.

To quote some of today’s news items:

“Hospitals across the U.S. are running out of the masks, gowns and other equipment they need to protect staff against the novel coronavirus as they struggle to take care of patients, say hospital officials, doctors and others in the industry… The Pentagon stepped into the breach by offering on Tuesday to supply up to five million respirator masks, as health-care officials and workers say the situation is dire. Administrators at the headquarters of the Providence health system are in conference rooms assembling makeshift face shields from vinyl, elastic and two-sided tape because supplies are drying up. Nurses from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, preparing for a potential shortage, have pleaded with friends on Facebook for any goggles and other gear they might have lying around. ‘I’m reusing my mask from yesterday,’ said Calvin Sun, an emergency-room doctor in New York City. ‘We really have no choice.’”

Perhaps we should have more of a day-to-day relationship with Hashem. As the Gemara states, the manna arrived daily for the Jews in the Desert, and then there was nothing to eat until the next day. When we have no idea what tomorrow will bring, our prayers to Hashem may take on greater seriousness.

My sixth observation – Hashem’s chesed #1

As contagious as coronavirus is, for the majority of people afflicted by it, its symptoms are generally no more serious than typical influenza, which strikes the world annually. If the virus spread this way were as deadly as the bubonic plague, AIDS, or various other maladies that have affected mankind, the death rate would be in geometric proportion to what it is. Assuming that this is a Divine message, wouldn’t we prefer this message to some of the alternatives?

My seventh observation – Hashem’s chesed #2

Assuming that Hashem needed to warn mankind of something, there is a lot of chesed involved in when and how he warned us. For example, it became a crisis after the tremendous kiddush Hashem of the worldwide Siyumei Hashas, all across the globe. Imagine if all of these siyumim had been forced to cancel! All that incredible kiddush Hashem would not have happened.

My eighth observation: The Economy

This crisis without question is destroying economies. What we do not yet know is whether it will set off a worldwide recession, or be a temporary blip that passes soon. Perhaps the answer to this question depends on how we react and respond to it?

My ninth observation: The Elderly

Coronavirus has proven much more lethal among the elderly, in which the death rate, I was told, is close to 20% of those infected. Some have stated that the slow response in some countries to the pandemic is related to their attitude toward the elderly and infirm, and perhaps toward the sanctity of life in general.

My tenth observation – Pesach hotels

I write this observation with trepidation, since there is an implied criticism of many of my very close friends, and I certainly do not consider myself worthy of giving musar to them. Among the many businesses that this crisis has decimated is the vast business of Pesach hotels. In Israel, a newspaper report anticipates a matzah shortage caused by the 13% of Israeli residents who are not going to hotels for Pesach this year because of the crisis. Apparently, because they will be home they will need to acquire matzos, which will cause a shortage.

I was raised in what today would probably be called a modern orthodox family – and Pesach was spent with family. We had a well-established practice that we did not eat in anyone else’s home on Pesach, unless we were spending Pesach in that home. Do we want our children to view Pesach as a family experience, or a social one?

I have other observations on the topic, but, as the old adage runs, not everything that you think should you say, not everything you say should you write, and not everything you write should you publish.

With my best wishes that:

  1. All of G-d’s children who are ill should recover.
  2. This crisis should pass quickly, and the economic repercussions should be mild.
  3. All of mankind should learn the lessons that Hashem wants to teach us.

Chumash and the Fall of the Ghetto, part II

This article is for the occasion of Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch’s yahrzeit, on the 27th of Teiveis.

Chumash and the Fall of the Ghetto, part II

Last week, I presented the first part of this article, which was an introduction to the commentaries on Chumash of the Malbim, Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch, and Hakesav Vehakabalah, by Rav Yaakov Tzvi Mecklenburg. We continue our review of Rav Hirsch’s commentary from where I left off.

Rav Hirsch’s commentary has a component that the other two do not. The focus of his commentary was not only to prove the accuracy or authenticity of Chazal’s understanding of Torah, but, also, to demonstrate how Torah provides for man’s growth in spirituality, the development of his personality, and his worldview. Thus, he rarely comments simply for the sake of explaining a difficult verse.

Ta’amei hamikra

Rav Hirsch emphasized that his commentary is based on a careful reading of the words of Chumash. Included in this was his study of the ta’amei hamikra, which are meant to teach how to break a pasuk into smaller units for proper understanding. As an example, his interpretation of the pasuk in shiras Ha’azinu, shicheis lo lo, banav mumam, reflects the accentuation implied by the ta’amei hamikra, whereby this is one sentence with only a small break (a tipcha) after the second word lo (with an alef). Thus, disagreeing with all the previous commentaries that I have seen, he translates the sentence as: Their moral frailty has corrupted it to become non-children.

Grammar — Dikduk and shoresh

Rav Hirsch developed an understanding of Torah ideas upon the principle of shorashim where there are phonetic cognates. This idea, which has sources in Chazal and the rishonim,[i] is that different consonants that are articulated by using the same part of the mouth are related to each other.[ii] Thus, there is a relationship among the guttural consonants (א ה ח ע) that can be used to explain the meaning of related roots in which they appear. The same is true for the palatals (ג י כ ק), the dentals (ד ט ל נ ת),[iii] the sibilants (ז ס צ ר ש), and the labials (ב ו מ פ).[iv] Based on similar roots, Rav Hirsch develops a philosophic underpinning of the comparative roots, and then creates an associative meaning for each root. For example, the roots ברא (to create, which means to bring into reality that which previously existed only in one’s mind), ברח, to escape, פרא, to be undisciplined, פרח, to flower and פרה, to reproduce, seem to be unrelated verbs. However, the first letter of the root in each instance is a labial, the second is ר , and the third is a guttural. There is an underlying idea in all of these roots – getting out of a state of being constrained.

Often included within this system is a relationship pattern between similar consonants. For example, the tzadi often reflects a more intensive version of the other similar sounds, such as the sin. Thus, there is a conceptual relationship between יצר, which means to limit something for a specific purpose, and יסר, which educates, shapes and disciplines the spirit. In literally hundreds of applications of these ideas, Rav Hirsch demonstrates an entire world of educational themes.

In Rav Hirsch’s view, the shoresh of a word can often provide educational and religious lessons. For example, in describing Avraham Avinu’s travels in Eretz Canaan, the Torah uses the unusual word ויעתק, which Rav Hirsch translates as He gave orders to move on.[v] Rav Hirsch notes that the common thread of the usage of this root in Tanach is that someone or something is moved unexpectedly or forcibly to another setting. Rav Hirsch thereby explains that Avraham realized that in order to succeed in educating his followers, they needed to be isolated from the society around them, but he needed to overcome their resistance in doing so. Thus, the root of the word used teaches us about Avraham’s pedagogic approach.

Controversial Aspects

Probably the most controversial aspect of Rav Hirsch’s commentary on Chumash is his view that even our greatest leaders are not beyond reproach, and that a late Torah commentary can include lessons for us to learn from their shortcomings and errors. Indeed, the Ramban, whom Rav Hirsch quotes in this context, also felt that we have the right to criticize our greatest Torah leaders, even in places where Chazal did not. Rav Hirsch’s critiques of Yitzchak and Rivkah’s raising of Eisav, of Yosef’s relationship with his brothers, of Moshe, Tziporah, and others have certainly raised more than one eyebrow. Yet Rav Hirsch’s position in all these cases is clear. Only Hashem is perfect. The fact that the Torah goes out of its way to show the errors made by our greatest leaders demonstrates that Torah is true and Divine. Man’s purpose in this world is to learn and to grow, and we can do so both by emulating the great actions of our greatest leaders and also by noting their errors.

Did Rav Hirsch Use the Hakesav Vehakabalah or Hatorah Vehamitzvah?

In his beautiful essay introducing the first edition of the first English translation of Rav Hirsch’s commentary to Chumash, Dayan Dr. Isaac Grunfeld writes: “When Samson Raphael Hirsch began his commentary in 1867, he had the works of Mecklenburg (Hakesav Vehakabalah) and Hatorah Vehamitzvah of Malbim in front of him.” I presume that Dayan Grunfeld has some mesorah to substantiate his comment. However, from my work on Rav Hirsch’s commentary, and after comparing this work to the other two, I, personally, am not convinced that this statement is accurate, for the following reasons.

When Rav Hirsch felt indebted to an earlier commentator, he always quoted his source. In the course of his commentary of Chumash, he quotes a wide variety of sources, including the rishonim, his rabbeyim, Chacham Bernays and Rav Yaakov Ettlinger, the Aruch Laneir, and works published shortly before his time, such as Harechasim Levik’ah and the writings of the highly controversial Naftali Wessely. Yet, there is not a single reference anywhere in his commentary to either Hakesav Vehakabalah or Hatorah Vehamitzvah.

There are places in which Rav Hirsch presents no explanation, while Hakesav Vehakabalah presents approaches that lend themselves perfectly to Rav Hirsch’s style of commentary. For example, Rav Hirsch offers almost no commentary to the lengthy list of travels that the Bnei Yisroel made through the desert. Yet, Hakesav Vehakabalah has a beautiful explanation of the place names along the route of these travels. Had Rav Hirsch read Hakesav Vehakabalah, I presume that he would have used his approach here to develop musar haskeil, just as Rav Hirsch, himself, does in explaining the list of names of the descendants of Sheis. Had he been as familiar with Hakesav Vehakabalah as Dayan Grunfeld suggests, it is indeed puzzling why he would not use the opportunity to include these lessons in his Torah commentary, and attribute them to Hakesav Vehakabalah. Although it is always difficult to prove anything on the basis of it not being present, Rav Hirsch’s omission of any musar haskeil here, when use of Hakesav Vehakabalah would provide this, certainly implies that he did not use the commentary on any regular basis.

On the other hand, Hakesav Vehakabalah used approaches to explain pesukim that Rav Hirsch would never accept. For example, Hakesav Vehakabalah explains that the source for the word asheirah is yashar, straight, and suggests that it was originally used to mean a straight, tall tree.[vi] Rav Hirsch provides a much deeper insight into the meaning of the word asheirah and its apparent root א ש ר, which means growth and striving. Thus, the word asheirah means a tree “that was considered to be under the special protection of a god, whose presence and influence supposedly could be obtained through the growth and thriving of this tree.”[vii]


Rav Hirsch viewed his commentary as a means of showing how to use Chumash as a springboard for mussar and hashkafah. From a mussar perspective, Rav Hirsch’s Torah commentary can provide a complete life-instruction manual on its own. One can learn from it a Torah perspective of hashakafah, and detailed lessons in mussar.

We understand well why Rav Shraga Feivel Mendelowitz told his students at Yeshiva Torah Vodaas that it would be worth their investment of time to learn to read German, just for the sake of being able to read Rav Hirsch’s commentary on Chumash, which, at the time, was not available in translation.


[i] For example, see Rashi, Vayikra 19:16, where he explains that the word רכיל stems from the word רגל. See, similarly, Ra’avad, Eduyos 4:3; Ramban, Shemos 15:10; Vayikra 19:20, Devorim 7:12; Rash, Peah 6:1

[ii] Language specialists use the term homorganic consonants to describe these words.

[iii] While I was preparing this article for publication, a reviewer noted to me that a rearrangement of these letters ד נ ט ל ת  can be read as dentals.

[iv] Those interested in seeing a systematic dictionary of Rav Hirsch’s work in this area are referred to Matityahu Clark’s Etymological Dictionary of Biblical Hebrew, Feldheim Publishers, which Rabbi Clark writes is “based on the commentaries of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch.”

[v] Bereishis 12:8. Translation is from the Haberman edition.

[vi] Hakesav Vehakabalah, Devorim 16:21.

[vii] Commentary of Rav Hirsch to Shemos 34:13. Translation is from the Haberman edition, page 809.

Chumash and the Fall of the Ghetto

This article is for the occasion of Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch’s yahrzeit.

Chumash and the Fall of the Ghetto

With the falling of the ghetto walls that had kept the Jews in central Europe isolated from the world around them, many Jews began to assimilate into the surrounding environment and distance themselves from Judaism. Although it was far more difficult for Jews in Eastern Europe to assimilate fully into non-Jewish society, different forces, the haskalah, socialism, Communism and various other movements similarly severed many Jews from keeping mitzvos. Among those who abandoned Torah observance were Jews who felt that Chazal’s interpretation of the mitzvos was not based on the Written Torah.

In response, several new and original commentaries on Chumash appeared. Among them, we find Hakesav Vehakabalah, by Rav Yaakov Tzvi Mecklenburg, the commentaries[i] of the Malbim to Tanach, the commentary of Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch, and the Ha’ameik Davar, the commentary of Rav Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin (also known as the Netziv). All four of these commentaries, although very different from each other in important ways, were written to explain the Written Torah in the spirit of Chazal.

Hakesav Vehakabalah

Rav Yaakov Tzvi Mecklenburg was a disciple of Rabbi Akiva Eiger and served as the rav of Koenigsberg, Prussia (today, Kaliningrad, Russia), for thirty-four years. Koenigsberg was in the far east of Germany, giving Rav Mecklenburg a clear view of the challenges posed by the rise of the Reform movement in Germany and the haskalah and other anti-religious movements in Eastern Europe. Hakesav Vehakabalah, first published in 1839 and followed by three more editions in the author’s lifetime, was intended as a response to attacks on Chazal’s understanding of the Torah.

Hakesav Vehakabalah carefully analyzes the root meanings and grammar of the words of the Chumash, using them to provide a clear interpretation of the pesukim. Although his approach is highly original, he also often cites the different approaches of the earlier commentaries, opting for the one that he demonstrates to be the most accurate.

The Malbim

Rav Meir Leibush ben Yechiel Michel, known by his acronym, Malbim, served as the rav of many different Eastern European communities. A brilliant talmid chacham and a warrior against the haskalah, his magnum opus is his commentary to Tanach and accompanying essays. [ii] His first work, a commentary on Yeshayah, includes an introduction in which he elucidates the principles that form the basis for his commentary to Tanach as a whole.

Two such principles are that no two words in Tanachic Hebrew have precisely the same meaning, and that there are no repeated phrases or clauses — each word in Tanach was chosen to provide a very specific nuance of meaning.

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch held rabbinic positions in Oldenberg and Emden, Germany, and as Chief Rabbi of Moravia, before returning to Germany to establish a modern, Torah-committed community in Frankfurt. Toward the end of his life, he produced his commentaries to the Chumash, Tehillim and the Siddur.

The Netziv

Rav Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin married the daughter of Rav Yitzchak of Volozhin, the son and successor of the founder and Rosh Yeshivah of the famed yeshivah in that city, Rav Chayim of Volozhin, the esteemed disciple of the Vilna Gaon. The Netziv eventually became Rosh Yeshivah of the yeshivah in Volozhin, a position he held for almost forty years, until its closing in 1892. The Netziv authored many works, including responsa and commentaries on Chumash, Shas, the She’iltos of Rav Achai Gaon, the halachic midrashim.

Linking Torah shebiksav to Torah shebe’al peh

Both Hakesav Vehakabalah and Malbim write that a major purpose of their commentaries is to demonstrate the unity of Torah shebiksav and Torah shebe’al peh. In the introduction to the first volume of commentary he wrote on Chumash, Vayikra, the Malbim mentions specifically the tragedy of the Reform convention that had taken place in 1844 in Braunschweig (called Brunswick in English), a city in Germany about 40 miles southeast of Hanover. The Malbim writes that when he heard of the disgraceful attitude toward Torah that had been demonstrated there, he realized that klal Yisroel required a new commentary on Tanach, written according to the mesorah. He notes many rules that he will be following in his commentaries, one of which is to show the unity of Torah shebiksav and Torah shebe’al peh.

Although Rav Hirsch’s very brief introduction to his commentary does not emphasize this relationship between Torah shebiksav and Torah shebe’al peh, this foundation shows up literally hundreds of times in his commentary.[iii] Rav Hirsch, too, maintained that proper study of Torah shebiksav leads directly to the conclusions of Torah shebe’al peh. Among examples where he demonstrates this are when he explains that Chazal’s understanding of “an eye for an eye” as financial remuneration (Shemos 21:24) is indeed the only proper way to understand the pasuk, and that no halachic requirement exists to name the firstborn child of a levirate marriage (yibum) for the deceased brother (see Devorim 25:6).

Rav Hirsch noted that the Torah shebe’al peh was actually taught to the Jews first.[iv] Moshe received all the laws of Torah shebe’al peh at Har Sinai and taught them to the Jewish people gradually. The completed Torah shebiksav, by contrast, was not received by the Jews until the very end of Moshe’s life, immediately prior to the Jews’ entering Eretz Yisroel, or forty years after they had received the Torah shebe’al peh. This explains numerous passages in the Torah, including the commandment to slaughter animals ka’asher tzivisicha “as you were instructed,” meaning the sets of regulations that had been transmitted to Moshe at Har Sinai and previously taught to the Bnei Yisroel.

Uniqueness of Rav Hirsch’s commentary

The most obvious difference between Rav Hirsch’s commentary and the others is the language in which it was written. Whereas the other commentaries are written in traditional rabbinic Hebrew, Rav Hirsch published his commentary on Chumash and, indeed, all of his works, in German. Long before Rav Hirsch’s time, many Torah works had been authored in the vernacular, such as all of Rav Saadiya Gaon’s writings and those of the Rambam, with the exception of the Mishneh Torah.

Yet, sefarim in the vernacular had fallen into disuse in the hundreds of years since the era of the rishonim. As a young rabbi in Oldenberg, however, Rav Hirsch recognized the need to present Torah teachings in German, in order to reach his generation and impress upon them Torah’s eternal relevance.

In Rav Hirsch’s commentary, there are various instances in which he includes a comment in Hebrew. Invariably, these are the comments of a Torah scholar on a point in Talmudic discussion which was not appropriate to make for the general audience for whom his work was intended. Yet, he was concerned that posterity not lose the important halachic point he had realized. To accommodate this, he chose to write these points in scholarly, rabbinic Hebrew.

Aside from his use of the vernacular, there are many other novel features in Rav Hirsch’s approach. Beyond being an interpretation of Chumash, Rav Hirsch uses his commentary to demonstrate how to use the Torah as the primary educational tool for man to grow as a human being. There is virtually not a comment of his on the Torah that does not provide a moral lesson, or musar haskeil.

Indeed, there are many occasions when he did not comment upon questions about pshat in a verse where it would appear appropriate for him to have done so. Clearly, he refrained from providing commentary where the conclusion would not provide any lesson one can utilize for personal growth.

Rav Hirsch called his Torah hashkafah by the term Torah im Derech Eretz, the details of which he developed in different places in his commentary.[v] Although the expression is often misunderstood, Rav Hirsch used it to mean that Torah and its observance must always be the primary focus of a Jew’s life, and that this can and must pervade a Jew’s behavior in all places, times and situations. Everything else that this world has to offer, including livelihood, education, culture, and social mores, must be subsumed within a Torah framework.

Reasons for mitzvos

One of Rav Hirsch’s great innovations is his explanation of the ta’amei hamitzvos. The Sefer Hachinuch explains that the term ta’amei hamitzvah means the taste of a mitzvah, not its reason, and it is this taste that Rav Hirsch sought to provide.

The concept of deriving educational reasons for mitzvos was certainly not originated by Rav Hirsch. Rav Hirsch himself quotes dozens of places where Chazal discuss what lesson one can derive from the observance of the mitzvos, and rishonim like the Rambam in his Moreh Nevuchim, Ramban in his commentary on the Torah, and the Sefer Hachinuch devote much space to this study.

However, Rav Hirsch added several dimensions to the concept of ta’amei hamitzvah. For Rav Hirsch, an explanation of a mitzvah must always fit in with every detail of the halachos of that mitzvah. For this reason, Rav Hirsch first develops and explains all the halachic details of the mitzvah and then weaves an explanation for the mitzvah that comports with all those details. At times, this required him to first resolve halachic details regarding the laws of the mitzvah.

Here is an example in which we see the difference between the approach of Rav Hirsch and that of his predecessors. The Ramban explains that the reason for the mitzvah not to mix meat and milk together is because cooking a newly slaughtered kid in the milk of its mother will create cruelty in the person who does this.[vi] However, this reason for the mitzvah has little to do with the halachos of this mitzvah, which prohibit any meat and any milk of two kosher species cooked together.

Rav Hirsch, on the other hand, first explains the laws of the mitzvah, and then demonstrates why the Torah’s description of cooking a goat in the milk of its mother is the simplest way to express these ideas. He subsequently proceeds to explain a philosophic reason for the mitzvah that we can appreciate and that can teach us a moral lesson, while observing the mitzvah. In this instance, Rav Hirsch provides a brilliant and extensive seven-page essay presenting why this prohibition is limited to the meat and the milk of kosher, domesticated animal species, and why it includes not only the consumption, but also the cooking of and benefit from this mixture.[vii]

Here is another example. The Torah forbids planting any trees near the mizbei’ach.[viii] As an explanation of this mitzvah, the Ramban explains that even though one is planting a shade tree that will enhance the area of the Beis Hamikdash, this is still prohibited, since it was the custom of the idol worshippers to plant trees near the entrance to their temples.

Rav Hirsch is not satisfied with approaches like this to explain mitzvos. Instead he notes that the thriving of a tree near an idol was considered a sign of the influence of the god. This idea fits very appropriately to the heathen notion that gods are primarily forces of nature, whose rule manifests itself in the phenomena of the physical world. However, such notions are diametrically opposite to the Jewish concept of G-d. A Jew is obligated to subordinate all his aspirations, including his moral and spiritual world, to the sphere of G-d’s sovereignty. Only through this can he expect to succeed in the physical world.[ix]

Frequently, Rav Hirsch presents highly original approaches to ta’amei hamitzvos, such as his explanations for the mitzvos of arayos, keifel, arachin, and tum’ah and taharah, and the disqualification of blemished animals and blemished kohanim from the service of korbanos. Regarding tum’ah, for example, he notes that the foundation of most religions is the fear of death, and it is at this time that the priest assumes his greatest role. The Torah, in contrast, bans the kohen from being involved with the dead, to demonstrate that the Torah’s goal is that we grow and develop throughout life – when we are in our best health. To emphasize this, the kohen, whose role is to educate how to live as a Jew, is distanced from death.

Rav Hirsch uses the same concept to explain why a kohen with a physical blemish or injury is forbidden to serve in the Beis Hamikdash and why a similarly impaired animal is prohibited as a korban. This emphasis on physical beauty or selectivity seems to run counter to the Torah’s idea of equal access for all to a relationship with Hashem.

Rav Hirsch explains that religions generally become the home of the marginalized and alienated in society. By prohibiting the physically impaired from performing the service in the holiest of places, the Torah emphasizes that its goal is to foster in all Jews the development of a relationship with Hashem, rather than to simply provide a refuge for the disenfranchised.

For the continuation of this article, see here.


[i] I refer to the commentaries of the Malbim because, although he wrote on almost the entire Tanach, a rare accomplishment, his treatment of different parts of Tanach is so varied as to make it difficult to refer to it as one commentary.

[ii] On Chumash, the Malbim follows two different styles. As I mention in the article, his commentary on Vayikra and parts of Devorim is an explanation of the midrashei halachah, the Sifra and the Sifrei, in which he delves into Chazal’s method of understanding Torah Shebiskav. On the other hand, his commentaries to other parts of Chumash bear close similarity to the commentary of the Abarbanel, which, as he says himself, he used. He presents many questions on the topic at hand, and then weaves an explanation to answer them. Yet another style is presented in his commentaries to Esther and Shir Hashirim, in which he presents his own midrashic-style approach to these works.

[iii] This point is the main thrust of Dayan Isaac Grunfeld’s introduction to Rav Hirsch’s commentary, which I will quote in the sequel of this article.

[iv] Commentary of Rav Hirsch to Bereishis 1:19.

[v] See, for example, commentary of Rav Hirsch to Vayikra 18:4.

[vi]  Ramban, Devorim 14:21.

[vii] Commentary of Rav Hirsch to Shemos 23:19.

[viii] Devorim 16:21.

[ix] Commentary of Rav Hirsch to Devorim 16:21. Based on the Haberman translation.

Thoughts on Chinuch

Since this week’s parsha discusses the Tochacha, whose entire purpose is the education of the Jewish people, it is certainly an appropriate time to discuss:

Thoughts on Chinuch

Question #1: Chinuch or Myself?

Is it better to train my children to do hachnasas orchim, or to do the mitzvah myself?

Question #2: Who Pays?

Whose responsibility is it to pay for the Torah education of those children whose parents cannot afford it?

Question #3: Tongue in Cheek

What delicacy should one ideally serve one’s guests?


The Torah teaches that Avraham Avinu ran to his cattle to shecht fresh meat for his guests. According to the Gemara (Bava Metzia 86b), which Rashi quotes, he slaughtered not one, but three animals, in order to serve a delicacy to each of his guests – an entire tongue, prepared and served with mustard. I have been told that there was an old custom to serve tongue as a delicacy for Yom Tov meals, particularly when having guests. (I am disappointed to note that I do not think I have ever been the guest of people who have that custom. Do you know anyone who observes it, and can you figure out how to get me invited?)

In the context of this discussion, Rashi is bothered by a question. Immediately after Avraham Avinu slaughters the bulls, while he is acting with total alacrity to perform the mitzvah of hachnasas orchim, the pasuk notes that he gave them to “the lad.” The question is: Avraham Avinu was a very wealthy man, with many servants who could have taken care of his guests. Obviously, he wanted to perform the mitzvah himself (mitzvah bo yoseir mibeshelucho, see Kiddushin 41a). If this is true, why did he give this part of the mitzvah to someone else?

Rashi, quoting the Midrash Rabbah, explains that “the lad” is Yishmael, and that Avraham’s goal was to train him in the mitzvah of hachnasas orchim. How does Rashi know this? The answer is that otherwise Avraham Avinu would not have allowed someone else to participate in the mitzvah. For this reason, even those who can afford household help should make the beds and prepare the meals for guests, so that they can perform the mitzvah themselves.

Rashi’s explanation assumes that the mitzvah of training your children to perform mitzvos is more important than doing the mitzvah yourself, and therefore the na’ar must have been Yishmael.

From this it would appear that we see an important lesson in chinuch. Often we could gain much more spiritually by performing a mitzvah ourselves than by spending time training our children to do the mitzvah. But some authorities rule that it is our halachic responsibility to train our child, even when we seem to gain less spiritually as a result. As we will soon see, not everyone agrees with this assessment.

Chinuch Controversy

When the Gemara in Bava Metzia discusses Avraham’s interaction with the angels, it makes the following statement: “Whatever Avraham did for the angels by himself, Hakodosh Boruch Hu later performed for his children Himself, and whatever Avraham did via an agent, Hakodosh Boruch Hu performed for his children via an agent.” Thus, the Gemara implies that there is criticism of Avraham for not doing these mitzvos himself.

Rav Moshe Feinstein explains that, indeed, Avraham Avinu felt that he should include Yishmael actively in the mitzvah. However, the Gemara is teaching that it would have been better chinuch for Yishmael to see Avraham Avinu perform all the chesed himself and not discharge some of the responsibility (Dorash Moshe, new edition).

Chinuch or Myself?

We can now address our opening question: Is it better to train my children to do hachnasas orchim, or to do the mitzvah myself?

According to Rav Moshe, it is better to do the mitzvah myself in a way that my child knows that I am doing it. I should have the child involved when I cannot perform all the chesed myself in an efficient way.

Partners in alacrity

We should note that the wording of the Midrash Rabbah varies slightly from what Rashi writes. The Midrash Rabbah states vayitein el hanaar zeh Yishmael bishvil lezarzo bemitzvos, which translates as “And he gave it to the lad – this was Yishmael – in order to have him treat mitzvos with alacrity.” Whereas when Rashi quotes this, he says simply lechancho bamitzvos, “to train him in mitzvos.” The Midrash adds another lesson. Avraham Avinu was not only training Yishmael to perform hachnasas orchim himself, but he wanted him to learn to do it with zerizus, promptly and with enthusiasm. Avraham Avinu felt that although one usually teaches best by way of example, a child learns the way of his parents not only by observation, but also by participation. When a child becomes a partner in his parents’ chesed endeavors, the child’s learns to become a zariz in chesed.

His brothers or his sons?

We find a similar lesson borne out in another Midrash Rabbah. The pasuk in Bereishis (31:46) teaches that to make a covenant with Lavan, Yaakov told “his brothers” to take stones. Midrash Rabbah (74:13) points out that Yaakov had only one brother, and that brother, Eisav, was not with him at the moment. The Midrash, cited there by Rashi, explains that his “brothers” must have been Yaakov’s sons, whom he called his brothers.

The question is, what are the Midrash and Rashi teaching us here? Why does the Torah refer to Yaakov’s sons as his brothers? Let the Torah call them his sons!

Rav Shlomo Wolbe explains that part of chinuch is to have your children become your partners. If a child feels that he is a partner in his parent’s mitzvah and chesed activities, he does not feel that he is being forced to do something, or that his parents are providing for someone else rather than attending to the child’s needs. Quite the contrary, he feels honored by the responsibility (Zeriyah Uvinyan Bechinuch, page 27). Thus, Avraham Avinu understood that the proper chinuch is to make your child a partner in the mitzvah of hachnasas orchim, notwithstanding that otherwise one should perform the mitzvah oneself.

Bear in mind that this does not mean that the child does most of the work. The parent does most of the work, and incorporates the child in a way that the child feels honored to be a partner in the parents’ chesed endeavors. When the child sees that the parent always runs to do the chesed himself or herself, and then involves the child in part of the project, the child understands instinctively that the parent is involving them not because the child is doing the parent a favor, but in order to share the performance of the mitzvah with the child.

Accomplishments of a mechanech

Someone who implements the goals of chinuch accomplishes tremendous things, as we see in the following passage of Gemara (Taanis 24a). Rav went to a place that was suffering from a severe drought. In earlier days, when neither piped nor bottled water was available, a drought was a calamitous circumstance. The lives of all individuals in the community, both wealthy and poor, are endangered. One cannot live without water, and one needs water not only for drinking, but also for crops and livestock, without even mentioning the need to bathe and launder clothing.

Rav declared a fast day, which the community began observing, but rain still did not fall, and the fervent prayers of the community did not seem to be having any obvious influence.

The gabbai then asked a particular individual to be the chazzan. When the individual chosen began reciting the repetition of the shemoneh esrei as the representative of the famished and thirsty community, as he said the words mashiv haruach, the wind began blowing, and when he recited the words umorid hagashem, it began to rain, thus relieving the problem for the entire area. Thus, the merits of the prayers of this one individual saved the entire community not only from financial devastation but from almost certain death!

Rav inquired of the chazzan what his occupation was. He answered: “I am a melamed of children, and I teach the children of the poor just like the children of the wealthy.” (In those days, this was not a job in a local school, but it was arranged on an individual basis. Usually, the financially stable members of a community could get together and hire an excellent rebbe for their children. The poor, unfortunately, sometimes had to do without.)

Continued the melamed, “If someone cannot afford to pay my wages, I teach his child without pay. Furthermore, I own fish ponds, and whenever a child misbehaves, I bribe him with fish until I get him to straighten out. I then spend time making him feel good until I succeed in getting him to learn Torah.” Do we have any question why Hashem answered the prayers of the melamed!

The Ben Yehoyada explains in greater depth that this melamed was rewarded and listened to because he treated the poor and the wealthy in the same way. Water is a great equalizer. It provides for everyone equally. In a place without any water, the wealthy will die also. Furthermore, there are machlokos regarding irrigation ditches, because each individual wants more water at the expense of his fellow. This is not so regarding rainwater, since each household receives water directly from Above that others cannot claim.

The Ben Yehoyada notes further the method that this melamed used to encourage his talmidim. In an era when rabbeyim would resort to potching to get a child to learn, this melamed used fish as a positive reward.

In addition, fish are concealed from the eye — no ayin hora controls them. Rain is similar; it absorbs into the ground, so no ayin hora sees it, and it always flows to a lower place, reflecting humility. This is again similar to the humility so obvious in the behavior of this melamed that we are not even told his name. Such recognition would run counter to his way of serving Hashem.

Where was the community?

There is a question germane to this story: The Gemara states that the melamed involved was teaching the children of the poor of his own volition. No one in the community was making sure that they had a rebbe. However, this story took place hundreds of years after the days of the great tzadik, a kohein gadol named Yehoshua ben Gamla, who had created a revolution in Torah education by requiring that communities create yeshivah schools and support them.

To quote the Gemara (Bava Basra 21a): Rav Yehudah said in the name of Rav, “Indeed, this man named Yehoshua ben Gamla should be remembered favorably, for, were it not for him, Torah would have been forgotten from the Jewish people. Prior to his time, someone who had a father, his father taught him Torah, and one who had no father did not study Torah”. First, Yehoshua ben Gamla introduced that there be melamdim available in Yerushalayim to teach Torah without charge to the student. He eventually expanded this program until every city and town had Torah teachers available for every Jewish boy, beginning from the age of six or seven. His ruling established this as a permanent requirement incumbent upon Jewish communities: They are obligated to guarantee that every Jewish boy can study Torah. Subsequent to this time, a community that failed to assume this responsibility was excommunicated, and if this failed to alleviate the situation, destroyed (Shabbos 119b; Rambam, Hilchos Talmud Torah 2:1).

So, the question is raised: Why did it fall upon this melamed to provide personally for the poor children in his town? Why did the community not assume responsibility that there be melamdim available to teach them?

We do not know why this community had not made arrangements to have Torah taught to all its students. But we do see that this melamed took the responsibility on himself when he saw that the need was not being fulfilled. Single-handedly, he was the Rav Yehoshua ben Gamla of his town!

At this point, it is appropriate for us to discuss one of our opening questions: Whose responsibility is it to pay for the Torah education of those children whose parents cannot afford it?

Based on the Gemara in Bava Basra, we can answer one of our opening questions: We see that the Jewish community must assume this responsibility.

Many students

The Mishnah at the beginning of Pirkei Avos quotes that one of the three lessons that the Anshei Keneses Hagedolah emphasized was he’emidu talmidim harbei. But the literal translation of the word he’emidu, means to “get them to stand up.” What does that mean?

One early anthology, the Midrash Shmuel, quotes several approaches. One approach is that it is an instruction to the philanthropists of a community: Provide financial support for as many students as possible. Do not rest on your laurels that you have already been a major backer of Torah! As long as there are more potential students, find means to have them supported.

Growth through teaching

The Midrash Shmuel mentions another answer to explain the words he’emidu talmidim harbei. The Midrash Shmuel mentions another answer to explain the words he’emidu talmidim harbei. This Mishnah addresses the rebbe, principal, rav or rosh yeshivah — provide instruction to as many students as you can. The more students one teaches, the greater the rebbe will grow in learning. One grows in Torah by answering questions of students and by learning how to explain the subject matter to different minds, each of which thinks somewhat differently. The Midrash Shmuel understands that this Mishnah is an extension of an idea we find in a different Mishnah (Avos 2:7) — marbeh eitzah marbeh tevuna, the more advice, the more understanding is produced. In this context, this is understood to mean: The more one is placed in a position of providing quality advice to people, the deeper one’s understanding grows. This is something to which any experienced rav, social worker, psychologist or community activist will readily agree.

There is also a halachic side to this lesson, quoted by the Midrash Shmuel. When Rav, the great amora, was asked a question in the very complicated laws that determine whether an animal is kosher or not (the laws of hilchos tereifos), he would show it to and discuss it with many people before ruling on it. Although clearly his level of Torah erudition was far greater than that of the people with whom he was discussing the question, by explaining to them the issues involved, hearing their questions and sharing insights with them, he grew in his own depth of understanding of the topic.

More talmidei chachamim

Yet another approach mentioned by the Midrash Shmuel to explain the Mishnah’s statement he’emidu talmidim harbei provides an additional insight to the laws of chinuch. In this approach, the Mishnah is addressed to a lay person whose sons have demonstrated a particularly strong desire to grow in learning. “Do not have the attitude that since I allowed one of my sons to become a talmid chacham I do not need to encourage the others to grow in learning to the same extent. One’s other children should also be encouraged to learn to the extent that they can. And, if they demonstrate a facility in learning, one should do whatever possible to encourage them to continue.


Returning to the story of the melamed whose prayer brought rain on his entire city,we see the tremendous sense of responsibility this melamed felt and demonstrated for all the children in his town. This brings to mind a closely related point, also made by Rav Wolbe, based on the following passage of Gemara.

The Gemara (Makkos 11a) mentions that someone who killed a person out of negligence must remain in the city of refuge (ir miklat) until the kohein gadol dies. The Gemara asks: Why is the length of stay in the ir miklat dependent on the kohein gadol? The Gemara explains that the kohein gadol was responsible for davening that such calamities not occur.

The question is: Where do we find that the kohein gadol is responsible for davening that things don’t go wrong? Rav Wolbe explains that this is a given. Although the Torah never gives us such a commandment, it is understood that if one is responsible for educating people, automatically, this means that he davens for them. Just as  parents do not need to be told to daven for their children’s wellbeing, health, and success, a teacher, rabbi, kohein gadol or anyone else responsible for other individuals does not require to be told to daven for them. It should come naturally.


We have learned the importance of training a child properly in the fulfillment of mitzvos. In prioritizing our lives, we should always place the educating and developing of the future generation at the top of our list, since this is where the future of the Jewish people lies.


Mesorah: The Relationship between the Written and Oral Torah

I will begin our discussion by quoting the beautiful words of Rav Hirsch, explaining the relationship between the words of our written Torah and the laws of our Gemara:

The relationship between the Written Torah and the Oral Torah is like that between brief written notes taken on a scientific lecture, and the lecture itself. Students who attended the oral lecture require only their brief notes to recall at any time the entire lecture. They often find that a word, a question mark, an exclamation mark, a period, or the underscoring of a word is sufficient to bring to mind a whole series of ideas, observations, qualifications, and so forth. But for those who did not attend the instructor’s lecture, these notes are not of much use. If they try to reconstruct the lecture solely from these notes, they will of necessity make many errors. Words, marks, and so forth, that serve the students who listened to the lecture as most instructive guiding stars for the retention of the truths expounded by the lecturer appear completely meaningless to the uninitiated. The non-initiate who will attempt to use these same notes in order to construct (as opposed to reconstruct) for himself the lecture he did not attend will dismiss what seems unclear as baseless mental gymnastics and idle speculations leading nowhere.[i]

Thus, we see that the Oral Torah is indispensable for a proper understanding of the Written Torah.

The Rambam[ii] divides all the myriad laws of the Torah into three basic categories:

  1. Those that we know on the basis of mesorah, that is, we have a direct tradition from each generation’s greatest Torah leaders to its teachers of the previous generation, and this tradition can be traced directly back to Moshe Rabbeinu, who, in turn, was taught these laws by Hashem during his sojourn on Har Sinai. For this reason, the Rambam, both in the Introduction to his Mishneh Torah and in the Introduction to his Commentary to the Mishnah, lists the entire chain of the mesorah from Moshe Rabbeinu until the completion of the Talmud. Every law included in this first category was, itself, transmitted by the leaders of each generation to the next in an unbroken chain.
  2. Those laws that are derived from the Written Torah on the basis of rules that we were given at Har Sinai. In this instance, we were provided with the Written Torah as the lecture notes described above by Rav Hirsch, and accompanied by a detailed explanation of how to apply logic to derive and understand more details of these mitzvos. Any laws derived this way qualify as min haTorah.
  3. Those laws that were introduced by the Sages of each generation in fulfilling their role, as mandated by the Torah, to safeguard the observing of its commandments. This category includes also completely new mitzvos that Chazal introduced, such as kindling the Chanukah menorah, the various observances of Purim and washing one’s hands before partaking of bread.

The Rambam notes that there is a very sharp distinction between the first two categories, notwithstanding the fact that the laws of both are min haTorah. There cannot be any dispute about the veracity of any law that is in the first category, since all laws are based on mesorah. To quote the Rambam, divrei kabbalah lo naflah bahem machlokes le’olam, there can never be a dispute regarding concepts that are based on our Oral Tradition.

On the other hand, as the second category is based on logic, there will, of necessity, be differing opinions as to how to interpret and understand halachic concepts. As our Sages teach, just as no two people look the same, no two people think the same.[iii] Therefore, any time we discover a dispute between sages of the Mishnah or Gemara, the law being debated must fall under either the second category or the third, but it can never belong to the first.

A related difference between the two categories is that a Beis Din Hagadol of a later generation has the right and ability to overturn the ruling that is of the second category, but it cannot overturn a law that is based on mesorah from Har Sinai.

In the Introduction to his Commentary to the Mishnah, the Rambam divides the first category into two different subcategories, both of which include only laws that we were taught by mesorah. The Rambam calls the first subcategory peirushim hamekubalim, explanations of the verse that we know to be true on the basis of our mesorah. The second subcategory includes all laws that we know exclusively from mesorah without any allusion at all in the “lecture notes” – that is, the Written Torah.

Allow me to explain the difference between these two subcategories: The Torah instructs us to take on Sukkos the fruit of a beautiful tree, branches of date palms, twigs of a plaited tree and willows of a stream. In these two instances — the fruit of a beautiful tree and the twigs of a plaited tree — the notes provided by the Torah are insufficient on their own to identify which items are intended. However, those who attended the original “lecture” were told that the fruit of a beautiful tree means an esrog, and that the twigs of a plaited tree refers to hadasim. The mesorah explaining these oral lecture notes was transmitted by Moshe to Yeshoshua and the other great leaders of his era. They then transmitted this to the leaders of the next generation, and so on, until they were codified in the Mishnah and later in the Gemara. This subcategory is called peirushim hamekubalim.

On the other hand, there are concepts that are not alluded to in the lecture notes of the Written Torah. These were supplied completely via mesorah. For example, the laws of sukkah, or, more accurately, of the construction of “walls,” include concepts called gud and lavud. These laws have no basis in the Written Torah. This means that there is no mention whatsoever in the lecture notes and they therefore comprise the second subcategory. Chazal call this latter subcategory halacha leMoshe miSinai, meaning laws that are known only because of the mesorah of what Moshe was taught at Har Sinai.

Again, both of these two subcategories are laws that we know on the basis of mesorah, and whose veracity is never disputed, in the Rambam’s opinion. The difference between the two subcategories is that what is included under peirushim hamekubalim is something that we may have understood without mesorah on the basis of logic and the Written Torah, whereas we would never have known about a halacha leMoshe miSinai without our mesorah. Thus, the Gemara[iv] demonstrates several ways in which one may derive that the “fruit of a beautiful tree” is indeed an esrog, even had we not been provided this information in our mesorah. However, we would never have known the laws of gud and lavud without a mesorah.

Nisuch Hamayim

The mitzvah to pour water on the altar on Sukkos provides insight into another curiosity. The Gemara[v] cites approaches that derive this mitzvah by means of lecture notes in the Written Torah. Rabbi Yehudah ben Beseirah derives the mitzvah from the otherwise unnecessary letters mem, yud and mem (spelling mayim, water) in the words describing the wine libations on the second, sixth and seventh days of Sukkos. A different opinion, that of Rabbi Nechunya, says that this mitzvah is completely halacha leMoshe miSinai. [vi]

According to both opinions, the law is the same, and it was taught via a mesorah from Sinai. The dispute between the two opinions is under which subcategory this mitzvah should be included. Is it similar to esrog and hadas, in that a careful reading of Written Torah will teach the existence of this mitzvah, or is it like gud and lavud, that even the most careful reading of the Written Torah would not teach this law without our oral mesorah?

What if we forget a mesorah?

The Gemara[vii] states that thousands of laws were forgotten during the days that the Jewish people mourned Moshe Rabbeinu’s passing. However, the majority were restored through the brilliant analysis of Asniel ben Kenaz. Are these now mesorah, or based on logic? The answer is that although they were originally mesorah, they are now based on logic, notwithstanding the fact that there is no dispute about them.

None of us is as brilliant as Asniel. We accept that this is part of the halacha because we know that the Beis Din Hagadol accepted Asniel’s logic. This concept will become important in the rest of our discussion.

So far, we have explained the two subcategories, both of which are aspects of the first category – laws that are part of the mesorah that we were taught at Har Sinai. As I mentioned above, the second category of the Torah’s laws are laws that are derived from the notes of the written Torah on the basis of the principles that the Torah taught. Since these laws are interpreted through logic, there will be disputes that occur. Whenever we find a dispute recorded in the Mishnah and the Gemara, it can only be regarding a law that falls under either the second or third of the Rambam’s three categories. If a dispute regards a Torah law, it will always be in regard to a law that is part of the second category, and the dispute will be based either on two differing interpretations of a verse, on two differing interpretations of a halacha leMoshe miSinai,[viii] or on a dispute how to apply one of the rules that the Torah provided for interpreting the Written Torah. According to the Rambam, there is never a dispute with a position that is based on mesorah.

It occasionally happened that a great Torah leader received the mesorah of a halacha and a different leader was aware of the halacha but had not received the mesorah upon which it is based. In such an instance, the opinion that cites a mesorah as the source becomes the halachic basis for the law.[ix]

Who Decides?

When there is a dispute among gedolei Yisrael concerning how to interpret the words or concepts of the Torah, it is the duty of the Beis Din Hagadol, also known as the Sanhedrin, to decide which approach is the final halacha that Klal Yisrael will follow. In the era that the Beis Din Hagadol functioned, all disputed matters were brought to its attention for a ruling. Unfortunately, the Beis Din Hagadol has not functioned for many hundreds of years, and that is why, today, we are often left with unresolved disputes.[x]

The Torah teaches that a great scholar who refuses to follow the ruling of the Sanhedrin and persists in ruling differently from their decision is guilty of a capital offense and is called a zakein mamrei.[xi] The reason why the Torah treats this offense so seriously is that otherwise Klal Yisrael would become divided into many divergent groups, and we would lose our unified Torah.[xii]

The Story of Akavya

Let us digress to explain an often misunderstood Mishnah. The Mishnah[xiii] teaches that Akavya ben Mahalallel, considered perhaps the greatest Torah scholar of his generation, disagreed with the other Torah leaders of his generation and was a minority of one in four different disputes. The other Sages recognized Akavya’s tremendous scholarship and offered to make him the Av Beis Din, the head of the Sanhedrin, on the condition that he simply recant his position in these four areas. He rejected this offer because he considered it tantamount to falsifying the Torah.[xiv] Yet, when Akavya lay dying, he instructed his son to reject his positions on all four issues in favor of those of the other Sages. When his son asked him why Akavya, himself, would not withdraw his opinion, yet instructed his son to do so, Akavya answered: The opinion that I hold is because I heard this from the majority of Sages of an earlier generation, and therefore I am bound by what I heard. However, you heard this position only from me, and I am now a minority. You are bound by what you heard to be the majority position, which disagrees with me, and you should therefore follow the position of the majority.[xv]

It is apparent that the dispute between Akavya and the other Sages was not over a question of mesorah, for then there could have been no dispute. The dispute between them was based originally on a position that had been arrived at through logic. Akavya and the other Sages disputed what was the conclusion of the earlier generation. Since this was a position based on logic, they were freely able to do so.[xvi]

Was Akavyah a zakein mamrei?

Since Akavyah refused to accept the authority of the rest of the Sanhedrin, why did he not qualify as a zakein mamrei? The Gemara[xvii] asks this question and cites a dispute on the subject. The approach that is accepted is that, notwithstanding the fact that Akavyah opposed the decision of the Sanhedrin, he refrained from ruling for people. Although he would explain that he disagreed with the ruling of the members of the Sanhedrin, he would never tell someone to follow his position against theirs.

Can the Transmission be Faulty?

The Rambam emphasizes the vast difference that exists between these two categories: laws that are based on mesorah and those that are arrived at by logically applying the rules of halachic interpretation. To quote him:

Some think that there could be a dispute that is based on an error in the transmission of the laws or based on forgetfulness or because one scholar received the mesorah truthfully whereas a different scholar erred or forgot or simply never heard all that he should have heard… this is an improper approach and these are words of someone who is without common sense and is missing the basics. He is defaming the great men from whom we received the commandments. This entire approach is null and void. What caused people to make this terrible error is insufficient examination of the words of the Sages that are found in the Talmud. They found that every peirush hamekubal [the first category] that originates from Moshe is true, and they did not realize that there is a difference between the basics [laws in the first category] and those that are derived by logical analysis [the second category].[xviii]

Notwithstanding the sternness with which the Rambam presents this position, we will see that not all Rishonim accepted his premise. In other words, other Rishonim understood that there could be a dispute among great gedolei Yisrael in which both sides claim that they received the halachic information as a mesorah.

Here is one case where we see this. On Pesach, the Torah prohibits consuming either chometz or sourdough, the inedible yeast-like product that develops when one allows dough to over-leaven. One who consumes an olive-sized quantity of chometz on Pesach is liable for the punishment of kareis. The Mishnah[xix] records a dispute between Beis Hillel and Beis Shammai concerning the minimum quantity for a person to be legally responsible for consuming sourdough on Pesach — is it the size of an olive or the size of a date? In two different places, the Gemara debates at length what is the basis for the dispute, concluding that it is contingent on how one interprets the germane verses. However, Tosafos[xx] asks why the Gemara did not present a simpler approach: Since we have a general statement that the sizes of the measurements of the Torah are generally derived as halacha leMoshe miSinai, why did the Gemara not simply explain the dispute between Beis Hillel and Beis Shammai as being what the original mesorah from Sinai had been, Beis Shammai accepting the mesorah to have been the size of a date, and Beis Hillel the size of an olive. Regardless of how Tosafos answers this question, obviously Tosafos accepts the possibility that two disputing authorities could have disagreeing traditions concerning what we were taught at Sinai, and that it is not anathema to say that someone’s mesorah on a halacha leMoshe miSinai is wrong.

Kicking Pebbles

We will now explore another halachic discussion where we see the predominantly accepted approach does not agree with the Rambam. Here is the background to the subject:

The Torah[xxi] rules that if an animal trespasses into private property, its owner must compensate for the damage it caused. The discussion that concerns us is about damage that resulted from an animal kicking pebbles or moving some other item that, as a result, damaged property. The Mishnah[xxii] rules that the owner of the animal is obligated to pay for only half the damage caused when this happens, a concept called chatzi nezek tzeroros, half of the damage caused by pebbles.

What is the basis for this ruling? The Gemara[xxiii] states hilchesa gemira la, it is a law that we know from tradition, which Rashi[xxiv] explains to mean that it is a halacha leMoshe miSinai.[xxv]

The Gemara[xxvi] mentions that there is one Tanna, Sumchus, who disagrees with the concept of chatzi nezek tzeroros, and requires the owner to pay full damages.[xxvii] This, of course, leads us to a question. Once the Rambam has ruled that there can be no dispute regarding a halacha leMoshe miSinai, how could there be a dispute between Sumchus and the other Sages regarding the concept of chatzi nezek tzeroros?

The Netziv[xxviii] answers this question by noting that the Gemara never says that chatzi nezek tzeroros is a halacha leMoshe miSinai. Rather, the words of the Gemara are hilchesa gemira la, a law that we know from tradition. He explains that, in the Rambam’s opinion, there was never a halacha leMoshe miSinai concerning chatzi nezek tzeroros. An earlier generation’s Beis Din Hagadol had ruled that when an animal damages through tzeroros the owner is required to compensate for only half the damage. This earlier ruling was based on reason, although we are no longer aware of the logical basis. This could perhaps be compared to the type of analysis with which Asniel restored thousands of forgotten laws, and upon which the elders that Akavya quoted had ruled.

Sumchus disputed the ruling of the earlier Beis Din. The Sages, who held that the owner should pay half damages, held this opinion because of an old tradition that they had received from earlier generations – but no one claimed that this tradition’s source was from Moshe Rabbeinu at Har Sinai.

This approach resolves how the Rambam would explain this Gemara, but leads us to a new, interesting conclusion. Although the Rambam feels very strongly that there can be no argument regarding anything claimed to be a halacha leMoshe miSinai, Rashi here disagrees with this assumption, since he understands the leniency of tzeroros to be a halacha leMoshe miSinai, yet Sumchus denies that this leniency exists. This dispute means that although one authority claims that he knows a certain law to be a tradition from Sinai, a different sage could question whether this tradition is accurate.

An early acharon, Rav Yair Chayim Bachrach,[xxix] goes to great length to dispute the Rambam’s position that divrei kabbalah lo naflah bahem machlokes, rallying many sources that he feels prove that this principle is not accurate. On the other hand, the Maharatz Chayes[xxx] devotes an essay to proving that the Rambam’s principle is correct, despite the fact that he, himself, notes that there are other Rishonim who disagree with the Rambam.

Perhaps one can suggest the following approach to minimize the dispute among the Rishonim. Let us assume, for a moment, that the great Tanna’im knew that a certain halacha is observed, but no longer remembered its source. Would it be wrong to say that someone suggested that its source might have been a halacha leMoshe miSinai, that was since forgotten? If so, perhaps we could explain that both Rashi and the Rambam understood the case of tzeroros in a similar way. The Sages knew that an earlier generation had ruled that the owner is obligated to pay for only half the damages, but they no longer remembered the reason. The Sages suggested that, perhaps, this had originally been taught as a now-forgotten halacha leMoshe miSinai, a position that Sumchus rejected.

The Mesorah and the Esrog

An observant Jew does not need proof that our mesorah is correct. Nevertheless, we often feel some satisfaction when we discover that a secular source verifies our mesorah. The esrog with which most Ashkenazim are familiar looks quite different, both inside and outside, from the esrogim that the Moroccan and the Yemenite communities use, and the Moroccan and Yemenite esrogim look very different from one another. Several years ago, research teams from the University of Catania, Italy, and the Hebrew University conducted a joint study of twelve varieties of esrog, including the standard Moroccan, Yemenite, Italian, Chazon Ish, and other varieties, to see whether they were indeed consistently one species, or whether the DNA indicated that they were of different species and origins. Their pre-research assumption was that these were unrelated species and that Jews had simply used a native available citrus.

The study concluded that the DNA proves that all twelve varieties are in fact one species — and that they are all genetically separate from all other citrus fruits. To quote the study:[xxxi] “The results obtained are very clear and might be regarded as somewhat surprising. Notwithstanding diverse geographical origin and the considerable morphological variation, especially in fruit size and shape, presence of pulp and persistence of style, all the citron types examined revealed a high degree of similarity. There was no sign of introgression of lemon or other citrus genomes into any of the citrons examined.”[xxxii]


The mesorah is our link to the past and our guidance regarding how to perform our mitzvos. It is very reassuring to realize that the esrog and the other three species we pick up on Sukkos are the same species that the Jews used in the Desert, in the days of Shlomo Hamelech and in the days of Rabbi Akiva. It would be fascinating to watch a video of Jews in those eras holding their arba’ah minim while standing in their sukkos. Since we can’t watch that video, we can only reconstruct the vision in our minds and thank the mesorah that has kept us identified as Jews in so many different places and eras.



[i] Hirsch Commentary to Shemos 21:2, Haberman translation

[ii] There are several places where the Rambam discusses these ideas, the most extensive of which is in the Introduction to his Commentary to the Mishnah. He also discusses these ideas in Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Mamrim, Chapter 4, and in Sefer Hamitzvos, his second rule.

[iii] Berachos 58a

[iv] Sukkah 35a

[v] Taanis 2b, 3a

[vi] There is also a third opinion, Rabbi Nosson, who has a different scriptural source for this mitzvah.

[vii] Temurah 15b and 16a

[viii] See Kol Kisvei Maharatz Chayes, Volume 1, pg 115

[ix] Shiurim Lezeicher Aba Mari, Volume 1, page 230

[x] Rambam, Hilchos Mamrim 1:4

[xi] Devarim 17:12

[xii] Sefer Hachinuch, Mitzvah 495

[xiii] Eduyos 5:6

[xiv] Yam shel Shlomoh, Bava Kama 4:9, explains the seriousness of this prohibition.

[xv] Eduyos 5:7

[xvi] See Margaliyos Hayam, Sanhedrin 88a, who cites this explanation in the name of the Sanhedri Ketanah, for reasons independent of the Rambam’s position.

[xvii] Sanhedrin 88a

[xviii] Introduction to his Commentary to the Mishnayos.

[xix] Beitzah 2a

[xx] Tosafos, Yoma 79b s.v. Lomar

[xxi] Shemos 22:4

[xxii] Bava Kama 17a

[xxiii] Ibid. 17b

[xxiv] Bava Kama 3b s.v. Bechatzi

[xxv] The analysis that the Rosh, Bava Kama 2:2 applies to the discussion also clearly demonstrates that he understood the Gemara to mean a halacha leMoshe miSinai.

[xxvi] Ibid.

[xxvii] The Gemara actually cites two approaches to explain Sumchus’s position, according to one of which Sumchus accepts the lenient ruling of tzeroros, but disputes when it applies. According to this approach, there would be no problem for the Rambam to accept that tzeroros is a halacha leMoshe miSinai in which two authorities dispute some of its halachic applications. However, the Gemara presents another approach, according to which Sumchus denies the entire halachic principle of tzeroros.

Note also that Rashi, Bava Kama 17b s.v. Sumchus states explicitly that Sumchus disputes the halacha of tzeroros.

[xxviii] Introduction to his Commentary on the She’iltos, 1:2

[xxix] Shu’t Chavos Yair, #192

[xxx] Kol Kisvei Maharatz Chayes, Volume I page 111.

[xxxi] Proceedings of the International Society of Citriculture, December, ’00

[xxxii] We should note that even though genetically all the varieties tested are indeed esrogim, we cannot rely on genetic testing to prove the authenticity of a particular esrog, since, if it was grafted onto non-esrog stock, it would be invalid for use on Sukkos according to most authorities.

How Are We Mechaneich?

Question #1: Chinuch and Chanukah

Dr. Edward Ucater, Ed. D, asks me:

“I know that teaching requires a lot of dedication, but what does chinuch have to do with dedicating the mishkan, chanukas hamishkan?”

Question #2: One School Fits All?

This question was submitted by Dr. Cyrus Kologist, Ph. D:

“Why do so many schools require that you send them all of your sons or all of your daughters? Don’t different siblings sometimes thrive better in dissimilar educational environments?”

Origins of chinuch

Although the word chinuch is used in modern Hebrew to mean “education,” this is not the word’s correct translation. Teaching is limud or shinunlimud is the general word for “teaching” and shinun, which does not have a simple literal translation into English, means teaching something until the student knows it thoroughly. However, the root of the word chinuch appears in Tanach most frequently referring to the dedication of the Mishkan or of its vessels. Since it is difficult to “teach” these appliances, the word chinuch is usually translated in those contexts as dedicated and dedication. This leads us directly to our first question above, that of Ed Ucator. “I know that teaching requires a lot of dedication, but what does chinuch have to do with dedicating the mishkan, chanukas hamishkan?”

Rashi (Bereishis 14:14 and Devorim 20:5) explains that the word chinuch refers to a beginning. Other early commentaries emphasize that chinuch means to become accustomed to doing a particular activity (Rambam, Commentary to Mishnah Menachos 4:4; Rabbeinu Yonah and Metzudas Dovid, Mishlei 22:6). According to the Rambam (ad loc.), the primary meaning of the term chinuch is the training of people, and using the word chinuch in reference to items is a borrowed usage. Just as we say that chinuch is to accustom a person to perform certain activities, we “accustom” the utensils of the Beis Hamikdash to perform their jobs. Rav Hirsch adds that the word chinuch includes dedicating something for a lofty, holy purpose.

Chinuch does not mean book knowledge. It means training. And “training” means doing the mitzvos. Chanukas hamishkan and chanukas hamizbei’ach mean to use them for the first time.

Only twice in Tanach is the word chinuch used in reference to people, and only once in chumash. That place is in parshas Lech Lecha, where the Torah refers to Avraham’s followers as chanichav, “Those he had trained.” The other Biblical place where the word refers to people is in Mishlei, Chanoch lana’ar al pi darko; gam ki yazkin lo yasur mimenu, “Train the young man according to his way! Even when he gets older, he will not diverge from it” (Mishlei 22:6). These are the immortal words of Shlomoh Hamelech explaining the basics of Chinuch. All proper chinuch must be based on understanding the lessons of this pasuk and our Chazal. This verse functions both as a halachic and advisory directive on how to train youth, and also provides a guide to see that a child will develop and mature to fulfill his potential.

Understanding Mishlei

Let us see how the traditional commentators explain the pasuk, Chanoch lana’ar al pi darko. Among the classic commentaries, we find two basic approaches to understand what Shlomoh Hamelech was emphasizing.

(1) According to Rashi, the pasuk is simply an observation of human nature.

(2) According to most commentaries, the pasuk also includes a commandment. Allow me to explain the difference in translation:

Rashi’s approach

“However you train a young man according to his way, we know that when he gets older he will not diverge from it” (see Rashi ad loc.) The verse is not an instruction, but an observation, and applies whether one is taught to be good or to be bad. However someone is trained when young, this is the way he will likely act as an adult, provided that he enjoys the direction in which he is going. Rashi points out that at times a person could act inappropriately or even wickedly, as a result of having been given faulty education as a child. As a matter of fact, most people retain some shortcomings in their personality because they enjoyed pursuing undesirable behaviors as children and were not trained to act correctly.

Most authorities understand that Mishlei is providing instruction and not just observation (Metzudas Dovid, Yalkut Mei’am Lo’eiz, Hirsch, Malbim). The word “chanoch” in the pasuk is a command – this is how you are required to train your child! Train the young man according to his way!

His way

What does the pasuk mean by emphasizing al pi darko, according to his way? How do we do this correctly?

The requirement is to assess the specific strengths and needs of each particular child and to train him to serve Hashem in a way that fits his nature (Rabbeinu Yonah, Malbim, Hirsch). Thus, this adage establishes the most important criterion of Torah education – that each child is a different world – and that he must be trained and directed in his avodas Hashem keeping that in mind. Rabbeinu Yonah explains that darko means his unique path – and that the mitzvah of chinuch is to get him used to this path. Train him to follow the proper midos and practices that fit his personality, to develop and improve himself by doing things that are easy for him because they emphasize his tendencies and personality and they utilize his strengths (Rabbeinu Yonah). Darko means that these are things that come naturally to him and that he learns to do them because he wants to, not because he is forced (Meiri). Train him to do mitzvos that fit his nature and his desire (Meiri). This means that he does mitzvos without being disciplined, and the behavior pattern therefore becomes part of his nature (Meiri).

Based on the Gemara (Shabbos 156a), the Gra explains that one should identify the child’s personality traits, his mazel, and train him to use them for Torah. If you force him to squelch his mazel, to repress his natural penchants, the result is that, as soon as no one is watching, he will do what his mazel inclines him to do, without developing it to use for Torah. One whose mazel inclines him to bloodshed can be trained to become a mohel or a shocheit; these inclinations are trained to be used for mitzvos and other positive purposes. This makes him an oveid Hashem. However, if he is not trained to use these inclinations for mitzvos, he will use them for the opposite. The Gra compares this to Dovid Hamelech, whose nature was inclined toward violence, yet, because he was taught when young to use his nature to serve Hashem, he became the poet of Israel.

How to train

Some early authorities emphasize the following: If the child is gifted with skills important in Torah learning, do not train him in other things. However, if he is not a “learner,” train him in an appropriate trade (Yalkut Mei’am Lo’eiz). Again, this way he will learn to use “his way” in a Torah framework.

On the other hand, if you attempt to train a child for something that is against his nature, it will not last (Malbim; Hirsch). He may go through the motions of keeping mitzvos as long as an adult is supervising him closely. But once he is old enough to free himself from supervision, he will likely use his talents in a non-Torah or an anti-Torah direction.

Tailor-made chinuch

Clearly, there is no “one size fits all” approach to education. One must first identify the appropriate way to educate this particular child, and then provide it.

At times, I have been told that these rules apply only to parents, but not to schools and other chinuch mosados. Unfortunately, this is an error. These cardinal rules of chinuch apply to all chinuch situations without any exceptions. Chinuch must be tailored to the student or child, or it is not chinuch. Obviously, a school cannot create 500 learning programs for 500 students, but insisting that a child attend an educational program not suited for him or her violates chinuch and constitutes abuse of authority. No single method of education is suitable for all children. An education system that assumes that all children should be educated the same way is destined to fail for a large percentage of its students.

Like father?

A parent should recognize that, usually, a child shares the same interests and inclinations as his parent — but not always. Recognizing this requires much judgment and analysis (Yalkut Mei’am Lo’eiz). Even when the child’s approach to serve Hashem manifests itself in a different way from that of his parents, the goal of Torah education still remains that our children follow the example of their parents’ commitment to Torah values (Hirsch, Devorim 21:18).

It goes without saying that one should not pressure a child to follow the educational or life path of an older sibling. For those who disagree with me, I refer you to Rav Hirsch’s excellent essay at the beginning of parshas Tolados and also to Volume VII of his Collected Writings.

Life without luxury

Some extend the lessons of chanoch lana’ar to other areas. For example, even if one is fortunate to be wealthy, train your child to live without luxuries, since luxuries quickly become necessities (Yalkut Mei’am Lo’eiz). One very great talmid chacham praised his mother for having been careful not to buy him more than he needed. Although his parents were financially comfortable, and able to purchase him whatever he wanted, she was careful not to spoil him, though it would have been only natural for them to do so, all the more so since he was an only child. When, in adult life, he was faced with serious challenges, he was able to meet them and grow as a person and a talmid chacham, only because his parents had trained him to use his own strengths and not to rely on outside help when he was young (Yalkut Mei’am Lo’eiz, quoting the Maharam Chagiz).

A child should be taught to observe mitzvos out of joy and not out of fear of punishment. All this is part of the education that children should receive and see in the example provided by their parents (Hirsch, Devorim 21:18).

The most important part of chinuch is training in ahavas Hashem, loving G-d, and yiras Shamayim, fear of Heaven. The parents, themselves, must manifest these qualities. One can educate properly only by example.

Age appropriate

Certainly, all chinuch must be appropriate to the age of the child (Meiri; Yalkut Mei’am Lo’eiz). Expecting a child to sit at the Shabbos table when he is too young to do so is clearly a violation of chanoch lana’ar al pi darko, as is any other expectation that is unrealistic for a child of his age. One should start the training process slowly and gradually get a child in the habit of acting with the proper midos that are appropriate for his personality. He will learn to internalize these midos, and they will become part of him. Gradually, one can increase the requirements and lessons, and he will grow to absorb them (Yalkut Mei’am Lo’eiz).


Mishlei emphasizes that we are educating a na’ar, a young man. Habits are easier to change when one is young, and training a child accomplishes a lot in his proper moral and ethical development. Speak to your child softly, and make sure that you are teaching him in a way that is appropriate to his temperament and to his age (Yalkut Mei’am Lo’eiz).

If we examine the halachos of the ben soreir umoreh in parshas Ki Seitzei, we see a very important lesson. As Rav Hirsch explains, the Torah regards the first three months after a boy turns thirteen as the critical age that determines his moral future. The Torah expects a young man to obey his parents and turn to spiritual values. For this reason, he is called a bar mitzvah — the son of the mitzvah duty assigned by Hashem. The Creator of man ordained that this period awaken within a child a spirit that inspires him to do enthusiastically what is morally noble (Commentary to Devorim 21:18).

Training adults

Notwithstanding that one should begin training a child when he is young, we should note that the word chinuch includes the training of adults. As we noted above, the one example of the use of the word chinuch in Chumash refers to those individuals whom Avraham Avinu developed and educated, who were adults when they came under his influence.

Chazal also refer to the obligation to train and influence one’s adult children (Kiddushin 30a).

When he gets older…

The entire pasuk in Mishlei reads, Chanoch lana’ar al pi darko gam ki yazkin lo yasur mimenu, “Train the young man according to his way! Even when he gets older, he will not diverge from it.” Having figured out the best approach in training each child for his goal, the long-term results should be that one sees the child develop into an adult who makes the decisions that are consistent with Torah values.

Torah chinuch

Although most of our discussion has revolved around explaining the pasuk in Mishlei, one should not think that the ideas of chinuch were first invented by Shlomoh Hamelech. Indeed, there are numerous places where the Torah itself teaches these lessons. For example, the mitzvah of the Hagadah on Seder night, transmitting the experience of yetzias Mitzrayim, the Exodus from Egypt, is mentioned four times in the Torah, each time in a variant way – because different children have different needs. As the compiler of the Hagadah demonstrates, offering alternate approaches teaches that we are to take into consideration the individual needs of each child.

I will share with you that, upon this basis, I recently answered a question that had bothered me for years. Four different times, the Torah describes the mitzvah of Hagadah, teaching your son about the Exodus from Egypt on the night of Pesach, and this detail is explained during our Seder with the story of the four sons. Yet, there is very little halachic literature explaining how one should fulfill this mitzvah. Compare this to other mitzvos for which there is extensive discussion among the halachic authorities defining the responsibility of the mitzvah.

My suggested answer is that there cannot be rules for the mitzvah of Hagadah. Since it is a mitzvah of chinuch, it must be tailor-made to the needs of the child involved and, therefore, formal rules are downplayed.

Ben soreir umoreh

We mentioned above that the purpose of the Torah’s parsha of ben soreir umoreh is to teach many of the rules of education. In this context, I encourage our readers to read Rav Hirsch’s comments on the parsha and his essays on education in Volume 7 of the Collected Writings. There, he analyzes many of the halachos of ben soreir umoreh, and, in his typical style, he develops brilliant insights into proper Torah education.

This teaches a very deep lesson in education: “These words hold the key to the secret of proper child-raising. A father and a mother united as one in their love for their child and in complete agreement on the principles by which he should be raised… But such unity can be achieved only if the child’s father and mother are united also in their own subordination to the Will of G-d. If they view the sacred function of child-rearing as their most sacred task, to be performed for Hashem and in keeping with His holy Will… If His judgments serve as a matter of course to resolve any disagreements” (Collected Writings of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, Volume 7, Page 348).


It is incumbent on any educator to study the commentaries to the pasuk and practice them. I find it highly surprising that many people who consider themselves educators have never bothered to study the verse Chanoch lana’ar al pi darko with the classic commentators. In fact, one does not require the classic commentators; but a simple reading of the pasuk sets every parent and educator on his or her way.

More on Chinuch

Question #1: His own Lulav?

father-and-son-with-lulav“Am I required to purchase for my son his own lulav?”

Question #2: Three-year old Tzitzis?

“At what age should my son start wearing tzitzis?”

Question #3: Minor Kohanim

“I know that one must be very careful that a kohen, even an infant, does not become contaminated with the tumah of a meis. Yet I rarely see a child under bar mitzvah duchen. Is this consistent?”

Question #4: Kiruv Kohanim

“We are in the process of being mekarev a fellow who is a kohen. He enjoys joining us for our family outings, and we love to visit museums. Could this present potential halachic issues?”


In the beginning of parshas Tolados, the Torah mentions the birth and upbringing of Yaakov and Eisav. In what many consider the most controversial passage in his commentary on Chumash, Rav Hirsch criticizes the education that Eisav received. This provides an opportunity to continue our discussion on some of the aspects of the mitzvos of chinuch that we began a few weeks ago.

In this context, we find the following passage of Gemara:

“A minor who knows how to shake a lulav in the way that halachah requires is obligated to fulfill the mitzvah of lulav; one old enough to put on a talis properly is obligated in tzitzis; if he is old enough to protect his tefillin, his father must purchase for him tefillin; when he knows how to talk, his father teaches him Torah and the Shma” (Sukkah 42a; see also Arachin 2b and Tosefta, Chagigah Chapter 1).

We see from the Gemara that we should begin teaching a child Torah and training him to observe mitzvos at the earliest age possible for him to perform the mitzvah correctly. One of the first lessons of mitzvas chinuch that we see here is that the mitzvah is not simply to demonstrate to a child a few times before his bar mitzvah how the mitzvah is performed. The mitzvah is to train him from when he begins to be able to perform the mitzvah properly, and we then begin to encourage him to observe the mitzvos. Thus, as soon as he begins to speak, we should have him recite pesukim. When old enough to wear a talis properly, we should train him in the mitzvah of tzitzis, and when old enough to perform the mitzvah of lulav properly, we should train him to observe that mitzvah.

Why are tefillin different?

When the Gemara mentions that a child should begin to observe mitzvos, it teaches that his father is obligated to purchase tefillin for his son, but it does not say that the father is required to buy either tzitzis or a lulav for his son. This implies that only in the case of tefillin is the father required to make a purchase, but not for the mitzvos of tzitzis or lulav. Why are tefillin different?

The answer is that someone cannot observe the mitzvah of tefillin properly without owning his own pair, and it is obvious that a child would not have the means with which to purchase tefillin. Therefore, the mitzvah of chinuch requires the boy’s father to purchase a pair of tefillin for him.

However, Chazal did not require the father to purchase the four species or tzitzis for his son. Why not? In the case of the four species, the son should be able to perform the mitzvah by using his father’s, and it is therefore unnecessary to require the father to purchase his son a set (Tosafos, Arachin 2b).

What about tzitzis?

Regarding the mitzvah of tzitzis, Tosafos rules that, even for adults, Chazal did not require one to purchase a four-cornered garment in order to fulfill the mitzvah. Rather, someone wishing to wear a four-cornered garment is required to have tzitzis attached to it. In the days of Chazal, one did not purchase a garment with tzitzis, or even purchase tzitzis threads to place on a garment. Clothing was made at home, and tzitzis threads, which require being manufactured for the sake of fulfilling the mitzvah, were spun at home. Therefore, there was no requirement to purchase tzitzis for a child, but, that when the household provided all its members with home-made clothing, it provided the men-folk, including those under bar mitzvah, with four-cornered garments and spun tzitzis to attach to them (Tosafos, Arachin 2b).

“Protecting” tefillin

The Gemara rules that when a child is old enough to “protect his tefillin,” we should purchase for him a pair of tefillin. What does it mean that he is old enough to “protect his tefillin”? Some understand this to mean that he understands that he should not bring his tefillin into the bathroom (Rashi, Sukkah 42a). Others understand this to mean that he can keep a guf naki, meaning that he is old enough to be careful not to release flatulence while wearing tefillin, which is prohibited because of bizuy mitzvah, treating mitzvos with disdain (Rashi, Brachos 5b; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 37:2). There is obviously a major difference between these two approaches: A fairly young child can be entrusted not to bring tefillin into a bathroom, whereas someone considerably older may still have difficulty maintaining control and awareness to remove his tefillin when he feels that his stomach is somewhat unsettled.

Contemporary practice

Following the second approach mentioned above, which is the conclusion of the Shulchan Aruch, common practice today is that we do not have a child wear tefillin until he is almost the age of bar mitzvah. This is because we are concerned that he will be unable to keep a guf naki. Therefore, we wait until the child is almost the age that he is required min haTorah to wear tefillin, and only then do we train him how to wear tefillin.

Minor kohanim

At this point, let us address one of our opening questions.

“I know that one must be very careful that a kohen, even an infant, does not become contaminated with the tumah of a meis. Yet I rarely see a child under bar mitzvah duchen. Is this consistent?”

This question needs to be dealt with as two different headings. The first topic is the prohibition of causing someone to violate a halachah. The second topic is understanding how the mitzvah of chinuch applies to the specific mitzvah of birkas kohanim. I will first discuss the topic of causing a minor kohen child to become tamei.

Causing someone to violate the Torah

It is prohibited min haTorah to be the direct cause of a child violating a prohibition of the Torah (Yevamos 114a). For example, providing a child with non-kosher food or bringing a minor kohen into a house that contains tumas meis causes the child to violate what the Torah says. The Torah prohibits doing this, even when the child himself is too young to be responsible to fulfill the mitzvah and is not commanded to observe it. As a matter of fact, this law applies min hatorah even to a newborn (Magen Avraham 343:2). It also applies even when a child is, unfortunately, being raised in a non-observant way. Therefore, it is forbidden for someone who has a babysitting job to feed a Jewish child non-kosher food, or to serve non-kosher food to a Jewish child in a school cafeteria. Similarly, it is prohibited to dress a baby in a blanket or clothes made of shatnez (Shu”t Beis Yehudah, Yoreh Deah #45).

Tumah is worse

In the particular instance of causing a kohen to become tamei, there is an additional violation, specific to this mitzvah. The Rambam rules that it is forbidden for someone to make an adult kohen tamei and, at times, this may involve violating a prohibition min haTorah (Rambam, Hilchos Aveil 3:5). The Rambam rules: “If the kohen is unaware that what he did is forbidden, and the person who made him tamei knows that it is, then that person violates the lo saaseh. If the kohen knows that it is forbidden, then the other person violates only lifnei iveir lo sitein michshol, do not place a stumbling block before a blind person (Vayikra 19:14).” Chazal interpret this pasuk to mean that one may not give someone bad advice, nor cause him to violate a prohibition.

Kiruv kohanim

Thus, we can now also address another of our opening questions. “We are in the process of being mekarev a fellow who is a kohen. He enjoys joining us for our family outings, and we love to visit museums. Could this present potential halachic issues?”

In a different article published in this column many years ago, I discussed at length the shaylos that exist concerning whether a kohen may visit a museum. (A copy of that article, entitled Finding a Compatible Place for an Extended Family Outing, is available on the website Based on our current discussion, we are now aware that the same issues exist if I cause a kohen to enter a museum. Thus, taking a nephew who is a kohen on a family trip to a museum may involve the same halachic problem, and I should consult my rav or posek. Bringing our friend the kohen involves the same halachic issues, notwithstanding the fact that he, himself, has no concerns about the matter. As we saw above in the Rambam, it is actually a more serious problem for me when I know that the kohen is not concerned about the prohibition.

What if the child does it on his own?

The Gemara (Yevamos 113b-114a) relates that Rav Yitzchak bar Bisna lost the keys of the beis medrash in a reshus harabim, an area into and from which it is prohibited min haTorah to carry on Shabbos. Thus, there was no way to unlock the doors and use the beis medrash on Shabbos. Rabbi Pedas suggested that Rav Yitzchak bar Bisna bring some children to play in the area where the keys were lost, hoping that one of them might find the keys and bring them to the beis medrash. According to Rabbi Pedas, one is not obligated to prevent a child from violating a mitzvah of the Torah, provided that one does not ask or enable the child to do so. In other words, although it is prohibited to cause a child to violate a mitzvah, we have no obligation to prevent the child from violating a mitzvah, nor are we prohibited from placing a child in a place where he may choose to violate a mitzvah on his own.

The rishonim ask why the mitzvah of chinuch does not require preventing the child from violating Shabbos. Here I will present three widely-held approaches to answering this question.

Under age

One answer is that Rabbi Pedas’ rule that we are not required to prevent children from choosing to violate prohibitions applies only when they are very young — meaning that the child is below the age of chinuch, when we are required to educate him about the mitzvah (Tosafos, Shabbos 121a, s.v. shema). Thus, Rav Yitzchak bar Bisna brought only fairly young children to play in the area where the keys were lost. It would be prohibited, according to this approach, to cause older children who understand that we do not carry on Shabbos to carry the keys in a reshus harabim. This approach is quoted by the Rema (Orach Chayim 343).

Mitzvos Asei

A second approach to answer this question is more lenient, contending that the mitzvah of chinuch applies only to positive mitzvos, but does not apply to prohibitions (Rabbi Eliezer miMetz, the author of the Sefer Yerei’im, quoted by Tosafos Yeshanim, Yoma 82a; the same position is quoted by several rishonim to Yevamos 114a). According to this understanding, there are three levels:

  1. We are prohibited min haTorah from directly causing a child to violate a prohibition.
  2. We are required miderabbanan to train a child to perform mitzvos.
  3. There is no requirement at all to prevent a child from performing violations of the Torah that a child is doing on his own.

Isn’t this counterintuitive?

Is this approach not counterintuitive? In general, prohibitions are treated more strictly than positive mitzvos, and the punishments for violating them are usually more severe (Terumas Hadeshen #94). Why, in this instance, is the positive mitzvah being treated more stringently than the prohibition?

Some explain that the reason is because performance of a positive mitzvah usually requires more effort, and these mitzvos will be more difficult for him to observe when he becomes an adult. Therefore Chazal required the father to make certain that his child is habituated to perform mitzvos. They did not require chinuch on lo saaseh prohibitions, since they are passive (Terumas Hadeshen #94).

Only the father

I promised that I would share with you three approaches to explain how Rabbi Pedas permitted placing children somewhere where they will likely end up performing melachah activity on Shabbos. Is there not a mitzvah of chinuch?

A third approach to answer this question understands that when Chazal introduced the mitzvah of chinuch, they obligated the father, but no one else, to train a child to perform mitzvos. Since other people have no obligation of training a child to perform mitzvos, they are permitted to place a child somewhere where he may, of his own volition, violate a prohibition (Tosafos Yeshanim, Yoma 82a; Rambam, Hilchos Maachalos Asuros 17:28). This last approach is the one followed by the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 343:1), who writes: “If a child is eating non-kosher, beis din is not commanded to prevent him, but his father is commanded to rebuke him and prevent him.” The Rema cites this opinion also.

Remember, as we taught above, that all opinions prohibit directing a child to violate a prohibition. What is permitted is placing him in a position where he will, of his own volition, violate a prohibited activity.

In conclusion, we are prohibited from causing a male child to become tamei from contact with a corpse. According to the conclusion of the Shulchan Aruch, you are not obligated to prevent a child from making himself tamei, unless the child in question is your son.

What about duchening?

At this point, let us return to the question raised above: “I know that one must be very careful that a kohen, even an infant, does not become contaminated with the tumah of a meis. Yet I rarely see a child under bar mitzvah duchen. Is this consistent?” Now, that we have explained the background to the first part of the question, let us discuss the second part: Our questioner reports not seeing many minor kohanim perform the duchening.

The Mishnah (Megillah 24a) states that a child does not duchen, which Rashi explains is  because it is not respectable for a congregation to have a child bless them. Our question is whether the Mishnah means that a child should never duchen, or does it mean that he should not duchen when he is unaccompanied by an adult kohen? The issue being debated is whether the lack of dignity for the tzibur is any time a child is blessing the congregation or only when he does so by himself.

This issue is the subject of a dispute among early rishonim. Rashi (Sukkah 42a) rules that a child should never duchen, whereas Tosafos contends that it is fine for a child to duchen, as long as he does so together with adult kohanim (Tosafos, Megillah 24a s.v. Ve’ein). According to the latter opinion, it would follow that there is a mitzvah to train a minor kohen to duchen, just as there is a mitzvah to train him to perform other mitzvos. However, according to Rashi, since Chazal ruled that it is not a kavod to have a child duchen, then, clearly, there is no mitzvah of chinuch to train him to duchen. There were many places in Europe where the custom was to follow Rashi in this law. This is why our questioner has rarely seen a minor duchen. However, this is by far not a universally held practice. I have been in many places where I have seen kohanim who are under bar mitzvah duchen alongside adult kohanim.

Conclusion – Avraham and chinuch

We now know that there are specific halachic rules directing us how to educate and train  children in the observance of mitzvos, and also about our interactions that might cause an adult to violate a prohibition of the Torah. It is interesting to note that the only verse in the Torah that uses the word chinuch in relation to people is in parshas Lech Lecha, and there the verse refers to training and teaching adults to perform mitzvos. There the Torah teaches about Avraham that, in order to save his nephew Lot, vayarek es chanichav, literally, he emptied out those whom he had trained. As Rav Hirsch points out, the situation of saving Lot required Avraham to change direction from what he had been doing heretofore to develop his following to serve Hashem. Prior to this point, Avraham had taken his following, his disciples, and moved them away from civilization, into the mountains, so that they would not be influenced by the nearby social environment of Canaan, which was antithetical to proper values. Avraham’s previous chinuch had involved isolationism to grow the spirituality of his students. At this moment, serving Hashem required Avraham to expose his following to improper mores, albeit only temporarily, for the sake of saving Lot.


The Spurned Shadchan

In honor of the 15th of Av, I am presenting:

The Spurned Shadchan


The phone rings. Mrs. Weinberg,* a Lakewood* shadchan who often calls to ask shaylos, is on the line.

“I suggested that a local girl meet a bachur who is currently learning in Eretz Yisroel,” Mrs. Weinberg began. “Both families did their research and agreed that it sounded worth pursuing, but they decided to wait until the summer when the bachur would be visiting his family here.”

“When the summer arrived,” Mrs. Weinberg continued, “I called the families back to arrange for the young people to meet. However, they told me that someone else suggested the shidduch, and that they are following up through the other shadchan. Are they permitted to cut me out of the arrangements? After all, it was my idea first!”

Does Mrs. Weinberg have a claim? If she does, for how much money and against whom?


Before we discuss these issues, we need to establish whether paying a shadchan is indeed a halachic requirement.

I often find that people feel that one is not required to pay a shadchan. However, this is a misconception, since the Rama (Choshen Mishpat 264:7) requires paying a shadchan a fee, usually called by its Yiddish name, shadchanus gelt.  Just as you expect to pay your real estate broker, so, too, you should assume you will pay the shadchan. (We should be aware that, according to the Rama, a shadchan’s claim for services rendered has a stronger foundation than a doctor’s fee for an office visit, see Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 336:2; but that is a topic for a different article.)

Furthermore, there is nothing wrong with a shadchan requesting payment for services rendered, just as an attorney or accountant has every right to demand payment for services.


Although it sometimes sounds strange, shadchanus fees are halachically categorized as brokerage fees. Just as one pays a real estate agent for arranging a transaction, so, too, one pays a shadchan for making the arrangements necessary for the engagement and marriage to transpire. Therefore, we must first explain the halachic sources for brokerage fees.

The Gemara (Bava Metzia 63b) mentions the responsibility to pay a broker’s fee to the person who arranges the sale of property or merchandise (Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 185:1; Rama 87:39). This is a standard business practice, similar to paying a commission to a stockbroker, real estate agent, or personnel recruiter (sometimes called a “headhunter”).


People easily understand that if you approach a broker or agent, you thereby obligate yourself to pay him for his services. However, some people assume that if you did not solicit the service, you are not obligated to pay. Does this distinction have any basis?

According to halacha, you are required to pay for any unsolicited benefit that you would usually pay for. Providing unsolicited benefit is called yored lesoch sdei chaveiro shelo birshus, entering someone else’s field without authorization, and the provider of the benefit is referred to simply as the yored (Bava Metzia 101a).


You are required to pay the yored as much as you have benefited. If he performed work for you that would normally require you to hire someone, you must pay him the market rate for hiring someone for this work (Bava Metzia 76a; Sma, Choshen Mishpat 375:1).


When a single person or the parent of a single person asks someone if they know of any marriageable prospects, they are asking them to perform a valuable service on their behalf. This service has a market value, just as any other brokerage or recruiting fee has a market value (Rama, Choshen Mishpat 264:7).


Although there are halachic differences whether you approach the shadchan or the shadchan offers his/her service, in either case you are required to pay the shadchan. The basis for this requirement is as follows:

Even if his service is unsolicited, the shadchan is considered a yored, since you received benefit from him for a service for which you would normally pay (Gra, Choshen Mishpat 87:117). As explained above, you must pay him whatever you would have otherwise paid for that service (Bava Metzia 76a, 101a).


This shaylah was discussed hundreds of years ago. A professional shadchan contacted Mr. Reuven suggesting a gentleman he thought appropriate for Mr. Reuven’s widowed sister-in-law. Mr. Reuven was involved in researching the shidduch and in arranging the couple’s meeting. When the couple announced their engagement, Mr. Reuven informed the professional shadchan that he was expecting half the shadchanus gelt, claiming that he was the shadchan who convinced the woman to consider this shidduch. The professional shadchan contended that he was the only shadchan, and that Mr. Reuven was an interested party and not a shadchan. Mr. Reuven countered that the professional had never made direct contact with his sister-in-law but relied exclusively on him to encourage the shidduch. The matter was referred to Rav Yair Chayim Bachrach, known as the Chavos Yair (after one of the seforim he authored). The rav ruled that Mr. Reuven was indeed a shadchan, since he influenced his sister-in-law to pursue the shidduch. He was therefore entitled to half the shadchanus fee, even though he was related to one of the principals (Shu’t Chut HaShani #3, quoted in Pischei Teshuvah, Even HaEzer 50:16).


Usually, the parents of an engaged party pay the shadchanus gelt. Are they required to pay this fee, or is it really the responsibility of the young couple that the parents assume? As we will see, there are halachic ramifications to this question.

The poskim debate this question, making razor-thin distinctions that have major ramifications. Some contend that the responsibility falls upon the young couple, since they are the ones who benefit, even though the prevalent custom is that the parents pay (Shu’t Avnei Nezer, Choshen Mishpat #36). Others contend that since the parents usually pay, the shadchan expects payment only from them, and, therefore, he has no claim against the young couple (Halichos Yisroel #3, quoting Eirech Shai, Choshen Mishpat Chapter 185).

There is a major dispute between these approaches. The first opinion holds that if the shadchan is unable to collect from the parents, he may collect from the couple. According to the second opinion, his only claim is against the parents, and if he cannot collect from the parents, he cannot claim his fee from the young couple.


Since we have learned that one must pay the shadchan whether or not one solicited him initially, does it make any difference whether I asked the shadchan or the shadchan approached me first?

There are several differences in halacha that pertain to whether you solicited the shadchan initially or vice versa, including when you are required to pay the shadchan and whether you violate the mitzvah of bal talin if you fail to pay the shadchan on time.

If you approached or telephoned the shadchan initially, then you have hired him or her to perform a job — in this case, to find an appropriate shidduch. If he/she succeeds in his/her mission, then you are required to pay when the job is completed, and you must pay the shadchan as soon as the couple becomes engaged (Shu’t Halichos Yisroel #1-2). Furthermore, if you do not pay him/her on time and the shadchan demands payment, you will violate a Torah prohibition called bal talin, not paying a worker on time, a mitzvah we will explain shortly.

However, if you did not hire the shadchan, then you do not violate bal talin if you do not pay him/her on time, since the shadchan is not your employee.

Another difference in halacha affected by whether the shadchan was solicited or not is whether you must pay him or her at the time the couple becomes engaged or at the wedding. If the shadchan solicited you, then the time you are required to pay the shadchan depends on minhag –– accepted local custom (Rama, Choshen Mishpat 185:10). If the local custom is that people do not pay the shadchan until the wedding, then the shadchanus gelt is considered a marriage expense to be paid then, not an engagement expense. However, if you solicited the shadchan then you are required to pay the shadchan when his/her job is completed, which is when the couple becomes engaged (Shu’t Halichos Yisroel #4).


As explained above, if one hired the shadchan, one must pay him/her on time, because of the mitzvah of bal talin.


There are two deadlines, sunset and daybreak, and one is obligated to pay one’s worker before the first deadline after the job is completed. Therefore, if the worker finished his job before the end of the day, I must pay him by sunset. If he completed the work at night, I must pay him before daybreak (Bava Metzia 111a). (As mentioned above, one violates this prohibition only if the worker demanded payment and the owner refused to pay and there was no understanding or prearrangement of late payment.) According to this approach, if you went to a shadchan who, Baruch Hashem, arranged a successful shidduch, you should make sure to pay him or her immediately after the couple becomes engaged, before the next deadline arrives (Shu’t Halichos Yisroel #11). Others contend that one need not pay the shadchan until the wedding, unless the custom is otherwise (Rav Elyashiv, introduction to Shu’t Halichos Yisroel).

Still other poskim contend that since the responsibility of paying the shadchan really lies with the marrying couple, there is no violation of bal talin if the shadchan is assuming that the parents are paying his fee, since they are technically not required to pay shadchanus gelt.


One must pay the shadchan the accepted fee in your community for this service (Pischei Teshuvah, Even HaEzer Chapter 50:16).


What happens if two different shadchanim were involved at different stages of encouraging the shidduch? Are they both entitled to be paid? How does one divide the fee? As we can imagine, this is not a recent shaylah.

An early posek, the Shev Yaakov (Choshen Mishpat #13), discusses the following case: Levi recommended that Reuven’s son meet Shimon’s daughter. After the engagement of the young couple, Gad claimed that he had originally suggested the shidduch to the parties and thus he was entitled to part of the shadchanus.

The Shev Yaakov researched the claims. As it turned out, Gad had, indeed, originally suggested the shidduch to both parties, but Shimon and his family had no interest in pursuing it. Levi, however, was a more persistent shadchan and convinced Shimon to consider Reuven’s son for his daughter.

The Shev Yaakov ruled that Gad was not entitled to any part of the shadchanus fee. He contends that a shadchan is entitled to a fee only when he was involved in the part of the discussion that reached fruition. However, in this case, Gad’s proposal did not accomplish anything, and, therefore, he is not considered a shadchan.

By a similar reasoning, a real estate agent who showed prospective clients a house, but was unable to interest them in it, and then a different agent showed them the same house and succeeded in convincing them to purchase it, the second agent is entitled to the commission, according to halacha. (In these instances, if accepted business practice is different it might affect the halacha, which is a topic for a different time.)

Thus, it seems that Mrs. Weinberg is not entitled to any shadchanus fee in our situation, since she was not part of the actual introduction that took place.

Notwithstanding that the Shev Yaakov ruled that Gad was not entitled to a share of the fee, there are cases in which the shidduch involves several parties and each is entitled to a part of the fee. If Sarah suggested a shidduch, but then felt that Rivkah would be a better go-between, and eventually it was necessary to get Leah involved and she was instrumental in the couple subsequently becoming engaged, all three ladies are considered partial shadchanim, according to many poskim. The accepted practice in this case is to divide the accepted shadchanus fee and to award 1/3 to each of the ladies. Other poskim contend that only the person who suggested the shidduch and the one who finalized it are considered shadchanim and they split the fee – but that a go-between who neither suggested a shidduch nor finalized it is not viewed as a shadchan (Shu’t Avnei Nezer, Choshen Mishpat #36).


A shadchan unsuccessfully attempted to arrange a shidduch between a daughter of the wealthy Weiss family and the son of the wealthy Schwartz family. Although the two families did meet and enjoyed one another, the shidduch did not materialize, and the Weiss girl subsequently married someone else. Later, other shadchanim suggested a match between a younger Weiss daughter and the Schwartz boy, and the couple became engaged. The original shadchan now claimed that he is entitled to a percentage of the shadchanus gelt, claiming that his involvement in the previous unsuccessful shidduch was instrumental in forging the close relationship between the two families that caused the latter shidduch to happen. Does the original shadchan have a claim?

The parties referred this shaylah to the Avnei Nezer (Choshen Mishpat #36). In a very complicated ruling he contends that the original shadchan might be entitled to a very small percentage of the shadchanus gelt for his role. He suggests a compromise on this basis, but rules that one could not be certain that he is entitled to any part of the fee.


If the shadchan did not provide any unusual shadchanus service, and the fee for a shadchan in your area is fairly standard, then the shadchan is not entitled to the extra fee. However, if there is no standard shadchanus fee in your area, or the shadchan performed a special service, then one must pay the shadchan’s higher fee (see Rama, Choshen Mishpat  335:1 and 264:7; Shach 264:15). Shadchanus is like any other profession, where one may not charge significantly above the going rate. However, when there is no fixed accepted amount, then the shadchan is not overcharging, since there is no market amount. Similarly, if the shadchan extends him/herself more than is expected, he may command a higher fee, since one is paying for the extra service (see Rama 335:1).

According to the Midrash, Moshe Rabbeinu was the shadchan between Klal Yisroel and Hashem at the giving of the Torah. Furthermore, Hashem, Himself, is indeed the ultimate Shadchan of every marriage. Thus, we should respect the wonderful role of the shadchanim in our midst, who are involved in a mitzvah that emulates both Hashem and Moshe.

* All names and places have been changed to protect privacy.


Can We Identify the Techeiles?

Parshas Shelach includes the mitzvah of wearing techeiles on our tzitzis. Rashi, in the beginning of Parshas Korach, mentions that the followers of Korach donned garments that were completely techeiles. Therefore, whether we are in a place that reads Shelach this week or one that reads Korach, it is appropriate to read about:

Can We Identify the Techeiles?


When we are commanded about wearing tzitzis, the Torah includes two mitzvos. In addition to the mitzvah of wearing tzitzis threads on the corners of the garment, there is an additional mitzvah that some of the tzitzis threads should be dyed with a special dye called techeiles. (There is a dispute among the Rishonim how many of the tzitzis threads are to be dyed techeiles.) This dye must be made from a species called chilazon (Tosefta Menachos 9:6).

Although the use of techeiles stopped over a thousand years ago, there have been a few attempts within the last 140 years to reintroduce the practice of wearing techeiles threads alongside the white threads. This article will present the differing opinions on this question and some of the issues that have been raised.

At the time of the Gemara, the nature of chilazon and its manufacture was still known and practiced (see Menachos 42b). However, some time after the period of the Gemara, the use of techeiles ended. By all indications, techeiles fell into disuse sometime between the end of the period of the Rabbonim Sabora’im, who completed the editing of the Gemara around the year 4330 (570), and the time of Rav Ahai Gaon, the author of the She’iltos, around 4520 (760).

It is unclear why the Jewish people stopped using techeiles. Numerous theories have been suggested why wearing techeiles ended. The wording used by the midrashim is “now we have only white tzitzis, since the techeiles was concealed” (Medrash Tanchuma, Shelach 15; Medrash Rabbah, Shelach 17:5). Some poskim understand that there are halachic or kabbalistic reasons why techeiles should not be worn until moshiach comes (Shu”t Yeshuos Malko #1-3). According to this opinion, the Medrash means that the source of the techeiles was concealed and it is only to be revealed in the future at a time when Hashem again wants us to wear it.

Other poskim disagree and contend that we should still attempt to fulfill the mitzvah of wearing techeiles on the tzitzis. They explain that the Medrash means that techeiles became unavailable. Rav Herzog zt”l, who followed this approach, speculated that persecution by anti-Semitic governments ended the production of techeiles. Still another possibility is that the knowledge how to produce the techeiles was lost, or that there was no longer availability or access to the chilazon, the source of the techeiles.

The Radziner Rebbe’s research

In 5647 (1887), the Radziner Rebbe, Rav Gershon Henoch Leiner, zt”l, published a small sefer, Sefunei Temunei Chol, wherein he discusses the importance of fulfilling the mitzvah of wearing techeiles even today. In his opinion, the Medrash quoted above means that techeiles became unavailable. The Radziner encouraged wearing something that might be techeiles even if it is uncertain that one is fulfilling the mitzvah. In his opinion, one who is wearing questionable techeiles should do so, because he may be fulfilling a mitzvah min hatorah. Thus, he contended that if he could identify a species that might be the chilazon, and he could extract a dye from it, one should wear tzitzis that are dyed with this product.

The Radziner himself analyzed every place in the Gemara where the word chilazon is mentioned, and defined what characteristics would help us identify the chilazon. Based on his analysis, he drew up a list of eleven requirements by which the chilazon used for techeiles can be identified. Among other requirements, these included that the chilazon would be located in the eastern Mediterranean Sea; that it is a marine animal and not a fish; that it must be able to live on land, at least for a brief period of time; that it produces a black ink and that it must have fins, bones, and sinews. The Radziner concluded that if one located a marine animal that meets all eleven requirements, one can assume that it is the chilazon.

Having completed his halachic research, the Radziner then began his scientific research to identify the chilazon. He traveled to Naples, Italy, the location of a major aquarium and marine research institute, to study marine animals that would meet all the requirements of techeiles. In Italy, he decided that the cuttlefish, which in many languages is called an inkfish, is indeed the chilazon from which one produces techeiles. The cuttlefish meets every one of the Radziner’s requirements for chilazon, including that it emits a dark dye, which is the reason why it is called an inkfish. The cuttlefish is not a true fish and is capable of living on land for brief periods of time.

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, Ein Hatecheiles, whose purpose was to respond to all the questions he had been asked concerning what he had written in his previous volumes.

Reaction to the Radziner’s proposal

Although the Radziner had presented his case in an extremely convincing manner, most of the Gedolei Yisroel did not support his theory. The Radziner attempted to convince the poskim of his era of the validity of his approach, particularly, Rav Yitzchok Elchonon Spector of Kovno, the Beis Halevi (then the rav of Brisk), Rav Yehoshua Kutno (author of Yeshuos Malko), the Maharil Diskin (who had been rav of Brisk and was living in official retirement in Yerushalayim), and Rav Shmuel Salant (the rav of Yerushalayim). None of these rabbonim accepted the Radziner’s proposal. Their reasons for rejecting his proposal are significant.

Rav Yehoshua Kutno and Rav Yitzchok Elchonon disagreed with the Radziner because they both held that the Medrash quoted above should be understood literally — techeiles has been placed in genizah until Hashem again wants us to observe this mitzvah. Rav Yehoshua Kutno suggests several reasons why this happened, which are beyond the scope of this article.

Others were opposed to wearing techeiles because of sources in the writings of the Ari and other mekubalim that we are not to use techeiles until the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash, bimheira beyameinu. The Radziner did not agree with their interpretation of these sources.

An additional objection was raised against the Radziner’s position that one should wear questionable techeiles since one might be fulfilling the mitzvah. This is based on the poskim who contend that one who places on a white garment blue tzitzis that are dyed with a dye other than techeiles is not yotzei the mitzvah of tzitzis. Therefore, it is preferable to wear white tzitzis if one is uncertain (see Rema, Orach Chayim 9:5).

There were also objections to the Radziner’s conclusions on other grounds. Some objected to his choosing a non-kosher species as the source of the techeiles, since there are early poskim who contend that the techeiles must come from a kosher species. This subject is an old dispute, which can be traced back to the time of the rishonim and early acharonim.

Others contended that the color of the Radziner’s techeiles was wrong, since Rashi seems to indicate that the color of techeiles is green. However, it should be noted that the word yarok that Rashi uses can also mean gold, yellow or blue, as indicated by numerous sources in Chazal and rishonim. (Many of the sources as to whether the correct color of techeiles is green, blue or black are discussed in the article by Dr. Zvi Koren, which I refer to later in this article.)

The Beis Halevi’s approach

The Beis Halevi took issue with the Radziner on the basis of mesorah, but there is a dispute as to exactly what was his objection. The way the Radziner quotes the Beis Halevi, his concern was that the species identified by the Radziner was well-known, and, if it indeed was the correct source, this mesorah should not have been lost.

Rav Yosef Dov Soloveichek of Boston, himself named for the Beis Halevi, wrote a different understanding of the Beis Halevi’s opinion. He contends that we cannot identify the chilazon on the basis of research. When the Torah requires a specific type or species to fulfill a mitzvah, one cannot fulfill this mitzvah without a mesorah that this is the correct object with which to perform the mitzvah. Attempting to identify the type or species on the basis of research, analysis, or proofs will not help; nothing can be substituted for mesorah. Thus, no matter how compelling the evidence is that a specific species is the chilazon of techeiles, one will not fulfill the mitzvah of wearing threads dyed with this color. When Eliyahu Hanavi returns as the precursor to the mashiach, he will identify for us the mesorah he received from his rabbei’im and thereby we will be able to identify the proper techeiles.

The Maharsham

There was one gadol who considered the merits of the Radziner’s position. The Maharsham, Rav Shalom Mordechai Schvadron, rav of Bruzan, wore a talis with the Radziner’s techeiles, although apparently he did so only in private. However, in the final result, only the Radziner’s own chassidim and some Breslever chassidim wore the techeiles that the Radziner introduced.

Rav Herzog’s research

More than twenty years after the Radziner’s passing, Rav Yitzchak Isaac Herzog (who became the first Chief Rabbi of Israel several decades later) researched the source for the techeiles. He wrote up this research as his doctoral dissertation.

In his analysis of the halachic issues involved, Rav Herzog accepted most of the Radziner’s opinions and interpretations. However, there are some aspects of the Radziner’s approach with which Rav Herzog took issue. Whereas the Radziner assumed that every place in the Gemara where it refers to chilazon, it means the chilazon that was used in making techeiles, Rav Herzog assumes that chilazon means a sea snail, and not necessarily the snail used in making the techeiles. (By the way, in Modern Hebrew, Ben Yehudah decided to use the word chilazon for snail, rather than the original Hebrew word, shavlul.) Thus, in Rav Herzog’s opinion, not all of the Radziner’s requirements in determining the species for the techeiles are accurate. Therefore, Rav Herzog focused on analyzing the numerous species of sea snails for the most likely candidate to produce techeiles.

Rav Herzog took issue on one major point of the Radziner’s research. Rav Herzog took samples of the dye recommended by the Radziner as techeiles and had them chemically tested. Based on results that he received from the laboratories, Rav Herzog concluded that the blue color that results from the Radziner’s method of producing techeiles is not caused by anything in the cuttlefish ink. The chemists he consulted contended that the color is an artificial dye named Prussian blue, which is created by the chemicals added as part of the processing. In Rav Herzog’s opinion, since he could not discern anything in the cuttlefish that causes the blue coloring, he reached the conclusion that the cuttlefish is not the source of the techeiles. There are answers how the Radziner might have responded to this concern, but it is inappropriate for others to speak on his behalf.

In his dissertation, Rav Herzog analyzed various sea snails, concluding that none of them fit as sources for the techeiles. Apparently, decades later, Rav Herzog was still grappling with which species might be the correct source.

It should be noted that all the poskim who disagreed with the Radziner’s proposal would disagree with Rav Herzog’s proposals – the reasons that they rejected the inkfish would also apply to a sea snail.

Many scientific researchers have suggested that the species of sea snail currently called Hexaplex trunculus might indeed be the source for techeiles. (Since most people who write on this topic usually refer to this species by its earlier name, Murex trunculus, I will use the latter term.) It is curious that this is one of the species of sea snail that Rav Herzog considered. Most people who today have their tzitzis dyed blue are using an indigo color derived from Murex trunculus.

Nevertheless, there are strong technical objections to this. Some of these arguments might be resolved based on a brilliant article published recently by Professor Zvi Koren in Tradition. However, in Professor Koren’s opinion, both the method used to extract dye from Murex trunculus and the color used is erroneous, and is certainly not the proper color of techeiles.

We note that the method currently used to process the dye from the Murex trunculus cannot be the correct method of dyeing techeiles threads, as performed by our ancestors, for the following reasons:

  1. The current method of extracting dye from Murex trunculus involves removing a gland from the snail, which would involve the melacha of gozeiz, removing part of a living creature. (According to many poskim, one violates this also by removing part of a creature that has died.) Clearly, this could not have been the method of removing the dye from chilazon in earlier days, as can be proved from the Gemara (Shabbos 75a), since no mention is made of this prohibition in the Gemara, although it mentions other prohibitions that are transgressed in the capture and processing of the chilazon on Shabbos.
  2. Another objection is based on the fact that it can be demonstrated from the Gemara that the removing of the dye liquid from the chilazon kills it, although one would prefer that the chilazon remain alive for as long as possible. However, in the process used to remove the dye from Murex, the snail can remain alive for several hours after the process is complete.
  3. A third problem with the current method of using Murex trunculus dye requires an introduction. At the time of the Gemara, there were unscrupulous individuals who sold threads dyed with a coloring called kla ilan. This coloring is not kosher as techeiles, and someone wearing it on his tzitzis would not fulfill the mitzvah of wearing techeiles. According to the Aruch, kla ilan is indigo, a vegetable dye that has a blue color. Thus, the Gemara was concerned about someone selling indigo-colored threads as techeiles threads to an unsuspecting buyer. The Gemara describes a test that can be used to check whether the threads are kla ilan or techeiles, by testing the threads for colorfastness: kla ilan would fade, whereas techeiles would remain fast. However, the dye used currently by Murex trunculus enthusiasts is chemically identical to indigo. How, then, can a chemical test for colorfastness be used to determine what was the source of the indigo?
  4. The Rambam describes that the “blood” that is the source of the techeiles is black when removed from the chilazon. The gland extract removed from Murex trunculus is clear when it is removed and changes color afterwards.

Obviously, I am not the first one to note these difficulties with the process of extracting dye from Murex trunculus. However, the responses I have seen to answer these questions are very tenuous.

We see that there has been a significant amount of research about the source of techeiles and the possibility of fulfilling this mitzvah in our day. Due to the above mentioned considerations, those who follow the approach of the majority of the poskim of earlier generations and wear only white tzitzis have a substantive basis in halacha.

Infidels and Judaism

Certainly parshas Ki Sisa provides opportunity to discuss:

Infidels and Judaism

Question #1: The Sin or the Sinner?

“Why did Chazal establish a brachah in the Shemoneh Esrei against those who reject Judaism? Aren’t we supposed to pray that sinners find their way back to Judaism?”

Question # 2: Various Infidels

“What are the differences between the Tzedukim, the Baitusim, the kara’im, and other deviant groups?”


Antigonus ish Socho, one of our great Torah leaders, was the head of the Sanhedrin towards the beginning of the second Beis Hamikdash period, in the generation immediately following the passing of the last of the Anshei Kenesses Hagedolah. Two of his disciples, Tzadok and Baitus, misunderstood him to say that there is no reward for observing mitzvos (Avos Derabbi Nosson 5:2). In fact, what Antigonus had said was that one should not observe the Torah for the goal of receiving its reward, but because we want to serve and fear Hashem (see Avos 1:3).

Unfortunately, Tzadok and Baitus were cunning and charismatic individuals. Soon, each had amassed his own following of people who accepted them as their religious leaders in place of Chazal. Although both Tzadok and Baitus had, by now, rejected everything in the Torah, they understood that if their followers knew this, they would look for other leaders (Rambam, Commentary to Mishnah, Avos 1:3). As a result, both Tzadok and Baitus pretended to accept the Written Torah, but they rejected the Oral Torah, thus making them the deciders of what their new religions would observe. This created two splinter religious sects, called the Tzedukim and the Baitusim, each named for its founder, which became thorns in the sides of the Torah community throughout the rest of the period of the second Beis Hamikdash and the Tanna’im. At times, these groups even became violent in their attacks on halachah-observant Jewry (see Meiri, Rosh Hashanah 22a).

Although the origins of both groups were similar, they developed dissimilar practices and became two distinct groups (Tosafos Yom Tov, Menachos 10:3). Some early authorities note that there was also a divergence in style between the Tzedukim and the Baitusim. Whereas the Baitusim were brazen in disputing the halachic authorities, the Tzedukim were concerned about what the rabbonim held (Ritva, Eruvin 69b). The Gemara records instances where they followed rabbinic practice, even when it differed with what they theoretically held (Yoma 19b; Niddah 33b). The Baitusim, on the other hand, achieved notoriety for their troublemaking (see, for example, Rosh Hashanah 22a-b).

Baitusi bloopers

Notwithstanding the fact that the Baitusim behaved in a more brazen manner than did the Tzedukim, Chazal record only three instances where their official practices conflicted with halachah. They are:

  1. The Baitusim held that an individual could donate a korban tamid to be used by the community for the daily offering in the Beis Hamikdash (Megillas Taanis; Tosafos, Taanis 17b s.v. Meireish). The halachah is that these offerings, similar to all other required public offerings, must be purchased from the terumas halishkah, that is, from the half-shekel coins that each adult male Jew was required to donate annually to the Beis Hamikdash for this purpose.
  2. The Baitusim did not want the korban omer to be offered on any day of the week other than Sunday (Menachos 65a). The halachah is that it is offered on the day that we begin counting the omer, the second day of Pesach, regardless of which day of the week this transpires.
  3. The Baitusim were opposed to the observance of the mitzvah of aravah (Ritva, Sukkah 43b), a practice performed in the Beis Hamikdash every day of Sukkos (see Mishnah, Sukkah 42b and Gemara ad locum).

It is significant to note that all three of these divergent practices involved mitzvos performed in the Beis Hamikdash, and none of them impinges on how a person is required to observe his individual mitzvos. Thus, although, as we will soon see, the Tzedukim had many practices that differed from halachah, the more brazen Baitusim had fewer “official” practices that differed from halachah. I have attempted to find sources to explain the underlying reason for the Baitusim’s divergences, but I have not, as yet, found an approach I find satisfactory.

Baitusi slackness

This should not be interpreted to mean that the Baitusim were careful about the other laws. Quite the contrary, they observed all mitzvos that are not taught expressly by the written Torah in a haphazard way. For example, the Gemara states that one should presume that a Baitusi does not keep the laws of carrying on Shabbos properly (Eruvin 68b). Similarly, the rishonim state that it should be assumed that Baitusim do not observe the laws of shechitah (Meiri, Chullin 2a). This approach is codified in Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 2:9). But, it appears that these were not formal practices of the Baitusim; rather, this reflected their attitude towards Torah she’be’al peh, which they treated with disdain.

Sadducee sophistry

On the other hand, the Tzedukim seem to have followed their own code of deviant practices. For example, they practiced the laws of netilas yadayim differently from the way halachah requires (Yadayim 4:6). Similarly, they followed different rules germane to some of the laws of family purity (Niddah 33b), of inheritance (Yalkut Shimoni, Bereishis #140), of damages (Yadayim 4:7), and of jurisprudence (Sanhedrin 52b; Makkos 5b). They had occasional philosophic or religious debates with Chazal (Yadayim Chapter 4; Yalkut Shimoni, Devorim #824).

Similar to the Baitusim, the Tzedukim, also attempted to change specific practices of the Beis Hamikdash. They were opposed to the mitzvah of pouring water on the mizbei’ach on Sukkos (nissuch hamayim), since it has no explicit source in the written Torah. A more critical deviance was that they felt that the special offering of the ketores (incense) in the Kodesh Hakodoshim (the Holy of Holies) on Yom Kippur should be brought differently from the way that the halachah specifies. In their opinion, the kohein gadol should place the ketores onto the fire in the pan prior to his entering the Kodesh Hakodoshim, whereas the halachah is that he places it onto the fire after entering (Yoma 53a). This deviance of theirs was unusual, because, in this instance, the literal reading of the Torah is much closer to the halachah than it is to the Tzedukim’s practice (see Commentary of Rav Hirsch, Vayikra 16:13). To quote Rav Hirsch, “The tradition of the chachamim is in full accordance with the sense of Scripture; the Sadducean conception, however, entails a most forced reading of Scripture.” We will continue this discussion later.

Another practice in which the Tzedukim diverged from accepted practice concerned some of the preparations of the parah adumah. In this instance, Chazal went to great lengths to make it impossible for the Tzedukim’s approach to be observed. Why?

It is strictly forbidden to imply that the halachah is different from what it actually is. Since the Tzedukim denied the authenticity of Torah, we are required to emphasize the correct halachah. A great early authority, the Maharshal, proves that teaching a distortion of the Torah is forbidden to the extent that it is yeihareig ve’al ya’avor, one is required to avoid violating it to the extent that one is required to give up one’s life, if necessary to avoid such an eventuality (Yam shel Shelomoh, Bava Kama  4:9; see Shu’t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim, II:51).

The Kara’im

Whereas the Tzedukim came into prominence during the period of the second Beis Hamikdash and the era of the Tanna’im, the Kara’im began in the period of the Geonim (the Middle Ages) in Bavel and the Fertile Crescent region. A prominent Jew named Anan ben David, descended from the royal family of Dovid Hamelech, was passed over in his bid to become the reish gelusa, or Exilarch, the political head of the Jewish community, because of concerns about his level of fear of G-d. He then proved that the concerns about him were valid, when he created a new religion that broke away from Judaism and denied the authenticity of the Torah she’be’al peh. As evidenced by the efforts expended by Rav Saadiah Gaon and others to combat it, Karaism, at one time, posed a serious threat to Jewish souls.

Kara’im versus Tzedukim

Both historically and religiously, there is no direct connection between the Tzedukim and the Kara’im. Both the Tzedukim and the Baitusim had died out centuries before the Kara’im showed up on the scene. Furthermore, the observances of the Kara’im vary tremendously from those of both the Tzedukim and the Baitusim. For example, the Tzedukim kept some form of the mitzvah of netilas yadayim, wore tefillin, and observed the laws of family purity, in a way similar to halachah. The Kara’im do not observe any of these mitzvos.

We see from the Gemara that someone could be a Tzeduki and yet observe halachah sufficiently to mislead a person to thinking that he was halachically abiding. Thus, it was necessary, at the time of the second Beis Hamikdash, to have the kohein gadol take an oath that he would follow halachah and not the Tzeduki practice, when he was in the Holy of Holies. Anyone familiar with Karaite practice quickly realizes that there is no way anyone can confuse them with halachically observant Jews.

Notwithstanding their vast dissimilarities, all three groups shared one common ground. Their primary motivation was to be free of the authority of the Torah; they decided that the only way to be one’s own boss was to reject the concept of Torah she’be’al peh. Ultimately, all three ceased to be factors of any significance for the Jewish people, the Tzedukim and the Baitusim because they disappeared, and the Kara’im because, with time, the small surviving remnants were not identified with Jews. Even Hitler did not consider the Kara’im to be Jews and excluded them from his nefarious final solution.

The Sin or the Sinner?

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

“Why did Chazal establish a brachah in the Shemoneh Esrei against those who reject Judaism? Aren’t we supposed to pray that sinners find their way back to Judaism?”

Indeed, we seem to find two conflicting passages of Gemara. The first reads:

There were some biryonim, troublemakers, in Rabbi Meir’s neighborhood, who were causing him considerable distress. To end the situation, Rabbi Meir wanted to pray that they die! His wife, Beruryah, told him: “What do you think? That it is acceptable to do this, as we see from the verse: ‘Chata’im should cease from the world.’ Does the verse say that chot’im should cease from the world, which would mean that the sinners, themselves, should be destroyed? Furthermore, look at the end of the verse, which states u’resha’im od einam, and there will be no more wicked people. Instead, you should pray that they do teshuvah!” Rabbi Meir prayed that they do teshuvah, and, indeed, they did! (Brochos 10a).

According to the way Rashi explains this dispute, Rabbi Meir understood that the word chata’im should be translated as “the sinners.” However, the grammatical form of this word could be understood to mean “those who cause others to sin.” If one translates the verse this way, the way Beruryah understood the verse, it means that the evil inclination, the yetzer hora, which causes people to sin, should cease. This passage of Gemara implies that one should not pray that the evildoers cease to exist, but that they should no longer sin.

On the other hand, we find the following passage of Gemara:

Shimon Hapekoli organized the eighteen brachos (of the Shemoneh Esrei) in the correct order in the presence of Rabban Gamliel, in Yavneh. Rabban Gamliel then asked the Sages: “Is there anyone here who is able to establish a brachah against the heretics?” Shmuel Hakatan stood up and established what is now called the birchas haminim (Brochos 28b).

Here we have a passage of Gemara that teaches that Chazal added a brachah to the Shemoneh Esrei, specifically requesting that Hashem destroy the evildoers. So, do we rule according to Beruryah or not?

Two additional questions

We can actually add two other questions to this discussion. One is that the conversation between Rabbi Meir and Beruryah transpired after Rabban Gamliel and Shmuel Hakatan had added birchas haminim to the Shemoneh Esrei to destroy the evildoers, yet its existence and the related halachic discussion is not mentioned as part of the conversation between Rabbi Meir and Beruryah. Why didn’t Rabbi Meir rally birchas haminim as support for his approach that one may pray that evildoers die?

An additional question is that, historically, the Tzedukim and Baitusim began early in the period of the Beis Hamikdash, and both succeeded in annoying the gedolei Yisroel sufficiently that several takanos were instituted to combat them. For example, as mentioned above, the kohein gadol was required to recite an oath that he would follow what he had been instructed to do by the Torah leaders, because there were kohanim gedolim who were suspected of being closet Tzedukim. And during the preparation of the parah adumah, numerous extra precautions were instituted to combat a practice of the Tzedukim. Also, initially, any witness who claimed to see the new moon was accepted by Beis Din, until it was revealed that the Baitusim had hired witnesses to testify falsely about what they saw. Each of these matters required a change in procedures germane to how mitzvos were observed in the Beis Hamikdash. Obviously, both the Tzedukim and Baitusim were sources of major exasperation to Chazal.

Yet, we do not find any attempt of Chazal to add a brachah to the tefillah against either the Tzedukim or the Baitusim. The core prayer, which had been established by the Anshei Keneses Hagedolah at the beginning of the second Beis Hamikdash, remained. Only in Yavneh, approximately four hundred years after the tefillah had originally been structured, did Chazal add a new brachah against evildoers. Why did they wait until this time, rather than establish something similar to birchas haminim to combat the Tzedukim and the Baitusim?

It seems that, although Chazal needed to be concerned about the deviances of both the Tzedukim and the Baitusim, they understood that there was no need to make a permanent change in Klal Yisroel’s prayers. These deviant groups would never pose a long-term hazard to the Jewish people. And, we see how accurate Chazal were in their assessment, because both groups disappeared long ago. However, it seems that the concern of the birchas haminim was against the early Christians, who originally considered themselves part of the Jewish people, and it was based on a realization that this group would pose a long-term hazard. Remember that during its infancy, Christianity viewed itself as a branch of Judaism. To this day, Christians have tremendous difficulty explaining why Jews have so whole-heartedly rejected their religion. This is a tremendous blot on its reputation. Since Christianity was completely rejected by those who were around at the time this religion was invented, obviously, it is a forgery.

Against this backdrop, we can explain why Rabbi Meir made no reference to birchas haminim during his conversation with Beruryah. Rabbi Meir was being vexed by a local group of hooligans. The birchas haminim is not about such people, but was established to combat a permanent foe. Indeed, we see from this conversation that, under usual circumstances, one should not pray that an evil person die.

In conclusion

Above I mentioned the deviant practice espoused by the Tzedukim when they insisted that the ketores be burnt prior to the kohein gadol’s entering the Holy of Holies. In Rav Hirsch’s commentary to the Torah, he notes:

Toras Kohanim informs us of the motive of the Tzedukim to contradict the words of Scripture here. They openly put forward a plea of ‘etiquette.’ At human banquets, the incense is brought in already smoking, it is not put on the fire in the presence of the guests. How much more so should this same mannerly conduct be followed in the presence of G-d! Thus would the ancient Sadduccees bow to the idol of external etiquette – the same idol to which the modern ‘Sadduccees’ bow, and in whose name they break every law at the holiest moments of Divine worship.

“Further reflection reveals that the method of offering the ketores that was adopted by the Tzedukim had been employed, also, by Nadav and Avihu. They, too, brought their disastrous ketores offering in this manner…

“If this is correct, then we have here. again. what is so very characteristic: the Tzedukim, in their time, were the disciples of Nadav and Avihu, just as the Karaites later based themselves on all those whose opinions and teachings were rejected by the chachmei Yisroel.

“It appears further that this Sadduccean doctrine is emblematic of the whole principle of the Sadduccean deviation… for the true kohein gadol is nothing but a servant of the Will of G-d, a servant who subordinates his own subjective view. To him… only that which is pleasing to G-d is pleasing to him… The Sadduccean kohein, however, turns the altar fire into his fire and makes it an instrument for his own action… He lights the ketores in a manner that appeals to himself… and forces it on G-d’s will. That which fits his conception of rei’ach nichoach, G-d, too, will accept.

…Who knows whether this very contrast – which epitomizes the Sadduccean principle – is what led the Sadduccees to this doctrine, in blatant contradiction to the sense of Scripture!”