Second Day of Rosh Hashanah

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Question #1: Second Day?!

“Is it universally accepted that everyone in Eretz Yisroel is required to observe two days of Rosh Hashanah?”

Question #2: Second Day Haftarah

“Why do we read the specific haftarah that we do on the second day of Rosh Hashanah?”

Question #3: Second Day of Judgment!?

“How can our tefillos refer to the second day of Rosh Hashanah as the ‘Day of Judgment,’ when we were already judged on the first day?”

Introduction:

The Torah describes Rosh Hashanah as a one-day holiday that falls on the first day of the seventh month, the date that is Rosh Chodesh Tishrei. Yet, as we all know, we observe two days of Rosh Hashanah.

Each of the opening three questions notes something anomalous concerning this concept of two days of Rosh Hashanah, although, as we will see, the answers to these questions are not closely related to one another. Before discussing the opening questions, I need to provide some introduction. Let us enter a time machine and bring ourselves back to the era when there was a functioning Sanhedrin.

Among the numerous and multifaceted responsibilities of the Sanhedrin, also called by its proper Hebrew name, the Beis Din Hagadol, was overseeing the Jewish calendar. In that era, the determination of whether Rosh Chodesh would be on the thirtieth or on the thirty-first day (counting from the previous Rosh Chodesh) was uncertain, until the head of the Sanhedrin, called the nasi, declared it such. The Beis Din did not declare the thirtieth day as Rosh Chodesh until two witnesses testified that they had seen the new moon. Only after the witnesses were cross-examined by the Beis Din, and their testimony was analyzed carefully, did the Beis Din declare the thirtieth day to be Rosh Chodesh.

(By the way, the Beis Din was quite certain as to when the new moon occurred, where it could be located in the sky and whether the testimony of the witnesses was accurate. Notwithstanding that the Beis Din had all this information, the Torah requires eyewitness testimony of a sighting of the new moon. The witnesses and the Beis Din are fulfilling a mitzvah min haTorah by using this system to “determine” the new moon, notwithstanding that no new technical information is gleaned from the witnesses’ testimony.)

During this era, anyone not within walking distance of the Sanhedrin would be uncertain whether Elul was 29 or 30 days long, and, therefore, would also be uncertain whether Rosh Hashanah is the 30th or the 31st day after Rosh Chodesh Elul. Because of this uncertainty, everyone observed two days of Rosh Hashanah. The only possible exception was the town in which the Beis Din Hagadol met, where they would be certain during Rosh Hashanah which day had been chosen.

Sometimes, even the town in which the Beis Din Hagadol met was required to observe two days Rosh Hashanah, not because of an uncertainty, but because of a takanas chachamim. The Mishnah (Rosh Hashanah 30b) explains that once, when the Beis Hamikdash still stood, the witnesses attesting to the new moon appeared in Beis Din late in the afternoon of Rosh Hashanah. By the time the Beis Din had declared that day to be Rosh Chodesh and Rosh Hashanah, the afternoon korban tamid had already been offered. Since this korban had been offered before any declaration that the day was Rosh Chodesh, the Levi’im accompanied the korban by singing the shirah of the weekday korban. Result: the shirah specific for Rosh Hashanah was not sung that day as accompaniment to the daily korban.

To make sure that this situation did not recur, Chazal instituted that, should witnesses arrive after the afternoon korban was offered, Beis Din would not accept them, thus automatically postponing Rosh Hashanah to the next day, so that the correct shirah would

 be sung on that day. Although once Beis Din knew that they would not accept witnesses, the first day was no longer Rosh Hashanah, Chazal required that it be kept as such (as a takanah) so that, in the future, people would not be lax in observing the assumed day of Rosh Hashanah.

What is significant about this takanah is that now there could be instances when Chazal declared two days of Rosh Hashanah. Until this time, observing two days of Rosh Hashanah had always been only a result of uncertainty, because of lack of local knowledge about the decision of the Beis Din. Henceforth, observing two days of Rosh Hashanah was sometimes a takanas chachamim.

We realize that all of these reasons made it impossible for local schools to send out annual Jewish calendars as fundraisers. But the schools in this era had a different and much more efficient method to raise necessary funds. This is a topic we will discuss at some time in the future.

Changes because of permanent calendar

Thus far, we have explained the historical background to the observance of two days of Rosh Hashanah. However, today we do not wait for the Sanhedrin to determine which day is Rosh Chodesh. Hillel Hanasi (not to be confused with his better-known and much earlier ancestor, Hillel Hazakein), realizing that the Roman persecutions of his time (the third century C. E.), would soon make it impossible for Sanhedrin to function in Eretz Yisroel, created a predetermined calendar. His incredibly accurate and vastly simplified calendar allowed someone equipped with paper, pencil and a reasonable faculty for numbers to calculate the calendar, until the Sanhedrin again exists. In other words, Hillel set the Jewish calendar on autopilot.

(This is not halachically preferable. Ideally, the decisions germane to the calendar should be based upon witnesses and the monthly input of the Sanhedrin. However, Hillel Hanasi’s system is permitted when using the Sanhedrin is not an option.)

With the implementation of the new calendar not dependent on month-by-month decisions of Beis Din, the following observation was raised: At this point in history, people in chutz la’aretz can calculate definitively which day is Yom Tov. If so, there should be no reason to observe two days of any Yom Tov anymore (Beitzah 4b).

The Gemara explains that a special takanah was instituted at this time in history. The Beis Din in Eretz Yisroel sent a message to those in chutz la’aretz to continue observing a second day of Yom Tov, which is usually called yom tov sheini shel galiyos, following their prior custom, notwithstanding that the reason for the observance no longer applies. Rashi explains that the reason for the new takanah is that persecutions might cause Jews to forget the information necessary to figure out the calendar. The likelihood of a Jew eating chometz on Pesach unwittingly, or violating other serious prohibitions, is reduced when keeping two days of Yom Tov. In other words, although keeping an extra day of Yom Tov was originally for a completely different concern, once the custom had been established, Chazal required the continuation of the observance, for a basically unrelated reason.

Two days of Rosh Hashanah

Now that we have plowed through this extensive introduction, we have yet to analyze why the holiday of Rosh Hashanah has two days even in Eretz Yisroel. When the determination of Rosh Chodesh was in the hands of the Sanhedrin, we understand the need to observe two days of Rosh Hashanah – people were uncertain which day had been established as Rosh Hashanah, and therefore they were required to observe both. However, now that our calendar can be calculated in advance, why should those who live in Eretz Yisroel be observing two days of Rosh Hashanah?

Indeed, the rishonim dispute whether there is a requirement to keep two days of Rosh Hashanah in Eretz Yisroel, once the calendar is on autopilot as a result of Hillel Hanasi’s new takanah.

The Rif rules that, in Eretz Yisroel, two days of Rosh Hashanah should be observed. The Baal Hama’or not only questions why this should be true, but contends that, prior to the Rif’s ruling, the practice in Eretz Yisroel had been to observe only one day of Rosh Hashanah. This was changed, he claims, when disciples of the Rif arrived in Eretz Yisroel in the twelfth century and began promulgating his opinions. They changed the minhag of observing only one day of Rosh Hashanah in Eretz Yisroel, which the Baal Hama’or contends is the correct practice.

Upon what is this dispute dependent? It appears that the Baal Hama’or was of the opinion that while the communities in chutz la’aretz requested — and were denied — permission to drop their observance of the second day of Yom Tov, this discussion did not affect those in Eretz Yisroel, even on the one Yom Tov when they observed two days, Rosh Hashanah.

However, there are allusions in the Gemara that Rosh Hashanah is now a two-day observance. The Rif, and those who followed his approach, concluded that, since at one point there had been a takanah to observe two days of Rosh Hashanah, this takanah remained in place.

Why is Yom Kippur different?

If those who live in chutz la’aretz are required to observe two days of Sukkos because of the uncertainty which day is the proper Yom Tov, should not Yom Kippur, also, be kept for two consecutive days?

The reason why Yom Kippur is treated differently is simple: for most people, fasting two consecutive days constitutes pikuach nefesh, a life-threatening situation. Just as we override Shabbos to provide medical care for someone who might be in a life-threatening situation, and we permit a person for whom fasting for even one day is life-threatening to eat on Yom Kippur, so do we consider two days of Yom Kippur observance as life-threatening for most people. Therefore, no community ever observed two consecutive days of Yom Kippur.

There is another reason to be lenient. Elul was virtually always a 29-day month. It could happen in any given year that Elul would have thirty days, and therefore Rosh Hashanah and Sukkos were observed as two days of Yom Tov. However, because of the obvious difficulty of fasting two consecutive days, the practice regarding Yom Kippur was to assume that Elul was 29 days, and that the day we call the tenth of Tishrei is the correct Yom Kippur.

Second Day Haftarah

At this point, let us examine the second of our opening questions: “Why do we read the specific haftarah that we do on the second day of Rosh Hashanah?”

The haftarah read on the second day of Rosh Hashanah is in the book of Yirmiyahu and begins with the words: Koh amar Hashem. There is no obvious allusion to Rosh Hashanah in this haftarah, yet there appears to have been a takanah of Chazal to read this haftarah on this day.

Before proceeding to discuss this question, we need to explain the history of why we read the haftarah, altogether. The early halachic authorities report two reasons for the establishment of the reading of the haftarah. According to one approach, during the period of the second Beis Hamikdash, at the times of the persecutions prior to the Chanukah story, the Seleucid Greek emperor Antiochos Epiphanes was bent on destroying Judaism. Strongly assisted by assimilated Jewish elements, called the misyavnim, literally, “those who made themselves into Greeks,” or Hellenized Jews, Antiochos banned virtually all shemiras hamitzvos, until the remnant of Torah-true Jews rebelled. Eventually, they drove his empire out of the Holy Land, which had not even been their objective.

During the persecutions that were the run-up to their rebellion, Antiochos had banned the reading of the Torah, kerias haTorah. As a response to his persecutions, Chazal implemented several takanos to retain Jewish practices. One of these takanos was the introduction of the reading of the haftarah, which were selections of Nevi’im. On Shabbos, Yom Tov and fast days, the haftarah was read in shul at the point in the prayers when the Torah should have been read (Avudraham; Levush; Tosafos Yom Tov, Megillah 3:4).

A very different reason for reading haftarah on Shabbos and Yom Tov is that an early practice was for Jews to gather daily after they completed the morning davening and study together Torah, prophets, and other Torah subjects for a considerable amount of time, before they went to work. As generations passed, it became increasingly difficult to devote this amount of time to studying Torah, and the custom was abandoned on weekdays, but still maintained on Shabbos and Yom Tov, when people did not go to work (Teshuvos Hage’onim #55; Sefer Hapardes, page 306; Shibolei Haleket #44).

According to either approach, at the time that the takanah of haftarah was initiated, the individual who was called upon to read the haftarah could choose any reading he preferred. It was recommended to read something that was associated with the Torah reading of the day, either the one that had been missed (according to the first approach) or that actually was read (according to the second).

On certain dates of the year, Chazal instituted that specific haftarah portions be read (Mishnah, Megillah 30b; Maseches Sofrim 17; Gemara Megillah 31a). Among these instructions, the Gemara (Megillah 31a) mentions that on the second day of Rosh Hashanah the haftarah should be Habein yakir li Efrayim, from the 31st chapter of the book of Yirmiyahu. Rashi notes that this posuk quotes the expressions zochor ezkerenu, “I will certainly remember,” and racheim arachamenu,“I will certainly have mercy,” both concepts that are very appropriate to Rosh Hashanah.

Peculiarity about this haftarah

To the best of my knowledge, all of Klal Yisroel includes the posuk Habein yakir li Efrayim in the haftarah of the second day of Rosh Hashanah, as mentioned in the Gemara; however, there are different ways to read this haftarah. Ashkenazic and most other practices begin the haftarah with the words, Koh amar Hashem motzo chein bamidbar, and close it with the posuk, Habein yakir li Efrayim. Virtually all customs — Ashkenazi, Sefardi, Edot Hamizrah, Italian, and Yemenite — follow this basic approach, although some communities begin the haftarah one posuk earlier.

However, all of these customs appear to be strange. Whenever the Mishnah or Gemara identifies a reading by its words, these are the first words that we recite as part of that reading. (On occasion, it is the second posuk, and the Mishnah or Gemara uses the word beginning the second posuk because the first posuk may be Vayedabeir Hashem el Moshe Leimor or a similar wording that does not identify clearly what we are to read.) However, in the instance of this haftarah, virtually all customs end with the reading of Habein yakir li Efrayim, as the last posuk.

The only custom I discovered that seems to follow the Gemara literally and, it would seem, more accurately, is the ancient Greek custom, called Minhag Romaniot (so called because it was the practice of the Jewish communities who lived under the rule of the Eastern Roman Empire, which later came to be known as the Byzantine Empire). Unfortunately, the practices of Minhag Romaniot are virtually extinct. To the best of my knowledge, there are only three congregations anywhere in the world that still follow Romaniot practice, one in Crete, a second in Turkey, and a third in New York, and none has significant observant membership that follows Minhag Romaniot.

We are forced to explain that our common custom assumes that the Gemara is requiring simply to include the posuk of Habein yakir li Efrayim as part of the haftarah for the second day of Rosh Hashanah, and the accepted custom includes several other beautiful themes mentioned by the prophet Yirmiyahu that are appropriate to Rosh Hashanah, including the unique relationship of Hashem and the Jewish people, the promise that Hashem will return us, and the moving account of Rachel’s successful beseeching Hashem on behalf of her children. The last of these themes has a special relationship with Rosh Hashanah because of the statement of the Gemara that Rachel was one of the women remembered by Hashem on Rosh Hashanah, the other two being Sarah and Chana, who are the subjects of the first day’s Torah reading and haftarah, respectively.

Second Day of Judgment!?

At this point, let us address the last of our opening questions: “How can the second day of Rosh Hashanah be called the ‘Day of Judgment,’ when we were judged already on the first day?”

As we can well imagine, we are not the first to ask this question. Allow me to provide an introduction from Tanach that will help to explain the approach presented by the Zohar:

After Shlomoh Hamech’s lengthy prayer dedicating the Beis Hamikdash, he blessed the people by reciting the following: May these words of mine with which I beseech Hashem be close to Hashem day and night, to accomplish the justice of His servant and the justice of His people, each and every day (Melachim I 8:59).

The posuk implies that there are two different types of justice, one of Hashem’s servant, the king, and the other applied to the people, as a whole. The proof that there are two types of judgment is that the word justice is repeated in the posuk. The Zohar (Parshas Pinchas) refers to these types of justice as the “upper judgment” and the “lower judgment,” and that these are performed by two different heavenly courts. The upper judgment, which is the harsher one, is performed on the first day of Rosh Hashanah and the “lower judgment,” which is softer, is performed on the second day. The Zohar states that these two judgments are “correlated” or “combined,” and are both “existent,” whatever these terms mean in Kabbalistic terminology.

Rav Dessler intimates that the difference between these two types of judgment is the extent to which a person makes serving Hashem the central focus in his life. Someone who has diverted the focus of his daily life from serving Hashem must rely on his relationship with those greater than he is. This is the “lower judgment” that this person undergoes on the second day, with a greater chance of success.

Conclusion

The Torah refers to the Yomim Tovim as mo’ed. Just as the term ohel mo’ed refers to the tent in the desert which served as a meeting place between Hashem and the Jewish people, so, too, a mo’ed is a meeting time between Hashem and the Jewish people (Hirsch, Vayikra 23:3 and Horeb).

We understand well why our calendar involves use of the solar year – after all, our seasons, and the appropriate times for our holidays, are based on the sun. But why did the Torah insist that our months follow the moon and that our holidays depend, also, on the moon’s phases and rotation? It seems that we could live fine without months that are dependent on the moon’s rotation around the earth!

An answer to this question is that the waxing and waning of the moon is symbolic of our own relationship with Hashem – which also sometimes waxes and sometimes wanes. Yet, we know that just as the moon, after its waning and almost disappearing, always renews itself, so, too, we have the capacity to grow and improve, in accordance with how much we allow Hashem into our world and into our actions.

The Holey Donut

Question #1: Holey Blessings

“What brocha should I recite before eating a donut? Does it make a difference whether it is an American-style, hole-in-the-middle donut or an Israeli-style jelly donut?”

Question #1: Chanukah Donuts

“Must I separate challah from the donuts I am frying for Chanukah?”

Question #3: Non-Jewish Consumers

“I just purchased a donut shop that is quite distant from any Jewish community. Must I make sure that challah is taken?”

Introduction:

Although neither Israeli donuts nor Israeli latkes are usually made with holes in the middle, Americans envision donuts as a big zero, no doubt to remind them of the number of calories contained in the hole.

Donuts are made from dough that is deep fried, or cooked in oil (these are two ways of saying the same thing). Because they are cooked, most authorities rule that the correct brocha before consuming them is mezonos. However, our opening questions require that we study the topic in greater depth. Doing so, we will discover that although reciting mezonos before consuming donuts is the accepted approach, it is not a universally held position, and that there are many halachic ramifications to this dispute.

Analyzing this topic requires that we explain several major issues in the laws of separating challah, so that is where our discussion begins. We should note that throughout this entire article, the word challah will be used to refer to the portion removed from dough to fulfill the mitzvah of the Torah, and not to the special Shabbos bread.

The Torah and challah

The Torah describes the mitzvah of challah in the following passage:

When you enter the land to which I am bringing you, it will be that, when you eat from the bread of the land, you shall separate a terumah offering for G-d. The first dough of your kneading troughs shall be separated as challah, like the terumah of your grain shall you separate it (Bamidbar 15:18-20).

Let us make several observations about this posuk, and then proceed to discuss them.

Bread or dough?

1. There appears to be an inconsistency in the words of the Torah. First, it refers to when you eat from the bread of the land, which implies that the requirement to separate challah begins only once it becomes bread. Yet, in the very next posuk, the Torah requires challah to be taken from your kneading troughs, implying that you separate challah when it is still dough. Which is true?

Terumah or challah?

2. The Torah refers to the part separated as a “terumah offering,” and then compares it to the terumah of your grain. In what way is challah like terumah?

Consumer or manufacturer?

3. The words of the Torah, when you eat from the bread of the land, you shall separate a terumah offering, imply that the obligation to take challah falls upon the consumer who will be eating the bread. However, the next verse states, the first dough ofyour kneading troughs shall be separated as challah, implying that the obligation falls upon the manufacturer. Why do two verses imply different laws?

Bread or dough

The answer is that the words of the Torah, the first dough of your kneading troughs, teaches that there is no requirement to separate challah unless there is as much dough as the amount of manna eaten daily by each member of the Jewish people in the desert, which, in their generation, was called “your kneading trough.” Chazal explain that this amount, called ke’shiur i’sas midbar, was equal to the volume of 43.2 eggs. In contemporary measure, we usually assume that this is approximately three to five pounds of flour. (For our purposes, it will suffice to use these round figures. I encourage each reader to ask his own rav or posek for exact quantities.) When there is a definite requirement to separate challah, one recites a brocha prior to fulfilling the mitzvah.

There is another reason why the Torah refers to the mitzvah both in regard to dough and to the finished bread. Usually, one should separate challah when the dough is mixed. However, there are situations in which one cannot separate challah as dough. In these instances, the Torah is teaching that we can also separate challah when it is already bread.

Terumah or challah

I noted above thattheTorah refers to the separated dough as a “terumah offering,” and then compares it to the terumah of your grain. In what way is challah like terumah?

Terumah may be eaten only by a kohen, his wife, sons and unmarried daughters, and only when they are tahor. Since we are without the parah adumah today, we cannot achieve being fully tahor, and, therefore, we cannot eat terumah. The Torah here teaches that challah has the same laws as terumah, and therefore can be eaten only by members of the kohen’s family who are tahor.

Dough versus batter

We find much discussion in the Mishnah regarding what type of product is included in the obligation to separate challah and a fundamental dispute among the early baalei Tosafos concerning these laws. Note that in the following discussion we differentiate between “dough,” a thick mixture which Chazal call belilah avah, and “batter,” a thin mixture which Chazal call belilah rakah. According to Rabbeinu Tam, any dough owned by a Jew is obligated in challah, even if one subsequently cooks or fries it (cited by many rishonim, including Tosafos, Brochos 37b s.v. Lechem and Pesachim 37b s.v. Dekulei alma).

(Please note that some authorities who accept Rabbeinu Tam’s basic approach that any dough is obligated in challah still exempt dough manufactured for pasta, because of considerations beyond the scope of our topic (see Tosafos, Brochos 37b, s.v. Lechem,quoting Rabbeinu Yechiel), but others hold that, according to Rabbeinu Tam, any product made from dough is obligated in challah, provided the batch was large enough (as described above).

Intent

A different baal Tosafos, the Rash, disagrees with Rabbeinu Tam, contending that one is not always obligated to separate challah from dough. There is such a requirement only when the owner intended to make the dough into bread. However, if the owner intended at the time that he kneaded the dough to cook or fry it, as one does when making donuts or kreplach, there is no obligation to separate challah.

Batter up

Both Rabbeinu Tam and the Rash agree that there is no obligation to take challah from a batter (belilah rakah) unless it was subsequently baked into a bread-like food. In this instance, therefore, the obligation to separate challah does not take place until the bread is produced. Thus, according to both Rabbeinu Tam and the Rash, we can resolve why the Torah describes the mitzvah of challah sometimes in terms of bread and sometimes in terms of dough. In most instances, the obligation to separate challah is when the flour mixture becomes dough. However, there are instances, such as when preparing a batter, in which there is no obligation to separate challah until it becomes bread.

Mezonos or hamotzi?

Many authorities explain that the dispute between Rabbeinu Tam and the Rash also affects which brocha one recites on a cooked or fried dough. They contend that, according to Rabbeinu Tam, since dough is obligated in challah, the brocha recited before eating dough that was then cooked or fried is hamotzi, the brocha recited afterwards is the full bensching,and that, prior to eating a cooked or fried dough product, there is a requirement to wash netilas yadayim.

Others rule that one does not recite hamotzi unless another requirement is met – that the finished product, after the frying or cooking, has a bread-like appearance, called in Aramaic turisa denahama (Tosafos, Pesachim and Brochos 37b s.v. Lechem). The halachic basis for drawing a distinction between the mitzvah of challah and the brocha requirements is that the requirement to separate challah is established at the time the dough is mixed, whereas the halachic determination of which brocha to recite is determined by the finished product (Rabbeinu Yonah, Brochos; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 168:13).

Baking part

At this point, we will return to the laws of challah, in order to understand some of the rulings germane to the laws of brochos. A passage in the Talmud Yerushalmi teaches that someone who prepared a dough or batter with the intention of cooking or frying most of it, and leaving a small amount of the dough for baking, is obligated to separate challah from the entire dough, because of a rabbinic injunction.

The passage reads as follows:

A woman asked Rabbi Mana: ‘I want to make my dough into noodles. Is there a way for me to do so and be exempt from separating challah?’ He told her that it was possible. He then asked his father, Rabbi Yonah, who told him that she should not be exempt from separating challah, out of concern that she will use the rest as one usually processes dough (that is, into bread) (Yerushalmi, Challah 1:4). The rishonim explain that she intended to bake a small part of the dough, and therefore assumed that she is not obligated to separate challah. However, should she subsequently decide that she wanted to bake the entire dough, it would be obligated in challah min haTorah, and she might not realize that she is obligated to separate challah. In order to avoid creating this problem, Chazal required her to separate challah even when she intends to bake only a small amount (Rosh, Pesachim 2:16; Hilchos Challah #2).

Rabbeinu Tam and Rash

At this point, we must note that Rabbeinu Tam and the Rash will dispute exactly what happened in this case. According to Rabbeinu Tam, any time one mixes dough, he is obligated to separate challah. Therefore, the case described by this passage of Yerushalmi must have been where the woman was mixing a batter from which one is usually not obligated to separate challah, intending to bake a small amount, and to cook or fry the rest. Rabbi Yonah ruled that since she might decide to bake the entire batter, she is already obligated, miderabbanan, to separate challah.

According to the Rash, the passage of Yerushalmi can be discussing dough, since the intention at the time of mixing to cook or fry dough exempts it from the mitzvah of separating challah.

The Maharam Rottenberg

Approximately a century after the time of the Rash, the greatest halachic authority in Germany was the Maharam Rottenberg. The Maharam did not want to take sides in this dispute between his two great predecessors, and so he devised the following approach, which he implemented in his own household:

When preparing dough that one intends to cook or fry, the Maharam instructed that one bake a small amount of the dough. According to the Rash, although cooked or fried dough is exempt from challah, when baking some of the dough, one becomes obligated in separating challah because of the takanah established by the Yerushalmi. Therefore, this dough is obligated in challah, whether one holds like Rabbeinu Tam (because it is dough) or like the Rash (because one is baking part of it).

According to Rabbeinu Tam, one should recite a brocha prior to separating challah on dough that one intends to cook or fry, whereas according to the Rash, there is no obligation to separate challah, and this would be a brocha levatalah. To avoid taking sides in this dispute, the Maharam advised baking some of the dough, thus creating a responsibility to separate challah because of the takanas chachamim.

Which brocha when you eat?

The Tur notes that the Maharam’s suggestion of baking some dough resolves only the question of separating challah. However, there is a separate, unresolved question – which brocha does one recite prior to eating a cooked or fried dough product? Rabbeinu Tam contends that the brocha on this product is hamotzi, which also means that one must wash netilas yadayim before eating it and recite bensching afterwards. The Rash maintains that the brocha before eating this food is mezonos, and the brocha afterwards is al hamichyah, and there is no requirement to wash netilas yadayim. How does one avoid taking sides in this dispute? The Maharam’s solution is to eat these products only after one first recited hamotzi on regular bread.

Thus, one of our opening questions “What brocha should I recite before eating a donut?” was considered an unresolved conundrum by the posek of his generation, the Maharam. Since he considered it to be an unresolved halachic issue whether one should recite hamotzi or mezonos prior to eating donuts, he ate them only after first reciting hamotzi on bread. I suspect that low carbohydrate diets were not much in vogue in his day.

How do we rule?

Most authorities conclude that the correct brocha prior to eating a dough product that is cooked or fried is mezonos. The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 168:13) and the Rema (ibid.) both follow the majority opinion that the correct brocha prior to eating a dough product that is cooked or fried is mezonos. However, the Shulchan Aruch also cites the minority opinion that one should recite hamotzi prior to eating a cooked dough product. He concludes that, to avoid any question, someone who is a yarei shamayim should eat a cooked dough product only after making hamotzi  on a different item that is definitely bread — what we presented above as the Maharam’s solution. The Shulchan Aruch refers to this as the way a G-d-fearing person should approach the matter. The Rema rules that accepted practice is to simply recite mezonos. Perhaps we could say that the Rema felt that a yarei shamayim can still be concerned about how many carbohydrates he eats!

How do we rule concerning challah?

According to the text accepted by most authorities, the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 329:3) concludes that dough that one intends to cook or fry is exempt from the requirement to separate challah, ruling against Rabbeinu Tam. However, the Shach contends that one should separate challah without a brocha. Thus, in his opinion, someone preparing a large quantity of donuts or kreplach is obligated to separate challah, albeit without a brocha. A caterer, restaurant or hotel cooking a large quantity of kreplach for a communal Purim seudah should have challah separated from the dough.

Many later authorities rule that one should take into consideration Rabbeinu Tam’s approach and separate challah from any dough more than three pounds, even when it will be cooked or fried. However, the Shulchan Aruch Harav (Kuntrus Acharon, Orach Chayim 168:7) and the Aruch Hashulchan (Yoreh Deah 329:15) rule that one does not need to be concerned about Rabbeinu Tam’s position if one is making the dough in chutz la’aretz, since the requirement of separating challah there is certainly only miderabbanan.

Non-Jewish consumers

At this point, we can address the third of our opening questions: “I just purchased a donut shop that is quite distant from any Jewish community. Must I make sure that challah is taken?”

Let me explain the background to this shaylah. A frum businessman purchased a franchised donut shop located nowhere near any Jewishcommunity. His managers and employees are all non-Jewish. To avoid issues of being open on Shabbos and Pesach, the businessman used a type of mechir Shabbos, thereby sharing ownership of his business with a gentile, a highly controversial practice that is beyond the scope of this article. He had assumed that he had no responsibility to separate challah, either because he did not know that some authorities require this, or because he assumed that, since no customers are assuming that his products are kosher, he is not obligated to separate challah. This last assumption is incorrect.

Consumer or owner

The obligation to separate challah is a positive requirement incumbent upon the owner, not simply a means of preventing a Jew from eating the finished product without challah having been separated. The requirement to separate challah depends on the ownership of the dough at the time it is mixed, not on who mixes it. In other words, if a Jew owns a bakery, he is required to separate challah, even if his workers are not Jewish. Should the owner not have separated challah, the consumer is obligated to do so before he may eat the finished product.

If a gentile does the kneading in a Jewish-owned household, nursing home or school, there is an obligation to separate challah.  On the other hand, there is no requirement to separate challah in a bakery owned by non-Jews, even if the employees are Jewish.

Conclusion

Having discussed the halachic details of this mitzvah, it is worthwhile taking a glimpse at the following Medrash that underscores its vast spiritual significance: “In the merit of the following three mitzvos the world was created – in the merit of challah, in the merit of maasros, and in the merit of bikkurim” (Bereishis Rabbah 1:4). Thus, besides gaining us eternal reward, this easily kept mitzvah helps keep our planet turning.

Erev Pesach on Shabbos Guide

This year, the first day of Pesach falls on Sunday, which means that Erev Pesach falls on Shabbos. This changes many Pesach observances. Below is a simplified guide to the practices of Erev Pesach that falls on Shabbos.

Photo by alex ringer from FreeImages

Thursday

Since Erev Pesach is Shabbos, the fast of Taanis Bechoros is pushed earlier, to Thursday. A bechor or the father of a minor bechor is obligated to fast on Thursday, but he can discharge his obligation by making or attending a siyum. If attending a siyum is not a viable option because of COVID safety concerns, please consult with your LOR (=local Orthodox rabbi) as to whether you can attend a siyum online.

Thursday night

Bedikas Chometz

Regular bedikas chometz is performed with a bracha. After completing the bedikah, one recites the first bitul.

Friday

Friday morning davening is regular, without tachanun, because it is the month of Nisan. Although, on Erev Pesach, Ashkenazim do not say the chapters of mizmor lesodah and la’me’natzei’ach in shacharis, they do say these parts in the Friday davening, since it is not Erev Pesach. Since Sefardim do not recite la’me’natzei’ach on any day when tachanun is not recited, they do not recite it the entire month of Nisan.

Selling the Chometz

Reminder: make sure to have already attended to the sale of your chometz.

Burning the Chometz

We burn chometz on Friday morning, even though one may own chometz until Shabbos morning. Place the chometz that is to be eaten on Shabbos in a secure place and make a mental note where that chometz is located. We do not recite the second bitul after burning the chometz on Friday morning, but, instead, we recite it on Shabbos morning, when we finish eating the chometz.

Doing Melacha on Erev Shabbos

Although it is prohibited to perform certain melacha-work during the afternoon of Erev Pesach, and haircuts and shaving must be performed in the morning, there is no limitation on doing melacha-work on this Friday any different from any other Erev Shabbos, because it is not Erev Pesach.

Eruvei Chatzeiros

The minhag is to renew an eruv chatzeiros with neighbors on Erev Pesach. This year, it should be renewed on Erev Shabbos.

Matzoh baking

Those who are accustomed to bake matzohs on the afternoon of erev Pesach usually bake them in the afternoon of this Erev Shabbos, even though it is still permitted to eat chometz.

Seder preparations

Ideally, all of the seder preparations should be performed on Friday, including roasting the zero’a (shankbone) and the egg, preparing the saltwater, making the charoses, checking and washing the marror, grinding the horseradish. Make sure to open the boxes of matzos and bottles of wine, as one would before every Shabbos. Although this is unusual in today’s world, if you need to separate challah from your matzoh, remember to do so before Shabbos. If you forgot to do so before Shabbos, what to do if you first discover the problem the first night of Pesach will depend on whether the matzoh was prepared in Eretz Yisroel or in chutz la’aretz. Briefly explained, although it is prohibited to separate challah on Shabbos or on Yom Tov (unless the dough was mixed on Yom Tov), someone who prepared dough in chutz la’aretz and forgot to separate challah may put aside some of the product (in this case, some of the matzoh), eat the rest of the matzoh on seder night, and separate challah from the leftovers after Yom Tov (in this case, on Chol Hamo’eid). However, someone living in Eretz Yisroel cannot use this solution, and will have to find other matzoh to use for the seder.

Shabbos Food Preparations

If you are preparing chometz-dik food for your Shabbos meals, do not make sticky chometzdik food that will adhere to your pots or plates. (Presumably, most people will prepare Pesachdik food for all meals.)

Shabbos Candles

Be careful not to place the Shabbos candelabra on the tablecloth on which chometz will be served, since it will not be possible to remove the candles in order to remove the tablecloth.

Planning three meals

Friday night meal

One should kindle the Shabbos lights near where one intends to eat the Friday night meal.

One is required to recite hamotzi at the first two Shabbos meals, using two “breads” (lechem mishneh).

It is permissible to eat chometz hamotzi in one part of the house and the Pesachdik meal in another, since his intent when washing and making hamotzi was to eat his meal in this way. He should return to where he made hamotzi for bensching. Each person should eat at least one kebeitzah of bread (egg size) to fulfill the mitzvah of seudas Shabbos and justify making netilas yadayim with a bracha. (Since one may not weigh on Shabbos, one who intends to weigh his chometz, in order to determine that he is eating the correct amount, should do so before Shabbos.)

Egg or grape matzoh, or matzoh cookies (all of these qualify as matzoh ashirah) may be used for lechem mishneh at these meals. According to many authorities, Ashkenazim should eat as much matzoh ashirah as one would eat bread with this type of a meal (i.e., certainly more than the egg size mentioned above). Sefardim should eat four egg sizes of the matzoh ashirah. Please note that Rav Moshe Feinstein was more lenient than the above approaches, ruling that as long as the kevi’us seudah is on the matzoh ashirah, which presumably requires eating at least a kebeitzah, that the brocha is hamotzi.

Note that someone who has the custom to refrain from eating matzoh after Purim or Rosh Chodesh may still eat matzoh ashirah.

If using chometz plates to serve a hot meal that was cooked in a Pesachdik pot, one should pour the hot food into a Pesachdik plate or platter before pouring it into the chometz-dik plates. (Presumably, most people will be serving the meals on disposable dishes.)

Shabbos Morning

Daven early. One is required to eat one meal in the morning. There is a recommendation (hiddur) to eat two meals on the morning of Erev Pesach, separated by a brief interruption.

For those who wish to eat two meals in the morning, I suggest:

Immediately after davening, make kiddush, hamotzi, eat a piece of fish, and bensch.

Take a break, and begin the next meal with enough time to finish eating before the latest time to eat chometz. Some poskim prefer that a fleishig course be eaten with the first morning meal, before breaking.

Bitul chometz

After completing the eating of the chometz, dispose of the remaining chometz into the toilet (taking care to crumble it into small pieces and only flush a small amount at one time) or into a communal garbage bin (if it is within the eruv), but do not place it inside your own garbage can. Then recite the second bitul chometz. One may continue eating the meal without new brachos, notwithstanding that he may no longer eat chometz.

Shabbos afternoon

Since most people follow the opinion of davening mincha before seudah shelishis, one should daven mincha early.

Seudah shelishis

In the early afternoon, one may serve a heavy Pesach-dik meal (meat, potatoes, fruits, vegetables, etc.) without any hamotzi at all. If you eat “gebroktz,” it is recommended to eat kneidlich at this meal. According to the Mishnah Berurah, it is permitted and recommended to eat kneidlich, even if you have a minhag not to eat matzoh from Purim or from Rosh Chodesh and there is no halachic problem with eating them on Erev Pesach.

Many poskim recommend that Sefardim serve matzoh ashirah at seudah shelishis. These matzos require netilas yadayim. The bracha before eating these matzos is hamotzi, and they require bensching, afterward.

If one eats cooked matzoh, kneidlich or matzoh ashirah for seudah shelishis, one should complete eating seudah shelishis before the “tenth hour,” which is a half hour before “mincha ketana,” or three quarters of the day. Some authorities contend that even those who eat only fruit and vegetables this Shabbos for seudah shelishis should eat before the tenth hour. One may eat a small quantity of fruit or vegetables after this point.

It is advisable to take a nap Shabbos afternoon, but one should not mention that he is taking a nap in order to be awake for the seder. (Some poskim consider this statement to be preparing on Shabbos for after Shabbos.)

Most poskim contend that one should not move one’s seder matzos before Shabbos is over. Since many people bring their own matzoh to the seder, if they are eating at someone else’s house, they should not carry these matzos until Shabbos is over. Also, remember not to begin preparations for the seder until Shabbos is over and after saying “Baruch Hamavdil bein kodesh lekodesh.”

Chag Kosher vesomay’ach!!

Selling Chometz before Pesach

Photo by Deb Collins from FreeImages

Question #1:

“A room is rented to a non-Jew, because it contains the chometz that was sold to him as part of the mechiras chometz. May I enter the room in order to remove something that was not included in the sale?”

Question #2:

“On an occasional emergency basis, my daughter requires use of a medicine that is not listed as being chometz-free. Should we include this medicine with what we sell to the non-Jew, and if we do, what should we do if she needs it during Pesach?”

Answer:

As we all know, a Jew may not own chometz on Pesach; this is included in the Torah’s double prohibition, bal yira’eh and bal yimatzei. Furthermore, the Torah commanded us with a mitzvas aseh, a positive mitzvah, to destroy any chometz left in our possession after midday on Erev Pesach. According to most poskim, these prohibitions apply both to chometz gamur (pure chometz) and to ta’aroves chometz (chometz mixed into another product). In addition, Chazal required us to search our homes and property the night before Pesach for chometz that we may have forgotten, the mitzvah we refer to as bedikas chometz. According to many authorities, this requirement of searching for chometz is, at times, required min haTorah, and certainly fulfills a Torah requirement.

In addition, Chazal created a penalty on a Jew who owned chometz during Pesach in violation of bal yira’eh and bal yimatzei, prohibiting this chometz from use forever, referring to the product involved as chometz she’avar alav haPesach. I will note that this financial incentive has often proved extremely effective in convincing marginally observant Jews to perform mechiras chometz.

Although a Jew may not own chometz on Pesach, there is nothing wrong with his selling his chometz to a non-Jew before it becomes prohibited. The Mishnah states explicitly that one may sell chometz to a non-Jew before Pesach. However, the Mishnah does not discuss whether I can sell my chometz and leave it in my home, knowing that the non-Jew does not intend to keep or use it. To be more specific, does the Jew’s expectation that he will receive the chometz back invalidate the sale? Also, does the non-Jew really intend to buy the chometz, or does he think that this is a charade, and that he is not really purchasing it? This would, of course, undermine the sale.

The Tosefta (Pesachim 2:6) provides us with background to these questions:

A Jew is travelling by ship and has with him chometz that he needs to dispose of before Pesach. However, the Jew would like the chometz back after Pesach, because there is a dearth of kosher food available. Apparently, the cruise liner being described by the Tosefta did not have a supervised kosher kitchen, nor any supervised airline dinners on board.

The Tosefta rules that the Jew may sell the chometz to a non-Jew before Pesach, and then purchase it back afterwards. Alternatively, the Jew may give the chometz to the non-Jew as a present, provided no conditions are attached. The non-Jew may then return the present after Pesach. Thus, we see that one may sell or give away chometz to a non-Jew and expect it back, without violating any halachos, provided that the agreement does not require the non-Jew to return it or sell it back.

In contemporary times, people usually do not undertake to sell their chometz themselves, but instead appoint a rav to sell the chometz for them. The reason for this is that the  non-Jew does not take the chometz with him; we leave it in our houses. Since this may have the appearance of a charade, the sale must be performed in a way that halacha recognizes as a valid sale. Since these laws are very detailed and complicated, it is better that a lay person not handle the arrangements for mechiras chometz by himself.

When I was in the first year of a previous rabbinical position, I realized shortly before Pesach that one of my shul members, who was an attorney by training, had not yet arranged sale of his chometz. I called him, asking him if this was an oversight. He answered me that he always arranged his own mechiras chometz by drawing up a contract with a non-Jewish business associate.

Halachically selling chometz via a written contract without any other maasei kinyan does not make the chometz the halachic property of the non-Jew. It might still work because of dina demalchusa dina or similar reasons too complex to explain in this article. The bottom line is that according to many halachic opinions, our lawyer violated the two Torah prohibitions of bal yira’eh and bal yimatzei by owning chometz on Pesach, and also the positive mitzvas aseih requiring that we destroy or otherwise cease our ownership of chometz before Pesach. Merely drawing up a contract with a non-Jew is certainly not the way to sell your chometz and be able to leave it in your house over Pesach. Be’dei’evid, after the fact, this sale would probably be considered valid enough that his chometz would not be prohibited as chometz she’avar alav haPesach. Unfortunately, I did not have a relationship with this attorney to explain to him why his plan was not the best approach to the problem. In other words, if you are an attorney trained in American law, realize that you may not be an expert in Anglo-Saxon common law, Chinese law, Napoleonic Code, the codes of Hammurabi, or halacha, even though we can correctly call halacha “Talmudic Law.”

One of the standard methods we use of guaranteeing that the sale of our chometz to the non-Jew is fully valid is to rent to him the area where the chometz is stored. Thus, we return to our first question as to whether I am permitted to enter that area for my own purposes.

There is also another concern involved in entering the area where the sold chometz is located: The Gemara states that it is permitted to have a non-Jew’s chometz in one’s house on Pesach, provided that a barrier the height of ten tefachim (about thirty-seven inches) is constructed around the chometz, presumably to guarantee that no one mistakenly eats it. So, we have two concerns:

(1)   Does entering the area invalidate the sale?

(2)   Is it prohibited to enter the area because of concern that I might eat the chometz?

Regarding the first question, whether entering the rented area violates the sale agreement, several authorities rule that it does not (see Chok Yaakov and Machatzis Hashekel, Orach Chayim 472:1). Regarding the second issue, whether entering the area is prohibited because of concern that you might eat the chometz, this question is raised by the halachic authorities (see commentaries to Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 448:3). Most authorities conclude that it is permitted to enter the area for a brief period of time in order to remove something that was forgotten there (see Shu’t Nimla Tal, Orach Chayim, #167).

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

“On an occasional emergency basis, my daughter requires use of a medicine that is not listed as being chometz-free. Should we include this medicine with what we sell to the non-Jew, and if we do, what should we do if she needs it during Pesach?”

Most mechiras chometz contracts that I have seen allow for this. They specify that if someone should need a medicine that is sold, the non-Jew permits the use of the medicine, over which he maintains ownership, but that he will be compensated after Pesach for what was used. Since this provision does not exist in all mechiras chometz contracts, I suggest that someone who foresees that they may have this issue should clarify it in advance with the rav who is facilitating the mechiras chometz.

There is another basis to be lenient. Medicines generally do not have a good taste, except for medicines meant for children. Thus, most medicines are inedible, and, according to most poskim,not a chometz problem. Let me explain:

The Gemara states: One does not get punished for violating any prohibitions of the Torah unless he consumes them the way they are usually eaten (Pesachim 24b). It is not prohibited min hatorah to eat or drink a prohibited substance that is now inedible, either because it became spoiled or because a bitter ingredient was introduced (Rambam, Hilchos Yesodei Hatorah 5:8).

Can chometz change its stripes so that it is no longer considered chometz? The answer is that it can lose its status as chometz – when it is decomposed or otherwise ruined to a point that it is nifsal mei’achilas kelev, a dog will no longer eat it (see Pesachim 45b). Since it no longer can be used for either food or feed, it loses its status as chometz that one is prohibited from owning and using on Pesach (Tosafos ad locum; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 442:9; cf. Rashi, Pesachim op cit., whose position is more lenient).

However, there is a question based on a passage of Gemara that states that chometz burnt before Pesach may be used on Pesach (Pesachim 21b). The rishonim raise the following question: Why does the Gemara say that one may benefit from the burnt chometz, but does not permit eating it, since it is no longer considered food and therefore not included under the prohibition of chometz?

There are two major approaches to answer this question, which result in a dispute in practical halachah. According to the Ran, since the burning rendered the chometz inedible even by an animal, one may even eat it, even though the Gemara does not mention this. This approach seems to have the support of the Rambam (Yesodei Hatorah 5:8), who permits consuming a prohibited beverage after a bitter ingredient was added to it.

However, the Rosh contends that the rabbis prohibited one from eating the inedible chometz because of a principle called achshevei, which means that by eating it one is treating it as food. Most later authorities follow the Rosh’s approach, prohibiting someone from ingesting inedible chometz because of this rabbinic prohibition (e.g., Terumas Hadeshen #129; Taz, Orach Chayim 442:8; Magen Avraham 442:15; Shaagas Aryeh #75).

Does oral intake of a chometz-based medicine qualify as achshevei? If it does, then it is prohibited to ingest inedible chometz even as medicine, unless the situation is life-threatening.

We find a dispute among later authorities whether ingesting medicine is prohibited because of achshevei. We can categorize the positions into three basic approaches:

1. Taking medicine is considered achshevei.

The Shaagas Aryeh (#75) rules that ingesting medicine is prohibited miderabbanan because of the rule of achshevei.

2. Taking medicine is not achshevei.

Rav Moshe Feinstein maintains that medicine never qualifies as achshevei. His reason is that people take even very bitter items for their medicinal value; thus taking something as a medicine does not demonstrate that one views it as food.

3. It depends on why the chometz is there.

The Chazon Ish advocates a compromise position. Although he agrees with the Shaagas Aryeh that consuming something as a medicine qualifies as achshevei, he contends that achshevei applies only to the active ingredient – the item for which one is taking the medicine. However, he maintains that achshevei does not apply to the excipient ingredients, those added so that the medicine can be made into a tablet.

According to Rav Moshe, as long as the medicine is foul-tasting, there is no need to check if it contains chometz. The chometz is nifsal mei’achilas kelev, and the consumption of medicine does not qualify as achshevei. The only need for a medicine list is when the medicine is pleasant tasting.

On the other hand, according to the Shaagas Aryeh, barring a situation of pikuach nefesh, one may not ingest a medicine containing chometz on Pesach, and it is important to research whether it contains chometz. According to the Chazon Ish, this is a concern only when the chometz is the active ingredient, which is rare in a tablet medicine.

A lay person should not decide on his or her own not to take a necessary medicine without consulting with a rav or posek, and, of course, their physician.

Even according to the Shaagas Aryeh, there is nothing wrong with owning or even benefiting from these medicines on Pesach – the only prohibition would be to ingest them. Thus, a Jewish-owned pharmacy is not required to remove from its shelves foul-tasting medicines that are on the prohibited chometz lists.

Regardless as to which approach one follows, one must be absolutely careful not to look down on someone who follows a different approach. In any situation such as this, this attitude will unfortunately cause great harm, since it can lead to feelings of conceit. Remember that the prohibition of chometz is to sensitize ourselves greater to concerns about conceit. It would be terribly ironic if an attempt at being more machmir in the halachic arena would cause someone to become conceited, the exact opposite of the intent of the mitzvah.

According to Kabbalah, searching for chometz is symbolic of searching internally to locate and remove our own arrogant selves. As we go through the mitzvos of cleaning the house, searching, burning, and selling the chometz, we should also try to focus on the spiritual side of this search and destroy mission.

The Pesach Sleuth

Photo by Matus Laco from FreeImages

Imagine walking into a factory, noticing the ceiling, 25 feet overhead, lined with rows upon rows of similar-looking pipes. “How am I possibly supposed to know what goes through these pipes? How can I possibly check if they have been cleaned properly, and how can I possibly kasher them?”

When we purchase products for Pesach, we look for a hechsher that we respect, and we rely on that hechsher to make sure everything is done properly. Fortunately, an experienced mashgiach will know how to trace all those pipes and figure out what each one contains, although it will take him time to do so. Yet, most of us do not know what it is like to be in a factory that is supervising a Pesach-dik production run, nor do we know what it is like to be checking a factory to see if it is maintaining its kashrus program. We also don’t really know why one hechsher is acceptable and another is not. Most people apply the “What do the neighbors use?” system, or, more accurately, “What does the chevrah use?” or “Do bnei Torah eat from that hechsher?” approach. Although one article cannot answer most of these questions, it can provide some direction and background.

Pesach-dik ketchup

Let me begin with a typical kosher-for-Pesach story. Ketchup, a common North American household product that, in some households, is an irreplaceable staple, is a relatively simple product containing tomato paste, water, corn sweetener, vinegar, salt, spices and flavoring. Several of these ingredients require replacement for a Pesach-dik product. Corn sweetener is kitniyos, and would require replacing, probably with a kosher-lePesach sugar made from either cane or beets. Pure spices ground for industrial use should be fine, but spice extracts or oleoresins will require more research. The water should not present any problem, and the tomato paste and salt used for commercial production should also be fine, but it always pays for the hechsher to double check the manufacturer.

Both the vinegar and the flavoring could contain chometz, and almost certainly contain kitniyos if they did not come from a specially-made Pesach run. Let us see how these sensitive ingredients will be handled:

Vinegar

Regular vinegar, usually called white vinegar, is manufactured from alcohol processed with yeast, vinegar food, and perhaps other raw materials, until the alcohol turns to vinegar. Every one of these ingredients can involve a potential chometz issue: Alcohol is commonly produced from grain. Vinegar food may alsoinclude chometz ingredients. Kosher lePesach vinegar would require that the alcohol, the yeast and the vinegar food all be specially made from a non-chometz, non-kitniyos source. Assuming that the hechsher certifying the production of the ketchup is not the one that certified the vinegar, the rabbonim or poskim of the hechsher on the ketchup will decide which hechsher for Pesach-dik vinegar they will accept.

In theory, kosher lePesach vinegar could be  produced in a much easier way with virtually no halachic complications. Chemically, white vinegar is a solution of acetic acid and water. Pure acetic acid can be produced synthetically, and, therefore, a product identical to vinegar can be produced by simply mixing glacial acetic acid and water, which would be a very easy item to produce, simple to supervise ,and less expensive than kosher-lePesach vinegar.

So why not?

If it is much easier to produce kosher-lePesach vinegar this way, why is it not done? The answer is that it is illegal in the United States to call this product “vinegar,” notwithstanding that it is perfectly safe to use and will accomplish whatever the “vinegar” in your product will. In the United States, this ingredient must be labeled as “diluted glacial acetic acid” or something similar, and companies are concerned that customers will not purchase a product with this ingredient listed on the label.

Vinegar in the United States must be produced by the fermentation of alcohol, and the alcohol used for this production must also be fermented and distilled from sugars or starches. Nevertheless, there are many countries of the world where it is perfectly legal to use synthetically produced vinegar in food production and to label it as “vinegar.”

Flavoring

Ketchup requires the addition of herbs, spices or flavoring. The size of flavor-producing companies varies in as great a range as you can imagine. I have seen flavor companies that are quite literally mom-and-pop shops, and I have also been inside flavor factories the size of a small city. Some flavor companies manage without any major sophisticated equipment, whereas others own hundreds of production machines that each cost in the millions of dollars.

Spray towers

Here is a very practical example: Many products are dried today in a massive piece of equipment called a spray dryer or spray tower. The purpose of this piece of equipment, usually about the height of a three-story building, is to convert a liquid product into a powder. It does so by pumping the liquid until it is dropped through the top of the spray tower. In the tower, which is usually gas-fired, very hot air, usually about 500 degrees Fahrenheit, is forced along the inside walls of the tower, and the liquid product is dropped through the middle. The temperature is hot enough so that all the liquid evaporates, leaving behind a powder that drops to the bottom of the spray tower, where it is boxed or bagged.

Many thousands of spray towers are used in the United States alone. Possibly the most frequent use is to powder skim milk, which is highly perishable, into nonfat dry milk, which occupies a fraction of the space of the liquid product, and, if kept dry, has an indefinite shelf life without any refrigeration, thus making it very easy to store and ship.

Assuming that this spray tower is used only for milk, the major question that will occur is how to kasher it for a cholov Yisroel production. There are many halachic issues here, including that a spray tower physically cannot be filled with water and brought to a boil, which constitutes hag’alah, the most common way of kashering. Furthermore, it is unlikely that this method suffices to kasher the tower, since the absorption into the walls of the spray tower is without liquid.

Another option is to kasher the tower by use of a flame thrower, basically a larger form of a blow torch.

On the other hand, there are halachic authorities who contend that the spray dryer does not even require kashering, since the product is not supposed to touch its walls. Because of the tremendous heat that absorbs into the stainless steel walls of the dryer, product that touches them burns, and will probably pass distaste, nosein taam lifgam, into the final product. Some of these last-quoted authorities contend that a spray tower does not require kashering.

There are also companies that have contract spray-dry equipment. This means that the spray tower is not constantly in use for their product,and, not wanting to leave a very expensive piece of equipment idle,  they will spray dry other products during the “down” time, when they are not producing their own products. For example, I have seen wine powder, powdered meat extract, medicinal items, and even blood, spray dried on equipment that was also at times used for kosher supervised products.

At this point, let us return to our special kosher-for-Pesach ketchup production. A flavor whose components were spray dried, which is a fairly common procedure, would require researching what else was produced on this spray dryer, or attempting to kasher the spray dryer. All of these complicate the research involved in producing our kosher-lePesach ketchup.

To resolve all these potential complications, the flavors used for the production of this kosher-lePesach ketchup were ordered from a small manufacturer. The order was to use only pure essential oils that would be extracted by pressure — in other words, oil that is squeezed out of the spice source in what is called a “cold press” operation and without any extracting aids. Many essential oils are extracted using alcohols such as ethanol or glycerin, which could compromise the kashrus of the product.

Of course, a knowledgeable field representative was dispatched to oversee that the flavor company indeed followed the instructions and used only cold press essential oils.  The flavor company blended together these liquid oils and then added a significant amount of salt to the product. The reason for the addition of the salt was to dry out the finished spice so that it could be easily shipped and stored. From a kashrus perspective, this was certainly a far better alternative to using a spray-dried product and kashering the spray dryer.

Now our hechsher has successfully located all the ingredients and overseen the production of all the raw materials for the kosher-lePesach ketchup. The next step is to send a knowledgeable mashgiach to the production facility where the ketchup is to be manufactured, to ascertain how that equipment will be kashered prior to the Pesach run, and to clarify with the company its production schedule prior to the dates when the equipment will be kashered and the Pesach product manufactured. He also needs to check whether other products are being made in the facility, or a nearby facility, that uses the same heating system to produce chometz products.

And this is for a relatively simple product.

Having shown how a relatively simple Pesach-dik product is made, I will shift from the simple to what is possibly the most complicated: the kashering of hotels for Pesach, which has become a colossal international business. A glance at any frum newspaper includes advertisements marketing opportunities to spend Pesach on any continent, always only with non-gebrochtz, shemurah matzos, cholov Yisroel, and glatt kosher, under a rav’s strict supervision, with several prominent English speakers as scholars-in-residence, babysitting provided during the lectures, and many sightseeing activities available for Chol Hamo’eid. Yet, individuals interested in experiencing Yom Tov this way should be aware that kashering a hotel for Pesach is a mammoth and difficult process. It is even more difficult to do when the entire hotel is not being kashered for Pesach, when the hotel’s regular kitchen staff are used, or when the chef and sous-chefs are not halachically observant themselves.

By the way, travel tours create the most difficult issues regarding kashrus supervision. Many hechsherim will simply not supervise them because of the complications involved with traveling to different places and using products that are available locally. These issues become even more complicated when it comes to Pesach supervision.

Aside from the many nightmares I have heard regarding Pesach hotel hechsherim, I will share with you just one nightmare story of which I have firsthand knowledge. At one point in my career, I was in charge of the hechsherim in an area that encompassed a well-known tourist area. Simply put, if anything was supervised kosher in our area, I knew about it. There indeed were several reliably kosher tours, some of whom used our kashrus organization to supervise their activities and some who did not, but, it seemed to me, still maintained a fairly respectable kashrus standard.

Once, I saw an advertisement in the Anglo-Jewish press for a “glatt kosher tour” through our area. Since none of the tour companies with which I was familiar was involved, I called the number listed for reservations and inquired who was overseeing their kashrus in the area. The woman who answered the phone dutifully notified me that “Jim Klein oversees all food production and kashrus arrangements in that area.” I knew Jim well. Not only was he completely non-observant – he was married to a non-Jewish woman! Yet, the tour was advertized as glatt kosher, chassidisha shechitah. I have no idea if it was chassidisha shechitah, but it was certainly not glatt kosher, and halachically was not kosher at all!

For sure, we know not to use anything “supervised” by Jim. Can we eat something supervised by Yossel? The answer is that we rely on a hechsher that uses yir’ei shamayim personnel who are knowledgeable both in halacha and in the technical aspects of modern kashrus. Particularly, when we decide which Pesach products we allow into our home to enhance our simchas Yom Tov, we use only hechsherim that impress us with their expertise and their concern about the important role they play in our lives.

What Happens When Purim Falls on Shabbos?

Question #1:

When do we distribute shalach manos and matanos la’evyonim on different days?

Question #2:

When do we read Megillas Esther after a tefillah in which we did not recite Al hanissim?

Question #3:

When do we read the daytime Megillas Esther without first reading the Torah?

Question #4:

How can one bensch on the Purim Seudah without saying Al hanissim?

The answer to all these questions is: When the fourteenth of Adar falls on Friday, and the fifteenth is on Shabbos. When this occurs, Jews living in Yerushalayim and other “walled cities” observe the mitzvos and halachos of Purim on three different days, some on Friday, some on Shabbos, and some on Sunday. This phenomenon is called “Purim Hameshulash,” “The Tripled Purim.” (Although, grammatically, it is Purim Hameshulash, people usually call it “Purim Meshulash.”)

Walled versus unwalled

Mordechai and Esther decreed that cities, towns and villages that have no surrounding wall observe Purim on the fourteenth of Adar, whereas walled cities observe Purim on the fifteenth. According to the Gemara, the walled cities of their decree referred to cities that had a wall at the time that Yehoshua and the Bnei Yisroel entered Eretz Canaan, plus the city of Shushan itself (even though it had no wall at that time). Because we are uncertain which cities were indeed walled that far back, only Yerushalayim and Shushan observe Purim completely on the fifteenth of Adar, although several other places observe both days because of halachic uncertainty. Thus, in ordinary years, as Purim ends in other parts of Eretz Yisrael, it is just beginning in Yerushalayim.

Why is this year different from all other years?

Because the fifteenth falls on Shabbos this year, we cannot fulfill many of the Purim mitzvos on Shabbos. Exactly which mitzvos cannot be fulfilled on Shabbos, and whether they are performed before or after Shabbos as a result, is sometimes the subject of a dispute. The conclusions of some of these disputes are, at times, quite interesting.

The Mishnah (Megillah 2a) instructs that when the fifteenth of Adar falls on Shabbos, the walled cities read Megillah on Friday, the fourteenth, the same day that the non-walled cities observe Purim.

Why not on Shabbos?

We do not blow the shofar when Rosh Hashanah falls on Shabbos nor do we fulfill the mitzvah of lulav and esrog, when the first day of Sukkos is on Shabbos. In both instances, we are concerned that someone might violate the Torah prohibition of carrying a shofar or a lulav on Shabbos in a public domain. Similarly, Chazal prohibited reading the Megillah on Shabbos, out of concern that someone might carry his megillah to an expert who will teach him how to read it (Megillah 4b). It is worth noting that according to many authorities, a Megillah scroll is muktzah on this Shabbos, since Chazal prohibited reading it (Pri Chodosh). Others contend that it is not muktzah, since the prohibition was only not to read the Megillah to fulfill the mitzvah, but one may study from it on Shabbos (Mishnah Berurah 308:22).

Why not postpone to Sunday?

If we cannot read the Megillah on Shabbos, why don’t we read it on Sunday rather than Friday? After all, when Tisha B’Av and Shiva Asar Be’Tammuz fall on Shabbos, they are postponed to Sunday and not moved forward to Friday. So, why is Megillah reading moved to Friday?

Answer: The Megillah states that the days of Purim, “lo ya’avru,” “should not pass by.” The Gemara explains that, therefore, one cannot postpone reading the Megillah past the fifteenth. Therefore, when residents of Yerushalayim cannot read the Megillah on Shabbos, they read it on Friday.

When do they say Al hanissim?

Although Chazal ruled that Yerushalayim residents read the Megillah on Friday, Purim in Yerushalayim is still on Shabbos, the fifteenth. Therefore, Yerushalmim recite Al hanissim in davening and bensching only on Shabbos, but not on Friday (Shu’t Maharalnach #32). Someone who mistakenly recited Al hanissim in davening or bensching on Friday in Yerushalayim does not repeat them (Birkei Yosef 688:14; Mishnah Berurah 688:17).

Similarly, the Torah reading on Purim, Vayavo Amalek, which recounts Amalek’s malicious attack on the Jews in the Desert (Shemos 17:8-16), is read on Shabbos in Yerushalayim, and not on Friday (Shu’t Maharalnach #32). It functions as the maftir on Shabbos. The haftarah recited afterwards describes Shaul’s defeat of Amalek (Shmuel I, Chapter 15) and is also read on Parshas Zachor, the previous Shabbos (Shu’t Maharalnach #32; Magen Avraham 688:8).

There is no reading of the Torah in Yerushalayim on Friday — thus, the Megillah is read without first reading the Torah, a unique phenomenon. Although Friday is not Purim, one should wear Shabbos clothes in honor of the Megillah reading and greet people the way one would on Purim, rather than as one would on a weekday (Seder Purim Hameshulash of Rav Yosef Chayim Sonnenfeld, hereafter called simply “Rav Yosef Chayim Sonnenfeld”).

Special takanah

Although in Yerushalayim we do not read the Megillah on Shabbos, Chazal instituted a replacement to remind people that Shabbos is Purim. It is a mitzvah to hold shiurim on Shabbos that discuss the midrashim of the Purim story (Megillah 4a; see Rashi and Ran; Magen Avraham 688:9).

So far, we have explained some of the observances of Friday and Shabbos of “Purim Meshulash.” How did Sunday become part of the Purim observances?

The answer to this question is halachically and historically intriguing.

When do you eat the Purim seudah?

If Purim is, technically, on Shabbos, why not eat the Purim seudah as the Shabbos seudah, and add another kugel, as is the practice on Shabbos Rosh Chodesh?

The answer is that the Talmud Yerushalmi derives from various verses that the eating of the Purim seudah cannot be on Shabbos, but is postponed until after Shabbos. Although the reading of the Megillah cannot take place after the fifteenth, the festive meal may (Megillah 1:4, quoted by the Rif 3a). Thus, according to most opinions, Yerushalmim celebrate the Purim seudah on Sunday (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 688:6).

Why is Sunday a more appropriate day to celebrate the seudah than Friday? Since Friday is not Purim in a walled city, Chazal postponed the main celebration of Purim to Sunday, rather than hold it on Friday, which makes it harder to prepare for Shabbos (Rav Yosef Chayim Sonnenfeld).

According to one opinion, the Yerushalmi means that one should eat the Purim seudah on Motza’ei Shabbos (Meshech Chachmah to Megillas Esther). To the best of my knowledge, no one follows this approach.

Controversial meals!

In the sixteenth century, the Rav of Yerushalayim, Rav Levi ibn Chaviv, often called Maharalnach, ruled that when the fifteenth of Adar falls on Shabbos, one should eat the Purim seudah, including the special merriment and drinking, on Shabbos, not on Sunday. Although he agreed that, according to the Talmud Yerushalmi, the Purim seudah and celebration should take place on Sunday, he contended that the Talmud Bavli disagrees, and that the halacha follows the Bavli. Maharalnach rallied support from several rishonim that one should celebrate the Purim seudah on Shabbos, and not on Sunday, which is after Purim.

Although some poskim rule like Maharalnach (Taz, Orach Chayim 688:8), the consensus of poskim is to follow the Yerushalmi and celebrate the Purim meal on Sunday (Magen Avraham 688:10; Mishnah Berurah 688:18; Chazon Ish 155:1). However, the custom is to serve an extra course on Shabbos in honor of the Maharalnach’s ruling (Rav Yosef Chayim Sonnenfeld).

In addition to the above opinions, some poskim contend that Yerushalmim should eat the Purim Seudah on Friday, the same day that they read the Megillah (Meiri, Megillah 5a). It is curious to note that all opinions except that of Maharalnach agree that Yerushalmim should eat the Purim seudah on a day when they do not recite Al hanissim. Thus, one bensches on Shabbos with Al hanissim, but without fulfilling the mitzvah of seudas Purim, and one fulfills the mitzvah of seudas Purim on a day that is not Purim, without reciting Al hanissim. Some add Al hanissim to the end of bensching, as part of the “Harachaman’s” (Kaf Hachayim 688:48). Since Yerushalmim celebrate Purim on Sunday, they should wear Shabbos clothes and wish people Purim greetings on that day, also (Rav Yosef Chayim Sonnenfeld).

It is also interesting to note that, according to Maharalnach, there is no such thing as “Purim Meshulash,” since all the observances of Purim are either on Friday or on Shabbos. This results in another dispute. Although the davening of the Sunday after Purim is that of an ordinary weekday, since it is the day that Yerushalmim celebrate Purim, they omit tachanun and la’me’natzei’ach (Rav Chayim Sonnenfeld). However, according to Maharalnach, they should recite tachanun and la’me’natzei’ach.

Matanos la’evyonim and Shalach manos

All opinions agree that Yerushalmim distribute matanos la’evyonim on Friday — the day they read the Megillah (Shu’t Maharalnach #32). This is because of the Gemara’s statement that one should give matanos la’evyonim on the day that one reads the Megillah, because the poor expect to receive their matanos on that day (Megillah 2b). A Yerushalmi who forgot to give matanos la’evyonim on Friday should give them on Sunday (Rav Yosef Chayim Sonnenfeld).

The poskim dispute when Yerushalmim distribute shalach manos in a year of Purim Meshulash. According to the Maharalnach quoted above, just as they celebrate the seudah on Shabbos, so, too, they distribute shalach manos on Shabbos, obviously without violating carrying on Shabbos (Taz, Orach Chayim 688:8). Many poskim object to this ruling, contending that Chazal would never have instituted shalach manos in a way that could easily lead to chillul Shabbos, chas ve’shalom (Chazon Ish 155:1).

If one does not distribute shalach manos on Shabbos, are they given on Friday or on Sunday? Some poskim contend that Yerushalmim should distribute shalach manos on Friday, when they distribute matanos la’evyonim (Chazon Ish 155:1). Most poskim rule that one should give shalach manos on Sunday, since this is the day of the Purim meal and the main day of festivities (Shu’t Radbaz #508; Mishnah Berurah 688:18). This is based on the Rambam, who implies that the observance of shalach manos and of the seudah are interrelated (Hilchos Megillah 2:15).

Later poskim recommend distributing a minimal amount of shalach manos on both Friday and Shabbos, to fulfill the minority opinions (of course, exercising care on Shabbos not to violate carrying), and to give most of one’s shalach manos on Sunday (Rav Yosef Chayim Sonnenfeld).

Costumes

On which day do we wear costumes?

Even this question is discussed by poskim. The conclusion is that one should wear them on the day that is celebrated with wine and a festive meal — which is Sunday (Piskei Teshuvos 696:14).

Shehechiyanu

On a typical Purim, when hearing Shehechiyanu prior to the reading of the Megillah, one should have in mind to include the other mitzvos of the day — shalach manos, matanos la’evyonim and the seudah (Magen Avraham 692:1). However, on Purim Meshulash, Yerushalmim will not fulfill shalach manos (according to most opinions) and the seudah on the day they hear the Shehechiyanu. What should they do?

Some poskim recommend eating a new fruit or wearing a new garment on Sunday, in order to recite a Shehechiyanu and to have in mind the mitzvos of the day. (According to Maharalnach, one would do this on Shabbos.) Others simply recommend having in mind these other mitzvos at the time of the recital of the Shehechiyanu when the Megillah is read, even though it is a day or two before these mitzvos are fulfilled (both approaches are mentioned in Purim Hameshulash of Rav Seraya Dovlitzki).

Traveling

Someone planning ahead for Purim asked me the following shaylah:

The Friedmans, who live in Yerushalayim, want to spend Shabbos, the fifteenth of Adar, with relatives in Bnei Brak. Is there any reason why they shouldn’t? After all, they will hear Megillah in Yerushalayim, anyway, on Friday, and they will be back in Yerushalayim on Sunday to distribute shalach manos and to eat the Purim seudah.

According to some poskim, the mitzvos of the Purim seudah and shalach manos on Sunday apply only to people who were in Yerushalayim on the fifteenth. By spending Shabbos outside Yerushalayim, the Friedmans would lose the opportunity to fulfill these mitzvos (Piskei Teshuvos 688:12). Therefore, if they leave Yerushalayim for Shabbos, they should spend the fourteenth in Bnei Brak and fulfill all the mitzvos on Friday. Other authorities are not concerned about this.

No minyan

Because Yerushalmim read the Megillah on a day that is not Purim for them, two other interesting halachos apply. Firstly, a Yerushalmi should be extra careful to hear Megillah with a minyan this year. This is because it is questionable if one fulfills the mitzvah without a minyan, since the fourteenth is not Purim in Yerushalayim (see Ran, Megillah 5a).

The background to this issue is as follows: To fulfill the mitzvah of Megillah, one must read it in a way that accomplishes pirsumei nisa, publicizing the miracle. One can accomplish this in one of two ways — either by reading the Megillah on Purim or by reading it in the presence of a minyan (Megillah 5a). However, a Yerushalmi reading Megillah on the fourteenth without a minyan lacks both types of pirsumei nisa, since it is not Purim in Yerushalayim. According to the Mishnah Berurah (690:61), a Yerushalmi who cannot assemble a minyan for Megillah should not recite a bracha on the reading. (Rav Yosef Chayim Sonnenfeld disagrees, reporting that the minhag in Yerushalayim is to recite a bracha.)

A non-Yerushalmi

According to many poskim, a non-Yerushalmi does not fulfill the mitzvah of Megillah on the fourteenth, if he heard it read by a Yerushalmi. Two introductions are needed to explain this ruling.

First, for one person to be motzi another in a mitzvah, they must both be obligated to an equal degree. For example, a person who is obligated to perform a mitzvah only miderabbanan cannot be motzi someone who has an obligation min haTorah. Thus, a child cannot make kiddush to be motzi an adult, since the child is not obligated min haTorah to fulfill the mitzvah, whereas the adult is.

Second, although both Yerushalmim and non-Yerushalmim read the Megillah this year on the fourteenth, the non-Yerushalmim read it because it is their Purim and it fulfills the mitzvah of Megillah, as established by Mordechai and Esther. However, according to many poskim, the Yerushalmim read Megillah on the fourteenth because of a takanas chachamim of a later date that prevents them from reading Megillah on their Purim (Turei Even, Megillah 5a). This takanas chachamim may not fulfill the mitzvah to the same extent as the original mitzvah created by Mordechai and Esther (Mikra’ei Kodesh).

As a result of these considerations, a Yerushalmi reading Megillah for a non-Yerushalmi on the fourteenth may be similar to a child reading Megillah for an adult, which is invalid. Other authorities disagree with this conclusion.

The following case will crystallize this shaylah for us. Yankel begins Purim in Beit Shemesh and then decides to leave for Yerushalayim on the morning of the fourteenth, assuming he will hear the Megillah in Yerushalayim. Besides the fact that he will miss kerias haTorah since there is no kerias haTorah in Yerushalayim on Friday, it is also questionable whether he fulfills the mitzvah of Megillah when he hears it read by a Yerushalmi.

Conclusion

The pasuk tells us that the events of Purim resulted in “ve’nahafoch hu,” “It turned around” — on the day declared for our extinction, the Jews turned the tables on their enemies. A different type of ve’nahafoch hu occurs on Purim Meshulash, in that many observances of Purim become turned upside down. We recite Al hanissim on a day that we do not observe the Purim seudah and we celebrate the Purim seudah without reciting Al hanissim. We read Megillah on a day that we do not read the Torah, because we do not consider it Purim. Yerushalmim do not distribute matanos la’evyonim and shalach manos on the same day. All these “turned around” observances create a very different Purim experience.

Leshanah Habaah Bi’Yerushalayim!

Interesting Chol Hamoed Questions

Question #1: Trick

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

Question #2: Treat

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

Question #3: Treasures

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

Introduction:

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

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

Melacha on Chol Hamoed

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

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

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

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

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

Davar ha’aveid

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

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

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

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

Tzorchei hamoed

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

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

Po’eil she’ein lo mah le’echol

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

Tie yourself in knots

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

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

Knotty question

Is there any prohibition against tying knots on Chol Hamoed?

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

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

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

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

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

Melacha versus business

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buried treasure

At this point, let us discuss our third question:

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

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

Conclusion

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

Liturgical Curiosities

Question #1:

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

Question #2:

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

Question #3:

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

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

What are Piyutim?

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

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

Selichos

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

Double Duty

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

Teaching Torah through Piyutim

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

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

U’neshalma Parim Sefaseinu

Reciting the Seder Avodah also fulfills the concept of ‘U’neshalma Parim Sefaseinu,’ ‘And let our lips replace the (sacrificial) bulls’ (Hoshea 14:3). The Midrash teaches that when we are unable to offer korbanos, Hashem accepts our recital of the procedure as a replacement for the korbanos (Midrash Rabbah, Shir HaShirim 4:3). This implies that we can achieve kapparah (atonement) by reciting these piyutim with kavanah. Therefore, a person who recites the viduy of the Seder Avodah and truly regrets his sins can accomplish atonement similar to that achieved through the viduy recited by the Kohen Gadol.

Other “Replacement” Prayers

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

Educate to Observe Mitzvos

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

Who Authored Them?

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

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

An Old Controversy

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

Mesod Chachamim Unevonim

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

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

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

Who was the First Paytan?

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

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

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

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

Kalirian Curiosities

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

Kalirian Controversies

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

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

Why is Es Tzemach David Ignored?

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

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

Answering the Mystery

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

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

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

The Kinos

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

Conclusion

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

Is That Shofar Kosher?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beyond the Minimum

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

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

Boiled, Buffed, and Beautiful

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buff and polish

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

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

Hold the Super Glue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Holey Shofaros!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do We Need To Worry?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Outwitting the Satan

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

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

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


 Is this not to’kai’ah?

The Twentieth of Sivan

Question:

“I noticed that the back of my siddur contains a large section devoted to selichos for the 20th of Sivan, yet I have never davened in a shul that observed this day. What does this date commemorate?”

Answer:

The Twentieth of Sivan was established in Ashkenazi communities as a day of fasting and teshuvah to remember two major tragedies of Jewish history. Let us begin by discussing the halachic basis for the observance of commemorative fasts.

Biblical Source

When the two sons of Aharon — Nadav and Avihu — died, the Torah says, “And Moshe said to Aharon and to Elazar and Isamar, his sons, ‘You shall not allow your heads to remain unshorn nor shall you rend your clothes — so you shall not die and cause that He become angry with the entire community. Rather, your brethren, the household of Israel, will weep for the inferno that Hashem ignited’” (Vayikra 10:6). From this description, we see that the entire Jewish community bears responsibility to mourn the loss of great tzadikim.

Communal Teshuvah Observances

The Rambam (Hilchos Taanis 1:1-3) explains: “It is a positive mitzvah of the Torah to cry out and to blow the trumpets whenever any danger afflicts a Jewish community, as the Torah says, ‘When you go to war… against an adversary who creates troubles for you, you shall blow the trumpets (Bamidbar 10:9).’ On any matter that afflicts you, such as food shortages, plague, locusts or anything similar, you should cry out in prayer and blow the trumpets. This is part of the procedure of doing teshuvah, for when difficulties occur and people come to pray, they realize that these happenings befell them because of their misdeeds, and doing teshuvah will remove the troubles.

“However, if they do not pray, but instead attribute the difficulties to normal worldly cycles — this is a cruel approach to life that causes people to maintain their evil ways.

“Furthermore, the Sages required a fast on the occasion of any menace that afflicts the community, until Heaven has mercy” (Rambam, Hilchos Taanis 1:4).

The History of the 20th of Sivan

This date is associated with two major tragedies that befell European Jewry. The earlier catastrophe, which occurred in the 12th Century, was recorded in a contemporary chronicle entitled Emek Habacha, and also in a selicha entitled Emunei Shelumei Yisrael, from which I have drawn most of the information regarding this tragic event.

One night in the city of Blois, which is in central France, a Jew watering his horse happened upon a murder scene in which a gentile adult had drowned a gentile child. The murderer, not wanting to be executed for his crime, fled to the local ruler, telling him that he had just caught a Jew murdering a child!

The tyrant arrested 31 Jewish leaders, men and women, including some of the baalei Tosafos who were disciples of the Rashbam, Rashi’s grandson. The tyrant accused his prisoners, several of whom are mentioned by name in Emunei Shelumei Yisroel, of killing the gentile child to obtain blood for producing matzah.

After locking his captives in a tower, the despot insisted that they be baptized. He told them that if they accept baptism, he would forgive them, but if they refused, he would execute them in a painful way. None of them considered turning traitor to Hashem’s Torah. On the 20th of Sivan 4931 (1171), they were tied up and placed on a pyre to be burned alive. At the fateful moment, the Jews sang in unison: Aleinu leshabayach la’adon hakol, “it is incumbent upon us to praise the Lord of all.”

The fires did not consume them! The undeterred tyrant commanded his troops to beat them to death and then burn their bodies. However, the fires were still unable to consume their bodies, which remained intact!

Banishment from France

This libel was a major factor in the banishing of Jews from France that occurred ten years later. (Although the King of France declared that they must be exiled from the country, he did not, in fact, have sufficient control to force them out completely. This transpired only a century later.)

As a commemoration of the sacrifice of these great Jews and as a day of teshuvah, Rabbeinu Tam and the other gedolei Baalei Tosafos of France declared the 20th of Sivan a fast day. Special selichos and piyutim were composed to memorialize the incident, and a seder selichos was compiled that included selichos written by earlier paytanim, most notably Rav Shlomoh (ben Yehudah) Habavli, Rabbeinu Gershom, and Rabbi Meir ben Rabbi Yitzchak, the author of the Akdamus poem that we recite on Shevuos. Each of these gedolim lived in Europe well before the time of Rashi. Since most people know little about the earliest of this trio, Rav Shlomoh Habavli, I will devote a paragraph to what is known about this talmid chacham who lived in Europe at the time of the Geonim.

Rav Shlomoh Habavli, who lived around the year 4750 (990), was descended from a family that originated in Bavel, today Iraq (hence, he is called Habavli after his ancestral homeland, similar to the way people have the family name Ashkenazi or Pollack although they themselves were born in Flatbush). He lived in Italy, probably in Rome, and authored piyutim for the Yomim Tovim, particularly for Yom Kippur and Shevuos, and many selichos, about twenty of which have survived to this day. The rishonim refer to him and his writings with great veneration, and the Rosh (Yoma 8:19) quotes reverently from the piyut for the seder avodah in musaf of Yom Kippur, written by “Rabbeinu Shlomoh Habavli.” The Maharshal says that Rabbeinu Gershom, the teacher of Rashi’s rabbei’im and the rebbe of all Ashkenazic Jewry, learned Torah and received his mesorah on Torah and Yiddishkeit from Rav Shlomoh Habavli (Shu’t Maharshal #29). (Rav Shlomoh Habavli’s works are sometimes confused with a more famous Spanish talmid chacham and poet who was also “Shlomoh ben Yehudah,” Rav Shlomoh ibn Gabirol, who lived shortly after Rav Shlomoh Habavli.)

Instituting the Fast

When Rabbeinu Tam instituted the fast of the 20th of Sivan, the selichos recited on that day included one that was written specifically to commemorate the tragedy of Blois. The selicha that begins with the words Emunei Shelomei Yisroel actually mentions the date of the 20th of Sivan 4931 in the selicha and describes the tragedy.

The Crusades

Since this tragedy took place during the general period of the Crusades, the 20th of Sivan was often viewed as the mourning day for the murders and other excesses that were committed during that era, since each of the early Crusades resulted in the horrible destruction of hundreds of communities in central and western Europe and the killing of thousands of Jews. In actuality, the blood libel of Blois occurred between the Second Crusade, which occurred in 4907-9/1147-49 and the Third Crusade, which was forty years later, in 4949/1189.

Gezeiros Tach veTat

The fast of the 20th of Sivan memorializes an additional Jewish calamity. Almost five hundred years later, most of the Jewish communities of eastern Europe suffered the unspeakable massacres that are referred to as the Gezeiros Tach veTat, which refer to the years of 5408 (Tach) and 5409 (Tat), corresponding to the secular years 1648 and 1649. Although this title implies that these excesses lasted for at most two years, the calamities of this period actually raged on, sporadically, for the next twelve years.

First, the historical background: Bogdan Chmielnitzky was a charismatic, capable, and nefariously anti-Semitic Cossack leader in the Ukraine, which at the time was part of the Kingdom of Poland. Chmielnitzky led a rebellion of Ukrainians against their Polish overlords. Aside from nationalistic and economic reasons for the Ukrainians revolt against Polish rule, there were also religious reasons, since the Ukrainians were Greek Orthodox, whereas the Poles were Roman Catholic. Chmielnitzky led the Ukrainians through a succession of alliances, first creating an alliance with the Crimean Tatars against the Polish king. The Cossacks’ stated goal was to wipe out the Polish aristocracy and the Jews.

When the Tatars turned against Chmielnitzky, he allied himself with Sweden, and eventually with the Czar of Russia, which enabled the Ukrainians to revolt successfully against Polish rule.

The Cossack hordes swarmed throughout Ukraine, Poland and Lithuania in the course of a series of wars, wreaking havoc in their path and putting entire Jewish communities to the sword. Hundreds of Jewish communities in Poland and Ukraine were destroyed by the massacres. The Cossacks murdered unknown thousands of Jews, including instances in which they buried people alive, cut them to pieces and perpetrated far more horrible cruelties. In sheer cruelty, many of their heinous deeds surpassed even those performed later by the Nazis.

These events were chronicled in several Torah works, including the Shach’s Megillas Eifa, and Rav Nosson Nota Hanover’s Yevein Metzulah. The title, Yevein Metzulah, is a play on words. These words are quoted from Tehillim 69:3, where the passage reads, tavati biyevein metzulah, “I am drowning in the mire of the depths,” which certainly conveys the emotion of living in such a turbulent era. In addition, the author used these words to allude to Yavan (Greece), indicating the Greek Orthodox religion of the Cossack murderers.

Chmielnitzky, the National Hero

By the way, although Chmielnitzky was a bloodthirsty murderer and as nefarious an anti-Semite as Adolf Hitler, to this day he is a national hero in the Ukraine, on a level similar to the respect accorded George Washington in the United States. The Ukrainians revere him as the father of Ukrainian nationalist aspirations, notwithstanding the fact that he was a mass murderer.

The cataclysmic effect on Jewish life caused by the Gezeiros Tach Vetat was completely unparalleled in Jewish history. Before the Cossacks, Poland and its neighboring areas had become the citadels of Ashkenazic Jewish life. As a result of the Cossack excesses, not only were the Jewish communities destroyed, with the Jews fleeing en mass from place to place, but virtually all the gedolei Yisrael were on the run during this horrifying era of Jewish history. Such great Torah leaders as the Shach, the Taz, the Tosafos Yom Tov, the Kikayon Deyonah, the Magen Avraham, the Nachalas Shivah, and the Be’er Hagolah were all in almost constant flight to avoid the Cossack hordes.

Among the many gedolei Yisrael who were murdered during these excesses were two sons of the Taz; the father of the Magen Avraham; Rav Yechiel Michel of Nemirov, and Rav Shimshon MeiOstropolia.

Rav Shimshon MeiOstropolia

Rav Shimshon MeiOstropolia was a great talmid chacham, mekubal and writer of many seforim, whose Torah ideas are quoted by such respected thinkers as the Ramchal and the Bnei Yisaschar. It was said that he was so holy that he was regularly visited by an angel, a magid, who would study the deep ideas of kabbalah with him. (Whether one accepts this as having actually happened or not, it is definitely indicative of the level of holiness that his contemporaries attributed to him.)

Rav Nosson Nota Hanover writes in Yevein Metzulah that, during the bleak days of the Cossack uprising, the magid who studied with Rav Shimshon forewarned him of the impending disaster that was to befall klal Yisrael. When the Cossacks laid siege to the city, Rav Shimshon went with 300 chachamim, all of them dressed in tachrichim (burial shrouds) and taleisim to the nearby shul to pray that Hashem save the Jewish people. While they were in the midst of their prayers, the Cossacks entered the city and slaughtered them all.

Rules of the Vaad Arba Ha’aratzos

After this tragic period passed and the Jewish communities began the tremendous work of rebuilding, the Vaad Arba Ha’aratzos, which at the time was the halachic and legislative body of all Polish and Lithuanian Jewry, banned certain types of entertainment. Strict limits were set on the types of entertainment allowed at weddings, similar to the takanos that the Gemara reports were established after the churban of the Beis Hamikdash. Selichos were composed by the Tosafos Yom Tov, the Shach, and other gedolim to commemorate the tragedies.

The Vaad Arba Ha’aratzos further declared that the 20th of Sivan should be established forever as a fast day (Shaarei Teshuvah 580:9). The fast was declared binding on all males over the age of 18 and females over the age of 15. (I have not seen any reason to explain the disparity in age.)

Why the 20th of Sivan?

Why was this date chosen to commemorate the atrocities of the era? On the 20th of Sivan, the Jewish community of Nemirov, Ukraine, which was populated by many thousands of Jews, was destroyed by the Cossacks. The rav of the city, Rav Yechiel Michel, passionately implored the people to keep their faith and die Al Kiddush Hashem.  The Shach reports that, for three days, the Cossacks rampaged through the town, murdering thousands of Jews, including Rav Yechiel Michel.  The shul was destroyed and all the Sifrei Torah were torn to pieces and trampled. Their parchment was used for shoes and clothing.

Merely five years before, the community of Nemirov had been proud to have as its rav the gadol hador of the time, the Tosafos Yom Tov, who had previously served as the rav of Nikolsburg, Vienna and Prague. At the time of the Gezeiros Tach veTat, the Tosafos Yom Tov was the rav and rosh yeshivah of Cracow, having succeeded the Bach as rav and the Meginei Shlomoh as rosh yeshivah after they passed away.

An Additional Reason

The Shaarei Teshuvah (580:9) quotes the Shach as citing an additional reason why the Vaad Arba Ha’aratzos established the day of commemoration for the gezeiros Tach veTat on the 20th of Sivan: this date never falls on Shabbos and, therefore, would be observed every year.

The Selichos

The style of the selichos prayers recited on the 20th of Sivan resemble the selichos recited by Eastern European Jewry for the fasts of Tzom Gedalyah, Asarah beTeiveis, Shiva Asar BeTamuz (these three fasts are actually all mentioned in Tanach), Taanis Esther and Behab (the three days of selichos and fasting observed on Mondays and Thursdays during the months of Marcheshvan and Iyar). The selichos begin with the recital of selach lanu avinu, and the prayer Keil erech apayim leads into the first time that the thirteen midos of Hashem are recited. This sequence is the standard structure of our selichos.

However, the selichos for the 20th of Sivan are lengthier than those of the other fast days. Whereas on the other fast days (including behab) there are four selichos, each followed by a recitation of the thirteen midos of Hashem, the selichos for the 20th of Sivan consist of seven passages and seven recitations of the thirteen midos of Hashem, which is comparable to what we do at neilah on Yom Kippur. Thus, in some aspects, the 20th of Sivan was treated with more reverence than were the fast days mentioned in Tanach!

In addition, one of the selichos recited on the 20th of Sivan is of the style called akeidah, recalling the akeidah of Yitzchak. The incorporation of the akeidah is significant, since these selichos were included to commemorate the martyrdom of Jews who were sacrificed for their refusal to be baptized. To the best of my knowledge, these selichos are recited only on the 20th of Sivan, during the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah, and on Erev Rosh Hashanah.

The Prayers for 20th of Sivan

During the repetition of shemoneh esrei at both shacharis and mincha, the aneinu prayer was recited, as is the practice on any public fast day. For Shacharis, selichos were recited, Avinu Malkeinu and tachanun were said, and then a sefer Torah was taken out and the passage of Vayechal Moshe that we read on fast days was read (Shaarei Teshuvah, 580:9).

At mincha, a sefer Torah was taken out and Vayechal Moshe was read again. Each individual who was fasting recited aneinu in his quiet shemoneh esrei.

Bris on the 20th of Sivan

The halachic authorities discuss how to celebrate a bris that falls on the 20th of Sivan. The Magen Avraham (568:10) concludes that the seudah should be held at night after the fast is over, so that it does not conflict with the fast. Thus, we see how seriously this fast was viewed.

Why don’t we observe this?

“It is customary in the entire Kingdom of Poland to fast on the 20th of Sivan.” These are the words of the Magen Avraham (580:9). I do not know when the custom to observe this fast ended, but the Mishnah Berurah quotes it as common practice in his day in Poland (580:16). Perhaps it was assumed that the custom was only required as long as there were communities in Poland, but that their descendants who moved elsewhere were not required to observe it. Most contemporary siddurim do not include the selichos for the 20th of Sivan, which implies that it is already some time since it was observed by most communities.

Conclusion

We now understand both the halachic basis for why and how we commemorate such sad events in Jewish history. We also have a glimpse of how we should react to other calamities whenever they occur, be they pandemics, riots, or financial chaos. May Hakadosh Baruch Hu save us and all of klal Yisrael from further difficulties!

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