Is Swift the Way to Go?

newborn baby boyQuestion: The Early Birds

Avraham and Sorah Adler* are celebrating the bris of their firstborn son! Avraham knows that one should perform a bris as early in the morning as possible, and, therefore, he would like to schedule it for immediately after the “neitz” minyan, which begins the Shacharis Shemoneh Esrei exactly at sunrise. Sarah feels that she will have no difficulty having herself and the baby ready in time. However, the new grandparents feel that the bris should be scheduled later, so that more guests will arrive. Who is correct halachically?

Answer:

There is a principle of the Torah, zerizin makdimim lemitzvos, that one should perform a mitzvah as soon as the opportunity arrives. To quote the Gemara: One may perform a bris milah any time during the day, but one should try to perform the mitzvah as soon as possible (Pesachim 4a). Thus, since the earliest time to make a bris milah is at sunrise, one should perform it as soon as one can.

As a source for the law of zerizin makdimim lemitzvos, the Gemara mentions that when Avraham Avinu was commanded to bring his son, Yitzchak, to the Akeidah, the Torah emphasizes that Avraham got up early in the morning to fulfill his mitzvah. We also find another Biblical source in which Dovid Hamelech lauds those who perform mitzvos at the first opportunity; I hurried and did not delay fulfilling Your commandments (Tehillim 119:60).

Our enthusiasm to carry out Hashem‘s commandments should manifest itself in a desire to perform mitzvos as immediately as possible. We should bear this in mind for every opportunity that presents itself, whether it be to perform a chesed or to fulfill one of the laws that we do not necessarily understand. As an example of zerizin makdimim lemitzvos, the Gemara requires one to check for chometz as soon as the evening of Erev Pesach begins, and not wait until later that night.

In a different article, we discussed whether it is more important halachically to perform a mitzvah in a more exemplary fashion, hiddur mitzvah, than to perform it earlier. Briefly put, most authorities contend that it is of greater importance to perform a mitzvah in a more exemplary fashion than to perform it earlier, whereas the Gra contends that performing the mitzvah earlier is preferable.

Berov Am Hadras Melech

We can now analyze the issues involved in our question: When should one schedule a bris? Should one schedule the bris at the first possible moment, because of the mitzvah of zerizus, or should one delay the bris in order to have a larger crowd attend, which is itself a halachic preference, called berov am hadras melech, a large group of people (attending a mitzvah) honors the King. The question is whether berov am hadras melech is similar to performing a mitzvah in a mehudar way, and therefore is a reason to delay the bris so that more people can attend (according to the majority opinion that hiddur mitzvah is preferable to zerizus), or is it preferred to perform the mitzvah at the first opportunity?

Why should there be a difference?

Hiddur mitzvah means that there is an improvement in the quality of performance of this specific mitzvah, such as using a nicer sefer Torah, purchasing a more beautifully written mezuzah, or davening with greater concentration. Most opinions contend that it is preferable to perform a mitzvah in a more proper fashion than it is to fulfill observing the mitzvah earlier. However, berov am hadras melech does not change the quality of the actual mitzvah performed. The Bris Milah is not performed in a more meticulous fashion because more people attended. Having more people in attendance is a halachic preference, but it does not make the bris into a more mehudar mitzvah.

Zerizim Versus Berov Am Hadras Melech

Can we prove that one should delay performing a mitzvah in order to accomplish berov am hadras melech? It appears that we can.

The Mishnah teaches that Hallel is always recited immediately following Shacharis, whereas shofar blowing is performed before and during the Musaf davening. The Gemara asks why we make sure to recite Hallel early, yet we delay blowing shofar. The Gemara suggests that the reason that the shofar is blown during Musaf, and not during Shacharis, is because more people attend Musaf than Shacharis (sigh — I guess times have not changed) – thus, there is greater berov am hadras melech to blow shofar at Musaf than at Shacharis. The Gemara, however, counters that were this logic true and berov am hadras melech supersedes zerizin makdimim lemitzvos, why is it that Hallel is recited after Shacharis? Should not its correct place be after Musaf so that more people participate? Thus, the two rulings appear to contradict one another, the practice of Hallel implying that zerizim is preferred, and the practice of shofar implying that berov am hadras melech is. Obviously, this cannot possibly be! There must be a method whereby we resolve this contradiction.

The Gemara responds that the shofar is not blown until Musaf for a completely different, historical reason. At a certain point in history, the government prohibited the blowing of shofar and posted guards in the shuls during Shacharis; at that time, the point in davening when shofar was blown. The guards dispersed when they noted that the Jews were no longer blowing shofar in Shacharis. The Sages then instituted blowing shofar at Musaf, because by that time the government guards were gone (Rosh Hashanah 32b). Thus, the practice of blowing shofar around Musaf is because of exceptional circumstances unique to shofar that should not be applied elsewhere; otherwise, zerizin makdimim lemitzvos supersedes berov am hadras melech, not the other way around.

Review of the Rules

Based on all these points, we should prioritize our mitzvah performance in the following way:

  1. According to most authorities, hiddur mitzvah is the first choice. When one is certain that one will be able to perform the mitzvah later in a more mehudar fashion, one should delay in order to do so. An example of this is delaying kiddush levanah until motza’ei Shabbos. (According to the Gra, one should perform kiddush levanah at one’s first opportunity.)
  2. When delaying may result in missing the mitzvah altogether, one performs the mitzvah as soon as possible. The same is true if delaying the mitzvah for the hiddur may result in a long delay – we perform the mitzvah as soon as possible.
  3. Although having many people in attendance enhances the observance of the mitzvah, the idea of berov am hadras melech does not take precedence over performing the mitzvah earlier, and certainly is less important than performing the mitzvah in a more mehudar fashion.

When Should I Schedule the Bris?

We can now address the Adlers’ question. The authorities indeed conclude that one should not delay a bris in order to enable more people to attend. The preferred practice is to carry out a bris at the end of Shacharis. The original and favored practice is to perform it immediately after uva letziyon and before aleinu, such that all those who attended shul present for the bris, accomplishing both zerizin makdimim lemitzvos and berov am hadras melech (Shach, Yoreh Deah 265:24).

In this context, I want to share the words of the Aruch Hashulchan, who notes that when the Mishnah lists mitzvos that can be performed all day long, it omits mention of bris milah. To quote the Aruch Hashulchan:

It appears to me that this omission is intentional. The reason being that although other mitzvos should be performed as soon as possible, there is not as much concern about delaying the mitzvah slightly as there is in regard to mitzvas milah, which is the seal of the holy covenant. Since through this mitzvah the child enters sanctity, there is major concern not to delay…. We should therefore reprimand those who delay performing the mitzvah for several hours for inane reasons such as not all the invited guests have arrived…. Delaying the bris until the afternoon is very sinful (Aruch Hashulchan, Yoreh Deah 262:8).

The Aruch Hashulchan then proceeds to ask why we wait until after davening to perform the bris milah, to which he answers that davening includes several mitzvos, and since there are several mitzvos involved, davening should precede the bris milah.

Thus, Avraham and Sorah are correct that they should follow the precedent of their namesakes and perform their son’s bris as early in the day as they can. Although their parents are correct that, in general, one should try to perform a mitzvah in a way that many people can participate, this does not, however, preempt performing the mitzvah as swiftly as possible.

A Busy Mohel

Sometimes the bris needs to be delayed because the mohel one has chosen is not available earlier, due to other brisim he has to perform. I will leave it for a different time to discuss whether this provides sufficient reason to choose a different mohel, who is available as early as one wants to schedule the bris.

I would like to note that some yeshivos have rules when brisim can be scheduled, because the roshei yeshivah are concerned that the frequency with which brisim occur can result in many disruptions to the regular seder hayeshivah. It is certainly within the rosh hayeshivah’s prerogative to make such a rule. In my opinion, the bris should be immediately after Shacharis (in actuality immediately before Aleinu at the end of Shacharis), but the seudah should be scheduled for later in the day, when it is less disruptive to the sidrei hayeshivah.

In Conclusion

Our entire discussion revolves around whether and when it is important to perform a mitzvah without delay or if there are other mitzvah calculations that supersede the early performance of the mitzvah. The main point is that our attitude towards the performance of mitzvos should be one of enthusiasm – we are overjoyed with the opportunity to fulfill Hashem‘s commandments and therefore rush to perform His mitzvos as soon as we possibly can. This zeal must sometimes be tempered with a different type of passion — the desire to perform the mitzvah in an optimal way. It is wonderful that Jews share these two enthusiastic emotions and try to seek balance between them.

*The story is real, although the names have been changed to protect privacy.

 

It’s About Time

Quiz Question #1: Whose bris is first?

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

Question #2: Isn’t he too late?

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

Question #3: Frum receptionist

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

What does our parsha have to do with time?

This week’s parsha includes the mitzvah of establishing the Jewish calendar, providing an excellent opportunity to discuss what to do when there is an uncertainty what day it is.

Bein Hashemashos

As we know, observing bris milah overrides even Shabbos. However, this is so only for a bris bizmanah; that is, a bris that transpires on the eighth day of the child’s life, but not a bris that is delayed. A bris that is delayed should take place at the earliest opportunity that halacha allows, but not on Shabbos or Yom Tov (see Shu’t Dvar Avraham 1:33; 2:1-3). One reason why a bris may be delayed is because of a medical concern, a topic we will leave for a future article. Another common reason why a bris is delayed: The baby was born during bein hashemashos, a halachic “twilight zone,” a time when we are unsure if it is already Shabbos or not, since we are uncertain whether this period of time belongs to the previous day or the next.

The Mishnah (Shabbos 137a) addresses this issue:

A child is circumcised on the eighth, ninth, tenth, eleventh, or twelfth – no earlier and no later. How can this be? The normal circumstance is the bris is on the eighth. If he is born during halachic twilight (bein hashemashos), his bris is on the ninth. If [he is born]on Friday’s twilight, he is circumcised on the tenth [that is, Sunday]. If Yom Tov falls on Sunday, he is circumcised on the eleventh [Monday]. If Rosh Hashanah falls on Sunday and Monday, then he is circumcised on the twelfth [day after birth, which is Tuesday].”

We see that the only time we perform the bris on Shabbos is when we are certain that the baby was born on Shabbos. If a baby was born during bein hashemashos on Friday evening, then he was born at a time that we are uncertain whether it is still considered Friday or it is already Shabbos. As the Gemara (Shabbos 34b) expresses it: We are uncertain whether bein hashemashos is day or night… and we treat it strictly regarding both days. Therefore, when a baby is born during bein hashemashos on Friday evening, we cannot perform the bris on Friday, because maybe the baby was born on Shabbos, and Friday is only the seventh day, too early to perform the bris. We cannot perform the bris on Shabbos, either, because maybe the baby was born on Friday, and Shabbos is the ninth day, not the eighth, and only a bris bizmanah, a bris performed on the eighth day, supersedes Shabbos. Since there is no choice, we are forced to postpone the bris to Sunday, as the first available opportunity. However, if a Yom Tov falls on that Sunday, the bris cannot take place on that day, either, since only a bris bizmanah supersedes Yom Tov, and not a bris that is postponed to a time after the eighth day. As a result, the earliest day to perform this bris is Monday.

Rosh Hashanah Starting on Sunday?!

Continuing the explanation of the Mishnah: If Rosh Hashanah falls on Sunday and Monday, then he is circumcised on the twelfth. If the baby was born during bein hashemashos of the Friday evening ten days before Rosh Hashanah, and the two days of Rosh Hashanah fall on Sunday and Monday, then the bris is postponed until Tuesday the day after Rosh Hashanah, which is the twelfth day from the Friday on which the baby was born.

But one minute: the first day of Rosh Hashanah cannot fall on Sunday! How does the Mishnah say differently?

Although our calendar is set up such that Rosh Hashanah cannot fall on Sunday, so that Hoshanah Rabbah does not fall on Shabbos and thus does not jeopardize observance of Hoshanos, at the time of the Mishnah, Rosh Hashanah could and did sometimes transpire on Sunday. When Rosh Chodesh and Rosh Hashanah were determined by the testimony of witnesses who observed the new moon (Rambam, Hilchos Kiddush HaChodesh 1:1, 7; 5:1), it was halachically more important to have Rosh Hashanah fall on its more correct day than to be concerned about having Hoshana Rabbah fall on Shabbos (Ha’emek She’ailah 67:22; Gri’z, Hilchos Kiddush Hachodesh). Only once it became impossible to declare Rosh Chodesh on the basis of observation, and Hillel Hanasi created a permanent calendar, did he include some innovations, including making certain that Hoshanah Rabbah does not fall on Shabbos, by making sure that the first day of Rosh Hashanah does not fall on Sunday (Rambam, Hilchos Kiddush Hachodesh 5:2). (There is an alternative approach, that of Rav Saadiya Geon and Rabbeinu Chananel, to explain this subject, which will be left for another time.)

Why Did the Younger Baby have an Earlier Bris?

At this point, we already have enough information to answer Quiz Question #1 above: Why would a younger twin have his bris earlier than his healthy, older brother? The answer is that the older twin was born during bein hashemashos on Friday evening — at a time that we are uncertain whether he was born on Friday or on Shabbos. Because of this uncertainty, we cannot perform his bris on either Friday or Shabbos, as explained above, and his bris is postponed to Sunday. However, his younger brother was born at a time that is certainly Shabbos, and therefore his bris takes place on Shabbos.

When is Twilight?

This explains the fundamental principles, but still leaves a basic question: When is bein hashemashos?

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

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

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

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

What a Phenomenal Dusk!

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

When Three Stars Appear

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

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

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

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

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

Conflicting Gemara Passages

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

Rabbeinu Tam’s Explanation

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

Since, according to Rabbeinu Tam, it is definitely still day until about an hour after sunset, there is no problem with davening mincha considerably after sunset. Thus, there are communities who base themselves on Rabbeinu Tam’s opinion and daven mincha well after sunset.

Rabbeinu Tam and a Friday Night Birth

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

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

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

The opinion of the Gra

Since we know that many highly observant Jews do not wait this long for Shabbos to end, there must be another way of interpreting the two passages of Gemara that reaches a different halachic conclusion. Indeed, one such approach is that of the Gra, who presents a completely different approach to explain the seeming contradiction between the two passages of Gemara. He contends that both passages use shekiyah to mean sunset, and this is the same sunset to which we customarily refer — however, they are not referring to the same tzeis hakochavim. The Gemara in Pesachim that refers to tzeis hakochavim being 72 minutes after sunset means that all visible stars of the firmament can now be seen, a time that the Gra calls tzeis kol hakochavim, literally, when all the stars have come out, whereas the Gemara in Shabbos refers to the time at which three “middle-sized” stars are visible. The Gra concludes that sunset marks the beginning of bein hashemashos, the time when we are uncertain whether it is day or night, with tzeis hakochavim occurring when three “middle-sized” stars are visible. The Gemara in Pesachim that requires 72 minutes until the stars appear is not discussing when the day ends – the day ended much earlier — but was concerned about other laws that are affected by the appearance of a skyful of stars.

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

Mincha tima!

At this point, let us refer to our other opening question: “I have often wondered why my chassidishe brother-in-law davens mincha after sunset, when the Mishnah Berurah rules that one should not daven this late!”

The Gra rules that one should not daven mincha after sunset, since this is already a time at which the previous day may have already passed. Thus, it is already time to daven maariv. However, according to Rabbeinu Tam, one may daven mincha lechatchilah until 58½ minutes after sunset.

How do we rule?

Although in the past there were Torah communities who did not follow the Gra at all, even regarding the onset of Shabbos, today it is universally accepted to consider it Shabbos from sunset on Friday. Many communities follow the Gra’s opinion fully, and do not wait until 72 minutes after sunset on Saturday to end Shabbos. In a responsum on the subject, Rav Moshe Feinstein took great umbrage to this approach, contending that since a large number of Rishonim followed Rabbeinu Tam’s approach, one should act stringently and not end Shabbos until after Rabbeinu Tam’s time is over (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 4:17:26). As in all areas of halacha, the reader is encouraged to discuss the shaylah with his or her mara de’asra for a final ruling.

*all names have been changed to protect privacy

What May I Not Write?

“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?”

“Someone told me that sukkah decorations should not include any pesukim. Is this true? My children bring home decorations like this from school.”

“Does a newspaper containing divrei Torah need to be placed in sheimos?”

To answer these questions, we need to explain several halachic issues, including:

1. The original prohibition against writing Torah she’be’al peh, and the later “heter” to write and publish it.

2. The concern about producing divrei Torah that will not be treated appropriately.

3. What items must be placed in sheimos?

The original prohibition against writing Torah she’be’al peh

Originally, it was prohibited to write down any Torah she’be’al peh (Gittin 60b), except for an individual’s personal notes recorded for one’s own review (Rambam, Introduction to Mishneh Torah; see also Rashi, Shabbos 6b s.v. Megilas). The Oral Torah was not permitted to be taught from a written format. Torah she’be’al peh was meant to be just that – Torah taught completely without any written text. Thus, Moshe Rabbeinu taught us the halachos of the Torah orally, and Klal Yisrael memorized them. Although each student wrote private notes for the sake of review, the Oral Torah was never taught from these notes.

The prohibition against writing Torah she’be’al peh included writing midrashim, prayers and the texts of berachos, as well as translations and commentaries of the Written Torah, since all these are considered Torah she’be’al peh. In those times, all these devarim she’be’kedusha were memorized, and the only parts of the Torah written were the pesukim themselves.

The Gemara (Gittin 60b) records this halacha as follows: “Devarim she’be’al peh, iy atah resha’ie le’omram bichsav,” “You are not permitted to transmit the Oral Torah in writing.” The Ritva (ad loc.) explains that this is because divrei Torah taught verbally are understood more precisely, whereas text learning is often misunderstood.

Another prohibition forbade writing the books of Tanach except when writing a complete sefer (Gittin 60a). Thus, one could not write out Parshas Toldos (or any other parsha) or a few pesukim for learning, although it was permitted to write an entire Chumash such as Sefer Shemos. Similarly, one could not write out part of a sefer of Navi to study or to read the haftarah. In order to recite the haftarahs regularly, every shul needed to own all of the eight Nevi’im (Yehoshua, Shoftim, Shemuel, Melachim, Yeshaya, Yirmiyahu, Yechezkel, and Terei Asar) to read the haftarah from the appropriate sefer. Similarly, a person who wished to study Shiras Devorah or the prayer of Channah had to write the entire Sefer Shoftim or Sefer Shemuel.

Why do we no longer abide by this prohibition?

Chazal realized that it was becoming increasingly difficult for people to learn Torah and to observe certain other mitzvos, such as reading the haftarah. Therefore, they ruled that the prohibition against writing Torah must be superseded by the more vital need of keeping Torah alive among the Jews. This takanah was based on the pasuk, “Eis la’asos laShem heifeiru torasecha,” which is understood to mean “It is the time to act for Hashem since Your Torah is being uprooted,” (Tehillim 119:126). In order to facilitate Torah study, they permitted writing individual verses and teaching Oral Torah from written texts. (We will refer to this takanah, or heter, as “eis la’asos.”)

The first part of the Oral Torah to be formally written for structured teaching was the Mishnah, edited by Rebbe (Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi) at the end of the period of the tanna’im (circa 3960/200 c.e.). To quote the Rambam, “Rebbe gathered all the laws and explanations that had been studied and interpreted by every beis din since the days of Moshe Rabbeinu and organized the Mishnah from them. He (Rebbe) proceeded to teach publicly the scholars of his generation from this text so that the Oral Torah would not be forgotten from the Jewish people. Why did Rebbe change the method that had been used previously? Because he saw that the numbers of Torah students were decreasing, the difficulties facing the Jewish people were on the rise, the Roman Empire was becoming stronger, and the Jews were becoming increasingly scattered. He therefore authored one work that would be in the hands of all the students to make it easier to study and remember the Oral Torah” (Introduction to Mishneh Torah).

We see that Rebbe instituted the first formalized use of a text to teach the Oral Torah because of the new circumstances confronting klal Yisrael. After Rebbe’s days, Chazal gradually permitted writing down other texts, first Aggadah (ethical teachings of the Gemara), later the entire Gemara, and still later the explanations and commentaries on the Gemara.

As a very important aside, we see from the end of the quoted Rambam, “to make it easier to study and remember the Oral Torah,” that even though it is now permitted to write down the Mishnah, it is still important to know the entire Oral Torah by heart.

In the context of the rule of eis la’asos, the Gemara tells us the following story:

Rabbi Yochanan and Reish Lakeish (amora’im in Eretz Yisrael shortly after the time of Rebbe) were studying from a Talmudic anthology of ethical teachings, a “sefer Aggadah.”

The Gemara asks, “How could they study from such a book, since it is prohibited to learn Torah from a written text?” The Gemara replies, “Since it is now impossible (to retain all the knowledge of the Torah without a written text), ‘it is the time to act for Hashem, since Your Torah is being uprooted,’” (Gittin 60a). We see that the Gemara initially assumed that it was still prohibited to study Torah from a written text, except for the study of Mishnah. The Gemara responded that the prohibition had been further relaxed because it had become even more difficult to learn Torah than it had been in the days of Rebbe.

The Gemara relates a similar episode concerning the recital of the haftarah. As mentioned above, it was originally forbidden to write part of a book of Tanach, and therefore, every shul needed to own scrolls of all the Nevi’im in order to read the haftarahs. However, as communities became more scattered, making this increasingly difficult, the Gemara permitted the writing of special haftarah books that contained only the haftarah texts, but not the text of the entire Nevi’im. This, too, was permitted because of eis la’asos (Gittin 60a).

What is permitted because of eis la’asos?

We see that in order to facilitate Torah learning, Chazal permitted the writing of the Oral Torah and parts of the books of the Written Torah. To what extent did they override the original prohibition?

This is a dispute among early poskim, some contending that it is permitted to write only as much as is necessary to prevent Torah from being forgotten. According to this opinion, it is prohibited to write or print even tefillos that include pesukim that are not intended for learning Torah (Rif and Milchemes Hashem, Shabbos Chapter 16). This opinion also prohibits translating Tanach into any language other than the original Aramaic Targum, because proper translations constitute Torah she’be’al peh. In addition, this opinion prohibits the printing of a parsha of Chumash in order to teach Torah, since one could write or print the entire sefer (Rambam, Hilchos Sefer Torah 7:14; Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 283:2). Other poskim permit the writing of any Torah that one uses to learn. Thus, they permit writing a single parsha in order to teach Torah (Taz 283:1; Shach 283:3) and the translating of Tanach into any language. These poskim rally support to their opinion from the fact that Rav Saadya Gaon wrote sefarim in Arabic, including commentaries on Tanach (Ran, Shabbos Chapter 16).

Both opinions agree that it is prohibited to publish translations of Tanach that will not be used to spread Torah knowledge (Ran, Shabbos Chapter 16).

How does this prohibition affect us?

All of the opinions quoted above prohibit writing disparate parts of the Written Torah and any of the Oral Torah in situations where there is no Torah benefit. For this reason, early poskim note that one may not embroider pesukim or a beracha on a talis, since writing this pasuk does not serve to teach Torah (Rabbeinu Yerucham, quoted by Beis Yosef, and Taz, Yoreh Deah 283:3. It should be noted that the Levush is more lenient, see Shach 283:6.).

Another concern

There is an additional reason why one should not embroider pesukim on a talis. Since the talis could be brought into an unclean place, it is not proper to have a pasuk written on it.

A third concern – causing the words of Torah to be destroyed

To explain this concept, we must first introduce a surprising statement of the Gemara: “Ko’sevei berachos kesorfei Torah,” “Those who write berachos (to enable people to recite them) are considered as if they burnt the Torah” (Shabbos 115b). What does this Gemara mean? We would think that these individuals have performed a tremendous mitzvah, since they have enabled people to recite berachos correctly!

This statement was authored at the time when it was still prohibited to write down the Oral Torah. At that time it was forbidden to teach any halachos in written form, even the correct text of a beracha. Everything had to be taught orally. Therefore, the Gemara states that by writing a beracha, even without the name of Hashem (Shu’t Tashbeitz #2), one is violating the halacha by teaching Torah she’be’al peh in writing.

But why is it considered like “burning the Torah?”

This Gemara introduces a new prohibition. Someone who writes prohibited Torah works is considered culpable afterwards if those divrei Torah become consumed by a fire!

We know that it is prohibited to erase or destroy the name of Hashem (Shabbos 120b), and that this prohibition includes erasing or destroying words of Torah and all other holy writings, including notes of Torah classes, stories of Chazal, sefarim for learning, “benschers,” etc., even if they do not include Hashem’s Name (Shu’t Tashbeitz #2). Therefore, even small benschers, tefillos haderech and similar items published with abbreviated names of Hashem are still considered divrei Torah imbued with kedusha. For the above reason, one must treat these items with proper care and dignity and place them in sheimos when they become unusable.

It is also prohibited to cause an indirect destruction of words of the Torah or to produce divrei Torah that might subsequently be destroyed. This prohibition exists whenever there is insufficient reason to write and publish the divrei Torah. For this reason, the Gemara states that someone who wrote berachos when it was prohibited to do so is held responsible if the words of Torah are subsequently destroyed.

Although nowadays, we are permitted to write and print berachos and siddurim to enable people to recite them properly, it is forbidden to produce these items unnecessarily. It is certainly prohibited to put pesukim, parts of pesukim, or divrei Torah in places where it is likely that they will be treated improperly. Both of these reasons preclude writing pesukim on Sukkah decorations, unless one can assume that they will be properly cared for.

How much of a pasuk is considered to be divrei Torah?

Even three words in a row are considered a pasuk that cannot be written without sufficient reason (see Gittin 6b). However, if the letters are improperly or incompletely formed or spelled, it is permitted (Shu’t Tashbeitz #2).

For this reason, some people print on invitations the following, “Naaleh es Yerushalayim al rosh simchaseinu,” “We will place our memories of Yerushalayim above our celebrations.” This is permitted because it is not a quotation of a pasuk, although it is similar to one (Tehillim 137:5).

There is another solution that may be used: rearranging the words of the pasuk so that they are not in the correct order. When doing this, one must be certain that one does not have three words in the proper order.

I once received an invitation which stated on the cover, Yom zeh asah Hashem nismecha venagila bo, “This day was made by Hashem. We shall rejoice and celebrate on it.” The person who prepared this quotation had done his halachic research. Although very similar to the pasuk, “Zeh hayom asah Hashem nagilah v’nismecha bo” (Tehillim 118:24), the words of the original pasuk were transposed in such a way that there were no longer three consecutive words together!

Some authorities permit printing pesukim if marks are placed between the words or if the words are not in a straight line. They feel that these arrangements of words do not constitute pesukim (cf. Shu’t Tashbeitz #2 who disagrees).

Some producers of “lulav bags” are meticulously careful not to quote three words of the pasuk in order. Thus, they write, “Ulekachtem lachem… kapos temarim…vesimachtem” avoiding writing three consecutive words of a pasuk. This is permitted.

Any written dvar Torah has sanctity and must be treated with appropriate dignity. When it will no longer be used, one must be careful to treat it respectfully, including eventually placing it in sheimos. Reference notes that are incomprehensible on their own are not considered divrei Torah and may be placed in the regular trash (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 2:75).

When is something placed in sheimos?

Placing Hashem’s name or words of Torah into sheimos to bury them is considered a tragedy. Putting sefarim in genizah is permitted only when they are worn out and no longer usable.

The Gemara rules that sifrei Torah that are unusable should be placed in earthenware vessels before burial to forestall their destruction as long as possible (Megillah 26b). This teaches us that burying holy things is permitted only after they have become unusable. Other sefarim do not require being placed in earthenware before burial. It is sufficient to place them in a protective wrapping before burying them.

Quoting pesukim as a writing style

The Ramban and other authors sometimes use the words of pesukim or Chazal out of the original context, as part of their poetic style. If someone wrote a letter using a pasuk this way, must it be treated with appropriate respect like holy writings?

This question is disputed by the early authorities. The Shulchan Aruch rules that such correspondence is not considered divrei Torah, whereas the Shach rules that it is (Yoreh Deah 284:2).

The writer’s intent

Some authorities contend that if a printer or writer did not intend to make sefarim or divrei kedusha, then the item produced does not have kedusha (Shu’t Ein Yitzchak 5:7; Shu’t Masas Binyamin #100; Magen Avraham 334:24). On this basis, Rav Moshe ruled that if the name of Hashem was printed in a secular newspaper, the name has no kedusha at all. However, Rav Moshe ruled that it is preferable to cut the name out of the paper and place it in sheimos (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 1:172). Similarly, Rav Elyashiv ruled that one is not required to put a newspaper containing divrei Torah into sheimos. However, one should still not treat the dvar Torah with disrespect, such as by putting it directly into the trash (quoted in Ginzei Hakodesh pg. 236). This is based on the assumption that it should not be treated with less dignity than worn-out tzitzis (see Mishnah Berurah 21:7). Rav Vozner rules that one may place the newspaper inside a bag and place it in the garbage. However, he contends that a regular Torah column or Torah section should be placed in sheimos (quoted in Ginzei Hakodesh pg. 253). Apparently, he feels that when there is a regular column or section, the printer knows that he is producing divrei Torah and not just a newspaper.

Others are less strict, requiring only that the paper be wrapped up before being discarded. Others rule that any divrei Torah printed in a newspaper should be placed in sheimos (quoted in Ginzei Hakodesh pg. 154). I’ll allow each reader to ask his own halachic authority what to do.

Invitations

Perhaps people who print pesukim on invitations rely on the fact that this is considered mere poetic writing style or that the printer has no intent to produce divrei kedusha. However, contemporary authorities prohibit this practice, since the invitations end up being treated with lack of dignity, which is worse than being destroyed. In Sivan 5750/June ’90 an open letter signed by the poskei hador warned that advertisements, invitations, receipts, signs, and raffle tickets should not include pesukim or parts of pesukim, except when the pasuk is written as part of literary style, with no connection to its context.

We live in an age of proliferation of written material. Many pamphlets have the positive value of spreading Torah. We must be careful to show our honor to Hashem by treating pesukim and divrei Torah with proper respect. May we always merit to demonstrate Hashem’s honor in the appropriate way!

Sheva Berachos at the Seder

Although most people grimace at the thought of attending a wedding the week before Pesach, much less making one, scheduling a wedding that week also includes the possibility of making sheva brachos at the Seder. Certainly for those who relish long, drawn-out sheva brachos, what could be more exciting than combining sheva brachos with the Seder! And, in addition to the time-honored question whether a choson wears a kittel at the Seder, this Seder has an additional question: Over which kos does one recite the first six brachos of the sheva brachos? Although this question may seem trite, many responsa and dozens of pages of halachic dialogue discuss it. In order to explain what the commotion is about, we need to understand its halachic basis.

Ordinarily, after a sheva brachos meal we take out three cups and fill two of them with wine. The person leading the bensching holds one of the full cups, while the second cup remains on the table until bensching is completed. The second cup is then handed consecutively to six honorees who recite the first six sheva brachos. (Although many authorities oppose dividing the blessings among six different honorees, this approach is commonly followed.) The person who led bensching then recites the last of the sheva brachos, borei pri hagafen while holding the first cup. He then drinks from his cup, the wine in the two cups is mixed together (using the third cup for this purpose), and finally the wine of the second and this cups are presented to the choson and the kallah.

(This is the prevalent custom, the basis of which is recorded by Derisha [Even HaEzer 62:4] and Nishmas Odom [68:2]. Some poskim recommend that the honoree leading the bensching hold the kos to be used for the sheva brachos while reciting the prayer dvei hoseir [which is inserted before bensching at a sheva brachos meal] and then put that kos down and pick up the first kos for bensching [Taz, Even HaEzer 62:7]. I have never seen anyone follow this 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 HaEzer 62:11].)

Why do we use two different kosos? Why not use the same cup for both bensching and sheva brachos? Actually, the poskim dispute this issue, as I will explain.

The Gemara (Pesachim 102b) teaches that if (for some unusual reason) someone bensches and recites Kiddush at the same time, he should not recite both of them over the same cup. Rather, he should recite Kiddush while holding one cup of wine and bensch while holding a different one. The Gemara then queries why it is necessary to take two different cups, to which it answers: “We do not recite two kedushos over the same cup. Why not? Because we do not bundle together several mitzvos, ein osin mitzvos chavilos chavilos.” Using the same kos for both mitzvos gives the impression that we view these mitzvos as a burden, rather than treating each mitzvah with due respect by designating for it its own cup of wine. This concept of ein osin mitzvos chavilos chavilos is often simply referred to as the problem of “chavilos chavilos.”

BUT DON’T WE RECITE KIDDUSH AND HAVDALAH OVER ONE CUP?

When Yom Tov falls on a Sunday, we recite Kiddush for Yom Tov and Havdalah for Shabbos as part of the same ceremony, all while holding the same cup. Why is this not a problem of chavilos chavilos, since it “bundles together” the two mitzvos of Kiddush and Havdalah?

The Gemara (Pesachim 102b) explains that Kiddush and Havdalah are considered one mitzvah – thus, reciting them over one cup is not considered bundling mitzvos together.

I can now explain why we recite bensching and sheva brachos over separate cups. Tosafos quotes a dispute whether one recites sheva brachos on the same cup that one recites bensching or over a different cup. Rabbeinu Meshulam maintains that reciting sheva brachos and bensching over the same cup of wine is not a problem of chavilos chavilos, since we do not recite the sheva brachos without bensching. Thus, since bensching causes the recital of the sheva brachos, this is not bundling separate mitzvos together. According to Rabbeinu Meshulam, we fill one cup with wine and hand it to the person leading the bensching. When he finishes bensching, he hands that kos to the honoree who recites the first of the sheva brachos, who then hands it to the next honoree and so on until the kos returns to the person who led the bensching, so that he may hold the kos while reciting the borei pri hagafen. However, Tosafos quotes a differing opinion that contends that one should recite bensching and sheva brachos over separate cups, since they are, essentially, two separate mitzvos.

HOW DO WE PASKIN?

The Shulchan Aruch (Even HaEzer 62:9) quotes both opinions in this dispute, and mentions that the custom is to use only one cup for both bensching and sheva brachos, following Rabbeinu Meshulam. (One should note that Sefardim recite all seven of the sheva brachos only when the meal is celebrated in the hall at which the wedding took place. The reason for this practice is beyond the scope of our current discussion, but see Tosafos Sukkah 25b s.v. ein simcha and Shulchan Aruch, Even HaEzer 62:10.) The Rama notes that the custom among Ashkenazim is to use two different cups. The Chida (Shu’t Yosef Ometz #47), who was the posek hador of his generation among the Sefardim, notes that, although at the time of the Shulchan Aruch the custom among the Edot Hamizrach (the Sefardim) was to recite the sheva brachos on the same cup as the bensching, in his day (the Chida’s) a separate cup was used for sheva brachos. Thus, the minhag had changed among the Sefardim. It is also worthwhile to note that the Chida, who lived most of his life in Eretz Yisroel, traveled extensively through Northern Africa and Europe and was very familiar with the customs of many places. (As an aside, wherever the Chida visited he researched whatever seforim, both published and in manuscript, were available and recorded his findings. He later published his discoveries in an encyclopedic work, Shem HaGedolim, which is a monumental bibliography of seforim and authors.) Other Sefardic authors of the last several hundred years record two customs, some following Rabbeinu Meshulam (like the Shulchan Aruch recorded) and others using separate cups for the two mitzvos (like the Chida) (Otzar HaPoskim 62:9:53). The predominant custom today is to use two separate kosos.

WHY IS THIS NIGHT DIFFERENT FROM ALL OTHER NIGHTS?

If, on all other nights, we use separate cups for bensching and sheva brachos, why should we entertain the thought that on this night of Pesach we should use only one cup?

The background behind this question requires an additional introduction:

Chazal instituted that every individual should drink four cups of wine at the Seder in order to commemorate the four terms used by Hashem in the Torah to prophesy the redemption from Egypt: vihotzeisi, I will take you out of Mitzrayim; vihitzalti, I will save you; viga’alti, I will redeem you; vilakachti, I will take you to me as a nation (Rashi and Rashbam, Pesachim 99b, quoting Midrash Rabbah; cf. Rashi ibid. 108a, who provides a different reason). “The Rabbis instituted four cups as a means of demonstrating that we gained freedom – each one of them should be used for a mitzvah” (Pesachim 117b). Therefore, we use the first cup for Kiddush; on the second we recite the bracha, asher ga’alanu; we recite the bensching while holding the third cup of wine, and Hallel while reciting the fourth.

When celebrating a sheva brachos at a Seder, we are faced with the following dilemma:

If we drink an extra cup of wine at the Seder for sheva brachos, it gives the impression that we are drinking five cups of wine at the Seder, when Chazal instituted that one should drink only four special cups. This is referred to as “adding to the cups,” mosif al hakosos, which is a rabbinic violation. On the other hand, if we do not add a cup, we are bundling together the mitzvah of sheva brachos with the mitzvah of bensching. Thus, the principle of ein osin mitzvos chavilos chavilos, which is the reason why we use separate cups for bensching and for sheva brachos; has now become the basis for a difficulty.

Furthermore, there is another problem, in that once one drinks the third cup of wine one is prohibited from drinking another cup until after the fourth cup has been drunk (Mishnah Pesachim 117b).

The shaylah what to do in this predicament is discussed by many prominent poskim, with the earliest published discussion on the issue going back six hundred years and responsa on the question continuing up to our time.

I am aware of at least five different approaches mentioned by poskim to resolve this issue.

(1) The Chida (Shu’t Yosef Ometz #47) quotes a very creative approach to resolve this problem, although he does not approve of it: Prior to bensching, one should fill two minimum-shiur cups. The person leading the bensching holds one of these cups, while the other is held by the honorees while they recite the sheva brachos. Following the completion of the sheva brachos, one pours the two cups into one large cup, and one of the participants drinks the large kos as the third kos. Thus, since each kos was initially separate, one used two cups for the two mitzvos and did not violate the precept of ein osin mitzvos chavilos chavilos, while at the same time one did not add an extra kos, since only one cup was drunk.

The Chida disapproves of this solution, although he does not explain why. Presumably, he contends that one violates the prohibition of adding to the kosos by using a separate cup for the sheva brachos, even if it is later poured together with the bensching cup. Thus, there is no advantage to this approach.

(2) Another approach to resolve this problem is to recite the sheva brachos on a cup that is then set aside for someone to use for the fourth kos. (The Yaavetz, quoted by Pischei Teshuvah, Even HaEzer 62:18, mentions this approach.) This opinion holds that since this kos is ultimately used for one of the four cups of the Seder, one cannot say that it is “adding to the cups.” And to avoid violating the prohibition against drinking between the third kos and the fourth, the cup is drunk as the fourth kos.

Rav Moshe Feinstein (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Even HaEzer 1:95) writes that he does not understand this opinion. Simply put, the cup of sheva brachos in this case is serving two different purposes, the sheva brachos and the fourth cup. Thus, it is directly violating the prohibition of making mitzvos into bundles (ein osin mitzvos chavilos chavilos), without the advantage of Rabbeinu Meshulam’s opinion that the sheva brachos cup and the bensching cup may overlap. Thus, one is doing mitzvos chavilos chavilos in a worse way than if he had simply used the sheva brachos kos for bensching. (Shu’t Igros Moshe suggests an approach how this opinion may have addressed this question.) Presumably because of this criticism, the later poskim abandon this suggestion.

(3) The Chida cites another approach, which is to leave everyone’s cup a bit empty, and then fill each one with the wine from the sheva brachos kos. He does not like this approach, because he says it makes the mitzvah look like a joke, although he does not explain why. Presumably, the concern is that this approach does not treat the kos of sheva brachos with proper kavod.

(4) Other solutions are suggested. Many contend that one should recite both the sheva brachos and the bensching over the same kos (Yaavetz; Chida). Their reason is that, although we usually assume that this violates ein osin mitzvos chavilos chavilos, Rabbeinu Meshulam held that reciting sheva brachos and bensching over one cup does not violate this rule. Therefore, on Seder night, when the alternative is to create a problem of adding an extra kos to the Seder, it is preferable to combine the two kosos of sheva brachos and bensching together. According to this opinion, one should recite the sheva brachos over the cup used by the person leading the bensching, and then each individual should drink from his own kos.

(5) The Rama (Darchei Moshe, Orach Chayim 473:4) cites a different resolution to this dilemma. He rules that the person leading the bensching should hold his kos while reciting the bensching, and that those reciting the sheva brachos should hold the kos of the choson while reciting these brachos. Rama does not discuss who drinks the respective kosos, but I presume that the person who led the bensching drinks the first kos and the choson drinks the second.

There is an obvious problem with this approach. Since each person holds his kos for bensching at the Seder, the kos of the choson is also a kos of bensching. Therefore, what have we gained by having the sheva brachos recited over a different kos from the bensching? There are still two mitzvos being performed over this kos — bensching and sheva brachos — and we have the problem of ein osin mitzvos chavilos chavilos. This is why several of the above-mentioned poskim reject this approach.

Evidently, this opinion contends that, although all of the assembled hold their cups during the bensching, their cups are not considered the bensching cup. Only the kos of the person who leads the bensching has the halachic status of performing this mitzvah. The other cups are in fulfillment of Chazal’s having instituted the four kosos, preferring that we use each cup for a mitzvah. Therefore, it is not osin mitzvos chavilos chavilos when one uses this cup for sheva brachos. (As noted before, in this instance the choson and kallah do not drink from that cup, but drink from their own cups.)

Those who disagree with this approach contend that, at the Seder, each person’s kos is indeed a kos of bensching. Thus, there is no advantage to reciting the sheva brachos over the choson’s kos.

There is a historical curiosity about this debate. Two very prominent early poskim, the Yaavetz and the Chida, discuss this issue and conclude (#4, above) that one should rely on Rabbeinu Meshulam when celebrating sheva brachos at the Seder, and recite the sheva brachos and bensching over the same cup. The Chida published two different responsa on this shaylah, reaching the same conclusion both times; but, in his earlier responsum, he does not mention that the Rama cites the opposite conclusion. In his later responsum, the Chida mentions that someone had criticized him for having previously written a responsum on the subject and ignoring the Rama’s comments on the subject. In his later responsum, he explains that since he had quoted Rav Yaakov Emden, who in turn quoted the Rama’s source and disagreed with it, he saw no need to point out that the Rama had quoted these comments.

It is also interesting that Rav Moshe also disagreed with the Rama, yet felt bound to follow Rama’s approach because of the Rama’s greatness, whereas both Rav Yaakov Emden (the Yaavetz) and the Chida decided not to follow Rama’s approach, but to rule that one should use one kos for both bensching and sheva brachos.

In conclusion, those privileged to celebrate a sheva brachos for a newlywed couple at their Seder could either have all the brachos recited over one kos, or have the sheva brachos recited over the kos of one of the other celebrants. In any case, the practice of mixing wine from the two kosos together should not be followed at the Seder.

Performing a Proper Hesped

Question #1: I have heard eulogies where the speaker seemed more interested in demonstrating his speaking prowess or saying clever divrei Torah than in commemorating the departed. Is this the proper way to eulogize?

Question #2: I was told 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

Both the hespedim for Yaakov Avinu and for Yosef Hatzadik are mentioned in this week’s parsha, providing an opportunity to discuss 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 eulogies as one of the 613 mitzvos of the Torah since they consider it only a rabbinic mitzvah. Nonetheless, the hesped accomplishes the Torah mitzvah of ve’ahavta le’reicha 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 take care of 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 for your fellow 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 kosher (a halachically observant person) Hashem counts his tears and then stores them away (Shabbos 105b).”

From this, we see that the responsibility of hesped applies both to the person saying the eulogy, and to those who attend, 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 kosher, Hashem counts his tears and then stores them away.” I translated adam kosher as a halachically observant person.

Who qualifies as an adam kosher?

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 kosher. 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 kosher.

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 344:1).” (I will soon discuss why one may exaggerate “a little,” 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, a young person should be eulogized more intensely than an older one, and a person without surviving descendants should be eulogized more intensely than someone who had children (Meiri, Moed Katan 27b). Also, the crying of every 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, it is forbidden to eulogize someone inappropriately.

At this point, we can answer the first question: “I have heard eulogies where the speaker seemed more interested in demonstrating his speaking prowess or saying clever divrei Torah than in commemorating the departed. Is this the proper way to eulogize?”

Despite its frequency, such eulogies are halachically wrong. This sin of eulogizing for one’s own self aggrandizement or exaggerating excessively, is so serious and apparently is so commonplace that there were places that developed a custom never to 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 to proving which option is correct.

Do any variations in observance result from this question?

The Gemara notes two such differences:

No Hespedim for Me!!

I. What is the law if someone requests not to be eulogized?

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 negate 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 one can require them 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 parshas Chayei Sarah 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 should 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 also, heirs are obligated to pay for eulogies where appropriate.

Pre-Torah

You might ask, how can we derive halachos from events that pre-date 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 lereiacha 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 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? (See Taz, Yoreh Deah 344:1)

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 Pnei Yehoshua, one of the greatest Torah scholars of the mid-eighteenth century, passed away, the Noda BiYehudah eulogized him, even though the Pnei Yehoshua had expressly requested that no eulogies be given. How could the Noda BiYehudah ignore the Pnei 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 344:1).

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.)

At this point, we can 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 347:1). What is wrong with scheduling this hesped, particularly since performing a proper hesped is such a big mitzvah?

The Gemara cites two approaches to explain 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 the man’s door, and convinced his 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 Shmuel, who cited a different reason for the ban: Usually, thirty days after someone’s death, he or she is sufficiently forgotten for people not to 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 (Moed 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 Shmuel, 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 have existed only when the Beis HaMikdash was standing, 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 Shmuel’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 the first opinion agrees that the prohibition exists even 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. Thus, even though we have no Beis HaMikdash, the reason for the prohibition still applies, since people save money in order to be able to celebrate Yom Tov. Thus, the concern still exists that in order to pay for the eulogy, one might take from one’s Yom Tov savings.

What about Rosh Hashanah?

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 for 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, =when there is no mitzvah of celebration (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.

From 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 answer: since the conclusion of the Gemara is that a hesped is for the honor of the departed, why is it a halachic concern that an impoverished family suffers the loss of a child more? The hesped is not for their benefit, but for honor of the departed. I have not found this question discussed anywhere, 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 344:4).

Conclusion

The Torah begins and ends by describing acts of chesed that Hashem performed, the last one entailing His burying 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.

How Are Tefillin Manufactured? (Part II)

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

We also discussed certain problems that can occur while the parshios are written, the importance of using a skilled, knowledgeable, and G-d fearing sofer, and that the completed parshios should be checked carefully, preferably by two trained examiners and by computer.

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

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

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

Several steps of tefillin manufacture were not described in the first article, including painting, making the retzuos, and placing the parshios in the bayis and sealing it. We will resume our narration and guide at this point, beginning with the manufacture and laws of the titura, the wide base upon which the ketzitzah holding the parshios rests.

The titura consists of two parts, the widening at the bottom of the ketzitzah (upper titura) and the flap that closes and seals the parshios inside (lower titura). In gasos tefillin, the titura is formed out of the same piece of leather as the ketzitzah. The lower titura is bent 180 degrees until it is directly beneath the upper titura. The gap between the two is then filled with pieces of leather, and then the hide is shaved until it is perfectly square.

At one point in time, ordinary scrap leather was often used as filler, but this is rarely done today. Although these batim are kosher, it is preferable that the filler be hide that was tanned lishmah (Shu”t Minchas Yitzchak 6:1). This is standard contemporary practice.

Some poskim contend that it is acceptable to fill small nicks in the side of the titura with glue. Others feel that it is not kosher l’chatchila to do this but that nicks should be patched with hide or parchment tanned lishmah  (Shu”t Minchas Yitzchak 6:1; Shu”t Shevet HaLevi 3:2; 9:4).

When the titura is completed and perfectly square, twelve holes are punched through it so that it can later be stitched closed. It is vital that these holes form a perfect square and that they are not too large (which may cause the stitching not to be square).

PAINTING

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

On inferior batim, non-scrupulous batim machers may merely scratch the outside of the bayis to make it appear where the four compartments actually are. This is an invalid method of marking the batim. The actual, separate compartments must be visible from the outside. Alternatively, sometimes a deep groove is mistakenly scratched in the wrong place and does not demonstrate the actual separation between the compartments. This is also invalid. Therefore, to prevent this, a responsible batim macher cuts between the compartments to guarantee that they are indeed fully separate even after the painting.

Now that we have excellent parshios and batim for our tefillin, we will investigate what constitutes excellent retzuos.

IS THERE A HALACHIC PREFERENCE TO HANDMADE RETZUOS?

The contemporary process of tanning retzuos is similar to the method used to tan leather for mundane uses, such as belts and handbags. However, retzuos must be tanned lishmah, for the sake of the mitzvah (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 33:3). After the tanning of the retzuos is complete, the retzuos are painted black in order to fulfill a halacha le’Moshe mi’Sinai (Menachos 35a). The painting of the retzuos must also be performed lishmah (Mishnah Berurah 33:18).

In earlier days, tanning retzuos involved salting the hide and then soaking it in lime wash. Today, although both salt and lime are used in the tanning process, most of the tanning of retzuos is usually accomplished by the gradual, automatic adding of other chemicals to the soaking leather after the salt and lime have been rinsed out. Thus, although early poskim ruled that placing the lime into the water lishmah is sufficient to make retzuos lishmah, this may not be true today. For this reason, most contemporary poskim rule that one should use “avodas yad” retzuos, meaning that the extra chemicals added to the water were done lishmah by a Torah-observant person (Zichron Eliyahu). However, most retzuos sold for tefillin are not avodas yad.

According to my information, most retzuos are painted by transporting them on a conveyor belt through a large, electrically powered paint sprayer. This provides an additional reason to use only avodas yad retzuos. Most Torah-observant Jews use hand matzos for the seder because of concern that machine matzos are not considered lishmah. (I am not suggesting that machine matzohs are a problem for Seder use. Many great poskim contend that they are fine.) In all likelihood, the manufacture and painting of machine-made retzuos has greater halachic concerns than the shaylos involved in machine matzos. When one realizes that the mitzvah of eating matzah is only once a year, whereas the tefillin will IY”H be worn daily for decades, I believe the choice is obvious.

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

It is important to check periodically that the retzuos are still completely black. Many authorities contend that the entire length of the retzua must always be black (Biur Halacha 33:3 s.v. retzuos). If the paint peels off, fades or cracks, one must blacken the retzuos with kosher black retzuos paint. Before painting the retzuos, one must state that he is doing it l’sheim kedushas tefillin

The reverse side of the retzua that lies on the skin need not be dyed at all. There is an opinion that the edges of the retzuos should also be painted black (Keses HaSofer 23:2). However, this opinion is not accepted in halachic practice (see for example, Mishnah Berurah 33:24 quoting Pri Megadim in Eishel Avraham 33:7).

ROLLING UP THE PARSHIOS

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

According to Rashi’s opinion, which is the halacha, the parshios are now inserted according to the order that they appear in the Torah. Thus, the first parsha, Kadeish li kol bechor (Shmos 13:1-10), fills the leftmost compartment (from the perspective of the wearer), with V’hayah ki y’viacha  (Shmos 13:11-16) next to it. Shma (Devarim 6:4-9) is placed next to it; and V’hayah im shamo’a  (Devarim 11:13-21) is inserted inside the rightmost compartment. However, according to Rabbeinu Tam, the last two parshios are reversed, with Shma in the right-most compartment and V’hayah im shamo’a next to it. (There are also at least two other opinions on this question.)

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

OTHER HALACHOS RELEVANT TO ASSEMBLING THE TEFILLIN

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

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

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

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

The retzuos should be about ½ inch wide. When purchasing new retzuos, they should be wider so that they remain the proper width even after they become stretched out.

WHERE SHOULD I BUY MY TEFILLIN?

The individual selling tefillin should be a halachically reliable person and preferably a talmid chacham. Furthermore, he should be fully familiar not only with the halachos of tefillin, but also with the details of tefillin manufacture. From my personal experience, it is not uncommon that a person selling tefillin, although extremely ehrlich, is totally unfamiliar with the halachic issues and concerns involved. Unfortunately, many sofrim and rabbanim lack sufficient training in the practical details of tefillin manufacture.

Assuming that one is purchasing tefillin from someone familiar with the halachos and practical aspects of tefillin manufacture, be specific what level of tefillin kashrus you are looking for. If you don’t tell him that you want tefillin that are kosher l’chatchila (in the preferred way), you might receive tefillin that only meet the very minimum standards of kashrus. A person who discriminately buys food with high kashrus standards should not settle for less when purchasing tefillin. Such a person should order “kosher mehudar tefillin,” or “kosher tefillin with extra hiddurim.” These descriptions may also affect other questions that we have not discussed, such as the quality of the writing or the source of the batim.

THE PRICE OF TEFILLIN

Considering how much time, labor and trained skill are required to produce a kosher pair of tefillin, it amazes me how inexpensive tefillin are. Imagine purchasing an item that requires tens of hours of skilled expert workmanship! What would you expect to pay for such an item? Probably thousands of dollars! And note that one wears tefillin every weekday of one’s life, without exception. The tefillin are certainly hundreds of times more valuable than a top quality suit! Remember that a top quality pair of tefillin should last many decades. A pair of tefillin that costs $1000 and lasts for forty years are worn approximately 300 times a year or a total of 12,000 times. Thus, this pair of tefillin cost about 8 ½ cents a day. Compare this to how much value one gets per wearing from a nice suit!

WHAT TO ASK WHEN ORDERING TEFILLIN?

When ordering a pair of tefillin, one is entitled to ask as many questions about the tefillin as one chooses. After all, one is making a major purchase. In addition, asking these questions informs the seller that one wants tefillin that are mehadrin and are not simply minimally kosher.

Thus, it is perfectly acceptable to ask whether the seller knows the sofer personally or at least by reputation. Why did he choose this sofer? Is the sofer licensed by an organization that tests him periodically on the relevant halachos? One should definitely request that the sofer be instructed to write parshios that are kosher l’mehadrin, and not simply kosher or even kosher lichatchila.

Request that the parshios be checked by two different examiners and also by computer. Also insist that the examiner be instructed that the parshios should be kosher l’mehadrin. Usually, the examiners are only checking to see if the parshios are minimally kosher.

From which manufacturer are the batim being ordered? Why did the seller choose this batim macher? Do the batim carry a hechsher? Order batim that are kosher l’mehadrin.

Order batim where no glue is added to the titura. Clarify that the batim macher cuts between the compartments after painting to guarantee that they are properly separated. Specify that the seller should make sure that the parshios, both shel yad and shel rosh, fit completely inside the ketzitzah.

Of course, one needs to verify that the tefillin are set up for someone left-handed or right- handed, and whether the ksav (the script) and the knots are for nusach Ashkenaz, Sfard or Edot HaMizrah. Clarify in advance how large the batim of the tefillin will be. If the bar- mitzvah bochur is small, one may have a shaylah whether the tefillin are too large to fit on his arm correctly. Clarify this issue in advance with your tefillin seller and with your rav.

None of the items above should cost anything extra and therefore one should always ask for them even if one’s budget is limited.
WHAT EXTRA ITEMS SHOULD I ASK FOR WHEN ORDERING TEFILLIN?

There are several other hiddurim one can order when purchasing new tefillin. Bear in mind that each of these items will add to the price of your tefillin and may require more advance time to order your tefillin.

1. Ask your rav whether you should order tefillin that were manufactured originally “perudos ad hatefer le’gamrei,” literally, separated completely down to the stitch, referring to the stitching on the top of the titura. This means that the batim were manufactured without any glue between the compartments of the batim.

When ordering tefillin that are perudos ad hatefer le’gamrei, ask for batim that were made originally this way from the beginning of their manufacture. Sometimes a batim macher receiving an order for “perudos ad hatefer le’gamrei” will take a knife and attempt to cut through the compartments of the bayis in order to separate them. You do not want these batim. Firstly, the cutting could damage the batim. Furthermore, the batim macher may not have succeeded in separating all the glue.

Although all poskim agree that it is halachically preferable to have batim that are constructed without any glue between the compartments, there is a risk that these batim could separate with time and thus no longer be properly square. For this reason, if the person wearing the tefillin will not be checking periodically to ensure that his tefillin are still properly square, it may be preferable to have the compartments glued together. Your rav should be consulted.

2. Order parshios and retzuos that are avodas yad. If ordering parshios that are avodas yad, instruct the sofer that they should be written on extra thin parchment.

3. Order tefillin where the shin was pulled out by hand and the mold was used only to enhance an existing shin. (See part one article for the explanation.)

WHAT SHOULD I CHECK WHEN THE TEFILLIN ARRIVE?

The big day arrives. Your local sefarim store, sofer, or rav tells you that your tefillin have arrived!  Is there anything you should check on the tefillin?

Check if the batim, titura and stitching are all properly square. You do not need to have a trained eye to check. Look if they appear perfectly square to you. Pay special attention that the titura area that faces the ma’avarta is smooth. It is not unusual that this area is not finished to the extent that it should be.

WHAT SHOULD I BE CHECKING ON MY OWN TEFILLIN?

Just as a car owner knows that he must check the level of the motor oil every fill-up or two, the tefillin owner should know to periodically check certain things on his tefillin.

First, check that the retzuos and batim are completely black and are not rubbed out, cracked or faded. Are the retzuos black all the way to their tip? Be particular to check that they are black near where the knot is tightened, because at that point the paint often rubs out. One should also check that the retzua is still wide enough near the knot. If they are not fully black, blacken them with kosher tefillin paint. (Everyone who wears tefillin should have access to kosher tefillin paint or markers.) If someone’s retzuos are cracking in several places, perhaps he should consider replacing them.

The knot of the shel yad should be connected that it touches the ketzitzah of the tefillin.

Check that the batim, titura, and stitches are still perfectly square. This means that the width and the length appear to be the same length to the naked eye, and that there are no dents, nicks, or projections along the sides or in the corners of the bayis. The back corners of the batim often become rounded because of hats or taleisim that are constantly rubbing them.

If the stitch of the titura is not taut or it loops in the middle, it is not kosher and you should contact your batim expert. With time or damage, the stitches often loosen or move, or the batim get banged or nicked and are no longer properly square. Your local batim expert has the equipment and know-how to repair them.

Know a batim macher or batim repair expert. Every major Jewish community should have at least one person who is trained and has the equipment to repair batim. Just as the community has shatnez testers, a mohel, a butcher, a mikvah for dishes, sefarim stores, and talmidei chachamim who are trained to check mezuzos, a community must have a talmid chacham who is trained properly in the repair of batim.

HOW TO MAINTAIN YOUR TEFILLIN PROPERLY

Maintaining your tefillin is fairly easy. Never leave your tefillin in direct sunlight, in a very hot place, or inside your car during the daytime. As much as possible, your hair should be dry while wearing your tefillin. Protect corners by leaving the cover on the shel yad. (It should be noted that some poskim contend that one should not place these covers on the shel yad while one is wearing them or while making the bracha. However, since most poskim permit leaving these covers on, one may be lenient.)

Tefillin are one of the special signs that Hashem gave the Jewish people, and we should certainly excel in treating this mitzvah with the appropriate dignity. When Yidden request that their tefillin be only mehadrin, they demonstrate their reverence for the sign that bonds us to Hashem.

How Are Tefillin Manufactured?

A Tefillin Shopper’s Guide

clip_image002Question: I am in the process of purchasing tefillin for my son. This is a major purchase, since I hope that he will use these tefillin for many, many years to come, and tefillin are such an important mitzvah. Therefore, I have been making a lot of inquiries as to what to look for. Unfortunately, the more questions I ask, the more confused I become. Rather than gaining clarity, I am hearing many unfamiliar terms such as avodas yad (handmade), devek bein habatim (glue between the compartments of the tefillin shel rosh), perudos (separated), and gasos batim (hide of a mature animal). Could you please explain what I should be looking for in my search for mehudar tefillin?

Answer: Your questions are all very valid, and I am very glad that you have provided me the opportunity to explain these issues. Your quest is also complicated by the fact that, because most tefillin are made in Eretz Yisroel, it is sometimes difficult for someone in chutz la’aretz to find out all the details about their manufacture, especially since many rabbanim have never seen a pair of tefillin made! However, I hope to present you with enough halachic and practical basics to assist you in your search.

First, we need to understand the basics of tefillin manufacture.

As we will see, many details of the halachos of tefillin are halacha le’Moshe mi’Sinai, meaning that they were taught to Moshe Rabbeinu directly by Hashem, even though there is no reference or even allusion to these halachos in the written Torah. The Rambam counts ten such examples (Hilchos Tefillin 3:1).

There are four places in the Torah where the mitzvah of tefillin is mentioned, twice in Parshas Bo, a third time in Parshas Va’eschanan and a fourth time in Parshas Eikev. Handwritten copies of these four sections of the Torah are placed inside specially made cases which comprise the tefillin worn on the arm and the head.

COMPONENTS OF THE TEFILLIN

Tefillin have three major components:

1.            The Parshiyos (singular, parsha). These are the parchments on which the sofer painstakingly and carefully writes the four sections of the Torah mentioned above. For the tefillin shel yad (arm tefillin), all four parshiyos are written on one piece of parchment, whereas for the tefillin shel rosh (head tefillin), each parsha is written on a separate piece of parchment.

2.            The Batim (singular bayis). These are the housing of the parshiyos. The bayis itself has three subcomponents. (a) The Ketzitzah, the cube-shaped box inside which the parshiyos are placed. (b) The Titura, the base on which the ketzitzah rests. (c) The Ma’avarta (Aramaic for “bridge”), the extension of the titura through which the straps are inserted. In good quality tefillin, the entire bayis, that is the ketzitzah, titura, and ma’avarta, are all made from one piece of hide.

3.            The Retzuos, the straps.

MANUFACTURE OF THE HIDE

Every pair of tefillin contains parts made of three different types of animal hide: the parchment on which the parshiyos are written; the thick hide from which the batim are manufactured; and the softer leather used for the retzuos.

The parchment, the hide and the leather used for making tefillin as well as other devarim she’bi’kedusha (holy items) must come from a kosher species, although not necessarily from an animal that was slaughtered in a kosher way (Shabbos 108a; Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 32:12).

Tefillin must be manufactured “lishma,” for the sake of the mitzvah. Practically speaking, this means that the beginning of each process should be performed by an observant Jew who declares that the production is for the sake of the mitzvah of tefillin (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 32:8).

Modern tanning of hide for parchment, batim and straps is a multi-stage process. For this reason, it is preferable that each step be performed, or at least begun, by an observant Jew lishma. Because of this, one of the questions to be ascertained when purchasing tefillin is to what extent an observant Jew was involved in the processing of the hide. This issue impacts on the question of machine-made vs. hand-made parchment and retzuos, which I will discuss later.

WRITING THE PARSHIYOS

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

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

Here are some examples of mistakes that can occur while writing tefillin:

If two letters touch one another, the tefillin are posul (Menachos 34a; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 32:4).

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

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

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

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

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

WHY CAN’T THIS MISTAKE BE CORRECTED?

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

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

Thus, we see that when one purchases tefillin or mezuzos, one is dependent completely on the integrity of the sofer.

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

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

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

When parents of a soon-to-be Bar-Mitzvah bochur begin researching purchasing tefillin for their son, they should be aware that looking for a “bargain” will sacrifice quality. Tefillin should be viewed as a long-term investment, since a good pair should last many decades. That means that buying a more mehudar pair of tefillin that costs perhaps $400 more than a minimally kosher pair will translate into spending approximately a nickel a day, if the tefillin are worn for the next thirty years. What other investment costs only a nickel a day?

A MODERN INNOVATION IN HALACHA

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

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

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

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

MANUFACTURE OF THE BATIM

Until now we have discussed the preparation of the parshiyos that go inside the batim of the tefillin. Now we will investigate the complicated process of making proper tefillin batim. The manufacturer of batim is generally referred to by the Yiddish term “batim macher.”

Several basic types of tefillin batim are manufactured. The highest quality batim are called “gasos,” large ones, because they are made out of the hide of mature (large) cattle. Their leather is high-quality and very durable. From the buyer’s perspective, these batim are well worth the higher cost. In addition to their superior durability, gasos batim have halachic advantages. Furthermore, they can be repaired easily if the tefillin are damaged. These are the type of batim purchased by people concerned about doing mitzvos properly.

ANOTHER MODERN INNOVATION

In fact, gasos batim are a relatively new development, made possible through the invention of the modern hydraulic press. Until this invention, the tough gasos hide could not be worked into the intricate shapes required for tefillin. Only today can tons of pressure be applied to the leather with a hydraulic press to produce the finest tefillin from the thick hide of gasos animals.

Gasos batim take several months to manufacture. Since the hide is very strong and tough, each step requires moistening it to make it malleable, forming it with the assistance of molds and a hydraulic press, and then allowing several weeks for the hide to dry.

Forming the separate sections of the tefillin shel rosh into four compartments is a delicate task. The hide must be bent and squeezed into separate compartments without tearing it. Although one internal tear does not invalidate the batim, more than one tear can render the bayis posul. For this and other reasons, one must be confident in the expertise, halachic knowledge and yiras shamayim of the batim macher.

THE SHIN OF THE SHEL ROSH

There is a halacha le’Moshe mi’Sinai that the tefillin shel rosh must have the letter “shin” on each side, a normal three-headed shin on the right side of the wearer, and an unusual four-headed shin on the left side (Tosafos, Menachos 35a, quoting Shimusha Rabba; Rambam, Hilchos Tefillin 3:1). The commentaries cite many reasons why the left side of the tefillin must have a four-headed shin (see Smag, Smak, Beis Yosef, Bach). Some say that the four-headed shin is reminiscent of the letter shin as it appeared in the luchos. =Since the letters were carved through the stones of the luchos, the letter shin appeared to have four legs and heads (Taz 32:35).

There is a dispute among early poskim whether the shin on the tefillin can be made completely by molding it. According to the lenient opinions, one can simply take a mold, soften the leather, push the mold onto the bayis and press out the shin on the tefillin shel rosh (Or Zarua, quoted by Darkei Moshe 32:18; Beis Yosef). However, the accepted practice is to be machmir and form the letter in a direct way first (many Rishonim quoted by Beis Yosef; Magen Avraham 32:57). This is done by painstakingly picking and pulling the leather until a kosher shin has been directly formed by hand. Only after the shin has been formed to the point that it is a halachically kosher letter is the mold applied to enhance and beautify it. This is permitted, since the minimum halachic requirements of the letter “shin” have been already created manually and directly. It is worthwhile to clarify how the shin of the tefillin one purchases was manufactured.

The dispute whether the shin may be molded takes us back to a previous discussion. Creating the shin through a mold is an act of “chok tochos,” indirectly creating a letter. As mentioned before, letters written for a sefer Torah, tefillin, mezuzos or a get are invalid when written as chok tochos. If so, why do so many poskim rule that the shin of the side of the shel rosh may be created through a mold?

The answer is that the Torah never states that one must “write” a shin on the side of the tefillin. The halacha le’Moshe mi’Sinai merely states that there must be a shin on the side of the tefillin, without specifying that the shin must be written there. Therefore, the lenient opinions contend that there is no requirement to “write” a shin on the tefillin, and it is sufficient for the shin to be made in any way, even through “chok tochos.” As mentioned above, the accepted practice is to form the shin first directly.

THE TEFILLIN MUST BE SQUARE

There is another halacha le’Moshe mi’Sinai that the tefillin must be perfectly square (Menachos 35a). The Rishonim dispute whether min haTorah both the bayis and the titura must be square, or only one of them. Since this matter is a controversy, and furthermore, since some opinions require that they must both be square, we rule that both the bayis and the titura must be perfectly square.

The width of the bayis must be the exact same measurement as its length, and there may be no nicks, indentations, or bulges that ruin its perfect squareness. The height of the tefillin does not need to be the same as the width and length (Rambam, Hilchos Tefillin 3:1).

Similarly, the titura is shaped so that its length and width are equal.

In order to get the four compartments of the shel rosh to form a perfect square, many batim machers paste the sections of the bayis to one another to help them hold together. Although there is much halachic controversy about gluing the compartments together, many prominent poskim in earlier generations permitted it (such as Yeshuas Yaakov 32:24; Shu”t Chasam Sofer Orach Chaim #5 [however cf. Vol. 6 #68]; Shu”t Beis Yitzchok, Orach Chaim 7:6; Daas Torah 32:40).

Other poskim permit gluing the compartments only if the paste is applied to less than half the height of the wall of the compartment and is not applied along the outside edges. However, since there are poskim who disapprove of using any paste, it is certainly a hiddur not to use any at all (Chayei Odom 14:4). These batim are referred to as “perudos ad hatefer ligamri,” which literally means, separated completely down to the stitch, referring to the stitching on the top of the titura (which will be explained later).

Germane to this discussion is a well-known response from Rav Chaim Volozhiner. When asked whether pasting the compartments of the shel rosh together is permitted, he responded that he would not permit it, because the two gedolei hador of the previous generation, the Vilna Gaon and the Shaagas Aryeh, both contended that pasting the compartments invalidates the tefillin.

In earlier generations, when tefillin batim were made from much softer calf leather or even flimsier parchment, it was very difficult to make tefillin that would remain square if the compartments were not pasted together. However, today’s gasos batim are kept square through the stiffness of the hide and the pressure of the hydraulic press. Since the gasos batim are not dependent on paste to hold their shape, many contemporary poskim contend that one should refrain from placing any paste in the batim.

WHAT IS WRONG WITH GLUING THE COMPARTMENTS TOGETHER?

The problem is that the shel rosh is required to have four separate compartments, one for each parsha. The poskim who prohibit pasting the compartments contend that this makes them into one connected compartment, thus invalidating the tefillin. Those who are lenient contend that pasting the compartments together does not halachically make them into one compartment.

The compromise position contends that the compartments are considered separate if they are pasted less than half way up and the outside edge is clearly not connected. This makes the batim noticeably separate, which, they contend, is all that is required. One should ask his rav whether to request batim in which no paste was used at all.

At this point, the batim are almost ready; they still need painting, and need to have the parshiyos inserted. We have not yet discussed the processing of the retzuos, the finishing and sewing of the titura, and various other hiddurim of tefillin. These subjects can be found in part II of this article.

When There Is a Will, the Relatives May Complain

Yonasan, who was originally adopted by non-observant parents, called me with the following shaylah:

“My parents, meaning the couple who adopted me, eventually divorced, and later my father remarried, although there was a halachic problem with his second marriage. My adoptive father was a kohen, and his second wife, Martha, was a divorcee. Recently, my father passed away. My father’s final will, which was drafted when he was ill and very dependent on Martha, was completely different from his previous will, and left virtually all his property to her. Uncle Jack, my adoptive father’s brother, is very upset about the will, believing that this was certainly not my father’s intention, and that it can be overturned in court. This would make me the legal heir to my father’s estate, although halachically, I am not his son. Uncle Jack wants to file a lawsuit over the matter; however, he has no legal recourse to do so, since the civil law does not consider him my father’s heir. May I file a lawsuit to overturn the will?”

This shaylah is indeed as complicated halachically as it sounds, and actually involves three different areas of halacha:

I. Who is the heir?

II. What is the halachic status of a will?

III. May one file the lawsuit in secular court?

In addition, there is a fourth halachic issue that must be addressed, a question of yibum, which I will discuss later.

I will explain each area of halacha mentioned above in order to explain the procedure that I suggested that Yonasan follow.

I. Who is the heir?

Although civil law considers Yonasan the child of his adoptive parents for all matters, including his being their legal heir, the adoption did not make him their biological son. Indeed, the Gemara states that someone who raises a child is considered as if he had given birth to him;[1] however, the adopted child does not inherit, unless he receives the property as some form of gift, as I will explain.

Thus, although Yonasan is his father’s legal heir (from a civil law perspective, if we ignore the will), halacha does not consider him an heir automatically, unless his father gave him the property in a halachically correct will. Since the existing will made other accommodations, Yonasan receives nothing from his father’s estate halachically, neither as an automatic heir nor as the receiver of gifts through his father’s will. Thus, Yonasan cannot make a financial claim against his stepmother for his father’s estate, since it does not belong to him. If the will is valid, then the property belongs to Martha, his stepmother. If the will is invalid, the property belongs to Uncle Jack.

Why Uncle Jack?

If a man dies without biological children and makes no halachic provisions for his estate, then his closest heir is his father, who, in this case, is already deceased. The next closest relative is any surviving brother. In this case, there is one biological brother of the deceased, Uncle Jack. Thus, he is the halachic heir of Yonasan’s father, and if indeed the will is halachically invalid, the property halachically belongs to him, although he may not be able to take possession of it according to civil law.

Halachically, a woman does not inherit from her husband as next of kin. Instead, the Torah gives her the rights of the kesubah, provides that she may live in her late husband’s house and guarantees her income and support from his property. Martha is entitled to these financial rights if she was halachically married to Yonasan’s father, even if the marriage fell into the category of a halachically prohibited marriage. (One method whereby Martha and Yonasan’s father could have been halachically married in a prohibited marriage would be if they had deceived an Orthodox rabbi, dishonestly getting his agreement to perform their ceremony. There are others.) Thus, if Martha proves that she was halachically married to Yonasan’s father, she will be entitled to this support, even though she was a divorcee and he was a kohen.[2]

II. Is the will valid?

According to civil law, a person has the right to choose his heirs and thereby to choose to whom he distributes his earthly wealth after passing on. However, according to the Torah, a person does not have the ability to choose his heirs, nor can he arrange to give away property after death. When a man dies, the Torah instructs us how to distribute his assets, through the laws of yerusha.

How can someone leave his property to his adopted child?

There are methods whereby one can transfer his property to his adopted child, or to anyone else, for that matter, who is not a halachic heir. One method is to draw up a will, and then make a kinyan that transfers possession of the bequeathed property to the beneficiary of the will. (I mention this method as a possible illustration, since it does not work in all situations.) This can be done in a way that the person wishing to bequeath his property maintains ownership over it in the meantime and leaves him the right to change his bequest later. Some poskim, albeit a minority, contend that a legally valid will alone constitutes a kinyan. These authorities reason that arranging a legally valid will, knowing that the government will transfer property as a result, is halachically equivalent to making a kinyan.[3] However, most poskim maintain that a standard civil will is not halachically valid.

Yonasan’s father was not observant and did not have his lawyer make the will halachically valid. (Unfortunately, many observant Jews do not attend to this important matter either. Just as it is important for a person to have a will drawn up, it is important to make sure that it is halachically valid.) Therefore, many poskim would consider Uncle Jack to be the halachic heir of the estate, yet he cannot file a civil suit concerning the property, since he is not an interested party according to civil law. But before we even get to this step in the discussion, we need to discuss whether the Torah permits Yonasan or Uncle Jack to sue in civil court.

III. Arka’os, the prohibition against filing a suit in a secular court.

A Jew may not litigate against a fellow Jew in civil court,[4] even if both parties agree.[5] This is known as the prohibition against using arka’os. Someone who uses court systems not sanctioned by the Torah performs a chillul Hashem, a desecration of G-d’s Name, because he demonstrates that he feels that G-d’s Torah cannot resolve his financial matters.[6] In the words of the Rambam,[7] “Whoever has his case judged by non-Jewish laws or courts, even if their laws are the same (as the Torah), is a rasha. It is as if he blasphemed and raised his hand against the Torah of Moshe Rabbeinu.”[8] Someone who brought litigation to a secular court is invalidated from being a chazzan for Yomim Nora’im.[9] In addition, he will probably transgress the violation of stealing (gezel), since the property he receives is not his according to halacha.

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

This problem is, unfortunately, neither uncommon nor recent, and apparently occurred even at the time of the Gemara.[10] If this happens, the halachically correct procedure is for the plaintiff to have beis din summon the defendant. If the defendant fails to appear in beis din or indicates that he will not appear, the beis din authorizes the plaintiff to sue in civil court.[11] Under these circumstances, the plaintiff has not violated the prohibition of going to arka’os, since he acted according to halacha.

(It should be noted that even if someone is authorized to sue in civil court, he is only entitled to receive what halacha entitles him. It could happen that the civil court awards him more money than he is entitled to according to halacha. Therefore, he should ask a posek after winning the litigation how much of the award he may keep. The balance he would be required to return to the other party.)

Applying these rules to our case means that Uncle Jack may file a suit in beis din against Martha. Although Uncle Jack would like Yonasan to sue in civil courts, Yonasan may not sue according to halacha for two different reasons:

(1) One may not sue in civil court without permission from beis din.

(2) Yonasan has no halachic grounds to claim his adopted father’s estate since he is halachically not an heir.

Does this mean that this was the end of the case?

No. Yonasan explained to Uncle Jack the halachic background to the shaylah. Uncle Jack feels strongly that Martha took unfair advantage of his ill brother, which is the reason why he and his attorney feel that the will can be easily overturned in civil court. Uncle Jack then asked Yonasan if there is any way that Yonasan could proceed with the claim.

Harsha’ah

Enter harsha’ah, which is the halachic equivalent of a power of attorney, into the picture. A harsha’ah allows someone who is not an interested party in the litigation to sue as if he is an interested party. In this instance, Uncle Jack, as the halachic heir, can authorize Yonasan by means of a harsha’ah to sue Martha in beis din. If Martha ignores the summons or indicates that she will not respond to it, the beis din authorizes Yonasan and Uncle Jack to pursue the matter in civil court. The court will not accept Uncle Jack as a plaintiff against the will, since they do not recognize him as the heir. Although the court does not recognize Uncle Jack’s claim, Yonasan may now sue in civil court, based on the beis din’s authorization. Halachically, the basis of the civil suit is to save Uncle Jack the money that is his, even though neither the civil court nor Uncle Jack himself accepts that the money is his.

At this point in the discussion, Yonasan e-mailed me a further question:

“Dear Rav Kaganoff,

“In the event that my uncle does choose, with permission from a beis din, to sue my father’s widow in civil court, *should* I or merely *may* I act on his behalf?”

Indeed, this is a difficult question. In general, saving someone’s money is a mitzvah, and therefore, if someone sued in beis din and was ignored, it is a mitzvah to help him save his money in civil court, providing that this approach was properly authorized by beis din. This act of chesed is included under the mitzvah of hashavas aveidah, returning a lost object to its proper owner.

In our instance, I was less certain if this is considered hashavas aveidah, since Uncle Jack does not consider the money his and is only planning to give it to Yonasan. Is Yonasan required to assist in helping Uncle Jack claim the money, knowing that Uncle Jack will probably assume that it is Yonasan’s and give it to him? Furthermore, since there might be poskim who feel that the money is legitimately Martha’s, one could certainly rely on their opinions to rule that it is not a requirement for him to be involved in the litigation. Thus, there are two different considerations as to why he may not be considered “saving someone’s money”:

(1) Can you say that he is saving someone else’s money, when that person intends to give it to him?

(2) According to some opinions, the money may not be Uncle Jack’s, but Martha’s. Although he is permitted to follow the opinion that the money is Uncle Jack’s, is he required to?

Another consideration: Chalitzah

At this point in the discussion, I introduced a new topic to Yonasan, that of the mitzvah of chalitzah. This requires some explanation. If a man dies without having biological children, there is a mitzvah for his brother to perform a procedure called chalitzah, which permits the widow to remarry. In addition, the chalitzah is a tremendous tikun neshamah for the departed. The mitzvah applies even if the widow is no longer of child-bearing age, and even if the couple married after she was beyond child-bearing age.

Many people do not realize that, if a couple has adopted children, but no biological children, the mitzvah of chalitzah still applies. Since Yonasan’s father had no biological children, his widow (assuming that they were halachically married, as she claims) is a yevamah, who requires chalitzah from Yonasan’s uncle to permit her to remarry.

I quote my letter to Yonasan:

“If your father’s marriage to his last wife was halachically valid, then there is a requirement/mitzvah for your uncle to perform chalitzah,[12] even if your father’s widow has no intention of remarrying and is not observant.”

Yonasan replied:

“I’m surprised it didn’t occur to me.  Question, though — even if they did get married with chuppah and kiddushin, she was a grusha, and he a kohen, so the marriage was forbidden.  He claimed to have asked a rabbi, who permitted the marriage on the basis that since he was disabled, he would not be allowed to perform the avodah, even if the Beis HaMikdash was standing. I did not think this is correct [indeed it is not], but I didn’t see any point in making an issue of it.  Was he right?  Assuming that his marriage was halachically unacceptable. Would that in any way impact on chalitzah?”

To which I replied:

“There is absolutely no halachic basis to any of the reasons he told you to permit this marriage. I presume that he mentioned these reasons to relieve his own conscience, and that he never asked a shaylah; halachically, he was prohibited from marrying a divorcee.

“A halacha-abiding rabbi would not perform such a ceremony, unless he was unaware either that your father was a kohen or that his wife was a grusha. However, even if there had been no proper halachic ceremony, they might have been considered married according to halacha, particularly since they considered themselves married. Thus, although this marriage was forbidden, there may be a requirement to perform chalitzah. The mitzvah of chalitzah applies even in the case of a kohen who marries a divorcee.[13] Is there anyone where they live knowledgeable enough to arrange this for them?”

Yonasan responded to my inquiry:

“There are some very prominent talmidei chachomim living near where both my uncle and my stepmother live.  However, they live a considerable distance from one another. I doubt that the widow is aware of the need for a chalitzah; I also doubt that she’ll object to it if it’s made easy for her. My uncle is, however, totally irreligious. How would I get him to agree to it and to travel the distance involved? He is unlikely to drop everything and fly to where she is to perform what he would see as an unimportant religious ceremony to help out a woman with whom he is upset.  What if he were to appoint someone else as a shaliach over the phone?  Would that be acceptable?”

To which I responded,

“Unfortunately, chalitzah cannot be performed through shelichus (agency). It sounds as if the most likely way for this to happen is to wait until a time that you know that they will be near one another  and then plan carefully how to present it to them. Alternatively, simply mention to them that chalitzah is a big tikun neshamah for your father, whom they both liked (I presume), and ask if they can keep it in mind in future travel plans.

“By the way, the mitzvah is your uncle’s mitzvah to perform, not hers.”

As of this writing, I do not know if Yonasan decided to proceed with the litigation over the will, and I presume that no action has resulted concerning the chalitzah. However, this situation affords us the opportunity to discuss halachos with which many people are unfamiliar, and it provides a tremendous opportunity to make people aware of a number of different mitzvos.

It is important to realize that legal rights and responsibilities are never governed by secular law. A Torah Jew realizes that Hashem’s Torah is all-encompassing, and that halacha directs every aspect of one’s life. Thus, halacha governs all financial aspects of our lives, and one should be careful to ask shaylos about one’s business dealings.

Indeed, through this entire halachic conversation, I was exceedingly impressed by Yonasan’s ability not to be swayed by financial considerations, but to be certain that what he did would be the perfectly correct approach halachically. In fact, he was shortly thereafter awarded a tremendous financial windfall – no doubt, for his adherence to halacha, despite whatever financial temptation existed.


[1] Megillah 13a; Sanhedrin 19b

[2] Mishnah Kesubos 100b

[3] Shu’t Igros Moshe, Even HaEzer 1:104

[4] Gittin 88b

[5] Ramban, beginning of Parshas Mishpatim

[6] Midrash Tanchuma, Mishpatim #3

[7] Hilchos Sanhedrin 26:7

[8] See also Rashi’s comments on Shemos 21:1

[9] Mishnah Berurah 53:82

[10] Bava Kama 92b, as explained by Rosh

[11] Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 26:2

[12] Mishnah Yevamos 20a

[13] Mishnah Yevamos 20a

Life Insurance: To Buy or Not to Buy?

In parshas Va’Yishlach, Yaakov needed to make very important and practical life decisions with major long-term ramifications, when he heard that Esav was approaching with his army of 400 men; these decisions were made based on his halachic and hashkafic background. We also have similar decisions to make. With this introduction, I bring you:

Question #1:

Chaim knows that, as the head of the family, he has the responsibility to care for his wife, Fruma, and their children. He feels that this responsibility obligates him to acquire an adequate amount of life insurance should something chas veshalom happen to him. Fruma’s upbringing was that even discussing this matter can cause bad things to happen. Who is right – Chaim or Fruma?

Question #2:

Miriam calls her rav with a shaylah. “My husband and I would like to buy life insurance, but we’re concerned that it might show a lack of bitachon that Hashem always does what is best for us. Is that correct?”

Question #3:

Tzadok is one of the city’s biggest tzaddikim. He teaches, voluntarily oversees some local tzedakah projects, not to mention his incredibly solid kevi’us itim.  He is a talmid chacham and is raising his own large family. One of the ba’alei batim has offered to purchase a life insurance policy on his behalf, but Tzadok questions whether doing so might jeopardize him, since his family would no longer be dependent on his support. Is his fear founded?

Answer:

At times we have heard someone opposing life insurance –claiming that it reflects a lack of bitachon, or that its acquisition could actually be to one’s detriment. Let us understand what the halachic authorities say about this subject. Indeed, are there halachic or hashkafic concerns about purchasing life insurance? From a Torah perspective, should this practice be encouraged or discouraged ?

The three situations I presented above demonstrate three different issues that poskim discuss when analyzing whether there is a halachic problem in purchasing life insurance. They are:

I. Creating a Devil’s Advocate

The Gemara[1] states that one should not say something that might cause evil to occur. Al yiftach adam piv l’satan – Do not create an opportunity for Satan to mix in! Is purchasing life insurance not considered encouraging the evil Satan to do something nefarious?

II. In G-d We Trust

If we really believe that Hashem provides for all of our needs, doesn’t purchasing life insurance demonstrate that we are worried about the future and lack trust in Hashem?

III. Succeeding in Divine Judgment

As opposed to a human court, Hashem’s judgment and decisions are perfect, and take all ramifications into consideration. The Heavenly Tribunal will not recall someone unless all the consequences of his disappearance are calculated. Based on this, perhaps purchasing life insurance jeopardizes the insured, since his family is no longer as dependent on his support, thus minimizing the merits he has when judged by the Heavenly Tribunal?

Let’s analyze each one of these issues individually, in order to determine whether or not purchasing life insurance should be allowed or even encouraged.

Issue #1 — Creating a Devil’s Advocate

Al yiftach adam piv l’satan literally translates as, “A person should not open his mouth for Satan.” One should be careful not to say something that might provide Satan with ammunition. The Gemara[2] applies this rule to forbid a person from saying, “I sinned a lot, but Hashem has not punished me.” The admission that one is guilty and deserves punishment gives Satan a chance to prosecute one in the Heavenly Tribunal. According to the Magen Avraham,[3] the main concern here is that the words “Hashem has not punished me” imply that one anticipates the punishment, although this is clearly not what the speaker intends. However, when Satan prosecutes, he might take the speaker’s words out of context.

The question is whether purchasing life insurance provides Satan with such an opportunity to prosecute.

A different Talmudic discussion implies that it is absolutely permissible to make arrangements for oneself in the event of one’s demise, and that doing so is not considered opening one’s mouth to Satan. The Gemara[4] discusses whether someone who prepares for himself shrouds (tachrichim) that are four-cornered is required to attach tzitzis to their corners, implying that it is, indeed, permitted to prepare shrouds for oneself. In other words, planning for one’s death does not constitute violating the warning al yiftach adam piv l’satan and does not provide the Satan with any ammunition.

Indeed, this Gemara’s discussion is rallied as a source in the following situation. Maury Bond is lying on his deathbed on a hot Friday afternoon. There is concern that if he dies before Shabbos, his corpse will begin to decompose and smell unpleasant before it can be buried after Shabbos, which would not be a kavod for the departed. (Remember that earlier generations did not have ready access to refrigeration.) The authorities debate whether it is permitted to dig Maury’s grave while he is still breathing, so that, should he die on Friday, he could be buried quickly before Shabbos. Most authorities[5] permit digging the grave while Maury is still living; the dissenting opinion prohibits this out of concern that Maury might find out that his grave is already dug, which will distress him, and this itself could lead to his premature demise.[6] However, none of the authorities debating this case is concerned that the efficacy of digging Maury’s grave while he is still alive violates al yiftach adam piv l’satan and provides Satan with the opportunity to clamor for Maury’s swift departure. Some of the authorities who discuss this question explicitly state that it is perfectly acceptable for a healthy person to arrange the digging of his own grave and to prepare his own shrouds, as we see from the above-quoted passage in the Gemara. One highly respected authority expressly approves the practice of purchasing adjacent burial plots for a couple, the fact that at least one member is still alive notwithstanding.[7]

Thus, we see that it is not considered al yiftach adam piv l’satan when a healthy person makes funeral arrangements for himself, since he is not mentioning his sins and giving Satan any reason to prosecute him. Based on this, several authorities rule that purchasing life insurance is also not a violation of al yiftach adam piv l’satan.[8]

However, I would like to note that there are two sources from which it seems that al yiftach adam piv l’satan applies in some other cases. In Kesubos 8b, the Gemara states that a person should not make the following declaration, “Many will drink the cup of mourning” because of the concern of al yiftach adam piv l’satan. This source implies that there is concern of al yiftach adam piv l’satan even when one’s statement does not imply that one has sinned and deserves punishment. Similarly, a different Gemara passage states that upon entering the bathhouse (which in those days involved a moderate degree of danger), one should not say “if something goes wrong, my death should atone for my sins” because of al yiftach adam piv l’satan.[9]

Thus, we need to resolve why the halachic authorities who discuss making shrouds, digging a grave, or purchasing a burial plot for a living person do not prohibit these actions because of the principle of al yiftach adam piv l’satan, even though the statements “many will drink the cup of mourning” and “if something goes wrong, my death should atone for my sins” are prohibited for this reason.

The answer appears to be that these last two cases are a concern only because one is expressing the possibility of one’s passing, which fits the words of Chazal: a person should not say, “I sinned a lot, but Hashem has not punished me.” Assuming our solution is correct, arranging plans for one’s demise, including writing one’s will and purchasing life insurance do not violate al yiftach adam piv l’satan, provided that one does not express verbally the possibility of one’s death.

Issue #2: — In G-d We Trust – Exclusively

A Jew is obligated to believe that although he makes an effort to earn his livelihood, parnasah, it is ultimately Hashem alone Who provides it. The question is whether there is a difference between working for one’s daily needs and working to save money for future expenses. Is it a shortcoming in bitachon to save for the future? Does purchasing life insurance imply lack of confidence that Hashem will provide for his family?

To answer these questions, we must first examine the halachic relationship between parnasah and bitachon.

Is there a Dispute in the Mishnah?

The Mishnah quotes two ostensibly dissenting opinions. Rabbi Meir is quoted first as saying: “A person should teach his son a livelihood that is easy (to learn) and free of potential sin. (At the same time, he should) pray to Him Who is the source of all wealth and property. (Always realize that) there is no profession that does not have its vicissitudes. Poverty and wealth are dependent on his merit.” We see that Rabbi Meir advocates teaching one’s child a livelihood, while simultaneously acknowledging that livelihood comes from Hashem and not from our efforts.[10]

On the other hand, the very same mishnah quotes Rabbi Nehorai as saying, “I abandon all means of livelihood and teach my son only Torah.”

Thus, we appear to have a dispute between two tanna’im as to whether one should take time from teaching one’s son Torah in order to provide him with vocational training. However, this analysis cannot be accurate for the following reason:

The Gemara[11] teaches that Rabbi Meir was an alternate name for Rabbi Nehorai, because his teaching of Torah produced so much light. (Meir means “He who gives light,” and the word Nehorai also means “light”.) How could Rabbi Nehorai disagree with himself?

Resolving the Dispute

One answer to this problem is that Rabbi Nehorai’s statement that he would teach his son nothing but Torah was personal – Rabbi Nehorai himself had no worldly concerns, because he placed complete trust in Hashem. Someone at this level should indeed not teach his son any worldly occupation. However, most people do not reach this level of trust and must provide their son with a livelihood, while emphasizing that parnasah is from Hashem.[12]

Rav Moshe Feinstein[13] presents an alternative answer to the contradictory statements of Rabbi Meir. The two statements are discussing different stages of life, one before the son must begin supporting his family, and the other when he has to support his family. Rabbi Nehorai’s statement that “I teach my son only Torah” applies before the son needs parnasah. Until then, he should learn only Torah. The other statement refers to a son who has to earn a living. At that point, his father should teach him a livelihood that involves few halachic challenges and is easy to learn, while at the same time teaching him that his vocation is only hishtadlus, one’s feeble apparent attempt, and that parnasah comes only from Hashem.

There is a halachic difference between the two approaches. According to the first approach, someone with total trust that Hashem will provide for him, even if he makes no hishtadlus, should not make any effort toward parnasah. According to Rav Moshe’s approach, even a person with total trust in Hashem is required to have a livelihood. Rav Moshe brings evidence from several sources that it is inappropriate to rely on miracles for one’s parnasah. Furthermore, he considers having no livelihood as equivalent to relying on miracles.[14]

On the other hand, Rav Vozner rules,[15] similarly to the first approach, that a pure baal bitachon is permitted to rely totally on Hashem for parnasah; however, he agrees that this applies only to rare individuals. There are stories about Gedolim, such as Rav Yosef Chayim Sonnenfeld, who made no conventional hishtadlus to attain parnasah. These Gedolim, too, must have had the same opinion as Rav Vozner. According to Rav Moshe’s approach, one may not deliberately adopt such a lifestyle.

Both Rav Moshe and Rav Vozner rule that, generally speaking, people are required to have some type of parnasah, and that it is not a lack of bitachon to do so. Unless he is a great tzaddik, no one should assume that he has sufficient zechuyos (merits) to expect Hashem to provide his parnasah with no hishtadlus whatsoever on his part.

The poskim bring evidence from Tosafos that it is not a shortcoming to make arrangements to take care of one’s financial future. The Gemara[16] rules that although a father has the halachic ability to marry off his daughter while she is a minor, he is prohibited to do so out of concern that when she grows up, she may not like her husband. In Tosafos’ time, however, underage daughters were married off, which appeared to be a violation of this halacha. Upon what basis was there a practice contrary to the Gemara’s ruling?

Tosafos explains that in his turbulent times (the Baalei Tosafos lived during the period of the Crusades), a man who had sufficient means to provide his daughter with a dowry, should arrange her marriage to someone appropriate. If the father delayed, he risked losing his money, which could have been tantamount to his becoming unable to marry off his daughter. Tosafos does not contend that a person should have bitachon that he will have the means to be able to marry her off later.

Similarly, someone who can purchase life insurance, an annuity, or other means for making his life or the lives of his dependents more secure, may do so.[17] Bitachon does not require someone to ignore future needs. Bitachon does require that a person realize that everything that happens is under Hashem’s supervision and control.[18]

What will I eat tomorrow?

But doesn’t this approach violate the statement that “Someone who has (today’s) bread in his basket, and asks, ‘What will I eat tomorrow?’ lacks faith”?[19] Aren’t Chazal teaching us that someone who plans for tomorrow’s livelihood lacks proper trust in Hashem?

The answer is no. This last passage is discussing people’s beliefs. Everyone must believe that Hashem provides for him and that whatever happens is under His control. One may not say, “What will I eat tomorrow?” thereby ignoring Hashem’s supervision. However, this does not mean that making practical plans for the future is a violation of bitachon, provided one fully realizes that everything comes from Hashem and is dependent on Him.

The Manna

However, there is another passage of Gemara[20] that may indicate otherwise:

“Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai’s disciples asked him, ‘Why did the manna not fall for the B’nei Yisrael once a year (for the entire year)?’ He answered them, ‘I will give you a parable. A human king once provided his son with support on an annual basis. The son visited his father once a year to receive his allowance. Wanting to see his son more often, the father altered the system and began providing his son with support on a daily basis. Thereafter, his son visited his father every day. Similarly, the head of a large household worried that no manna would fall on the morrow; thus he would pray daily for sustenance.” Doesn’t this Gemara imply that it is better for one’s parnasah to arrive one day at a time than to plan for the future?

The halachic authorities provide two answers to this question that are dependent on the dispute between Rav Vozner and Rav Moshe mentioned earlier. According to Rav Vozner, this Gemara reflects the ideal: a great tzaddik should indeed receive his parnasah one day at a time. However, most people are not at this level of faith and may plan for the future. According to Rav Moshe’s approach, the Gemara means that a person should mentally acknowledge every day that Hashem provides for all his needs; however, he is permitted and required to make hishtadlus, which includes planning for future needs. It should be noted that all the poskim that I have seen discussing this issue rule that purchasing life insurance qualifies as normal hishtadlus.

In this context, it is worthwhile to quote a Midrash that demonstrates the obligation to make hishtadlus. Quoting the pasuk,[21]L’ma’an yevorechecha Hashem Elokecha b’chol ma’asecha asher ta’aseh,” “So that Hashem Your G-d will bless you in all your deeds that you will perform,” the Midrash points out that the last two words of the posuk, “asher taaseh,” “that you will perform” are seemingly superfluous, because the Torah already stated, “b’chol ma’asecha,” “in all your deeds.” What is added with the words, “that you will perform?”

The Midrash[22] explains, “The Torah states, ‘Keep the mitzvos.’ I might think that he should do nothing and expect his parnasah to come automatically? Therefore, the Torah repeats, ‘that you will perform.’ If you work, you will receive blessing, and if you do not work, you will not receive blessing.” This Midrash proves that one has a responsibility to earn parnasah.

Issue #3  — Succeeding in Divine Judgment

I have heard people give yet another reason why someone should not purchase life insurance. What happens if a husband does not have the personal merit to guarantee longevity, while his wife and children do have the merit or the mazel (fortune) to live financially secure lives? In a case like this, the husband would live a long productive life as their provider. By purchasing life insurance, which guarantees their sustenance even without his presence, he jeopardizes his life, since his dependents are now provided for should something bad happen to him.

In the one halachic source that I saw mention this concern, the author, Rav Yitzchok Sternhell zt”l, quoted the exact opposite approach in the name of the Shinaver Rav (Rav Yechezkel Shraga Halberstam zt”l, author of Divrei Yechezkel), who was one of the greatest halachic authorities of his day in Galicia. The Shinaver contended that buying life insurance should provide longevity. He argues that since the mazel of the people who own insurance companies is to become wealthy, their mazel will prevail and prevent them from losing money by having to pay out life insurance policies. Thus, purchasing a policy actually rallies mazel to one’s side and does not jeopardize one’s life.[23]

Another counter-argument runs as follows: If loss of merit is a concern, then there is valid reason to refrain from accumulating any wealth. The family members of a man who ekes out a daily existence are far more dependent on their breadwinner than are the wife and children of a wealthy man, since he will leave them with an appreciable inheritance should something happen to him. Thus, one could argue that accumulating wealth is not in one’s best interest, an approach that does not have too many advocates. I have never seen anyone refrain from accumulating wealth because of this concern, and neither have I seen any halachic authority suggest this as a reason to avoid affluence. Therefore, I conclude that this is not a factor in the question of purchasing life insurance.

Conclusion

In conclusion, I am aware of thirteen written teshuvos[24] (responsa) on the purchase of life insurance or annuities, written by authorities representing Litvishe, Chassidishe and Sefardic approaches. All thirteen teshuvos permit purchasing life insurance, and some encourage the practice strongly.

Rav Meir Shapiro, the Rosh Yeshivah of Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin, had a very large life insurance policy, even though he unfortunately had no children. His reason was that since fundraising for the yeshiva was completely on his shoulders, he was concerned that in the event of his premature death, the yeshiva would be forced to close. We see that he was not concerned with any of the above issues and felt that purchasing insurance was an appropriate course of action.

May we all be blessed with long years and good health.


[1] Kesubos 8b

[2] Berachos 19a

[3] 239:7

[4] Menachos 41a

[5] Beis Yosef, Bach and Gr’a to Yoreh Deah 339; Mishneh LaMelech, Hilchos Aveil 4:5

[6] Shu’t Rivash #114 as explained by Bach, Yoreh Deah 339

[7] Shu’t Rivash #114

[8] Shu’t Be’er Moshe 8:118, quoting Shu’t Lechem Shelomoh by Rav Shelomoh Zalman Ehrenreich, #68; Shu’t Yechaveh Daas 3:85

[9] Berachos 60a

[10] Kiddushin 82a

[11] Eruvin 13b

[12] Sefer HaMikneh, Kiddushin 82a. See Kochavei Ohr of Rav Yitzchak Blazer (colloquially called Rav Itzele Peterburger, because he once served as the Rav of St. Petersburg), the disciple of Rav Yisrael Salanter, Chapter 11, for a description of the difference between these two types of people.

[13] Shu’t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 2:111; see also Orach Chayim 4:48).

[14] We should note that Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch also follows this approach numerous times in his commentary on the Torah.

[15] Shu’t Shevet HaLevi 4:1:2

[16] Kiddushin 41a

[17] Shu’t Yechaveh Daas 3:85; Shu’t Kochavei Yitzchak 1:22, both quoting several other authorities.

[18] Both Shu’t Be’er Moshe 8:118 and Shu’t Teshuvos VeHanhagos 4:325 also reach the same conclusion and bring support to this conclusion from several other Talmudic passages and concepts. To keep this chapter reasonably small I have omitted his proofs. In addition, Shu’t Teshuvos VeHanhagos provides sources that a person cannot selectively apply bitachon to say medical issues. One should be consistent in how he bases his decisions on bitachon. The reader is encouraged to read their responsa on the subject.

[19] Sotah 48b

[20] Yoma 76a

[21] Devarim 14:29

[22] Midrash Shocher Tov, cited by Shu’t Yechaveh Daas 3:85

[23] Shu’t Kochavei Yitzchak 1:22

[24] In addition to the above quoted sources and sources that they quote, see Koveitz Teshuvos 1:19 a letter from Rav Elyashiv to Rav Elya Svei and Rav Malkiel Kotler encouraging Torah institutions to provide their educators with life insurance policies.

Halachic History of Copyright

One of the curses recorded in this week’s parsha is against someone who moves the border. In halachic terms, hasagas gevul, moving borders also includes infringes on someone’s property rights.

Does a publisher have rights protecting him so that he has the opportunity to recoup his investment? Assuming that such rights exist, do they apply in all cases, or only if it is a new publication? For how long are his rights protected?

Does the Torah have a concept of intellectual property rights, meaning that someone who creates or invents an item is owner of his invention?

WHAT RIGHTS DOES THE PUBLISHER HAVE?

One of the earliest published responsa on this subject deals with a very interesting sixteenth century case. One of the gedolei Yisrael of the time, the Maharam of Padua, Italy, entered a partnership with a non-Jewish publisher in Venice to produce a new edition of Rambam. Maharam invested a huge amount of time checking and correcting the text for this edition, included notes of his own, and apparently also invested significant amounts of his own money in the undertaking. A competing publisher, also a non-Jew, produced an edition of Rambam (without Maharam’s corrections and notes) at a greatly reduced price, apparently out of spite that Maharam had engaged his competitor. It appears that the second publisher might have been selling the set of Rambam at a loss with the intent to ruin the Maharam financially. The halachic question was whether an individual may purchase the less expensive edition of the second publisher.

The shaylah was referred to the Rama for decision, who ruled that the second publisher’s actions constitute unfair trade practices. Rama prohibited purchasing or selling the competing edition, until the Maharam’s edition was sold out. Realizing that the non-Jewish publisher would not obey his ruling, Rama reinforced his ruling by placing a cherem (decree of excommunication) on anyone selling, buying or abetting the sale of the competing edition (Shu”t Rama #10). This was an effective way of guaranteeing that Jews did not purchase the less expensive (but inferior) edition.

The Rama’s ruling established a precedent. Subsequent to Rama’s ruling, it became common practice for publishers to include in their works a cherem (plural: charamim) from a well-known posek banning the publishing of the same sefer, usually for a period of six to twenty-five years. As a matter of fact, these charamim were the main reason why publishers sought haskamos when they published seforim. The purpose of the haskamah was that they included charamim, to make it financially worthwhile for the publisher to invest the resources necessary to produce the sefer. Thus, these charamim encouraged publishing more seforim and the spread of Torah learning.

Generally, these charamim protecting the publisher’s rights were accepted and obeyed. However, in the early nineteenth century, an interesting dispute arose between the Chasam Sofer, the Rav of Pressburg, and Rav Mordechai Benet, the Rav of Nikolsburg, germane to the production of the famous Roedelheim machzorim. Two competing editions of these machzorim were produced, the first by Wolf Heidenheim, who had invested much time and money gathering and comparing the texts in old editions and manuscripts. A Jewish publishing house located in a different city subsequently published a competing edition. Prior to Heidenheim’s issuing the machzorim, several prominent rabbonim had issued a cherem banning other publishers from competing.

The Chasam Sofer prohibited the second publisher from selling his machzorim and similarly banned people from purchasing them (Shu”t Chasam Sofer, Choshen Mishpat #41, #79). In his opinion, this case is halachically comparable to the edition of Rambam produced by the Maharam Padua.

Rav Benet disagreed, contending that there were several key differences between the cases. In his opinion, it is unnecessary to guarantee publication of machzorim by issuing charamim. Machzorim are a common item, and publishers know that they will profit from producing them. Thus, the entire purpose for which these charamim were created, to guarantee the production of seforim, does not apply. Furthermore, since non-Jewish publishers will certainly produce machzorim, issuing a cherem against competition will benefit the non-Jewish publishers, who will be faced with less competition, more than it will benefit a Jewish publisher, such as Wolf Heidenheim. In addition, Heidenheim’s first edition had already sold out, and charamim traditionally ended when the edition was sold out, assuming that one edition was sufficient to guarantee a publisher sufficient profit to make it worth his while. In addition, Rav Benet questioned whether the system of charamim was still appropriate, once the government had established its own rules and laws of copyright infringement (Shu”t Parashas Mordechai, Choshen Mishpat #7, 8).

The Chasam Sofer countered that since Heidenheim had invested time and money in checking and correcting texts, his business interest should be protected to a greater degree, and that Heidenheim should qualify under a special halachic dispensation allowed for those guaranteeing that Torah texts are accurate (see Kesubos 106a). As a result, the Chasam Sofer contended that Heidenheim’s monopoly should be allowed for the entire twenty-five years decreed in the original cherem, even after he had sold out his first edition.

DOES HALACHA RECOGNIZE INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY AS OWNERSHIP?

This shaylah came to the forefront in the middle of the nineteenth century, also as a result of a din torah. Around 1850, a printer named Yosef Hirsch Balaban published a large-size edition of Shulchan Aruch with major commentaries, accompanied for the first time by the anthologized commentary, Pischei Tshuvah. Balaban was sued in beis din by a printer named Avraham Yosef Madfis who claimed to have purchased exclusive rights to Pischei Tshuvah from its author. (I am uncertain whether “Madfis” was indeed his family name, or whether this referred to his profession.) At the time, Pischei Tshuvah had been printed only once, in a small-size edition, including only the Shulchan Aruch and one other commentary, the Be’er Heiteiv. Madfis claimed that Balaban had violated his (Madfis’s) exclusive ownership rights to Pischei Tshuvah.

The Rav who presided over the din torah, Rav Shmuel Valdberg of Zalkava, ruled in favor of Balaban for the following reason. The original edition of Pischei Tshuvah did not include any statement placing a cherem against someone printing a competing edition. Rav Valdberg contended that this voided any copyright on Pischei Tshuvah. Furthermore, Rav Valdberg included two more reasons to sustain his ruling. One, the original edition of Pischei Tshuvah was no longer available. Thus, even had a cherem banned a competing edition, it would have already expired once the first edition had sold out. Second, even if the first edition was still available for sale, Balaban’s reproducing Pischei Tshuvah as part of a multi-volume set of Shulchan Aruch was not competition for the original edition, where Pischei Tshuvah had been published as a small, presumably inexpensive sefer. Rav Valdberg reasoned that no one interested in purchasing Pischei Tshuvah would likely purchase Balaban’s edition of Shulchan Aruch just for that purpose; instead he would buy the small edition (assuming it was available). Thus, he did not consider Balaban’s edition to be unfair competition for those looking to purchase Pischei Tshuvah.

According to Rav Valdberg’s analysis, the author of Pischei Tshuvah has no greater ownership to his work than someone publishing a different person’s work. His latter two arguments, that the first edition was already sold out and therefore the cherem expired, and that the multi-volume set does not compete with the one volume edition, would both be preempted if we assume that the author retains ownership over his work. Thus, Rav Valdberg did not believe that halacha recognizes intellectual property rights.

The Sho’eil uMeishiv (1:44) took issue with this point. In a letter addressed to Rav Valdberg, which he subsequently published in his own responsa, he contended that the author of a work is its owner. Thus, Pischei Tshuvah retains his rights as author/owner whether or not a cherem was declared against competition. A cherem is to guarantee a publisher enough time to recoup his investment. An author is an owner, not an investor, and maintains ownership over the item produced, which he is entitled to sell, regulate, or contract. This is called intellectual property rights.

Upon reading the Sho’eil uMeishiv’s ruling, Rav Yitzchok Shmelkes, wrote him that he disagreed with Sho’eil uMeishiv’s reasoning (Shu”t Beis Yitzchok, Yoreh Deah 2:75). Beis Yitzchok contends that halacha does not recognize intellectual property rights as inherent ownership. In Beis Yitzchok’s opinion, the author has a right of ownership, but only because it is accepted by government regulation, which is termed dina dimalchusa dina, literally, the law of the government is binding. Although halacha does not usually accept non-Jewish legal regulations, a civil law established for the wellbeing of society is usually accepted. Since intellectual property rights encourage initiative and invention that are in society’s best interests, halacha accepts these ownership rights to the extent that they are recognized by civil law.

There are several key differences between the position of Sho’eil uMeishiv and that of Beis Yitzchok. According to Sho’eil uMeishiv, the ownership of an author exists forever, just as any other property that he owns. Upon his passing, they are inherited by his heirs, just like his other property. However, in Beis Yitzchok’s opinion, the ownership rights extend only according to what is established by government regulation and expire after a number of years. Moreover, in most countries, a copyright is valid only if registered, and it must also be indicated in the published work. Presumably this was not true in the Beis Yitzchok’s place and time, since he applied civil copyright law to Pischei Tshuvah, even though the author had not indicated any copyright in the sefer.

Thus, whether halacha recognizes intellectual property ownership is disputed.

Some authorities rally evidence that the Chofetz Chayim agreed with the Sho’eil uMeishiv’s position. The Chofetz Chayim left specific instructions detailing who owns the publishing rights to his seforim after his passing. He instructed that his seforim on loshon hora could be freely republished, and that Mishnah Berurah may be published by anyone, provided that 4% of its volumes printed are donated to shullen and batei medrash. However, he stipulated that most of his seforim could not be republished without permission of his family members, and that the proceeds from such publication should succor his widow for the rest of her life. Chofetz Chayim’s instructions imply that he considered his ownership to be in perpetuity. Furthermore, Chofetz Chayim did not publish any words of cherem or copyright inside his seforim. Thus, he seems to have presumed ownership over future editions of seforim on the basis of intellectual property (Shu”t Minchas Yitzchok 9:153), although it is possible that he based it on dina dimalchusa dina, following the opinion of Beis Yitzchok.

If one reads the haskamos on sefarim, published from the time of the Rama until the close of the nineteenth century, one notices that this dispute between the Sho’eil uMeishiv and the Beis Yitzchok seems to have been fairly widespread. For example, when the Chavos Yair published his own responsa, all the haskamos allow his copyright rights against someone else publishing his own responsa for a limited period of time. According to the Sho’eil uMeishiv’s opinion, the Chavos Yair should have owned these rights forever!

On the other hand, when a new edition of Shu”t Rivash was published in the 1870’s, it included a very extensive index that included all the places that the Rivash is quoted by the Beis Yosef and other halachic authorities. The edition contained three haskamos: from the Netziv, from Rav Yitzchak Elchanan Spector and from the Malbim. All three include a cherem against anyone publishing the Shu”t Rivash for six years, but explicitly mention that the ownership of the newly created index is the property of the publisher forever and may not be reproduced without his permission. They clearly are recognizing intellectual property rights in halacha.

Thus, we see interesting historical precedent both in favor of and in opposition to whether halacha recognizes intellectual property. Some of these factors are included when debating the role of copyright violation in halacha today.

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