May I Smell My Esrog and Hadasim on Sukkos?

Although this question may seem trivial, it is indeed a serious shaylah that requires explanation. Sometimes, one may smell an esrog, while at other times one may not. Why is this true? Also, when it is permitted to smell an esrog, do I recite a bracha beforehand? If I do, which bracha do I recite?

We may ask similar questions regarding the hadasim, although the answers are not always the same. May I smell my hadasim, and which bracha do I recite before smelling them?

In order to explain the background to these questions, I first need to explain two very different areas of halacha, one concerning the laws of muktzah, and the other concerning the laws of brachos on fragrances.

MUKTZAH

The Gemara teaches us the following: One may not smell (during Sukkos) the hadas that is set aside for the mitzvah, but one may smell the esrog. The Gemara asks, “Why is there a difference between the hadas and the esrog?” The Gemara replies that since the main use of a hadas is for fragrance, it becomes muktzah, and one may not smell it. But since the main “use” of an esrog is for food, one may not eat it, but one may smell it (Sukkah 37b). This is the explanation of what the Gemara means.

This Gemara teaches that an item used for a mitzvah becomes muktzah machmas mitzvah; that is, designated solely for its specific mitzvah and not for a different use. This category of muktzah is different from the more familiar types of muktzah in several ways:

  1. As the Gemara teaches elsewhere (Sukkah 9a), this type of muktzah is prohibited min Hatorah, whereas other forms of muktzah are prohibited only miderabbanan.
  2. These items are muktzah only to the extent that one may not use them, but one may move them. This is different from most types of muktzah, which one may not move on Shabbos or Yom Tov.
  3. These items are muktzah only with regard to their primary, normal purpose: for example, one may not smell a hadas that is muktzah machmas mitzvah because the primary purpose of a hadas is for fragrance. However, one may use it (or them) for a secondary use, and that is why, according to the Gemara, one may smell the esrog. (A person who is interested in purchasing a fragrant item would consider buying hadasim, not an esrog.)
  4. This type of muktzah is prohibited even on Chol Hamoed, whereas other types of muktzah are prohibited only on Shabbos and Yom Tov.

Thus, it would seem that we may answer the original question I asked: May I smell my esrog and hadas on Sukkos? And the answer is that I may smell my esrog, but I may not smell my hadas, because it is muktzah for its mitzvah.

However, the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 653:1) rules that I should also avoid smelling my esrog on Sukkos. Why does the Shulchan Aruch prohibit something that the Gemara explicitly permits?

The answer to this question takes us to the other topic — when does one recite a bracha before smelling a fragrance? Although the Gemara explicitly permits smelling an esrog on Sukkos, the Gemara does not mention whether one recites a bracha before smelling it.

Indeed, the Rishonim dispute whether one is required to recite a bracha before smelling an esrog. Rabbeinu Simcha, one of the late baalei Tosafos, rules that one may not recite a bracha before smelling an esrog that is being used for the mitzvah on Sukkos, whereas the Ravyah, an early Ashkenazi posek, rules that one must recite a bracha. The later poskim conclude that this dispute is unresolved, and that, therefore, one may not smell an esrog during Sukkos, when reciting a bracha would be a question. This topic requires some explanation: Why should an esrog on Sukkos be different from an esrog any other time of the year?

FRAGRANCES THAT ARE NOT FOR THE PLEASURE OF SMELL

One recites a bracha only on a fragrance that is avida lereicha, literally, “made for fragrance” (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 217:2). In the words of the Chazon Ish (Orach Chayim 35:1), “Anything whose current purpose is not for aroma is not considered a fragrance” (regarding recitation of a bracha). Therefore, one does not recite a bracha before smelling a deodorizer, even if it has an extremely pleasant fragrance, since its purpose is not aroma, but to mask unpleasant odor. Similarly, smelling the tantalizing aroma of a food or food flavoring does not warrant a bracha, since its purpose is not enjoyment of their aroma, per se. (I have written several other articles germane to the brachos on fragrances, which are available on the RabbiKaganoff.com website; to find them, use the search word fragrance.) Furthermore, when the halacha rules that one is not required to recite a bracha, one is not permitted to recite the bracha, as doing so constitutes a bracha l’vatalah, a bracha recited in vain.

EXAMPLE:

When showing a house that is for sale, some people toast cinnamon in the oven or open essential oils and other fragrances around the house to make the house more appealing. Since the purpose of these fragrances is to give the house a pleasant aroma and not to entice people to smell or purchase the fragrance, one does not recite a bracha.

Based on the foregoing introduction, we can now explain the above-quoted dispute whether to recite a bracha before smelling an esrog on Sukkos. Rabbeinu Simcha contends that although one may smell an esrog on Sukkos, and it is not prohibited due to its being muktzah, this does not warrant making a bracha. The esrog on Sukkos is still primarily intended for the mitzvah, and not for fragrance; therefore, smelling it does not require a bracha. In Rabbeinu Simcha’s opinion, reciting a bracha in this case constitutes a bracha l’vatalah.

The Ravyah disagrees, maintaining that since it is permitted to smell an esrog, it is considered to be meant for fragrance, and requires one to recite a bracha before smelling it (Mordechai, Sukkah #751; Tur Orach Chayim 653).

This dispute places us in a predicament. The halacha is that one may not benefit from something in this world without first reciting a bracha, and if, indeed, one is required to recite a bracha before smelling an esrog, then one may not smell it without reciting a bracha (Brachos 35a; Hagahos Smaq 193:11). On the other hand, if one is not required to recite a bracha before smelling it, then one may not recite the bracha, and doing so involves reciting a bracha in vain, a bracha l’vatalah.

Since we are not in a position to resolve this dispute, the poskim contend that one should avoid smelling the esrog used for the mitzvah during Sukkos (Shulchan Aruch 653), even though there is no muktzah violation in smelling it. Furthermore, one may smell the esrog if he first recited a bracha on a different fragrant fruit.

ESROG ON SHABBOS

As I mentioned above, Rabbeinu Simcha contends that an esrog is not considered avida lereicha, meant for fragrance, and therefore one does not recite a bracha before smelling it. Does this halacha apply the entire week of Sukkos, or only when I pick up the esrog to fulfill the mitzvah? What if I smell the esrog on Shabbos, when there is no mitzvah to perform, or I pick it up on a day of Sukkos after I have already fulfilled the mitzvah? Do I recite a bracha before smelling it, according to his opinion?

Let us compare this shaylah to the following case:

Someone who enters a spice merchant’s store recites a bracha, because the owner wants customers to smell his wares so that they will purchase them (Berachos 53a). If these items are in his warehouse, where he is not soliciting customers, one does not recite a bracha (Magen Avraham 217:1).

Why does one recite a bracha on the spices in the store, but not on those that are in the warehouse? This is because the spices in the store are there to be smelled and enjoyed, and are therefore avida lereicha. However, the spices in the warehouse are not meant to be smelled – therefore, they are not avida lereicha. Note that we are discussing the same spices, and the only difference is where they are located.

PUTTING INTO YOUR HAND

Let’s assume you are back in the spice merchant’s warehouse or in a flavor factory, and you know that you do not make a bracha on the incredible fragrance that is wafting through the air. What happens if you approach some of the spices to take a pleasant whiff, or you pick up some of the spice in order to smell it? Do you recite a bracha?

The poskim dispute what to do in this case. The Mishnah Berurah (217:1) contends that whenever you do something to smell the fragrance, such as moving towards the source of the fragrance in order to smell it, picking it up, or putting some into your hand, you should recite a bracha. Any such act makes the fragrance avida lereicha.

However, the Chazon Ish disagrees, maintaining that if you will return the spice afterwards to the storage bin in the warehouse, it is not avida lereicha, and you do not recite a bracha (Chazon Ish, Orach Chayim 35:1). The Chazon Ish agrees that if the manufacturer has samples available that he wants people to smell and buy, one does recite a bracha on them, and he also agrees that if you remove some of the spices to smell and will not return them, you do recite a bracha.

SPICES IN THE KITCHEN

There is a common, practical difference in halacha between the approaches of these two Gedolim regarding kitchen spices. Suppose you want to enjoy the smell of the cinnamon or the oregano on your kitchen shelf. According to the Mishnah Berurah, if you remove a container from the shelf to smell it, you recite a bracha on the spice, even though you intend to return the spice to the shelf after smelling it, and it will eventually be added to food. (By the way, the poskim dispute which bracha one recites before smelling cinnamon. The accepted practice is to recite borei minei besamim.) However, according to the Chazon Ish, you do not recite a bracha on this spice, unless you no longer intend to cook with it. Someone who wants to avoid the dispute should sprinkle a little bit of spice into his hand and make a bracha on that. Since you are neither going to return this spice to the container nor cook with it, according to all opinions, one recites a bracha before smelling it.

Some poskim explain that this opinion of the Chazon Ish is the reason for the widespread minhag to set aside special besamim for havdalah on Motza’ei Shabbos (Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasah, Vol. 2 pg. 262).

WHAT ABOUT MY ESROG ON SHABBOS?

A dispute similar to the one quoted above exists concerning smelling my esrog on Shabbos, or picking up the esrog to smell it after I have fulfilled the mitzvah for the day.

The Magen Avraham rules that I recite a bracha before smelling the esrog under these circumstances, even according to Rabbeinu Simcha. Therefore, in his opinion, one may pick up the esrog specifically to smell it, and one recites the bracha before smelling it.

However, the Taz implies that one may not smell the esrog anytime during Sukkos. According to the Chazon Ish’s analysis of the subject, one can explain the Taz’s approach as follows: Since the esrog is meant for the mitzvah, it is not considered avida lereicha that warrants a bracha, unless one permanently makes it into a fragrance. Thus, if an esrog became pasul, or for some other reason can no longer be used for the mitzvah, it will be called avida lereicha and warrant a bracha. Under any other circumstance, it remains a safek bracha, and one should not smell it until Yom Tov is over. One may recite a bracha and smell it on Shemini Atzeres or Simchas Torah, since it no longer serves any mitzvah purpose. Thus, it appears that the dispute between the Magen Avraham and the Taz is identical to the dispute between the Mishnah Berurah and the Chazon Ish.

WHICH BRACHA DO I RECITE ON AN ESROG?

Everyone agrees that one may smell an esrog that will no longer be used for the mitzvah, and that one must recite a bracha before smelling it. In such a case, which bracha do I recite?

Chazal established five different brachos that relate to scent, each for a different category of fragrance.

  1. Borei shemen areiv, “The Creator of pleasant oil,” is recited only on the fragrant oil extracted from the balsam tree (Mishnah Berurah 216:22). Because this tree was important and grew in Eretz Yisroel, Chazal established for it a special bracha (Rabbeinu Yonah, Brachos 43a).
  2. Hanosein rei’ach tov ba’peiros, “He who bestows pleasant fragrances in fruits” (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 216:2). We recite this bracha before smelling fragrant, edible fruits and other foods (Rama 216:14). Some poskim rule that the proper text for this bracha should be in past tense: Asher nasan rei’ach tov ba’peiros, “He who bestowed pleasant fragrances in fruits” (Mishnah Berurah 216:9). This is the bracha one recites before smelling an esrog.

Many poskim state that the custom today is to not make a bracha on smelling a fruit, unless it has a pronounced aroma (see Vezos Haberacha pg. 174). For this reason, one should be certain that the esrog one holds has a strong, pleasant fragrance before reciting a bracha. If one is uncertain, one may smell the esrog first to see that it is fragrant, and then, if it is fragrant, recite the bracha hanosein rei’ach tov ba’peiros and smell it again.

  1. Borei atzei besamim, “The Creator of fragrant wood (or trees).” One recites this bracha before smelling fragrant, woody plants and trees, or their leaves, flowers, wood, or oils. Hadasim are certainly in this category. Although we mentioned above that it is prohibited to smell a hadas that is being used for the mitzvah on Sukkos, hadasim that one does not intend to use for the mitzvah may be smelled on Sukkos, and he should recite this bracha before smelling them.

Incidentally, the correct bracha to recite before smelling citrus blossoms or flowers is Borei atzei besamim, since the flower is not edible.

  1. Borei isvei besamim, “The Creator of fragrant grasses.” We recite this bracha before smelling non-woody plants, their parts or extracts. Before smelling a fragrant hyacinth, narcissus, or lily one recites this bracha. The custom among Sefardim is to recite this bracha before smelling mint, although, for reasons beyond the scope of this article, Ashkenazim recite borei minei besamim before smelling mint.
  2. Borei minei besamim, “The Creator of different types of fragrances.” This is the “catch-all” bracha for all fragrances, the equivalent of reciting a shehakol on food. Sometimes, it is the preferred bracha, and sometimes it is the bracha used to resolve uncertainties. Although I have not seen poskim discuss this case, it would seem to be permitted to recite a bracha on an item whose bracha is borei minei besamim and have in mind to include the esrog and then be able to smell the esrog. This would provide a method whereby one could smell one’s esrog on Yom Tov, according to all opinions.

Question: Why did Chazal create a unique bracha prior to smelling aromatic fruits?

Answer: Whenever one benefits from this world, one must recite a bracha. Thus, Chazal instituted brachos that are appropriate for fragrances. However, the other brachos on fragrance are not appropriate for smelling fragrant foods, since they praise Hashem for creating fragrances, whereas fruits are not usually described as fragrances, but as foods that are fragrant. Therefore, Chazal needed to establish a special bracha for aromatic fruits (see Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim end of Chapter 297).

Conclusion

The Gemara (Berachos 43b) teaches, “How do we know that one must recite a bracha on a fragrance? Because the pasuk (Tehillim 150:6) says, ‘Every neshamah praises Hashem,’ – What exists in the world that the soul benefits from, but not the body? Only fragrance.”

Because fragrance provides some physical pleasure, but no nutritional benefit, the sense of smell represents an interface between the spiritual and the physical. Similarly, we find that we offer korbanos as rei’ach nicho’ach, a fragrance demonstrating one’s desire to be close to Hashem. We should always take advantage of the opportunity to smell fragrant items as a steppingstone towards greater mitzvah observance and spirituality.

 

Aliyah Laregel

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

Aliyah Laregel

Question #1: Yizkor on Simchas Torah?

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

Question #2: No Aliyah Laregel

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

Question #3: Women and Yaaleh Veyavo

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

Introduction:

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

The mitzvah of Aliyah Laregel

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

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

Three mitzvos

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

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

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

Rules of Har Habayis

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

Exempt from Aliyah Laregel

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

  1. Difficulty in walking

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

  1. Vision impaired

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

  1. Hearing impaired

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

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

  1. Tamei

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

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

  1. Uncircumcised

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

Children

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

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

Smelly professions

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

Yizkor and Aliyah Laregel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beloved servants

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

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

 

Sukkah Walls Review

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

Sukkah Walls Review

examining lulavQuestion #1: A Strapping of a Sukkah

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

Question #2: Pergola or Sukkah?

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

Question #3: Going out to a sukkah

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

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

Mishpacha: Why should sukkah walls require a hechsher?

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

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

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

Keep your roof near your walls

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

With the wind to my sukkah’s back

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

There are two ways of explaining this section of Gemara:

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

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

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

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

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

Mishpacha: Did you give him a hechsher?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

 

 

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

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

[iii] Gemara Sukkah 24b

[iv] Chazon Ish, Orach Chayim 77:6

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

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

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

Sukkah Schach Review

bamboo matQuestion #1: “What are the potential halachic issues encountered with schach mats?”

Question #2: “My aunt, who always takes the family out to eat when she visits, will be in town for Sukkos, and knows that her favorite restaurant has a sukkah for Chol Hamoed. Can we rely on the restaurant’s sukkah?”

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

Mishpacha: Rav Kaganoff, I am very appreciative that you have been able to make time for us. Can you mention what types of halachic issues you have noticed concerning the validity of Sukkos?

RYK: The laws of sukkah are very complicated, and a rav should not assume that his members know how to construct a kosher sukkah, unless he himself has been certain to teach them thoroughly. If the rav has not (yet) taught them properly, then one can certainly assume that there will be many issues concerning the sukkah walls and the schach, and, potentially, questions even where they place the sukkah, since they may build it under trees or overhangs.

How frequent the problems occur will depend on how well a rav has succeeded in educating his membership to the basic requirements of sukkah. There are two obvious ways he can teach them. One is by mentioning aspects of the laws of sukkah whenever he has an opportunity during the weeks before Sukkos – a little bit before his drasha on Shabbos; a little after daily Shacharis and between Mincha and Maariv. Another method is to offer to make “sukkah calls,” just like doctors used to make house calls! The message eventually gets through, and I noticed how, with time, my shul members became very sensitized to the main issues.

Mishpacha: Could you point out the most frequent problems you have found and explain why there are concerns?

RYK: Certainly. Let me first introduce the fundamentals of sukkah construction. A sukkah consists of two basic components, its walls and its roof, which we call the schach; and each has very specific halachic requirements. The schach must be of vegetative material that once grew from the earth but is no longer connected to the earth, is not food, and has not been fashioned in a way that halacha considers it a “vessel” or a “utensil.”

The correct term for these items is that they are mekabeil tumah, susceptible to becoming tamei, should they be in contact with a tamei item. The exact rules defining what qualifies as a utensil are fairly complicated, and it is interesting how much halachic literature is devoted to defining whether such diverse items as arrow shafts, wooden ladders, thread, and straw or reed mats may be used as schach – meaning, are they processed enough to be considered “utensils” for halachic purposes or not. However, a full treatment of this topic is beyond the parameters of this article.

A “Venetian” Sukkah

There are many interesting discussions about the use of other common household items for schach. For example, in 1941 a rav asked Rav Moshe Feinstein whether one can use venetian blinds, at that time made of wood slats attached with cloth, as schach. The inquirer wanted to permit their use, since both the slats and the cloth are made from materials that grow from the ground. Rav Moshe demonstrates from the Talmudic sources that although the wood is basically unprocessed, once it has been attached to the cloth, it is halachically considered a utensil and may not be used as schach.[i]

Walking (under) the Plank

There are also categories of items that the Torah permitted as kosher schach, but were later prohibited by the Sages because of various concerns. For example, wide wooden planks are not utensils and do meet all the other requirements for schach and, therefore, should be acceptable. However, the Sages prohibited using them out of concern that someone might mistakenly assume that his regular wood roof would be satisfactory as a cover for his sukkah.[ii] Although today it is unusual to make a roof out of wood boards, in early generations these were standard roofing materials.

This developed into a halachic controversy not that long ago: May one use wooden slats or laths for schach? I remember seeing wooden slats used commonly as schach material by respected Torah scholars, whereas other, equally knowledgeable Torah scholars took strong exception to using this as schach, invalidating it because slats are used in construction. (Shu”t Yaskil Avdi Volume VI Orach Chayim #20 analyzes both sides of the question. He also quotes a very interesting reason why people prefer using slats to other types of schach. He contends that it is uncommon for them to be insect infested, whereas other forms of schach often have such a problem.)

Metal in the Schach

Many people assume that if one puts any metal into the schach, such as nailing together the schach, the sukkah cannot be used. This is not accurate, although they are correct that one should not use metal to assemble or support the schach, such as by resting the schach on a metal framework. However, the vast majority of halachic authorities conclude that if a sukkah was assembled in a way that its schach is held up by metal, the sukkah may be used. Let me explain.

Supporting the Schach – the Maamid

The Gemara discusses whether the schach must be “held up” — supported by material that could be used for the schach itself. The majority opinion contends that the rules I mentioned above apply only to the schach and not to what supports the schach, which is called the maamid.[iii] According to this opinion, one may use any material at all to support schach, and even having your schach rest directly on steel girders is perfectly fine.[iv]

There is a minority opinion that contends that the rules of schach material apply, also, to what supports the schach. Following this latter approach, one must be careful not to have the schach supported by metal or, for that matter, any other material that would not be kosher schach.

Usually the halacha follows the majority opinion, and following their view, as long as the schach itself is “kosher,” we need not be concerned about what supports the schach. Indeed, most early authorities follow the majority opinion, concluding that there is no halachic problem with supporting the schach with material that would, itself, be invalid schach.[v] Thus, according to them, one could construct a metal framework, rest the schach on it and the sukkah is perfectly kosher. However, there are some early authorities who take the more stringent approach and conclude that one may not support the schach with material that is itself not kosher for schach.[vi]

The conclusion of the later halachic authorities is that although we follow the majority opinion and permit the use of a sukkah whose schach is supported by metal or other invalid-for-schach material, one should not construct a sukkah this way. In other words, one should try to construct a sukkah that is kosher according to all opinions, by supporting the schach with material that itself is valid for schach, but a sukkah constructed ignoring this concern is nevertheless kosher.[vii]

This has many ramifications. For example, you are invited to someone’s house for a meal or Kiddush during Sukkos and discover that their schach is held up by metal or other material that is invalid as schach. Alternatively, you take the family to a recreational area on Chol Hamoed and discover that the sukkah there was erected with the schach held up by a metal frame. You may eat there and enjoy your meal, since the sukkah is kosher, notwithstanding that those in charge should not have assembled the sukkah this way.

The above section elicited the following subsequent inquiry: “It would seem that this halacha applies only regarding the beams that hold up the schach. Meaning, if the metal nails are making sure only that the schach doesn’t slip off the beams, metal may be used. However, if the schach would blow away with a ruach metzuyah, a typical wind, then nailing it down would be forbidden according to the opinion that you should not use metal or the like to hold up the schach.”

Rabbi Kaganoff responds:

“My answer was somewhat ambiguous, and I thank you for bringing it to my attention.

To clarify the matter: the schach should be placed in a way that it is held up and held in place by items which are themselves kosher for schach. If the schach would fall through, or be blown off by a commonly occurring wind, one should not secure it with something that, itself, is not kosher schach. However, if the schach is sufficiently heavy that a common wind would not blow it out of place, but one wants to secure it better so that it does not slip or move, one may secure it even with metal or a different item that is, itself, not kosher schach.”

“Threading” the Schach

I mentioned before that there are items that meet the Torah’s requirements as kosher schach, but were later prohibited by the Sages because of various concerns: The Sages prohibited using combed flax as schach, even though it meets all the Torah requirements[viii] — it grows from the ground and is now disconnected, is not edible and is not a utensil. The early authorities debate why combed flax was banned for schach use, some contending that it was prohibited because it no longer appears like it grew from the ground,[ix] whereas others prohibited its use because it is only one step away from spun flax which is mekabeil tumah,[x] as stated in the Torah, and is therefore invalid because of Torah law.[xi]

Does this dispute concerning why the Sages banned use of unspun flax have any halachic ramifications? Indeed it does, and this affects the kashrus of some varieties of schach mats. Is cotton or hemp thread kosher for schach use? This will depend on why combed but unspun flax was prohibited. If combed flax was prohibited because it no longer appears like it grew from the ground, then cotton or hemp thread or string would similarly be prohibited. On the other hand, if unspun flax was prohibited because someone may errantly use spun flax as schach, then there is no reason to invalidate the use of cotton, hemp or similar thread as schach. Now, it appears highly impractical that anyone would use thread as schach, but but the question whether thread can be used as schach impacts on whether thread can be used to tie together the schach, a topic that became an interesting issue with the development of “schach mats.”

Mishpacha:

How so?

Schach Mats

Let me mention that I may have been the first rabbi ever to provide a hechsher to schach mats. Before that time, different companies were producing these mats, but none of them had a hechsher, although a few responsa had been written concerning whether these mats were valid schach.

There was a very interesting curiosity with the schach mats. The fellow who met me and asked me for a hechsher was manufacturing and selling prefab sukkahs, complete with the schach. He came to me with his planned design for the schach, and I suggested improvements on the design, so that there would be no halachic issues involved, which he followed. I then provided him with a letter of certification on the mats. At the time, the idea of a hechsher on schach mats was very original, and I received inquiries from many rabbonim.

Mishpacha:

What design changes did you make?

RYK:

His sukkah design called for large mats made from split pieces of bamboo tied together with string. Assuming that these were to be made in China, I had a halachic concern. In China, bamboo mats are used as mattresses, which might invalidate a mat made there, even if it was intended for transport and sale elsewhere.[xii] To avoid this problem, I told him to have the factory weave every six inches a piece of bamboo too thick to lie upon comfortably. This way these mats could never be used for sleeping, even by the Chinese, and their status as kosher schach mats was uncompromised.

I also had him make another design correction. The sample had the mats tied together with nylon thread, which I did not want. The problem is that nylon does not grow from the ground, and it is therefore not kosher schach. Thus, the thread holding the mat together was not kosher schach, and this thread has the status of a maamid, that which “supports” the schach, since the mat would fall into the sukkah if it was not tied together.

There was another potential question about these mats, even if they were tied with cotton or hemp string. As I mentioned above, it appears to be dependent on a dispute among authorities whether these threads are valid for use as schach. If they are not valid, then they should not be used to be “maamid” the schach either, since we rule that one should build a sukkah in a way that it is kosher according to all opinions, including those who invalidate maamid that is not kosher for schach.

However, I permitted him to make the sukkah mats and tie them together with cotton thread. Since some authorities consider these strings to be valid schach, the ruling of the late authorities not to use invalid schach material to support the schach should only apply when the supporting material is certainly invalid.[xiii]

There is a second reason to permit cotton string to tie the schach mat. Even if we assume that cotton string is invalid for schach, it is invalid only as a rabbinic stringency, and there are early sources who rule that even those who invalidate maamid that is not kosher schach do so only with schach that the Torah prohibited using, not with schach that was prohibited only as a rabbinic prohibition. To explain:

The halachic authorities cite two reasons to invalidate maamid that is not kosher as schach. Rashi states that using an invalid maamid is equivalent to using invalid schach. According to this approach, the Bach contends that the Torah, itself, invalidated maamid that is not kosher schach. On the other hand, Milchemes Hashem and Ran both state that the use of invalid maamid is only a rabbinic injunction to avoid people erring and using invalid schach. According to the latter approach, one could argue strongly that Chazal only prohibited use of a maamid that would be invalid schach min haTorah, but banning something invalid only miderabbanan would constitute a gezeirah legezeirah, a rabbinic injunction created to avoid violating another rabbinic injunction, something that Chazal are not empowered to do.

Slatted Mats

When the first commercially-produced schach mats reached the market in Israel, there was debate among the halachic authorities whether they could be used. These mats were made from thin pieces of wood tied together with nylon or cotton string. For a variety of reasons, the authorities disagreed on whether these mats could be used as schach. Some were concerned that tying wood pieces together might make the entire piece into one big board and invalidate its use as schach, just as the Sages prohibited use of wide boards, out of concern that someone might think that his regular house roof is valid for a sukkah. The majority of authorities were not concerned about this problem, but were very concerned about mats that used nylon strings to hold them together, considering the string as a maamid.

Some authorities were even concerned with the use of schach mats that used cotton or hemp thread or string to tie them together, being more concerned than I had been when I gave a hechsher to the schach mats. They felt that, ideally, one should not manufacture mats with cotton thread since, according to some opinions, this might constitute a maamid that is not valid schach.[xiv] Others felt that it was perfectly fine to use schach mats tied together with cotton thread.[xv]

By the way, some of today’s schach mats are produced with a much rougher bamboo that could not possibly be used for roofing material, and they are then tied together with a rough natural twine that should avoid any concerns about the thread.

Must I Fumigate my Schach?

Mishpacha:

Talking about schach mats, there has been a large of discussion lately about the problem of insect infestation in schach mats, and people are being given very extensive instructions in how to fumigate their mats.

RYK:

There are some contemporary authorities who feel that people should check their schach carefully for insects, whether their schach is brand new or stored from last year.[xvi] One should note that the Aruch Laneir, in his addenda Tosafos Bikkurim to the end of Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim Chapter 627, advises not to hang flowers from the schach for decorations, out of concern that the flowers are infested with small insects that, indeed, could fall unnoticed into one’s food.

Others note that since most people spread beautiful white tablecloths on their tables during Sukkos, they would readily notice if insects had fallen from the schach onto the white cloth.

I will continue this article next week, with a discussion about the manufacture of the sukkah walls.

 

[i] Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 1:177

[ii] Gemara Sukkah 14a

[iii] Gemara Sukkah 21b

[iv] See Gemara Sukkah 2a

[v] Few Rishonim (other than those mentioned in the next footnote) quote the issue of maamid, and Terumas Hadeshen (1:91) and Shulchan Aruch in Orach Chayim 630:13 clearly rule that maamid is not a concern.

[vi] Milchemes Hashem and Ran, Sukkah 21b; Bach, Orach Chayim 629.

[vii] Magen Avraham 629:9, whose position is accepted by the majority of later authorities.

[viii] Gemara Sukkah 12b

[ix] Rambam, Hilchos Sukkah 5:4

[x] Tosafos, Sukkah 12b s.v. Ba’anitzei. There are other opinions to explain this Gemara, but they will not affect the halacha that we are discussing.

[xi] Linen thread, which is the same thing as spun flax, will become tamei if tzaraas appears on it, see Vayikra 13:48, and is therefore invalid schach since this qualifies it as a davar hamekabeil tumah.

[xii] See Gemara Sukkah 19b and the Rosh ad loc.

[xiv] Shu”t Shevet Halevi 6:74; Shu”t Yeshuas Moshe 3:52

[xv] Shu”t Yechaveh Daas 1:64

[xvi]Bedikas Hamazon Kahalacha by Rabbi Moshe Vaya, Volume III pages 784-786

How Will I Buy My Esrog This Year?

esrogimAs the shmittah year comes to a close, and the laws prohibiting agricultural work phase out, several halachos will still apply to the special produce that grew during shmittah. One issue that affects people living in chutz la’aretz is the status of the esrogim arriving for Sukkos. Before delving into some of the controversial issues involved, let us first discuss the basics:

The Torah imbues shmittah produce with a special sanctity called kedushas shvi’is. As a result produce that grew during shmittah:

  1. IS OWNERLESS — HEFKER

The owner of a field or orchard must treat whatever grows on his land as ownerless, allowing others to pick, without charge, as much as their families can use. Furthermore, one may not harvest the produce in order to sell it commercially (Tosefta, Shvi’is 5:7).

  1. CANNOT BE SOLD COMMERCIALLY

One may not sell shmittah produce in a business manner (Rambam, Hil. Shmittah 6:1). For example, shmittah produce may not be sold by weight or measure (Mishnah Shvi’is 8:3), nor sold in a regular store (Yerushalmi Shvi’is 7:1).

  1. SANCTIFIES ITS EXCHANGE – TOFESES DAMAV

If one trades or sells shmittah produce, whatever one receives in exchange becomes imbued with kedushas shvi’is and must be treated with all the laws mentioned above. Even so, the original produce always maintains its kedushas shvi’is (Sukkah 40b).

  1. MAY BE PROHIBITED IF THE HALACHOS ARE VIOLATED –– SHAMUR VENEEVAD

According to many (and perhaps most) Rishonim, if a farmer did not allow people to pick from his fields, the shmittah produce that grew there becomes prohibited (see, for example, Raavad and Baal HaMaor to Sukkah 39a). Similarly, many authorities prohibit consuming produce that was tended in a way that violated the agricultural laws of shmittah (Ramban, Yevamos 122a).

  1. MUST EVENTUALLY BE “ELIMINATED” — BIUR

One has the right to consume shmittah produce as long as it is still available in the field. Once no more produce remains in the field, special laws called biur shvi’is apply, which I will explain later.

  1. MAY NOT BE EXPORTED

One may not export shmittah produce outside Eretz Yisroel (Mishnah Shvi’is 6:5). I will discuss shortly this issue’s impact on the export of shmittah esrogim.

  1. ARE ONLY FOR JEWISH CONSUMPTION

Shmittah produce is meant for Jewish consumption; one may not give or sell kedushas shvi’is produce to a gentile, although one may have the gentile join one’s meal (Rambam, Hil. Shmittah 5:13 as explained by Mahari Korkos).

  1. ARE FOR FOOD AND NOT FOR WASTE

One may not ruin shmittah produce (Gemara Pesachim 52b). What types of “ruining” did the Torah prohibit? One may not cook foods that are usually eaten raw, such as cucumbers or oranges, nor may one eat raw any produce that is usually cooked, such as potatoes (Yerushalmi, Shvi’is 8:2; Rambam, Hil. Shvi’is 5:3). Similarly, one may feed shmittah produce to animals only if it is unfit for human consumption.

The prohibition is only to actively ruin shmittah produce; one is not required to prevent it from spoiling. For example, when one finishes using a shmittah esrog on Hoshanah Rabbah, one may not chop up the esrog so that it will rot faster, but one is not required to wrap it up so that it does not dry out. Once shmittah produce has become useless, there is no mitzvah to treat it in any special way, and it may be thrown away.

According to accepted opinion, there is no obligation to eat shmittah food – rather, the Torah permits eating it, if the rules are followed (Chazon Ish, Hil. Shvi’is 14:10).

BUYING A SHMITTAH ESROG

Since shmittah esrogim must be treated as ownerless, the grower may not harvest them for commercial sale or market them in the usual fashion. Furthermore, if someone sells the esrog, he must treat the money received in exchange with all the laws of shmittah sanctity. To remove this sanctity, he must use this money to purchase food that he will now eat according to the laws of shmittah food. When he does this, the kedusha on the money transfers onto the food.

This leads us to an interesting question. If no one may profit from the sale of a shmittah esrog, why are tens of thousands of esrogim being sold? Are people violating shmittah when they sell these esrogim?

WELCOME TO OTZAR BEIS DIN!

The answer is that when using an otzar beis din in the correct way, the esrogim are distributed and not sold. What is an otzar beis din?

In an article published here towards the beginning of shmittah year, I detailed the halachic and historical background of the otzar beis din. Allow me to briefly review the concept and then explain how this permits the distribution of esrogim.

WHAT IS AN OTZAR BEIS DIN?

Literally, otzar beis din means “a storehouse operated by beis din.”

As mentioned above, the owner of an orchard may not harvest his produce for sale, and he must allow individuals to help themselves to what their family may use. But, what about people who live far from the orchard and find it difficult to pick fruit for themselves? How will most people ever utilize their right to pick shmittah fruit?

Enter the otzar beis din to help out! Beis din, representing the public, hires people who know how to carefully pick and clean the esrogim, evaluate their kashrus, purchase the wrapping materials and boxes, and pack and ship the esrogim to the consumer. The beis din represents the public interest, supervises the hiring of necessary labor, the rental of equipment, and the delivery of the esrogim to a convenient distribution center near the consumer.

Obviously, no one expects the pickers, sorters, truckers, and other laborers to work as unpaid volunteers; they, also, are entitled to earn a living. Similarly, the managers who coordinate this project are also entitled to an appropriate wage for their efforts. Furthermore, there is no reason why beis din cannot hire the owner of the orchard to supervise this massive project, paying him a wage appropriate to his significant skills in knowing how to manage this operation.

WHO PAYS FOR OTZAR BEIS DIN SERVICES?

The otzar beis din divides these costs among the consumers. The charges to the esrog user should reflect the actual expenses incurred in bringing the esrogim to their consumers, and may not include any charge or profit for the finished product (Minchas Shelomoh, Shvi’is 9:8 pg. 250). Thus, otzar beis din products should cost less than regular retail prices for the same items. (See Yerushalmi 8:3 that shvi’is produce should be less expensive than regular produce.)

All the halachos of shmittah apply to otzar beis din produce, which therefore may not be sold for profit. Acquiring from an otzar beis din is not really “purchasing,” since you are not buying the fruit from anyone, but are receiving a distribution – your payment is exclusively for necessary operating costs. For this reason, if the otzar beis din is run correctly, the money paid for its products does not acquire kedushas shvi’is, because it is paid not in exchange for the shmittah fruit, but as compensation for expenses (Minchas Shelomoh, Shvi’is 9:8 pg. 250).

Although many otzarei batei din allow sellers to grade esrogim according to quality, a particularly beautiful esrog cannot command a price any higher than any other esrog in its general category, and the price of the entire category must reflect only the actual costs incurred. Selling an esrog at a higher price than this violates the rules of the otzar beis din and the laws of shmittah. In addition, the money received would be in exchange for a purchase and consequently have kedushas shvi’is that requires appropriate care. As a result, negotiating a particularly high price for a specifically beautiful esrog is certainly forbidden.

BIUR – ELIMINATION

At this point in our discussion, we need to explain the concept of biur shvi’is. One requirement of shmittah produce is that when it is no longer available in the field, it becomes subject to biur. The word biur literally means elimination, as in biur chometz, which refers to the destruction of chometz performed each year before Pesach. Biur shvi’is means that one removes shmittah produce from one’s possession when the biur date for this species arrives.

Although the Rishonim dispute exactly what biur shvi’is entails, we rule that it means declaring ownerless (hefker) any shmittah produce in one’s possession (Ramban, Vayikra 25:7; cf. Rashi, Pesachim 52b s.v. mishum and Rambam, Hil. Shmittah 7:3 for alternative approaches.) For example, let us say that I picked shmittah apricots and canned them as jam. When no more apricots are available in the field, I must take the remaining jam and declare it hefker in the presence of three people (Yerushalmi, Shvi’is 9:5). I may do this in front of three close friends who will probably not take the jam after my declaration; it is sufficient that they have the right to take possession. If someone fails to perform biur, the shmittah produce becomes prohibited for consumption.

Produce still in the possession of an otzar beis din at the time of biur is exempt from being declared hefker. The reason is that this product is still without an owner – the otzar beis din is a distribution center, not an owner. However, produce originally distributed through an otzar beis din and now in private possession must be declared hefker. We will discuss shortly how this impacts on our esrogim.

HAVLA’AH

At this point, we must discuss a very misunderstood concept called havla’ah, which means that one includes the price of one item with another. The Gemara (Sukkah 39a) describes using havla’ah to “purchase” an esrog that has shmittah sanctity without the money received becoming sanctified with kedushas shvi’is. For example, Reuven wants to buy an esrog from Shimon; however, Shimon does not want the money he receives to have kedushas shvi’is. Can he avoid this?

Yes, through a strategy Chazal called havla’ah, in which Shimon simultaneously sells a different item to Reuven that has no kedushas shvi’is, such as a lulav. The lulav is sold at a high price, and the esrog accompanies it as a gift. Although everyone realizes that this is a ruse to avoid imbuing the sales money with kedushas shvi’is, the ruse works and the money does not have kedushas shvi’is.

HAVLA’AH PROBLEMS UNIQUE TO OTZAR BEIS DIN

However, it is inconsistent to purchase an esrog with havla’ah and acquire it through otzar beis din at the same time. Otzar beis din means that I am not purchasing the esrog, but receiving it from those who picked it for me. I am paying, not for the fruit, which is rightfully mine, but for the expenses, just as I compensate a friend who ran an errand on my behalf. Since the money is for expenses and not for the fruit, how can the otzar beis din agent charge extra for the esrog by saying he is selling an expensive lulav? The moment I pay an unwarranted sum for the esrog, I have nullified his role as agent, and instead, he is engaging in commercial trade in violation of shmittah. Thus, most instances of havla’ah cannot be utilized when someone is selling shmittah produce through an otzar beis din (Maadanei Aretz 7:2; note to Minchas Shelomoh, Shvi’is 9:8 pg. 251; see also Sfas Emes to Sukkah 39a).

Although I am aware of esrogim dealers who sell expensive otzar beis din esrogim through havla’ah, I know of no halachically acceptable method to do this. Hopefully, some authority holds that one may use otzar beis din in this way. However, Rav Shelomoh Zalman Auerbach, z”tl, and Rav Elyashiv, z”tl, both prohibited this practice.

EXPORT

Having explained many of the issues of shmittah esrogim, we are still left with one major subject to discuss. At the beginning of this article, I mentioned that the Mishnah prohibits exporting shmittah produce to chutz la’aretz (Mishnah Shvi’is 6:5). If that is true, how are so many thousands of Israeli-grown esrogim arriving in chutz la’aretz? Are the shippers all violating shmittah?

This question has been the subject of much halachic debate within the last century. I am aware of several innovative approaches to permit the export.

A very prominent Eretz Yisroel talmid chacham, Rav Yehoshua Tzvi Michal Shapiro, passed away in the early twentieth century leaving behind extensive notes and correspondence on a wide range of halachic areas. These materials were edited and published in 5680 (1920) by the renowned gadol, Rav Yaakov Moshe Charlap, under the title Tzitz HaKodesh. In his responsum addressing the export of esrogim to chutz la’aretz, Rav Shapiro suggests three creative heterim to permit exporting esrogim to chutz la’aretz. The first approach assumes that Chazal prohibited exporting shmittah produce out of concern that the fruit would be eaten in chutz la’aretz, since shmittah produce may be eaten only in Eretz Yisroel. Indeed, there are early authorities, most notably the Raavad, who rule that shmittah produce may be eaten only in Eretz Yisroel, even though this position is by no means universally accepted. (Raavad commentary to Sifra, Behar 1:9; responsum of Rav Avraham Eizen published in Beis HaRidbaz 5:18; cf. Ridbaz, ad locum, who contends that this approach is not accepted halacha.)

Assuming that Chazal prohibited exporting shmittah produce to chutz la’aretz out of concern that it might be eaten there, the Tzitz HaKodesh reasons that it is permitted to export esrogim, since they are not usually eaten (Tzitz HaKodesh Volume 1 #15:4).

The Tzitz HaKodesh suggests two other ingenious methods whereby one could legitimately export esrogim, including a suggestion that a gentile ship them. The other option contends that one may ship shmittah produce to chutz la’aretz to fulfill the mitzvah, if one stipulates that they are returned to Eretz Yisroel afterwards. (By the way, several shmittos ago, the esrog I purchased contained such instructions inside the box, obviously based on this psak.)

Another authority suggests a different rationale to permit exporting shmittah esrogim. He cites sources that the prohibition to export shmittah produce is because the biur of all shmittah produce must be in Eretz Yisroel, and Chazal were concerned that the fruit may remain in chutz la’aretz until the time for biur arrives. He then contends that the law of biur does not apply to esrogim, since some esrogim always remain on the tree. Since esrogim are always available in the field, the law of biur does not apply to esrogim, and the prohibition to export is similarly inapplicable (Beis Ridbaz 5:18; however, cf. Minchas Shelomoh, Shvi’is 6:5).

IMPORTING ESROGIM FROM ERETZ YISROEL

Rav Moshe Feinstein accepted none of these rationales to permit export of shmittah esrogim. Nevertheless, he ruled that the importer does not violate halacha by ordering shmittah esrogim from Israel, since the exporter is acting on the basis of a lenient psak (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 1:186).

WHAT DO I DO WITH MY ESROG?

For the most part, those living in North America are concerned less about whether they may import esrogim from Eretz Yisroel, and more about what to do with such an esrog after Sukkos. The esrog keeps its kedushas shvi’is until it becomes inedible, and one may not actively facilitate its decay process nor ruin it in any way.

According to one approach suggested by the Tzitz HaKodesh, one may be required to ship the esrog back to Eretz Yisroel after Sukkos. However, most authorities do not require this.

Assuming that return shipping is not required, one still may not destroy the esrog after Sukkos, but one is not required to preserve it. Therefore, the simplest solution is to remember not to wrap up the esrog on Hoshanah Rabbah. Without wrapping or refrigeration, the esrog will soon dry out and become inedible. At that point, one may dispose of it.

When we look around the shul on Sukkos and see everyone holding his own set of arba’ah minim, we should sing praises to Hashem for helping us fulfill these mitzvos so easily in comparison to earlier times, when it was common for an entire community to share one set. At the same time, we should remember the modern farmer in Israel who observed shmittah with true mesiras nefesh, thereby attesting to the message of shmittah — that the Ribbono Shel Olam created the world in six days and rested on the seventh.

 

The Special Mitzvah of Reciting Hallel

 

814761_51961477Hallel is our unique praise to Hashem that is reserved for special occasions. Whenever the Jews survived a crisis, they responded by singing Hallel. Thus, we sang Hallel when we crossed the Yam Suf and again after the allied kings of Canaan were defeated in the days of Yehoshua. Hallel was sung when Devorah and Barak’s small force defeated the mighty army of Sisra and when the huge army of Sancheiriv fled from Yerushalayim. It was also sung when Chananyah, Mishoel, and Azaryah survived Nevuchadnetzar’s fiery furnace and when the Jews were saved from Haman’s evil decrees. After each of these events, Jews recited Hallel to thank Hashem for their miraculous salvation (Pesachim 117a, see Rashi; cf. Rashbam).

In the same vein, Chazal instituted the recital of Hallel to commemorate Yomim Tovim and days when miracles provided salvation for the Jewish people. The Gemara teaches that we recite the full Hallel eighteen days every year in Eretz Yisrael and twenty-one days in Chutz La’Aretz. These days include: The eight days of Sukkos/Simchas Torah (nine days in Chutz La’Aretz), the eight days of Chanukah, the first day(s) of Pesach and Shavuos (Arachin 10a). Each of these days is either a Yom Tov or commemorates a miracle. Full Hallel is not recited on Rosh Chodesh, because it is neither a full Yom Tov nor does it commemorate a miracle (Arachin 10b). (We will soon discuss the partial Hallel that we recite on Rosh Chodesh and the last days of Pesach.)

Hallel includes Chapters 113-118 of Tehillim, with some of the verses repeated.

WHY DO WE RECITE THESE SPECIFIC VERSES?

The Gemara (Pesachim 118a) says that these chapters of Tehillim were chosen for Hallel because they mention five unique events: (1) The Exodus from Egypt, (2) The Splitting of the Yam Suf, (3) The Receiving of the Torah, (4) The Resurrection of the Dead, and (5) The Travails of the Coming of Moshiach.

  • The Exodus from Mitzrayim is explicitly mentioned in the pasuk, “Be’tzeis Yisrael Mi’mitzrayim,” “when Yisrael left Egypt.”
  • The Splitting of the Yam Suf is implied in the pasuk, “Hayom ra’ah vayanos,” “The Sea saw and fled.”
  • Receiving the Torah is alluded to by the pasuk, “He’harim rakdu ch’eilim,” “The mountains danced liked rams.” This refers to the mountains that danced in excitement when the Jewish people received the Torah.

(4)        The Resurrection of the Dead is implied by the pasuk, “Es’haleich lifnei Hashem be’artzos hachayim,” “I will walk before Hashem in the land of the living,” thus alluding to a future time when the deceased will return to life.

(5)        The Travails of the Coming of Moshiach is implied by the pasuk, “Lo lanu Hashem,” “Not for our sake, Hashem.” This pasuk alludes to several calamitous events that will transpire in the era preceding Moshiach’s arrival.

WHY ARE PARTS OF THE HALLEL REPEATED?

The practice of repeating some pesukim of Hallel is already mentioned in the Mishnah (Sukkah 38a). Many interpretations are suggested for this custom. Rashi explains the reason for this custom as follows: From the words “Hodu Lashem ki tov” until “Pischu li shaarei tzedek,” every theme mentioned is repeated. After “Pischu li,” this style ceases. However, in order to make the rest of the Hallel continue this poetic style, the custom is to repeat these last pesukim.

WHY DO WE SPLIT A PASUK IN HALF?

During Hallel, we divide the pasuk “Ana Hashem Hoshia Na, Ana Hashem Hatzliacha Na” in half and recite it as two different pesukim. This practice is already mentioned in the Gemara (Sukkah 38b). Normally, it is forbidden to divide a pasuk, except to teach schoolchildren, who may find it too difficult to learn the explanation of an entire pasuk at one time (Megillah 22a). Why are we permitted to divide this pasuk during Hallel?

Tosafos (Sukkah 38b) explains that this pasuk is different, because it was originally recited as part of a conversation between Dovid HaMelech and his family. Dovid’s brothers declared “Ana Hashem Hoshia Na” and Dovid responded “Ana Hashem Hatzlicha Na” (Pesachim 119a). Therefore, even though it was subsequently written down as one pasuk, it is treated as two separate statements during Hallel.

WHY IS HALLEL RECITED STANDING THE WHOLE YEAR, BUT SITTING AT THE SEDER?

Most mitzvos are performed while standing, and there are additional reasons why Hallel should be recited standing. Hallel testifies to Hashem’s miracles and wondrous deeds, and testimony must be made while standing (Mishnah Berurah 422:28). Furthermore, the pasuk in Hallel declares, “Sing praise, servants of Hashem who are standing,” implying that this is the proper way to give praise (Shibbolei Leket).

On the other hand, at the Seder Hallel is recited sitting, because this demonstrates that we are freemen (Shibbolei Leket).

Someone who recited Hallel while sitting need not repeat it (Mishnah Berurah 422:28, quoting Pri Megadim).

WHEN SHOULD ONE RECITE HALLEL?

Chazal derive from the verse of Hallel, “From when the sun rises in the east until it sets shall Hashem’s Name be praised,” that Hallel should be recited by day and not by night (Megillah 20b). Although the day begins when the eastern horizon lights up (amud hashachar), Chazal ruled that Hallel should not be said until after sunrise.

One should preferably recite Hallel immediately after Shacharis. However, if one failed to do so, one can recite Hallel the entire day.

The exception to this rule is when we recite Hallel on Pesach night as part of the Haggadah, since the miracle took place at night. Many communities have the custom of reciting Hallel in shul, also, that night.

MAY ONE LEAN WHILE RECITING HALLEL?

Resting one’s weight on a table or shtender in such a way that one would fall if the support was removed is considered the same as sitting. Therefore, many poskim contend that one may not lean while reciting Hallel (Magen Avraham 422:11). However, some poskim (Beis Meir; Biur Halacha) maintain that it is acceptable to rest one’s weight on a stand or table while reciting Hallel.

WHY IS HALLEL ON SUKKOS DIFFERENT FROM HALLEL ON PESACH?

Why do we recite the full Hallel every day of Sukkos, but only on the first day of Pesach?

The Gemara gives a surprising answer. On Sukkos, we recite full Hallel daily, since each day of Sukkos has a different korban in the Beis HaMikdash, while on Pesach, we do not recite full Hallel every day, because the same korban was offered every day. Thus, we see that Yom Tov is not a sufficient reason to recite Hallel. There must also be something novel about the day.

In a similar vein, we recite Hallel every day of Chanukah, because the miracle became greater every day as the oil miraculously continued burning. Therefore, each day is considered a new Yom Tov (Tosafos, Taanis 28b s.v. veyom).

The Midrash provides a different reason why the full Hallel is not recited on Pesach — we should not recite Hallel at the time when our enemies suffered (quoted by Shibbolei Leket #174).

There is no Hallel on Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, because one should not sing on days when judgment is being rendered (Arachin 10b). Rambam explains that these are not days of total simcha, and that Hallel must be recited only on days of complete simcha (Hilchos Chanukah 3:6).

HALLEL ON PURIM?

Why we do not recite Hallel on Purim? After all, we do celebrate the tremendous miracle that transpired by saying the prayer Al HaNisim and performing many mitzvos. The Gemara provides three answers.

(1) Because the miracle of Purim occurred outside Eretz Yisrael.

(2) Because reading the Megillah is a form of Hallel.

(3) Because in Hallel we say, “Praise Him, servants of Hashem,” and we are still servants of Achashveirosh (Arachin 10b).

There is a practical difference between these opinions. According to the second opinion, someone who has no Megillah to read on Purim would be required to recite Hallel! Indeed, Rambam appears to rule according to this opinion (Hilchos Chanukah 3:6).

“HALF HALLEL”

Why do we say only a partial Hallel on Rosh Chodesh and the latter days of Pesach? Reciting the partial Hallel on these days originated as a minhag and not as a takanah of Chazal. Reciting partial Hallel on Rosh Chodesh as a custom is mentioned in a puzzling story.

The Gemara relates that the Amora, Rav, went to Bavel. [It is unclear whether this meant the country of Bavel in the environs of present day Iraq, or the city of Bavel (Babylon).] Rav was perturbed when the congregation began reciting Hallel after the repetition of Shemoneh Esrei and was about to interrupt them. But when he noticed that they were skipping parts of the Hallel, presumably similar to what we do, he chose not to interrupt them, saying, “I see that they are observing a custom of their fathers” (Taanis 28b).

Rav’s reactions seem very enigmatic. Why was he so concerned about their reciting Hallel that he was prepared to interrupt them in the middle? Furthermore, why did the fact that they omitted something make him change his mind? And, finally, why did he justify their practice on the basis that it was a custom of their fathers?

To understand what happened, we need to understand what is wrong with reciting Hallel on days not included in Chazal’s takanah.

The Gemara teaches us that someone who recites Hallel every day is a blasphemer (Shabbos 118b). What? A blasphemer! What’s so terrible about what he did?

The Maharal explains as follows: Non-believers sometimes ask that if Hashem is all-powerful, why does He allow evil to exist? Why aren’t all evildoers immediately destroyed? But to believers, this is not a question at all, because they understand that Hashem allows the world to exist naturally, without His interference. If Hashem destroyed evildoers, His existence would be so obvious that there would be no reward for those who do His will. Therefore, Hashem allows the world to function without His obvious involvement.

However, occasionally the need arises for Hashem to perform a miracle. When this happens, Hashem demonstrates His presence, and the world temporarily switches into “miraculous mode.” We commemorate these special occasions by reciting Hallel and celebrating the revelation of Hashem’s presence.

But, reciting Hallel on an ordinary weekday implies that Hashem’s control over the world should always be obvious. This leads to blasphemy, because if Hashem’s control is obvious, non-believers can ask why evildoers continue to exist without Hashem destroying them. Thus, the non-believer interprets saying Hallel every day as proof that Hashem is powerless to stop the forces of evil. This is, of course, terrible blasphemy (Gevuros Hashem #61). This is why Rav was so disturbed when he noticed the people of Bavel reciting Hallel on a day that is neither Yom Tov nor a day when a miracle occurred.

WHY DID RAV, INDEED, NOT STOP THE RECITAL OF HALLEL?

Why did Rav change his mind when he realized that the people were omitting parts of Hallel?

Although Rishonim record variant customs as to which parts of Hallel are omitted on Rosh Chodesh, every custom I have seen, as well as the usual practice today, omits the passages that include the words “Lo lanu” and “Ahavti” (see Rashi, Taanis 28b s.v. de’midalgi; Rambam, Hilchos Chanukah 3:7). These omissions delete two of the five essential components that make the Hallel a unique praise. By skipping these passages, what is left is, indeed, a beautiful praise, but it is not a fulfillment of the mitzvah of Hallel.

Only when one recites the full Hallel on a weekday is it considered blasphemy. Therefore, the custom of the community of Bavel was to recite a partial Hallel on Rosh Chodesh, thus praising Hashem for his wondrous deeds, without performing an act that could, G-d forbid, imply blasphemy. This is why Rav saw no reason to interrupt them.

DO WE RECITE A BRACHA ON “HALF-HALLEL”?

As we mentioned, Hallel on Rosh Chodesh is a custom and not a takanah of Chazal. Do we recite a bracha before reciting this partial Hallel, since reciting it is, technically, not a mitzvah but a custom? This question is disputed by the Rishonim. Rambam rules that one does not recite a bracha before doing a custom (Hilchos Chanukah 3:7). This approach is the prevalent practice among the Sefardim and Edot HaMizrach in Eretz Yisrael, who do not recite a bracha on Hallel on Rosh Chodesh (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 422:2). Tosafos (Taanis 28b), however, rules that one may recite a bracha on Hallel on Rosh Chodesh and the last days of Pesach, and this is the universal practice among Ashkenazim (Rema).

DOES ONE RECITE “HALF-HALLEL” WHEN DAVENING IN PRIVATE?

The Gemara rules that an individual need not recite partial Hallel on Rosh Chodesh, but that once he began reciting Hallel, he should complete the partial Hallel (Taanis 28b). The custom among Ashkenazim is to recite partial Hallel with a bracha, even when davening alone. However, one should make an effort to recite the Hallel together with the tzibur, in order to avoid any shaylah. For this reason, if someone arrives late in shul, he should recite Hallel with the tzibur and daven afterwards. If he is in the middle of Pesukei Dezimra when the tzibur begins Hallel, he should recite the Hallel with the tzibur, as if it is part of Pesukei Dezimra (Mishnah Berurah 422:16).

ORDERLY HALLEL

Hallel, like Shmoneh Esrei, is one of the prayers that must be recited in its proper order (Megillah 17a). If someone misses a word or sentence, he must return to the place he omitted (Rema, Orach Chayim 422:6).

I was once in shul on Chanukah, and the chazan inadvertently skipped Lo Lanu and recited the subsequent paragraph, Hashem Zecharanu. The chazan was a talmid chacham, and, upon realizing his error, he recited Lo Lanu and then repeated Hashem Zecharanu. Although the lay people in the shul did not understand why the chazan had repeated the paragraph, he had, indeed, followed the correct procedure.

WOMEN AND HALLEL

Are women required to recite Hallel?

The mishnah implies that women are exempt from reciting Hallel (Sukkah 38a). This is because Hallel is a time-bound mitzvah, from which women are absolved.

However, some poskim rule that women are obligated to recite Hallel on Chanukah and Pesach, since it is recited in regard to miracles that benefited women. According to these poskim, women are absolved from Hallel on Sukkos and Shavuos, since it is recited only because of Yom Tov and not because of a miracle (see Tosafos, Sukkah 38a s.v. Mi; Toras Refael, Orach Chayim #75).

The logical basis for this distinction is that women are required to observe mitzvos established because of miracles that benefited them. This is why they they are required to kindle Chanukah lights, to hear Megillah on Purim and to drink the four cups of wine at the Seder (Megillah 4a, Shabbos 23a; Pesachim 108b).

To the Jew who yearns to make Hashem’s presence an integral part of his life, nothing is more distressing than when Hashem hides His presence. Yet, in today’s world, not only is Hashem’s presence hidden, but much of modern society ignores His existence altogether. How can we safeguard ourselves from this influence?
Reciting Hallel with tremendous emotion and reliving Hashem’s miracles rekindles the cognizance of Hashem’s presence. The moments that we recite Hallel can encapsulate the most fervent experience of His closeness.

In the merit of joyously reciting Hallel, may we see the return of the Divine Presence to Yerushalayim and the rededication of the Beis HaMikdash, speedily in our days.

The History and Halacha of Grafted Esrogim

clip_image002Micha Moka, who is fairly new to observant Judaism, presents the following question:

“This is the first time that I am purchasing my own esrog. I have been told that many esrogim may not be kosher because they, or their antecedents, were grafted onto other citrus trees. But, I don’t understand what the problem is. When you graft a branch of one species onto another tree, the fruit that grows should be identical to any other fruit of the branch species.”

Answer:

In Parshas Emor, the Torah teaches, And on the first day you shall take for yourselves the fruit of a beautiful tree… and you shall rejoice with it before Hashem your G-d seven days.[1] The Hebrew term used to describe the fruit is pri eitz hadar. The word hadar is used many times in Tanach to refer to the glory of Hashem Himself.[2] The Ramban[3] explains the word esrog to be the Aramaic translation of the Hebrew word hadar, both words meaning desired or beautiful. (The Modern Hebrew use of the word hadar to mean citrus has no basis in traditional Hebrew, but was borrowed from the pasuk. Unfortunately, as a result of this modern convention, Israelis often misunderstand the pasuk.)

How do we know that it is an esrog?

The Written Torah does not provide any more details with which to identify this fruit, but the Oral Torah’s mesorah from Sinai is that the Torah means the species that we call an esrog,[4] which is called Citrus medica in scientific jargon, based on its extensive medical value. Certainly, the oral mesorah itself provides sufficient basis for us to know which species is pri eitz hadar, but in addition, Chazal infer hermeneutically from the pasuk three features that are unique to the esrog.[5]

Feature #1: Its Bark is as Good as its Bite

(1) The bark tastes like the fruit. This means that the natural oils, flavinoids, and other chemical components that impart the unique fragrance and flavor of an esrog exist in sufficient quantity in the bark such that it bears the smell and “taste” of the fruit.

Some early authorities note that this factor seems common to all citrus and not unique to the esrog.[6] Other citrus fruits also bear their unique components in their leaves, peels, and bark such that one can identify the leaf or bark of a lemon or orange tree by its aroma.

However, the Kapos Temarim[7] explains that an esrog is unique in that the taste of “its fruit and bark are equal.”  The esrog is unique in that it has little or no pulp, unlike other edible citrus fruits. Therefore, the main part of the esrog is its “rind,” which bears a much closer flavor to its bark than does the pulp of any other fruit.[8]

Feature #2: The Fruit Remains on the Tree

(2) Much of this year’s unpicked crop of esrogim will remain on the tree until the next year’s crop is growing, and sometimes, this fruit remains on the tree for as long as two or more years. As a general rule, non-citrus trees drop their fruit at the end of the season. Most other citrus also drop their fruit when overripe, although some individual fruits still remain on the tree. Esrog does indeed remain longer on the tree than any other citrus, and although some fruit falls off, an impressive percentage remains on the tree, sometimes for as long as two years.[9]

Feature #3: Water, Water Everywhere

(3) An esrog requires year-round irrigation to produce sizable fruit. At the time I am writing this article, I have been unable to discover any unique feature of esrogim differentiating them from other types of citrus, all of which require year-round irrigation to produce large fruit.

Notwithstanding this description, a fruit still may have all these three features and still not be considered an esrog according to most authorities. We will soon see why.

Grafting

Common production of citrus is to graft the branches of the desired variety of fruit onto rootstocks that allow a greater yield, are more resistant to disease, and provide other commercial value. It is prohibited for a Jew to graft one species onto another stock, and it is a dispute among halachic authorities whether a gentile may or may not. (A number of years ago, I wrote an article on the subject of whether a gentile may graft and/or own grafted fruit trees.[10]) Most authorities understand that different varieties of citrus are halachically considered different species concerning the prohibition of grafting fruits (however, see Chazon Ish[11] who conjectures whether the similar characteristics of citrus might allow them to be considered one species, in regard to the prohibition of grafting.)

May one use a Grafted Esrog?

When one grafts the fruit of one species onto the rootstock of another, the fruit will grow according to the species of the scion branch, an observable phenomenon noted already by Rashi.[12] Our question: is the fruit of an esrog branch grafted onto a lemon stock halachically an esrog? Are there any other halachic concerns because it grew on a non-esrog stock?

Graft in Sixteenth Century Poland

The earliest responsum on the subject that I discovered is authored by the Rama, who probably never saw an esrog tree in his life. Citrus trees are not generally frost-hardy, and therefore grow in warmer areas than Poland, where the Rama lived his entire life. When reading his responsum on the matter, we should bear in mind the difficulty of obtaining esrogim for Sukkos in his place and era.

Rama writes very tersely that the fruit of a graft is not called an esrog, nor is it called the fruit of a hadar tree.

The Rama notes that although there were earlier scholars who recited a beracha on grafted esrogim when they had no others available, we should not rely on this when we have access to non-grafted esrogim.[13] (For the balance of this chapter, when I refer to “grafted esrogim,” I mean esrogim grafted onto a rootstock of a non-esrog species. All authorities allow use of a fruit grown on an esrog branch grafted onto another esrog tree.[14])

A Ransomed Esrog

A contemporary and second cousin of the Rama, Rav Shmuel Yehuda Katzenellenbogen, the rav of Venice from 5326- 5357 (1566-1597), was asked whether one may use an esrog grafted onto a lemon tree, and responded that every child knows that these esrogim may not be used. Rav Katzenellenbogen writes that he heard from his father, Rav Meir Katzenellenbogen, the famed Maharam Padua (named for the city he served as rav for many decades), a fascinating anecdote:

One year, the entire community of Padua was able to acquire only one non-grafted esrog for Sukkos, which had to service all the different congregations of the city, although grafted esrog trees were apparently very popular decorative trees there and were readily available in the houses of the gentry. When the esrog was sent from one congregation to another, it was stolen by rowdy gentile students, who held the esrog for ransom. The community needed to redeem the kidnapped esrog for a considerable amount of money, which they did in order to fulfill the mitzvah, notwithstanding the fact that they had ready access to a large supply of very inexpensive, locally grown, grafted esrogim. Thus, the community purchased a non-grafted esrog twice in order to fulfill the mitzvah!

(Two curious side points about Rav Shmuel Yehuda Katzenellenbogen: the first is that we do not have an extant edition of his responsa. This particular undated responsum is published in the Shu’t Rama.[15] The second is that he is often called the Mahari Padua, meaning Rav Yehudah, who had been born in Padua, to distinguish him from his father.)

Graft in the Holy Land!

A third responsum from the same era deals with the identical issue in Eretz Yisrael. Prior to Sukkos of 5346 (1585), in Tzfas, the Alshich was asked about using a grafted esrog. He relates that one local rav wanted to permit use of this esrog, notwithstanding the fact that all the other authorities prohibited use of grafted esrogim for Sukkos. The rabbonim of Tzfas were concerned that the lenient opinion of this individual rabbi would be accepted against the consensus. This rav contended that the nourishment drawn from the lemon stock was already nullified in the esrog branch, and the fruit is therefore considered to be completely esrog.

In his discussion on the subject, the Alshich demonstrates, from the laws of orlah, that we consider the branch to be nullified to the stock and not the other way around, since a young branch grafted onto a stock more than three years old is not subject to the laws of orlah,whereas an older branch grafted onto a young stock is.

Furthermore, the Alshich contends that even if the esrog was not nullified to the lemon as the laws of orlah imply, the resultant fruit should be considered a blend of both species and not purely esrog. Therefore, even if the fruit is considered an esrog, it is an incomplete esrog, and therefore invalid, because it has some lemon content.[16]

A Different Graft Problem

A disciple of the Rama, Rav Mordechai Yaffe, often called the Levush because of the titles of his published works, contended that a grafted esrog may not be used for Sukkos for a different reason: since the Torah disapproves of grafting, one may not fulfill mitzvos with grafted products, just as a crossbred animal may not be used for a korban.[17] (By the way, both a fruit grafted from two kosher species and an animal crossbred from two kosher species are kosher – for eating purposes.)

Not all authorities agreed with the Levush in this argument. The Taz questions whether this principle of the Levush is accurate, rallying sources that the fact that something sinful had previously been performed with an item does not automatically invalidate it for mitzvah use.

The Taz still concludes that one should not use a grafted esrog because of a different reason, one of those that the Alshich had mentioned: that a grafted esrog should be considered incomplete because of the admixture of other species. However, the Taz notes that a halachic difference results between his reason and that of the Levush, since the halacha is that a damaged or incomplete esrog (called an esrog chaseir) may be used to fulfill the mitzvah after the first day of Sukkos. Since, in his opinion, the shortcoming of a grafted esrog is its incompleteness as an esrog, one could use it after the first day of Sukkos. The Taz then notes that perhaps an esrog from a grafted branch or tree is worse than an incomplete esrog, in that it is considered qualitatively to be only partly esrog, and that one should avoid using it under any circumstances, so that people not err and think that it is a kosher esrog.

Can one identify a Grafted Esrog?

The vast majority of halachic authorities concluded that one does not fulfill the mitzvah with a grafted esrog.[18] A later debate focused on whether the fruit of a tree planted from the seed of a grafted esrog is also invalid, with the Beis Efrayim[19] contending that these esrogim are kosher, and other authorities disputing its kashrus. This led to a new debate. If the tree grown from a grafted esrog is no longer considered an esrog tree (for the purposes of fulfilling the mitzvah), how can one ever know that the esrog he wants to use is kosher?

This led to a dispute in the early nineteenth century, which I will refer to as the machlokes between those accepting esrogim on the basis of simanim, versus those accepting them on the basis of mesorah.

The Beis Efrayim ruled that one may use an esrog if it has the physical characteristics, the simanim, of a non-grafted esrog. His contemporary, the Chasam Sofer, disputed this, and ruled that just as we no longer rely on simanim to decide which birds we treat as kosher, but rely exclusively on a mesorah to determine the kashrus of a bird, so too, we can use esrogim only from places where we have a mesorah that they are kosher.

What are the characteristics that distinguish between a grafted and non-grafted esrog?

In the above quoted responsum of the Mahari Padua, he writes that one can identify whether an esrog was grown on a branch grafted onto another tree by three characteristics:

(1) Smooth Skinned

The skin of a grafted esrog is smooth, more like a lemon, whereas a pure esrog has a bumpy surface.

(2) Outward Stemmed

The stem (the ukatz) of a grafted esrog looks like a lemon’s stem, which sticks up from the bottom of the lemon, instead of being imbedded inward like that of an esrog.

(3) Fruity and Thin Skinned

A grafted esrog has a lot of edible fruit and juice in it and a thin peel, whereas a pure esrog has a thick peel and little juicy flesh.

(4) Disoriented Seeds

Some later authorities noted another distinction between a regular esrog and a grafted one. In a regular esrog, the seeds grow in the same direction as the length of the fruit, whereas grafted esrogim often have their seeds growing like a lemon’s, in the same direction as the width of the fruit. Other authorities disputed whether this demonstrates that the esrog has been grafted.[20]

Does Grafting Affect the Fruit?

Micha had noted correctly that when you graft a branch of one species onto the stock of another, the fruit that grows is from the scion branch and not from the species of the stock. However, for reasons not fully understood by contemporary scientists, there are significant modifications to the fruit that develop when it does not grow on its own natural stock. From a commercial perspective, these modifications are desirable, for they make the fruit more disease resistant and provide other qualities. However, in the case of an esrog, this creates halachic concerns.

Let us note that today there are several different types of esrog that have mesorah that they are not grafted. Aside from the conventional European or Israeli esrog that most of us are used to, there are also the Moroccan esrog and the Yemenite esrog, notwithstanding the fact that on both the inside and outside these esrogim are definitely distinguishable from the European or Israeli esrogim that Ashkenazim are accustomed to.

Research teams from the University of Catania, Italy, and Hebrew University jointly studied twelve varieties of esrog, including the standard Moroccan, Yemenite, Italian, Chazon Ish, and other varieties, to see whether they were indeed consistently one species, or whether the DNA indicated that they were of different species and origins.

The study concluded that all twelve varieties are in fact esrogim, and indeed are genetically separable from other citrus fruits, including the lemon, which appears most similar to the esrog.

To quote the study: “The results obtained are very clear and might be regarded as somewhat surprising. Notwithstanding diverse geographical origin and the considerable morphological variation, especially in fruit size and shape, presence of pulp and persistence of style, all the citron types examined revealed a high degree of similarity. There was no sign of introgression of lemon or other citrus genomes into any of the citrons examined”.[21]

We should note, that even though genetically all the varieties tested are indeed esrogim, we cannot rely on genetic testing to prove the authenticity of a particular esrog, since, if it was grafted onto non-esrog stock, it would be invalid for use for Sukkos, according to most authorities. In addition, the decision as to whether one may plant his fruit or stock and use future generations of this esrog is dependent on the above-quoted dispute between those who follow mesorah and those who follow simanim.

Contemporary Esrogim

Two generations ago, many, if not most, esrog trees in Eretz Yisrael were grafted onto the stock of a variety of orange tree called the chushchash, which bears a fruit that is non-edible raw. The farmers of the era claim to being told that since the chushchash is not edible, using it as a stock for the esrog is permitted and would not invalidate the fruit, a position that is difficult to sustain and has been rejected by subsequent authorities. A result of this is that the Chazon Ish, and many other authorities had difficulty finding esrogim in Eretz Yisrael, and the Chazon Ish chose the tree for his esrog very carefully. One year he entrusted a seed from that esrog to Rav Michel Yehudah Lefkowitz zt”l to plant. Rav Michel Yehudah protested that he had no experience in horticulture and esrogim require considerable knowledge to grow properly. The Chazon Ish told him, “Just plant this seed and make sure to water it regularly, and you will have plenty of esrogim to sell.” Rav Michel Yehudah did as he was told, surprised at the instructions, notwithstanding his lack of experience. His tree grew, and for over seventy years produced gorgeous esrogim without any efforts on his part. This itself can be considered a miracle, for two different reasons: (1) Esrogim do not usually grow nicely on the tree without considerable work. (2) Esrog trees do not live this long.

Many of the “Chazon Ishpardesim now so popular were begun with trimmings of branches taken from Rav Michel Yehudah’s tree.

This past Nissan, this esrog tree was indeed still covered with beautiful blossoms, indicative of another beautiful crop. The tree was in excellent shape, notwithstanding that the Chazon Ish is gone almost sixty years and the tree is over seventy years old. Its regular customers were looking forward to selecting esrogim from this ancient tree.

As our readers know, Rav Michel Yehudah passed away a few months ago at the age of 97. Although the same people are still watering the tree, the tree began to wither and completely stopped producing fruit in midseason, and is suddenly showing signs of severe aging.

Certainly a miraculous sign, but the phenomenon can be readily explained. When Rav Michel Yehudah protested that he knew nothing of esrog horticulture, the Chazon Ish promised him that he need only water the tree and it would produce fruit. As long as Rav Michel Yehudah was alive, the beracha of the Chazon Ish was fulfilled, and we have a rule, tzadik gozeir, Hakadosh Baruch Hu mekayeim, If a righteous person decrees something, Hashem fulfills it.[22] As long as Rav Michel Yehudah was alive, the beracha of the Chazon Ish had to be fulfilled, despite the long odds against it. Once Rav Michel Yehudah passed on, the decree of the Chazon Ish no longer had to be fulfilled, and the tree no longer lived.

The author acknowledges the assistance of Dr. Joshua Klein, senior scientist at the Volcani Center, Israel Ministry of Agriculture for technical information in this article.


[1] Vayikra 23:40

[2] See, for example, Tehillim 96:6; 104:1

[3] Vayikra 23:40

[4] Rambam, introduction to Peirush Hamishnayos

[5] Sukkah 35a

[6] Shu’t Rama #117

[7] Sukkah 35a

[8] Quoted by Shu’t Chasam Sofer, Orach Chayim #207

[9] Note that the Kappos Temarim, Sukkah 35a, explains the difference between esrog and other citrus slightly differently.

[10] For more information, see “May a Non-Jew Own a Nectarine Tree?

[11] Kelayim 2:15; 3:7

[12] Sotah 43b

[13] Shu’t Rama #117

[14] Shu’t Bach #135; Mishnah Berurah 648:65

[15] #126:2

[16] Shu’t Maharam Alshich #110

[17] Orach Chayim 649:4

[18] One authority that permitted its use is the Shu’t Panim Meiros, Volume II #173.

[19] Shu’t Orach Chayim #56

[20] Bikkurei Yaakov 648:53

[21] Proceedings of the International Society of Citriculture, December, ’00

[22] See Moed Katan 16b