Is a Position Inherited?

Question #1: The inherited shofar

“Our shul’s longstanding shofar blower passed on. Are we required to appoint his son, when we would prefer to appoint a different master blaster?”

Question #2: I’d like a change!

“Is there a halachic reason why, in some communities, people hold their appointments on shul and school boards forever, whereas, in other communities, these positions are constantly rotated?”

Question #3: Long live the Rabbi!

“When a rav passes on, does his son have a claim to the position?”

Answer:

In several places, Chazal derive that a son qualified for a communal appointment held by his father inherits the position (Horiyos 11b; Kesubos 103b; Sifrei, Devorim 17:20). To quote the Rambam’s halachic ruling on the topic: When the king, the kohen gadol, or a different appointee dies, we appoint, in his stead, his son or someone else who would inherit from him. Whoever would be first to inherit from him comes first for the position of the deceased, provided he is a valid substitute… the same is true for any appointment in the Jewish people — one who receives it does so for himself and his descendants (Hilchos Klei Hamikdash 4:20).

The Rambam mentions this law a second time,in which he explains in more detail what is meant by saying that the son is a “valid substitute”: whoever has a prior right germane to receive inheritance has a prior right for inheriting the monarchy… not only the kingship, but any other position of authority and any other appointment in Israel is an inheritance for his son and his son’s son, forever, provided that the son fills the place of his father in wisdom and fear of G-d. If he meets the standard in fear of G-d, but not in wisdom, we appoint him and then teach him. However, anyone lacking in fear of G-d, even if he is very wise, is not appointed to any position in Israel (Hilchos Melachim 1:7).

Retiring chazzan

One of the earliest surviving responsa related to this question was penned hundreds of years ago, when the Rashba was asked about the following case (Shu”t HaRashba 1:300). A chazzan/baal keriyah had been serving a community faithfully for 38 years, a position that he inherited from his father, who had inherited the position from his father. The current chazzan’s vision is now somewhat impaired, making it difficult for him to be the baal keriyah, and he has been having his son function as baal keriyah and also as community secretary and scribe, which apparently were other responsibilities included in the position. Some members of the community are dissatisfied with the new arrangements — they feel that the son does not have as nice a voice as his father. They are requesting that either the chazzan fulfill all the requirements of his position, or that he retire and allow the community to hire a new chazzan, who can perform to their specifications. When the community hired this chazzan over a generation before, he was able to perform all his tasks admirably. They are still satisfied with his skills as a chazzan, and they would not request that he step down, as long as he can fulfill his job. However, they feel that they did not hire his replacement, and they are dissatisfied with the son’s voice, which is not as melodious as that of his father.

For his part, the chazzan notes that he has a life contract with the community, which states that no one can take his place at any of his tasks without his permission. Furthermore, he claims that most of the 150 members of the community are willing to have his son help him in the areas that are now difficult for him, whereas only about ten members voice disapproval of the new arrangement. Each of the two sides in the dispute presented its position to the Rashba to rule on the case via correspondence. We are highly grateful that they chose this specific method of dealing with their litigation, because it provides a written record of the case and the Rashba’s detailed decision. Based on what we have seen so far, how would you rule?

The ruling

The Rashba sided with the chazzan for three different reasons:

First, when you hire someone for a position as chazzan, it is self understood that he will occasionally need someone to substitute for him, either because he is ill or needs to be out of town. The Rashba rules that it is within the authority of the chazzan to choose who should serve as his substitute, assuming that he chooses someone who can do an adequate job. (A later authority, the Keneses Hagedolah, notes that there is another requirement – the substitute is G-d-fearing enough to fill the position [quoted by the Mishnah Berurah 53:84].)

Second reason of Rashba

A second reason why the Rashba rules in favor of the chazzan is that the contract states that the community cannot have someone else take his place without his agreement. This implies that the chazzan has the authority, at his option, to choose someone to assist him in carrying out his responsibilities.

The Rashba does not make any distinction between having someone substitute for the chazzan on an occasional basis and having someone assume some of his responsibilities permanently. In both instances, he considers it the right of the chazzan to assign part of this job to someone else, provided the assignee can perform the job adequately. It is not necessary that the substitute or replacement perform the job at the same level as the chazzan himself.

The son’s right

The third reason the Rashba cites is that, should the chazzan no longer be able to fulfill his responsibilities, his son has the right to the position as long as he can perform the job adequately. It is not necessary that the son have a voice as melodious as that of his father, as long as he is G-d fearing enough to fulfill the position. It is, therefore, certainly true that the son has the right to assist the current chazzan ahead of anyone else. Some later authorities rule that the son does not have a right to the position if his voice sounds strange (Magen Avraham 53:32).

To simplify: The Rashba’s first two reasons explain why the chazzan has a right to choose his own replacement, and the third reason explains why the son has the right to assume the chazzan’s responsibilities, ahead of any other candidate.

Choosing someone else

What would the Rashba hold if the different reasons are in conflict – meaning that the son would like to be his father’s replacement, but the father does not want him? The Rashba implies that, should the chazzan want to appoint someone other than his son to help him with his responsibilities, he may do so.

How do we rule?

The Rema (Orach Chayim 53:25) quotes this Rashba, but implies that he limits the right of the chazzan to appointing his son, and does not accept that the chazzan has the right to appoint someone else. The Mishnah Berurah explains as follows: There are indeed two different concepts that explain why the Rashba ruled according to the chazzan. One is that the chazzan has a right to appoint a substitute to assist him on an occasional basis, or to take over for him while he is away or ill. However, it may be that this right is his only when the substitute is temporarily fulfilling one of the chazzan’s responsibilities. It may not follow that the chazzan can appoint someone to replace him permanently in one of his roles. In this instance, that job would pass to the chazzan’s son. In the opinion of the Rema, when a permanent appointment is being made, the son has the right to the position, whereas the Rashba, himself, held that the chazzan has the right to appoint even someone other than his son on a permanent basis to assist him in his responsibilities. We will soon see a possible source for the Rema’s opinion.

Inherited his voice?

Why does the son of a chazzan have the right to inherit his father’s position? After all, when the chazzan died, he made his son into an orphan, not into a chazzan!

However, as we saw above, this halachah is in fact the case for any position in klal Yisroel: A son has the right to his father’s position, as long as he meets the basic requirements for the position.

Can the son sell the position?

To what extent does the son have the right to the position? Can he offer the position to someone else, and if so, can he do so even for payment?

An early authority, the Mordechai (Bava Kama 8:108), quoting a responsum from his rebbe, the Maharam Rottenberg, discusses this exact question. He rules that although a position of authority among the Jewish people is bequeathed to a son, the son does not have any right to give the position to someone else. He compares this to the rights of a kohen or a levi, which also are bequeathed to sons, but cannot be sold or transferred.

This is explained nicely by the Chasam Sofer (Shu”t Orach Chayim #12), who notes that a position, even of king of the Jewish people, is not inherited in the same way that one inherits property. According to the Torah, when a man dies, his sons automatically become the owners of his property. They do not require an authorization of a beis din, a court order, or a formal transfer of title – the property automatically becomes theirs. This is not the case regarding the inheriting of a position. The son does not automatically become king or kohen gadol – he must be appointed to the position. (Those interested in knowing how the kohen gadol is appointed should check the following sources: Tosafos, Zevachim 18a s.v. Hagah; Tosafos, Yoma 12b s.v. Kohein; Tosafos, Megillah 9b s.v. Velo; Aruch Hashulchan Ha’asid,Chapter 23.)

Source for the Rema

This Mordechai might be the source for the above-quoted Rema, who ruled that the chazzan may transfer some of his responsibilities to his son, but cannot appoint someone else instead of his son. The Rema accepted that it is understood that a position of chazzan will require that he occasionally needs someone to substitute, and that the choice of substitute may be left to the chazzan. But the chazzan does not own the position to the extent that he can transfer it to someone else permanently, either completely or partially.

Other reasons

Let us return to the original responsum of the Rashba, in which he ruled that the chazzan has the right to appoint his own substitute. The Rashba contends that, even without a contract, the community cannot replace the chazzan. In a different responsum (Shu”t Harashba 5:283), heprovides several reasons why a chazzan or anyone else in a community position has a right to keep his post. One reason is that halachah recognizes that, once someone has been fulfilling a communal role, he acquires a chazakah, the right of status quo, to keep the position, as long as there is no reason to disqualify him.

The Rashba presents a second reason why an appointee has the right to keep his position: because of darchei shalom. It reduces machlokes when people have an assumption that replacements are not made arbitrarily. Anyone who has lived in a community where this is not common practice can certainly attest to the strife created when a public servant’s contract is not renewed. (However, see Shu”t Maharalnach, quoted by Magen Avraham 53:32.)

A third reason why the person has the right to keep his position is because, if he is replaced, people may think that this was because of malfeasance. Maintaining him in the position protects his personal reputation.

Exceptions

Even the Rashba felt that there can be exceptions to his ruling – in other words, there are some instances in which one may be able to terminate a person’s tenure from a community position without that person having committed a malfeasance. The Rashba notes that there are places in which the recognized custom is that all positions are regularly rotated. In these communities, all appointments, whether salaried or voluntary, are temporary. He explains that since this is an accepted practice in these congregations, the reasons mentioned above why one may not remove someone from a position do not apply. Since everyone knows that his appointment is only temporary, no machlokes should result when a replacement is made. Similarly, no one will assume that an appointee was replaced because of malfeasance.

The later authorities note that this is true only when it is already an established custom in these places that appointments are always temporary and replacements are made at a specified time. However, when it is usual practice that people remain in their positions, one may not remove someone from his position, unless there was malfeasance (Shu”t Chemdas Shelomoh #7and Shu”t Chasam Sofer, Orach Chayim #206, both quoted by Mishnah Berurah 53:86). The Chasam Sofer allows another exception — when it was stipulated at the time of the original appointment that a new negotiation and appointment is necessary to renew the person’s appointment after his term is complete.

I’d like a change!

At this point, we can discuss one of our original questions:

“Is there a halachic reason why, in some communities, people hold their appointments on shul and school boards forever, whereas in other communities, these positions are constantly rotated?”

We now see that there is halachic basis both for the practice that in some communities that people remain in the position of shul or school president for long periods of time, whereas in other communities these positions are rotated on a regular basis.

A major exception?

Although we have noted that a son has a right to inherit his father’s position, several authorities contend that there is a major exception to this rule: a Torah position is not automatically inherited. One of the major advocates of this approach, the Chasam Sofer (Shu”t Chasam Sofer, Orach Chayim #12 and glosses to Orach Chayim end of 53), asked the following question: The Gemara (Yoma 72b) states that the position of kohen meshuach milchamah, the kohen anointed to provide encouragement and announce the halachos to the soldiers of the Jewish army, is not a hereditary position. Why is this position different from all the other appointments that we say are hereditary? The Chasam Sofer answers that there is a difference between positions of authority and religious positions. Positions of authority, such as king, do belong to the son, if he is qualified. However, there is no inheritance of religious positions, unless that is the accepted custom. (A similar view is stated by the Shu”t Maharashdam, Yoreh Deah #85.) The one exception to this rule is the position of kohen gadol, which the Torah says does go to the son, notwithstanding the fact that it is a religious position. Thus, the Rashba’s case in which the son inherits his father’s position as chazzan (a religious position) is only because that was the accepted custom.

The Chasam Sofer rallies support for his approach based on the fact that the positions of nasi and head of the Sanhedrin did not usually pass from father to son, but instead passed to the most qualified scholar. Only the nesi’im from Hillel and onward passed the position from father to son. The Chasam Sofer explains that from the time of Hillel until the Sanhedrin disbanded, the nasi of the Sanhedrin was also viewed as the “king” of the Jewish people, thus making it a position of authority and not merely religious. During this era, the position was bequeathed to the oldest son of the previous nasi, if he was G-d-fearing and enough of a scholar to fulfill his duties. However, prior to this era, the position was viewed only as a religious role and, therefore, it was assigned to the greatest scholar in the Jewish people.

Based on his analysis, the Chasam Sofer concludes that the son of a deceased rav does not automatically have the right to the position. If most of the tzibur does not want him, they have a right to pick any other qualified G-d-fearing Torah scholar who is qualified enough to rule on the community’s needs. They are not required to choose the most qualified talmid chacham for the position. For example, they may choose a person who is a stronger leader over a bigger talmid chacham who does not have the same leadership abilities.

The Chasam Sofer closes his responsum with the following proof to his position: The Midrash, quoted by Rashi, states that when Moshe Rabbeinu asked Hashem to appoint a leader to head the Bnei Yisroel, he wanted his sons to be his replacement. Obviously, his sons had all the qualities that Moshe felt were necessary for the position – otherwise, why would he have thought that they should qualify? Yet, Hashem chose Yehoshua for other reasons. Thus, we see that the position of Torah leader over the Jewish people is not an inherited one.

Conclusion

When the Mishnah Berurah (53:83) discusses this matter, he cites the opinions we have mentioned without ruling on the matter. Thus, an individual congregation will need to ask a shaylah whether a son has the right to father’s position, where there is no established minhag and the community would like to appoint someone else.

Sheva Berachos

Question #1: Is it yours?

The wedding ceremony begins with two berachos recited by the mesadar kiddushin. Should he tell the chosson to have in mind to fulfill these berachos?

Question #2: Wine on top or bottom?

Which is the first of the sheva berachos?

Question #3: Is this deliberate inconsistency?

Some of the sheva berachos begin with the words Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam and others don’t. Some of them end with Boruch Attah Hashem and a closing, whereas others don’t. Is there any rhyme or reason to this seeming chaos?

Introduction:

The time in between the Three Weeks and the Yamim Noraim is a popular time to schedule weddings. We find a source for the recitation of sheva berachos in a discussion in Mesechta Kallah. In parshas Chayei Sarah, the Torah discusses the trip that Eliezer takes to find a wife for Yitzchok. Shortly before Rivkah leaves to marry Yitzchok, the Torah mentions that her family blesses her (Bereishis 24:60). In reference to this posuk, we find the following passage at the beginning of Mesechta Kallah: “Where is a source in the Torah for the blessings [which we call the ‘sheva berachos’] given to the bride: And they blessed Rivkah.” The Mesechta Kallah retorts, “Did Rivkah’s family use a cup [of wine when they blessed her]?” Since they did not, this verse is not a source for sheva berachos, but only an allusion to the mitzvah. In conclusion, the Mesechta Kallah and the Gemara (Kesubos 7b) derive the mitzvah of sheva berachos from other pesukim.

Erusin and nesuin

There are two stages to a Jewish wedding, and each has its appropriate berachos. The first stage, kiddushin or erusin (not to be confused with the Modern Hebrew word erusin, which means “engagement”), is when the chosson places the wedding ring on the kallah’s finger. The second step, nesuin, focuses on the chupah, the kesubah, the sheva berachos and the yichud that takes place immediately after the chupah. In Talmudic times, these two stages were conducted separately – often as much as a year apart. Today, they are conducted as one long ceremony. Each of the two stages has its own berachos, which I will discuss shortly.

Birkos erusin

Prior to the chosson explaining to the witnesses why he is placing a ring on the kallah’s finger, two berachos are recited, borei peri hagafen and the beracha called birkas erusin. They are said by the mesader kiddushin — the rosh yeshivah, rav or other talmid chacham — who is “performing the ceremony,” as people say in English, or, more accurately, the one who is responsible to make sure that everything is done according to correct halachic practice.

According to the Rambam’s opinion, the birkas erusin is a birkas hamitzvah, a beracha recited before fulfilling a mitzvah, and that, therefore, it should be recited by the chosson (Shu”t Harambam, quoted by Shu”t Noda Beyehudah Tinyana, Even Ha’ezer, #1).

A second approach is that, although the birkas erusin is a birkas hamitzvah, the mesader kiddushin recites the beracha, rather than the chosson, to avoid embarrassing a chosson who does not know the beracha by heart (Even Ha’ezer, Taz 34:1; Beis Shmuel, 34:2). Remember that, in earlier days, there were no printed works, and berachos were recited from memory. Thus, many chassanim would not know, by heart, the somewhat complicated and uncommon beracha that is recited before the erusin. Therefore, the mesader kiddushin is motzi the chosson with the beracha, and the chosson, also, should have in mind to be included in the birkas erusin (Shu”t Noda Beyehudah ad loc.).

A third approach disagrees, concluding that the birkas erusin is not a birkas hamitzvah and that, therefore, there is no need for the mesader kiddushin to be motzi the chosson when reciting this beracha (Shu”t Har Tzvi, Orach Chayim #44, quoting many earlier sources).

Who drinks the wine?

When the mesader kiddushin recites the beracha on the cup of wine, he gives the cup (usually via the parents) to the chosson and kallah, who sip from the cup. Since we may not drink or eat without first reciting a beracha (Berachos 35a), the chosson and kallah should be included in the beracha hagafen of the mesader kiddushin.

Thus, we can examine our opening question: The wedding ceremony begins with two berachos recited by the mesader kiddushin. Should he tell the chosson to have in mind to fulfill these berachos?

The answer is that he should tell both the chosson and the kallah to have in mind to fulfill their requirement to recite hagafen. Whether he should also tell the chosson to have in mind to fulfill birkas erusin is disputed.

Text of birkas erusin

The Gemara (Kesubos 7b) records a dispute regarding the text of birkas erusin. The first opinion cites the following text: Baruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam asher kideshanu bemitzvosav vetzivanu al ha’arayos, ve’asar lanu es ha’arusos, ve’hitir lanu es hanesuos lanu al yedei chupah vekiddushin. The second opinion, that of Rav Acha the son of Rava, contends that we add to the above text a conclusion, baruch Attah Hashem mekadeish amo Yisrael al yedei chupah vekiddushin. The first opinion rules that this beracha does not require a concluding part, just as berachos prior to performing mitzvos and prior to eating are berachos structured simply, without any conclusion. Rav Acha the son of Rava disagrees, contending that birkas erusin should be treated like the beracha of Kiddush, which has a concluding beracha, Baruch Attah Hashem mekadeish hashabbos.

Why does Rav Acha the son of Rava compare birkas erusin to the beracha of Kiddush? This topic is a subject of dispute. Rashi explains that mentioning the sancitity of the Jewish people, mekadeish amo Yisrael al yedei chupah vekiddushin, is similar in concept to mentioning the sanctity of Shabbos, and therefore this beracha has the added mention of Hashem’s Name at the end. Tosafos explains that both these berachos, Kiddush and birkas erusin, contain multiple themes and, therefore, require a closing beracha also.

Birkas nisuin

Birkas nisuin is another way of referring to what we usually call the “sheva berachos.” These berachos are recited as part of the wedding ceremony, or, more accurately, as part of the nisuin, second part of that program. The sheva berachos are also recited at banquets held in honor of the newly married couple.

Six or seven

Although we are accustomed to referring to this series of berachos as “sheva berachos,” people are surprised to discover that this term is of relatively late origin. This is because the Gemara cites a dispute as to how many berachos are recited.

When we look at the wording of the berachos, we see that two of them, Asher yatzar es ha’adam, and Yotzeir ha’adam, begin with almost identical statements. The Gemara cites a dispute whether we should, indeed, recite both of these berachos, or just the longer one, Asher yatzar es ha’adam. The dispute concerns whether the way man and woman were originally created should require one beracha or two. According to the opinion that this requires only one beracha, there is no beracha Yotzeir ha’adam and, therefore, there are less than seven berachos.

Out of order

Since we recite both berachos, Asher yatzar es ha’adam, and Yotzeir ha’adam, we have six berachos, plus the beracha on wine, for a total of seven (that is why we call it sheva berachos). Under the chupah, the first of the seven berachos recited is the beracha on the wine. However, when sheva berachos is recited after a meal celebrated in honor of the new couple, the hagafen is recited after the other berachos. Why is the order changed?

The Beis Shmuel (62:2) explains that hagafen should really be recited first, as it is during the wedding ceremony, because it is recited more frequently, and the rule is tadir ushe’eino tadir, tadir kodem, that which is recited more frequently comes first (Mishnah Zevachim 89a). However, when reciting hagafen after the celebratory meal, someone might think we recite a beracha over wine only because of the bensching, and not because of the nuptials. In order to clarify that the wine is brought, also, because of the wedding celebration, we postpone its beracha until the end of the sheva berachos.

Where’s the wine?

When sheva berachos are recited at the end of a meal, the prevalent custom is to bring three kosos, and fill two of them to the top with wine. One of the filled kosos is held by the person leading the bensching while the second is left on the table until bensching is completed, and then held by each of the honorees who recite the berachos. When those six berachos have been recited, the person who led the bensching recites the berachaof hagafen, pours a bit from his kos into the empty cup, and drinks the majority of the wine in his kos. The wine from the sheva berachos kos and the small amount of wine that was poured into the third kos are then mixed together, and the wine in the two kosos is presented to the chosson and the kallah to drink (Aruch Hashulchan, Even Ha’ezer 62:18). Some poskim recommend that the honoree leading the bensching hold the kos to be used for the sheva berachos while reciting the prayer dvei hoseir,which is inserted before bensching at a sheva berachos meal,and, then, put that kos down and pick up the first kos for bensching (Taz, Even Ha’ezer 62:7). I have never seen anyone follow this practice (see Derisha, Even Ha’ezer 62:4 who disagrees with the Taz’s practice). According to a third opinion, the second kos should not be filled until after bensching is completed (Magen Avraham 147:11 and Be’er Heiteiv, Even Ha’ezer 62:11).

According to all three approaches we have mentioned, bensching is recited over one kos, and sheva berachos over a different cup. Why do we use two different kosos? Why not use the same goblet for both bensching and sheva berachos?

The poskim dispute this issue: The Gemara (Pesachim 102b) teaches that if someone bensches and recites Kiddush at the same time, he should not recite both blessings over the same cup. Rather, he should recite Kiddush holding one cup of wine and bensch while holding a different one. The Gemara asks why we take two different cups, and answers that we do not “bundle mitzvos together.” Using the same kos for both mitzvos implies that we view these mitzvos as a burden, rather than respecting each mitzvah with its own goblet of wine.

However, when Yom Tov falls on a Sunday, we recite Kiddush of Yom Tov and Havdalah of Shabbos over the same goblet. This is not considered bundling mitzvos together, since Kiddush and Havdalah are considered one topic (Pesachim 102b).

Are birkas nisuin and bensching considered one topic, or two? This is a dispute discussed in Tosafos (Pesachim 102b s.v. she’ein), in which the first opinion views bensching and sheva berachos over the same cup as bundling mitzvos together, and therefore separate kosos need to be used for bensching and sheva berachos. Rabbeinu Meshulam, however, maintains that this is not considered bundling mitzvossince, without bensching, we do not recite sheva berachos. According to Rabbeinu Meshulam, we fill one goblet with wine and hand it to the person leading the bensching. When he finishes bensching, he hands the kos to the honoree who recites the first of the sheva berachos, who hands it to the next honoree to recite the next beracha, and so on. Eventually, the kos returns to the person who led the bensching, who holds the kos while reciting borei peri hagafen.

The Shulchan Aruch (Even Ha’ezer 62:9) quotes both opinions and observes that custom is to use only one cup for both bensching and sheva berachos, following Rabbeinu Meshulam, which apparently was the prevalent practice among Sefardim at the time of the Shulchan Aruch. The Rema notes that the custom among Ashkenazim is to use two different goblets. The Chida (Shu”t Yosef Ometz #47) notes that, although at the time of the Shulchan Aruch,the custom among Sefardim was to recite the sheva berachos on the same goblet as the bensching, in the Chida’s day, a separate goblet was used for sheva berachos. Other Sefardic authors of the last several hundred years (see Otzar Haposkim 62:9:53) record two customs, some following Rabbeinu Meshulam (following Shulchan Aruch) and others using separate cups for the two mitzvos (following Chida).

Inconsistent berachos

At this point, let us look at our third opening question. “Some of the sheva berachos begin with the words Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam, and others don’t. Some of them end with Boruch Attah Hashem and a closing, whereas others don’t. Is there a rhyme or reason to this seeming chaos?

The structures of the six birkas nisuin appear to be inconsistent. The first two, Sheha’kol bara lichvodo, “that everything was created in His Honor,” and Yotzeir ha’adam, “the Creator of man,” are structured the same way as our berachos before eating food and most of our berachos before performing mitzvos: we recite the words Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam and then the short closing of the beracha (sheha’kol bara lichvodo or yotzeir ha’adam). However, the third and the sixth berachos both begin with the words Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam and also have closings: Boruch Attah Hashem yotzeir ha’adam and Boruch Attah Hashem mesamayach chosson im hakallah, respectively. To make matters more confusing, the fourth and fifth berachos that begin with the words sos tasis and samayach tesamach do not begin with Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam, but conclude with Boruch Attah Hashem, similar to the structure of the berachos of the shemoneh esrei. So we are faced with an obvious question: Why does this series of berachos contain such a potpourri of beracha structures?

Among the rishonim, we find several answers to this question. Tosafos (Kesubos 8a s.v. shehakol) explains that, indeed, most of the berachos should have only an ending and no beginning beracha, as we have in the shemoneh esrei. However, since two of the berachos, Sheha’kol bara lichvodo and Yotzeir ha’adam are so small, not providing them with a full beracha would make them almost unnoticeable. Similarly, the beracha Asher yatzar, whose theme is so similar to the beracha before it, Yotzeir ha’adam, would appear to be a continuation of that beracha, if it did not begin with the words Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam. Furthermore, Rabbeinu Chananel explains that, since the recital of the beracha Yotzeir ha’adam, itself, was the subject of a dispute, to emphasize that it is a beracha by itself, it includes the full statement Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam.

Tosafos explains further that the beracha Asher bara, the last of the berachos, is sometimes the only beracha that is recited. For example, when there are no new participants, called panim chadashos, this beracha is recited, notwithstanding that the others of the sheva berachos are not. For this reason, it is treated as a full, independent beracha, with both a full beginning and an ending.

Rashi presents a more detailed approach. He notes that although all these berachos are recited together, as if they are one unit, most of them are really different berachos on different aspects of the simcha. For example, Sheha’kol bara lichvodo, “that everything was created in His Honor,” is really a beracha on the beauty of having so many people joining together to celebrate a mitzvah, and should have been recited as soon as one saw all the assembled people. However, since the other berachos are recited over wine, the independent beracha of Sheka’kol bara lichvodo is included with the other berachos, so that everyone should focus on it. This is similar to the berachos of Havdalah — which include a beracha on the fragrance and a beracha on the candle — each of which is, really, a separate beracha that we combine together on the cup of wine in order to focus on all the berachos at one time.

Wrong order

If someone recited the berachos out of order, he should not repeat a beracha, but should recite the skipped beracha and then proceed to recite the remaining berachos that have, as yet, not been said. Similarly, if the honoree began saying the wrong beracha, and already recited Hashem’s Name, he should complete the beracha he has begun, the omitted beracha should then be said, followed by the remaining berachos.

If someone began reciting either the beracha of Sos tasis or Samayach tesamach, which do not begin with Hashem’s Name, out of order, and has not yet recited Hashem’s Name which appears at the end of the beracha, he should stop and recite the correct beracha, in the usual order (Amudei Apiryon, page 76).

Conclusion

Above, I quoted Rashi’s explanation that the beracha, Shehakol bara lich’vodo, is really for the gathering of the people and not directly associated to the wedding that is taking place. The Hafla’ah (Kesubos 8a) offers a different approach, which makes the beracha directly relevant to the nuptials. Hashem created His entire world for His Honor, and the last of his Creation was man. Man is, of course, imperfect until he is married, which is the celebration of the wedding. Thus, sheva berachos celebrates the completion of Hashem’s Creation!

Performing a Proper Hesped

Question #1: I have heard eulogies where the speaker seemed more interested in demonstrating his ability as a speaker than in commemorating the departed. Is this the proper way to eulogize?

Question #2: Someone told me that sometimes one obeys the request of a person not to be eulogized, and sometimes one may ignore it. How can this be?

Question #3: Is it true that one may not schedule a hesped within thirty days of a Yom Tov?

Our Parsha

“And Sarah died in Kiryas Arba, which is Hebron, in the Land of Canaan. And Avraham came to eulogize Sarah and to cry over her.” This is the earliest of many verses the Gemara cites when discussing the mitzvah of eulogizing. People often avoid writing halachic articles about hespedim in favor of more exciting or popular topics, leaving many unaware that there is much halachah on the subject. Are there rules to follow when organizing or delivering hespedim? Indeed, there are many, as we will soon see.

The Mitzvah

Most authorities do not count performing a eulogy as one of the 613 mitzvos of the Torah. Indeed, most consider it only a rabbinic mitzvah. Nonetheless, the hesped accomplishes the Torah mitzvah of ve’ahavta le’rei’acha komocha, loving one’s fellow as oneself, since a properly delivered hesped is a very great chesed. To quote the Rambam: “It is a positive mitzvah of the Sages to check on the ill, to console mourners… to be involved in all aspects of the burial… to eulogize… Even though all of these mitzvos are rabbinic, they are all included in the mitzvah that one should love one’s fellow as oneself. Anything that you want someone to do for you, you should do to someone else who also keeps Torah and observes mitzvos” (Hilchos Aveil 14:1).

As the following passages demonstrate, our Sages strongly emphasized the importance of performing this mitzvah properly:

“When a Torah scholar passes away, the entire nation is obligated in his eulogy, as it states, ‘and Shmuel died, and all of Israel eulogized him’” (Mesechta Kallah Rabbasi Chapter 6).

“Whoever is idle in carrying out the hesped of a Torah scholar does not live long” (Yalkut Shimoni, Yehoshua 35).

“Whoever is idle in carrying out the hesped of a Torah scholar deserves to be buried alive” (Shabbos 105b)!

“A voice from above declared, ‘Whoever was not idle in participating in Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi’s eulogy is assured of life in the World to Come” (Koheles Rabbah 7).

“If someone cries upon the passing of an adam kasher (a halachically observant person) Hashem counts his tears and then stores them (Shabbos 105b).”

From this we see that the responsibility of hesped applies both to the person saying the eulogy and to those in attendance, and that this obligation sometimes applies to each individual. Furthermore, we see that the reward for fulfilling this mitzvah properly is very significant, both physically and spiritually, and that the eulogy and the crying associated with mourning are both highly important.

A “Kosher” Person

Above, I cited the statement: “If someone cries upon the passing of an adam kasher, Hashem counts his tears and then stores them.” I translated adam kasher as a halachically observant person.

Who qualifies as an adam kasher?

The rishonim discuss this question. Although the Rosh (Moed Katan 3:59) notes that his rebbe¸ the Maharam of Rottenberg, was uncertain what the term means, he himself concluded that it refers to someone who observes mitzvos properly, even if the person is not a talmid chacham and one sees nothing particularly meticulous about his religiosity. The Shulchan Aruch follows this definition.

Others explain that this is not enough to qualify as an adam kasher. Rather, the title applies to someone who, in addition to observing mitzvos properly, also pursues opportunities to perform chesed (Shach, Yoreh Deah 340:11, quoting Rabbeinu Yonah, Ramban and Bach). According to either approach, one should cry at the funeral of an adam kasher.

What is a proper hesped?

“It is a great mitzvah to eulogize the deceased appropriately. The mitzvah is to raise one’s voice, saying about him things that break the heart, in order to increase crying and to commemorate his praise. However, it is prohibited to exaggerate his praise excessively. One mentions his good qualities and adds a little… If the person had no positive qualities, say nothing about him (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 444:1).” (I will soon discuss why one may exaggerate “a little bit,” even though, it would seem,a small lie is also a falsehood.) The eulogy should be appropriate to the purpose and extent of the tragedy. For example, one should eulogize more intensely for a young deceased than for an older one, and more for someone who left no surviving descendants than for someone who had children (Meiri, Moed Katan 27b). Also, the crying of any hesped should not be to excess (Meiri, ad loc.).

In summation, we see that the purpose of a hesped is to cause people to cry over the loss of a Jew who observed mitzvos properly. On the other hand, eulogizing inappropriately is sinful.

At this point, we can answer the first question: “I have heard eulogies where the speaker seemed more interested in demonstrating his ability as a speaker than in commemorating the departed. Is this the proper way to eulogize?

Despite its frequency, such behavior is obviously wrong. I discovered that this sin of eulogizing in non-accordance with halachah, such as speaking for one’s own self- aggrandizement or exaggerating excessively, is so serious that in some places there was a custom to never eulogize and to forgo the mitzvah altogether, despite its importance (see Gesher Hachayim 1:13:4).

Why Do We Eulogize?

The Gemara (Sanhedrin 46b) raises a halachic question: Do we eulogize out of respect for the deceased, or in order to honor the surviving family members? In other words, is the chesed of this mitzvah due to the posthumous dignity granted to the departed, or is it due to its inspiring people to realize the extent to which the surviving family members have been bereaved? The Gemara devotes a lengthy discussion in proving which option is correct.

Doany variations in observance result from this question?

The Gemara notes two such differences:

No Hespedim for Me!!

I. What happens if a person requests that no one eulogize him?

If the purpose of a eulogy is to honor the deceased, the deceased has a right to forgo the honor and request that no eulogies be recited. Since the hespedim are in his/her honor, he/she has the right to forgo the honor and we respect this request. However, if the purpose of a eulogy is to honor the surviving relatives, a request of the deceased does not forgo the honor of the survivors, and we will eulogize him/her anyway, if the family so desires.

Paying for a Speaker

II. A second halachic difference resulting from the above question (whether the mitzvah is to respect the deceased or to honor the surviving family members) is whether one may obligate the heirs to pay for the eulogy.

In many circles and/or eras, it is or was a common practice to hire a rabbi or other professional speaker to provide the eulogy. May one hire such a speaker and obligate the heirs to pay his fee? If the mitzvah is to honor the deceased and hiring a professional speaker is standard procedure, then one can obligate the heirs to hire a speaker, just as they are required to pay for the funeral. If eulogizing is for the sake of the bereaved, one cannot obligate them to pay for professional eulogizers if they prefer to forgo the honor.

The Gemara rallies proof from this week’s parsha that the mitzvah is in honor of the deceased. As the pasuk clearly mentions, Avraham Avinu was not present when his wife Sarah died. The Gemara asks why did they wait until Avraham arrived to eulogize her. If the reason for the hesped is indeed to honor the living, Sarah should not have been left unburied until Avraham arrived. On the other hand, if the mitzvah is to honor the deceased, then Sarah was left unburied so that Avraham could honor her with his hesped.

Although the Gemara rejects this proof, it ultimately concludes that the purpose of a hesped is to honor the deceased. Therefore, if the deceased requested no eulogies, we honor his/her request, and heirs are obligated to pay for eulogies, where appropriate.

Pre-Torah

You might ask, how can we derive halachos from events that predate the Torah? Didn’t the mitzvos change when the Torah was given?

The answer is that since this mitzvah fulfills the concept of ve’ahavata le’rei’acha kamocha, love your fellow as yourself, we can derive from its mode of performance whether its purpose is to honor the deceased or, alternatively, the surviving family members.

Exaggerate a little

The hesped should be appropriate to the deceased; one may exaggerate very slightly (Rosh, Moed Katan 3:63). You might ask, how can any exaggerating be permitted? Isn’t the smallest exaggeration an untruth? What difference is there between a small lie and a big one?

The answer is that there is usually a bit more to praise about the person than we necessarily know, so that, on the contrary, adding a bit makes the tribute closer to the truth (based on Taz, Yoreh Deah 344:1).

Ignoring a Request

I mentioned above that the Gemara concludes that if the deceased requested no eulogies, we honor his/her request. However, this ruling is not always followed. When the Penei Yehoshua, one of the greatest Torah scholars of the mid-eighteenth century, passed away, the Noda Biyehudah eulogized him, even though the Penei Yehoshua had expressly instructed that no eulogies be recited. How could the Noda Biyehudah ignore the Penei Yehoshua’s express request?

The answer, as explained by the Noda Biyehudah’s disciple, is that for a gadol hador to be buried without proper eulogy is not simply a lack of the deceased’s honor, which he has a right to forgo, but also a disgrace to the Torah. Even though a talmid chacham may (in general) forgo the honor due him as a Torah scholar (talmid chacham shemachal al kevodo, kevodo machul [Kiddushin 32b]), this applies only to forgoing honor. He cannot allow himself to be disgraced, since this disgraces not only him but also the Torah itself (Shu”t Teshuvah Mei’ahavah, Volume I #174; see also Pischei Teshuvah, Yoreh Deah 444:1).

We now understand why there are times when one obeys the request of a person to omit his hesped, and times when one may ignore it. Usually, we obey his/her request because of the general principle retzono shel adam zehu kevodo, the fulfillment of someone’s desire is his honor. However, if a gadol hador requests omission of eulogies, and major authorities consider this a breach of respect for the Torah itself, they may overrule the gadol’s request out of kavod for the Torah. (Of course, this implies that the departed gadol felt that the absence of hesped would not be a disgrace to the Torah, and that his halachic opinion is being overruled.)

We now address the third question raised above: Is it true that one may not schedule a hesped within thirty days of a Yom Tov?

Hesped before Yom Tov

The Mishnah (Moed Katan 8a) forbids scheduling a hesped within thirty days before Yom Tov for someone who died over thirty days before Yom Tov (as explained by Rosh ad loc. and Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 447:1). What is wrong with scheduling this hesped, particularly since performing a proper hesped is such a big mitzvah?

The Gemara cites two reasons for this ruling, both explaining that some form of Yom Tov desecration may result from such a eulogy. Rav (according to our version of the text) explained the reason with an anecdote:

“A man once saved money in order to fulfill the mitzvah of aliyah la’regel, traveling to the Beis Hamikdash for Yom Tov. A professional eulogizer then showed up at his door and convinced the wife that her recently departed relative deserved another eulogy. She took the money her husband had saved for aliyah la’regel and gave it to the eulogizer. (This indicates that ambulance chasing is a time-hallowed profession.) At that time, Chazal decreed that one should not make a post-funeral hesped during the thirty day period before Yom Tov.”

The Gemara then quotes Shemuel, who cited a different reason for the ban: Usually, thirty days after someone’s death, he or she is sufficiently forgotten for people to not discuss the death during Yom Tov, which would diminish the festival joy. However, performing a eulogy during these thirty days refreshes people’s memories, and as a result, they discuss the passing during Yom Tov and disturb the Yom Tov joy (Moeid Katan 8b).

The Gemara notes that there is a practical difference between the two approaches. According to the first approach, our concern only applies if someone hires a professional speaker, and there is no stricture against conducting voluntary eulogies. However, according to Shemuel, one may not conduct even an unpaid eulogy, since this may revive the loss for the close family and result in a desecration of Yom Tov.

Contemporary Problem or Not?

Some raise the following question: Why doesn’t the Gemara point out yet another difference that results from the dispute? According to the first approach, the prohibition would only exist when the Beis HaMikdash stood and there was a mitzvah of aliyah la’regel. Today, however, when we unfortunately cannot fulfill this mitzvah, one should be permitted to hire a professional speaker to eulogize within a month of Yom Tov even after the funeral (Ritz Gayus, quoted by Ramban and Rosh). Obviously, according to Shemuel’s approach the same concern exists today that existed when the Beis Hamikdash still stood. Yet the Gemara does not mention such a halachic difference between the two opinions.

The Ramban explains that, indeed, even the first opinion agrees that the prohibition exists also today. Since the story mentioned in the Gemara happened during the time of the Beis Hamikdash, the Gemara cites a case of someone saving up for aliyah la’regel. However, the same idea applies to any funds that are to be used for Yom Tov. Thus, even though we have no Beis Hamikdash, the reason for the prohibition still applies, since celebrating Yom Tov in general is an expense people save for in advance. Thus, the concern still exists that in order to pay for the eulogy one might dip into one’s Yom Tov savings.

Does this law apply even within thirty days of Rosh Hashanah, or only before the festivals of Sukkos, Pesach, and Shavuos?

Since the Gemara mentions that the person spent the money set aside for aliyah la’regel, a mitzvah that applies only to Sukkos, Pesach, and Shavuos, this implies that our concern is only about the special Yom Tov expenses associated with the three regalim festivities, and not Rosh Hashanah (Yeshuos Yaakov, Orach Chayim 547:1).

Eulogizing Children

Does one recite eulogies for children?

Theoretically, one could argue that since the purpose of a hesped is to honor the deceased, perhaps children do not require this type of honor. Nevertheless, the Gemara states that one does perform a eulogy for children of a certain age.

For which age does one perform a hesped?

 “Rabbi Meir, quoting Rabbi Yishmael, said that the children of poor people should be eulogized when they are only three years old, whereas the children of wealthy people are eulogized only if they are five. Rabbi Yehudah quoted Rabbi Yishmael differently: the children of poor people at five, and the children of wealthy people at six. The halachah is according to the last opinion quoted (Moed Katan 24b).

Both opinions agree that the age is earlier for the child of a poor family than for the child of a wealthy family. What is the reason for this difference?

Rashi explains that a poor person, who has nothing in the world but his children, suffers the loss of his children more intensely and the need for a hesped is greater. One might challenge that explanation, since the hesped is for the honor of the departed, and therefore what difference does it make if the family suffers more? The hesped is not for their benefit, but to honor the departed. I have not found this question discussed, although one later authority notes that the custom (at least in his time and place) was not to eulogize children at all (Beis Hillel to Yoreh Deah 444:4).

Conclusion

The Torah begins and ends by describing acts of chesed that Hashem performed, the last one entailing His burying of Moshe Rabbeinu. Our purpose in life is to imitate Hashem in all activities, until our personality develops to the point that we instinctively behave like Hashem. Fulfilling the mitzvah of hesped correctly, whether as a speaker or as a listener, develops our personality appropriately,and thus fulfills another highly important role in our Jewish lives.

A Layman’s Guide to Marriage ‎

Question #1:

“A friend’s son in Yeshiva in Israel got engaged to a local girl, and my friends were told that there will be a tena’im. I thought only chassidishe families do this.”

Question #2:

“I was told that I should not include quotations from pesukim on my daughter’s wedding invitation. Yet, I see that ‘everyone’ does! Could you please explain the halacha?”

Question #3:

“I wish someone could walk me through all the halachic steps that we need in planning our daughter’s wedding. I am afraid I’ll forget to take care of something.”

From the engagement to the wedding

Mazel tov!! Mazel tov!! Your daughter just became engaged to an amazing yeshivah bachur from a wonderful family. You are in seventh heaven!

Virtually everyone plans some type of formal celebration when his or her child becomes engaged. Some call it a “lechayim,” others a “vort,” still others a “tena’im,” and in Eretz Yisroel today it is usually called an “erusin.” Since these differences are not inherently halachic, I am going to note only one point about this part of the simcha: does one sign a tena’im shortly after announcing the engagement? In chassidishe circles, and, in Eretz Yisrael, even among “Israeli Litvishe” families, it is accepted that one finalizes the engagement by signing tena’im, which is an agreement between the two sets of parents as to what each will provide to their child before the wedding and to conduct the wedding before a certain agreed-upon date. The climax of the engagement celebration is when this document is signed, parts of it are read aloud, and the two mothers break a plate together. The halachic authorities discuss why we break a plate at a tena’im and a glass at the chupah (see Pri Megadim, Mishbetzos Zahav 560: 4; Keser Rosh, #114).

In “American,” non-chassidishe circles, these arrangements are more informal, and the two parties usually do not sign any formal tena’im. Some sign a type of a tena’im at the wedding, prior to the chupah.

Invitations

There are, actually, some halachos germane to invitations. One may not quote any pesukim in invitations and, according to most authorities, the lettering of an invitation should not use kesav ashuris, the Hebrew writing used for Sifrei Torah, Tefillin and Mezuzos (Shu”t Rav Pe’alim, Yoreh Deah 4:32). This is because kesav ashuris has sanctity and should not be used for mundane matters (Shu”t Radbaz 1:45; Rema, Yoreh Deah 284:2; Pischei Teshuvah, Yoreh Deah 283:3). We should note that the Kesav Sofer writes that his father, the Chasam Sofer, permitted using kesav ashuris in wedding invitations and did so himself, contending that, since making a wedding is a mitzvah, the invitation to the seudas mitzvah is not considered a mundane use. Nevertheless, the Kesav Sofer concludes that it is better not to use kesav ashuris for invitations (Shu”t Kesav Sofer, Even Ha’ezer #22 at end).

Shomrim

Why do the choson and kallah require shomrim? From what time do the choson and kallah require shomrim?

The Gemara says that three people require a shomer: an ill person, a choson and a kallah Berachos 54b). Although many people have the custom of providing shomrim from the ufruf Shabbos, technically the choson and kallah require shomrim only from the wedding through the week of sheva berachos. The prevalent practice is that this includes only when they leave their house. This means that during sheva berachos week, the choson may attend minyan only if someone escorts him from his house, although some hold that a choson can go to shul without a shomer (told to me in the name of Rav Moshe Feinstein).

It is common practice to provide them with shomrim on the day of the wedding also.

Things to bring to the wedding

The following can function as a useful checklist of items that should be brought to the wedding:

(1) Kesubah

From personal experience, I suggest bringing not only the kesubah one intends to use, but also several blank extra forms.

(2) Kittel

If the choson will be wearing a kittel under the chupah, remember to bring it.

(3) Candles and matches

Four candles for the shushbinin, who are the two couples that will escort the choson and kallah, and matches with which to light the candles. The matches are also useful in the creation of ashes that will be placed on the choson’s forehead before he walks to the chupah.

(4) Wine

Many deliberately bring a bottle of white wine, a position that I advocate, to avoid concerns of red wine staining a white wedding dress. (I am aware of some poskim who prefer that one use red wine at a chupah. However, I prefer white wine, since it spares the worry of a stained gown.)

(5) Berachos

Cards, or something similar, with all the berachos for the various honorees.

(6) Ring

The wedding ring. This should be a ring without a precious stone (Even Ha’ezer 31:2). Some rabbonim prefer that it have no design at all. It is important that the ring be the property of the choson. In other words, the choson must either purchase it with his own money, or whoever purchased it must give it to the choson as a gift and the choson must pick it up to acquire it. So, if the bride wants to use her late great-grandmother’s wedding ring, they should make sure that the current, rightful owner of that ring gives it to the choson, with no strings attached, prior to the wedding.

(7) Glass

A well-wrapped glass that will be broken. (Note that the Rema [Even Ha’ezer 65:3] states that the choson should break the glass that was used to hold the wine of the wedding beracha. Although I have seen this actually practiced, it is definitely not the common, contemporary custom.)

(8) Key

Make sure that someone has the key to the yichud room!

Wow!! We have actually gotten all the way to the wedding! What happens next?

The choson tish

If the tena’im were not performed earlier, some people make a tena’im now. If the tena’im will take place at the wedding, then one should also have a plate that one intends to break.

The kesubah is filled out and signed at the choson tish. (In Eretz Yisrael, many follow the practice of not signing the kesubah until the choson and kallah are under the chupah.)

At this point, we will introduce the mesader kiddushin, the talmid chacham who is honored with making certain that the halachic aspects of the wedding are performed correctly.

Kabalas kinyan

Following the instructions of the mesader kiddushin, the choson lifts up a pen, handkerchief, or other itemas a means of kinyan in the presence of two witnesses. By doing this, he assumes the financial responsibilities of a husband and future father.

Should we use the same witnesses?

There are two prevalent practices regarding the witnesses, usually dependent on the preference of the mesader kiddushin. The more common American practice is that each part of the ceremony — the signing of the kesubah, the kiddushin itself, and the yichud — are witnessed by different sets of witnesses, in order to honor more people. In Eretz Yisrael, the common practice is to have one set of witnesses for all the stages. The Tashbeitz (2:7) explains that once one honored someone with performing a mitzvah, we encourage that he perform the rest of the mitzvah (hamaschil bemitzvah omrim lo gemor). Other reasons for this custom are provided by the Eizer Mikodesh (end of Even Ha’ezer 42) and Rav Shelomoh Zalman Auerbach.

Signing of kesubah

After the choson makes the kabbalas kinyan, the witnesses carefully read through the kesubah and then sign it (Rema, Even Ha’ezer 66:1 and Choshen Mishpat 45:2). If they are attesting to something by signing, they must know what it is.

Choson signing kesubah

Many have the practice that the choson also signs the kesubah, beneath the witnesses’ signatures. This practice dates back to the times of the rishonim and demonstrates that the choson approves what the witnesses are signing (Rashba, Bava Basra 175; Eizer Mikodesh 66:1 s.v. hayah ta’us).

Bedeken

The choson, escorted by the two fathers and accompanied by the celebrants, now goes to badek the kallah, by pulling the veil over her head. At this point, the kallah’s father and perhaps others bless her. The celebrants then proceed to the chupah.

The Chupah

The chupah itself should, ideally, be open on all four sides (Eizer MiKodesh). This is reminiscent of the tent of Avraham Avinu and Sarah Imeinu, whose tent was accessible from all four directions of the globe, so as not to inconvenience any potential guests. We are conveying blessing upon the bride and groom that the house they build together be as filled with chesed as the house of Avraham and Sarah was.

Immediately prior to walking to the chupah, the mesader kiddushin places some ashes above the choson’s forehead. The ashes are placed where the choson wears his tefillin, and are immediately removed, and serve to remind the choson that even at this moment of tremendous joy, he should remember that our Beis Hamikdash lies in ruins. This, literally, fulfills the verse in Yeshayah (61:3), To place on the mourners of Zion and to give them splendor instead of ashes, where the Navi promises that in the future we will replace the ashes that currently remind us of the churban (Even Ha’ezer 65:3).

Chupah under the Stars

The prevalent Ashkenazic practice is that the chupah is conducted outdoors or under an open skylight, in order to provide a beracha for the marrying couple that their descendants be as numerous as the stars (Rema, Even Ha’ezer 61:1). However, if a couple prefers to hold their chupah under a roof, the mesader kiddushin should still perform the wedding ceremony for them, since there is no violation to perform the chupah this way (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Even Ha’ezer 1:93).

Jewelry at the Chupah

There is a common custom that the kallah removes all her jewelry before she goes to the chupah. Some explain that this custom is based on the Mishnah that after the churban of the Beis Hamikdash, Chazal decreed that the choson and kallah should no longer wear the crowns that they were accustomed to wearing before that time (Sotah 49a). Although removing jewelry may be associated with this idea, most authorities contend that this is only a custom borrowed from this idea, but is not required. If it were required, then wearing jewelry would be prohibited from the night before the wedding, until the end of sheva berachos (see Mishnah Berurah 560:17).

Accepted practice is to prohibit only silver, gold or jewelry of precious stones that are worn on the kallah’s head, and only at the chupah (Mishnah Berurah 560:17, quoting Pri Megadim). However, some authorities prohibit a kallah from wearing any silver or gold jewelry the entire sheva berachos week (Yam shel Shelomoh, Gittin 1:19).

Wearing a Kittel

The common practice among Eastern European Jews is that the choson wears a kittel at the chupah. The reason for wearing the kittel is tied closely to the wedding day as his personal day of atonement, and is to encourage the choson to do teshuvah on this day.

When does he put on the kittel? There are two common practices: some have the choson wear the kittel folded up under his suit jacket, whereas others have the kittel placed on top of his suit as soon as he stands under the chupah, and remove the kittel either immediately after the chupah or in the cheder yichud.

The accepted practice is that the shushbin places the kittel on the choson. His “dressing” the choson reinforces the idea that the wedding day is a day of teshuvah and atonement – it should remind the choson, when he puts on the kittel for the first time, of the day when he will be wearing his kittel for the last time (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 147:4).

Who walks them down?

The choson and kallah are escorted by two couples, called the shushbinin, who are usually their parents. There was an old custom that the shushbinin should both be couples who are married in their first marriage (cited by Eizer Mikodesh 68:2, who says that he is uncertain of the origin of this custom). Some have a custom that a woman who is visibly pregnant should not serve as a shushbin (Shearim Hametzuyanim Bahalacha 147:12). Since these practices are custom and not halacha, when following them may create a dispute, shalom is more important.

There are two common practices as to who, specifically, escorts the choson and who escorts the kallah. Some have the custom that the choson is escorted by the two male shushbinin, and the kallah by the two female shushbinin, whereas others have each escorted by a couple. To decide what to do, I quote a well-known practice of Rav Yaakov Kamenetski, who at three of his children’s marriages had the shushbinin walk as couples and at the other three had the fathers escorting the choson and the mothers escorting the kallah. His rule: I did whatever the mechutan preferred.

Kallah on the Right

Based on a verse in Tehillim (45:10) that teaches that the place of honor for a princess is to be stationed on the right, the kallah stands to the right and the choson to the left.

Standing at the Chupah

In America, the guests usually sit throughout the chupah ceremony, whereas, in Eretz Yisrael, the standard practice is that everyone stands throughout the chupah. The latter practice, or, more specifically, that everyone stands while the sheva berachos are recited, is quoted in the name of the Zohar (see Shu”t Ha’elef Lecha Shelomoh, Even Ha’ezer #115).

Erusin and Nesuin

There are two stages to a Jewish wedding. The first stage is called kiddushin or erusin (not to be confused with the Modern Hebrew word erusin, which means “engagement”), and is focused on the choson giving the wedding ring to the kallah. The second step is called nesuin. In Talmudic times, these two stages were conducted separately – often as much as a year apart. After kiddushin, the couple is married, but do not yet live together.

Today, the two stages are conducted as one long ceremony.

Is the Kallah’s face covered?

The Rema (31:2) cites an old Ashkenazic custom that the kallah’s face is covered at her chupah. The Rema does not say how thick the veil is, although we find a dispute among later authorities about this. Some authorities object strongly to the kallah wearing a veil that is so thick that the witnesses cannot identify her (Mabit, quoted by Pischei Teshuvah 31:5). Others rule that it is not problematic for the veil to be this thick, and, therefore, in many places the custom is that the kallah wears a very thick veil.

The mesader kiddushin recites the beracha of borei pri hagafen on behalf of the choson and the kallah. They should have in mind to be included in his beracha and not to interrupt before they drink the wine (see Afikei Yam 2:2). According to some opinions Shu”t Noda Beyehuda, Even Ha’ezer #1), the choson should also have in mind to be included in the birchas erusin¸ but most contend that he is not required to recite this beracha (see Shu”t Har Tzvi, Orach Chayim #44, who quotes this from the Tevuos Shor, Rabbi Akiva Eiger, and several other authorities). The choson and kallah then sip from the cup. The most common practice is that the mesader kiddushin gives the choson to drink, and then hands the cup to the kallah’s mother, who gives her to drink. The choson and kallah need to drink only a small sip of the wine (Be’er Heiteiv, Even Ha’ezer 34:6; Amudei Apiryon page 71).

Yichud Eidim

On behalf of the choson, the mesader kiddushin appoints the two witnesses, and then asks the witnesses, within earshot of the kallah, whether the ring is worth a perutah, which is worth only a few cents. The reason for this strange conversation is so that the kallah agrees to be married, even if the ring is worth so little (Rema, Even Ha’ezer 31:2).

According to many authorities, the witnesses must see the choson place the ring on the kallah’s finger (Shu”t Harashba 1:780; Rema, Even Ha’ezer 42:4). Although most authorities rule that this is not essential, the accepted practice is to be certain that the witnesses see the actual placing of the ring on the kallah’s finger (Pischei Teshuva, Even Ha’ezer 42:12).

Reading the kesubah

At this point, the kesubah is read to interrupt between the erusin and the nesuin, and then the sheva berachos are recited. Although some authorities question how one can divide the sheva berachos, the accepted practice is to divide them among six, and in some places seven, honorees (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Even Ha’ezer #94; cf. Har Tzvi).

Out of order

One should be careful to make sure that each person being honored knows which beracha he is supposed to recite. If the berachos are recited out of order, one should not repeat a beracha, but recite the skipped beracha and then proceed to recite the remaining berachos. Similarly, if the honoree began reciting the wrong beracha, including Hashem’s Name, he should complete the beracha he has begun, after which the remaining berachos are recited. If someone began reciting either the beracha of Sos tasis or Samayach tesamach, which do not begin with Hashem’s Name, out of order, he should stop and the correct beracha should be recited (Amudei Apiryon page 76).

Putting his foot down

After the sheva berachos are completed, the choson smashes a glass (Rema, Even Ha’ezer 65:3). (According to an alternative practice, the choson smashes the glass earlier in the ceremony, immediately after the kiddushin are completed.) Many have the custom that prior to breaking the glass, the choson or the audience sings the pasuk,im eshkacheich Yerushalayim… .” This custom has sources in rishonim (Sefer Hachassidim #392).

The choson and kallah are then escorted with music and dancing to the yichud room. Two witnesses, called the eidei yichud, make sure that there is no one else in the yichud room, and then remain posted outside for the amount of time that the mesader kiddushin instructs them.

Conclusion

Having studied the basic customs of our weddings, let us examine an observation of the Noda Biyehudah germane to the priorities people use for checking out shidduchin: “I am astonished that most people have no concern about marrying their daughter to a halachic ignoramus, notwithstanding the words of Chazal about the importance of marrying her to a Talmudic scholar… yet they are concerned about having her marry someone whose name is the same as her father’s, which has no Talmudic basis or source” (Shu”t Noda Biyehudah, Even Ha’ezer 2:79). Thus, we see what factors are significant in a marriage: The choson should be a Torah scholar, and his bride, a ye’rei’ah Shamayim.

The Seudah of a Bris

Question #1: Fleishig bris

“Must a bris meal be fleishig? I am between jobs, and even a bagel and tuna salad bris is really, at the moment, beyond my means.”

Question #2: How many people?

How many attendees does a bris seudah require?

Question #3: Day later?

Can you make the meal for a bris a day later?

Answer:

It is a well-established practice that when someone celebrates a bris milah, they make a seudah in honor of the occasion. The common, but not universal, custom in Eretz Yisroel is that the meal served in honor of a bris is fleishig, whereas, in the United States, the meal served is often milchig. This article will explore the origins of the practice of having a seudah in honor of the bris, discuss the parameters of chiyuv involved, and, at the same time, discover some interesting customs, cases and piskei halacha that we find in the halachic literature. As always, this column is to provide general background, but not meant to provide halachic ruling, which is the role of each individual’s rav or posek.

The first question is whether the bris meal is required min haTorah, miderabbanan or whether it is simply a common practice. This author found different midrashim on the subject with slightly variant implications regarding this issue.

“Someone who brought his son to a bris milah is required to make a celebration and a party for the occasion” (Pirkei Derabbi Eliezer, Chapter 29; Midrash Tehillim to Chapter 112). The basis for this celebration is that Avraham made a large party beyom higameil es Yitzchak,“on the day of the higameil of Yitzchok,” assuming that the word higameil refers to the day of his bris. Tosafos (Shabbos 130a s.v. Sas) quotes a midrash that this is derived by taking the four letters of the word הגמל and dividing them into הג, which is the gematriya of eight, and מל, meaning that Avraham made his big celebration on the eighth day after Yitzchak’s birth, the day of his milah.

Another midrash adds that the reward for a father making a “big mishteh” (party) on the day of his son’s bris is that he will have a child who will be a gibbor aretz, which could be translated as a “hero of the earth.” The examples in the midrash are “like Yitzchak, whose prayer allowed a barren woman to give birth” or “like Yaakov, who defeated an angel” (Midrash Tehillim to Chapter 112).

On the other hand, a different midrash describes the celebration of the bris as something highly praiseworthy, referring to it as something that people do out of joy – something performed notwithstanding that there is requirement to do so (Midrash Tanchuma, parshas Tetzaveh #1). This midrash implies that, unlike the Pirkei derabbi Eliezer quoted above, making a bris seudah is a commendable act, but not required. This last midrash then emphasizes, “not only do they make a massive celebration, but people even borrow money and collateralize themselves in order to make this celebration.” A possible way to explain what seems to be a dispute between midrashim is that the Torah never required making a huge celebration in honor of bris milah, but Chazal later made it into a chiyuv.

Other Biblical sources

Another posuk frequently quoted as a source for a celebration on the day of the bris is in Tehillim (119:162), sas anochi al imrasecha kemotzei shalal rav, “I rejoice about your utterances as he who finds a huge treasure.” The word imrasecha is interpreted to mean the mitzvah of bris milah, thus rendering the posuk: I rejoice when I have the opportunity of bris milah.

In this context, the Maharshal states that the seudah, itself, is a simchas mitzvah, on the same level as a wedding or sheva brachos, and it is therefore a big mitzvah to participate in it (Yam shel Shlomoh, Bava Kama 7:37).

Upon the eighth

Another midrash mentions a different posuk in Tehillim as the source for celebrating a bris: the opening words of the 12th Chapter, La’me’natzei’ach al hasheminis, usually translated as, “For the musician, upon the eight-stringed instrument.” This midrash explains that the posuk refers not to an instrument of eight strings, but to the celebration of bris milah on the eighth day after birth (Yalkut Shim’oni, Beshalach #250 and Va’eschanan #844; Midrash Tehillim 6:1, and others).

A difference that might potentially result between these various midrashic sources is whether we should make a festive meal when the bris needed to be delayed, for example, when the baby was not fully healthy on the eighth day. Another possibility is when the baby is born on Friday evening after sunset and before nightfall, in which case the bris cannot be made the next Friday, because it might be the seventh day, nor on Shabbos, since it might be the ninth day from the birth, and only a bris on the eighth day supersedes Shabbos. In these instances, is there still a mitzvah to have a bris seudah? If the source for this celebration is the posuk sas anochi al imrasecha, there should be no difference whether the bris falls on the eighth day or is postponed. On the other hand, if the source is from the words of the 12th chapter of Tehillim that refer to the eighth, or from the words הגמל meaning the eighth day, it is possible that the mitzvah of celebrating the bris with a festive mealis only when the bris falls on the eighth day.

Indeed, we find some halachic authorities who make such a distinction, but in a different context. Concerning a bris that takes place during the Nine Days, where eating fleishig is permitted, at least in certain situations (see Maharil, laws of Tisha Be’Av; Rema, Orach Chayim 551:10; Elya Rabbah 249:2; cf. Taz, Orach Chayim 551:12), there are authorities who contend that permission to eat meat during the nine days is limited to a bris on the eighth day after birth, but not when the bris is delayed (see Shaarei Teshuvah 551:33, quoting Shu”t Or Olam #9), notwithstanding that this is when it is the correct time to perform the bris.

Shulchan Aruch

Thus far, we have noted several midrashim as sources for the practice of a festive celebration in honor of a bris milah, and we noted a discrepancy whether this meal is required or only customary. The wording of the Shulchan Aruch is “nohagim,” which implies that the seudah is required because of Jewish practice (Yoreh Deah 265:12).

We should note that a minority opinion contends that a seudas bris is required min haTorah (Or Ne’elam, based on Rashi, Niddah 31b, quoted by Shaarei Teshuvah, 551:33).

Invite your enemies!

One early source emphasizes that the person making a bris should make peace with his enemies and invite them to the seudah (Orchos Chayim). The poor should also be invited, so that they can participate in a meal that is beyond their means. The custom of bringing home treats from the bris is also mentioned in early sources (Yalkut Mei’am Lo’eiz, parshas Lech Lecha).

Bris on the eighth

We all realize that a bris should take place on the eighth day after birth, unless it cannot, such as when the baby is not fully healthy.

Rescheduling bris to a legal holiday

While researching this article, I found an interesting responsum from the Divrei Malkiel, one of the leading Litvishe poskim of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The question was sent to him from the rav of Bucharest, Rumania, deploring the progressive attitudes towards shemiras mitzvos that existed among many wealthier members of his community. One issue was that they would postpone a bris milah from the eighth day to a secular legal holiday, to make it easier for people to attend. The Divrei Malkiel found this practice extremely abhorrent – the seudas bris is to celebrate that a mitzvah involving mesiras nefesh was observed to its fullest. By postponing the bris to accommodate the seudah, the baalei simcha are inverting the importance — making, quite literally, the tafeil into the ikar and the ikar into the tafeil. The Divrei Malkiel suggests that, under these circumstances, there would be no mitzvah accomplished with the seudas bris. Since the entire bris was delayed against halacha, it now becomes the celebration of an aveirah – the non-fulfillment of a bris on the eighth day, rather than the celebration of a mitzvah!

The Divrei Malkiel notes that this not only confuses the ikar (performing the bris at the first opportunity, and the mitzvah of performing it on the eighth day) with the tafeil (the seudah celebration), but that, if indeed the bris was delayed because of convenience, there is no mitzvah of having a celebratory meal. His rationale is simple: The purpose of the celebratory meal is to demonstrate our scrupulous observance of this mitzvah that involves sacrifice. But, in this instance, it is a declaration that the father did not want to perform the mitzvah properly. Therefore, any celebration becomes a farce and is not a simchas mitzvah(Shu”t Divrei Malkiel 4:86)!

The exact question asked of the Divrei Malkiel was asked many hundreds of years ago of the Tashbeitz, who ruled the same way. The case in this instance was that the eighth day after the birth fell on Sunday, the tenth of Av – in other words, Tisha Be’Av nidche, the day that the ninth of Av isobserved in practice. The family wanted to push off the bris to Monday in order to have it on a day when there would be a seudah. Similar to the Divrei Malkiel, the Tashbeitz writes that pushing off the bris to accommodate amore convenient seudah confuses the ikar with the tafeil and is sinful, for it violates performing the bris on the eighth day. He concludes, similarly to the Divrei Malkiel, that in this situation there is no mitzvah to have a seudah (Shu”t Tashbeitz 3:8).

Milchig or fleishig?

At this point, we are ready to discuss the first of our opening questions: “Must a bris be fleishig? I am between jobs, and even a bagel and tuna salad bris is really, at the moment, beyond my means.”

The early authorities discuss whether it is preferred to have a fleishig meal at a bris. The Shelah Hakadosh quotes a dispute that he had with his rebbe, the Maharash, who contended that a bris should be a fleishig meal, whereas the Shlah himself, at least prior to his rebbe voicing a disputing opinion, held that a milchig meal is fine (Mesechta Shabbos, Ner Mitzvah #7, quoted by Elya Zuta 249:2). The opinion of the Maharash is viewed as the primary halachic opinion by the Machatzis Hashekel (Orach Chayim 249:6). On the other hand, the Chasam Sofer notes that the accepted practice in his day was to serve a dairy meal (Shu”t Chasam Sofer Orach Chayim #69), and this practice is similarly quoted approvingly by others (Shaarei Teshuvah 551:33, quoting Shu”t Or Olam #9).

In this context, the Chochmas Odom states that having a bris seudah is a custom to demonstrate the simcha that Jews feel when we observe bris milah. To quote him, “Someone who could make a seudah, and pinches pennies to serve only coffee, schnapps and sweets, is not doing the right thing (149:24). In other words, if someone cannot afford an expensive meal, it is perfectly acceptable that he serve a snack, rather than a full meal. But someone who can afford to serve a nice meal should make a proper celebration.

At the same time, we must be careful that the expenses associated with a bris not become so lavish that it embarrasses someone who is unable to make such a nice bris. In many communities, over the ages, when this became a problem, takanos were established, limiting how many people could be invited to a bris seudah and what was served.

Minyan?

At this point, let us examine the second of our opening questions: “How many attendees does a bris seudah require?”

The Rema (Yoreh Deah 265:12) writes that the minhag is to have a minyan at a seudas bris. This is the earliest authority I know of who discusses this, and he does not cite either a source or a reason. Later authorities endeavor to understand what the source is for this Rema. Several options are mentioned, including the statement of the Gemara (Kesubos 8a) that the brocha of shehasimcha bi’me’ono, “that joy is in His abode”would be recited at a bris – just as we do at a wedding or sheva brachos – except for tzara leyanuka, the discomfort caused to the baby by the bris. This brocha, shehasimcha bi’me’ono, is never recited without a minyan. (However, this source does not demonstrate a requirement to have a minyan; rather, that even if a minyan is present, not to recite shehasimcha bi’me’ono.)

It is possible that the reason the bris seudah should have a minyan is to spread the happy tidings that the mitzvah was performed, pirsumei mitzvah, and pirsum usually requires at least a minyan. (These and other approaches are discussed in Sefer Habris by the late Rav Moshe Bunim Pirutinsky, 265:166, page 329.)

Bris seudah before Musaf?

In a responsum, the Chasam Sofer discusses the following situation. The rav of a certain town had succeeded in changing the davening time for the local shul on Shabbos, so that they would now daven Shacharis before zman kerias Shema. In order to accommodate this change, the people insisted that there should be a break before they davened Musaf, during which they would eat a milchig meal as their morning seudah of Shabbos. After Musaf, they had the fleishig meal of the day, with which they fulfilled the mitzvah of seudah shelishis. When they would celebrate a bris on Shabbos, they would perform the bris immediately after Shacharis, and then celebrate the bris seudah before Musaf. The rav was concerned, because it is prohibited to have a seudas gedolah before davening Musaf.

In his reply, the Chasam Sofer commends the rav for getting the community to daven Shacharis before the time of reciting kerias Shma. He then discusses whether it is permitted to eat the Shabbos seudah before davening Musaf, and whether it will be halachically worse if the morning seudah is also a bris seudah. Based on a psak of the Bach (Orach Chayim 286), the Chasam Sofer concludes that there is halachic basis to permit them to have a milchig seudah for the bris, since they do not want to have the added expense of a fleishig bris seudah, which is what would be involved if they held the seudah after Musaf. He then notes that a seudas bris is usually considered a seudah gedolah, which is prohibited to eat before Musaf. However, since the seudas bris would be milchig, and not a lot of wine drunk, although it would be preferred to have the seudas bris after Musaf, the rav is not required to correct them for having a milchig, non-intoxicating seudah before Musaf (Shu”t Chasam Sofer, Orach Chayim #69).

Bris on Friday

Although it is generally prohibited to make a large meal on Friday, in order not to infringe on the appetite one brings with him to his Shabbos meal, exception is made for a seudas mitzvah that should not be delayed. There are two instances of this: A pidyon haben and a bris milah (Rema, Orach Chayim 249:2). In these instances, the Bach rules that the seudah should be made before the “tenth” hour, which is usually understood to mean in the afternoon, halfway between midday and sunset.

The Levush contends that if you cannot have both seudos, Shabbos and bris, the bris seudah should be done even at the expense of the Shabbos seudah, because both are seudos mitzvah, and you should perform whichever one comes first, without concern that as a result the second will not take place (Orach Chayim249:2). The Bach appears to disagree with this Levush.

Postponing the Seudah until after Shabbos

Common practice for a Shabbos bris is to make the celebratory meal on Shabbos.

Apparently, however, this approach was not always universal. The Magen Avraham (131:11) quotes from the Hagahos Minhagim that there were places in which the custom was that the seudah for a Shabbos bris was postponed until after Shabbos. I did not find any commentaries who explain the source for this custom, but I suspect that the basis is that a seudas bris on Shabbos would not be apparent that the meal was in celebration of the bris; therefore, they made a special meal on motza’ei Shabbos in honor of the bris. This can be compared to the accepted practice today that when Purim falls on Shabbos (which happens in our calendar only in Yerushalayim and other walled cities) the seudah is postponed to Sunday, in order to assure that the special Purim meal be noticeable. Since this year Purim falls on Shabbos in Yerushalayim, I hope to discuss this topic with our readership prior to Purim.

Day later

At this point, let us discuss the last of our opening questions: Can you make the meal for a bris a day later?

Although some halachic authorities assume that the bris seudah should be celebrated on the day that the bris occurred (Yaavetz in Migdal Oz, quoted by Sefer Habris 255:170 [pg 329]; Yalkut Mei’am Lo’eiz, quoting Shlah), severalauthorities rule that when the seudah could not or did not take place on the day of the bris, that it can take place afterward (Tashbeitz 3:8; Pischei Teshuvah, Yoreh Deah 265:16 quoting Chamudei Daniel). The Tashbeitz proves this from the fact that, as mentioned above, the Purim seudah is postponed from Shabbos to Sunday, as well as a custom that he records of postponing the seudah of a bris celebrated on Friday to Shabbos (Shu”t Tashbeitz 3:8).

Conclusion

The Midrash tells us that Avraham Avinu’s bris took place on Yom Kippur, on the site where the mizbei’ach of the Beis Hamikdash was later built. Thus, the atonement both of Yom Kippur and of korbanos is combined in the observance of bris milah. In the words of the Midrash, “Every year, HaKodosh Boruch Hu sees the blood of the bris of Avrohom Avinu and He atones for all our sins.” Thus, bris milah guarantees the future redemption of the Jewish people and the atonement from all sins (Pirkei Derabbi Eliezer, Chapter 29; see also Rabbeinu Bachya commentary to Bereishis 17:13). This is certainly a major reason not to shortchange its celebration!

A Special Bar Mitzvah Brocha

We will shortly see a midrash that describes the childhood of Yaakov and Eisav, and how they went their separate ways after they turned bar mitzvah. Certainly, the most appropriate week to discuss:

Question #1: When?

When does a father recite the brochashe’petorani”?

Question #2: What?

What does this brocha mean?

Question #3: Why?

Why do we not recite this brocha at a bas mitzvah?

Question #4: Whether?

Does an adoptive father recite this brocha at his son’s bar mitzvah?

Introduction

After a bochur habar mitzvah receives his aliyah to the Torah, his father recites the following passage: Boruch she’petorani mei’onsho shel zeh. We will be discussing many questions about this passage, including:

What does it mean?

Is it a brocha or a prayer?

Why does it have such an impersonal text? The brocha does not even say that the bar mitzvah is his child!

Background: With Sheim and Malchus

In the Sefer Maharil, an early and highly respected source for accepted Ashkenazi halachic practice, we find the following:

“When the Maharil’s son turned bar mitzvah and read from the Torah, the Maharil recited a brocha, Boruch Atah Hashem Elokeinu Melech Ha’olam asher petorani mei’onsho shel zeh. Furthermore, we find this brocha in the works of the Mordechai with Sheim and malchus” (Sefer Maharil, Hilchos Kerias HaTorah). Thus, the Maharil rules that there is a regular brocha, including the words Hashem Elokeinu Melech Ha’olam (which is referred to as sheim umalchus), that is recited by a father when his son reaches the age of bar mitzvah and demonstrates this by reading from the Torah. It should be noted that although the Maharil attributes this ruling to an early rishon, the Mordechai, this ruling is not found in any extant editions of the Mordechai, although, as we will soon see, we do find it quoted in other authorities of the same era and school.

Some mention a custom that the father should place his hand on his son’s head when he recites the brocha, although I have never seen this in practice (mentioned in the Meshivas Nefesh [Vayikra 9] of R. Yochanan Luria, a prominent posek in fifteenth-century western Germany).

The ruling of the Maharil to recite the brocha of Boruch she’petorani with sheim umalchus is quoted by the Rema in his Darchei Moshe commentary on the Tur (Orach Chayim 225:1), where he adds the following, “However, I did not find this brocha in the Gemara, and I find it difficult to recite a brocha that is not mentioned in the Gemara and in the halachic authorities, although Bereishis Rabbah mentions it at the beginning of parshas Tolados.

Rosh

Presumably, what bothered the Rema is the following statement of the Rosh (Kiddushin 1:41), “We do not find that we recite any brocha that is not mentioned in the Mishnah, Tosefta, or Gemara.” Thus, the Rema was concerned that the brocha of Boruch she’petorani was never established by Chazal, and reciting it with sheim umalchus constitutes a brocha levatalah, a brocha recited in vain.

Bereishis Rabbah

The Bereishis Rabbah that the Rema quotes says as follows: “‘And the lads [Yaakov and Eisav] grew up (Bereishis 25:27).’ Rabbi Levi explained, ‘this can be compared to a hadas and a thorn bush that grew next to one another. Once they grew and blossomed, the hadas provided its beautiful fragrance and the thorn bush produced its thorns. Similarly, for thirteen years, both lads went to yeshivah and came home from yeshivah. After they turned thirteen, one went to batei midrash and the other went to houses of idolatry.’ Rabbi Elazar explained, ‘A person is obligated to work with his son until he turns thirteen years old. After that time, he should declare, “Boruch she’petorani mei’onsho shel zeh”’” (Bereishis Rabbah ad loc.).

Commentaries on Shulchan Aruch

In his glosses to the Shulchan Aruch, the Rema alludes to what he wrote in his Darkei Moshe commentary on the Tur and reaches the same conclusion: “Some say that when one’s son turns bar mitzvah, he should recite Boruch Atah Hashem Elokeinu Melech Ha’olam she’petorani mei’onsho shel zeh, but it is better to recite it without sheim umalchus” (Orach Chayim 225:2). We should note that I found no reference to this brocha in any Sefardic authorities, until the very late poskim. All the discussion about reciting it, and whether it should be a full brocha with sheim umalchus, I found only among the Ashkenazic authorities.

The Rema’s conclusion that Boruch she’petorani should be recited without sheim umalchus is followed by most, but not all, subsequent halachic authorities, including the Derisha, Levush, Tosafos Yom Tov (in his Divrei Chamudos commentary on the Rosh, Brochos 9:30), Shelah, Magen Avraham, Mishnah Berurah, and the Kaf Hachayim. The Kaf Hachayim, a very late authority who quotes many Ashkenazic sources, is the first Sefardic authority that I saw who makes any reference at all to the brocha of Boruch she’petorani.

(In the standard, older editions of the Derisha, his comments on this topic were omitted by the publisher, since the Derisha there merely quoted the comments of the Darchei Moshe written by his rebbe, the Rema. However, the Shelah had this quotation in his edition of the Derisha, and it is published in the newer editions of the Tur.)

With sheim umalchus

Thus far, I have quoted predominantly the majority who rule that Boruch she’petorani should be recited without sheim umalchus – in other words, not as a real brocha. However, there are several major authorities who rule that one must recite this brocha with sheim umalchus. In their opinion, since a brocha must include sheim umalchus, reciting this brocha without sheim umalchus does not fulfill the requirement. The Gra, in his comments to the Rema on Shulchan Aruch, simply states that the decision of the Maharil to recite the brocha with sheim umalchus is correct. This approach is subsequently quoted as the primary opinion by both the Chayei Odom (Klal 65:3) and the Aruch Hashulchan. The Chayei Odom rules very directly, “One whose son turns bar mitzvah, when he reads the Torah for the first time, he [the father] should recite the following brocha, Boruch Atah Hashem Elokeinu Melech Ha’olam asher petorani mei’onsho shel zeh.” He then reviews the discussion of the Rema, adding the following points:

Although the Bereishis Rabbah does not state explicitly that one should recite the brocha with sheim umalchus, the Gemara uses the same abbreviated wording when it means that one should recite a regular brocha with sheim umalchus.

The Chayei Odom then refers to a discussion in which the Maharshal ruled that we are not to introduce brochos that are not mentioned in the Gemara, and notes that this includes only brochos that are not mentioned in midrashim, either. However, a brocha that is mentioned in a midrash is halachically valid. The Chayei Odom completes his discussion by noting that his own halachic conclusion (in Klal 8:1) was that reciting a brocha in vain is only a rabbinic prohibition. Therefore, he concludes that once the Maharil and the Gra both rule that Boruch she’petorani should be considered a regular brocha, and we have a source for it in a midrash, then hamevoreich lo hifsid – one who recites it as a regular brocha does not lose. He notes that this is despite the fact that the prevalent custom follows the Rema. Even if Chazal never introduced such a brocha, reciting it would constitute only a rabbinic violation, and one may rely on the many opinions who rule that this brocha does exist (safek derabbanan lehakeil).

It is interesting to note that the Aruch Hashulchan, who usually follows accepted custom even when it appears to run against halachic literature, also rules to recite Boruch she’petorani with sheim umalchus. In other words, he agrees with the position of the Maharil, Gra and Chayei Odom, even though the general custom is not to follow that approach.

As mentioned above, the Maharil notes that he found this practice recorded in the Mordechai. We do not have this in our editions of the Mordechai, but obviously it was in the Maharil’s edition. Furthermore, we do have this practice mentioned in other sources from the same era and area. For example, the Tashbeitz Koton, who lived in the same place and time as the Mordechai (13th century Germany), writes the following: “In Bereishis Rabbah it says that a person should work with his son until he turns thirteen. Afterward, he is required to recite Boruch Atah Hashem Elokeinu Melech Ha’olam she’petorani mei’onsho shel zeh (Tashbeitz Koton #390).”

Early disputants

On the other hand, there are other rishonim who believe that Boruch she’petorani should not be treated as a regular brocha. For example, Rabbeinu Yehonoson, a talmid of the Raavad, cites the text of the brocha as Boruch Hamakom she’petorani mei’onsho shel zeh, which, clearly, avoids reciting Hashem’s Name as one does in a brocha (notes to Rif, Shabbos 55b). We should note that this is not from an Ashkenazic source, but from Provence. Although today Provence is often referred to as an area that followed Sefardic custom, that is not truly accurate. Provence, the area of southern France that borders on the Mediterranean Sea, was at the time of the rishonim an area that had its own minhagim, neither Sefardic nor Ashkenazic. It had absorbed from the traditions and authorities of both areas, yet had developed independently. For example, they began recital of ve’sein tal umatar on the 7th of Marcheshvan, which follows neither Sefardic nor Ashkenazic practice in chutz la’aretz.

What does the brocha mean?

Until this point, I have carefully avoided translating and explaining the words of Boruch she’petorani. An early posek, the Levush, upon recording the halachic discussion germane to the brocha of Boruch she’petorani, states the following: “The text of this brocha is not clear, since one who continues in the evil ways of his ancestors can be punished for their misdeeds for several generations, as the Torah states, pokeid avon avos al banim al shileishim ve’al ribei’im – that Hashem will remember the sins of someone who performed evil to four generations, if the descendants continue the nefarious practices of their antecedents.”

Apparently, the Levush understood the brocha to mean that the son is now exempt from the sins of his father. This means that until bar mitzvah, what happens to the son is because of the father’s misdeeds, and that, therefore, the father will be punished for harm that he caused to the son. This is based on the Gemara (Shabbos 149b) that a person is responsible for punishment that he caused to someone else. It is also borne out by a statement in a midrash, concerning the deaths of Machlon and Kilyon, Naomi’s sons, “Rav Chiya bar Abba said: ‘Until a child turns thirteen, the son is punished for the sins of his father; afterward, he is punished for his own sins.’”

Challenges to the Levush

The Tosafos Yom Tov, in his commentary to the Rosh (Divrei Chamudos 9:30), reviews much of the above material and then challenges the Levush’s approach to explaining the brocha. He writes, “This approach [of the Levush] is forced and difficult to reconcile with the words of the brocha. The intention of the brocha is that, until now, the father was responsible to educate his child in mitzvos and to have him grow in Torah. If the father did not fulfill his responsibility, he will be punished for this. Now that the son has become bar mitzvah, the responsibilities fall on the son himself, and the father will no longer be punished.” This approach is also recorded by the Magen Avraham.

When should the brocha be recited?

The Maharil mentions reciting the brocha when the son receives his first aliyah. The authorities explain this to mean that he performs a mitzvah activity that a child cannot perform (Divrei Chamudos; Magen Avraham). Thus, they rule that if the son led the services (davened in front of the amud), the father should already recite the brocha at that time, since a child cannot fulfill this mitzvah. One may also argue that a father should not recite it when his son has been called up to maftir and read only the maftir and the haftarah, since these activities can be performed by a minor –  a topic that we will need to address a different time. However, if the son read a different part of the parsha, and certainly, if he read the entire parsha, the father can recite Boruch she’petorani then.

Under which category of brochos does this fit?

We know that we have birchos hanehenin – brochos of benefit, including the brochos we recite before and after eating and the brochos before we smell certain fragrances. We also have brochos of praise, which include brochos upon seeing or otherwise experiencing wondrous creations of Hashem, such as the brochos recited when one sees the sea, sees something unusual, hears thunder, or witnesses lightning. And we have brochos of prayer, such as davening, tefilas haderech, and some of the brochos of sheva brochos. Under which heading does the brocha of Boruch she’petorani fit?

From the way the halachic authorities discuss it, it appears that it should be categorized under the heading of brochos of praise.

Why no malchus?

When the Rema ruled that one should not recite the name of Hashem when reciting Boruch she’petorani because he was concerned that it might be a brocha levatalah, why didn’t he suggest the following text: Boruch Atah Melech Ha’olam she’petorani mei’onsho shel zeh? Since one is not reciting the words Hashem and Elokeinu, there is no question about reciting a brocha levatalah, yet one is reciting a text closer to the brocha advocated by the Maharil,and this text includes the concept of malchus.

Indeed, this question can be asked on the Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 218:9, in a different context. There, the Shulchan Aruch discusses someone reciting a brocha on a personal miracle that he has experienced, and it states as follows: “Some say that one should not recite this brocha unless it was a miracle that was beyond what usually happens in the world; but on a miracle that is within natural experience, such as, he was endangered by thieves at night and saved, or something similar, he is not required to recite a brocha. There are other authorities – who disagree with this [and require a brocha in this instance also]. Therefore, it is proper to recite this brocha without sheim umalchus.” The question to be asked on this ruling of the Shulchan Aruch is that there would be no question of brocha levatalah should one recite the brocha with the words Melech Ha’olam, so why does he omit them?

Rav Yosef Chayim Sonnenfeld answers that one does not recite Melech Ha’olam in these situations so that people will not think that someone fulfills a brocha by reciting Melech Ha’olam without reciting Hashem’s Name and Elokeinu (Shu”t Salmas Chayim, Orach Chayim #197).

Why an impersonal brocha?

Why did Chazal institute such an impersonal wording for this brocha, which makes no reference to the fact that the child is his son? I found this question in the sefer Alei Tamar, authored by Rav Yissochor Tamar, an eastern European rav who moved to Eretz Yisroel in 1933, where he became a rav in Tel Aviv. He suggests the following: The father is reciting a brocha that he is thankful that he is no longer responsible for his son’s sins (if we explain the brocha according to the Tosafos Yom Tov and the Magen Avraham). This implies that he thinks that his son will sin, certainly not something he wants to advertise in his role as father.

Daughters?

Why don’t we recite Boruch she’petorani when a daughter turns bas mitzvah? This question is raised by some of the later poskim, and I found two quite variant answers. The Pri Megodim explains that since min haTorah a father has the ability to marry off his daughter, in which case he would no longer be responsible for her education and not be punished for her aveiros, Chazal did not institute a brocha (Eishel Avraham 225:5). Explained in other terms, a father recites this brocha when he is no longer responsible for his son’s sins, because he has no other way of avoiding this responsibility, whereas he has a technical way to avoid responsibility for his daughter’s sins.

The Kaf Hachayim (225:15) provides a different answer to this question, which looks at the topic from almost the opposite angle. Since a daughter usually remains living in the home of her birth family until she marries, a father remains responsible for her, even after she becomes an adult. Therefore, reciting this brocha at her bas mitzvah would be premature.

One could perhaps suggest a third answer: Although a son who reads the Torah, receives an aliyah to the Torah, or leads the services has publicly demonstrated that he is now an adult, what equivalent action does a daughter perform at which we would expect her father to recite Boruch she’petorani?

Adoptive father

And now, for our last question: Does an adoptive father recite this brocha at his son’s bar mitzvah?

Rav Yitzchok Silberstein, in his sefer Chashukei Chemed,rules that an adoptive father is not responsible for his son’s aveiros, and, therefore, does not recite the brocha of Boruch she’petorani.

Conclusion

The father gets up to announce that he realizes the scope of his responsibility. Delving into the details of this brocha make us realize that raising a child to be G-d fearing is a serious task, incumbent on all those who are blessed with children. There are many factors that interplay in the raising of a child, especially in our age, but this brocha reminds us of our responsibility to do our best to imbue our children with a knowledge and love of Hashem and His Torah and mitzvos.

Fasting on the Wedding Day

Now that Shavuos is past, we enter the heaviest wedding season of the Jewish calendar. I decided to discuss this usually not-well-understood topic.

Question #1: Our wedding is going to be after nightfall. Do we fast until the wedding, or may we break the fast when it gets dark?

Question #2: Yocheved asks: I usually do not fast well, and I am concerned how I will feel at my wedding if I fast that day. What do I do?

Question #3: Sheryl’s dilemma: “What will I explain to my non-observant parents when they exclaim at my pre-chupah reception – ‘What! You can’t eat anything at your own wedding?’”

Sheryl comes from a very assimilated background. Let her explain:

“In my extended family, my parents were considered the religious ones, since they were the only ones who married Jewish. Furthermore, my Dad was the only one who fasted on Yom Kippur, albeit with a little cheating on the side. So, when my family members heard that I had become Orthodox, they were shocked at many of my new practices, despite my efforts to keep things as low-key as possible. None of them had a clue what it means to really keep kosher or Shabbos. Now that I’m getting married, many of them are curious to attend my wedding, and I would like to make the experience a Kiddush Hashem for them. Therefore, I intend to explain our mitzvos and customs to them in the best possible light.”

Sheryl’s goals are indeed noble. How will she explain the reason we fast on one’s wedding day to someone who knows little about Yiddishkeit? The prospect seems almost ominous.

Why do we fast?

Although early authorities cite at least six different reasons for this custom, most halachic authorities discuss only two of them (e.g., Levush, Even Ha’ezer 60:1; Magen Avraham and Elyah Rabbah, introduction to 573; Beis Shmuel 61:6; Chachmas Adam 129:2; Aruch Hashulchan, Even Ha’ezer 61:21):

Reason #1: To avoid inebriation

Some explain that the practice is to ensure that the chosson and kallah are fully sober when they participate in the wedding ceremony. By not eating and drinking, they will certainly drink nothing intoxicating prior to the ceremony. Some commentaries provide an interesting twist to this explanation. They explain that the concern is that if one of the marrying parties drinks anything intoxicating on the wedding day, they may subsequently claim that they were inebriated and that, therefore, the marriage is invalid (Levush, Even Ha’ezer 60:1)! As someone once said, love is not only blind, but also sometimes intoxicating.

Reason #2: To achieve atonement

Since a chosson is forgiven for all his sins, he should fast as atonement (Yevamos 63b; Yerushalmi, Bikkurim 3:3).

One allusion to this atonement is found in the Torah. In the very last verse of parshas Tolados, the Torah records that one of the additional wives Eisav married was Machalas, the daughter of Yishmael. The Yerushalmi points out that although her name was actually Basmas and not Machalas, the Torah calls her Machalas, to indicate that even someone as sinful as Eisav is forgiven on his wedding day (Shu”t Divrei Yatziv #259).

Who fasts?

I am sure you are already asking why I said that the chosson fasts on hiswedding day, and omitted the kallah. This leads us directly to our next question:

Are there any halachic differences between the two reasons given for the fast? Indeed, there are several. One issue that might be affected is whether only the chosson fasts or also the kallah. The authorities dispute whether the wedding day atones for both parties or only for the chosson. Indeed, Talmudic sources mention only the chosson in this connection, and some later authorities contend that the wedding is indeed an atonement day only for the chosson and not for the kallah. Following this approach, some authorities conclude that only the bridegroom fasts and not the bride (Ben Ish Chai, 1: Shoftim: 13). Others contend that despite the fact that the Gemara mentions only atonement for the chosson’s sins, since the kallah is a direct cause of his atonement, she also receives forgiveness on this day (Aishel Avraham Butchach 573).

However, if the reason for the fast is to guarantee the sobriety of the parties, the kallah, too, should fast, even if the day is not a day of atonement. Of course, it won’t be easy for Sheryl to explain all this to her family at the reception prior to her wedding. I will soon mention other reasons that she can provide them.

On the other hand, many authorities rule that the wedding day atones for both kallah and chosson, the same as Yom Kippur (Magen Avraham, introduction to 573; Elyah Rabbah 573:2; Beis Shmuel, 61:6). Following this approach, the kallah should fast also, even if we are not concerned about her becoming inebriated at her wedding (Rama, Even Ha’ezer 61:1). This, too, is why both chosson and kallah say viduy after mincha on the day of their wedding (Pischei Teshuvah, Even Ha’ezer 61:9). In addition, the couple should pray for a happy marriage that is blessed with children who bring great credit to themselves and to Hashem (Aruch Hashulchan, Even Ha’ezer 61:21).

Sheryl can certainly tell her family this reason for the sanctity of the day, and say that this is why she will be fasting. This will also provide her with the occasion to explain that a Torah marriage involves holiness, sanctity, and opportunity for spiritual growth, all ideas that will impress her family.

How long must one fast?

There are other halachic differences that result from the two reasons quoted above.If one fasts to ensure that the couple remains sober, then they should not break their fast until the wedding ceremony, even if it does not take place until after dark. Accordingly, if the ceremony takes place on a winter night, they should logically continue their fast, even if this means that it extends into a second halachic day (Shu”t Mahari Bruno #93; Aruch Hashulchan 61:21). On the other hand, if the fast is for atonement, then, once they have completed the day, they can break the fast. A third opinion holds that when the ceremony is at night, their fast does not begin until sunset that day – since prior to sunset is still the day before their wedding (Aishel Avraham Butchach 573). To the best of my knowledge, this last approach is not followed.

How do we rule?

The Chachmas Adam (129:2) concludes that since the fast is only a custom, one need not be stricter than the requirements of halacha for established fast days. Therefore, one may end the fast at dark and does not have to wait until the ceremony. However, one should be careful not to drink anything intoxicating until sipping the wine at the chupah (Pischei Teshuvah, Even Ha’ezer 61:9). The Aruch Hashulchan disagrees, but I believe accepted practice follows the Chachmas Adam.

What about the opposite situation — when the ceremony takes place before nightfall? According to the rationale that the fast is atonement, some contend that one should fast the entire day, even if the ceremony took place in the afternoon (Bach, Orach Chayim 562 at end; Beis Shmuel 61:6). This means that after the wedding ceremony is complete, the chosson and kallah continue to fast until nightfall, even through the chupah and the yichud room! However, accepted practice is for the couple to end their fast at the ceremony, even when it takes place before nightfall.

Do Sefardim fast?

Most sources citing the custom of fasting on one’s wedding day are Ashkenazic. Whether or not Sefardim fast on this day is dependent on local custom. The popular Hebrew halachic anthology, Hanisu’in Kehilchasam, mentions many Sefardic communities that followed the custom of fasting on the wedding day, at least for the chosson, including the communities of Algeria, Baghdad, the Crimea, Salonika and parts of Turkey (pg. 198, note 56). On the other hand, the prevalent custom in Constantinople (Istanbul), Egypt, and Eretz Yisroel was not to fast on the day of the wedding (see Birkei Yosef, Orach Chayim 470:2; Shu”t Yabia Omer 3: Even Ha’ezer: 9). It is interesting to note that some explain that the custom in Egypt was not to fast because the weddings were always conducted in the morning. They explain that when the wedding is held late in the day, we are concerned that the chosson and kallah may drink something intoxicating, but when the wedding is in the morning, there is no such concern (Birkei Yosef, Orach Chayim 470:2). One could thereby argue that when the Sefardim marry in the evening, they should follow Ashkenazic practice and fast.

Nevertheless, the common practice among Sefardim in Eretz Yisrael today is not to fast. Rav Ovadyah Yosef rules that Sefardim who moved to Eretz Yisrael should not fast on the day of the wedding, even if they come from communities where the custom was to fast. Although he respects this custom of the Ashkenazim to fast, he contends that since this is a day of celebration, those who do not have the practice are not permitted to fast.

Like receiving the Torah

What are the other reasons mentioned for the fast?

One early source states that the reason for the fast is that the wedding ceremony commemorates the giving of the Torah at Har Sinai. Indeed, many of our wedding customs, such as the carrying of candles or torches by those accompanying the chosson and kallah, commemorate our receiving the Torah. Continuing this analogy, one early source mentions that just as the Jews fasted prior to receiving the Torah, so too a chosson fasts the day of his wedding (Tashbeitz [Koton]#465). What I find interesting about this reason is that I am unaware of any Medrash that mentions the Jews fasting on the day they received the Torah. Obviously, the Tashbeitz was aware of such a Medrash.Perhaps this is why the later halachic authorities do not discuss this opinion or any halachic ramifications that result from it.

This is a beautiful reason to observe the fast, although I suspect that Sheryl’s family might not appreciate it.

To avoid rift

Here is another, very meaningful reason mentioned for the fast, although it is largely ignored by the later authorities: The Gemara (Shabbos 130a) states, “No kesubah is signed without an argument.” Unfortunately, it is common that differing opinions about wedding arrangements or setting up the newly- married couple cause friction between the families making the wedding. Since this problem is common, the couple should strive their utmost to avoid any conflict at all, and they should also pray and fast that the wedding pass with no disputes (Shu”t Mahari Bruno #93). Somehow, Sheryl did not think that her parents would appreciate this reason for her fast, and I tend to agree with her.

The king gets judged daily

Others explain that the origin for the custom is because the chosson is compared to a king, and we are taught by the Talmud Yerushalmi that a king is judged daily (Sanhedrin 2:3). Thus, the chosson fasts because he is being judged on his wedding day (Shu”t Mahari Bruno #93). Although we may not fully understand what this means, it is certainly a reason to do teshuvah and fast.

To appreciate the mitzvah

The above-mentioned anthology Hanisu’in Kehilchasam mentions yet another reason, which he attributes to the Rokei’ach. Great tzadikim were in such eager anticipation of performing rare mitzvos that they could not eat on the day they had an opportunity to perform one. Similarly, the chosson and kallah look forward to performing their mitzvah with such excitement that they cannot even eat!

Do they say Aneinu?

Do the chosson and kallah say Aneinu in their prayers, even if they will end their fast before the day ends?

The Rama (562:2) rules that the chosson recites Aneinu in his prayers, even if he is not going to complete the fast, such as when the wedding ceremony takes place during the daytime. In this latter situation, where he will not be completing the fast, many recommend that he omit the three words in Aneinu, BeYom Tzom Taaneiseinu, on this day of our fast, since for him it is not a full day of fasting (Rav Shelomoh Zalman Auerbach).

Accepting the fast

Usually, someone intending to have a voluntary fast must state at the end of mincha on the day before that he intends to fast the next day. Do the chosson and kallah accept the fast during mincha on the day before?

The halachic authorities recommend that the chosson and kallah make this declaration during mincha the day before the wedding, and recommend specifying that one intends to fast only until the time of the ceremony. Nevertheless, even if one did not declare the day to be a fast, and even if one did not mention the stipulation, one may assume that they should fast and they are required to fast only until the ceremony (Mishnah Berurah 562: 12). If the ceremony is before nightfall, the chosson and kallah should daven mincha before the wedding ceremony so that they can recite Aneinu, since once they break their fast, this prayer is inappropriate (Mishnah Berurah 562:12). By the way, if they forgot to say Aneinu, they do not repeat Shemoneh Esrei.

Are there days when they do not fast?

Indeed, a chosson and kallah must refrain from fasting on the many days when fasting is prohibited. This includes weddings taking place on Chanukah or Rosh Chodesh. The Magen Avraham (573:1) adds that they should not fast even on minor holidays, such as Isru Chag, Tu Bishvat and the Fifteenth of Av.

But maybe they will get intoxicated?

I understand that they are not allowed to fast—but if the reason for the fast is that they should not become inebriated, how will this be prevented? To avoid this danger, they must be careful not to drink any intoxicating beverages before the ceremony (Pri Megadim, Mishbetzos Zahav 573:1). Observing this precaution is a fulfillment of the custom to fast.

What about Lag BeOmer?

Technically speaking, there is no halachic problem with fasting on Lag BeOmer or during the month of Nisan, even though the custom is not to. Since halacha permits fasting on these days, the custom is for a chosson and kallah to fast. This applies also during the month of Tishrei or the first part of Sivan, even on days when we do not say Tachanun (Magen Avraham 573:1, 2). The Elyah Rabbah (573:3) records a practice that chasanim and kallahs not fast on days when we do not say Tachanun (quoting Nachalas Shivah). The Elyah Rabbah rallies many proofs from earlier authorities that this is not the halacha, but concludes that one who chooses to be lenient and not fast on these days will not lose by his lenient practice (hameikil lo hifsid).

What about a second marriage?

Does someone marrying for a second time fast on his wedding day?

According to the rationale that the fast is out of concern that someone might become intoxicated, there is no difference between a first or second marriage, and one is required to fast. Similarly, according to the reason that this is a day of atonement, they should also fast, since the day of a second marriage also atones. This is obvious from the Biblical source that teaches us that this day atones. When Eisav married Basmas/Machalas he was already married to two other women, yet the Torah teaches that the day atoned for him. Thus, we see that even a subsequent marriage atones, and someone marrying for second or third time should fast on the day.

What if they are not feeling well?

At this point we can address the second question raised above: Yocheved asks, “I usually do not fast well, and I am concerned how I will feel at my wedding if I fast that day. What do I do?”

We should be aware that on the least stringent of the required fasts, Taanis Esther, even someone suffering from a relatively minor ailment is not required to fast. The custom to fast the day of the wedding is certainly less of an obligation than fasting on Taanis Esther and, therefore, if either the chosson or the kallah suffers from a minor ailment or could get weak or dizzy from the fast, they should not fast (Aruch Hashulchan, Even Ha’ezer 61:21). Of course, specific questions should be addressed to one’s rav.

Conclusion

The Ashkenazic practice of fasting on the day of one’s wedding is within the category of custom, minhag, and therefore, as we have seen, includes many leniencies. Indeed, when these reasons apply, there is no reason to fast unnecessarily. Thus, if one is a Sefardi, not feeling well, or marrying on a day when Tachanun is not recited, one has a solid basis not to fast. However, when none of these reasons applies, one must follow the accepted minhag. The Gemara teaches that customs accepted by the Jewish people come under the category of al titosh toras imecha, do not forsake the laws of your mother, and that one is obligated to observe them.

May the fasts of our chasanim and kallahs contribute towards the increase of much shalom and kapparah and the creation of many happy marriages in Klal Yisroel.

The Halachos of Pidyon Haben

This week’s parsha includes the mitzvah of pidyon haben, redeeming the bechor, the firstborn, if it is a boy. The mitzvah is performed optimally when the baby turns a month old, by giving a kohein five sela’im of silver, equal to about 96 grams of silver (Chazon Ish).

The dollar value of the five sela’im varies, depending on the market price of silver. Some people have the custom of giving the kohein six coins, in case one of the coins is defective and does not contain enough silver. The truth is that one has to research how much silver content there is in the coins. Old US silver dollars did have enough silver, but most coins today have little metallic value. We will talk more about this shortly.

WHO IS REQUIRED TO REDEEM THE BECHOR?

The obligation rests on the father of a boy who is the firstborn of his mother and was born through natural delivery. If the father is a kohein or a levi, or if the mother is the daughter of a kohein or a levi, there is no mitzvah of pidyon haben. Usually, the question of whether one’s mother is a bas kohein or levi does not affect a person’s halachic status; however, since pidyon haben is dependent on the boy being the firstborn of his mother, her yichus is taken into consideration (Bechoros 47a).

There is an interesting phenomenon that relates to the difference between the daughter of a kohein and the daughter of a levi. If a boy is born of a non-Jewish father and a bas kohein, there is a requirement for this child, upon becoming an adult, to perform a pidyon haben. Why is this true? Because his mother was together with a non-Jew, she loses her sanctity as a bas kohein – for example, she will never again be able to eat terumah. Therefore, her son is included in the mitzvah of pidyon haben. However, neither parent is obligated to perform the mitzvah for the child; the father, because he is not Jewish, and the mother, because there is no requirement for Mom to perform pidyon haben. Therefore, upon becoming an adult, this child should perform the mitzvah himself.

The halacha is different regarding a boy who is born of a non-Jewish father and a bas levi. Although Mom was involved in a prohibited relationship, this did not affect her yichus, since she loses no halachic rights as a result. Therefore, in this situation the child is exempt from the mitzvah of pidyon haben.

Incidentally, there are poskim who rule that the grandson of a non-Jewish father and a bas levi is also excluded from pidyon haben. This means that the son of a non-Jewish father and a bas levi does not have a mitzvah to redeem his son. Since this man is Jewish from birth but does not have a Jewish father, his yichus follows his mother, who is the daughter of a levi. Since the bas levi’s son’s only Jewish yichus is as a descendant of Levi, these authorities contend that he has no obligation to perform pidyon haben. (See Shu’t Maharam Shick, Yoreh De’ah #299 who disagrees with this ruling.) My impression is that the accepted practice in this situation is to perform an act of pidyon haben without a brocha; after which the kohein returns the money.

WHAT HAPPENS IF A KOHEIN MARRIED A DIVORCEE?

If a kohein married a divorcee or any other woman prohibited to a kohein, the children of this union are challalim, which means that they have become defiled and therefore lose their status as kohanim. The daughters may not marry kohanim, and the firstborn son born to a kohein from this woman needs to be redeemed, just like any yisroel. Furthermore, his son’s son will also require pidyon haben, like any other yisroel.

WHAT IS THE HALACHA OF A BECHOR BORN THROUGH CAESARIAN SECTION?

Switching sub-topics, only a naturally-born child has the status of a bechor for pidyon haben purposes. There is no mitzvah of pidyon haben if the boy was delivered through caesarian section. His younger brother is also not considered firstborn, even if he is born through natural delivery. Similarly, a boy born after a miscarriage is not a bechor for purposes of the mitzvah of pidyon haben (Bechoros 46a). This last halacha depends on how far advanced the terminated pregnancy was, a topic that we will leave for a different time.

WHAT HAPPENS IF NO ONE REDEEMS THE BECHOR?

If the father cannot or does not redeem the bechor, other people can redeem him, but are not required to do so. However, if no one redeemed the bechor as a child, he is required to redeem himself when he reaches adulthood (Kiddushin 29a).

Many men who are not from an observant background did not have a pidyon haben. At a pidyon haben that I once performed (I am a kohein), the grandfather of the newly redeemed baby came over to me, saying, “You know, I am also firstborn and a baal teshuvah. I can’t imagine anyone made a pidyon haben for me.” And so, two pidyonim were performed on the same day, one for the grandson and one for the grandfather!

WHAT IS THE PROCEDURE?

As opposed to other mitzvos, such as bris milah and a wedding, where the mitzvah is performed first and then the festive meal is eaten, pidyon haben is performed during the meal, in order to call attention to the mitzvah. (In some Yerushalmi circles, they actually perform the pidyon first, and then begin the seudah.)

The usual procedure is as follows: After the assembled have made hamotzi and taken their seats, the father brings the bechor to the kohein, who is seated at a place of honor. The custom is to bring the bechor on a large, silver platter. Many have the custom of placing sugar cubes, cloves of garlic, and jewelry on the platter. The father declares to the kohein that the baby is firstborn and must be redeemed.

The kohein then responds with the famous and enigmatic question: “Mai ba’is tefei?” Which do you prefer? Would you rather have your child or the five sela’im of pidyon?

The father responds that he would prefer his son, and that he is prepared to perform the redemption. He then recites the bracha on the mitzvah and the bracha of shehechiyanu, and places the coins into the kohein’s right hand. The kohein waves the coins over the head of the bechor while blessing him. Then, the kohein recites the birchas kohanim and other words of blessing over the head of the bechor. The procedure is completed by the kohein reciting a bracha on a cup of wine and drinking it.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN WHEN THE KOHEIN SAYS “MAI BA’IS TEFEI?” — DOES THE FATHER REALLY HAVE A CHOICE?

The wording of the kohein’s question, “Which do you prefer?” — implying that the father has a choice — i­­s extremely strange. Halachically, there is no choice or option. The father has a mitzvah to fulfill, which he is required to observe. So, why does the kohein suggest to the father that he has a choice?

The text of our pidyon haben ceremony goes back 1,000 years, and, since that time, probably tens of thousands of interpretations have been suggested for this question. Think of your own answer to this question, and you’ll have something to share with others the next time you attend a pidyon haben!

WHY DO SOME PEOPLE PLACE GARLIC CLOVES AND SUGAR CUBES ON THE PLATTER THAT HOLDS THE BABY?

There are many customs that have developed around the mitzvah of pidyon haben. Some people place pieces of garlic, sugar cubes, or candies alongside the bechor when he is brought in for the pidyon. The sugar cubes show that the mitzvos are sweet, and garlic is a symbol of and segulah for fertility. Some say that when participants take home the sugar and the garlic and use them for cooking their own meals at home, they increase the numbers of people who “participated” in the pidyon haben meal, all of whom will be blessed by this.

WHEN IS THE PIDYON PERFORMED? WHY IS THE MINHAG TO PERFORM PIDYON HABEN IN THE AFTERNOON?

The Torah says that the mitzvah is to redeem the bechor when he turns a month old.

How does one determine that a child is a month old? Although we are accustomed to thinking of a Jewish month as being either 29 or 30 days long, these are actually calendar calculations that deal only with complete days. Technically, a month is the amount of time it takes the moon to revolve around the earth, which varies slightly from month to month, but is always a bit more than 29½ days.

HOW LONG IS A MONTH?

There is a dispute in halacha as to how one determines that a bechor is a month old. One opinion follows the day-count method and rules that the pidyon haben should take place on the 31st day after the boy was born, counting his day of birth as day one (Magen Avraham 339:8).

Others rule that a month for pidyon haben is determined by the astronomical method, meaning the same amount of time that transpires from one new moon to the next. Since the time that transpires from one new moon to the next is estimated at 29 days, 12 hours and 793/1080 of an hour (usually called 793 chalakim), the time for pidyon haben begins when the bechor is exactly 29 days, 12 hours and 793 chalakim old (Shach, Yoreh De’ah 305:12). Common practice is to perform a pidyon haben after both opinions have been fulfilled.

By the morning of the 31st day, the bechor is usually 29 days, 12 hours and 793 chalakim old. However, if the bechor was born shortly before sunset on a long summer day, daybreak on the morning of the 31st day is less than 29 days, 12 hours and 793 chalakim since his birth. In this situation, one should wait to perform the pidyon until he is 29 days, 12 hours and 793 chalakim after birth (Pischei Tshuvah 305:17). For this reason, it is a common custom to schedule a pidyon haben on the afternoon of the 31st day, which is always an appropriate time according to both opinions.

When the earliest time to perform the pidyon is on an erev Shabbos or erev Yom Tov, the pidyon should be scheduled in the morning (Mishnah Berurah 249:13). In the rare case that it is not yet 29 days, 12 hours and 793 chalakim after birth, one should calculate when the 29 days, 12 hours and 793 chalakim after birth falls out and schedule the pidyon then.

When the 31st falls on Shabbos or Yom Tov, the pidyon should be scheduled for Motza’ei Shabbos or Motza’ei Yom Tov (Shu’t Noda Biyehuda Tenina, Yoreh De’ah #187).

WHAT DOES ONE DO IF THE THIRTY-FIRST DAY FALLS ON A FAST DAY?

There are two practices mentioned by the poskim. One approach is to perform the pidyon during the fast day, so as not to delay the opportunity to observe the mitzvah, and conduct the festive meal at night after the fast is over. The other approach is to delay the pidyon until the night after the fast, and then perform the pidyon during the meal (Shach, Yoreh De’ah 305:12).

CAN ONE PERFORM THE MITZVAH OF PIDYON HABEN BY GIVING THE KOHEIN A BOND?

One does not fulfill the mitzvah of pidyon haben if one gives the kohein a bond (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 305: 3,4). The yisroel must give the kohein something that has inherent value, such as merchandise. A check is an order of payment instructing the bank to release funds, but itself has no inherent value. Therefore, a check is not equal to cash and is not valid for pidyon haben.

It should be noted that according to many prominent poskim, paper money should not be used for pidyon haben because they also do not have inherent value (see Shu”t Chasam Sofer; Aruch Hashulchan, Yoreh De’ah 305:18; Shu”t Oneg Yom Tov, Yoreh De’ah #102). Since our coins today are not valued by their metal content, it would seem that they should also not be used for pidyon haben.

Usually the pidyon haben is performed with silver coins. These coins are supplied either by the father or by the kohein, in which case he sells them to the father before the pidyon. It is halachically acceptable for the father to pay for the coins by check when he buys them from the kohein.

I was once given by the father small pieces of silver. He had purchased the exact amount of silver necessary, probably from a jeweler, for pidyon haben and that is what he gave me. Although I have had this happen only once, I am told that in certain communities this is a common method.

On another occasion, I was asked, in advance, if I would afterwards sell back to the family the silver dollars that they were giving me. It turned out that the coins used had been used by the great-great-grandfather of the baby when he performed pidyon haben on his son, and these exact coins had been used for every generation in between!

CAN ONE FULFILL THE MITZVAH BY BUYING THE KOHEIN A PRESENT?

Yes, as long as the present is worth at least the value of five sela’im (96 grams of silver). However, the prevalent custom is to give the kohein silver coins, as mentioned above.

MAY THE KOHEIN RETURN THE MONEY TO THE FATHER OF THE BECHOR?

The kohein may return the money. However, this should not be his regular practice, since it might cause a loss of revenue to other kohanim, because yisraelim may stop using them for pidyon haben (Shulchan Aruch Yoreh De’ah 305:8). There are some poskim who contend that today the money should be returned, since the kohein cannot prove that he is a kohein (Shu”t Yaavetz #155). However, the accepted practice is that the kohein does not return the money (Pischei Tshuvah 305:12, quoting Chasam Sofer).

ONCE THE FATHER ASKED A KOHEIN TO BE THE KOHEIN AT HIS SON’S PIDYON HABEN, MAY HE SUBSEQUENTLY CHANGE HIS MIND AND USE A DIFFERENT KOHEIN?

Once the father has asked one kohein to “officiate” at the pidyon haben, he should not ask another kohein. However, if he gave the redemption money to a different kohein, the pidyon is valid (Rema, Yoreh De’ah 305:4).

MAY THE FATHER OF THE BECHOR DIVIDE THE MONEY FOR PIDYON HABEN BETWEEN TWO OR MORE KOHANIM?

It is preferable not to do this, but if he did so, the pidyon is valid (Pischei Tshuvah 305:10, quoting Chasam Sofer).

A RATIONALE FOR THE MITZVAH

It behooves us to consider the reason for the mitzvah of pidyon haben. Following the smiting of the firstborn in Egypt, all firstborn boys had a certain kedusha, which should have entitled them to a role of service in the Beis Hamikdash.

However, because the bechorim were involved in worshipping the Eigel Hazahav, the Golden Calf, they lost their unique status and could no longer perform any special role in the Beis Hamikdash. Therefore, the bechor must undergo a redemption ceremony to make amends — which is to pay the kohein as a means of “redeeming” his former kedusha.

 

 

May I Pass Up This Mitzvah?

Question #1: Inexperienced Father

Abba Chodosh asks me the following question: “Before we relocated for a particular job, I had trained as a mohel. Since our children born since that time were daughters, I never ended up performing a bris without the supervision of an experienced mohel. Now that my son was born, am I required to perform the bris myself?”

Question #2 Successful Mezuzos

Baal Eisektov asks: “Thank G-d, we are inaugurating a new branch of our business. Common practice is to give a rav the honor of installing the mezuzos. But shouldn’t I be doing that myself, because of the principle of mitzvah bo yoseir mibishlucho?”

Question #3 Sharing the Challah

Leah asks me: “Recently, I participated in a tour of a large bakery, and the mashgiach offered me to take challah there, which I did. Someone afterwards told me that the mashgiach should not have been so free in giving away his mitzvah. Did he, indeed, do something wrong?”

Answer: May I delegate?

One of the most basic rules of business and life management is to learn how to entrust responsibility and tasks to others. Does this concept extend to the observance of mitzvos? If I have a mitzvah to carry out, am I permitted to assign it to someone else?

All of the questions asked above are contingent on the same basic underlying issue: Under what circumstances may I hand over the performance of a mitzvah that I could do myself?

The basics

The Gemara rules that one fulfills a mitzvah when it is performed by an agent, although it is preferable to do it himself (Kiddushin 41a). This is called mitzvah bo yoseir mibishlucho, it is better to perform a mitzvah yourself, rather than have someone else do it for you. This rule is not needed in cases of mitzvah shebegufo, where the mitzvah is incumbent on a person to do with and upon his own body, and a sheliach cannot be made at all. An example of the latter case is the wearing of tefillin: I cannot make someone an agent for me by asking that he don tefillin in my stead, because the mitzvah is that the tefillin be placed on my arm and my head.

Anything done wrong?

Our first consideration is: Granted that, under normal circumstances, a person should perform the mitzvah himself, has he violated anything by requesting that an agent do it for him? The Gemara implies that a person (a meshalei’ach) delegating someone else to perform a mitzvah for him has done nothing wrong; he has, however, forfeited an opportunity to perform a mitzvah.

However, other factors may have an impact on the final ruling. Let us consider, for a moment, the situation above, where the father has been trained as a mohel, but is lacking extensive experience. What if his wife, the baby’s mother, prefers that he not perform the bris, and that they opt to use an experienced mohel instead? Does Abba’s shalom bayis become a factor in whether or not he should perform the bris? If he is not violating anything by appointing an agent, then I would personally rule that his wife’s serenity is the most important factor. However, this may not be true if it is prohibited to assign the mitzvah to someone else.

Are there circumstances in which it is fine to have the agent perform a mitzvah for me? What are the halachic principles upon which I can base my decision?

Kisuy hadam practices

Much of the halachic literature discussing these questions originates with the mitzvah of kisuy hadam. The Gemara teaches that the mitzvah of kisuy hadam, the Torah’s requirement that one cover the blood with earth after shechting poultry or chayos, such as deer and antelope is incumbent upon the shocheit. According to the rule of mitzvah bo yoseir mibishlucho, the shocheit should cover the blood himself. Yet, it was, and is, common practice that shochatim honor someone else with fulfilling the mitzvah. Is this permitted? Let us see if we can find Talmudic precedents for the practice.

Kohen application

The Gemara (Bava Kamma 110a) teaches that an elderly or ill kohen for whom it is difficult to offer a korban himself may bring his korban to the Beis Hamikdash and ask a different kohen to offer it in his stead. Notwithstanding that it is a mitzvah of the elderly kohen, he may delegate the performance of the mitzvah, since it is difficult for him. Thus, we see that, at least under certain circumstances, one does not violate halachah by asking someone else to perform a mitzvah in one’s place. The Tevuos Shor (28:14) notes that we see from this Talmudic passage that there are situations in which a person is able to perform a mitzvah himself, yet he has the option of passing the opportunity to someone else.

Yibum application

Here is another Talmudic precedent that permits someone required to observe a mitzvah to defer it to someone else. One of the Torah’s mitzvos, yibum, is that a man should marry his late brother’s widow, if his brother left no descendents. The Mishnah teaches that the mitzvah devolves specifically upon the oldest surviving brother. If he chooses not to fulfill the mitzvah, then and only then does the mitzvah pass to his younger brother.

The Gemara (Yevamos 44a) discusses a situation in which there are at least seven brothers in a family, of whom five are married without any children. The five married brothers all die, thereby creating five mitzvos of yibum for the oldest brother to perform. The Gemara’s conclusion is that if the oldest brother wants to marry as many as four of the widows, he may, clearly noting that he is not required to do so, even should he have the financial and physical ability to provide the needs of all four widows. The Gemara advises against his marrying more than four, out of concern that he will not be able to provide his new wives with sufficient attention. (We can definitely conclude that marital expectations have changed since the time of the Gemara.)

The Tevuos Shor (28:14) notes that we see from this Talmudic passage that there are situations in which a person could perform a mitzvah himself, yet he has the option of passing the opportunity to someone else. Based on this and other Talmudic sources, the Tevuos Shor justifies the practice of shochatim honoring someone else with the mitzvah of kisuy hadam.

This ruling of the Tevuos Shor can be used to explain the practice that forms the basis of Mr. Eisektov’s question. Why is there a common practice of honoring a respected rav with installing mezuzos at a new business? The answer is that, since the owners are doing it to honor the rav, they view this consideration as a greater mitzvah than performing the mitzvah themselves.

However, other authorities disagree with the Tevuos Shor’s approach, contending that providing someone else with honor is not sufficient reason to justify not fulfilling the mitzvah oneself (Binas Adam #7). Still others are of the opinion that the opposite of the Tevuos Shor‘s approach is true: they posit that asking someone to act as one’s agent is permitted, since one still fulfills the mitzvah, whereas honoring someone with the mitzvah without making him an agent is forbidden (Peleisi 28:3).

Sandek application

Here is another situation in which we see how a respected early authority ruled. “The father of a newborn boy who does not want to be the sandek himself, because he desires to have harmonious family relationships and demonstrate his respect, should give the honor to his own father, the baby’s paternal grandfather. However, if the baby’s paternal grandfather prefers that his own father (the baby’s great-grandfather) be honored, then he may give the honor to the great-grandfather, and this is the prevalent custom.” (Leket Yosher) The time-honored role of the sandek, the one who holds the baby during a bris, is, in itself, a mitzvah. By holding the baby, the sandek assists the mohel doing the mitzvah. Since the mitzvah of bris milah is the father’s, logic suggests that a father who is not a mohel should be the sandek. However, since he does not want anyone to be upset and also wants to fulfill his own mitzvah of respecting his parents, common practice is that the father honors someone else with being sandek.

Those who permit honoring someone else with the mitzvah of kisuy hadam would no doubt rally support to their approach from the ruling of the Leket Yosher. Those who feel that the shocheit should not honor someone else with the mitzvah of kisuy hadam will presumably contend that the sandek is not actually fulfilling a mitzvah that is required of him, and that is why its performance can be transferred to someone else. On the other hand, since kisuy hadam is incumbent on the shocheit, they would contend that he may not honor someone else with this mitzvah.

Passing on a bris

At this point, I would like to discuss how these rules affect the laws of bris milah, which was the first question I mentioned above (and the reason why I chose to discuss the topic the week of Parshas Lech Lecha). The Or Zarua, a rishon, writes that it is forbidden for a father who is a qualified mohel to have someone else perform his son’s bris milah (Hilchos Milah #107). (The Or Zarua, a native of what is today the Czech Republic, traveled to attend the yeshivos of the Baalei Tosafos in Northern France. He subsequently became the rav of Vienna, where he apparently opened a yeshivah. The Maharam of Rothenberg was one of the Or Zarua’s disciples.) According to the obvious reading of the Or Zarua, we already have enough information to answer Abba Chodosh’s question above: Abba had once trained to be a mohel, but never practiced. Now that he has his first son, is he required to perform the bris himself, or may he have a more experienced mohel do it? Assuming that Abba can still perform a bris safely, the Or Zarua would seem to rule that he is required to be the mohel.

However, this answer is not obvious. Firstly, the Rema (Darkei Moshe, Yoreh Deah 264:1) wonders why the Or Zarua rules that it is prohibited for the mohel to have an agent perform the mitzvah for him. We fully understand that it is not preferred – the Gemara says that it is better to perform a mitzvah oneself, rather than have it performed by someone else. However, the Or Zarua does not say simply that it is preferred that the father perform the mitzvah himself – the Or Zarua prohibits having someone else perform the mitzvah!

In his comments on the Shulchan Aruch, the Rema omits mention of the Or Zarua’s ruling, a factor noted by some authorities as proof that the Rema rejected the position of the Or Zarua (Tevuos Shor 28:14). However, the Shach (Choshen Mishpat 382:4) independently reaches the same conclusion as the Or Zarua, based on his analysis of a statement of the Rosh. The Shach’s comments require an introduction.

A mitzvah snatcher

The Gemara rules that someone who performs a mitzvah that another person is required to do and is planning to perform is charged a fine of ten gold coins for stealing someone else’s mitzvah (Bava Kamma 91b; Chullin 87a). One of the Gemara’s cases is as follows: A shocheit slaughtered a bird, and then, before he had a chance to fulfill the mitzvah of covering the blood, someone else covered it, thus snatching the mitzvah. The shocheit brought the offending party to a din Torah before Rabban Gamliel, who fined the mitzvah snatcher ten gold coins. Rashi (Chullin 87a s.v. Litein) explains that the fine is for depriving someone of the reward he should have received for the mitzvah.

When citing this Gemara, the Rosh (Chullin 6:8) recounts the following story: The father of a newborn asked a mohel to perform the bris, but a different mohel performed it without getting permission. Subsequently, the first mohel sued the second mohel in Rabbeinu Tam’s beis din for stealing the mitzvah. Rabbeinu Tam ruled that, although the interloping mohel’s act was despicable, for a variety of technical reasons not germane to our topic, there are no grounds to fine the mohel for stealing the bris.

The Rosh agrees with the ruling, but for a reason that Rabbeinu Tam did not mention: Although the father told the mohel to perform the bris, the mohel does not thereby become the “owner” of the mitzvah, unlike the shocheit in Rabban Gamliel’s case, who was already obligated in the mitzvah.

The Rosh closes his discussion with the following words: “However, if the father does not want to perform the milah, all Jews are obligated to perform the bris. The words that the father spoke to the mohel did not have sufficient weight to transfer ownership of this mitzvah to him, thus making it impossible to fine a second person who performed the mitzvah, albeit without permission.” Based on this Rosh, the Rema (Choshen Mishpat 382:1) concludes that someone who performed the bris on a child whose father was intending to carry it out himself must pay the father ten gold coins, but if the father asked a mohel to perform the bris, then the interloping mohel is absolved of any fine.

Can the father make an agent?

The following question is raised relative to the comments of the Rosh: We see from the Rosh that the interloping mohel who takes the mitzvah away from the father is fined, whereas if he takes the mitzvah from a different mohel, he is not. But why is this so? In the latter instance, he also “stole” the mitzvah from the father, since the first mohel was the father’s agent, and the interloping mohel was not? Thus, the father would have fulfilled the mitzvah through his agent had the first mohel performed the bris, but he was deprived of the mitzvah by the second mohel (Ketzos Hachoshen 382:2).

There are a few ways to resolve this question. The Ketzos Hachoshen concludes that when the Torah gave the father a mitzvah to circumcise his child, the Torah was not simply asking him to make sure that his son has a bris, but was requiring the father to perform the bris himself. The father cannot make a mohel an agent to circumcise his son, just as one cannot make an agent to don tefillin. Neither of these mitzvos can be performed through agency. Therefore, when the father asks a mohel to perform the bris for him, he is demonstrating that he does not intend to perform this mitzvah himself, and the second mohel did not steal it from him. This appears to be the way the Shach (Choshen Mishpat 382:4) understood the Rosh also, and for this reason he writes: “We can demonstrate from the words of this Rosh that a father who is a mohel is not permitted to give the mitzvah to someone else… I saw many men who are capable of performing the bris themselves who honor others with the mitzvah. In my opinion, they thereby are abrogating the important mitzvah of milah. The local beis din should take action to stop this.”

Everyone is an agent

However, there is an alternative way to explain the Rosh, which reaches a different conclusion. The Mishneh Lamelech (Bechoros end of 4:1; see also Terumas Hadeshen #188) contends that once someone revealed that he does not want to do a mitzvah himself, anyone who performs it is his agent. Therefore, when a father appoints someone to perform his son’s bris, any Jew who properly performs the bris milah is now acting as the father’s agent. The second mohel did not deprive the father of any mitzvah.

According to the second approach, no matter who performs the bris, the father has fulfilled the mitzvah, and he is not in violation for appointing an agent. However, if this is true, why does the Or Zarua prohibit a father from appointing someone to circumcise his son? The Tevuos Shor explains that there is a difference between honoring someone else to perform the mitzvah that one would prefer to do, which is permitted, and having someone else perform a mitzvah because one is not interested to perform it. In the latter case, failure to fulfill the mitzvah oneself violates mitzvah bo yoseir mibishlucho. The Tevuos Shor thus concludes that one may appoint someone else to do the milah. He also concludes that it is permitted for a shocheit to honor someone else with performing kisuy hadam. As I mentioned above, there are other authorities who disagree with this conclusion.

Conclusion:

The following anecdote about Rav Pam demonstrates his observing the principle of mitzvah bo yoseir mibishlucho. Someone offered to mail a letter for him, but Rav Pam told him that he preferred to mail the letter himself, since it was a donation to tzedakah. Since mailing the letter is part of the mitzvah, one should do it himself, because of mitzvah bo yoseir mibishlucho.

 

Must I Keep the Mohel?

Since the beginning of parshas Tazria discusses the mitzvah of bris milah, it is certainly an appropriate week to discuss:

Must I Keep the Mohel?

Case #1:

A Case of Mistaken Identity

Yehudit and Yehuda Newparents decided which mohel they intended to employ, but did not know his telephone number. At the hospital, they asked someone for his phone number, and called to make arrangements. However, when the mohel came to check the baby before the bris, Yehuda realized that this was not the mohel he had intended to use. Could he now use a different mohel?

Case #2:

Billy Rubin’s Bilirubin

Zev Rubin, whose old friends still sometimes call him Billy, asked Reb Leizer Izmil to be the mohel for his son’s bris. However, Billy Rubin’s newborn son had a borderline high bilirubin count, high enough that some mohalim would postpone the bris, whereas others would consider it safe. Billy’s posek ruled that the bris should be performed on the eighth day, but Reb Leizer would not perform the bris until the count drops. May Billy forgo Leizer the razor and instead ask a different mohel to perform the bris on the eighth day?

Case #3:

The Busy Mohel

Avraham has used Reb Moshe as the mohel for his previous sons, and would like to use him for his newborn. However, Reb Moshe is already booked by other families and will not be available until later in the day than Avraham would like to make his bris. Should he wait for Reb Moshe, or use a different mohel who is available earlier?

Introduction:

Although all the names have been changed, each of the above situations is an actual case that I know of. The critical issue in all these questions is whether someone who asked one mohel to perform his son’s bris may then ask a different mohel to do so. Of course, the immediate question is why should one not be able to do so? Isn’t one permitted to switch one’s lawyer, doctor, or accountant, if one chooses?

To introduce our discussion, let me chronicle an event that transpired almost eight hundred years ago. A newborn baby was ill, and it was obvious that the bris would be delayed for several weeks. The father promised the local mohel, Rabbi Levi, that he would be honored with performing the bris.  Rabbi Levi, who was responsible for certain regional communal matters, left on a trip to attend to these responsibilities, assuming that he would return by the time the baby would be ready for the bris. Thank G-d, the baby recuperated faster than expected, and now the father wanted to perform the bris, but had no way of reaching Rabbi Levi. (Remember that cellular phone technology was not that advanced in the thirteenth century.) In order to guarantee that his son’s bris would take place as soon as possible, the father brought a mohel from a different town, promising the second mohel that he would perform the bris whether the first mohel returned on time or not. On the day that the baby was healthy enough for the bris, both mohalim showed up in town, and the question was: Which mohel should be awarded with the mitzvah, the mohel who traveled specially for the bris, or the mohel who had earlier been promised the mitzvah?

Which Mohel should I use?

This question was referred to the Maharam of Rottenberg (the famed “captive rabbi,” who was the posek hador at the time) for a decision. The Maharam quotes Rabbeinu Tam who ruled that once someone asked a mohel to perform a bris, he may not switch and offer the mitzvah to another mohel. Before explaining the basis for Rabbeinu Tam’s ruling, we need to introduce two halachic factors:

Don’t Charge for a Mitzvah

According to halacha, one may not charge for performing a mitzvah (Bechoros 29a; Nedarim 37a). (One may charge for the loss of time from one’s livelihood that resulted. A full treatment of this topic is beyond the focus of this article.) Therefore, since a mohel may not charge to perform milah, he is performing it for the sake of the mitzvah. (The prevalent custom is to provide the mohel with a gift for his services.)

Keep your Word

The Torah says Moznei tzedek, avnei tzedek, eifas tzedek, vehin tzedek yihyeh lachemYou must have honest weights, honest weighing stones, an honest eifah [a unit of dry measure] and an honest hin [a unit of liquid measure] (Vayikra 19:36). The word used by the Torah, hin, however, is similar to the word hein, which means yes. The Gemara understands this to allude to: Your “yes” should always be honest, meaning that one should be true to one’s word, even when no contract was created (Bava Metzia 49a). This is an extension of the idea conveyed by the Navi: She’eiris Yisrael lo yaasu avlah velo yedabru chazav velo yimatzei befihem leshon tarmis — The remnant of Israel does not perform corruptive deeds and does not speak falsehood, nor will you find in their mouths a deceptive tongue (Tzefaniah 3:13). This concept is often shortened in halachic reference to She’eiris Yisrael lo yaasu avlah¸ and refers to the ethical responsibility to be true to one’s word.

The Gemara’s conclusion is that someone who offered a second person a small gift is required to be true to his word. Nevertheless, should the giver renege, the proposed recipient has no claim. A Jew is obligated to keep his word, but this mitzvah does not create a liability against him.

Major Gift

The halacha is different if someone promised to provide a major gift. When one offered a major gift, the potential recipient does not necessarily expect that he will receive it; it is therefore not considered a violation of halacha to reconsider what one wants to do, should circumstances change.

Changing the Mohel

Putting both ideas together, Rabbeinu Tam concludes that once I offered a mohel the opportunity to perform the mitzvah, I cannot change to a different mohel. From my perspective, choosing one mohel over another qualifies as a “small gift,” that I am required to honor. As explained above, although the father may not change mohalim, should he do so, the first mohel has no claim against either the second mohel or the father, even though the father did the wrong thing by changing mohalim.

Which Mohel?

The Maharam concludes that since the first mohel has now returned, the father is required to ask him to perform the bris, since the second mohel was authorized to perform the bris only should the first mohel be unavailable (Teshuvos Maharam quoted by Beis Yosef, Yoreh Deah 264). The Gra explains that since one is not supposed to change mohalim, the second mohel is only being asked if the first mohel would not be available.

Where is Yossele?

At this point, we can address Yehudit and Yehuda Newparents’s predicament, in which the mohel they had called was a perfectly competent mohel, but he was not the mohel they had intended to use. The story that happened was a bit humorous. I attended the bris of people I knew, and asked them how they knew the mohel that they had used. Yehuda told me that he would tell me the story about their choice of mohel after the bris.

The Newparents had decided to use the international renowned “Yossele the mohel” of Yerushalayim (now, zt”l, of blessed memory), but, like most people, did not know Yossele’s family name (Weisberg). Yehudit asked one of the observant nurses at the hospital if she knew the phone number of “Yossele, the mohel,” and, knowing how busy Yossele can be, she immediately called and reserved Yossele. When the mohel arrived to check the baby before the bris, Yehuda realized that this was not the mohel he had expected. Before the mohel left, Yehuda asked if he had a business card, and his perusal confirmed his suspicion. Indeed they had called a mohel named Yosef, but he was not the famous “Yossele, the mohel.”

Now, a bit flustered that he had arranged for an unknown mohel to circumcise his son, Yehuda made inquiries and determined that, indeed, Yosef the mohel appeared to be qualified. Still, Yehuda was faced with a halachic question. Could he change mohalim, since he had never intended to ask this Yosef to be his son’s mohel?

Yehuda called his rav to ask whether he would be permitted to change the mohel. The rav ruled that although Yehuda could change the mohel, since Yosef the mohel was indeed a qualified mohel, he should not change mohalim, as this might offend the mistaken mohel.

By the way, the original Yossele the mohel wrote a four-volume encyclopedia on bris milah, called Otzar HaBris, in which he quotes that one may switch to a different mohel if the second mohel is more expert or a bigger tzadik (Volume 3, page 188, quoting Migdal Oz). So, according to Yossele the mohel, the Newparents could have used Yossele the mohel instead of Yosef the mohel whom their rav told them to use. Obviously, their rav disagreed, and they did the proper thing by following his directions.

Dad surprisingly shows up at his own son’s bris

The Yaavetz discusses the following case: The father of the newborn is himself a mohel, but he thought that he would not be able to be at his own son’s bris, and therefore arranged for a different mohel to perform the mitzvah. In the end, the father was able to attend. Is it a violation for him to perform the bris himself? The Yaavetz rules that performing the bris himself is a major gift, and that he may perform the mitzvah himself (quoted in Sefer HaBris of Rav Moshe Bunim Pirutinsky, page 4). The idea is that someone who cannot perform the mitzvah himself will anyway need to ask a mohel to perform it for him, so which mohel he chooses is a “minor” gift. However, when he is able to perform the mitzvah himself, having someone else perform it instead is the loss of a major gift on which halacha permits him to renege.

Zeide surprisingly shows up at his grandson’s bris

Dovid is learning in kollel in Eretz Yisrael in an area where it is not easy to procure a mohel for a Shabbos bris. His father, who lives in America, is a mohel with a very busy practice. When Dovid’s son was born on Shabbos, his father told him that he would be unable to arrive for the bris because of other commitments, so Dovid arranged for a local mohel to be available. Subsequently, Dovid’s father made arrangements to come for the bris. Is Dovid permitted to switch mohalim and have his father perform the bris?

The rav who ruled on this shaylah held that it is considered a fulfillment of kibud av for the baby’s father to have his own father perform the bris, and therefore, switching mohalim is permitted.

Disputed Bilirubin

At this point, we can discuss Billy Rubin’s bilirubin shaylah. The Gemara rules that if a baby is somewhat jaundiced, a common and not serious condition among newborns, one should delay performing the bris until the baby is well (Shabbos 134a). A dispute among contemporary rabbonim is: at what point does one consider the child to be mildly jaundiced. The diagnosis involved is based on certain physical symptoms and the measure of bilirubin in the blood. (Bilirubin is the pigment [or chemical] that causes jaundice. A higher bilirubin score results in a greater degree of jaundice.) Chassidisha rabbonim and mohalim tend to require a lower bilirubin score until they feel the child is ready for the bris, whereas Litvisha rabbonim and mohalim often feel that the threshold for safety to allow the performance of the bris is higher, and that babies whose bilirubin is in the middle range should not be deprived of having a bris in the correct time.

Billy Rubin follows Litvisha practices, but had asked a well respected chassidisha mohel, Reb Leizer, to perform the bris. A day before he was expecting the bris, the mohel examined the baby and felt that the bris should be delayed until all symptoms of jaundice disappeared.

Billy mentioned this to his posek, who was not convinced that the bris should be delayed, and instructed him to bring the baby to a different mohel, a well respected Litvisha mohel, to check whether the bris could be performed on the eighth day. The second mohel saw no problem with performing the bris on the eighth day, but to be on the safe side, had them take the baby for a bilirubin test. The second mohel felt that the results of the bilirubin test also did not warrant delaying the bris.

This placed Billy in an uncomfortable position, since his original, chosen mohel still felt that the bris should be postponed. Should Billy use a different mohel so that he can make the bris on the eighth day? Did this not make Billy violate she’eiris Yisrael lo yaaseh avlah, by going back on his word to honor Reb Leizer with wielding the razor?

The posek held that changing mohalim in order to perform the bris on the eighth day is a “major gift” for which one does not violate she’eiris Yisrael lo yaaseh avlah.

Similarly, in case #3, where the mohel who was used for the older sons will not be available until later in the day than one wants to perform the bris, I know rabbonim who ruled that this provides adequate reason to switch mohalim. Since one should perform a bris milah as early in the day as possible, because of the idea of zerizin makdimim lemitzvos, one should perform a mitzvah with alacrity, performing it with zerizus is a valid reason to switch mohalim.

Conclusion

Sometimes when a person is involved in performing a mitzvah, he forgets that other considerations, such as keeping one’s promise or offending someone, may be more important. In this particular mitzvah, we see the interplay of both factors, and how the poskim of the generations dealt with these issues.

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