May a Cohen Go to the Dentist?

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This article was originally published in Yated Neeman.

Yankel Katz (*Names are fictitious) called me recently with a very surprising shaylah:

“I am scheduled to have a dental implant placed in my mouth.
My dentist told me that the procedure may require the insertion of cadaver bone
around the implant. Since I am a cohen, I
immediately realized that I may have a serious halacha problem on my hands, or
more accurately, in his hands and my mouth. May I have these products inserted?
May I even go into the dentist’s office knowing he has these remains (parts of
a corpse) on hand? Maybe I cannot even enter the building?”

I admit that I was more than a bit incredulous that human
remains are commonly used today in basic dentistry and medicine. I did some
research and discovered that indeed, Yankel’s information is accurate. Many
forms of dental, oral, podiatric and other kinds of surgery utilize cadaver
derived products. Surgeons and dentists use these human products (typically
bone, skin, and heart muscle) in various grafting procedures. Similarly, many
podiatrists use human remains in the construction of foot implants. Because of
this, most periodontists (gum specialists) and
dentists specializing in implants store human muscle and bone in their offices.
Thus, Yankel’s shaylah is realistic:
May a cohen enter an office building
knowing that there is probably a dental or foot clinic somewhere in the
building that contains human remains? Does this prohibit a cohen from freely entering large office buildings? Furthermore, a
non-cohen who causes a cohen to become tamei will also be violating
the Torah. Obviously, the ramifications of these shaylos are ominous, and the potential repercussions could be
catastrophic for people employed in most cities. Because of these
considerations, I researched this shaylah
with utmost seriousness.

There are three potential halacha issues involved in this shaylah:

I. Benefiting From Human Remains (Issur Hana’ah)

II. The Mitzvah of Burial

III. Tumah.

To answer these questions, I first needed to gather some
factual information. I began by asking Yankel’s dentist the following
questions:

1) How extensively are these bones
and muscle used?

2) How much material does a
dentist keep in his office?

I received the following answers:

1) Every periodontist and oral
surgeon has this material in his office. In addition, many general dentists
have it too if they perform gum surgery or implant surgery.

2) There is no practical way to answer
this question accurately. Specialists such as oral surgeons probably have a
lot. I keep between 2-10cc. They are usually stored in 0.5, 1, and 2cc bottles.

And now some background to the
halachic shaylos involved:

I. BENEFITING FROM A CORPSE

May one benefit from a corpse or
from human remains?

The Gemara rules that one may not benefit from a corpse (Avodah Zarah 29b). However, the Gemara
does not discuss whether this prohibition applies only to the remains of a Jew
or also to those of a non-Jew.

Why should it make a difference?

The Torah pasuk
teaching that one may not benefit from a corpse refers to a Jew. Thus, many poskim conclude that the prohibition is
restricted to the remains of a Jew (Tosafos
and Rashba, Bava Kamma
10a; Nekudos
HaKesef
and Gra, Yoreh Deah 349; Shu’t Radbaz #741; Mishneh LaMelech, Hilchos Aveil 14:21). Others rule that remains of
either Jews or non-Jews are equally forbidden (Shu’t Rashba 365; Shulchan
Aruch
, Yoreh Deah 349:1). Still
others compromise between these two positions, contending that the prohibition
to use a gentile cadaver is Rabbinic, whereas not using a Jewish corpse is
prohibited min haTorah (Pischei Teshuvah ad loc.).

In a circumstance of pikuach
nefesh
one may of course benefit, as is true with virtually all mitzvos of
the Torah. The question is that tooth replacement is not a case of life
threatening urgency. However, it may be very important to allow the patient to
use the best quality dental implant.

To quote Yankel’s dentist, himself an observant Jew:

“In my opinion, the severity of this
halachic issue should hinge on the detriment caused by tooth loss. Clearly
losing one tooth or even all the teeth will not result in death. However, tooth
loss often results in dietary/nutritional issues. People who have a difficult
time chewing will not have a proper diet. Although people who lose their teeth
can still eat, they tend to eat soft foods, which are usually high in
carbohydrates and low in protein, vitamins, and minerals. Foods that are high
in protein, vitamins, and minerals, such as meat, poultry, grains, and fresh
fruits and vegetables, tend to be harder to chew. Consequently, people who eat
mainly soft foods may become undernourished. I have seen many cases where
people receiving their first set of dentures lose a lot of weight due to the
difficulty involved in learning how to use them. Some people adapt and those who
do not often seek implants if they can afford it. The only thing preventing
most people from having implants is the exorbitant cost, since insurance does
not usually pay for them at this time.”

At this point, I think it is important to explain the
difference between dentures and implants. (I admit that I was unaware what
implants are until I was asked this shaylah.)

DENTURES VERSUS IMPLANTS

Dentures are removable appliances that replace some or all
of the teeth. They are usually not firm enough to allow a proper bite and chew,
and thus a patient using dentures usually regains only a very partial ability
to chew. In addition, they are often uncomfortable.

To install dental implants, the
dentist utilizes a surgical screw to which he cements crowns or bridges.
Alternatively, he uses the implants as anchors to hold complete dentures in
place. In either instance, the resultant bite is much stronger than dentures
and allows the patient an almost total ability to chew a regular diet.

Dental researchers introduced implants in the ‘60’s, and
they became mainstream practice in the ‘90’s. The last few years have seen a
huge surge in patient awareness and acceptance of the use of implants. Most
people consider them the “standard of care” for tooth replacement.

Therefore one can understand the practical importance of
using high-quality implants, assuming, of course, that no compromise of halacha
results for either the patient, the dentist, or other cohanim in the vicinity.

USE OF HUMAN TISSUE

Rav Moshe Feinstein wrote a teshuvah concerning transplanting human remains in non- lif e-threatening situations (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 1:229, 230). Clearly, one may
transplant such organs as kidneys, livers, and heart because of pikuach nefashos ( lif e-threatening
emergency). However, transplanting items such as bone, cornea, muscle, and
ligament are not usually for lif e-threatening
situations. As explained above, dental implants relieve a non- lif e-threatening emergency, although one could argue
that these situations are considered choleh
kol gufo
, where halachic rules are somewhat relaxed. Nevertheless, treating
a choleh kol gufo does not permit
violating a Torah prohibition.

We noted above that there is a dispute whether one may use
remains of a non-Jew; Rav Moshe concludes that under extenuating circumstances
one may rely on the lenient opinions. A second question now presents itself,
which is whether one may assume that the remains used are those of a non-Jew,
since using remains of a Jew is certainly prohibited min haTorah. Again, here also Rav Moshe ruled leniently that one
may assume that the remains are of non-Jewish source, since most people are not
Jewish (Mishneh LaMelech, Hil. Aveil 3:1).

NOT THE NORMAL
USE

Some poskim permit
the use of human remains for non-life-threatening emergencies because of a
different line of reasoning. The Gemara (Pesachim
25b) rules that someone who is ill, but does not have a life threatening
condition, may apply a balm made from arlah
fruit (that grow in the first three years of a tree’s growth),
notwithstanding that the Torah prohibits benefiting from such fruit.

Why is this permitted where the situation is not life
threatening?

This is because many prohibitions that are asur b’hana’ah (forbidden to benefit from),
are prohibited min hatorah only
when the prohibited item is used in its normal way. Smearing fruit on one’s
skin is not a typical, normal use. Since arlah is prohibited min
haTorah b’hana’ah
only when used in its normal way, smearing arlah fruit
as a balm involves only a rabbinic prohibition, which is relaxed for an ill
person.

However, this leniency does not apply to all prohibitions. For
example, the Torah prohibits using kilayim (that is, those of a
grapevine) min haTorah even in an atypical way. For this reason, an ill
person may not smear kilayim as a
balm, even though he may smear arlah
balm.

Where does the prohibition to use human remains fall? Is it
like arlah, and is permitted for an ill person to use in an atypical
manner, or like kilayim and prohibited.

The poskim dispute
whether the prohibition not to use human remains applies to using them in an
atypical way, Shu’t Radbaz #979 and Mishneh
L’Melech, Hilchos Aveil
14:21 are lenient, whereas Rabbi Akiva Eiger (notes
to Yoreh Deah 349) prohibits. If it is permitted, then there would be a
basis to permit the use of human remains from a Jew for someone who is ill, but
not life threatening. Rav Moshe rules that min
hatorah
one may not use human remains in an atypical way, although other poskim are lenient (Shu’t Har Tzvi,
Yoreh Deah
#277). Following the latter approach might allow using muscle
and bone even from a Jewish cadaver for implants.

However, since there are alternative sources for implants, such
as bovine tissue, it is halachically unclear whether this justifies use of
human implants when one can use non-human sources. Although some dentists feel
that the cadaver-based material is superior, others do not agree. Therefore,
someone who is considering cadaver implants should ask a shaylah from his or her Rav, whether or not one is a cohen.
In addition, although the dentist may have asked a shaylah and been told that he or she may use human implants, the
patient’s Rav may feel otherwise. Thus I believe that a frum dentist who received a psak that he must use human
tissue should advise his frum patients to ask their own shaylah.

II. THE REQUIREMENT TO BURY THE
DEAD

Is one required to bury a small amount of human remains?

The poskim dispute
how small an amount of Jewish remains requires the mitzvah of burying. Some
contend that one must bury even an amount as small as a k’zayis (Tosafos Yom Tov
to Shabbos 10:5). Others contend that
one is required to bury only that which could represent an entire body (Mishneh LaMelech, Hilchos Aveil 14:21). However, it seems that all agree that there
is no Torah mitzvah to bury the remains of a gentile, except due to tumah concerns. Thus, this question
would not affect our shaylah once we
assume that the remains involved are of a non-Jew.

III. TUMAH AND A COHEN

A human cadaver (meis)
of either Jew or gentile conveys
tumah when a person touches remains
or carries them. Although these halachos do not affect most Jews nowadays, a cohen is still forbidden to come in
contact with human remains in a way that he will become tamei.

Jewish remains convey tumah
through ohel, which means that a cohen may not be under the same roof or
in the same room as the remains. However, if all the doors and windows in the
room holding the remains are closed, the tumas
ohel
is probably contained within that room (see Nekudos HaKesef on Taz, Yoreh Deah 371:3; see also Shu’t Noda BiYehudah, Yoreh Deah #94).
However, there is a lesser form of tumah,
called sof tumah latzeis (lit., the tumah will eventually leave), that
extends beyond the closed doors or windows, though only in the direction that
one will eventually remove the tumah.

OHEL AND A NON-JEW

The poskim dispute
whether non-Jewish remains convey tumah
through ohel; that means, will
someone who is in the same room as non-Jewish remains become tamei? According to those who contend that non-Jewish remains convey tumas ohel, a cohen may not enter a room containing a gentile corpse or part of a
corpse. Thus, a cohen should be
careful not to enter any hospital except for a life-threatening emergency, since
there is likely to be human remains somewhere in the hospital. Similarly, a cohen may not enter a museum without carefully
verifying that it does not contain any human remains — an unusual
circumstance. According to those who contend that non-Jewish remains do not
convey tumas ohel, a cohen may enter a hospital when one may
assume that it contains no Jewish remains.

The Shulchan Aruch
rules that non-Jewish remains do not convey tumas
ohel
, yet a cohen should still be
machmir not to be in the same ohel
as gentile remains. Thus, a cohen
should not visit someone in the hospital unless there is an extenuating reason,
i.e., there is something important that only he may accomplish. Similarly, a cohen
should not enter a museum without verifying that it does not contain human
remains. [This discussion is limited to a case where the remains in the
hospital are of a non-Jew. In a situation where there are likely to be Jewish
remains in the hospital, a cohen would
be allowed to enter the hospital only for a life-threatening emergency (pikuach nefashos).]

Thus, if we assume that the remains contained in the dental
office are a non-Jew’s, then a cohen
entering the office would not entail a halachic violation, but would be something
that should be avoided (according to the above ruling of the Shulchan Aruch).
However because of other halachic factors (too complicated to explain in this
article), there is a basis to be lenient and enter the dentist’s office and
certainly the building. Personally, I would encourage the dentist to store the
remains in a way that guarantees that there is no tumas ohel, a procedure that
I will gladly explain to any dentist on an individual basis, but that is too
complicated to elucidate in this article.

WHAT ABOUT YANKEL KATZ’S
IMPLANT?

So far we have discussed whether one may use human remains
as an implant and whether a cohen may
enter the office. Assuming that Yankel’s Rav rules that he may rely on the
remains being of a non-Jew and that one may use gentile remains, the shaylah is still not completely resolved. Because Yankel has the bone
graft installed in his mouth, he will now be touching and carrying the remains,
and a cohen may not touch or carry
non-Jewish remains. Is there any possible solution to this issue, or must
Yankel opt for a non-human product? The answer to this question lies in a
different direction.

IS THERE A MINIMUM AMOUNT OF
REMAINS THAT CONVEYS TUMAH?

Here the issue is, how small an amount still conveys tumah? Although the amount of flesh that conveys tumah is one k’zayis, the
amount of human bone that conveys tumah in this situation may be as
small as a k’se’orah, the size of a barleycorn, which is tiny (Ohalos
2:7; Rambam, Tumas Meis 4:4).

How big is a k’zayis?
The estimates of the poskim range from
as little as 3 cc. to as much as 25 cc. A dentist typically uses less than this
amount in a patient, although sometimes he might use a larger amount. Thus, one
should verify this information in order to ask a shaylah. However the
amount of bone used is certainly greater than the size of a barleycorn, thus
precluding a cohen from receiving a dental implant of human origin.

There is one other aspect about dental offices that one
should know: Some dentists keep a human skull on hand for explanation and
education. A cohen should clarify in advance before visiting a dentist whether
he is a skull-bearer, and should make similar research before scheduling an
appointment at the podiatrist and other physicians, who often also use human
remains in their surgeries or have cadaver models on hand for visual explanations.
A concerned practitioner will procure plastic replicas rather than genuine
human parts to mini miz e difficult
situations for a cohen.

A cohen has the
privilege of blessing the people, in addition to serving in the Beis HaMikdash, may it be built speedily
in our day. Concurrent with these privileges come many responsibilities,
including the requirement of avoiding tumah.
This necessitates an awareness of possible tumah
situations and being constantly aware of new developments in our rapidly
changing society.

Practical Halachos of Civil Litigation

A Jew lives his life hoping to manage his business relationships without ever resorting to litigation. Someone involved in a “misunderstanding,” should try to discuss the matter with the other party and if the matter remains unresolved, he should try discussing it with the guidance of a third party, possibly a Rav.

However, what happens if someone tried doing this and the problem remained unresolved? For such situations, the Torah commands us to establish batei din.

One may use either of two kinds of batei din. Either the parties can bring their litigation to an existent beis din or alternatively they can create an ad hoc beis din using a system called zabla. Zabla is an acronym for zeh borer lo echod, which means that each party chooses one of the dayanim who will judge the case, and then the two dayanim choose a third person to join them and form a beis din (Sanhedrin 23a). In either system, the two parties agree that they will be bound by the decision of the beis din that they use.

The Gemara (Gittin 88b) teaches that a Jew may not submit litigation against a fellow Jew to a secular court. This violation exists even if both parties agree (Ramban, beginning of Parshas Mishpatim), and is known as the prohibition against using Arkaos, secular courts. Using court systems not sanctioned by the Torah creates chillul Hashem, a desecration of Hashem’s name by implying a denial of Hashem and His Torah (Midrash Tanchuma, Mishpatim #3). Because the Torah created a system of courts, someone who uses a non-Torah source of litigation acts as if he denies the authenticity of the Torah, chas visholom, and the authority of He who commanded us to set up Torah courts.

In the words of the Rambam (Hilchos Sanhedrin 26:7), “Whoever has his case judged by non-Jewish laws or courts, even if their laws are the same (as the Torah), is a rosho. It is as if he blasphemed and raised his hand against the Torah of Moshe Rabbeinu”. (See also Rashi’s comments on Shmos 21:1). Someone who brought litigation to a secular court without halachic permission (as described later) may not serve as chazan for Yomim Norayim (Mishnah Berurah 53:82). In addition, he will invariably end up with property that is not his according to halacha and transgress the violation of gezel, stealing!

What if the Other Party Refuses to Go to Beis Din?

This problem is unfortunately neither uncommon nor recent, and apparently occurred even at the time of the Gemara (see Bava Kamma 92b, as explained by Rosh). When such an unfortunate event happens, the aggrieved party follows the following procedure: The plaintiff files with a beis din, which now summons the defendant to appear in beis din. If the defendant fails to appear in beis din or indicates that he will not appear, the beis din authorizes the plaintiff to bring his suit to secular court (Choshen Mishpat 26:2).

Under these circumstances, the plaintiff has not violated the prohibition of going to civil courts since beis din authorized his suit. Rav Sherira Gaon notes that, in his community, the custom was to summons the defendant three times before authorizing the plaintiff to sue in secular court (cited by Beis Yosef and Sma to Choshen Mishpat, Chapter 26). This is the usual practice, although it is not required.

It should be noted that even someone who was authorized to sue in secular court is still not entitled to more than he would have been entitled according to halacha. Therefore, after winning his case in secular court, he should ask a posek whether he may keep the entire award and/or how much of it he may keep.

What Happens if I am Summoned To Beis Din?

The answer is very simple: Respond to the summons. A person who receives a notification summoning him to beis din, is halachically obligated to respond. In the vast majority of cases, he has the right to request that the case be heard in a different beis din where he may feel more comfortable. He may also request that the matter be decided via zabla.

Being summoned to beis din may be an unpleasant experience, but that gives a person no right to ignore the summons.

Question I have been Asked:

“Someone told me that the prohibition against secular courts is only if the judges are idolaters. Is there any basis to this?

No. The poskim explicitly rule that it is forbidden to go to any secular court and that there is chillul Hashem every time one goes to a court that does not recognize Torah as its law system. (See for example, Tashbeitz 2:290; Chazon Ish, Sanhedrin 15:4).

May I Go to A Secular Court If the Judge is Jewish?

To answer this question I will quote the Chazon Ish: “There is no difference in halacha between going to judges who are not Jewish and going to Jewish judges who use non-Torah laws. As a matter of fact, it is far worse to go to Jewish judges who have traded away a Torah system for a worthless, vain system. Even if the city residents have accepted this court’s system and authority, their agreement has no validity. To force someone to follow this system has the status of stealing from them and raising one’s hand against the Torah given to us by Moshe Rabbeinu” (Chazon Ish, Sanhedrin 15:4). The identical ruling was issued by Rav Pesach Frank and Rav Yitzchok Herzog (see Shu”t Tzitz Eliezer 12:82).

But I Thought that Dina Di’malchusa Dina means that the Civil Law Determines Halacha in Business Matters?

This is an incorrect understanding of dina di’malchusa dina. Dina di’malchusa dina requires us to obey rules of the government such as paying taxes and obeying traffic and safety regulations, and prohibits us from smuggling and counterfeiting. Dina di’malchusa dina does not replace the civil laws of the Torah (the laws of Choshen Mishpat) that govern the relationships between Jews, nor does it supplant the responsibility incumbent upon the Jew to bring his litigation to a proper beis din.

Dina di’malchusa dina should not be confused with the following application. In some areas of halacha, particularly the contract law rules for buying and hiring, there is a concept of minhag hamakom – that normative business practice determines what is halachically accepted. For this reason, the halacha regarding sales and employee rights are often governed by what is accepted normal practice. Since normal practice is heavily influenced by secular law, the halachic practice in these areas is influenced by the secular law. This is not because halacha recognizes the secular law but because accepted business practice is influenced by secular law.

However, there will always be interpretations, questions of applicability, and various other halacha considerations that must be done via beis din. Beis din will take into account when and how to apply the rules of dina di’malchusa dina.

It should be noted that areas of halacha such as laws of inheritance are not affected by secular law at all (Shu”t Rashba quoted in Beis Yosef, Choshen Mishpat end of Chapter 26).

May a Lawyer File a Lawsuit in Civil Court on Behalf of a Jewish Client?

This is unfortunately very common. A Jewish lawyer represents a Jewish client who has litigation against another Jewish client. May the lawyer file a lawsuit in secular court? Rav Pesach Frank ruled that it is absolutely prohibited for the lawyer to file suit in secular court, and that it is a tremendous chilul Hashem to do so.

However, this situation provides the lawyer with a tremendous opportunity to perform a kiddush Hashem. He can explain to his not-yet-observant client the advantages of going to beis din – that it is less expensive and usually far more efficient. (Most frum communities have batei din where a din torah can be arranged within days.) Of course, to an observant Jew, the only selling point necessary is that this is what Hashem wants us to do. Certainly, the reward for proceeding according to halacha is millions of times greater than anything gained by going against halacha. However, since the non-observant client may not appreciate these considerations, the lawyer may convince his client by pointing out advantages of going to beis din that the client understands.

If the defendant fails to respond to the summons of the din torah, then the beis din will authorize the plaintiff and his lawyer to take the case to secular court. This action will be permitted because it was authorized by the beis din, as I explained above.

What Can I Do if I think that the Defendant will not Obey the Ruling of Beis din?

Beis din proceedings can be made be binding on the parties using an “arbitration agreement” that is recognized in civil law. Once the parties agree to use beis din for their arbitration, if one party subsequently fails to honor the psak of the beis din, beis din will enforce its ruling through the use of secular authorities if necessary. This will be binding in secular court because the litigants accepted the authority of the beis din as binding arbitration.

May One Testify in Secular Court That a Case was already Decided in Beis din?

Yes, it is permitted to do. Furthermore, it is even permitted and a mitzvah for the dayanim of the beis din themselves to testify in secular court regarding their adjudication. There is an interesting discussion in poskim whether it is a lack of kovod haTorah for the dayanim to testify as witnesses in a secular court. The Chasam Sofer permits it as long as the secular court is honest (Shu”t Chasam Sofer, Choshen Mishpat #3).

May A Lawyer Defend A Client in Secular Court?

If someone is sued in secular court, it is a mitzvah to defend his case to the best of one’s ability, since the suing party violated halacha by suing in civil court.

What Should I Do if the Defendant is Not Jewish?

A Jew is permitted to sue a non-Jew in secular court. Therefore, a lawyer can represent a Jew in his suit against the non-Jew.

What Happens If I Live Far Away from a Beis din?

The simplest solution is to have the representative of a beis din (usually called the mazkir beis din) contact the defendant to explain to him that he is required to have the matter adjudicated by a beis din. If the defendant refuses to accept the authority of beis din, then the beis din will authorize the plaintiff to submit his matter to a secular court.

Can I Submit the Matter to an Arbitration Board?

If beis din has authorized that the matter be brought before a secular court, then it is permitted to submit the matter to an arbitration board as well. (There is a dispute among poskim whether one may submit a case to a non-Jewish arbitration board without authorization from beis din. Shach 22:15 and Aruch HaShulchan 22:8 seem to permit this if the arbitrator bases his decision on common sense and fairness, rather than on a non-Jewish system of law; Nesivos HaMishpat prohibits even such a circumstance. However, a simpler solution to this issue is to summon the defendant to beis din, and get permission to adjudicate the matter through a secular court or arbitration board.)

Unfortunately, there are even frum people who sometimes assume that legal rights and responsibilities are governed by secular law. A Torah Jew must realize that Hashem’s Torah is all-encompassing, and that every aspect of his life is directed by Torah. The true believer in Hashem and His Torah understands that every aspect of his life is directed by Hashem and that the only procedures we follow in any part of our lives are those that the Torah sanctions.

Some Contemporary Bishul Akum Curiosities

Situation #1: THE GREAT CRANBERRY DEBATE

Avrumie calls me with the following question: “We are presently studying the laws of bishul akum in kollel, and someone asked how we can buy canned cranberries that are not bishul Yisrael, that is, not cooked by Jews. They seem to fulfill all the requirements of the prohibition.”

Situation #2: THE BISHUL YISRAEL QUIZZER

A different member of Avrumie’s kollel raised another question:

Is there a legitimate halachic reason why a hechsher would require the same product to be bishul Yisrael in one factory and not in another?

Situation #3: DRAMA IN REAL LIFE

Many years ago, I substituted for the mashgiach at a vegetable cannery that was producing products for a kosher manufacture who claimed his products were bishul Yisrael. After arriving at the factory first thing in the morning as instructed, a foreman directed me to push a certain button, which, I assumed, initiated the cooking process. Upon examining the equipment, however, I realized that this button simply directed the cans to enter the cooker. This would probably only make the first cans into bishul Yisrael, but not the rest of the entire day’s production. A different solution was necessary, such as momentarily adjusting the temperature of the cooker and then resetting it, which accomplishes that I had provided fuel and thereby had cooked the vegetables. When I notified the foreman of this requirement, he firmly asserted: “This is the only button the rabbis ever push.”

Having no connections at the factory, I called the rabbi responsible for the hechsher; he did not answer his phone at that time of the morning.

What was I to do? Let Jews eat non-kosher veggies?

INTRODUCTION TO BISHUL AKUM CUISINE

Modern food production and distribution affects us in many ways, including kashrus. One aspect of kashrus with many new and interesting applications is bishul akum, the prohibition against eating food cooked by a gentile. Chazal instituted this law to guarantee uncompromised kashrus and to discourage inappropriate social interaction, which in turn leads to the prohibition of idolatry (Rashi, Avodah Zarah Avodah Zarah 38a s.v. miderabbanan and Tosafos ad loc.; Rashi, Avodah Zarah 35b s. v. vehashelakos; see also Avodah Zarah 36b). This law has numerous ramifications for caterers and restaurants who need to guarantee that a Jew is involved in the cooking of their product. It also prohibits Jewish households from allowing a gentile to cook without appropriate arrangements.

SICHON’S FOLLY

In addition, the Gemara tries to find a source for the prohibition of bishul akum in the Torah itself. When the Bnei Yisrael offered to purchase all their victuals from Sichon and his nation, Emori, they could purchase only food that was unchanged through gentile cooking (see Devarim 2:26- 28; and Bamidbar 21:21- 25). Any food altered by Emori cooking was prohibited because of bishul akum (Avodah Zarah 37b).

Although the Gemara rejects this Biblical source and concludes that bishul akum is an injunction of the Sages, early authorities theorize that this proscription was enacted very early in Jewish history, otherwise how could the Gemara even suggest that its origins are Biblical (see Tosafos s.v. vehashelakos)?

Please note that throughout the article, whenever I say that something does not involve bishul akum, it might still be forbidden for a variety of other reasons. Also, the purpose of our column is not to furnish definitive halachic ruling but to provide background in order to know when and what to ask one’s rav.

BASIC HALACHIC BACKGROUND

When Chazal prohibited bishul akum, they did not prohibit all gentile-cooked foods, but only foods where the gentile’s cooking provides significant pleasure to the consumer. For example, there are three major categories of gentile-cooked foods that are permitted. We can remember them through the acronym: YUM, Yehudi, Uncooked, Monarch.

I. Yehudi

If a Jew participated in the cooking, the food is permitted even when a gentile did most of the cooking.

II. Uncooked

A food that could be eaten raw is exempt from the prohibition of bishul akum even when a non-Jew cooked it completely. This is because cooking such an item is not considered significant (Rashi, Beitzah 16a).

III. Monarch

Bishul akum applies only to food that one would serve on a king’s table. Chazal did not prohibit bishul akum when the food is less prominent because one would not invite a guest for such a meal, and therefore there is no concern that inappropriate social interaction may result (Rambam, Hil. Maachalos Asuros 17:15). Because of space considerations, I will leave further discussion of this important sub-topic for a future article. (Other aspects of the laws of bishul akum, such as the fact that smoked food is exempt from this prohibition, will also be left for future discussion.)

Let us explain some of these rules a bit more extensively.

I. Yehudi

WHAT IS CONSIDERED COOKED BY A JEW?

Extensive halachic discussion is devoted to defining how much of the cooking must be done by a Jew to avoid bishul akum. In practical terms, the Rama permits the food if a Jew lit the fire or increased the flame used to cook the food even if he was not actually involved in cooking the food in any other way. On the other hand, the Shulchan Aruch requires that a Jew must actually cook the food until it is edible (Yoreh Deah 113:7).

II. Uncooked

A cooked food that can be eaten raw is exempt from the prohibition of bishul akum. For example, one may eat apple sauce or canned pineapple cooked by a gentile, since both apples and pineapples are eaten raw. Similarly, if the concerns of chalav akum and gevinas akum are addressed, one may eat cheese cooked by a gentile since its raw material, milk, is consumable raw.

Understanding this rule leads to several key questions. When is a raw food called “inedible?” Must it be completely inedible prior to cooking? Assuming that this is so; would the definition of “completely inedible” be contingent on whether no one eats it, or whether most people do not eat it uncooked although some individuals do?

BUDDY’S SPUDS

An example will clarify my question. My friend, Buddy, enjoys eating raw potatoes, contrary to general preference. Do Buddy’s unusual taste buds mean that spuds are not a bishul akum concern?

The halachic authorities reject this approach, most concluding that we follow what most people would actually eat raw, even if they prefer eating it cooked (see, for example, Ritva, Avodah Zarah 38a; Pri Chodosh, Yoreh Deah 113:3; Birkei Yosef ad loc: 1, 9; Darkei Teshuvah 113:3, 4). In practice, different hechsherim and rabbanim follow divergent criteria to determine exactly which foods are prohibited because they are considered inedible raw.

BOGGED DOWN WITH THE CRANBERRIES.

Avrumie’s kollel’s question involves this very issue: “Someone asked how we can buy canned cranberries that are not bishul Yisrael. They seem to fulfill all the requirements of the prohibition.”

Here is a highly practical result of the debate regarding what is considered suitable for eating uncooked. Are cranberries considered edible when they are raw? Someone who attempts to pop raw cranberries will keep his dentist well supported since the rock-hard berries defy chewing. Thus, there is a strong argument that cranberries require cooking to become edible and consequently constitute a bishul akum concern.

On the other hand, the deeply revered Cranberry Council provides recipes for eating raw cranberries by slicing or grinding them. Does the opinion of the sagacious Council categorize this fruit as an item that one can eat without cooking so that we can remove from it the stigma of bishul akum? The advantage of this approach is a savings for a concerned hechsher since it can now approve the esteemed berry as kosher even when no mashgiach is present to push the buttons that cook the fruit.

GEOGRAPHIC INFLUENCES

What happens if a particular vegetable is commonly consumed uncooked in one country, but not in another? For example: I have been told that artichokes are commonly eaten raw in Egypt, but not in Spain, although they are grown for export in both countries. (Not being much of a traveler or of an artichoke connoisseur, we will assume that these facts are accurate for the purpose of our discussion.) Do we prohibit Spanish artichokes as bishul akum, whereas the Egyptian ones are permitted? Assuming that this boon to Egyptian is true, what happens if you shipped the Spanish ones to Egypt? Do they now become permitted? And do Egyptian artichokes become prohibited upon being shipped to Spain? Indeed, I have heard that some rabbanim prohibit those cooked in Spain while permitting those cooked in Egypt, depending, as we said, on whether local palates consider them edible at the time and place of production. The subsequent shipping overseas would not cause them to become prohibited since it is cooking that creates bishul akum, not transportation. On the other hand, some contemporary contend that shipping a product to a place where it is not eaten raw prohibits it as bishul akum (Kaf HaChayim, Yoreh Deah 113:20).

CULINARY INFLUENCES

We have recently witnessed changes in the consumption of several vegetables that affect their bishul akum status. Not long ago, it was unheard of to serve raw broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms, or zucchini, and therefore all these vegetables presented bishul akum concerns. Today, these vegetables are commonly eaten raw; for this reason, many rabbanim permit these vegetables cooked and do not prohibit them anymore as bishul akum.

A similar change might occur because of sushi production. When fish was not eaten raw, cooked fish was a bishul akum issue. Once normal people consider certain varieties of fish as food even when eaten uncooked, those fish varieties remain kosher even if a gentile cooked them. I therefore refer you to your local rav to determine whether a raw fish suitable for sushi is still a bishul akum concern. Similarly, when it becomes accepted to eat raw beef liver, there will no longer be a prohibition of bishul akum to eat it broiled by a gentile – provided, of course, that a mashgiach guarantees that it is kosher liver and was prepared correctly.

KOSHER CANNING

We are now in a far better position to analyze the issues that faced me that morning many years ago. I had been instructed to supervise a bishul Yisrael production, but I was not permitted to adjust the heat. Were the vegetables kosher or not?

The basic question is: Must a mashgiach participate in the cooking process in a modern cannery?

In the mid-80’s, when I was the Rabbinic Administrator of a local kashrus organization, I participated in a meeting of kashrus organizations and prominent rabbanim. At this meeting, one well-respected talmid chacham voiced concern at the then-prevalent assumption that canned vegetables do not present any bishul akum problem. At the time, virtually no kashrus organizations made any arrangement for canned vegetables to be bishul Yisrael, even when such foods were inedible unless cooked and of a type one would serve at a royal feast. Was all of klal Yisrael negligent, G-d forbid, in the prohibition of bishul akum?

STEAMING OUR VEGGIES

Indeed, many prominent authorities contend that contemporary commercial canning is exempt from bishul akum because of a variety of different factors. For example, in most canning operations, vegetables are cooked, not in boiling water, but by high temperature steam. Some authorities contend that Chazal never including steamed products under the prohibition of bishul akum because they categorize steaming as smoking, an atypical form of cooking which Chazal exempted from this prohibition (Darkei Teshuvah 113:16).

Others permit bishul akum in a production facility where there is no concern that social interactions between the producer and the consumer may result (see Birkei Yosef 112:9, quoting Maharit Tzalon). The Minchas Yitzchak (Shu”t 3:26:6) rules that one may combine these two above reasons to permit most canned vegetables today. Still others maintain that since a modern facility uses a cooking system that cannot be replicated in a household, Chazal never created bishul akum under such circumstances.

HONEST KASHRUS

Of course, someone marketing a product as bishul Yisrael is advertising that he is not relying on these heterim for his product; therefore it would be strictly prohibited to sell these vegetables as bishul Yisrael, although whether they are kosher or not would depend on your rav’s individual pesak.

SO WHAT HAPPENED IN THE CANNERY?

I presume that my readers have been patiently waiting to find out what happened to our ill-fated cannery.

A bit later in the morning, I was finally able to reach the rabbi whose number I had been supplied. He agreed that the production was not bishul Yisrael.

One would think that the hechsher would reward an alert mashgiach for correcting a kashrus error. Well, for those eager to develop a better world, let me tell you what ultimately resulted. A different rabbi was assigned to the job, someone less likely to call the overseeing rabbi so early in the morning. I guess that I was right that I did not have the right connections.

When May I Ask a Gentile for Help on Shabbos? Part II

While enslaved in Egypt, the Jews worked every day, and one of the special days celebrated to commemorate our Exodus is Shabbos. Observing Shabbos includes not only keeping the mitzvos ourselves, but also knowing when I may ask a non-Jew to perform prohibited activity, and when may I benefit from work performed by a gentile on Shabbos.

Each of the following questions describes a situation that people have asked me:

Question #1: A non-Jew turned on the lights for me on Shabbos. May I use this light to read?

Question #2: It is chilly in our house. May I ask a gentile neighbor to turn up the heat?

Question #3: There is problem with our electricity – the lights have gone out, and my son is terrified. May I ask a gentile electrician to repair the power on Shabbos?

Question #4: We left the air conditioning off, and it became very hot on Shabbos. May I ask a non-Jew to turn the air conditioning on?

Question #5: I did not realize that I parked my car in a place where it will be towed away. May I ask a gentile neighbor to move it?

A Jew may not ask a gentile to perform activity that a Jew himself may not do. Chazal prohibited this, because asking a gentile to work on Shabbos diminishes our sensitivity to doing melacha ourselves. Furthermore the gentile functions as my agent, and it is therefore considered as if I did melacha work on Shabbos.

One may not benefit from melacha performed for a Jew by a gentile on Shabbos even if the Jew did not ask him to do the work (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 276:1). Thus if a gentile turned on a light for the Jew’s benefit without being asked, a Jew may not use the light.

This article will discuss when I may directly ask a gentile to do melacha and when I may benefit from what he does.

BENEFITING FROM GENTILE LABOR

In general, if a gentile does melacha work for me on Shabbos, I may not benefit from what he did until enough time has elapsed after Shabbos for the work to have been performed after Shabbos (Gemara Beitzah 24b; Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 325:6). Thus if a gentile baked an apple for me on Shabbos, I may not eat it after Shabbos until the time it takes to bake an apple. This way I receive no benefit from the work he performed and I am not tempted to ask him to do melacha for me at a different time (Rashi and Tosafos, Beitzah 24b).

However, if a non-Jew did work specifically for himself or for another non-Jew, I may benefit from his work even on that Shabbos itself (Mishnah Shabbos 122a). Therefore, if he turned on a light to see where he is going or to be able to read, I may read by the light. There is an exception to this lenience that I will explain shortly.

The Gemara tells us the following story: The great Amora Shmuel was visiting a man named Avin in the town of Torin, when a gentile entered the room and kindled a light. Shmuel assumed that the non-Jew had ignited the light for Shmuel’s benefit, which would make it forbidden to use the light. In order to point out the fact that he was not using the light, Shmuel turned his chair around, with his back to the light, so that it was obvious that he was not using it. Shortly thereafter, the gentile returned with a document that he proceeded to read. Shmuel now realized that the gentile had kindled the light for his own benefit and that he (Shmuel) was permitted to read by the light (Gemara Shabbos 122b).

Sometimes I may not benefit from work performed by a gentile even though he performed the work to benefit a gentile. This is in a case where there is concern that my benefiting from the activity might encourage the gentile to do more work than he needs for himself in order to benefit me. For example, if a gentile who knows me heated up a kettle of water because he wants a cup of coffee, I may not drink a cup of hot water from this kettle. The reason is that at some time in the future, he might decide to add extra water to the kettle that he is heating so that I can benefit (Gemara Shabbos 122a).

REMOVING IMPEDIMENTS

If a gentile did work that results in removing an impediment that was disturbing a Jew, I need not be concerned about benefiting from the non-Jew’s melacha activity. For example, if he turned off the light so that a Jewish person can sleep, one may go to sleep. This is not considered as receiving benefit from a gentile’s Shabbos activity, since extinguishing the light only removed an obstacle and created nothing positive.

PARTIAL BENEFIT

Another instance that is not considered as receiving benefit from melacha activity is when I could already benefit before the gentile performed the melacha, and his melacha only makes it easier to do what I wanted. For example if there is enough light to read, and a gentile turns on additional light, I may continue to read even though it is now easier to read. This is not considered as benefiting from the gentile’s melacha since I could have read even if he did not do the melacha (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 276:4). Similarly, one may eat a meal by the light that he provides, if one could eat even without the additional light. (Note that one may not ask the gentile to turn on the light in any of these instances.)

The poskim dispute whether in the above scenario I may continue reading after the original light burns out. Some contend that once the light has gone out, I may no longer read in the room since I am now benefiting from what the gentile kindled on Shabbos (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 276:4; Bach; Magen Avraham). Others contend that since I was permitted to read when the light was kindled, I may continue to read even after the original light extinguished (Taz 276:3). Mishnah Berurah concludes that one should follow the first opinion.

I once spent Shabbos in a kosher hotel for a family simcha. I arrived early for davening Shabbos morning, intending to learn beforehand, to discover that the lights were still out in the shul. I assumed that the lights were set to go on by a Shabbos clock and sat down near a window to learn in the interim. Fifteen minutes before davening started, a gentile employee of the hotel arrived and turned on all the shul lights. This involved two prohibitions: 1. Since the gentile was an employee of the Jewish owned hotel, the hotel should not have arranged for him to do melacha on Shabbos. 2. One may not benefit from the work he did. Thus, it is forbidden to read in the shul if you need the light to read.

However, as long as enough light came in through the windows to read, I could continue to read using the artificial light, since I could in any case read near the window. However, I could not read anywhere else in the shul. Furthermore, once it gets dark outdoors and I can no longer read by the natural light, most authorities prohibit reading by the kindled light.

MUST I LEAVE HOME?

According to what we have just explained, it would seem that if a non-Jew turned on the light in a house because he wanted to benefit a Jew, one may not benefit from the light and would have to leave. However, Chazal ruled that one is not required to leave one’s house if one did not want the gentile to turn the light on. Although one may not benefit from a non-Jew’s melacha on Shabbos, one is not required to leave one’s house in order to avoid benefiting from melacha that he did against one’s will (Rama 276:1, quoting Yerushalmi). In all instances like this, one should tell the gentile that you do not want him to do the melacha.

WHEN MAY I ASK A GENTILE TO WORK ON SHABBOS?

Under certain extenuating circumstances, Chazal permitted asking a gentile to do melacha that a Jew may not do himself. I will group these situations under the following categories:

I. Situations when I may ask a gentile to perform work that would be prohibited min haTorah for a Jew.

II. Situations when I may ask a gentile to perform work that is prohibited mid’rabbanan.

I. There are a few situations where I may ask a gentile to perform something that would be a Torah prohibition if I did it myself. I may ask a non-Jew to perform a melacha for someone who is “choleh kol gufo,” literally, his entire body is sick. This means that although the person is in no danger, his illness is more than just a minor annoyance but affects his entire body (Gemara Shabbos 129a; Shulchan Aruch 328:17). For example, I may ask a gentile to drive this person to a doctor, to pick up a prescription, or to turn a light on or off. This leniency applies to someone whose illness affects his entire body, or who is sick enough to be bedridden. Later in the article, I will discuss the halachos that apply to someone who is not well, but who is feeling better than the person just described.

CHILDREN

Since children often get sick and are generally weaker than adults are, halacha considers a child as choleh kol gufo (Rama 276:1) when there is a great need (Mishnah Berurah ad loc.). Therefore if it is cold indoors, one may ask a non-Jew to turn on the heat for the sake of a child, and then an adult too may benefit from the heat.

Until what age do I consider a child a choleh kol gufo? Many poskim contend that any child under the age of nine is in this category (Shu’t Minchas Yitzchok 1:78), although other poskim are less lenient.

Halacha treats a child who is afraid of the dark as a choleh kol gufo (Ketzos HaShulchan 134:18). Therefore if the light went out and a child is afraid, one may ask a gentile to rectify the problem.

We can now answer Question #3 above: “There is problem with our electricity – the lights have gone out, and my son is terrified. May I ask a gentile electrician to repair the power on Shabbos?” Under these circumstances, one may.

COLD ADULTS

When it is very cold, one may ask a gentile to turn on the heat even for adults even if this involves doing a Torah prohibition. This is because everyone is considered sick when it comes to the cold. When it is chilly but not freezing, the poskim dispute whether I may ask a non-Jew to turn on the heat for the sake of adults when there are no children or ill people around (Shulchan Aruch 276:5 and commentaries).

Thus, we can now answer Question #2: “It is chilly in our house. May I ask the gentile next door neighbor to turn up the heat?” The answer is that it depends on how cold it is, and who is affected by the lack of heat.

WIDESPREAD TRANSGRESSION

Another situation where one may ask a gentile to do melacha that is prohibited min haTorah, is if it is necessary to prevent many people from transgressing the Torah. For example, if one discovered that the eruv is down, one may ask a non-Jew to repair it on Shabbos even though he will have to perform activities that would be prohibited min haTorah (Mishnah Berurah 276:25), such as driving his car, tying a knot, or carrying in a reshus harabim min HaTorah.

II. Situations when I may ask a gentile to perform work that is prohibited mid’rabbanan.

SHVUS DI’SHVUS

Under certain other circumstances, Chazal permitted asking a gentile to do something that would be prohibited mid’rabbanan for a Jew. The poskim usually refer to this lenience as shvus di’shvus. In general, this is permitted in any of the following situations:

(A) If a person is slightly ill.

(B) There is a major need.

(C) In order to fulfill the observing of a mitzvah (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 307:5).

I will now explain these three situations:

(A) Earlier, I noted that if someone is ill, one may ask a gentile to do something that would involve a Torah prohibition for a Jew — when the person’s illness affects his entire body, or if he is sick enough to go to bed. If the person is less ill, one may ask a gentile to do something that involves only a rabbinic prohibition (for a Jew), but not a Torah prohibition.

Included under this category is if the person is suffering from considerable pain (Gra on Orach Chayim 325:10; Aruch HaShulchan 307:18). Thus, someone who caught his finger in a door may ask a non-Jew to bring ice through an area without an eruv if he has no ice in his house. Similarly if an insect bit him, he may ask a gentile to buy medicine to alleviate the pain.

Based on the above heter, may one ask a gentile to turn on the air conditioner if it gets very hot? Does this qualify as alleviating a great deal of suffering? And is operating the air conditioning considered a Torah violation or a rabbinic violation, for which we may be lenient because of shvus di’shvus?

This question was the subject of a dispute by the last generation’s poskim. Minchas Yitzchok (3:23) permits asking a gentile to turn it on, quoting L’vush who explains that once people are unaccustomed to the cold, halacha considers them to be ill even if it is not that cold — Therefore one may ask a gentile to kindle a fire for them. However, he then quotes sources that contend that being too hot is not the same as being too cold. He concludes that someone who is accustomed to moderate weather suffers when it is very hot and humid and may therefore ask a non-Jew to turn on the air conditioning because it is shvus di’shvus bimakom tzaar (to alleviate suffering). Similarly, his mechutan, the Chelkas Yaakov (3:139) permitted having a non-Jew turn on the air conditioning because of shvus di’shvus bimakom tzaar.

On the other hand, Rav Moshe prohibited asking a gentile to turn on the air conditioner because it is benefiting from work performed by a gentile on Shabbos (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 3:47:2). Thus, Rav Moshe forbids benefiting even if one did not ask the gentile to turn on the air conditioning, but merely hinted, such as by telling him, “It is really hot here!” hoping that he catches the hint. Evidently, Rav Moshe did not consider this as a makom tzaar that permits one to benefit from a gentile’s activity on Shabbos.

Thus in answer to Question #4, “We left the air conditioning off, and it became very hot on Shabbos. May I ask a non-Jew to turn the air conditioning on?” we see that the poskim dispute whether this is permitted or not.

(B) One may ask a gentile to perform an issur d’rabbanan in case of major need. There are three opinions as to how much financial loss this must entail to be considered a major need.

(1) Some rule that one may ask the gentile even if there is no financial loss as long as there is a great need (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 307:5; Graz 307:12). According to these poskim, if one’s clothes became torn or dirty on Shabbos and he is embarrassed to wear them, he may ask a gentile to bring him clean clothes through an area not enclosed by an eruv.

(2) Other poskim rule more strictly, contending that one may be lenient only if a major financial loss will result (Magen Avraham 307:7). According to these poskim, if one discovered that the plug of one’s well-stocked freezer is disconnected, one may ask a non-Jew to reconnect it on Shabbos.

(3) A third opinion contends that major financial loss is not sufficient reason to permit shvus di’shvus unless there is some physical discomfort as well (Eliyah Rabbah 307:14). We usually follow the second opinion quoted and permit a shvus di’shvus in case of major financial loss. Furthermore, we allow shvus di’shvus even if it is uncertain that a major loss will result, but it is a good possibility (see Shaylas Yaavetz 2:139). As a result, one may ask a gentile to plug in the freezer even if one is uncertain whether the food will go bad.

Note that none of the opinions I quoted permits asking a gentile to violate a Torah law to avoid financial loss. Thus, this would answer Question #5 that I mentioned above: “I did not realize that I parked my car where the city will tow it away. May I ask a gentile neighbor to move it to avoid this major expense?” The answer is that one is not allowed to ask him. However, one may hint to the gentile in an indirect way by saying, “My car is parked in a place where it might get towed,” as I explained in a different article on this subject.

(C) I may ask a gentile to do something that is only an issur d’rabbanan in order to enable me to perform a mitzvah. For example, inviting a guest who is visiting from out of town, or a guest who otherwise would have nowhere to eat, fulfills the mitzvah of hachnasas orchim. (Inviting another family over for a Shabbos meal may be a very big chesed for the wife of the guest family, but it does not qualify as the mitzvah of hachnasas orchim [Rama 333:1]). Therefore, if one realizes on Shabbos that one does not have enough chairs for everyone to sit at the table, one may ask a gentile to bring chairs from a neighbor’s house even when there is no eruv. Other poskim are more lenient, permitting asking a gentile to bring any food or beverage that enhances Shabbos (Aruch HaShulchan 307:18).

Some authorities permit asking a gentile to perform a Torah melacha in order to allow the observance of a mitzvah. This is a minority opinion and should not be followed. However, there was an old custom among European Jewry to permit asking a gentile under these circumstances. This custom has halachic sources in the following Rama who rules:

“Some permit telling a gentile to kindle lights for the sake of the Shabbos meal because they contend that in order to fulfill a mitzvah (such as having a nice Shabbos meal) one may ask a gentile to perform even a real melacha that would be forbidden for a Jew to do min haTorah. Following this approach, many are accustomed to be lenient and command a gentile to kindle lights for the purpose of the Shabbos meal, particularly for wedding and bris meals, and no one rebukes them. However, one should be strict in this matter when there is no extenuating need since most of the halachic authorities disagree” (Rama 276:2).

In conclusion, we have discovered that in certain extenuating instances Chazal permitted melacha performed by a gentile, but that one should not extend these heterim to situations not included. When using a non-Jew to do normally forbidden work, one should focus that one’s intent is not, chas v’sholom, to weaken the importance of Shabbos, but rather the kavod Shabbos that will result.

When May I Ask a Gentile for Help on Shabbos?

Each of the following questions is an actual situation that people have asked me:

Question #1: My car needs repair work and the most convenient time to drop it off at Angelo’s Service Station is Friday afternoon. May I bring Angelo the car then knowing that he is going to repair it on Shabbos?

Question #2: A gala Shabbos sheva brachos is being held at an apartment several flights of stairs below street level, a very common situation in hilly Yerushalayim. The kallah’s elderly grandmother arrived before Shabbos by elevator, intending to return home by using the Shabbos elevator (a subject we will discuss at a different time iy’H). Indeed, the building’s elevator actually has a Shabbos setting, but we discovered on Shabbos that the Shabbos setting is not working. How does Grandma get home?

Question #3: My friend lives in a neighborhood that does not have an eruv. She arranges before Shabbos for a non-Jew to push the baby carriage on Shabbos. May she do this?

Question #4: “If this contract does not arrive at its destination ASAP, I could suffer huge losses. May I mail it as an express mail package on Friday?”

“What should I do if a registered letter arrives on Shabbos?”

Many people are under the mistaken impression that one may ask a non-Jew to do any type of prohibited activity on Shabbos. Unfortunately, this is not true. I have often seen a person ask gentiles to do work on Shabbos that is clearly prohibited. Our Sages prohibited asking a non-Jew to work for us on Shabbos out of concern that this diminishes our sensitivity to doing melacha ourselves (Rambam, Hilchos Shabbos 6:1). Chazal considered the gentile to be my agent — thus, if he works for me on Shabbos, it is considered that I worked on Shabbos through a hired agent (Rashi, Shabbos 153a s.v. mai taama).

By the way, the halachos of amira linachri, asking a gentile to perform a prohibited activity, are not restricted to the laws of Shabbos, but apply to all mitzvos of the Torah. Thus, one may not have a gentile muzzle his animal while it works (see Gemara Bava Metzia 90a; Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 338:6), ask him to graft fruit trees, nor may one ask a non-Jew to do prohibited work on Chol HaMoed (Gemara Moed Katan 12a).

There are many complicated details governing when I may ask a gentile to do something on Shabbos and when I may not. These are some of the factors that one must consider:

A. Is the gentile my employee or is he an “independent contractor”?

B. What type of benefit do I receive from his work?

C. Did I ask the non-Jew directly or indirectly?

D. Is the work I asked him to perform prohibited min haTorah or only midirabbanan?

E. Why do I want him to do this work?

F. Could I do the work myself, albeit in a different way than the gentile will likely do it?

To show how these details affect a practical case, I will analyze the halachic issues involved in each of our cases mentioned above, starting with our first case – leaving the car over Shabbos at a non-Jewish mechanic. The major issue here is that I did not ask the gentile to do the work on Shabbos – I am not permitted to do this. Instead, I brought him the car and allowed him to decide whether to do the work on Shabbos or not. Is he now my agent if he works on Shabbos, which is prohibited, or is it permitted?

In order to explain the issues involved in this shaylah, we need to introduce a few concepts.

AGENT VERSUS CONTRACTOR

There is a halachic difference whether the gentile is working as my agent (or employee) or whether he is an independent contractor who makes his own decisions. If he is my agent, I may not allow him to do prohibited activity on Shabbos. But if he is an independent contractor, then under certain circumstances I am not responsible if he actually does the work on Shabbos.

When is the gentile considered a contractor? If the non-Jew decides on his own when to do the work and I hired him by the job, he is a contractor. In these cases, I may give him work that he might decide to perform on Shabbos, provided that he could do the work on a different day and that he does the work on his own premises. (Under certain circumstances, the last condition may not apply.)

What are examples of contractors? The mailman, a repairman who repairs items on his own premises, the dry cleaner are all contractors. On the other hand, a regular employee whom I ask to do some work on Shabbos is not a contractor unless I pay him extra for this job.

Thus I may drop off my car at the auto mechanic before Shabbos and leave it over Shabbos, provided I allow him time to do the work when it is not Shabbos, either on Friday afternoon or Motzei Shabbos. Even though I know that the non-Jewish mechanic will not be working Saturday night and will actually do the work on Shabbos, I need not be concerned, since he could choose to do the work after Shabbos.

However, this is permitted only when (1) he does the work on his own premises (2) I pay him for the completed job and (3) he decides whether or not he does the work on Shabbos or not. (It should be noted that some poskim prohibit doing this when the mechanic is closed Motzei Shabbos. Since I know that he is closed Motzei Shabbos, they consider it asking him to do the work on Shabbos, which is prohibited.)

In a similar way, I could bring dry cleaning in on Friday afternoon expecting to pick up the cleaned clothes Saturday night, provided enough time exists to clean the clothes before or after Shabbos.

We will now explore our second question:

An elderly woman cannot ascend the several flights of stairs necessary to get to street level. The building has a Shabbos elevator, but we discover on Shabbos that the Shabbos setting is not working. How does Grandma get home? Can we have a non-Jew operate the elevator to get her home?

Before answering this question, I want to share another story with you:

A DARK SIMCHAS TORAH SHABBOS

The following story occurred on a Simchas Torah in Yerushalayim that fell on Shabbos. (Although Simchas Torah outside Eretz Yisroel cannot occur on Shabbos, Shmini Atzeres, which can fall on Shabbos, is observed as Simchas Torah in Eretz Yisroel.) Just as the hakafos were beginning, the power in the shul went out, plunging the entire shul into darkness. The shul’s emergency lights went on, leaving the shul dimly lit — sufficient for people to exit safely and to dance in honor of Simchas Torah, but certainly making it more difficult to observe the usual Simchas Torah celebrations. The Rav of the shul ruled that they could not ask a non-Jew to turn on the lights.

Although if there was any element of danger involved, one could certainly have asked a gentile to turn on the lights, the Rav felt that the situation was not dangerous, and therefore maintained that one may not ask a gentile to turn on the lights.

One of the congregants raised a suggestion that may help illuminate the shul. The same idea may get Grandma home! Before presenting his idea, I need to explain two concepts:

BENEFITING FROM GENTILE ACTIVITY

If a gentile does melacha on Shabbos for his own benefit, a Jew may use the results. For example, if a non-Jew builds a ramp to disembark from a boat on Shabbos, a Jew may now exit the boat via the same ramp since the gentile did no additional work in order to benefit the Jew. Similarly, if a non-Jew kindled a light so that he himself could read, a Jew may now use the light. One may use the light even if the gentile and the Jew know one another (Mishnah Shabbos 122a; Rambam 6:2; Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 325:11).

However, if the gentile gathered grass to feed his animals, the Jew cannot let his animals eat the leftover grass if the two people know one another. This is so that the gentile does not come to do melacha for the sake of the Jew in the future (Gemara Shabbos 122a).

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE RAMP AND THE GRASS?

Why are these cases halachically different? Why may the Jew use the light or the ramp, but may not allow his animal to eat the grass? In the first cases, no additional work is necessary for the gentile to provide a ramp or light for the Jew. Once the gentile has built the ramp or kindled the light, any number of people can benefit from them without any additional melacha. However, cutting each blade of grass is a separate melacha activity. Thus, allowing one’s animal to eat this grass might tempt the gentile to cut additional grass for the Jew’s animal, which we must avoid.

So far, we have calculated that if we can figure out how to get the gentile to turn on the light for his own benefit, one may use the light. Thus, we might be able to get lights in the shul for Shabbos, or a gentile to ride the elevator up to the main floor, and hopefully we can get Grandma onto the elevator at the same time. However, how does one get the gentile to turn on the light or the elevator for his own benefit when one may not ask him to do any work on Shabbos?

HINTING

May I hint to a gentile that I would like him to perform a prohibited activity on Shabbos? The poskim dispute this issue. Some rule that this is prohibited (Tur Orach Chayim 307), whereas others permit it (Bach, Orach Chayim 307 s.v. uma shekasav rabbeinu). Thus according to the second opinion one may ask a gentile on Shabbos, “Why didn’t you accompany Grandma on the elevator last Shabbos?” even though he clearly understands that you are asking him to take the elevator with her today. According to the first opinion, one may not do this, nor may one ask a gentile to clean up something in a dark room, since to do so means that he must turn on the light.

However, the majority of poskim hold a compromise position, contending that although one may not hint to a gentile on Shabbos, one may hint to him on a weekday (Smag). Thus one may tell him on Friday, “Why didn’t you do this last Shabbos,” but one may not tell him this on Shabbos (Shulchan Aruch 307:2; Rama 307:22). According to this last ruling, one could tell the gentile during the week, “Why did you leave Grandma downstairs without taking her up in the elevator,” but one could not mention this to him on Shabbos.

PERMITTED HINTING VERSUS PROHIBITED HINTING

However, the poskim rule that one may tell a non-Jewish mailman on Shabbos, “I cannot read this letter until it is opened.” What is the difference between the two types of hinting?

The difference is that the forbidden type of hinting implies either a command or a rebuke, whereas the permitted type does not (Magen Avraham 307:31). Telling a gentile to clean something up in a dark room on Shabbos is in essence commanding him to perform a prohibited activity — turning on the light. Similarly, when you rebuke him for not doing something last Shabbos, you are basically commanding him to do it the next Shabbos. However, one may make a statement of fact that is neither a command nor a rebuke. Therefore telling the gentile, “I cannot read this letter as long as it is not opened” does not command him to do anything, and for this reason it is permitted.

However, if the gentile then asks me, “Would you like me to open the letter for you?” I may not answer him “yes,” since this is itself a command. (It is as if you said, “Yes, I would like you to open the letter for me.”) I may tell him, “That’s not a bad idea,” or “I have no objections to your opening the letter” which again does not directly command him. I may even say, “I am not permitted to ask you to open it on Shabbos”.

How does this discussion affect our dark Simchas Torah or getting Grandma home?

The congregant suggested the following: One could create a situation whereby turning on the light is beneficial for the gentile, and then hint to him that if he wants to, he could benefit by turning the light on. One may do this because the non-Jew is turning on the light for his own use, and the Jew did not ask him directly to turn on the light. Thus, if you placed a bottle of whiskey or a gift of chocolate in the shul, and then notified the gentile that the bottle or chocolate is waiting for him there, you can show him how to turn on the lights so that he can find his present. This is permitted because the gentile is turning on the lights for his own benefit, and you did not ask him, nor even hint to him that you want him to turn on the lights. You simply notified him that if he wants to put on the lights, he could find himself a very nice present.

The same solution may help Grandma return home. Someone invited a non-Jew to the sheva brachos, and then told him that a present awaited him in the building’s entrance foyer. Does it bother him if Grandma shares the elevator with him while he goes to retrieve his present?

A word of caution: If one uses this approach, one must be careful that the gentile is indeed doing the melacha for his own purposes, such as to get the present as mentioned above. However, one may not ask the non-Jew to accompany you on a tour of the dark shul, and then he turns on the light to see his way. This is prohibited because the gentile is only interested in the light in order to accompany you on the walk, but not because he has any gain himself (see Shulchan Aruch 276:3).

And now on to Question #3: My friend lives in a neighborhood that does not have an eruv. She arranges before Shabbos for a non-Jew to push the baby carriage on Shabbos. Is this permitted? (See Mishnah Berurah 308:154.)

Recently, I was asked the following shaylah: Someone moved to a community where the Rav permits people to have a non-Jew carry the baby on Shabbos by arranging remizah (hinting) from before Shabbos. This means that one would tell a gentile before Shabbos, “I would like to go to shul on Shabbos, but I cannot leave the baby behind.” The non-Jew then responds, “What time would you like me to arrive at the house?” or “What time would you like to leave the house?” again neither party ever stating that you have asked the gentile what to do.

Personally, I have strong reservations about using this suggestion, since eventually one will end up commanding the non-Jew directly, such as, “Do you need me to take the baby’s blanket along?”- If you answer “Yes,” then you have commanded the gentile in violation of the halacha.

EXPRESS MAIL

At this point, we can begin to discuss the first part of shaylah #4: May I mail express mail on Friday?

At first glance, it would seem that one may not send an express mail package on Friday, since you are asking the gentile to transport and deliver the package on Shabbos. This is dissimilar from the case of bringing the car to the auto mechanic or clothes to the dry cleaner on Friday because in our case you are requesting him to do the job as quickly as possible. Thus, you are insisting that he do the job on Shabbos, which a Jew may not do.

A similar shaylah to our express mail case was asked in Amsterdam hundreds of years ago from Rav Yaakov Emden. The questioner wanted to ship precious stones by asking a non-Jewish employee to deliver them to the post office on Shabbos, reasoning that his gentile agent was carrying items within an eruv on Shabbos and therefore not doing any prohibited activity. Rav Yaakov Emden prohibited this, pointing out that the gentile would have to fill out paperwork at the post office to send off this shipment, and this would be considered having an agent work for me on Shabbos (Shaylas Yaavetz 2:139).

Although based on the above analysis it would seem that one may not send out express mail on Friday, there is a different reason why one may, but only under extenuating circumstances, as I will explain.

I may not ask a gentile on Shabbos to hire other non-Jewish workers (Gemara Shabbos 150a; Shulchan Aruch 307:2). Some poskim contend that although I may not ask a non-Jew to hire workers, which is a prohibited activity, I may ask him to ask another non-Jew to do something that is prohibited on Shabbos. The rationale behind this heter, usually called amira li’amira, is that asking one non-Jew to ask another is permitted because I am only asking a non-Jew to talk, which is not considered an activity (Shu’t Chavos Ya’ir #46, 49, 53). Other poskim contend that just as one may not ask a gentile to hire workers, which is just talk, I cannot ask him to do any other activity (Avodas HaGershuni). Mishnah Berurah (307:24) rules that one may be lenient in a case of major financial loss, thus under very extenuating circumstances one could be lenient.

This dispute is interesting historically because the two Seventeenth Century Torah giants involved in this dispute corresponded with one another. The Chavos Ya’ir permitted asking a non-Jew to ask another non-Jew to work on Shabbos, whereas the Avodas HaGershuni responded to him that this is forbidden. One can actually trace the give-and-take of their halachic debate on the issue, together with their lines of reasoning and proofs, simply by reading the correspondence published in their responsa. It is almost as if we are able to sit in their respective Batei Medrash and listen in to the two of them giving shiur on the subject!

The dispute has many ramifications, one of which is our case of express mail, since you place an order with one person, but a different gentile does the actual traveling and delivering. Thus, we have a case of amira li’amira, which is permitted according to the Chavos Yair. There is also another reason to be lenient: Since one is arranging the Express Mail delivery before Shabbos, the situation is indeed a bit more lenient than the above-mentioned dispute between the Chavos Yair and the Avodas HaGershuni. Indeed, the Chasam Sofer (Shu’t Orach Chayim #60) rules a compromise position between the two, permitting telling the non-Jew before Shabbos to ask the other non-Jew on Shabbos. Biyur Halacha (307:2) disagrees, quoting Rashba. Therefore, one should not rely on this ruling unless the situation is extenuating.

The story behind the Chasam Sofer’s responsum on this issue is worth noting. During the Napoleonic Wars, a battle took place in Pressburg (today known as Bratislava), where the Chasam Sofer was Rav, in which much of the Jewish area of town went up in flames. It was very important to rebuild the neighborhood before winter set in, and there was concern that the non-Jewish contractors would not construct the houses in a timely fashion if they were not allowed to work on the Jewish houses on Shabbos. One of the reasons that the Chasam Sofer ruled that they could allow the gentile contractors to work on Shabbos was that the Jews hired a gentile contractor, who in turn instructed his employees when to work. Thus it was a case of amira li’amira, which the Chasam Sofer permitted if the contractor received his instructions before Shabbos.

SHABBOS PICK-UP

If I hired a gentile to make a delivery for me, he may not pick up the item from my house on Shabbos (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 307:4). Thus, if I contract with a delivery service such as UPS, they must pick up the item before Shabbos.

What should I do if a registered letter arrives on Shabbos?

Now we should be prepared to answer this last question. I may not ask the gentile delivery person to sign for me, even by hinting to him. However, I may tell him, “I cannot sign for this today because it is my Sabbath.” If he asks me, “Would you like me to sign for the delivery?” I may not tell him, “Yes.” However I may answer him, “It is fine with me if you would like to” or “I may not ask someone else to do this on my Sabbath” or “I do not mind receiving the delivery, but I may not sign for it.”

According to the Rambam, the reason that Chazal prohibited one to ask a gentile to do work on Shabbos is so that we do not diminish sensitivity to doing melacha ourselves. One who refrains from having even a non-Jew work shows even deeper testimony to his conviction that Hashem created the world.

Note: For more on this topic, see “When May I Ask a Gentile for Help on Shabbos? Part II.”

Halachos of Bikur Cholim

Question #1: “Rabbi,” asked Mr. Greenberg, “My neighbor, Mrs. Friedman is having an operation. Is it appropriate for me to visit her?”

Question #2: Does Dr. Strauss fulfill the mitzvah of bikur cholim when he makes his hospital rounds?

Question #3: “My sister-in-law is hospitalized for a few days for a minor procedure. I should really visit her, but I just can’t find the time. Is it halachically sufficient for me to call her?”

Parshas VaYeira opens with Hashem visiting Avraham Avinu three days after his Bris Milah. Rashi points out that Hashem was performing bikur cholim, visiting and providing care for the ill. In the same way, by taking care of the ill, we fulfill the mitzvah of emulating Hashem’s ways, in addition to the special mitzvah of bikur cholim (Gemara Sotah 14a). Thus physicians, nurses, or other medical professionals should have in mind before every visit or appointment, that they are performing two mitzvos, one of emulating Hashem, and the other of bikur cholim. Since we rule that mitzvos tzrichos kavvanah, to fulfill a mitzvah requires being cognizant of that fact, any medical professional gains much merit by realizing this every day.

Every community should have an organization devoted to the needs of the sick, and it is a tremendous merit to be involved in organizing and participating in such a wonderful chesed project (Ahavas Chesed 3:3).

The Kli Yakar (Bamidbar 16:29) offers an additional reason for fulfilling bikur cholim – to benefit the visitor — because he thereby appreciates the importance of doing teshuvah. And this provides extra merit for the sick person since he caused someone else to do teshuvah, even if it was unintentional.

The Gemara (Nedarim 40a) reports that when one of Rabbi Akiva’s disciples was ill, no one came to check his welfare. Then Rabbi Akiva entered his dwelling, cleaned it and sprinkled water on the floor (to prevent dust from rising), and the student exclaimed, “Rabbi Akiva, you have brought me back to life!” After this experience, Rabbi Akiva taught that someone who visits the ill is considered as if he saved someone’s life!

WHY “BIKUR” CHOLIM?

What does the “Bikur cholim” mean?

It is worth noting that although “bikur” means “visit” in modern Hebrew, the original meaning of “bikur” is not “visit” but “checking.” In other words, the actual mitzvah of bikur cholim is to check which of the sick person’s needs have not been attended to (Toras HaAdam).

There are two main aspects of this mitzvah:

I. Taking care of the physical and emotional needs of ill people.

II. Praying for their recovery (Toras HaAdam, based on Gemara Nedarim 40a).

I. TAKING CARE OF PHYSICAL NEEDS

In addition to raising the sick person’s spirits by showing one’s concern for him or her, the visitor should also ensure that his/her physical, financial, and medical needs are properly cared for, as well as other logistical concerns that may be troubling him/her. Often, well meaning people make the effort to visit the sick, but fail to fulfill the mitzvah of bikur cholim properly because they fail to take care of the choleh’s needs (Gesher HaChayim).

Always cheer up the choleh (Gesher HaChayim). If you know that you cannot cheer him up, you should not visit him.

Your visit must benefit the choleh. In most circumstances, a visit should be short and not tire out or be uncomfortable for the ill person. Sometimes the sick person wants to rest, but feels obligated to converse with a visitor (Aruch HaShulchan 335:4). Unfortunately, in such cases, visitors think they are performing a mitzvah, while they are actually doing the opposite. It is important to remember that the entire focus of bikur cholim is on the sick person’s needs and not on the visitor’s desire to feel noble or important. I remember my mother a”h having such guests during one of her hospital stays; although she kept hinting that she wanted to rest, they didn’t catch on and stayed put. They thought they were performing a kind deed, while in reality they were harming a sick person who desperately needed to rest.

OVERNIGHT CARE

One of the greatest acts of chesed is to stay overnight with a choleh (Aruch HaShulchan 335:3; Shu’t Tzitz Eliezer, Volume 5, Ramat Rachel, #4). A similar act of bikur cholim and true chesed is to stay overnight with a hospitalized child to enable parents to get some proper sleep and keep their family’s life in order.

A person can fulfill the mitzvah of bikur cholim even a hundred times a day (Nedarim 39b). If one frequently pops one’s head into one’s sick child’s bedroom to see how the child is doing, or periodically drops in to visit a shut-in, one fulfills a separate mitzvah each time so long as it does not become burdensome to the choleh. Similarly, a nurse fulfills the mitzvah of bikur cholim each time she checks on a patient, and – therefore she should have intent to do this for the sake of fulfilling the mitzvah. (This applies even if she is paid, because the proscription against being paid to do a mitzvah applies only to the mitzvah’s minimum requirement. Once one does more than this minimum, one can be paid for the extra time one spends. The same certainly applies to someone paid to stay overnight with a sick patient.)

IS THERE AN OPTIMUM TIME OF DAY TO VISIT?

The Gemara states that one should not visit a sick person during the first quarter of the day, since one usually looks healthier in the morning and the visitor may not be motivated to pray on his behalf. One should also not visit a sick person at the end of the day when he looks much sicker and one might give up hope. Therefore, one should visit an ill person during the middle part of the day (see Gemara Nedarim 40a, and Ahavas Chesed 3:3). Rambam offers a different reason for this halacha, explaining that at other times of the day, visitors might interfere with the attendants and medical personnel who are taking care of the choleh (Hilchos Aveil 14:5).

(Why does the Rambam give a different reason than the Gemara? The Kesef Mishneh suggests that the Rambam had a different text of this Gemara.) Thus, the ideal time for visiting an ill person is in the middle of the day, unless he is receiving medical treatment at that time.

Despite the above, the custom is to visit the ill person regardless of the time of the day. Why is this so? The Aruch HaShulchan (Yoreh Deah 335:8) explains that the Gemara’s visiting times are advisory rather than obligatory. The Gemara is saying that one should visit the ill person at the time most beneficial for his/her care, which is usually the afternoon, either because this does not interfere with medical care or because it is the best time to detect the patient’s medical status. However, this is only advice and can be tempered by other practical concerns.

WHAT IF THE ILL PERSON IS RECEIVING SUBSTANDARD CARE?

In this instance, one should try to upgrade the choleh’s care without agitating him in the process (Gesher HaChayim).

WHOM TO VISIT FIRST

Usually, it is a greater mitzvah to visit a poor choleh than a wealthy one. This is because there is often no one else to care for the poor person’s needs (Sefer Chassidim #361). Additionally, he may need more help because of his lack of finances, and he is more likely to be in financial distress because of his inability to work (Ahavas Chesed 3:3).

If two people need the same amount of care and one of them is a talmid chacham, the talmid chacham should be attended to first (Sefer Chassidim #361). If the talmid chacham is being attended to adequately and the other person is not, one should first take care of the other person (Sefer Chassidim #361).

CROSS-GENDER VISITING

Should a man pay a hospital visit to a female non-relative, or vice versa?

The halacha states that a man may attend to another man who is suffering from intestinal disorder, but not to a woman suffering from such a problem, whereas a woman may attend to either a man or a woman suffering from intestinal disorder (Mesechta Sofrim Chapter 12). This implies that one may attend to the needs of the opposite gender in all other medical situations (Shach, Yoreh Deah 335:9; Birkei Yosef 335:4; Aruch HaShulchan 335:11 and Shu’t Zakan Aharon 2:76).

However, some halachic authorities distinguish between attending to a sick person’s needs and visiting, contending that although a woman may usually provide a man’s nursing needs and vice versa, there is no requirement for a woman to visit an ill man (Shu’t Tzitz Eliezer, Volume 5, Ramat Rachel, and Zichron Meir pg. 71 ftn 24 quoting Shu’t Vayaan Avrohom, Yoreh Deah #25 and others). Other authorities contend that when one can assume that the woman’s medical needs are provided, a man should not visit her because of tzniyus concerns (Shu’t Chelkas Yaakov 3:38:3; Shu’t Tzitz Eliezer, Volume 5, Ramat Rachel, #16). Instead, he should inquire about her welfare and pray for her. I suggest asking your Rav for direction in these situations.

According to a famous story of Rav Aryeh Levin, when he was once concerned that a certain widow who had been told not to fast on Yom Kippur would disobey orders, he personally visited her on Yom Kippur and boiled her water for a cup of tea to ensure that she drank. In this way, he fulfilled the mitzvah of bikur cholim on Yom Kippur in a unique way (A Tzadik in Our Time).

II. PRAYING FOR THE ILL

The Beis Yosef (Yoreh Deah 335) writes, “It is a great mitzvah to visit the ill since this causes the visitor to pray on the sick person’s behalf which revitalizes him. Furthermore, since the visitor sees the ill person, the visitor checks to see what the ill person needs.” We see that Beis Yosef considers praying for the ill an even greater part of the mitzvah than attending to his needs, since he first mentions praying and then refers to attending to the other needs as “furthermore.”

Someone who visits a sick person without praying for his recovery fails to fulfill all the requirements of the mitzvah (Toras HaAdam; Rama 335:4). Therefore, physicians, nurses, and aides who perform bikur cholim daily should accustom themselves to pray for their sick patients in order to fulfill the complete mitzvah of bikur cholim. A simple method of accomplishing this is to discreetly recite a quick prayer (such as “Hashem, please heal this person among the other ill Jewish people [b’soch she’ar cholei yisrael]”) as one leaves the person’s room. (A doctor in his office can recite the same quick prayer.)

MUST ONE PRAY FOR A SICK PERSON BY NAME?

When praying in a sick person’s presence, one need not mention his name and one may recite the prayer in any language. The Gemara explains that this is because the Shechinah, the Divine presence, rests above the choleh’s head (Gemara Shabbos 12b). However, when the ill person is not present, one should pray specifically in Hebrew and should mention the person’s name (Toras HaAdam; Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 335:5). If one cannot pray in Hebrew, one may do so in English or any other language except Aramaic (see Taz 335:4).

[Incidentally, since the Shechinah is in the choleh’s presence, visitors should act in a dignified manner (Gemara Shabbos 12b; Shl”a). This includes both their behavior and their mode of dress.]

Why must one pray in Hebrew when the ill person is not present? Rashi explains that in such a case, when one prays for an individual, angels have to transport the prayer to the Divine presence (the Shechinah) – these angels transport only prayers recited in Hebrew and not those recited in Aramaic (Rashi to Shabbos 12b s.v. d’shechinah). However, when praying in the presence of the sick person one may pray in any language since the Shechinah is nearby and the prayer does not require the angels to transport it on high (Gemara Shabbos 12b).

MAY ONE PRAY IN ENGLISH FOR THE ILL?

This explains the difference between Hebrew and Aramaic. What about other languages? Do the angels “transport” prayer recited in a different language?

To answer this question, we must first explore a different issue: Why do angels not transport Aramaic prayers?

The halachic authorities dispute why the angels do not convey prayers recited in Aramaic. Some contend that angels communicate only in Hebrew and, furthermore, only convey a prayer that they understand (Tosafos, Shabbos 12b s.v. She’ayn). According to this approach, the angels convey only Hebrew prayers. However, other authorities contend that the angels do not convey Aramaic prayers because they view it as corrupted Hebrew and not as a real language (Rosh, Berachos 2:2). Similarly, the angels will not convey a prayer recited in slang or in a different undignified way. According to the latter opinion, the angels will convey a prayer recited in any proper language and one may pray in English for an ill person even if he is not present.

The Shulchan Aruch quotes both opinions, but considers the first opinion as the primary approach (Orach Chayim 101:4). However, in Yoreh Deah 335:5, the Shulchan Aruch omits the second opinion completely. The commentaries on the Shulchan Aruch raise this point, and conclude that the Shulchan Aruch felt that praying for an ill person is such a serious matter that one should certainly follow the more stringent approach and pray only in Hebrew when the choleh is not present (Taz, Yoreh Deah 335:4). Therefore, one should not pray for an individual sick person’s needs in any language other than Hebrew. If one is unable to pray in Hebrew however, one may rely on the second opinion and pray in any language other than Aramaic.

DOES ONE FULFILL BIKUR CHOLIM OVER THE TELEPHONE?

To answer this question, let us review the reasons for this mitzvah and see if a telephone call fulfills them. One reason one visits the ill is to see if they have any unfulfilled needs. Although one might discover this over the phone, one cannot ascertain everything without seeing them. The second reason one visits the ill is to motivate the visitor to pray on their behalf. Again, although one may be motivated by a phone call, it is rarely as effective as a visit. Furthermore, although a phone call can cheer up the choleh and make him feel important, a personal visit accomplishes this far more effectively. Therefore, most aspects of this mitzvah require a personal visit. However, in cases where one cannot actually visit the choleh, for example, when a visit is uncomfortable for the patient, or unwanted, one should call (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 1:223; Shu’t Chelkas Yaakov 2:128). Some authorities contend that it is better for a man to call a hospitalized or bed-ridden woman who is not a relative since it is difficult for an ill person to maintain the appropriate level of tzniyus (Chelkas Yaakov 3:38:3).

ALWAYS PRAY FOR GOOD HEALTH

A healthy person should daven for continuing good health, because it is far easier to pray that one remain healthy than to pray for a cure after one is already ill. This is because a healthy person remains well so long as no bad judgment is brought against him in the heavenly tribunal, whereas an ill person needs zechuyos to recover. This latter instance is not good for two reasons — first, the choleh may not have sufficient zechuyos, and second, even if he does, he will lose some of his zechuyos in order to get well.

Before taking medicine or undergoing other medical treatment one should recite a short prayer: “May it be Your will, Hashem my G-d, that this treatment will heal, for You are a true Healer” (Magen Avraham 230:6; Mishnah Berurah 230:6, based on Gemara Berachos 60a).

People who fulfill the mitzvah of bikur cholim are promised tremendous reward in Olam Haba, in addition to many rewards in this world (Gemara Shabbos 127a). Someone who fulfills the mitzvah of bikur cholim properly is considered as if he saved people’s lives and is rewarded by being spared any severe punishment (Gemara Nedarim 40a).

What Makes Meat Kosher?

 

“I know that I only eat from certain hechsherim. However, my sister-in-law, who is a very frum person, was told by her Rav that she can use a certain hechsher that I was told not to use. Don’t all the rabbonim follow the same Shulchan Aruch?”

“I have been told that it isn’t possible that there could be such a high percentage of glatt kosher to accommodate everyone purchasing it, and that the term is used incorrectly. Is this true?”

“Is there such a thing as non-glatt kosher veal?”

These are common questions, and indeed, explaining the distinctions between different kashrus standards could fill volumes. This article will be devoted exclusively to issues of kosher meat. By the time we finish this reading this article hopefully the answers to the above questions will be clarified.

THE BASICS OF KOSHER MEAT

There are several mitzvos involved in the preparation of kosher meat and poultry. Only certain species may be eaten, and these must be slaughtered in the halachically-approved way, shechitah. Even then, the animal or bird may still have defects that render it non-kosher. Finally, there are non-kosher parts that must be removed, specifically the gid hanasheh (the sciatic nerve), non-kosher fats called “cheilev,” and the non-kosher blood. After all these have been removed, the meat is finally ready to be prepared for the Jewish table.

In other articles, I discussed some of the contemporary issues concerning kosher animal, bird, and fish species. This article will discuss some halachic issues that occur after the shechitah.

THE BEDIKAH

Immediately following the slaughtering, the shochet (ritual slaughterer; plural, shochtim) checks visually to verify that he performed the shechitah correctly. This is a vitally important step – if this inspection is not performed, the animal or bird cannot be eaten.

Next, the animal or bird must be examined to ensure that it is not a treifah. Although in common usage the word “treif” means anything non-kosher for any reason whatsoever, technically the word refers to an animal with a physical defect that renders it non-kosher. The word treif literally means “torn,” and indeed the most common cause of a treifah is tearing or damage to the internal organs.

Organs where treifos are infrequent do not require inspection. In these instances, one may rely on the principle of “rov”- since the overwhelming majority is kosher, one need not check for treifos. However, an organ that has a high percentage of treifos must be checked to ensure that it is kosher. Thus, established halachic practice of over 1000 years is to check an animal’s lungs because of their high rate of treifos.

How high a percentage of treifos is needed to require examination? A dispute over this issue developed in the early nineteenth century between two great poskim, Rav Efrayim Zalman Margolies, the Rav of Brody (Shu”t Beis Efrayim, Yoreh Deah #6) and Rav Yaakov, the Rav of Karlin (Shu”t Mishkenos Yaakov, Yoreh Deah #16 & 17). The Beis Efrayim contended that it is not necessary to check for a treifah if we do not find that Chazal and early poskim required it, whereas the Mishkenos Yaakov contended that if a certain treifah occurs in ten per cent of animals one is required to check every animal for this treifah. (The halachic source for this figure of ten per cent is beyond the scope of this article.)

Reliable hechsherim tend to follow the Mishkenos Yaakov’s ruling and check for treifos that appear frequently. Thus, it is standard to check the stomachs and intestines of chickens and the lungs of turkeys for irregularities, and reliable hechsherim usually check the second stomach of cattle (the reticulum, called the beis hakosos in Hebrew) for damage that results from swallowed nails.

Geography can sometimes be a factor. For example, treifos are not found commonly in the lungs of chickens raised in North America, and therefore the hechsherim there do not check the lungs. On the other hand, it is far more common to find these problems in chickens raised in Israel. Thus, many poskim require chicken lungs in Israel to be checked for treifos. (I have heard different theories why there is a greater rate of treifos in the lungs of Israeli chickens, including that the heat and desert climate damage the lungs or that there are exposure to certain viruses, but the truth is that no one really knows.)

GLATT KOSHER

Before explaining the concept called glatt kosher, we must first discuss adhesions, a type of lesion that develops on the lungs of animals. An animal or bird with a tear in its lung is not kosher and this is one of the many types of treifah.

The Gemara rules that an animal with an adhesion (sircha) on its lung is also non-kosher (Chullin 46b), because this demonstrates that the lung once had a tear that was subsequently covered by the adhesion (Rashi ad loc.). A second reason given is that the adhesion would have eventually torn off and damaged the lung (Tosafos). Even though the animal was slaughtered before the adhesion tore off, the animal is considered non-kosher since it ultimately would have died as a result of the adhesion.

If the adhesion is between two adjacent sections of the lung, the animal is kosher, because the lung protects the adhesion from tearing.

Did the Gemara prohibit all adhesions or only ones that are difficult to remove? Is there a concern that even a thin adhesion might be covering a tear in the lung or will ultimately cause the lung to tear?

This halacha question is disputed by the Rishonim. The Rosh (Chullin 3:14), who was the foremost posek in Germany (Ashkenaz) in the Thirteenth Century, ruled that any sircha that is removed easily without damaging the lung is kosher. These easy-to-remove adhesions are called “ririn.” Based on his ruling, the custom amongst Ashkenazic Jewry was that a shochet who found a sircha on a lung would attempt to remove the sircha. If it could be removed without damaging the lung, the shochet declared the animal kosher. If the lung was completely clear of any adhesions, even ririn, the animal was declared “Glatt Kosher.” “Glatt” means “smooth” in Yiddish – in other words, the lung was smooth and had no adhesions at all.

The Rashba (Shu”t #304), who was the foremost posek in Spain (Sfarad) at the time, disagreed with Rosh, declaring that it is forbidden to remove adhesions, and that an animal with any adhesion is non-kosher even if the adhesion can be easily removed. He also declared that any shochet who removes sirchos in order to declare the animal kosher should be removed from his position if he has been warned to cease this practice and continues to do so.

(It is an interesting historical note that when the Rosh fled the persecutions in Germany for Spain, he became a houseguest of the Rashba in Barcelona. Eventually, the community of Toledo engaged the Rosh as its rav upon the recommendation of the Rashba.)

Shulchan Aruch follows the ruling of Rashba and declares that a shochet who removes sirchos is considered to have fed treif meat to Jews (Yoreh Deah 39:10). The Rama, however, points out that the custom in Ashkenaz was to permit meat from animals with easy-to-remove sirchos. The Rama explains that although the basis for the practice is tenuous, one should not rebuke those who are lenient. Clearly, the Rama himself is not advocating being lenient in this matter and preferred that people be strict. Furthermore, the Rama is only lenient when one knows that the bodek, the person checking the lung, is a G-d-fearing person who will be careful to remove the sircha gently (Yoreh Deah 39:13). Moreover even among Ashkenazic poskim, many were hesitant to be lenient.

Because of all this, the Gr”a ruled that one should not use non-glatt meat, that is meat from animals that have thin adhesions on the lungs.

Since Sefardim follow the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch over the Rama, they are not permitted to use non-glatt meat. Ashkenazim are permitted to follow the Rama and use non-glatt kosher meat, although it is preferable to be strict.

There is an additional reason to be strict. Based on a pasuk in Yechezkel (4:14), the Gemara concludes that a meticulous person does not eat meat that had a shaylah, even if it was paskened to be permitted (Chullin 44b). Because of this Gemara, hechsherim that cater to Bnei Torah attempt to certify only products that have no shaylos whatsoever. These hechsherim are usually referred to as “Mehadrin,” although it is important to note that there is no universal mehadrin standard. I have found hechsherim that refer to themselves as “mehadrin” or as “heimishe” that are indeed excellent, but I have also found hechsherim purporting to be “mehadrin” or “heimishe” whose standards are at best mediocre.

It should be noted that the lenience of removing adhesions from the lungs applies only to mature beef cattle. On birds and other animals, any lung that has a problematic adhesion would automatically be non-kosher. Thus, any poultry, veal and lamb that is kosher is by definition glatt kosher, and using the word “glatt” is superfluous. However, since consumers often assume that “glatt” means a higher standard of kosher, it is not uncommon to find these items advertised as “glatt kosher.” I have even seen dairy or pareve products sold as “glatt kosher,” which is a totally meaningless usage of the expression.

DIFFERENT DEFINITIONS OF GLATT

The Beis Dovid, a commonly used halacha work on the laws of shechitah, contends that adhesions that can be removed easily are not only considered kosher, but even qualify as glatt kosher (Section 2 pg. 72, #8:5, quoting Shu”t Daas HaZevach). Many hechsherim follow this opinion and consider such meat to be glatt kosher. However, other poskim dispute his conclusions and feel that this meat should not be used by Sefardim who are halachically required to use only glatt meat. Those who are strict in this shaylah often refer to their hechsher as “Glatt Beis Yosef.” However, this term (Glatt Beis Yosef) also has no precise definition. An experienced shochet/rav hamachshir once told me that it probably only means that in the opinion of the hechsher, the Beis Yosef himself would prefer eating this meat than some other kosher meat on the market.

Thus, two hechsherim may be called “glatt” and may not be using the same definition of the word.

KOSHER VEAL

As mentioned above, the heter of non-Glatt meat only exists in reference to mature beef cattle, but that lambs, kids, and young calves that have any sircha should be treated as non-kosher (see Rama Yoreh Deah 39:13). The logic behind this is that if a young calf already exhibits some signs of an adhesion, it is probably a kashrus problem and the animal should be considered treif. Thus, we would conclude from this that all veal should be either glatt or treif.

However, at this point the modern meat industry has created a new problem by attempting to convince the consumer that quality veal should be very light-colored, almost white. Since meat is naturally red and not white, this is accomplished by raising calves in drastically unnatural circumstances such as not feeding them a normal diet, not providing them with any iron in their diet, and not allowing them to exercise. This approach decreases the hemoglobin in the blood which gives the meat its red color. The result is that “white veal” or the misnomer “nature calves” often have a notorious high rate of treifos in the lungs as a result of the conditions in which they were raised. (It is known in the industry that if the grower improves the ventilation and sanitary conditions of his pens, the rate of kosher product increases.) For this reason, non-scrupulous meatpackers have plenty of temptation to bend the rules that define the kashrus of veal. (One shochet recently told me that he once shechted 114 “nature calves” that had been raised in non-sanitary conditions and had only one kosher!)

I was once scheduled to visit a veal shechitah to see whether it met the standards for the Vaad HaKashrus I headed at the time. Before visiting the plant, I called the rav giving the hechsher to find out his standard for accepting kosher veal. When I asked him if he “takes sirchos” on veal, he replied, “Of course we do, otherwise we would never have enough marked kosher!”

What an astonishing reply! At least he saved me a long trip. Yet, there are hechsherim that allow purchase of “kosher” veal from shechitos like this!

(I have heard very complicated halachic reasons to permit this standard. Suffice it to say that I consider the reasons unacceptable.)

REMOVING BLOOD

As mentioned above, before meat is ready for the pot, it must have several items removed. The non-kosher blood is removed from the meat either by broiling or through soaking and salting. Liver must be kashered by broiling. Except for certain extenuating circumstances, when kashering meat by salting it must be soaked for a half-hour and salted for an hour, with the salt covering all sides of the meat thoroughly. I have personally witnessed meat kashered inadequately in commercial facilities, usually because the workers are not given enough time or proper facilities to do the job correctly. However, any responsible hechsher will make certain that this does not happen.

In earlier times meat and liver were always kashered at home. Today, most housewives assume that the meat they purchase is already kashered. Thus, they often do not know how to kasher meat themselves, although concerned Jewish homemakers would do well to learn how to kasher meat and liver properly.

SEVENTY-TWO HOURS

Over a thousand years ago, the Gaonim established a new requirement in the processing of kosher meat. They ruled that if the meat was not soaked within seventy-two hours of its slaughter, the blood could no longer be removed by the soaking and salting method but only by broiling. Thus, it is paramount to kasher meat, or at least to soak it, within a few days of the shechitah. Many poskim are lenient to permit meat if it was soaked within the seventy-two hours, but different hechsherim have very different definitions as to what is considered properly “soaked.” In general, a mehadrin hechsher will not permit meat to be used unless it has been kashered within seventy-two hours of the shechitah, whereas a non-mehadrin hechsher will permit it. Similarly, a mehadrin hechsher will not allow the use of meat that has been frozen before it was kashered, whereas non-mehadrin hechsherim will allow the kashering of meat that was frozen for more than seventy-two hours.

TRABERING

The Torah prohibited certain fats, called cheilev, which are predominantly attached to the stomachs and the kidneys in the hindquarter. These non-kosher fats and the gid hanasheh are cut out of the meat in a process called “trabering.” This Yiddish word’s origin derives from the Aramaic word for non-kosher fat, tarba, and thus means, removing non-kosher fat. (The Hebrew word for the process is “nikur,” excising.)

Removing the gid hanasheh and forbidden fats from the hindquarters is an extremely arduous process that requires much skill and patience. Since most of the forbidden fats and the entire gid hanasheh and all its tributaries are in the hindquarters, the custom in many places is to use only meat from the forequarters, thus considerably simplifying the trabering process.

OTHER DIFFERENCES BETWEEN HECHSHERIM

There are also subtle distinctions between hechsherim, which might cause one Rav to approve a shechitah and make another Rav uncomfortable. When is a shechitah line considered operating too quickly for the shochtim and bodkim to do their jobs properly? When is a plant considered understaffed? Are the tags that identify the meat as kosher kept under proper supervision? Are the shochtim yirei shamayim (G-d fearing)?

Thus, it could indeed happen that one rav considers a shechitah acceptable and another rav feels that it is not. The differences may be based on the interpretation of halacha, or they may result from a rav’s inclination as to how a plant should be run.

Based on the above information we can better understand many aspects of the preparation of kosher meat and why it is important to use only meat that has a proper hechsher. We can also gain a greater appreciation as to how hard rabbonim and shochtim work to maintain a high kashrus standard.

We should always hope and pray that the food we eat fulfills all the halachos that the Torah commands us.

Noahide Halacha 101

Today, I will be meeting someone who is extremely concerned and knowledgeable about halacha, yet doesn’t even keep a kosher home. Neither has he ever observed Shabbos. On the other hand, he is meticulous to observe every detail of Choshen Mishpat.

Who is this individual?

Allow me to introduce you to John Adams who is a practicing Noahide, or, as he prefers to call himself, an Adamite.

Adams asserts that he descends from the two famous presidents, a claim that I have never verified and have no reason to question. Raised in New England and a graduate of Harvard Law School, John rejected the tenets of the major Western religions but retained a very strong sense of G-d’s presence and the difference between right and wrong. Study and introspection led him to believe that G-d probably had detailed instructions for mankind, and sincere questioning led him to discover that of the Western religions, only Judaism does not claim a monopoly on heaven. A non-Jew who observes the Seven Laws taught to Noah and believes that G-d commanded them at Har Sinai has an excellent place reserved for him in olam haba.

John began the practice of these laws. John is quick to point out that, with only one exception, these laws were all commanded originally to Adam. Since John is proud of his family name and lineage, he likes calling himself an Adamite.

What are the basics of Noahide practice?

We all know that a gentile is required to observe seven mitzvos, six of them prohibitions, to avoid: idolatry, incest, murder, blasphemy, theft, and eiver min hachai (which we will soon discuss), and the seventh, the mitzvah of having dinim, whose nature is controversial. The Sefer HaChinuch (Mitzvah #416) and others note that these seven mitzvos are actually categories, and a non-Jew is really required to observe several dozen mitzvos.

Kosher, Noah style

I asked John if eating meat presents any religious problems for him.

“Well, you know that Noah was prohibited from eating meat or an organ that was severed before the animal died, a prohibition you call eiver min hachai,” said John, obviously proud that he could pronounce the expression correctly. “So sometimes I come across meat that I may not eat. The following question once came up: Moslem slaughter, called halal, involves killing the animal in a way that many of its internal organs are technically severed from the animal before it is dead. Because of this, we are very careful where we purchase our organ meats.”

May a Noahide Eat Out?

“This problem went even further,” John continued. “Could we eat in a restaurant where forbidden meats may have contaminated their equipment?”

I admit that I had never thought of this question before. Must a gentile be concerned that a restaurant’s equipment absorbed eiver min hachai? Does a Noahide needs to “kasher” a treif restaurant before he can eat there? Oy, the difficulty of being a goy!

“How did you resolve this dilemma?” I timidly asked.

“Well, for a short time our family stopped eating out,” he replied. “You could say that we ate only treif at home. My wife found the situation intolerable – no MacDonald’s or Wendy’s? Although I know that observant Jews do not understand why this is such a serious predicament, but please bear in mind that we made a conscious decision not to become Jewish. One of our reasons was that we enjoy eating out wherever we can.

“So I decided to ask some rabbis I know, but even then the end of the road was not clearly in sight.”

“Why was that?”

“I had difficulty finding a rabbi who could answer the question. From what I understand, a rabbi’s ordination teaches him the basics necessary to answer questions that apply to kosher kitchens. But I don’t have a kosher house – we observe Adamite laws. As one rabbi told me, ‘I don’t know if Noahides need to be concerned about what was previously cooked in their pots.’”

“How did you resolve the predicament?”

How treif is treif?

“Eventually, we found a rabbi who contended that we need not be concerned about how pots and grills were previously used. He explained that we could assume that they had not been used for eiver min hachai in the past 24 hours, which certainly sounds like a viable assumption, and that therefore using them would only involve the possibility of a rabbinic prohibition, and that we gentiles are not required to observe rabbinic restrictions. The last part makes a lot of sense, since there is nothing in the Seven Laws about listening to the rabbis, although I agree that they are smart and sincere people. [Note: I am not certain who it was that John asked. According to Shu”t Chasam Sofer, Yoreh Deah #19 (at end), there would be no heter to use pots that once absorbed eiver min hachai. There are poskim who disagree with Chasam Sofer (see Darchei Teshuvah 62:5), but many of these hold that there is no prohibition altogether with a gentile using pots absorbed with eiver min hachai.]

“The result is that we now go out to eat frequently, which makes my wife very happy. It was a good decision for our marital bliss, what you call shalom bayis. Although I understand that this is another idea we are not required to observe, it is good, common sense.”

Milah in the Adams Family

When John’s son was born, he raised an interesting shaylah. To quote him: “Circumcision as a religious practice originates with G-d’s covenant with Abraham, the first Jew. But my covenant with G-d predates Abraham and does not include circumcision. However, even though there was no religious reason for my son to be circumcised, my wife and I thought it was a good idea for health reasons. On the other hand, I know that many authorities forbid a gentile, which I technically am, from observing any commandments that he is not specifically commanded (see Rambam, Hilchos Melachim 10:9).”

John is a very gregarious type, and loves to explain things fully. “We actually had two concerns about whether we could circ John Jr. The second one was that many authorities contend that the seventh mitzvah of instating ‘Laws,’ which you call ‘Dinim,’ includes a prohibition against injuring someone (Ramban, Genesis, oops, I mean Bereishis 34:13). According to this opinion, someone who hits someone during a street fight may lose his world to come for violating one of our seven tenets. I have come too far to risk losing my share in the world to come, so I try very hard not to violate any of the laws. I called some rabbis I know to ask whether there was any problem with circumcising my son for health reasons. The rabbi I asked felt that since we are doing this for medical reasons, it is similar to donating blood or undergoing surgery. The upshot was that we did what no self-respecting Jew should ever do: We had a pediatrician circumcise John Jr. on the third day after his birth, to emphasize that we were not performing any mitzvah.”

No Bris

Proud to show off his Hebrew, John finished by saying: “So we had a milah, but no bris. We also decided to skip the bagels and lox. Instead, my wife and I decided it was more appropriate to celebrate with shrimp cocktails, even though primordial Adam didn’t eat shrimp. All types of meat were only permitted to Noah after the Deluge, which you call the mabul. I believe that some authorities rule that Adam was permitted road kill and was only prohibited from slaughtering, while others understand he had to be strictly vegetarian. My wife and I discussed whether to go vegetarian to keep up the Adams tradition, but decided that if meat was ‘kosher’ enough for Noah, it is kosher enough for us. We decided we weren’t keeping any stringent practices even if they become stylish.”

Earning a Living

“Have you experienced any other serious dilemmas due to your being an ‘Adamite?’”

“Oh, yes. I almost had to change my career.”

I found this very curious. As John Adams seemed like an honest individual, it seemed unlikely that he had made his living by stealing or any similar dishonest activity.

Non-Jews are forbidden to perform abortions, which might affect how a Noahide gynecologist earns a living, but John is a lawyer, not a doctor. Even if John used to worship idols or had the bad habit of blaspheming, how would that affect his career?

May a Gentile Practice Law?

John’s research into Noahide law led him to the very interesting conclusion that his job as an assistant district attorney was halachically problematic. Here is what led him to this conclusion.

One of the mitzvos, or probably more accurately, categories of mitzvos, in which a Noahide is commanded in the mitzvah of dinim, literally, laws. The authorities dispute the exact definition and nature of this mitzvah. It definitely includes a requirement that gentile societies establish courts and prosecute those who violate the Noahide laws (Tosefta, Avodah Zarah 9:4; Rambam, Hilchos Melachim 9:14). Some authorities contend that the mitzvah of dinim prohibits injuring or abusing others or damaging their property (Ramban, Breishis 34:13).

However, this dispute leads to another issue that was more germane to John’s case. There is a major dispute among halachic authorities whether Noahides are governed by the Torah’s rules of property laws, which we refer to as Choshen Mishpat (Shu”t Rama #10), or whether the Torah left it to non-Jews to formulate their own property and other civil laws. If the former is true, a non-Jew may not sue in a civil court that uses any system of law other than the Torah. Instead, he must litigate in a beis din or in a court of non-Jewish judges who follow halachic guidelines. Following this approach, if a gentile accepts money based on civil litigation, he is considered as stealing, just as a Jew is. This approach is accepted by many early poskim (e.g., Tumim 110:3). Some authorities extend this mitzvah further, contending that the mitzvos governing proper functioning of courts and civil laws apply to Noahides (Minchas Chinuch #414; 415). Following this approach, enforcing a criminal code that does not follow the Torah rules violates the mitzvah of dinim.

As John discovered, some authorities extend this idea quite far. For example, one of the mitzvos of the Torah prohibits a beis din from convicting or punishing someone based on circumstantial evidence (Rambam, Sefer HaMitzvos, Lo Saaseh #290; Sefer HaChinuch #82). If the same applies to the laws of dinim, a gentile court has no right to use circumstantial evidence (Minchas Chinuch #82, #409). Thus, John was faced with an interesting predicament. According to these opinions, a gentile who prosecutes because of circumstantial evidence might violate the Seven Mitzvos of Noah even if the accused party appears to be guilty. It is understood that according to these opinions, one may not prosecute for the violation of a crime that the Torah does not consider to be criminal, or to sue for damages for a claim that has no halachic basis.

Napoleonic Code and Halacha

On the other hand, other authorities contend that non-Jews are not obligated to observe the laws of Choshen Mishpat; but instead the Torah requires them to create their own legal rules and procedures (HaEmek Shaylah #2:3; Chazon Ish, Bava Kamma 10:1). These authorities rule that gentiles perform a mitzvah when creating a legal system for themselves such as the Napoleonic Code, English Common Law, or any other commercial code. Following this approach, a non-Jew may use secular courts to resolve his litigation and even fulfills a mitzvah by doing so. Thus, John could certainly continue his work as a D.A. and that it would be a mitzvah for him to do so.

It is interesting to note that following the stricter ruling in this case also creates a leniency. According to those who rule that a gentile is not required to observe the laws of Choshen Mishpat, a gentile may not study these laws, since the Torah prohibits a gentile from studying Torah (see Tosafos, Bava Kamma 38a s.v. karu; cf., however, that the Meiri, Sanhedrin 59a, rules that a gentile who decides to observe a certain mitzvah may study the laws of that mitzvah in order to fulfill it correctly.) However, according to those who contend that the mitzvos of dinim follow the laws of Choshen Mishpat, a gentile is required to study these laws in order to observe his mitzvos properly (Shu”t Rama #10)).

John’s Dilemma

The rabbis with whom John consulted felt that a gentile could work as a district attorney. However, John had difficulty with this approach. He found it difficult to imagine that G-d would allow man to make such basic decisions and felt it more likely that mankind was expected to observe the Torah’s civil code. He therefore gravitated to the opinion of those who held that gentiles are required to observe the laws of Choshen Mishpat. As a result, he felt that he should no longer work in the D.A.’s office, since his job is to prosecute based on laws and a criminal justice system that the Torah does not accept.

“What did you do?”

“I decided to ‘switch sides’ and become a defense attorney, which has a practical advantage because I make a lot more money.”

“How do you handle a case where you know that your client is guilty?”

“Firstly, is he guilty according to halachah? Did he perform a crime? Is there halachically acceptable evidence? If there is no halachically acceptable evidence, he is not required to plead guilty. Furthermore, since none of my clients are Noahides or observant Jews, they can’t make it to heaven anyway, so let them enjoy themselves here. Even if my client is guilty, the punishment determined by the court is not halachically acceptable. It is very unclear whether jail terms are halachically acceptable punishment for gentiles. Philosophically, I was always opposed to jail time. I think that there are better ways to teach someone to right their ways than by incarceration, which is a big expense for society.”

Interesting Noahide Laws

“Have you come across any other curious issues?”

“Here is a really unusual question I once raised,” John responded. “Am I permitted to vote in the elections for a local judge? According to some authorities, the Torah’s prohibition against appointing a judge who is halachically incompetent applies equally to gentiles (Minchas Chinuch #414). Thus, one may not appoint a judge to the bench who does not know the appropriate Torah laws, which precludes all the candidates. When I vote for one of those candidates, I am actively choosing a candidate who is halachically unqualified to judge. I therefore decided that although there are authorities who rule this is permitted, and that therefore it is permitted to vote, I wanted to be consistent in my position. As a result, I vote religiously, but not for judgeships.

Becoming Jewish

“John, did you ever consider becoming Jewish?”

“First of all, I know that the rabbis will discourage me from becoming Jewish, particularly since I don’t really want to. I know exactly what I am required to keep and I keep that properly. I have no interest in being restricted where and what I eat, and I have no interest in observing Shabbos, which, at present, I may not observe anyway, and that is fine with me (Gemara Sanhedrin 58b). I am very willing to be a ‘Shabbos goy’— and I understand well what the Jews need — but it is rare that I find myself in this role. Remember, I do not live anywhere near a Jewish community.

Although I have never learned how to read Hebrew – why bother, I am not supposed to study Torah anyway – I ask enough questions from enough rabbis to find out all I need to know.

In Conclusion

Although it seems strange for a non-Jew to ask a rav a shaylah, this should actually be commonplace. Indeed, many non-Jews are concerned about their future place in Olam Haba and, had the nations not been deceived by spurious religions, many thousands more would observe the mitzvos that they are commanded. When we meet sincere non-Jews, we should direct them correctly in their quest for truth. Gentiles who observe these mitzvos because Hashem commanded them through Moshe Rabbeinu are called “Chassidei Umos HaOlam” and merit a place in Olam Haba.