Interesting Chol Hamoed Questions

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Question #1: Trick

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

Question #2: Treat

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

Question #3: Treasures

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

Introduction:

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

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

Melacha on Chol Hamoed

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

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

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

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

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

Davar ha’aveid

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

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

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

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

Tzorchei hamoed

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

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

Po’eil she’ein lo mah le’echol

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

Tie yourself in knots

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

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

Knotty question

Is there any prohibition against tying knots on Chol Hamoed?

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

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

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

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

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

Melacha versus business

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buried treasure

At this point, let us discuss our third question:

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

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

Conclusion

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




Liturgical Curiosities

Question #1:

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

Question #2:

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

Question #3:

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

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

What are Piyutim?

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

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

Selichos

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

Double Duty

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

Teaching Torah through Piyutim

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

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

U’neshalma Parim Sefaseinu

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

Other “Replacement” Prayers

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

Educate to Observe Mitzvos

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

Who Authored Them?

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

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

An Old Controversy

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

Mesod Chachamim Unevonim

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

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

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

Who was the First Paytan?

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

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

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

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

Kalirian Curiosities

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

Kalirian Controversies

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

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

Why is Es Tzemach David Ignored?

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

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

Answering the Mystery

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

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

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

The Kinos

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

Conclusion

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




Is That Shofar Kosher?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beyond the Minimum

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

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

Boiled, Buffed, and Beautiful

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buff and polish

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

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

Hold the Super Glue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Holey Shofaros!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do We Need To Worry?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Outwitting the Satan

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

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

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


 Is this not to’kai’ah?




The Twentieth of Sivan

Question:

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

Answer:

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

Biblical Source

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

Communal Teshuvah Observances

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

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

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

The History of the 20th of Sivan

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

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

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

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

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

Banishment from France

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

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

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

Instituting the Fast

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

The Crusades

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

Gezeiros Tach veTat

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

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

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

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

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

Chmielnitzky, the National Hero

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

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

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

Rav Shimshon MeiOstropolia

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

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

Rules of the Vaad Arba Ha’aratzos

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

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

Why the 20th of Sivan?

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

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

An Additional Reason

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

The Selichos

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

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

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

The Prayers for 20th of Sivan

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

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

Bris on the 20th of Sivan

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

Why don’t we observe this?

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

Conclusion

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




More on the Laws of Yom Tov

Photo by Rene Cerney from FreeImages

There are several articles on the various topics germane to Shavuos available on this website. Search for dairy bread, Eruv Tavshillin, Nat, Shavuos, and Yom Tov.

Question #1: Plan-overs on Yom Tov

“I have been told that there is a way to cook more than you need on Yom Tov in order to have plenty of leftovers for Chol Hamoed or for after Yom Tov. How does that work?”

Question #2: Muktzah Grill

“I own a portable, charcoal-fired grill. Is it muktzah on Yom Tov?”

Question #3: Fireplace on Yom Tov?

“May I use my fireplace on Yom Tov?”

Answer:

When discussing the laws of Yom Tov, the Torah teaches kol melacha lo yei’aseh bahem, ach asher yei’acheil lechol nefesh hu levado yei’aseh lachem,“No work should be performed on these days; however, that which is eaten by everyone (kol nefesh), only that may be prepared for yourselves” (Shemos 12:16). We see from the posuk that although most melachos are forbidden on Yom Tov, cooking and most other food preparations are permitted. Yet, we also see that this posuk does not provide a blanket approval for all food preparations, but limits it to that which is eaten by everyone (kol nefesh), and furthermore permits only performing melacha “for yourselves” as the beneficiaries. We will see, shortly, what these pesukim include and exclude.

This article is not a full review of the rules of Yom Tov observance; rather, it focuses on some details of the laws of preparing food on Yom Tov, with which many people are unfamiliar. As always, this article is not meant to provide halachic guidance for our readers – that is the role of the individual’s rav or posek. The purpose of this article is to provide background and to explain concepts.

Kol nefesh

The posuk permits cooking and food preparation. Certain other activities are also permitted, even though they are not food preparatory, such as carrying, but these activities are permitted only when there is a Yom Tov purpose or benefit (Tosafos, Beitzah 12a). Nevertheless, activities such as burning incense are forbidden on Yom Tov, because the Torah permits only that which kol nefesh,“everyone,” appreciates; not everyone appreciates the smell of burning incense (Mishnah, Beitzah 22b; Kesubos 7a; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 511:4). On the other hand, it is permitted to add a pleasant fragrance to food that will be eaten, since this is considered tzorach ochel nefesh, a food purpose (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 511:4 and Mishnah Berurah ad locum).

Most authorities prohibit smoking on Yom Tov, because many people do not appreciate its “benefits.” Even in earlier generations, when the dangers of smoking tobacco were not known, there was a large discussion among halachic authorities whether smoking is permitted on Yom Tov, because of the concern that it does not qualify as something that kol nefesh enjoys (Magen Avraham 514:4, Pri Megadim and Chasam Sofer ad locum; Mor Uketziyah, 511; Pnei Yehoshua, Shabbos 39b s.v. Ve’omer R”I; Korban Nesanel, Beitzah 2:22:10 et al.)

Cooking that is prohibited

Even cooking and other food preparations are not always permitted on Yom Tov. For example, it is permitted to cook and prepare food on Yom Tov only when that food will be served on Yom Tov, but it is forbidden to cook on Yom Tov for Chol Hamo’ed, on the first day of Yom Tov for the second day, or on either day of Yom Tov for after the holiday is over. Even cooking on a Yom Tov that falls on a Friday for Shabbos is permitted only when one first makes an eruv tavshillin, a topic for a different time. Similarly, preparing the meals of the second night of Yom Tov may not take place on the first day of Yom Tov. For this reason, a common custom in Eastern Europe was to delay maariv on the second night of Yom Tov in order to discourage beginning the meal preparations before the first day of Yom Tov was over. (Remember that, in those days, preparing the meal before Yom Tov and freezing or refrigerating it so that it could be warmed up was not an option.) The davening was delayed intentionally, so that by the time the men returned home from shul, the women would have had sufficient time after the first day of Yom Tov had ended to prepare the meal.

Cooking on Yom Tov for a non-Jew is prohibited (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 518:2). Furthermore, Chazal forbade inviting a non-Jew for a Yom Tov meal, out of concern that a Jew might cook specifically for him on Yom Tov (Beitzah 21b). It is permitted to invite non-Jewish domestic help for a Yom Tov meal, since you would not prepare for them a special dish (Rosh; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 512:1). However, you may not cook for them on Yom Tov.

Similarly, it is forbidden to cook or do other melacha on Yom Tov for an animal. Thus, although it is permitted to mix baby cereal on Yom Tov, even in a way that is prohibited on Shabbos because of the melacha of losh, kneading, this can be done on Yom Tov only for a Jewish child. To prepare this product for a non-Jew or for a pet is not permitted on Yom Tov, since this involves a melacha activity. Similar to cooking and other food preparatory melachos, losh is permitted on Yom Tov, but only to provide food for someone Jewish.

Plan-overs

At this point, we can begin discussing the answer to our opening question: “I have been told that there is a way to cook more than you need on Yom Tov in order to have plenty of leftovers for Chol Hamoed or for after Yom Tov. How does that work?”

Adding more

One type of cooking that is permitted on Yom Tov is called marbeh be’shiurim, literally increasing the quantities, which means that, while preparing food on Yom Tov, it is permitted to include a greater quantity while cooking, provided no additional melacha act is performed. For example, if you need to heat a small amount of water for a cup of tea, you may place a large pot of water on the fire, since only one act of heating water — placing a pot on the fire — is being performed.

However, this is prohibited if an additional melacha action is performed. For example, if the pot is already on the fire, you may not add extra water to it, since this involves a new melacha activity.

Here are other examples. If you are making a cholent or cooking soup, you may add into the pot greater quantities of meat, beans or other ingredients than you will need for your Yom Tov meal before it is placed on the stove, because you place the entire pot onto the fire at one time.You may fill a pot with meat on the first day of Yom Tov, even though you need only one piece for the first day.

However, it is prohibited to prepare individual units of a food item, knowing that you are preparing more than can possibly be eaten on Yom Tov. For this reason, you may not fry more schnitzel or similar items than you will possibly need for a Yom Tov meal, since these involve separate melacha actions. Similarly, it is forbidden to bake more than necessary for the day (Beitzah 17a). Adding water or meat before putting the pot on the fire simply increases the quantity cooked, but does not increase the number of melacha acts. Shaping each loaf or roll is done separately, which is forbidden on Yom Tov as unnecessary work.

Why is this permitted?

Why is it permitted to cook extra on Yom Tov by use of marbeh be’shiurim? We would think that cooking extra on Yom Tov is forbidden, just as in a situation of pikuach nefesh, when it is forbidden to cook more than what is necessary for the needs of the ill person. So, why is it permitted to cook extra on Yom Tov, as long as no extra melacha actions are performed?

The Ran (Beitzah 9b in Rif pages, s.v. Umiha) explains that there is a qualitative difference between the performance of melacha actions on Shabbos (or Yom Tov) to save someone’s life, versus cooking on Yom Tov. Although saving lives is a huge mitzvah, even if it involves desecrating Shabbos, the act performed is still a melacha on Shabbos. The Torah permitted this melacha, because saving lives is more important.

On the other hand, when the Torah defined prohibited activities on Yom Tov, it defined the prohibition as melachos that are not food preparatory. Preparing food on Yom Tov involves no melacha activity whatsoever, and is as permitted on Yom Tov as it is to set the table on Shabbos. Since no melacha activity is performed, there is nothing wrong with adding more to cook in the course of preparing the Yom Tov meal, provided that no additional actions are done.

Muktzah on Yom Tov

In general, the laws of muktzah apply on Yom Tov, although there are many situations in which the laws are different from the way these laws are applied on Shabbos. First we will review the basic categories of muktzah, so that I can explain how the rules are different on Yom Tov.

There are three levels of muktzah:

A         Kli she’me’lachto leheter is an item whose primary use is permitted, such as a chair or pillow. Such an item can be moved on Shabbos or Yom Tov in order to accomplish one of three purposes:

(1) To use it.

(2) To use the place where it is located.

(3) To avoid it becoming stolen, lost or damaged.

However, it may not be moved without any reason (Shabbos 123b-124a; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 308:4).

Therefore, if you left a pillow on your open porch and you are afraid that it will rain, you can bring the pillow indoors. You are also permitted to use it for a pillow fight, assuming the other person is agreeable to the pillow fight. (If they are not, it would be prohibited to use it for this purpose even on a weekday.) However, it is not permitted to move a pillow without any purpose at all.

B         Kli she’me’lachto le’issur is an item whose primary use is forbidden, such as a hammer or a needle, although you might have a permitted reason to use it. An item in this category may be moved to accomplish one of two purposes:

(1) To use it. If there is a need to use it for a purpose that is permitted, and there is no kli she’me’lachto leheter readily available to do the job (Shabbos 124a). For example, it is permitted to use a hammer on Shabbos or Yom Tov to open a coconut, or a needle to remove a splinter. (In the latter case, you should try to avoid causing bleeding.)

(2) To use the place where it is located.

Under normal circumstances, it may not be moved for any other purpose. It may not be moved when your reason to move it is concern that it may be stolen, damaged or lost.

C         Completely muktzah

These are items that may not be moved for most purposes on Shabbos or Yom Tov.

Differences between Yom Tov and Shabbos

Because it is permitted to cook and prepare food on Yom Tov, the definitions of what fits into the above categories on Yom Tov are not necessarily the same as they are on Shabbos. For example, utensils used to cook are usually categorized as kli she’me’lachto le’isur on Shabbos and, therefore, can be moved only if you have a Shabbos use for them, or you need their place for something else. However, these same items are kli she’me’lachto leheter on Yom Tov, since it is permitted to cook with them, and therefore they can be moved on Yom Tov, even if your only reason to move them is that you are afraid that they might become damaged.

Here is another example of a type of item that is muktzah on Shabbos, but not necessarily so on Yom Tov. Charcoal, pieces of wood and other items that can be used as fuel are completely muktzah, because they have no use on Shabbos. However, on Yom Tov, when cooking is permitted, these types of fuel may not be muktzah, as I will explain.

Lighting candles

A candle is another example of an item that is not muktzah on Yom Tov, although it is muktzah on Shabbos. Although it is prohibited to strike a match on Yom Tov (see below), it is permitted to kindle a candle.

Lighting a candle that has no purpose is prohibited. But it is permitted to light a candle to put on the table, even if its illumination is not noticeable, since this enhances the honor of Yom Tov (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 514:5). Similarly, it is permitted to kindle a candle in shul, even in the daytime, since it enhances the honor of Yom Tov (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 514:5 and Mishnah Berurah 31).

Moving muktzah to cook on Yom Tov

There is another leniency that applies on Yom Tov that does not apply on Shabbos. It is permitted to move a muktzah item on Yom Tov in order to enable the preparation of food or to enhance simchas Yom Tov (Rema, Orach Chayim 509:6 and 518:3). For example, a muktzah item was left or placed on top of a stove or a counter that you need to prepare food. You are permitted to pick up the muktzah item with your hands and move it in order to cook and prepare food (Mishnah Berurah 509:31; 518:23). Since, on Yom Tov, it is permitted to cook and prepare food, if the prohibition of muktzah would disturb the ability to cook or otherwise prepare food, it is permitted to move the muktzah item.

New fire

Creating a new fire on Yom Tov is forbidden (Mishnah Beitzah 33a). Therefore, it is prohibited to create a flame by using a flint, rubbing stones together, or striking a match. Similarly, it is prohibited on Yom Tov to light the stove by using the electric igniter.

Muktzah Grill

At this point, we are in a position to address the second of our opening questions: “I own a portable, charcoal-fired grill. Is it muktzah on Yom Tov?” The answer is that, even if you have no intention to use the grill, on Yom Tov it has the status of kli she’me’lachto leheter. As a result, not only can it be moved if you need the place where it is currently located for some other item or purpose, but it can be moved even when the only concern is that it will get damaged or stolen.

Fireplaces on Yom Tov

Many people are surprised to discover that it is permitted to use a fireplace on Yom Tov, either for cooking or warmth, and that it is also permitted to barbecue on Yom Tov. As we noted above, the fireplace or grill must be kindled from an existent flame – but once it is kindled, you may add lighter fluid, charcoal or wood to the fire as needed. It is even permitted to take a burning piece of wood from one side of the fire and move it to another side, to have the fire burn stronger (Rema, Orach Chayim 502:2). The Rema rules that we are not concerned about extinguishing the flame on this piece of wood, because your intent is to make the fire burn better. It is permitted to place food on the grill or fireplace, even though you extinguish the flame a bit with the food or with the drippings. If you add wood to the fire, it must be wood that is assumed to be used for adding to a fireplace or wood-burning stove, as opposed to adding something such as construction lumber, which is not permitted because it is mukztah.

It is not permitted to split the wood, if you can use it without doing do (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 501:2). This is prohibited because this tedious work is unnecessary. There are many detailed halachos regarding use of fallen wood on Yom Tov (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 501:3-6), and the simplest solution is to use only wood that you have set aside from before Yom Tov for this purpose.

Conclusion

The Torah refers to the Yomim Tovim as mo’ed. Just as the word ohel mo’ed refers to the tent in the desert which served as a meeting place between Hashemand the Jewish people, so, too, a mo’ed is a meeting time between Hashem and the Jewish people (Hirsch, Vayikra 23:3 and Horeb). Although on Shabbos we are to refrain from all melacha activity, on Yom Tov the Torah permitted melacha activity that enhances the celebration of the Yom Tov as a mo’ed. Permitting the preparations of delicious, freshly prepared meals allows an even greater celebration of the festivities of the Yom Tov, as we celebrate our unique relationship with Hashem.




The Origins of a Siyum?

Question #1: Friday Finish

May I make a siyum on a Friday?

Question #2: Biblical Finish

May I use a siyum on a book of Tanach to avoid fasting on erev Pesach?

Question #3: No One Finished

A chaburah of which I am a member is completing a mesechta in the Nine Days.  Everyone of us has missed the shiur at times, so none of us has actually completed the entire mesechta.  Can we eat meat when we celebrate this siyum together?

Introduction:

At the end of this week’s double parshiyos of Behar and Bechokosai, we celebrate the siyum of the completion of another chumash of the Torah. Since, unfortunately, most of us have been unable to hear the reading of the Torah, I though it would be a good time to reflect on the halachic background of making a siyum.

Several Talmudic and Midrashic passages serve as sources for the simcha and celebration appropriate for completing an important learning project or other mitzvah activity. As always, our goal is not to issue halachic rulings for any individual; that is the role of each individual’s rav or posek. Our purpose is to provide educational, halachic background on the topic at hand.

The most obvious Talmudic passage about the concept of siyum on studying Gemara is a quotation in which Abayei stated, I will be rewarded because whenever I heard that one of our young Torah scholars completed a mesechta, I made a seudah for all the other scholars (Shabbos 118b). As Rashi explains, Abayei was the rosh yeshiva and made a siyum for his yeshiva when one of his talmidim completed a mesechta.

Shehasimcha bi’me’ono

The Maharshal considers a siyum mesechta such a great celebration that he writes that the introduction of the bensching after the seudah in its honor should warrant the addition of the words shehasimcha bi’me’ono, “that this celebration is in His Presence.” We usually recite this passage only at a wedding or at a sheva brachos. The Maharshal, however, felt that a siyum and a pidyon haben also warrant this recital. His reasoning is straightforward:

The Gemara (Kesubos 8a) cites a dispute whether shehasimcha bi’me’ono is recited at a bris, concluding that it is not recited for an interesting reason. Since, at a bris, the child suffers some pain, we should not imply that it is a moment of simcha for everyone in attendance. The Maharshal reasons that a siyum is a greater celebration than a bris, because all the participants are be’simcha. A similar line of reasoning may be applied to a pidyon haben. As a result, we should recite shehasimcha bi’me’ono when bensching after either of these smachos.

We actually find this issue discussed earlier than the Maharshal, who lived in sixteenth-century Poland. The Abudraham, who lived in Spain during the thirteenth century, cites an opinion that one should recite shehasimcha bi’me’ono at a pidyon haben, but he rejects this for the following reason: Sometimes, there could be a very tragic situation in which the pidyon haben is performed after the infant has died, in which case there would not be a simcha, but additional grief for the parents, and, as a result, no recital of shehasimcha bi’me’ono. (Explaining this halachic scenario requires a lengthy discussion of the laws of pidyon haben, which is not the topic of this article.) Since this situation can happen, it was decided never to recite shehasimcha bi’me’ono at a pidyon haben.

The Abudraham does not discuss whether we should recite shehasimcha bi’me’ono at the bensching of a siyum. Standard practice is not to recite shehasimcha bi’me’ono after either a siyum or a pidyon haben. The likely reason for this practice is that there is a difference between a seudas mitzvah that is also a simchas mitzvah,such as those celebrating a wedding, a bris or a sheva brachos, and a seudas mitzvah that does not qualify as a simchas mitzvah, such as a meal celebrating a bar mitzvah, siyum or pidyon haben. Although the meals served in celebration of a siyum and a pidyon haben are seudos mitzvah, and, according to some opinions, a seudas bar mitzvah is also, none of these qualify as a simchas mitzvah. The recital of shehasimcha bi’me’ono is appropriate for a simchas mitzvah, not a seudas mitzvah.

There are other differences affected by whether an event qualifies as a seudas mitzvah or also as a simchas mitzvah. For example, an aveil may not attend a simchas mitzvah, and therefore he is precluded from attending a wedding or sheva brachos. However, he is permitted to attend a seudas mitzvah, and, for this reason, he may attend a siyum, and, according to most authorities, a pidyon haben.

Another source for a siyum

Returning to our theme of a siyum for completing a learning project, here is a second source for the practice of celebrating the achievement of a mitzvah. When the construction of the Beis Hamikdash was completed, the celebration lasted for fourteen consecutive days. The Gemara notes that this celebration was so significant that Yom Kippur was not observed that year in Yerushalayim, since they were all celebrating the dedication of the Beis Hamikdash (Moed Katan 9a). How can a celebration be so important that they actually ate in its honor on Yom Kippur?

That this celebration superseded fasting on Yom Kippur was derived from a kal ve’chomer. When the mishkan was dedicated, for the first twelve days, private korbanos of each of the nesi’im were offered (Bamidbar Chapter 7), which means that some of these korbanos were offered on Shabbos. Yet, we know that korbanos of an individual never supersede Shabbos. The only possible conclusion to be reached is that dedicating the mishkan was so important that it superseded Shabbos.

Dedicating the Beis Hamikdash has greater significance than the dedication of the mishkan, since the Beis Hamikdash was a permanent structure. And since Shabbos, which is holier than Yom Kippur, was superseded by the celebration of the dedication of the mishkan, certainly proper celebration of the Beis Hamikdash supersedes Yom Kippur. Since observing the fast on Yom Kippur would take away from the immense simcha and celebration involved in inaugurating the Beis Hamikdash, the fast of Yom Kippur was set aside that year!

Obviously, celebrating the inauguration of the Beis Hamikdash is a much greater simcha than a siyum on a mesechta, or even the siyum hashas of all the daf yomi shiurim around the world. Nevertheless, this Gemara conveys the value of completing a mitzvah, which includes the completion of a learning project.

A third source

Yet another source for the festivity of a siyum is based on the following passage of Gemara (Taanis 31a). There the reason provided for the gala festival of the 15th of Av was because it was the annual date on which Klal Yisroel completed chopping the wood necessary for the Beis Hamikdash. Since this was the culmination of a long mitzvah, finishing it every year required a major celebration, similar to completing the Torah (Tosafos Yom Tov, Taanis 4:8).

We should note that this event was celebrated by the entire community, not only by those who actually participated in chopping, gathering and processing the wood. In the same spirit, the Maharshal writes that it is a mitzvah to participate in a siyum, even if you did not participate in the learning (Yam shel Shlomoh, Bava Kama 7:37; see also Pri Megadim, Mishbetzos Zahav 444:9).

This reminds me of an observation that I heard many times from my Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Yaakov Ruderman, that when one person completed Shas in a town in Eastern Europe, it was commonplace that the entire town wore their Shabbos clothes that day – to demonstrate their happiness that the town now boasted another Jew who had completed Shas!

Simchas Torah

The tremendous rejoicing of Simchas Torah is also an extension of this idea, since we are celebrating that we have completed a cycle of reading the Torah (Or Zarua and Hagahos Ashri, end of Sukkah). In earlier generations, this included inviting the entire community to a festive meal, sponsored by the chassan Torah, in which fine delicacies were served (ibid.).

For this reason, I know that some gedolim emphasize that hashkafah droshos on Simchas Torah should not discuss future commitments to learning – the goal on Simchas Torah is to celebrate what has been accomplished, and discussing future commitments detracts from the celebration!

On the other hand, this creates a question: At the time of the Gemara, there were different customs regarding how often the reading of the Torah was completed (Megillah 29b). Today, it is universally accepted that we complete the Torah reading every year; but at the time of the Gemara, there were communities that completed the Torah only every three years, or three-and-a-half years (twice in a shemittah cycle), as explained by the Maharshal (Kol chilukei dinim… #48, printed in Yam shel Shlomoh after mesechta Bava Kama).

Notwithstanding that those following this custom did not complete the Torah annually, the Gemara (Megillah 31a) teaches that the reading for Simchas Torah begins with Vezos Habracha, the last parsha of the Torah. For those communities that read the entire Torah every year, the reading of Vezos Habracha is very appropriate on Simchas Torah, because this is the day that the annual reading of the Torah is completed. But why did those who completed the Torah reading only every three years read Vezos Habracha on Simchas Torah — they were only a third of the way through the cycle of reading the Torah?

This question is raised by the Meshech Chachmah (end of Vezos Habracha), who provides a fascinating answer to the question.

There are two different reasons why we read Vezos Haberacha on Simchas Torah:

(1) Because it completes our reading the Torah.

(2) Because the beginning of parshas Vezos Haberacha alludes to the fact that Klal Yisroel accepted the Torah from Hashem sight unseen, whereas the other nations rejected the Torah (Rashi at the beginning of Vezos Haberacha).

This symbolism is reflected in the offerings of the bulls as public korbanos in the Beis Hamikdash on Sukkos and Shemini Atzeres, the latter being the same Yom Tov as Simchas Torah. (In Eretz Yisroel, this one day Yom Tov is universally called Simchas Torah.) Cumulatively, through the seven days of Sukkos, we offer seventy bulls, one for each of the nations of the earth. On Simchas Torah, we offer only one bull, which represents the unique relationship that Klal Yisroel has with Hashem (Rashi at the end of parshas Pinchas). For this reason, Vezos Haberacha is an appropriate reading for Simchas Torah, even in places where they did not complete the reading of the Torah that day, since it commemorates the special relationship that exists between Hashem and the Jewish people, which we celebrate enthusiastically on Simchas Torah. (See also the Collected Writings of Rav Hirsch, Volume III, page 106, where he explains the celebration of Simchas Torah in a similar way.)

A fourth source

Returning to the gala festivities associated with a siyum, another Midrash is quoted as a source for this celebration. The posuk reports that when Hashem appeared to Shlomoh Hamelech in a dream and offered him his preference for a present, Shlomoh requested wisdom. Upon awaking he discovered that he had now been given colossal understanding. He then went to Yerushalayim, stood near the aron of Hashem, brought many korbanos to thank Hashem for his new knowledge and made a party for the entire nation to join in his celebration. The Midrash concludes that this teaches that we should make a seudah upon attainment of a Torah milestone (Shir Hashirim Rabbah 1:9).

Fridays

At this point, we can discuss our opening question: “May I make a siyum on a Friday?”

Allow me to explain the question: The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 249:2) prohibits having a fancier meal on Friday than is usual, because this takes away from the honor due Shabbos. The Rema contends that a bris or a pidyon haben that falls on a Friday is an exception to this rule and can be observed on Friday, which, he notes, is the accepted custom.

What about a siyum on a Friday

In a note that is all of four words long, the Biur Halacha (249:2 s.v. Oh) writes that, just as a bris or a pidyon haben may be celebrated on a Friday, so may a siyum. Presumably, he feels that the celebration of a siyum should not be delayed, even to complete the learning until Shabbos or Sunday, in order to celebrate it in a timely fashion.

However, other authorities disagree with the Biur Halacha’s conclusion, contending that the completion of the learning should, indeed, be delayed in order to avoid holding the siyum on Friday, noting that even regarding a pidyon haben, not all authorities agreed with the Rema’s conclusion to hold it on Friday (Ketzos Hashulchan 69:7 in Badei Hashulchan). (We should note that an early authority, the Maharam Mintz, ruled that you can delay the completion of a mesechta to an appropriate time that you wish to celebrate, and complete the mesechta at that time [cited by Shach, Yoreh Deah 246:27].)

Tanach or Mishnah?

At this point, we can discuss the second of our opening questions: “May I use a siyum on a book of Tanach to avoid fasting on erev Pesach?” In other words, completing what type of learning project qualifies as a siyum?

The halachic authorities discuss this question in the following contexts. Does attending such a siyum exempt a firstborn from fasting on erev Pesach? Does it permit people to eat meat or drink wine during the Nine Days? These questions are discussed by several halachic authorities, among whom I found the following rulings:

The Pnei Yehoshua (Brochos 17a) understands that when Rabbi Yochanan, the amora, completed studying the book of Iyov, he made a seudas siyum, similar to that made when completing a mesechta. This implies that completing a book of Tanach qualifies as a siyum, but it does not teach us to what depth it must be studied, since Rabbi Yochanan certainly studied Iyov in great depth.

Some rule that someone who has a proper seder studying a book of navi may celebrate a siyum on erev Pesach, even if it is a small sefer, and may use it as a basis to avoid fasting. However, if he was studying it primarily to be able to avoid the fast, he may rely on such a siyum only if he studied a large sefer of Tanach, but not a small one (Shu”t Ha’elef Lecha Shelomoh #386). Others rule that one can use a book of navi as a siyum for these purposes only if it was studied in depth (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim #157).

We should also note that the Elyah Rabbah (551:26) rules that you should not speed up or slow down your learning in order to use a siyum as a reason to eat meat during the Nine Days. The Elyah Rabbah also suggests that, if this individual does not usually make a siyum when he completes a mesechta, he may not make a siyum during the Nine Days for the purpose of allowing people to eat fleishig.

No one finished

At this point, we can discuss the third of our opening questions: “A chaburah of which I am a member is completing a mesechta in the Nine Days.  Everyone of us has missed the shiur at times, so none of us has actually completed the entire mesechta.  Can we eat meat when we celebrate this siyum together?”

Many authorities quote a passage of Gemara (Bava Basra 121b) and the commentary of Rashbam thereon to demonstrate that this is a valid siyum. There the Gemara explains that the immense celebration associated with the 15th of Av was because this was the date when the chopping and gathering of the wood used in the Beis Hamikdash was completed every year. These authorities note that it was not one individual, nor even one group that participated in this holy and extensive project, but it was a large, joint effort completed by the last group on that date. This approach allows us to answer the third of our opening questions: “A chaburah of which I am a member is completing a mesechta in the Nine Days.  Everyone of us has missed the shiur at times, so none of us has actually completed the entire mesechta.  Can we eat meat when we celebrate this siyum together?

Rav Reuven Margaliyos explains why this qualifies as a valid siyum, even though no individual finished the entire mesechta. He compares it to the following two halachic concepts. First, there is a halachic principle that when two people together perform a melacha that each could not do on his own, they are culpable as if each performed the melacha by himself. This halachic concept is called zeh eino yochol ve’zeh eino yochol. Rav Margaliyos notes that if this provides sufficient reason to make someone culpable, it certainly qualifies as a reason to benefit, because of the halachic principle of merubah midah tovah mimidas pur’anus, that a positive attribute is greater than something harsh (see Yoma 76a et al).

A second proof rallied by Rav Margaliyos is the halacha that if two people own a bull together that kills someone, both owners are obligated to pay the kofer, the atonement money, as if they were the sole owner. Thus, we see that a financial obligation can be created by my being part of a group. If so, it is certainly true that I can celebrate something that was accomplished by a group (Nefesh Chayah, Orach Chayim 551:10, quoted in Daf al Daf).

Conclusion

From all the above, we see the beauty and celebration that is associated with completing a large mitzvah project, and particularly, the achievement of completing a siyum after studying something in appropriate depth. I wish everyone my brochos of cheilecha le’oraysa, always use your strengths and talents to study and observe the Torah!




Practical Aspects of Matzoh Baking

Question:

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

Answer:

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

The Flour Requirements

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

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

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

The Concept of Lishmah

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

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

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

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

(1) From the time of harvesting

(2) From the time of grinding

(3) From the time of kneading

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

Harvesting Lishmah

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

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

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

The Water Requirements: Mayim Shelanu, Water That Remained Overnight

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

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

The Manufacture of the Matzoh

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

Eighteen Minutes

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

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

Machine Matzoh

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

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

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

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

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

Problems that emerge during the baking:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Pesach Shaylos

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

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

Paying (for) a Visit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wish you much hatzlacha.

Pesach Cleaning

To: Rabbi Kaganoff 

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

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

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

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

Bedikas chometz

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

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

Yom Tov Sheini in Israel Shaylah

Dear Rabbi Kaganoff,

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

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

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

Thanks a ton!

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

Another Yom Tov Sheini in Israel Shaylah

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

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

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

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

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

Yom Tov for an Israeli Who Is Outside of Israel Shaylah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Answer: Also not.

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

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

Dental Cleaning on Chol Hamoed

Dear Rabbi Kaganoff, 

Hope this finds everyone well.

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

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

Conclusion

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




Being a Good Guest

The Halachic Etiquette when Visiting Someone’s House

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A STRANGE CONVERSATION

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

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

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

Rav Huna responded: “That is my name.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT DID THEY MEAN?

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

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

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

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

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

WHY NOT SIT ON THE COUCH?

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

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

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

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

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

DO WHAT THE HOST ASKS

Why should one do whatever the host requests?

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

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

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

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

A DIFFERENT APPROACH

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

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

IF THE HOST HAS DIFFERENT KASHRUS STANDARDS

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

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

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

PERSONAL CHUMROS

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

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

EXCEPT LEAVE

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

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

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

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

THE STRANGE CONVERSATION

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

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

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

THE INCONSISTENT ANGELS

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

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

TWO GULPS?

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

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

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

TURNING YOUR FACE?

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

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

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

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




Beer, Oil and Honey

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

Photo by Inga Galkinaite from FreeImages

Question
#1: Beer

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

Question
#2: Oil

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

Question
#3: Honey

“Does pure honey
present any kashrus issues?”

Answer

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

Beer

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

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

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

Why is beer
different?

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

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

How do we
rule?

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

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

Bishul akum

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

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

The brew
that made Bavel famous

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

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

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

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

Kashrus of beer

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

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

Oil

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

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

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

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

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

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

Releasing
the gezeirah

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

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

Let me explain:

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

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

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

Modern
vegetable oil

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

Deodorization

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

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

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

Honey

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

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

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

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

1. Admixture of
non-kosher ingredients.

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

2. Bishul
akum

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

3. Non-kosher
equipment

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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