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?


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).


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).


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


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.


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.


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
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!”


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
, 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

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).


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
. 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,

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


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).


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!


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.


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
. 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.


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

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.)


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
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
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
) 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
) 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).


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.”


This particular rule of etiquette is based on a passage in parshas
. 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.


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
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


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,
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

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

#1: Beer

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

#2: Oil

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

#3: Honey

“Does pure honey
present any kashrus issues?”


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.


Our opening question
was: “Is it permitted to drink beer in a tavern?” The Gemara (Avodah
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

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

How do we

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.

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
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

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
, a product that contains chometz, rather than chometz
, unadulterated chometz. Our beer, in which the main ingredient
after water is barley malt, is considered chometz gamur (Rosh,

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. 

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.


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
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?

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
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.

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.


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
(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
” 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 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
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

2. Bishul

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

3. Non-kosher

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.


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

How to Live in the Sukkah

#1: Where?

should I learn Torah during Sukkos?”

#2: What?

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

#3: When?

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


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

sweet sukkah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

in the sukkah?

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

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

in the sukkah

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

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

outside the sukkah?

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

In this
context, the Mishnah reports:

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

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

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

for a drink

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

but not brocha?

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

about sukkah

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

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

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

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

first night of Sukkos

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

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

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

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

the first

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

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

do we rule?

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

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

night in chutz la’aretz

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

stars and the sukkah

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

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

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

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


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

When Tekias Shofar Goes Wrong

Photo by elboim from FreeImages

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

“How was this question resolved?”

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

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

Tekiah, Shevarim, Tekiah (TaSHaT) three times

Tekiah, Teruah, Tekiah (TaRaT) three times

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

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

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


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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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


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


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

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


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


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

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


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

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

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

Rus, David, and the Prohibition of Marrying Moavites

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

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

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

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

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

The Story of Rus

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

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

The Story of David

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

Background to the

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

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

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

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

David the Brave

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

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

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

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

Now we come to the
strangest part of the story:

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

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

The Gemara Passage

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

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

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

What was Doeig’s

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

But what about the
Moavite women?

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

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

Amasa to the Rescue!

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

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

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

There are two basic types
of Torah laws:

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

Let me explain each
category by using examples:


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


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

Mesorah Versus Logic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

The Mourning Period of Sefirah

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

Reason for Mourning

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

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

Practices Are Prohibited?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do We Observe Mourning?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One Change From One Custom to Another?

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

How Should a Community Conduct Itself?

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

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

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

a Wedding During One’s Mourning Period

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

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

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

How Fast Must I Eat?

Pesach – The First Question Is:

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

Matzoh – The Second Question Is:

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

Maror – The Third Question Is:

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

Wine – The Fourth Question Is:

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


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


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


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

How big is an olive?

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

How much must I imbibe?

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

Heavy drinker

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

Other mitzvos

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

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


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

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

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

Term limits

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

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

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

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


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

Kdei achilas pras

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

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

Kezayis and matzoh

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

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

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

Food versus beverage

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

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

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

How do we rule?

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


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