Wanted Dead or Alive

In honor of Parashas Terumah and the Construction of the Mishkan…

Wanted Dead or Alive

bug trapQuestion #1: Getting Rid of those Bugs!

“May I trap or kill mosquitoes, bees, or wasps on Shabbos?”

Question #2: Hanging from the Lowest Tree

“I forgot to hang flypaper before Shabbos. May I do it on Shabbos?”

Question #3: A Charming Shabbos

“May a snake charmer work on Shabbos?”

Answer: Catching or dispatching

We have all been in the following uncomfortable situation. Some time during Shabbos, a mosquito appears in our vicinity, seeking to earn its living. Although we realize that this creature requires its sustenance, we are not eager that we, our children, or our guests should become mosquito fodder, even just as a minor donation. Are we permitted to trap or kill the mosquito? Trapping living things, tzad, was an action necessary for acquiring some of the materials used to build the Mishkan, and is one of the 39 melachos, categories of prohibited activity on Shabbos (Mishnah Shabbos 73a and Rashi ad loc.). Killing living things also violates the melachos of Shabbos, but space constraints will require that we leave this discussion for a different time. We will use this opportunity to discuss many pertinent principles of Shabbos and some details of the melachah of tzad.

Shabbos nomenclature

When discussing what one may or may not do on Shabbos, the Mishnah and Gemara use three terms: (1) chayov, punishable, when a particular act constitutes melachah, meaning that it desecrates Shabbos by violating a Torah law; (2) patur, exempt, meaning it does not violate a Torah law, and (3) mutar, permitted, when an act may be performed on Shabbos. We will discuss the middle term, patur, which states that a particular act does not violate Torah law, since this usually indicates something prohibited due to rabbinic sanction. Even though the word patur usually implies an act prohibited by rabbinic law, sometimes the Sages permitted it. But what makes performing a forbidden activity patur?

Meleches machsheves

The Gemara (Chagigah 10b; Bava Kama 26b; Kerisus 19b) teaches that the Torah prohibited only something that can be categorized as meleches machsheves, which can perhaps be translated as premeditated melachah. An obvious example of meleches machsheves would be trapping an animal to obtain its hide or meat. Similarly, someone who digs a hole to plant the base of a tree violates the meleches machsheves of choreish, ploughing, and one who picks a fruit performs a meleches machsheves of kotzeir, harvesting.

Meleches machsheves is often explained by what it is not. Following that approach, I will provide three categories of labor that are exempt from being defined as desecrating Shabbos min hatorah, because they do not qualify as meleches machsheves, at least according to some opinions.

Mekalkeil

In general, an act constitutes meleches machsheves only when its direct result is beneficial. This means that an action that is inherently destructive does not violate Shabbos min hatorah, even when one needs the result. For example, digging a hole in the ground, which one does not need, in order to obtain earth is defined as a destructive activity and prohibited only miderabbanan. The dug hole itself is a negative development, which renders the burrowing an act of mekalkeil, not prohibited min hatorah, but only because of rabbinic injunction. However, digging a hole to plant or to create a posthole results in a positive benefit and is indeed prohibited min hatorah, since one wants the hole in the ground.

Bemino nitzad

Here is a second example of meleches machsheves that is particular to the melachah that we are discussing, tzad. The tanna’im (Shabbos107b) dispute whether it is prohibited min hatorah to ensnare a creature that mankind does not typically use, such as a scorpion or a flea, which is called ein bemino nitzad, literally, a species that is not trapped. The halachic conclusion follows the lenient opinion, ruling that tzad applies min hatorah only to a species that is bemino nitzad, commonly trapped, so that mankind can benefit from it. For example, a species that is eaten, from whose body a medicine is extracted, or whose hide is used as leather qualifies as bemino nitzad. The halachic authorities discuss whether trapping an animal for scientific research or so that one can have it as a pet makes the animal into bemino nitzad (Rambam, Hilchos Shabbos 10:21; Chazon Ish, Orach Chayim 50:4 at end).

However, a species that is caught only because it is an annoyance has the status of ein bemino nitzad.

Why is this true? The purpose of trapping is to harness a living creature, so that mankind can use it. Thus, tzad is a type of acquisition (see Shu’t Avnei Neizer, Orach Chayim 189:7; however, see Biur Halachah, 316:2 s.v. Oh Choleh, who might disagree with this analysis.) However, trapping creatures that mankind does not generally use, such as scorpions or fleas, is not an act of acquiring these creatures, but of distancing them from victims that they may harm. Therefore, most opinions conclude that trapping a species that is ein bemino nitzad does not violate the melachah of tzad, and is prohibited only because of rabbinic injunction. Thus, since flies are ein bemino nitzad, catching them would not violate a Torah prohibition. Hanging flypaper on Shabbos would still involve a rabbinic prohibition, and it is similarly prohibited to set up a mousetrap on Shabbos (Magen Avraham 316:9; see Piskei Tosafos, Shabbos 17b #62).

By the way, many authorities consider mice to be bemino nitzad, since there are places in the world where their hide is used (Chayei Odom 30:7). There is also a dispute whether a non-kosher species that is harvested as food for non-Jewish consumption is considered bemino nitzad (Ritva, Shabbos 106b; Nimla Tal, Meleches Tzad #37).

Melachah she’einah tzerichah legufah

Many authorities rule that another category of activity is not prohibited min hatorah, because it is not considered meleches machsheves. There is a dispute among tanna’im whether a melachah she’einah tzerichah legufah, literally, an act not needed for its purpose, is prohibited min hatorah or only miderabbanan. Whereas Rabbi Yehudah contends that melachah she’einah tzerichah legufah is prohibited min hatorah, according to Rabbi Shimon, these acts are prohibited only by virtue of rabbinic injunction. Let me explain.

What is a melachah she’einah tzerichah legufah? Among the rishonim, we find differing opinions how to define and even how to translate this term, and there are many instances where a dispute in halachah results. Since this complicated question is a bit tangential to our topic, I am going to present only one approach. According to Tosafos (Shabbos 94a s.v. Rabbi Shimon) and the Rivash (Shu’t Harivash #394), Rabbi Shimon contends that the 39 melachos are prohibited min hatorah only when performed for a goal or purpose similar to the reason why this melachah was done when constructing the Mishkan. Performing a melachah to accomplish a purpose other than that for which this melachah was performed in the Mishkan qualifies as a melachah she’einah tzerichah legufah. This means that it is prohibited only miderabbanan, according to Rabbi Shimon and those who rule like him.

Here is an explanatory example: Removing an item that has a bad odor from a reshus hayachid, an enclosed area, into a reshus harabim, an open area meant for public use, is a classic case of melachah she’einah tzerichah legufah. Although moving something from a reshus hayachid into a reshus harabim constitutes the melachah of carrying, moving the foul-smelling item from a house to a reshus harabim does not constitute a melachah min hatorah, according to Rabbi Shimon, because the purpose of the carrying when building the Mishkan was to move the item being carried to a new location. However, when removing a foul-smelling item, there is no significance attached to the place to which the item is moved; one’s only goal is to distance it from its current location. The public area does not constitute the goal of one’s act, but, rather, a convenient place to dump unwanted material. For this reason, Rabbi Shimon contends that this act was not prohibited by the Torah, but only by the Sages. On the other hand, Rabbi Yehudah considers melachah she’einah tzerichah legufah to fulfill the definition of meleches machsheves and therefore prohibited min hatorah.

Although most rishonim conclude that the halachah follows Rabbi Shimon that melachah she’einah tzerichah legufah is prohibited only because of rabbinic injunction, the Rambam and others rule, according to Rabbi Yehudah, that melachah she’einah tzerichah legufah is prohibited min hatorah.

When exempt is permitted

There is a passage of Gemara that reflects both on our opening question and on a different aspect of the melachah of tzad. “Shmuel said: Whenever the Mishnah states that something is patur when performed on Shabbos, the activity is prohibited [because of a rabbinic injunction], with the exception of the following three instances, where patur means that the activity is permitted. The first case is catching a deer, the second is catching a snake and the third is lancing a boil” (Shabbos 3a; 107a, as explained by Tosafos, Shabbos 3a s.v. Bar). Shmuel proves from Mishnayos that, in these three instances, the acts are permitted (Shabbos 107a). The first two of these cases educate us to understand what constitutes the melachah of trapping. (The case of lancing a boil involves a different topic that we will leave for a future article.)

What are the first two cases presented by Shmuel? The first situation is when a deer entered a building and someone sat in the doorway of the building, thereby preventing the deer’s escape. When that person sat down, he trapped the deer and therefore performed the melachah of tzad. This is true, even if he was not involved in coaxing the deer into the building. The Mishnah (Shabbos 106b) then states that if a second person sits alongside the first in a way that the deer’s escape is still blocked, even when the first person gets up, the second person has not desecrated Shabbos. This is because the second person did not trap the deer but merely guaranteed that a captured animal remain in captivity. Although the Mishnah says that the second person is patur, Shmuel explains that one may lechatchilah sit down alongside the first person, even if one’s intention is to keep the deer trapped when the first person gets up. This explains a different aspect of tzad — the melachah is making the animal available for human use; once it is already trapped, there is no further violation in maintaining it under human control.

The second case is based on two different mishnayos. One Mishnah (Shabbos 107a) permits catching a scorpion so that it doesn’t bite, and another states that catching a snake to prevent it from biting does not violate Shabbos min hatorah, whereas catching it for medicinal use does (Eduyos 2:5). Tosafos proves that both Mishnayos that permit tzad to protect someone are discussing creatures whose bite is painful, but not life-threatening, pikuach nefesh (Tosafos, Shabbos 3a s.v. Bar). Were the Mishnah discussing a creature whose bite is life-threatening, it would be obvious that one may kill it, because of the general rule that actions necessary to protect life supersede Shabbos and almost all other mitzvos.

Shmuel ruled that although catching non-dangerous creatures is ordinarily prohibited on Shabbos, since this involves only a rabbinic injunction, the Sages permitted it under extenuating circumstances.

Why is this considered only a rabbinic injunction? We have already presented two possible reasons. The first is because of the principle of melachah she’einah tzerichah legufah, since one has no interest in capturing a snake or a scorpion (Tosafos op. cit.). The second reason is that one is not catching these species to make them available for human use, which is an essential component of the melachah of tzad (Avnei Neizer, Orach Chayim 189:7; see Biur Halachah, 316:2 s.v. Oh Choleh).

Mosquitoes versus snakes

Although we have discovered that one may catch snakes and scorpions that are not life-threatening, this does not tell us whether one may trap mosquitoes, bees or wasps. Although the sting or bite of these species is indeed painful, it is not usually as painful as a snake or scorpion bite. Thus, it might be that Chazal did not permit catching mosquitoes, bees or wasps.

Based on the following passage of Gemara, we can presumably prove the correct answer to this question:

“Someone who trapped a flea on Shabbos — Rabbi Eliezer rules that he is liable for desecrating Shabbos min hatorah, whereas Rabbi Yehoshua rules that his desecration of Shabbos violates only a rabbinic ordinance” (Shabbos 107b). The Gemara explains that this dispute is dependent on an issue that we discussed earlier — Does one desecrate Shabbos min hatorah if he traps a species that is not usually trapped? Rabbi Eliezer rules that he does, whereas Rabbi Yehoshua rules that he does not. Thus, it appears from this Gemara that although Shmuel proved that it is permitted to trap a scorpion, even of the non-deadly variety, one cannot trap a flea, which only causes discomfort.

Three types of varments

We can, therefore, divide the different types of unpleasant biters and stingers into three categories:

  1. Those that are potentially life-threatening to people. In this instance, if there is even the slightest possibility of danger, one may kill or catch them on Shabbos.
  2. Those whose bite is very painful, but does not present any life-threatening danger. These may be trapped on Shabbos, provided that one’s intent is to save people from harm (Rambam, Hilchos Shabbos 10:25). However, it is forbidden to trap if one intends to use the insect, reptile or arachnid. (Modern biology categorizes spiders and scorpions as arachnids, because they have eight legs, are carnivorous and are wingless. If we want to categorize insects and arachnids together, we should use the word arthropods, but that still excludes snakes and other reptiles. So, for most of this article, I have simply used the word creatures. My apologies to the scientists reading this.)
  3. Those whose bite will be unpleasant, but not highly painful. In this instance, there is a dispute among the rishonim. Tosafos and the Rosh (ad loc.) quote from an earlier baal Tosafos, named Rav Poras, that if one sees that an insect may bite him, he is permitted to catch the insect so that he can remove it. When the insect is not so close to him, he may brush the insect off, but he may not trap it.

Not all authorities accepted Rabbi Poras’s approach. The Mordechai (#402) quotes Rav Yehudah Gaon that he noticed that the “elder rabbis” did not trap fleas, even when the fleas were on their skin. The Beis Yosef, however, contends that even Rav Yehudah Gaon accepts the ruling of Rabbi Poras, but that he himself practiced this as a personal chumrah, not as the required halachah that he would rule for others. There are other rishonim, however, who disagree with Rabbi Poras and prohibit trapping mosquitoes, even when they are on someone’s skin, since they are only a discomfort and not dangerous (Meiri, Shabbos 107b).

Consensus

The consensus of halachic authorities follows Rabbi Poras, although there is a dispute among them whether it is permitted to catch the insect only when it is actually biting (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 316:9; Bach) or whether one may remove the insects even when they are in close proximity (Taz 316:8; Magen Avraham 316:18; Elyah Rabbah). The Mishnah Berurah (316:37) concludes that when one can brush off the insect, he should not rely on the heter of trapping it, but he implies that one may trap the insect if brushing it off will not suffice.

Answers

At this point, let us take a fresh look at some of our original questions:

“May I trap mosquitoes, bees, or wasps on Shabbos?”

The answer is that if the insect is about to attack someone, one may trap it. One may also trap it if its sting or bite is very painful, and certainly if it is potentially dangerous.

“May a snake charmer work on Shabbos?” If one is not intending to use the snake, it is permitted. This is all the more so if the snake is dangerous.

In conclusion

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch (Shemos 20:10) notes that people mistakenly think that work is prohibited on Shabbos to ensure that Shabbos is a day of rest. He points out that the Torah does not prohibit doing avodah, which connotes hard work, but melachah, which implies purpose and accomplishment. We certainly see this idea borne out by the ideas of meleches machsheves, which denote the purpose of the action, and have no correlation at all to the amount of energy expended. The goal of Shabbos is to allow Hashem’s rule to be the focus of creation by our refraining from our own creative acts (Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch Commentary to Shemos 20:11).

 

An Unusual Haftarah – That of Parshas Mishpatim

Question #1: A Rare Occurrence

Why is the haftarah for parshas Mishpatim read at such irregular intervals?

Question #2: Haftarah in Reverse

Why do we read the verses of this haftarah in a different order from how they appear in Tanach?

Question #3: Are We Ignoring Chazal?

How are we permitted to read this haftarah out of order, when Chazal prohibited this practice?

Introduction:

The section from sefer Yirmiyahu (34:8-22) beginning with the words Hadavar asher hayah leYirmiyahu discusses the laws of eved ivri, a Jewish slave. For this reason, it is an extremely appropriate haftarah for parshas Mishpatim. At the same time, as the questions above note, there are three unusual and curious aspects of this haftarah, which I will now explain.

Sporadic haftarah

The first question posed above is that, notwithstanding the appropriateness of Hadavar for parshas Mishpatim, in most years we read different haftaros this Shabbos. Furthermore, Hadavar is read in a fairly sporadic pattern. For example, we read it this year, and, under our current fixed calendar system, we will read it again in three years, in 5779 (2019), in 5782 (2022) and in 5785 (2025). This seems like a fairly regular schedule of every three years. However, this is followed by an interlude of ten years before we read it again — not until 5795 (2035). Why is the reading of Hadavar so erratic, when Mishpatim is read very predictably every year, the Shabbos after Yisro and before Terumah?

Driving in reverse

The second question raised above concerns the unusual structure of the haftarah. It consists of reading fifteen pesukim that begin with the words Hadavar from the book of Yirmiyahu (34:8-22) and then closes by reading two pesukim that are nine verses earlier in the sefer (Yirmiyahu 33:25-26). This is the only time that we close a haftarah by reading an earlier passage. Why do we read the passages in an order different from the order in which they appear in sefer Yirmiyahu?

Are we ignoring the Gemara?

The third question is a continuation of the previous one, although it necessitates an introduction. Chazal instituted several rules about reading the haftaros, one of which is called ein medalgim lemafrei’a, which prohibits going back to read an earlier section after we have read a later part. Thus, after reading Chapter 34 of Yirmiyahu, how are we permitted to return to Chapter 33?

Why so sporadic?

Having presented the three issues, allow me to answer these questions in the order in which they were asked. The first question was that the scheduling of this haftarah is both infrequent and sporadic. In most years, we read a different haftarah for Shabbos Mishpatim, and, occasionally, there is a gap of many years between one reading of Hadavar and the next. The reason for this is not as complicated is it sounds. Parshas Mishpatim almost always falls on the Shabbos before Rosh Chodesh Adar. In non-leap years, on that Shabbos we read parshas Shekalim for maftir and, therefore, we read the special haftarah for Shabbos Shekalim which is in sefer Melachim. As a result, almost the only time we read Hadavar is in a leap year, when Shekalim is read on or immediately before Rosh Chodesh of the second Adar – since it is the month immediately preceding Nissan – and Mishpatim falls before the first Adar. (There is a very occasional common year, such as 5785, when parshas Terumah falls on Rosh Chodesh Adar and is therefore the Shabbos on which we read Shekalim. In those years, we indeed read Hadavar on Mishpatim in a common year.)

Even in a leap year, when Shekalim never coincides with Mishpatim, there are years when Shabbos Mishpatim falls either on Rosh Chodesh or on Erev Rosh Chodesh. In these instances, we read the special haftaros for Rosh Chodesh or for Erev Rosh Chodesh. As a result, at times, many years go by until we again read Hadavar.

Haftarah in reverse

The second question concerned the unusual structure of the haftarah, in which we close by reading two pesukim that are a bit earlier in the sefer. Why do we read the haftarah in an order different from how it appears in sefer Yirmiyahu?

Happily ever after

The answer to this question requires our examining an accepted custom – not to end an aliyah, a haftarah or a megillah at a negative point. This concept is already mentioned by Rashi in his last comment on Eicha, where he notes that four seforim of Tanach Eicha, Yeshayahu, Trei Asar and Koheles – end on a negative tone, so we repeat the next to last pasuk afterwards to end on something positive. (The source for this idea is in Talmud Yerushalmi, Brachos, 5:1.)

In accordance with this approach, where the natural end of a haftarah closes on something negative, we often skip ahead a bit to find a more pleasant place to end the haftarah. The unusual aspect of Hadavar is that we do not skip ahead, but backwards, to find a pleasant ending. The reason we do this is because the next several chapters of Yirmiyahu do not include any pesukim that would be considered an appropriate ending for the haftarah. From a reader’s perspective, the most appropriate, pleasant place to stop is a few pesukim before Hadavar, which is why the custom developed of adding these two pesukim at the end.

Shuva versus Vayeitzei

An interesting related question: The haftarah for Shabbos Shuva begins towards the end of Hoshea, one of the twelve prophets whose writings comprise Trei Asar, with the words Shuva Yisroel. The final words of Hoshea are that Hashem’s ways are straight, yet sinners will stumble over them, u’poshe’im yikashlu bam. On Shabbos Shuva, we consider this to be a negative way to end the haftarah, and therefore we continue by reading elsewhere in Trei Asar in order to close with a pleasant ending. (There are many different customs how to accomplish this; I am aware of at least five.) However, the haftarah that most Ashkenazim read every year for Vayeitzei, which begins earlier in Hoshea, ends at the end of Hoshea with the words uposhe’im yikashlu bam. Why are these words considered positive enough to be an appropriate ending when we read this haftarah on Vayeitzei, but an inappropriate place to close on Shabbos Shuva? (It should be noted that the Mishnah Berurah [428:22] and many calendars published in Eretz Yisrael include reciting additional verses when this haftarah is read on Vayeitzei, in order to end more positively. However, most chumashim do not include these additional verses, and it is not the common practice in chutz la’aretz.)

I would like to suggest the following: The stumbling of the evil is not inherently a bad thing, and, for this reason, this is considered an appropriate place to end the haftarah on Vayeitzei. Nevertheless, on Shabbos Shuva, ending with u’poshe’im yikashlu bam, the sinners will stumble, is inappropriate, because the first Shabbos of the year should have a more encouraging conclusion. Alternatively, mention the sinning of the evil is an inappropriate closing during the aseres yemei teshuvah, when our entire theme is that everyone will do teshuvah.

Parshas Kedoshim

It should be noted that there are aliyos and readings that, indeed, do end in negative places, the most obvious example being the end of parshas Kedoshim, whose closing discusses a case of capital punishment. Why are we inconsistent – ending some aliyos in negative places, yet in others skipping or repeating verses to avoid this?

It seems that ending in a negative place is, in general, not forbidden but, rather, a custom that developed to try to find a pleasant ending, wherever this does not distort the reading. However, if finding a pleasant place to end an aliyah will complicate matters, we stop at a convenient place, even though it is negative. Alternatively, the division of the parshiyos predates the custom that we not end an aliyah at a negative point, and these divisions were left in place, even after the custom developed.

The tochachah

We can prove that ending an aliyah in a negative place is a custom that developed, but is not halachically required, from the Gemara and early halachic authorities, in their discussion concerning the public reading of the tochachah. In two different places, parshas Bechukosai at the end of sefer Vayikra and parshas Ki Savo in Devorim, the Torah describes in great detail the calamities that befall Klal Yisroel, should we fail to observe the Torah properly. This part of the Torah is customarily called the tochachah, literally, the admonition, although the Mishnah (Megillah 31a) calls it the curses. Chazal (Megillah 31b) discuss whether one may divide the tochachah into different aliyos. The Gemara concludes that the tochachah in Bechukosai, which is the harsher of the two, may not be divided into aliyos, whereas the tochachah of Ki Savo may be divided. Thus, we see that, other than the tochachah of Bechukosai, one may conclude an aliyah at an unpleasant point.

The Rambam (Hilchos Tefillah 13:7) and the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 428:6) already note that, although it is permitted to end aliyos in the middle of the tochachah of Ki Savo, the custom developed to avoid doing this. This custom was extended to include any place where an aliyah would end in an unpleasant place. However, where accommodating this practice would result in an unusual division of the parshiyos, such as at the end of parshas Kedoshim, we do end the parshah at its natural division, notwithstanding its being a negative place.

Are we ignoring Chazal?

At this point, we will discuss the third question I raised above. How are we permitted to read this haftarah out of order, when Chazal prohibited this practice? Let me explain the question.

Chazal established several rules regarding the reading of the haftarah. One beraisa provides the following directives:

One may not skip from one book of the prophets to another. However, one may skip from the reading of one prophet to another prophet within Trei Asar, provided that one does not skip from the end of the book to its beginning (Megillah 24a). I will refer to this last rule as the prohibition of ein medalgin lemafrei’a, literally, “not to skip backwards.”

Switching prophets midstream

The Gemara is ruling that although one may skip ahead within the same book of the prophets, one may not skip from the writings of one navi to another, such as from Yirmiyahu to Yeshayahu. Rashi explains that skipping from one navi to another confuses people, which is explained by the Aruch Hashulchan (Orach Chayim 144:2) in the following manner: When Hashem brings the presence of His Shechinah onto a prophet, the prophet perceives a vision and a message, which he will later describe. The way the prophet experiences his vision and how he expresses himself bear the mark of aspects of his personality. This is called ein shnei nevi’im misnabe’im besignon echad, literally, “no two prophets prophesy in the identical style” (Sanhedrin 89a). If the haftarah were to shift from one prophet to another, the audience listening would be required to adjust suddenly to the style and mindset of a different prophet, which is confusing. As a result, the listeners would not absorb the full impact of what is being taught, which is why Chazal forbade switching prophets in mid-haftarah.

The Gemara continues by explaining that within Trei Asar, a book composed of the writings of twelve different prophets, Chazal permitted skipping from the writings of one navi to another. Presumably, the reason is that people expect style changes within Trei Asar, so they are not confused.

Ein medalgin lemafrei’a

Returning to the original beraisa, which states: One may not skip from one book of the prophets to another. However, one may skip from the reading of one prophet to another prophet within Trei Asar, provided that one does not skip from the end of the book to its beginning. The question is whether the rule prohibiting medalgin lemafrei’a, reading verses of a book out of order, applies only to the book of Trei Asar, or is it prohibited in any sefer navi. If it refers only to Trei Asar, then reversing direction at the end of the haftarah of Hadavar, which is from the book of Yirmiyahu, does not present any problem.

The authorities dispute which interpretation of the beraisa is correct. The Kesef Mishneh, indeed, rules that ein medalgin lemafrei’a applies only to Trei Asar and nowhere else. However, the Magen Avraham disagrees and understands that ein medalgin lemafrei’a applies to the works of any of the prophets. It is possible that our custom of skipping backwards when reading Hadavar is based on the Kesef Mishneh’s understanding of the Gemara. However, since most late authorities follow the Magen Avraham’s approach, it is unusual that common custom should conflict with his ruling. Are there other approaches to justify the practice?

Foreign additions

Prior to presenting two other approaches to justify the practice of reading the end of the haftarah Hadavar out of order, we should examine a different controversial custom that dates back many hundreds of years. In the times of the rishonim, on the Shabbos after someone married, the haftarah was concluded by adding two or three verses from Yeshayahu (61:10) beginning with the words Sos Asis, because these verses refer to a chosson and kallah (Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 144). The problem with this custom is that whenever the week’s haftarah is from a book other than Yeshayahu, reciting Sos Asis skips from one navi to another.

There was also another, similar practice that seems to violate Chazal’s dictates. When Rosh Chodesh begins on Sunday, a special haftarah from Shmuel is usually read that begins with the words Vayomer Yonasan mochor chodesh. A custom developed that, when Rosh Chodesh fell on Shabbos and Sunday, after reading the haftarah of Shabbos Rosh Chodesh, which is from the closing words of Yeshayahu, the first and last verses of the haftarah mochor Chodesh were read as a reminder that the next day is also Rosh Chodesh. Yet this practice runs counter to the Gemara’s prohibition of switching prophets in mid-haftarah!

The Terumas Hadeshen

One early authority, the Terumas Hadeshen, suggests why these customs do not violate the takkanah. He comments that there are two disputing reasons why one may not switch from one navi to another while reading the haftarah. As we noted above, Rashi explains that the reason is to avoid confusing the listeners. However, other rishonim provide a different reason why one may not skip from one navi to another: closing one navi scroll and opening a different one, while the congregation is waiting, constitutes tircha detzibura, literally, “inconveniencing the congregation.” According to the latter approach, the Terumas Hadeshen explains why the takkanah not to switch prophets in mid-haftarah no longer applied in his day.

Bound Bibles

Although the Terumas Hadeshen lived before the invention of the printing press, he notes that, in his day, they no longer wrote the works of the prophets as scrolls but, instead, they were written as manuscript pages and then bound into books. Among the practical advantages of the bound edition is that one can place a marker in the different places from which one intends to read and then simply turn the pages at the correct time to the appropriate marker. As a result, switching to the writings of a different prophet in mid-haftarah does not involve any tircha detzibura, as opposed to closing a scroll and opening a new one, which takes far more time. For this reason, the Terumas Hadeshen contends, those who explain that Chazal prohibited switching prophets in mid-haftarah because of tircha detzibura will conclude that this is permitted when the haftarah is in book form. He concludes that this is the rationale for those who add verses from Sos Asis or Mochor Chodesh on the appropriate occasions.

However, the Terumas Hadeshen notes that, according to those who prohibit changing prophets in mid-haftarah because the style-change is confusing, it will make no difference whether one is reading from a bound book or a scroll. In both instances, switching to a different author confuses people and may not be done.

Justified conclusion

Based on this approach of the Terumas Hadeshen, we may be able to permit going back to two earlier pesukim to conclude the haftarah of Hadavar, if we assume that the prohibition of ein medalgin lemafrei’a is because of tircha detzibura.

When more is less

However, the custom is not yet out of the woods. Another aspect that impacts on this ruling is the following: When people read the haftarah from a bound volume, the heter mentioned by the Terumas Hadeshen applies. However, today many yeshivos and yeshivah-type shullen have the mehudar custom of using handwritten scrolls of nevi’m for the reading the haftarah. (An explanation for this custom is a topic for a different article.) The Terumas Hadeshen’s rationale will not permit reading Sos Asis, Mochor Chodesh or the last verses for Hadavar from a scroll at the end of a haftarah. This would result in the rather anomalous situation in which the chumra of reading the haftarah from a scroll may ultimately lead to violating a takkanas Chazal!

Another answer

All is not lost, and we can still find justification, even for the scroll readers. Other authorities provide a different reason to permit reading Sos Asis after a haftarah from a different navi. They explain that these verses are not considered part of the haftarah but a concluding song after the haftarah (Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 144, quoting Nemukei Yosef; Levush ad loc. 144:2). This is true, despite the fact that these pesukim are read before the brochos of the conclusion of the haftarah. Similarly, reading the verse Mochor Chodesh after the haftarah does not violate the takkanah of Chazal not to switch prophets in mid-haftarah because this is considered an announcement and not part of the haftarah.

Conclusion

According to this last approach, adding some verses for a pleasant conclusion is not considered part of the haftarah, and therefore does not violate the takkanas chachamim.

As an aside, I have been told that Rav Chayim Kanievsky, shlit”a, advises people who read the haftarah from a scroll to read the last two verses of this week’s haftarah from a regular, printed chumash. This emphasizes the fact that these are not considered part of the haftarah and therefore do not violate the takanas chachamim.

 

What Do I Do with My Sheimos?

American Friends of Nimla Tal Inc. is a tzedakah that distributes all of the money received to situations here in Eretz Yisroel. In addition, a special feature, good through the month of December, is that PayPal adds 1% to the amount donated. So, click on www.paypal.me/rabbikaganoff to donate, and you will be given the option to enter your amount. If you enter $100, for example, you get a US IRS tax deduction of $100, and $101 goes to help the poor in Israel. No money goes to pay salaries or other no expenses.

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

What do I do with my Sheimos?

Question #1:

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

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

Question #2:

I receive the following question from Cheryl:

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

Response:

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

Should it be called sheimos or genizah?

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

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

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

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

That which we call Hashem

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

Erasing attributes

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

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

Does the prohibition include commentaries, Gemaros, et cetera?

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

What happens when they wear out?

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

Buried in earthenware

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

Genizah of printed sefarim

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

The teshuvah of the Be’er Sheva

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

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

Not enough earthenware to go around

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

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

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

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

Corresponding mechutanim

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

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

Family feud

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

The second volley

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

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

Packing the printed material

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

What is the accepted halachic practice?

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

How can we permit this?

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

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

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

Burial at sea

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

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

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

Conclusion — contemporary practice

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

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

 

 

How Many Should be Saying Kaddish?

American Friends of Nimla Tal Inc. is a tzedakah that distributes all of the money received to situations here in Eretz Yisroel of which I have personal knowledge. Usually, the money is used to pay for therapy. In addition, a special feature, good through the month of December, is that PayPal adds 1% to the amount donated. So, click on www.paypal.me/rabbikaganoff to donate, and you will be given the option to enter your amount. If you enter $100, for example, you get a US IRS tax deduction of $100, and $101 goes to help the poor in Israel. No money goes to pay salaries or other no expenses.

Since, in Parshas Vayechi, we read of Yaakov Avinu’s last instructions to his children, this is an appropriate week to discuss some of the laws of kaddish.

How Many Should be Saying Kaddish?

Question: Is it better that each mourner recite only one kaddish, or that all the mourners recite all the kaddeishim?

Answer: Most people are under the impression that whether the “mourner’s kaddish” (kaddish yasom) is recited by only one person or whether many recite it simultaneously is a dispute between the practices of Germany and those of Eastern Europe. However, we will soon see that this simplification is inaccurate. There were many communities in Eastern Europe where kaddish was said by only one person at a time, and this was the universal Ashkenazic practice until about 250 years ago.

The custom that many people recite the mourner’s kaddish simultaneously was accepted and standard Sefardic practice (meaning the Jews of North Africa and the Middle East), going back at least to the early 18th century (see Siddur Yaavetz, comments after Aleinu), although when this custom was instituted is uncertain. But before we explore the issue of whether more than one person may say kaddish simultaneously, let us first examine the origins of reciting the mourner’s kaddish altogether.

Origins of kaddish

Although the Gemara refers to kaddish in numerous places (Brachos 3a, 57a; Shabbos 119b; Sukkah 39a; Sotah 49a), it never mentions what we call kaddish yasom, the kaddish recited by mourners, nor does it recommend or even suggest, anywhere, that a mourner lead the services. The Gemara, also, makes no mention of when kaddish is recited, with the exception of a very cryptic reference to kaddish recited after studying aggadah (see Sotah 49a). A different early source, Masechta Sofrim, mentions recital of kaddish before borchu (10:7) and after musaf (19:12). The fact that the Gemara says nothing about a mourner reciting kaddish or leading services is especially unusual, since the most common source for these practices is an event that predates the Gemara. The Or Zarua, a rishon, records the following story:

Rabbi Akiva once saw a man covered head to toe with soot, carrying on his head the load that one would expect ten men to carry, and running like a horse. Rabbi Akiva stopped the man, and asked him: “Why are you working so hard? If you are a slave and your master works you this hard, I’ll redeem you. If you are so poor that you need to work this hard to support your family, I’ll find you better employment.”

The man replied, “Please do not detain me, lest those appointed over me get angry at me.”

Rabbi Akiva asked him: “Who are you, and what is your story?”

The man answered: “I died, and everyday they send me like this to chop and carry these amounts of wood. When I am finished, they burn me with the wood that I have gathered.”

Rabbi Akiva asked him what his profession was when he was alive, to which he answered that he had been a tax collector (which, in their day, meant someone who purchased from the government the contract to collect taxes) who favored the rich by overtaxing the poor, which the Or Zarua calls “killing the poor.”

Rabbi Akiva: “Have you heard from your overseers whether there is any way to release you from your judgment?”

The man responded: “Please do not detain me, lest my overseers become angry with me. I have heard that there is no solution for me, except for one thing that I cannot do. I was told that if I have a son who would lead the tzibur in the recital of borchu or would recite kaddish so that the tzibur would answer yehei shemei rabba mevorach…, they would release me immediately from this suffering. However, I did not leave any sons, but a pregnant wife, and I have no idea if she gave birth to a male child, and if she did, whether anyone is concerned about teaching him, since I have not a friend left in the world.”

At that moment, Rabbi Akiva accepted upon himself to find whether a son existed and, if indeed he did, to teach him Torah until he could fulfill what was required to save his father. Rabbi Akiva asked the man for his name, his wife’s name, and the name of the town where he had lived. “My name is Akiva, my wife’s name is Shoshniva and I come from Ludkia.”

Rabbi Akiva traveled to Ludkia and asked people if they knew of a former resident, Akiva, the husband of Shoshniva, to which he received the following answer: “Let the bones of that scoundrel be ground to pulp.” When Rabbi Akiva asked about Shoshniva, he was answered: “May any memory of her be erased from the world.” He then inquired about their child, and was answered: “He is uncircumcised — for we were not interested in involving ourselves even to provide him with a bris milah!” Rabbi Akiva immediately began his search for the son, whom he located — it turned out that he was already a young adult. Rabbi Akiva performed a bris milah on him and attempted to teach him Torah, but was unable to do so. For forty days, Rabbi Akiva fasted, praying that the child be able to study Torah, at which time a heavenly voice announced: “Rabbi Akiva, now go and teach him Torah!”

Rabbi Akiva taught him Torah, shma, shmoneh esrei, birchas hamazon, and then brought him to shul in order for him to lead the tzibur by reciting kaddish and borchu, to which the tzibur responded, yehei shemei rabba mevorach le’olam ule’olmei olemaya and “Baruch Hashem hamevorach le’olam va’ed.

At that moment, Akiva, the husband of Shoshniva, was released from his punishment. This Akiva immediately came to Rabbi Akiva in a dream and told him: “May it be Hashem’s will that you eventually reach your eternal rest in Gan Eden — for you have saved me from Gehennom.” (This story is also found, with some variation, in the second chapter of Masechta Kallah Rabasi.)

Other versions

When a different rishon, the Rivash, was asked about this story, he reported that it is not found in the Gemara, but perhaps its origin is in Midrash Rabbah or Midrash Tanchuma. He then quotes a story from the Orchos Chayim similar to that quoted by Or Zarua. In conclusion, the Orchos Chayim emphasizes that, for the twelve months of mourning, a mourner should recite the last kaddish of the davening and maftir on Shabbos and Yom Tov, and lead the services for ma’ariv every motza’ei Shabbos (Shu’t Harivash #115).

A similar story is recorded in an earlier midrashic source, the Tanna Devei Eliyahu, where the protagonist is not Rabbi Akiva, but his rebbe’s rebbe, Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai (see Rambam, Peirush Hamishnayos, end of the fifth chapter of Sotah). In this version, the man was punished until his son turned five and the son was educated to the point that he could answer borchu in shul (Eliyahu Zuta, Chapter 17). No mention is made of the son reciting kaddish. However, the halachic sources all quote the version of the Or Zarua, in which the protagonist of the story is Rabbi Akiva.

Merits for the deceased

This story serves as the basis for the practice that a mourner lead the services and recite kaddish. Relatively little of this topic is discussed until the time of the Maharil, who was asked the following question:

“Should someone who is uncertain whether his father or mother is still alive recite kaddish?”

To this question, frequent in earlier times when cell phones were not so commonplace, the Maharil replied that he is not required to recite kaddish and he should assume that the person is still alive (Mishnah, Gittin 3:3). Once the parent reaches the age of eighty, one should view it as uncertain whether the parent is still alive. Upon this basis, I am aware of a gadol be’yisrael who had escaped Hitler’s Europe before the war, who began to recite kaddish for his parents once the Nazis invaded the part of Russia where his parents were living.

The Maharil continues that if there are two people in shul, one who is reciting kaddish for a deceased parent, whereas the other is uncertain whether his parents are still alive, that the second person should not recite kaddish. This is because of the halachic principle of ein safek motzi midei vadai, someone who has a questionable claim does not preempt someone who has a definite claim or right – in this instance, the person whose parents might still be alive should not recite kaddish, rather than someone whose parents are known to be deceased. We see from this ruling that the Maharil assumes that kaddish is recited by only one person at a time.

The Maharil explains that, for this reason, he himself did not say kaddish when he was uncertain whether his parents were still alive. He then explains that someone who is not sure whether his parents are still alive and is capable to lead the services properly should lead the services in honor of his parents (Teshuvos Maharil #36).

Conclusions based on the Maharil

We see from the Maharil’s discussion that:

Only one person recites kaddish at a time.

The reason that someone whose parents are alive should not recite mourner’s kaddish is because he is taking the kaddish away from people who are mourners.

If there is no mourner present to lead the services, then the person uncertain if he is a mourner should lead services, if he can do the job properly.

Obligatory versus voluntary kaddish

The Maharil (Shu’t Maharil Hachadoshos #28) was also asked how a minor can recite kaddish if it is a requirement, as only one obligated to fulfill a mitzvah may fulfill a mitzvah on behalf of others. The Maharil answered that the kaddeishim that are recited by the shaliach tzibur as part of davening cannot be recited by minors. These kaddeishim are obligatory and therefore must be recited by an adult, who thereby fulfills the mitzvah on behalf of the entire community. However, non-obligatory kaddeishim, such as kaddish derabbanan and the kaddeishim recited at the end of davening, may be recited by minors. As a curious aside, the Mesechta Sofrim (10:7) explains that these kaddeishim were established primarily as make-up for people who arrived late and missed the kaddeishim that are required.

It is interesting to note that, already in the time of the Maharil, people assumed that the mourner’s kaddeishim are more important than the kaddeishim recited by the chazzan. The Maharil points out that this is incorrect, since the kaddeishim recited by the chazzan are required, and it is greater to perform a mitzvah that one is required to observe than one that is not required (gadol ha’metzuveh ve’oseh mimi she’eino metzuveh ve’oseh). The main merit that one performs for his deceased parent is to recite the kaddeishim that are said by the chazzan as part of davening.

Since minors cannot serve as chazzan, the Maharil considers it a great merit that they receive maftir, which a minor may receive, since they thereby recite borchu in front of the tzibur.

Mourner’s kaddish on weekdays

It appears from the Maharil’s responsum that, prior to his era, kaddish yasom was recited only on Shabbos and Yom Tov. In his day, a new custom had just begun in some communities to recite mourner’s kaddish on weekdays. The reason for the new custom was to enable minors to recite kaddish on a daily basis and to accommodate adults whom the tzibur did not want to lead the services.

Which kaddeishim should be said?

The Maharil writes that although these kaddeishim are not required, but only customary, they should still be recited after a shiur is completed, after bameh madlikin is recited Friday evening, and after pesukim are recited, such as when we recite kaddish after aleinu and the shir shel yom. He rules that someone whose parents are still alive may recite these kaddeishim. However, if his parents do not want him to recite these kaddeishim, he should not.

One at a time

At this point, let us address our opening question: Is it better that each mourner recite only one kaddish, or that all the mourners recite all the kaddeishim?

It appears that, initially, whoever wanted to recite what we call today the mourner’s kaddeishim would do so. Knowing the story of Rabbi Akiva, it became an element of competition, different people trying to chap the mitzvah, which sometimes engendered machlokes and chillul Hashem. To resolve this problem, two approaches developed for dealing with the issue. Among Sefardim, the accepted approach was that anyone who wanted to say kaddish did so, and everyone recited kaddish in unison. This practice is noted and praised by Rav Yaakov Emden in his commentary on the siddur (at the end of Aleinu). Among the Ashkenazim, the approach used was to establish rules of prioritization, whereby one person at a time recited kaddish.

These lists of prioritization are discussed and amplified by many later Ashkenazi authorities, thus implying that, in the Ashkenazi world, the early custom was that only one person recited kaddish at a time. We do not know exactly when the custom began to change, but by the late eighteenth/early nineteenth century, several major Ashkenazi authorities, among them the Chayei Odom (30:7) and the Chasam Sofer (Shu’t Orach Chayim #159; Yoreh Deah #345), discuss a practice whereby kaddish was recited by more than one person simultaneously. About this time, we find another custom in some communities, in which the mourner’s kaddish was said by only one person, but where everyone who chose could join in the recital of a kaddish derabbanan that was recited at the end of the daily morning prayer (see Shu’t Binyan Tziyon #1:122), presumably after the rav taught a shiur in halachah.

Merged community

With this background, we can understand the following mid-nineteenth century responsum. A community had two shullen and several shteiblach. The main shul was in serious disrepair, so they made an agreement to close all the smaller shullen in order to pool resources and invest in one large, beautiful new shul and have no other minyanim. Included in this decision was a new takkanah that all mourners would now recite all the kaddeishim in unison. Subsequently, some individuals claimed that the community should follow the practice of the Rema and the Magen Avraham of prioritizing the recital of kaddish and have one person say it at a time. The community leaders retorted that this would create machlokes, since there was only one shul and many people would like to say more kaddeishim than they can under the proposed system. Apparently, the dispute even involved some fisticuffs. The community sent the shaylah to Rav Ber Oppenheim, the rav and av beis din of Eibenschutz. He felt that the community practice of having all the mourners recite kaddish together should be maintained, but first wrote an extensive letter clarifying his position, which he sent to Rav Yaakov Ettlinger, the premier halachic authority of central Europe at the time. I will refer to Rav Ettlinger by the name he is usually called in yeshiva circles, the Aruch Laneir, the name of his most famous work, the multi-volumed Aruch Laneir commentary on much of Shas. The Aruch Laneir’s reply was subsequently published in his work of responsa called Shu’t Binyan Tziyon.

The Aruch Laneir contended that one should not change the established minhag of Germany and Poland, in practice for more than three hundred years, in which only one person recites kaddish at a time. He further notes that although the Yaavetz had praised the practice that several people recite kaddish in unison, the Yaavetz himself had lived in Altoona, Germany, where the accepted practice was that only one person said kaddish at a time. (The Aruch Laneir notes that he himself was the current rav of Altoona and had been so already for several decades.)

Furthermore, the Aruch Laneir contends that one cannot compare Ashkenazic to Sefardic observance for a practical reason. The Sefardim are accustomed to praying in unison, and therefore, when they say kaddish, everyone exhibits great care to synchronize its recital. When Ashkenazim attempt to recite kaddish in unison, no one hears the kaddeishim. The Aruch Laneir notes that when the kaddish derabbanan is recited by all mourners, the result is a cacophony. He writes that he wishes he could abolish this custom, since, as a result, no one hears or responds appropriately to kaddish.

In conclusion, the Aruch Laneir is adamant that where the custom is that one person at a time recite kaddish, one may not change the practice. On the other hand, we have seen that other authorities cite a custom whereby all the mourners recite kaddish in unison.

Conclusion: How does kaddish work?

The Gemara (Yoma 86a) records that any sin that a person commits in this world, no matter how grievous, will be atoned if the person does teshuvah. This does not mean that the teshuvah accomplishes atonement without any suffering. Some sins are so serious that a person must undergo suffering in this world in addition to performing teshuvah, before he is forgiven.

The greatest sin a person can be guilty of is chillul Hashem. Only teshuvah, suffering, and the individual’s eventual demise will be sufficient to atone for this transgression. Thus, a person’s death may result from his having caused a chillul Hashem.

The Maharal of Prague had a brother, Rav Chayim, who authored a work entitled Sefer Hachayim, in which he writes that most people die because at some point in their life they made a chillul Hashem. The reason a mourner recites kaddish is to use the parent’s death as a reason to create kiddush Hashem – by reciting kaddish – thus, atoning for the original chillul Hashem (Sefer Hachayim, end of chapter 8). May we all merit to create kiddush Hashem in our lives.

Sukkah Schach Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A “Venetian” Sukkah

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

Walking (under) the Plank

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

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

Metal in the Schach

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

Supporting the Schach – the Maamid

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rabbi Kaganoff responds:

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

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

“Threading” the Schach

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

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

Mishpacha:

How so?

Schach Mats

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

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

Mishpacha:

What design changes did you make?

RYK:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Slatted Mats

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

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

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

Must I Fumigate my Schach?

Mishpacha:

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

RYK:

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

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

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

 

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

[ii] Gemara Sukkah 14a

[iii] Gemara Sukkah 21b

[iv] See Gemara Sukkah 2a

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

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

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

[viii] Gemara Sukkah 12b

[ix] Rambam, Hilchos Sukkah 5:4

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

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

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

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

[xv] Shu”t Yechaveh Daas 1:64

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

How Will I Buy My Esrog This Year?

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

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

  1. IS OWNERLESS — HEFKER

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

  1. CANNOT BE SOLD COMMERCIALLY

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

  1. SANCTIFIES ITS EXCHANGE – TOFESES DAMAV

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

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

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

  1. MUST EVENTUALLY BE “ELIMINATED” — BIUR

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

  1. MAY NOT BE EXPORTED

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

  1. ARE ONLY FOR JEWISH CONSUMPTION

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

  1. ARE FOR FOOD AND NOT FOR WASTE

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

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

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

BUYING A SHMITTAH ESROG

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

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

WELCOME TO OTZAR BEIS DIN!

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

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

WHAT IS AN OTZAR BEIS DIN?

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

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

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

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

WHO PAYS FOR OTZAR BEIS DIN SERVICES?

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

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

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

BIUR – ELIMINATION

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

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

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

HAVLA’AH

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

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

HAVLA’AH PROBLEMS UNIQUE TO OTZAR BEIS DIN

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

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

EXPORT

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMPORTING ESROGIM FROM ERETZ YISROEL

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

WHAT DO I DO WITH MY ESROG?

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

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

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

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

 

Jews and Idols

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

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

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

Question #2: Idol art

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

Question #3: Converted church

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

Answer:

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

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

Meditation room

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

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

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

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

Praying in an open field

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

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

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

Enjoying the artwork

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do we rule?

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

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

Abizraya de’avodah zarah

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

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

Collecting your debt

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

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

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

Entering the courtyard

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

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

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

Converted church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May one pray in a church?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

 

Of Umbrellas and Eruvs

umbrellasQuestion #1: Umbrellas and Eruvs

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

Question #2: My Shabbos Nap

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

Question #3: Cocktail Torah

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

Answer: The original sunscreen

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

Building and roofing

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

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

What is an ohel kavua?

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

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

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

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

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

What is permitted?

When is it permitted to make a temporary ohel?

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

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

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

A differing approach

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

London, 1782

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

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

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

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

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

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

First response: Prague, 1783

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

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

Nineteenth century Bratislava

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

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

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

A lawn umbrella

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

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

The position of the Chazon Ish

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

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

Umbrellic conclusion

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

A cocktail umbrella

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

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

Conclusion

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

 

The Mitzvah of Duchening (Birchas Kohanim)

In Parshas Naso, the Torah teaches about the beautiful mitzvah of Birchas Kohanim, wherein the kohanim are commanded to bless the people of Israel. This mitzvah is usually referred to by Ashkenazic Jews as “duchening” and by Sefardic Jews as Birchat Kohanim, or occasionally as Nesiyat Kapayim, which refers to the raising of hands that the kohanim do in order to recite the blessings.

Why Is This Mitzvah Called Duchening?

Duchen is the Aramaic word for the platform that is in front of the Aron Kodesh. The duchen exists to remind us of the ulam, the antechamber that stood in front of the Kodesh and the Kodshei HaKodoshim, the holy chambers in the Beis HaMikdash. The Kodshei HaKodoshim was entered on only one day of the year, on Yom Kippur, and then only by the Kohen Gadol. The Kodesh was entered a few times daily, but only to perform the mitzvos of the Menorah, the Golden Mizbayach (altar), and the Shulchan (the Holy Table that held the Lechem HaPanim). Before entering the Kodesh, one ascended into the Ulam as a sign of respect, so as not to enter the Kodesh immediately.

Similarly, in our shuls the Aron Kodesh represents the Kodesh, since we are permitted to open it and to remove the Sifrei Torah when we need to. But, before entering the Kodesh, one ascends the duchen, in this case, also, to show respect by approaching the Aron Kodesh after a preliminary stage.

The duchen also serves other functions, one of which is that the kohanim stand upon it when they recite the blessings of Birchas Kohanim. For this reason, this mitzvah is called duchening (duchenen in Yiddish). In the absence of a duchen, or if there are more kohanim in the shul than there is room on the duchen, the kohanimduchen” while standing on the floor in the front of the shul.

Basics of Duchening

There is a basic order to the duchening that occurs during the repetition of the Shemoneh Esrai. When the chazan completes the brachah of modim and the congregation answers “amen” to his brocha, someone (either the chazan or a member of the congregation, depending on minhag) calls out “kohanim” to inform the kohanim that it is time for them to begin the brachah. After the kohanim recite the brachah on the mitzvah, the chazan then reads each word of the Birchas Kohanim that is recorded in the Torah (Bamidbar 6:24-26) for the kohanim to recite, and the kohanim respond. The congregation responds “amen” after each of the three brochos. After the last brachah of Birchas Kohanim is completed by the kohanim, the chazan returns to the repetition of the Shemoneh Esrai by reciting the brachahsim shalom“.

The Gemara and poskim teach that at each of these stages, one must be careful not to recite one’s part before the previous step has been completed. Thus, the person who calls out “kohanim” must be careful not to do so before the congregation has finished answering “amen” to the chazan’s brachah; the kohanim should be careful not to recite the words of the brachah before the chazan has completed saying the word “kohanim”; the chazan may not call out “yevarechecha” before the congregation has completed saying “amen” to the brachah of the kohanim, etc. It is important to be mindful of these halachos and allow each stage to be completed before beginning the next. Unfortunately, even well-learned people are sometimes not sufficiently careful and patient to wait until it is time for their part to be recited.

Wearing Shoes During Duchening

A kohen may not duchen while wearing shoes. The Gemara teaches that this was one of the nine takkanos that were instituted by Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai (Sotah 40a). Although there would seem to be an obvious association with the halacha that the kohanim were barefoot when they performed the service in the Beis HaMikdash, the actual reason for this takkanah is unrelated. Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai was concerned that a kohen’s shoelace would tear while he was on the way to the duchen and, while stopping to retie his shoelace, he would miss the duchening. However, people who saw that he missed the duchening would not realize what happened. They might start a rumor that he did not duchen because he is not a valid kohen! For this reason, Chazal instituted that every kohen simply removes his shoes before duchening.

What if the Chazan is a Kohen?

The mishnah states that when there is only one kohen in shul, and he is the chazan, then he may (and should) duchen (Berachos 34a). In this instance, the kohen will remove his shoes and wash his hands prior to beginning repetition of the Shemoneh Esrai. There is a dispute among poskim whether a kohen may duchen when he is the chazan and there are other kohanim who will be duchening. The Shulchan Aruch rules that he should not duchen under these circumstances, because of a concern that he will become confused where he is up to in the davening and have difficulty resuming his role as chazan (Orach Chayim 128:20). Chazal instituted this prohibition even when we are certain that the chazan will not become confused, such as today, when he has a siddur in front of him (Mishnah Berurah 128:72).

However, the Pri Chodosh rules that he may duchen, and that the concern referred to by the Shulchan Aruch was only when the chazan might become confused (such as when he does not have a siddur to daven from). In most communities in Eretz Yisrael, the custom is to follow the Pri Chodosh’s ruling allowing a kohen who is the chazan to duchen. However, in chutz la’aretz the practice is to follow the Shulchan Aruch, and the chazan does not duchen (unless he is the only kohen).

In a situation where the chazan is the only kohen and there is a platform (the “duchen”) in front of the aron kodesh, there is a very interesting halacha that results. Since the duchening should take place on the platform, the kohen walks up to the duchen in the middle of his repetition of the Shemoneh Esrai. After completing the duchening, he returns to his place as chazan and completes the repetition of the Shemoneh Esrai.

The Minyan Disappeared

What do you do if you started davening with a minyan, but in the middle of davening, some men left, leaving you with less than a minyan? Can you still duchen?

If the minyan started the duchening with ten men or more, and then some men left in the middle of the duchening, they should complete the duchening (Biur Halachah 128:1 s.v. bipachus).

What Happens if a Kohen Does Not Want to Duchen?

A kohen who does not want to duchen should stand outside the shul from before the time that the word “kohanim” is called out, until the duchening is completed.

The Days that We Duchen

The prevalent custom among Sefardim and other Edot Hamizrach is to duchen every day. There are many Ashkenazic poskim who contend that Ashkenazim should also duchen every day. However, the standard practice in chutz la’aretz is that Ashkenazim duchen only on Yomim Tovim. In most of Eretz Yisroel, the prevalent practice is that Ashkenazim duchen every day. However, in Tzfas and much of the Galil, the custom is that the kohanim duchen only on Shabbos and Yom Tov.

Why do Ashkenazim duchen in Eretz Yisrael every day, and in chutz la’aretz only on Yom Tov?

Several reasons are cited to explain this practice. Rama explains that a person can confer blessing only when he is fully happy. Unfortunately, except for the Yomim Tovim, the kohanim are distracted from true happiness by the difficulties involved in obtaining basic daily needs. However, on Yomim Tovim, the kohanim are in a mood of celebration. Thus, they forget their difficulties and can bless people with a complete heart (Rama 128:44; cf. Be’er Heiteiv ad loc.). Thus, only on Yom Tov do the kohanim duchen.

In Eretz Yisroel, the practice is to duchen daily, because the Ashkenazim there followed the ruling of the Vilna Gaon. He contended that Ashkenazim everywhere should duchen every day.

Why do the kohanim in Tzfas duchen only on Shabbos and Yom Tov?

The reason for this custom is unclear. I was once told in the name of Rav Kaplan, the Rav of Tzfas for many decades, that since Tzfas had many tzoros over the years, including many serious earthquakes and frequent attacks by bandits,  the people living there did not have true simcha. However, they were able to achieve enough simcha on Shabbos and Yom Tov to be able to duchen. This reason does not explain why the other communities in the Galil duchen only on Shabbos and Yom Tov.

It should be noted that the Sefardim in Tzfas duchen every day, not only on Shabbos.

Placement of Shoes

As I mentioned before, Chazal instituted that a kohen should remove his shoes before duchening. Unfortunately, some kohanim leave their shoes lying around in the front of the shul when they go up to duchen. This practice is incorrect. The kohanim are required to place their shoes under the benches or in some other inconspicuous place when they go up to duchen. It shows a lack of respect to leave the shoes lying about (Mishnah Berurah 128:15)

Washing Hands

Prior to duchening, there is a requirement that the kohanim wash their hands. In some shuls, the Kohanim wash their hands in the front of the shul before they go up to duchen. What is the reason for this practice?

This custom has a source in Rishonim and Poskim and should definitely be encouraged. Tosafos (Sotah 39a s.v. kol) rules that one should wash one’s hands relatively near the duchen, whereas washing further away and then walking to the duchen constitutes an interruption, a hefsek, similar to talking between washing netilas yadayim and making hamotzi  on eating bread. (His actual ruling is that one should wash one’s hands within twenty-two amos of the duchen, which is a distance of less than forty feet.) Thus, according to Tosafos, we are required to place a sink within that distance of the duchen where the kohanim stand to duchen. The Magen Avrohom rules according to this Tosafos and adds that since the kohanim wash their hands before Retzei, the chazan should recite the brachah of Retzei speedily. In his opinion, the time that transpires after the kohen washes his hands should be less time than it takes to walk twenty-two amos (128:9). Thus, Retzei must be recited in less time than it takes to walk twenty-two amos. The Biur Halachah adds that the kohanim should not converse between the washing of their hands and the duchening, because this, also, constitutes a hefsek.

Duchening and Dreams

A person who had a dream that requires interpretation and does know whether the dream bodes well should recite a prayer at the time of the duchening (Berachos 55b; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 130:1). It should be noted that the text of the prayer quoted by the Gemara is different from that quoted in the majority of siddurim. The Gemara cites the following text for this prayer:

“Master of the World, I am yours and my dreams are yours. I dreamed a dream that I do not understand its meaning — whether it is something I have dreamt about myself or it is something that my friends dreamt about me or whether it is something that I dreamt about them. If these dreams are indeed good, strengthen them like the dreams of Yosef. However, if the dreams need to be healed, heal them as Moshe healed the bitters waters of Marah, as Miriam was healed of her tzaraas, as Chizkiyahu was healed of his illness and as the waters of Yericho were healed by Elisha. Just as You changed the curse of Bilaam to a blessing, so, too, change all my dreams for the good.” According to the opinion of the Vilna Gaon, this prayer should be recited at the end of all three blessings, rather than reciting the “Yehi Ratzon” that is printed in most siddurim (Mishnah Berurah 130:5).

One should complete the prayer at the moment that the congregation answers Amen to the blessings of Birchas Kohanim. This prayer can be recited not only when one is uncertain of the interpretation of the dream, but even when one knows that the dream bodes evil (Mishnah Berurah 130:4).

Among Ashkenazim in chutz la’aretz, where the practice is to duchen only on Yom Tov, the custom is to recite this prayer every time one hears the duchening, because there is a likelihood that since the last Yom Tov one had a dream that requires interpretation (Mishnah Berurah 130:1). This prayer is not recited on Shabbos, unless one had a bad dream that night (Mishnah Berurah 130:4). In Eretz Yisrael, where the custom is to duchen daily, the practice among Ashkenazim is to recite the prayer for dreams at the last of the three berachos of the duchening at musaf on Yom Tov, when it does not fall on a Shabbos. The custom is that the kohanim chant the last word of the brachah on these Yom Tov days to allow people sufficient time to recite this prayer.

In all places, the custom among Sefardim is not to recite the prayer unless the person had such a dream.

As a kohen, myself, I find duchening to be the most beautiful of mitzvos. We are, indeed, so fortunate to have a commandment to bless our fellow Jews, the children of Our Creator. The nusach of the brachah is also worth noting. “Levarach es amo Yisrael b’ahava” — to bless His nation Israel with love. The blessings of a kohen must flow from a heart full of love for the Jews that he is privileged to bless.

 

This Is the Way We Wash Our Hands

washing cupQuestion #1: Cup after restroom?

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

Question #2: Netilah review

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

Question #3: Lost count

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

Answer:

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

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

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

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

III.       For kedushah

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

  1. For taharah

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

Reasons make differences

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

Not mutually exclusive

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

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

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

  1. Hygiene

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

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

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

  1. For ruach ra

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

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

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

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

More than one reason

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

Different levels of ruach ra

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

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

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

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

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

III. For reasons of kedushah

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

Brocha for washing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Washing for bread

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

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

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

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

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

Chatzitzah, intervening substances

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

Unused water

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

Potable

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

Vessel

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

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

Koach gavra

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

Wrist or knuckles?

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

Positioning the hands

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

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

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

Rubbing hands together

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

Drying

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

Washing wet hands

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

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

Optimal washing

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

 

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