Practical Aspects of Matzoh Baking

Question:

Personally, I find the different terms used in reference to matzoh very confusing: On the one hand, I have been told that if one is working on the dough constantly, one need not be concerned if more than eighteen minutes elapses before the matzoh is baked. On the other hand, I have been told that if eighteen minutes elapses, the dough becomes chometz. And then I see a product advertised as “eighteen-minute matzoh.” I thought that matzoh that takes more than eighteen minutes is chometz. Also, could you explain to me the advantages of hand matzoh over machine matzoh, and if there is a valid reason why some people use only shmura hand matzoh for the entire Pesach.

Answer:

In order to answer all these questions, I must first explain the process of making matzoh. Although matzoh is the simplest of products, just flour and water, a tremendous amount of detail is involved in preparing it in a halachically correct way. We will divide our discussion into three headings — the flour, the water, and the manufacture.

The Flour Requirements

To fulfill the mitzvah of eating matzoh on seder night, one must be certain that the flour was “guarded” to guarantee that it did not become chometz.

It is important to clarify that there are two different halachic issues. The first factor is that one must be careful that the matzoh is baked in a way that it does not become chometz, so that one does not, G-d forbid, violate the prohibition of eating chometz on Pesach. This concern exists for all matzoh that one may consume any time during Pesach.

However, even if one is guaranteed that the matzoh is 100% free of any chometz, there is an additional factor required for the matzoh that is used at the seder: This matzoh must be made lishmah – with the specific intention of making it for the sake of fulfilling the mitzvah.

The Concept of Lishmah

There are several mitzvos that can be performed only with an item that is made lishmah. These include the mitzvos of tzitzis, tefillin, mezuzah, and matzoh. Thus, for example, the leather used in the manufacture of tefillin must be tanned specifically for the mitzvah of wearing tefillin. For this reason, when placing the hide into the chemical solution that makes the hide usable as parchment or leather, one must state that it is being manufactured lishmah. Even a small job such as blackening the tefillin straps must be performed specifically for the sake of the mitzvah of tefillin. Thus, one who repaints his tefillin must recite before painting them that he is doing this for the sake of the mitzvah of tefillin.

In a similar way, matzoh for the seder must be lishmah, meaning that it is manufactured with specific intention that it not become chometz so that it can be used to fulfill the mitzvah of eating matzoh on seder night. For this reason, before beginning work in a matzoh bakery the workers say: Kol mah she’ani oseh hayom har’eini oseh lesheim matzos mitzvah, “Everything that I am doing today, I am doing for the sake of producing matzos that will be used for the mitzvah.”

In addition, the preparation of the flour and the drawing of the water must be performed for the purpose of fulfilling the mitzvah of eating matzoh. This intention is referred to as preparing the flour and water lesheim matzos mitzvah.

Although the Gemara (Pesachim 40a) discusses that the flour used for the mitzvah of matzoh must be prepared lesheim matzos mitzvah, it is unclear from the Gemara at what stage the flour must be guarded from chimutz for the sake of matzos mitzvah. Among the early poskim, there are three opinions:

(1) From the time of harvesting

(2) From the time of grinding

(3) From the time of kneading

The Shulchan Aruch rules that it is preferable to guard the wheat from the time of the harvesting, but it is satisfactory to use wheat that was guarded only from the time of grinding. Other poskim require lishmah from the time of the harvest. In common usage, “shmura matzoh” refers to matzoh that was guarded from the time of the harvest.

Harvesting Lishmah

There is a dispute among rishonim whether an act that must be performed lishmah can be performed only by a Jew, or whether it can be performed by a non-Jew who is instructed by a Jew standing over him to perform this act lishmah. This dispute has major ramifications for many mitzvos, such as preparing hides to be made into parchment for writing tefillin, mezuzos and sifrei torah, and preparing hides for manufacture into tefillinbatim” and tefillin straps; or preparing threads for manufacture into tzitzis. According to the first opinion, hide that was tanned by a non-Jew for the sake of the mitzvah is not kosher for use. According to the second opinion, if a Jew stands near the non-Jew and instructs him to tan the hide lishmah, the resulting hide or parchment can be used for the mitzvah.

Similarly, there is a dispute whether a non-Jew may operate the combine used to harvest the shmura wheat, or must a Jew operate the controls that cause the combine to harvest the wheat. (According to some opinions, it is insufficient to have the Jew operate the controls of a regular combine, since the harvester, once it is turned on, continues to operate automatically. Thus, this is considered that the Jew harvested the wheat indirectly. Instead, the combine must be set up in a way that it cuts grain only when the stick is held in a specific position. Thus, the Jew is actually doing the harvesting himself by using the combine as his sickle!)

At times, it seems that matters were simpler when wheat was harvested by hand. A friend of mine, who was born in the Soviet Union, described for me how his father harvested wheat for matzoh baking with a hand-held sickle. However, even harvesting the wheat by hand under these circumstances creates its own interesting shaylah. Poskim rule that when cutting grain for matzoh in a non-Jew’s field, one should preferably not cut the grain that he himself intends to use for mitzvas matzoh (see Sdei Chemed vol. 7 pg. 377). This is because of concern that the field might have been originally stolen, and thus the matzoh baked with wheat from this field might be considered stolen matzoh, which is invalid for matzos mitzvah. There is a complicated halachic reason why this concern does not exist when harvesting wheat for someone else to use.

The Water Requirements: Mayim Shelanu, Water That Remained Overnight

The Gemara states that all matzoh used on Pesach must be baked exclusively with water that remained overnight (Pesachim 42a). One should draw this water from a spring, well, or river during twilight (or immediately before) and leave it in a cool place for a minimum of one complete night to allow it to cool down (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 455:1 and commentaries). Maharil contends that it is preferred to draw the water the day before the baking, rather than draw water for several days in advance (quoted by Be’er Heiteiv, Orach Chayim 455:7). The water should not be drawn or stored in a metal vessel, since metal conducts heat and thus causes the water to become warm (Magen Avraham 455:9). In addition, the water should not be drawn or stored in a vessel that has been used previously to hold other liquids (Magen Avraham ibid.). The latter vessel is not to be used out of concern that some liquid may mix with the water, and this may cause the dough to rise faster than it would otherwise. Many contemporary poskim frown on the use of tap water for matzoh baking because of concern that the fluorine and other chemicals introduced into the water may cause the dough to rise faster (see Piskei Tshuvos 455:7).

It goes without saying that one may not use warm water for making matzos, nor may one work in a warm area (Pesachim 42a; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 455:2). It is important to note that the requirement for mayim shelanu is not only for the matzos eaten at the seder, but that all matzos eaten the entire Pesach must be baked exclusively with mayim shelanu.

The Manufacture of the Matzoh

There are many halachos implemented by Chazal to guarantee that the dough does not prematurely become chometz. For example, one must wait a day or two from when the wheat is ground until it is mixed with water (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 453:9). This is because of concern that the flour is still warm from the friction of the grinding, and will therefore leaven too quickly. One may not knead the matzoh dough in a place exposed to the sun or in a warm area. One must be very careful that the heat from the matzoh oven does not spread to the area where the dough is kneaded or where the dough remains until it is ready to be placed inside the oven (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 459). Thus, a matzoh factory must be set up such that the kneading area is close enough to the oven to bake the matzoh quickly, yet be far enough away that it is not heated up by the oven.

Eighteen Minutes

Our original question was: I have been told that if one is working on the dough constantly, it is not a concern if more than eighteen minutes elapses before the dough goes into the oven. On the other hand, I have also been told that one may not pause once one begins to work the dough out of concern that it will become chometz immediately. And I have also been told that the Gemara and Shulchan Aruch state that one cannot wait more than eighteen minutes after the water is added to the flour. Which of these statements is correct?” We now have enough background information to address this question.

As strange as this answer may seem, all the above statements are correct. Shulchan Aruch rules that one should not leave the dough for even a moment without working it, and that dough left for eighteen minutes without working it becomes chometz. Furthermore, Shulchan Aruch states that dough that became warm from kneading will become chometz immediately if it is left without being worked on (Orach Chayim 459:2). Although there are more lenient opinions as to whether the dough becomes chometz immediately, all opinions agree that one must not allow any unnecessary waiting without working on the dough (see Mishnah Berurah 459:18; Biur Halacha ad loc.; Chazon Ish, Orach Chayim 121:16). Thus, it is a much bigger concern that the dough is worked with constantly, than whether it actually took eighteen minutes from start to finish.

Machine Matzoh

Although the use of machine matzoh for Pesach has now become almost universally accepted, it is educational to understand the dispute that existed among nineteenth-century poskim over their use for Pesach. When the first factories began producing machine-made matzoh for Pesach use, many great poskim were vehemently opposed to using it on Pesach. Their opposition centered primarily over the following three issues:

1. The economic factor: There was a major concern that the introduction of the machine matzoh would seriously affect many Jewish poor who were gainfully employed by kneading and baking matzos. Although the problem of Jewish poor is unfortunately still with us, it is doubtful that the increased use of hand matzos would have significant impact on their plight.

2. The chometz factor: There were major concerns whether the factories were producing matzoh that met all halachic requirements. Among the concerns: Does all the dough get cleaned off the machinery, or is some dough stuck to the machinery that remains in place for more than eighteen minutes? Is the dough being worked constantly, or is it left to sit after it has begun to be worked?

In the contemporary world, a factory for baking matzos can be planned and constructed in a way that a very minimal amount of dough adheres to the equipment, and mashgichim can supervise that whatever dough is stuck can be removed swiftly. One who purchases machine-made matzoh is relying on the supervising agency or rabbi to guarantee that the operation is run in a proper fashion.

3. The lishmah factor: There is another issue involved in the manufacture of machine matzos – is this process considered lishmah? Does the intent of the person operating an electrically-powered machine and his supervising the production make the matzos lishmah? The same issue affects many other halachic questions, such as the spinning of tzitzis threads by machine, and the manufacture of leather for tefillin straps and batim (or parchment). There is much discussion and dispute about this issue raised in the poskim, and it is still disputed by contemporary authorities. (See Sdei Chemed Vol. 7 pgs. 396-398; Shu”t Maharsham 2:16; Chazon Ish, Orach Chayim 6:10 s.v. Venireh de’ein tzorech; Mikra’ei Kodesh, Pesach II pgs. 11-17.) It is primarily for this reason that many halachically-concerned people today who use machine-made matzoh on Pesach still use hand-made matzoh for the seder.

Problems that emerge during the baking:

There are two common problems that can occur while the matzoh is being baked: A matzoh that is kefula (folded) and one that is nefucha (swollen). A matzoh kefula is a matzoh folded in such a way that the area between the folds is not exposed directly to the flame or heat of the oven. This area between the folds does not bake properly and thus the entire matzoh becomes chometz-dik and must be discarded (Rema, Orach Chayim 461:5). A matzoh nefucha is a matzoh that swells up, usually because it was not perforated properly (Rema, Orach Chayim 461:5 and Taz). Thus, while baking, air is trapped inside the matzoh. The matzoh looks like it has a large bubble in it. If the swollen area is the size of a hazelnut the matzoh should not be used (Mishnah Berurah ad loc. #34).

To avoid discovering these problems on Yom Tov, it is a good idea to check one’s matzos before Yom Tov to be certain that none of the matzos are kefula or nefucha. I can personally attest to having found both among the matzos that I had intended to use for the Seder. One should also verify that the bakery separated challah from the matzos, or else be certain to separate challah before Yom Tov. Under these circumstances, it is not permitted to separate challah on Yom Tov or Shabbos.

Is there an advantage in eating only shmura matzoh the entire Pesach?

There are poskim who recommend eating only shmura matzoh the entire Yom Tov. There are two reasons cited for this practice. Some are concerned that once the grain ripens, it can become chometz even while still on the stalk. By eating only shmura matzoh, one avoids this concern since shmura wheat is harvested before it is fully ripe (Biur Halacha to 453:4, s.v. Tov). A second reason for the practice of eating only shmura is in order to fulfill the mitzvah of eating matzoh the entire Pesach. Although there is no requirement to eat matzoh after the seder night, one fulfills a mitzvah by eating matzoh the rest of Pesach (see Baal Hamaor, end of Pesachim). One should strive to fulfill this mitzvah with matzoh that is made lishmah from the time of harvesting. According to both approaches, this practice is only a chumra and not halachically required.

The halacha is that one can fulfill the mitzvah of matzoh only by eating matzoh that is your property. Thus, one cannot fulfill the mitzvah with stolen matzoh. Some have the practice of being certain that they have paid for their matzoh before Pesach in order to demonstrate that the matzoh is definitely theirs (based on Mishnah Berurah 454:15).

There is an interesting dispute between poskim whethera guest at someone else’s seder fulfills the mitzvah with matzoh that is the property of the host. Sfas Emes (Sukkah 35a, s.v. Bigemara asya) contends that fulfilling the mitzvah requires that one owns the matzoh that he is eating — enough that he could sell it. Therefore, a host must give to each of his guests their matzoh as a present or they have not fulfilled the mitzvah. However, the universally accepted practice is to follow the opinion of the Mishnah Berurah (454:15), who states that one fulfills the mitzvah with borrowed matzoh.

We should all be zocheh to eat our matzoh this year together with Korban Pesach in Yerushalayim.

Pesach Shaylos

Unfortunately, many of the questions in this article are not going to be germane this year. There are a number of articles on the laws of the Seder, chometz, kitniyos, Yom Tov, the mourning period of the omer, keeping the second day of Yom Tov and other aspects of Pesach available on this website.

This week’s article is somewhat different from what I usually send. It is a combination of an interview I once gave for Mishpacha magazine’s Advice Line column and various actual questions I have received and answered via e-mail. Obviously, the answers are much briefer than those I write for an article, and may not be thoroughly explained.

Paying (for) a Visit

Question: We are a young married couple with one child, and we live in Eretz Yisrael. My parents and my in-laws live in the States, about a 3-4 hour drive from each other. As Pesach approached and we discussed plans to visit them, it became clear that one set of parents would pay half the airfare for our trip, while the other set would not pay toward this expense. We decided that we still wanted to visit and would pay the other half ourselves. However, we are undecided where to stay and how to divide our time for Yom Tov. Please help.

Answer: One family is paying for half of your tickets; the other side is not contributing. To the best of my knowledge, there are no obvious halachic guidelines for such an issue; it falls into the category of the “fifth Shulchan Aruch” – what we usually call common sense and, hopefully, good judgment. I am therefore offering you my personal thoughts and judgment.

At first glance, it does seem fair for you to spend some more time with the side that is putting up money. However, several mitigating factors must be kept in mind:

First, I am assuming that the side that isn’t paying is not doing so because they are stingy, but, rather, because they simply do not have the wherewithal. This brings up an important question: Should a family be penalized for not having the financial resources with which another family has been blessed?

Second, it is probable that the parents with more resources come to visit in Eretz Yisrael on occasion, while the financially strapped family probably comes rarely, if at all. This means that if you don’t go visit them, you may never see them.

These factors point to the fact that you, as a couple, need to sit down and have an open, honest conversation about the issue and reach a decision together. Although such discussions are not easy, realize that the making of a strong marriage comes through working through sticky situations together as a unit.

Try to depersonalize the discussion and really focus on the points that the other person is making. Sometimes it is helpful for you each to “plead” the other side’s perspective. Let the spouse whose parents are paying enumerate why the Yom Tov should be split evenly, and let the one whose parents aren’t able to chip in list the reasons why one should spend more time visiting the parents who are paying. Keep speaking until you reach a decision with which you are both comfortable.

I wish you much hatzlacha.

Pesach Cleaning

To: Rabbi Kaganoff 

Subject: URGENT – cleaning toys, pens and more for Pesach

Question: I just organized the toys today, without wiping any of them down. I did not see any crumbs, and even if there were, they certainly would not be edible. But I understand that anything that has a chance of ending up on our table during Pesach must be washed in bleach.

Please explain. I have limited time, energy and finances, and I don’t have the luxury of being able to waste precious time and energy on things that are not necessary.

Answer: I do not know the source of this misinformation. It sounds like what you are doing is 100% fine.

Bedikas chometz

Question: We are renting out our apartment for Pesach and the renter needs only one of our four bedrooms. Are we required to do bedikas chometz in the three remaining rooms?

Answer: If you want to avoid doing bedikas chometz in the other rooms, you can “close them off” by putting signs on the doors that they are sold/rented to a non-Jew and, therefore, not checked for chometz. Ask the rav through whom you are doing your mechiras chometz to sell your chometz in these rooms on the 13th of Nisan.

Yom Tov Sheini in Israel Shaylah

Dear Rabbi Kaganoff,

We have been in Eretz Yisrael for four years, and still keep two days. Essentially, it is still clear to us that we will go back to the United States. But we have no location picked out, no timetable when we intend to return there, and, aside from a few small items in my parents’ and in-laws’ house, we really have nothing in the United States.

Inertia is powerful, and who knows how long we will really be here. I cannot see how staying in Israel will work out financially or practically, but if the economy in the U.S. really collapsed, then, definitely, I would stay.

I know what different poskim would tell me about keeping one or two days of Yom Tov, and I could easily ask the posek who would give me the answer I want. Am I mechuyav to go through the sugya and make my own conclusion? Do you think we ought to keep two days this Pesach?

Thanks a ton!

Answer: The Chazon Ish (Yoreh Deah 150:1) explains that, in a situation like this, one follows one’s rebbe (which he defines there); if one has no rebbe, one can be meikil in a case that is derabbanan, such as whether to keep two days Yom Tov or not.

Another Yom Tov Sheini in Israel Shaylah

Question: My mother and sister, who are not religious, live in the United States. They will be visiting us in Israel for all of Pesach. We keep one day of Yom Tov. How should I handle their second day of Yom Tov?

Answer: Don’t plan any family activities that require them to do melacha, but don’t say anything to them about their doing work. In other words, you need not actively try to keep them from doing melacha that day, but also don’t do anything that would cause them to do melacha, since most poskim hold that they are required to keep the second day Yom Tov.

Question: What should I do about a second Seder for them? (They would have no interest in it and would find it a burden.)

Answer: Do nothing. You are not required to make a Seder for them, and I do not see any gain from attempting to have them attend or make a Seder.

I would like to clarify the difference between planning a family activity and arranging a Seder for them. In the first case, you would be causing them to do something that is prohibited according to most authorities. In the second case, you are not causing them to do anything.

Yom Tov for an Israeli Who Is Outside of Israel Shaylah

Question: My elderly father, who is not observant, will be having surgery during Pesach, and I will therefore be visiting my parents in England over Yom Tov. Since I live in Israel, this is generating many questions:

1. Can I do laundry on Chol Hamoed for my parents, since they will be unable to do it for themselves?

Answer: Do all their laundry before Yom Tov, and see that they have everything that they need for the entire Yom Tov. If they do not have enough clothing, purchase those items – preferably before Yom Tov, but, if necessary, they can be purchased on Chol Hamoed.

2. What can I purchase on Chol Hamoed? Can I buy something that could wait until after Pesach, but my parents would prefer to have it sooner?

Answer: As a rule of thumb, if they will use it on Chol Hamoed or Yom Tov, you may buy it on Chol Hamoed.

3. I read your article about someone who lives in Israel not doing melacha on the second day of Yom Tov while in Chutz La’aretz. If my mother would like a second Seder, or wants to light candles for the second night of Yom Tov, am I allowed to do it for her? My mom lights Shabbos candles but not Yom Tov candles. Since it is Yom Tov for her, can I be motzi her?

Answer: You cannot be a shaliach (messenger) for her to perform these mitzvos because you are not required to observe them.

Question: What about my making Kiddush on the second night/day for them? 

Answer: Also not.

4. I will be bringing with me my nursing baby, who is a kohen, as is my husband. Since I do not know people where my parents live, it will be difficult for me to find a babysitter while I visit my dad after his surgery. May I bring my baby to the hospital?

Answer: Try to find a babysitter for him. If you cannot find a sitter and would be unable to visit your father, then bring the baby along. [This is allowed since there is a very small Jewish population in the city where your parents live. The halacha would be different in an area with a large Jewish population.]

Dental Cleaning on Chol Hamoed

Dear Rabbi Kaganoff, 

Hope this finds everyone well.

Is it permissible to go to the dentist for a cleaning on Chol Hamoed Pesach? The dentist now has a dental hygienist in the office only on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. I am at work on those days and can’t leave to go to the dentist.

Answer: One should not schedule this dental cleaning for Chol Hamoed.

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 sanctityof 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.

Being a Good Guest

The Halachic Etiquette when Visiting Someone’s House

Many people answered the e-mail I sent out last week including some of my perspectives on the current situation. I apologize personally to each of you who responded for not being able to answer the many communications I have received.

Second of all, there are a number of articles on the laws of the Seder, chometz, kitniyos, Yom Tov, the mourning period of the omer, keeping the second day of Yom Tov and other aspects of Pesach on this website. Try using the search words chometz, kitniyos, matzoh, Pesach, sefirah or Yom Tov for the appropriate topics.

Third of all, I planned this article for the week of Rosh Chodesh Nisan way before I realized that most of us will probably not be able to be guests at other people’s homes for Pesach. The article still has a lot of value.

Since many of us will be guests at other people’s houses for the Seder or for some other time during Pesach, it seems like an opportune time to discuss the laws pertaining to being a guest in someone else’s house.

Some of these rules are fairly self-explanatory. For example, a guest should not bring another guest with him (Bava Basra 98b).

A guest should feel that whatever the host serves and prepares is in his honor. The Gemara explains, “What does a good guest say? How hard the host worked for me! How much meat he brought! How much wine he served! How many dainty dishes he prepared! And all this he prepared for me!”

On the other hand, what does a bad guest say? “Did the host work for me? I ate only one roll and one piece of meat and drank only one cup of wine. All the work he did was done for his wife and children!”

A STRANGE CONVERSATION

In the context of learning proper etiquette, the Gemara (Pesachim 86b) records the following unusual story. Rav Huna the son of Rav Nosson visited the house of Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak, where apparently Rav Huna was not known. His hosts asked Rav Huna, “What is your name,” to which he replied “Rav Huna.” They then offered him to sit on the couch, although everyone else was sitting either on the floor or on benches, and the couch was reserved for special guests. Rav Huna did not decline the honor and sat on the couch. Subsequently, they brought him a kiddush-sized cup full of wine, which he immediately accepted and drank in front of them, but he paused once in the middle of drinking.

Rav Nachman’s household, which included talmidei chachamim, felt that Rav Huna’s responses to their invitations were inappropriate. They proceeded to pepper him with questions about his behavior. (Since he had identified himself as a talmid chacham, all of his acts could teach a halachic lesson. However, they felt that he had not acted correctly; it was therefore appropriate to ask him to explain his behavior.) The conversation that ensued is the source of many halachos.

“Why did you introduce yourself as ‘Rav Huna?’” they first asked. Is this an appropriate way to identify oneself?

Rav Huna responded: “That is my name.”

“Why did you sit on the couch, when we offered?” They felt that it would have been proper for him to refuse the honor, politely, and to sit on the floor with everyone else (Tosafos).

Rav Huna retorted by quoting the now famous halachic adage, “Whatever the host asks you to do, you should do (see Mesechta Derech Eretz Rabbah 6:1).”

The hosts continued, “When we offered you the cup, why did you accept it the first time we offered it?”

To which Rav Huna replied, “One may refuse a small person, but one should not refuse the request of a great person.”

The hosts then inquired, “Why did you drink the small cup of wine we gave you in two gulps, rather than drink it all at once?”

Rav Huna countered, “The earlier authorities taught us that only a guzzler drinks a whole cup of wine at once, and that arrogant people drink a cup with three sips. The proper way to drink a cup of wine is in two swallows (Mesechta Derech Eretz Rabbah 8).”

Finally, his hosts asked, “Why did you not turn your face when drinking?” in their opinion, a talmid chacham should not eat or drink in the presence of many people (Gemara and Rashi, Bechoros 44b). To this Rav Huna replied that only a bride should be so modest; for anyone else, this is not considered modesty (Rashi, Pesachim 86b).

WHAT DID THEY MEAN?

In the course of this perplexing conversation, Rav Huna taught his hosts (and us) several halachos germane to proper etiquette that need to be understood properly. We will now dissect the conversation between these scholars to understand its underlying lessons.

1. He identified himself as “Rav Huna.” Isn’t this a conceited way of introducing oneself? Why would Rav Huna, a great Torah scholar and tzadik, have done this?

The source of this halacha (Nedarim 62a) reads as follows:

Rava pointed out that two verses seem to contradict one another. In one verse, Ovadiah says to Eliyahu, Your servant has feared Hashem from his youth (Melachim I 18:12), implying that it is appropriate to make a true statement about one’s spiritual accomplishments. On the other hand, Mishlei (27:2) declares, Someone else should praise you, but not your mouth. Rava explains that the pasuk in Mishlei applies when there are people present who can notify others that this person is a talmid chacham. Since the members of Rav Nachman’s household were unaware that Rav Huna was a talmid chacham, it was appropriate for him to bring this to their attention (Meiri; Maharsha). By doing to, he receives the benefits that he deserves, and people will not be punished for treating him disrespectfully because they did not realize that he is a talmid chacham (Rosh, Nedarim 62a).

It is noteworthy that when Rav Huna explained why he had identified himself as Rav Huna, the Gemara quotes him as saying baal hashem ani, which Rashi seems to explain as meaning, this was always my name. However, this is not the usual way in either Hebrew or Aramaic of telling someone one’s name or appellation. Alternatively, the words baal hashem ani can be interpreted as meaning, I am well known by that name, which implies that he was a well-known personage, although he was apparently unknown by the members of Rav Nachman’s household (see Meiri). Thus, he was responsible to inform them who he was, so that they not treat him disrespectfully.

WHY NOT SIT ON THE COUCH?

2. The hosts proceeded to inquire about his next act:

“Why did you sit on the couch when we invited you?” Apparently, they felt that it was inappropriate for him to sit on the couch, and he should have politely refused the honor. To this inquiry Rav Huna replied, “Whatever the host asks you to do, you should do.”

Did the hosts indeed want him to sit in the finest seat in the house, or were they simply being polite? Is the host’s offer genuine, or does he really prefer that I refuse the offer? It is not unusual to face this type of predicament.

Rav Huna answers that when the host’s intent is unclear, one should assume that his offer is sincere and do as he suggests.

There is a clear exception to this rule. When one suspects that the host cannot afford his offer and is only making it out of embarrassment, one should not accept his offer. This is referred to as a seudah she’ainah maspekes lebaalah, lit., a meal insufficient for its host (Rambam, Hilchos Teshuvah 4:4; also see Chullin 7b and Rashi).

DO WHAT THE HOST ASKS

Why should one do whatever the host requests?

Here are two interpretations to explain the reason for this statement of Chazal:

A. A nonpaying guest should do whatever the host asks him to do, since this is a form of payment for services rendered. In return for free accommodations, the guest should reciprocate by performing the tasks and errands the host requests (Bach, Orach Chayim 170).

In a sense, this parallels the modern practice of presenting the host with a gift. (One can find halachic sources for this practice in the Sefer Orach Meisharim 18:2.) The gift reciprocates the host’s kindness. However, the host often prefers different favors, such as babysitting, rather than a box of chocolates that his waistline can do without, or an additional bouquet of flowers that will soon wilt. Therefore, one’s reciprocation can consist of doing appropriate favors for the host.

In a similar vein, if one has the opportunity to reciprocate hospitality, one should do so (Orach Meisharim 18:2). However, neither host nor guest may specify in advance that the hosting will be reciprocal because of concerns of ribbis, prohibited paying and receiving interest on a loan (Rema, Orach Chayim 170:13), since the one who hosts first has, in essence, extended his hospitality as a loan to the other!

A DIFFERENT APPROACH

B. Courtesy dictates that a guest in someone’s house should respect his host and fulfill his requests as master of the house (Levush). Rav Huna ruled that not honoring the host’s desire to honor his guest challenges the host’s authority. By sitting on the couch and accepting the honor, the guest affirms his host’s authority to honor whomever he wishes in his home.

In many societies, turning down a host’s offer of a cup of tea or coffee is considered insulting. If one is unaware of local custom, one should follow Chazal’s instructions as Rav Huna did.

IF THE HOST HAS DIFFERENT KASHRUS STANDARDS

What happens if the host and the guest interpret the laws of kashrus in different ways? Must the guest follow the host’s request to join him for a meal?

If the guest follows a stricter halachic opinion than the host, the guest should apprise the host. The host may not serve the guest food that does not meet the guest’s standard, unless the food is obviously something he may not eat (Shach, Yoreh Deah 119:20). For example, if the guest observes cholov yisroel fully and the host follows the poskim who permit unsupervised milk when you can assume that it is cow’s milk, the host may not cook anything that does not meet the guest’s standards without telling him. However, he may place food on the table that is obviously not cholov yisroel. Similarly, if the guest notifies the host that he uses only food with a specific hechsher, the host may not serve him food that violates this standard.

Once a halacha-abiding host knows his guest’s standards, the guest may assume that the host is accommodating his standards and may eat whatever is served without further questions (Shach, Yoreh Deah 119:20). This is included in Chazal’s adage, whatever the host asks you to do, you should do, since it is offensive to question the host’s standards. Offending people is always halachically reprehensible, and certainly when they are doing you a favor.

PERSONAL CHUMROS

On the other hand, if the guest has a personal halachic stringency that he would rather not divulge, he should not violate his chumrah and he is not required to divulge it (Shaarei Teshuvah 170:6; Ben Yehoyada).

Generally, one should be modest when it comes to any chumrah (Birkei Yosef, Orach Chayim 170:6). One should also always be aware that taking on personal chumros may not be a good idea, and one should discuss the matter with a gadol prior to observing a chumrah. (See the important discussion on this point in Michtav Mei’Eliyahu Volume 3 pg. 294.)

EXCEPT LEAVE

Our editions of the Gemara Pesachim 86b have two Hebrew words appended to the end of the statement, whatever the host asks you to do, you should do. The additional words are, chutz mi’tzei, except leave, and therefore the passage reads, whatever the host asks you to do, you should do, except leave. It is unclear if these words are an authentic part of the text; they are not mentioned in Mesechta Derech Eretz, the source of the original statement. Some authoritative commentators (Meiri) take exception to it, and boththe Tur andthe Shulchan Aruch omit it. The Meiri reports that these words are an incorrect textual emendation added by scoffers and should be disregarded.

Nevertheless, other authorities (Bach, Magen Avraham, Ben Yehoyada) accept these words as part of the text and grapple with different possible interpretations.

What does this text mean? I found numerous interpretations of this text, including six different interpretations in one sefer (Ben Yehoyada) alone! Several of these approaches assume that performing whatever the host requests means reciprocating his favors, the first approach I mentioned above. According to these approaches, the words chutz mitzei mean that the guest is not expected to perform any inappropriate activity for the host. This would include the host asking the guest to run an errand for him outside the house. Since it is unacceptable to ask someone to run an errand in a city with which he or she is unfamiliar, the guest may refrain from doing so (Bach, Orach Chayim 170).

Nevertheless, if the host requests the guest to do something that he would ordinarily not do because it is beneath his dignity, he should perform it anyway (Birkei Yosef, Orach Chayim 170:5).

THE STRANGE CONVERSATION

We now revert to explaining the original conversation that transpired between Rav Huna and his hosts.

3. The hosts continued, “When we offered you the cup, why did you accept it the first time we offered it?”

To which Rav Huna replied, “One may refuse a small person, but one should not refuse the request of a great person.”

THE INCONSISTENT ANGELS

This particular rule of etiquette is based on a passage in parshas Vayeira. When Avraham Avinu invited the angels to dinner, they immediately accepted, whereas when his nephew Lot invited them, they initially turned him down. Only after he begged them repeatedly did they accept his invitation (Breishis 15:1-5, 16:1-3). Why did they accept Avraham’s invitation immediately and initially turn down Lot’s offer? The Gemara (Bava Metzia 86b) answers because of this rule — one may refuse a small person, but one should not refuse a great person.

This halacha has ramifications for other, non-guest situations. When someone is asked to lead the services in shul (usually called to daven before the amud), he should initially decline the offer, as a sign of humility. However, if a great person, such as the rav of the shul, asks one to lead the services, one should immediately agree.

TWO GULPS?

4. The hosts now inquired, “Why did you drink the small cup of wine we gave you in two gulps, rather than drink it all at once?”

Rav Huna countered, “The earlier authorities taught us that only a guzzler drinks a whole cup of wine at once, and arrogant people drink a cup with three sips. The proper way to drink a cup of wine is in two swallows” (Mesechta Derech Eretz Rabbah 8).

A reviis-size cup of wine, which is about three ounces, should be drunk in two sips; not all at once, and not in more than two sips. It is preferable to drink about half the cup each time, rather than to drink most of it and leave just a small sip for afterwards (Magen Avraham 170:12). If the cup is smaller, the wine is very sweet, or the person drinking is very obese, one may drink the entire cup at one time (Pesachim 86b, as understood by Magen Avraham 170:13). When drinking beer, one may drink a greater amount in each gulp, since beer is less intoxicating than wine; and this is certainly true when drinking non-alcoholic beverages (Magen Avraham 170:13). On the other hand, if the drink is very strong, one may drink it much more slowly (Aruch Hashulchan 170:9). Thus, it is appropriate to take small sips of whiskey or other strongly intoxicating beverages.

TURNING YOUR FACE?

5. Finally, his hosts asked, “Why did you not turn your face when drinking?” To this, Rav Huna replied that only a bride should be so modest. What is this exchange about?

A talmid chacham should not eat or drink in the presence of many people (Gemara and Rashi, Bechoros 44b). The hosts felt that Rav Huna should not have eaten in their presence without turning to the side, so that they could not see him eat. Rav Huna held that the halacha that a talmid chacham should not eat or drink in the presence of many people does not apply when one is eating a meal together with other people. However, a bride should not eat in a way that other people see her eating, even if they are all participating together in a festive meal (Tosafos, Bechoros 44b s.v. ve’ein). Therefore, Rav Huna replied that only a bride should be so modest; for anyone else, this is not considered modesty (Rashi, Pesachim 86b).

The halacha is that one should not eat in the street or marketplace (Kiddushin 40b); on the other hand, one should not stare at someone who is eating or at the food that he is eating, because it embarrasses him or her (Rambam, Hilchos Brachos 7:6; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 170:4).

As we see, Chazal had tremendous concern that a person act appropriately in all circumstances, and even more so when we are a guest in someone else’s home. Certainly, these are lessons that we should always apply in our daily lives.

Beer, Oil and Honey

In honor of Chanukah, I present an article that includes the Gemara’s questions about the kashrus of vegetable and olive oil.

Question #1: Beer

“Is it permitted to drink beer in a tavern?”

Question #2: Oil

“May I purchase vegetable oil from a non-Jew?”

Question #3: Honey

“Does pure honey present any kashrus issues?”

Answer

Because of concerns about inappropriate interaction with our surroundings, Chazal implemented several important gezeiros, including bishul akum, the prohibition against eating food cooked by a non-Jew, and pas akum,which, under certain circumstances, prohibits bread baked by a non-Jew. The Mishnah and Gemara discuss whether oil, honey and beer are included in these gezeiros, a topic that is highly educational.

Beer

Our opening question was: “Is it permitted to drink beer in a tavern?” The Gemara (Avodah Zarah 31b, see also Tosafos s.v. Mipnei) states that it is prohibited to drink the beer of non-Jews and quotes a dispute between amora’im why this is so. Rabbi Yitzchak prohibits it because of concerns of intermarriage, whereas Rav Nachman prohibits it because of concerns about product contamination.

The Gemara then mentions the opinions of several amora’im, some of whom held like Rabbi Yitzchak, that the reason for the prohibition is because of concerns of intermarriage, and others who held like Rav Nachman, that there are contamination concerns. For example, Rav and his son Rav Chiya held like Rav Nachman; however, they explained that not all individuals need to be concerned. This is because the hops in the beer serve as a medicinal antidote that helps many people.

On the other hand, the Gemara reports that Rav Papa would purchase beer from a tavern and carry it outside the door of the store and drink it there, whereas Rav Achai would bring the beer home first and drink it there. Both of them held that the prohibition was because of intermarriage; once the beer is removed from the jurisdiction of the non-Jew, it is permitted. In other words, we are no longer concerned about the social interactions that might result. If the concern was because of product contamination, what difference would it make where one drinks it? The Gemara explains that Rav Papa and Rav Achai both agree that it is permitted to drink beer of a non-Jew once it is removed it from his premises. Rav Achai added a personal chumra: not to drink the beer until he came home.

Why is beer different?

There is a very obvious question here: The other prohibitions that Chazal instituted because of concerns of social interaction, such as bishul akum and pas akum on cooked foods and bread, are not dependent upon where you are. Why does the prohibition concerning the beer of non-Jews apply only in the non-Jew’s home or business?

Among the rishonim, we find several approaches to explain this question. I will present just one approach, that of the Tosafos Rid (Avodah Zarah 65b), who explains that, in the other instances, the main concern is that you will find the foods produced by the non-Jew to be very tasty, and this eventually might lead to inappropriate social interactions. However, in the instance of beer, the concern is not the food, but the socializing itself, and prohibiting drinking the beer where the non-Jew lives and works is a sufficient safeguard to prevent inappropriate activity. (Those who would like to research this question more extensively are referred to the commentaries of the Ramban and theRashba, Avodah Zarah 31b.)

How do we rule?

We have a general halachic rule that, among the tanna’im and amora’im, the halacha follows the last authority who voiced an opinion. The reason for this rule is that, when a great Torah scholar analyzed the differing earlier approaches to a question and decided a certain way, we may rely on his diligence in analyzing the topic carefully, including the rulings and considerations of those who preceded him.

Historically, the latest amora’im to discuss this topic were Rav Pappa and Rav Achai, both of whom ruled that the prohibition was because of concerns about social interaction, but held that it is permitted to drink beer of  a non-Jew, once it is removed from the gentile’s place.

Bishul akum

Why isn’t beer prohibited because of bishul akum? After all, neither barley nor hops are edible raw — they become consumable only after they are cooked. Thus, shouldn’t any beer cooked by a non-Jew be prohibited as bishul akum?

This question is raised by Tosafos (Avodah Zarah 31b s.v. Vetarveihu), who explains that beer is permitted because it is not considered something that would be served on a king’s table. Tosafos presents a second answer: that the brocha on beer is shehakol. This teaches us that, from a halachic standpoint, the most important ingredient in the beer is not the grain, because then its brocha would be mezonos, but the water, and water is not prohibited as bishul akum because it is drinkable without being cooked (see also Avodah Zarah 37b; Tosafos Brachos 38a s.v. Hai; Mishnah Berurah 204:16).

The brew that made Bavel famous

Tosafos then rules that the prohibition applies both to beer made from grain, like our beer, and to the beer made from dates that was common at the time of the Gemara.

In the time of the Mishnah and Gemara, two varieties of beer were generally manufactured:

Babylonian beer – which was made from dates and hops. (Yes, this beer was Kosher lePesach!)

Medean beer – which also included a small percentage of barley malt (Mishnah Pesachim 42a; Gemara, Pesachim 42b). This latter type of beer was prohibited as chometz, although it had the status of ta’aroves chometz, a product that contains chometz, rather than chometz gamur, unadulterated chometz. Our beer, in which the main ingredient after water is barley malt, is considered chometz gamur (Rosh, Pesachim 3:1).

Kashrus of beer

Does beer in today’s world require a hechsher? According to the information available at the time that I am writing this article, beer today usually is made from only the following ingredients: barley malt, hops, and water. None of these ingredients presents a problem. However, there can be halachic problems of flavored beers and of chometz she’avar alav haPesach. Check labels for any mention of flavors added. Many breweries are coming out with specialty brews that have additives; even if you recognize the name of the company, don’t assume that all its varieties are kosher. 

Therefore, unflavored beers, domestic and imported, with no additives listed on the ingredient label, are acceptable even without a hechsher, as long as there is no problem of chometz she’avar alav haPesach, and you drink them in the comfort of your own home or anywhere outside the non-Jew’s house or business. This applies also to non-alcoholic and dark beers.

Oil

The Mishnah (Avodah Zarah 35a) states as follows: “These items of a non-Jew are prohibited [to eat], but benefit is permitted from them: milk, bread, and oil. Rebbe and his beis din permitted the oil.”

Tosafos notes that it is unclear whether these last words (“Rebbe and his beis din permitted the oil”) are part of the Mishnah, or whether they were added later, and that it was not Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi and his beis din who permitted oil of non-Jews, but his grandson, usually called Rabbi Yehudah Nesiah (see Tosafos, Avodah Zarah 36a s.v. Asher and 33b s.v. Ba’a).

This Mishnah leads us to many questions. Why was the oil of non-Jews prohibited and, assuming that it was, how could Rabbi Yehudah Nesiah (or his grandfather Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi) permit its use?

The Gemara quotes a dispute in the first generation of amora’im, between Rav and Shmuel, in which Rav holds that the original Mishnah contended that the oil of non-Jews was prohibited as an injunction created by the Biblical Daniel, and Shmuel holds it was prohibited because this oil was refined in non-kosher pots. Based on a verse in the book of Daniel (1:8), Rav understands that Daniel had implemented a gezeirah, similar to the prohibitions against wine of a non-Jew, that banned consuming oil processed by non-Jews. In the time of Daniel, this prohibition applied only in the cities, but, later, the beis din of the students of Shammai and Hillel extended the prohibition to ban this oil even outside cities.

Shmuel contended that the reason why the tanna kamma of the Mishnah banned the use of oil processed by non-Jews was due to a kashrus concern that existed in his day. Since oils were usually prepared at home, there was concern that even 100% pure vegetable oil might have been heated in non-kosher vessels, thus rendering the oil treif.

Both approaches need to be explained. If the prohibition was a takanah instituted by Daniel and by the students of Shammai and Hillel, how could the beis din headed by Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi/Nesiah permit it? There is a halachic principle that once a takkanah has been implemented, it can be overruled only by a beis din that is greater both in knowledge and in numbers, which was not the case in this instance. And if the oil was prohibited because it was refined in non-kosher pots, why did the later beis din allow it?

Releasing the gezeirah

The Gemara concludes that whenever Chazal make a gezeirah, it is binding only when the Jewish people observe it. If most of the Jewish people do not observe the gezeirah, it is not binding. Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi/Nesiah and his beis din researched and discovered that the gezeiros prohibiting non-Jewish oil were never observed by the majority of people. That being the case, the beis din of Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi/Nesiah could rescind the gezeirah.

Regarding the possibility that the oil was manufactured in non-kosher equipment, the Gemara explains that this was actually a dispute between the earlier great leaders, who prohibited the oil of non-Jews, and the beis din of Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi/Nesiah, which permitted it.

Let me explain:

The Gemara (Avodah Zarah 67b) quotes a dispute between tanna’im whether nosein ta’am lifgam (literally, something that provides a bad taste) is prohibited or permitted. If we assume that nosein ta’am lifgam is prohibited, oil that a non-Jew processed in his own equipment is prohibited because his equipment was previously used for non-kosher. However, if nosein ta’am lifgam is permitted, then food cooked in a pot that was not used in the last 24 hours is usually permitted, even when the pot was previously used for non-kosher. (Note that it is always prohibited le’chatchilah to cook food in such equipment.)

On this basis, although it is prohibited to use a non-kosher pot, food that was cooked in it using only kosher ingredients may remain kosher, since there is a possibility that the pot had not been used for the last 24 hours, and, even if it had been, the non-kosher cooked within the previous 24 hours may have contributed an unpleasant taste to the kosher food (see Tosafos, Avodah Zarah 35b s.v. Miklal).

The earlier Mishnah held that nosein ta’am lifgam is prohibited and, therefore, oil purchased from non-Jews may not be used. But since the accepted ruling is that nosein ta’am lifgam is permitted, the beis din of Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi/Nesiah ruled that it is kosher.

Modern vegetable oil

From a kashrus perspective, in the modern world, vegetable oil is indeed a very sensitive product. Vegetable oil is often refined on equipment that produces non-kosher animal shortening or fish oils. This equipment is not cleaned between productions, and there may be very high percentages, much higher than the ratio of bitul, of residual animal shortening on the equipment when the vegetable oil is produced. There is also the possibility that the oil is shipped in trailer trucks that previously held a non-kosher product. For these reasons, reliable kosher supervisory agencies are careful about which sources of vegetable oil they allow for use, and they have developed a system to make sure that the oil is transported in a way that does not render it non-kosher.

Deodorization

Most fats, even after refining, have characteristic flavors and odors, and vegetable fats, especially, have a relatively strong undesirable taste. In order to produce a tasteless fat, these oils may undergo deodorization. Unfortunately, if the deodorizing equipment is used also for animal shortening, this process makes the vegetable oil non-kosher.

The processing of vegetable oil without proper oversight can also be the cause of severe safety issues, as the following story indicates:

Toxic Oil Syndrome was the name given to a disease outbreak in Spain in 1981. Its first appearance was as a lung disease with unusual features: though the symptoms initially resembled a lung infection, antibiotics were ineffective. The disease appeared to be restricted to certain localities, and several members of a family could be affected, even while their neighbors had no symptoms. Following the acute phase, a range of other chronic symptoms were apparent. Eventually, the cause was traced to the consumption of rapeseed oil (canola is a safe and edible variety of rapeseed) that had been intended for industrial use, not for human consumption. It had been imported as cheap industrial oil, was subsequently refined and sold as “olive oil” by street vendors, and then used on salads and for cooking by the unsuspecting victims. The commonly accepted hypothesis states that toxic compounds added during the refinement process, used to denature oils intended for industrial use, were responsible for the illness.

Honey

Honey has been used as a food for thousands of years, and, until the advent of sugar refining, it was the most common food sweetener. To produce honey, bees suck nectar from flowers and deposit it into a special honey sac. Inside the sacs, enzymes contained in the bee’s saliva convert the nectar into honey, which the bees store in a honeycomb until they need it for food, or until the hive is raided by a two-legged forager. The nectar is never “digested” by the bee, but rather transformed into honey.

Is honey kosher? We know that milk and eggs of non-kosher species are non-kosher, so why is honey considered kosher? Regarding this question, the Gemara (Bechoros 7b) records a dispute between the tanna kamma and Rabbi Yaakov. The tanna kamma contends that honey is not produced by bees, but is simply modified plant nectar, unlike milk and eggs that are produced by the non-kosher species. For this reason, he rules that honey is kosher.

Rabbi Yaakov permits honey for a different reason: He contends that although there is indeed a universal rule prohibiting extracts of non-kosher species, a special Scriptural allusion excludes honey from this proscription.

The Mishnah (Avodah Zarah 39b) rules that honey may be purchased from a non-Jew and eaten. The Gemara (ad locum) questions why this is true, concluding that the three possible concerns why it should be prohibited do not apply to honey.

1. Admixture of non-kosher ingredients.

The Gemara concludes that we are not concerned that someone may add a non-kosher ingredient to honey, because any non-kosher product will ruin the taste of the honey.

2. Bishul akum

Since honey is edible raw, cooking honey does not create a prohibition of bishul akum.

3. Non-kosher equipment

The Gemara concludes that the non-kosher flavor in the equipment would create a nosein taam lifgam flavor in the honey, which is permitted.

Today, honey is an expensive commodity that is easily adulterated. However, the ingredients that are commonly used to adulterate it, such as sugar, sorghum syrup, molasses or corn sweetener, are kosher. As a result, we are not required to be concerned that the honey was adulterated with a non-kosher ingredient.

Every year around Rosh Hashanah, Israeli newspapers contain reports about unscrupulous companies selling adulterated honey. Certainly, one should be careful to purchase honey and not an adulterated product, particularly since one has no idea what the manufacturer may have added. However, from a strictly halachic point of view, the various cheaper sweetening ingredients used to adulterate honey, such as corn sweetener and molasses, are kosher; so it is difficult to imagine serious kashrus problems resulting from this unscrupulous practice.

We should note that “honey flavoring” and “flavored with honey” do not mean the same thing. “Honey flavoring” means a natural or synthetic flavoring that is meant to taste like honey, and could indeed contain non-kosher ingredients. Any food item, such as a sucking candy, that contains honey flavoring should have a reliable hechsher.

Conclusion

Based on the above information, we can gain a greater appreciation of how hard it is to maintain a high kashrus standard. We certainly have a greater incentive to become educated kosher consumers who better understand many aspects of the preparation of kosher food, and why it is important to ascertain that products have a proper hechsher. We should always hope and pray that the food we eat fulfills all the halachos that the Torah commands.

How to Live in the Sukkah

Question #1: Where?

“Where should I learn Torah during Sukkos?”

Question #2: What?

“What are the rules about having dirty plates and glasses in the sukkah?”

Question #3: When?

“When it is raining on the first night of Sukkos, why do we make kiddush and hamotzi in the sukkah, but without reciting the brocha on the mitzvah?”

Introduction:

The laws of the mitzvah of sukkah are highly detailed and very unusual. In the course of answering the opening questions, we will be studying an overview of the unique laws of this beautiful mitzvah.

Home sweet sukkah

The proper observance of this mitzvah is to treat the sukkah as one’s home for the entire seven days of Sukkos (Mishnah and Gemara Sukkah 28b). This is derived from the Torah’s words: “You shall dwell (teishevu) in the Sukkah for seven days.” This is the only mitzvah of the Torah that is worded this way, and, as a result, there are many interesting and unique halachic details, both lekulah and lechumrah. (Women are exempt from the mitzvah of sukkah, and, therefore, the halachos that we describe in this article apply only to men. However, a woman who eats or spends time in the sukkah fulfills a mitzvah. According to Ashkenazic practice, she recites a brocha prior to fulfilling the mitzvah; according to Sephardic practice, she does not.)

The Gemara explains that a person should not only eat all his meals in the sukkah, but he should sleep and relax in the sukkah (Sukkah 28b; Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 639:1). Although in many places in chutz la’aretz, people are not accustomed to sleeping in the sukkah because of safety, weather or personal concerns (see Rema and acharonim, Orach Chayim 639:2), we should still spend most of the day in the sukkah, and not simply use it as a place to eat our meals, and then leave it for the rest of the day.

To quote the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 639:1): “How does one fulfill the mitzvah of living in the sukkah? One should eat, drink, sleep, relax, and live in the sukkah all seven days, both in the daytime and at night, just as he lives in his house the rest of the year. For these seven days, he should make his house temporary and his sukkah into his regular residence. What are some examples of this? His nicest vessels, tablecloths and bedspreads should be in the sukkah. His drinking vessels, both the serving vessels and the drinking glasses, should be in the sukkah. However, utensils used to prepare food, such as pots and pans, should be outside the sukkah. The lamp should be in the sukkah; however, if the sukkah is small, it should be placed outside the sukkah.”

What does the Shulchan Aruch mean when it makes a distinction between drinking vessels, which are inside the sukkah, and utensils to prepare food, which it says should be outside the sukkah?

Here, the Shulchan Aruch introduces the following concept. Although we are supposed to use and live in the sukkah as we do in our house, we are required to treat the sukkah with a degree of respect, as it has some level of kedusha. The Rema (639:1) notes that unbecoming things should not be performed in the sukkah. The Beis Yosef chooses washing dishes as an example of something inappropriate in the sukkah. The Magen Avraham explains that washing drinking glasses is permitted in the sukkah, because this is not considered something unaesthetic, whereas washing pots and dirty dishes is.

Regarding eating and cooking vessels, there are two aspects to this distinction.

According to custom, pots and other cooking vessels that are not brought to the table when there are guests should not be brought into the sukkah (Mishnah Berurah 639:5). Similarly, other items that are not appropriate for public view, such as a child’s potty, should never be brought into the sukkah. However, presentable “oven-to-table” cookware may be brought into the sukkah.

The second aspect is that plates and platters that are dirty must be removed from the sukkah (Sukkah 29a). This is because, once they have been used, they look unpleasant.

Both of these laws do not apply to drinking vessels, which are usually not repulsive, even when dirty (ibid.).

A rule of thumb I have adopted is: Something that would be in the dining room, living room or bedrooms when you are entertaining guests can be in the sukkah. Items that you would ordinarily leave in the kitchen, bathroom or laundry area should not be in the sukkah.

Lamp in the sukkah?

The Shulchan Aruch stated: “The lamp should be in the sukkah; however, if the sukkah is small, it should placed outside the sukkah.” What does this mean?

In today’s post-Edison world, lighting usually means electric lighting, which, if properly installed, should not present any safety hazards. However, when lighting was oil or other flammable material, placing a light inside a small sukkah could pose a safety hazard. Therefore, the sukkah’s lighting would, of necessity, be placed outside when the sukkah was small. Although this situation is not ideal, it is, under the circumstances, an acceptable way to observe the mitzvah, notwithstanding that your household lighting would be indoors.

Studying in the sukkah

The Gemara (Sukkah 28b) discusses whether learning Torah should be in the sukkah or outside. The conclusion is that learning requiring focus is usually best accomplished outside the sukkah, where someone can learn with better concentration. On the other hand, learning that will not suffer as a result of heing outside home or a beis medrash should, indeed, be done in the sukkah. However, if someone needs access to many seforim while learning, it may not be practical to bring all of them to the sukkah. The Mishnah Berurah (639:29) recommends bringing the seforim that he will need to the sukkah for the entire Yom Tov, if he can create a place there to keep them. I will add that, depending on the climate, he may need a place where they will not get wet.

Thus, we can answer our opening question: “Where should I learn Torah during Sukkos?” The answer is: If someone can conveniently learn in the sukkah, he should; but if he cannot, he should learn where he will be able to accomplish the most.

Snacking outside the sukkah?

Although the Shulchan Aruch requires that all meals be eaten in the sukkah, it does not require that snacks be eaten in the sukkah. This ruling is also derived from the Torah’s wording of mitzvas sukkah: “You shall dwell (teishevu) in the Sukkah for seven days,” which implies that we should treat the sukkah as we treat our house the rest of the year. In this instance, the result is lenient. Just as we do not eat all snacks in the house, but eat them wherever we find ourselves, the same is true regarding eating snacks on Sukkos – there is no requirement to eat them in the sukkah.

In this context, the Mishnah reports:

“It once happened that someone brought Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai some food to taste, and (in another anecdote) someone brought Rabban Gamliel two dates and a pitcher of water. In both instances, the rabbonim asked that the food be brought to the sukkah for them to eat it there. However, when someone brought Rabbi Tzadok a small amount of bread, he ate a very small amount — less than the size-equivalency of an egg — outside the sukkah” (Mishnah, Sukkah 26b).

The Gemara explains: The halacha does not require eating any of these items in the sukkah, but one is permitted to be more stringent. In other words, someone who desires to be stringent and not eat anything or drink even water outside the sukkah is praiseworthy. Ordinarily, it is prohibited to act more stringently than the halacha requires, because of a concern called yohara, showing off that one is more careful in halacha than other people. This concern does not exist germane to being strict about eating snacks in the sukkah, and, therefore, Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai and Rabban Gamliel ate in the sukkah, even when it was not mandated. On the other hand, since this is a stringency and not halachically required, Rabbi Tzadok ate his snack outside the sukkah.

How much is still considered a snack that is permitted outside of the sukkah? If you are eating bread, you may eat a piece that is equal to, but not greater than, the size of an average-sized egg. Someone who wants to determine this size exactly should discuss it with his rav or posek. Fruit, as much as you want, may be eaten outside the sukkah. A cereal produced from the five grains may not be eaten outside the sukkah, if it constitutes a meal.

Stopping for a drink

It is permitted to drink water or any other beverage, even wine, outside the sukkah. However, be aware that if a person is in the middle of a meal that requires being in the sukkah, he may not eat or drink anything outside the sukkah (see Ran). This is because every part of a meal must be eaten in the sukkah, even while in the house getting the next course. (Of course, since women are exempt from the mitzvah of sukkah, they may eat or help themselves to something in the house during the meal.)

Kiddush, hamotzi, but not brocha?

At this point, let us discuss the third of our opening questions: “When it is raining on the first night of Sukkos, why do we make kiddush and hamotzi in the sukkah, but without reciting the brocha on the mitzvah?”

Leniencies about sukkah

Answering this question requires two introductions about different aspects of the laws of sukkah. The first is:

As I noted above, when the mitzvah of sukkah is discussed, the Torah writes “You shall dwell (teishevu) in the Sukkah for seven days.” Seemingly, the Torah could just as easily have instructed, “You shall be (tihyu) in the sukkah for seven days.” Why did the Torah use the word teishevu, dwell, rather than the word tihyu, be?Either term teishevu (dwell) or tihyu (be)implies that a person should use his sukkah as his primary residence through the Yom Tov!

The answer is because  the word teishevu implies something that tihyu does not: Teishevu implies that there is no requirement to use the sukkah in circumstances that you would not use your house the rest of the year (Tosafos Yom Tov, Sukkah 2:4). This is referred to as teishevu ke’ein taduru, you should live in the sukkah similarly to the way you normally live in your house. Since the mitzvah of the Torah is to treat the sukkah as you ordinarily treat your house, there are leniencies that do not apply to any other mitzvah. One case of these is mitzta’er, someone for whom being in the sukkah causes discomfort. A mitzta’er is exempt from being in the sukkah (Sukkah 26a).

For example, a person whose house is very chilly will relocate temporarily to a warmer dwelling; if bees infest your house, you will find alternative accommodations; if the roof leaks, you will find a dry location until it is repaired. Just as people evacuate their houses when uncomfortable and find more suitable accommodations, so may they relocate from their sukkah when uncomfortable and seek more pleasant arrangements. Therefore, if a bad smell develops near the sukkah, one is exempt from staying in the sukkah.

The first night of Sukkos

The second introduction is to explain that there are two aspects to the mitzvah of sukkah.

(1) The mitzvah to dwell in a sukkah the entire Yom Tov. This is the aspect of the mitzvah that we have been discussing until this point.

(2) The requirement to eat in a sukkah onthe first night of the Yom Tov. Chazal derive this requirement by way of a hermeneutic comparison to the mitzvah of eating matzah on the first night of Pesach (Sukkah 27a). Although there is no requirement to eat matzah all of Pesach, on the first night there is a requirement, as the Torah specifies, ba’erev to’chelu matzos, on the first night of Pesach one is required to eat matzah.

This means that Hashem taught Moshe at Har Sinai that there are two aspects to the mitzvah of living in the sukkah. The first night one has an obligation to eat in the sukkah. The rest of Sukkos, the requirement is to treat the sukkah as you treat your house. Therefore, should you spend all of Sukkos in a circumstance where you would usually never be home – such as a meshulach on a fundraising trip – you could potentially avoid being in the sukkah the entire Yom Tov without violating the mitzvah. However, on the first night, there is an obligation to eat in the sukkah. Even if someone chooses not to eat a meal all of Sukkos, but to subsist completely on snacks, the first night, he is still required to eat a kezayis of bread in the sukkah.

Mitzta’er the first night

Our next question is whether a mitzta’er is required to eat in the sukkah the first night of Sukkos. For example, when the weather is inclement, and it is permitted to eat in the house, does this also exempt someone from eating a kezayis of bread in the sukkah on the first night? This question is the subject of a dispute among the rishonim. Some contend that this exemption does not apply to the mitzvah to eat a kezayis in the sukkah on the first night. Just as a mitzta’er is required to eat a kezayis of matzoh the first night of Pesach, so too a mitzta’er is required to eat a kezayis of bread in the sukkah on the first night of Sukkos (Tur Orach Chayim 639).

Other rishonim disagree, contending that the rules of teishevu ke’ein taduru apply on the first night, just as they apply throughout the rest of the week (Shu”t Rashba, quoted by Beis Yosef).

How do we rule?

The Rema (Orach Chayim 640:4) concludes that although a mitzta’er is absolved from fulfilling mitzvas sukkah the rest of the week, he must, nevertheless, eat a kezayis of bread in the sukkah the first night of Sukkos (see also Meiri, Sukkah 26a; Rema, Orach Chayim 639:5). Ashkenazim, who follow the Rema’s opinion the vast majority of the time, consider this to be an unresolved halachic issue. Therefore, if it rains on the first night of Sukkos, they eat at least a kezayis of bread in the sukkah. However, since there are rishonim who contend that a mitzta’er is exempt even from eating a kezayis on the first night, they do not recite a brocha leisheiv basukah (consensus of most acharonim, see Mishnah Berurah 639:35).

Sefardim should ask their rav what to do, since there is a dispute among Sefardic poskim whether one is obligated to eat in the sukkah on the first night of Yom Tov under these circumstances.

Second night in chutz la’aretz

The acharonim dispute whether the practice of Ashkenazim to make kiddush and eat a kezayis in the sukkah even when it is raining applies only on the first night of Sukkos, or even on the second night of Sukkos in chutz la’aretz. I refer our readers to their rav or posek to discuss this question, should it become germane.

The stars and the sukkah

The halacha is that, lechatchilah, one should be able to see the stars through the sukkah’s schach. What is the reason behind this requirement?

The following thought was suggested: The sukkah, a temporary dwelling with a leaky thatched roof, represents the Jew in exile. Yet, there are a wide variety of kosher Sukkos. Some sukkos are constructed with four complete and sturdy walls that reach all the way to the schach. On the other hand, there are Sukkos that are much less sturdy and yet they are still kosher. For example a sukkah with just two fairly narrow walls accompanied by a third “wall” that is a mere plank the width of one’s fist is kosher. Such a shabby sukkah can be kosher, even if its walls are only ten tefachim tall, which is less than forty inches, with open air between the top of the short “walls” and the schach, notwithstanding that such a sukkah provides virtually no privacy. Do you know anyone who would live in such a house?

The different types of sukkos represent different forms of exile. In some times and places, we were welcomed and had a sense of security; in others, we had to cringe in fear.

Yet, there is one common factor in all the various exiles that we have been through – the stars. The stars remind us that when Klal Yisrael merits it, instead of being like the dust of the earth, we will be like the stars in the sky! (This approach is cited in the contemporary work, Shalal Rav, Sukkos volume, page 114.) Thus, regardless of the difficulties of the moment, we have a Divine promise that one day we will be stars!

Conclusion

We all hope to merit performing this beautiful mitzvah in the best way possible.  After having davened for a good, sweet, new year, the logical continuation is to observe mitzvas sukkah in a halachically correct manner, getting our year off to a wonderful start!

When Tekias Shofar Goes Wrong

Photo by elboim from FreeImages

Every year before Rosh Hashanah, Rav Goldberg reviews the halachos of shofar blowing with the shul’s baal tekiah (shofar blower/master blaster). This year the baal tekiah, Reb Muttel, had more questions than usual.

“I have been a baal tekiah for several years now,” began Reb Muttel. “Each year I feel a stronger sense of responsibility and privilege. Privilege, because it is through my shofar blowing that our shul joins Jews around the world in the coronation of Hashem as King. Also, the shofar is a wake-up call to teshuva and reminds us of many historical events in our history, including Matan Torah and Akeidas Yitzchak. At the same time, it is an awesome responsibility to blow the shofar correctly, so that everyone fulfills his obligation of hearing tekiahs shofar according to halacha.”

“Not every blast is perfect,” continued Reb Muttel, “and I’m curious to know when a blast is acceptable and when it must be repeated. I’d also like to know why sometimes I am told to repeat just a blast, and other times I am told to repeat several. I have also been in shuls where the entire series of nine or more blasts was repeated. In short, I would like a deeper understanding of the halachos.”

Rav Goldberg realized that it would take several sessions to teach Muttel all the details of shofar blowing. Before presenting a synopsis of their discussion, an introduction is in order.

THE TORAH’S MITZVAH OF SHOFAR

As in many other mitzvos, there is no clear command in the Written Torah to blow the shofar on Rosh Hashana. The Torah does refer to Rosh Hashanah as “Yom Teruah,” but this could be translated either as “a day of crying,” “a day of praying” or “a day of shofar blowing.” The Torah Shebe’al Peh teaches that there is a mitzvah min haTorah to blow shofar. The mitzvah is to blow three broken sounds called Teruos, each preceded and followed by a long straight sound called a Tekiah. These sounds add up to a total of nine blasts.

“How do we know that Teruah is a broken sound in the first place?” asked Reb Muttel.

Targum Onkelos translates the word Teruah as ‘yevavah,’ which means crying,” replied the Rav. “This teaches us that the Teruah is a broken, crying sound (Rosh Hashanah 33b). However, it is not clear from the Targum what type of crying sound ‘Teruah’ means.”

“How was this question resolved?”

The Gemara (Rosh Hashanah 34a) reports that Rabbi Abahu was uncertain whether Teruah is a series of sobs (what we call Shevarim), or a staccato, panting cry (Teruah) or a combination of both, first sobbing and then panting (Shevarim-Teruah). To be certain that we fulfill the Torah’s obligation, he mandated blowing three different series, each with a different broken sound. Each broken sound is blown three times to fulfill the Torah mitzvah, and each one is preceded and followed by a Tekiah. Thus, Rabbi Abahu’s arrangement results in a total of thirty shofar sounds:

Tekiah, Shevarim-Teruah, Tekiah (TaSHRaT) three times

Tekiah, Shevarim, Tekiah (TaSHaT) three times

Tekiah, Teruah, Tekiah (TaRaT) three times

But why didn’t Rabbi Abahu institute a shorter procedure, and blow only Tekiah, Shevarim, Teruah, Tekiah (the TaSHRaT mentioned before) three times? This way a person would blow all three varieties of broken sound three times, and each would be surrounded by two teki’os.

The Gemara explains that if the mitzvah is to blow only a Shevarim, blowing a Teruah immediately after the Shevarim is an interruption that invalidates the mitzvah. Similarly, if the mitzvah is to blow only a Teruah, then a Shevarim preceding it interrupts between the Tekiah and the Teruah and invalidates the mitzvah. Thus, the only way to fulfill the mitzvah correctly is to blow three series, one with each type of broken sound (Shevarim, Teruah, and Shevarim-Teruah) in the middle.

“This last statement of the Gemara teaches us an important lesson. If one blows an inappropriate sound between the Tekiah and the correct broken sound, that series is invalid. Early poskim dispute how much of the series is invalid and must be blown again. The stringent opinion contends that one must begin the series he is blowing all over again. The lenient opinion rules that it suffices to return to the most recent Tekiah; the earlier sounds are kosher (Tur Orach Chayim end of 590). There is a very interesting story related to this dispute that we will discuss shortly.”

WHY DON’T WE BLOW A TERUAHSHEVARIM?

The Gemara points out that Rabbi Abahu omitted a fourth option — he did not require a Teruah followed by a Shevarim. The Gemara explains that Rabbi Abahu omitted this combination because the Torah’s Teruah is a broken sound that imitates human crying. Since it is unusual for a crying person to pant and then sob afterwards, this sound cannot be what the Torah commanded.

AN ALTERNATIVE INTERPRETATION

There is another explanation why Rabbi Abahu instituted three different Teruah sounds. Rav Hai Gaon contends that the mitzvah of tekias shofar is fulfilled with ANY broken sound. In his opinion, blowing three times either TaSHRaT or TaShaT or TaRaT or any combination of the three fulfills the Torah mitzvah. In Rav Hai’s opinion, Rabbi Abahu instituted the blowing of thirty shofar sounds for a different reason.

In Rabbi Abahu’s day, different communities blew the broken, crying sound in different ways. In some communities it was a Shevarim, others blew what we call Teruah (short, staccato sounds), while others blew Shevarim-Teruah. Rabbi Abahu was concerned that an unlearned person visiting different communities might conclude that there is a dispute how to blow shofar. To avoid even the appearance of conflict, Rabbi Abahu instituted that all Jews observe all three customs.

Thus, we have two different explanations why Rav Abahu instituted the blowing of thirty shofar sounds. The first opinion, which is held by most poskim, contends that blowing thirty sounds guarantees that we have fulfilled the Torah’s mitzvah. The second opinion maintains that we blow thirty sounds to avoid the appearance of a machlokes.

AN INTERESTING STORY AND ITS EXPLANATION

Almost nine hundred years ago, on Rosh Hashanah 4905/1144, the shofar blower of Mainz, a community with many Talmidei Chachomim, erred in the middle of the blowing. After blasting two kosher rounds of “TaSHRaT” he made a mistake in the third round. Instead of blowing a three-part Shevarim and then a Teruah, he mistakenly blew two parts of a Shevarim and then began blowing the Teruah. Immediately realizing his error, the baal tekiah stopped blowing the Teruah after only one stacatto beat. The question was how to continue.

A dispute ensued among the scholarly congregants. Some advocated that ALL the TaSHRaT soundings must be blown again. Apparently, they contended that ANY inappropriate sound blown in the middle of the shofar blowing invalidates the entire series. Since TaSHRaT is blown to fulfill one interpretation of the Torah’s mitzvah, any inappropriate blast blown in the middle invalidates that entire attempt and the series must begin again.

Other scholars were more lenient. They contended that the sounds already blown need not be repeated. In their opinion, only a sound that has halachic status invalidates a series, not a sound that is neither a Shevarim nor a Teruah. Furthermore, they felt that in a case where the sounds need to be repeated, such as where an unnecessary Teruah was blown in the middle, one need return only to the Tekiah preceding the errant broken sound. Thus, in a case where someone blew in the third TaSHRaT Tekiah, Shevarim-Teruah, Teruah, only the last Tekiah and Shevarim-Teruah need to be blown again but no earlier sounds.

In Mainz, 1144, the first group had its way, and the baal tekiah started blowing again from the the beginning of the TaShRaT series.

After Rosh Hashanah, the shaylah was referred to the gedolim,Rav Elyakim bar Yosef and the Raavan, both of whom ruled that the second group was correct. The Raavan also contended that the extra blasts blown desecrated Yom Tov since they were unnecessary and blowing shofar on Yom Tov is permitted only to perform the mitzvah (Rosh, Rosh Hashanah 4:11).

Returning to Muttel’s lessons with Rav Goldberg, the Rav pointed out that the ruling of Rav Elyakim bar Yosef and the Raavan — that nothing needs to be repeated if the errant sound is neither a Shevarim nor a Teruah — is true only when the baal tekiah blew one or two Teruah sounds. However, if he blew three Teruah sounds in the wrong place, such as before the Shevarim is completed, the Tekiah before it is invalidated, because a Teruah blown immediately before a Shevarim is an invalid sound.

HOW LONG IS A TERUAH?

“I am confused,” protested Reb Muttel. “Why did you say that three short sounds is considered a Teruah? Doesn’t a Teruah have nine sounds!”

“Actually, not everyone agrees that a Teruah requires nine sounds,” the Rav replied patiently. “According to Rashi, a Teruah need be only three sounds. The Riva and Rivam disagree, contending that the Teruah must be at least nine sounds. Since everyone agrees that a Teruah may have extra sounds, we blow a Teruah of nine sounds, which is kosher according to all opinions.”

What happens if the shofar blower blew a Teruah shorter than nine sounds?

According to Rashi, one has fulfilled the mitzvah, provided the Teruah was at least three sounds. According to Riva and Rivam, one has not. The rav or posek in the shul will pasken whether to blow the Teruah again. The Mishnah Berurah (590:12) rules that it is unnecessary to repeat the Teruah. However, if the rav rules that the Teruah should be repeated, the Tekiah preceding the Teruah must also be repeated. Since, according to Rashi, the short Teruah is kosher, blowing another Teruah without repeating the Tekiah interrupts between the Teruah and the following Tekiah.

HOW LONG MUST THE SHEVARIM BE?

A Shevarim must be a minimum of three broken sounds, each called a shever. The shever should preferably be as long as three swift, staccato sounds (three “kochos”), making the entire Shevarim the length of nine staccato sounds (Mishnah Berurah 590:13).

However, there are opinions that each shever should be shorter than three staccato sounds, making the entire Shevarim about the length of six staccato sounds (Tosafos Rosh Hashanah 32b; first opinion quoted in Shulchan Aruch 590:3; Mateh Efrayim). In some communities, the practice is to blow some of the Shevarim according to this opinion.

ANOTHER STORY FROM ROSH HASHANAH, 1144.

“Is it kosher to blow a Shevarim of four or five sounds?” asked Muttel.

“To answer that, we must return to that memorable Rosh Hashanah almost nine hundred years ago in Mainz,” explained Rav Goldberg. “After blowing Tekiah, Shevarim, Tekiah, twice without incident, the baal tekiah blew a successful Tekiah and then a Shevarim that was four sounds instead of the usual three. The congregation considered this sound invalid and made him begin the blowing of TaSHaT from the beginning, repeating a total of eight sounds (the entire TaSHaT twice and a new Tekiah and Shevarim). Rabbi Elyakim bar Yosef took them to task for two different reasons. Even if there was a need to repeat the blowing, they did not need to blow the two previous TaSHaT blowings again, since those were successful blowings. (As we learned above, some scholars in Mainz held that a bad sound invalidates the entire series.) In addition, Rav Elyakim ruled that the Shevarim of four sounds is perfectly valid; there is nothing wrong with adding an extra shever to the Shevarim (Tosafos Rosh Hashanah 33b; Rosh). We rule, like Rav Elyakim, that an extra shever does not invalidate a Shevarim; however, it is preferable to blow a Shevarim that is exactly three sounds, out of deference to the scholars of Mainz who disagreed” (see Mishnah Berurah 590:11).

HOW IS THE SHEVARIM BLOWN?

Some poskim contend that each short shever sound should change pitch in the middle, either once or twice. Some people refer to these as “tu-U-tu” or “UU-tu” or “tu-UU” Shevarim sounds.

Others contend that the shever sound should be without change in pitch – and should sound exactly like a very short Tekiah. Each community should follow the ruling of its rav or its established custom.

HOW LONG MUST THE TEKIAH BE?

There are several opinions. Whereas Raavad’s opinion is that every Tekiah must be nine kochos, regardless which broken sound it accompanies (Hilchos Shofar 3:4), Tosafos and most rishonim contend that the Tekiah must be as long as the broken sound that it accompanies. Since the length of both the Shevarim and the Teruah are disputed, as mentioned above, the length of the Tekiah is also disputed. According to the Riva and Rivam, the combined length of a Shevarim-Teruah is about eighteen kochos, or perhaps a bit longer to accommodate the length of the pause in the middle. (Each “koach” is the length of a minimum beat. The entire Shevarim-Teruah can be blown in about three seconds.) Therefore, the Tekiah before and after the Shevarim-Teruah should also be that long (Mateh Efrayim; Mishnah Berurah 590:14,15).

According to Rashi’s opinion that the Teruah need be only three kochos and the Shevarim only six-to-nine kochos, the Tekiah accompanying the Shevarim-Teruah need be only nine-to-twelve kochos long.

Based on the above, poskim conclude that the Tekiah for TaSHRaT should preferably be a bit more than eighteen kochos long, whereas the Tekiah for TaSHaT and TaRaT need be only nine kochos long.

What if the Tekiah ended earlier? It is not unusual that the teki’os that accompany TaSHRaT are not eighteen kochos long. Again the rav will make the decision. (For example, the Mateh Efrayim rules that a Tekiah for TaSHRaT that was only nine kochos long is kosher b’dei’evid, after the fact.)

SHOULD THE BLOWER PAUSE BETWEEN THE SHEVARIM AND THE TERUAH?

This interesting question is an early dispute. According to most opinions, there should be only a slight interruption between the Shevarim and Teruah of the Shevarim-Teruah (most rishonim, as explained by the Mishnah Berurah 590:18.) It should be noted that according to the Chazon Ish 136:1 and Avnei Nezer #443 there should be no interruption whatsoever between the Shevarim and the Teruah. Some even contend that a significant interruption between the Shevarim and the Teruah invalidates the blowing (see Mishnah Berurah 590:16 and Shaar HaTziyun ad loc.). Rabbeinu Tam disagrees, maintaining that someone would not change from a sobbing cry to a panting cry without stopping for a breath in between. Therefore, he maintains that one should pause, although not extensively, between the Shevarim and the Teruah.

HOW DO WE RULE IN THIS ISSUE?

There are different customs. Some communities follow Rabbeinu Tam’s opinion and blow every Shevarim-Teruah with a brief pause in the middle (Rama 590:4). However, most congregations today follow the Chayei Adam’s recommendation that the Shevarim-Teruah of the first blowings (before Musaf) are blown without a pause, whereas the baal tekiah should pause between Shevarim and Teruah when blowing during the repetition of Shemoneh Esrei.

Incidentally, the shofar soundings blown during Musaf should be treated with the same degree of importance as those blown earlier. According to many poskim, they are the main mitzvah of shofar blowing (see Tosafos, Pesachim 115a s.v. maskif; Mishnah Berurah.)

WHAT IF A WOMAN CANNOT BE IN SHUL FOR BOTH SETS OF SHOFAR BLOWINGS?

Shofar blowing is one of the time-bound positive mitzvos (mitzvas aseh she’hazman grama) from which women are exempt. Nevertheless, generations of women have been careful to hear shofar blowing, just as they are careful to shake the lulav and esrog on Sukos, another time-bound mitzvah from which they are exempt. Many poskim rule that since women have assumed responsibility to hear shofar blowing, they are now required to do so (Chayei Adam 141:7; on the other hand, see Shu’t Salmas Chayim #349). However, a woman does not need to hear more than thirty shofar sounds, although it is meritorious for her to hear the sounds blown during the repetition of Shemoneh Esrei.

DOES A WOMAN MAKE A BRACHA ON SHOFAR BLOWING?

The rishonim dispute whether one can recite a bracha on a mitzvah that one is not commanded to perform. Some contend that women should not recite the bracha because one cannot say “asher kideshanu be’mitzvosav ve’tzivanu,” “He who sanctified us in His mitzvos and commanded us,” when Hashem never commanded women to perform this mitzvah. Sefardim follow this opinion, and therefore Sefardic women do not recite a bracha on mitzvos such as shofar and lulav. Ashkenazim rule that one may recite ve’tzivanu even if one is not personally obligated, since Klal Yisrael collectively observes the mitzvos.

For the above reason, an Ashkenazic woman who did not hear the first blowings should recite the bracha before the shofar soundings during the repetition of Shemoneh Esrei or at the end of davening.

WHY DO WE BLOW SHOFAR BOTH BEFORE AND DURING MUSAF?

The Gemara explains that we repeat the shofar blowings in order to confuse the Satan and prevent him from prosecuting us (Rosh Hashanah 16b). This is surprising. Is the Satan so easily fooled? Most of us have discovered the Satan to be extremely clever. Does he not remember that we pulled the same prank on him in previous years and blew the shofar twice?

Tosafos explains the Gemara more deeply. The Satan is constantly afraid that Moshiach will come and put him out of business. Therefore, every time the shofar blows, the Satan leaps up, terrified that Moshiach has come, and forgets to prosecute us! When it is blown the first time, he is petrified that it might be the advent of Moshiach. When it is blown the second time, he is absolutely certain, and is beside himself with shock and consternation. Then he realizes, too late, that it is just Rosh Hashanah again. By that time, Hashem has reached our verdict without Satan’s interference.

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

Rus, David, and the Prohibition of Marrying Moavites

A critical feature of the Book of Rus is the question of whether Rus was allowed to marry into the Jewish people. The Torah prohibits a Moavite from marrying into Klal Yisroel to prevent damaging Klal Yisroel’s pristine moral nature by people who have inherited the disturbing character traits associated with the Moavite people:

An Ammonite or a Moavite should not enter the congregation of Hashem. Even the tenth generation should not enter the congregation of Hashem, forever. Because of the fact that they did not come forward with bread and water when you were on your way out of Mitzrayim and because of the fact that they hired Bilaam ben Be’or of Pesor, Aram Naharayim, to curse you (Devarim 23:4, 5).

Since there are no indications that the nation of Ammon participated in employing Bilaam, the Ramban (ad loc.) explains that each of the two reasons specified here applies to only one of the two nations involved: The Ammonites are excluded from marrying into Klal Yisroel because they did not provide food for the Jewish people, thus not demonstrating any hakaras hatov for the fact that Avraham Avinu had saved their ancestor Lot, and Moav is banned for hiring Bilaam.

The Mishnah (Yevamos 76b) rules Ammoni velo Ammonis, Moavi velo Moavis, that the prohibition of marrying into the Jewish people applies only to male Ammonites and Moavites and their male descendants. Thus, a male member of the Moavite people who converts to Judaism is still prohibited from marrying someone born Jewish. However, a female Moavite convert and all her descendants, and the female descendant of a male Moavite convert may freely marry within Klal Yisroel. It is for this reason that Boaz was permitted to marry Rus, who was a Moavite.

The Gemara explains that only Ammonite men are included in the ban, since only men would have been involved in going out to present food and drink to the Jews. The female Ammonites’ lack of involvement in this mitzvah may have been because of their extreme modesty – they never left their houses to be near unfamiliar men. Similarly, since we can assume that Bilaam was hired by the Moavite men, only they are prohibited from marrying into the Jewish people, not the women (see also Yerushalmi).

The Story of Rus

In addition to the above-quoted Mishnah, several other early sources discuss whether the prohibition preventing Moavites and Ammonites from marrying Jews is restricted to males or extends also to females. The first time we find this matter discussed is in the days of Rus. Megillas Rus tells us that Ploni Almoni, an uncle of Rus’s late husband Machlon, was concerned about marrying Rus pen ashchis nachalasi, lest I destroy my descendants (Rus 4:6), which Rashi explains to be a concern that his descendants born from Rus would not be allowed to marry other Jews, because of their Moavite ancestress. Rashi there explains that Ploni Almoni erred regarding the halachic rule of Ammoni velo Ammonis.

Yet, the comment of Ploni Almoni is peculiar. If he felt that female Moavites are prohibited from marrying Jews, why was he only concerned that his descendants would be banned and not about whether he himself was permitted to marry Rus? On the other hand, if he was willing to marry Rus because he knew that the prohibition is restricted to male Moavites, why was he concerned about his children? We will return to this question shortly.

The Story of David

The issue of whether Moavite women may marry Jews surfaced again concerning the lineage of King David, who was descended from Rus. A fascinating passage of Gemara describes an early halachic debate among several known Biblical personages – whom we see from this Gemara were exemplary Torah scholars. Doeig HaEdomi, a member of King Shaul’s retinue, and Avner ben Ner, Shaul’s chief-of-military-staff, debate the halachic issue concerning whether Moavite women may marry Jews. The discussion between them is what one expects from Talmidei Chachamim of the first order, vociferously debating a halachic issue in your local Beis Medrash. But first let us examine the historical context.

Background to the Story

After Shaul failed to destroy Amalek and he had been told that he would therefore lose the monarchy, Hashem commanded Shmuel to clandestinely anoint David, the youngest of Yishai’s eight sons, as the new King of Israel. Shmuel carried out this mission, but it had been kept a complete secret.

At this time, Shaul began suffering bouts of depression. Shaul’s advisers sought out someone who could play music and thereby help Shaul cope with his depression. One of Shaul’s attendants knew David and suggested him for the position. David tried out for the position and was very successful. Shaul then sent a message to Yishai, David’s father, requesting that David be allowed to assume this position permanently. David did fill the position, and Shaul loved David tremendously, and had David also assume the role of being the royal armor-bearer. Shaul sent a second message to Yishai, requesting that David remain with Shaul “for he has found favor in my eyes” (Shmuel I 16:14-23).

At this point, the Pelishtim (Philistines) waged war against the Jews. The Pelishtim had a giant warrior among them, Golyas (known in English as “Goliath”), who stood over six amos tall (well over ten feet!). Golyas would taunt the Jews with his powerful, terrifying voice. Golyas challenged the Jews to send one representative who would face off in battle against him, with the nation of the victor taking the members of the other nation as slaves. At the same time, Golyas screamed blasphemous declarations about Hashem. The Jewish troops were terrified of Golyas (Shmuel I 17:1-11).

At the time, David’s three oldest brothers served in Shaul’s army. Yishai, David’s father, who is described as zakein ba va’anashim, meaning a well known personage, sent David to bring provisions to his brothers at the battlefront (Shmuel I 17:12). David discovered that Shaul was offering a vast reward to whoever would vanquish Golyas.

David the Brave

David, after gathering information about the situation, volunteered to fight Golyas by himself. Shaul discouraged David, noting that Golyas was an experienced warrior, whereas David was not.

David replied that Hashem is the One who provides all salvation, and that Hashem often helped David fight lions and bears while he was tending his sheep. Shaul gave David his blessing.

Shaul’s armor was placed upon David, but David said that he could not move freely with the armor, and removed it. David then took five smooth stones from a stream and placed them in his shepherd’s bag.

When Golyas saw David, he taunted him, saying “I will offer your flesh to the birds of the heavens and the animals of the field,” to which David responded: “You come against me with sword, spear and javelin, and I come against you with the Name of Hashem, Master of Armies, the G-d of the troops of Israel.” At this point, David took his slingshot, shot one stone that struck Golyas on the forehead, and Golyas fell dead. David then took Golyas’s sword, chopped off his head and demonstrated to all the Pelishtim that their hero was dead. The Pelishtim fled, and on that day, the Jews vanquished their enemy.

Now we come to the strangest part of the story:

“And when Shaul saw David move forward against the Pelishti, he said to Avner, his general, ‘Avner, whose son is this lad?’ And Avner answered, ‘As you live, O King, I do not know.’ And the king responded, ‘Find out whose son is this lad’” (Shmuel I, 17:55-56).

This last part of the story is bizarre. Both Shaul and Avner certainly knew David well — David was Shaul’s armor-bearer and the one who played music to treat Shaul’s fits of depression. Furthermore, they were also familiar with Yishai, who was a well-known personage and with whom Shaul had negotiated twice for David’s employ.

The Gemara Passage

As we can imagine, we are not the first to ask these questions: They form the basis of a fascinating Talmudic discussion (Yevamos 76b-77a).

The Gemara asks why Shaul asked Avner who David and Yishai were; he knew them both, very well. The Gemara answers that he suspected that David might be the person who would be replacing him as king of the Jews. Shaul inquired whether David was descended from the branch of Yehudah that was destined to be the Jewish royal family. Thus, the question “Avner, whose son is this lad?” was not about David’s identity but about his genealogical roots.

At this point, Doeig HaEdomi piped up, “Rather than ask concerning whether he is appropriate to become king, you should ask whether he may marry into the Jewish people. After all, he is descended from Rus, the Moavite.” To this, Avner retorted that we know that the halachah is that only male descendants of Ammon and Moav are prohibited, and therefore Rus was permitted to marry into the Jewish people. Doeig, however, disputed the veracity of this ruling. A halachic debate ensued between Doeig and Avner, concerning whether one can prove from the verses that the prohibition against Ammon and Moav is limited to males, or whether it extends also to the female descendants. Doeig won the upper hand in the debate, producing irrefutable arguments that females are also prohibited.

What was Doeig’s Argument?

As explained by the Ritva (ad loc.), Doeig insisted that the prohibition against marrying Ammonites applies equally to men and women of this nation. In his opinion, the Ammonite women equally share blame for the discourtesy they showed the Israelites, since the Ammonite women should also have provided food and water. He disputes with excusing their not providing help as attributable to their extreme modesty, since the Ammonite women should have assisted the Jewish women.

But what about the Moavite women?

But wait one minute! This concern should not affect David, who was descended from Moav, not from Ammon, and the Moavite women cannot be accused of hiring Bilaam. However, Doeig contended that Moavite women are also prohibited. Although it may be true that Bilaam was hired by the men, since the prohibitions against marrying Moavites and Ammonites are mentioned together, just as female Ammonites may not marry Jews, the same applies to female Moavites (Rashba, Yevamos 76b).

When Avner was unable to disprove Doeig’s approach, Shaul referred the issue to the scholars who debated such matters in the Beis Medrash. These scholars also responded that the prohibition banning the marriage of Ammon and Moav applies only to males and not to females. Doeig then proceeded to demonstrate that their approach was incorrect, leading the scholars of the Beis Medrash to conclude that their previous assumption was wrong and that henceforth the halachah would be that female descendants of Ammon and Moav are prohibited from marrying into Klal Yisroel. This ruling would seriously affect David and all his family members. Boaz had married Rus assuming that the prohibition banning Moavites applied only to males, and now the scholars of the Beis Medrash were considering banning Moavite and Ammonite women and all their descendants.

Amasa to the Rescue!

They were about to conclude that this is the halachah, when another scholar, Amasa, who was also a general in Shaul’s army, rose and declared, “I have received a direct mesorah from Shmuel’s Beis Din that the prohibition relates only to male descendants and not to female ones.” This last argument apparently turned the entire debate back in favor of Avner’s original position, and it was accepted that David and all of Yishai’s descendants could marry within Klal Yisroel (Yevamos 76b-77a).

What did Amasa’s declaration change? In what way did this refute Doeig’s arguments?

Based on a halachic explanation of the Rambam (Hilchos Mamrim 1:2), the Brisker Rav explains what changed.

There are two basic types of Torah laws:

  • Those that are handed down as a mesorah from Moshe Rabbeinu at Har Sinai.
  • Those derived on the basis of the thirteen rules with which we derive new halachos, called in English the hermeneutic rules.

Let me explain each category by using examples:

Mesorah

We have a mesorah that the Torah’s requirement that we take “the fruit of a beautiful tree” on Sukkos refers to an esrog. No halachic authority in Klal Yisroel’s history ever questioned this fact, and for a very simple reason. We know this piece of information directly from the great leaders of Klal Yisroel who received this information from Moshe Rabbeinu, who heard it directly from Hashem (Rambam, Introduction to the Commentary on the Mishnah).

Logic

However, there are also Torah laws that were not taught with a direct mesorah from Har Sinai, but are derived through the hermeneutic rules of the Torah. For example, there is a dispute among tana’im whether a sukkah requires four walls to be kosher or whether it is sufficient if it has three. This debate is based on two different ways to explain the words of the Torah (Sukkah 6b).

Mesorah Versus Logic

Are there any halachic distinctions between the two categories of Torah-derived laws? Indeed, there are. The Rambam explains that when the position is based on logic, halachic authorities may disagree what is the halachah. Thus, there can be a dispute among tana’im whether a sukkah must have three walls or four. However, there can never be a dispute concerning a matter that Klal Yisroel received as a mesorah. Once a greatly respected Torah authority reports a mesorah from his rebbe,who in turn received this mesorah back to Moshe Rabbeinu, that a specific halachah or principle is true, no one can question this mesorah. Thus, any dispute about a halachah of the Torah can concern only something derived logically with hermeneutic principles.

There is another halachic difference between something taught by mesorah and something derived through logic. The final decider of all halachah in every generation (until the end of the era of the Talmud) was the Sanhedrin, also often called the Beis Din HaGadol, the supreme Beis Din. Once the great Torah scholars of Klal Yisroel participated in a debate in the Beis Din HaGadol, which then reached a decision, their conclusion is binding on all of Klal Yisroel (Rambam, Hilchos Mamrim 1:1; Comments of Ramban to Sefer HaMitzvos, Rule II).

There is a question whether a Beis Din HaGadol may overturn a ruling that had been decided previously, either its own decision or one made by an earlier Beis Din HaGadol. The answer to this question depends on whether the ruling involved was based on logic or whether it was taught by mesorah. When the original decision was reached by logic, then a later Beis Din HaGadol has the authority to reexamine the case, and, should it decide to, overturn the previous ruling.

However, this can never happen with a law whose source is mesorah. There can be no debate, no discussion and no overturning. Once a recognized scholar announces that he received this law as a mesorah from Sinai, this is accepted by all, and no debate or questioning of this mesorah may transpire.

Thus, it makes a tremendous difference in halachah whether something is a mesorah, which means it is not subject to argument or debate, or whether it is based on an interpretation of the hermeneutic rules, which is subject to argument and debate.

On the basis of these rules of the Rambam, the Brisker Rav (in his notes to the book of Rus in his Chiddushim on Tanach) explains why Amasa’s argument closed the debate in David’s favor. Doeig, Shaul, Avner, and the other members of Shaul’s Beis Medrash all assumed that limiting the prohibition of Ammoni and Moavi to males was based on hermeneutic exposition, and thus debatable. Furthermore, if Doeig demonstrated that his approach was logically correct, the long-established interpretation permitting Rus to marry into the Jewish people would be overturned. Indeed, the result of this ruling would be that Rus and all her descendants would be prohibited to marry into the Jewish people.

Amasa, however, explains the Brisker Rav, knew that the principle of Moavi velo Moavis, that female descendants of Moav could marry into Klal Yisroel, was a mesorah that Shmuel knew originated at Har Sinai. Thus, its basis was not a logical interpretation of the Torah, which can be refuted, but mesorah, which cannot. Therefore, a logical interpretation concluding otherwise was completely irrelevant.

At this point, we can return to an earlier question we asked about the story of Megillas Rus. Ploni Almoni, Machlon’s uncle, seems convinced that he may marry Rus, notwithstanding her Moavite origins, yet he was concerned that his descendants from her might not be allowed to marry other Jews. The Brisker Rav explains that Ploni Almoni assumed that the law permitting Moavite women to marry Jews was based on logic, which might at some time in the future be refuted, thus changing the accepted halachah. At that point, the ability of his descendants to marry Jews would be overturned. However, Ploni Almoni was incorrect, since the halachah that Moavite women may marry Jews is mesorah, and therefore irrefutable. There can and will never be a question as to whether the descendants of Boaz and David may marry Jews, notwithstanding their Moavite origins.

Conclusion

Besides the halachic issues regarding the pedigree of David, which are of supreme importance to us, since they are the basis of the lineage of Mashiach, we learn a very important lesson from the marital restrictions of the Moavites. One of the three identifying characteristics of the Jewish people is our quality that we are makir tov, we appreciate what others, and especially Hashem, have done for us and acknowledge that appreciation. From this mitzvah, we see how concerned we should be about developing the qualities that characterize the Jewish people.

The Mourning Period of Sefirah

What Are the Guidelines for Aveilus Observed During the Sefirah Weeks?

Reason for Mourning

The midrash teaches that one reason for the counting of the omer is so that we again experience the excitement of anticipating the receiving of the Torah (quoted by Ran, end of Pesachim). At the same time, it is unfortunate that this very same part of the year has witnessed much tragedy for the Jewish people. Indeed, the Mishnah (Eduyos 2:10) points out that the season between Pesach and Shavuos is a time of travail. One major calamity that befell us during this season is the plague that took the lives of the 24,000 disciples of Rabbi Akiva. They died within several weeks in one year between Pesach and Shavuos because they did not treat one another with proper respect (Yevamos 62b). The world was desolated by the loss of Torah until Rabbi Akiva went to the southern part of Eretz Yisroel to teach five great scholars, Rabbi Meir, Rabbi Yehudah, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, Rabbi Yosi, and Rabbi Elozor ben Shamua, who became the upholders of the future of Torah.

Again, in the time of the Crusades, terrible tragedies happened to the Jewish communities of the Rhine River Valley during the period between Pesach and Shavuos (Taz and Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chayim 493). Some of these catastrophes are recorded in the Kinos that we recite on Tisha B’Av. The reciting of “Av Harachamim” after Kerias HaTorah on Shabbos was introduced as a testimonial to remember these holy communities who perished in sanctification of Hashem’s Name rather than accept baptism.

What Practices Are Prohibited?

Because of the tragic passing of Rabbi Akiva’s disciples, the minhag was establishedto treat the sefirah period as a time of mourning and to prohibit the conducting of weddings during this season. It is interesting to note that, although it is forbidden to hold a wedding during this season, if someone schedules a wedding during this season in violation of the accepted practice of the community, we do not penalize him for having done so (Teshuvos Hage’onim #278). Thus, although this person violated the community rules by scheduling the wedding, others may attend the wedding (see Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 2:95). There are poskim who permit weddings under extenuating circumstances, such as concern that a delay may cause the engagement to be broken (Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chayim 493:2).

In addition to abstaining from weddings, certain other mourning practices are observed during the period of sefirah. One does not take a haircut during this season (Tur Orach Chayim Chapter 493). However, if there is a bris during sefirah, the mohel, the sandek, and the father of the baby are permitted to have their hair cut in honor of the occasion (Rema), but not the kvatter or those who are honored with “cheika,who are those who bring the baby closer to the bris (Mishnah Berurah 493:12). Those who are permitted to have their hair cut in honor of the occasion may even have their hair cut the evening before (Mishnah Berurah 493:13).

Dancing is not permitted during the sefirah season (Magen Avraham). Listening to music is likewise prohibited (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 1:166; Shu”t Minchas Yitzchok 1:111; Shu”t Yechaveh Daas 3:30). One is permitted to teach, learn, or play music if it is for his livelihood (Shu”t Igros Moshe 3:87). This is permitted since he is not playing for enjoyment. However, one should not take music lessons for pleasure.

Rav Moshe Feinstein ruled that if a wedding took place on Lag B’omer or before or on Rosh Chodesh Iyar (in places where this is the accepted practice, see below), it is permitted to celebrate the week of sheva berachos with live music and dancing (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 2:95). There are others who disagree (Shu”t Minchas Yitzchok 1:111. See Piskei Teshuvos Chapter 493 footnotes 39 and 81, who quotes many authorities on both sides of the question.).

Although certain mourning practices are observed during sefirah, many practices that are prohibited during the three weeks or the nine days preceding Tisha B’Av are permitted. For example, house remodeling, which is prohibited during “the Nine Days”is permitted during the sefirah period (Shu”t Yechaveh Daas 3:30). Similarly, although during the Nine Days one is discouraged from doing things that are dangerous, no such concern is mentioned in regard to the period of sefirah. Thus, although the Minchas Elozor reports that he knew of people who would not travel during sefirah, he rules that it is permitted and that this practice is without halachic basis (Shu”t Minchas Elozor 4:44).

In a similar vein, according to most poskim, one may recite a brocha of shehechiyanu on a new garment or a new fruitduring the period of sefirah (Maamar Mordechai 493:2; Kaf Hachayim, Orach Chayim 493:4). The Maamar Mordechai explains that the custom not to recite shehechiyanu is a mistake that developed because of confusion with the three weeks before Tisha B’Av, when one should not recite a shehechiyanu (Maamar Mordechai 493:2). However, there are early poskim who record a custom not to recite shehechiyanu during the mourning period of sefirah (Piskei Teshuvos, quoting Leket Yosher).

It is permitted during sefirah to sing or to have a festive meal without music (Graz; Aruch Hashulchan). It is also permitted to make an engagement party (a vort) or a tnoyim during the sefirah period, provided that there is no music or dancing (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim Chapter 493 and Magen Avraham).

When Do We Observe Mourning?

There are numerous customs regarding which days of sefirah are to be kept as a period of mourning. The Shulchan Aruch rules that the mourning period runs from the beginning of the sefirah counting and ends on the thirty-fourth day of the omer count (Beis Yosef and Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim Chapter 493; Kaf Hachayim 493:25). In his opinion, there is no celebration on Lag B’Omer, and it is forbidden to schedule a wedding on that day! The source for this opinion is a medrash that states that the plague that caused the deaths of the disciples of Rabbi Akiva ended fifteen days before Shavuos. According to the Shulchan Aruch’s understanding, the last day of the plague was the thirty-fourth day of the omer. Thus, the mourning ends fifteen days before Shavuos, on the day after Lag B’Omer.

However, the generally accepted practice is to treat the thirty-third day of the Omer count as a day of celebration (Rema and Darchei Moshe, Orach Chayim Chapter 493, quoting Maharil) because, according to this tradition, the last day of the tragedy was the thirty-third day of the Omer (Gra). There are several other reasons mentioned why Lag B’Omer should be treated as a day of celebration. Some record that it is celebrated because it is the yahrzeit of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, the author of the Zohar (Birkei Yosef; Chayei Adam, Klal 131:11; Aruch Hashulchan). Others say that it is celebrated because it is the day that Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai was able to leave the cave in which he had been hiding (Aruch Hashulchan). Another reason recorded for celebrating this day is because it was the day that Rabbi Akiva granted semichah to his surviving disciples (Kaf Hachayim, Orach Chayim 493:26). Others record that it was the first day that the mann began falling for the Jews in the desert (Shu”t Chasam Sofer, Yoreh Deah #233, s.v. Amnam yodati).

According to Maharil and Rema, the evening of Lag B’Omer should be included in the mourning period and the celebration should not begin until daytime. In their opinion, Lag B’Omer is still counted as one of the thirty-three days of mourning. The aveilos period ends on the morning of Lag B’Omer because of a concept called miktzas hayom ki’chulloh, which means that the last day of mourning does not need to be a complete day (Moed Katan 19b). If one observes the beginning of the day in mourning, the entire day is included in the count of the mourning days. For this reason, someone getting up from sitting shiva does so on the morning of the seventh day. Observing mourning requirements at the beginning of the seventh day satisfies the requirement to observe the seventh day of shiva. Similarly, one satisfies the requirement to observe the thirty-third day of sefirah mourning by observing mourning only at the beginning of that day. According to this approach, one should not conduct a wedding on the evening of Lag B’Omer, but only in the daytime. This is because we paskin according to the opinions that the principle of miktzas hayom ki’chulloh applies only if the mourning was observed in the daytime, and it is insufficient to observe aveilos only in the evening of the seventh day.

However, there are other opinions that permit scheduling a wedding already on the evening of the thirty-third, at least under extenuating circumstances (see Graz 493:5; Kaf Hachayim, Orach Chayim 493:28; Shu”t Igros Moshe 1:159). Some explain that, since we consider Lag B’Omer to be a day of celebration, it is not counted as one of the days of mourning (see Chok Yaakov 493:6 and Kaf Hachayim, Orach Chayim 493:28). Thus, there are some poskim who contend that there are only thirty-two days in the sefirah mourning period (Graz 493:5). Another reason to permit scheduling a wedding the evening of Lag B’Omer is based on the opinion that miktzas hayom ki’chulloh applies even when one observes the mourning only at night (Ramban, Toras Ho’adam, Chavel edition page 215). Thus, according to this approach, it is sufficient to have the beginning of the night of Lag B’Omer as a mourning period. (It should be noted that, according to this opinion, shiva ends in the evening of the seventh day, not in the morning.)

When Lag B’Omer falls on Shabbos or Sunday, there is a dispute among early poskim whether it is permitted to get a haircut on Friday in honor of Shabbos. The accepted practice is to permit it (Rema, Orach Chayim 493:2 and Be’er Heiteiv ad loc.). Apparently, the combined honor of Shabbos and the approaching Lag B’Omer together supersede the mourning of sefirah. Some poskim even permit a wedding to take place on the Friday afternoon before Lag B’Omer that falls out on Sunday (Shu”t Ha’elef Lecho Shelomoh, Orach Chayim #330). (Bear in mind that the custom in Eastern Europe, going back hundreds of years, was to schedule weddings on Friday afternoon.)

Are those who follow the practice of observing mourning during the beginning of sefirah permitted to play music during Chol Ha’moed? This subject is disputed by poskim, but the accepted practice is to permit music during Chol Ha’moed (see Piskei Teshuvos 493:6).

There are several other customs that observe the mourning dates of sefirah in different ways. Some observe the mourning period the entire time of sefirah until Shavuos except for Yom Tov, Chol Ha’moed, and Rosh Chodesh (and also, presumably, Lag B’Omer). Therefore, they permit the playing of music on Chol Ha’moed and holding weddings and playing music on Rosh Chodesh. (One cannot have a wedding on Chol Ha’moed for an unrelated reason. The sanctity of Yom Tov precludes celebrating a wedding on this day; see Moed Katan 8b.)This approach is based on an early source that states that Rabbi Akiva’s disciples died only on the thirty-three days of sefirah when tachanun is recited, thus excluding the days of Shabbos, Yom Tov, Chol Ha’moed, and Rosh Chodesh (Bach, Orach Chayim quoting Tosafos). If one subtracts from the forty-nine days of sefirah the days of Pesach, Chol Ha’moed, Rosh Chodesh, and the Shabbosos, one is left with thirty-three days. It is on these days that the mourning is observed. (This approach assumes that in earlier times tachanun was recited during the month of Nisan and during the several days before Shavuos.)

Another, similar, custom is to observe the mourning period only from the second day of Iyar until Rosh Chodesh, with the exception of Lag B’Omer. This approach assumes that the mourning period is only on the days when tachanun is said, but does not assume that there are thirty-three days of mourning.

Yet another custom recorded is to refrain from taking haircuts or making weddings from the beginning of sefirah until the morning of Lag B’Omer, but after Lag B’Omer to observe partial mourning by refraining from weddings, although haircuts are permitted. This approach follows the assumption that the original custom of aveilus during sefirah was based on the fact that the plague that killed the disciples of Rabbi Akiva ended on Lag B’Omer. Later, because of the tragedies of the Crusades period, the custom developed not to schedule weddings between Lag B’Omer and Shavuos. However, the mourning period instituted because of the tragedies of the Crusades was not accepted as strictly, and it was permitted to take haircuts(Taz, Orach Chayim 493:2). This is the prevalent custom followed today by Ashkenazim in Eretz Yisroel.

Still others have the custom that the mourning period does not begin until after Rosh Chodesh Iyar, but then continues until Shavuos (Maharil, quoted by Darchei Moshe, Orach Chayim 493:3). This approach assumes that the thirty-three days of mourning are contiguous, but that the mourning period does not begin until after the month of Nisan is over. In Salonica, they observed a Sefardic version of this custom: They practiced the mourning period of sefirah from after Rosh Chodesh Iyar until Shavuos. However, they took haircuts on the thirty-fourth day of the sefirah count (cited by Shu”t Dvar Moshe, Orach Chayim #32).

A similar custom existed in many communities in Lithuania and northern Poland, where they kept the mourning period of sefirah from the first day of Rosh Chodesh Iyar until the morning of the third day of Sivan. According to this practice, weddings were permitted during the three days before Shavuos. This practice was based on the assumption that the disciples of Rabbi Akiva died after Lag B’Omer until Shavuos (Aruch Hashulchan, based on Gemara Yevamos). Magen Avraham reports that this was the custom in his area (Danzig/Gdansk); Chayei Adam reports that this was the practice in his city (Vilna); and Aruch Hashulchan report that this was the custom in his community (Novardok). These customs are followed to this day in communities where weddings are allowed after Pesach until the end of the month of Nisan.

Rav Moshe Feinstein points out that although these customs differ as to which days are considered days of mourning, the premise of most of the customs is the same: Thirty-three days of sefirah should be observed as days of mourning in memory of the disciples of Rabbi Akiva. In Rav Moshe’s opinion, these different customs should be considered as one minhag, and the differences between them are variations in observing the same minhag (Shu”t Igros Moshe 1:159). This has major halachic ramifications, as we shall see.

Can One Change From One Custom to Another?

We would usually assume that someone must follow the same practice as his parents – or the practice of his community –­­ because of the principle of al titosh toras imecha, “do not forsake the Torah of your mother” (Mishlei 1:8). This posuk is understood by Chazal to mean that we are obligated to observe a practice that our parents observed. However, Rav Moshe Feinstein contends that many of the different customs currently observed are considered to be one minhag, and that, when this is the case, changing from one custom to another that is based on the same halachic considerations does not constitute changing one’s minhag and therefore permitted. There is evidence that other, earlier poskim  agreed that a community may change its custom how it observes the mourning days of sefirah (see Shu”t Chasam Sofer, Orach Chayim #142). According to this opinion, the specific dates that one observes are not considered part of the minhag and are not necessarily binding on each individual, as long as he observes thirty-three days of sefirah mourning.

How Should a Community Conduct Itself?

The Rema rules that, although each of the various customs mentioned has halachic validity (Darkei Moshe, Orach Chayim 493:3), each community should be careful to follow only one practice, and certainly not follow the leniencies of two different customs. If a community follows two different practices, it appears that Hashem’s chosen people are following two different versions of the Torah, G-d forbid.

Rav Moshe Feinstein points out that the Rema is discussing a community that has only one beis din or only one Rav. Under these circumstances, the entire community must follow the exact same practice for sefirah. However, in a city where there are many rabbonim and kehilos, each of which has its own custom regarding the observance of sefirah, there is no requirement for the entire community to follow one practice (Shu”t Igros Moshe Orach Chayim 1:159). Thus, there is no requirement that everyone in a large city follow the same custom for sefirah, unless it has been accepted that the community has one standard custom.

Of course, as in all matters of halacha, each community should follow its practices and rabbonim, and each individual should follow the ruling of his Rav.

Attending a Wedding During One’s Mourning Period

If a friend schedules a wedding for a time that one is keeping sefirah, one is permitted to attend and celebrate the wedding, even listening to music and dancing (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 1:159).

Thus, although I am required to have a mourning period during sefirah of at least thirty-three days, I may attend the wedding of a friend or acquaintance that is scheduled at a time that I keep the mourning period of sefirah. However, Rav Moshe rules that if one is going to a wedding on a day that he is keeping sefirah, he should not shave, unless his unshaved appearance will disturb the simcha (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 2:95).

We should all hope and pray that the season between Pesach and Shavuos should cease from being a time of travail, but instead revert to being a time of total excitement in anticipation of the receiving of the Torah.

How Fast Must I Eat?

Pesach – The First Question Is:

“How quickly must I eat my matzoh on Pesach to be able to bensch?”

Matzoh – The Second Question Is:

“How quickly must I eat my matzoh at the Seder to fulfill the mitzvah?”

Maror – The Third Question Is:

“How quickly must I eat my maror at the Seder to fulfill the mitzvah?”

Wine – The Fourth Question Is:

“How quickly must I drink the wine of the four kosos at the Seder?”

Foreword:

In some households, there is a big rush to eat the matzoh as quickly as possible, and similar pressure to eat the maror and drink the four cups of wine at the Seder. This article will research how quickly we must eat or drink mitzvah foods to fulfill the Torah’s requirements. Since this is a vast topic, our article will be focused on some of its specific aspects. Were we to attempt to cover more of the subtopics, we would be biting off more than we can chew.

Introduction:

In several places, the Gemara states that shiurim, the measurements that are a very important aspect of the halachos of the Torah, are halacha leMoshe miSinai (Eruvin 4a; Sukkah 5a). This means that when Moshe Rabbeinu was taught the Torah by Hashem, he was taught the quantities necessary to fulfill the mitzvos, although there is little or no allusion to these details in the written Torah. For example, the halacha that one must eat at least a kezayis (an olive-sized piece) of matzoh to fulfill the mitzvah is a halacha leMoshe miSinai (Brachos 37b; Rashi, Sukkah 42b).

Maror

The mitzvah to eat maror at the Seder is min haTorah only when there is also a korban Pesach. Until the time that we are again able to offer the korban Pesach, which we pray will be in time for this year, the mitzvah of eating maror is only a rabbinic requirement. Notwithstanding the fact that the requirement to eat maror is only miderabbanan, we are still required to eat a kezayis to fulfill the mitzvah (Rosh, Pesachim 10:25).

How big is an olive?

As we are aware, Hashem created olives, like most items, in different sizes. How big an olive is intended to fulfill the mitzvos? The Mishnah states that it is an average-sized olive (Keilim 17:8). Of course, this may not help us, since we do not know what the Mishnah considered to be “average-sized.” Among the acharonim, this became a very hot topic, with some prominent authorities ruling that the olives available in the contemporary world are considerably smaller than what was considered an “average” olive of the days of Chazal (Tzelach, Pesachim 116b). Although most authorities disagree with this approach, accepted practice is to be stringent and follow this opinion, at least in regard to fulfilling mitzvos min haTorah (see Shu”t Chasam Sofer, Orach Chayim 1:127; Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chayim 168:13, Yoreh Deah 324:5, 6; Shi’urei Torah of Rav Avraham Chayim Na’eh 3, note 19). This explains why the amounts we find that many authorities mention for the mitzvah of matzoh is much larger than the size of any olive that we have ever encountered. Also, since most authorities rule this way only germane to mitzvos that are min haTorah, this explains why the size of a kezayis for the mitzvah of achilas matzoh is greater than it is for the mitzvah of koreich or for bensching, which are not requirements min haTorah.

How much must I imbibe?

The mitzvah to drink four cups of wine at the Seder is rabbinic in origin, and, therefore, by definition, was not taught at Sinai. When Chazal instituted this mitzvah, they required that a person have a cup that contains at least what they called a revi’is. (Most late authorities calculate a revi’is to be a little more than three ounces, but some feel that it is closer to five ounces or even a bit more. Because of space constraints, we will not be able to discuss the details of this question.) Regarding how much must be drunk, most authorities contend that it is preferable to drink an entire revi’is, although all agree that someone who drank most, but not all, of the revi’is has fulfilled the mitzvah.

Heavy drinker

What is the halacha if someone is using a cup that is larger than a revi’is? Is it sufficient for him to drink most of a revi’is, or must he drink most of the volume of the cup, even when that is more than a revi’is? The rishonim discuss this issue, some contending that it is sufficient to drink most of a revi’is, whereas the Ramban rules that he must drink most of the contents of the cup that he is using (quoted by Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 472). To accommodate both opinions, the Magen Avraham advises that someone who cannot drink a lot of wine should use a goblet that holds only the minimum amount of a revi’is.

Other mitzvos

Although the minimal amount for most mitzvos that involve eating is a kezayis, this rule is not universal. Yom Kippur is one example that is different, where the minimum amount to be culpable for the Torah’s punishment of koreis is the eating of a koseves, the size of a large date, which is considerably larger than an olive. Based on a passage of Gemara, the rishonim conclude that a koseves is slightly smaller than a kebeitzah, the size of an egg (Yoma 79b; Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 612:1).

The Gemara (Yoma 73b) discusses whether it is prohibited min haTorah to eat less than a koseves on Yom Kippur. The universally accepted conclusion is that it is prohibited min haTorah to eat or drink even a small amount on Yom Kippur, unless the situation is life-threatening. The well-known concept called pachus mikeshiur, which permits eating less than a koseves or drinking an amount smaller than the minimal shiur and then waiting several minutes before eating or drinking again,is permitted only when fasting is potentially life-threatening. The principle of pachus mikeshiur is that, even when it is permitted for someone to eat on Yom Kippur, we are required to minimize the level of the violation (Ran, based on Yoma 82b). In other words, in a situation in which it is dangerous for someone to fast, he may eat or drink only the minimal amount that mitigates the life-threatening emergency. If he can eat a very small amount and then wait to eat more, he may not eat more, now.

Bensching

In parshas Eikev, where the Torah requires that we recite a blessing after eating, it states, Ve’achalta vesavata uveirachta es Hashem Elokecha, “When you eat and are satisfied, you should bless Hashem, your G-d.” The implication of the posuk is that the requirement to bensch is only when someone ate enough to be fully satisfied, meaning that he ate a full meal. Indeed, most halachic authorities rule that this is true min haTorah, and that the requirement to bensch when eating less than this amount is only rabbinic.

The Gemara quotes a dispute among tanna’im how much food requires the recital of birchas hamazon, and the conclusion is that it is required whenever someone ate a kezayis, the same minimum required for the mitzvos of matzoh and maror. Someone who ate less than a kezayis of bread, whether it is leavened or not, is not required to recite birkas hamazon, and, therefore, it is forbidden to recite birkas hamazon if one ate less than a kezayis.

At this point, we can begin discussing the opening question of today’s article: “How quickly must I eat my matzoh on Pesach to be able to bensch?” In other words, is there a minimum amount of time within which I must eat a kezayis of matzoh to be required to bensch? This question introduces our next subtopic.

Term limits

Among the many measurements that the Oral Torah teaches is the concept of kdei achilas pras. I will shortly explain what this term means, but first I will explain the principle. Fulfilling the mitzvos of eating matzoh and maror requires not only eating at least a kezayis, but also that the kezayis be eaten within a minimal period of time. Similarly, there is a requirement to bensch when eating at least a kezayis of bread, but only when it is eaten within a minimal timeframe. The minimal time limit required for all mitzvos germane to eating is to eat the specified amount within a period of time called kdei achilas pras (see Pesochim 114b).

Literally, kdei achilas pras means as much time as it takes to eat half a loaf of bread. This is, of course, meaningless, unless we know the size of the loaf, what type of bread it is, who is eating it, and under what circumstances. How big a loaf is the subject of a dispute among the tanna’im, and how we rule in this dispute is, itself, disputed by the most prominent of rishonim: The Rambam’s opinion is that kdei achilas pras is the amount of time it takes to eat white bread the size of three eggs (Hilchos Shevisas Asor 2:4; Hilchos Chometz Umatzoh 1:6; Hilchos Ma’achalos Asuros 14:8; see also Chazon Ish, Orach Chayim 39:18), whereas Rashi (Brachos 37b; Pesochim 44a; Avodah Zarah 67a) concludes that it is the amount of time it takes to eat white bread the size of four eggs. We will discuss shortly how we measure this in minutes, but it does mean that whatever the timeframe is according to the Rambam, Rashi holds that it is one third longer.

The time limit of kdei achilas pras applies not only to mitzvos but also to prohibitions. For example, there are Torah prohibitions against eating non-kosher species, or against eating blood or cheilev, certain fats. Although it is prohibited min haTorah to eat any amount of these substances, the punishments that the Torah describes are only when someone eats a kezayis of these prohibited foods within kdei achilas pras.

The Shulchan Aruch quotes the dispute between Rashi and the Rambam without making a decision which approach we should follow. For this reason, the consensus of the subsequent authorities is that we should always be stringent, at least when we are dealing with a de’oraysa case.

Individualism

Does the size of kdei achilas pras depend on how quickly this individual eats, or does it depend on how long it takes most people to eat? Germane to the law of consuming pachus mikeshiur on Yom Kippur, where we are trying to determine how long a person must wait between eating minimal portions of food, the Mishnah Berurah (618:21) states that this is contingent on how long it takes the person in question to eat bread the size of four eggs. However, the Mishnah Berurah then quotes the Chasam Sofer, who rules that someone eating pachus mikeshiur on Yom Kippur should allow at least nine minutes between one eating and the next. This ruling of an objective time figure assumes that the time of kdei achilas pras is dependent not on the individual, but is a standard measurement. The latter approach is what many later authorities conclude (Chazon Ish, Orach Chayim 39:18; Shi’urei Torah 3:13 and others). Because of questions germane to the Mishnah Berurah’s statement on this issue, some prominent later authorities conclude that the Mishnah Berurah himself did not mean that kdei achilas pras is dependent on the individual; he also agrees that kdei achilas pras is dependent on an “average” person, whatever that term means.

Kdei achilas pras

How many minutes constitute the time that we call kdei achilas pras? This question is discussed by the acharonim, with a wide range of opinions. Since the different approaches are based more on conjecture than on absolute proof, most authorities rule that we should follow a much longer amount of time when it is a chumra, such as on Yom Kippur, when we are gauging how to space the food in a way that mitigates the prohibition, whereas on Pesach night we should follow a much shorter amount of time, since we are deciding the minimum amount of time in which to eat the kezayis of matzoh.

I mentioned above the ruling of the Chasam Sofer that kdei achilas pras is nine minutes, which is the longest opinion of which I am aware. The Maharam Shik, a proud disciple of the Chasam Sofer, explains that this calculation should really be eight minutes, but that the Chasam Sofer added an extra minute to be on the safe side (Shu”t Maharam Shik, Orach Chayim #263). The Bikurei Yaakov,a prominent work on the laws of sukkah written by Rav Yaakov Ettlinger, the author of the classics Aruch Laneir and Binyan Tziyon, holds that it is sufficient to wait only 7.5 minutes. To quote him in context: “It is forbidden to eat more than a kebeitzah outside the sukkah… however it seems to me that this is only when he ate it within kdei achilas pras, which is approximately 1/8 of an hour” (Bikurei Yaakov 639:13). One eighth of an hour is seven and a half minutes; however, the Aruch Laneir does not tell us how he arrived at that figure. The Aruch Hashulchan (Orach Chayim 618:14) is more lenient than any of the opinions we have quoted so far, ruling that kdei achilas pras in regard to someone who is eating on Yom Kippur pachus mikeshiur is “six or seven” minutes.

Kezayis and matzoh

Thus far, we have been estimating kdei achilas pras when a longer period of time is a chumra, as it is germane to pachus mikeshiur on Yom Kippur and eating outside of the sukkah. However, in our opening questions regarding the minimum time within which we must eat our kezeisim of matzoh and maror on Pesach, the shorter period of time for kdei achilas pras is the chumra. There are a few opinions that contend that the amount of time within which to eat a kezayis of matzoh is less than three minutes. For example, the Marcheshes (Orach Chayim 1:14:6) rules that the minimum time within which it is required to eat a kezayis of matzoh is 2.7 minutes. Because of considerations beyond the scope of this article, Rav Avraham Chayim Na’eh (Shi’urei Torah 3:15) writes that this is too short a time. In a very lengthy essay, he discusses many opinions and analyzes their sources. He concludes that one should try to follow the most stringent approach, but he rejects those who consider kdei achilas pras to be less than four minutes. Therefore, he concludes that one should try to eat the first kezayis of matzoh within four minutes, but for pachus mikeshiur on Yom Kippur, one should assume that the time of kdei achilas pras is nine minutes.

However, other authorities rule that one should be stricter regarding the timeframe within which to eat the kezayis of matzoh and perhaps even other mitzvos. The Aruch Hashulchan (202:8) concludes that kdei achilas pras for these purposes should be calculated at “three or four minutes,” being more stringent than Rav Avraham Chayim Na’eh. Rav Moshe Feinstein concludes that one should eat the kezayis of matzoh within three minutes. He rules this way even regarding rabbinic laws, concluding that bensching requires eating a kezayis of bread within less than three minutes (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 4:41 s.v. Al kal panim).

Thus, we can now answer the second and third of our opening questions: “How quickly must I eat my matzoh at the Seder to fulfill the mitzvah?” and “How quickly must I eat my maror at the Seder to fulfill the mitzvah?”  Since the mitzvah of matzoh is min haTorah, according to Rav Na’eh, one should try to complete it within four minutes.

Food versus beverage

At this point, we will address the last of our four opening questions:

“How quickly must I drink the wine of the four kosos at the Seder?”

Until now, we have been discussing kdei achilas pras. To the best of my knowledge, this is universally accepted as the minimal timeframe for all mitzvos that involve eating. However, whether this is the minimal time for drinking of beverages is a dispute among the rishonim. The Maharitz Gei’us, one of the early Spanish rishonim (he was the Rif’s predecessor as the rav of Lucena, Spain), and the Rambam rule that the minimal time limit for drinking is the amount of time it takes to drink a revi’is, which, according to the Aruch Hashulchan, is perhaps as short as a minute (see Orach Chayim 202:8). (Some authorities rule that the amount of time to drink a revi’is is shorter.) On the other hand, other halachic authorities, including the Ra’avad (Hilchos Terumos 10:3), the Ran (Yoma) and the Gra (Orach Chayim 612:10), rule that the minimum timeframe for beverages is kdei achilas pras, the same as it is for foods. This dispute has major ramifications for many halachos, including what is the minimum time allowed to drink each of the four cups of wine.

How do we rule?

The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 612:10), in the laws of Yom Kippur, rules that the primary opinion is that the minimal timeframe for beverages is the time it takes to drink a revi’is, although he also mentions the approach that the timeframe is kdei achilas pras. Many late authorities assume that it remains unresolved whether the requirement for drinking the wine at the Seder is the very short amount of time it takes to drink a revi’is or the considerably longer time of kdei achilas pras, and, therefore, it is best to drink each of the four kosos without interruption, to accommodate the stricter approach.

Conclusion

As Rav Hirsch proves, the Bnei Yisroel were taught the details of the oral Torah years before we were given the finished written Torah, which we first received shortly before or shortly after Moshe Rabbeinu’s passing, depending on two opinions in the Gemara. Moshe taught us the oral Torah, including the shiurim of mitzvos throughout the forty years in the Desert. Thus, we see the importance of being careful with the details of these laws, even though they are not mentioned in the written Torah.

What Is the Brocha?

On Pesach, shaylos always come up regarding which brochos we should recite before eating matzoh brei, matzoh meal cakes and similar foods. The truth is that similar questions revolve around which brochos we should recite on foods such as French toast, English muffins, kishka and kneidlach.

Question: When I eat matzoh brei, I have been making the brachos of mezonos and al hamichyah on it. Now someone told me that I should wash and make hamotzi on some bread or matzoh instead. Is this true?

Question: The chef in our yeshiva stuffs the meatloaf with huge pieces of leftover challah. Do we need to wash netilas yadayim and make hamotzi before eating it?

Question: I have been told that the brocha on licorice is shehakol, even though the first ingredient listed on its label is flour. Why is this?

In the article Pizza, Pretzels and Pastry, we discuss the unusual halachic category called pas haba’ah bekisnin, and found that crackers, pretzels, and certain pastry-type items require the brocha of mezonos before eating them and al hamichyah afterward, unless they are eaten as a meal, in which case they require netilas yadayim, hamotzi, and bensching. (Please refer to that article for details of this complicated halacha.) However, there are numerous other foods prepared with flour that are not typical bread. In order to explore which brocha one recites on these foods, we will start our discussion with items made from bread that is then cooked or fried.

FRENCH TOAST

Although the words “French toast” were unknown in the times of Chazal, the Gemara (Brachos 37b) discusses which brocha to recite on chavitza, a dish that contains cooked pieces of bread. The Gemara rules that if the pieces are the size of a kezayis (the volume of an olive – for our purposes, we will assume this to be about one fluid ounce), the brocha before is hamotzi and it requires bensching afterward. This is because a large piece of bread does not lose its significance even if it is cooked or fried. However, if all of the pieces are smaller than a kezayis, the brocha is mezonos before and al hamichyah afterward. If some of the pieces are larger than a kezayis and others smaller, then one recites hamotzi as long as one piece is at least the size of a kezayis (Mishnah Berurah 168:53).

Based on this Gemara, we conclude that one must wash netilas yadayim and recite hamotzi before eating French toast, and bensch afterward, since the pieces are at least a kezayis (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 168:10).

WHICH BROCHA DOES ONE MAKE ON KNEIDLACH?

Kneidlach are made from ground matzoh that is mixed to form a new dough and then cooked. Most poskim rule that since the matzoh is ground into small pieces before it is cooked, the brochabrachos are mezonos and al hamichyah even if one eats a very large amount. Another opinion contends that if the pieces of matzoh meal are shaped into balls larger than a kezayis before they are cooked, their brocha is hamotzi (Magen Avraham 168:28). The accepted psak is to make a mezonos and al hamichyah on kneidlach (Mishnah Berurah 168:59).

This leads us to an unusual shaylah I was once asked:

YESHIVA MEATLOAF DELUXE

A yeshiva bachur once asked me whether one should make hamotzi on the meatloaf served at his yeshiva. I thought he was attempting to draw attention to the quality of the cuisine, but indeed, he was asking a serious shaylah. It turned out that the cook in his yeshiva would stuff large pieces of leftover challah into the meatloaf.

This is an unusual situation. Many people include matzoh meal or bread crumbs in their meatloaf, but these lose their importance in the finished product. However, Yeshiva Meatloaf Deluxe included pieces of challahfar larger than a kezayis. As we mentioned above, pieces of bread this size do not lose their status as bread. Thus, as strange as it might seem, one is required to wash al netilas yadayim before eating this meatloaf, and its correct brachos are hamotzi before and bensching afterward.

This situation was unusual for an additional reason – people usually soak challah or bread until it falls apart before adding it to a kugel or meatloaf. However, Yeshiva Meatloaf Deluxe calls for bread that is only moistened before being adding to the meatloaf, but does not fall apart.

BAKING AND SAUTÉING (frying in a small amount of oil)

On Pesach, my wife makes an item she refers to as “matzoh rolls,” which involves mixing matzoh meal together with oil and eggs, forming “rolls” and baking them. Although they are prepared from matzoh meal, the brocha on these items is hamotzi since the dough is subsequently baked rather than cooked and the finished product is very much similar to a type of bread, albeit Pesach-dik.

Similarly, if someone made matzoh rolls by sautéing the dough in a little oil (just enough so that the dough does not burn) the completed product should be treated as bread for all halachos (Mishnah Berurah 168:69). Thus, a matzoh kugel made on the top of the stove would be hamotzi, even if the pieces are smaller than a kezayis.

FRYING VS. COOKING – THE MATZOH BREI SAGA

Thus far, we have learned that one recites hamotzi on large pieces of bread even if they were subsequently cooked or fried, and that small pieces lose their status as bread when they are cooked. However, some poskim contend that frying small pieces of bread does not change their status and they still require netilas yadayim and hamotzi (Magen Avraham 168:39). According to this opinion, matzoh brei requires netilas yadayim, hamotzi and bensching. Other poskim disagree, contending that fried small pieces of bread lose their status as bread just like cooked pieces (see Mishnah Berurah 168:56). These poskim contend that one recites mezonos and al hamichyah on matzoh brei unless at least one of the pieces is the size of a kezayis. The Mishnah Berurah concludes that the halacha is uncertain, and one should avoid this problem by eating these items within a meal. Thus, an Ashkenazi should not eat matzoh brei without washing and making hamotzi on a piece of matzoh first. However, if at least one of the pieces if is the size of a kezayis, the matzoh brei requires netilas yadayim, hamotzi and bensching.

Sefardim recite mezonos before matzoh, except on Pesach, unless they eat more than four kebeitzim of matzoh. During Pesach they follow the same rules that I mentioned above for Ashkenazim. During the rest of the year, Sefardim recite mezonos before eating matzoh brei and al hamichyah afterward, and they need not eat it within a meal. However, a Sefardi who ate four kebeitzim of matzoh brei would be faced with the same concern mentioned above and should wash netilas yadayim and make hamotzi on some bread.

According to all opinions, deep frying small pieces of bread or matzoh is the same as cooking, since the oil completely covers the food. Thus, the correct brocha on deep-fried matzoh-meal latkes is mezonos and al hamichyah (Mishnah Berurah 168:59).

CROUTONS

Commercial croutons are produced by either frying or toasting small pieces of seasoned bread. If they are deep fried, then the brocha is mezonos and al hamichyah. If they are fried or toasted, then they are pas haba’ah bekisnin (requiring mezonos when eaten as a snack and hamotzi when eaten as a meal).

Homemade croutons toasted from leftover bread are hamotzi. Deep-fried, they are mezonos, and fried they are subject to the same shaylah mentioned above as to whether they are hamotzi or mezonos, and should therefore be eaten after making hamotzi on bread.

CHALLAH KUGEL

Most people make challah kugel (or matzoh kugel) by soaking the challah or matzoh, then mixing it with other ingredients and baking it. When the challah or matzoh disintegrates into mush before it is mixed with the other ingredients, the resulting kugel has the halachic status of pas haba’ah bekisninbrocha (mezonos when eaten as a snack and hamotzi when eaten as a meal).

Sometimes the challah remains in small pieces; this is often the case when making a matzoh kugel. When this is the case, the resulting kugel must be treated as bread, requiring netilas yadayim and hamotzi, as we pointed out earlier concerning baked goods. Since the halacha here depends on some complicated halachic details, it is better in this case to make hamotzi on a piece of matzoh or bread first.

MATZOH LASAGNA

A guest arrived at someone’s house and was served a portion of matzoh lasagna. In this particular recipe, the matzoh was soaked, mixed with meat and other ingredients, and then baked.

I now ask you, dear reader: Must they wash netilas yadayim and which brocha should they recite?

We can answer this question only after ascertaining whether there are noticeable pieces of matzoh in the lasagna. If there are noticeable pieces, even if they are small, the guest should wash netilas yadayim and make hamotzi on matzoh or bread before eating the lasagna kugel. If the matzoh all turned to mush, the lasagna should probably be treated as pas haba’ah bekisnin, and would require borei minei mezonos on a snack size, but would be hamotzi and require bensching if eaten as a meal. The exact definition of a meal for these purposes is discussed in our article on pas haba’ah bekisnin.

PANCAKES, BLINTZES AND CREPES

These items are all made from a batter rather than dough and then baked in a pan, form or griddle. Since they never have a bread-like appearance, they are always mezonos and al hamichyah. This is true even if one eats a large amount, since they are considered neither bread nor pas haba’ah bekisnin. Thus, one can have an entire, very satiating meal of pancakes or blintzes without washing netilas yadayim, and one recites the brocha of al hamichyah afterward.

WAFFLES, WAFERS, ICE CREAM CONES

These items are also made from a batter, but in this case the batter is poured into a mold or waffle iron that bakes it into its final shape. Although these items have a slightly more bread-like appearance than pancakes and blintzes, without the mold, these items would never have a bread-like shape, and they do not have a tzuras hapas (bread-like appearance) even after being baked. Therefore, they are not considered pas haba’ah bekisnin but rather regular mezonos. As a result, they do not require netilas yadayim, and the brachos are mezonos and al hamichyah even if one made a full meal out of them. Thus, one can enjoy as many wafers as one wants and recite al hamichyah when finished eating.

ENGLISH MUFFINS

Most English muffins have a consistency noticeably different from regular bread, and therefore are pas haba’ah bekisnin. However, an English muffin whose inside tastes like bread should be treated as bread.

KISHKA AND LICORICE

Although these are two very different foods, the halachic discussion that involves them is similar.

The Gemara (Berachos 37b and 36b) discusses a food called rihata, which was made of flour, oil and honey cooked or stirred together in a pot until they hardened. The Gemara cites a dispute whether the brocha is mezonos, because of the general halachic importance of flour; or shehakol, because the main taste comes from the honey. We rule that the brocha is mezonos because flour is usually considered the main ingredient of a food, unless the flour is there only to hold it together. Whenever the flour is added to provide taste, the brocha is mezonos, even if the main taste comes from the honey.

Kishka has the same halacha as rihata. Although the main taste comes from the other ingredients, the flour certainly adds taste as well.

Although licorice contains a significant amount of flour, the flour is included only to give licorice its shape, and not to add anything to the taste or to make it more filling. Therefore, the brocha on licorice is shehakol (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 208:2 and Mishnah Berurah ad loc.).

According to the Gemara (Bava Kama 30a), someone who desires to become exemplary in his behavior should toil in understanding the laws of brochos. By investing energy into understanding the details of how we praise Hashem, we realize the importance of each aspect of that praise and how we must recognize that everything we have is a gift from Hashem. Furthermore, when reciting the proper brocha, one is acquiring the item from Hashem in the proper way. Pas haba’ah bekisnin functions in two different ways, sometimes as our main sustenance and most of the time as a pleasant snack. Reciting the correct brocha focuses our understanding on the appropriate praise for Hashem at the correct moment.

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