The Mourning Period of Sefirah

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

Reason for Mourning

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

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

What Practices Are Prohibited?

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

In addition to abstaining from weddings, certain other mourning practices are observed during the period of sefirah. One does not take a haircut during this season (Tur Orach Chayim Chapter 493). However, if there is a bris during sefirah, the mohel, the sandek, and the father of the baby are permitted to have their hair cut in honor of the occasion (Rema), but not the kvatter or those who are honored with “cheika,who are those who bring the baby closer to the bris (Mishnah Berurah 493:12). Those who are permitted to have their hair cut in honor of the occasion may even have their hair cut the evening before (Mishnah Berurah 493:13).

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

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

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

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

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

When Do We Observe Mourning?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can One Change From One Custom to Another?

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

How Should a Community Conduct Itself?

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

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

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

Attending a Wedding During One’s Mourning Period

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

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

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

Who Drinks the Kiddush Wine in Shul?

In honor of Parshas Bereishis and the first Shabbos

Drinking in shul

Why is the Kiddush wine in shul given to a child?  If an adult is not permitted to drink before he has personally fulfilled Kiddush, can we cause a child to drink?

Background

The underlying question here is the following: The Torah commands us not only to observe the mitzvos of the Torah, but also not to cause someone else to violate the Torah. This law prohibits even causing a child to violate the Torah, notwithstanding that a child himself is not required to observe the mitzvos. Furthermore, it applies even when the child is, unfortunately, not being raised in an observant way. It is therefore forbidden for someone who has a babysitting job to feed a Jewish child non-kosher food, or to serve non-kosher food to a Jewish adult in a nursing facility or to a Jewish child in a school cafeteria.

The source

There are three different places from which we derive that it is prohibited to cause a child to violate commandments of the Torah (Yevamos 114a). These hermeneutic allusions are in the context of the following three mitzvos:

(1) The prohibition against eating sheratzim, tiny creatures.

(2) The prohibition against eating blood.

(3) The prohibition for a kohen to come in contact with a corpse.

We will soon see the significance of the three sources.

What age child?

This law applies even to a child too young to understand what a mitzvah is (Magen Avraham 343:2). Therefore, one may not use a baby blanket or baby clothes made of shatnez (Shu”t HaRashba HaChadoshos #368; Shu”t Beis Yehudah, Yoreh Deah #45; Eishel Avraham [Butchatch], Orach Chayim 343:1). Similarly, one is prohibited to feed a newborn infant non-kosher food, unless it is a life-threatening emergency (Magen Avraham 343:2).

Based on the above sources, we can now appreciate our opening question. “Why is the Kiddush wine in shul given to a child?  If an adult is not permitted to drink before he has personally fulfilled Kiddush, can we cause a child to drink?” To explain this topic better, let us examine its halachic background.

Friday night Kiddush in shul

At the time of the Gemara, Kiddush was recited in shul Friday night because of visitors who would eat their meals in guest rooms that were located adjacent to the shul (see Pesachim 101a and Tosafos s.v. DeAchlu). The fact that the guests ate their meals nearby is significant because of the principle, ein Kiddush ela bimkom seudah — one fulfills the obligation for Kiddush only when it is recited or heard in the same place where one intends to eat one’s Shabbos repast. Someone who hears Kiddush but does not eat a “meal” where he heard it does not fulfill the mitzvah of hearing Kiddush. Discussing the details of ein Kiddush ela bimkom seudah requires a separate, lengthy article; but, for our purposes, we will say that most authorities conclude that eating a significant amount of food on which we recite a mezonos satisfies the requirement of a seudah.

A bit later in history

In the era of the Rishonim, several hundred years after the Gemara, no one ate Friday night meals in the shul building, yet the custom to recite Kiddush at the end of davening was still commonly observed. Although we find many authorities who ruled that one should not recite Kiddush under these circumstances, most communities continued the practice of reciting Kiddush in shul (Tur and Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 269).

Why do we continue to recite Kiddush?

If no one fulfills the mitzvah with the Kiddush recited in shul, why did the practice continue? This question is discussed by several of the Geonim and the Rishonim, and I will present here some of their approaches.

Rav Naturanai Gaon states that one should recite the Kiddush in shul because of the benefit that hearing Kiddush has for one’s vision. This idea is based on the Gemara’s statement that taking overly-long strides damages one’s vision, and that the Friday evening Kiddush restores the vision that has been lost (see Brachos 43b). Since not every household had wine on which to recite Kiddush, the custom developed to recite Kiddush in shul for this therapeutic purpose. It appears that, according to Rav Naturanai Gaon‘s reason, no one needs to drink the Kiddush wine in shul, since its purpose is not to fulfill the mitzvah.

The Tur objects

However, the Tur, who quotes Rav Naturanai Gaon, sharply disputes the reason. This is because the Gemara explains that the basis for Kiddush in shul is for guests and not the therapeutic reason of Rav Naturanai Gaon.

Another early authority, Rabbeinu Yonah, presents a different explanation for reciting Kiddush in shul, even though the reason mentioned by the Gemara no longer applies. Rabbeinu Yonah contends that the Kiddush was for the benefit of people who did not know how to recite Kiddush and who would simply not fulfill the mitzvah at all. When these people heard Kiddush in shul, they fulfilled the mitzvah min haTorah, notwithstanding the fact that they did not observe the mitzvah as Chazal instructed, since it was not Kiddush bimkom seudah (Rabbeinu Yonah, quoted by Rosh). Thus, Rabbeinu Yonah assumes that the requirement of Kiddush bimkom seudah is a rabbinic ordinance, and that we would recite the Kiddush in shul for the sake of those who would thereby fulfill the Torah mitzvah.

Not all authorities agree with this approach. The Rosh contends that the requirement of Kiddush bimkom seudah is min haTorah. Thus, simply hearing Kiddush without eating then and there does not fulfill any mitzvah and would, therefore, not provide a satisfactory reason to recite Kiddush in shul.

Other authorities explain that reciting Kiddush in shul has a status of a takkanah, a rabbinically-ordained practice that we continue to observe, even though the reason it was established no longer applies (Rashba and Ran, quoted by Beis Yosef). (We should note that although the Tur and the Shulchan Aruch discuss the practice and logistics of reciting Kiddush in shul, they both state that it is preferred not to recite Kiddush in shul. For this reason, many shuls do not recite Kiddush Friday night. However, where the custom is to recite Kiddush in shul, one should continue the practice.)

Kiddush catch-22

Regardless which rationale we use to explain why we recite Kiddush in shul, the Tur raises the following question: The halachah requires that someone drink from the Kiddush wine (Pesachim 105b; Eiruvin 40b), and also prohibits drinking before fulfilling the mitzvah of Kiddush. Since no one is eating in the shul building, no one fulfills the mitzvah with that Kiddush, because of ein Kiddush ela bimkom seudah. Thus, whoever drinks from the Kiddush wine in shul is drinking before he has fulfilled the mitzvah of Kiddush, which is prohibited; yet, someone must drink from the Kiddush wine.

To resolve this predicament, the Tur recommends that the Kiddush wine in shul be given to a child to drink, which, he notes, fulfills the requirement that someone drink from the Kiddush wine (Tur, Orach Chayim 269).

Kiddush conundrum

However, it is not clear how this innovation of the Tur resolves the predicament in a satisfactory way. How can we give a child the Kiddush wine? As we learned above, we are not permitted to cause a child to violate halachah – and he is drinking without fulfilling the mitzvah of Kiddush!

This difficulty is raised by the Beis Yosef, who suggests three solutions to the problem:

  • All three sources of the halacha not to cause a child to violate the Torah — not to eat tiny creatures, not to eat blood, and that a kohein not become tamei from a meis — are lo saaseh prohibitions of the Torah. There are halachic authorities who rule therefore that the proscription to cause a child to violate the Torah applies only to mitzvos of at least the level of a lo saaseh, but not to any prohibition that is considered halachically a lesser offense, such as an issur aseh or a mitzvas aseh, and that it certainly does not apply to a mitzvah miderabbanan (Hagahos Maimoniyos, Shabbos 29:40). Since Kiddush is a mitzvas aseh and not a lo saaseh, it is permitted to cause a child to violate its laws. As a result. some authorities permit causing a child to eat or drink before he has fulfilled the mitzvah of Kiddush.

Although this approach can be used to justify the Tur’s proposal, the Beis Yosef notes that many authorities reject this limitation and contend that one may not cause a child to violate any prohibited action. To justify the practice of giving the wine to a child according to their opinion, we need to find an alternative reason to explain why the shul Kiddush is given to a child. Therefore, the Beis Yosef presents two other approaches to explain the practice.

Not yotzei, but may drink

  • Although, in general, one may not drink before fulfilling the mitzvah of Kiddush, there is an opinion among Rishonim that one who recites Kiddush to benefit others may drink the wine of Kiddush, even when he is not now fulfilling the mitzvah (Rabbeinu Shemuel in the name of the Sar of Coucy [one of the Baalei Tosafos], quoted by Mordechai, Pesachim, Tosefes MeiArvei Pesachim, page 35a). The Beis Yosef explains that, although we do not usually follow this position, we may have the children rely on it, as a means of resolving what to do with the Kiddush

A third approach

  • The Beis Yosef presents a third approach, perhaps the most unusual, to explain why we permit a child to drink the wine of Kiddush. Because we must recite the Kiddush and we do not want the brocha of Kiddush to be recited in vain, we permit a child to drink the wine, even though this is an act that we would otherwise prohibit.

Halachic differences

There are obvious differences in practical halachah between these approaches. The first opinion holds that one may cause a child to do something that an adult may not do, provided that the prohibition is less severe than a lo saaseh (see also Rashba, Shabbos 121a; Ran, Yoma, 1a). (Even according to this approach, because of the laws of chinuch, the child’s father, and possibly the mother, may not have him drink, if the child is old enough to be educated. Thus, this heter may not apply if the father gives his own son the wine of Kiddush in shul.) Based on this opinion, some authorities permit directing a child to carry something on Shabbos in an area where carrying is prohibited only miderabbanan, if the child needs the item (see also, Shu”t Rabbi Akiva Eiger 1:15; Biur Halachah 343). However, the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 343:1) and the Magen Avraham (343:3) prohibit this.

According to the third approach, only one child should drink the Kiddush wine in order to minimize the amount of violation performed, whereas the other two answers permit serving the Kiddush wine to any child who desires. (I note that I have never seen any place that allows only one child to drink the Kiddush. Customarily, many of the children in shul line up to sip the Kiddush wine. This practice implies that this third approach was not accepted as the reason for the custom.)

Matzoh on Erev Pesach

Here is another case where the above-mentioned approaches may disagree: May I feed a child matzoh on Erev Pesach? The Terumas HaDeshen contends that, according to the answer that the prohibition is only to feed a child something that is prohibited with the stringency of a lo saaseh, one may feed a child matzoh on Erev Pesach, which is not as severe a prohibition (Terumas HaDeshen #125). However, he concludes that if the child is old enough to appreciate the Seder, one may not feed him matzoh on Erev Pesach for a different reason — because this runs counter to the experience of matzoh being special on Seder night. (Further discussion on this topic can be found in Rama, Orach Chayim 471:2 and the commentaries thereon.)

Yet a fourth approach

Some later authorities did not feel that the approaches suggested by the Beis Yosef explain the Tur’s ruling in a satisfactory way. They therefore presented other reasons to explain why it is permitted to give a child the Kiddush wine before he has fulfilled the mitzvah. One approach is that it is forbidden to cause a child to violate a Torah law only when the prohibition applies at all times. However, it is permitted to cause a child to perform an activity that is usually permitted, but that is prohibited at this particular time. Following this reason, one may feed a child on Yom Kippur, since eating and drinking are activities that are usually permitted, even though this is a very severe prohibition for an adult (Sefer HaYashar #52). (There are authorities who rule that, according to the previous answers, one is permitted to feed a child on Yom Kippur only when it is a life-threatening emergency, but a child old enough to feed himself should not be fed by an adult, but instead be told where food can be located [Minchas Chinuch, Mitzvah 313; see also Mikra’ei Kodesh of Rav Pesach Frank, Yamim Nora’im, page 149].) Therefore, there is no problem giving a child wine before he has fulfilled the mitzvah of Kiddush, since drinking wine, in general, is a permitted activity (Magen Avraham 269:1).

Another difference in halacha

This last answer also results in a different halachic practice than that of the previous approaches. According to this last answer, one may feed a child on Yom Kippur, even when the child could feed himself. It is also permitted to feed any child before he has heard Kiddush, as long as the child is below the age of bar or bas mitzvah.

A minor kohen

At this point, I would like to discuss a related question. Rivkah Katz* asks me: “My husband and sons are kohanim. Am I required to be careful where I take my infant son?”

In the first pasuk of parshas Emor, the Torah (Vayikra 21:1) states, Emor el hakohanim benei Aharon, ve’amarta aleihem lanefesh lo yitama be’amav — Say to the kohanim, the sons of Aharon, and you shall say to them, that they shall not contaminate themselves to a dead person among their people. Since the Torah repeats the word say, we derive that there are two levels of responsibility here, and since usually it says the sons of Aharon, the kohanim, and here it reverses the order, the Torah is commanding that an adult must not cause a child kohen to become tamei (Yevamos 114a, as explained by Bach, Yoreh Deah 373). From the wording of the Rambam (Hilchos Aveil 3:12), we see that every adult Jew, even a non-kohen, is commanded not to make a child kohen tamei. This requires everyone to know the halachos of what makes a kohen tamei. One cannot have the attitude that, since I am not a kohen, these laws are not relevant to me.

We can therefore answer Rivkah’s question: She is, indeed, required to find out all the halachos germane to kohanim becoming tamei, so that she knows where she may bring her son, and where she may not.

An adult kohen

Another related question I was once asked:

“My father-in-law, who is not observant, is a kohen, whereas I am a Yisroel. Are we required to be as stringent about where we go on family outings as we would if I myself were a kohen?”

Answer:

The Rambam rules that it is forbidden for a non-kohen to make an adult kohen tamei (Rambam, Hilchos Aveil 3:5). To quote the Rambam: “If the kohen is unaware that what he did is forbidden, and the adult who made him tamei knows that it is forbidden, then the adult violates the lo saaseh. If the adult kohen knows that it is forbidden, then the other person violates only lifnei iveir lo sitein michshol, do not place a stumbling block before a blind person (Vayikra 19:14).” Chazal interpret this pasuk to mean that one may not give someone bad advice, nor cause him to violate a prohibition (Pesachim 22b).

Thus, we see that, indeed, one must be concerned about where one takes grandpa, even if he himself is not concerned. For a reason that is beyond the scope of this article, this is true even if grandpa is already tamei meis.

Conclusion

Chazal say in Pirkei Avos: “Kol she’ruach habrios nocha heimenu ruach hamakom nocha heimenu,” One who is pleasing to his fellowman is pleasing to his Creator. Being concerned that we not harm others halachically is certainly part of both our social responsibility and our halachic responsibility. When we do our mitzvos properly, others will see us and say, “He is a frum Jew — he lives his life on a higher plane of caring for others.”

*Name has been changed to protect privacy.

 

It’s About Time

The Gemara that discusses this topic includes a reference from this week’s parsha.

It’s About Time

sunsetQuiz Question #1:

Mrs. Yunger gave birth to two healthy twin boys, each of whom had his bris on the first day that halacha mandates, yet the younger Yunger had his bris several days earlier than his older brother. How can this happen?

Question #2:

Moshe Litvak asks me: “I have often wondered why my chassidishe brother-in-law davens mincha after sunset, when the Mishnah Berurah rules that one should not daven this late!”

Question #3:

“My sister and I live in the same yishuv (community), and the nearest hospital is Laniado, in Netanya. She went into labor on Shabbos and left for the hospital. Immediately after Shabbos, I phoned the hospital to find out how she was and whether she had a boy or a girl, and was told by the gentile receptionist that she could not put the call through to my sister until after the time ‘Rabbeinu Tam’ arrives, which would not be for another half an hour. Why was the gentile receptionist so frum?”

Why Did the Younger Yunger have an Earlier Bris?

Although a bris that transpires on the eighth day of a child’s life supersedes Shabbos, when a baby is born during bein hashemashos, a halachic “twilight zone” in which it is uncertain whether it is part of the previous day or the next one, his bris cannot be conducted on Shabbos. The older Yunger was born during bein hashemashos on Friday evening. Thus, his bris could not be performed on either Friday or Shabbos, and his bris was postponed to Sunday. Moreover, if one or two days of Yom Tov immediately followed Shabbos, then his bris would be delayed until after Yom Tov. However, his younger brother was born at a time that was certainly Shabbos, and therefore, his bris took place on Shabbos. Thus, younger Yunger had his bris before older Yunger.

When is Twilight?

When is bein hashemashos?

We all are aware that the Jewish date begins at night. But at what exact moment does one day end and another begin? Do we know the precise instant when one day marches off into history, and its successor arrives with its banner unfurled?

A verse in the book of Nechemiah might help resolve this question. There it describes the unenviable circumstances in which the Jews were rebuilding the Second Beis Hamikdash, while protecting themselves from the enemies who were determined to thwart its erection: And we were continuing the construction work from daybreak until the stars come out [tzeis hakochavim] while half our men were holding spears… and at night we were on guard, while in the day we could proceed with the work (Nechemiah 4:15-16). Nechemiah implies that “night” begins when the stars emerge, and the time of dusk until they become visible is still considered the previous day (see Berachos 2b; Megillah 20b).

However, we still require more definition. Which stars? Can we pinpoint the moment that the stars come out, since the stars of the firmament do not all become visible at the same time?

Additional confusion is caused by a different verse that implies that the day ends when the sun sets, as the Torah (Vayikra 22:7) proclaims: And when the sun sets, he shall become pure, stating that the final stage of purification from some types of tumah is the sunset after immersion in a mikveh. However, at sunset no stars are yet visible. Thus, this verse implies that the changing of the day transpires at sunset, not when the stars appear (see Berachos 2b).

What a Phenomenal Dusk!

Is there any discussion in the Gemara that can “shed light” on our question? Indeed, there are several passages, and much literature is devoted to understanding them. One passage (Shabbos 34b) describes certain celestial phenomena that define when bein hashemashos begins and when it ends. The commentaries debate exactly what occurrences are being described, and, unfortunately, we derive little usable information from this passage.

When Three Stars Appear

Another passage indicates that the end of the day is determined by the appearance of stars. When one star appears, it is still day. When two appear, it is bein hashemashos, and when three appear, it is night. Not large stars that appear even in the day, and not small stars that first appear at night, but middle-sized stars (Shabbos 35b).

Now the job appears easy. Let us look at the darkening firmament this coming evening and count stars!

I am sure that there have been times when you have tried. Ever spent Shabbos on a camping trip and attempted to determine the end of Shabbos by stargazing? How did you decide which stars are considered “small,” “large” and “middle-sized”? And this is assuming that one does not need to deal with light pollution!

Perhaps, locating a Gemara discussion that indicates more objective criteria, such as units of time, may be more helpful in our search to determine the end of day. Does such a discussion exist in the Gemara?

Yes, it does — and not only one passage, but two. However, the two passages appear contradictory!

Conflicting Gemara passages

The Gemara in Pesachim (94a) states that the time between shekiyah, a word usually translated as sunset, and tzeis hakochavim equals four mil, which we will assume is 72 minutes. (This concurs with the more obvious way of explaining the opinion of the Terumas Hadeshen [#123] and the Shulchan Aruch [Orach Chayim 459:2; Yoreh Deah 69:6 with Shach] that a mil used as a unit of time equals 18 minutes.) However, a different passage of Gemara, in Mesechta Shabbos (34b), quotes a dispute in which Rabbah states that nightfall occurs three-quarters of a mil, or 13½ minutes, after shekiyah, and Rabbi Yosef rules that it transpires a bit earlier, two-thirds of a mil, or 12 minutes, after shekiyah. Obviously, we need to explain why one Gemara states that nightfall occurs 72 minutes after shekiyah, and another states that it occurs only 12 or 13½ minutes after shekiyah!

Rabbeinu Tam’s explanation

Among the many resolutions to this conundrum, the two most commonly quoted are those of Rabbeinu Tam and the Gr”a. Rabbeinu Tam contends that these two passages of Gemara are using the word “shekiyah” to refer to two different phenomena which occur about an hour apart. The Gemara in Pesachim uses the term shekiyah to mean sunset — when the sun vanishes beyond the western horizon. Rabbeinu Tam refers to sunset as techilas shekiyah, literally the beginning of shekiyah. However, when the Gemara in Shabbos refers to “shekiyah,” it does not mean sunset, but a point in time about an hour later when virtually all light of the sun’s rays is dissipated from earth. Rabbeinu Tam refers to this later time as sof shekiyah, literally the end of shekiyah, and, in his opinion, until sof shekiyah occurs it is still halachically day, notwithstanding the setting of the sun and the appearance of hundreds of stars in the firmament. All these stars are considered “large stars” whose appearance does not demonstrate that the day has ended. Only at sof shekiyah does it become bein hashemashos, the time when we are uncertain whether it is day or night. At sof shekiyah, bein hashemashos has begun, meaning that now two, but not three, “middle-sized” stars are visible, and we await the appearance of the third “middle-sized” star to know that it is definitely night. (However, cf. Minchas Kohen for a variant understanding of Rabbeinu Tam’s position.)

Since, according to Rabbeinu Tam, it is definitely still day until about an hour after sunset, many authorities contend that there is no problem with davening mincha considerably after sunset. (However, note that Rabbeinu Yonah understands the opinion of Rabbeinu Tam differently from what I just explained.) Thus, there are communities who base themselves on this approach and daven mincha well after sunset.

Rabbeinu Tam and a friday night birth

According to Rabbeinu Tam, a baby born 58 minutes after sunset on Friday evening, and certainly any time earlier, was born halachically on Friday, and not on Shabbos. In Rabbeinu Tam’s opinion, this baby’s bris takes place the following Friday. A baby making his appearance a bit later is considered to be born during bein hashemashos and cannot have his bris on Shabbos, because maybe bein hashemashos is still Friday — which makes Shabbos his ninth day of life. This bris will be postponed to Sunday. However, if he is born later on Friday evening, at a time when it is definitely Shabbos, then the bris is performed on Shabbos.

It goes without saying that, according to Rabbeinu Tam, one may not perform any melacha on Saturday night until a considerable time has passed after sunset. There are various opinions as to exactly when Shabbos is definitely over according to Rabbeinu Tam, but most people assume that Shabbos is over by 72 minutes after sunset (Biur Halacha).

By the way, at this point we can answer our third question above: why the telephone lines at Laniado hospital are not open to non-pikuach nefesh related calls until more than a half hour later than the time Shabbos ends according to most calendars. The founder of the hospital, the Klausenberger Rebbe, insisted that Shabbos be observed at the hospital until it is over according to Rabbeinu Tam.

The opinion of the Gr”a

Since we know that many highly observant Jews do not wait this long for Shabbos to end, there must be another way of interpreting the two passages of Gemara that reaches a different halachic conclusion. Indeed, one such approach is presented by the Gr”a, who who has a completely different way of explaining why the Gemara in Pesachim states that tzeis hakochavim does not occur until 72 minutes after sunset, whereas the Gemara in Shabbos has tzeis hakochavim occurring much earlier. The Gr”a contends that both passages use shekiyah to mean sunset, and this is the same sunset to which we customarily refer — however, they are not referring to the same tzeis hakochavim. The Gemara passage in Pesachim that refers to tzeis hakochavim being 72 minutes after sunset means that all visible stars of the firmament can now be seen, a time that the Gr”a calls tzeis kol hakochavim, literally, when all the stars have appeared, whereas the Gemara in Shabbos refers to the time at which three “middle-sized” stars are visible. The Gr”a concludes that sunset begins the time of bein hashemashos, the time when we are uncertain whether it is day or night, with tzeis hakochavim occurring when three “middle-sized” stars are visible. The Gemara in Pesachim that requires 72 minutes until the stars appear is not discussing when the day ends — the day ended much earlier — but is concerned about when all remnants of sunlight vanish.

According to the Gr”a’s opinion, once sunset arrives on Friday, it may already be Shabbos. We consider this time to be already bein hashemashos, and we therefore refrain from performing any melacha from this time. In the Gr”a’s opinion, a baby born after sunset Friday will have his bris performed on Sunday a week later, unless he is born after three “middle-sized” stars appear, in which case his bris will be performed on Shabbos. (In practice, since we are uncertain exactly which stars are called “middle-sized,” we wait a bit longer, see Biur Halacha to 393.) According to Rabbeinu Tam, this same baby would have his bris performed on Friday, unless he is born at least 58 1/2 minutes after sunset. If he is born between 58½ minutes and 72 minutes after sunset Friday evening, according to the Gr”a, his bris will be on Shabbos, whereas according to Rabbeinu Tam – his bris will be on Sunday. Rabbeinu Tam agrees that a baby born later on Friday evening will have his bris performed on Shabbos.

The Gr”a rules that one should not daven mincha after sunset, since this is already a time at which the previous day may have already passed. Thus, it is already time to daven maariv.

How do we rule?

Although in the past there were Torah communities that did not follow the Gr”a at all, even regarding the onset of Shabbos, today, it is universally accepted to consider it Shabbos from sunset on Friday. Many communities follow the Gr”a’s opinion fully, and do not wait until 72 minutes after sunset on Saturday to end Shabbos. In a responsum on the subject, Rav Moshe Feinstein took great umbrage at those in Eretz Yisroel who wait only 25 minutes after sunset to end Shabbos, contending that since a large number of Rishonim followed Rabbeinu Tam’s approach, one should act stringently and not end Shabbos until at least fifty minutes after sunset, which he felt fulfills “Rabbeinu Tam time” according to the basic halachic requirement (Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 4:17:26; and Orach Chayim 4:62).

What Do I Do with My Sheimos?

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I know that the name of the parsha is Shemos, and not Sheimos, but…

What do I do with my Sheimos?

Question #1:

vintage-pagesOne of the shul’s baalei batim calls the rav with the following concern:

“The shul’s sheimos collection is a fire hazard – a catastrophe waiting to happen. Can we just burn everything before a dangerous fire breaks out?”

Question #2:

I receive the following question from Cheryl:

“Rabbi, this has got to be the most interesting e-mail question you receive today. I am on a cruise in the Mediterranean, courtesy of, and with, my not-yet-observant parents, and today I spent the day looking at Jewish sites and other tourist attractions at our port-of-call. At one of the places, an elderly gentile lady gave me a large bag of old, tattered siddurim – no value. I have no idea what to do with them, and they are with me now in my cabin on the ship. May I bury them at sea?”

Response:

Answering the above questions provides an excellent opportunity to understand the topic called either genizah or sheimos. The particular emphasis in this article will be: what is the proper way to dispose of worn-out seforim?

Should it be called sheimos or genizah?

Which is the “correct” term? The word used in Modern Hebrew for a religious item whose discarding must be handled in a special way is genizah, which literally means that they must be hidden. Indeed, this is the term used by the Gemara for the process of disposing of these items, and it is easy to understand how the term came to refer to items that require genizah, although technically genizah refers to the place where the item is placed.

The Yiddish word for these items is sheimos, whose source is the term sheimos she’einam nimchakim, meaning the names of G-d that the Torah prohibits erasing. In Parshas Re’eih, the Torah commands: Destroy all the places where the gentiles that you are driving out worshipped their gods, whether they are on high mountains, on hills, or beneath foliate trees. Raze their altars, smash their pillars, burn their worshipped trees, and demolish the images of their gods. Obliterate the names (of their deities) from that place (Devarim 12:2-4).

The Torah then closes this passage: Do not do this to Hashem your G-d!

When the Torah states: Obliterate the names from that place. Do not do this to Hashem your G-d, it is prohibiting obliterating Hashem’s Name (Shabbos 120b; Rambam, Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah 6:1). The Gemara (Shavuos 35a) calls the names of Hashem that we may not erase sheimos she’einam nimchakim, which later became the origin of the term sheimos as a generic term to describe religious items whose discarding must be handled in a special way. Thus, either word, genizah or sheimos, may be used.

That which we call Hashem

Although there are many expressions, such as the All-merciful One and the Creator, which refer to Hashem, halachah recognizes a major distinction between erasing the actual holy names of Hashem, and between erasing terms that describe Hashem, but are not actual names. Erasing the actual “names” of Hashem, the sheimos she’einam nimchakim, violates a lo saaseh of the Torah, one of the 613 mitzvos, and qualifies as a prohibition as serious as desecrating Yom Tov or eating non-kosher (see Makkos 22a). The names of Hashem, of which there are about ten, include, among others, Elokim, Elokeinu, Keil, Shakai, Tzevakos, Eloak, and, of course, the names I will call havayah and adnus. (Following the usual practice, I have substituted the “k” sound somewhere in the above names, so that readers do not err and recite these holy names in vain.) Erasing any of these names is prohibited min haTorah.

Erasing attributes

On the other hand, expressions that describe attributes of Hashem — such as Rachum, All-merciful one; Chanun, He Who bestows kindness — may be erased, even when they refer to Hashem (Shavuos 35a; Rambam, Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah, 6:5). The Torah’s prohibition, do not do this to Hashem your G-d, applies only to a name of Hashem, not to an attribute that describes Hashem.

Similarly, there is no prohibition to erase His names written in other languages, such as G-d, even when spelled with the “o” in the middle (Shach, Yoreh Deah 179:11), although one must exercise care that these names do not become treated disrespectfully (Urim, 27:2, quoted also by Nesivos HaMishpat and Aruch HaShulchan ad loc.). The reason we are accustomed to spelling the name G-d, rather than with the added “o,” is because of concern that the paper it is written on might end up in the garbage or treated in some other disrespectful way.

Does the prohibition include commentaries, Gemaros, et cetera?

Although the Torah violation, do not do this to Hashem your G-d, applies only to actual names of Hashem, Chazal prohibited destroying other holy writings, including commentaries, works of Mishnah, Gemara or halachah, and other Torah works (see Rambam, Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah 6:8; Shu’t Tashbeitz 1:2).

What happens when they wear out?

Granted that the Torah prohibited destroying works that include Hashem’s Name, eventually a sefer Torah becomes worn out and unusable. What does one do with it, then, if it is prohibited to destroy it? The precise details of how to dispose of these items is exactly the topic for today’s article.

Buried in earthenware

The Gemara teaches that worn out sifrei Torah should be placed in earthenware vessels and then buried next to a talmid chacham, or, minimally, next to someone who learned halachah, meaning someone who at least studied Mishnayos (Megillah 26b). Placing them inside these vessels forestalls the decomposition of the sifrei Torah for a very long time (Ran), and placing them together with someone who studied Torah is a more respectful way of treating sifrei Torah that can no longer be used. It is very unfortunate that Hashem’s Name becomes obliterated, even in an indirect way, and we must delay the decomposition for as long as possible.

Genizah of printed sefarim

From after the time of the Gemara until the invention of the printing press in the 1400’s, we find little discussion about how to dispose of holy works. Since everything was handwritten and therefore scarce and very expensive, we can presume that there were not a lot of worn out sifrei kodesh, and there was no difficulty in following the Gemara’s description for their retirement. However, after the invention of the printing press, the sheer volume of printed material increased geometrically, and we find halachic discussion concerning whether wornout printed sefarim must be disposed of in the same manner as the Gemara describes for sifrei Torah.

The teshuvah of the Be’er Sheva

The earliest responsum I have seen on the subject is printed in the sefer Be’er Sheva, authored by one of the great Torah leaders of the early seventeenth century, Rabbi Yissachar Dov Eilenburg. He was a talmid of the Levush, and his sefer includes a haskamah from the Maharal of Prague! The Be’er Sheva reports that in his day, it was not uncommon for people to burn the worn-out printed editions of sifrei kodesh. Those who burned the sifrei kodesh claimed that this was more respectful than burying them, because burial often resulted in the sifrei kodesh being unearthed and therefore becoming treated disrespectfully.

The Be’er Sheva takes strong issue with this approach, noting that it is prohibited to destroy any type of kisvei hakodesh, and that burning them certainly violates halachah. The claim that burying the sefarim leads to their desecration is unfounded, he states, because the desecration is a result of not burying the genizah correctly. As we mentioned above, the Gemara describes burying in earthenware vessels. If, indeed, all genizah were to be buried this way, argues the Be’er Sheva, then the kisvei hakodesh would never be strewn about after their burial. He concludes that worn-out, printed Torah material must be buried in earthenware vessels, just as one is required to bury sifrei Torah this way. This responsum of the Be’er Sheva is subsequently cited authoritatively by the Magen Avraham (154:9).

Not enough earthenware to go around

Notwithstanding the rulings of the Be’er Sheva and the Magen Avraham prohibiting the burning of wornout kisvei hakodesh, we find the issue of burning sheimos resurfacing a century later. It appears that burying the massive amounts of sheimos in earthenware vessels was not practical, presumably because appropriate earthenware vessels were not easily available in the quantities required. Since no other practical solution was acceptable to the Be’er Sheva and the Magen Avraham, accumulations of sheimos were doing just that — accumulating. Thus we read:

The shul’s sheimos collection is a fire hazard – a catastrophe waiting to happen. Can we just burn everything, before a dangerous fire breaks out?”

This is the exact question asked three hundred years ago by members of the Jewish community in Metz, Alsace-Lorraine, from their rav, Rav Yaakov Reischer, one of the great halachic authorities of his era, famed for his many classic Torah works, including Minchas Yaakov (on the laws of kashrus), Chok Yaakov (on Hilchos Pesach), Toras Hashelamim (on Hilchos Niddah), Iyun Yaakov (on Agadah of Shas), and his responsa, Shevus Yaakov.

In a responsum published in Shevus Yaakov, Rav Reischer reports that previous attempts to bury the amassed sheimos had resulted in gentiles unearthing the kisvei hakodesh and using them in a highly degrading way. For lack of any solution, the sheimos were accumulating and indeed were a fire hazard. Because of the life-threatening emergency that now resulted, the Shevus Yaakov ruled that it was preferable to burn the sheimos, which he felt was the most viable resolution of the problem, since burial in earthenware vessels was no longer feasible.

Corresponding mechutanim

In Nissan 5483 (1723), Rav Reischer sent his teshuvah permitting, under these circumstances, the burning of genizah, to his mechutan, Rav Yechezkel Katzenellenbogen, the rav of Hamburg, for review, presumably hoping that Rav Katzenellenbogen would agree. The correspondence between these gedolei Torah was subsequently published in two different places – in Rav Reischer’s Shu’t Shevus Yaakov, as Yoreh Deah, Volume 1, #10-12, and in Rav Katzenellenbogen’s Shu’t Keneses Yechezkel as responsum #37. The two versions of the correspondence are not absolutely identical, but comparing the two versions broadens one’s understanding of the dispute. In general, the Keneses Yechezkel account is somewhat truncated in places, but includes the dates of the letters. Apparently, when Rav Katzenellenbogen decided to print this correspondence, he abbreviated his own letters, although he published his mechutan’s letters in full.

A more important fact is that the account published in Keneses Yechezkel includes a final letter from Rav Katzenellenbogen that does not appear in Shevus Yaakov.

Family feud

Although both gedolim correspond to one another with great respect, they dispute strongly regarding what one should do with the accumulated sheimos material when burial in earthenware vessels is not a practical solution. In his response dated 17 Kislev, the Keneses Yechezkel rejects fully his mechutan’s proposal that the circumstances permit burning the sheimos, but instead rules that one should construct wooden boxes around the genizah, find an abandoned lot, and bury the wooden-entombed sheimos with three tefachim (about 9-11 inches) of earth above them.

The second volley

On the 23 of Teiveis, the Shevus Yaakov penned his retort to his mechutan, rejecting the idea that wooden boxes are as good as earthenware, and insisting that if all kisvei hakodesh must be buried in earthenware, burying in wood, which decays much more quickly, will not suffice. He contends that burying in wood is the equivalent of burying directly in the earth, which he prohibits as a tremendous bizayon to the kisvei hakodesh. He feels that burying in earth, either with or without a wooden protection, is a far greater bizayon to the kisvei hakodesh than burning them. Thus, unswayed by his mechutan’s rejection of his proposal, he remains with his original suggestion – that since burying all the genizah in earthenware containers is not practical, and burying them in wooden containers is not acceptable, the remaining option is to burn the sheimos.

The response from the Keneses Yechezkel was not long in coming. On the 17th of Shvat, the Keneses Yechezkel penned his retort, again reiterating his position that it is absolutely forbidden to burn sheimos, and that it is perfectly acceptable, and therefore required, to bury them in wooden boxes. (This last letter is the part of the correspondence that does not appear in Shu’t Shevus Yaakov, but only in Keneses Yechezkel.)

Packing the printed material

It is noteworthy that both of these authorities rule that printed sefarim must be packed properly before burial, which was also the position of the Be’er Sheva and the Magen Avraham that I quoted above. On the other hand, the Pri Megadim (commenting on the above-quoted Magen Avraham), who was born shortly before the passing of the Keneses Yechezkel and the Shevus Yaakov, notes that the custom is to bury worn-out printed sefarim without placing them inside vessels, and to require burial in earthenware vessels only when burying worn-out, hand-written nevi’im and kesuvim that are written on parchment. (The nevi’im he is describing are used contemporarily by many shullen for reading the haftaros.) The custom mentioned by the Pri Megadim disputes the above quoted authorities, the Be’er Sheva, the Magen Avraham, the Keneses Yechezkel, and the Shevus Yaakov, all of whom held that printed sefarim must be packed in earthenware or with other protective means before burial.

What is the accepted halachic practice?

The prevalent accepted practice follows the Pri Megadim’s observation — that is, although we insist that worn-out printed sefarim must be buried, they are not packed in either earthenware or even wood boxes before burial. The Mishnah Berurah (154:22, 24), when discussing this issue, quotes only the Pri Megadim; he does not even mention the disputing earlier opinions.

How can we permit this?

Granted that the minhag follows the Pri Megadim, but what is the halachic basis to permit this? Neither the Pri Megadim nor the Mishnah Berurah explains the rationale to permit burying these items, without first packing them appropriately. However, an authority contemporary to the Pri Megadim, the Zera Emes (Volume II #133), does discuss this issue.

The Zera Emes was asked the same question that was asked of the Be’er Sheva, the Keneses Yechezkel and the Shevus Yaakov — whether there is any basis to permit the burning of printed sheimos. In response, the Zera Emes first cites many early authorities who held that all printed sefarim require burial in earthenware vessels. He indeed concludes that all genizah items require burial. He then analyzes whether all genizah items require to first be packed in earthenware vessels. He notes that the Gemara, itself, implies that there are different levels of kedushah when burying holy items. Although the Gemara mentions several items that require genizah, such as the coverings of the sefer Torah (often called mantelach), mezuzos, tefillin, tefillin bags and straps, it requires only that these items have genizah and does not mention that they be first placed in earthenware. The requirements of placing the genizah item in an earthenware vessel and burying it near a talmid chacham are mentioned only regarding a sefer Torah. Other holy writings do not require this, and it is sufficient to provide them with what the Zera Emes calls “a minimal burial” — meaning burial in earth. Burial is a respectful way to allow for the decay of holy works, both because burial is halachically a respectful way of disposal, and because the deterioration is caused indirectly.

The Zera Emes adds one more requirement – that the sheimos must be placed into some type of bag or covering before it is buried. This covering is necessary, in his opinion, because placing directly into the ground is not considered a respectful way to treat kisvei hakodesh. We should note that, according to the contemporary sefer Ginzei HaKodesh, Rav Elyashiv held that, in a situation where it is difficult to wrap the genizah, one may bury it without wrapping. This means that, in his opinion, placing kisvei hakodesh directly in the ground is not disrespectful.

Burial at sea

At this point, we can answer Cheryl’s question:

I am on a cruise in the Mediterranean. At one port-of-call, a gentile lady gave me a large bag of old, tattered siddurim, which are now in my cabin on the ship. May I bury them at sea?

As you can by now imagine, I answered Cheryl that she is not permitted to bury the genizah at sea. According to all opinions quoted above, disposing worn-out kisvei hakodesh in water is considered destroying them directly. According to the Be’er Sheva and the Keneses Yechezkel, all kisvei hakodesh require burial in the earth, and in earthenware. According to the Pri Megadim and the Zera Emes, although burial is permitted in earth, this is only in earth, where the deterioration takes time, but “burial at sea” is a bizayon to the holy works. Even the Shevus Yaakov, who permitted burning kisvei hakodesh when one cannot bury them in earthenware vessels, expressly forbade burial in earth without packing them first, because the moisture of the earth is considered directly destroying them and forbidden, and certainly, disposal directly in water is forbidden.

Conclusion — contemporary practice

Common practice of those who bury genizah today is to pack all handwritten kisvei hakodesh, including sifrei Torah, mezuzos, and tefillin parshiyos, in earthenware or glass containers before burial; whereas worn-out, printed sefarim are simply placed in bags or cardboard boxes and buried. Thus, it appears that although we are following the distinction between sifrei Torah and other holy writings as explained by the Zera Emes, contemporary practice is to be slightly stricter than his ruling regarding how we wrap mezuzos and tefillin parshiyos prior to burial.

Thousands of pages of Torah rattle off presses and home and business printers every day, spreading Torah to every corner of the globe. By disposing of this material appropriately, we help ensure that this glory of Torah does not lead to its desecration.

 

 

Jews and Idols

man praying at KoselQuestion #1: May I pray while they meditate?

Yankel is in an overseas airport and would like to know:

“May I daven in the ‘meditation room’?”

Question #2: Idol art

“May one enter a house of idol worship to enjoy the artwork?”

Question #3: Converted church

“May we purchase for our shul an abandoned building that once was a church?”

Answer:

Parshas Re’eih includes several mitzvos that involve idol worship. In addition, when Pharoah asked Moshe to pray to end the plague of Hail, Moshe responded that he would pray as soon as he left the city. Rashi, quoting the Mechilta, notes that he could not pray in the city, because it was full of idols. Thus, we see that one should not pray in a place containing idols. The other questions above also relate to the halachic requirement to distance ourselves from idols and idolatrous practice. (As always, the purpose of this article is not to render halachic decisions, but to familiarize our readership with the background of the issues. We direct each reader to his own rav or posek to answer specific shaylos.)

In a similar context, the Gemara (Shabbos 127b) records that when Rabbi Yehoshua needed to speak to a Roman, he removed his tefillin (which he wore all day) before entering the house, so as not to expose the tefillin to the tumah of the idols that an upper class Roman would have.

Meditation room

Let us begin our discussion by explaining the first of our opening questions. Yankel is traveling on business, and his itinerary allows him to daven in the airport, between flights. However, the bustle of his fellow travelers makes it difficult to find a place where he can daven with any sort of kavanah. There is a “meditation room” in the airport, where he can find a quiet corner, but this room is probably used by idol worshippers for their prayers. May he daven there?

We can actually find a precedent for Yankel’s predicament in a responsum penned approximately six hundred years ago, by the great posek, Rav Yisroel Isserlin, who authored the Terumas Hadeshen (#6). His case is fairly similar to Yankel’s – despite the fact that none of the airports he used sported meditation rooms. The Terumas Hadeshen’s question concerns a traveler who needs to daven mincha. Our traveler sees that his two best options are:

(1) To go to a field that is alongside the road and pray there.

(2) To wait until he reaches the nearest inn, which will be one owned and operated by gentiles, and pray there.

Praying in an open field

The Gemara frowns strongly on someone who prays in an open area (Brachos 34b, Tur and Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 90:5). Thus, the Terumas Hadeshen suggests that perhaps it is better to wait until he arrives at the inn and pray there. On the other hand, he notes that praying in a non-Jewish inn, even should he find a quiet corner, involves its own halachic challenges, since the inn will =undoubtably be filled with idols and graven images. The Terumas Hadeshen quotes both the Mechilta and the Gemara mentioned above as proofs that one should not pray in a place containing religious icons. Therefore, the better choice is for our traveler to pray in an empty field, if he can find a place where he will not be distracted. However, if there is no place to daven outside without risking being bothered, he should wait until he arrives at the inn, hoping that he’ll find an undisturbed corner in which to daven.

Thus, we see that the Terumas Hadeshen understands that Moshe left the city to daven because he had an alternative place – but it is permitted to pray in a city containing idols, when there is no alternative.

Based on this Terumas Hadeshen, we should be able to answer Yankel’s inquiry. If there is no better place in the airport where he can daven undisturbed, it would seem that he may use the meditation room. Of course, I suggest that our readers refer this question to their own rabbonim and poskim.

Enjoying the artwork

At this point, let us discuss the next question raised above:

“May one enter a house of idol worship to enjoy the artwork?”

I found that this exact question was asked of two recent halachic authorities, Rav Eliezer Yehudah Valdenberg (Shu’t Tzitz Eliezer 14:91) and Rav Ovadyah Yosef (Shu’t Yechaveh Daas 4:45). Both of these authorities prohibit entering a church as part of a tour, to enjoy the artwork, or to study history. Let us examine the sources on which this prohibition is based.

The Mishnah (Avodah Zarah 1:4) states: It is permitted to be outside a city that contains avodah zarah. If there is avodah zarah outside it, inside the city is permitted.

The Mishnah implies that one may not be inside a city that “contains avodah zarah.” The question is: What is meant by the clause, a city that contains avodah zarah? This is the subject of a dispute among the early authorities. Most rishonim (e.g., Rashi, Avodah Zarah 11b; Raavad, to Hilchos Avodah Zarah 9:9) explain that the Mishnah is prohibiting entering a city on a day that there is a big festival in honor of a deity. One may not visit the city that day, because people may think that he is entering the city in order to buy or sell from those observing a holiday. This is prohibited, because his financial dealing with the idolaters may cause them to thank their god for the commerce that was provided, which means that the Jew caused a gentile to worship idols. According to this approach, one may enter a city that contains idols when no festival is being celebrated.

However, the Rambam understands the Mishnah differently, prohibiting entering any city that contains idols. To quote him:

You should be aware that it is prohibited to travel intentionally through any city in which there is a temple of avodah zarah, and it is certainly prohibited to dwell in such a city. However, we are under their control and we live in their lands against our will… if this is the law regarding the city, it is certainly so regarding the temple building itself. It is almost prohibited for us to see it, and, certainly, we may not enter it (Rambam, Commentary to Mishnayos, Avodah Zarah 1:4). The Rambam rules the same in his Mishneh Torah (Hilchos Avodah Zarah 9:9), stating that one may not enter a city that contains an idol.

How do we rule?

The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 149:1) rules according to the majority opinion, meaning that it is prohibited to enter a city containing a building intended for idol worship only on a day when there is a festival. The Shach, however, appears to disagree, quoting the Rambam’s opinion as normative halachah. The accepted practice follows the Shulchan Aruch.

However, the Shulchan Aruch is permitting entering only a city that contains an idol. All authorities prohibit entering the house of worship itself. This is based on a passage of Gemara (Shabbos 116a) that states that if someone is being pursued by either a person or a snake that is trying to kill him, he may enter a house of idol worship. Obviously, it is prohibited to enter such a building for any other reason (Shu’t HaRosh 19:17; Tur and Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 157:3).

Abizraya de’avodah zarah

Thus, the halachic conclusion is that one may not enter a house of idol worship, except when it is a life-threatening emergency. There is an element of halachic novelty to this ruling. Usually, any prohibition associated with avodah zarah, even benefiting from idols, is prohibited under all circumstances, even to the extent that one is required to give up one’s life not to violate it, yeihareg =velo= yaavor. Clearly, although it is prohibited to enter a house of idol worship, it is not included to the extent that it is yeihareg velo yaavor. (The intrepid reader is referred to Shu’t Divrei Yatziv [#74 in the addenda], by the late Klausenberger Rebbe, who discusses why, indeed, the law is not yeihareg velo yaavor.)

We should note that there are authorities who rule that one may not enter a house of idol worship, even to save one’s life (Bach, end of Yoreh Deah 157, quoting Rashba). These poskim, indeed, consider this prohibition to be yeihareg velo yaavor.

Collecting your debt

An early authority, the Sefer Chassidim (Rav Yehudah Hachassid, early 13th century Germany), shared with us the following story, which bears out the same ruling: A priest owed a Jew a lot of money, and he knew that the Jew would not follow him into a church. Whenever the Jew went to collect the debt, the priest went into a church to avoid paying his debt. A different person who was owed money had entered a church to collect the debt, and now, feeling guilty about it, asked a posek how he should do teshuvah for his sin of entering the church. He was answered that on that date every year (the yahrzeit), he should fast, as atonement for the sin (Sefer Chassidim #435). Thus, we see how seriously Rav Yehudah Hachassid viewed the prohibition of entering a church.

In a similar, much later, ruling, the Maharash Engel (responsum #83) prohibited a Jewish carpenter from installing windows in a church (quoted by Shu’t Tzitz Eliezer 14:91). As noted by Rav Ovadyah Yosef, this should be applied to any Jewish workman – such contract work is off-limits. In the above-referenced responsum, Rav Ovadyah speaks very strongly about how severe a prohibition it is to enter a church.

(Most early authorities conclude that Christianity qualifies as avodah zarah in halachah; see, for example, Rambam, Hilchos Avodas Kochavim 9:4 in the uncensored editions.)

Entering the courtyard

May one enter the courtyard of an avodah zarah, as long as one is careful not to enter the building? A corollary of this question is whether a workman may take a job that includes doing outdoor cleaning or repair work on a church.

The Rema (Yoreh Deah 149:2) rules that when the idolatrous worshippers are gathered outside for some religious observance, a Jew may not enter the courtyard, because of the prohibition of maris ayin: people might think that he is intending to join the worshippers.

At times when there is no such gathering, the Rema quotes a dispute as to whether one is permitted to enter the courtyard. When the courtyard leads somewhere else as well, it is permitted, according to all opinions, to traverse it to get somewhere that is permitted. Even so, it is exemplary practice to avoid entering a courtyard that includes a beis avodah zarah, when he has an alternative route that will not add significantly to the trip.

Converted church

At this point, let us discuss our next question above:

“May we purchase for our shul an abandoned building that once was a church?”

This actual question was asked of Rav Moshe Feinstein (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim I #49). A Catholic church had suffered a fire over twenty years before, and the building was subsequently renovated for use as a school. Subsequently, the school building was destroyed, again, and all that remains of the building now is a shell, with no indication of its previous use. May one purchase the property for use as a shul?

As Rav Moshe notes, the background to the shaylah is not new. Let me provide an introduction.

The halachic authorities discuss the following question: A gentile donated wax candles to his church, but they were never used. May these candles be used in a shul? The Chasam Sofer ruled that they may, since they were never used for idolatrous practice (Shu’t Chasam Sofer, Orach Chayim #42, quoted by Mishnah Berurah 154:44).

What is the law if these candles had been used in the church, and were then sold by the priest? Is a Jew permitted to use these candles? The authorities rule that one is permitted to use the candles for private, non-mitzvah use, but they may not be used in a shul (Shulchan Aruch and Rema, Orach Chayim 154:11). Why is this so?

Although the candles were used for idolatrous purpose, the fact that the priest sold them constitutes this to be an act called bitul, nullifying the prohibition of avodah zarah, which permits using these candles for secular purposes. However, one may still not use them to perform a mitzvah, such as to kindle them in shul, for the Shabbos lights, the Chanukah lights or to enable someone to study Torah (Magen Avraham; Elyah Rabbah 154:15).

By this logic, it would seem that a converted church should not be used for any mitzvah, and certainly not for a shul. This is, indeed, the conclusion of Rav Moshe Feinstein, although he acknowledges that there are those who disagree, as I will now explain.

May one pray in a church?

A prominent, early acharon, Rav Eliyahu Mizrahi, was asked concerning the following: A shul had been used for some sinful activity, and now people were spreading a rumor that one is no longer permitted to daven there. The Mizrahi, as he is usually called, ruled that this was an error in halachah. In his responsum on this topic, he wrote the following: “What they think is in error. According to their mistaken notion, one would never be permitted to pray in the house of any of the Greeks (his way of referring to the Eastern Orthodox Christians, as opposed to the Moslem population where he lived), since they usually have in their homes statues of Jesus and his mother, with a fire burning underneath, and the smoke rises from the fire, which qualifies as straightforward idol worship… Nevertheless, it is permitted for us to rent houses from them and pray in the houses, notwithstanding the fact that we know that they had worshipped idols in the house previously. If this were prohibited, we would be forbidden to pray in the Beis Hamikdash, since the Greeks brought idols inside, prior to the Chanukah miracle (Shu’t Rav Eliyahu Mizrahi #81).

Indeed, why is it permitted to pray inside the Beis Hamikdash after it was made into a house of idol worship? The Magen Avraham (154:17) explains that this is permitted because the building itself was never worshipped. For the same reason, perhaps a church building can be treated more leniently than the leftover wax, which may not be used for a mitzvah, since the wax itself was used for avodah zarah worship.

However, other authorities prohibit using as a shul what was once a church building (Elyah Rabbah), contending that one may pray in such a building only on an occasional basis. Although the Beis Hamikdash was used on a permanent basis, there is a halachic difference between using a building that was originally intended for idol worship, which one may daven in only after it is no longer being used and, even then, only occasionally, and the Beis Hamikdash, which, although used for idolatry, does not lose its kedushah.

A further question is raised on the opinion of the Mizrahi from a Tosafos (Megillah 6a s.v. Teratiyos). The Gemara there states that the Roman teratiyos will become places used for the public teaching of Torah. Tosafos notes that some explained that these were buildings used for idol worship, and that the correct text of the Gemara should be tartachiyos, which means houses of shame. Tosafos, however, rejects this interpretation, explaining that it is prohibited to study Torah in houses used for idol worship. He explains that the word teratiyos to mean theaters, places that the Roman people gathered for social, but not idolatrous, purposes. This Tosafos appears to hold that a building used for idolatry should not be used for kedusha. (Obviously, the Beis Hamikdash is not the same, although Tosafos does not explain why.)

Rav Yaakov Ettlinger, the great German nineteenth-century posek (often called by the title of his magnum opus, the Aruch Laneir, a classical commentary on much of Shas) was also asked a similar question, which is published in his collection of responsa, called Shu’t Binyan Tziyon. Aside from halachic interest, the teshuvah has historical interest, since it is dated 5618 (1858) to a Rav Avraham Asch of New York City, and would be an unusual instance of a pre-civil-war halachic correspondence.

A community requires the acquisition of a building to use as a beis medrash, and they are having difficulty finding an appropriate facility. They have found a building which was originally built as a residence, but was then sold for use as a church. The many years that it was used as a church, the worshippers did not bring any icon inside the building. The building has now been sold, and Rabbi Asch and his congregation would like to purchase this building for their beis medrash/shul.

The Binyan Tziyon notes that, according to the Mizrahi, this is surely permitted. Nevertheless, based on the opinion of Tosafos, the Binyan Tziyon is inclined to prohibit purchasing this building as a shul. However, he rules that if the situation is extenuating, they may use the building for their shul, relying on a combination of several lenient reasons: (1) the opinion of the Mizrahi, (2) the gentiles never brought an icon into the building, and (3) it was not built, originally, to be a church (Shu’t Binyan Tziyon #63).

The Mishnah Berurah writes that the accepted practice is to permit allowing a church building to be converted into a shul, but only when no icon or idol had ever been brought into the building (Biur Halachah s.v. Neiros). If an idol was ever brought into the building, one may not, subsequently, use this building as a shul.

Rav Moshe notes that although the prevalent practice in America was to purchase church properties and renovate them into shullen, he concludes that this is not permitted. However, he does permit this when the building will require a complete renovation, such that its original structure is no longer recognizable. In this instance, he concludes that the newly renovated building has no stigma.

Conclusion

Our belief in Hashem is the most basic of mitzvos. Praiseworthy is he who stays far from idols and their modern substitutes and directs his heart only to Hashem.

*Although this was an actual question, the name has been changed.

 

Of Umbrellas and Eruvs

umbrellasQuestion #1: Umbrellas and Eruvs

“Why can’t I use an umbrella on Yom Tov or on Shabbos within an eruv? Is it a mitzvah to get wet?”

Question #2: My Shabbos Nap

“May I shade an area for my Shabbos nap by throwing a blanket on top of some lawn chairs?”

Question #3: Cocktail Torah

“May I place a cocktail umbrella on top of a drink on Shabbos?”

Answer: The original sunscreen

The umbrella, or parasol, was invented in the eighteenth century and came into use very quickly as a simple and practical way to be protected from the rain and the harshest rays of the sun. Shortly after its invention, we already find discussion among great halachic authorities whether this “new apparatus” could be used on Yom Tov or Shabbos in a location where carrying is permitted. Before analyzing their positions, we need to discuss the laws regarding the construction of an ohel on Shabbos and Yom Tov.

Building and roofing

One of the 39 melachos, categories of work that the Torah forbids on Shabbos, is boneh, constructing (Mishnah Shabbos 73a). A subheading, or toldah, of boneh is making an ohel kavua, which translates literally as creating a permanent roof or shelter (Rambam, Hilchos Shabbos 10:13). Constructing an ohel arai, a “temporary” roof, on Shabbos or Yom Tov, was not forbidden by the Torah, but was prohibited by Chazal, our early Sages. Now we need to define:

  1. What is considered a permanent ohel that is prohibited min hatorah?
  2. How do we define a temporary ohel, so that we know what is prohibited because of a rabbinic injunction?
  3. What type of covering, if any, is permitted?

What is an ohel kavua?

Based on how the Rif (Shabbos, beginning of Chapter 20), the earliest of the great halachic codifiers, presented the topic, most respected authorities understand him to rule in the following way: Virtually anything that covers an empty area at least a tefach (about three to four inches) long, a tefach wide and a tefach high is halachically considered a permanent ohel. This “roof” does not need to be connected to the ground in any way. According to this approach, assembling such a covering is a violation of Torah law, even if the ohel is intended to exist for only a short period of time. The defining line between a permanent ohel and a “temporary” one (ohel arai), which was not prohibited by the Torah but only by the Sages, is that an ohel kavua has a “roof” that is one tefach squared, whereas an ohel arai’s “roof” is narrower than a tefach.

If the ohel is not flat on top, but peaked, yet it widens to a tefach squared within three tefachim of its peak, it is also an ohel kavua that is prohibited, min hatorah, to assemble on Shabbos. Only if it is very narrow on top and does not widen at all, or only widens at a lower point, does it qualify as an ohel arai, whose construction is prohibited only because of rabbinic injunction.

Thus, according to this opinion, throwing a blanket over a few lawn chairs so that you can crawl underneath to play or relax violates a Torah prohibition. Even those who hold that this does not violate a Torah law agree that it is prohibited because of a rabbinic injunction.

We can already answer one of the questions asked above: “May I shade an area for my Shabbos nap by throwing a blanket on top of some lawn chairs?”

According to all opinions, this is prohibited. Some opinions hold that this is prohibited min hatorah.

What is permitted?

When is it permitted to make a temporary ohel?

According to this opinion, there are two situations in which a temporary cover, roof or tent may be assembled on Shabbos or Yom Tov.

  1. When the area being covered is less than a tefach in height (see Shu’t Noda Biyehudah. Orach Chayim 2:30, s.v. Vehinei; Nimla Tal, Boneh, 15). Covering an area this low is not considered creating a “roof.”
  2. When the ohel is very narrow — less than a tefach wide — and it is attached to something to make it easier to open and close (see Shabbos 138a). Since the area being covered is less than a tefach wide, it is not considered an ohel area min hatorah. We mentioned above that covering such an area is usually still prohibited, because of a rabbinic injunction. However, when there is some form of hinge to make its opening and closing easier, or any other indication that the ohel is meant to be opened and closed frequently, Chazal permitted its use on Shabbos or Yom Tov.

In addition, if a temporary ohel exists from before Shabbos or Yom Tov, it is permitted to open and close it. It is also permitted to make the ohel wider (Eruvin 102a).

A differing approach

Not all authorities accept this approach that assembly of any “roof” over an area of a tefach squared is an ohel kavua prohibited min hatorah. Others rule that anything temporary is prohibited only because of a rabbinic injunction (Mishnah Berurah 315:34). This latter approach contends that any temporary ohel that is hinged, or has some other indication that it is meant to be opened and closed regularly, may be opened and closed on Shabbos, even when it covers an area a tefach squared. Thus, some authorities rule that one may open and close the hood of a baby carriage on Shabbos, since it is clearly meant to be closed temporarily, and it is hinged to facilitate its opening and closing (Chazon Ish, Orach Chayim 52:6). Other authorities are less lenient, requiring that opening the hood on Shabbos is permitted only when it was open the width of a tefach before Shabbos (Magen Avraham 315:4; Shu’t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 4:105:3; Ketzos Hashulchan 120:4).

London, 1782

One of the first internationally distinguished authorities to discuss whether one may use an umbrella on Yom Tov or Shabbos is the Noda Biyehudah, Rav Yechezkel Landau, renowned posek hador and Chief Rabbi of Prague (Shu’t Orach Chayim, 2:30). Sometime in late 1782, as the American Revolution was beginning to wind to a close, Rav Leib Hakohen, a talmid chacham in London, sent a missive to the Noda Biyehudah. Their correspondence was not about how the redcoats and their Hessian mercenaries were getting by in the western hemisphere, but about important halachic matters. Rav Hakohen wrote that he felt that one may not use an umbrella on Shabbos, but that he had sent the question to a different, unnamed posek who permitted it. Rav Hakohen was still not comfortable with the lenient approach and, therefore, wrote to the Noda Biyehudah, presenting the two reasons why the first rav had ruled leniently. (Based on his level of scholarship, we may assume that the first rav was not from the American colonies.)

The first reason to permit use of umbrellas on Shabbos and Yom Tov was this posek’s opinion that an ohel must cover a specific, defined area, and an item which is constantly being moved from place to place, such as an umbrella, does not qualify as an ohel. The permitting rabbi substantiated this position on the basis of his understanding of Rashi (Shabbos 138b s.v. ela) that an item meant only to cover a person does not qualify as an ohel for the purposes of the laws of Shabbos. This is based on the following:

The Gemara rules that a type of felt hat called a siyana may not be worn on Shabbos if its brim is a tefach wide. Rashi explains that the Gemara’s conclusion that a wide-brimmed siyana may not be worn on Shabbos is because of concern that it will be blown off, and when the wearer retrieves it he may come to carry it in a public area, thus desecrating Shabbos.

The posek questioned why Rashi did not prohibit wearing a siyana on Shabbos because of making an ohel arai on Shabbos, since the brim is a tefach wide. The posek answered that since a hat is meant only to shelter a person who moves, this does not qualify as an ohel, which he defines as something that shelters a location. He rallied further evidence substantiating the truth of this principle by noting that, regarding the laws of tumas ohel, the Mishnah mentions several items, a bird in flight, fluttering cloth, or a ship that is sailing, that are not considered an ohel because they are in motion (Ohalos 8:4).

The second reason to permit the umbrella was based on the fact that it is hinged, to ease opening and closing. The permitting rabbi held that any temporary covering cannot possibly involve a Torah prohibition — the issue with an umbrella is only whether opening and carrying it violates the rabbinic injunction of an ohel arai. Since an umbrella is hinged, he felt that there are two valid reasons to permit using an umbrella on Yom Tov and on Shabbos within an eruv, although he admitted that some of the evidence for his position might be refutable.

However, Rav Hakohen felt that the reasons to be lenient were not sufficient and therefore referred the question to the Noda Biyehudah.

First response: Prague, 1783

On the eighteenth of Shevat, 5543 (1783), the Noda Biyehudah responded to Rav Hakohen, disputing both reasons of the permitting rabbi. He pointed out that careful analysis of the sources would reach the opposite conclusion. The Noda Biyehudah explained that there are many other ways to understand what Rashi wrote, such that they do not prove that something covering only a person is not an ohel. Furthermore, most authorities disagree with Rashi and, indeed, understand that wearing a siyana is prohibited on Shabbos because of the laws of ohel.

The Noda Biyehudah reports that several years previously, when the umbrella was first introduced to Prague, he taught publicly that it is strictly forbidden to use it on Shabbos, and that the prohibition might be min hatorah. He bases his approach on the Rif’s opinion that it is forbidden, min hatorah, to create any ohel that covers an area that is a tefach squared, which will certainly forbid the use of an umbrella. The Noda Biyehudah mentions that the majority of the people of Prague do not use umbrellas on Shabbos, in accordance with his ruling. He contends that, notwithstanding the fact that other rishonim (Rosh, Shabbos 20:2) clearly dispute the Rif’s definition of ohel, the Rif’s opinion should not be disregarded. Furthermore, in this instance, the Rambam (Hilchos Shabbos 22:29) may agree with him. Thus, we have two of the three great halachic codifiers (the Rosh being the third) ruling that a roof or awning constructed for very short term use may be prohibited min hatorah, if it is more than a tefach squared. This description seems to fit an umbrella very accurately. The Noda Biyehudah concludes that, indeed, the Rosh may be the only early authority that disputes this conclusion of the Rif, and that even the Rosh would prohibit use of an umbrella on Shabbos, albeit only because of the rabbinic injunction on an ohel arai. Many other authorities accept the Noda Biyehudah’s analysis of the topic (Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chayim 301:113; 315:12; Shu’t Sho’el Umeishiv 3:2:42).

Nineteenth century Bratislava

On the other hand, the Chasam Sofer (Shu’t Orach Chayim #72) saw the responsum of the Noda Biyehudah and took issue with his analysis of the topic. In an undated halachic essay, the Chasam Sofer, posek hador of his generation and rav of Pressburg, concludes that although he does not recommend using an umbrella on Shabbos, he is not convinced that it is prohibited, and feels that if it is, it should be only because of rabbinic injunction, and not because it violates Torah law.

The Chasam Sofer first contends that no authorities hold that any type of temporary construction is prohibited min hatorah. Thus, he disputes those who interpret that the Rif and the Rambam hold that a temporary cover may be prohibited min hatorah. Second, the Chasam Sofer contends that something movable cannot be prohibited because of boneh, since all construction in the mishkan, which is the source of the melachos of Shabbos, was not movable. Third, there is no Torah concept of ohel unless the covering has walls that reach the ground. To sustain the last position, he notes that the Rif, himself, implies that this is a defining factor of an ohel kavua.

The Chasam Sofer contends that once he has established that an umbrella cannot possibly be an ohel according to Torah law, opening or carrying it on Shabbos is not even prohibited because of rabbinic injunction, because of its hinges, which are meant to facilitate its use. The Chasam Sofer thus concludes that although he does not advise using an umbrella on Shabbos, there is no technical violation in using it. He permits asking a gentile to open an umbrella on Shabbos for one to use, implying that he sees no problem at all with carrying it afterwards (obviously within the confines of an eruv). Several prominent halachic authorities follow this approach and permit use of an umbrella on Shabbos (Beis Meir, Orach Chayim 315; Daas Torah 301:40).

A lawn umbrella

We should note that the arguments raised by the Chasam Sofer as to why an umbrella is not an ohel may not apply to a lawn umbrella. This apparatus is meant for use in a backyard or garden, to provide shade against the sun. It is often left in its open position for months on end, or even indefinitely. Several prominent authorities contend that any ohel meant to remain open for more than a week is considered permanent, which would make it a Torah prohibition to open it (Pri Megadim, Mishbetzos Zahav 315:8; Eishel Avraham 315:1; Tiferes Yisroel, Kilkeles Shabbos 34:2).

In addition, since a lawn umbrella is not moved from one location to another, another of the Chasam Sofer’s reasons to permit a regular umbrella does not apply. Although one of the Chasam Sofer’s reasons, that an ohel is prohibited only when its “walls” reach the ground, applies to a lawn umbrella, it is difficult to rely only on this justification to permit opening a lawn umbrella on Shabbos. Therefore, there is strong reason to prohibit opening a lawn umbrella, even by a gentile, even according to the Chasam Sofer.

The position of the Chazon Ish

A third approach to the question of whether an umbrella may be used on Shabbos and Yom Tov is presented by the Chazon Ish (Orach Chayim 52:6). Although he concludes that it is prohibited to use an umbrella on Shabbos, his ruling is based on completely different considerations. He rejects the Noda Biyehudah’s position, contending that since umbrellas are meant for temporary use and are hinged for this purpose, opening them on Shabbos is not considered creating an ohel, just as opening and closing a door on Shabbos is not prohibited as an act of construction, since both are meant to be opened and closed frequently. The Chazon Ish rejects the position that any rishonim disagree with this definition of ohel. As I mentioned above, upon this basis, the Chazon Ish permits opening and closing the hood of a baby carriage on Shabbos. However, as I noted above, most authorities do not understand the Rif’s position as the Chazon Ish does, and consequently rule that one should leave the hood open at least a tefach before Shabbos.

Notwithstanding that the Chazon Ish rejects the Noda Biyehudah’s approach to the topic, he prohibits using an umbrella on Shabbos for two other, completely different reasons. First, he suggests that opening an umbrella might be prohibited because of tikun maneh, a general prohibition of completing items, which is a subcategory of the melachah of makeh bepatish. He then rules that opening an umbrella is forbidden as a takanas chachamim established by the Torah leadership of the recent generations to reinforce the sanctity of Shabbos.

Umbrellic conclusion

As I noted above, most authorities contend that there are rishonim who prohibit min hatorah creating a temporary ohel on Shabbos, if it is a tefach wide. It is indeed widespread custom to prohibit carrying an umbrella on Yom Tov or Shabbos, either because we are concerned about the prohibition of ohel, or, perhaps, because of the reasons advocated by the Chazon Ish.

A cocktail umbrella

At this point, I would like to discuss the last of our opening questions: “May I place a cocktail umbrella on a drink on Shabbos?”

A cocktail umbrella is a tiny umbrella used to decorate a glass. Since it does not resemble an ohel in any way, opening it on Shabbos is permitted.

Conclusion

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch (Shemos 20:10) notes that people mistakenly think that work is prohibited on Shabbos in order to provide a day of rest. This is incorrect, he points out, because the Torah does not prohibit doing avodah, which connotes hard work, but melachah, which implies purpose and accomplishment. On Shabbos, we refrain from constructing and altering the world for our own purposes. The goal of Shabbos is to emphasize Hashem’s dominion as the focus of creation by refraining from our own creative acts (Shemos 20:11). By refraining from building for one day a week, we acknowledge the true Builder of the world and all that it contains.

 

This Is the Way We Wash Our Hands

washing cupQuestion #1: Cup after restroom?

“Do I need to use a cup when I wash upon leaving the restroom?”

Question #2: Netilah review

“Could you please review the basic laws of netilas yadayim?”

Question #3: Lost count

“Why do we wash our hands sometimes once, sometimes twice and sometimes three times?”

Answer:

Parshas Chukas tells us that after the passing of Miriam, the Jews were without water. Many daily activities, as varied as arising in the morning, praying, eating bread, clipping nails and exiting the lavatory require that we wash our hands, either before or afterwards (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 4:18, 92:7; Yoreh Deah 116:4, 5). The details of the laws that each of these washings requires vary, which people find confusing. Sometimes we are told to wash our hands alternately, and other times just the opposite. Sometimes we are told that the water may not have been used before, and other times there is no such requirement. Sometimes we require three washings, others only one; and still others do not even require water. This article will provide an overview explaining the basic various reasons and why there are, therefore, different halachic requirements, and then conclude with a brief guide to the instructions for the most complicated type of washing, the one required before eating bread.

Our first step to sort out this confusion is to categorize the different reasons why we wash under the following headings:

  1.          For hygiene
  2.        To remove ruach ra — harmful spiritual influence

Certain activities or situations cause a ruach ra, an impure spirit, that is removed by washing in a prescribed fashion.

III.       For kedushah

Whereas the aim of both categories mentioned thus far is to remove contaminants, either physical or spiritual, the purpose of other ablutions is to create sanctity. An example is the rinsing of hands and feet by the kohanim prior to performing the service in the Beis Hamikdash.

  1. For taharah

Washing hands prior to eating bread has many special requirements, and this is because this mitzvah is for yet a fourth reason, as I will soon explain.

Reasons make differences

Each of the different reasons for washing has its own laws. This explains why the requirements vary, as we will soon see.

Not mutually exclusive

The four reasons that we have now learned are not mutually exclusive – meaning that sometimes we wash our hands for several of these rationales. When this happens, the laws applicable for each reason must be met.

Here is one example: Cleansing one’s hands after using the lavatory is required both for hygiene and because of ruach ra. I will soon demonstrate how this explains some of the halachos that apply to that particular washing.

Our next step is to understand the basic requirements of each type of washing and the differences that exist between them.

  1. Hygiene

Halachah requires that a person clean his hands when they are dirty, or when he has touched his shoes or the parts of the body that are sweaty or are usually covered. When cleaning is only because of hygiene and not for any other objective, several lenient halachic rulings apply that do not apply when washing for one of the other reasons. The most obvious difference is that washing for hygienic reasons does not require water. It is sufficient to clean the soiled area in any way that one chooses, such as by rubbing one’s hands on a rough surface, by using alcohol or a disinfectant cleaning gel. The requirement is simply to insure that the dirt has been removed (Magen Avraham 92:5; Machatzis Hashekel 4:17; Kaf Hachayim 4:61). Similarly, washing for hygiene does not require cleaning hands a specific number of times.

Another lenience is that someone who will not be davening or studying Torah is not required to wash his hands immediately, but can clean them when it is convenient to do so (Mishnah Berurah 4:41).

On the other hand, there is a stringency that applies to washing for physical hygiene. Halachah prohibits reciting a brocha, praying or studying Torah until the dirt has been removed (Magen Avraham 227:2).

  1. For ruach ra

A second category of ablutions includes those performed to remove ruach ra, spiritual contaminants that may be harmful if not removed properly. These include: Washing after clipping fingernails or toenails, after giving or receiving a haircut, after leaving the lavatory or mikveh, after visiting a cemetery or attending a funeral.

As opposed to hygienic cleaning, washing to eliminate ruach ra requires using water (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 4:18) and necessitates washing until the wrist (see Kaf Hachayim 4:61). Another stringency that applies when removing ruach ra is that one should wash one’s hands as soon as possible, in order to purge the ruach ra without delay (see Magen Avraham 4:18 and Pri Megadim; Elyah Rabbah 4:12; Kaf Hachayim 4:63).

Yet another stringency is that one should be careful not to touch food without first washing away the ruach ra. However, if one did touch food prior to washing, the food may be eaten (Shu’t Shevus Yaakov 2:105; Artzos Hachayim, Eretz Yehudah 4:4; Darchei Teshuvah 116:35).

On the other hand, there are a few lenient rulings that apply when one is washing only to remove ruach ra: One may recite brachos, pray or study Torah even though one is contaminated by ruach ra and has not yet had the opportunity to wash properly. A second leniency that applies is that, with the exception of washing negel vasser and those ablutions required from having had contact with meisim (after visiting a cemetery or attending a funeral), these washings do not require pouring on one’s hands from a vessel (see Kaf Hachayim 4:61). If one does not have a vessel handy, he may wash negel vasser without one (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 4:7 and commentaries).

More than one reason

I mentioned above that after using the bathroom one washes both because of hygiene and because of ruach ra. Since each of these reasons has its own requirements, washing after using the lavatory carries both of them. For the reasons of hygiene, it is sufficient to wipe one’s hands or use a gel sanitizer. However, this cleansing does not remove ruach ra. Therefore, if there is no water available, one may wipe or rub one’s hands or use alcohol or gel sanitizer to clean them. This cleaning will allow someone to recite asher yatzar, daven, and learn Torah. Notwithstanding the fact that his body is still contaminated by a ruach ra that he should try to remove as soon as possible, this does not prevent him from reciting brachos, praying or studying Torah. Someone in this situation should wash his hands properly with water at his first opportunity.

Different levels of ruach ra

There are different varieties of ruach ra, some more potent than others. Therefore, some activities require pouring water three times on each hand, whereas others require only one pouring on each hand (Seder Hayom, quoted by Kaf Hachayim 4:61). Clipping nails, and giving or receiving a haircut involve a lighter ruach ra that requires only one washing (Elyah Rabbah 4:12). On the other hand, after leaving the lavatory or mikveh, visiting a cemetery or attending a funeral one should wash each hand three times.

When washing one’s hands more than one time to remove ruach ra, one should wash them alternately – first the right hand, then the left, then the right, and so on until each hand has been washed three times (Ben Ish Chai, Tolados 16; Kaf Hachayim 4:62). Both right-handed and left-handed people should follow this procedure (Mishnah Berurah 4:22).

Even when the type of ruach ra requires that we wash hands three times, one who is able to wash his hands only once may touch food afterwards (Biur Halachah 4:2 s.v. yedakdeik).

By the way, a person who clips someone else’s nails does not need to wash his hands (Kaf Hachayim 4:92). However, the person whose nails were clipped must wash his hands. Therefore, someone who clips the nails of a child who is old enough to touch food

should wash the child’s hands afterwards (Kaf Hachayim 4:92). A barber needs to wash his hands after giving a haircut, since he touches people’s hair (Kaf Hachayim 4:92).

III. For reasons of kedushah

Yet another reason for washing is to create more kedushah, similar to the kohanim washing their hands and feet before performing the service in the Beis Hamikdash (see Ramban, Shemos 30:17). For example, the kohein washes his hands until his wrists before duchening. Another activity that requires washing because of kedushah is davening shemoneh esrei (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 233:2). The laws germane both to washing before eating and washing prior to bensching are also because of kedushah, although in both instances there are other reasons to require these ablutions.

Brocha for washing

Whereas washing for hygiene or to remove ruach ra never requires a brocha, some washing performed because of kedushah does require a brocha.

I mentioned before that some activities require washing for more than one reason. Washing negel vasser in the morning is one such activity, which is required for three different reasons:

Hygiene: When a person is sleeping, he touches private and sweaty parts of his body.

To remove ruach ra: According to the Zohar (Parshas Vayeisheiv), a ruach ra descends upon a person while he sleeps and remains on his hands when he wakes up. Washing his hands three times removes it.

For kedushah: Every morning a person is like a kohein in the Beis Hamikdash who must wash from the Holy Laver (the kiyor) before beginning the daily service (Shu’t Rashba #191).

Because we wash negel vasser for all three reasons, the rules of negel vasser include stringencies from each of the categories.

Since the washing is for hygiene, one may not study Torah or recite prayers or blessings before washing.

Since it is to remove ruach ra, one should wash as soon as he can.

Since it is for kedushah, one recites a brocha upon this washing!

  1. Washing for bread

I am categorizing netilas yadayim, washing prior to eating bread, as a fourth category, because its laws are so different from the rest of the washings. For example, this washing has special instructions as to what type of water may be used, and requires that one use a vessel and dry one’s hands afterwards.

In the days of Shlomoh Hamelech, our Sages created a special mitzvah that we wash our hands in a very specific way prior to eating bread. There are two reasons for this takkanah:

  1. Chazal required that we wash hands in a very specific way prior to eating or handling terumah. To make certain that this takkanah was observed correctly, they extended the requirement to anytime a person eats bread.
  2. To create increased sanctity prior to eating our daily bread.

The reason Chazal required washing hands before handling terumah is because of a concept called tumas yadayim. Handling different items contaminates the hands to the extent that should they touch terumah, eating the terumah would be prohibited. This tumah is removed by washing one’s hands in a prescribed way. A minimum of a revi’is of water must be used, and must be poured by a person from an intact vessel meant for holding liquid. The entire hand that must be washed should be rinsed the first time one pours water onto the hand. If the water poured the first time did not wash the entire hand, one must dry the hand thoroughly and begin the procedure again.

With this overview, let us now study the proper procedure for netilas yadayim.

Chatzitzah, intervening substances

Prior to washing one’s hands, one should check that there are no intervening substances adhering to his hands. Any item that one prefers to remove, such as dough under one’s nails, will invalidate the netilas yadayim if it is not removed beforehand (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 161:1 and Mishnah Berurah 161:1).

Unused water

The water used for netilas yadayim must not have been previously used. For example, water that was used to rinse clothes or dishes or to cool off a baby bottle may not be used afterwards for netilas yadayim (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 160:2). Similarly, water kept in a basin that a workman used to cool off his tools may not be used for netilas yadayim (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 160:3).

Potable

Although water used for netilas yadayim does not have to be drinkable, one may not use water that is so salty, bitter or malodorous that a dog would not drink it (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 160:9).

Vessel

Netilas yadayim must be poured from a vessel large enough to hold at least a revi’is, approximately three ounces of liquid (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 159:1). A cup that is cracked or leaky may not be used (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 159:1). One may also not use a cap or other item that is not meant to hold water, even if, physically, it can (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 159:4).

Optimally, one should pour a revi’is of water on one’s hand each time he washes. As a rule, the Gemara advises using water generously when pouring for netilas yadayim, noting that this is a segulah to avoid poverty (Shabbos 62b).

Koach gavra

Washing for netilas yadayim requires that the water be poured over one’s hands by a person. This is called koach gavra, literally, the direct force of a person. Turning on a faucet and placing one’s hands under the water does not accomplish netilas yadayim for two reasons. First of all, the water did not fall from a vessel, and, second of all, the water was not poured directly by a person.

Wrist or knuckles?

The early authorities dispute whether netilas yadayim requires washing until the wrist or only until the knuckles. The Shulchan Aruch rules that one should preferably wash until the wrist (Orach Chayim 161:3). This means that when pouring water for the first time onto one’s hand, one must be careful to pour in such a way that every part of the hand gets wet.

Positioning the hands

The Gemara (Sotah 4b) requires that one hold one’s hands upright, fingers aloft, while washing netilas yadayim. There are numerous reasons mentioned in halachic authorities for these requirements. Explaining them all and the differences in halachah that result would take us beyond the scope of our article, so I will suffice by saying the following:

According to almost all opinions, holding the fingers upright while washing is not required when someone uses at least a revi’is of water and is careful that the water touches every part of his hand. Since most halachically concerned people wash their hands this way, I will leave the details of this discussion for another time.

It is preferred that even someone who washed his hands the way we just described should pour water onto his hands a second time. One should pour twice on one’s right hand, and then twice on one’s left hand (Chayei Odom 40:1; Mishnah Berurah 162:21). (This contrasts with washing because of ruach ra, where we wash our hands alternatively, as we learned above.) If a hand was washed with less than a revi’is of water, then halachah requires that one wash the hand a second time (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 162:2).

Rubbing hands together

After washing the hands, one should rub one’s hands together (Tosefta, Yadayim 1:2). This is done in case there is some dirt on them that has not already been removed (Rema, Orach Chayim 162:2, as explained by the Bach). This last step is not essential (Mishnah Berurah 162:24). One should be careful not to rub one’s hands together until both hands have been properly washed.

Drying

The Gemara teaches that one’s hands must be wiped dry after washing (Sotah 4b).

Washing wet hands

Must one’s hands be completely dry before you begin washing netilas yadayim? The authorities dispute what the halachah is in this case.

As we learned above, someone who, when pouring water for the first time, rinsed only part of his hand, must dry his hand thoroughly and begin the procedure over. The authorities dispute whether one must always have dry hands when beginning netilas yadayim or whether one may perform netilas yadayim even though his hands are wet or the handle of the cup is wet. According to the Magen Avraham (162:10) and the Mishnah Berurah (162:27), one may begin washing netilas yadayim, even though one’s hands are wet. The Chazon Ish (Orach Chayim 24:20) disagrees, contending that one’s hands must be dry when one begins washing netilas yadayim. Therefore, the handle of the cup must also be dry or, alternatively, one may grip the handle of the cup with a towel or some other item that keeps his hands dry until he washes netilas yadayim.

Optimal washing

Based on what we have learned, we can now present the optimal way to wash one’s hands prior to eating bread.

First one should check that one’s hands are clean. If they are not, he should clean them, and, according to the Chazon Ish, dry them. According to the Chazon Ish, the handle of the cup and the faucet handle must be dry, or one should be careful to touch the handles using something that will keep the hands dry.

One should pour twice over all parts of one’s right hand, and then pour twice over all parts of one’s left hand. The first pouring on each hand should be with at least a revi’is of water. One should use water generously and rub the hands together after washing. One then recites the brocha of al netilas yadayim prior to drying one’s hands.

Conclusion

The Gemara teaches that the rabbinic laws are dearer to Hashem than the Torah laws. This helps explain why there is such a vast halachic literature concerning this particular mitzvah.

 

Making Dairy Bread

The menu of what Avraham served his guests included both dairy and meat, provided an opportunity to discuss the question concerning whether one may prepare milchig bread.bread

Question #1: The whey to celebrate Shavuos!

“May I add dairy ingredients to bread that I intend to serve with a milchig meal on Shavuos?

Question #2: No pareve bread in sight!

“Is one permitted to eat the local bread when everyone knows it is milchig?”

Answer:

Each of the above actual questions involves our understanding the prohibition created by Chazal against making bread containing either dairy or meat ingredients. In several places, the Gemara quotes a beraisa that prohibits using milk as an ingredient in dough, and states further that, if one added milk to dough, the bread produced is prohibited from being eaten at all, even as a cheese sandwich. This rabbinic injunction is because of concern that one might mistakenly eat the dairy bread together with meat. The Gemara rules the same regarding baking bread directly on an oven hearth that was greased with kosher beef fat – it is prohibited to eat this bread, even as part of a corned beef sandwich (Pesachim 30a, 36a; Bava Metzia 91a; Zevachim 95b). If one greased a hearth with beef fat, one must kasher it properly before one uses it to bake bread.

Is one ever permitted to make dairy or meaty bread?

The Gemara (Pesachim 36a) permits an exception – one may make dairy dough if it is ke’ein tora, “like a bull’s eye.”

Bull’s eye

What does the Gemara mean when it permits dairy or meaty bread made like “a bull’s eye?” Does this mean that some bakers double as excellent sharpshooters?

We find a dispute among early Rishonim as to what the Gemara means when it says that one can prepare a dough like a bull’s eye. Rashi explains it to mean that it is the size of a bull’s eye — one may bake a small amount of dairy or meaty bread that one would eat quickly. Since there will be no leftovers, we are not concerned that one may mistakenly use the dairy bread for a corned-beef sandwich or spread cream cheese on the fleishig bread.

Shapely bread

Other authorities explain that this refers to the shape of the dough. The Gemara means that if one shaped the dough like a bull’s eye or some other unusual shape, the heker (here, distinguishable appearance) accomplishes that no one will mistakenly eat it with meat or dairy (Rif, Chullin 38a in his pages; Rambam, Maachalos Asuros 9:22).

How do we rule?

Although these are clearly two different ways of explaining the Gemara, the authorities conclude that there is no dispute in halachah between these two approaches (Hagahos Shaarei Dura, quoted by Beis Yosef, Yoreh Deah 97; Shulchan Aruch ad loc.). In other words, although in general one may not make dairy or meat bread because of the above-mentioned concerns, one may prepare a small amount of dairy or meaty bread. One is also permitted to make dairy or meaty bread with an unusual shape.

All the bread is fleishig

The Maharit, one of the great halachic authorities of sixteenth-century Israel, discussed the following situation: A specific town was located at quite a distance from any source of vegetable oil. As a result, vegetable cooking oil was expensive, and the townspeople, therefore, used beef tallow for all their baking, cooking and frying. (Apparently, the local cardiologist felt that the populace had a cholesterol deficiency – no doubt because they observed the Mediterranean Diet.) Indeed, the people in town always treated their bread as fleishig, since they assumed that it always included beef fat as an ingredient. The Maharit first discussed whether this provided sufficient reason to permit consuming local bread in this town. Does the fact that all local residents know that their bread is fleishig preempt the takkanas chachamim prohibiting production of meaty bread?

Hometown advantage

The Maharit questioned whether this is sufficient reason to be lenient, since we still need to be concerned about visitors from out of town who are unaware that the local bread is fleishig. Indeed, some visitors had eaten local bread with cheese, not realizing that it contained a meat product. The Maharit concluded that local circumstances are insufficient grounds to permit fleishig bread – and that the local bread is permitted to be eaten only if it has a heker, or only if people make small quantities of bread (Shu’t Maharit 2:18). This means that commercially-made bread in this town would be made exclusively with unusual shapes.

However, a later authority disputed this conclusion of the Maharit. Rav Yonasan Eibeschutz, in his commentary on Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah (Kereisi 97:2), mentions that in his town and environs all the white bread was made with milk, and the accepted custom was to bake, purchase and use even large quantities of the bread without any heker. He notes that, according to the Maharit, this bread is prohibited, yet he concludes that, notwithstanding the Maharit’s opinion to the contrary, the bread is permitted, since everyone knows that the local bread is dairy and no baker in town produces pareve bread. He closes by mentioning that someone who is G-d fearing should not use the local dairy bread, although it is technically permitted.

Thus, whether one may permit milchig bread because all local bread is always milchig, or one may permit fleishig bread because all local bread is always fleishig is a dispute among prominent authorities.

Commercial bakery

A later authority, the Kesav Sofer, permitted a commercial bakery to produce milchig or fleishig bread, provided that the bakery sold only a small amount of bread to each customer. He contended that since the consumer only owns a small quantity of bread, we are not concerned how much the bakery actually produced.

Local bakery

In this context, I would like to share an anecdote. Many years ago, I was posed a question by a rav living in a small community that had no kosher bakery. He had the opportunity to provide a hechsher to a non-Jewish-owned bakery, which in his community would be very advantageous, since he would not need to be concerned about the bakery being open on Shabbos or on Pesach, or about hafrashas challah (all issues that I have discussed in other articles). The owner of the bakery was willing to meet all the ingredient requirements of the hechsher, and, in addition, was located within walking distance of the frum community, so that random inspections could take place even on Shabbos. The question germane to our topic was that the baker baked his white bread with milk, and the rav was uncertain whether and how to proceed with providing a hechsher to this bakery. According to the above-quoted Kesav Sofer, the rav could even provide a hechsher on the entire bakery, including the bread, and instruct people that they may purchase the milchig bread only in small quantities that would be eaten within a day.

However, according to the Maharit, the dairy bread should be treated as non-kosher. The rav’s decision was that the hechsher sign in the bakery would list which pastry items in the bakery are supervised as kosher/dairy, and which pastry and bread items are certified kosher/pareve, and that the sign would imply that the bakery sells breads that are not certified kosher because they are dairy.  In this approach, he followed common custom not to rely on the Kesav Sofer’s leniency.

Are you in shape?

I mentioned above that one may make dairy or meat bread if it has an unusual shape. How unusual must the shape be?

As we can imagine, we are not the first to ask this question. In his above-mentioned responsum, the Maharit discusses what type of heker the halachah requires. He notes that there are two ways to explain what the heker accomplishes. One possibility is that the heker is so that people who know the bread is fleishig won’t forget and mistakenly eat it with cheese. The second possibility is that the heker is necessary so that people from outside the area, who are unfamiliar with the fact that the bread is fleishig, will stop and ask why is this bread different from all the other bread in the rest of the world. In other words, according to the second approach, the heker must be sufficient to draw people’s attention to it, so that they ask why this bread looks so strange.

The Maharit subsequently demonstrates that this exact point, what is the reason for the heker, is the subject of a machlokes harishonim. The Tur explains that the reason for the heker is so that the person remembers that this bread is milchig or fleishig, meaning that he already knew that he has made milchig or fleishig bread, and the heker is so that he does not make a mistake and accidentally eat the milchig bread with meat or eat the fleishig bread with dairy. This type of reminder does not require a major heker that would cause someone to ask: “Why does this bread look so strange?”

This approach of the Tur is quoted by a later authority, when the Rama (in Toras Chatas 60:2) states that the heker is so that one does not forget that he made milchig or fleishig bread.

Why is this bread so different from all other breads?

On the other hand, the second approach is mentioned in even earlier sources. When discussing the heker necessary in making milchig or fleishig bread, the Rashba explains that the heker must attract attention, so that people will notice that the bread looks different.  The heker will cause people to ask, before eating, why the bread’s appearance is so unusual (Rashba, Toras Habayis Hakatzar, 3:4, page 86b). Other later authorities, such as the Levush (Yoreh Deah, 97:1) and the Chachmas Adam (50:3) quote the Rashba’s approach. To quote the Chachmas Adam, “One may make dairy bread if one changed the shape of the bread significantly, enough that one would not eat meat with it.”

Baked for sale

The Maharit notes that a difference in halachah results from this dispute between the Tur and the Rashba concerning whether an item with a minor heker can be sold. If the reason is so that people will ask, there would need to be a major heker. Otherwise, one would not be permitted to make the bread. If the reason for a heker is to remind people that this bread was made dairy, a minor heker will suffice, as long as these breads are not sold, since visitors will eat them as guests in the houses of people who will know to serve them only with fleishig meals.

Bread for Shavuos

In a different ruling, the Rama again demonstrates that the heker is so that someone not forget that the bread he made is dairy. The Rama rules that one may make challohs for Shavuos with dairy ingredients, since the challohs for Shavuos are shaped long whereas the regular Shabbos and Yom Tov challohs are round. According to the approach of the Rashba, this difference in shape would not suffice, since someone visiting would not ask why the challohs are shaped long, and would not notice anything unusual to attract his attention. However, according to the Tur, who holds that the heker is so that one not forget, this difference in shaping is sufficient.

We have thus learned some of the laws of producing dairy and meaty breads. Stay tuned for the continuation of this article, as we continue exploring this meaty topic!!

 

Holding the Torah Upright

According to some rishonim, the mitzvah to raise the Torah (hagbahah) is mentioned in parshas Ki Savo.

Question #1: Holy Roller

“I was in a shul, and when they took out the sefer Torah, they opened it and carried it all around the shul, showing everyone with a yad where the beginning of the keri’ah is. I had never seen this before, and was wondering if this is a common practice. Is it mentioned in halachic sources, or does it simply manifest someone’s enthusiasm?”

Question #2: Reversing the Trend

Is there any halachic basis for the custom on Simchas Torah of reversing the sefer Torah so that the writing faces away from the magbiah?

Answer: Needing a Lift

The mitzvah of hagbahah is to raise the sefer Torah and show it, so that everyone in the shul can see the writing of the sefer Torah. The prevalent, but not exclusive, tradition among Ashkenazim is that this mitzvah is performed after each sefer Torah is read, whereas the exclusive practice among edot hamizrach (Jews of Middle Eastern and Sefardic descent) is that this lifting is performed prior to reading from the Torah. Among the edot hamizrach, some open the sefer Torah and lift it up immediately upon removing it from the Aron Kodesh, whereas others first bring the sefer Torah to the shulchan and then perform hagbahah, prior to calling up the kohen for the first aliyah (Ben Ish Chai II, Tolados #16). Some even perform hagbahah both before and after the reading (ibid.; Kaf Hachayim 134:17) As a matter of curiosity, it is interesting to mention that some Chassidim and Perushim in Eretz Yisrael observe the practice of the Sefardim and perform hagbahah before the Torah is read. When following this procedure, the magbiah does not sit down with the sefer Torah after he has completed his job, but places it down on the shulchan from which it is read.

As we will soon see, both customs – performing hagbahah before the reading and performing it after the reading – can be traced back to antiquity.

The earliest description of hagbahah

The earliest extant description of the procedure of hagbahas haTorah is found in Masechta Sofrim, as follows:

“One must raise the sefer Torah when reciting the words Shema Yisrael… and then raise it again upon reciting Echad Elokeinu Gadol Adoneinu Kadosh Shemo… Immediately, [the person performing the mitzvah] opens the sefer Torah to a width of three columns and lifts the sefer Torah — showing the writing to all the people standing to his right and his left. Then he moves the sefer Torah in a circular motion before him and behind him — because it is a mitzvah incumbent on all the men and women to see the text of the sefer Torah, to bow, and to say Vezos HaTorah asher sam Moshe lifnei Bnei Yisrael” (Masechta Sofrim 14:11-14).

What are the sources for the divergent customs?

As noted by the Beis Yosef and the Gra, the Masechta Sofrim describes performing hagbahah before keri’as haTorah. Nevertheless, the venerated practice of the Bnei Ashkenaz is to do hagbahah after we read the Torah (see Darkei Moshe 147:4; the practice is quoted at least as early as the Sefer HaItur, who lived over eight hundred years ago). This custom is based on the Gemara (Megillah 32a) that states, “After ten people read the Torah, the greatest of them should roll up the Torah,” which refers to hagbahah and implies that it is performed after the Torah has been read. Similarly, a different passage of Gemara (Sotah 39b) mentions that the person reading the haftarah should be careful not to begin until the rolling of the Torah is complete. This implies that the hagbahah and subsequent rolling closed of the Torah is performed immediately prior to the haftarah, and not before the Torah is read.

Two places in Shulchan Aruch

This difference in practice resulted in an anomalous situation. Because the Tur was an Ashkenazi, he included the laws of hagbahas haTorah after the reading of the Torah, in Chapter 147 of Orach Chayim. On the other hand, the Shulchan Aruch, who follows Sefardic practice, mentions hagbahas haTorah before the rules of the reading of the Torah in Chapter 134:2, yet he also discusses the laws of hagbahas HaTorah where the Tur placed the halachah in Chapter 147. As a result, the halachos of hagbahas haTorah are located in two different places in Shulchan Aruch, some in Chapter 134, others in Chapter 147, with the laws of keri’as haTorah sandwiched between.

Why do Ashkenazim do hagbahah afterwards?

Logically, it would seem that we should display the text of the sefer Torah prior to reading the Torah, so that people observe the section that is about to be read, as, indeed, the Sefardim do. Why do Ashkenazim delay displaying the words of the Torah until after the reading is concluded?

The authorities present the following basis for what seems to be an anomalous practice: In earlier generations, there were unlettered people who mistakenly assumed that it was more important to see the words of the Torah during the hagbahah than it was to hear the reading of the Torah. As a result, many of these people would leave shul immediately after the hagbahah and miss the reading. Therefore, the practice was introduced to postpone the hagbahah until after the reading was concluded — which now caused these people to stay in shul and hear the reading of the Torah (Shiyarei Keneses Hagedolah 134:2, quoted by Kaf Hachayim 134:17).

Are there any other ramifications to this dispute?

Indeed, there is another interesting ramification that results from the Ashkenazic practice of delaying the hagbahah until after the reading is concluded. Should one notice a pesul in the sefer Torah that does not require taking out another sefer Torah, but precludes reading from this sefer Torah until it is repaired, one should not recite the words Vezos HaTorah and Toras Hashem temimah when being magbiah the sefer Torah (Kaf Hachayim 134:17, quoting Shu’t Adnei Paz #13).

What is the proper way to do hagbahah?

A sefer Torah is written on sections of parchment that are stitched together. The person who is performing hagbahah should make sure that the stitching is in front of him before he lifts the Torah, so that if the sefer Torah tears from the stress of the lifting, the stitching, which is easy to repair, will tear and not, G-d forbid, the parchment itself (Megillah 32a, as explained by the Tur; see esp. Aruch HaShulchan 147:13; cf., however, how Rashi explains the Gemara).

“Reading” the Torah

When the sefer Torah is raised, each person in shul should try to actually read the letters of the sefer Torah. This causes a bright, spiritual light of the Torah to reach him (Arizal, quoted by Magen Avraham 134:3). Some have the practice of looking for a word in the sefer Torah that begins with the same letter as their name (Ben Ish Chai II, Tolados #16). In most Sefardic communities, someone points to the beginning of the day’s reading while the sefer Torah is held aloft for all to see. Some congregations consider this a great honor that is given to the rav or another scholar (Kaf Hachayim 134:13). This may be the origin of the custom that some people have of pointing at the sefer Torah during hagbahah (cf. Yalkut Me’am Lo’ez, Parshas Ki Savo, 27:26).

In order to make sure that everyone sees the text of the sefer Torah, some Sefardic congregations have the magbiah carry the open sefer Torah around the shul to display its holy words to every attendee (Kaf Hachayim 134:13).

In which direction is the Torah held?

The usual Ashkenazic practice is that the magbiah holds the sefer Torah with its writing facing him. Some congregations have the practice that, on Simchas Torah, the sefer Torah is lifted in the reverse way, so that the writing is away from the magbiah. Most people think that this is a “shtick” as part of the Simchas Torah celebration, but this is not halachically accurate.

The Bach (147) contends that the original approach was to hold the sefer Torah with the writing visible to the people — as we do on Simchas Torah. This is because when the magbiah lifts the sefer Torah the way we usually do, his body blocks the view, and for this reason, the Maharam and other great Torah leaders held the Torah with its text away from them when they performed hagbahah. Presumably, the reason this practice was abandoned is because it is much more difficult to do hagbahah this way, and there is concern that someone might, G-d forbid, drop the sefer Torah while doing it. Nevertheless, in places where the custom is to perform hagbahah this way on Simchas Torah, the reason is to show that on this joyous occasion we want to perform hagbahah in the optimal way.

The more the merrier!!

The above-quoted Masechta Sofrim requires that the magbiah open the sefer Torah three columns wide. The authorities dispute whether the magbiah may open the sefer Torah more than three columns. In other words, does Masechta Sofrim mean that one should open the sefer Torah exactly three columns, or does it mean that one should open it at least three columns, so that everyone can see the words of the Torah, but that someone may open it wider, should he choose? The Magen Avraham (134:3) suggests that one should open it exactly three columns, although he provides no reason why one should not open the sefer Torah more, whereas the Mishnah Berurah says that it depends on the strength of the magbiah — implying that if he can open it more, it is even better. It is possible that the Magen Avraham was concerned that opening the sefer Torah wider might cause people to show off their prowess and cause the important mitzvah of hagbahas haTorah to become a source of inappropriate pride — the exact opposite of the humility people should have when performing mitzvos.

Lift and roll!?

Most people who perform the mitzvah of hagbahah roll open the sefer Torah to the requisite width and then lift it, whereas others unroll it while they are lifting it. Which of these approaches is preferred?

The Shaar Efrayim discusses this issue, and implies that there is no preference between the two approaches, whereas the standard wording of Masechta Sofrim is that one should unroll the sefer Torah first.

Reciting Vezos HaTorah

When the sefer Torah is elevated, everyone should bow and recite the pasuk Vezos HaTorah asher sam Moshe lifnei Bnei Yisrael (Masechta Sofrim 14:14). Indeed, the Chida cites sources who hold that since Chazal mention saying Vezos HaTorah, it has the status of a davar shebekedushah and can be said even if one is in the middle of birchos keri’as shema (Kenesses Hagedolah, quoted by Birkei Yosef 134:4). Subsequently, the Chida wrote a lengthy responsum in which he concluded that reciting Vezos HaTorah does not have the status of a davar shebekedushah, and therefore should not be said in a place where it interrupts one’s davening (Shu’t Chayim She’al 1:68).

Vezos HaTorah should be said only while facing the words of the sefer Torah (Be’er Heiteiv 134:6, quoting several earlier sources). If one began reciting Vezos HaTorah while facing the writing of the sefer Torah, one may complete the pasuk after the text of the sefer Torah has been rotated away from one’s view (Shaar Efrayim).

In many siddurim, after the sentence Vezos HaTorah asher sam Moshe lifnei Bnei Yisrael, five words are added: Al pi Hashem beyad Moshe (Bamidbar 9:23), as if this is the continuation of the verse. Many halachic authorities question adding the words Al pi Hashem beyad Moshe, since these words are from a different passage of the Torah (Aruch Hashulchan 134:3). Others are concerned for a different reason, because these last five words are not an entire verse and they question the practice of reciting partial verses of the Torah. Indeed, many old siddurim do not quote this addition, and many halachic authorities contend that one should not recite it.

Who should be honored with hagbahah?

The Gemara (Megillah 32a) states “Ten people who read the Torah, the greatest of them should roll the Torah,” which refers to the mitzvah of hagbahah, since the magbiah rolls the Torah both prior to displaying it, and when he closes it, afterwards. The Baal HaItur quotes two opinions as to whom the “ten people” refers. Does it mean the attendees of the current minyan, and that the greatest of this group should be the one who is honored with the mitzvah of lifting and displaying the Torah? Or, does it means according the honor of lifting and displaying the Torah to the greatest of the ten people who were involved in that day’s reading (the seven who had aliyos, the maftir, the baal keriyah, and the person who recited the Targum after each pasuk was read, which was standard procedure at the time of the Gemara).

The halachic authorities rule according to the first approach, that one should honor the greatest person in the shul (Gra; Mishnah Berurah 147:6). They also refer to another practice, which was to auction off the mitzvah of hagbahah to the highest bidder (Tur; Shulchan Aruch). However, where the hagbahah is not auctioned, one should provide the honor to the greatest Torah scholar in attendance (Machatzis Hashekel). The prevalent practice of not necessarily offering hagbahah to the greatest scholar is in order to avoid any machlokes (Shaar Efrayim; Mishnah Berurah). Nevertheless, in a situation where no machlokes will develop, one should certainly accord the mitzvah to the greatest talmid chacham who can properly perform hagbahah. Whatever the situation may be, the gabbai is responsible to give hagbahah only to someone who is both knowledgeable and capable of performing the mitzvah properly.

The importance of performing hagbahah correctly

The Ramban, in his commentary on the verse, Cursed be he who does not uphold the words of this Torah (Devarim 27:26), explains that this curse includes someone who, when performing hagbahah, does not raise the sefer Torah in a way that everyone in the shul can see it properly. Apparently, there were places that did not perform the mitzvah of hagbahah at all out of concern that someone will be cursed for not performing hagbahah properly (Birkei Yosef, Shiyurei Brachah 134:2; Kaf Hachayim 134:15; Encyclopedia Talmudis, quoting Orchos Chayim). Although I certainly do not advocate eliminating the mitzvah of hagbahah, a person who knows that he cannot perform the mitzvah correctly should defer the honor, and the gabbai should offer the honor only to someone who fulfills the mitzvah properly.

You Can’t Take It with You — Moving and Removing Mezuzos

YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU!

Question #1: “We are moving residences, and I understand that I must leave the mezuzos in my old home. However, they are beautiful, mehudar mezuzos that I would like to use in my new dwelling. Is there any way that I can take these mezuzos with me?”

Question #2: “My landlord is not Jewish, but this is a neighborhood where only frum Jews are moving in. Do I remove my mezuzos when I leave?”

Question #3: As I was preparing this article, someone called me with the following actual shaylah:

“We will be spending a few days with my ailing father who lives in Israel in an assisted living facility. We can stay in an apartment in his building, but there are no mezuzos on the doors. I know that in Israel one must place a mezuzah on one’s residence, even if one stays only overnight. I can borrow mezuzos for our stay; however, may I remove them when we depart?”

Answer: The obligation of placing mezuzos is incumbent on the person living in the house; nevertheless, when vacating the premises, one is usually required to leave the mezuzos in place. If one wants money for the mezuzos that are being left behind, the new resident is required to pay for them (Rama, Yoreh Deah 291:2).

In explaining these laws, the Gemara teaches:

When a Jew rents a house to a fellow Jew, the tenant is responsible to affix the mezuzos. However, when the tenant vacates, he may not remove them. On the other hand, a Jew who rents a residence from a gentile removes the mezuzos when he leaves (Bava Metzia 102a).

The Gemara subsequently describes a horrible calamity that befell someone who removed his mezuzos when he was prohibited from doing so. (If you are anxious to know what happened, I refer you to the Gemara.) Thus, removing mezuzos involves not only a halachic violation, but also a significant safety concern (Tzavaas Rabbi Yehudah HaChasid,addendum #7).

BUT WHY NOT?

It is difficult to understand why halachah requires one to leave the mezuzah behind: When a resident vacates a dwelling, he has no obligation to guarantee that mezuzos remain on its doorways. So why can’t he take his mezuzos with him?

There are actually two reasons, each requiring its own introduction, why one may not remove the mezuzos.

APPROACH #1: DISDAIN OF MITZVOS – BIZUY MITZVAH

The first approach derives from the concept of bizuy mitzvah, treating a mitzvah object inappropriately: Removing the mezuzah is considered improper abandonment of a mitzvah object.

But if this is so, shouldn’t it apply to other mitzvos as well? For example, may I remove tzitzis from a garment without due cause?

REMOVING TZITZIS FROM A GARMENT

The Gemara debates whether one may remove the tzitzis of one garment to tie them onto another four-cornered garment. The Amora Rav prohibits moving tzitzis from one garment to another, contending that this is bizuy mitzvah. His contemporary, Shmuel, permits moving the tzitzis from one garment to another, since they are still utilized for a mitzvah (Shabbos 22a). Both Rav and Shmuel prohibit removing the tzitzis when he will not use them on another garment as an act of bizuy mitzvah (She’iltos, Shlach; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 15:1). That is, removing tzitzis from a garment without placing them onto another garment is considered disrespectful. We follow Shmuel’s ruling, and therefore one may remove tzitzis from one garment to place them on another. One may also replace tzitzis with more mehudar ones, even if he will not use the removed tzitzis, since upgrading to a higher standard demonstrates increased respect for the mitzvah, the exact opposite of bizuy mitzvah (Taz, Orach Chayim 15:2).

REMOVING THE MEZUZAH

Just as Shmuel ruled that one may remove tzitzis from one garment to place them on another, but one may not remove them if one is not planning to place them now onto another garment, we can now appreciate why one may not remove a mezuzah upon vacating a residence, since this demonstrates disrespect for the mezuzah that is being forcibly retired from its role (She’iltos, Parshas Shlach; Tosafos, Shabbos 22a, s.v. Rav; Ritva, Bava Metzia 102a). (It would seem that one can derive from this that it is prohibited to forcibly retire someone from a position, or that one should strongly reconsider laying off employees, but we will leave this topic for a different time.) We will soon discuss whether the prohibition applies, even when one intends to use the mezuzah elsewhere.

By the way, the authorities dispute whether the new tenant, entering a house with mezuzos already on the door, recites a bracha, Baruch Atta Hashem Elokeinu Melech haolam asher kideshanu bemitzvosav vetzivanu ladur babayis sheyesh bo mezuzah (Magen Avraham 19:1; Shu”t Rabbi Akiva Eiger, end of #9). The reason why this bracha sounds so unfamiliar is that it refers not to placement of a mezuzah on the doorpost, but to entering a new dwelling where the mezuzah is already present. In practice, most late authorities follow the ruling of the Chida that one does not recite a bracha on a mitzvah if one is not actively performing the mitzvah (Birkei Yosef, Orach Chayim 19:2).

MOVING THE MEZUZAH FROM ONE HOUSE TO ANOTHER

At this point, we should note an important factor. If the only reason that one may not remove the mezuzah is due to bizuy mitzvah, is one permitted to remove a mezuzah from the “old” building to install it in one’s new residence? Indeed, those authorities who prohibit removing the mezuzah only because of bizuy mitzvah explain that one may remove a mezuzah from one building to install it in a new place (She’iltos, Shlach; Ritva, Bava Metzia 102a).

APPROACH #2: DIVINE PROTECTION

Most authorities explain that there is an additional reason, unique to mezuzah, why one must leave the mezuzah behind even if one wants to use it elsewhere. Although the primary reason a Jew observes any mitzvah is to fulfill Hashem’scommandment, the mitzvah of mezuzah has an additional benefit because it protects our homes and our families from mishap. Removing the mezuzah eliminates this Divine shield, exposing one to tragedy and misfortune (Tosafos, Bava Metzia 101b s.v. lo; Shitah Mekubetzes, Menachos 41b, note 24; Tosafos, Shabbos 22a s.v. Rav in his second answer). Because of this, there is a widespread practice to check one’s mezuzos if, G-d forbid, one is experiencing difficulties in one’s home, since these problems might indicate that the mezuzos are not providing the adequate protection that they should.

This approach understands that even though someone vacating a house is no longer responsible for there being mezuzos on the doors, removing them reduces the Divine protection on the domicile for the next Jewish person moving in. We now comprehend why removing the mezuzah may expose someone to danger, as the Gemara records.

If the property belongs to a gentile, however, one may, and according to many authorities must, remove the mezuzah, since removing the mezuzah is not depriving it of fulfilling a mitzvah, and the protection provided is only for Jews. Similarly, one may remove tzitzis from a garment that will no longer be used to fulfill a mitzvah (Rama, Orach Chayim 15:1 and Magen Avraham ad loc.).

HOW DO WE RULE?

The accepted halachic practice recognizes both concerns, forbidding one from removing the mezuzah to a new location. However, in an extenuating circumstance where someone is moving to a new residence and has no access to a kosher mezuzah, one may rely on the first opinion and take the mezuzah with him (Birkei Yosef, Yoreh Deah 291:2).

YOU CAN TAKE IT WITH YOU

Despite our conclusion that one should generally not remove the mezuzos when vacating a house, there are instances when one is required to do so. As I mentioned above, the Gemara notes that one who rents from a gentile should remove the mezuzos upon leaving (Bava Metzia 102a). The authorities dispute whether this is simply permission to remove the mezuzah, or whether one is required to do so. Rav Yaakov Emden (Shaylas Yaavetz 2:121) rules that one must remove the mezuzah, out of concern that the gentile will treat it inappropriately, whereas the Aruch HaShulchan (Yoreh Deah 291:3) implies that it is permitted, but not actually required, to remove the mezuzah under such circumstances.

CHANGING OWNERSHIP

What is the halachah if a Jew vacates a residence that he was renting from a gentile, but a different Jew is moving in? May/should the first Jew remove the mezuzah when he leaves, since the owner of the building is non-Jewish, or must he leave the mezuzah for the new Jewish resident?

Rav Yaakov Emden discusses a similar case: A Jew was renting a house from a gentile who then sold the house to a different Jew. The tenant will be moving out before the change of ownership takes effect. Should he remove the mezuzah before he leaves, since the house is still owned by a gentile, or is this forbidden, since a Jew will soon be acquiring the house and moving in? On the one hand, we do not want to leave the house mezuzah-less, yet there is a concern that the gentile owner may deface or steal the mezuzah before the Jew moves in.

Rav Emden rules that the tenant should remove the mezuzah before he vacates, out of concern that the gentile may treat the mezuzah inappropriately. He also quotes the Maharil, who requires removing the mezuzah because one may not give a mezuzah to a gentile. However, if the gentile’s sales contract with the purchasing Jew specifies that the mezuzah is included, the tenant should leave the mezuzah (Shaylas Yaavetz 2:121).

GENTILE LANDLORD, JEWISH TENANT

Rav Emden’s case is when the gentile has sold the property to a new Jewish owner. What is the halachah if the property remains the gentile’s, but he usually rents to Jews? Should one leave the mezuzah for the next Jewish occupant or not?

Beis Lechem Yehudah (Yoreh Deah 291:1) rules that one should remove the mezuzos, even if the gentile landlord usually rents to Jews, as long as the next Jewish tenant is not moving in immediately.

We can now answer one of our opening questions: “My landlord is not Jewish, but this is a neighborhood where only frum Jews are moving in. Do I remove my mezuzos when I leave?”

This depends. If a new tenant is moving in immediately, one should leave the mezuzos for him. However, if there will be a time lag before he moves in, one should remove the mezuzos — out of concern that, in the interim, they may be abused.

There are other instances when one is required to remove the mezuzah and, accordingly, no calamity will result from doing so. If there is concern that someone may damage or deface a mezuzah that is left behind, one must remove the mezuzah. For example, if the residence will be painted, the mezuzos must be removed to prevent their becoming invalidated. Even if the landlord is Jewish and the new tenant is also Jewish, if the apartment will be painted between residents, the vacating tenant should remove the mezuzos to save them from damage, which is certainly bizuy mitzvah, and no harm will befall him for doing so. Once he has removed the mezuzos for a legitimate reason, he is not required to return them. The new tenant is now responsible to affix new mezuzos.

Similarly, if there is concern that the mezuzah will be stolen or otherwise abused, one should remove it.

NEW RESIDENT HAS HIS OWN MEZUZOS

As I mentioned earlier, although the first resident is required to leave his mezuzos behind, he is technically permitted to charge the new tenant for them. What is the halachah if the new tenant wants to install his own mezuzos rather than purchase or receive gratis those of the previous tenant? Does this present any halachic problem, and is there any basis for a safety concern in this instance?

The contemporary authorities assume that if the new resident wants to install his own mezuzos, he may remove the “old” mezuzos owned by the previous tenant and put up his own. In this instance, one is not leaving the house unprotected, since new mezuzos are immediately placed on the doorposts. Based on this ruling, there is a common practice of having the new tenant, or his agent, remove the old mezuzos and install the new ones.

One should be careful to remove the “old” mezuzah before installing the new one, since having two mezuzos on one’s door violates the prohibition of adding to the Torah’s mitzvos, bal tosif (Pischei Teshuvah 291:2). Just as one may not add a fifth parsha to one’s tefillin when the Torah requires four, and just as a kohen may not add a fourth bracha to thethree brachos of duchening, so may one not add a second mezuzah to the doorpost when the Torah requires only one. For the same reason, one who moves to a house that has an old, painted over mezuzah on the door must remove that mezuzah, even if it is probably invalid, and not just affix a kosher mezuzah alongside it.

MEZUZAH SWITCH

At this point, we can now address our first question:

“We are moving residences, and I understand that I must leave the mezuzos in my old home. However, they are beautiful, mehudar mezuzos that I would like to use in my new dwelling. Is there any way that I can take these mezuzos with me?”

The answer: One may remove the nice mezuzos one has on his door and replace them with kosher, non-mehudar mezuzos. Since one is leaving the house with a kosher mezuzah, this suffices to protect the house (Da’as Kedoshim, Yoreh Deah 291:1).

At this point, we can discuss our third question, concerning someone using a house in Eretz Yisrael who borrowed a mezuzah. It is indeed true that Chazal required a person to place a mezuzah on his doorpost in Israel, even if he stays only overnight. However, may he remove the mezuzah when he vacates?

In this case, there is an interesting complication, since the person borrowed a mezuzah and must return it. Assuming that the landlord and/or future residents are/will be Jewish, he cannot leave the house without a mezuzah. He can, of course, resolve the problem by putting up replacement mezuzos for the borrowed ones, but this is a solution that he wants to avoid.

The problem was resolved by contacting the management of the building. The management was interested in having a mezuzah on the door of the residence and took care of the matter.

MEZUZAH REWARDS

Aside from fulfilling a mitzvah commanded by Hashem, the mitzvah of mezuzah serves to remind us constantly of His presence, every time we enter and exit our houses. In addition, the Gemara teaches that someone who is meticulous in his observance of the laws of mezuzah will merit acquiring a nice home (Shabbos 23b). We thus see that care in observing this mitzvah not only protects one’s family against any calamity, but also rewards one with a beautiful domicile. May we all be zocheh to be careful, always, in our observance of the laws of mezuzah and the other mitzvos, and reap all the rewards, both material and spiritual, for doing so!