Nu, so, what is new?

The laws of Chodosh

By Rabbi Yirmiyohu Kaganoff

Question #1: New mitzvah?!

“When I was young, I do not think I ever heard about a prohibition called chodosh, or that something was yoshon. These days, I am constantly hearing these terms. Do we now have a new mitzvah?”

Question #2: New\Old Visitor

“We have decided to stay permanently in Eretz Yisrael, but we visit the United States a few times a year. Do we need to be concerned about chodosh when we visit?”

The Basics

Before addressing the issue underlying both questions, which is whether the prohibition of chodosh applies outside Eretz Yisrael, we must first study some essential details of the mitzvah. The Torah teaches in parshas Emor:

“Bread, sweet flour made from toasted kernels, or the toasted kernels themselves, may not be eaten until that very day – until you bring the offering to your G-d. This is a law that you must always observe throughout your generations in all your dwelling places” (Vayikra 23:14). “That very day” refers to the second day of Pesach, the day that the korban omer, the “offering” mentioned in the pasuk, is brought. (This is the same day that we begin counting the omer, a practice we continue until Shavuos.)

The Mishnah (Menachos 70a) explains that this mitzvah applies only to the five species that we usually categorize as grain, which Rashi (Pesachim 35a) defines as wheat, barley, spelt, oats and rye. The Gemara (Menachos 70b) demonstrates that the laws of chodosh apply to the same varieties of grain that can become chometz.

What Permits the New Grain?

We should note that the Torah mentions two different factors that permit the new grain – it “may not be eaten until that very day – until you bring the offering to your G-d.” This seems to be a bit contradictory. What permits the new grain, the day or the offering that transpires in the course of the day?

Will It be Brought?

The Gemara (Menachos 68a) concludes that it depends on whether a korban omer will be offered that particular year. Until the Beis Hamikdash was destroyed, a korban omer was brought annually, and offering this korban permitted the new grain, thereby fulfilling “may not be eaten… until you bring the offering to your G-d.” After the Beis Hamikdash was destroyed, it is the day that permits the new grain.

There is a further question: When there is no korban omer at what point during the day does the new grain become permitted?

The Gemara quotes a dispute concerning this fact, whether, is it the beginning of the day or its end. The Gemara concludes that even those who permit the new grain at the beginning of the day, this is only min haTorah, but they agree that miderabbanan the new grain is not permitted until the day ends (Sukkah 41b).

“New” Grain versus “Old” Grain

This new grain is called chodosh, literally, new. Once Pesach passes, the grain is called yoshon, old, even though it may have been planted only a few days before. The promotion from chodosh to yoshon transpires automatically on the second day of Pesach – all the existing chodosh becomes yoshon grain on that day, even that which is still growing. The only requirement is that by then the grain has taken root. Thus, designating the grain as “old” does not mean that it is either wizened or rancid. Grain planted in the late winter or early spring often becomes permitted well before it even completed growing. On the other hand, grain that took root after the second day of Pesach is categorized as “new” grain that may not be eaten until the second day of the next Pesach, the following year.

How Do We Know That It Is Newly Rooted?

Since most of us spend little time subterraneanly, how are we to know when the newly planted seeds decided to take root? This question is already debated by the Tanna’im. The halachic authorities dispute whether we assume that seeds take root three days after planting or not until fourteen days after planting. If we assume that they take root in only three days, then grain planted on the thirteenth of Nisan is permitted after the sixteenth. This is because the remaining part of the thirteenth day counts as the first day, and the fifteenth day of Nisan (the first day of Pesach) is the third day, and we therefore assume that the new grain rooted early enough to become permitted. However, grain that was planted on the fourteenth, Erev Pesach, is forbidden until the following year (Terumas Hadeshen #151; Pischei Teshuvah, Yoreh Deah 293:4, 5; Aruch Hashulchan).

According to those who conclude that it takes fourteen days to take root, the grain that is planted on the thirteenth does not become permitted until the next year. In addition, any grain planted on the third of Nisan or afterwards will not be permitted until the coming year, whereas that planted on the second of Nisan becomes permitted. We count the second of Nisan as the first day, which makes the fifteenth of Nisan the fourteenth day, and the grain took root early enough so that the sixteenth of Nisan permits it (Nekudos Hakesef; Dagul Meirevavah; Shu”t Noda Biyehudah 2:Orach Chayim:84).

What’s New in Chutz La’aretz?

Now that we understand some basic information about chodosh, we can discuss whether this mitzvah applies to grain growing outside Eretz Yisrael. Following the general rule that agricultural mitzvos, mitzvos hateluyos ba’aretz, apply only in Eretz Yisrael, we should assume that this mitzvah does not apply to grain that grew in chutz la’aretz. Indeed, this is the position of the Tanna Rabbi Yishmael (Kiddushin 37a). However, Rabbi Eliezer disagrees, contending that the mitzvah applies also in chutz la’aretz.

This dispute is based on differing interpretations of an unusual verse. When closing its instructions concerning the mitzvah of chodosh, the Torah concludes: This is a law that you must always observe throughout your generations in all your dwelling places.” Why did the Torah add the last words, “in all your dwelling places”? Would we think that a mitzvah applies only in some dwellings and not in others?

The Tanna’im mentioned above dispute how we are to understand these unusual words. Rabbi Eliezer explains that “in all your dwelling places” teaches that this prohibition, chodosh, is an exception to the rule of mitzvos hateluyos ba’aretz and applies to all your dwelling places – even those outside Eretz Yisrael. Thus, although we have a usual rule that mitzvos hateluyos ba’aretz apply only in Eretz Yisrael, the Torah itself taught that chodosh is an exception and applies even in chutz la’aretz.

Rabbi Yishmael explains the words “in all your dwelling places” to mean the mitzvah applies only after the land was conquered and settled. As a result, he contends that chodosh indeed follows the general rule of agricultural mitzvos and applies only in Eretz Yisrael.

The New Planting

When a farmer plants his crops depends on many factors, including what variety or strain he is planting, climate and weather conditions, and even perhaps his own personal schedule. At times in history, even non-Jewish religious observances were considerations, as we see from the following incident:

The Rosh reports that, in his day, whether most of the new grain was chodosh or yoshon depended on when the gentiles’ religious seasons fell out. Apparently, in his day sometimes the gentiles planted well before Pesach, and in those years there was no chodosh concern, since the new grain became permitted while it was still growing. However, there were years in which the gentiles refrained from planting until much later, and in those years the new grain was chodosh (Shu”t HaRosh 2:1). In addition, they had a practice not to plant during the xian holiday season that they call Lent. Sometimes Lent fell during Pesach and the xians planted before, and sometimes it fell earlier and they planted after Pesach, in which case there was a chodosh problem. We therefore find the rather anomalous situation in which the Rosh needed to find out exactly when the gentiles observed their religious month to know whether the grain was chodosh or yoshon.

What is New in Agriculture?

But one minute — the Rosh lived in Europe, first in Germany and then in Spain. Why was he concerned about chodosh? Should this not be an agricultural mitzvah that does not apply to produce grown outside of Eretz Yisrael? From the citation above, we see that the Rosh ruled that chodosh is prohibited even in chutz la’aretz. The Rosh is not alone. Indeed, most, but not all, of the Rishonim and poskim conclude that chodosh applies to all grain regardless of where it grows, since we see from the Gemara that chodosh was practiced in Bavel, even though it is outside Eretz Yisrael (Menachos 68b). However, notwithstanding that the Rosh, the Tur and the Shulchan Aruch all prohibit chodosh grown in chutz la’aretz, the traditional approach among Ashkenazic Jewry was to permit the use of new grain. Why were they lenient when most authorities rule like Rabbi Eliezer that chodosh is prohibited even outside Eretz Yisrael?

Later authorities suggest several reasons to permit consuming the new grain.

Doubly Doubtful

Many authorities permitted the new grain because the new crop may have been planted early enough to be permitted, and, in addition, the possibility exists that the available grain is from a previous crop year, which is certainly permitted. This approach accepts that chodosh applies equally in chutz la’aretz as it does in Eretz Yisrael, but contends that when one is uncertain whether the grain available is chodosh or yoshon, one can rely that it is yoshon. Because of this double doubt, called a sefeik sefeika, many major authorities permitted people to consume the available grain (Rema, Yoreh Deah 293). However, we should note that this heter is dependent on available information, and these authorities agree that when one knows that the grain being used is chodosh one may not consume it.

The Rosh accepted this approach, and was careful to monitor the planting seasons so as to ascertain each year whether the grain was planted in a time that caused a chodosh issue. In years that there was a chodosh problem, he refrained from eating the new grain – however, it is interesting to note, that he was extremely careful not to point out his concerns to others. He further notes that his rebbe, the Maharam, followed the same practice, but said nothing about this to others. Thus, we see that some early gedolim were strict for themselves about observing chodosh but said nothing to others out of concern that they would be unable to observe chodosh. This practice was followed in the contemporary world by such great luminaries as Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky, who was personally stringent not to eat chodosh, but was careful not to tell anyone, even family members, who followed the lenient approaches that I will soon share.

Another Heter

Other authorities permitted the chutz la’aretz grain, relying on the minority of early poskim who treat chodosh as a mitzvah that applies only in Eretz Yisrael (Taz; Aruch Hashulchan). This is based on a Gemara that states that when something has not been ruled definitively, one may rely on a minority opinion under extenuating circumstances (Niddah 9b).

This dispute then embroils one in a different issue: When the Gemara rules that under extenuating circumstances one may rely on a minority opinion, is this true only when dealing with a rabbinic prohibition, or may one do so even when dealing with a potential Torah prohibition. The Taz and Aruch Hashulchan, who permitted chodosh for this reason, conclude that one may follow a minority opinion even when dealing with a potential Torah prohibition. The Shach rejects this approach, and concludes that one must be stringent when one knows that the grain is chodosh (Nekudos Hakesef. See also his Pilpul Behanhagos Horaah, located after Yoreh Deah 242; cf. the Bach’s essay on the same topic, published in the back of the Tur Yoreh Deah, where he rules leniently on this issue.)

The Bach’s Heter

Another halachic basis to permit use of the new grain is that chodosh applies only to grain that grows in a field owned by a Jew, and not to grain grown in a field owned by a non-Jew. Since most fields are owned by gentiles, one can be lenient when one does not know the origin of the grain and assume that it was grown in a gentile’s field, and it is therefore exempt from chodosh laws. This last approach, often referred to simply as “the Bach’s heter,” is the basis upon which most Ashkenazic Jewry relied.

We may note that the Rosh, quoted above, rejects this heter, and that Tosafos (Kiddushin 37a end of s.v. kol), the Tur and the Shulchan Aruch also reject this approach. Similarly, the above-quoted responsum from the Rosh explicitly rejects this logic and contends that chodosh applies to grain grown in a gentile’s field.

Nevertheless, common custom accepted this the heter that grain grown in a non-Jew’s field is exempt from chodosh; even many gedolei Yisroel accepted this approach. The Bach notes that many of the greatest luminaries of early Ashkenazic Jewry, including Rav Shachna and the Maharshal, were lenient regarding chodosh use in their native Europe. He shares that as a young man he advanced his theory that chodosh does not exist in a field owned by a gentile to the greatest scholars of that generation, and that they all accepted it.

The Bach himself further contends that although the Rosh in his responsum rejected this approach, the Rosh subsequently changed his mind, and in his halachic code, which was written after his responsa (see Tur, Choshen Mishpat, end of Chapter (72, he omits mention that the prohibition of chodosh applies to gentile-grown grain.

Thus, those residing in chutz la’aretz have a right to follow the accepted practice, as indeed did many, if not most, of the gedolei Yisrael. However, others, such as the Mishnah Berurah, rule strictly about this issue.

Until fairly recently, many rabbonim felt that those who are strict about the prohibition should observe the law of chodosh discreetly. Some contend that one should do so because they feel that observing chodosh has the status of chumrah, and the underlying principle when observing any chumrah is hatznei’ah leches – they should be observed modestly. (See Michtav Mei’eliyahu Volume 3, page 294.) Others feel that the practice of being lenient was based on an extenuating circumstance that is no longer valid, since yoshon is fairly available in most large Jewish communities, and that, on the contrary, we should let people be aware so that they can observe the mitzvah.

North American Hechsherim

The assumption of virtually all hechsherim is that unless mentioned otherwise, they rely on the halachic opinion of the Bach. Many decades ago, Rav Aharon Soloveichek pioneered his own personal hechsher that did not follow either the heter of the Bach or that of the Taz and the Aruch Hashulchan. He further insisted that the yeshivos that he served as Rosh Yeshivah serve exclusively food that did not rely on these heterim. Today, there are a few other hechsherim that follow this approach, whereas the majority of North American hechsherim accept the heter of the Bach.

With this background, we can now address the first question that began our article. “When I was young, I do not think I ever heard about a prohibition called chodosh, or that something was yoshon. These days, I am constantly hearing the term. Do we now have a new mitzvah?”

The answer is that the mitzvah is not new. When you were young, most halachic authorities either felt that one could rely on the opinion of the Bach, or felt that one should keep the topic quiet. Today, many feel that one may and should advertise the availability of yoshon products.

In addition, there is interesting agricultural background to this question. At one point in history, the flour commonly sold in the United States was from the previous year’s crop, and was always yoshon. Rav Yaakov used to monitor the situation, and when the United States no longer followed this practice, he began to freeze flour so that he would have a supply during the winter and spring months when chodosh is a concern.

In the spring and early summer, there is no concern about chodosh in the United States, since all fresh grain products then available became permitted on the sixteenth of Nisan. Usually, the earliest chodosh products begin coming to market is midsummer, and some products do not appear until the fall.

Visitors from Abroad

At this point, we can begin to answer the second question: “We have decided to stay permanently in Eretz Yisrael, but we visit the States a few times a year. Do we need to be concerned about chodosh when we visit?”

As I mentioned above, someone who lives in chutz la’aretz has the halachic right not to be concerned about observing chodosh on grain that grows in chutz la’aretz. The question is whether someone who has moved to Eretz Yisrael where the prevailing custom is to be stringent, and is now visiting chutz la’aretz has the same right. This matter is disputed, and I have discussed it with many poskim, most of whom felt that one should be machmir.

In Conclusion

In explaining the reason for this mitzvah, Rav Hirsch notes that one of man’s greatest enemies is success, for at that moment man easily forgets his Creator and views himself as master of his own success and his own destiny. For this reason, the Torah created several mitzvos whose goal is to remind and discipline us to always recognize Hashem‘s role. Among these is the mitzvah of chodosh, wherein we are forbidden from consuming the new grain until the offering of the korban omer, which thereby reminds us that this year’s crop is here only because of Hashem (Horeb, Section 2 Chapter 42). Whether one follows the Bach’s approach to the chodosh laws or not, one should make note every time he sees a reference to yoshon and chodosh to recognize that success is our enemy, and that humility is our savior.

Do We Really Want to Be Tahor?

Question #1: Tanner Training

“In my work, I tan animal hides. Should I train for a different parnasah, so that I can make a living after Moshiach comes?”

Question #2: Amorphous Amphibians

“What is the difference between a toad and a frog?”

Introduction:

Since, unfortunately, our Beis Hamikdash still lies in ruins, the laws of tumah and taharah do not affect our daily lives significantly. As a result, many people do not approach the study of these laws enthusiastically, and do not pay adequate attention to the Torah readings about this topic. Yet, our prayers for Moshiach to come at any moment require that we be fully knowledgeable of the laws of tumah and taharah and that we are prepared to observe them. As the Gemara teaches, in the days of Chizkiyahu Hamelech, they searched the entire Land of Israel, from the northern to the southern tips, and could not find a single man, woman or child who was not completely conversant in every detail of the laws of tumah and taharah (Sanhedrin 94b). The situation should be this way today. This is all the more so, since we have a responsibility to comprehend the weekly parshah, and some of these laws are discussed in parshas Shemini.

Someone who becomes tamei may not enter the Beis Hamikdash or consume terumah, ma’aser sheini, bikkurim or kodoshim, foods that have sanctity.

The following passage of this week’s parshah mentions eleven different categories of the laws of tumah, which I have numbered in the selection below to facilitate explaining them afterward. The Torah writes:

Among animals that walk on all fours (1), anything that walks upon its forepaws* is impure (tamei). Whoever touches the carcass of such an animal will be tamei until evening. And whoever carries their carcass must wash his clothes, and he is tamei until evening, because these animals are tamei for you.

And the following creatures that creep on the ground (2) are tamei for you: The weasel,** the mouse, and the various species of toad. Also the hedgehog, the koach,*** the lizard, the snail and the mole. These are tamei to you among all the creeping animals – whoever touches them after they are dead will be tamei until evening. And anything that falls upon them after they are dead will become tamei, whether it is a wooden vessel (3) or a garment (4) or leather (5) or sackcloth (6) – any vessel with which work is performed (7). It must be immersed in water, and then it remains tamei until evening, at which point it becomes tahor.

Furthermore, any part of them (that is, the eight tamei “creeping creatures”) that will fall inside any earthenware vessel (8), whatever is inside it will become tamei and you shall break it (that is,the earthenware vessel). And any edible food (9) that had water touch it can become tamei. Similarly, any liquid (10) that can be drunk will become tamei, if inside such a vessel. Furthermore, anything on which part of a carcass falls will become tamei. An oven or stove (11) should be destroyed, because they are tamei, and when you use them, they will be tamei (Vayikra 11:27-35).

The Torah describes many different types of tumah (spiritual contamination), each with its own laws. Every word used here has a very specific halachic meaning. Let us explore some of the laws of the different categories mentioned.

(1) Neveilah

When discussing someone who touched an animal carcass (neveilah), the Torah specifies that a person becomes tamei whether he touched it or carried it, but notes a halachic difference between the neveilah that was touched or was carried. Germane to carrying the carcass, which is called tumas masa, the Torah says that he must wash his clothes, but omits this detail when discussing someone who touches a carcass, which is called tumas maga. We see here a difference in halachah between the person who carries neveilah and one who touches it, without moving it. One who carries neveilah contaminates any utensils, food or beverage susceptible to tumah that he touches while he carries it. The clothes that he wears are used by the Torah as an example of any item that he touches while carrying or moving the neveilah. This tumah is called tumah be’chiburin, literally, tumah by connection. Any keilim, utensils or appliances, that now become tamei will require immersion in a mikveh or spring, and will become tahor again at the subsequent nightfall. (There is one type of utensil that is not affected by tumah be’chiburin — earthenware vessels that were touched by a person while he carried a neveilah remain tahor. Also, tumah be’chiburin of neveilah does not contaminate people – therefore someone touching the person who is carrying the neveilah remains tahor.) However, someone who touches a neveilah without causing it to move does not contaminate something he touches at the same time. Whereas he himself becomes tamei and remains tamei, until he immerses in a mikveh or spring and then awaits nightfall afterwards, what he touches at the time remains tahor.

By the way, for those in chutz la’aretz, becoming tamei by moving or touching neveilah is not an uncommon situation. For example, someone who moves a package of packaged non-kosher meat in the supermarket has just carried neveilah and made himself and his clothes tamei (although, in all likelihood, they were already tamei).

Tanner training

At this point, let us examine one of our opening questions:

“In my work, I tan animal hides. Should I train for a different parnasah, so that I can make a living after Moshiach comes?”

The questioner realizes that someone who tans leather will make himself tamei, if he handles the carcasses of animals. However, once the flesh is removed, the hide itself does not generate tumah (see Mishnah Chullin 117b). Furthermore, even if our questioner handles neveilos, he can make himself tahor through immersion in a mikveh. It is indeed true that he may not enter the Beis Hamikdash or consume terumah, ma’aser sheini, bikkurim or kodoshim once he becomes tamei, but this does not preclude his earning his livelihood that way.

(2) Sheretz

The Torah lists eight creeping creatures that generate tumah, if one touches them after they are dead. As the Ibn Ezra already notes, we are uncertain as to the exact identity of these eight creatures. When Eliyahu arrives, he will identify them, so that we can properly observe these laws. If we follow the translation that I provided above, based on Rashi and other traditional commentaries, the eight include an interesting mixture of small mammals (mostly rodents), reptiles, amphibians and mollusks. All usually lie close to the ground, and most are small. However, if the koach is identified correctly as a monitor, it is the largest of the lizards and can grow as long as ten feet.

Yet, if our translation is correct, other small creatures, such as snakes, frogs, insects and other rodents are not included under the heading of tumas sheratzim. Although it may not seem very aesthetically pleasing to touch other dead insects, rodents or other small creatures, one does not become tamei when one touches them. One should wash one’s hands because of sanitary reasons, but being sanitary and becoming tamei are dissimilar concepts.

By the way, the word tzav, which is used in Modern Hebrew for turtle, is one of the sheratzim, but means toad, according to Rashi. I have no idea who decided to use this word for turtle, but it is not consistent with halachic authorities. There is no reason to assume that a turtle is tamei.

Amorphous amphibians

At this point, let us refer back to one of our opening questions: “What is the difference between a toad and a frog?”

A zoologist will note several differences between them, but this is a halachic article. According to Rashi (Vayikra 11:29), a toad is one of the eight sheratzim that are tamei, and a frog is not (see Rashi, Shemos 7:29 and also see Mishnayos Taharos 5:1,4 and Rash and Bartenura).

Laws of sheratzim

Regarding the tumah of sheratzim, the Torah states that one who touches them becomes tamei, but it mentions nothing about the person’s clothing requiring immersion, nor does it state that someone becomes tamei when he carries them. This is because a sheretz makes someone tamei only if he touches it, and not if he moves it without touching. Furthermore, his clothing or anything else he touches while touching the sheretz does not become tamei, unless it is in direct physical contact with the sheretz.

Toad vs. frog

Why did the Torah declare only these eight creatures to be tamei, but no others?

This is a question that we can ask, but probably not answer, other than to accept the gezeiras hakasuv, the declaration of the Torah, and observe it as Hashem’s will. Although we endeavor to explain the reasons for mitzvos, we realize that we can never assume that we understand the reason for a mitzvah. In the instance of most mitzvos, we explore possible reasons for a mitzvah in order to enhance our experience when we observe it. This we do, when we can. However, I have not found any commentary that endeavors to explain what it is about these eight specific creeping creatures, but not any of the others, that generates tumah.

Utensils that become tamei

Returning to our passage, after mentioning the tumah of neveilah and sheretz, the Torah lists eight categories of items that become tamei from contact with neveilah and sheretz. Among the specific items mentioned are: (3) wooden vessels, (4) garments, (5) leather items, (6) sackcloth, (7) vessels described by an obscure clause, “any vessel with which work is performed,” (8) earthenware, (9) food and (10) beverages. Each of these categories has its own specific laws, all of which are hinted at in the pasuk. For reasons that will soon become obvious, I will divide this list into three groups. First we will discuss items 3-7, which I will call, collectively, “immersible utensils.”

(3) Wooden utensils

Wooden vessels become tamei when they have a receptable which can hold liquid (called a beis kibul) or when people use them and place items atop them, such as a table (Rambam, Hilchos Keilim 4:1). These ideas are intimated by the Torah when it describes wooden vessels.

(4-5) Garments and leather

All types of garments are susceptible to tumah, although there is a dispute among late authorities concerning whether synthetic fabrics can become tamei.

(6) Sacks

Yes, I wrote sacks, not socks. Sackcloth means something manufactured from woven goat’s hair or animal hair, such as from the tail-hair of cows (Sifra). In general, goat hair is too coarse for use as clothing, but was used in earlier generations similar to the way that we would use burlap, as a bag or sack for storage or transportation. (There are varieties of goat, such as cashmere and mohair, that produce extremely fine wool used for garments, but most goats do not.)

(7) From slingshots to tefillin

The Torah mentions that any vessel with which work is performed can become tamei from a sheretz. What is included in this category? The Sifra explains that this verse teaches that the following three items become tamei: The sling of a slingshot, tefillin, and the envelope in which one places an amulet.

What do slingshots have in common with tefillin and envelopes?

These are three items that contain a beis kibul, a receptacle to hold something, yet someone might think that they do not qualify as “vessels.” The Torah is teaching that these are considered to be receptacles, or “vessels,” to become tamei. In the case of the sling, it is meant to hold the marble, stone or other projectile, albeit for a very brief period of time. In the case of tefillin, the batim of the tefillin contain the parshiyos, and similarly in the case of an amulet.

(8) Earthenware

Note that I have separated earthenware and not included it under the same category as I treated the other utensils. This is because earthenware has many halachic differences, both lenient and stringent, from all other utensils.

All other utensils fall under one of two categories:

(A) Utensils that do not become tamei, which is a topic we will not be discussing in this article.

(B) Utensils that do become tamei, but which can then become tahor again, after they are immersed in a mikveh or spring. This latter categoryis called klei shetifah, literally, immersible utensils.

(C) Earthenware vessels fall under a third category, because once they become tamei, the only way they can become tahor again is by breaking them. Immersing them in a mikveh or spring does not make them tahor.

How is earthenware different?

There are also several other ways whereby halachah treats earthenware vessels differently from how it treats immersible utensils. The section of the Torah that I quoted above alludes to four of the ways that earthenware vessels are different from immersible utensils.

Contaminate from outside

(I) Immersible utensils become contaminated when they come in contact with neveilah, sheretz or other tamei sources, regardless as to whether they are touched on their internal surface or on their outside. However, if something tamei touched the outside of an earthenware vessel, it remains tahor. An earthenware vessel contracts tumah only from its inside, and only when it has a beis kibul — an area that can service as a “container” to hold liquid. As a result, a flat earthenware board or an earthenware fork cannot become tamei since it has no “inside” that holds liquid.

Immersion does not help

(II) As I mentioned above, another way that earthenware vessels are different from other utensils is that once they become tamei, there is no means of making them tahor again, other than breaking them.

Airspace

(III) A third way that earthenware vessels are different from other utensils is that they become tamei if a tamei source, such as a sheretz or neveilah, is suspended inside the airspace of the earthenware vessel, even if the sheretz or neveilah does not touch the vessel. Halachically, there is no difference between the airspace of an earthenware vessel and touching it on the inside – either way makes the earthenware vessel tamei.

Contaminating from the inside

(IV) A fourth way that earthenware vessels are different from other utensils is that a tamei earthenware vessel spreads tumah to any food or beverage that is inside its airspace, even if the food or beverage never touched the vessel directly.

These four laws regarding earthenware vessels are all taught in a few words in the pasuk that I mentioned above: Furthermore, any part of them (that is, the eight tamei creatures) that will fall inside any earthenware vessel, whatever is inside it will become tamei and you shall break it (that is,the earthenware vessel).

The Torah mentions that an earthenware vessel contracts tumah only when something falls inside it, and, furthermore, it does not say that the tamei substance must actually touch the earthenware vessel. Also, note that what is inside the earthenware vessel becomes tamei, even if it did not touch the vessel. And, lastly, upon becoming tamei, the Torah mentions only one solution for the earthenware vessel –breaking it. There is no other way to make it tahor.

(11) Ovens and stoves

Let us return to the pesukim quoted above. At this point, we will discuss other halachos germane to earthenware vessels. The above-quoted passage states: Anything on which part of a carcass falls will become tamei. An oven or stove should be destroyed, because they are tamei, and when you use them, they will be tamei.

The ovens of the era of the Torah and Chazal were made of earthenware. Their shape was somewhat similar to a large donut, meaning they were completely open on top and bottom. The open bottom was placed over a hollow in the ground, and then the outside of the oven was lined with mud or clay to insulate it well. Fuel was placed inside the oven and kindled by means of an opening in the side. The food being cooked or baked was placed inside either through this opening or from on top. When they were used this way as ovens, the open top was covered, usually with a piece of earthenware. When these ovens were used as stoves, the pots of food were placed on the open top.

My reasons for explaining these facts is not as an archaeologist, but so that we can understand better both the pasuk of the Torah and the halachah. Although ovens and stoves were made of earthenware, the Torah mentions them under a different heading. This is because other earthenware vessels become tamei only when they have a beis kibul, a receptacle. Following this definition, earthenware ovens and stoves should not become tamei, since they have no bottom. The Torah teaches that ovens and stoves are susceptible to tumah, and have the rules of other earthenware vessels, notwithstanding the fact that they have no beis kibul.

There are halachic ramifications of this distinction, but we will not discuss that in this article. The intrepid reader is referred to a halachic discussion in Ohalos 12:1, and the commentaries thereon.

Conclusion

This article has served as an introduction to some of the basic rules of tumah and taharah, particularly as they relate to utensils. We hope and pray to be able to observe all of these laws soon.

* This translation follows Malbim.

** With the exception of the koach, our translation follows Rashi’s commentary.

*** Most commentators identify this either with the chameleon or with the monitor, both of which are varieties of lizard.

Is It a Red Heifer?

Although this week is not Parshas Parah, since I have a very exciting and germane article for next week that fits Parshas Shemini, I am sending out this article already this week.

Question #1: Cow or Heifer?

Which is the correct translation of parah adumah, “red cow” or “red heifer”?

Question # 2: How to?

How does a parah adumah make you tahor?

Introduction

Twice a year, once as maftir on Parshas Parah, and once when we read Parshas Chukas, we read the entire Torah portion that describes how the parah adumah is prepared. We also daven fervently three times a day for Moshiach to come, at which time the taharah process using the parah adumah will again become part of our lives. This is because this process is the only way to become tahor from tumas meis, tumah that is contracted from a corpse, and, in the post-Moshiach era, we will want to be tahor whenever we can. There is much detail about the laws of parah adumah, most of which is explained in the twelve chapters of Mishnayos Parah and the fifteen chapters of the laws of parah adumah in the Rambam’s Mishnah Torah. This article will discuss many of the basic laws that will apply when we use the parah adumah to become tahor, speedily and in our days.

Three topics

The Torah’s passage about parah adumah at the beginning of parshas Chukas can be divided into three sections. The first part discusses the processing of the parah adumah –how it must be processed into the special ashes necessary to make someone tahor. The second part, which we will not discuss in this article, contains the basic rules of tumas meis. The third part explains the process whereby parah adumah ashes make someone tahor.

History of the parah adumah

According to the Mishnah (Parah 3:4), a total of eight paros adumos were processed from the time of Moshe Rabbeinu until the destruction of the second Beis Hamikdash. The first was the one described in the Torah, in which the key player was Elazar, who was, at the time, the segan, the associate kohein gadol. The Mishnah (4:1) quotes a dispute among tanna’im whether the other paros adumus could be processed only by a kohein gadol, or whether any kohein hedyot was kosher. The Rambam (Hilchos Parah Adumah 1:11) concludes that a kohein hedyot could process the parah adumah, although, it appears that each time it was, indeed, the kohein gadol who did so (Parah 3:8). This is very logical. Since it was the kohein gadol’s decision who would be honored to process the parah adumah, and preparing the parah adumah was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, the kohein gadol would want to perform the mitzvah himself.

Cow or heifer?

One question we will address is whether the parah adumah is a cow or a heifer. It is popular to refer to the parah adumah as a red heifer; however, let us examine whether this term is accurate. To do so, we need to know the difference between a cow and a heifer and then to analyze the laws of parah adumah.

My desktop dictionary defines a heifer as: “a young cow, especially one that has not yet given birth.” The Wikipedia definition is: “A young female before she has had a calf of her own and is under three years of age.”

A cow is defined as a mature female. According to my desktop dictionary, it does not need to be fully mature to be a cow, since a heifer is called a “young cow.” In other words, “heifer” should be used to describe the bovine equivalent of a young teenager, and “cow” includes also a physically mature adult.

From some of the mishnayos in Mesechta Parah, we may be able to rally proof regarding which term is more accurate. The Mishnah cites a dispute among tanna’im whether a parah that is or was ever pregnant may be used as a parah adumah. The basis of the dispute concerns the following question: One of the laws of parah adumah is that it may never have performed any type of work. Since a pregnant cow is carrying her offspring, is this considered doing work? Most women will agree that being pregnant is far harder than most other physical work that they have ever performed.

Germane to our current discussion whether a parah adumah should be defined as a cow or as a heifer, cow appears to be the better choice, since a heifer precludes it having calved.

There is actually even stronger proof whether cow or heifer is the better translation of parah adumah.The opening Mishnah of Mesechta Parah cites a dispute regarding the age of a parah adumah. The Mishnah cites four opinions: Rabbi Eliezer rules that a parah adumah must be in its second year, or past its first birthday. The Chachomim rule that it must be past its second birthday, otherwise it is too young, and that, preferably, it should be before its fourth birthday. Rabbi Meir rules that it can be as old as its fifth birthday. According to both the Chachomim and Rabbi Meir, it could be older than four or five, but it is advised not to wait this long, since it could begin to become black, which would invalidate it. Rabbi Yehoshua, the fourth opinion, rules that it should be in its third year, and not older.

We see that most tanna’im accept that an animal more than three years old is kosher as a parah adumah. According to the Wikipedia definition of a heifer, this means that a parah adumah should no longer be called a heifer – it may be too old. However, according to Rabbi Eliezer, and possibly Rabbi Yehoshua, it is not incorrect to call a parah adumah a “red heifer,” although “red cow” would also be accurate. In conclusion, since we follow the ruling that a parah adumah may be more than three years old, the most accurate definition is “red cow” and not “red heifer.”

Processing the parah adumah

The Mishnah describes how the kohein who is in charge of processing the parah adumah spent a week preparing for his task, and how the parah was transported to Har Hazeisim, the Mount of Olives, where it was processed. Although the parah adumah had many of the laws of a korban, technically it was not a korban, and it was prepared outside the Beis Hamikdash grounds.

A huge wood pyre was constructed on Har Hazeisim, and the parah adumah, after being slaughtered and having its blood sprinkled in a very specific way by the kohein, was then burned together with the entire pyre. Many more details of this process are mentioned in the posuk and the Mishnah (third chapter of Parah).

We were permitted and encouraged to add as much wood as possible to the pyre on which the parah adumah was burned. Indeed, the ashes of the parah adumah used to make people tahor were predominantly ashes from the wood with which it was burned. The flesh of the parah adumah was completely burned, but its bones were ground up and mixed into the ashes (Parah 3:11).

There are many details involved in the processing of the parah adumah. Among the many interesting laws is that anyone who wanted to be involved in burning the parah adumah was required to first purify himself and all his clothes, expressly for the purposes of parah adumah. Also, anyone involved in burning the parah adumah could not do any other activity while was being burned.

Making someone tahor

After the parah adumah and its pyre were reduced to ashes, the ash was collected and divided into three parts: one part was kept on the Beis Hamikdash grounds, one part on Har Hazeisim, and the third part was distributed for people to use everywhere around the country (Parah 3:11). The parah adumah ash, which at this stage in its processing is called eifer chatas, was stored in closed containers, until needed for purification purposes.

Milui, kidush, and haza’ah

In order to make the next section easier to absorb, I will divide it into two subtopics. The first is called milui and kidush, whereby the ashes of the parah adumah are used to convert spring water (similar to what you would purchase for drinking) into mei chatas,the special water that makes people tahor. The second subtopic is called haza’ah, which refers to the sprinkling of the mei chatas water onto people or vessels to make them tahor.

Milui — drawing spring water

The first step in preparing the mei chatas is the drawing of the water. Drinkable spring water must be drawn directly from a spring with a tahor vessel. The vessel must be made either of material that is not susceptible to tumah (eino mekabel tumah), such as hollowed-out stone, or, if made from material that is susceptible to tumah (mekabel tumah), such as wood or metal, it must have been made tahor specifically to use for parah adumah. For this reason, someone who immersed a wooden or metal bowl or pot in order to eat or prepare with it terumah or korbanos or non-holy food (chullin) may not use the bowl or pot for the preparation of parah adumah. This rule is one of many takanos chachamim that Chazal instituted, to safeguard the special taharah status of the parah adumah.

Any person or vessel that is intended to come in contact with the eifer chatas, the mei chatas, or with the people and vessels used to process them may not touch anything that can potentially become tamei, unless the person or vessel was previously made tahor specifically for parah adumah purposes. Thus, although the individuals processing, guarding or transporting the parah adumah are permitted to eat and drink, they are severely restricted in what they are permitted to eat or drink. They may eat only food that never came in contact with most liquids (including water, milk, olive oil, wine, grape juice or honey), and they may drink only water that was drawn from a spring especially for the purpose of parah adumah.

The person who draws the water must be completely focused on his job. Performing any other activity not necessary for the production of the mei chatas while drawing the water or transporting it will invalidate it, even doing a task so simple as providing someone with directions or tossing a piece of fruit into a bin.

There is a requirement to be meticulously careful that no other water mix into the mei chatas from the time that it is drawn. For example, if it is left exposed in such a way that dew may enter it, it becomes invalid (Parah 9:1).

Kidush

The drawn spring water must be supervised by a tahor person, until the kidush procedure is performed. The kidush is done by taking some of the eifer chatas ashes and sprinkling them onto the water.

One may draw many buckets of water and pour them into a much larger vat until the vat is full. At that point, one may take a minimal amount of eifer chatas and sprinkle it onto the vat. The amount of ashes sprinkled must be enough that one can see it as it touches the water.

Because of a takanas chachomim, it is required that the person performing kidush do so while he is barefoot (Parah 8:2). This is because of concern that his shoes or sandals might become tamei while he is performing the kidush, and they will, in turn, make him tamei, which will invalidate the entire procedure. Those eager to understand the reason for this takanah more thoroughly are referred to the commentaries to Parah 8:2.

Milui and kidush do not require that they be performed by a kohein – a Yisroel is fine.

May a woman?

Because of a very complicated droshas Chazal, there is a dispute among tanna’im whether a woman or a child may perform milui or kidush. According to Rabbi Yehudah, a (male) child may perform them, but not a woman, whereas the majority opinion is that a woman may perform these activities, but not a child (Parah 5:4; Sotah 43a).

Haza’ah

The Torah teaches that to become tahor after contracting tumas meis, one must undergo the following procedure: On the third day after one became tamei, or later, one is sprinkled with the mei chatas. The sprinkling is repeated four or more days later. These two sprinklings are referred to transpiring on the “third” and “seventh” days. In reality, “third” and “seventh” are minimums. The mei chatas cannot be sprinkled earlier than the third day after the person or utensil contracted tumah. Whenever that sprinkling actually occurs, at least four days must past before the second sprinkling can take place. Sometime after the second sprinkling is performed, the person must immerse himself in a spring or a mikveh and then await the nightfall after his immersion to become completely tahor.

The same law applies to most vessels that become tamei from contact with a corpse. They require sprinkling on the third or later day after contracting tumah, a second sprinkling four or more days later, immersion in a spring or mikveh, and then waiting until nightfall. After these four steps have been taken, the vessel becomes completely tahor.

Eizov

This sprinkling is done with a special plant called an eizov, which is usually translated as “hyssop.” However, the word “hyssop” is simply the word eizov transliterated into Greek, which was then transliterated into Latin and then English, and someone decided that it might refer to an herb that they chose at random. According to different approaches to explaining a passage of Gemara (Shabbos 109b), eizov might mean oregano, sage or marjoram, all of which are fragrant shrubs. From the Mishnah (Parah 11:7), it is evident that the eizov was considered edible, presumably either as a salad green or in some form of dip. It is absolutely essential that one use the correct variety meant by the Torah as eizov (see Parah 11:7). We will not know for certain which species is intended until Eliyohu returns to identify it for us.

Intent

Although the people that are becoming tahor do not have to intend that they are becoming tahor, the person performing the haza’ah must have in mind that the procedure he is performing is for the purpose of making them tahor. If he did not have this in mind, they remain tamei.

Direct impact

The water that is being sprinkled must land on the tamei person or utensil directly – if it ricocheted off another item and then landed onto the tamei person or utensil, they remain tamei.

Minimum contact – substantive impact

The people or implements becoming tahor need be touched by only one drop of the mei chatas waters. Indeed, there is no halachic advantage to receiving a bigger sprinkling or more than one sprinkling on a day. As I mentioned above, to become tahor the person or implement must have mei chatas sprinkled on them twice – once on the third day (or later) from which they became tamei meis, and a second time, at least four days later (this is referred to as the “seventh day” – i. e., at least four days after the first sprinkling). The people or implements then require immersion in a mikveh or spring and become completely tahor on the next nightfall. Until that time, the people may not enter the Beis Hamikdash grounds, nor may they consume terumah or kodoshim. However, they are permitted to touch regular food without contaminating it, and they may also handle maaser sheini.

May a woman II

The tanna’im dispute whether a woman or a child can perform the haza’ah. Because of the hermeneutic rules, this dispute is the exact opposite of what I mentioned above, regarding the milui and kidush. According to Rabbi Yehudah, a woman may perform the haza’ah, but not a child, whereas according to the majority opinion, which is the way we rule, a (male) child can perform this ritual, but not a woman (Parah 12:10; Yoma 43a).

Since we mentioned above that the person performing the haza’ah must know that he is making someone tahor, a very young child cannot perform haza’ah, but only a child old enough to understand that his act is making someone tahor (Parah 12:10, see commentaries).

Conclusion

Because of space considerations, several important aspects of the parah adumah have been omitted in this article. Included in the topics that have been omitted is the full explanation of the famous statement that parah adumah is metaheir es hatemei’im umetamei es hatehorim: although it makes tamei things tahor, it also sometimes makes tahor things tamei. We also did not discuss what defines the parah adumah as being completely red, nor did we discuss the dispute with the tzedukim about the proper processing of the parah adumah, which had major halachic ramifications. We will have to return to the topic to discuss these laws in future articles.

Afterword

One of Rav Moshe Feinstein’s talmidim related to me the following story that he himself observed. A completely red, female calf had been born. Since this is indeed a rare occurrence, much conversation developed concerning whether this was positive indication that Moshiach would be arriving soon and this calf would provide the parah adumah necessary to make people and vessels tahor.

Someone approached Rav Moshe to see his reaction to hearing this welcome news, and was surprised that Rav Moshe did not react at all. When asked further whether he felt that this was any indication of Moshiach’s imminent arrival, Rav Moshe responded: “I daven every day for Moshiach to come NOW. The parah adumah is not kosher until it is past its second birthday. Do you mean to tell me that I must wait two more years for Moshiach?”

The Whys and Wherefores of Zachor

Question #1: Homebound

“As a mother of several small children, it is not easy for me to go out on Shabbos to hear Parshas Zachor. Am I required to do so?”

Question #2: Outreaching in the Afternoon

“At the outreach program that I run, many of our students do not arrive on Shabbos until the afternoon. Should we have a second Parshas Zachor reading for them?”

Question #3: Reading without a Brochah

“Why is no birkas haTorah recited on Parshas Zachor at a women’s reading?”

Answer:

Introduction:

This Shabbos we read the special maftir that begins with the words Zachor es asher asah lecha Amalek baderech be’tzeis’chem miMitzrayim, “Remember what Amalek did to you on the road as you were leaving Egypt.” According to the Rambam and many others, this short maftir reading actually includes three different commandments:

(1) A positive mitzvah, mitzvas aseh, to remember the evil that Amalek did (Sefer Hamitzvos, Positive Mitzvah #189).

(2) A lo saaseh commandment not to forget what happened (Sefer Hamitzvos, Negative Mitzvah #59).

(3) The mitzvah to blot out the people of Amalek, mechiyas Amalek (Rambam, Hilchos Melachim 5:5, and Sefer Hamitzvos, Positive Mitzvah #188; Semag).

The Torah’s repetitive emphasis, remember and do not forget, teaches that the commandment “remember” means to express, to state it as a declaration. This is similar to the mitzvah of Kiddush, Zachor es yom haShabbos lekadsho, which is a requirement to state the sanctity of Shabbos and not simply to remember Shabbos (Sifra, beginning of Parshas Bechukosai). In addition, many authorities derive from the doubled command that the Torah requires us to review this declaration annually, since after a year one might forget it (see Sefer Hachinuch, Mitzvah 603). The Sefer Hachinuch explains that since the mitzvah is to make sure that one does not forget, the Torah requirement is to restate this reminder every one to three years. The requirement of the mitzvah is fulfilled both in one’s heart and on one’s lips (Sefer Hachinuch).

(We should note that some authorities [Behag, Rav Saadya] count all three of the mitzvos mentioned above as one mitzvah in the count of the 613. Presumably, they consider these additional statements of the Torah as encouraging us to remember to fulfill the mitzvah of destroying Amalek.)

The Gemara (Megillah 18a) states that the positive mitzvah of remembering what Amalek did requires reading from a sefer Torah. For this reason, many authorities conclude that the annual public reading of Parshas Zachor from a Sefer Torah is required min haTorah (see Tosafos, Megillah 17b s.v. kol and Ritva ad loc.; Tosafos, Brachos 13a; Rosh, Brachos 7:20). Some conclude that the requirement to hear Parshas Zachor is even greater than that of hearing Megillas Esther, since the mitzvah of reading Megillah is miderabbanan, whereas Parshas Zachor is required by the Torah (Terumas Hadeshen #108). For this reason, the Terumas Hadeshen concludes that those who live in places that have no minyan are required to go to where there is a minyan for Shabbos Zachor to hear this reading, a ruling codified in the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 685:7).

Those who disagree

Notwithstanding the long list of recognized early authorities who rule that an annual reading of Parshas Zachor is required min haTorah, several later authorities find this position difficult to sustain, contending that the requirement was introduced by Chazal. For example, the Minchas Chinuch (#603) states that the requirements for a minyan and a sefer Torah can be only miderabbanan. Similarly, Shu’t Toras Chesed (Orach Chayim #37) provides a lengthy analysis as to why he feels that it is difficult to rule that reading Parshas Zachor annually is a Torah requirement. Nevertheless, in his final conclusion, he accepts the decision of the earlier authorities who rule that the Torah requires that we hear Parshas Zachor every year.

Hearing the parshah

At this point, we should explain the following question: If we are required to read Parshas Zachor, how do we perform the mitzvah by listening to the reading, without actually saying the words? The answer is that there is a halachic principle called shomei’a ke’oneh, hearing someone recite the appropriate passage fulfills a mitzvah responsibility the same way reciting it does. Shomei’a ke’oneh explains how we observe the mitzvah of kiddush when we hear someone else recite it, and applies in numerous other situations, such as reading Megillas Esther and blowing shofar.

For shomei’a ke’oneh to work, the individual who is reciting must have in mind that he is performing the mitzvah on behalf of those listening, and the listeners must have in mind that they are fulfilling their duty to perform the mitzvah by listening. It is for this reason that, in most shullen, prior to the reading of Parshas Zachor the gabbai, baal keriah or rabbi announces that everyone should have the intention to fulfill the mitzvah.

Custom of the Gra

The Maaseh Rav (#133) records that the Gra not only received the aliyah for Parshas Zachor, but used to read the Torah himself for that aliyah. Presumably, the reason he did this was because of the general principle of mitzvah bo yoseir mibeshelucho, “it is a bigger mitzvah to fulfill a commandment by performing the mitzvah oneself than by relying on someone else to perform it.”

The Sefer Torah was pasul!

What is the halachah if one discovers, after the reading, that the Sefer Torah used for reading Parshas Zachor is missing a letter or has some other defect that renders it invalid? Must one re-read Parshas Zachor?

Allow me to provide some background. Although there are rishonim who rule that the mitzvah of keri’as haTorah does not require reading from a kosher Sefer Torah, the halachic conclusion is that it does. However, if during or after keri’as haTorah one finds that the sefer Torah was not kosher, one is not required to repeat what was already read (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 143:4). The rationale behind this is that since the mitzvah of reading the Torah is miderabbanan, one can rule that, bedei’evid, after one read the Torah, one fulfilled the mitzvah.

Based on the assumption that the mitzvah of Parshas Zachor is min haTorah, the Pri Megadim suggests that if the sefer Torah used was found to be invalid, one is required to read Parshas Zachor a second time, from a different sefer Torah (Pri Megadim, Mishbetzos Zahav, Orach Chayim 143:1).

Birkas hamitzvah

Why is no birkas hamitzvah recited for Zachor? When Parshas Zachor is read as maftir, the person receiving the aliyah recites birkas haTorah before it is read, as we do with all aliyos to the Torah. Why is no birkas hamitzvah recited before reading Zachor es asher asah lecha Amelek,since it is one of the 613 mitzvos?

The authorities answer that we do not recite a brochah on an act of destruction, even though the world benefits from the removal of evildoers. This can be compared to one of the reasons cited why we do not recite the full Hallel on Pesach after the first day or days. “My creations are drowning, and you are singing praise?” Similarly, it is inappropriate to bless Hashem for the ability to destroy evil (Kaf Hachayim 685:29, quoting Yafeh Leleiv).

What exactly is the mitzvah?

Among the rishonim and geonim, we find differing opinions as to exactly what this mitzvah entails. Some understand that the mitzvah of remembering Amalek is a requirement to know the laws involved in destroying Amalek (Raavad and Rash to Sifra, beginning of Parshas Bechukosai, as explained by the Encyclopedia Talmudis). According to this approach, the mitzvah of zechiras Amalek is primarily a mitzvah of learning Torah.

On the other hand, most authorities seem to understand that the mitzvah is to take to heart the evil that Amalek did and represents, and that it is our responsibility to combat evil in the world and help make the world a more G-dly place.

Why specifically Amalek? Because after the Exodus from Egypt and the splitting of the sea, all the nations were afraid of the Jews, until the moment that Amalek attacked. Although Amalek was beaten, this attack decreased the nations’ tremendous awe and fear of the Jews (Rashi).

An afternoon reading

At this point, I would like to address one of the questions cited above:

“At the outreach program that I run, many of our students do not arrive on Shabbos until the afternoon. Should we have a second Parshas Zachor reading for them?”

This question was posed to Rav Shmuel Vozner, of Bnei Braq, by someone doing outreach in a small community in Brazil (Shu’t Shevet Halevi 4:71). The community had a minyan in the morning, but most of the people did not come. The question was whether they should have a second Parshas Zachor reading late in the day.

Rav Vozner compares this situation to the following responsum authored by the Chida.

On Shabbos Parshas Shekalim in a small town, the local townspeople forgot to read the special maftir on Shabbos morning, and realized it in the afternoon. The townspeople proposed three options:

Some suggested that at minchah they read Parshas Shekalim for the kohen, and for the other two aliyos they read the regular minchah reading from the next week’s parshah.

Others suggested that they read Parshas Shekalim on Monday, instead of the weekday reading, since it was still before Rosh Chodesh Adar.

Still others suggested that they read Parshas Shekalim the next Shabbos, as maftir.

The Chida disputed all three approaches, contending that Parshas Shekalim may be read only in the morning, and can be read only on the Shabbos on which it is designated to be read. In his opinion, one who missed reading Parshas Shekalim at its appropriate time does not fulfill the takanas chachamim by reading it any other time (Shu’t Yosef Ometz #27).

Rav Vozner contends that, according to the Chida, just as one cannot read Parshas Shekalim after its designated time, one cannot read Parshas Zachor after its designated time, and that, therefore, one cannot read it in the afternoon for those who missed it in the morning.

However, it appears that not all authorities accepted this ruling of the Chida. The Dagul Meirevavah (Orach Chayim 135) rules that a community that was unable to have keri’as haTorah on Shabbos morning, but was able to have it on Shabbos afternoon, should read the full reading and call up seven people prior to beginning minchah. Then, after reciting Ashrei and Uva Letzion, they should take out the Sefer Torah again and read the appropriate minchah reading from the following week’s parshah. Thus, he holds that one may read the main Shabbos reading in the afternoon, if necessary, which disagrees with the Chida’s ruling.

One could argue, however, that the Dagul Meirevavah might accept the Chida’s ruling that one cannot read Parshas Shekalim in the afternoon, but for a different reason: maftir may be read only immediately following the rest of the week’s reading, and not by itself.

However, there might be a difference between Parshas Shekalim, whose reading does not fulfill any mitzvah of the Torah, and Parshas Zachor. Since Parshas Zachor might fulfill a Torah requirement, there is a responsibility to hear it, even if you were not in shul Shabbos morning. This is the reason why there is a widespread custom of having Parshas Zachor readings in the afternoon for those who cannot attend the reading in the morning.

Women and Parshas Zachor

Now that we understand the basics of the mitzvah, we can address the first question asked above — whether women are obligated to hear Parshas Zachor annually. The Chinuch states that women are excluded from the requirement to remember to destroy Amalek, since they are not expected to wage war. In his opinion, women have no obligation to hear Parshas Zachor, although they certainly may hear it and receive reward for doing so, as one who observes a mitzvah in which s/he is not obligated.

Other authorities dispute the Sefer Hachinuch’s approach. In Adar 5628 (1868), Rav Yaakov Ettlinger, the author of the classic Aruch Laneir commentary on several mesechtos of the Gemara, was asked by his son-in-law, Rav Moshe Leib Bamberger, whether women are required to hear Parshas Zachor. The Aruch Laneir reports that he asked his rebbe, Rav Avraham Bing, who told him that Rav Nosson Adler (the rebbe of the Chasam Sofer) ruled that women are required to hear Parshas Zachor, and he insisted that they all go to hear it. The Aruch Laneir explains that Parshas Zachor is not a time-bound mitzvah, since one can read Parshas Zachor whenever one wants, as long as one reads it once a year. He then quotes the Chinuch’s reason to absolve women from the obligation, and notes that it should not make any difference if women are the actual warriors, since they are involved in destroying Amalek – as evidenced by Esther’s participation (Shu’t Binyan Tziyon 2:8).

Others dispute the basic assumption of the Chinuch, since, in a milchemes mitzvah, everyone is obligated to contribute to the war effort, even a newlywed bride (Sotah 44b). Evidence of this is drawn from Yael, who eliminated Sisra, and Devorah, who led that war effort (Minchas Chinuch). On the other hand, others find creative reasons to explain and justify the Sefer Hachinuch’s position. (The intrepid reader is referred to the responsum on the subject penned by Rav Avraham of Sochatchov [Shu’t Avnei Nezer, Orach Chayim #509].)

The Kaf Hachayim (685:30) presents a compromise position, ruling that women are obligated in the mitzvah to remember the events of Amalek, but are not obligated to hear Parshas Zachor, since this is a time-bound mitzvah. (See also the Toras Chesed, who reaches a similar conclusion, but based on a different reason. More sources on this topic are cited by Shu’t Yechaveh Daas 1:84.)

With or without a brochah?

It has become fairly common today to have special women’s readings of Parshas Zachor later in the day, for the benefit of those who must take care of their children in the morning, during regular shul davening. The universal practice is not to recite a brochah of any type before these readings. There are three reasons why one should not recite a brochah on the afternoon reading:

(1) We do not recite a brochah on the mitzvah of Zachor.

(2) It is not certain that women are obligated to hear this reading.

(3) It is not clear that one may recite maftir when it does not immediately follow the reading of the Torah.

Despite what we have just written, some authorities contend that whenever one reads from a sefer Torah in public, one is required to recite a brochah, because of the Torah-ordained mitzvah of birkas haTorah. In their opinion, this is true even when the reading itself is not required, and even when one has already recited birkas haTorah in the morning (Be’er Sheva and Shu’t Mishkenos Yaakov, both quoted by the Toras Refael #2). Although the Toras Refael concludes that most rishonim dispute that reciting birkas haTorah under these circumstances is a Torah requirement, he nevertheless understands that the Shulchan Aruch rules that birkas haTorah is required miderabbanan, whenever the Torah is read in public.

Based on this opinion of the Toras Refael, some contemporary authorities feel that one should avoid entirely the practice of additional Shabbos Zachor readings, since the special reading creates a safek brochah, a question as towhether one should recite a brochah on the reading (seen in print in the name of Rav Elyashiv). Nevertheless, the accepted practice is to have these special readings to enable women to fulfill the mitzvah.

On the other hand, the Minchas Yitzchak was asked whether one makes a brochah for an auxiliary Parshas Zachor reading (Shu’t Minchas Yitzchak 9:68). He quotes those who contend that every public reading of the Torah requires a brochah, and then notes many authorities who did not share this opinion. The Minchas Yitzchak then specifically mentions the practice of those who read all of Sefer Devarim in shul on the night of Hoshanah Rabbah without reciting a brochah, noting that this was the practice of the Divrei Chayim of Sanz. He also quotes several other authorities who advocate reading the parshah of the day’s nasi after davening each day of the first twelve days of Nissan, also a custom performed without first reciting a brochah.

Thus, we have several precedents and authorities who ruled that one may have a public reading of the Torah without reciting a brochah, and there is, therefore, no need to change the established practice of reading Parshas Zachor and not reciting a brochah beforehand. We should also note that when the Magen Avraham (139:5) quotes the opinion of the Be’er Sheva, he opines that once one has recited birkos haTorah in the morning, he exempts himself from any requirement to recite further brochos on reading Torah that day, unless there is a specific institution of Chazal to recite them.

Reading on Purim

Some authorities contend that a woman may fulfill her responsibility to hear the mitzvah of mechiyas Amalek by hearing the Torah reading on Purim that begins with the words Vayavo Amalek (Magen Avraham 685). Since many later poskim dispute this, I refer you to your halachic authority regarding this question.

Conclusion

The Semak (Mitzvah #23) explains that the reason for the mitzvah not to forget what Amalek did is so that we always remember that Hashem saved us from Amalek’s hands. Constant perpetuation of this remembrance will keep us in awe of Hashem, and this will prevent us from acting against His wishes.

Shul Building, Part II

Question #1: One shul

“May we merge two existent shullen, when each has its own minhagim?”

Question #2: Two shuls

“Is it permitted to leave a shul to start our own?’

Question #3: More seats?

“Can there ever be a problem with adding more seats to a shul?”

Introduction:

Our batei kenesiyos and batei midrashos, the buildings that we designate for prayer and for study, are referred to as our mikdash me’at, our holy buildings reminiscent of the the sanctity of the Mishkan and the Beis Hamikdash.

As I mentioned in last week’s article, there is a halachic requirement to build a shul. To quote the Rambam (Hilchos Tefillah 11:1-2), Any place that has ten Jews must have available a building that they can enter to pray at every time of prayer.

Changing neighborhoods

An interesting teshuvah from Rav Moshe relates to a shul building that had been originally planned with a lower level to use as a social hall, with the shul intended to be on the upper floor. They began to use the social hall for davening until they built the shul on top, but the neighborhood began to change. Before they even finished the social hall, it became clear that they would have no need to complete the structure of the building. They never finished the building, and instead, directed the efforts and finances toward purchasing a new shul in a neighborhood to which people were moving. The old shul, or, more accurately, the “social hall” part of the old shul building, is at the stage where there is barely a minyan left, and the dwindling numbers imply that it is not going to be very long until there is no functioning minyan. The question is that they would like to sell the old building and use the money to complete the purchase of the new building. Furthermore, the mikveh in the town is now in a neighborhood to which women are hesitant to travel, so they want to use the funds from the old shul building to defray the construction costs of a necessary new mikveh.

Because of the specific circumstances involved, including that it is unlikely that people from the outside will drop in to daven in this minyan anymore, Rav Moshe rules that they are permitted to sell the building.

A similar responsum from Rav Moshe was when they needed to create a shul in a neighborhood where there was a good chance that the Jewish community there would not last long. Rather than declare their building a shul, they called it a library and used it as their shul. Rav Moshe suggests that they might have been required to do so, since they knew from the outset that the days of the Jewish community were numbered (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim, 2:44).

More seats?

At this point, let us discuss the third of our opening questions:

“Can there ever be a problem with adding more seats to a shul?”

There is an early responsum on the topic (Shu”t Harivosh #253), and the ruling might seem to us counterintuitive. A wealthy individual purchased several seats in the shul many years before. Probably, when the shul was built, the community had sold or perhaps even auctioned seats, at prices depending on their location (think of the relative ticket prices on theater seats, lehavdil). The seats are considered private property and are even at times rented out to others.

There is now a shortage of seats in the shul and the community would like to add new seats in empty areas of the shul. The wealthy fellow claims that this will make it more difficult for him to get to his seat, and that his own seat will be more crowded as a result. Can the community add seats, notwithstanding his claim?

The Rivosh rules that the community cannot add new seats, because the wealthy fellow already owns the right to get to his seat in a comfortable way. However, the Rivosh rules that the community may do the following to try to increase the availability of seats:

1. They may set a limit on the rental price of the existing seats.

2. They may pass a regulation that unused seats must be rented out.

Building two shuls

There is an old Jewish joke about the Jew stranded on a desert island who built two shuls, one to daven in, and the other never to walk into. Is there any halachic basis to this habit we have of opening several competing shullen in the same neighborhood?

Indeed, there are old responsa regarding this question. The Radbaz, one of the greatest halachic authorities of the fifteenth century, was asked such a shaylah (Shu”t Haradbaz #910).

A man named Yehudah Abualfas wanted to open a second shul in his town. The background appears to be as follows: The community, which may have been located somewhere in Egypt, was composed predominantly of families who originated from Tunisia, but there were individuals who had settled there from other places. The shul followed the minhag of Tunis.

Yehudah Abualfas, who was born and raised in this community with Tunisian customs, and everyone else living in the town, were members of the general community. They donated to the community’s tzedakah fund, participated in its fees and taxes, and davened in the community shul which followed minhagei Tunis.

Abualfas’s family originated from a place where they followed the customs of the Spanish communities, not those of Tunisia. (Ashkenazim tend to group Sefardim and Edot Hamizrah together as one group. Technically, Sefardim are those whose antecedents once lived in Spain, whereas there were Jewish communities from Morocco to Iran and even farther east whose ancestors never lived in Spain and should be called Edot Hamizrah.) Abualfas and his friends had begun to develop their own community, consisting of members who identified as Sefardim and not as Tunisians, and they wanted to create their own community following minhag Sefard.

Shul versus community

The Radbaz divides the question into two topics: May the Sefardim establish their own shul, and may they establish their own community?

Regarding the establishing of their own community, which would mean that they would no longer participate in the tzedakah fund and other taxes and fees of the general community, the Radbaz rules that, once they have individually been paying as members of the main community, they cannot separate from that community and create their own. As individuals, they are bound to continue contributing to the main community.

However, regarding whether they may create their own shul, the Radbaz rules that they may, for the following reason: since they do not want to be forced to daven with the rest of the community, their desire to have their own shul will disturb their kavanah while davening. The Radbaz discusses at length the issue of davening with kavanah. He notes that one is not permitted to daven when one is angry, and that the Gemara states that, if the amora Rav Chanina ever got angry, he did not daven that day. Furthermore, we see that any distraction is a reason why one should not daven, even that of an enticing fragrance. Therefore, one may not daven when in the presence of people that one does not like. The Radbaz further suggests that just as there is a halacha that one will study Torah properly only when he is interested in the topic, a person will be able to concentrate in his davening only when he is praying where he is happy. For these reasons, the Radbaz rules that people who are not satisfied praying with the rest of the community are permitted to organize their own shul. However, he rules that it is within the community’s prerogative to ban the forming of other shullen, when this will harm community interests.

Berov am hadras melech

The Radbaz then discusses the halachic preference of berov am hadras melech, a large group of people (attending a mitzvah) honors the King (Rosh Hashanah 32b). This means that it is preferable that a large group of people daven in one shul, rather than split among several smaller shullen. The Radbaz concludes that, indeed, it is preferable for everyone to daven in the same shul but, when people will be unhappy, that factor permits them to open their own shul.

The Radbaz closes this discussion with the following:

“Do not interpret my words to think that I believe that dividing into different shullen is good. G-d forbid… However, we are required to try as hard as possible that everyone pray with a full heart to his Father in Heaven. If it is impossible to pray with a full heart when davening in a shul that one does not enjoy, and the people will constantly be arguing, having different shullen is the lesser of the two evils.”

An earlier authority, the Rivosh (Shu”t Harivosh #253) mentions the same ruling — individuals who want to establish their own breakaway minyan cannot be stopped, and that it is improper to prevent this. However, if the members of the existing shul claim that their shul requires the income or membership to keep going, one should examine whether the claim is truthful. If, indeed, it is, one should work out a plan that accommodates the needs of both communities. (See also Rema, Choshen Mishpat 162:7.)

Two shuls

At this point, we can now address the second of our opening questions: “Is it permitted to leave a shul to start our own?”

The short answer is that there are circumstances when this is permitted, although, in an ideal world, it is not preferred.

One shul

At this point, let us examine the first of our opening questions: “May we merge two existent shullen, when each has its own minhagim?”

The answer is that, because of the rule of berov am hadras melech, it is preferable to merge shuls into a larger entity, but, as I explained above, this will depend on circumstances (see also Shu”t Binyan Tziyon 1:122). If the members understand that it is a greater honor to Hashem to have a large shul with many people davening together, that is preferred.

Conclusion

Understanding how much concern Chazal placed in the relatively minor aspects of davening should make us more aware of the fact that davening is our attempt at building a relationship with Hashem. As the Kuzari notes, every day should have three high points — the three times that we daven. We should gain our strength and inspiration for the rest of the day from these three prayers.

The power of tefillah is very great. Man was created by Hashem as the only creation that has free choice. Therefore, our serving Hashem and our davening is unique in the entire spectrum of creation. Remember that we are actually speaking to Hashem, and that we are trying to build a relationship with Him. Through tefillah, one can save lives, bring people closer to Hashem, and overturn harsh decrees. We are required to believe in this power. One should not think, “Who am I to daven to Hashem?” Rather, we must reinforce the concept that Hashem wants our tefillos, and He listens to them!

Shul Building

Question #1: One shul

“May we merge together two existent shullen, when each has its own minhagim?”

Question #2: Two shuls

“Is it permitted to leave a shul to start our own?’

Question #3: Old shul

“In our town, almost everyone has moved away from the ‘old neighborhood,’ which has now, unfortunately, become a slum. The sprinkling of Jewish people still there can no longer maintain the shul. Are the people who used to live there still obligated to maintain the old shul building?”

Question #4: New shul

“We have been comfortably davening in different people’s houses, three times a day, seven days a week. Now, some individuals are clamoring that they want us to build a shul, which is a huge expense. Isn’t this chutzpah on their part, when we are all struggling to pay our mortgages?”

Introduction:

Our batei kenesiyos and batei midrashos, the buildings that we designate for prayer and for study, are referred to as our mikdash me’at, our holy buildings reminiscent of the the sanctity of the Mishkan and the Beis Hamikdash.

There is a halachic requirement to build a shul. To quote the Rambam (Hilchos Tefillah 11:1-2), Any place that has ten Jews must have available a building that they can enter to pray at every time of prayer. This building is called a beis hakenesses(synagogue). The members of the community can force one another to build a synagogue, to purchase a sefer Torah and books of the prophets and of the kesuvim. When you build a synagogue, you must build it in the highest part of the town… and you must elevate it, until it is taller than any of the courtyards in town.

We see from the words of the Rambam that it is not sufficient to have an area available in which one can daven when necessary – it is required to have a building designated specifically for this purpose, even if the shul will be empty the rest of the day (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim, 2:44). Rav Moshe Feinstein explains that a community is required to have a building designated to be their mikdash me’at.

Since it is a community responsibility to have a shul building, the minority of the membership of a community may force the majority to raise the money to build a shul (Rema, Choshen Mishpat 163:1). In earlier generations, communities had the authority to levy taxes on their members. Since building a shul is a community responsibility, they could require people to provide the funds necessary for this project.

Must we build a shul?

At this point, let us address one of our opening questions: “We have been comfortably davening in different people’s houses, three times a day, seven days a week. Now, some individuals are clamoring that they want us to build a shul, which is a huge expense. Isn’t this chutzpah on their part, when we are all struggling to pay our mortgages?”

The answer is that, not only is it not chutzpah on the part of those individuals, the halachic right is on their side. The community is required to have a shul, and it is unsatisfactory that the minyan takes place in a home that is not meant to be a beis tefillah. Therefore, individuals can certainly force the rest to build a shul.

I cannot resist telling over the following story from my experience as a shul rav. At one time, I was invited for an interview to a new shul that was located in an affluent area. I made a trip to meet the shul search committee, which was very interested in engaging me as their rav. They showed me the converted house that they were using as the shul, and mentioned that when they had renovated the building, they did so in a way that there would be an apartment in the building for the rav to use as his residence, since they did not have much money for a respectable salary. In their minds, since the rav could now save himself mortgage or rent money, that was a hefty part of what they intended for his salary.

I noted to them that in the position I had at the time, I could devote myself fully to rabbinic duties, something that would be quite impossible in the circumstances that they proposed. Their response was that although they understood my predicament, this was all they could afford, since most of their members were paying very huge mortgages for the zechus of living in this neighborhood. I made a mental note that none of them seemed to feel that the apartment part of the shul building that they were proposing was certainly nothing that any of them would consider suitable residential accommodations, nor would they consider the shul building representative of the high-class lifestyle that they had chosen for themselves.

How do we assess?

In earlier generations, the Jewish community had the ability to levy taxes and other fees on its membership. Virtually all Jewish communities had fairly strong authority over its membership because the community levied taxes and also was responsible for collectively paying taxes to the local monarch.

When assessing individuals for the construction of a local shul, do we charge according to people’s financial means, or does everyone share equally in the costs of the building?

The Rema rules that when raising the money for a shul, we take into consideration both the resources of the individuals and also who will be using the facility. Therefore, when assessing people for the building of a shul, the costs are allocated both according to the financial means and according to individuals. Thus, the wealthier members of a community will be paying a somewhat higher percentage of the costs.

Rent a shul

If the community does not have the resources to build or purchase a shul, they can force one another to put up enough money to rent a place (Mishnah Berurah 150:2)

Where not to rent

In a responsum in Igros Moshe (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 3:25), Rav Moshe Feinstein was asked the following: There is no orthodox shul in town, and they have been davening in houses. Now, they want to rent space from a local conservative congregation. May they do so?

Rav Moshe prohibits this for two reasons:

1. This arrangement provides some credibility to the conservative congregation.

2. When people see the orthodox people entering or exiting the building of the conservative temple, they may think that these people are intending to pray in the conservative facility, which is prohibited. This involves the prohibition of maris ayin, doing something that may raise suspicion that one violated halacha.

Changing neighborhoods

Let us now address a different one of our opening questions: “In our town, almost everyone has moved away from the ‘old neighborhood,’ which has now, unfortunately, become a slum. The sprinkling of Jewish people still there can no longer maintain the shul. Are the people who used to live there still obligated to maintain the old shul building?”

This question was asked of Rav Moshe Feinstein (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 3:28).

In the case that he was asked, the shul had already opened a new facility in a nicer area and, until this point, the expenses of the old shul were being covered from the budget of the new shul. However, the members no longer saw any gain from doing so, since it was only a question of time until the old shul would no longer be at all functional. They would like to close down the old shul and sell the building. Are they permitted to?

The general rule is that a shul is considered communal public property and, as long as it functions as a shul, no one has the right to sell or modify its use. This is because the “owners” of the shul include anyone who might visit the area and want to find a minyan in which to daven. This is true, providing that there are still minyanim that meet in the shul on a regular basis — they cannot sell the building or close it down (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim III #29).

In the case at hand, Rav Moshe rules that those who have moved out of the neighborhood of the old shul have no responsibility to pay for the upkeep or repairs of the shul building that they are not using. The fact that the community has been treating the two shul buildings as one institution does not change this. Rav Moshe then mentions that, since the old shul is in a bad neighborhood, they may have a responsibility to remove the sifrei Torah from the shul, and perhaps even the siddurim, chumashim and other seforim, in order to protect them. He concludes that, since those who still daven in the old shul have no means of their own to keep the shul going, it is permitted to shutter the shul building and sell it. He also mentions that, if the bank will foreclose on the mortgage and re-possess the building, this does not require them to continue paying the mortgage. Nor does the bank’s decision as to what it will do with the shul property after the foreclosure require them to continue paying the mortgage.

Regarding those who still live in the old neighborhood, Rav Moshe rules that they should conduct the minyanim in a house where the sifrei Torah and the other seforim will be secure (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim III #28).

An interesting teshuvah from Rav Moshe relates to a shul building that had been originally planned to have a lower level to use as a social hall, with the shul intended to be on the upper floor. They began to use the social hall for davening until they built the shul on top, but the neighborhood began to change, and it became clear that they would have no need to complete the structure of the building. They never finished the building, and instead, directed the efforts and finances toward purchasing a new shul in a neighborhood to which people were moving. The old shul, or, more accurately, the “social hall” part of the old shul building, is at the stage where there is barely a minyan left, and the dwindling numbers imply that it is not going to be very long until there is no functioning minyan. The question is that they would like to sell the old building and use the money to complete the purchase of the new building. Furthermore, the mikveh in the town is now in a neighborhood to which women are hesitant to travel, so they want to use the funds from the old shul building to defray the construction costs of a necessary new mikveh.

Because of the specific circumstances involved, including that it is unlikely that people from the outside will drop in to daven in this minyan anymore, Rav Moshe rules that they are permitted to sell the building. A similar responsum from Rav Moshe was when they needed to create a shul in a neighborhood where there was a good chance that the Jewish community there would not last long. Rather than declare their building a shul, they called it a library and used it as their shul. Rav Moshe suggests that this was a good suggestion, since they knew from the outset that the days of the Jewish community were numbered (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim, 2:44).

We will continue this article next week…

Tidbits of Interest

Some Aspects of the Halachos of Ribbis

Question #1: Small Thanks

“May I give a small present of thanks to someone who helped me out with a loan?”

Question #2: Doing a chesed

“Can I violate ribbis by doing a chesed?”

Question #3: Lending my Credit Card

“How can you violate ribbis by letting someone use your credit card?”

There are a total of six different prohibitions that can be violated when creating and paying a loan in which there is interest. Someone who loans money for interest is in violation of the Torah’s prohibition, even before any interest is, indeed, charged or collected (see Bava Metzia 62a; Shu”t Mahar”a Sasson #162).

According to the Mishnah, not only do the borrower and the lender violate the prohibition against ribbis, but the witnesses to the loan, the co-signer on the loan and the scribe who writes up the loan document are also in violation of the prohibition (Bava Metzia 75b). Thus, anyone causing the loan to be finalized is in violation of this mitzvah. This would include someone who notarizes a loan document that includes a ribbis provision, and might even include a lawyer who draws up a document that includes provisions for ribbis (Bris Yehudah 1:6).

The halachos of ribbis are quite complex, and a review of some of the halachos is always in order. From my experience, even seasoned Torah scholars make mistakes about these halachos and may even have business activities that violate the prohibition of ribbis. What makes these matters even more regrettable is that virtually every one of these situations can be alleviated easily by usage of a heter iska, which will be explained later in this article.

Chazal were so concerned that someone would violate the prohibition of ribbis that they wanted the lender to gain no perceived advantages from the loan, even when the gains are completely of a non-monetary nature. Thus, the lender may not ask the borrower to do him a favor that he would not have asked had he not loaned him money (Tosafos, Bava Metzia 64b s.v. Avol). Similarly, the borrower may not invite the lender to his simcha, if he would not have invited him otherwise.  It is even prohibited for the borrower to thank the lender for the loan (Graz, Hilchos Ribbis #9).

Chazal also prohibited ribbis that occurs before or after the loan exists. For example, it is prohibited for the borrower to bring a small gift to the lender, as a token of thanks for the loan (Mishnah Bava Metzia 75b). This is prohibited, even after the loan has been paid off, and even many years later.

Ribbis Without a Loan

The halacha prohibits charging for the use of one’s money, even when a loan did not actually take place. Thus, a merchant may not add interest charges to a bill (sent to a Jew), because it is past due. He is permitted to bill for the actual expenses accrued due to his having had to send an additional bill, as well as any other collection costs he incurs. However, the merchant may not add service charges because he was forced to borrow money off his credit line to cover the shortfall.

The prohibition against charging for delay of payment also applies to acquisitions. Thus, a store may not charge one price for cash and a different price for credit or delayed payment.

The borrower may pay a co-signer to guarantee a gemach loan. In a situation where the borrower defaults and the co-signer has to pay off the loan, the co-signer may collect what he paid from the borrower (Taz to Yoreh Deah 170:3).

Neighborly Loans

When neighbors borrow small items such as flour, sugar, or eggs, a loan has taken place. They may not intentionally return more than was borrowed, which would be considered ribbis. However, if they are uncertain exactly how much flour or sugar they borrowed, they are permitted to return enough to be certain that they have definitely returned as much as they borrowed (see Bava Metzia 75a). One may return an item that is similar, but not identical, to what was borrowed, if the buyer and seller are not concerned about the difference. Thus, one who borrowed a loaf of bread of one brand need not be concerned whether the loaf of bread that he returns is the same brand or the identical size (Rema, Yoreh Deah 162:1). Similarly, one need not be concerned that the price may have fluctuated in the interim (Shaar HaTziyun 450:4). .

Ribbis Without any Benefit to the Lender

The Torah prohibits ribbis if the borrower pays more than he borrowed, even when no benefit is gained by the lender.

An actual case will show us how people can be guilty of this violation without realizing it. Reuvain is involved in many chesed projects, including raising money for tzedakah. Yankel had an excellent business opportunity and asked Reuvain to help him finance his new endeavor, of course in a permitted fashion. Reuvain decided that he would rather utilize this opportunity for a different mitzvah. He tells Yankel, “Instead of becoming a partner in your business, I will lend you the money interest free, but I’d like to make a condition that some of the maaser from the profits goes to support a yeshiva.”

Reuvain assumes that by making the arrangements this way, he fulfills the mitzvah of lending someone money, which, indeed, is a big mitzvah of chesed, and, in addition, he will be causing someone else to give tzedakah, which is also a tremendous mitzvah. Unfortunately for both Reuvain and Yaakov, since giving the tzedakah was a condition of the loan, this arrangement incurs a Biblical prohibition of ribbis. Although the lender, Reuvain, does not gain from the loan, since a condition of the loan was that Yankel pay more money than he borrowed, this is considered a Torah violation of ribbis (Rema, Yoreh Deah 160:14). (In this instance, there would be no violation of ribbis if he asked Yankel as a favor to donate to the tzedakah cause. Alternatively, they could arrange some form of heter iska, as will be explained later.)

Borrowing Credit or Credit Cards

Here is another instance that occurs frequently, in which people wish to do a tremendous chesed but in reality they are involved in a serious infraction of ribbis. Mrs. Friedman and Mrs. Goldstein meet at a closeout sale where top quality mattresses are available at an unbelievable price. Members of Mrs. Friedman’s family need new mattresses, and she realizes that by purchasing them at the closeout prices she will be saving hundreds of dollars.

Unfortunately, Mrs. Friedman does not have the money to purchase the mattresses, nor does she have any credit cards at her disposal. As she is bemoaning the fact that she will have to forgo this opportunity to save so much money, Mrs. Goldstein, always eager to do a chesed, offers Mrs. Friedman to charge the mattresses on her credit card. A very grateful Mrs. Friedman gladly takes up the opportunity and purchases the mattresses. Her intention is to make the credit card payments accrued to Mrs. Goldstein’s card until she can pay off the balance and interest for the mattresses.

Without either lady realizing it, they have now created a major halachic problem. The credit card company did not lend the money to Mrs. Friedman, but to Mrs. Goldstein, whose name is on the card. For this reason, what has transpired here is that two loans have taken place, both with interest: one from the credit card company to Mrs. Goldstein, and a second from Mrs. Goldstein to Mrs. Friedman. If Mrs. Friedman makes payments directly to the credit card company, she will be repaying Mrs. Goldstein’s loan to the credit company and her own loan to Mrs. Goldstein simultaneously. Thus, she is now paying her loan to Mrs.Goldstein with interest and  both well-meaning ladies will have violated the laws against ribbis (Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 168:17). The parties involved should immediately consult a halachic authority who understands the halachos of ribbis well, since there are several ways that the situation described above can be rectified. (The different ways to alleviate the problem might depend on the individual’s circumstances, and are beyond the scope and length of this article.)

A similar problem often happens in a business partnership, in which one partner has access to a credit line and borrows money from the credit line for the benefit of the business. Since the credit line is in his name and not that of the business, without realizing it, he has borrowed money from the bank and then loaned it to the business, in which he is only one partner. Thus, he is now considered to be charging his partners for interest on a loan he has made to them. Again, this problem can be alleviated with a heter iska.

What is a heter iska?

A heter iska is a halachically approved way of restructuring a loan or debt so that it is some form of business deal that is not a loan. There are numerous ways of making a heter iska, and, indeed, different situations call for different types of heter iska. It is important for everyone who is involved in any type of business dealings to understand the fundamental principle of every heter iska: That a heter iska restructures the loan so that it is an investment or acquisition, rather than a loan.

Borrowing from Jewish-owned banks

Many people borrow money from banks, mortgage companies, credit card companies (including stores), brokerages, and credit unions, without verifying whether they are owned by a Jewish controlling interest. Without using a heter iska, it is forbidden to borrow money with interest from any Jewish-owned business, even if it is incorporated. Although there are some poskim who permit lending money to a corporation without a heter iska, as will be explained later in this article, this author is unaware of any posek who permits borrowing from a Jewish-owned corporation, without a heter iska.

Corporations

Rav Moshe Feinstein ruled that it is permitted to lend money to a Jewish-owned corporation, without incurring a problem of ribbis. In Rav Moshe’s opinion, a loan must have an individual who is responsible to pay for it. When a corporation borrows, no individual is responsible to pay for the loan. Therefore, Rav Moshe contends that a loan to a corporation does not incur the prohibition of ribbis, provided that no individual personally guarantees the loan (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 2:63). It should be noted that many other poskim do not agree with this lenience of Rav Moshe, contending that there can be ribbis even when a corporation borrows money (see extensive discussion in Bris Yehudah pg. 138). One practical difference is that, according to Rav Moshe, it is permitted to have a savings account in a Jewish-owned bank without having a heter iska, whereas, according to the other opinions, it is forbidden. However, according to all opinions it is forbidden to borrow from a Jewish-owned bank, credit union or brokerage without a heter iska. Thus, one may not buy stocks on margin from a Jewish-owned brokerage without a heter iska.

Hashkafah of Ribbis

The mitzvah of Ribbis poses an interesting hashkafah question. Why does the Torah forbid making a profit from my money? The Torah encourages earning a livelihood, so what is wrong with earning a profit from lending out money?

Many answers are offered to this question. Kli Yakar presents the following approach: When a farmer plows and plants his field, he knows well that if it does not rain sufficiently or if a blight attacks his crop, he will have nothing to show for his efforts. Thus, even with all his hishtadlus, he knows that he must daven for Hashem to help his efforts. Similarly, a person who opens a business knows well that even with all his planning, his business may not be successful. Thus, he also knows that he must daven for Hashem to help his efforts. However, someone who makes his parnasah from lending out money seems to have his entire livelihood totally secure. He has no daily reminder forcing him to pray for his daily livelihood. For this reason, explains the Kli Yakar, Hashem did not want a person to make his livelihood this way. By banning this method of parnasah, the Torah forced a person to make parnasah in a way that he must be reminded daily of his need for Hashem’s help.

Of Frogs and Sanctification

Most people find it fascinating to discover that the great tzadikim,Chananyah, Mishael and Azaryah, learned from the frogs in this week’s parsha that there is a mitzvah to die al kiddush Hashem. Stay tuned to find out…

Question: Amphibious actions!

Where do we find that the deeds of amphibians affect a halachic decision?

Introduction:

The book of Daniel tells us the story of the great tzadikim, Chananyah, Mishael and Azaryah, who were thrown into a fiery furnace for refusing to prostrate themselves before the statue that Nevuchadnetzar had erected (see Daniel 3:1-30). The Gemara (Pesachim 53b) explains that their decision was based on the actions of the frogs in Mitzrayim. How and what Chananyah, Mishael and Azaryah derived from the frogs will be discussed shortly, but we first need to understand some halachic background on this topic.

In general, the observance of mitzvos is superseded when life is threatened. We are well familiar with the law that, in the case of a medical, fire or other emergency, Shabbos observance is suspended to the extent necessary to protect life. The Gemara (Yoma 85a-b) quotes several halachic sources that demonstrate this concept. The conclusion is that we derive the rule that Shabbos observance is suspended to protect life from the pasuk, Vechai bahem (Vayikra 18:5),that the purpose of the mitzvos is to cherish life.

Kiddush Hashem

On the other hand, there is a mitzvah of the Torah, Venikdashti besoch B’nei Yisroel, in which Hashem commanded us to sanctify His presence within the Jewish people. This law teaches that, when an evil malefactor wants Jews to desecrate the Torah, we are sometimes required to sacrifice our lives. When ten Jews are aware that, under these circumstances, a Jew is being coerced to break any commandment, Kiddush Hashem requires that he surrender his life (Sanhedrin 74b). In this situation, someone who did not surrender his life violated not only the positive mitzvah (mitzvas aseh) of Venikdashti besoch B’nei Yisroel, but he also violated a negative command (mitzvas lo sa’aseh) of Velo sechalelu es shem kodshi.

However, when an evil malefactor is coercing a Jew to violate the Torah, but ten Jews are unaware that this is happening, the Jew is not obligated to give up his life, and, according to many authorities, he is not permitted to. There are other exceptions when one is not required or permitted to give up one’s life, which we will learn about shortly.

The ruling requiring surrendering one’s life is only when the goal of the oppressor is exclusively to get Jews to violate the mitzvos. However, if his goal is to get some benefit or pleasure for himself, there is no obligation to surrender one’s life. The Gemara (Sanhedrin 74b) presents the following theoretical example to define the difference.

Rava said, “An idol worshipper who tells a Jew, ‘Cut that hay on Shabbos and feed it to the animals, or I will kill you,’ the Jew should cut the hay and not allow himself to be killed. On the other hand, if the idol worshipper demands of him, ‘Cut that hay on Shabbos and throw it into the fire,’ the Jew should allow himself to be killed and not cut the hay. What is the difference? In the latter case, the goal of the malevolent command is to have the Jew violate the mitzvah.”

Rashi notes that Rava was discussing a situation that took place in the presence of ten Jews or, as we will soon explain, during a time of persecution. Otherwise, a Jew is not required, and, according to some opinions, not permitted to give up his life.

What about idols?

Aside from the law of Kiddush Hashem that I just discussed, there are other situations in which one is required to surrender one’s life, rather than breach the Torah. The Gemara (Sanhedrin 74a) cites a dispute among tana’im concerning what is the halacha when someone’s life is threatened should he refuse to worship an idol. Rabbi Yishmael rules that, if the situation is in private, Vechai bahem applies, even regarding the prohibition of avodah zarah. In his opinion, one may perform the external motions that appear to be idolatrous to save one’s life. However, when the situation is in public, meaning that ten Jews know about it, Rabbi Yishmael agrees that the pasuk of Velo sechalelu es shem kodshi requires surrendering one’s life, rather than violating the Torah.

Rabbi Eliezer disagrees, ruling that the sin of avodah zarah requires yeihareig ve’al yaavor, meaning that one is always required to surrender one’s life rather than violate the prohibition against idolatry, even if the sin will be performed in private. Rabbi Eliezer derives this ruling from the pasuk we say several times daily, Ve’ohavto es Hashem Elokecha bechol levavcho uvechol nafshecho uvechol me’odecho, that we are required to love Hashem with our entire heart, soul and resources, which includes that we not renounce our belief in Him; we are required to demonstrate our love for Hashem, even in the event that it would require the ultimate sacrifice (Sanhedrin 74a).

Talmudic conclusion

Quoting the tana Rabbi Shimon ben Yehotzadok, the Gemara says that the Beis Din Hagadol, the final authority of halacha for the Jewish people, concluded that for three cardinal sins — idol worship, giluy arayos (incest, adultery and similar offenses), and murder — we always say yeihareig ve’al yaavor. The requirement to sacrifice one’s life rather than violate giluy arayos or murder is derived from other sources (Sanhedrin 74a).

In this context, the Gemara cites the following anecdote. A man approached the amora Rava, asking him the following she’eilah: The warlord of his town had told this man, “Go kill so-and-so; if not, I will kill you!” The man wanted to know whether he was permitted to follow the dictate of the warlord to save his life. Rava answered that the Torah does not permit murder, even to save your own life, because of the following point, “who tells you that your blood is redder. Perhaps the other person’s blood is redder than yours!” In other words, who tells you that Hashem prefers that you survive, when you have to kill someone else in order to do so (Nimukei Yosef ad locum)?

Thus, we see that there are two situations in which we rule yeihareig ve’al yaavor: When saving my life will require that I violate one of the three cardinal sins, or when the intent of the one posing the threat is only to get Jews to violate the mitzvos, and ten Jews are aware that this is happening.

During times of persecution

The Gemara (Sanhedrin 74a) adds a third situation in which the rule is yeihareig ve’al yaavor: When the government is intent on destroying Yiddishkeit, which the Gemara calls sha’as gezeiras malchus, literally, at the time of government decrees, one is required to give up one’s life rather than violate the Torah, even for a “light mitzvah.” What is defined as a “light” or small mitzvah? The Gemara explains that this includes even the difference between the color of the shoelaces that Jews and gentiles use. Rashi explains that the case is when there is a Jewish custom that is more modest. Since the Jews have accepted this practice, if the gentile is trying to get a Jew to violate accepted Jewish practice, he is required to give up his life. It is a Chillul Hashem to allow a gentile to force a Jew to violate accepted Jewish practice, and a Kiddush Hashem to follow Jewish practice. However, this halacha applies only when it is a time of religious persecution.

Rashi’s older contemporary, the Rif, explains that the gentiles wore red shoelaces. Although there is no halachic prohibition to wear a specific color of shoelace, since this was the defining difference in garb between Jew and non-Jew in that time and place, if a gentile insisted that he wants a Jew to dress like a gentile does, one is required to sacrifice his life and not do so.

Sum up

Although when life is threatened, the observance of a mitzvah is generally suspended, in three situations one is required to sacrifice one’s life rather than violate the Torah. The three situations are:

1. Being forced to commit one of the three cardinal sins.

2. At a time of persecution.

3. When someone is forcing a Jew to violate accepted Jewish law or practice in the presence of or with the knowledge of ten Jews.

The latter cases are true only when the perpetrator’s motive is to force Jews to forsake G-d’s law, but not when he is interested in benefiting from the transgression.

Based on the above, let us quote the Rambam:

“All members of the Jewish people are commanded to sanctify His great Name, as the Torah states, Venikdashti besoch B’nei Yisroel, and they are admonished not to desecrate it, as the Torah states, Velo sechalelu es sheim kodshi. How does this law manifest itself? If an idol worshipper will stand up and force a Jew to violate one of the mitzvos of the Torah in a situation that, if the Jew refuses, the idol worshipper will kill him, the Jew should transgress the mitzvah and not allow himself to be killed, since the Torah states, Vechai bahem — You shall live with them, and not die because of them. If he chooses to die and not violate the mitzvah, he is held responsible for the loss of his own life. When is this true? — regarding mitzvos other than idolatry, gilui arayos and shedding blood. However, regarding these three sins, if the idol worshipper tells him, “Violate one of these sins or be killed,” the Jew should allow himself to be killed and not violate the mitzvah.

“When is this true? When the idol worshipper’s intention is for his own pleasure, such as, he is forcing the Jew to build a house or to cook for the idol worshipper on Shabbos… . However, if the idol worshipper’s only goal is that the Jew violate the mitzvah, if… ten Jews are not present, the Jew should violate the mitzvah and not be killed. But if the idol worshipper forces the Jew in the presence of ten Jews, the Jew is required to give up his life rather than violate the mitzvah, even if it is one of the other mitzvos. Furthermore, these rules apply only when it is not a time when the gentiles are making decrees against the Jews. However, in an era that they are, such as when an evil king, like Nevuchadnetzar, makes decrees against the Jews to violate their religion or one of their mitzvos, a Jew is required to give up his life, regardless of which mitzvah he is being coerced to transgress and regardless as to whether this coercion is in the presence of ten Jews or in private” (Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah 5:1-3).

The Rambam continues: In every instance when it says that he should violate the mitzvah and not be killed, and the Jew chose instead to be killed rather than violate the mitzvah, he is guilty of giving up his life. And in every instance when it says that the Jew should give up his life rather than violate the mitzvah, and he surrendered his life and did not violate the mitzvah, he has sanctified Hashem’s Name. If this happened in the presence of ten Jews, he sanctified Hashem’s Name in public, as was done by Daniel, Chananyah, Mishael, Azaryah, Rabbi Akiva and others like them. These are the holy ones whose greatness is above all others… . However, one who was required to surrender his life, but chose instead to violate the mitzvah and did not surrender his life has desecrated Hashem’s Name, and, if ten Jews were present, he has desecrated Hashem’s Namein public, abrogated the positive mitzvah of the Torah, Kiddush Hashem, and violated a negative mitzvah of the Torah, Chillul Hashem. Nevertheless, since his violation was coerced, he is not culpable of transgressing of his own will and, therefore, not subject to punishment for the prohibition violated, since a person is not punished for a sin performed under coercion (Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah 5:4).

Elisha, owner of wings

In this context, the Gemara (Shabbos 130a) shares with us the following story about a tzadik named Elisha, who lived during the time of the Roman persecution:

“Why was he called Elisha, owner of wings?” It once happened that the evil kingdom (a Talmudic reference to the Roman Empire) decreed that any Jew who wears tefillin will have his brain smashed. Elisha went through the streets, proudly wearing his tefillin. A Roman soldier saw him and gave chase. Elisha whipped off his tefillin and hid them in his hands. The soldier caught him and demanded that Elisha tell him what he was holding. Elisha answered him that he was holding “dove’s wings.” Elisha then opened his hands and, indeed, he was holding the wings of doves! (We will soon explain why he used this example.)

How could he?

The rishonim ask why Elisha was permitted to remove the tefillin from his head. This was clearly an era of gezeirah, and, as we noted above, in such an era, one is required to give up one’s life even for a custom of the Jews, and certainly for a mitzvah of the Torah!

The rishonim answer that there is a difference between positive mitzvos and prohibitions. Since the evildoers could physically stop the Jews from keeping mitzvos requiring actions, e.g., by locking them up without access to tefillin, there is no requirement to sacrifice one’s life to fulfill them (Ran, Pesachim 6a in Rif’s dapim). However, in the case of participating in a forbidden activity in an era of gezeirah, there the Torah declared yeihoreig ve’al yaavor, that I am required to give up my life. This ruling is accepted by the poskim as the normative halacha (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 157).

Return of the frogs

As mentioned in our introduction, the Gemara (Pesachim 53b) teaches that Chananyah, Mishael and Azaryah derived from the frogs that they could give up their lives, rather than bow to the statue. Chananyah, Mishael and Azaryah noted that the frogs jumped into the Egyptian ovens when the ovens were hot, thus cremating themselves. Thus, the frogs, who had no mitzvah of sanctifying Hashem’s Name, still did so. Chananyah, Mishael and Azaryah reasoned a fortiori (kal vechomer): if the frogs, who were not required to sanctify Hashem’s Name, burned themselves for the sake of demonstrating Hashem’s greatness, we certainly should.

Tosafos (ad locum) questions: Why did Chananyah, Mishael and Azaryah require a kal vechomer from the frogs to conclude that they should sacrifice themselves? The event with the statue of Nevuchadnetzar happened in public, and when an incident occurs in public and the evil person’s goal is to demonstrate that he can force a Jew to violate mitzvos, the Gemara requires that one give up one’s life. In such a case, it is a requirement to do so, even for a small mitzvah or even for a Jewish custom.

Rabbeinu Tam explained that, technically speaking, Chananyah, Mishael and Azaryah were not required to sacrifice themselves, because the statue that Nevuchadnetzar erected was not an idol – it was similar to the statues that we find in our cities whose purpose is to honor someone. Nevuchadnetzar instructed people to bow to the statue to demonstrate their subservience to him. Thus, there was no requirement for Chananyah, Mishael and Azaryah to give up their lives, but they derived from the frogs that it was permitted for them to do so.

In another approach, Rabbeinu Tam’s nephew, Rabbeinu Yitzchak (usually called simply the Ri) disagreed that this is what happened in the story of Chananyah, Mishael and Azaryah. Although he clearly accepts Rabbeinu Tam’s halachic analysis, he feels that the statue placed there by Nevuchadnetzar was, indeed, an idol. To answer the question why Chananyah, Mishael and Azaryah were not required to give up their lives because of the mitzvah of Kiddush Hashem, and needed reassurance from the frogs that they were permitted to sacrifice themselves, the Ri answers that Chananyah, Mishael and Azaryah could have fled. Their question was whether they were required to flee to save their lives or whether they were permitted to remain, knowing that by staying they would be required to give up their lives for Kiddush Hashem. They derived from the frogs that they were permitted to give up their lives for Kiddush Hashem, even though they had the opportunity to avoid the situation.

We see from this discussion two additional points:

1. Although there is a mitzvah of Kiddush Hashem, there is no requirement to make sure that one remains in his location to have the opportunity to perform the mitzvah. However, according to the Ri, it is permitted, and perhaps even meritorious, to do so.

2. We should note that the Rambam quoted above stated that, as a rule of thumb, when the Torah does not require yeihareig ve’al yaavor, one is prohibited from giving up one’s life to do so. This implies that the Rambam disagrees with Rabbeinu Tam, who ruled that Chananyah, Mishael and Azaryah were not required to sacrifice themselves in their situation, but were permitted to do so.

However, the Nimukei Yosef concludes that even the Rambam might agree here. When a person whom the Nimukei Yosef describes as a great tzadik sees that the generation is lax, he is permitted to sacrifice himself in order to teach his generation. He rallies evidence for this principle from the story of Chananyah, Mishael and Azaryah.

Conclusion

I quoted above the story of the great tzadik called Elisha, “the owner of wings,” and how he earned his moniker. The Gemara continues its sharing of the anecdote by asking why Elisha said that his tefillin were dove’s wings. The Gemara concludes that the Jewish people are compared to doves, as the pasuk in Tehillim (68:14) compares the Jewish people to the wings of a dove that are coated with silver, and her wing-feathers are like fine gold. Just as the dove is protected by its wings, Klal Yisroel is protected by its mitzvos (Shabbos 130a)! May we always be protected by our mitzvos and never have to live through times when our mitzvos or lives are challenged.

When May I Remove a Tree? Part II

The Midrash teaches that Yaakov brought with him to Egypt the shittim trees that would be planted so that the Bnei Yisroel would later be able to leave Egypt with wood to build the Mishkan. There is no halachic problem with uprooting non-fruit-bearing trees for lumber, but there is at times a halachic problem with uprooting fruit trees for lumber or other use. So, this provides an opportunity to discuss…

Question #1: Darkening Peaches

“A peach tree is now blocking sunlight from reaching our house. May we cut down the tree?”

Question #2: Building Expansion

The Goldbergs purchased a house hoping to expand it onto its lot that contains several fruit trees. May they remove the trees to expand their house?

Question #3: For a Shul

Congregation Ohavei Torah purchased a plot of land for their new shul building, but the property contains some fruit trees. May they chop down the trees for the mitzvah of building a new Beis Hakenesses?

Question #4: For a Sukkah

“We just moved into a new house, and the only place where we can put a sukkah is in an area that is shaded by a fruit tree. May we chop down the tree in order to have a place to build our sukkah?”

In a previous article, we discussed several issues concerning when it is permitted to remove or destroy a fruit tree. The Torah teaches that when going to war one may not destroy fruit trees unless doing so serves a strategic purpose, and that in general it is forbidden to destroy fruit trees randomly. In that article, I mentioned that there is a dispute among authorities whether one may raze trees in order to build a house in their place. We also learned that the Gemara considers it dangerous to destroy fruit trees, and, according to some authorities, this is true even when there is no prohibition involved in razing the tree.

A Shady Deal

At this point, let us refer to our opening question: “A peach tree is now blocking sunlight from reaching our house. May we cut down the tree?”

This actual question was addressed to the Chavos Yair, a great seventeenth-century, central-European posek.

Based on the opinion of the Rosh (Bava Kamma 8:15),who permitted cutting down a tree in order to construct a house, the Chavos Yair allowed chopping down the offending peach tree (Shu”t Chavos Yair #195). However, the Chavos Yair rules that this is permitted only when one cannot simply remove some branches to allow the light into his house. When one can remove some branches and spare the tree, the Chavos Yair prohibits chopping down the tree since it is unnecessary to destroy the entire tree. Even though the branches will eventually grow and again block his light, the Chavos Yair does not permit chopping down the entire tree, but requires one to repeatedly trim it. Thus, although he accepts the Rosh’s ruling permitting removing a tree for the sake of a dwelling, the Chavos Yair notes that this is permitted only when one cannot have the house and eat the fruits, too.

Expanding Living Space

The Chavos Yair further rules that the Rosh,who permitted chopping down a tree to allow construction on its place, only permitted this for an essential need of the house, and not merely to make the house nicer, such as to widen his yard or to provide a place to relax.

At this point, we can probably answer another of our opening questions. The Goldbergs purchased a house hoping to expand it onto its lot that contains several fruit trees. May they remove the trees to expand their house?

Even according to the Rosh, they may remove the trees only to provide something essential for the house. Thus, if the need is essential, this heter will apply. (However, we will soon share a different possible solution.)

Some Are Stricter

The Chavos Yair follows the Rosh’s approach and permits removing a fruit tree if there is no other way to build a house.However, not all later authorities are this lenient. When asked this exact question — “May one cut down a tree to construct a house?” — the Netziv,one of the leading authorities of nineteenth-century Lithuania, was not comfortable with relying on the opinion of the Rosh. Rather, he concluded that there are early authorities who disagree with the Rosh and permit razing a fruit tree only in the three situations that the Gemara mentions: When the tree is more valuable as lumber, when it is producing almost no fruit, or when it is affecting the growth of other fruit trees. In the first two instances, it is no longer considered a fruit tree. The Netziv (Shu”t Meisheiv Davar 2:56) provides two different reasons why, if it is still considered a fruit tree, one cannot remove it.

(1) One may chop down a fruit tree only when it is damaging other fruit trees.

(2) Chopping down a fruit tree is permitted only when removing it provides immediate benefit. However, when one clears a tree to make room for construction, there is no immediate benefit. The benefit is not realized until one builds the house — which does not take place until later,and we do not see from the Gemara that this is permitted.

Following this latter approach, it is prohibited to destroy older trees and replace them with new ones, and halacha-abiding fruit growers must wait until their fruit trees are hardly productive before replacing them with new saplings.

At this point, I refer back to the next of our original questions: 

“Congregation Ohavei Torah purchased a plot of land for their new shul building, but the property contains some fruit trees. May they chop down the trees for the mitzvah of building a new Beis Hakenesses?”

What About for Temporary Use?

This case is fairly similar to an actual shaylah that is discussed by the Yaavetz (She’eilas Yaavetz 1:76), a prominent18th century posek in Germany. A community is renting a house from a non-Jew for their shul. The number of congregants is now, thank G-d, exceeding the size of the shul building, and the gentile owner has allowed them to expand the building on which they still have nine more years on their lease. However, there is only one direction in which they can expand their building, and do to so would require uprooting a grape vine. The gentile owner has permitted them to rip out the vine for this purpose. The community’s question is whether expanding the shul is a valid reason to permit ripping out a grape vine, which is halachically considered a fruit tree. The question is more significant in light of the fact that the community’s benefit may be only temporary — the gentile landlord may not renew their lease when it comes up for renewal, and they may then need to look for new quarters.

The Yaavetz ruled that even the temporary use of a shul is a valid reason permitting the ripping out of the grape vine. However, because of his concern that it is dangerous to do so, he advises hiring a gentile to uproot the vine. Since the mitzvah of destroying fruit trees is not included among the mitzvos that a ben Noach must observe, the gentile is not required to observe this mitzvah and therefore it is not dangerous for him to remove it.

The Yaavetz then mentions another factor. In every instance mentioned by the earlier authorities, it was not possible to replant the tree that is being removed in a different place. The Yaavetz suggests that there is no prohibition to uproot a fruit tree if one will replant the tree elsewhere. Thus, he concludes that even when no other solution exists to permit destroying a fruit tree, one may remove it by its root and replant it elsewhere, and then use the land for whatever one chooses.

Saving the Goldbergs!

The Yaavetz’s suggestion is very welcome news to the Goldbergs. They purchased a new house hoping to expand it onto the huge lot that they have that contains several beautiful fruit trees. May they remove the trees to expand their house?

According to the Yaavetz, they may remove the trees and plant them elsewhere, and then expand their house onto the extended lot.Again, I suggest that the Goldbergs check whether this relocation of the tree can realistically be done.

There are a few concerns about relying on this ruling of the Yaavetz. First, I have been told that although the Yaavetz may have known that this can be done, the assumption among today’s experts is that a transplanted mature fruit tree will not survive. Thus, this will be considered destroying the tree,

Furthermore, even assuming that the tree can be successfully replanted, the ruling of the Yaavetz is not without its detractors. The Chasam Sofer (Yoreh Deah #102) the posek hador of early nineteenth-century central Europe, concludes that one should not rely on this idea of the Yaavetz to remove a tree when other lenient reasons do not apply. However, he does rule that even when halacha accepts that one may uproot a fruit tree, if one can replant it one may not destroy it, since the demolition of the tree is unnecessary. Thus, if a fruit tree is damaging other trees, one may destroy it only when replanting it is not an option.

Shady Mitzvah

At this point, I would like to discuss our fourth opening question:

“We just moved into a new house, and the only place where we can put a sukkah is in an area that is shaded by a fruit tree. May we chop down the tree in order to have a place to build our sukkah?”

This exact question was asked of Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank, who was the Rav of Yerushalayim for many decades until his passing in 1960. Rav Frank cites and analyzes many of the above-mentioned sources, and is inclined to be lenient, reasoning that the performance of a mitzvah cannot be considered a destructive act. He concludes that one should have a gentile remove it, but not as an agent for a Jew, although he does not explain how one accomplishes this (Shu”t Har Tzvi, Orach Chayim II #102).

Conclusion

Thus we see that there are different conclusions as to when one may destroy a fruit tree for a valid reason, and each person should ask his own rav what to do.

The Ramban explains that the reason for the mitzvah is that one should have trust in Hashem that He will assist us in vanquishing our enemies and then we will be able to use the fruit from this tree. Destroying the tree when this serves no strategic benefit means that we think we will never use it. Rather, one should feel that one will gain from this tree as soon as the enemy is vanquished. We should assume that the area and all it contains will become our property, so why destroy the tree growing there innocently? One should take care of this tree just as one would take care of a tree that is already my personal property.

High in the Thigh: The Mitzvah of Gid Hano’she

In the process of vanquishing his opponent wrestler, Yaakov Avinu was left with an injured thigh. To commemorate this event, the Torah teaches al kein lo yochelu benei Yisroel es gid hano’she asher al kaf hayarech ad hayom hazeh ki naga bechaf yerech Yaakov begid hano’she, “Therefore, the children of Israel may not consume the sinew that was displaced, which lies upon the ‘spoon’ of the thigh, since he struck the ‘spoon’ of Yaakov’s thigh on the displaced sinew (Bereishis 32:33 with Rashi).” As we will see shortly, this pasuk is written with precision, and we derive most of the halachos of this mitzvah from its words.

We see from the pasuk that Yaakov’s injury was that his “sinew” was “displaced.” The word “sinew” is not a scientific term, but a household or butcher’s term. Its Hebrew equivalent, gid, describes stringy body parts whose texture is too tough to chew comfortably, and may refer to nerves, tendons, ligaments, or even blood vessels (see Rambam, Peirush Hamishnayos, Zevachim 3:4).

In Yaakov’s case, the sinew involved is what is known in anatomy as the sciatic nerve, which runs through the pelvis and upper leg, from the lower back over the top of the hip and down the leg, at which point it divides into other nerves. The Torah describes this as the sinew that lies across the kaf hayarech, which literally means the “spoon of the thigh.” This refers to a piece of muscle that lies atop the femur and that has a spoon-like shape. Part of the sciatic nerve lies on top of this muscle, wedged against the bone socket on the other side. The Torah prohibits the consumption of this nerve, notwithstanding that it is not tasty, nor really edible. (It is not technically accurate to translate kaf hayarech as the socket, since the socket is above or in front of the femur [depending on whether we are describing a two-legged or a four-legged animal] and above or in front of the sciatic nerve. I will note that this is not the only mistranslation of this verse I have found in works that are reputed to be authoritative.)

This mitzvah is not mentioned anywhere else in the Torah. According to the Sefer Hachinuch, which lists the mitzvos in the order of their appearance in the Torah, this is the third mitzvah and the first lo saaseh of the 613 mitzvos. An entire chapter of Mishnayos, the seventh chapter of Chullin, is devoted to this mitzvah. Let us understand its details.

Not for the birds

The Mishnah states that the prohibition of gid hano’she does not apply to birds, because they do not have a “kaf,” which I have translated as the “spoon” of the thigh. Although birds have both a femur and a sciatic nerve, they are excluded from the prohibition of gid hano’she because the shape of their bones and muscles is different and does not fit the Torah’s description of the mitzvah (Rambam, Hilchos Ma’achalos Asurus 8:4). The Rambam (Commentary to the Mishnah) explains that the reason for this law is because the structure of the bird’s leg is very different from that of a man, and therefore not reminiscent of the miracle that occurred to Yaakov. (Those who would like to see an explanation of the Talmudic passage involved should look at the encyclopedic work Sichas Chullin and other contemporary works.)

The Gemara (Chullin 92b) discusses whether the halacha exempting birds from the prohibition of gid hano’she is true if a particular individual bird has an unusually shaped leg that resembles the “socket” of an animal, or, conversely, if the prohibition of gid hano’she still applies if an animal’s leg is misshapen, such that the muscle on its upper femur is not shaped like a spoon. The Gemara does not reach a conclusion on this question. Since it is an unresolved halachic issue germane to a Torah prohibition, a safek de’oraysa, the Rambam (Hilchos Ma’achalos Asurus 8:4) and the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 65:5) conclude that both of these instances are prohibited.

Non-kosher species

Is the prohibition of gid hano’she limited to kosher species, or does it apply also to non-kosher species? This is actually a dispute among tanna’im. Rabbi Shimon contends that the prohibition of gid hano’she is limited to kosher species, whereas the tanna’im who disagree with him contend that the prohibition of gid hano’she applies equally to non-kosher species. In their opinion, the sciatic nerve of a horse, camel, pig or donkey is included in the prohibition of gid hano’she. The Rambam (Hilchos Ma’achalos Asurus 8:5) rules like Rabbi Shimon.

What difference does it make whether this sinew is prohibited as a gid hano’she, when it will be prohibited anyway as non-kosher? The answer is that since sinews have no flavor on their own, according to the opinion we will soon explain that ein begiddin benosein taam, sinews from a non-kosher species are not prohibited min haTorah. However, the gid hano’she would be prohibited min haTorah, according to the tanna’im who disagree with Rabbi Shimon.

Which thigh?

A person has two sciatic nerves, one on each leg. The verse implies that Yaakov was wounded on only one side. Which of his sciatic nerves was injured? Nothing overt in the story tells us. However, we can prove what happened from a passage of the Gemara, although we may be left to wonder how the Gemara knew this. There is a dispute among the tanna’im (Chullin 91a) whether the prohibition of gid hano’she applies to the sinews of both the right and left sides, or only to that of the right side. Both opinions understand that Yaakov was injured only in his right thigh. The question is whether Hashem prohibited the sciatic nerves of both sides so that we remember what happened, or only the one on the right thigh. We follow the opinion that it applies to both sides (Rambam, Hilchos Ma’achalos Asurus 8:1).

Inner and outer

On each thigh, there are actually two sinews that can be called the gid hano’she and are near one another. The inner gid, thus called because it runs alongside the bone on the interior of the animal, is the true gid hano’she, whose consumption is prohibited by the Torah. The outer gid does not lie on top of the thigh and is therefore not prohibited min haTorah. Nevertheless, Chazal prohibited eating the outer gid, also (Chullin 91a).

The tanna’im dispute how much of the inner gid is prohibited min haTorah. Rabbi Meir contends that the entire nerve is prohibited min haTorah (Chullin 92b), whereas the chachamim contend that, min haTorah, only the part of the gid lying atop the thigh bone is prohibited. In their opinion, the rest of the gid is prohibited only miderabbanan. A third opinion, that of Rabbi Yehudah, contends that the rest of the nerve is not prohibited even miderabbanan, and, therefore, he did not require its removal (Chullin 92b, 96a).

The dispute among the tanna’im appears to be how one translates the words of the Torah, the children of Israel may not consume the sinew that was displaced, which lies upon the “spoon” of the thigh. According to Rabbi Meir, the Torah is merely explaining the location of this sinew, but it is prohibited in its entirety. According to the other tanna’im, the prohibition is limited to the part of the sinew that “lies atop” the thigh, but not its continuation.

“Fat of the gid

The sciatic nerve lies protected in a layer of fat. This fat is called shumano shel gid and is permitted min haTorah. However, already in the time of the Gemara it was established practice not to eat it (Chullin 91a). It is therefore treated halachically as an issur derabbanan, a rabbinically established prohibition, and it must be removed together with both the inner and the outer giddin.

How early?

The tanna’im also dispute whether the prohibition of gid hano’she began already in the days of Yaakov Avinu, or whether it was first prohibited when the Jews received the Torah at Har Sinai (Mishnah, Chullin 100b).

Chayos

The Mishnah teaches that the mitzvah of gid hano’she applies to all kosher mammals. This includes the species of beheimah and of chayah. In other words, although there are mitzvos that apply to beheimah but not to chayah, and vice versa, the mitzvah of gid hano’she applies to both.

It is difficult to define the differences between beheimah and chayah.  Although we know that beheimah includes cattle and sheep, whereas chayah includes deer and antelope, the common definition of beheimah as domesticated species, and chayah as wild or non-domesticated species, is not halachically accurate. For example, reindeer, which qualify as chayah, are domesticated, whereas wisents and Cape buffalo, which are not domesticated, are probably varieties of beheimah. A more complicated, but far more accurate, definition of beheimah is a halachically recognized genus or category in which most common species qualify as livestock, and chayah is a halachically recognized genus or category in which most common species are not usually livestock.

The Gemara explains that it is dependent on the type of horn that the animal displays, but the terminology the Gemara uses to explain this is unclear and subject to disputes among the rishonim. Since we are uncertain which species are considered beheimah and which are considered chayah, we are stringent. This means any species of which we are uncertain is treated lechumra as both beheimah and chayah — unless we have a mesorah, an oral tradition, about the halachic status of this species (see Shach, Yoreh Deah 80:1, as explained by the Pri Megadim).

Cheilev

The Torah forbade consumption of certain internal fats, called cheilev — these are attached predominantly to the stomachs and the kidneys. Since the Torah prohibits consuming both cheilev and the gid hano’she, these forbidden parts must be removed from an animal before its meat can be eaten. This process is called “traberen,” a Yiddish word that derives from tarba, the Aramaic word for cheilev. The Hebrew word for the process is “nikur,” excising, and the artisan who possesses the skill to properly remove it is called a menakeir. It is interesting to note that the Rema (Yoreh Deah 64:7 and 65:8) points out in two different places that nikur cannot be learned from a text, only through apprenticeship.

Cheilev versus gid hano’she

There is a major difference between gid hano’she and the prohibition of cheilev. The prohibition of cheilev applies to species of beheimah, but not to chayah (Mishnah Chullin 89b). Thus, we have a difference in halacha between gid hano’she and cheilev, in that gid hano’she is prohibited in a chayah, whereas its cheilev is permitted.

This is germane in practical halacha. Because of the difficulty in removing all the cheilev correctly, many communities have the halachic custom not to traber the hindquarters, but, instead, to sell them to gentiles as non-kosher. However, many contemporary authorities have ruled that even those who have accepted this practice may still traber the hindquarters of a deer, which is definitely a chayah, to remove the gid hano’she, since the cheilev of a chayah is permitted. This is because the gid hano’she that is prohibited min haTorah is relatively easy to remove and does not involve as serious halachic issues as does the cheilev. Notwithstanding this heter, there is still a requirement that one who trabers the gid hano’she of a deer may do so only if he has been trained in performing this nikur.

The Mishnah

Having established the basic rules from the pasuk itself, we can now analyze more of the halachos of this mitzvah. An entire chapter of Mishnayos, the seventh chapter of Chullin, is devoted to understanding it. The opening Mishnah of this chapter begins as follows: (The prohibition of) gid hano’she applies both in Eretz Yisroel and in chutz la’aretz, both during the times of the Beis Hamikdash and when there is no Beis Hamikdash, regarding both chullin and sanctified offerings. It applies both to beheimos and to chayos, to both the right thigh and the left thigh. But it does not apply to birds, because they do not have a kaf.

The Gemara asks why the Mishnah needed to report that the prohibition of gid hano’she applies to kodoshim. Since animals are born as chullin, at the time of birth the animal’s sciatic nerve becomes prohibited as gid hano’she. Why would we think that the prohibition of gid hano’she might disappear when the animal is declared to be holy?

To resolve this difficulty, the Gemara proposes the following solution: There is a dispute among tanna’im referred to as yesh begiddin benosein taam, sinews have flavor, or ein begiddin benosein taam, sinews do not have flavor. “Sinews” refer to the parts of an animal that are not tasty, but are eaten incidentally while consuming the tasty meat. The dispute is as follows: Since sinews are eaten only as part of a piece of meat, are they considered food? If they are not considered food, then other prohibitions, such as the mixing of meat and milk, or the prohibition of non-kosher species, do not apply to them min haTorah, since these prohibitions apply only to edible parts of an animal.

Thus, regarding the giddin of a kodoshim animal, if giddin are not considered food (ein begiddin benosein taam), then the prohibition of kodoshim does not apply.  However, the sciatic nerve of a kodoshim animal is prohibited because of the prohibition of gid hano’she. The Shulchan Aruch concludes that ein begiddin benosein taam (Yoreh Deah 65:9).

Jewish identification

It is very interesting to note that, at times in Jewish history, the mitzvah of gid hano’she became the identifying characteristic of the Jew. Kaifeng, China, is a city of 4.5 million people on the southern bank of the Yellow River that attracts much tourism for its rich history. In the tenth and eleventh centuries, Kaifeng was the capital of China, and, for this reason, the city is known as one of the Seven Ancient Capitals of China. As history notes, when there are a lot of people, there is money to be earned, and when there is money to earn, one will usually find Jews.

At one point, over a thousand years ago, Jewish merchants from Persia and India settled in the area, created for themselves a Jewish community, and built shullen. Their shullen faced west toward Yerushalayim. Unfortunately, with the passing centuries, their descendants became completely intermarried and assimilated into the Chinese population. To this day, about 1,000 Kaifeng residents claim Jewish ancestry.

What does this have to do with the mitzvah of gid hano’she? The answer is that the Chinese identified the Jews with the practice of removing the gid hano’she, referring to Jews as the sinew-plucking people. Until recently, there was even a street in Kaifeng called “The Lane of the Sinew-Plucking Religion,” a reference to the Jews who once lived there.

Jewish American identification

Not only the Chinese identified the Jews because of the mitzvah of gid hano’she. Many years ago, when I was a rav in a small community in the United States, a non-observant Jew was interested in making a strictly kosher wedding for his daughter, because he had frum friends whom he wanted to accommodate. His daughter was willing to have a kosher wedding, as long as it did not look “too kosher.” I asked her what she meant that it should not look “too kosher,” to which she answered: “No ribs and no briskets.” I had been unaware that, to someone who did not keep kosher, forequarters meat, such as rib and brisket, is associated with “kosher-looking,” whereas hindquarters meat, not consumed in many places because of the difficulties in removing the gid hano’she and the cheilev, is viewed as “non-kosher looking.” Thus, the prohibition of gid hano’she defined a Jewish menu. (Fortunately, the executive chef of the hotel doing the kosher catering provided ideas for a perfectly kosher and very delicious meal that would, by the bride’s definition, not look too kosher.)

Conclusion

Although above I translated the word noshe as “displaced,” which is the approach of Rashi and therefore the most common rendering, Rav Hirsch understands that the root of the word noshe, similar to no’she, a creditor, means submission and powerlessness. Yaakov’s gid had been dislodged by his adversary; he was unable to control the muscle that moves the bone. The nerve, muscle and bone all existed, but their use was temporarily hampered. Thus, the gid hano’she denotes temporary relinquishment, but not permanent loss. Ya’akov is a no’she, a creditor, who has quite a large account to settle with Eisav and his angel.

To quote the Sefer Hachinuch: The underlying understanding of this mitzvah is to hint to the Jewish people that, while in the exile, although we will undergo many difficulties from the other nations, and particularly the descendants of Eisav, we should remain secure that we will not be lost as a people. At some point in the future, our offspring will rise and a redeemer will arrive to free us from our oppressor. By always remembering this concept through the observance of this mitzvah, we will remain strong in our faith and our righteousness will remain forever!

Certainly some very powerful food for thought the next time we sit down to a fleishig meal and note that we are eating only “kosher cuts!”