Do I say Yaaleh Veyavo, Retzei or both?

Since Rosh Chodesh falls on motza’ei Shabbos, I thought it appropriate to discuss:

Do I say Yaaleh Veyavo, Retzei or both?

Question #1: Is it Shabbos versus Rosh Chodesh?

“When Rosh Chodesh begins on motza’ei Shabbos, do I say Yaaleh Veyavo in bensching at seudah shelishis?”

Question #2: Why is this night of Chanukah different from all other nights?

“Chanukah begins this motza’ei Shabbos. If I finish seudah shelishis after nightfall, do I include Al Hanissim in bensching?”

Introduction

When we recite birchas hamazon on Shabbos, Yom Tov, Chol Hamoed, Rosh Chodesh, Chanukah and Purim, we include special prayers to commemorate the holiday: on Shabbos, a passage beginning with the word Retzei; on Yom Tov, Chol Hamoed and Rosh Chodesh, the opening words are Yaaleh Veyavo; and on Chanukah and Purim, Al Hanissim.

In a different article, I discussed whether one recites these additions when one’s meal was divided between a holiday and a weekday – i.e., one ate part of his meal on the holiday and part before or after; or when the change of date transpired between the eating of the meal and the bensching. Does one recite the special addition to commemorate the holiday when this happens, or does one omit it? We discovered that there are several opinions as to what to do. These are the earliest opinions that I found:

  1. When one bensches

The Rosh rules that one recites the version of birchas hamazon appropriate to when one bensches, regardless as to when one ate the meal. In his opinion, one who finished seudah shelishis after nightfall does not recite Retzei. Similarly, one whose Purim seudah ends after Purim does not recite Al Hanissim. The Rosh also holds that someone who completed a meal before Rosh Chodesh and bensches after it is dark should recite Yaaleh Veyavo.

  1. The beginning of the meal

The Maharam, as understood by the Bach and the Aruch Hashulchan, maintains that the text of the bensching is established according to what was correct when the meal began. Therefore, one who finished seudah shelishis after nightfall recites Retzei, since his meal began on Shabbos. (There is an exception – if he did something to declare that Shabbos is over, such as reciting havdalah, davening maariv, or even simply answering borchu, he does not recite Retzei any more, as it is therefore inconsistent to mention Shabbos in bensching.)

  1. All of the above

The Maharam, as understood by the Taz, contends that one adds the special prayer if either the meal began on the holiday or one is bensching on the holiday. Thus, one who finished seudah shelishis after nightfall recites Retzei, and someone who completed a meal before Rosh Chodesh and bensches after it is dark should recite Yaaleh Veyavo.

The halachic conclusion

The halachic consensus regarding someone who began his meal on Shabbos or Purim and continued it into the night is that one recites Retzei or Al Hanissim, following the position of the Maharam and not the Rosh.

Conflicting prayers

The topic of our current article adds a new aspect to this question – what to do when Rosh Chodesh or Chanukah begins on motza’ei Shabbos, and seudah shelishis started on Shabbos and was completed on Rosh Chodesh or on Chanukah. According to the Rosh, one should recite Yaaleh Veyavo or Al Hanissim, whether or not one ate on Rosh Chodesh or on Chanukah. However, the consensus of halachic opinion is that the Maharam’s opinion is accepted, in this topic, over that of the Rosh. According to those who understand that the Maharam ruled that one should always recite the text of birchas hamazon appropriate to the beginning of the meal, one should recite Retzei. Yet, many authorities follow the second interpretation of the Maharam mentioned above, that one adds the special prayer if either the meal began on the holiday or one is bensching on the holiday. What complicates our question is that there may be a requirement to recite both Retzei and either Yaaleh Veyavo or Al Hanissim, yet mentioning both in the same bensching might be contradictory in this instance, since the holiday begins after Shabbos ends. As we will soon see, whether or not this is a problem is, itself, debated by the authorities.

The earliest authority that I found who discusses this predicament is the Bach (end of Orach Chayim, 188). Regarding what to recite when seudah shelishis continues into Rosh Chodesh, he concludes that one should say Retzei and not Yaaleh Veyavo, because the beginning of a meal determines the exact text of its birchas hamazon. As I mentioned above, this is precisely the way the Bach understands the Maharam’s position – that the proper bensching is always determined by the beginning of the meal. Since the halacha follows the Maharam’s position, the Bach comfortably rules according to his understanding of the Maharam, that one recites Retzei and not Yaaleh Veyavo.

The Magen Avraham (188:18; 419:1) analyzes the issue differently from the way the Bach does. First, he considers the possibility that one can recite both Retzei and Yaaleh Veyavo. This is based on his understanding of the Maharam’s position that ending a meal on Rosh Chodesh or a different festival is reason to recite the holiday additions, even if the meal started on a weekday. However, the Magen Avraham concludes that one cannot recite both Retzei and Yaaleh Veyavo in this instance, because this is an inherent contradiction: If it is already Rosh Chodesh, it is no longer Shabbos, and if it is still Shabbos, it is not yet Rosh Chodesh. Since this is now a conundrum, the Magen Avraham concludes that one should follow the Rosh’s opinion, that one recites whatever is appropriate to be said at this moment, which means to recite only Yaaleh Veyavo. Magen Avraham contends that this practice is followed only when one ate bread on Rosh Chodesh. If he did not eat bread on Rosh Chodesh, then he should say only Retzei, following the Maharam’s opinion that the special prayers are determined by the beginning of the meal.

Chanukah on motza’ei Shabbos

The Magen Avraham also rules that there is a difference in halachah between Rosh Chodesh and Chanukah. When Chanukah begins on motza’ei Shabbos and seudah shelishis extended into the beginning of Chanukah, he rules that one should recite only Retzei and not Al Hanissim, even if he ate bread on Chanukah.

Why is Chanukah different from all other nights?

The Magen Avraham explains that, whereas when reciting Yaaleh Veyavo on a weekday Rosh Chodesh bensching is required, reciting Al Hanissim in bensching of a weekday Chanukah is technically not required, but optional. Therefore, when his meal began on Shabbos (which was as yet not Chanukah) and he is, therefore, required to recite Retzei, even if he continued the meal into Chanukah and ate bread then, the optional addition of Al Hanissim does not cancel the requirement to recite Retzei.

More opinions

Thus far, we have seen two opinions concerning what to do for the bensching of a seudah shelishis that extended into Rosh Chodesh that begins on motza’ei Shabbos:

(1) The Bach, that one should recite Retzei and not Yaaleh Veyavo.

(2) The Magen Avraham, that if he ate bread on motza’ei Shabbos he should recite Yaaleh Veyavo, but otherwise he should recite Retzei.

A third position is that, once it is Rosh Chodesh, one should recite Yaaleh Veyavo and not Retzei (Maharash of Lublin, quoted by Shelah and Taz 188:7). The Maharash maintains that since at the time he bensches it is Rosh Chodesh, the requirement to recite Yaaleh Veyavo is primary and preempts the requirement to recite Retzei, which he considers to be secondary, since it is no longer Shabbos.

Why not both?

The Taz (188:7) disagrees with all the above-mentioned positions, challenging the assumption that one cannot recite both Retzei and Yaaleh Veyavo. He concludes that since Yaaleh Veyavo is recited after Retzei there is no contradiction, since Rosh Chodesh begins after Shabbos ends. Therefore, one who ate on Shabbos and is bensching on Rosh Chodesh should recite both additions.

To sum up, someone whose meal began on Shabbos and is bensching on Rosh Chodesh, should:

  • recite Yaaleh Veyavo, according to both the opinion of the Rosh and that of the Maharash,.
  • recite Retzei, according to the opinion shared by the Bach and the Aruch Hashulchan.
  • recite both Retzei and Yaaleh Veyavo, according to the conclusion of the Taz,.

According to the ruling of the Magen Avraham, if he ate bread after Rosh Chodesh arrived, he should recite Yaaleh Veyavo. If he did not, he should recite Retzei.

Rabbi, what should I do?

The Mishnah Berurah (188:33), when recording what to do, implies that one should follow the position of the Magen Avraham. He then mentions the Taz as an alternative approach – that one should say both Retzei and Yaaleh Veyavo. This is consistent with the Mishnah Berurah’s general approach of following the Magen Avraham, except when the latter’s position is opposed by most later authorities.

The Aruch Hashulchan, on the other hand, concludes neither as the Magen Avraham nor the Taz, but that what one recites is always determined by the beginning of the meal. Therefore, in this situation, he rules to recite Retzei and omit Yaaleh Veyavo, regardless of whether one ate on Rosh Chodesh.

Since there are many conflicting positions as to which additions to recite when Rosh Chodesh begins on motza’ei Shabbos, many people avoid eating bread after nightfall. They eat all the bread that they intend to eat towards the beginning of the meal, and upon completing the seudah, recite bensching including Retzei and omitting Yaaleh Veyavo. This approach follows the majority of halachic authorities (Bach, Magen Avraham, Aruch Hashulchan, Mishnah Berurah [according to his primary approach]), although it runs counter to the opinions of the Maharash and the Taz. Those who want to avoid any question recite birchas hamazon before the arrival of Rosh Chodesh.

Conclusion

In our daily lives, our hearts should be full with thanks to Hashem for all He does for us. Birchas hamazon provides a regular opportunity to elicit deep feelings of gratitude for what Hashem has done in the past and does in the present. All the more so should we should acknowledge Hashem’s help on special holidays.

 

 

Aliyah Laregel

This website contains many articles on a wide range of Yom Tov related topics that can be found under the headings Sukkah, Esrog, Yom Tov, Hallel, Chol Hamoed, Eruv Tavshillin. The enclosed article discusses a different aspect of Yom Tov observance, that of…

Aliyah Laregel

Question #1: Yizkor on Simchas Torah?

“Is there a reason why Yizkor is recited in Eretz Yisroel in the middle of the Simchas Torah davening?”

Question #2: No Aliyah Laregel

“Someone once told me that when the Beis Hamikdash is rebuilt, the mitzvah of Aliyah Laregel will be optional. How can that be?”

Question #3: Women and Yaaleh Veyavo

“If a woman forgot Yaaleh Veyavo in bensching of Yom Tov, does she repeat the bensching?”

Introduction:

Although we cannot observe the beautiful mitzvah of Aliyah Laregel until the Beis Hamikdash is rebuilt, many halachic observances and customs result from the laws associated with this mitzvah. The questions above reflect some of those practices.

The mitzvah of Aliyah Laregel

The mitzvah of Aliyah Laregel is mentioned several places in the Torah. In parshas Ki Sissa (Shemos 34:23), the Torah states: Shalosh pe’amim bashanah yeira’eh kol zechurcha es penei Ha’adon Hashem, Elokei Yisroel, “Three times a year shall all your males appear in the Presence of the Lord, Hashem, the G-d of Israel,” and a similar posuk appears in parshas Mishpatim (Shemos 23:17). In parshas Re’eih (Devorim 16:16), the Torah specifies that the three times are Pesach, Shavuos, and Sukkos. In this last place, the Torah concludes with the following statement: “Three times a year, all your males shall appear before Hashem, your G-d, in the place that He will choose, and you should not appear before Hashem empty-handed. Each man should bring with him according to the bounty that Hashem your G-d has provided you.”

This last verse teaches that the mitzvah is not only to ascend to Yerushalayim and to the Har Habayis (the “Temple Mount”), but also to bring korbanos when we come. It also states that a wealthier individual is obligated to spend more on his korbanos than a pauper (Mishnah, Chagigah 8b).

Three mitzvos

When the Tosefta (Chagigah 1:5) and the Gemara (Chagigah 6b) discuss the details of Aliyah Laregel, they refer to it as three mitzvos: “The Jewish people were commanded three mitzvos when they were oleh regel,” that is, traveling to the Beis Hamikdash grounds on Yom Tov required three specific mitzvah actions:

  1. From the words of the above-quoted posuk, “You should not appear before Hashem emptyhanded,” we derive that one is required to offer a korban olah when we appear in the Beis Hamikdash, called an olas re’iyah. This korban is completely consumed on the mizbeiach, except for its hide, which is given to the kohanim as one of the gifts that the Torah provides.
  2. The mitzvah of offering special korbanos shelamim in honor of the festival, called Chagigah or shalmei chagigah. Some of the meat of this korban goes to the kohanim, but most of it goes to the owners who serve it as part of their Yom Tov meals while in Yerushalayim. Any tahor Jewish person is permitted to eat from this korban.
  3. The mitzvah of simcha, which includes offering korbanos and eating their meat on each day of the festival, including chol hamoed. Since meat of korbanos may be eaten only in Yerushalayim, this means that, at the time of the Beis Hamikdash, the entire Jewish people spent the whole Yom Tov, including all the days of chol hamoed, in Yerushalayim.

One fulfills this latter mitzvah with any animal korban from which one is permitted to eat, including other korbanos that one must offer anyway (Mishnah, Chagigah 7b). In other words, one may wait to bring his other required korbanos, such as firstborn animals, maaser beheimah, donated shelamim offerings, and chata’os until Yom Tov, and offer them then, while one is in Yerushalayim anyway. When he offers them on Yom Tov, he may fulfill the requirement of consuming shalmei simcha with the meat of these korbanos. (In the case of chata’os and similar korbanos, this approach can be used only by kohanim, since no one else is permitted to consume them.)

Rules of Har Habayis

One is required to be completely tahor when ascending the Har Habayis and to do so with complete awe of the sanctity of the place, and to act appropriately. Among the specific laws that apply on Har Habayis is a prohibition against wearing shoes and of carrying one’s wallet or money belt.

Exempt from Aliyah Laregel

Notwithstanding the words of the Torah that all the males should ascend the Har Habayis three times a year, Chazal derive that there is a long list of men who are exempt from fulfilling the mitzvos of re’iyah. This list includes:

  1. Difficulty in walking

Anyone who has difficulty walking is exempt from the mitzvah of Aliyah Laregel. This includes the elderly, the ill, someone with a lameness or injury in his legs, and even those who are unused to walking without shoes, since one is prohibited from wearing shoes on the Har Habayis (Chagigah 4a). Someone who can walk there only because he uses a prosthesis is also exempt from the mitzvah (Chagigah 3a; 4a). Similarly, someone who has discomfort in one leg, even if he has no discomfort in the other leg and can still walk, is also exempt (Chagigah 3a).

  1. Vision impaired

Anyone whose vision is impaired is exempt from the mitzvah. This includes someone who can see out of only one eye (Chagigah 4b).

  1. Hearing impaired

Someone who cannot hear, but can speak, or someone who can speak but not hear is exempt from the mitzvah of re’iyah, although they are obligated in simcha and indeed all other mitzvos of the Torah (Chagigah 2b). Also, someone who does not hear in one ear is exempt from re’iyah (Chagigah 3a).

All three of these categories of people who are exempt from the mitzvah of Aliyah Laregel and of offering the olas re’iyah and the shalmei chagigah are still obligated in the third mitzvah mentioned above, of partaking in korbanos simcha (Rambam, Hilchos Chagigah 2:4, based on Gemara Chagigah 4a). This is, of course, assuming that they went to Yerushalayim for Yom Tov, because one may eat these korbanos only there.

  1. Tamei

People who are tamei are exempt from fulfilling the mitzvah of Aliyah Laregel (Gemara Chagigah 4b; Tosefta Chagigah 1:1). Someone who is tamei is required to make himself tahor in order to fulfill the mitzvah of Aliyah Laregel. However, if he did not purify himself or was unable to do so, he is now exempt from the mitzvah, since as long as he is tamei he may not enter the Beis Hamikdash grounds. Indeed, someone who is tamei cannot fulfill the mitzvah of Aliyah Laregel, since he is not allowed to enter the Beis Hamikdash grounds (Rambam, Hilchos Chagigah 2:1).

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

  1. Uncircumcised

There are specific situations in which someone is not obligated to have a bris milah performed, because of the danger that is involved. Although such a person is exempt from the mitzvah of bris milah, he is still not circumcised, and, as such, he is exempt from several of the Torah’s mitzvos, including the mitzvah of Aliyah Laregel. Similar to the person who is tamei, this individual is forbidden to observe the mitzvah.

Children

Although a child is not required to observe any mitzvah, Chazal required the father to see to it that he observe most mitzvos, in order to acquaint himself with keeping them. In this context, we find a dispute between Beis Shammai and Beis Hillel. Both schools hold that a father is required to have his minor son accompany him on the mitzvah of entering the Beis Hamikdash on Yom Tov. The question is: From what age is the father obligated to do so? According to Beis Shammai, the father is obligated to do so from when the child is old enough to ride his father’s shoulders, when the father walks from Yerushalayim to the Har Habayis.

We should be aware that the responsibility of a father to train his child to perform a mitzvah is only when the child will be obligated to fulfill that mitzvah when he becomes an adult. Thus, regarding the mitzvah of Aliyah Laregel, should the child fit any of categories 1-3 above that exempt an adult from this mitzvah, the father is not obligated to bring the child with him when he is oleh regel (Rambam, Hilchos Chagigah 2:3).

Smelly professions

There are certain professions that leave their artisans with a malodorous odor. Tanners and copper smelters, for example, are surrounded by substances whose ill fragrance sometimes permeates their clothing and hair. Are they obligated in the mitzvah of Aliyah Laregel, or do we say that since their attendance might adversely affect other people required to observe the mitzvah that they are exempt? This question is discussed by the Gemara (Chagigah 4a). The Rambam (Hilchos Chagigah 2:2) concludes that they are required to clean themselves and their clothes fully and fulfill the mitzvah of Aliyah Laregel.

Yizkor and Aliyah Laregel

I mentioned previously the posuk from parshas Re’eih (Devorim 16:16), in which the Torah specifies that each person is obligated to donate according to the bounty that Hashem has provided him. At this point, I want to address one of our opening questions:

“Is there a reason why Yizkor is recited in Eretz Yisroel in the middle of the Simchas Torah davening?”

To answer this question, we need to explore the history of this prayer. Yizkor is a custom that began among Ashkenazim in chutz la’aretz and is recited four times a year: on Yom Kippur, the eighth day of Pesach, the second day of Shavuos and on Shemini Atzeres. Why specifically on these four days?

On all of these days, there was a custom to make donations to tzedakah, and, at one point, there became established an idea of reciting a prayer that the tzedakah donated should serve for the benefit of one’s departed parents and other relatives. On Yom Kippur, it is obvious why special donations were made to tzedakah, but why specifically on the three days of Yom Tov mentioned above, as opposed to the other days of Yom Tov?

The answer is that in chutz la’aretz, the reading for these three yomim tovim — the eighth day of Pesach, the second day of Shavuos and Shemini Atzeres — is in parshas Re’eih, and the last posuk of the reading states: “Each man should bring with him according to the bounty that Hashem your G-d has provided you.” Although the literal meaning of the posuk refers to the amount one should spend on the korban olas re’iyah, it certainly can be understood to include gifts for tzedakah, and indeed that became an accepted practice. The people made donations to tzedakah, but decided to have them as an iluy neshamah, an elevation for the souls of their departed relatives. (By the way, in some German communities, there was no minhag of Yizkor and instead, they observed a different practice on those days, called matanas yad.)

When the Ashkenazim began returning to Eretz Yisroel in the nineteenth century, they realized that in Eretz Yisroel, there is no eighth day of Pesach or second day of Shavuos, and the day that is called Shemini Atzeres in chutz la’aretz is called and observed as Simchas Torah, when we read parshas Vezos Haberacha and the beginning of Bereishis. Thus, parshas Re’eih is never read on Yom Tov.

Because people did not want to lose this beautiful minhag of reciting Yizkor, they continued to observe the practice on the day of Yom Tov closest to those days, that is, on the seventh day of Pesach, Shavuos, and on Simchas Torah.

Beloved servants

We have discussed some of the laws of the mitzvah of Aliyah Laregel, a topic that we will continue to discuss in a future article, when we will iy”H answer the remaining of our opening questions. Contemplating this special mitzvah of Aliyah Laregel should give every one of us chizuk. Consider that Hashem Yisborach commanded us to come to the Beis Hamikdash “in order to be seen.” The message here is that we are His beloved servants and He desires to see us, as it says in the Gemara (Chagigah 4b), “A servant whom his master desires to see.” Furthermore, the Gemara describes Klal Yisroel as “the servant whom the master desires to eat at his table.”

May we soon merit fulfilling this mitzvah in the third Beis Hamikdash, may it be rebuilt speedily, and that Hashem should look upon us favorably! Wishing all of our readers, together with all of Klal Yisroel, a good Yom Tov!

 

Keeping My Feet Together

Many articles on various Rosh Hashanah topics are available for reading or downloading under the headings “Rosh Hashanah,” “Shofar” or “Tashlich.”

Keeping My Feet Together

Question #1: Proper posture

“The Shemoneh Esrei on Rosh Hashanah is very long. Is it sufficient that I stand with my heels touching, or must my feet be side-by-side touching their entire length?”

Question #2: Standing straight

“Why do we keep our feet together during kedushah but not when responding to kaddish?”

Question #3: Kaddish together

“Is it required to have one’s feet together when reciting kaddish?”

Answer:

Fulfilling the mitzvah of davening requires that we observe many halachic details. The Rambam organizes these laws under two headings: essential and non-essential components. In Chapter 4 of Hilchos Tefillah, he lists five essential components of prayer, meaning the Shemoneh Esrei. These are:

1) Cleansing one’s hands before prayer

2) Having one’s body properly covered

3) Praying must be in a place that is clean and without inappropriate odor

4) Not davening when one senses bodily needs

5) Having basic, proper intent and focus

The Rambam calls these five requirements “essential,” which means that a prayer missing any of these qualities does not fulfill the mitzvah and one is required to recite it again. Someone who cannot meet these requirements is exempt from praying until he can meet them. Therefore, it is preferred that someone unable to fulfill the basics of these requirements miss the prayer rather than recite a tefillah that violates these laws. Many of these topics are available for reading or downloading on RabbiKaganoff.com

Non-essentials

In Chapter 5 of Hilchos Tefillah, the Rambam lists eight non-essential components of prayer, meaning that these are important aspects, but one fulfills the mitzvah to pray even if they are entirely missing. These eight aspects are:

  1. Standing during prayer
  2. Facing the Beis Hamikdash
  3. Correct positioning
  4. Appropriate attire
  5. Proper location
  6. Volume
  7. Bowing
  8. Prostrating

The Rambam notes that these requirements are not essential, and that, therefore, someone who failed or was unable to do them has fulfilled the mitzvah to daven. Furthermore, one who is unable to fulfill any of these aspects should daven anyway. Therefore, although davening while properly attired is very important, one who will be unable to dress appropriately should daven and observes this law only to the extent that he can under the circumstances.

Correct positioning

One article cannot cover all the laws of these rules, so here we will discuss one aspect of the requirement to position one’s body in a certain way. The Rambam (Hilchos Tefillah 5:4) states the following aspects of positioning one’s body:

When standing to daven shemoneh esrei, one’s feet should be together and alongside one another.

One’s eyes should be facing downward, yet his heart should be directed upward, as if he is standing in heaven.

One’s hands should be resting on one’s heart, with the right hand atop the left, standing in fear and awe like a servant before his master.

One should not place his hands on his hips.

As I mentioned above, although these factors are important components of proper prayer, they are not essential, and one who neglected to do them has fulfilled the requirement to pray (see Mishnah Berurah 95:1; Kaf Hachayim 95:2). Therefore, someone who cannot put his feet together should daven without his feet together, rather than not daven at all (Kaf Hachayim 95:3).

Feet together

The Rambam states: “When standing to daven shemoneh esrei, one’s feet should be together and alongside one another.” The basis for this ruling is the Gemara (Brachos 10b) which mentions this requirement based on the following. In Yechezkel’s opening prophecy, he shares with us a vision of the heavenly courts, describing the feet of the angels as veragleihem regel yesharah, literally, “their feet were a straight foot” (Yechezkel 1:7). According to Targum and one interpretation of Rashi, the verse means that the angels stood in a way that their feet lay one alongside the other. The Gemara explains that when we daven we should also have our feet aligned, which Rashi explains to mean that one foot should be alongside the other so that they appear as one “foot.”

This passage of Gemara leaves one puzzled. Indeed, Yechezkel reports to us that the angels stood with their feet together. But why is a person who is praying required to emulate the position of the angels? Are we also required to pray while flying, as the angels sometimes do?

A simple approach

On a simple level, one could explain that standing with one’s feet together makes one feel somewhat vulnerable and therefore humble, and that this position allows one to fulfill davening with trepidation and humility (Levush, Orach Chayim 95:1). However, although this approach seems to supply a good reason for us to have our feet together when we pray, it does not seem to explain what the Gemara was saying since this has nothing to do with the fact that the angels stand this way.

The latter question is discussed by an early commentator, the Rashba (in his commentary to the Gemara Brachos), who writes the following:

“I was asked by someone who is an enemy of our people [probably someone trying to proselytize among the Jewish people]: Why do we keep our feet together when we pray, and what proof is being brought from the holy bearers of the divine chariot to someone praying?

“I responded as follows: ‘There are two major reasons for this. The first reason is that man’s body was created with limbs — his hands and legs — whose purpose is to enable him to reach and acquire what he wants and to distance himself from harm. The hands bring him items of pleasure, push away from him harmful items, and are what he uses against his enemy in warfare. His feet move him great distances in a very short time, and enable him to escape from harm.

“It is essential to prayer that a person realize that none of these abilities are man’s own activities and they will not save him without G-d’s help. Everything is dependent on G-d’s will. In order to entrench this idea in one’s soul, one must place one’s feet together when praying, to symbolize that his feet are completely bound and paralyzed. They are without any ability to flee from danger. This forces man to realize that all his abilities of locomotion are only because G-d helps him.” This reason is quoted by the Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 95 in the name of a much later authority, the Mahari Abohav.

The Rashba continues: “The same is true with one’s hands. The Gemara teaches that in times of difficulty, Rava would fold his arms when he prayed… This position demonstrates that it is as if one’s arms are bound and one is without help except for Hashem.”

The Rashba then adds: “There is another reason why we assume the position of the angels when we pray: The human species, whose purpose is to recognize the Creator and to praise He who created man from nothing, has a specific responsibility to serve G-d and to keep His commandments. Man is an angel, an emissary, placed on earth, just as the celestial angels serve and recognize their Creator. Mankind can therefore be called malach” (as he is in Malachi 2:7), which means G-d’s messenger. Thus, the Rashba explains that placing one’s feet together, whether performed by man or by angels, demonstrates a lack of ability, thereby recognizing that all our strength at all times comes from Hashem. We are also showing that we are, indeed, comparable to angels, since we are fulfilling G-d’s mission on Earth. To quote the Zohar (parshas Pinchas #229), “The Holy One, blessed is He, said: Those who pray with their feet together like the angels, I will open the gates of the Sanctuary for them to enter.”

There is yet another reason why we pray with our feet touching, side-by-side, which is that when we are talking to Hashem, it is essential that we be fully and exclusively focused. This places us on the levels of the angels who are always focused exclusively on their Divine mission.

Is regel a foot?

After explaining why we pray in a position similar to that of the angels, the Rashba adds: “You should realize that the word regel has a double meaning, for it means not only the foot but it also means cause (as in Bereishis 33:14 and 30:30). According to this interpretation, the verse in Yechezkel 1:7, veragleihem regel yesharah, should be translated as their cause is a straight cause, meaning that the angels consistently follow the path of truth.

“In this manner, someone standing and praying before Hashem must abandon thoughts of himself, and focus completely on the prayer he is reciting. Concentrating all his energies on this goal develops him such that everything he does, all the time, should be only for the purpose of strengthening his body in order to serve Hashem. Placing his legs together demonstrates having a straightforward cause directed toward the purpose for which he was created — to serve G-d. For this reason, man can be compared to the chariot that bears Hashem’s presence into the world.”

Should the front of the toes be separated?

Having established the basis for the practice that one’s feet should be together when reciting shemoneh esrei, we find a discussion in the rishonim whether the feet should be slightly separated in front. Rabbeinu Yonah quotes some who hold that the tips of both feet should not touch, so that it appears like a calf’s foot with its split hooves. Rabbeinu Yonah disputes this, saying that the requirement is only that the feet be together like one foot — there is no mention of making one’s feet look like a split hoof.

Nevertheless, we still find a dispute among early acharonim whether one should lechatchilah stand with a slight split at the front of one’s toes or not. The Olas Tamid writes that this is preferred. However, the Yeshuos Yaakov disagrees, contending that one should not have one’s feet slightly separate. He notes that the angels cover their feet that look like those of a calf so as not to be reminiscent of the eigel hazahav, the Golden Calf. Therefore, we should deliberately not have our feet look like this, reasons the Yeshuos Yaakov.

The Yerushalmi

Having quoted the passage of the Talmud Bavli that explains how we should stand when we pray, we should be aware that there is also a passage of Talmud Yerushalmi (Brachos 1:1) regarding this issue. There, the Yerushalmi quotes a dispute between Rabbi Levi and Rabbi Simon, one of whom held the same opinion as the Bavli that one should daven with one’s feet pressed together and the other holding that, when davening, one should assume the position that the kohanim did when walking in the Beis Hamikdash. There, the kohanim took very small steps such that the big toe of one foot was next to the heel of the other when they walked.

Since in a dispute between the Talmud Bavli and the Talmud Yerushalmi we rule according to the Bavli, it would appear that the dispute recorded by the Yerushalmi is halachically irrelevant. The commentaries are thus surprised to note that the Tur quotes the Yerushalmi, leading the Beis Yosef and the other commentaries to question why the Tur does so. Many answers are proposed to explain the Tur’s position. I will quote here two of them, whose answers yield halachic ramifications.

The Bach explains as follows: In his opinion, halachah requires that one daven with one’s feet in one of the two positions advocated by the Yerushalmi. The Bach contends that if one’s feet are in neither of these positions one has not fulfilled the requirements of prayer. The Tur agrees that it is preferable to place one’s feet alongside one another, since we rule as the Bavli does. However, he quotes the Yerushalmi because someone who failed to position his feet in either of these positions is required to daven again. Furthermore, someone who cannot align his feet alongside one another should position them so that the toe of one foot is alongside the heel of the other. Thus, although we follow the ruling of the Bavli that one should daven with the two feet alongside one another, it is also important to know the conclusion of the Yerushalmi, which is why the Tur included this information.

Several authorities note that, according to this approach, the Tur’s interpretation of the topic has him in dispute with the Rambam’s ruling, quoted above, that positioning is never essential to prayer, and that one fulfills the mitzvah of davening with one’s feet in any position. Since they see no evidence that such a dispute exists, they are reticent to create one on this basis and instead suggest other approaches to resolve why the Tur quoted the Yerushalmi. Notwithstanding this conclusion, some authorities opine that someone who davened with his feet apart should daven a voluntary prayer (called a tefilas nedavah), to make certain that he fulfilled the mitzvah (Olas Tamid). Later authorities reject this approach and rule that one should assume that he fulfilled the mitzvah (Kaf Hachayim).

Another approach

The Aruch Hashulchan suggests a different explanation why the Tur presented the Yerushalmi’s discussion. He explains that the Tur wants us to realize that someone who is unable to have his feet together for whatever reason, but who can assume the alternative position of having his toe touching his heel, should daven in the latter position. According to this approach, everyone accepts that these rules are all only lechatchilah and that one who davened with his feet in a completely different position has fulfilled the mitzvah, bedi’evid, after the fact.

Sitting with your feet together?

Is someone who must pray from a sitting position, either because of health reasons or because of travel, required to daven with his feet together? The Pri Megadim rules that he should still keep his feet together while davening. He further explains that someone who must daven while sitting should not lean backwards or to the sides while praying, and should also be careful not to stretch or cross his legs while davening, because these positions all convey an air of conceit.

All or nothing?

At this point, let us refer to the first question with which I opened our article: “The Shemoneh Esrei on Rosh Hashanah is very long. Is it sufficient that I stand with my heels touching, or must my feet be side-by-side touching their entire length?”

From what we have seen, it is clear that the proper position for davening is to have one’s feet side-by-side and touching their entire length.

Kedushah

At this point, let us address the remaining of our opening questions:

“Why do we stand with our feet together during kedushah but not when responding to kaddish?”

“Is it required to have one’s feet together when reciting kaddish?”

By way of introduction, let me quote a discussion from a late rishon, the Terumas Hadeshen (#28). He quotes the following question:

“Should an individual align his feet when he responds to the chazzan’s kedushah?”

To which he answers, “It appears to me that he should, since the prayer states, We shall sanctify his name just as they sanctify His Name in the highest heavens, and in the heavens they recite the kedushah with a ‘straight foot,’ as the verse reads ‘their feet were a straight foot.’ We should attempt to act like the angels to the best of our ability; there is neither conceit nor foolishness in our doing so. Indeed, this is the proper way to act.” This answer of the Terumas Hadeshen is quoted subsequently by all the authorities, and is codified in the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 95:4).

Borchu

Although none of the reasons mentioned above applies to reciting Borchu, that is, we are not trying to compare ourselves to angels, nor is it the ultimate prayer; nevertheless, the custom is that Borchu is recited with one’s feet together. This custom is recorded by some late authorities (Aruch Hashulchan). Therefore, one should align one’s feet when reciting Borchu. However, since there is no halachic source that requires reciting Borchu with one’s feet together, one should not admonish someone who recites Borchu with his feet apart.

Kaddish

I have found no early source that requires one to have one’s feet together while reciting kaddish. Although it is standard practice that people recite kaddish with their feet together, since there does not appear to be an early halachic source for this practice, one should not admonish someone who fails to do so.

Conclusion

Understanding how much Chazal were concerned about the relatively minor aspects of davening, such as how we position our feet, should make us more aware of the fact that davening is our attempt at building a relationship with Hashem. As the Kuzari notes, every day should have three very high points — the three times that we daven, and from these three prayers we gain our strength and inspiration for the rest of the day.

 

Poetic Controversies

Ashkenazim and Sefardim recite very different kinos on Tisha B’Av and different piyutim on most other occasions. This provides an opportunity to discuss:

Poetic Controversies

Question #1: How many machzorim?

“I am a Sefardiyah by birth, and recently became engaged to a wonderful Ashkenazi man who gave me a beautiful, five-volume set of machzorim. I looked at my new set of machzorim and could not find the selichot recited in Elul anywhere in the Rosh Hashanah machzor, nor in any of the other volumes. Where will I find them? I also could not find any volume for Tisha B’Av, but I also could not find those prayers in the Ashkenazi siddur my chatan bought me.”

Question #2: The Italian connection

“Why are so many of our piyutim written by Italian authors?”

Introduction:

Our prayers have been enhanced by the inclusion of many religious poems written by various authors over the years. During the yomim nora’im, virtually every Jewish community recites piyutim, poetic liturgy, as part of the davening. We also prepare for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur with the recital of selichos, which also includes piyutim. Such famous and standard prayers as Yigdal, Adon Olam, and An’im Zemiros all qualify as piyutim. The zemiros that we sing at our Shabbos meals are also piyutim, as is Dvei Haseir, written by Dunash, recited prior to bensching at a wedding or sheva brachos, and Yom Le’yabasha, written by Rav Yehudah Halevi, that is chanted at a seudas bris. And do you know of a community that does not begin Shabbos by singing Lecha Dodi, written by Rav Shlomoh Alkabetz?

At one time, in Ashkenazic circles, the davening of all the yomim tovim, all special Shabbosos, and even Purim and Tisha B’Av was graced with piyutim specially suited to the occasion. The themes, history and emotions of each season and special day were expressed through these beautiful writings.

In the last generation, the recital of piyutim is definitely on the downswing. When I was young, during the birchos kerias shema of maariv on Pesach, Sukkos and Shavuos, most shullen recited piyutim, a custom that is in most places not observed today. About the only shullen where I hear this being practiced today are chassidishe minyanim or those following the nusach Ashkenaz traditions of the old German communities.

In the yeshivish world, what is left over from our long tradition of these piyutim are the zemiros of Shabbos, the piyutim recited during yomim nora’im, the kinos, and the selichos.

One interesting exception that has survived is the recital of Akdamus at the beginning of kerias haTorah on Shavuos, which is still recited in every Ashkenazi shul I have ever attended. (Sefardim do not recite Akdamus, as I will soon explain.)

Kinos versus selichos

Since I mentioned the remaining use of piyutim for both selichos and kinos, it is interesting to note a difference between the selichos and the kinos of Tisha B’Av. Although the same basic structure of selichos is followed by most Ashkenazic communities, different practices developed concerning which selichos are recited on which days and in what order. The differences are significant enough so as to make it necessary to make sure that one has a copy of the selichos that follows the exact minhag followed by the shul that one is attending.

On the other hand, with very slight differences, the same kinos for Tisha B’Av are recited virtually universally by all the different communities of Ashkenaz.

Ashkenazim and Sefardim

I once attended Rosh Hashanah davening with a Sefardic minyan, and I can advise someone doing this to have a Sefardic machzor handy, which I did not. Although many different customs have developed among various Ashkenazic communities, the same sources and the same style of piyutim are used by all. However, the piyutim recited by the Sefardim are completely different. Very few of the piyutim recited by Sefardim are familiar to Ashkenazim and vice versa. For example, the writings of the Italian school of paytanim (authors of piyutim) who figure so significantly among the Ashkenazim are never part of the Sefardic prayer. Similarly, Rav Elazar Hakalir, who figures so predominantly in the Ashkenazim’s prayer, is not used by the Sefardim. Most of their piyutim are of relatively late vintage and from four authors. The predominant paytanim used by the Sefardim are Rav Shelomoh ibn Gabirol, Rav Yehudah Halevi, Rav Moshe ibn Ezra and Rav Avraham ibn Ezra, all of the Spanish school of talmidei chachamim.

It is also interesting to note that in the Sefardic custom, fewer piyutim are recited, which is surprising, since the Jews of medieval Spain were far more noted for their poetry than were the Ashkenazim. Still, Sefardim recite piyutim as part of the selichos, during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur davening and on Tisha B’Av, which Ashkenazim call the reciting of kinos. By the way, although Sefardim say far less piyutim than Ashkenazim, they do say selichos after all five tefilos on Yom Kippur as well as piyutim before kedusha.

How many machzorim?

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

“I am a Sefardiyah by birth, and recently became engaged to a wonderful Ashkenazi man who gave me a beautiful, five-volume set of machzorim. I looked at my new set of machzorim and could not find the selichot recited in Elul anywhere in the Rosh Hashanah machzor, nor in any of the other volumes. Where will I find it? I also could not find any volume for Tisha B’Av, but I also could not find this in the Ashkenazi siddur my chatan bought me.”

The answer to this question is interesting. In the customs of bnei Ashkenaz, every day’s selichos is completely different from every other day. Although the Sefardim recite selichos the entire month of Elul, they have no separate selichos book. This is because they recite the same selichos every day, and the selichos are usually included in their Rosh Hashanah machzor. A Sefardi set of machzorim might include three volumes: one for Rosh Hashanah, one for Yom Kippur and one for Tisha B’Av. Since they do not recite piyutim on the other holidays, the printers did not always find it worthwhile to produce machzorim for those days, since a standard siddur and chumash suffice. Others include a fourth volume, which is for all three regalim.

On the other hand, when a publisher sells an Ashkenazic set of machzorim, he includes a volume for each Yom Tov because each Yom Tov had its own special piyutim. However, the selichos recited on fast days, during Elul and aseres yemei teshuvah, and the kinos recited on Tisha B’Av are not included in a set of machzorim and are sold as separate volumes.

History through piyutim

There is a tremendous amount of history that can be derived from learning about the authors of our piyutim. We get quite an education as we see where the wandering Jew has found himself over the centuries of our dispersal. Here is a sampling of the names and geographic areas of some of our predominant paytanim, organized according to the periods of history. In all likelihood, many of our more common piyutim predate even the earliest dates I have mentioned here. However, since we are without any means of dating them, I have omitted them.

Bavel

Some of our piyutim are known to date back to the era of the geonim 1200-1300 years ago. Among the authors of this period we find Rav Sa’adia Gaon, Rav Nissim Gaon, and Rav Amram Gaon.

The early Italians

Not long after the period of the geonim that I just mentioned, there was a period of significant production of piyutim that dates back to the late 9th century in Italy. Among the many Italian paytanim of this era whose works we recite are a grandfather and grandson both named Amitai, Shefatyah, who was the son of one Amitai and the father of the other, Zevadyah, and Rav Shlomoh Habavli. (Historians do not know for certain why he was called Habavli, since he lived in Italy. The most obvious explanation is that either he was originally from Bavel or that his family origins were there. This would be similar to someone with obvious German roots carrying the family name Pollack, or someone of eastern European background with a family name of a central or western European city, such as Shapiro, from the city Speyer in western Germany, because of some earlier family history.)

Early Ashkenaz

The word Ashkenaz is associated with Germany, and the historical origins of these practices are usually traced to the Jewish communities that lived a thousand years ago in the Rhine river valley. The most famous three of these communities were Speyer, Worms and Mainz. Many of our piyutim are authored by gedolim of this period, including Rabbeinu Gershom, Rabbi Shimon Hagadol of Mainz and Rav Meir ben Yitzchak, the chazzan of Worms, who was the author of Akdamus. By the way, this will explain why Sefardim do not recite Akdamus on Shavuos, since its author lived after the time that Sefardim and Ashkenazim were physically separated into different areas.

Spanish

Beginning around this era is the Golden Age of Spain, which included much writing of piyutim. The major body of the attributable piyutim recited by the Sefardim goes back to this period, most of it written by Rav Shlomo ibn Gabirol, Rav Yehudah Halevi, Rav Moshe ibn Ezra, and Rav Avraham ibn Ezra, as I noted above. Ashkenazim do recite some piyutim from these authors, for example, Shomron Kol Titein, recited in the kinos of Tisha B’Av, authored by ibn Gabirol, and Tziyon halo Sish’ali, also one of the kinos, and the above-mentioned Yom Le’yabasha by Rav Yehudah Halevi, recited commonly at a bris. By the way, you will find Yom Le’yabasha  in your Ashkenazi machzor for Pesach, where it exists as the piyut to be recited at shacharis of the seventh day of Pesach, immediately before the brocha of Ga’al Yisroel.

Later Ashkenaz

In this era, many of the piyutim were written by rishonim who are familiar to us from their halachic and Talmudic writings. These include several baalei Tosafos, such as the Rivam (Rashi’s grandson and the older brother of Rabbeinu Tam), Rav Elchanan, Rav Yehudah Hachasid, Rav Yitzchak Ohr Zarua, the Maharam, Rav Yosef Bechor Shor, Rav Yoel Halevi (the father of the Ra’avyah).

The Italian angle

Having studied a quick overview of the various places where our paytanim lived, we can now explain why Ashkenazim recite many selichos and other piyutim written by the early Italian paytanim, whereas the Sefardim do not recite piyutim from these authors. The answer is that the ancestors of what came to be called Ashkenazic Jewry probably predominantly migrated northward from Italy, bringing with them their customs and their piyutim that had been written during this early golden age of piyut.

Rav Elazar Hakalir

No discussion of piyutim is complete without presenting Rav Elazar Hakalir, who authored the lion’s share of the kinos we recite on Tisha B’Av, as well as many of our other piyutim, including Tefillas Tal and Tefillas Geshem, the piyutim for the four special Shabbosos (Shekalim, Zachor, Parah and Hachodesh), and many of the yotzros for Yomim Tovim. We know absolutely nothing about him personally — we cannot even date when he lived with any accuracy. Some Rishonim place him in the era of the Tanna’im, shortly after the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash, identifying him either as Rabbi Elazar ben Arach (Shu”t Harashba 1:469), a disciple of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai, or as Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai’s son Elazar, who hid in the cave with his father (Tosafos, Chagigah 13a s.v. Veraglei; Rosh, Berachos 5:21; Shibbolei Haleket #28). On the other hand, others date Rav Elazar HaKalir hundreds of years later.

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

Many of Rabbi Elazar Hakalir’s piyutim and kinos require studying rather than reading, since they rely on allusions to midrashim and historical events. Many commentators elucidated his works, attempting to illuminate the depths of his words. Often, his ideas are expressed in difficult allusions, and the story or midrash to which he hints is unclear or obscure. They certainly cannot be understood without careful preparation. Someone who takes the trouble to do this will be awed by the beauty of the thoughts and allusions.

When did he live?

Most assume that Rav Elazar HaKalir lived in Eretz Yisrael, based on the fact that we have no piyutim written by him for the second day of Yom Tov (Tosafos, Chagigah 13a s.v. Veraglei; Rosh, Berachos 5:21.) However, the yotzros of the second day of Sukkos clearly include Rav Kalir’s signature and follow his style. Could it be that Diaspora Jews moved yotzros he wrote for the first day of Yom Tov to the second day? This approach creates another question: Since the yotzros recited on the first day of Yom Tov were also written by him, would he have written two sets of yotzros for Shacharis on Sukkos? There are other indications that he did, indeed, sometimes write more than one set of piyutim for the same day, and this approach is followed by the Shibbolei Haleket (#28).

Kalirian controversy

Notwithstanding the brilliance and prevalence of Rav Kalir’s piyutim, reciting them was not without controversy. No less a gadol than the Ibn Ezra stridently opposes using Rav Kalir’s works. In an essay incorporated in his commentary to Koheles (5:1), the ibn Ezra levels extremely harsh criticism of the piyutim authored by Rav Kalir. He divides the nature of his arguments into four headings.

Simplicity of language

Ibn Ezra notes that prayers should be recited in simple language that can be understood on a very basic level. After all, the goal of prayer is to understand what one is saying. Since piyutim are usually intended to be forms of prayer, one should not recite any prayer whose intent is not obviously clear. Because of this criticism, Ibn Ezra advises reciting the piyutim written by Rav Sa’adia Gaon, which are written so that they can be understood in a very literal way.

Mixed language

Ibn Ezra’s second criticism of Kalir is that he mixed into the Hebrew of his piyutim vocabulary whose basis is in the Gemara, treating Talmudic language on the same level of Hebrew as that of Tanach. As Ibn Ezra notes, the Gemara says loshon mikra lechud uloshon Talmud lechud, which he understands to mean that the Hebrew used by the Gemara should be treated as a different language from that of Tanach. Therefore, one should not mix the two languages together when reciting prayers.

Grammatical creativity

The third criticism of ibn Ezra is that he is unhappy with Kalir’s creative approach to Hebrew grammar and structure, allowing poetic style to influence the Hebrew that he used. Ibn Ezra also criticized Kalir’s creation of new words by changing masculine words to feminine and vice versa for poetic effect or to accomplish his allusions.

Use of midrashim

Ibn Ezra’s fourth criticism of Kalir is that his piyutim are filled with midrashim, and that these should not be included in one’s prayers.

Ibn Ezra notes that there were those who took issue with his criticisms, since Kalir had passed on many years before and would be unable to respond. Ibn Ezra himself dispenses with this disapproval by noting that prayer must be whole-hearted, and how can one pray when one does not understand what one is saying? Ibn Ezra notes that when Rav Sa’adia wrote piyutim, he steered clear of these four problems.

In fact, Sefardim do not recite piyutim of Rav Kalir, whereas among Ashkenazim, he is the single, most commonly used paytan.

Response to ibn Ezra

We should note that the Shibbolei Haleket saw this essay of the ibn Ezra and quoted selections from it, but he omitted any of the ibn Ezra’s criticism of Rav Kalir’s writings.

Furthermore, none of ibn Ezra’s criticisms should be taken as casting aspersion on Rav Elazar Hakalir’s greatness. Shibbolei Haleket records that when Rabbi Elazar Hakalir wrote his poem Vechayos Asher Heinah Meruba’os (recited in the kedusha of musaf of Rosh Hashanah), the angels surrounded him with fire (quoted by the Magen Avraham at the beginning of Siman 68). Similarly, R’ Chaim Vital writes that his teacher, the Arizal, recited only the piyutim written by the early paytanim, such as R’ Elazar Hakalir, since they are based on kabbalah.

Which seder ha’avodah?

This dispute between Ashkenazic practice and Sefardic manifests itself in the choice of piyut used for the seder ha’avodah recited towards the end of musaf on Yom Kippur. Dozens of piyutim explaining the seder ha’avodah were written, some dating back to the time of the Gemara, some perhaps earlier. Notwithstanding the antiquity of some of these pieces of poetry, the ones currently used are of relatively late origin. Ashkenazim recite Amitz Koach, which is highly poetic and difficult to understand. On the other hand, Sefardim recite Atah Konanta, which is written in clear Hebrew.

Conclusion

Now that we have had an opportunity to appreciate some of the background to our piyutim, it should motivate us to utilize our davening better to build a relationship with Hashem. As the Kuzari notes, every day should have three very high points — the three times that we daven. We should gain our strength and inspiration for the rest of the day from these three prayers.

 

Bimah in the Middle

Prior to Shavuos is an excellent time to review some of the less-known halachos germane to kerias haTorah, including whether the Bimah needs to be in the middle of the shul.

Question #1: Small Shul

“We have converted a storage area into a temporary shul for our neighborhood. Must we put the shulchan in the middle when, as a result, we will have less seating capacity?”

Question #2: Reading from the Front

“May I daven in a shul where the bimah is in the front of the shul?”

Question #3: The Beis Medrash

“Must the bimah of a yeshivah be located in the middle of the beis medrash?”

Where is the bimah?

Although we find allusion going back to the time of the tanna’im concerning the proper location of the bimah and the shulchan in a shul, most of the halachic discussion about the topic is within the last two hundred years, for reasons that will soon be obvious. Let us begin by citing the early sources for this halachah, and then analyze some of the responsa on the subject.

Introduction:

When the Rambam records the laws germane to the proper construction of a shul, he mentions that a shul should have a raised platform in the middle, which we call the bimah (Hilchos Tefillah 11:3, see Kesef Mishneh). The Rambam explains that the bimah is used for two purposes: in order to read the Torah and to facilitate public speaking, the goal, in both instances, being to enable people to hear. He then adds that the shulchan upon which the sefer Torah is placed (which he calls a teivah) should be positioned on top and in the middle of the bimah. We thus see that there is a halachic preference, if not an outright requirement, (1) to have the shulchan placed in the middle of the shul, (2) to have it on an elevated surface.

Notwithstanding this ruling of the Rambam, the Kesef Mishneh (ad locum) notes that many shullen are not built this way. To justify the custom, he explains that, when constructing a large shul, one should place the bimah in the middle so that people can hear the reading, but when a shul is small, it may be more practical to have the Torah read from a place that is not centrally located.

When Rav Yosef Karo, the author of the Kesef Mishneh, wrote the Shulchan Aruch, he omitted the law requiring a bimah platform and that the bimah and the shulchan be in the center of the shul. This appears consistent with his opinion that the location of the bimah and the shulchan is not a requirement of shul design, but, rather, is a practical matter that is dependent on the construction and acoustics of the shul. However, both the Tur (Orach Chayim 150) and the Rema (ad locum) mention that the bimah should be in the middle of the shul.

Talmudic sources

The Gra cites Talmudic sources for the practice of placing the bimah in the middle of the shul (Glosses to Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 150). The Tosefta (Sukkah 4:4) and the Gemara (Sukkah 51b) describe the huge shul in Alexandria, which had a seating capacity of many thousands, and which had a wooden bimah in the middle. The Gra apparently holds that these allusions provided the Rambam with his source requiring a centrally located bimah. The question now is, if there is indeed a Talmudic source requiring the bimah to be in the middle, how can the Kesef Mishneh rule that there is no such requirement? Apparently, he feels that a large shul must have a centralized bimah in order to make it possible for the maximum number of people to hear the reading of the Torah, whereas a small shul does not require that its bimah be centrally located. On the other hand, the Rambam, the Tur and the Rema contend that a centrally-located bimah is an important aspect of shul design and construction.

The Chasam Sofer

We find little other literature on this subject until the nineteenth century. The earliest work of that era on this topic is a responsum from the Chasam Sofer, regarding a plan to increase seating capacity in a shul by relocating the shulchan to the front (Shu”t Chasam Sofer, Orach Chayim #28). The Chasam Sofer discusses the points raised by the Rambam, the Tur and the Rema that the shulchan should be in the middle, and the Kesef Mishneh’s comment that a small shul is not required to have its shulchan in the center, since people will easily hear the kerias haTorah from wherever it is read. The Chasam Sofer writes that the Kesef Mishneh’s reason applies only in a case of a shul that was built originally without the bimah in the middle, but once the bimah was built in the middle, one may not move it to a different location. Furthermore, the Chasam Sofer writes that if a small shul was expanded to accommodate a larger crowd, they will now be required to move the shulchan to the middle so that everyone can easily hear kerias haTorah.

The Chasam Sofer then writes an additional reason why one may not change the location of the bimah and the shulchan after they have been built. He notes a ruling of the Talmud Yerushalmi concerning the marking of the boards used in the construction of the mishkan. Since the boards of the mishkan were identical, why were they marked to designate each one’s proper location every time the mishkan was reassembled? What difference does it make where one puts any particular board?

The Yerushalmi explains that even if all the boards are identical and perfectly interchangeable, one is required to have each board returned to the same relative location. Each board acquires a specific sanctity because of its location, and this should not be changed. The Chasam Sofer then quotes the Maharil, who ruled that one should be careful to replace the planks of one’s sukkah in the same place year after year, for the same reason as we have just mentioned. Each board has a claim to its location, and one should return it to the spot it held the year before. Similarly, contends the Chasam Sofer, the part of the shul on which the bimah and the shulchan rested should remain as their location, and therefore, one may not relocate the bimah away from the central place that it has held.

As proof to his point, the Chasam Sofer notes that, although the second Beis Hamikdash was larger than the first, the location of the menorah, the mizbechos (the altars) and all the other vessels remained the same — they were not moved to accommodate the new, larger structure. This was because the site where the holy vessels were located should not be changed. Similarly, rules the Chasam Sofer, even according to the Kesef Mishneh’s approach that a bimah need not be centrally located, this ruling does not permit relocating a bimah that has already been placed in the middle.

Shulchan is like the mizbeiach

In addition to the reasons just cited, the Chasam Sofer provides another reason why the shulchan should be in the center of the shul. The shulchan serves in a role similar to that of the mizbeiach, the altar of the Beis Hamikdash. This is because of the concept – based on the words of the prophet Hoshea, U’neshalmah parim sefaseinu – our lips, meaning our reading of the Torah, replace the bulls that were offered in the Beis Hamikdash. (This idea is conveyed in a passage of the Gemara in mesechta Megillah 31b.)

When we read about the korbanos during kerias haTorah, it is as if those sacrifices are being offered. This reading, then, provides the shulchan with some of the sanctity of the mizbeiach, and the shul with some of the sanctity of the Beis Hamikdash.

This idea can be demonstrated from the hoshanos that we perform on Sukkos (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 660), which are reminiscent of the hoshanos procedure performed in the Beis Hamikdash, when the four minim were carried around the mizbeiach. The original service of the hoshanos could be performed only by circling around the mizbeiach. So too, when we perform hoshanos, we walk around the shulchan, which serves as a surrogate mizbeiach. Similarly, on Simchas Torah, we carry the sifrei Torah around the bimah (Rema, Orach Chayim 669:1).

The Chasam Sofer explains that since the mizbeiach was in the middle of the Beis Hamikdash, so too, the shulchan should be located in the middle of the shul.

Meishiv Davar

Another major posek who associates a centralized bimah with the mizbeiach is the Netziv, Rav Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin, who was the Rosh Yeshivah of the yeshiva in Volozhin for many decades of the late nineteenth century. In a responsum (Shu”t Meishiv Davar #15), he notes that the shulchan is in the middle to parallel the mizbeiach, which explains why we blow the shofar on Rosh Hashanah from the bimah just as in the Beis Hamikdash they blew the trumpets at the time that the korbanos were offered. He rules that the shulchan must be exactly midway between the north and south parts of the shul, just as the outside mizbeiach was, but that it does not have to be midway between the east and west parts, because the outside mizbeiach was not located centrally in this axis.

The Netziv adds a few other reasons why it is prohibited to move the bimah — one of which is that people will assume that they can change other Jewish customs, without realizing that they are tampering with halachah.

Which mizbeiach?

When one reads the two responsa very carefully, that of the Chasam Sofer and that of the Meishiv Davar, one will notice that there is a bit of a dispute between them. Although both scholars compare the shulchan to the mizbeiach, the Chasam Sofer compares the shulchan to both the inner mizbeiach, which was made of gold and predominantly used for burning the ketores, the incense offered daily in the Beis Hamikdash, and also to the outside mizbeiach, whereas the Netziv compares it only to the outside mizbeiach.

The inner mizbeiach was located midway between the shulchan of the Beis Hamikdash, on which was placed the lechem hapanim (the showbread), and the menorah, which was kindled daily. The shulchan stood in the northern section and on the western side of the kodesh; the menorah stood opposite it on the southern flank, and the mizbeiach was exactly in the middle of the kodesh.

The outer mizbeiach, which was used all day long for the various offerings of the Beis Hamikdash, stood in the middle of the azarah, the courtyard of the Beis Hamikdash. Actually, there is a dispute among tanna’im exactly where the mizbeiach stood. All agree that on the orientation of east to west, it was in the middle of the azarah. The dispute is from a north-south perspective, whether it was exactly in the middle, or whether it was somewhat off center, either to the north or to the south. According to some authorities, this dispute might affect whether one should try to make sure that the bimah and the shulchan are exactly in the middle of the shul, or whether it is sufficient that they are near the middle, but they do not need to be perfectly centered, as is the prevailing custom.

It should be noted that, notwithstanding that the Chasam Sofer and the Meishiv Davar both explain that the bimah must be in the middle of the shul because of its comparison to the mizbeiach, Rav Moshe Feinstein writes that this is not a convincing reason for the practice (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 2:42).

Moving the bimah

According to what we have just said, one should not move the bimah in order to make more room to perform hoshanos. Although this seems to be the predominant approach among the halachic authorities, the Minchas Yitzchak (3:4) quotes from the Imrei Eish a justification of those who move the bimah in order to conduct the hakafos, on the basis that (1) there is no requirement to make the bimah represent the mizbeiach, and (2) even if there is such a requirement, the bimah does not need to be in the perfect center, and it is permitted  to move the bimah, provided it is not placed next to the aron, but in front of it. Nevertheless, all agree that both the hoshanos and the hakafos must go around the bimah, as expressed in the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim, chapter 660) and the Rema (Orach Chayim, chapter 669).

Imitating idolic practice

Until now, the discussion regarding the proper location of the bimah and the shulchan has involved only the laws of building a shul. However, a completely new issue is discussed by a disciple of the Chasam Sofer, the Maharam Shik (Shu”t Maharam Shik, Yoreh Deah 165). In a responsum dated erev rosh chodesh Adar, 5616 (1856), to Rav Yisroel Dovid, the av beis din of Feising, the Maharam Shik introduces a new halachic issue: the Torah violation of imitating the practices of the gentiles. In the mid-1800’s, those who wanted to locate the bimah and the shulchan to the front of the shul were, in general, not motivated by space concerns, but because they wanted their shullen to look similar to the way non-religious congregations appeared, which, in turn, were made to appear like churches. Following gentile practices in the observance of our mitzvos involves the violation of several verses of the Torah, such as, Uvechukoseihem lo seileichu, Do not follow their laws (Vayikra 18:3), Velo seilechu bechukos hagoy, Do not follow the laws of the gentile (Vayikra 20:23), and Hishamer lecha pen tinakeish achareihem, Be careful lest you be attracted to them (Devorim 12:30). This general prohibition is quoted by the Rambam (Hilchos Avodah Zarah 11:1) and the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah, Chapter 178:1).

In the details germane to understanding the laws of Uvechukoseihem lo seileichu, there was a dispute between Rav Yisroel Dovid and the Maharam Shik. Rav Yisroel Dovid felt that this prohibition would exist even when the reason for moving the bimah was to make more seating room. The Maharam Shik disagreed, demonstrating that Uvechukoseihem lo seileichu is violated only when the intent is to mimic non-Jewish practices. The Maharam Shik also prohibits having the bimah in front or moving it there when someone might assume that the bimah is in front in order to mimic non-Jewish practices, even when this was not the intention of those who planned and constructed this shul. When it is clear that the purpose for moving the bimah and the shulchan is to create more seating capacity, it is not prohibited under the heading of Uvechukoseihem lo seileichu, but only because of the reasons mentioned by the Chasam Sofer.

Turned-down position

The Minchas Yitzchak (3:4) quotes a letter from Rav Shimon Sofer (a son of the Chasam Sofer, who ultimately became the rav of Cracow) written to a very prominent community that had offered him the position of chief rabbi. Rav Sofer wrote a letter to the community turning down the post, because the bimah of their main shul was not located in the middle of the sanctuary and, also, because the chazan’s amud was located at a high point in the shul, when, according to halachah, it should be at a low place.

In this context, we should quote the Mishnah Berurah, “With our great sins, in some places the custom of the early generations has been ignored and the bimah is constructed near the aron hakodesh, out of desire to follow the practices that the gentiles observe in their temples. Regarding these communities, one should say, And Yisroel forgot his Maker and he built temples [Hoshea 8:14]. The later authorities already cast aspersions on these people” (Biur Halachah 150:5, s.v. Be’emtza).

Entering the shul

Is there any halachic problem with entering a shul whose bimah is in the front?

The Minchas Yitzchak (3:5) quotes from different sources that prohibited even entering such a shul.

However, Rav Moshe Feinstein holds a more moderate approach to this last question (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 2:42.) Rav Moshe was asked whether one may daven in a shul that has its bimah in the front. The questioner had heard that in Hungary they had prohibited davening in such a shul, an approach that would indeed be reflected by the above-quoted Minchas Yitzchak. Rav Moshe responds that he was unfamiliar with such a prohibition. If it did exist, it was because they needed to stamp out Reform, and it has the halachic status of a hora’as sha’ah, a ruling established because of a temporary circumstance. However, in other countries one is permitted to daven in such a shul. Rav Moshe concludes that when there are two shullen in a town, one with its bimah in the middle and the other with the bimah elsewhere, one should daven regularly in the shul whose bimah is in the middle.

Beis Medrash

At this point, let us discuss the third question asked at the beginning. “Must the bimah in a yeshivah be in the middle of the beis medrash?”

This question is discussed by the Minchas Yitzchak (Shu”t Minchas Yitzchak, 3:6), who concludes that the rules governing the existence of a bimah and a shulchan and their location are germane only to a shul, but that there is no requirement to have a bimah in a beis medrash. The reason for this ruling is a topic for a different article. The Minchas Yitzchak writes that it is perfectly acceptable for a beis medrash to use a portable shulchan for kerias haTorah.

Conclusion

We all hope and pray that the day will soon come when we shall merit the third Beis Hamikdash. In the interim, we should be careful to treat our batei keneses and batei medrash with proper sanctity, including all their halachic details.

 

Some of the Basics of Kashering

Question #1: Sandwich Maker

“Can I kasher my sandwich maker for Pesach in order to toast vegetables with it?”

Question #2: Better than Boil?

“Is there a way to kasher things that is safer than placing them in boiling water in an open pot?”

Introduction:

Halachah assumes that when cooking food, taste residue remains in the utensil that was used. When this flavor residue, which is called ta’am, comes from something prohibited, it must be removed to allow the utensil to be used again to prepare food. When the flavor is from meat, one must extract it before using the utensil for a dairy product,* if the flavor is from chometz, the utensil must be kashered before it can be used for Pesachdik products.

Although modern appliances are not mentioned in the Torah, the basic rules for kashering all appliances lie within a careful study of the passages of the Torah, the Gemara and the early authorities on this topic. The Chumash, itself, alludes to the halachic process used to kosher a utensil when it commands, kol davar asher yavo vo’eish ta’aviru vo’eish, “Any item that entered fire, shall be passed through fire” (Bamidbar 31:23), thereby implying that kashering an appliance that became non-kosher through direct contact with a flame requires burning the appliance in a flame — no other cleaning process will sufficiently kosher this appliance.

Shabbos Hagadol

One of our responsibilities prior to Pesach is to ascertain that we know how to kasher our homes correctly. The piyutim that were traditionally added to the prayers on Shabbos Hagadol include very detailed instructions on proper kashering techniques, and we find that the baalei Tosafos discuss and correct the texts of the piyutim to accommodate the correct procedures. This week’s article will provide some introductory information to this topic, as we explore how the Gemara explains correct kashering procedures.

Let us begin by examining a passage of the Gemara that discusses kashering one’s house for Pesach. The Gemara (Pesachim 30b) quotes a beraisa (halachic source dating from the era of the Mishnah) that if beef fat was smeared onto the walls of an oven, kashering the oven to be pareve again requires firing up the oven, which means building a fire inside the oven. This heating of the oven burns out the residue of the meat fat that is absorbed into the oven walls. The Gemara then recounts that Ravina noted to Rav Ashi that the earlier amora, Rav, had declared that there is no way to kasher chometz-dik pots for Pesach-dik use. Ravina asked Rav Ashi why this was so: Why not simply fire up the pots to make them Pesachdik, just as one kashers an oven? Rav Ashi provided two answers to the question:

Metal vs. earthenware

(1) The beraisa that permits kashering an oven is referring to one made of metal, whereas Rav was discussing pots made of earthenware. Earthenware pots cannot be kashered, because once food flavor is absorbed into them, normal procedures will not physically remove the ta’am from the vessel. To quote the Gemara (Pesachim 30b, Avodah Zarah 34a), “The Torah testified that one will never be able to extract the flavor from the walls of an earthenware vessel.”

Ovens vs. pots

(2) Rav Ashi’s second answer is that an earthenware oven can be kashered by building a fire inside it, but not an earthenware pot. In those days, cooking was done by building a fire inside the oven and placing the pot inside or on top of the oven. This fire does not provide enough heat in the pot to remove the flavor (ta’am) that is absorbed inside it. Furthermore, building a fire inside the pot is also not a satisfactory method of kashering it. Chazal did not permit this method of kashering, because it may not be performed properly — the owner may be afraid that the pot might crack if it is heated long enough to kasher it (Rosh and Rabbeinu Chananel ad locum; cf. Rashi, who explains the Gemara somewhat differently.) This concern does not exist regarding an oven, presumably because this is the usual way of heating it.

Some basic rules

From this short passage of Gemara, we can derive some basic rules of kashering:

  1. When a concern exists that a particular method of kashering may break an appliance, Chazal prohibited using that method. There are many, many instances where this halachah is put into practice.

One example of this is our opening question. “Can I kasher my sandwich maker for Pesach in order to toast vegetables with it?”

Any method that might kasher the sandwich maker would very possibly ruin the machine. Therefore, it is not possible to kasher it for Pesach use.

  1. Earthenware has different properties from those of metal items, resulting in differences in halachah. Regarding metal and other types of items, there is a principle of kebol’o kach polto, that one extracts from a utensil prohibited flavor the same way the flavor was absorbed into the appliance. From the passage of Gemara quoted above, we see that there are exceptional cases when this principle does not apply. Materials such as earthenware can absorb substances that will not be removable afterwards. Rather than becoming completely extracted when one kashers them, some of the absorbed taste remains and gradually leaches out afterwards with each use, thus spreading prohibited flavor into all subsequent cooking (Tosafos, Chullin 8a s.v. Shelivna).

Exception – kiln kashering

Although the above-quoted passage of Gemara implies that earthenware pots cannot be kashered, Tosafos notes that this rule is not absolute — there is an acceptable way to kosher them. The Gemara (Zevachim 96a) implies that all earthenware vessels, even pots, can be kashered by firing them inside a kiln used for manufacturing earthenware (Tosafos, Pesachim 30b s.v. Hatorah). The intensity of heat in a kiln, which is far greater than the temperature used when baking or cooking in an earthenware oven, will remove the non-kosher or chometz-dik absorption from the walls. Furthermore, we are not afraid that someone will not kasher the utensil adequately out of concern that it will crack, because heating in a kiln is consistent on all sides and will not cause the utensils to crack (Rosh). It is uneven heating that damages the vessel.

There is an alternative explanation for why there is no concern that the owner will not kasher his pot adequately inside the kiln for fear that it will crack. In this instance, we feel that the owner will allow the pot to remain inside long enough to kasher properly because once the owner has placed the pot inside a kiln, this demonstrates that he has no concern about the pot breaking. This halachic conclusion is followed by the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 451:1).

Purchase from gentile

We will now examine a different passage of Gemara to learn more about the rules of the kashering procedure.

The Mishnah (Avodah Zarah 75b) teaches that upon purchasing used kitchen equipment from a gentile, one kashers the equipment via one of the following procedures:

1) That which is usually used for cooking in liquid medium must be kashered in hot water, which is called hag’alah.

2) That which is used to broil or roast food directly in fire must be kashered directly in fire, called libun. As examples of the latter rule, the Mishnah chooses a barbecue spit and a grate used for roasting. Since these appliances absorbed non-kosher ta’am directly through fire, they must be kashered by burning them in fire.

Kebol’o kach polto

From this Mishnah, we learn a new rule – that there is a hierarchy in kashering. If an appliance absorbed flavor directly through fire, boiling it will not remove the residues of prohibited substance sufficiently to kasher it. This explains in more detail the rule I mentioned above, called kebol’o kach polto, which teaches that extracting food residue requires the same method that caused the absorption initially, or a method that is more intense, as I will explain shortly. Therefore, if a prohibited food was cooked in a pot, it can be kashered by hag’alah, which is a method of boiling out what was absorbed. However, if a spit or rack absorbed prohibited food directly through fire and not through a liquid medium, hag’alah will not suffice to kosher it.

Libun versus hag’alah

It is axiomatic that a stronger method of kashering will work for vessels requiring a lower level of kashering (for items other than earthenware). Thus, a metal pot used to cook non-kosher can be kashered by libun, although it is not necessary to use this method.

Iruy, miluy ve’iruy

There are other methods of kashering, such as iruy, which means pouring boiling water onto an item or surface, and miluy ve’iruy¸ which means submerging an appliance in water for three 24 hours periods. In this article, we will not discuss these methods of kashering.

How long?

At this point, we are ready to go to the next step in understanding how to kasher properly. The first question we will explore is germane to kashering directly by fire, which is called libun. The question is: How long must the spit or rack be held in a fire for it to be kashered? At what point can we assume that all the prohibited absorption will be removed?

We find two statements of the Gemara answering this question, one in the Talmud Yerushalmi and the other in the Talmud Bavli. The Talmud Yerushalmi (end of Avodah Zarah) states that one must heat it until sparks begin to shoot off. The Talmud Bavli (Avodah Zarah 76a) explains that you must keep it in the fire “until you remove the surface.” In practice, the halachah is that one needs to heat it until sparks shoot off (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 451:4).

Summing up

To sum up: From these two passages of Gemara, we have learned three basic rules of kashering:

  1. Removing the residue of a prohibited substance from an appliance requires performing on it a procedure that is similar to or stronger than what caused the absorption in the first place.
  2. When a concern exists that a particular method of kashering may break an appliance, one may not kasher it that way.
  3. One cannot kasher earthenware items through conventional household methods.

Contradiction

However, a different Mishnah seems to dispute one of the principles that we have just explained. The Torah teaches that there is a mitzvah to eat parts of the korbanos offered in the Beis Hamikdash, but that there is a time limit within which they may be eaten. After the korban’s time limit has passed, the leftover meat is called nosar, literally, leftover, and must be burnt. Eating it after this time violates a serious prohibition of the Torah.

What happens to the equipment used to cook the korban? The leftover flavoring remaining in the equipment becomes nosar and the equipment must be kashered. This means, essentially, that equipment used to prepare kodoshim must constantly be kashered.

How does one kasher the equipment? One would think that we would apply the same rules presented by the above-mentioned Mishnah in Avodah Zarah. However, the Mishnah states that a grill used to barbecue a korban requires only hag’alah (Zevachim 97a). This suggests that there is a one-size-fits-all approach to kashering – and that hag’alah can be used to kasher anything, even that which absorbed the food directly via fire. This approach does not fit the rule of kebol’o kach polto discussed above.

As you can imagine, we are not the first ones to raise this question. The Gemara (Avodah Zarah 76a) does, and provides several answers. The conclusion of the Gemara is that when the prohibited substance was permitted at the time of absorption, a concept that the Gemara calls heteira bala, hag’alah is sufficient to kasher it. The absorption of korban meat in equipment qualifies as heteira bala because, until the time that it becomes nosar, it is permitted to eat the meat; therefore, hag’alah suffices.

The opposite of heteira bala is issura bala, which means that the food was prohibited at the time that the absorption took place. The Mishnah in Avodah Zarah discussing used equipment purchased from a gentile is teaching the laws regarding issura bala.

Heteira bala

Why does heteira bala create a basis to be more lenient?

Some explain this phenomenon as follows: When prohibited substance is absorbed through a medium, such as by cooking in water, hag’alah, boiling out the non-kosher vessel, will remove all of the prohibited substance. However, when the substance absorbed directly by fire, boiling it will not remove all of the prohibited substance. Nevertheless, it does remove most of the substance. When the vessel initially cooked non-kosher, non-kosher food absorbed into it and must be fully removed. But when the absorbed substance was kosher at the time that it absorbed, the residue left over after the pot was boiled is not enough to be considered non-kosher.

Kashering from fleishig

The Gemara mentions the concept of heteira bala relative to the absorption of permitted kodoshim, which will later become prohibited nosar. It is obvious that if one has equipment that absorbed fleishig residues and one wants to make it pareve, this is a case of heteira bala and will require only hag’alah. Here is an actual example:

In a food service operation, some pareve baking trays had mistakenly been used to bake chicken. Assuming that the chicken was placed directly onto the trays, one might think that kashering these trays would require libun, since the absorption was direct from the meat into the tray, without any liquid medium. However, because of the principle of heteira bala, only hag’alah was required.

Is chometz considered heteira bala?

Since chometz is permitted to be eaten anytime but Pesach, it would seem that chometz should be considered heteira bala. This would mean that kashering chometz equipment for Pesach use would never require more than hag’alah. However, we find that there is a dispute among halachic authorities whether chometz is considered heteira bala or issura bala. Those who follow the stringent approach rule that at the time of its use, chometz is what was absorbed into the walls of the pot, and chometz may not be used on Pesach. The concept of heteira bala is applicable, in their opinion, to kodoshim products since, at the time that the grills were used, they were not nosar. They could not become nosar afterwards since the small remnant remaining after the hag’alah will not be considered nosar.

Whether chometz is considered heteira bala or not is very germane in practical halachic terms. If it is considered heteira bala, then hag’alah will suffice to kasher all items for Pesach, and one is never required to kosher items with libun to make them Pesachdik.

How do we rule?

Both the Shulchan Aruch and the Rema (451:4) conclude that chometz is considered issura bala. Therefore, one cannot kosher a grill used for chometz through hag’alah, but it requires libun. However, in case of major financial loss (hefsed merubeh), one may rely on the opinion that chometz is heteira bala (Mishnah Berurah 451:32, citing Elya Rabbah and Gra).

Libun kal

So far we have discussed kashering through libun, by means of a high temperature of direct fire. We have also discussed hag’alah, which is kashering through boiling in water. The rishonim discuss an in-between method of kashering, which is called libun kal, easier libun. Libun kal also uses direct heat to kasher, but it does not reach as high a temperature as does the libun we have been referring to until now, which is sometimes called libun chamur, strict libun, to avoid confusion. Libun kal is defined as heating metal hot enough that one sees that the heat has permeated through the metal fully (Mordechai, Avodah Zarah, end of 860). An alternative definition is that it is hot enough to burn straw. The poskim rule that when hag’alah would be sufficient to kasher, one may use libun kal as an alternative, but that it should not be used when there is a requirement to kasher via libun chamur (Mordechai, Avodah Zarah, end of 860).

How hot is libun kal?

At what temperature does straw burn? Based on experiments that he himself conducted, Rav Yisroel Belsky concluded that this is accomplished by a combination of temperature and time. His conclusion was that an oven heated to 550° F takes an hour to burn paper, at 450° it takes 1½ hours and at 375° it takes 2 hours. Thus, kashering with libun kal would require a longer amount of time at lower temperatures. We can thus answer another of our opening questions:

“Is there a way to kasher things that is safer than placing them in boiling water in an open pot?”

The answer is that since libun kal can be used whenever hag’alah suffices, one could kasher any items that require hag’alah by libun kal in a household oven, if one keeps the item in the oven long enough.

Conclusion

This article has provided a small introduction to some of the ideas of kashering, particularly to the concepts of libun and hag’alah. We have not yet dealt with several other types of kashering, including iruy, kli rishon, and miluy ve’iruy, all of which we will need to leave for a future time. We should always hope and pray that the food we prepare fulfills all the halachos that the Torah commands us.

* There is discussion among the halachic authorities whether one may kasher an appliance that is fleishig to use with dairy and vice versa. We will leave the discussion of that topic for a different time.

 

Many other articles germane to Pesach are available on this website. You can find them using the search words matzoh; chol hamoed; chometz; ga’al yisroel; hallel; omer.

Flying High – A Traveler’s Guide to Kindling the Menorah

Question #1: “Rabbi…” I recognize Shlomo Rabinowitz’s voice on the phone. “My company is sending me to Japan next week, right in the middle of Chanukah,” he continues, “and to top it off, one of my flights has me on the plane the entire candle lighting time. How do I fulfill the mitzvah of kindling Chanukah lights five miles above earth? Furthermore, in Japan I will be busy at conferences all day long. Where and when will I light my menorah there? Can I kindle in a corner of the conference room?”

Question #2: Rav Mordechai, a fundraiser acquaintance of mine, asked me how to fulfill the mitzvah of hadlakas Ner Chanukah when he is out of town soliciting tzedakah until late in the evening.

Question #3: The Schwartz family is spending Shabbos Chanukah with friends on the other side of town. May they kindle the menorah at their friends’ home on motzei Shabbos, or must they wait until they return home?

(Although all names have been changed, each of these cases reflects an actual shaylah people asked me.)

True, most of us will not be collecting funds all of Chanukah or flying to Japan. However, resolving these shaylos provides a good opportunity to explain the mitzvah of Ner Chanukah in greater depth. First, we will go through the basics of the mitzvah, and then we will examine the details that apply to travelers.

Every Jew must light Chanukah lights or have an agent kindle for him (see Rambam, Hilchos Chanukah 3:4). Many people do not know that the basic mitzvah requires kindling only one flame, whether oil or candle, for the entire household on each night of Chanukah, regardless of which night of Chanukah it is, and regardless of how many people live in one’s house (Shabbos 21b). Kindling the additional lights is in order to observe the mitzvah according to the exemplary standard that the Gemara terms mehadrin min hamehadrin.

In places where the custom is that the entire household lights only one menorah, which is the predominant practice among Sefardim, the person who kindles functions as an agent for the rest of the family. Even in places where the custom is that each individual kindles his own menorah, as is the common Ashkenazic practice, married women do not usually light (Elyah Rabbah 671:3; Mishnah Berurah 671:9), and most people have the custom that single girls do not either (Shu’t Shaar Efrayim #42; see Chasam Sofer, Shabbos 21b s.v. vehamihadrin and Mikra’ei Kodesh #14 who explain reasons for this practice). According to both the Ashkenazic and the Sefardic approach, the head of the household fulfills the mitzvah for those family members who do not light for themselves. In fact, he is their agent not only for the kindling, but also for the brachos he recites before lighting. (The difference between the Ashkenazic and the Sefardic custom reflects different interpretations of mehadrin min hamehadrin.)

WHAT ABOUT A GUEST?

So far, we discussed how the regular household members fulfill their mitzvah of Ner Chanukah. However, what about a guest who is not a regular member of the household? Does he have his own obligation to kindle Ner Chanukah or does the head of household’s kindling exempt him as it does the regular household residents? If he has his own obligation, how does he fulfill this mitzvah? The Gemara (Shabbos 23a) discusses this question in the following passage:

“Rav Sheishes said, ‘A guest is obligated in Ner Chanukah.’ Rav Zeira said, ‘Initially, when I was in Yeshiva, I paid my host a coin to include myself in his Ner Chanukah. Now that I am married but am still occasionally away in Yeshiva for Chanukah, I do not need to pay my host where I am staying because my wife kindles on my behalf in my house.’”

We see here that a guest must observe the mitzvah of Ner Chanukah himself and not through the head of household’s lighting. Rav Zeira described two methods whereby the guest can fulfill his requirement without actually kindling his own menorah. The first method is to become a partner in the candles or oil of his host, which he does by purchasing ownership in them. (An alternative way of fulfilling this approach is for the guest to acquire a portion in the items by picking them up with his host’s permission.)

The second method Rav Zeira suggests is when the guest is a member of his own household, although he is not with them for Chanukah. In this case, he is automatically included when his family kindles, even though he is not home.

By the way, the guest can fulfill his mitzvah in a third way — by kindling his own menorah in his host’s house. However, in this instance, if he wants to recite a bracha on his own kindling, he should decide that he is following this approach before his wife kindles (Mishnah Berurah 677:15). Otherwise, since he has already fulfilled his responsibility to perform the mitzvah through his wife’s kindling in his house, his own kindling is unnecessary and a bracha recited before kindling them is levatalah, in vain.

WHAT ABOUT TIME ZONES?

What happens if the guest is in a different time zone from his family? Can the guest fulfill his mitzvah with his family’s kindling even though he is in a different time zone?

The poskim who discuss this shaylah dispute whether one fulfills the mitzvah with his family’s lighting if their lighting takes place at a time when there is no mitzvah to kindle Ner Chanukah in his time zone. According to many, an Israeli resident visiting the United States will not fulfill the mitzvah through his family’s kindling and vice versa (Shu’t Minchas Yitzchak 7:46; however, see Halichos Shelomoh Volume 2 pg. 261, that Rav Shelomoh Zalman Auerbach disagrees). Minchas Shelomoh II:56:2 s.v. ומ”מ (red edition) contends that you fulfill the mitzvah with your household; a guest has no household and therefore has his own mitzvah. Furthermore, there is no evidence that Rav Shelomoh Zalman held that you fulfill the mitzvah with your household when you are east of your family – it could be that he held this way only when you are west of the family, and thus they have fulfilled their chiyuv already and you never become chayov in the mitzvah. But where the individual is east of his family, and thus becomes chayov earlier, it could be that the halacha is different.

Nevertheless, someone traveling within the United States might fulfill his or her mitzvah through the kindling at home if the family kindles when people are still frequenting the streets in the city that he/she is visiting.

According to our analysis, if Shlomo Rabinowitz was flying from Chicago to New York instead of Japan, he could rely on the candle lighting in his house since the candles will be kindled at a time that he is obligated in Ner Chanukah. (We will discuss shortly whether he recites the bracha she’asah nissim upon arrival in New York.) However, if he is in Asia, it is unclear whether he can rely on his family’s menorah since his family will kindle the lights at a time when he cannot perform the mitzvah.

WHAT IF SOMEONE HAS NO REAL RESIDENCE ON CHANUKAH?

Rashi (Shabbos 23a) cites the following case: Someone traveling by boat who is unable to light a menorah should recite the brachos of she’asah nissim and shehechiyanu (on the first night of Chanukah) when he sees a kindled menorah, even though he is not kindling himself. In other words, one recites the bracha of she’asah nissim in commemoration of the miracle of the lights and not for the actual mitzvah of kindling. Similarly, we recite the bracha shehechiyanu for seeing the lights of the menorah, not for fulfilling the mitzvah of kindling. However, in both instances one recites the bracha only on a menorah that fulfills the mitzvah, and not on a menorah lit in a shul or other public place. Kindling menorah in a shul or other public place is only a custom and does not fulfill the mitzvah (Shu’t Rivosh #111).

However, we still need to explore whether an airplane has the same halacha as the boat discussed by Rashi. To explain the possible difference, we will first discuss a teshuvah authored by Rav Shalom Mordechai Shvadron, the famous Maharsham of Brezan, the posek of his generation (late 19th century – early 20th century Galicia) about kindling menorah while riding a train.

RIDING THE TRAIN

Rav Shimon Valtuch, the Rav of Leipzig, Germany, sent a shaylah to the Maharsham asking whether someone traveling by train should light his Chanukah menorah on board. The Maharsham ruled that since he has paid for the entire night, it is as if he rented a house to eat and sleep, and the obligations of Ner Chanukah apply on the train.

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A BOAT AND THE TRAIN?

But if so, why does Rashi rule that someone traveling by boat cannot fulfill the mitzvah of kindling Chanukah lights and instead recites the brachos of she’asah nissim and shehechiyanu on the lights he sees on shore. Why does the Maharsham give a different ruling concerning a train than Rashi ruled concerning someone traveling by boat? The Maharsham explains that Rashi’s case involved an unroofed boat which cannot qualify as a house since it does not provide adequate shelter. This implies that someone spending Chanukah on a cruise ship or even on a yacht would have a mitzvah of kindling menorah on board.

The Maharsham considers whether the train is the same as a house even though it is constantly moving, and rules that this makes no difference. Thus, someone in a house trailer should kindle a menorah in its window, even if the trailer is on the move. However, it is unclear whether someone spending Chanukah night traveling in a car or truck should kindle Ner Chanukah there, since he has nowhere to sleep properly. Therefore, it might not be considered as lodging.

In addition, we should note that there is evidence that other authorities contemporaneous to the Maharsham did not accept his opinion, but felt that one fulfills the mitzvah only in a proper residence.

TRAVELING IN STYLE

There are two common ways of traveling by train – either in a private compartment, or, more commonly, on a seat in a public compartment. Since the Maharsham seems to consider even the second case enough of a lodging to light, this implies that one’s seat on a plane is also considered sufficient “lodging” to require kindling Chanukah lights on board.

Because of safety considerations, no one will permit you to kindle a menorah on an airplane. However, according to those opinions that one may fulfill the mitzvah of kindling Chanukah lights with a flashlight or an electric light (a subject we will iy”H discuss a different time), Shlomo Rabinowitz traveling to Japan in the middle of Chanukah has an interesting solution to his predicament. He can take a flashlight or other battery operated light onto the plane with him, turn it on for the purpose of fulfilling the mitzvah of Ner Chanukah, and leave it burning for half an hour. Although this is only one light, I noted above that one fulfills the mitzvah of Ner Chanukah by kindling only one light. (If practical, he could bring along a few flashlights and fulfill the mitzvah mehadrin min hamehadrin.) For those interested in following this approach, Rav Shelomoh Zalman Auerbach contends that it is preferable to fulfill the mitzvah of Ner Chanukah with a battery-operated light over other electric lights (Halichos Shelomoh Volume 2, pg. 283).

CAN HE KINDLE IN THE CONFERENCE ROOM?

Although kindling in the conference room may inform everyone that it is Chanukah, one does not fulfill the mitzvah with these lights, because one fulfills the mitzvah only in one’s residence.

LIGHTING IN A HOTEL

Does Shlomo Rabinowitz fulfill the mitzvah by kindling in his hotel room?

Yes, because the mitzvah of Ner Chanukah is fulfilled even in a place that is his home for only one night (Chovas Hadar, Ner Chanukah 2:9).

SHOULD ONE PLACE THE MENORAH IN THE WINDOW OF HIS HOTEL ROOM?

If people can see the lit menorah from outside, it is preferable to light in a window. If no one can see the menorah from outside, he should simply kindle the menorah on a table in his room.

WHEN MUST HE KINDLE THE MENORAH?

Ideally, he should kindle the menorah around nightfall wherever he is. However, if this is not practical, he may fulfill the mitzvah at any time that it is common to find people in the streets of the town that he is visiting. If he cannot return to his room until even later than this time, he should kindle the menorah without reciting the brachos. This is assuming he is traveling alone. If he is traveling with someone else who is Jewish, he can recite the brachos even late at night, provided that both of them are awake to witness the kindling (Teshuvos V’Hanhagos 2:215).

What about Rav Mordechai, our fund raiser? How does he fulfill the mitzvah of hadlakas Ner Chanukah while he solicits tzedakah the entire evening?

I suggested that he appoint an agent (a shaliach) at the place where he is sleeping to kindle the menorah on his behalf. Alternatively, he could acquire partial ownership in the oil of his host’s menorah by paying him a token sum of money.

VISITING DURING CHANUKAH

Where do I light menorah if I visit a friend for Chanukah dinner and I am not staying overnight?

Many people mistakenly think that one may fulfill the mitzvah by kindling the menorah at someone else’s house while visiting. I know of people who invite guests to their house for menorah kindling and dinner. The problem is that one is required to kindle Chanukah lights at one’s own house, and kindling at the friend’s house does not fulfill the mitzvah. Therefore, the guest must kindle the Chanukah lights at his own house and then leave to join the festive meal (Taz 677:2; Mishnah Berurah 677:12).

WHAT ABOUT THE SCHWARTZES?

Remember the Schwartz family that is spending Shabbos Chanukah with friends on the other side of town? Must they come home to kindle on motzei Shabbos, or can they kindle at the home where they were Shabbos guests?

If one spends Shabbos at someone’s house, he may kindle the menorah there on Motzaei Shabbos (Tshuvos V’Hanhagos 1:391). Some poskim suggest that one remain near the menorah until it has burned for a half-hour (see Tshuvos V’Hanhagos 1:394).

The Gemara teaches that someone who kindles Ner Shabbos and Ner Chanukah will merit to have sons who are Talmidei Chachomim (Shabbos 23b, see Rashi). This is puzzling — since all observant Jews kindle these lights, why are there not many more Talmidei Chachomim? The Rishonim explain that this promise only applies to someone who observes the mitzvah carefully in all its details (Sod Hadlakas Ner Chanukah, authored by Rabbi Yitzchok, the son of the Raavad). So it is certainly worthwhile to thoroughly review the halachos of Chanukah lights before the wonderful days of Chanukah catch up with us.

 

Non-Edible Oils for Lighting the Menorah

How is olive oil produced?

There are approximately seven hundred olive varieties, or cultivars, whose distinctive tastes and aromas are developed and marketed, just as viniculture develops distinctive varieties of fine wine. Specialty olive oil producers have mastered the methods whereby they breed, grow, and produce their oil. The highest quality olive oil is produced by painstakingly harvesting the fruit by hand to assure that it is not damaged, even though this method drives up the cost tremendously. Olives for quality oils are picked and milled within hours, to minimize oxidation and enzymatic reactions, which leave unpleasant tastes and odors in the oil and decrease its fragrant qualities. These bouquet oils, like vintage wines, compete among connoisseurs for their taste. These oils are the Rolls-Royce of the olive industry and are sold privately or in gourmet shops, similar to the way one would acquire vintage wines.

Olives are almost unique among oil sources, in that olive oil can be consumed in its crude form without refining. Almost all other edible oils: soy, canola, corn, cottonseed, peanut, palm, etc., require extensive refining using heat and chemicals to make the oil palatable. Furthermore, unrefined olive oil conserves most of its nutrients, whereas refining often destroys them.

What is extra virgin oil, and what is virgin oil?

Oil produced without refining is called virgin or cold-press oil. The term cold press can have many meanings, but in common parlance it refers to oil that is extracted without heating the olives or the use of chemicals. However, one should bear in mind that the term “cold press” actually has no legal meaning. Someone selling refined oil as cold press would be violating an industry standard, but cannot be prosecuted for violating the law. It is also important to note that the term virgin oil has no legal meaning in the United States, although there are many countries in the world where the term has a legal meaning. In those countries, someone selling refined olive oil as virgin oil can be prosecuted. However, someone selling refined oil as virgin olive oil in the United States is exempt from prosecution, either civil or criminal.

There are four categories of virgin oil: extra virgin, virgin, ordinary virgin and virgin lamp oil.

Extra virgin oil

The official Italian standard for extra virgin oil is that its taste is excellent and has no defects, and that the oil has an acid content of less than 1%. The lower the acid content, the better the taste. Extra virgin oil is the Cadillac of the olive industry.

Virgin oil is not required to meet as high a standard for taste, but still has a positive taste profile, and can have an acid content of up to 2%.

Ordinary virgin oil

Never heard of this? There is a reason why – either its taste is considered inferior or its acid content is greater than 2%. These are the Chevies of the olive industry. Usually, this oil undergoes further processing, which is called refining, to remove the excess acid and make it more palatable, and the resulting product should not be called virgin oil, but should be sold as “refined olive oil” or “olive oil” missing the adjective “virgin.” This is the type of olive oil that is used in canned sardines packed in olive oil.

Technically, if the oil is exclusively refined olive oil it may not be sold as “olive oil,” but if it is a blend of “refined olive oil” and “ordinary virgin” oil it can be called “olive oil.”

Virgin lamp oil

The most inferior category of cold press or virgin oil is called virgin lamp oil, or sometimes by its Italian name – lampante. This is oil whose taste is considered inedible, and therefore will probably not be used for food, but more likely for kindling or other non-food use. This raises a very interesting observation, since the Torah was more concerned that the oil used for kindling in the Menorah in the Mishkan should be only of the highest quality and was less concerned about the quality of oil used to produce the korbanos mincha, the meal offerings. This curiosity is not lost on the Midrash:

In the custom of the world, if someone has bad oil, he kindles it, and his good oil he cooks with. In the Ohel Moed and the Mikdash, one did not do this. Only the purest oil went for lighting, and the second quality went for the menachos (Midrash Tanchuma, Tetzaveh 6).

Olive oil for kindling

Olive oil for kindling is usually refined from inferior oil not considered acceptable for human consumption. Is there any halachic problem with use of this oil for kindling Chanukah lights?

The earliest authority that I found who discusses this issue is the Rashba, in his Toras Habayis (Bayis IV, Shaar I, page 28), the work he wrote, as the title suggests, as a handbook for proper household mitzvah observance. In his discussion about kashrus, he mentions the case where someone discovered a mouse in the oil he had intended to use for food, and whether this oil can now be donated to illuminate a shul. The Rashba compares this to the Talmudic discussion that results from the prophet Malachi’s (1:8) derisive rebuke: “And when they offer a blind animal as an offering, have they perpetrated no evil? And when they offer a lame or sick animal, is this not evil? And if they offered it to their idol, would he accept it or view it favorably?” We see from this verse that it is unacceptable to offer an inferior item in the Beis Hamikdash. The Gemara then derives from this verse that one may not use inferior items for Kiddush or to perform other mitzvos. One should use only quality items for serving Hashem, not items for which one has no other use. The Pri Megadim (Eishel Avraham 154:19) specifically includes the oil one uses for Ner Chanukah under this prohibition.

Regarding  our mouse in the cooking oil, the Rashba concludes that if the oil is halachically not kosher, one may not use it to illuminate the shul, similar to the prohibition against use of a sick or otherwise inferior animal as a korban. However, if the oil is halachically permitted to eat, such as when the rodent parts can be filtered out, one may kindle this oil in shul. The rationale appears to be that one is not attempting to pawn off inferior items by using them for a sacred purpose, which is the despicable activity that Malachi decried. When one could use the item for oneself, but chose not to, it is appropriate to use it for a mitzvah.

Other authorities prohibit lighting shul lamps with this contaminated oil, even when it is halachically kosher and one could eat it (Magen Avraham 154:19, quoting several earlier authorities). These authorities contend that serving Hashem with an item that one personally considers disgusting is prohibited.

Based on the above discussion, I have heard people say that one may not use oil that one cannot or would not eat, either because of kashrus concerns or because of health concerns, for Chanukah lights. It is very common to find olive oil sold as “not for human consumption,” or “for kindling only,” either because the solvents or other chemicals used to extract or refine the oil were not food grade, or because this oil was produced from inferior olives or in such a way that the oil tastes bitter, or the oil was prepared in a less than sanitary environment. Are we indeed required to purchase the far more expensive food-grade olive oil for the menorah?

One may argue that, in this case, the oil does not have a disgusting appearance, as opposed to Malachi’s lame and blind animals. The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 154:12) implies that it is a concern only if the oil appears to be disgusting: If you found a mouse in the oil meant for synagogue use, if it is disgusting, one may not kindle it in the synagogue.

In addition, Malachi’s lame and blind animals would be unable to be worked and therefore may have no suitable use other than being offered as korbanos ­­-– and perhaps this is exactly the prophet’s concern.

Several authorities permitted kindling Chanukah lights with oil that is too bitter for consumption (Ben Ish Chai, Vayeisheiv 12; Kaf Hachayim 673:11). It seems to this author that our case is comparable to their ruling, and that it is permitted to purchase lamp oil for one’s menorah.

Conclusion

Whereas Shabbos and most of our holidays include festivities that we celebrate with the use of wine, on Chanukah, we celebrate the miracle that happened with the olive oil in the Beis Hamikdash. Many of our customs, including the consumption of doughnuts and latkes, are to remind us of the miracle of the oil.

It is interesting to note the many comparisons made between olives and grapes, and this also has halachic overtones. Both vineyards and olive groves are called kerem in Tanach and Mishnaic Hebrew (see Berachos 35a). Wine and olive oil are the only fruit products used in korbanos on the mizbeiach. They are the only liquids whose brocha is not shehakol, but is ha’eitz in the instance of olive oil, and hagefen for wine or grape juice. They both have the halachic distinctiveness of being the only fruit with a Torah requirement of separating terumos and maasros; and they are the only fruits that may be squeezed for their product when they have terumah sanctity.

On the other hand, there is an interesting technical difference between grapes and olives, one with major hashkafic ramifications. Whereas it requires much tending to coax the vine to produce quality wine grapes, the olive tree requires relatively little attention to produce quality olive oil. Once one has chosen the proper site for planting the trees, the main efforts required to produce quality oil are to harvest the olives exactly when they are ready and to crush them immediately without damaging them. Any delay reduces significantly the quality of the oil extracted. This is also reflected in the halacha, which rules that one may harvest and process olives on Chol Hamoed, when work is usually prohibited, because delaying causes major loss (Mishnah, Moed Katan 11b).

The root of the word Chanukah is the same as that of chinuch; both instances include the concept of training or the beginning of performing mitzvos. Thus, the true, correct translation of chinuch is not education, but training.  Similar to the grape, some children require constant involvement in their education. If you take your eyes off their chinuch for a moment, they will be in trouble. However, when you attend to them carefully and constantly, they’ll produce high quality wine. Other children resemble the olive. They require less overseeing. Once they are planted correctly, they will do fine if left to grow on their own. This is indeed a manifestation of the other aspect of chinuch/Chanukah. As parents and teachers, it is our task to understand our children and apply the correct approach to maximize the potential of each child. As Mishlei (Proverbs) tells us, chanoch lanaar al pi darko, each child needs to be trained according to his own specific requirements.

May the lights of Chanukah symbolize for us the dedication of our ancestors to guiding their children and students in the way of Torah, and serve as a beacon for us to continue in that mission.

 

Sukkah Walls Review

On the website, one can find many other articles about various topics of Sukkos and Yom Tov, under the headings Sukkah, Esrog, Yom Tov.

Sukkah Walls Review

examining lulavQuestion #1: A Strapping of a Sukkah

“I have noticed recently that prefab Sukkos come with straps or bars that run along the sides of the sukkah. Could you please explain to me why the manufacturers are now making a more complicated product?”

Question #2: Pergola or Sukkah?

“May a pergola or trellis be used to hold the schach of a sukkah?”

Question #3: Going out to a sukkah

“My aunt, who always takes the family out to eat when she visits, will be in town for Sukkos, and she knows that her favorite restaurant has a sukkah for Chol Hamoed. Can we rely on the restaurant’s sukkah?”

Answer: This is the second part of a revised version of an interview I provided to Mishpacha magazine a few years ago. This article covers some of the more common halachic issues and problems one finds regarding sukkah walls. Although I have edited the original article somewhat, I have left the interview structure. A pdf of the original article can be found here.

Mishpacha: Why should sukkah walls require a hechsher?

RYK: Let me first present the basic laws of sukkah walls, and then I will explain what a hechsher on a prefab sukkah should mean.

Many people have learned that since the word sukkah has three letters — the samech with four sides, the kof with three, and the heih with two and a small yud opposite it — a sukkah may be kosher with four, three or even two walls as long as there is a bit of a third wall on the third side. Unfortunately, the halacha is not as clear-cut as this vort makes it seem. Although there are situations in which a sukkah is kosher when it has three partial walls that do not run the length or width of the sukkah, the laws pertaining to such a sukkah are extremely complicated, and one should not build such a sukkah without conferring with a halachic authority.

Because of the concern that a partial wall often does not qualify as a proper sukkah wall, the Rama mentions that it is now customary not to build a sukkah with only partially constructed walls, but, instead, to make sure that it has three walls that are the full length or width of the sukkah.[i] Nevertheless, there are situations when this is not practical. I find this situation most common in Eretz Yisroel or in some parts of New York City, where people must assemble their sukkah in a courtyard or porch that has several entrances or is unevenly shaped, so that it is impossible to construct three full walls. I strongly recommend that someone in this situation consult with a competent halachic authority before building the sukkah to ascertain that their plans, indeed, meet the halachic requirements. Then have the rav see the actual sukkah after it is constructed, with enough time before Yom Tov to make any necessary changes. It is a shame to have invested the time and money for a sukkah and then not fulfill the mitzvah because someone was too proud or too busy to check that the sukkah was kosher. (In addition, eating in a sukkah whose kashrus is questionable could entail violating halacha and reciting brochos levatalah.)

Keep your roof near your walls

Furthermore, the law is that the walls of the sukkah must be fairly close to the schach. The horizontal distance between the schach and the three walls must be less than three tefachim (according to some opinions, 24 centimeters or 9.4 inches[ii]), or the sukkah is not kosher. Every year I see sukkahs that, unfortunately, are not kosher because of this problem. Sometimes people build a framework for their sukkah, including walls and schach, but do not realize that the schach must be near the walls. I have also often seen fancy, pergola-like frames built on patios and upon which the schach is placed, but the schach is at too great a distance from the patio walls for the sukkah to be kosher. These sukkahs can almost always be fixed so that they are kosher halachically, but one has to know how to do it properly.

With the wind to my sukkah’s back

Here is another common problem — sukkahs made with walls that are too flimsy. The Gemara teaches that “any partition that cannot withstand a typical wind does not qualify as a partition.”[iii] The Gemara then notes that this principle seems to be contradicted by a Mishnah that rules that a sukkah may be constructed using trees as its walls, yet trees move in the wind. The Gemara responds that the Mishnah refers to substantive, thick trees that will not move in the wind.  The Gemara then asks that even if the tree is strong, the canopy of the tree will certainly be blown by the wind. To this the Gemara responds that the Mishnah must be discussing a case where the tree’s canopy was reinforced so that the wind would not move it.

There are two ways of explaining this section of Gemara:

Some understand that the Gemara invalidates a sukkah only if the wind will blow down the wall or blow apart the materials that constitute the wall such that it now has gaps that invalidate it; but a wall that sways is valid.[iv] According to this approach, a cloth-walled sukkah assembled such that its walls are tied properly at the top and bottom is kosher, even though the middle of the “walls” sways considerably in the wind.

However, most authorities rule that the Gemara means that if a typical wind causes noticeable movement to the wall, it is invalid as a sukkah wall. The wording of Rambam and Shulchan Aruch seems to bear out this approach:

“Someone who makes his sukkah among the trees, using them as walls; if they were strong or he tied them until the point that a common wind would not constantly move them, and he filled in between the branches with straw tied in a way that the wind would not sway them, the sukkah is kosher.”[v]

According to this approach, most prefab sukkos pose a halachic concern, since they are usually made of cloth or plastic walls that blow in the wind. One finds some discussion among authorities as to how much swaying is called too much. Some authorities rule that if one makes the walls very taut, the sukkah is still valid.

Many years ago I was approached by a manufacturer of prefab sukkahs to provide him with a hechsher. His sukkah was indeed made of very thick cloth which, when assembled according to his instructions, was very taut.

Mishpacha: Did you give him a hechsher?

RYK: No, I did not. Some early authorities are concerned about the use of cloth walls for a sukkah, even when they are made very taut, because of concern that they will loosen and then sway in the wind.[vi] The same passage of Shulchan Aruch I just quoted cites this opinion. Allow me to quote the Shulchan Aruch’s conclusion:

“Therefore it is improper to make all the walls from linen curtains without sticks, even if one tied them well, because sometimes the ties loosen without anyone realizing it, and now the wall can no longer withstand a typical wind. Someone who wants to use sheets [for his sukkah walls] should weave sticks into his walls within every three tefachim.”[vii]

It seems to me that one should not build a sukkah with any type of cloth walls, unless one reinforces them with something that the wind cannot blow. I presume that the rav who did provide this manufacturer with a hechsher on the sukkah walls felt that one can draw a distinction between thick, strong cloth and the “curtains” and “sheets” mentioned by the Shulchan Aruch. However, I was (and remain) unwilling to provide a hechsher to something that runs counter to the Shulchan Aruch, according to my understanding.

Today, the halachically better quality cloth-walled sukkos come with straps or cords that create halachic walls. Let me explain how this works. There is a halachic principle called lavud, according to which a gap of less than three tefachim (24 centimeters or 9.4 inches) in a wall is treated as if it is actually closed. According to this principle, one can technically build sukkah walls with sticks placed either horizontally or vertically every 24 centimeters along its sides.

If one uses vertical sticks or wires, one needs only to construct “walls” through lavud until they reach a height of ten tefachim (80 centimeters or 31.5 inches), which is technically the minimum height requirement for the walls of a sukkah (see Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 630:9). For this reason, the prefab sukkos made with belts or crossbars have them only from the floor until they reach this height.

Mishpacha: Rav Kaganoff, could I ask you to address this actual case we were asked: My aunt, who always takes the family out to eat when she visits, will be in town for Sukkos, and she knows that her favorite restaurant has a sukkah for Chol Hamoed. Can we rely on the restaurant’s sukkah?

RYK: Even when the restaurant has a good hechsher, the sukkah assembled often is a cloth-walled type that most authorities invalidate. I have even seen restaurants with excellent hechsherim sporting sukkahs that were not kosher at all. For example, the cloth walls were not secured properly and they billowed upward in the wind, which is not kosher even according to the lenient position mentioned above. Yes, I also find it surprising that the hechsher is assuming responsibility only for the kashrus of the food, but does not get involved in whether the sukkah built by the restaurant is kosher.

Thus, if you want to accept Aunt Shprintzah’s wonderful invitation, check in advance how the restaurant sukkah is constructed. It has often happened that I received a phone call from a person at a restaurant trying to figure out what to do, and I have advised him to eat only items that one may eat outside the sukkah.

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!

 

 

[i] Glosses to Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 630:5

[ii] There are several opinions how to measure or estimate the length of a tefach in contemporary measurements. I suggest that our readers confer with their rav or posek for direction as to what size to use.

[iii] Gemara Sukkah 24b

[iv] Chazon Ish, Orach Chayim 77:6

[v] Rambam, Hilchos Sukkah 4:5; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 630:10

[vi] Rabbeinu Peretz in his notes to the Sma”k

[vii] Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 630:10. Other authorities who discuss this issue at length include Rabbi Ovadyah Yosef in his Shu”t Yechaveh Daas 3:46.

How to Eat before Hearing Shofar

There are several articles on the website germane to different of our observances of Rosh Hashanah, which can be located there under the search words Shofar, Rosh Hashanah or Tashlich. Wishing everyone a kesivah vachasimah tovah, and a happy and healthy year to you and your loved ones.

 

Question:

slice of cake“I find it extremely difficult not to eat until the completion of Rosh Hashanah davening, and I understand that many Yeshivos make kiddush before blowing shofar. May I introduce this practice in my shul?”

Answer:

Before we discuss whether one may eat before hearing the shofar blowing, we must first analyze the issue of eating before performing any other mitzvah.

Regarding someone who returns home after a long day at work, the Gemara states: Our Sages built a fence to protect their words, so that a person should not return from the field in the evening and say, ‘I’ll eat a little, drink a little, sleep a little, and then recite kerias shma and pray,’ because we are concerned that sleep will overtake him, resulting in his sleeping the entire night without fulfilling his mitzvos. Instead, someone returning in the evening from the field should enter the Beis HaKenesses. If he usually studies Tanach, he should do so. If he usually studies Mishnah, he should do so. Then he should read kerias shma and pray.” (Nowadays, we refer to “reading kerias shma and praying” as “davening maariv.”) Only then should he go home to eat supper (Brachos 4b).

It would appear that Chazal prohibited eating, drinking and sleeping before performing the mitzvos one is obliged to fulfill. To determine whether this is relevant to the mitzvah of shofar, we need to resolve a few questions:

All or nothing?

The Taz asks: The Gemara says that he should not say, “I’ll eat a little, drink a little and sleep a little,” before first davening maariv. Did our Sages prohibit only performing all three, or did they prohibit any one of the three? If they, indeed, prohibited only all three, the prohibition reported by this Gemara would not apply unless someone planned to nap, eat and drink before hearing the shofar. On the other hand, if they prohibited any of the three, one may not eat or even drink before davening maariv, and we will need to discuss the ramifications  of the prohibition to eat or drink before hearing the shofar.

The Taz concludes that the Gemara prohibited doing any one of these three activities before fulfilling the mitzvah. His reasoning is that one may certainly not sleep for even a few minutes without first davening maariv, lest he fall asleep for the night and not fulfill his mitzvos. Thus, sleeping even “a little” must be prohibited before reciting shma and davening. If so, this implies that it is also prohibited to “eat a little” even if one does not drink or sleep, or to “drink a little” even if one does not eat or sleep (Taz, Orach Chayim 235:3).

Furthermore, based on another discussion that is beyond the scope of this article, the Shulchan Aruch rules that one may not begin eating even a half hour before the time for davening maariv begins. If it is already a half hour before the time for davening maariv, one must wait until the time of maariv arrives, then daven, and only then is it permitted to eat (Orach Chayim 235:2). Although the Taz disagrees, the consensus of late authorities accepts the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch (Mishnah Berurah 235:18.)

Despite the Shulchan Aruch’s conclusion that one may not eat prior to davening maariv, many authorities permit this, if one always davens maariv at a specific minyan or if someone is available to remind him to daven (see Magen Avraham 235:4; Mishnah Berurah 235:18). Others permit eating before davening maariv if one sets an alarm clock as a reminder.

Time for a good snack?

In a situation when one may not eat or drink before davening maariv, what eating or drinking is prohibited? Does this prohibition include even eating a snack, or does it only apply to a meal?

The wording of the Gemara, “a person should not return in the evening and say, ‘I’ll eat a little, drink a little,’” implies that even a small snack is prohibited, and this is indeed the opinion of some early authorities (Terumas HaDeshen #109). However, the consensus of later authorities is to follow the opinion of the Tur (Orach Chayim 235), who permits snacking before maariv, and prohibits only eating a meal (Magen Avraham 235:4).

One man’s snack is another’s meal

Now that we have distinguished between eating a snack, which is permitted, and eating a meal, which is not, we need to define our categories. At what point does the permitted snack become a forbidden meal?

To answer this question we will borrow from a related halachic discussion. The Mishnah rules that during Sukkos one is required to eat his meals in a sukkah, but casual (arai) eating and drinking is permitted outside the sukkah (Sukkah 25a). How does one define what is arai and what is not? The Mishnah and the Gemara conclude that eating up to a kebeitzah (the size of an egg) of bread or mezonos does not require a sukkah, but that one may not eat more than a kebeitzah of bread outside a sukkah (Sukkah 26b – 27a).

Since the Gemara holds that up to a kebeitzah of bread or mezonos is a snack that does not require a sukkah, the halachic authorities rule that this amount may be eaten before maariv (Mishnah Berurah 235:16; see also Shulchan Aruch 232:3).

The halachic authorities compare sukkah to maariv in yet another way. Just as one may eat an unlimited quantity of fruit or vegetables outside the sukkah, since this is always considered eating arai (Shulchan Aruch and Rama, Orach Chayim 639:2), one may eat an unlimited quantity of fruit or vegetables prior to davening maariv, since this qualifies as a snack and not a meal (see Magen Avraham 235:4).

BEVERAGE VERSUS FRUIT

This leads us to a basic question: If one may eat an unlimited quantity of fruit and vegetables outside the sukkah and before davening maariv, why is one limited in how much beverage one may drink before davening maariv? If halacha considers consuming fruits and vegetables as casual eating that is permitted before maariv, why should drinking be judged as any less casual?

The answer to this question lies in a terse comment of the Magen Avraham wherein he rules: One may drink as much as one wants outside the sukkah, but must be careful not to drink more than a kebeitzah of beverage before davening mincha, lest he drink too much and become intoxicated to the extent that he cannot daven (Magen Avraham 232:17). This ruling understands that the prohibition against drinking prior to davening is limited to intoxicating beverages (Mishnah Berurah 232:35). When the Gemara was concerned “that a person should not return from the field in the evening and say, ‘I’ll drink a little,’” the concern was only about alcoholic drinks.

Accordingly, once the time comes to perform a mitzvah (and perhaps even a half-hour before), one may not eat a meal or drink more than a kebeitzah of alcoholic beverage without first performing the mitzvah, but one may eat as much fruit and vegetables, and drink as much non-alcoholic beverages, as one desires. One may also snack on up to a kebeitzah of bread or mezonos, but no more.

NON-INTOXICATING EXCEPTION – KIDDUSH AND HAVDALAH

There are at least two mitzvos that stand as exceptions to the previous rule: The Shulchan Aruch prohibits all snacking and drinking before kiddush and havdalah, once the time to fulfill these mitzvos has arrived (Orach Chayim 271:4; 299:1).

Why is it prohibited to snack before kiddush and havdalah, whereas one may snack before one has davened maariv? The Magen Avraham explains that snacking is prohibited before reciting kiddush or havdalah because one is obligated to fulfill these mitzvos at the very beginning of the evening (Magen Avraham 235:4). I presume he means that Chazal prohibited snacking in order to guarantee that the mitzvah is performed immediately. However, regarding other mitzvos, where the concern is only that he might forget to perform the mitzvah altogether, it is sufficient to ban eating a meal or doing something that might result in not performing the mitzvah at all.

KIDDUSH VERSUS HAVDALAH

With this background, we can now explain the following curious difference between kiddush and havdalah. Prior to reciting kiddush, one is prohibited to drink anything, even water, whereas prior to reciting havdalah, although one may not snack or drink most beverages, one may drink water (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 271:4; 299:1). Why this distinction between kiddush and havdalah?

It seems that although both kiddush and havdalah should be fulfilled at the beginning of the evening, Chazal encouraged reciting kiddush early, in order to greet Shabbos as early as possible. On the other hand, although one should recite havdalah early in the night, one should not rush Shabbos out the door, but simply be certain to recite havdalah before engaging in after-Shabbos activities. Therefore, Chazal permitted drinking water before reciting havdalah, although they prohibited doing so before kiddush, to guarantee that people recite kiddush quickly.

For the same reason, there is another major difference between kiddush and havdalah. If someone began a meal early Friday afternoon and it extended into Shabbos, he must stop eating as soon as Shabbos arrives and recite kiddush. Although one may continue the meal after reciting kiddush and wait to daven maariv and recite shma after the meal is over, he may not continue the meal without first reciting kiddush.

However, if this happened when Shabbos ends, one has no requirement to recite havdalah until the meal is over. This is why we commonly extend seudah shlishis (in Yiddish called shalosh seudos) into the night, and bensch, daven maariv, and recite havdalah only when the meal is over.

DAY VERSUS NIGHT

So far, we have explained that once the time to perform a mitzvah arrives, one may not eat a meal or drink a significant quantity of intoxicating beverage before one has performed the mitzvah. We have also seen that some authorities prohibit even snacking. We have learned further that prior to reciting kiddush or havdalah, halacha prohibits any snacking or drinking at all, with the only exception that one may drink water prior to havdalah.

One possibility that we have not yet explored is whether there is a halachic difference between a mitzvah performed in the daytime and one performed at night. Perhaps there is less concern regarding a daytime mitzvah, and Chazal prohibited eating only prior to performing a nighttime mitzvah, lest eating after a hard day’s work cause one to fall asleep before performing the mitzvah. According to this suggestion, one could eat a meal before fulfilling the mitzvos of shofar, lulav or tefillin.

However, this distinction does not accord with the accepted halacha, as we find several instances where someone may not begin eating a meal before fulfilling a daytime mitzvah such as davening mincha (Mishnah Shabbos 9b), taking lulav (Sukkah 38a) or blowing shofar (Tosefta, Shabbos 1:4, as explained by Magen Avraham 235:4).

EARLY NIGHT SNACK

As mentioned above, although some authorities contend that prior to maariv one may not eat or drink anything, the consensus is to allow snacks, non-alcoholic beverages and small quantities of alcoholic drinks. Notwithstanding this decision, the Magen Avraham (692:7), after reaching this conclusion, makes the strange comment that one may eat a snack before the reading of the Megillah only in extenuating circumstances. This ruling is all the more confusing since it contradicts his own conclusion permitting snacking before fulfilling the Torah mitzvos of taking lulav and reciting shma (Magen Avraham 235:4; 652:4). Later authorities assume that only under extenuating circumstances did the Magen Avraham permit snacking before fulfilling any mitzvah (see Mateh Efrayim 588:2; Shu”t Chasam Sofer, Yoreh Deah #7 and others).

LET’S TALK ABOUT SHOFAR

Based on this Magen Avraham, many prominent authorities rule that someone who is weak or ill may recite kiddush and eat less than a kebeitzah of food prior to hearing the shofar, but emphasize that this should be done in private, so that other people will not assume that they may also be lenient (Mateh Efrayim 588:2). According to this position, snacking before shofar blowing is permitted only for the weak and the ill.

BEFORE SHOFAR OR AFTER?

If someone must eat before the end of Rosh Hashanah davening, is it better for him to eat before shofar blowing, or to hear shofar blowing first and then make kiddush and eat? On the one hand, as we have demonstrated, there is a prohibition against eating before fulfilling a required mitzvah, which would imply that he should first fulfill the mitzvah of shofar and only then eat. Although he would still eat before davening musaf, this is less of a concern than before shofar, since musaf is only miderabbanan and shofar is a Torah mitzvah.

On the other hand, one who eats before hearing the shofar thereby interrupts between the bracha recited over the shofar and the later shofar soundings.

FAMILY FEUD

It is curious to note a dispute between closely-related gedolim on this issue. Rabbi Akiva Eiger maintains that it is better not to eat before the shofar, but to hear shofar first and then eat, even though this results in the kiddush and the brachos on the food interrupting between the brachos of shofar and the later shofar blowing. He was more concerned about eating before fulfilling the mitzvah than he was about interrupting after the bracha.

On the other hand, his son-in-law, the Chasam Sofer (Shu”t Yoreh Deah #7, end) contends that someone ill who cannot wait to eat until the end of davening should discreetly make Kiddush and eat between shacharis and shofar blowing. He contends that it is better to eat before shofar than to interrupt between the bracha on shofar and the later soundings. (It is also noteworthy that the Chasam Sofer implies that someone who is ill may eat even a meal before shofar blowing.)

The above authorities all seem opposed to any eating before the shofar, except in extenuating circumstances. This places on a shaky footing the custom of making kiddush for the entire congregation before shofar.

However, the Sdei Chemed (vol. 8 pg 325 s.v. vishamati) cites several sources recording a practice in Ashkenazic communities to recite kiddush and eat a small snack before shofar blowing. The prevalent practice in Yeshivos reflects this approach, considering the long wait until davening is over as an extenuating circumstance. This became the subject of a major dispute among the great Torah leaders in America a generation ago, with Rav Henkin, zt”l, strongly opposed to the practice of eating before shofar blowing for anyone not clearly ill or weak, while Rav Aharon Kotler zt”l championed the practice of making kiddush before shofar.

HOW MUCH IS A SNACK?

One should bear in mind that the dispute among these authorities is only whether one may eat a snack before shofar and musaf. The prevalent yeshiva custom to recite kiddush  prior to shofar blowing is intended only to permit people to eat up to a kebeitzah-sized piece of cake. Unfortunately, the average hungry person placed in front of a huge pile of cake has difficulty restricting himself to less than a kebeitzah.

Although the early sources do not countenance this, a contemporary authority quotes a basis to be lenient: since everyone returns to shul for the rest of davening immediately after reciting kiddush, people will clearly remind one another to not miss shofar blowing (Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasah, Volume 2 52:14:52, quoting Rav Shelomoh Zalman Auerbach). (I personally categorize this last line of reasoning as a limud zechus, a rationale to explain behavior that seems to run against halacha, rather than as a solid reason to justify the practice.)

PROPOSED SOLUTION

For those who find it difficult to eat less than a kebeitzah, and are uncomfortable relying on this last heter, which clearly runs counter to the approach of most early authorities, I suggest the following: Many foods, such as potatoes, yams, quinoa, corn and rice are highly filling, even though they technical qualify as vegetables for these halachos. In order to fulfill the requirement of kiddush bimkom seudah – the halachic requirement that one eat a “meal” when fulfilling the mitzvah of Kiddush – one should eat at least a kezayis (an olive-sized piece) of cake, crackers, pretzels, or some other grain product. In order to avoid eating more than a kebeitzah of these items, which most authorities forbid, one should be careful to eat less than a kebeitzah of items made from the five grains, and then eat a substantive “snack” of potatoes or some other satisfying vegetable. This requires less self-discipline than restricting oneself to a kebeitzah of cake. I also strongly suggest that any shul or yeshiva that has a kiddush before shofar should instruct people not to eat more than a kebeitzah of cake.

CONCLUSION

When we hear the shofar blow, we should remember that we, the Jewish people, are crowning Hashem as our King and the King of the universe. Studying the laws that pertain to this mitzvah is an important way in which we can show our acceptance of His kingship.