This Land Is My Land!

Yaakov plans to return to Eretz Yisrael…

Question #1: This Land is My Land!

How do we take possession of Eretz Yisrael?

Question #2: This Land is Your Land

How do you make Eretz Yisrael into “your” land?

Question #3: From California

How far west does Eretz Yisrael extend?

Introduction

In honor of a parsha in which Yaakov must leave Eretz Yisrael, with assurances that future generations will return, it behooves us to emphasize some of the special qualities for which Eretz Yisrael is so famous. Let us begin by mentioning some of the many pronouncements of Chazal regarding the uniqueness of Eretz Yisrael:

Eretz Yisrael was created first, before any other part of the world” (Ta’anis 10b). “Hashem Himself waters Eretz Yisrael directly” (Ta’anis 10b). The Gemara teaches that there was no mabul in Eretz Yisrael (Zevachim 113a). It also states that Eretz Yisrael lacks nothing (Berachos 36b; Yoma 81b; Sukkah 35a).

The centrality of Eretz Yisrael to all our prayers is expressed in the halacha, based on Shelomoh Hamelech’s tefillah when he dedicated the Beis Hamikdash (Melachim 1:8:48; Divrei Hayamim 2:6:38), that we face Eretz Yisrael when we pray (Berachos 30a).

Then there are the many halachic unique qualities to Eretz Yisrael. As we know, most agricultural mitzvos, including bikkurim, terumos, ma’asros, leket, shikcha, peah, peret, oleilus and shevi’is apply only in Eretz Yisrael, and most of the laws of kelayim, orlah, and revai’i apply min haTorah only in Eretz Yisrael.

The Gemara (Sotah 14a) asks: Why did Moshe desire so much to enter Eretz Yisrael? Was it because he wanted to enjoy its fruits? The Gemara answers that he wanted to fulfill the mitzvos that can be observed only in Eretz Yisrael!

There are mitzvos that are not agricultural that can be observed only in Eretz Yisrael. For example, the mitzvah of challah applies min haTorah only to dough kneaded in Eretz Yisrael.

A much more basic mitzvah is the requirement every month to establish and declare which day is rosh chodeshkiddush hachodesh — and to determine each year whether it should be a leap year containing thirteen months — ibur shanah — or a common year containing only twelve months, which requires the decision of a special beis din that meets in Eretz Yisrael (Berachos 63a). Thus, the creation of all our Yomim Tovim is dependent on the sanctity of Eretz Yisrael. (Hillel Hanasi introduced the use of our current calendar, which is based completely on calculation and not on observation. He realized that there would no longer be a beis din in Eretz Yisrael able to fulfill this mitzvah, and, therefore, it was required and necessary to implement a backup calendar with all the decisions predetermined and automatic.)

This land is my land!

An even greater emphasis on the primacy of Eretz Yisrael in keeping all the mitzvos can be noted in the following comments of the Sifrei, Rashi and the Ramban. To quote the Sifrei (Parshas Eikev #43), “Although I am exiling you, you will still be noticeably different because you perform mitzvos. This way, when you return to Eretz Yisrael, keeping mitzvos will not be a novel experience for you. We can compare this to a king who became angry at his wife and sent her back to her father’s house. Yet, at the same time, he instructed her, ‘Remember to wear your royal jewelry, so that upon your return, you will not find it foreign to dress like a queen.’ So, too, the Holy One, Blessed is He, said to Yisrael: ‘My sons, always be distinguished by doing mitzvos so that, when you return, they will not be unfamiliar to you.’” Even non-agricultural mitzvos, such as mezuzah and tefillin, apply in chutz la’aretz in order to keep us in the habit of observing mitzvos (Rashi, Devarim 11:18). From this Sifrei, we see that the primary place for observing all mitzvos, even the non-agricultural ones, is in Eretz Yisrael (Ramban, Vayikra 18:25; see also Ramban, Devarim 11:18).

One of the blessings of Eretz Yisrael is that its air makes one  wise (Bava Basra 158b). The Gemara states that ten units of wisdom arrived in the world and Eretz Yisrael took nine of them (Kiddushin 49b).

Eretz Yisrael is compared to a deer or an antelope. Aside from their natural grace and beauty, these gorgeous creations of Hashem possess a hide that stretches to cover all their innards. When the animal is skinned, its hide shrinks, such that it is hard to imagine how it possibly was sufficient to enclose the animal. Similarly, Eretz Yisrael, which is called eretz tzvi, “the beautiful land,” appears too small to provide residence and sustenance for all its inhabitants, yet it “stretches” to make available everything that all its residents need (Kesubos 112a; Gittin 57a).

How can we demonstrate our love for Eretz Yisrael? The Gemara reports that Rabbi Yosi bar Chanina kissed the gate of Akko, which was the halachic border of Eretz Yisrael in his day (Yerushalmi, Shevi’is 4:7).

This land is your land

How do you make Eretz Yisrael into “your” land?

The Gemara (Berachos 5a) teaches that “three wonderful gifts, olam haba, Eretz Yisrael and Torah, were granted to the Jewish people, but each can be acquired only through difficulties (yissurin).” As anyone who moves to Eretz Yisrael will attest, aliyah never happens without serious hitches. Growth in Torah learning requires much sacrifice, as does achieving the rewards awaiting us in olam haba. All these require major personal investment. But, to the extent that one endures difficulty, he internalizes “possession” of them. Thus, it is impossible to take possession of olam haba, Eretz Yisrael or Torah without encountering and surmounting obstacles on the way.

Taking these ideas further is a statement (Pesachim 113a) that someone who dwells in Eretz Yisrael inherits olam haba. Even more is conveyed by a different passage of Gemara (Kesubos 111a), that someone who walks just four amos in Eretz Yisrael is guaranteed olam haba!

The midrash teaches that five things are more cherished by Hashem than the worlds of heaven and earth that He created. One of these five things is Jews settling in Eretz Yisrael.

The Gemara also states that the shuls andthe batei midrash of chutz la’aretz will be transported to Eretz Yisrael (Megillah 29a).

From California

How far west does Eretz Yisrael extend?

Eretz Yisrael does not stretch as far west as California. Let us briefly discuss the westernmost parts of Eretz Yisrael, as described by various pesukim in Tanach. Every mention of the borders of Eretz Yisrael defines its western border simply as the “Yam Hagadol,” the “Great Sea.” (Although there are seas larger than the Mediterranean, it is called the “Great Sea” because of its relationship to Eretz Yisrael. In other words, it is considered “great” not because of its own qualities — it is “great” because anything associated with Eretz Yisrael is great!)

What about islands in the Mediterranean? Are they part of Eretz Yisrael?

This question is the subject of a dispute among tanna’im. According to Rabbi Yehudah, bodies of land due west of Eretz Yisrael are part of Eretz Yisrael. However, accepted halacha follows the opinion of the chachamim who draw an imaginary line from the northwestern corner of Eretz Yisrael to its southwestern border, Nachal Mitzrayim and include in Eretz Yisrael only islands in that easternmost part of the Mediterranean (Gittin 8a).

Where will I find the northwestern corner of Eretz Yisrael on my map of the Middle East?

From the redwood forest

North of the land that most people identify with Eretz Yisrael are the famous cedars of Lebanon. However, most opinions consider the Promised Land to include current day Lebanon, or at least significant areas of it, as part of Eretz Yisrael. In the various Biblical descriptions of the borders of the Holy Land, we can observe that one location in the north, Har Hahor, figures prominently. First, I must note that the mountain called Har Hahor where Aharon was buried is a different place from the northern boundary marker of Eretz Yisrael. The reason why two different mountains would both be called Har Hahor is because the term means simply “the mountain of the mountain,” what Rashi describes as “an apple situated on top of another apple” — a mountain with a higher vertical rising peak on top. Thus, Har Hahor is as much a description as a name, and refers both to Aharon’s burial place, a mountain outside the southern or southeastern boundary of Eretz Yisrael, and to any one of the many choices suggested for Israel’s northwestern border, where the northern border reaches the sea.

I am aware of at least six different mountains identified as the Har Hahor of the northwestern-most point of Eretz Yisrael. All are mountains located on the eastern Mediterranean coast, all are north of what is today’s modern State of Israel, and each has this feature of a mountain with a mountainous peak rising on top. In other words, all opinions agree that true Eretz Yisrael spreads north of the borders of the current state. Opinions as to how far north will indeed be ultimately “ours” range from Lebanon, all the way up to Turkey. In other words, the consensus is that there are coastal areas north of Rosh Hanikra that are properly part of Eretz Yisrael, yet it is uncertain how far north.

To the Gulf Stream waters

Thus far we have discussed the western and northern borders of Eretz Yisrael; now we will discuss the southern border. In Parshas Mas’ei (Bamidbar 34), the Torah defines the easternmost point of the southern border of Eretz Yisrael to be the Dead Sea (Bamidbar 34:3), and its westernmost point to be Nachal Mitzrayim, the Stream of Egypt. We should first note that Avraham Avinu was promised from “Nahar Mitzrayim, the River of Egypt, whereas in Parshas Mas’ei, we are promised from the Stream of Egypt. Are these the same body of water? Indeed, Targum Yerushalmi explains both terms as referring to the Nile. Others do not. If so, what was Avraham promised, and why did we not receive it?

The Malbim (commentary to Bamidbar 34:2) explains that the borders promised at the end of Parshas Eikev (Devarim 11:24) reflect a promise for the future, when the Jewish people will acquire much more territory than what was possessed in the days of Yehoshua.

According to this approach, no part of Egypt is yet part of Eretz Yisrael. Similarly, others contend that the Stream of Egypt is the Wadi El Arish in the northeastern part of the Sinai Desert, whereas the River of Egypt is the Nile. According to this approach, Avraham Avinu was promised that, one day, his descendants would have much more extensive holdings to the south and southwest than they have ever controlled in history, even after Ariel Sharon crossed the Suez Canal and captured the Egyptian Third Army to end the Yom Kippur War. (The Gulf of Suez and the Suez Canal both lie east of the Nile and the area in between is the breadbasket and cotton growing area of Egypt.) Avraham Avinu was promised the land of ten nations, including Keini, Kenizi and Kadmoni, which Rashi (Bereishis 15:19) equates with Edom, Moav and Amon, but these are not the borders of Benei Yisrael’s territory when we entered the land in the days of Yehoshua. Until the era of moshiach, Klal Yisrael received the land of only seven of those ten nations, the rest going to other family members of Avraham Avinu, including the descendants of Amon and Moav, Avraham’s grandnieces, and of Eisav.

This land was made for you and me!

The Ramban (Devarim 11:24) explains the verses at the end of Parshas Eikev differently, understanding that those borders describe the area that we are commanded to conquer. This is consistent with his opinion that one of the taryag mitzvos requires that we conquer Eretz Yisrael, a topic in which both Rashi and the Rambam appear to disagree with him, and which we will leave for a different time.

I roamed and rambled

On the other hand, some major commentaries interpret the Stream of Egypt of Parshas Mas’ei to be the Nile, not the Wadi el Arish, making the Eretz Yisrael promised to Yehoshua far more expansive in the south and southwest. Since much of Cairo is on the eastern bank of the Nile, this approach considers that part of Cairo to be located in Eretz Yisrael!

I’ve followed my footsteps

Thus far, we have noted that the western border of Eretz Yisrael is the Mediterranean Sea. The middle of Eretz Yisrael originally had a very narrow “waist,” bound on its east by the Jordan River. The lands to the east of the Jordan were chutz la’aretz.

The sparkling sands

How did Transjordan, the land to the eastern part of the Jordan River, become part of Eretz Yisrael?

The answer is that the Benei Yisrael did not have a mitzvah to conquer Transjordan. Klal Yisrael requested permission to travel through the lands of Sichon in order to enter the Holy Land from the east. Sichon came to attack the Benei Yisrael, and, in this battle, Sichon, Og and their entire armies were eliminated. As spoils of war, everything they owned, including their extensive holdings east of the Jordan River, became the property of Benei Yisrael and, henceforth, all the laws of Eretz Yisrael apply. But only because Sichon and Og attacked the Jewish people and not because of any divine promise.

That golden valley

This background introduces a new question: When Dovid Hamelech conquered what the Gemara calls “Suria,” a huge tract of land east and north of the Jordan, the Mishnah and Gemara rule that it did not have the status of Eretz Yisrael because of a principle the Gemara calls: kibush yachid lav shemei kibush, literally, “the conquest of an individual is not considered a conquest.” But why not? What is the difference between Moshe Rabbeinu’s capture of Transjordan from Sichon and Og, which is now part of Eretz Yisrael, and Dovid Hamelech’s capture of Suria, which remains outside Eretz Yisrael? Was Dovid Hamelech’s conquest inferior to that of Moshe Rabbeinu?

Responding to this question created much literature among the rishonim. Among the approaches we find:

1. Dovid Hamelech conquered Suria to be a personal possession and did not involve the entire nation of Yisrael in its conquest (Rashi, Gittin 8b s. v. kivush).

2. The Rambam seems to hold a very similar approach, that conquered land becoming part of Eretz Yisrael is dependent on the involvement of most of the Jewish people, or acting as agency for the Jewish people (Hilchos Terumos 1:2).

3. At the time that Dovid Hamelech conquered Suria, the Benei Yisrael had as yet not taken possession of all of the land that they were supposed to acquire. Once the lands that the Jews were commanded in Parshas Mas’ei have been conquered, any land additionally conquered will have the halacha of Eretz Yisrael, but not land conquered earlier (Tosafos, Gittin 8a s. v. kivush).

Her diamond deserts

Although we have just demonstrated that the lands of Transjordan became endowed with the sanctity of Eretz Yisrael, and that, therefore, virtually all the laws of Eretz Yisrael apply to them, they still are not fully considered the Holy Land. For example, the midrash criticizes the tribes of Gad and Reuvein for prioritizing wrongly when they asked to receive their inherited lands in Transjordan. To quote the midrash (Bamidbar Rabbah, Parshas Matos 22, 7), which compares them to Korach and Haman (!?), “Similarly, we find that the Benei Gad and the Benei Reuven, who were wealthy and owned large herds, cherished their wealth and therefore elected to dwell outside Eretz Yisrael. As a result, they were the first of all the tribes to be exiled, as we are taught (Divrei Hayamim I, Chapter 5).

The wheat fields waving

Of course, we all know that Eretz Yisrael is famous for its seven special fruits — wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates — and the unique mitzvah, bikkurim, which is performed only with these seven fruits. I know that someone is going to criticize my calling wheat and barley “fruits,” since you will not find them in the produce department of your local supermarket. However, wheat and barley kernels are indeed “fruits,” and this is why the Mishnah frequently refers to them as peiros. We all commemorate this mitzvah annually at the Pesach Seder, when we read the story beginning with the words “Arami oveid avi,” which is part of the recital made by the pilgrim bringing his bikkurim to the Beis Hamikdash.

A voice was sounding

We are meant to be “a light onto the nations,” which charges us with the responsibility to act in a manner that we create a kiddush Hashem. This means we are to live as a nation in Eretz Yisrael following the mitzvos of the Torah that Hashem commanded us individually and nationally, and that only Hashem could have commanded!

The Beis Hamikdash represents our relationship to Eretz Yisrael as being completely dependent on the Torah; this is why the bikkurim must be brought to the Beis Hamikdash and placed alongside the mizbei’ach. Our acquisition of Eretz Yisrael is only for the purpose of observing the Torah.

Am I Jewish?

Situation #1: Richard

Richard was born into a non-observant family and married a woman who keeps a kosher home, but she is not interested in becoming more observant. Richard is under the impression that, going back a few generations, his mother’s family was not originally Jewish, and, as far as he is aware, never was observant; yet his mother’s kesubah, which was written up and witnessed by a talmid chacham, identifies her as Jewish from birth. Does this mean that he is halachically Jewish and can wear tefillin and be counted as part of a minyan?

Situation #2: Gail

Gail does not think that her maternal grandmother was born Jewish, but she has little information about that part of her family.

Situation #3: Julia

Julia’s mother always told her that she was Jewish, although she grew up in an area with few Jews and no Jewish community. Recently, she has discovered that her mother is fond of inventing stories about her life, and Julia’s father tells her that he never believed that Mom is Jewish.

Situation #4: Norman

Norman, who was not raised Orthodox, has since become fully frum, is married and has children. Years ago, his bar mitzvah was at a local Orthodox synagogue, but his mother was not Jewish at the time. The rabbi had him undergo a conversion, but he has no recollection whether this was before or after his bar mitzvah, and he was certainly not interested in being observant at the time, so any statement that he was planning to observe mitzvos would not have been serious.

Introduction:

Although I have made some modifications to the above stories, each represents a shaylah that I have been asked. In all four situations, and for literally thousands of similar individuals, their status as Jews is unclear. This article is not intended to provide halachic ruling for any individual, who should address their specific question to a posek.

Korban Pesach

The Gemara in Pesachim (3b) records the following event. A non-Jew came to Rabbi Yehudah ben Beseira, taunting him that, although the Torah states in parshas Bo, kol ben neichar lo yochal bo (Shemos 12:43), kol areil lo yochal bo (ibid. Verse 48)any son of a stranger (i.e., who is not Jewish) may not eat from it (the korban Pesach), no one uncircumcised may eat from it — he had successfully posed as Jewish and eaten the best cuts of the korban Pesach on a number of occasions. Without batting an eyelash, Rabbi Yehudah ben Beseira turned to the gentile and asked him if they ever offered him to eat the alyah, the fatty tail of sheep that was a prized delicacy. Thereby, Rabbi Yehudah ben Beseira implied to the non-Jew that they had given him only the scrawny parts of the korban, not the juicy, tasty parts that they reserved for the gentry (see Rashi).

Upon his return to the Beis Hamikdash the following Erev Pesach, the gentile requested the alyah portion, not realizing that he had thereby fallen into Rabbi Yehudah ben Beseira’s trap: the alyah is offered on the mizbei’ach. When they asked the non-Jew who told him to ask for the alyah, and he told them that it was Rabbi Yehudah ben Beseira, the people in Yerushalayim now realized that something serious was amiss. They researched the matter, discovered that the fellow was a charlatan, and made certain he would never give them trouble again. The Torah leadership then sent a message to Rabbi Yehudah ben Beseira that although he was very distant from the Beis Hamikdash and unable to attend the offering of the korban Pesach (see Tosafos ad loc. s.v. Ve’ana), his trap set from quite a distance had snared its prey.

This story provides opportunity to discuss the following problem, raised by Tosafos and other rishonim: How was this gentile able to attend the Beis Hamikdash on Erev Pesach and pretend that he was Jewish? Did he not have to bring proof that he was Jewish before being allowed to consume korban Pesach? May anyone claiming to be Jewish be believed, without having to produce a driver’s license, passport or other photo identification?

Tosafos notes that our story does not prove that this conclusion is true. Indeed, someone claiming he is Jewish might require proof, but, since most of those who attended the korban Pesach procedures were Jewish, there was no need for someone to bring additional proof. Halachically, we accept the principle of rov, that we follow the majority, which includes that someone in a place where most people are Jewish may not be required to prove that he is, too. This is similar to the halachic rule that, although the milk of an animal containing unknown internal injuries, tereifos, is not kosher, we may drink milk, assuming that the cow is kosher, since most living animals are kosher. This is a very useful ruling, because if we needed to prove that every cow whose milk we drink is kosher, it would increase the price of kosher milk considerably.

Shidduch crisis

Tosafos notes that other passages of Gemara imply that someone is accepted as Jewish on their say so, without any other proof. For example, the Gemara (Yevamos 45a) quotes several amora’im who contend that someone whose mother is Jewish, but not his father, is halachically Jewish, a principle called matrilineal descent. (Compare, however, Shu”t Chemdas Shelomoh, Even Ha’ezer #2, who quotes an extensive responsum from Rav Yaakov Loeberbaum of Lissa, the author of the Nesivos Hamishpat and many other major halachic works, who understands this passage of Gemara differently.) Subsequently, the Gemara quotes several anecdotes in which sons of such relationships wanted to marry, but were having difficulty finding a shidduch; Rava advised one to move to a place where his genealogy was unknown, in order to find a shidduch.

Tosafos questions: If this person whose father is not Jewish has to prove his lineage wherever he goes, how does this self-imposed exile help? Tosafos concludes (in both Pesachim and Yevamos) that someone presenting himself as Jewish does not need to prove it. Therefore, someone whose father is not Jewish will be able to keep his personal family circumstances a secret.

When the Rambam quotes this law, he records the following: “Someone who came and said, I was a non-Jew and now I have properly converted in beis din, he is believed (without any other proof, because without his saying so we would have no basis to assume that he was once non-Jewish). This is true in Eretz Yisroel, in an era when we could assume that everyone is Jewish. However, outside Eretz Yisroel, he needs to bring proof before he may marry a Jewish woman. In my opinion, this requirement is a stringency created by Chazal to protect proper yichus” (Hilchos Issurei Bi’ah 13:10). The Ra’avad disagrees, contending that, whether he is in Eretz Yisroel or in chutz la’aretz, and regardless of what era he is in, he is required to bring proof that he is Jewish before he marries.

Three opinions

Thus, it appears that we have three differing opinions among the rishonim:

1. Tosafos, who rules that he is never required to prove that he is Jewish, even to marry. It should be noted that this is probably true only when the individual is living a frum lifestyle.

2. The Rambam, who rules that, in Eretz Yisroel, at a time that we would assume that everyone is Jewish, he may marry without any evidence proving his Jewish identity, but, in all other times and places, he must prove he is Jewish to marry, but not for any other benefits.

3. The Ra’avad, who rules that, in all times and places, he must prove he is Jewish to marry. (Also see Yam shel Shelomoh, Kesubos 2:40, who cites, without sources or clarification, the opinions of Rashi and the Remah, who dispute some of what we have written above. However, the Maharshal, the author of the Yam shel Shelomoh, does not provide the sources whence he derived these conclusions from the writings of Rashi and the Remah; it appears that their position may have been similar to that of the Ra’avad.)

How do we rule?

As the primary opinion, the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 268:10) quotes Tosafos, although he also then mentions the Rambam’s position. However, several major authorities understand that the Rambam agreed with Tosafos that someone arriving in our community, presenting himself as born Jewish, does not need to prove this. They explain that the Rambam contends only that someone who admits to having once been non-Jewish must provide evidence that he had a proper conversion to allow him to marry (Yam shel Shelomoh, Kesubos 2:40; Bach, Yoreh Deah 268; Shach, Yoreh Deah 268:21). This approach to understanding the Rambam explains how the Rambam can easily explain the Gemara (Yevamos 45a), quoted above, that advised someone to hide his family’s past and get married, without any other proof. This individual,  who had a non-Jewish father but a Jewish mother, was Jewish from birth and, therefore, exempt from providing any other proof to verify his being Jewish.

It should be noted that the Migdal Oz (Hilchos Issurei Bi’ah 13:10)and the Gra (Yoreh Deah 268:25) provide a different approach to explain the Rambam, based on a passage in Mesechta Geirim (4:4), which they both accredit to the Talmud Yerushalmi, that seems to conflict with the Gemara in Yevamos. The Gra’s halachic conclusion agrees with that of the Shulchan Aruch.

Halachic conclusion

In summary, the following are the halachic conclusions:

  • Someone that we know was not Jewish and claims to have been properly converted must prove that he underwent a proper conversion (Tosafos, Yevamos 47a s.v. Bemuchzak quoting Rabbeinu Tam; Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 268:10).
  • Someone claiming to be Jewish from birth is believed, without any proof, even to marry (Shach, Yoreh Deah 268:21).
  • Someone claiming that he was properly converted, about whom we have no previous information whether he is Jewish or not, is a subject of dispute, whether he needs to prove that he was properly converted in order to marry. However, if he is observant, we accept him as fully Jewish for all other halachos (see Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 268:10; Shach, Yoreh Deah 268:21; Aruch Hashulchan, Yoreh Deah 268:14).

Why is he believed?

At this point, I would like to discuss a question that underlies what the rishonim have concluded. Why is someone believed on his own that he is Jewish? What is the halachic reasoning behind this assumption?

I have found three answers to this question:

1. Tosafos (Yevamos 47a s.v. Bemuchzak) states that there is a concept of rov, majority – meaning that most people who act like frum Jews and claim to be Jewish are indeed Jewish.

2. The Tiferes Yisroel (Kesubos 2, Boaz 1) questions Tosafos’s approach by noting that most people in the world are not Jewish. Therefore, he suggests a different approach: when an individual claims he is Jewish, he requires himself to observe all the laws of Shabbos, kashrus, etc., which he is not required to do if he is not Jewish. It is difficult to imagine that someone would do this, if he were not, indeed, already observing these mitzvos.

3. The Tiferes Yisroel then shares another option, which is very similar, and perhaps logically identical, to that of Tosafos,although he explains it in a slightly different way than Tosafos does. Someone who observes halacha as a frum person has a chazakah that he is Jewish, and there is no further reason to require him to prove that he is Jewish (see Yevamos 47a; Kiddushin 80a).

It would seem that all three approaches we have presented accept that only someone who is clearly religiously observant when he presents himself as Jewish is believed.

Situation #1: Richard

Richard was born into a non-observant family and married a woman who keeps a kosher home, but neither he nor his wife are interested in becoming more observant. He is under the impression that, going back a few generations, his mother’s family was not originally Jewish, and, as far as he is aware, never was observant; yet his mother’s kesubah, which was written up and witnessed by a talmid chacham, identifies her as Jewish from birth. Does this mean that he is halachically Jewish and can wear tefillin and be counted as part of a minyan?

At the time that this shaylah came up, I asked Rav Yisroel Belsky, zt”l , who answered me that once we saw that a talmid chacham wrote a kesubah assuming that Richard’s mother was born Jewish, this becomes the accepted halacha. Therefore, Richard is assumed to be Jewish for any halachos.

Situation #2: Gail

Gail does not think that her maternal grandmother was born Jewish, but she has little information about that part of her family.

Answer:

Gail is now living a fully frum lifestyle. As such, for all halachos, those around her should assume that she is Jewish. The only question is whether she can marry someone Jewish. Since she has no proof of her Jewish identity, according to some authorities she may not marry someone Jewish. As opposed to Richard, Gail has no evidence that her grandmother and mother are Jewish. Therefore, Gail was advised to have a giyur lechumra, meaning to undergo a geirus process, but without reciting any brachos when immersing in the mikveh, because of safek brachos lechumra — when we are uncertain about whether to recite a brocha, we do not do so. She subsequently married a fine, frum-from-birth young man.

Situation #3: Julia

Julia’s mother always told her that she was Jewish, although she grew up in an area with few Jews and no Jewish community. Recently, she has discovered that her mother is fond of inventing stories about her life, and Julia’s father tells her that he never believed that Mom is Jewish.

Since Julia is now living a fully frum lifestyle, other people should assume that she is Jewish. However, there is major uncertainty whether or not to believe her mother, and, therefore, I advised her to undergo a geirus procedure.

Situation #4: Norman

Norman, who was not raised Orthodox, has since become fully frum, is married and has children. Years ago, his bar mitzvah was at a local Orthodox synagogue, but his mother was not Jewish at the time. The rabbi had him undergo a conversion, but he has no recollection whether this was before or after his bar mitzvah, and he was certainly not interested in being observant at the time, so any statement that he was planning to observe mitzvos would not have been serious.

Does Norman need to have another conversion procedure?

The answer to this question takes us a bit afield from our topic at hand, but I will supply some of the information in a cursory way. If the conversion process was performed before Norman was bar mitzvah, there are halachic authorities who would rule that he is certainly Jewish, but there are others who might question this, depending on the circumstances. Therefore, it was advised that he perform geirus leshufra demilsa, which means a geirus that may not be necessary, but resolves all issues. This was expedited very discreetly and very swiftly.

Conclusion – geirim are special

A geir tzedek should be treated with tremendous love and respect. Indeed, the Torah gives us a special mitzvah to “Love the geir,” and we daven for them daily in our Shmoneh Esrei! Throughout the years, I have met many sincere geirim and have been truly impressed by their dedication to Torah and mitzvos. Hearing about the journey to find truth that brought them to Judaism is usually fascinating. What would cause a gentile to join the Jewish people, risk confronting the brunt of anti-Semitism, while at the same time being uncertain that Jews will accept him? Sincere converts are drawn by the truth of Torah and a desire to be part of the Chosen People. They know that they can follow the Will of Hashem by doing seven mitzvos, but they insist on choosing an all-encompassing Torah lifestyle.

One sincere young woman, of Oriental background, stood firmly before the beis din. “Why would you want this?” questioned the rav.

“Because it is truth and gives my life meaning.”

“There are many rules to follow,” he cautioned.

“I know. I have been following them meticulously for two years,” was the immediate reply. “I identify with the Jews.”

After further questioning, the beis din authorized her geirus, offering her two dates convenient for them. She chose the earlier one, so that she would be able to keep an extra Shabbos.

We should learn from the geir to observe our mitzvos every day with tremendous excitement – just as if we had received them for the first time!

The Numbers Game

Question #1: Pie r Squared

Yanki is supposed to be watching his weight and therefore needs to figure out how many calories are in the pie he beholds. To figure out how big the pie is, he measures the diameter of the pie, and divides in it half to get the length of its radius. He then multiplies the length of the radius by itself to get “r squared,” and multiplies the result by three so that he knows the area of the pie’s surface. Is there anything wrong with his calculation?

Question #2: Puzzled by the Pasuk

“How can the pesukim tell us that the relationship between the circumference of a circle and its diameter is three to one, when simply taking a string and measuring around a circle demonstrates that the circumference is noticeably longer than three times the diameter?”

Question #3: Performing Mitzvos Accurately

“How accurate a calculation must I make when determining the size of an item to be used for a mitzvah?”

Introduction

In numerous places, both Tanach and Chazal approximate certain mathematical values, such as evaluating the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter as three to one. The problem is that we can demonstrate mathematically that the ratio is greater than three and is almost 3 1/7. This leads to the following questions:

(1) Why would Chazal calculate using inaccurate approximations?

(2) When making halachic calculations, may we rely on these estimates, or do we need to be mathematically more accurate?

(3) A corollary question is: When providing an estimate, one must allow for a margin of error. Does halachah require a margin of error, and, if so, how much?

The Slide Rule versus the Calculator

Let me begin our discussion with a modern analogy, if something I remember can still be considered “modern.” When I first studied sophisticated mathematical estimates, I learned to use a slide rule, which today is as valuable to an engineer as his abacus. Relative to the calculator, a slide rule does not provide accurate measurements, and someone using a slide rule must allow for a fairly significant margin of error.

Today, complex computations are made with calculators, which provide far more accurate results that can be rounded off, as necessary, to the nearest tenth, millionth, quadrillionth or smaller. Of course, using a calculator still requires one to round upward or downward, but because it is much more precise, the margin of error is greatly reduced.

How Irrational Are You?

Numerous halachic questions require mathematical calculations that involve what we call “irrational numbers.” An irrational number means one that cannot be expressed in fractional notation. Another way of explaining an irrational number is that its value can never be calculated totally accurately, but can only be estimated. The two most common examples of irrational numbers that show up in Chazal are:

Pi

(1) The ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter, which we are used to calling by the Greek letter ∏ (pronounced like the word “pie,” and spelled in English “pi”). Since the 19th century, the letter pi has been used to represent this number, because the Greek word for periphery is peripherion, which begins with the letter ∏. Hundreds of years earlier, the Rambam (Commentary to the Mishnah, Eruvin 1:5) noted that the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter is an irrational number that can only be approximated, and that the scientists of his era used an estimate of 3 and 1/7, which is actually slightly greater than the value of ∏. The Rambam explains that since there is no accurate ratio, Chazal used a round number, three, for this calculation.

The Diagonal of a Square

(2) The length of a diagonal of a square, which is equal to the side of the square multiplied by the square root of two (√2). Chazal calculated the length of a diagonal of a square to be 1 and 2/5 times its side, which is slightly smaller than the value of the √2. (Another way of expressing this idea is that the ratio between the diagonal and the side is 7:5.) The fact that Chazal’s figuring is somewhat smaller than the mathematical reality is already proved by Tosafos (to Sukkah 8a s.v. kol).

Since both pi and the square root of two are irrational numbers, they can only be estimated but can never be calculated with absolute accuracy.

Based on the above-quoted statement of the Rambam, we can already address one of our earlier questions: “Why would Chazal have used inaccurate evaluations for calculation?” The answer is that any computation of the correlation of the circumference of a circle to its diameter will be an estimate. The only question is how accurate must this estimate be for the purpose at hand.

Chazal or Tanach?

Although the Rambam attributes the rounding of pi to Chazal, in actuality, there are sources in Tanach that calculate the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter as three-to-one. Both in Melachim (I 7:23) and again in Divrei Hayamim (II 4:2), Tanach teaches that the Yam shel Shelomoh, the large, round pool or mikveh that was built in the first Beis Hamikdash, was thirty amos in circumference and ten amos in diameter, which provides a ratio of circumference to diameter of three-to-one. Thus, we can ask a question of the Rambam: Why does he attribute this ratio to Chazal, rather than the source for Chazal’s calculation, the pesukim?

The commentaries there, however, already ask how the verse can make a calculation that we know is not accurate. The Ralbag suggests two options: either that the numbers used are intended to be a very broad estimate, or, alternatively, that the diameter is measured from the external dimensions of the mikveh, whereas the circumference is measured from its inside, which makes the estimate closer to mathematical reality. According to the second approach, we have no Biblical source that uses an estimate of three-to-one as a substitute for pi.

This will explain why the Rambam attributed the estimation of pi as three to Chazal, rather than to the Tanach. The Rambam was fully aware that one could interpret the verses according to the second approach of the Ralbag, in which case, there is no proof from the verse. He, therefore, attributed this estimate to Chazal.

Gemara Eruvin

However, the Ralbag’s approach seems to conflict with a passage of Gemara. The Mishnah in Eruvin states that if the circumference of a pole is three tefachim, its diameter is one tefach, which means that the Mishnah assumes a ratio of three-to-one.

The Gemara questions how the Mishnah knows that the ratio is three-to-one, and then draws proof from the above-quoted verse that the Yam shel Shelomoh was thirty amos around and ten amos across. The Gemara then debates whether the calculations of the Yam shel Shelomoh indeed result in a ratio of three-to-one, because one must also include the thickness of the poolitself, which offsets the computation. The Gemara eventually concludes that the verse was calculating from the inside of the pool, not its outside, and therefore the thickness of the pool’s containing wall is not included in the calculation (Eruvin 14a).

However, this Gemara’s discussion leaves the mathematician dissatisfied, a question already noted by Tosafos. If the internal diameter of the Yam shel Shelomoh was ten amos, its circumference must have been greater than thirty amos, and if its circumference was thirty amos, then its internal diameter must have been less than ten amos.

A Different Question

The Rosh, in his responsa, is bothered by a different question, based on Talmudic logic rather than on mathematical calculation. He finds the Gemara’s question — requesting proof for the ratio between a circle’s circumference and its diameter — to be odd. The ratio between a circle’s circumference and its diameter is a value that one should calculate. By its nature, this is not a question that requires a Biblical proof or source.

In the literature that we have received from the Rosh, he asks this question in two different places. In his responsa (Shu”t Harosh 2:19), we find a letter that he wrote to the Rashba, in which he asked a series of questions that the Rosh notes bother him tremendously and to whom he has no one else to turn for an answer. One of the questions the Rosh asks is: “Why does the Gemara ask for a Biblical source for a mathematical calculation?”

It is curious to note that a later commentary mentions that, in all the considerable literature that we have received from the Rashba, we have no recorded answer of the Rashba to this question of the Rosh (Cheishek Shelomoh to Eruvin 14a).

Another Rosh

As I mentioned above, there is another place where the Rosh asks why the Gemara wanted a Biblical source for a mathematical calculation, but in this second place the Rosh provides an answer to the question. In his Tosafos Harosh commentary on Eruvin, which was published for the first time fairly recently, the Rosh provides the following answer: Since the calculation of three-to-one is not accurate, the Gemara wanted a biblical source as proof that we are permitted to rely on this estimate.

(It is curious to note that the Cheishek Shelomoh whom I quoted above provided the same answer to this question as did the Rosh in his Tosafos. The Cheishek Shelomoh never saw the Tosafos Harosh, which had not yet been printed in his day.)

Curiousity about the Tosafos Harosh

There is an interesting historical point that can presumably be derived from this statement of the Rosh. As I mentioned, in the Tosafos Harosh, the Rosh does answer the question that he raised, and accredits this answer to himself. This should be able to prove which work the Rosh had written earlier, and also whether he ever received an answer to his question from the Rashba. This analysis is based on the following question: Why did the Rosh cite an answer in his Tosafos¸but not in his responsum, which was addressed as a question to the Rashba. There are three obvious possibilities:

(1) Although the Rosh wrote this answer in his Tosafos, he was dissatisfied with it, and therefore wrote a question to the Rashba. I would reject this possibility because, if it is true, then, in his correspondence to the Rashba, the Rosh would have mentioned this answer and his reason for rejecting it.

(2) The Rosh indeed received an answer, either this one or a different answer, from the Rashba. I reject this approach also, because, were it true, the Rosh would have quoted the Rashba’s answer in his Tosafos and, if need be, discussed it.

(3) Therefore, I conclude that the Rosh, indeed, never received an answer to the question he asked of the Rashba and subsequently reached his own conclusion as to how to answer the question, which he then recorded in the Tosafos Harosh. This would lead us to conclude that the Tosafos Harosh were written later in his life than his responsa, or, at least, than this responsum.

Mathematical Accuracy

At this point, we can address one of earlier questions.When making halachic calculations, may we rely on these estimates, or do we need to be mathematically more accurate?” We might be able to prove this point by noting something in the Mishnah in Eruvin. The Mishnah there ruled that, under certain circumstances, an area that is fully enclosed on three of its sides and has a beam, a tefach wide, above the fourth side, is considered halachically fully enclosed, and one may carry inside it. The Mishnah then proceeds to explain that if the beam is round and has a circumference of three tefachim, one may carry inside the area because, based on the calculation that the relationship of its circumference to its diameter is three-to-one, the beam is considered to be a tefach wide. However, as the Rambam notes, the beam is actually less than a tefach in diameter, and therefore, one should not be permitted to carry in this area!

The Aruch Hashulchan (Orach Chayim 363:22; Yoreh Deah 30:13) notes this problem and concludes that one may carry in this area. He contends that this is exactly what the Gemara was asking when it requested Scriptural proof for a mathematical calculation. “Upon what halachic basis may we be lenient in using this estimate of three-to-one, when this will permit carrying in an area in which the beam is less than a tefach wide? The answer is that this is a halachah that we derive from the verse.”

To clarify this concept, the Chazon Ish notes that the purpose of mitzvos is to draw us nearer to Hashem, to accept His reign, and to be meticulously careful in observing His laws. However, none of this is conflicted when the Torah teaches that we may use certain calculations, even if they are not completely mathematically accurate. In this instance, relying on these estimates is exactly what the Torah requires (Chazon Ish, Orach Chayim 138:4). As expressed by a different author, the Gemara (Eruvin 4a; Sukkah 5b) teaches that the measurements, the shiurim, required to fulfill mitzvos are all halachah leMoshe miSinai, laws that Moshe Rabbeinu received as a mesorah in Har Sinai. Similarly, these estimates of irrational numbers mentioned above are all halachah leMoshe miSinai that one may rely upon to fulfill mitzvos, whether or not they are mathematically accurate. The same Torah takes these calculations into consideration when instructing us which dimensions are required in order to fulfill these specific mitzvos (Shu”t Tashbeitz 1:165).

In the context of a different halachah in the laws of Eruvin, the Mishnah Berurah makes a similar statement, contending that we can rely on Chazal’s estimates, even when the result is lenient. However, the Mishnah Berurah there vacillates a bit in his conclusion, ruling that one can certainly rely on this when the issue is a rabbinic concern (Shaar Hatziyun 372:18). In a responsum, Rav Moshe Feinstein questions why the Mishnah Berurah limits relying on this approach, and Rav Moshe rules unequivocally that the rule permitting one to rely on these estimates holds true even germane to de’oraysa laws and even leniently (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah Volume3 #120:5).

How Straight Are My Tefillin?

Personally, I find the context of Rav Moshe’s teshuvah very interesting. There is a halachah leMoshe miSinai that requires that the boxes of the tefillin, the batim, must be perfectly square. In a responsum dated 21 Adar II, 5736, Rav Moshe was asked whether there is a halachic preference to use scientific measuring equipment to determine that one’s tefillin are perfectly square. Rav Moshe rules that there is neither a reason nor a hiddur to measure the tefillin squareness this accurately. Since Chazal have used the calculation of 1.4 or a ratio of 7:5, which we know is an estimate, to determine the correct diagonal of a square, there is no requirement to make one’s tefillin squarer than this, and it is perfectly fine simply to measure the length of each of the sides of one’s tefillin and its two diagonals to ascertain that the ratio between the diagonal and the side is 7:5.

In the above-cited responsum, Rav Moshe notes that he had heard that the Brisker Rav, Rav Yitzchak Ze’ev Soloveitchik, had ruled that it was preferable to check one’s tefillin in the most scientific method available. Rav Moshe writes that he finds this suggestion very strange and disputes its being halachically correct (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah Volume3 #120:5).

Thus, according to these authorities, we have answered our previous question regarding the halachic significance of estimated values: Indeed, the purpose of Chazal‘s making these estimates was that observing halachah does not require that these calculations be mathematically precise, provided they meet the criteria that the halachah established.

An Alternate Approach

Although the majority of late authorities conclude that the calculations of Chazal are indeed part of the halachos of shiurim, this is not a universally held position. The Tashbeitz, a rishon, wrote a lengthy responsum on the topic, in which he presents two ways to explain why Chazal used estimates that are not precisely accurate. His first approach reaches the same conclusion as we have already found in the later poskim, that these measurements are included within the halachos of shiurim that are part of the halachah leMoshe miSinai.

The second approach of the Tashbeitz, however, differs with the above-mentioned halachic conclusion. In his second approach, he contends that all the above estimates were meant for pedagogic, but not halachic reasons. The rounding of pi to three and the diagonal of a square to 1.4 were provided to make the material easily comprehensible to all students, since every individual is required to know the entire Torah. Thus, when Chazal used these estimates in calculating the laws, their intent was to enable the average student to comprehend the halachic material, not to provide the most accurate interpretation. When an actual halachic calculation is made, it must be totally accurate, and any halachic authority involved would realize that he must use a highly accurate mathematical computation and then round either upward or downward as necessary for the specific application. (A similar position is held by Chiddushim Uviurim, Ohalos 5:6.)

Conclusion

Certainly, the majority of late halachic opinions conclude that the estimates of Chazal are meant to be halachically definitive, and not simply pedagogic in nature. However, I leave it to the individual reader to ask his or her posek what to do when a practical question presents itself.

Women and Reading Megillah

Question #1: Ba’alas Korei

May a woman be the ba’alas keri’ah of the megillah?

Question #2: Kiddush and Arba Kosos

The elderly Mr. Klein is fully alert, but, unfortunately, he has difficulty enunciating. May Mrs. Klein recite kiddush and the other brachos of the seder for him?

Foreword

Although there is a general rule exempting women from mitzvos aseih shehazeman grama, (time-bound requirements involving positive action), such as tefillin, sukkah and tzitzis, there are numerous exceptions to this rule. For example, women are required to observe mitzvos related to Shabbos and Pesach and to hear Megillas Esther on Purim, all topics that we will discuss.

Part of the miracle

In three places, the Gemara quotes an early amora, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, who ruled that women are obligated to fulfill the mitzvos of megillah, ner Chanukah and the four kosos of seder night. Although these are all time-bound mitzvos aseih, women are obligated to observe these specific mitzvos because of a different rule, af hein hayu be’oso haneis, “they were also included in the miracle.” This rule means that, when Chazal created the mitzvos of kindling Chanukah lights, reading megillah on Purim or consuming the four cups on the first night of Pesach, they included women in the obligation, notwithstanding that they are usually exempt from mitzvos aseih shehazeman grama.

The rishonim dispute what the term af hein hayu be’oso haneis means. Is this emphasizing that they were saved by the miracle, or does it mean that they were involved in bringing about the miracle?

Rashi and the Rashbam (Pesachim 108b) explain that af hein hayu be’oso haneis means that women were involved in causing the miracle (think of Esther declaring that the Jews fast and do teshuvah, approaching Achashveirosh and setting Haman up for his execution). On the other hand, Tosafos (Megillah 4a s. v. She’af; Pesachim 108b s. v. Hayu) contends that it means that women, also, were saved by the miracle of survival, either physical or spiritual, that we celebrate in each of these observances.

Mitzvos min haTorah?

Note that Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi applied his principle to three mitzvos, each of which is a requirement only miderabbanan. Is this coincidental, or is the principle of af hein hayu be’oso haneis a principle that Chazal created that does not apply min haTorah? This issue is disputed by two Ba’alei Tosafos. The first opinion cited by Tosafos contends that af hein hayu be’oso haneis is a rabbinic principle and will not create a Torah requirement (Tosafos, Megillah 4a s. v. She’af; Mordechai, Megillah #780). The disputant, Rabbeinu Yosef of Eretz Yisrael, rules that af hein hayu be’oso haneis applies even to mitzvos that are min haTorah.

Shomei’a ke’oneh

Prior to answering our opening questions, we need to understand a halachic principle called shomei’a ke’oneh, which translates, literally, as “hearing is like responding.” This principle means that when I hear someone recite a prayer, the megillah, kiddush or havdalah, it is considered as if I, myself, recited it.

I will explain this principle with an example that we utilize regularly: Except for heads of household, most of us fulfill the mitzvos of kiddush and havdalah by hearing someone else recite them. But the mitzvah is to recite kiddush and havdalah, not merely to hear them. So, how do we fulfill these mitzvos when we are only hearing them? The answer is that, because of shomei’a ke’oneh, it is deemed that we recited kiddush and havdalah ourselves.

Three conditions

For shomei’a ke’oneh to work, three conditions must be met:

(1) The individual performing the mitzvah must have in mind to be motzi the other people, meaning that he knows that he is acting on behalf of those listening.

(2) The individual performing the mitzvah must be required to observe this mitzvah. In other words, if a child (under bar or bas mitzvah) recites kiddush or havdalah on behalf of an adult, the adult does not fulfill the mitzvah, since the child is not obligated in this mitzvah min haTorah (see Brachos 20b).

(3) The listeners must have in mind that they are discharging their obligation to perform the mitzvah by hearing this recital.

Parshas Zachor

It is for this last reason that, immediately prior to Parshas Zachor, the gabbai announces that everyone should have in mind with the reading of the ba’al keri’ah to fulfill the mitzvah of remembering Amaleik’s dastardly deeds. Only the ba’al keri’ah actually reads the appropriate Torah portion. The rest of us discharge our obligation to observe this mitzvah by hearing the ba’al keri’ah, which, because of shomei’a ke’oneh, is considered as if we read it ourselves. In addition to Parshas Zachor, brachos, reading the Torah and the megillah, kiddush and havdalah, there are numerous other applications of shomei’a ke’oneh.

Not now!

We should note that, although the person being motzi others must be obligated by the Torah to fulfill the mitzvah, this does not require him to fulfill the mitzvah with this reading, by which he is being motzi others. He may recite kiddush or havdalah for someone else, even if he, himself, has already fulfilled the mitzvah, or if he intends to fulfill the mitzvah later with a different recital of kiddush or havdalah. That is why a ba’al keri’ah can read megillah many different times to be motzi other people, even though he has already fulfilled the mitzvah. This is also the reason why kiddush and havdalah are recited in shul, notwithstanding that the person reciting them plans to recite them again at home.

Ba’alas korei

At this point, I can present the halachic background behind our opening question: May a woman be the ba’alas korei or ba’alas keri’ah of the megillah?

Whether a woman may assume the role of ba’alas keri’ah is the subject of a fascinating dispute among rishonim, as we will soon see.

The Mishnah (Megillah 19b) states: Everyone is qualified to read the megillah except for a minor and someone who is not halachically responsible for his actions. The Gemara (Arachin 2b) asks: what is being added by emphasizing that “everyone” is qualified to read the megillah? The Gemara replies that women, who are usually not obligated in time-bound mitzvos, are obligated to read the megillah, to the extent that they may read the megillah to be motzi others. Rashi explains, explicitly, that this means that a woman may read the megillah to be motzi a man in his obligation. Thus, according to Rashi, a woman may be the ba’alas keri’ah of the megillah.

However, the Ba’al Halachos Gedolos (usually abbreviated as Bahag, the author of a halachic work from the era of the geonim) notes that the Tosefta, a halachic work dating back to the era of the Mishnah, disagrees. The salient part of the Tosefta (Megillah 2:4), as we have its text, reads: “All are obligated in the reading of the megillah… . Women… are exempt and cannot be motzi the public (rabbim) from their responsibility.”

Is there any way to resolve this contradiction between the Mishnah, as understood by the Gemara, and the Tosefta?

The Bahag presents an approach to explain the Mishnah and the Tosefta such that there is no conflict between the two positions. When the Mishnah implies, and the Gemara states explicitly, that a woman can be motziah (the feminine of motzi; plural motzios) someone else, it means that she can be motziah a woman, but not a man.

Why should this be true? The Bahag explains that there are two levels of mitzvah regarding the megillah:

(1) To read the megillah.

(2) To hear the megillah.

Ordinarily, a man fulfills both requirements when he hears the megillah from another man, since the person reading the megillah, who has both obligations, reads it for the purpose that the listeners fulfill all their megillah-related obligations. However, since a woman’s obligation is only to hear the megillah, but not to read it, it is not within her ability to be motzi someone who is obligated to read the megillah (Rosh, Megillah 1:4; note that Shu”t Avnei Neizer [Orach Chayim #511:4-5] and the Brisker Rav [Al Hashas, Inyanim #15] explain the Bahag’s approach slightly differently).

With this approach, the Bahag explains that the Mishnah refers to a woman reading the megillah for other women, which she can do, and the Tosefta refers to a woman reading the megillah for men, which is why it states that a woman cannot be motziah the public, which includes men.

The Tosefta according to Rashi

According to Rashi, either the text of this Tosefta is in error (as is not uncommon in our texts of the Tosefta) or it disagrees with the Mishnah as understood by the Gemara, in which case we rule according to the Mishnah and Gemara (both of these approaches are mentioned, in different places, by the Bach, Orach Chayim 689). We should point out that the texts that we have received of the Tosefta are notoriously unreliable, since copyists often made errors and, as a result, texts that were studied less frequently are often inaccurate. As an example, the rishonim who quote this Tosefta cite it with at least three significantly different texts.

Also, if, indeed, there is a dispute between the tanna who authored the Mishnah and the one who authored the Tosefta, the halacha follows the author of the Mishnah. Thus, either approach used to explain Rashi’s position is highly satisfactory.

Other rishonim?

Several authorities infer from the Rambam that he agreed with Rashi’s halachic conclusion (Magid Mishnah, Hilchos Megillah 1:2; Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 689). The Beis Yosef and the Darkei Moshe quote other rishonim on both sides of fence: The Or Zarua rules like Rashi, whereas the Ra’avyah and the Mordechai (Megillah #779) rule like the Bahag. The Shulchan Aruch’s conclusion is unclear (Orach Chayim 689:2), whereas the Rema rules like the Bahag.

According to the Bahag’s opinion, some authorities contend that a woman hearing megillah when no male is fulfilling the mitzvah should not recite the brocha al mikra megillah, since she is not required to read the megillah, but to hear it. The Rema records that she should recite lishmo’a megillah, but others prefer that she should recite lishmo’a mikra megillah (Mishnah Berurah 689:8).

Getting a third opinion

Are there any other opinions? We actually find a few other opinions among rishonim, who present alternative ways of resolving the contradiction between the Mishnah and the Tosefta, with halachic results unlike either Rashi or the Bahag. Rabbi Moshe of Coucy (France), a ba’al Tosafos who wrote a halachic work based on the 613 mitzvos, usually called Sefer Hamitzvos Hagadol (abbreviated as Semag), agrees with the Bahag that a woman cannot be motziah a man, but disagrees with the reason why. In his opinion, just as Chazal ruled that a woman cannot fulfill the mitzvah of keri’as haTorah, because it is not kavod hatzibur for her to read for the community (Megillah 23a), she may also not read to be motzi a man in megillah (towards the beginning of Hilchos Megillah in the Semag). Tosafos (Sukkah 38a s. v. Be’emes at end) may agree with this opinion of the Semag.

With this approach, the Semag answers the contradiction between the Mishnah and the Gemara, on one hand, and the Tosefta, on the other, in a way similar to that of the Bahag. The Mishnah and Gemara teach that a woman may read the megillah for someone else; the Tosefta is ruling that she may not be the ba’alas keri’ah for a community.

There is yet a fourth approach to the issue, that of the Ba’al Ha’itur (Hilchos Megillah, page 110, column 1), but the details of his opinion are somewhat unclear (see Ran [Megillah 19b, 6b in the Rif’s pages]; Tur and Bach, Orach Chayim 689).

Three is a crowd

There is yet another opinion, contending that the Tosefta means that a woman should not read the megillah for more than one other woman (Korban Nesanel, Megillah 1:4:60, in explanation of Tosafos, Sukkah 38a s. v. Be’emes). According to this position, the Tosefta meant this when it said that a woman she should not read for the “public” (“rabbim” in the words of the Tosefta). The Mishnah Berurah quotes this approach as authoritative halacha (Shaar Hatziyun, 689:15). This opinion actually ends up with a stricter ruling, since, according to both Rashi and the Bahag, a woman may read megillah to be motziah other women, regardless as to how many there are, whereas this opinion allows her to be motziah only one other woman, not any more.

Kiddush

Does this principle of the Bahag apply to kiddush just as it applies to the reading of the megillah? Let us explore the halachic data on the subject.

The Gemara (Brachos 20b) states, unequivocally, that women are obligated in the mitzvah of reciting kiddush. Does this mean that a woman may recite kiddush to be motzi a man? Or, is this dependent on the dispute between Rashi and the Bahag?

Several early acharonim understand that the same dispute that exists between Rashi and the Bahag regarding women reading the megillah for men applies to women reciting kiddush for men (Maharshal and Bach, in their commentaries to Tur Orach Chayim 271). They conclude that a woman may recite kiddush for other women, but may not recite kiddush to be motzi a man in kiddush.

However, the Taz, who was the son-in-law of the Bach, disputes his father-in-law’s conclusion, contending that the Bahag’s opinion is limited to reading the Megillah, and does not apply to reciting kiddush. Since the Gemara concludes that women are obligated in kiddush min haTorah, it appears that they can be motzi men in kiddush. (This approach appears to be implied by the Gemara, Brachos 20b).

Kiddush according to the Semag

We noted above the opinion of the Semag that women cannot be motzios men in reading the megillah, just as they cannot be called up to read the Torah. This position should apply only to a woman reading the megillah, but not to reciting kiddush, which is usually not performed publicly, but recited at home.

Arba Kosos

At this point, let us explore one of our opening questions: The elderly Mr. Klein is fully alert, but, unfortunately, he has difficulty enunciating. May Mrs. Klein recite kiddush and the other brachos of the seder for him?

Chazal required that men and women have four kosos at the seder. It is difficult to imagine that someone can be motzi someone else in this requirement – drinking the four cups of wine it a mitzvah degufei, a mitzvah that is performed with one’s body, similar to matzoh, lulav and tefillin, which preclude one person performing the mitzvah for another. However, someone can recite the brachos that pertain to these kosos for someone else.

The Gemara states that each of the four kosos is associated with a different mitzvah of the seder, and, in fact, each of these mitzvos includes at least one brocha. We hold the kos while we recite these brachos.

1. The first kos is kiddush.

2. Over the second kos, we recite the brocha of Asher Ge’alanu, which completes the mitzvah of magid.

3. The third kos is used for birkas hamazon.

4. The fourth kos is the brocha upon the completion of Hallel.

Women are obligated in all the laws of the seder, which includes reciting the brachos associated with its four kosos. Does it say whether they can be motzios a man in these brachos? Would the Bahag’s opinion that they should not be motziah a man in megillah apply to these brachos? I did not find anyone who discusses this issue.

How do we pasken?

Having explained the understanding and ramifications of all these issues, let us present the halachic conclusions:

Most late authorities conclude that, regarding the reading of the megillah, we should follow the approach of the Bahag that women should not read megillah for men, and, also, we should follow the approach of the Semag that women should not read in public for a group of women. If no man is available who can read the megillah for her, a woman may read the megillah for herself, and she may also read the megillah for another woman.

Regarding the halachos of women being motzios men in kiddush, the later authorities do not accept the approach of the Maharshal and the Bach that the same ruling applies to kiddush. Instead, they contend that when there is a valid reason for a woman to make kiddush for her family, she should do so and be motziah the male members (Magen Avraham, 271:2 and later acharonim). Regarding the bracha of Asher Ge’alanu at the seder, my halachic conclusion is that Mrs. Klein may recite these brachos and be motziah Mr. Klein with them.

Conclusion

Why are women exempt from mitzvos aseih shehazeman grama? Most people, and certainly several commentaries, assume that this is because a woman’s family responsibilities should not be subject to other mitzvos that may conflict with them. However, not everyone agrees with this idea. Some note that there already is a halachic principle of oseik bemitzvah patur min hamitzvah, someone occupied with fulfilling one mitzvah is exempt from performing a different mitzvah, until the first mitzvah is completed. Thus, it would seem superfluous for the Torah to have established yet another rule, to exempt women from mitzvos aseih shehazeman grama, because of the exact same rationale.

Other authorities contend that Hashem, Who created all of our neshamos, knows which mitzvos our particular soul needs in order to thrive, and each individual’s neshamah needs different mitzvos. Following this idea, it is obvious that kohanim need certain mitzvos, but are excluded from others; men require certain mitzvos and cannot fulfill others, and so, also, with women. Each person’s neshamah has its own Divinely created formula for what it needs.

Joining Gentiles

Question #1: Client’s celebration

A non-Jewish client is marrying off his daughter and expects his business associates to attend the reception. Knowing him, he expects me to spend a considerable amount of time there. Is this permitted, and, while there, may I eat or drink something that is kosher?

Question #2: Meeting a new client

My boss asked me to attend a lunch meeting with a new client in a non-kosher restaurant. Is this permitted, and, if it is, may I order a cup of coffee or a fruit plate?

Question #3: Company picnics and parties

May I attend the company end-of-year parties and picnics?

Answer:

Each of the above questions involve situations that may arise in today’s professional work environment. The Gemara teaches that the injunctions created by Chazal are dearer to Hashem than Torah laws. In this context, we can explain the vast halachic literature devoted to the many prohibitions created to protect the Jewish people from major sins. These include bishul akum, the prohibition against eating food cooked by a non-Jew, pas akum,which, under certain circumstances, prohibits bread baked by a non-Jew, and sheichar akum, which prohibits drinking certain types of beer in a non-Jew’s home or tavern.

The Rambam codifies these laws as follows: “There are activities that have no basis in the Torah that our Sages prohibited… to make sure that Jews and non-Jews do not … intermarry. These are the prohibitions: They prohibited drinking with them even when there is no concern about sacramental wine [yayin nesech]. They prohibited eating their bread or what they have cooked even when there is no concern that there are non-kosher ingredients or flavors added. What is an example of this prohibition? A person may not drink in a gathering of non-Jews even cooked wine that is not prohibited [as stam yeinam, wine handled by a non-Jew], or even if the Jew drinks only what he brought himself. If most of the assemblage is Jewish, it is permitted. It is prohibited to drink beer made from dates or figs or anything similar. But this prohibition [drinking beer] is prohibited only where it is sold. If he brought the beer home, it is permitted to drink it there, because the primary reason for the decree was that he should not come to eat a meal at a non-Jew’s house” (Rambam, Hilchos Ma’achalos Asuros 17:9-10).

Why is beer different?

There is a very obvious question here: The three other prohibitions mentioned here because of concerns of social interaction – bishul akum, pas akum and stam yeinam – are not dependent upon where you are. Consuming these items is prohibited, regardless of your location. However, the prohibition concerning the beer, as well as the prohibition of eating and drinking with non-Jews, applies only in the non-Jews’ venue.

Among the rishonim, we find several approaches to explain this question. I will present just one approach, that of the Tosafos Rid (Avodah Zarah 65b), who explains that, in the instances of wine, cooked food and bread – the main concern is that you will find the foods served by the non-Jew to be very tasty, and this eventually might lead to inappropriate social interactions. However, in the instance of beer, the concern is not the food, but the socializing – and prohibiting drinking beer where the non-Jew lives and works is a sufficient safeguard to discourage the inappropriate activity.

I have written previously many times on the topics of bishul akum, pas akum, stam yeinam and sheichar akum that are mentioned in this Rambam. I have also written about the questions germane to mar’is ayin implicit in several of the opening questions. However, I have never written on what the Rambam prohibits here: not to drink kosher beverages “in a gathering of non-Jew’s,” nor “to eat a meal at a non-Jew’s house.”

This ruling of the Rambam is subsequently quoted and accepted by all the halachic authorities, including Tur, Shulchan Aruch, Derisha, Shach, Taz, Pri Chodosh, Or Hachayim, Darkei Teshuvah, Chasam Sofer and Igros Moshe.

Rambam’s source

There is much discussion among later authorities attempting to identify the source in Chazal whence the Rambam inferred this prohibition. Among the acharonim, we find several suggestions for the Rambam’s ruling, including mention of some passages of Gemara. Let us examine these sources.

The first instance cited is based on a Mishnah that prohibits many types of financial dealings with an idolater on the days near a pagan holiday, out of concern that he will thank his deity for the business. If this happens, the Jew has “caused” the pagan to worship idols. Bear in mind that being a “light unto the nations” precludes causing someone else to violate his commandment.

The conclusion of this Mishnah states, “When an idolater makes a celebration in honor of his son, it is prohibited to deal only with that man on that day (Avodah Zarah 8a). This conclusion is cited by the halachic authorities (Rambam, Hilchos Avodas Kochavim 9:5; Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 148:7).

The Gemara adds the following to the discussion: “Rabbi Yishmael said: Jews living in chutz la’aretz are idol worshippers who think that they are acting properly. Why is this? An idolater makes a party to celebrate a family event and invites all the Jews in his town to attend – even if they eat their own food and drink their own beverages and their own waiter serves them, the Torah treats it as if they ate from the offerings of idols.” This passage is also cited by the halachic authorities (Rambam, Hilchos Avodas Kochavim 9:15; Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 152:1).

At the end of his censure, Rabbi Yishmael quotes the Torah as the source for his ruling: And he calls to you and you eat from his slaughter (Shemos 34:15). The halachic authorities disagree whether this quote demonstrates that this prohibition is min haTorah (Taz, Yoreh Deah 152:1) or only rabbinic (Nekudos Hakesef ad locum).

A potential difference in halacha resulting from this dispute is whether one may attend the event if missing it might antagonize the host (mipnei eivah). The rishonim note that, despite the fact that the Mishnah, quoted above, prohibits dealing with a non-Jew near his holiday, this prohibition does not apply in our day since the non-Jews among whom we live do not worship idols (Rishonim to Avodah Zarah; Tur, Yoreh Deah 148). In addition, even in a situation in which the Mishnah’s concerns are applicable, it is permitted when there are concerns of eivah (Tur, Yoreh Deah 148). The Derisha conjectures whether the prohibition against attending a party applies in a situation of eivah (Derisha, Yoreh Deah 152:1). As we will soon see, Rav Moshe Feinstein ruled leniently in this last issue.

Achashveirosh’s party

A different source cited as basis of the Rambam’s ruling is a passage of Gemara which states that the reason why the Jews in the era of Haman deserved to be destroyed (before they did the teshuvah brought about by Mordechai and Esther) was because they enjoyed the party thrown by Achashveirosh (Megillah 12a).

Several later authorities question whether these sources are indeed the origins of the Rambam’s prohibition (cf. Lechem Mishneh; Mirkeves Hamishneh; Aruch Hashulchan; Tzafnas Panei’ach). However, whether or not we know the source of the Rambam’s ruling, all authorities accept it to be binding.

How did the Rambam ascertain that this prohibition exists only when a majority of the people at the meal are not Jewish? The following passage of Gemara is quoted as a possible source: Shmuel, the great amora, and Avleit, a non-Jewish friend of his who is mentioned frequently by Chazal (Shabbos 129a, 156b; Avodah Zarah 30a; Yerushalmi, Shabbos 3:3 and Beitzah 2:5; Midrash Lekach Tov, Parshas Shoftim), were eating a meal together when they were brought some yayin mevushal, wine that had been cooked. Avleit, who was familiar with his friend’s Jewish customs, adjusted himself so that he would not touch the wine and prohibit it for Shmuel. Shmuel then explained to Avleit that the prohibition against using wine handled by a non-Jew does not apply to yayin mevushal. The question raised by some authorities is, how could Shmuel have been enjoying a repast together with Avleit when it is prohibited to eat a meal or drink wine at a non-Jew’s house? The Lechem Mishneh answers that since only Shmuel and Avleit were eating, there was no non-Jewish majority at the meal and, therefore, it was permitted (Avodah Zarah 30a).

However, this argument is weak for a few reasons, as noted by several later authorities. For one matter, there is nothing to indicate that Shmuel and Avleit were at a non-Jew’s venue? Furthermore, is two people eating together considered a party (Aruch Hashulchan)? We would usually assume that a “party” involves a large number of people — although from Esther’s party, mentioned in the Purim story, we can derive that three is not only company but also a party.

In this context, Rav Moshe Feinstein was asked the following question: May a yeshiva conduct a parlor meeting in the home of a non-Jew? Rav Moshe prohibits this although he permits attending a personal celebration of a non-Jew conducted in a non-Jewish venue where it is difficult to provide a good excuse for one’s absence. Rav Moshe permits this so as not to antagonize the non-Jew. Since this is why one may attend, Rav Moshe permits drinking kosher beverages, and presumably would also permit eating kosher food. However, this does not permit conducting a parlor meeting in a non-Jew’s home, since Jews are choosing to conduct this celebration there (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 2:117).

Client’s celebration

At this point let us examine one of our opening questions: “ A non-Jewish client is marrying off his daughter and expects his business associates to attend the reception. Knowing him, he expects me to spend a considerable amount of time there. Is this permitted, and, while there, may I eat or drink something that is kosher?”

According to Rav Moshe Feinstein, I may attend the wedding and eat and drink kosher food while there if my absence might antagonize the client.

Company picnics and parties

May I attend the company end-of-year parties and outings?

The reasons why it might be permitted to attend these functions include offending people and loss of livelihood. It would seem to be permitted if you do not eat or drink there with everyone else. A talmid chacham I know went to the company’s annual picnic and spent his time while there on the ball fields. The other employees assumed that he was a baseball enthusiast, while his family was surprised to discover that he owned sneakers and a baseball glove!

Mostly Jews

Here is another heter that sometimes applies: Because the Rambam wrote, “If most of the assemblage is Jewish,” the Pri Chadash permits this when there are more Jewish attendees than non-Jews.

Conclusion

We are meant to be “a light onto the nations,” which charges us with the responsibility to act in a manner that we create a kiddush Hashem. However, Chazal clearly felt that there is a difference between acting as a role model while behaving according to Hashem’s wishes, and social interactions, which can lead to undesirable outcomes.

Sabra in Halacha

Question #1: Colonche and cladodes

I admit not knowing a colonche from a cladode, but is either of them kosher?

Question #2: Is it a pear or a fig?

What is the difference between cactus pears, Indian figs, and sabras?

Question #3: Bal tashchis

Someone has an Opuntia ficus-indica growing in his yard, which constantly sheds leaves. Whenever a leaf lands, it begins to grow roots and a new shrub begins growing. Is it bal tashchis for him to destroy the new plant, since it is a fruit-producing tree?

Introduction

This article is about the sabra, the most commonly cultivated cactus, and a fascinating and highly beneficial pear-shaped fruit, with some very interesting halachic ramifications. Its scientific name, Opuntia ficus-indica, includes the genus Opuntia, andis based on the ancient Greek city of Opus, where an edible plant created new shrubs by growing roots, even from a fallen leaf, one of the many interesting features of the sabra that has halachic ramifications. The name of the species, ficus-indica,means “Indian fig.” We will find out why the sabra, which we identify with Israel and Israelis, is called an “Indian” fig.

The origin of the word “sabra” is Arabic, where the word simply means a “cactus,” although it also translates as “patience.” Since Arabic originated from Hebrew, the origin of this word indeed has a Hebrew shoresh, סבל, which means “being patient.” Indeed, notwithstanding the many uses and health benefits that the sabra provides, it requires a good deal of patience to consume it, since the fruit, the flat, paddle-looking “branch” called a cladode, and the “trunk,” are all covered with small thorns and prickles (ouch!). The entire plant demonstrates incredible nifla’os haBorei; Hashem gave this shrub incredible tools for surviving in the unforgiving, dry desert.

Sabras are cultivated as a healthy food and fodder crop that needs little water and grows well in harsh conditions, particularly in places where other crops do not grow. As we will soon see, it is a plant that has a wide variety of commercial uses.

Native American

Most people do not realize that the sabra has American origins. Along with the bell pepper, cocoa, tomato, potato, corn (maize), soybean and innumerable other American goodies, this Mexican and Central American native was brought by the Spaniards to the Old World. Indeed, both the flag and the coat of arms of Mexico portray the sabra cactus.

The sabra’s western hemisphere origins explain why it is called an “Indian fig.” Remember, Columbus was looking for a route to India. This error is reflected in several misnomers, including one way of referring to Native Americans, the island group called “the West Indies,” and scientifically naming this fruit ficus-indica, which is what the sabra fruit is called in many languages.

Dessert in the Desert

The sabra is a very useful fruit and plant. Both the sabra fruit and its cladodes (branches) are edible, providing welcome nutrients in the desert. In Mexico, the cladodes are eaten as a salad green. In arid parts of Brazil, Opuntia ficus-indica is grown predominantly as forage for the country’s huge cattle herds. In Peru, it is grown predominantly as feed for the carmine beetle – a topic I will discuss shortly. In Morocco, sabras are processed extensively to create very expensive cosmetic oil. And in pre-1948 Eretz Yisrael, sabras were grown primarily to be a border between properties or to keep livestock from wandering.

Since the fruit does not ripen after it is harvested and spoils fairly quickly after picking, the Aztecs, the Mayas and many later producers used it in innumerable food products that are less perishable, such as sauces, juices, jams, candies, vinegar, flour, starches, pickled products, various healthy additives, and even a variety of pareve “cheese.” In addition, since there are several different colors of edible cactus fruit, they can be used as a very healthy food colorant for products like yogurts.

Colonche

In Mexico, sabras are fermented into colonche, a mildly alcoholic, red beverage, whereas in Italy they are processed somewhat differently into a liqueur called ficodi. (Please note that the liqueur called “Sabra” is made of citrus fruit and derives its name from Israelis, not the fruit.)

Colonche and cladodes

At this point, we have enough background to address our opening question: “I admit not knowing a colonche from a cladode, but is either of them kosher?” Who or what are colonche and cladode? Are they kosher?

By now, we know that colonche is an alcoholic beverage made by fermenting sabra fruit, whereas cladode is the name for the “branch” of the tree, which looks more like a paddle than a branch. We also know that there are two alcoholic beverages fermented from the sabra, and we can ask whether they are kosher. For that matter, we can ask about all the various other processed foods that are made from sabras: sauces, juices, jams, candies, vinegar, flour, starches, pickled products, food colorants and pareve “cheese.”

The answer is that all these products might present kashrus issues and would require a hechsher, although they all can be produced with a proper hechsher, should a manufacturer be interested. So, for someone interested in setting up his son-in-law in a new business with an original market, an idea would be to manufacture genuine Mexican cuisine, using the sabra plant as its base. I even have a few suggestions for brand names and products: Prickly’s Fig Liqueur, Maya Mia, and Aztec Araque.

Medicinal, therapeutic and cosmetic uses

The sabra’s medicinal properties were discovered in antiquity, including its value as an anti-inflammatory, diuretic and antispasmodic agent. It is rich in vitamins, amino acids, fiber, pectin, flavonoids and antioxidants. The vitamin E content of prickly pear oil is the highest among all cosmetic oils. The sabra fruit is also high in vitamin C and was often packed onto ships to prevent scurvy. Medical research continues to this day, including, for example, recent clinical evidence that the sabra reduces human cholesterol levels.

The tiny seeds of the sabra have superb cosmetic value. Indeed, one of the countries that thrive on the growth of the sabra is Morocco, where the cactus arrived south of the Strait of Gibraltar as early as the sixteenth century, shortly after arriving in Spain. The Moroccans, who are almost exclusively Muslim and therefore officially do not consume alcohol, could not market the liquor produced from Opuntia ficus-indica, but developed a vast international market of natural cosmetics based on the seeds of this fruit. So, your son-in-law’s business can now expand its original offerings of authentic Mexican cuisine washed down with Maya Mia to include Israeli-grown natural vitamin C, natural medical remedies and expensive cosmetics.

Good fences make good neighbors

In some countries, Opuntia ficus-indica was used as a border-marker between neighbors. As mentioned above, left unhindered, its dropped leaves form new plants, each with thorns and spikes, thus becoming quite a nuisance to cross – far more efficient than the famous stone walls of rural New England.

Carmine red

In its natural habitat, the cactus provides a home to scale insects called Dactylopius coccus and Dactylopius opuntiae, which feed on the cladodes. These small creatures have proved invaluable as the source of a bright red dye called cochineal. A cousin of this beetle, native to Egypt, has been known since the time of Tanach for its use as a crimson dye. Indeed, the word carmil appears in Divrei Hayamim as the source of the tola’as shani red dye used in the Mishkan and for the garments of the kohanim. According to Radak, this insect is the source of the dye. This engendered much controversy in the era of the rishonim, when many held that the source of a dye in the Mishkan cannot be non-kosher (Ra’avad, Hilchos Klei Hamikdash 8:13; Rabbeinu Bachyei, Shemos 25:3).

As mentioned above, sabra is grown in Preu primarily as feed for the carmine beetle. The western cochineal provides a dye eight times stronger than its old-world version, and this pigment was worth more than its weight in gold, until the advent of artificial dyes. The use of carmine red preceded the European invasions of America by centuries, as both the Aztecs and Mayas farmed the insect and its dye. When the Spanish imported the dye to Europe, they kept its source hidden for many years, thereby assuring themselves of great profits. In 1620, King Philip III of Spain stated, “One of the most valuable fruits grown in our Western Indies is the cactus pear; it produces value equal to gold and silver.” Certainly so, since it is difficult to grow either gold or silver, minimizing their profits to a single use.

The redcoats are coming!

There is a fascinating historic twist to the cochineal saga. The British, whose uniforms were bright red (presumably to make them highly recognizable on the battlefield), felt that they were overpaying Spain for the gorgeous new-world crimson dye. But, even after their spies discovered the source for the carmine red that they were purchasing, they could not develop an industry, since cacti will not grow in wet, chilly England, and British colonies in the eastern and northeastern parts of North America were also too cold for Opuntia ficus-indica. Even Georgia, named for the British monarchs, was too cold for this undertaking. So, the British looked at the vast holdings of their empire and decided that the huge deserts in Australia would service the British armed forces by providing a ready supply of red dye, once Opuntia ficus-indica was planted and Dactylopius opuntiae imported.

Invasion!

Shortly after planting Opuntia ficus-indica all over Australia, they discovered that not every invasion is advantageous, even for the conquering party. Much of Australia’s climate is perfect for the cactus, and there are no natural enemies to hinder its advance. Opuntia formed dense infestations that hindered livestock’s access to feed. Opuntia thorns injured animals, damaged fleece and hides, and interfered with the transportation of sheep to the shearing. The cactus was also wiping out native flora, causing a mammoth economic and environmental catastrophe. The redcoats were not so concerned about the environmental impact of their actions, but the potential destruction of a different invasive species, sheep, was a major concern that required immediate addressing, since this was the main product that the colony was intended to bring to the royal crown.

The solution is interesting. They discovered that one desert environment which had been detrimental to Opuntia ficus-indica and its red-coated inhabitants was in southern Argentina. They worked to discover what made the arid parts of Argentina so uninhabitable to sabras, eventually discovering a moth, Cactoblastis cactorum, (note the cognates to the word “cactus”) that loves cactus and destroys it. Thus, they were able to save the Australian continent from their own invasion by introducing another foreign species. Fortunately for the Mexicans, Peruvians, Brazilians, Moroccans and dwellers of Eretz Yisrael, no one attempted to introduce Cactoblastis cactorum to their deserts, which could have ruined their liquor, salad greens, dye, forage, cosmetics, boundaries, and your son-in-law’s potential business, before it even got off the ground.

Scaling down

It is curious to note that in Morocco, the cochineal scale is an unwanted pest that destroys the cosmetic value of the sabra, whereas in Peru the cactus fruit is cultivated exclusively for the dye created by this scale. Cochineal use is expanding, today, as a food and lipstick colorant, with Peru its biggest exporter, as people are increasingly concerned about the safety of artificial food additives.

A pear or a fig?

At this point, we can discuss our next introductory question:

What is the difference between cactus pears, Indian figs and sabras?

Sabra fruit is called by several other names, including “prickly pear,” “cactus pear,” “Indian fig,” “Barbary fig” and “Adam’s fig.” It is called “Barbary fig” because, after the Spaniards planted it in Spain, it began spontaneously growing in arid climates of Italy and North Africa, presumably as a result of bird droppings after they ate the sabra fruit. Thus, in many places, it became associated with the coastal areas of northwestern Africa, called the Barbary Coast.

In other words, the answer to the question, “What is the difference between cactus pears, Indian figs, Barbary figs and sabras?” is how you spell it.

At this point, let us address some halachic curiosities germane to the sabra:

Orlah

“If Opuntia ficus-indica is planted as a boundary marker, may one benefit from the fruit that grows during the first three years of the cactus’s growth?”

The Mishnah (Orlah 1:1) rules that fruits growing on a tree planted as a barrier or hedge, or for lumber or firewood, are not orlah. The reason is that the Torah states that the mitzvah of orlah applies only “when you plant a tree for food”(Vayikra 19:23), and these trees are not meant for food. The Yerushalmi (Orlah 1:1) contends that this rule applies only when it is obvious that they are not planted for their fruit; for example, they are planted closer together than what is beneficial for fruit growth, or the trees are pruned in a way that their lumber will develop at the expense of the fruit. Most poskim rule like this Yerushalmi (Rosh, Hilchos Orlah 1:2; Tur Yoreh Deah 294; Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 294:23).

Thus, whether sabra fruit is governed by the laws of orlah may depend on where the fruit is grown, but for an unusual reason. Those planted by the native population in Eretz Yisrael, where they were planted as boundary markers and natural fencing to keep the sheep and goats from wandering, are exempt from orlah. Those grown in Mexico for their fruit or for liquor produced from the fruit would be prohibited as orlah. And I’ll let you ask your rav whether those grown in Brazil or Peru are exempt from orlah.

Bal tashchis

At this point, let us address the last of our opening questions. As I was writing this article, a neighbor actually asked me this shaylah: He has an Opuntia ficus-indica growing in his yard, which constantly sheds leaves. Whenever a leaf lands, it begins to grow roots and a new shrub begins growing. Is it bal tashchis for him to destroy the new plant, since it is a fruit-producing tree?

It appears that there is no halachic concern to do so, since the new plant is not yet a tree, and all he is doing is preventing the tree from growing. Should the tree have begun to grow, the question becomes more serious. As I wrote in a different article, the rules governing when it is permitted to destroy a fruit-producing tree, such as a sabra, when there is benefit in doing so are complicated and controversial (Bava Kama 91b-92a; Rambam, Hilchos Melachim 6:8-9).

Tuna fish or fig?

We are all familiar with the word “tuna” as the name of a fish whose flesh is used for brown-bag lunches. The word “tuna” also carries another meaning; in Mexico, it is the name for the fruit that the Arabs call “sabra.”

Strange Coincidence

We know that there are no coincidences and that everything is part of Hashem’s plan. With that introduction, I will share with you what can be described as, perhaps, just a curiosity, or… perhaps, much more. The pasuk in Divrei Hayamim (II 3:14) describes the peroches as woven from techeiles, argaman, karmil, and butz, which is linen. This is the same peroches that the Torah describes in parshas Vayakheil (Shemos 36:35) and in parshas Terumah (Shemos 26:31) as made of techeiles, argaman, tola’as shani, and linen (Shemos 26:31). Similarly, when describing the artisans sent by King Chiram of Tzur to help Shelomoh Hamelech build the Beis Hamikdash, Divrei Hayamim (II 2:13) mentions karmil as one of the materials used in construction of the Mishkan, and omits tola’as shani. Obviously, karmil, cognate to the English words crimson and carmine, is another way of describing tola’as shani (see Radak and Ralbag ad loc.). The Radak (Divrei Hayamim II 2:6) and the Rambam explain tola’as shani to mean “wool dyed with an insect” (Hilchos Klei Hamikdash 8:13; although Rabbeinu Bachyei, Shemos 25:3, disagrees with them). Now, bear in mind that the cochineal scale insect, which is similar to the insect described by the Radak, was originally New World, but feeds, primarily, on a shrub that is now widely associated with Eretz Yisrael. How intriguing that the people of Israel are associated with a term that just “coincidentally” alludes to a dye used in the Beis Hamikdash.

May I Participate in the Census?

This year, Rosh Chodesh Sivan falls on Sunday, and therefore the haftarah for Shabbos parshas Bamidbar is mochor chodesh. However, the usual haftarah for parshas Bamidbar begins with the pasuk that serves as the basis for the prohibition to count Jews. Since the United States is attempting to conduct a census this year, as required in the Constitution, I present the following halacha discussion:

Question #1: Counting Sheep

Why would someone count sheep when he is trying to stay awake?

Question #2: Counting from a List

Is it permitted to count Jews by counting their names on a list?

Question #3: Ki Sissa or Hoshea?

The Gemara bases the prohibition to count the Jewish people from the opening words of the “official” haftarah for parshas Bamidbar: And the number of the children of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea that cannot be measured and cannot be counted (Hoshea 2:1). Why does the Gemara attribute the prohibition to a less obvious source in Hoshea, when there appears to be an obvious Torah source for this prohibition, in the beginning of Parshas Ki Sissa?

Answer: Analyzing the Sources in Chazal:

The Mishnah (Yoma 22a) describes that in order to determine which kohen would be awarded the mitzvah of removing ashes from the mizbei’ach, the kohanim extended their fingers, which were then counted. The person in charge picked a number much greater than the assembled kohanim, and then counted fingers until they reached the number. The kohen on whom the number landed performed the mitzvah (Rashi ad loc.).

The Gemara asks why they didn’t simply count the kohanim themselves, to which it answers that it is prohibited to count Jews (Yoma 22b). Counting fingers is permitted; counting people is not (Rambam, Hilchos Temidim 4:4). We are aware of one common application of this mitzvah: when counting people for a minyan, one counts words of a ten-word pasuk, rather than counting the people directly (Sefer Ha’itim #174; Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 15:3).

Here is another application: to determine how many places one needs to set at a table, one should not count heads, but one may count sets of legs (Shu’t Torah Lishmah #386).

The Gemara quotes three Biblical sources for this prohibition:

1. When the nation of Ammon threatened the Jewish community of Yaveish-Gilad, Shaul gathered a large Jewish army and counted them in an indirect manner (Shmuel I 11:8). According to one opinion in the Gemara, Shaul counted the members of his army by having each throw a piece of broken pottery into a pile. Thus, we see that even to fulfill a mitzvah, one may count Jews only in an indirect manner.

2. Before attacking Ameleik, Shaul gathered the Jewish people and had each person take a sheep from Shaul’s herds. By counting the sheep, he knew how many soldiers he had (Shmuel I 15:4, see Rashi). Again, we see that he used an indirect method to count them.

3. And the number of the children of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea that cannot be measured and cannot be counted (Hoshea 2:1). Taking the verse not only as a blessing, but as a commandment, the Gemara derives a prohibition against counting the Jewish people.

Isn’t the Torah a Clearer Source?

The obvious question is — why does the Gemara not quote the following pasuk in the Torah as a source for the prohibition?

When you will take the headcount of the children of Israel according to their numbers, each man should give atonement for his life to Hashem when counting them so that there is no plague as a result of the counting. This is what whoever is counted should give: a half shekel (Shemos 30:12 -13).

This pasuk certainly implies that the only way one may count Jews is indirectly, by having each one donate half a shekel and then counting the coins. This seems to be the source of how Shaul knew that he should count the Jews the way he did. It is indeed odd that the Gemara quotes the incidents of Shaul as the source for the prohibition, rather than Shaul’s source — the Torah itself!

Before answering this question, I want to analyze a different point that we see in the pasuk. The Torah says: each man should give atonement for his life to Hashem when counting them, so that there is no plague as a result of the counting. In the discussion of no other mitzvah does the Torah say, “fulfill this commandment so that no plague results.” Why suddenly does the Torah say this in regard to this mitzvah?

Rabbeinu Bachya (ad locum) explains that when we count individuals, it causes the heavenly tribunal to note all his deeds, and this may result in his being punished for his sins, which otherwise would not be punished now.

Others explain the concern in terms of ayin hora. The Abarbanel, for example, explains that when counting people by head, the counting causes ayin hora and therefore illness enters their bodies hrough their eyes and mouths, whereas counting fingers does not cause the ayin hora to enter them. I leave to the reader to decide whether he means in a physical way or a metaphysical one.

Why the Prophets?

So, indeed, if we see from the Torah, itself, that counting Jews is prohibited and potentially very harmful, why did the Gemara base itself on verses of the Prophets?

The commentaries present several approaches to answer this question. Here is a sample of some answers:

(1) The Gemara is proving that one may not count Jews even for the purpose of performing a mitzvah, something that the Torah did not expressly say (Sfas Emes to Yoma ad loc.). However, from the incidents of Shaul and the verse in Hoshea, it is clear that one may not count Jews directly, even for the sake of a mitzvah.

(2) The Gemara needs to prove that we may not count even a small group of Jews, whereas the pasuk in Ki Sissa may be prohibiting only counting the entire people (Mizrachi; Sfas Emes).

(3) The verse in Ki Sissa could mean that one may count the Jews in a normal census, but that afterward, they all must provide half a shekel as an atonement, to make sure that no one suffers (Makom Shmuel, quoted by Shu’t Tzitz Eliezer 7:3). This last approach suggests that the verse When you will take the headcount of the children of Israel according to their numbers be explained in the following manner: When you take a regular census of the children of Israel, each man should give atonement for his life to Hashem when counting them – after you conduct your census, each person should provide a half-shekel to make sure no harm results. Indeed, the census could cause harm, but that does not necessarily mean that the Torah prohibited it. However, the stories of Shaul and the verse in Hoshea prove that the Torah prohibited counting Jews directly, since Shaul counted the people by counting sheep, rather than conducting a census and having them all donate half a shekel as atonement.

(4) One can interpret the verse in Ki Sissa to mean that the generation of the Desert, who had worshipped the eigel hazahav, the Golden Calf, was at risk and that therefore counting them might cause a plague (Maharsha to Yoma ad loc.; see also Ohr Hachayim to Shemos 30:2). However, one cannot prove from Ki Sissa that there is an inherent prohibition or risk in counting Jews when they have not violated such a grievous sin. However, the stories of Shaul or the verse in Hoshea prove that one may not count Jews even when they did not violate serious prohibitions.

Thus, we find several answers to explain why the Gemara did not consider the Torah source as adequate proof to prohibit counting the kohanim in the Beis Hamikdash, but, instead, rallied proof from later sources. As we will see shortly, there are actual distinctions in practical halacha that result from these diverse explanations. But first, a different question:

Counting from a List

For the purposes of fulfilling a mitzvah, may one count Jews by listing their names, and then count their names? Is this considered counting people indirectly, since one is counting names and not people, or is this considered counting the people themselves?

Advertising Campaigns to Help the Needy

The idea of having creative advertising campaigns in order to generate tzedakah funds did not originate with Oorah or Kupat Ha’ir. About 200 years ago, Rav Yisrael of Shklov, a major disciple of the Vilna Gaon and an author of several scholarly Torah works (including Taklin Chadtin on Yerushalmi Shekalim and Pe’as Hashulchan on the agricultural mitzvos), was organizing a fundraising campaign for the Yishuv in Eretz Yisrael in which he wanted to link donors to individual beneficiaries by listing the needy of Eretz Yisrael by name. Rav Yisrael held that this did not violate the prohibition of counting Jews, since it involved an indirect count by counting names on a list, for the sake of fulfilling a mitzvah. However, the Chasam Sofer disagreed, contending that counting names on a list is considered counting people directly. Even though one is not looking at their faces when counting them, counting people from a list is considered counting the person, and not counting their finger, leg, half-shekel, lamb or pottery shard (see Koveitz Teshuvos Chasam Sofer #8; Shu’t Kesav Sofer, Yoreh Deah #106). We will see shortly that this dispute exists to this day.

The Census

Is the State of Israel permitted to conduct a census of its population? Does an individual violate the mitzvah by being a census taker, or by providing the census takers with his information?

This question was hotly debated by halachic authorities, even when the pre-state Zionist organizations began counting the Jewish population, and continued with the censuses of the State of Israel. Several reasons are provided by those who permitted taking a census, the primary one being that determining how to provide proper medical, educational, economic and safety servicing for a large population requires knowing how many people there are. These authorities accepted that this qualifies as a dvar mitzvah, and that counting by list, or via computer and machine calculation is considered indirect counting (Shu’t Mishpatei Uziel 4:2; Noam XV).

On the other hand, several prominent poskim prohibited taking the census or participating in it (Shu’t Tzitz Eliezer 7:3). On the 27th of Iyar, 5732 (May 11, ’72), the Steipler Gaon released a letter stating the following:

In the coming days, there will be census takers counting the Jewish people. One should be careful not to answer them at all, to tell them that it is forbidden to take a census, and that there is the possibility of a Torah violation, as explained in the Gemara, Yoma 22, the Rambam in the fourth chapter of Temidim and Musafim, and the Ramban in Parshas Bamidbar. Furthermore, the Tosafos Rid in Yoma writes that it is prohibited to do so even indirectly when no mitzvah is accomplished. The Kesav Sofer explains… that it is prohibited even through writing. Furthermore, taking a census involves the possibility of danger.

At the same time, the Beis Din of the Eidah Hachareidis also issued a letter prohibiting participating in the census or answering any questions from the census takers, reiterating that they had banned this practice ten years earlier.

After publishing a responsum in which he prohibited participating in the census, the

Tzitz Eliezer (7:3) was asked whether someone calculating the numbers of people who made aliyah may count how many people there are. He answered that for the purposes of a mitzvah, one may count indirectly. However, we should note that such figures are often counted simply for curiosity or publicity, which the Tzitz Eliezer prohibits (22:13).

In a more recent responsum from Rav Vozner (Shu’t Shevet Halevi 9:35), dated Elul 24 5755 (September 19, ’95), he writes that the heter of taking a census because of divrei mitzvah applies only if the statistics are used exclusively for divrei mitzvah, something that is not followed. However, he permits the census for a different reason — because they count the entire population of Israel, not specifically Jews. Furthermore, even though the census in Israel includes a breakdown into religious groups, since thousands of those who are listed by the government as Jewish are not, Rav Vozner does not consider this as counting Jews. He adds that since no one is counted by name or family, but there is simply raw data collected, and the data does not correlate at all to the number of Jews, he has no halachic objection to participating in the census.

On the basis of Rav Vozner’s responsum, there certainly should be no objection to participating in the United States census, since this involves counting people and does not count Jews.

Conclusion

Parshas Ki Sissa, which should appear to be the Torah source for this mitzvah, begins with the words “Ki sissa es rosh bnei Yisrael.” Although the explanation of this pasuk is “When you count the members of Bnei Yisrael,” literally, the words can be translated as “When you lift up the heads of Bnei Yisrael.” The question is why did the Torah use this expression rather than say more clearly that it is defining how to count the Jewish People.

Rav Moshe Feinstein (Darash Moshe, Ki Sissa) explains as follows: When someone realizes that he did something wrong, that individual may justify what he did by saying, “I am not important. What difference does it make if I do not do what is expected of me?” Unfortunately, this type of mistaken humility can become a person’s undoing.

Ki Sissa” – “When you lift up” counteracts this way of thinking. Every Jew is as important as the greatest of all Jews: The biggest tzaddik and the seemingly unimportant Jew both give the same half-shekel. This “lifts up” every individual – you do count, and what you do is important!

The Crisis of Unwashed Meat

All the water in Egypt turned to blood. We also use water as part of the process in removing blood from meat, and, therefore, this week we will discuss:

Photo by Ove Tøpfer from FreeImages

Devorah calls me: “During our summer vacation, I entered a butcher shop that has reliable supervision and noticed a sign on the wall, ‘We sell washed and unwashed meat.’ This seemed very strange: Would anyone eat unwashed meat? Besides, isn’t all meat washed as part of the koshering process? What did the sign mean?”

Michael asked me: “Someone asked me if I have any problem with the kashrus of frozen meat. What can possibly be wrong with frozen meat?”

Answer: We should be aware that, although today we usually have a steady supply of kosher meat with all possible hiddurim, sometimes circumstances are more difficult. This is where “washed meat” and “frozen meat” may enter the picture, both terms referring to specific cases whose kashrus is subject to halachic dispute.

Knowing that Devorah enjoys stories, I told her an anecdote that illustrates what can happen when kosher choices are slim.

I was once rabbi in a community that has memorable winters. Our city was often covered with snow by Sukkos and, in some years, it was still snowing in May. There were several times that we could not use the sukkah without clearing snow off the schach, something my Yerushalmi neighbors find hard to comprehend.

One short erev Shabbos, the weather was unusually inclement, even for our region of the country; the major interstate highway and all secondary “state routes” were closed because of a blizzard. The locals called this weather “whiteout” — referring not to a fluid for correcting errors, but to the zero visibility created by the combination of wind and snow.

Fortunately, I lived around the corner from shul and was able to navigate my way back and forth by foot. Our house, too, was – baruch Hashem – sufficiently stocked to get through Shabbos.

About a half-hour before Shabbos, in the midst of our last minute preparations, the telephone rang:

“Is this Rabbi Kaganoff?” inquired an unfamiliar female voice. I responded affirmatively, though somewhat apprehensive. People do not call with shaylos late Friday afternoon, unless it is an emergency. What new crisis would this call introduce? Perhaps I was lucky and this was simply a damsel in distress inquiring about the kashrus of her cholent, or one who had just learned that her crock pot may fail to meet proper Shabbos standards. Hoping that the emergency was no more severe, I listened attentively.

“Rabbi Kaganoff, I was given your phone number in case of emergency.” I felt the first knots in my stomach. What emergency was this when I hoped to momentarily head out to greet the Shabbos queen? Was someone, G-d forbid, caught in the storm? I was certainly unprepared for the continuing conversation.

“I am a dispatcher for the All-American Transport Company,” she continued. “We have a load of kosher meat held up by the storm that needs to be washed by 11 p.m. Saturday.” My caller, located somewhere in the Nebraska Corn Belt, was clearly more familiar with halachos of kosher meat than she was with the ramifications of calling a frum household minutes before candle lighting. Although I was very curious how All-American had located me, a potential Lone Washer in the Wilderness, the hour of the week required expedition, not curiosity. Realizing that, under stress, one’s tone of voice can create a kiddush Hashem or, G-d forbid, the opposite, I politely asked if she could call me back in about 25 hours, which would still be several hours before the meat’s deadline. I guess that she assumed that it would take me that long to dig my car out.

Later, I determined the meat’s ultimate destination, a place we will call Faroutof Town, information that ultimately proved highly important.

Why was a Nebraska truck dispatcher calling to arrange the washing of kosher meat? Before returning to our meat stalled at the side of the highway, I need to provide some halachic background.

EXORCISING THE BLOOD

In several places, the Torah commands that we may not eat blood, but only meat. Of course, blood is the efficient transporter of nutrients to the muscles and permeates the animal’s flesh while it is still alive. If so, how do we extract the prohibited blood from the permitted meat?

Chazal gave us two methods of removing blood from meat. One is by soaking and salting the meat, and the other is by broiling it. In practical terms, the first approach, usually referred to simply as “kashering meat,” involves soaking the meat for thirty minutes, shaking off the water, salting the meat thoroughly on all sides, and then allowing the blood to drain freely for an hour. At the end of this process, the meat is rinsed thoroughly to wash away all the blood and salt. Indeed, Devorah is correct that the salting of all meat involves several washings. She was correct in assuming that the sign she saw in the butcher’s shop did not refer to these washings, but to a different washing that I will soon explain.

BROILING MEAT

An alternative method of extracting blood from meat is by broiling it. This is the only halachically accepted method of removing blood from liver. In this approach, the liver is sliced or slit to allow its blood to run out, the surface blood is rinsed off and the liver is placed under or over a flame to broil in a way that allows the blood to drain freely. Accepted practice is that we sprinkle a small amount of salt on the liver immediately prior to broiling it (Rema, Yoreh Deah 73:5).

Halachically, it is perfectly acceptable to broil any meat, rather than soak and salt it. However, on a commercial level, customers want to purchase raw meat and, therefore, the usual method used for kosher cuisine is soaking and salting. For most of mankind’s history, kashering meat was performed at home, but contemporaneously, the properly supervised butcher or other commercial facility almost universally performs it.

Although this explains why one must kasher meat before serving it, we still do not know why Ms. Nebraska was so concerned that her meat be washed en route.

SEVENTY-TWO HOURS OR BUST

The Geonim enacted that meat must be salted within seventy-two hours of its shechitah. They contended that, after three days, blood inside the meat hardens and is no longer extractable through soaking and salting. Should meat not be soaked and salted within 72 hours, they ruled that only broiling successfully removes the blood. Of course, if one does not want to eat broiled meat, this last suggestion will not satisfy one’s culinary preferences.

Is there any way to extend the 72 hours?

The authorities discuss this question extensively. Most contend that one may extend the time if the meat is soaked thoroughly for a while during the 72 hours (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 69:13, see Taz ad loc.), although some permit this only under extenuating circumstances (Toras Chatos, quoted by Shach 69:53). On the other hand, some authorities rule that even a minor rinsing extends the 72 hours (Shu”t Masas Binyamin #108). It became standard to refer to meat that was washed to extend its time by the Yiddish expression, gegosena fleisch, hence the literal English translation, washed meat.

Also, bear in mind that this soaking helps only when the meat was soaked within 72 hours of its slaughter. Once 72 hours have passed without a proper soaking, only broiling will remove the blood. If the meat was soaked thoroughly, those who accept this heter allow a delay to kasher the meat for another 72 hours. If one is unable to kasher it by then, one can re-soak it again to further extend its 72 hours.

WASHING OR SOAKING?

At this point in my monologue, Devorah interrupted with a question:

“You mentioned soaking the meat and extending its time for three more days. But the sign called it ‘washed meat,’ not soaked meat. There is a big difference between washing something and soaking it.”

“Yes, you are raising a significant issue. Although most early authorities only mention ‘soaking’ meat, it became common practice to wash the meat instead, a practice that many authorities disputed (Pischei Teshuvah, Yoreh Deah 69:28; Darkei Teshuvah 69:231- 237). There are also many different standards of what is called ‘washing’ the meat. Some hechsherim permit meat that was not salted within seventy-two hours of its shechitah by having the meat hosed down before this time elapsed. Some spray a light mist over the meat and assume that the meat is ‘washed,’ or simply take a wet rag and wipe down the outside of the meat.”

“Why would anyone do that?” inquired Devorah.

“In general, people like to save work and water, and soaking properly a whole side of beef is difficult and uses a lot of water. In addition, if one hoses meat while it is on a truck, the water may damage the truck, whereas it is even more work to remove the meat from the truck. But if one does not hose the meat properly, most authorities prohibit it.”

At this point, we can understand why Ms. Nebraska was concerned about the washing of the meat. She knew that if the meat went 72 hours without being hosed, the rabbis would reject the delivery as non-kosher. During my brief conversation, I asked her if she knew the last time the meat was washed. “It was last washed 11 p.m. Wednesday and needs re-washing by 11 p.m. Saturday,” she dutifully notified me.

At this point, I noted to Devorah that we now had enough information to address her question. “The sign in the butcher shop stating that they sell washed meat means that they sell meat that was not kashered within 72 hours of slaughter, but was washed sometime before the 72 hours ran out. It does not tell us how they washed the meat, but it is safe to assume that they did not submerge it in water. If they were following a higher standard, they hosed the meat on all sides until it was soaking wet. If they followed a different standard, hopefully, they still did whatever their rav ruled. Since you told me that it was a reliable hechsher, presumably they hosed the meat thoroughly.”

I then asked Devorah if she wanted to hear the rest of the blizzard story. As I suspected, she did – and so I return to our snowed-in town.

MOTZA’EI SHABBOS

By Motza’ei Shabbos the entire region was in the grip of a record-breaking blizzard. Walking the half block home from shul had been highly treacherous. There was no way in the world I was going anywhere that night, nor anyone else I could imagine.

At the very moment I had told the dispatcher I could be reached, the telephone rang. A different, unfamiliar voice identified itself as the driver of the stuck truck. His vehicle was exactly where it had been Friday afternoon, stranded not far from the main highway.

The driver told me the already-familiar story about his load of kosher meat, and his instructions to have the meat washed before 11 p.m., if his trip was delayed.

There was little I could do for either the driver or the meat, a fact I found frustrating. Out of desperation, I called my most trusted mashgiach, Yaakov, who lived a little closer to the scene of the non-action. Yaakov was an excellent employee, always eager to work whenever there was a job opportunity.  I explained the situation to him.

“Rabbi,” responded Yaakov, “I was just out in this storm. Not this time. Sorry.”

I was disappointed. Not that I blamed Yaakov in the slightest. It was sheer insanity to go anywhere in this storm. In fact, I was a bit surprised at myself for taking the matter so seriously. After all, it was only a load of meat.

With no good news to tell the trucker, I was not exactly enthusiastic about calling him back. I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings. So I procrastinated, rather than tell the trucker he should sit back and wait for his kosher meat to expire.

An hour later, the phone rang again, with Mr. Trucker on the line. “Rabbi,” he told me, with obvious excitement in his voice, “I’ve solved the problem.” I was highly curious to find out where he located an Orthodox Jew in the middle of a blizzard in the middle of nowhere. For a fleeting moment, I envisioned a frum Jew stranded nearby and shuddered at the type of Shabbos he must have experienced.

The trucker’s continuing conversation brought me back to the reality of the unwashed meat.

“Well, Rabbi,” he exclaimed with the exhilaration Columbus’s lookout must have felt upon spotting land, “I discovered that I was stranded a few thousand feet from a fire station. And now, all the meat has been properly hosed. Listen to this letter.” The trucker proceeded to read me the documentation of his successful find:

“On Saturday evening, the 22nd of January, at exactly 9:25 pm, I personally oversaw the successful washing of a kosher load of meat loaded on trailer 186CX and tractor 2008PR. To this declaration, I do solemnly lend my signature and seal,

“James P. O’Donald, Fire Chief, Lincoln Fire Station #2.”

Probably noticing my momentary hesitation, the trucker continues, “Rabbi, do I need to have this letter notarized?”

“No, I am sure that won’t be necessary,” I replied. I was not about to tell the driver that halachah requires that a Torah observant Jew supervise the washing of the meat. On the contrary, I complimented him on his diligence and his tremendous sense of responsibility.

At this point, I had a bit of halachic responsibility on my hands. Since I knew the meat’s ultimate destination, I needed to inform the rav in Faroutof Townof the situation.

I was able to reach the Faroutofer Rav, Rabbi Oncelearned. “I just want to notify you that your city will shortly receive a load of meat that was washed under the supervision of the ‘Fire Station K.’” Rabbi Oncelearned had never heard of the “Fire Station K” supervision and asked if I was familiar with this hechsher. I told him the whole story and we had a good laugh. I felt good that I had supplied Rabbi Oncelearned with accurate information and prepared him for the meat’s arrival. After all, it would be his learned decision that would rule once the meat arrived in town.

WHERE’S THE BEEF?

Of course, Rabbi Oncelearned now had his own predicament: Would he have to reject the town’s entire order of kosher meat, incurring the wrath of hungry customers and undersupplied butchers? Or could he figure out a legitimate way to permit the meat?

There was, indeed, a halachic basis to permit the meat under the extenuating circumstances because of a different heter, but not because of the Lincoln fire station hose.

FROZEN MEAT

It is common that meat is slaughtered quite a distance from where it is consumed – such as slaughtering it in South America and shipping it frozen to Israel. Today, all mehadrin supervisions arrange that meat shipped this way is kosher butchered (called trabering)and kashered before it is frozen and shipped. This is a tremendous boon to proper kashrus, but it is a relatively recent innovation. Initially, these meats were shipped frozen and, upon reaching their destination several weeks later, they were thawed, trabered and kashered. Thus, the question developed whether this meat was fit to eat, since it arrived weeks after its slaughter.

In truth, earlier halachic authorities had already debated whether meat frozen for 72 hours can still be kashered by salting, some contending that this meat can only be broiled (Minchas Yaakov, Responsum #14 at end, quoted by Be’er Heiteiv 69:8; Pri Megadim, Sifsei Daas 69:60), whereas others ruled that deep freezing prevents the blood from hardening (Aruch Hashulchan, Yoreh Deah 69:79; Yad Yehudah 69:59; Shu”t Yabia Omer 2:YD:4 and Shu”t Yechaveh Daas 6:46). Some frowned on making such arrangements lechatchilah, but ruled that kashering frozen meat is acceptable under extenuating circumstances (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 1:27; 2:21).

Rabbi Oncelearned consulted with a posek who reasoned that since the truck had been stuck in a major blizzard, unquestionably the meat had been frozen solid, and that they could rely on this to kasher the meat after it thawed out. Thus, the firemen’s hose was used for naught, but I never told them. Please help me keep it a secret.

Someone meticulous about kashrus plans trips in advance to know what hechsherim and kashrus situations he may encounter. When in doubt what to do, one’s rav is available for guidance how to handle the situation.

A Tefillin Shoppers Guide, Part II

What does one look for when purchasing a pair of tefillin? In my earlier article, I presented some of the basics of tefillin manufacture. The four parshios in which the Torah mentions mitzvas tefillin — “Kadeish li kol bechor” and “Vehayah ki yeviacha” in parshas Bo, “Shema” in parshas Va’eschanan, and “Vehayah im shamo’a” in parshas Eikev — are handwritten by a sofer. Each parsha of the tefillin shel rosh is written on a separate piece of parchment and placed in a separate compartment, whereas those of the shel yad are written on one parchment and placed in a single large compartment.

As explained in last week’s article, the batim consist of three parts: (a) the box part, called the ketzitzah, in which the parshios are placed, (b) the titura, the base on which the ketzitzah rests, and (c) the ma’avarta, through which the straps (retzuos) are inserted. The width of both the ketzitzah and the titura must be exactly the same as the corresponding length so that they are perfectly square, and there should be no nicks, dents, or bulges that ruin their perfect squareness or the evenness of their sides. Someone concerned about the mitzvah should therefore purchase batim made from gasos, which means the hide of a mature animal. Gasos batim last much longer, have many hiddurim in halacha, and can be repaired if they become damaged.

We also discussed two halachic disputes regarding the manufacture of the shel rosh. One shaylah concerned gluing the compartments of the shel rosh together, and another concerned whether the shin on the outside must be pulled out manually before it is molded.

As explained last week, most stages of tefillin production, from tanning to painting and sewing, must be performed “lishmah.” Therefore, each stage is begun by an observant Jew who declares that his work is for the sake of kedushas tefillin.

In last week’s article, I discussed the manufacturing of the batim. Several steps of tefillin manufacture were not described last week, including painting, making the retzuos, and placing the parshios in the bayis and sealing it. We also did not discuss at all the writing of the parshios, which is where we will begin this week’s article.

Writing the parshios

Before starting to write, the sofer must state that he is writing these parshios for the sake of the mitzvah of tefillin (see Rosh, Hilchos Sefer Torah Ch. 2; Tur Orach Chaim Chapter 32). In addition, every time he writes any of the names of Hashem, he must first state that he is writing the name for kedushas Hashem. If he did not make these statements verbally, it is questionable whether the tefillin are kosher (see Rama, Orach Chaim 32:19; Rabbi Akiva Eiger comments on Shulchan Aruch 32:8).

The parshios must be written with meticulous care, since an error that affects the kashrus of a single letter invalidates the entire tefillin (Menachos 28a). Thus, if only one letter is missing or written incorrectly, the tefillin are posul, and the person who wears these tefillin has not fulfilled the mitzvah (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 32:23). Furthermore, all the brachos he recites on the tefillin are in vain.

Here are some examples of mistakes that can occur while writing tefillin. If two letters touch one another, the tefillin are posul (Menachos 34a; Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 32:4).

The same thing is true if the sofer intended to write one letter and, instead, wrote something that looks like a different letter or does not meet the halachic requirements of how the required letter must be written. For example, if a sofer intended to write the letter “zayin” and made it so long that it could be read as a “nun sofis,” the tefillin are invalid. Similarly, if the sofer intended to write the letter “reish,” which is supposed to have a rounded upper right corner, and instead wrote it with a square corner, the tefillin are invalid.

Sometimes the letters of the parshios may seem perfect, and yet the tefillin are absolutely posul. For example, the letters written in tefillin (as well as sifrei Torah and mezuzos) must be written or formed directly. A letter cannot be formed indirectly by scratching off ink around the letter, until only the letter remains. This halacha is called “chok tochos,” which literally means, “hollowing out the inside.”

(The origin of this expression is from a case in the Gemara where a get was written by carving a piece of wood until the letters projected. This get is invalid, since the letters of the get were not written but were formed indirectly by removing the area around them. This does not fulfill the Torah’s requirement that a get be written [Gittin 20a]. “Writing” requires that the letters must be formed, and not created indirectly.)

Therefore, if a sofer wrote the letter “dalet” instead of a “reish,” it is halachically invalid to erase the sharp corner of the “dalet” and form a “reish” (Tur Orach Chaim Chapter 32, quoting Sefer Haterumos). If someone did this, he has not written a “reish” but rather he formed a “reish” indirectly, and this is not considered “writing.” Any tefillin, sefer Torah or mezuzah made this way will be invalid (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 32:18).

If a sefer Torah was written through “chok tochos,” the letter can be erased and rewritten. However, if this problem occurs in tefillin or mezuzos, the parsha will often be irreparable (Taz 32:16), and the parsha will have to be put into sheimos (genizah).

Why not fix it?

Why can’t this mistake be corrected?

Halacha requires that the parshios of tefillin and mezuzos be written in the order in which the words appear in the Torah (rishonim, quoting Mechilta, end of Parshas Bo). This requirement is referred to as being written “kesidran,” in their proper sequence. For this reason, if a letter was skipped and filled in afterwards, the tefillin or mezuzah is posul and cannot be corrected. Similarly, if a “reish” was mistakenly written as a “dalet,” and the problem was discovered after more letters were written, the parsha is posul, unless one erases all the letters written after the invalid “reish.”

The law of kesidran (in their proper sequence) applies only to tefillin and mezuzos. Sifrei Torah, megillos, and other holy writings do not have this rule, and their letters may be written out of order. Therefore if some of their letters become posul, they can be corrected.

Thus, we see that there are instances that cannot be checked, in which we are completely dependent on the integrity of the sofer. After investing many hours writing a beautiful parsha, a sofer checks the parsha and discovers that one of its letters was written incorrectly in a way that might invalidate the parsha. He takes the parsha to his rav, who paskins that the parsha is indeed posul and cannot be rectified. If the sofer lacks integrity, what is to stop him from fixing the invalid letter so that it now appears one hundred percent kosher?

Fortunately, tefillin and mezuzos purchased from reputable sources should not have problems of dishonesty like that just described. However, one should still try to find out about the sofer whose tefillin one’s son will be wearing. Although it is difficult to check whether someone is a yarei Shamayim, one should at least attempt to ascertain whether the sofer appears to be a yarei Shamayim.

Furthermore, the sofer must be thoroughly familiar with the halachos of writing tefillin or he will certainly produce posul tefillin. There are literally hundreds of ways that a non-knowledgeable sofer can write tefillin that will be invalid. Thus, when purchasing tefillin, one must insist that the sofer who wrote them is knowledgeable in the halachos of safrus and that he has up-to-date certification from a recognized organization or posek. Some of these organizations insist that the sofrim they certify take periodic examinations to ascertain that they are still competent in the halachos required for their profession.

A modern innovation

After the sofer finishes writing the tefillin parshios, he reads them over several times, and then they are checked by a specially trained examiner, or even better, by two trained examiners. In our era, the checking process has been tremendously enhanced by a modern innovation – computer-checking. The written parshios are scanned into a computer that has a program comparing the written parshios with the computer’s version. The computer checks for missing and extra letters and words, for poorly and mistakenly formed letters, for connected or cracked letters and for other errors.

Experience has proven that computers have an infinite attention span and never get distracted by boredom or exhaustion. (Of course, the computer’s proper performance depends on an alert operator.) So, it is common for computers to catch mistakes that humans overlook. There is a recorded instance of a pair of tefillin that was checked nine different times without discovering that a word was missing, until it underwent a computer-check! When purchasing tefillin, one should insist that the parshios be computer-checked.

However, one may not rely only on a computer-check of the tefillin since, at present, computers cannot check for certain items such as proper spacing between letters and words.

It should be noted that neither the examiner nor the computer can detect certain problems that occur, such as letters written out of order and letters formed through “chok tochos.” This is why the sofer’s yiras shamayim and his halachic knowledge are absolutely indispensable.

Painting

The batim are painted jet-black using paint containing only kosher ingredients (Shulchan Aruch 32:40). Because there is little space between the compartments of the shel rosh, it often happens that after the painting one can no longer see the separation between the compartments. Since the individual compartments must be visible, the batim macher carefully separates the compartments from one another with a razor.

On inferior batim, non-scrupulous batim machers may merely scratch the outside of the bayis to mark where the four compartments actually are. This is invalid; there must be four separate compartments, both inside and outside. Alternatively, sometimes a deep groove is mistakenly scratched in the wrong place and does not demonstrate the actual separation between the compartments. This is also invalid. A responsible batim macher cuts between the compartments, to guarantee that they are indeed fully separate, even after the painting.

Some poskim contend that one should also request that the parchment used for the parshios be only avodas yad. If one chooses to order avodas yad parchment, ask for extra thin parchment. This special parchment is less likely to crack when rolled and inserted into the batim, and thus, there is less likelihood that the letters will eventually crack. It is also easier to fit the thin parchment properly into the batim. The difference in cost for this parchment is fairly small, relative to the overall cost of the investment in the pair of tefillin.

Rolling up the parshios

All the components of the tefillin are now complete, and it is time to insert the parshios into the bayis. Before being placed into the ketzitzah, each parsha is rolled from left to right, and then tied closed with a bovine tail hair (Elyah Rabbah 32:43). These hairs should preferably be from a calf, to remind us of the sin of the eigel hazahav, the golden calf (Beis Yosef, quoting Shimusha Rabba). The parsha is then wrapped in a blank piece of parchment, and this parchment is then tied closed with another bovine hair. (According to Rambam, Hilchos Tefillin 3:1, these last two steps are both halacha leMoshe miSinai.) One or more of these hairs is pulled through a hole on the right side (from the perspective of the wearer) in front of the bayis. This hole is one of those that will be soon be used to stitch the titura closed. Thus, the hair used to tie the parsha closed is visible on the outside of the tefillin (Zohar).

According to Rashi’s opinion, which is the halacha, the parshios are now inserted according to the order that they appear in the Torah. Thus, the first parsha, Kadeish li kol bechor (Shemos 13:1-10), fills the leftmost compartment (from the perspective of the wearer), with Vehayah ki yeviacha  (Shemos 13:11-16) next to it. Shema (Devorim 6:4-9) is placed next; and Vehayah im shamo’a  (Devorim 11:13-21) is inserted inside the rightmost compartment. However, according to Rabbeinu Tam, the last two parshios are reversed, with Shema in the rightmost compartment and Vehayah im shamo’a next to it. (There are, also, at least two other opinions concerning the correct order of the parshios.)

Although we fulfill the mitzvah with Rashi tefillin, the Shulchan Aruch states that a G-d fearing person should wear Rabbeinu Tam tefillin, in addition to wearing Rashi tefillin (Orach Chaim 34:2). However, the Shulchan Aruch qualifies this ruling by stating that only a person known to observe beyond the requirements of halacha is permitted to wear Rabbeinu Tam tefillin (Orach Chaim 34:3). This is because of the prohibition against being pretentious in one’s Yiddishkeit. Ashkenazim follow the Shulchan Aruch’s ruling. However, the practice among many Sefardim and chassidim is that all married men wear Rabbeinu Tam tefillin. In their opinion, once many people follow a certain practice, it is no longer ostentatious for an individual to observe it.

Big parshios

The parsha should fit completely inside its compartment. Sometimes the shel yad parsha is too tall to fit properly in the ketzitzah and the bottom of the parsha protrudes into the titura, a situation that should be avoided (Shu”t Shevet Halevi 3:3; Shu”t Yabia Omer 1:2:5). If the person who orders the tefillin coordinates the correct size with the sofer and the batim macher, this problem can be avoided.

Sewing the titura

After the parshios are placed into their appropriate compartments, the titura is sewn closed. There is a halacha leMoshe miSinai that this stitching must be made with sinews (giddin; singular, gid) of a kosher animal (Shabbos 108a). There is another halacha leMoshe miSinai that these stitches must form a perfect square (Menachos 35a). This is something that a person can readily check on his own tefillin. I have often seen tefillin where the stitching or the punching of the holes is sloppy, making the stitching not square. This makes the entire pair of tefillin posul!

The tefillin should be stitched with a single length thread of sinew (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 32:51). Although there are lenient opinions that one can tie two pieces of gid together, insist that your tefillin be stitched with a single gid.

Some batim machers glue the top and bottom titura together, in addition to the stitching, to help the titura stay closed. Some poskim contend that this practice invalidates the tefillin, since the halacha leMoshe miSinai is that the titura should be closed only by stitching with giddin and with no other materials (Chazon Ish, Orach Chaim 11:10). One should consult with his rav whether to request that the titura not be glued.

We have now completed our lessons on the manufacture of the batim and the parshios. In our next and last installment, in two weeks, we will discuss the manufacture of the retzuos, proper maintenance of kosher tefillin, and how to purchase them.

How Far for Bread?

Photo by barbara bar from FreeImages

Question #1: For a Crust of Bread

“How far must I travel to get pas Yisroel?”

Question #2: Camp Bread

“When camping in the Shenandoah Mountains, we happened upon another group of campers who clearly were not Jewish. They invited us to join them for their meal, which we obviously could not. However, I saw that they made their bread on site by mixing only flour, water, yeast and salt, and baking it on a grill. If we had koshered the grill before they baked, could we have eaten their bread?”

Question #3: A Caring Host

“I usually purchase bread only from Jewish bakeries. We have an out-of-town guest visiting who brought a kosher specialty bread as a gift, which I am sure is not pas Yisroel. I don’t want to offend him, but may I eat it?”

Based on a posuk in this week’s parsha, the Gemara suggests that the prohibition against non-Jewish cooked food is min haTorah. Although this is not the halachic conclusion, it is certainly an appropriate time to discuss the laws of kosher bread.

Basic background

In other articles, I have discussed the laws of pas akum and pas Yisroel. Bread baked with Jewish participation, as described in those articles, is called pas Yisroel, and may be eaten without any reservation. Pas akum means bread baked by a non-Jew, without Jewish participation. Pas akum is subdivided into two categories, pas baalei batim, bread baked by a gentile for personal use, which is usually prohibited, and pas paltur, bread baked for sale. We should note that pas baalei batim is prohibited, even when there are no other kashrus concerns either about the ingredients or about the equipment used to prepare the bread (Avodah Zarah 36a). Furthermore, one may not sell this bread to a non-Jew, out of concern that he will in turn sell it to a Jew, who is forbidden to eat it (Toras Chatas 75:4, quoting Shaarei Dura).

However, there is an instance when one is permitted to consume pas baalei batim. If one is in a place where there is no bakery, and the only bread available is homemade bread, one may eat even pas baalei batim, provided one can assume that all the ingredients are kosher (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 112:8). Thus, we can now answer one of our opening questions:

“When camping in the Shenandoah Mountains, we happened upon another group of campers who clearly were not Jewish. They invited us to join them for their meal, which we obviously could not. However, I saw that they made their bread on site by mixing only flour, water, yeast and salt, and baking it on a grill. If we had koshered the grill before they baked, could we have eaten their bread?”

Since this bread was baked by a gentile for personal use and not for sale, it has the status of pas baalei batim, and would usually be prohibited, even if we are absolutely certain that all the ingredients and the equipment are kosher. However, if indeed no other bread is available, it is permitted to eat this bread.

By the way, if a Jew was there while they were baking the bread, he could easily make this bread into pas Yisroel by adding a charcoal or a piece of wood to the fire. In the case of a gas grill, a Jew could simply turn the gas flow down and immediately up again to make it pas Yisroel.

Must one use only pas Yisroel?

In the previous articles on the topic of pas Yisroel, we learned that, according to the Shulchan Aruch and the Shach, one may not use pas paltur unless comparable pas Yisroel is not available. However, the Rema ruled that standard Ashkenazic practice is to permit use of pas paltur, except for Shabbos and during the aseres yemei teshuvah. Both opinions agree that using pas Yisroel when pas paltur is permitted qualifies as a hiddur, observing halachah in a more exemplary fashion.

As I noted, most supervised, kosher commercially baked bread is pas paltur and not pas Yisroel, particularly those produced in factories. One of those articles also noted that it is very easy to make bread and rolls produced in factories into pas Yisroel, and that the hechsherim would make the appropriate arrangements if consumers would demand it.

How available?

As we just learned, all opinions agree that one may use pas paltur when pas Yisroel is not available. At this point, we need to define: What do we mean when we say that pas Yisroel bread is “not available”? If there is no Jewish bakery in my neighborhood, but there is one relatively nearby, is this called that pas Yisroel is “not available”? What if the nearest pas Yisroel is a twenty-minute walk, and the nearest pas paltur can be purchased at the supermarket next door; does the Shulchan Aruch require me to walk twenty minutes to acquire pas Yisroel, or may I use the more accessible pas paltur? Is the halachah affected by whether I have access to an automobile, and now a bakery that is a forty-five-minute walk can be reached in ten minutes by car?

How far?

Neither the Gemara nor the early rishonim discuss the question: What do we mean when we say that pas Yisroel bread is “not available”? However, the Gemara (Pesachim 46a) discusses a related issue. This passage examines three situations in which one is usually obligated to observe a halachah, but, under extenuating circumstances, Chazal relaxed the requirement. In the first case, a baker, who at the time of the Gemara was required to produce bread that is tahor, ritually pure, has only tamei equipment available. Using this equipment to produce his bread will render it tamei, which is not ideal in a situation when people are trying to be always tahor.

The baker knows that, in the direction in which he is traveling, a mikveh is available for him to purify his equipment, but it is four millin away (roughly between two and three miles, see below). Is he permitted to produce bread in the interim, knowing that what he produces will be tamei?

The halachah requires him to travel ahead to the mikveh and immerse his equipment, rather than manufacture tamei bread. If, however, the nearest mikveh is more than four millin down the road, he may stop now and prepare his bread.

A second case of the Gemara: Someone is traveling and would like to stop for the night. He knows that four millin ahead of him on the road there is a minyan. Is he required to push onward the four millin, so that he will be able to daven with a minyan, or may he stop, knowing that he will be forced to daven without a minyan? The Gemara concludes that he is required to travel up to four millin in order to daven with a minyan. If, however, the nearest minyan is more than four millin down the road, he may stop for the night where he is, even though that means that he will be davening without a minyan.

A third case: Someone is traveling and has no water with which to wash netilas yadayim for eating bread. He knows that he will find water within four millin of his travels. May he eat now, without washing, by wrapping his hands in cloth or by wearing gloves, or is he required to wait until he reaches the water so that he can wash netilas yadayim before he eats his bread (see Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 163:1)? The Gemara concludes that he is required to travel ahead up to four millin in order to wash before eating. However, if the nearest appropriate and available water is more than four millin down the road, he may wrap his hands in cloth and eat his bread without first washing netilas yadayim.

How far is four millin?

A mil is 2000 amos, or cubits, which means that four millin is more than two miles, and probably less than three. This range of distance is because there are different opinions as to the length of an amoh.

How long does it take to walk a mil?

There is a dispute among halachic authorities how long it takes for an “average” individual to walk a mil. Some contend that walking a mil takes the average person about 18 minutes, which means that it takes 72 minutes to walk four millin. A second opinion contends that it takes 22.5 minutes to walk a mil and 90 minutes to walk four. A third opinion maintains that it takes 24 minutes to walk a mil and 96 minutes to walk four. The different opinions in this dispute represent three differing approaches to explain a complicated passage of Gemara (Pesachim 95).

Many halachos are dependent on this dispute, including such questions as:

When does a fast begin?

How long must meat be salted to kosher it?

When does Shabbos end?

In how much time does dough become chometz?

Most, but by no means all, later authorities, conclude that the average person can walk one mil in 18 minutes and four millin in 72 (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 459:2 and Yoreh Deah 69:6).

Today

Of the three cases mentioned in the Gemara Pesachim, two are still relevant in our generation. Unfortunately, until we again have a parah adumah, we are all tamei, and therefore, the first of the three cases, the baker whose equipment is tamei, is not germane to us at the moment. But the questions about someone traveling and seeking a minyan, or water to wash for bread, are both very relevant and, indeed, are discussed by the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 90:16 and163:1).

Out of my way

Thus far, we have quoted the part of the Gemara that discusses someone who knows that there is a mikveh, minyan or water ahead of him in the same direction in which he is traveling. What is the law when the nearest mikveh, minyan or water is not located in the direction in which I am traveling? Am I required to travel out of my way to fulfill these mitzvos, and, if I am, how far out of my way must I go?

The Gemara’s conclusion is that he is required to travel up to one mil out of his way to reach a mikveh, minyan, or washing water, whichever is relevant to the question. Thus, someone who would like to eat bread, and who is in a place where he has no water with which to wash, is required to travel up to one mil out of his direction to wash his hands. However, if the nearest water is a mil or more distant and in a direction that is out of his way, he is permitted to wrap his hands and eat bread without washing netilas yadayim (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 163:1). The same rules apply to someone needing a minyan with which to daven.

At home

What is the law if someone is at home, must he go to daven with a minyan. The Pri Chodosh (Orach Chayim 163:28) concludes that he has the same law as someone who would have to travel out of his way to find a mikveh, minyan or water. In other words, he is required to leave his house, if the minyan is located within a mil of where he is.

Pas Yisroel at a distance

The same question can be asked by someone at home wanting to know how far he is required to travel to obtain pas Yisroel?

Although the Gemara does not discuss how far one must travel to obtain pas Yisroel, there are rishonim who compare the halachah regarding pas Yisroel to the other three situations mentioned in the Gemara. They reason that this Gemara provides a framework for understanding what is considered a distance at which one is required to inconvenience oneself to fulfill similar mitzvos. The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 112:16)follows this interpretation, ruling that if someone is traveling and there is pas Yisroel available further down the road, he is required to travel for as long as four millin in order to eat pas Yisroel, rather than pas paltur. If he would need to travel out of his way, he is required to travel up to a distance of one mil to obtain pas Yisroel, but no farther.

As we noted before, the Shulchan Aruch rules that it is permitted to eat pas paltur only when pas Yisroel is not available. The Rema is more lenient, concluding that it is permitted to eat pas paltur even when pas Yisroel is readily available. Thus, according to common Ashkenazic practice, there is no requirement to travel at all to obtain pas Yisroel. However, during the aseres yemei teshuvah and for Shabbos, when most authorities require that we eat only pas Yisroel, the rules above are appropriate. If pas Yisroel is available only by traveling a mil out of one’s way, one is not required to get it.

How far or how long?

At this point, we need to discuss a very practical issue. When Chazal required that I go one mil out of my way to get pas Yisroel, was this requirement based on time or distance? What if someone is traveling in a way swifter than by foot, be it horse, automobile, or camel? Is his requirement for these mitzvos determined by the distance he must travel to fulfill the mitzvah in its optimal way, or is it determined by the time it will take him to get there? In other words, did they establish that within a one mil radius of a Jewish bakery one may not use pas paltur, or did they rule that one is required to travel eighteen minutes to obtain pas Yisroel? The difference in practical halachah is major.

This question is disputed by later authorities. Some contend that if pas Yisroel is more than one mil distant from where I am, I may use pas paltur, even though I could get there faster by riding a horse (Pischei Teshuvah, Yoreh Deah 112:6, quoting the Beis Yaakov). Since, in my entire life, I have never traveled on horseback to acquire bread, this opinion would impact on me, regarding if I am required to drive an automobile this far when pas paltur is more readily available.

On the other hand, the Mishnah Berurah (Chapter 163, Biur Halachah s.v. berichuk), writing germane to netilas yadayim, comments that it is more likely that the concern is the amount of time the travel would take and the physical distance should not make a difference.

Being a good host

At this point, let us discuss a different one of our opening questions:

“I usually purchase bread only from Jewish bakeries. We have an out-of-town guest visiting who brought us a gift of a kosher specialty bread, which I am sure is not pas Yisroel. I don’t want to offend him, but may I eat it?”

This question has an early source. Several early authorities discuss the following case: Someone who is careful to use only pas Yisroel invited a guest who brought with him quality pas paltur that he would like to share with his host. The question here is that the guest would prefer to eat the bread that he brought, yet the host would not usually eat this bread, because it is not pas Yisroel. The halachic etiquette is for the host to be the one who recites the brocha of hamotzi for everyone at the beginning of the meal, and then he slices and serves the bread that will accompany the meal. This accomplishes that, when the host distributes an ample amount of bread, the guests feel comfortable eating their fill. Thus, to be a proper host, the host should recite hamotzi and serve the guest the pas paltur bread that he brought.

Now, we add another halachah to the question: When one intends to serve two types of bread at a meal, one should recite the hamotzi blessing over the better quality bread and eat from it immediately after reciting hamotzi.

The combination of all these halachos creates a conundrum for the host. If he follows his own usual practice, he would make hamotzi on the pas Yisroel, which is of lesser quality than the pas paltur that his guest provided. On the other hand, his guest is under no requirement to refrain from eating the better-quality pas paltur. Thus, the etiquette of being a good host should have the host reciting hamotzi over the pas paltur, something he would not usually eat.

The halachah is that, indeed, the host should recite the hamotzi over the guest’s pas paltur, and he is permitted to eat the pas paltur for that entire meal in order to properly accommodate his guest (Mordechai, Avodah Zarah #830; Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 112:13). This is notwithstanding his usual practice not to eat pas paltur. Since the halachah rules this way, in this situation, the host does not need to perform hataras nedarim before he partakes of the pas paltur.

Conclusion

The Gemara teaches that rabbinic laws are dearer to Hashem than the Torah laws. We see that there is a vast halachic literature devoted to the laws of pas akum, which was created by Chazal to protect the Jewish people.

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