May I Smell My Esrog and Hadasim on Sukkos?

Although this question may seem trivial, it is indeed a serious shaylah that requires explanation. Sometimes, one may smell an esrog, while at other times one may not. Why is this true? Also, when it is permitted to smell an esrog, do I recite a bracha beforehand? If I do, which bracha do I recite?

We may ask similar questions regarding the hadasim, although the answers are not always the same. May I smell my hadasim, and which bracha do I recite before smelling them?

In order to explain the background to these questions, I first need to explain two very different areas of halacha, one concerning the laws of muktzah, and the other concerning the laws of brachos on fragrances.

MUKTZAH

The Gemara teaches us the following: One may not smell (during Sukkos) the hadas that is set aside for the mitzvah, but one may smell the esrog. The Gemara asks, “Why is there a difference between the hadas and the esrog?” The Gemara replies that since the main use of a hadas is for fragrance, it becomes muktzah, and one may not smell it. But since the main “use” of an esrog is for food, one may not eat it, but one may smell it (Sukkah 37b). This is the explanation of what the Gemara means.

This Gemara teaches that an item used for a mitzvah becomes muktzah machmas mitzvah; that is, designated solely for its specific mitzvah and not for a different use. This category of muktzah is different from the more familiar types of muktzah in several ways:

  1. As the Gemara teaches elsewhere (Sukkah 9a), this type of muktzah is prohibited min Hatorah, whereas other forms of muktzah are prohibited only miderabbanan.
  2. These items are muktzah only to the extent that one may not use them, but one may move them. This is different from most types of muktzah, which one may not move on Shabbos or Yom Tov.
  3. These items are muktzah only with regard to their primary, normal purpose: for example, one may not smell a hadas that is muktzah machmas mitzvah because the primary purpose of a hadas is for fragrance. However, one may use it (or them) for a secondary use, and that is why, according to the Gemara, one may smell the esrog. (A person who is interested in purchasing a fragrant item would consider buying hadasim, not an esrog.)
  4. This type of muktzah is prohibited even on Chol Hamoed, whereas other types of muktzah are prohibited only on Shabbos and Yom Tov.

Thus, it would seem that we may answer the original question I asked: May I smell my esrog and hadas on Sukkos? And the answer is that I may smell my esrog, but I may not smell my hadas, because it is muktzah for its mitzvah.

However, the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 653:1) rules that I should also avoid smelling my esrog on Sukkos. Why does the Shulchan Aruch prohibit something that the Gemara explicitly permits?

The answer to this question takes us to the other topic — when does one recite a bracha before smelling a fragrance? Although the Gemara explicitly permits smelling an esrog on Sukkos, the Gemara does not mention whether one recites a bracha before smelling it.

Indeed, the Rishonim dispute whether one is required to recite a bracha before smelling an esrog. Rabbeinu Simcha, one of the late baalei Tosafos, rules that one may not recite a bracha before smelling an esrog that is being used for the mitzvah on Sukkos, whereas the Ravyah, an early Ashkenazi posek, rules that one must recite a bracha. The later poskim conclude that this dispute is unresolved, and that, therefore, one may not smell an esrog during Sukkos, when reciting a bracha would be a question. This topic requires some explanation: Why should an esrog on Sukkos be different from an esrog any other time of the year?

FRAGRANCES THAT ARE NOT FOR THE PLEASURE OF SMELL

One recites a bracha only on a fragrance that is avida lereicha, literally, “made for fragrance” (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 217:2). In the words of the Chazon Ish (Orach Chayim 35:1), “Anything whose current purpose is not for aroma is not considered a fragrance” (regarding recitation of a bracha). Therefore, one does not recite a bracha before smelling a deodorizer, even if it has an extremely pleasant fragrance, since its purpose is not aroma, but to mask unpleasant odor. Similarly, smelling the tantalizing aroma of a food or food flavoring does not warrant a bracha, since its purpose is not enjoyment of their aroma, per se. (I have written several other articles germane to the brachos on fragrances, which are available on the RabbiKaganoff.com website; to find them, use the search word fragrance.) Furthermore, when the halacha rules that one is not required to recite a bracha, one is not permitted to recite the bracha, as doing so constitutes a bracha l’vatalah, a bracha recited in vain.

EXAMPLE:

When showing a house that is for sale, some people toast cinnamon in the oven or open essential oils and other fragrances around the house to make the house more appealing. Since the purpose of these fragrances is to give the house a pleasant aroma and not to entice people to smell or purchase the fragrance, one does not recite a bracha.

Based on the foregoing introduction, we can now explain the above-quoted dispute whether to recite a bracha before smelling an esrog on Sukkos. Rabbeinu Simcha contends that although one may smell an esrog on Sukkos, and it is not prohibited due to its being muktzah, this does not warrant making a bracha. The esrog on Sukkos is still primarily intended for the mitzvah, and not for fragrance; therefore, smelling it does not require a bracha. In Rabbeinu Simcha’s opinion, reciting a bracha in this case constitutes a bracha l’vatalah.

The Ravyah disagrees, maintaining that since it is permitted to smell an esrog, it is considered to be meant for fragrance, and requires one to recite a bracha before smelling it (Mordechai, Sukkah #751; Tur Orach Chayim 653).

This dispute places us in a predicament. The halacha is that one may not benefit from something in this world without first reciting a bracha, and if, indeed, one is required to recite a bracha before smelling an esrog, then one may not smell it without reciting a bracha (Brachos 35a; Hagahos Smaq 193:11). On the other hand, if one is not required to recite a bracha before smelling it, then one may not recite the bracha, and doing so involves reciting a bracha in vain, a bracha l’vatalah.

Since we are not in a position to resolve this dispute, the poskim contend that one should avoid smelling the esrog used for the mitzvah during Sukkos (Shulchan Aruch 653), even though there is no muktzah violation in smelling it. Furthermore, one may smell the esrog if he first recited a bracha on a different fragrant fruit.

ESROG ON SHABBOS

As I mentioned above, Rabbeinu Simcha contends that an esrog is not considered avida lereicha, meant for fragrance, and therefore one does not recite a bracha before smelling it. Does this halacha apply the entire week of Sukkos, or only when I pick up the esrog to fulfill the mitzvah? What if I smell the esrog on Shabbos, when there is no mitzvah to perform, or I pick it up on a day of Sukkos after I have already fulfilled the mitzvah? Do I recite a bracha before smelling it, according to his opinion?

Let us compare this shaylah to the following case:

Someone who enters a spice merchant’s store recites a bracha, because the owner wants customers to smell his wares so that they will purchase them (Berachos 53a). If these items are in his warehouse, where he is not soliciting customers, one does not recite a bracha (Magen Avraham 217:1).

Why does one recite a bracha on the spices in the store, but not on those that are in the warehouse? This is because the spices in the store are there to be smelled and enjoyed, and are therefore avida lereicha. However, the spices in the warehouse are not meant to be smelled – therefore, they are not avida lereicha. Note that we are discussing the same spices, and the only difference is where they are located.

PUTTING INTO YOUR HAND

Let’s assume you are back in the spice merchant’s warehouse or in a flavor factory, and you know that you do not make a bracha on the incredible fragrance that is wafting through the air. What happens if you approach some of the spices to take a pleasant whiff, or you pick up some of the spice in order to smell it? Do you recite a bracha?

The poskim dispute what to do in this case. The Mishnah Berurah (217:1) contends that whenever you do something to smell the fragrance, such as moving towards the source of the fragrance in order to smell it, picking it up, or putting some into your hand, you should recite a bracha. Any such act makes the fragrance avida lereicha.

However, the Chazon Ish disagrees, maintaining that if you will return the spice afterwards to the storage bin in the warehouse, it is not avida lereicha, and you do not recite a bracha (Chazon Ish, Orach Chayim 35:1). The Chazon Ish agrees that if the manufacturer has samples available that he wants people to smell and buy, one does recite a bracha on them, and he also agrees that if you remove some of the spices to smell and will not return them, you do recite a bracha.

SPICES IN THE KITCHEN

There is a common, practical difference in halacha between the approaches of these two Gedolim regarding kitchen spices. Suppose you want to enjoy the smell of the cinnamon or the oregano on your kitchen shelf. According to the Mishnah Berurah, if you remove a container from the shelf to smell it, you recite a bracha on the spice, even though you intend to return the spice to the shelf after smelling it, and it will eventually be added to food. (By the way, the poskim dispute which bracha one recites before smelling cinnamon. The accepted practice is to recite borei minei besamim.) However, according to the Chazon Ish, you do not recite a bracha on this spice, unless you no longer intend to cook with it. Someone who wants to avoid the dispute should sprinkle a little bit of spice into his hand and make a bracha on that. Since you are neither going to return this spice to the container nor cook with it, according to all opinions, one recites a bracha before smelling it.

Some poskim explain that this opinion of the Chazon Ish is the reason for the widespread minhag to set aside special besamim for havdalah on Motza’ei Shabbos (Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasah, Vol. 2 pg. 262).

WHAT ABOUT MY ESROG ON SHABBOS?

A dispute similar to the one quoted above exists concerning smelling my esrog on Shabbos, or picking up the esrog to smell it after I have fulfilled the mitzvah for the day.

The Magen Avraham rules that I recite a bracha before smelling the esrog under these circumstances, even according to Rabbeinu Simcha. Therefore, in his opinion, one may pick up the esrog specifically to smell it, and one recites the bracha before smelling it.

However, the Taz implies that one may not smell the esrog anytime during Sukkos. According to the Chazon Ish’s analysis of the subject, one can explain the Taz’s approach as follows: Since the esrog is meant for the mitzvah, it is not considered avida lereicha that warrants a bracha, unless one permanently makes it into a fragrance. Thus, if an esrog became pasul, or for some other reason can no longer be used for the mitzvah, it will be called avida lereicha and warrant a bracha. Under any other circumstance, it remains a safek bracha, and one should not smell it until Yom Tov is over. One may recite a bracha and smell it on Shemini Atzeres or Simchas Torah, since it no longer serves any mitzvah purpose. Thus, it appears that the dispute between the Magen Avraham and the Taz is identical to the dispute between the Mishnah Berurah and the Chazon Ish.

WHICH BRACHA DO I RECITE ON AN ESROG?

Everyone agrees that one may smell an esrog that will no longer be used for the mitzvah, and that one must recite a bracha before smelling it. In such a case, which bracha do I recite?

Chazal established five different brachos that relate to scent, each for a different category of fragrance.

  1. Borei shemen areiv, “The Creator of pleasant oil,” is recited only on the fragrant oil extracted from the balsam tree (Mishnah Berurah 216:22). Because this tree was important and grew in Eretz Yisroel, Chazal established for it a special bracha (Rabbeinu Yonah, Brachos 43a).
  2. Hanosein rei’ach tov ba’peiros, “He who bestows pleasant fragrances in fruits” (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 216:2). We recite this bracha before smelling fragrant, edible fruits and other foods (Rama 216:14). Some poskim rule that the proper text for this bracha should be in past tense: Asher nasan rei’ach tov ba’peiros, “He who bestowed pleasant fragrances in fruits” (Mishnah Berurah 216:9). This is the bracha one recites before smelling an esrog.

Many poskim state that the custom today is to not make a bracha on smelling a fruit, unless it has a pronounced aroma (see Vezos Haberacha pg. 174). For this reason, one should be certain that the esrog one holds has a strong, pleasant fragrance before reciting a bracha. If one is uncertain, one may smell the esrog first to see that it is fragrant, and then, if it is fragrant, recite the bracha hanosein rei’ach tov ba’peiros and smell it again.

  1. Borei atzei besamim, “The Creator of fragrant wood (or trees).” One recites this bracha before smelling fragrant, woody plants and trees, or their leaves, flowers, wood, or oils. Hadasim are certainly in this category. Although we mentioned above that it is prohibited to smell a hadas that is being used for the mitzvah on Sukkos, hadasim that one does not intend to use for the mitzvah may be smelled on Sukkos, and he should recite this bracha before smelling them.

Incidentally, the correct bracha to recite before smelling citrus blossoms or flowers is Borei atzei besamim, since the flower is not edible.

  1. Borei isvei besamim, “The Creator of fragrant grasses.” We recite this bracha before smelling non-woody plants, their parts or extracts. Before smelling a fragrant hyacinth, narcissus, or lily one recites this bracha. The custom among Sefardim is to recite this bracha before smelling mint, although, for reasons beyond the scope of this article, Ashkenazim recite borei minei besamim before smelling mint.
  2. Borei minei besamim, “The Creator of different types of fragrances.” This is the “catch-all” bracha for all fragrances, the equivalent of reciting a shehakol on food. Sometimes, it is the preferred bracha, and sometimes it is the bracha used to resolve uncertainties. Although I have not seen poskim discuss this case, it would seem to be permitted to recite a bracha on an item whose bracha is borei minei besamim and have in mind to include the esrog and then be able to smell the esrog. This would provide a method whereby one could smell one’s esrog on Yom Tov, according to all opinions.

Question: Why did Chazal create a unique bracha prior to smelling aromatic fruits?

Answer: Whenever one benefits from this world, one must recite a bracha. Thus, Chazal instituted brachos that are appropriate for fragrances. However, the other brachos on fragrance are not appropriate for smelling fragrant foods, since they praise Hashem for creating fragrances, whereas fruits are not usually described as fragrances, but as foods that are fragrant. Therefore, Chazal needed to establish a special bracha for aromatic fruits (see Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim end of Chapter 297).

Conclusion

The Gemara (Berachos 43b) teaches, “How do we know that one must recite a bracha on a fragrance? Because the pasuk (Tehillim 150:6) says, ‘Every neshamah praises Hashem,’ – What exists in the world that the soul benefits from, but not the body? Only fragrance.”

Because fragrance provides some physical pleasure, but no nutritional benefit, the sense of smell represents an interface between the spiritual and the physical. Similarly, we find that we offer korbanos as rei’ach nicho’ach, a fragrance demonstrating one’s desire to be close to Hashem. We should always take advantage of the opportunity to smell fragrant items as a steppingstone towards greater mitzvah observance and spirituality.

 

Blessings and Guardrails

Mitzvas maakeh is mentioned in this week’s parsha.

Blessings and Guardrails

Question #1: Who makes the brocha?

“If someone performs a mitzvah as my agent, can I still recite a brocha on the mitzvah?”

Question #2: Am I doing the mitzvah?

“Do I fulfill the mitzvah of building a maakeh if I hire a non-Jew to do it for me?”

Question #3: When do I bless?

“If I am performing a mitzvah that will take a long time to fulfill, when do I recite the brocha?”

Introduction:

Reb Gavriel*, a talmid chacham whom I know, is having his house remodeled, including adapting a roof area for use, which will require the assembly of a maakeh, a fence, wall or railing high enough and strong enough to prevent someone from falling (see Devorim 22:8). He asked me the following: “I will now have the first opportunity of my life to fulfill the mitzvah min hatorah of building a maakeh. My question is: The construction workers are not Jewish. Can I recite a brocha on performing this mitzvah, when gentiles are doing the work? And, if I recite a brocha, when do I recite it, since this construction will take several weeks?”

Let me explain Gavriel’s excellent questions. Prior to performing a mitzvas aseh, a positive mitzvah, we recite a brocha thanking Hashem for the opportunity to fulfill His commandments. These brochos are what we call birchos hamitzvah. They begin with the words Boruch Ata Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam asher kideshanu bemitzvosav vetzivanu and conclude with the words appropriate to the specific mitzvah. According to the majority of halachic authorities, one recites a brocha on constructing a maakeh, since by constructing this maakeh one fulfills a positive mitzvah of the Torah (Sedei Chemed, Volume 5, page 250, provides analysis of this point). The rishonim cite several slightly variant texts detailing how one concludes the brocha recited for fulfilling this mitzvah. (See commentaries She’eilas Shalom and Ha’eimek Hasheilah to She’iltos, Eikev #145, who discuss what is the proper text of the brocha.) I believe that the accepted Ashkenazic practice is to complete the brocha with the words: Al mitzvas maakeh.

In Reb Gavriel’s case, there are three questions:

  1. Can I recite a brocha when I am not performing the mitzvah myself?
  2. Do I fulfill a mitzvah when it is performed by hirees who are not Jewish?
  3. At what point in the construction should I recite the brocha?

Who recites the brocha?

Reuven asks Shimon to search his (Reuven’s) house for chometz. Can Reuven recite the brocha of al bedikas chometz on Shimon’s search? (We should note that, in general, someone obligated to perform a mitzvah should do the mitzvah himself, rather than assign it to someone else, a principle called mitzvah bo yoseir mibeshelucho, it is a bigger mitzvah to perform a mitzvah yourself than via proxy [Kiddushin 41a].)

On the one hand, Reuven is fulfilling the mitzvah, not Shimon. On the other hand, Shimon is the one who is actually performing the mitzvah.

The Magen Avraham states that the agent doing the act of the mitzvah can recite the brocha (432:6), but he also implies that should Reuven want to recite the brocha, he may do so, even if he himself did not participate at all in the act of performing the mitzvah (432:5). They should not both recite the brocha – for one of them, this would constitute a brocha levatalah, a brocha recited in vain.

Shelichus

The Torah teaches a principle that a person can perform a mitzvah, create a transaction, or discharge a legal requirement by having an agent act on his behalf, a concept called shelichus. Because of this rule, a husband can appoint someone to write a get on his behalf, or deliver a get to his wife. Similarly, I can appoint someone to separate challah from dough that I have prepared, or appoint someone to be my agent to carry out a transaction, such as having a rav sell my chometz.

Ein shelichus lenachri

Although I can appoint a proxy to separate terumos or challah for me or to carry out a transaction on my behalf, that agent must be Jewish. The Torah did not extend the concept of agency to non-Jews, either to allow a gentile to function as surrogate for someone else or to have a gentile appoint a surrogate on his own behalf. A result of this halachah is that a Jew cannot appoint a gentile to separate challah. Thus, a Jewish-owned bakery that has non-Jewish employees mixing dough must make provisions to have a Jew take challah. If a gentile did the act of separating challah, no mitzvah was performed.

According to this reason, it would seem that if Reb Gavriel has non-Jewish workers building his maakeh, the mitzvah was not fulfilled. He is not doing the construction himself, and the people he hired are ineligible to be his agents. It is true that there is no longer any danger of having an unfenced roof, and, therefore, one is not in violation of allowing a safety hazard to exist, lo sasim damim beveisecha (Devorim 22:8). Yet, it would seem that the positive mitzvah to build a railing was technically not observed, since it was constructed in a way that no one fulfilled the mitzvah.

Enter the Machaneh Efrayim

Yad po’el keyad baal habayis

  1. The Gemara teaches a principle; yad po’el keyad baal habayis, literally, the “hand” of the worker is treated as the hand of the employer (Bava Metzia 10a). If I hire someone to perform general work – regardless of what he is assigned to do — and he finds an unowned object in the course of his work, the employer becomes the owner of the object. How did the employer gain ownership of the item, when it was the employee who found it and picked it up? The Gemara explains that since the employer hired the worker to do whatever needs to be done during the period of his service, the employer owns even the worker’s ability to take possession of items, which is called a yad, a hand, in halachic jargon.

The Machaneh Efrayim extends the principle of yad po’el keyad baal habayis to Reb Gavriel’s situation. When I hire someone to be my general worker, it is considered that I built the railing myself. I have therefore fulfilled the mitzvah and may recite the brocha. This principle does not apply when I hire a worker for a specific job (see Aruch Hashulchan, Choshen Mishpat 427:3).

There are other ramifications of this principle of the Machaneh Efrayim. Although there is an obligation to separate terumos and maasros from produce growing in a Jew’s field in Eretz Yisroel or in the lands nearby, one is not required to separate them until the harvesting process is complete. At the time of the Mishnah/Gemara, this entailed leveling off the pile of grain or other produce, after all had been harvested. The Machaneh Efrayim contends that, even if this leveling was performed by a gentile employee or hiree, the owner becomes obligated to separate terumos and maasros. Despite the fact that a non-Jew cannot function as a proxy, the processing he performs as an employee obligates the owner to separate maasros.

Construction is different

  1. The Machaneh Efrayim presents a second line of reasoning why someone who hired a gentile to build a railing has fulfilled the mitzvah. The rule that a gentile cannot be my agent is only when something requires agency to be effective, such as the separation of challah, the delivery of a get, or creating a transaction. In each of these cases, a change of status or ownership is effected by someone’s intent. Without intent on the part of the person creating the change or transaction, nothing has happened – the dough  that was separated did not become challah, the woman did not become divorced, the chometz was not sold. In these instances, since the Torah did not create a concept of shelichus for gentiles; if I appointed someone non-Jewish to separate challah or to carry out agency, nothing has transpired.

However, contends the Machaneh Efrayim, when a physical act is being done, such as the construction of a railing, we are not dealing with a legal effect, but an on-the-ground, physical result. This is not a function of the laws of shelichus, but a practical matter. Since the railing now exists, I have fulfilled the mitzvah and can recite the brocha, regardless who actually constructed it.

Railing about the railing

Notwithstanding that the Machaneh Efrayim concludes that Reb Gavriel could recite a brocha when his gentile workers build the maakeh, many later authorities dispute either or both of his reasons (Shaar Hamelech, Terumos 1:11; Shu’t Shivas Tziyon #53; Nesivos Hamishpat, Chapter 188; Minchas Chinuch, Mitzvah #546; Shu’t Sha’ul Umeishiv, Volume 1, part 2 #110; Ulam Hamishpat, Chapter 188; Shu’t Birchas Retzei  #75; Sedei Chemed, Volume 5, pages 249-250). Regarding his first approach, that, because of the concept of yad po’el keyad baal habayis, it is considered that the employer built the railing himself, there are two different reasons to refute his position. Firstly, there is no evidence that the halachic concept yad po’el keyad baal habayis applies to non-Jewish employees. All the places in which the Gemara applies this rule involve Jewish workers, and there are valid reasons why one should not be able to compare the two.

Furthermore, even if yad po’el keyad baal habayis applies to gentile workers, there is a big jump in logic to apply this principle to the construction of a railing. If, in the course of his day’s work, an employee acquires something on behalf of the employer’s business, one could argue that the employer made the transaction, since he owns the employee’s yad.  However, how does the act of the gentile employee, such as constructing a railing, become the act of the Jewish employer, in such a way that he did the act of the mitzvah himself and can therefore recite a brocha? A mitzvah must be performed by someone who can be commanded to fulfill this mitzvah. The action performed by the gentile does not become the act of the employer because of yad po’el keyad baal habayis.

To demonstrate the difficulty with the Machaneh Efrayim’s approach, some authorities contend that, according to the Machaneh Efrayim, if a Jew instructed his gentile employee to plow using a donkey and an ox, the Jew will be liable for malkus, lashes, for violating the Torah violation of having them work together, since his gentile employee’s action is considered as if he did it himself (Shu’t Shivas Tziyon #53). Although it is prohibited to hire a gentile to do this, it is highly surprising to assume that the Jew should be liable for malkus in such a situation.

Is this chometz she’avar alav hapesach?

The Machaneh Efrayim’s principle created a problem for a community in a very different case. The local branch of a Jewish-owned business was managed completely by gentiles. The question was whether the chometz that the non-Jewish employees of the local branch purchased on behalf of the business before Pesach becomes prohibited because of chometz she’avar alav hapesach, chometz that was owned by a Jew in the course of the holiday. The questioner, Rav Yaakov Mendel Friedman, the rav of Nadvorna, wanted to permit the chometz on the basis that, since there is no agency of non-Jews, the chometz is halachically considered to have been owned by gentiles over Pesach. However, he noted that, according to the Machaneh Efrayim, since the gentiles are the employees of the Jewish owners, the chometz is deemed to have been owned by Jews over Pesach, and it is therefore prohibited. He sent the question to Rav Tzvi Hirsch Orenstein, a respected nineteenth century posek in Lithuania and Poland. (During his lifetime, he served successively as rav in Brisk, Reisha and Lvov.) Rav Orenstein ruled that accepted halachah does not follow the opinion of the Machaneh Efrayim (Shu’t Birchas Retzei #75).

Other railings

The second reason presented by the Machaneh Efrayim why someone could recite a brocha upon the assembly of a railing built by a non-Jew was that the owner fulfills the mitzvah of building a maakeh, no matter how the railing actually became constructed. Notwithstanding the Machaneh Efrayim’s contentions, others dispute his conclusion that this is considered that the Jew performed the mitzvah.

It appears that most authorities reject the position of the Machaneh Efrayim and contend that one should not recite a brocha, if a gentile built the railing. Those who reject the Machaneh Efrayim’s approach would require that a Jew participate in the construction of the railing, in order to be able to recite the brocha. However, one major authority rules that Reb Gavriel should recite a brocha on the assembly of the railing, regardless of whether it was assembled by Jews or by gentiles, and even if he did not participate at all (Aruch Hashulchan, Choshen Mishpat 427:3).

When do I recite a brocha?

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

“If I am performing a mitzvah that will take a long time to fulfill, when do I recite the brocha?” This exact question can be asked regarding the assembly of a railing, and we noted before that Reb Gavriel, indeed, asked it.

Allow me to provide some background. In general, one recites a brocha immediately prior to beginning the performance of a mitzvah or immediately prior to eating a food. The Gemara (Pesachim 119b) calls this oveir la’asiyasan. According to this, one should assume that one would recite the brocha on the railing immediately before one performs the mitzvah. However, the question, here, is that the mitzvah takes a long time to perform. It can also happen that someone may encounter a difficulty in the middle of the job that makes it impossible for him to complete the mitzvah. Because of these concerns, when should one recite the brocha for performing the mitzvah?

This question is raised by the Chasam Sofer (Shu’t Chasam Sofer, Orach Chayim 52), who concludes that one should recite the brocha immediately prior to completing the maakeh. In his opinion, since the railing does not provide adequate protection until it is complete, the act of the mitzvah is the last hammer blow that makes it into an effective railing.

However, a much earlier authority than the Chasam Sofer holds differently. The Baal Ha’itur (Hilchos Tzitzis, Shaar 3, Cheilek 2, page 152) rules that one recites the brocha at the beginning of the assembly of the railing, even though its manufacture takes time. He compares this to the brocha of al bi’ur chometz, which we recite at the beginning of the search, knowing that it may involve interruptions and considerable time until the mitzvah is completed, which is when one has finished burning the chometz.

A third approach

I found yet a third approach to when one should recite the brocha on assembling a railing, because of an interesting reasoning. Some late authorities suggest that if the owner is unable to construct the railing himself, he should wait to recite the brocha until the railing is in place, out of concern that the employee may not complete the job, and the brocha that he recited for the mitzvah would be in vain (see Sedei Chemed).

In conclusion

What should Reb Gavriel do? I found some late authorities who suggest that he should try to assist the workers at a critical time in the manufacture of the railing, in which case, he could recite the brocha, because he took an active part in its assembly (Sedei Chemed, quoting Nediv Leiv). According to the Chasam Sofer, he should help out at the last stage of the construction of the railing, which is when the mitzvah is being properly fulfilled. According to the Baal Ha’itur, he should help out at the beginning of the construction of the railing, so as to recite the brocha before the mitzvah is begun.

Just as we must make sure that we build a guardrail in a way that it will properly prevent physical injury, so must we also examine the laws governing how and when we thank Hashem for the opportunity to observe his mitzvos. And just as we hire a professional to ascertain that our guardrail does its job well, so should we strive to recite our brochos and prayers with careful attention to detail, performing them in the way Hashem wants.

* I was asked this exact question. The name was changed to protect the individual’s privacy.

Can a Sheitel be Prohibited Because of Avodah Zarah?

I wrote this article originally several years ago when this topic was very hot in the news. I have revised it, based on currently available information. The purpose of this article is not to give a final decision on the topic, but to present some background of the issues.

Can a Sheitel be Prohibited Because of Avodah Zarah?

A Background Discussion of the Halachic Issues Involved in the Use of Indian Hair

Introduction to the Laws of Avodah Zarah

In addition to the cardinal prohibition against worshipping idols, the Torah distanced us from any involvement with or benefit from avodah zarah. Furthermore, the money received in payment for the avodah zarah is also tainted with the stigma of avodah zarah and may not be used. As will be described later, this money must be destroyed in a way that no one will ever be able to use it.

Chazal prohibited benefit even from the wages earned for transporting an item used in idol worship. Thus, the wages of a person who hired himself to transport wine used in idol worship are prohibited (Mishnah, Avodah Zarah 62a). He is required to destroy whatever he received as payment, and he must destroy it in a way that no one else can use it. The Gemara rules that if he received coins as payment, he must grind up the coins and then scatter the dust to the wind, to guarantee that no one benefit from idolatry.

In this context, the Gemara recounts the following story: A man who had rented his boat to transport wine owned by idolaters was paid with a quantity of wheat. Since the wheat may not be used, the question was asked from Rav Chisda what to do with it. He ruled that the wheat should be burnt, and then the ashes should be buried. The Gemara asks why not scatter the ashes, rather than burn them? The Gemara responds that we do not permit this out of concern that the ashes will fertilize the ground where they fall. Thus, we see how concerned Chazal were that we not gain any benefit from idols, even so indirectly.

Takroves Avodah Zarah – An Item Used to Worship an Idol

One of the laws relating to idol worship is the prohibition against using takroves avodah zarah, that is, not to benefit from an item that was used to worship avodah zarah. According to the accepted halachic opinion, the prohibition against using takroves avodah zarah is min hatorah (Rambam, Hilchos Avodah Zarah 7:2; cf. Tosafos, Bava Kama 72b s.v. de’ei, who rules that the prohibition is only miderabbanan).

It should be noted that one is permitted to use items that are donated to avodah zarah, provided these items are not used for worship. Thus, gold, jewelry, and other valuables donated to a Hindu temple may be used.

Mitzvos Pertaining to Avodah Zarah

There are several mitzvos of the Torah pertaining to avodah zarah, all of which convey the Torah’s concerns that we be distanced extensively from avodah zarah. For example, the Torah forbids having an avodah zarah in one’s house (Avodah Zarah 15a). This is based on the verse, velo sovie so’eivah el beisecha, “you shall not bring an abomination into your house” (Devarim 7:26). Furthermore, we are prohibited from providing benefit to the avodah zarah (Avodah Zarah 13a). Thus, it is prohibited to make a donation if a neighbor or business contact solicits a contribution for his church.

There is also a positive mitzvah to destroy avodah zarah. This is mentioned in the verse, abeid te’abdun es kol hamekomos asher ovdu shom hagoyim … es eloheihem, “you shall completely destroy all the places where the nations worshipped their gods” (Devarim 12:2). According to Rambam, the mitzvah min hatorah applies only to destroy the avodah zarah itself and that which decorates and serves it. There is no Torah requirement to destroy items used in the worship of avodah zarah (Hilchos Avodah Zarah 7:1-2, as proved by Kehillas Yaakov, Bava Kamma end of #3). However, as mentioned above, one is required, miderabbanan, to destroy anything that is prohibited to use, to make sure that no one benefits from the avodah zarah items (see Avodah Zarah 51b; Rambam, Hilchos Avodah Zarah 8:6).

Some Background Facts in the Contemporary Shaylah About Indian Hair

The Indian sub-continent is the home of the largest population of Hindus in the world. Hinduism is a religion that falls under the category of avodah zarah.

Most Hindu sects do not cut their hair as part of any worship ceremony. However, there is one large sect whose members sometimes shave their hair as an acknowledgement of thanks to one of their deities. This practice is performed by thousands of Hindu men, women, and children daily at their temple in Tirupati, India. The temple then collects the hair shavings and sells the women’s hair for wig manufacture. Although the majority of human hair used in wig manufacture does not come from India, a significant percentage of hair in the international wig market comes from Indian idol worshippers.

A very important halachic issue is whether the hair shaving procedure that takes place in this Hindu Temple constitutes an act of idol worship, or whether the hair is simply donated for the use of the idol. This question is both a practical question, that is, what exactly do they do, and a halachic issue, whether what they do renders the hair takroves avodah zarah, which is prohibited to use min haTorah. As mentioned above, it is permitted to use an item that was donated to an avodah zarah. Such an item does not carry the halachic status of takroves avodah zarah, which is prohibited to use. However, if the shaving is an act of idol worship, then the hairs may not be used.

The Earlier Ruling

Many years ago, Rav Elyashiv ruled that there is no halachic problem with using hair from the Indian temples. This responsa is printed in Kovetz Teshuvos (1:77). The person who asked Rav Elyashiv the shaylah provided him with information based on the opinion of a university professor familiar with Hinduism. According to the professor, the Hindus who cut their hair did so only as a donation to the temple, just as they also donate gold, jewelry and other valuables to the temple. Although there is presumably still a prohibition in purchasing the hair from the temple (because of the prohibition against providing benefit to an idol), Rav Elyashiv ruled that, based on the information provided, there is no halachic prohibition to use this hair.

However, Rav Elyashiv and several other prominent gedolim later ruled that the hair sold by this Hindu temple is prohibited for use, because of takroves avodah zarah.

What changed?

The critical difference is that, although this professor did not consider the haircutting to be an act of idol worship, not all Hindus necessarily agree with his opinion about their religion. Although it may seem strange to quote the story of an idolater, I think this small quotation reflects how at least one Hindu views this ceremony of shaving hair:

Rathamma has made the two-day journey to India’s largest Hindu temple with her family and friends to fulfill a pledge to her god. Provide us with a good rice crop, she had prayed, and I’ll sacrifice my hair and surrender my beauty.

This quotation implies that this woman was not coming to make a donation of a present to her god, but that this is a method of worship. Of course, it could very well be that the author of these words is taking very liberal license with what Rathamma believes and does.

It should be noted that Rav Moshe Shternbuch, shlit”a, currently Rosh Av Beis Din of the Eidah HaChareidis in Yerushalayim, published a teshuvah on the question about the Indian hairs about the same time that Rav Elyashiv published his original ruling. Rav Shternbuch concluded that it is prohibited to use any sheitel produced with Indian hair, because of takroves avodah zarah.

Bitul — Nullifying the Prohibited Hair

What happens if the Hindu hair is mixed in with other hair? This is a very common case, since Indian hair is less expensive than European hair and, at the same time, is not readily discernible in a European sheitel. (As a matter of fact, it has been discovered that some manufacturers add Indian hair on a regular basis into their expensive “100% European hair sheitlach.”)

Assuming that hair shorn in the Hindu temple is prohibited because of takroves avodah zarah, does that mean that a sheitel that includes any Indian hair is prohibited to be used? What about the concept of bitul, whereby a prohibited substance that is mixed into other substances in a manner that it can no longer be identified is permitted?

The answer is that the concept of bitul does not apply in most cases when avodah zarah items became mixed into permitted items. Chazal restricted the concept of bitul as applied to avodah zarah because of the seriousness of the prohibition. Therefore, if a sheitel contains hair from different sources, such as hair made of European hair with some Hindu hair added, the sheitel should be treated as an Indian hair sheitel. Thus, according to Rav Elyashiv, this sheitel should be destroyed in a way that no one may end up using it. It is not necessary to burn the sheitel. It would be satisfactory to cut it up in a way that it cannot be used, and then place it in the trash.

However, there is some halachic lenience in this question. Since the concept that avodah zarah is not boteil is a rabbinic injunction and not a Torah law, one may be lenient, when it is uncertain that there is a prohibition. This is based on the halachic principle safek derabbanan lekulah, that one may be lenient in regard to a doubt involving a rabbinic prohibition.

Thus, in a situation where a sheitel is manufactured from predominantly synthetic material, European hair, or horse hair (this is actually quite common), and there is a question whether some prohibited hair might have been added, the halacha is that the sheitel may be worn.

It should be noted, that when attempting to determine the composition of a sheitel, one cannot rely on the information provided by a non-Jewish or non-frum manufacturer. In general, halacha accepts testimony from these sources only when certain requirements are fulfilled, which are not met in this instance.

Many synthetic sheitlach contain some natural hairs to strengthen the sheitel. In this instance, there is an interesting side-shaylah. One can determine whether there are human hairs in these sheitlach by checking the hairs of the sheitel under a microscope. The human hairs will look different from the synthetic material. However, there is no way that this can tell us the country of origin of the human hairs, and it certainly cannot tell us whether the hairs were involved in any worship. Is one required to check the hairs of a synthetic sheitel under a microscope to determine whether there are any human hairs? All the poskim I have heard from have ruled leniently about this issue – one is not required to have the sheitel checked.

Color of Sheitel

I have heard people say that there should be no halachic problem with blond- and red-headed sheitlach, since Indian women have dark hair. Unfortunately, based on my conversations with sheitel machers, there does not seem to be any basis for this assumption. In most instances, the hair used in sheitlach is bleached, removing all color, and then (much later in the process) dyed to a specific color. Thus, there is no reason to assume that simply because a sheitel is a fair color that it cannot have originated in a Hindu temple.

Who could imagine that in the modern world, shaylos about the laws of avodah zarah would affect virtually every frum household. It goes to show us how ein kol chodosh tachas hashemesh, there is nothing new under the sun (Koheles 1:9).

 

Mezuzah Basics

The “Ten Commandments” of Mezuzah

The laws governing where one places a mezuzah are, indeed, complicated. The Rambam (Hilchos Mezuzah 6:1) codifies ten necessary requirements that must be fulfilled for a house or room to be obligated to have a mezuzah.

  1. The room must have a minimum area of four amos by four amos (which is about fifty square feet). In the Rambam’s opinion, it is not necessary that each side be at least four amos wide – if the room or building’s area is at least sixteen square amos, one must place a mezuzah on its entrance. Thus, according to the Rambam’s opinion, a room that is three amos wide and six amos long requires a mezuzah.

However, the Rosh and others disagree, contending that a room three amos wide and six amos long does not require a mezuzah, since it does not have four amos in each dimension. In other words, they contend that a normal living area must be at least four amos in both its length and its width.

Although the authorities accept the Rambam’s position as the primary halachic opinion, and therefore one is required to place a mezuzah at the doorway to a room that is sixteen square amos, even if it is narrower than four amos (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 286:13), we do not recite a beracha when placing only this mezuzah. Instead, should there be another doorway that is definitely required to have a mezuzah, one should recite a beracha prior to placing this mezuzah, following which he can put up a mezuzah on the door of the room that is narrower than four amos (Shach). (This is the general rule that is applied for any case when there is a safek whether one must install a mezuzah. One does not recite a beracha, but it is optimal to place this mezuzah immediately after putting up a different mezuzah that requires a beracha, thereby including the safek situation with the beracha.)

Let us now return to the Rambam’s Ten Mezuzah Rules – that is, the ten necessary conditions that require a house or room to have a mezuzah.

  1. The entrance must have sideposts on both sides. I will soon explain what this means.
  2. The entrance must have a mashkof, that is, something that comes down vertically, similar to the way a lintel functions as the top of a doorway.
  3. The room or house must be roofed. An enclosed yard or porch without a roof does not require a mezuzah, although sometimes the doorway to an unroofed yard or porch functions as an entrance to the house and requires a mezuzah for this reason. However, a doorway of an unroofed room or building that is not an entranceway to a house does not need a mezuzah.
  4. In the Rambam’s opinion, a mezuzah is required only when the house or room’s entrance has a door. In this instance, the Rambam’s position is a minority opinion, since most other Rishonim contend that the lack of a door does not absolve the requirement of a mezuzah. The accepted conclusion is to install a mezuzah in a doorway that has no door, but not to recite a beracha when doing so (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 286:15). (Again, the best option here is to place this mezuzah  immediately after putting up a mezuzah in a place that all opinions require one, with the beracha recited on the latter mezuzah.)
  5. The sideposts of the entrance are at least ten tefachim tall, which is between 32 and 38 inches.
  6. The house or room does not have the sanctity of a shul or beis medrash. In the Rambam’s opinion, a beis medrash does not require a mezuzah. Most authorities rule that one should place a mezuzah on a beis medrash, and, therefore, accepted practice is to place a mezuzah on any beis medrash, but without a beracha. Common practice today is to treat a shul as a beis medrash and, therefore, to place a mezuzah on its door without a beracha.
  7. The house or room is intended for human habitation. For example, stables and barns are absolved of the requirement of mezuzah.
  8. The house or room is meant for an honorable use, as opposed to a bathroom or similar rooms, where we do not install a mezuzah.
  9. The room or house is intended for permanent use. For this reason, we do not install a mezuzah on a sukkah.

The next section is an edited version of an actual correspondence that I was asked via e-mail.

Bs”d

Dear Rav Kaganoff,

I have a sad financial/gezel sheilah for the Rav.

My former employers owe me several hundred pounds.  In legal documents, through their lawyer, they have acknowledged that they owe me the money.  They have also made it clear that they are not going to pay it.  The only way to get the money, at this point, would be if I went to secular court, since it is quite clear, based on their track record, that they would not obey a ruling of a beis din.  My wife and I have decided that we cannot afford this. It would cost us more than we would probably win.

However, when we moved, the moving company accidentally packed mezuzos which belong to the former employer.  These mezuzos are now sitting in my lift boxes waiting to be unpacked when we move into our new apartment in two weeks. 

Prior to accepting this job, the employer had instructed me to purchase mezuzos that I would need for the house that we were renting. He reimbursed us for them two months later. 

The money the employer owes me is predominantly from unpaid reimbursements. Frequently, there were expenditures that I made out-of-pocket for which they were supposed to reimburse me. Each month when they reimbursed me, they never paid the full amount.  They always shortchanged me — 20 pounds here, 10 pounds there. At the end of my employment, they owed me several hundred pounds of out-of-pocket expenses. And, more recently, they stopped paying the reimbursements altogether.

Am I allowed to keep the mezuzos, since I was the one who originally bought them? 

Thanks very much

xx

 

My answer:

The fact that you had purchased the mezuzos is not relevant. What is germane is the issue of “tefisah” – a creditor (or other person owed money) taking something belonging to the debtor (or person who owes money) on account of the debt.

In this case, if the value of the mezuzos is certainly less that the amount you are owed, it is permitted to keep them.

Best wishes.

Sources:

The question of “grabbing” (taking hold of) property for purpose of reclaiming bad debt is discussed extensively by authorities.

Permission to do so, in appropriate circumstances, is found in a number of authorities (see Choshen Mishpat 4; Sema 4:3; see also Gra 4:15). In the case of your question, because you are already in possession of the mezuzos, the case is more lenient, and you can certainly rely on the permitting poskim.

A condition for this is that you can prove your case in Beis Din. From the question, I understand that this is the case – the documents you have prove the employer’s debt, and this will be admissible in Beis Din – so that it is permitted to keep the mezuzos on account of the debt.

It is indeed ironic, or perhaps not at all so, that this a mezuzah is to remind us that Hashem protects us, and that this question came from someone whose employer forgot that Who is in charge!

Mezuzah Rewards

Aside from fulfilling a mitzvah commanded by Hashem, the mitzvah of mezuzah serves to remind us constantly of His presence. We touch the mezuzah whenever we enter or exit a building to remind ourselves of Hashem’s constant presence, so that the mezuzah serves as a physical and spiritual protective shield. Whenever passing it, we should remind ourselves of Hashem’s constant protection. In addition, the Gemara teaches that someone who is meticulous in his observance of the laws of mezuzah will merit acquiring a nice home (Shabbos 23b). We thus see that care in observing this mitzvah not only protects one’s family against any calamity, but also rewards one with a beautiful domicile. May we all be zocheh to always be careful in our observance of the laws of mezuzah and the other mitzvos, and reap all the rewards, both material and spiritual, for doing so!

 

 


The Halachos of Pidyon Haben

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

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

WHO IS REQUIRED TO REDEEM THE BECHOR?

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

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

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

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

WHAT HAPPENS IF A KOHEIN MARRIED A DIVORCEE?

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

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

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

WHAT HAPPENS IF NO ONE REDEEMS THE BECHOR?

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

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

WHAT IS THE PROCEDURE?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HOW LONG IS A MONTH?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A RATIONALE FOR THE MITZVAH

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

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

 

 

Which Utensils Must I Immerse?

Question #1: With Cookie Cutter Precision!

Rivkah Baker asks:

“Do I need to toivel the cookie cutter that I just purchased?”

Question #2: Butch’s Cleaver

Butch Katzav, the proprietor of the local glatt kosher meat market, inquires: “Under my previous hechsher, I was told that I did not need to toivel my meat cleavers, since they are used only for raw meat. However, my new rav hamachshir requires me to toivel them. Why is there a difference?”

Introduction:

In Parshas Matos, the Torah teaches: Regarding the gold and the silver; the copper, the iron, the tin and the lead: any item that was used in fire needs to be placed in fire to become kosher, yet it must also be purified in mikveh water. In addition, that which was not used in fire must pass through water” (Bamidbar 31:22-23). From these verses, we derive the mitzvah of tevilas keilim — the mitzvah to immerse metal implements in a kosher mikveh or spring prior to using them for food. The Gemara (Avodah Zarah 75b) notes that this immersion is required, even if the vessel has never been used. In other words, this mitzvah is unrelated to the requirement of koshering equipment that was used for non-kosher food, or to the laws related to purifying implements that became tamei.

The Gemara (Avodah Zarah 75b) further states that in addition to metal items intended for food use, we are also required to immerse glass dishes, because both metal and glass share a similarity – they are repairable by melting and reconstructing, what we call today recyclable. This renders them different from vessels made of stone, bone, wood or earthenware, all of which cannot be repaired this way.

Immediately prior to immersing something that definitely requires tevilah, one recites a beracha: Asher kideshanu bemitzvosav vetzivanu al tevilas keilim. One does not recite this beracha when it is uncertain that immersion is required, such as, when the authorities dispute whether tevilah is necessary. When there is no mitzvah to immerse a utensil, reciting a beracha is prohibited, becauses it constitutes a beracha levatalah, one stated in vain. Therefore, when we are uncertain whether an item requires tevilah, we immerse it — but without reciting a beracha. A better solution is to immerse something that definitely requires a beracha at the same time that one immerses the “questionable” item, and to recite a beracha on the “definite” item/utensil. We will soon see an example.

Is this a kashrus law?

The Gemara cites a highly instructive dialogue about the mitzvah of immersing new vessels:

“Rav Nachman said in the name of Rabbah bar Avuha: ‘From the verse, one can derive that one must immerse even brand new items, because used vessels that were purged in fire are as kosher as those that are brand-new, and yet they require immersion.’

Rav Sheishes then asked him: ‘If it is true that the mitzvah of immersing vessels is not because of kashrus concerns, then maybe one is required to immerse even clothing shears?’

Rav Nachman responded: ‘The Torah mentions only vessels that are used for meals (klei seudah)'” (Avodah Zarah 75b).

Rav Sheishes suggested that if the immersion of utensils is not a means of koshering a non-kosher vessel, then perhaps we have many more opportunities to fulfill this mitzvah, and it applies to any type of paraphernalia — even cameras, cellphones and clothing shears!

To this, Rav Nachman retorted that the Torah includes only items used for klei seudah – as Rashi explains, household implements used with fire are normally pots, pans and other cooking implements. Thus, the mitzvah of tevilas keilim applies only to utensils used for preparing food, and not those intended for other purposes.

Klei Seudah – appliances used for meals

We should note that Rav Nachman did not say that all food preparation utensils require immersion, but he required immersion only of klei seudah, items used for meals. We will soon see how this detail affects many of the halachos of tevilas keilim.

What exactly are considered klei seudah, and how is this different from simply saying that all food implements must be immersed?

Early halachic authorities provide some direction about this issue. For example, the Mordechai (Chullin #577, quoted by Beis Yosef, Yoreh Deah 120) rules that a shechitah knife does not require immersion. Why not? After all, it is used to prepare food.

The answer is that since meat cannot be eaten immediately after shechitah, this knife does not qualify as klei seudah. Only utensils that prepare food to the point that they can be eaten are called klei seudah. This is the approach that the Shulchan Aruch follows (Yoreh Deah 120:5).

Making a point!

According to this approach, cleavers used for raw meat, tenderizers (mallets used to pound raw meat), and reidels, the implements used to perforate matzoh dough prior to baking, would all not require tevilah, since the meat or dough is not edible when these implements complete their task (Darkei Moshe, 120:4, quoting Issur VaHeter).

However, not all authorities reach this conclusion. Indeed, the same Darkei Moshe, who ruled that reidels do not require tevilah, quoted that both the Rash and the Tashbeitz, two prominent early authorities, toiveled shechitah knives before using them. Why did these poskim toivel their shechitah knives? Did they contend that any implement used to process food at any stage requires tevilah? If so, would they also require immersing reidels, meat grinders and rolling pins?

We find a dispute among halachic authorities how to explain this opinion. According to the Taz (120:7) and the Gra (120:14), the Rash and the Tashbeitz indeed require immersing appliances whose finished product is not yet edible. In their opinion, the Rash and the Tashbeitz require the toiveling of reidels and presumably, also, meat grinders. Since the matter is disputed – the Mordechai contending that these items do not require tevilah, and the Rash and the Tashbeitz requiring tevilah — the Taz and the Gra rule that we should follow a compromise position, immersing shechitah knife and reidels before use, but without reciting a beracha, because maybe there is no requirement to immerse them, and the beracha will be in vain.

What is the difference between a reidel and a knife?

On the other hand, the Shach (120:11) disputes the way the Taz and the Gra understand the opinion of the Rash and the Tashbeitz. The Shach contends that although the Rash and the Tashbeitz rule that one must toivel a shechitah knife, they would not require the immersion of a reidel before use. A shechitah knife must be toiveled because it can potentially be used for food that is ready to be eaten. The Shach concludes that an implement that can be used only for items that are not yet edible does not require immersion, and therefore a reidel does not require tevilah.

Cookie cutting precision!

Most of our readers probably do not regularly use shechitah knives or reidels, but may have more experience with cookie cutters. If a cookie cutter is used only for dough, then according to the conclusion of the Mordechai and the Shulchan Aruch, it would not require tevilah. However, my wife informs me that cookie cutters are often used to form shapes in melons or jello; therefore, they must be immersed.

There are other items where this question is germane, such as items that would be used only for kneading, e.g., a metal rolling pin; or for items used for processing raw meat, e.g., a meat grinder, or a schnitzel mallet. Must one immerse these items?

The answer is that it is dependent on the above-quoted dispute between the Gra and the Shach. According to the Gra, those early authorities who require the toiveling of a shechitah knife require that all food implements be toiveled. Since we usually require toiveling shechitah knives, we must also toivel reidels, meat grinders, and rolling pins, although we would toivel all of these items without a beracha (see Pri Megadim, Orach Chayim 451:6).

However, according to the Shach, there is a big difference between a shechitah knife, which can be used to cut ready-to-eat foods, and a reidel, which can be used only for food that is not ready to eat. Since reidels are never used for ready-to-eat food, they do not require tevilah.

Major improvements

There is yet a third approach to this issue. Some other authorities contend that an item used for a major tikun, or change, in the food, such as shechitah, requires tevilah, even if the food is not edible when this step is complete. However, an item that performs only a minor tikun, such as the reidel, does not require immersion, if the food is not yet edible (Pri Chodosh and Aruch Hashulchan). In their opinion, the potential use of the shechitah knife is not what requires the tevilah. It is the fact that the shechitah performed with this knife is a major stage in making the finished product, the meat, edible. Those who follow this approach would rule that one need not toivel a meat grinder, whereas the Gra and the Taz would rule that one should.

The saga of Butch’s cleaver

We can now address Butch Katzav’s question:

“Under my previous hechsher, I was told that I did not need to toivel my meat cleavers, since they are used only for raw meat. However, my new rav hamachshir requires me to toivel them. Why is there a difference?”

In true Jewish style, let us answer Butch’s question with a question. Is a cleaver like a shechitah knife or like a reidel?

In certain ways, a cleaver is like a knife, in that it can be used both for raw meat and for cooked, ready-to-eat food. On the other hand, it is unlike a shechitah knife which performs a major tikun by making the meat kosher, and in this way, the cleaver is more similar to a reidel which performs a relatively minor function.

Now we can answer Butch’s question. The previous hechsher may have ruled like the Pri Chodosh and the Aruch Hashulchan that an item used for a minor change does not require tevilah, unless it is used with edible food. The current rav hamachshir may follow the opinion of the Shach that an item, such as a knife or cleaver, requires tevilah when used for food that is not yet edible, since it could be used for ready-to-eat food. It is also possible that the current rav follows the opinion of the Gra and the Taz that any food implement requires tevilah without a beracha, and would require that even a reidel be immersed.

Conclusion

According to Rav Hirsch, metal vessels, which require mining, extracting and processing, represent man’s mastery over the earth and its materials, whereas vessels made of earthenware or wood only involve man’s shaping the world’s materials to fit his needs. The manufacture of metal utensils demonstrates man’s creative abilities to utilize natural mineral resources to fashion matter into a usable form. Consuming food, on the other hand, serves man’s most basic physical nature. Use of metal food vessels, then, represents the intellectual aspect of man serving his physical self, which, in a sense, is the opposite of why we were created — to use our physical self to assist our intellect to do Hashem’s will. Specifically in this instance, the Torah requires that the items thereby produced be immersed in a mikveh, to endow them with increased kedusha before they are put to food use. This demonstrates that although one may use one’s intellect for physical purposes, when doing so, one must first sanctify the item to focus on the spiritual.

 

 

Holey Foods: Of Donuts and Bagels

Question #1: Challah on donuts

“Is there a requirement to separate challah from donuts?”

Question #2: Frum cousin

“I have discovered that a cousin of mine eats donuts only as part of a meal. Is there a halachic basis for his practice?”

Question #3: Holy bagels

“May I use bagels for lechem mishneh on Shabbos?”

Question #4: Top of the grill

“If I bake small loaves of bread on top of the grill, do they qualify as hamotzi and may I use them for the seudos of Shabbos?”

Question #5: Waffling along

“A friend of mine just purchased a factory that manufactures waffles. Does he need to have challah taken? The factory is located in a rural area, where there is no Jewish population.”

Introduction:

To understand the issues raised by our opening questions, we must analyze the definition of “bread,” particularly for the three different mitzvos mentioned: the separating of challah, the brochah of hamotzi, and the fulfillment of lechem mishneh, having two loaves at the Shabbos repasts. (Please note: This entire article will use the word challah to refer to the Torah’s mitzvah of setting aside a sample of dough to be given to a kohen, or to be burnt if the dough is tamei. I am not referring to the unique bread that is customarily served at Shabbos and Yom Tov meals, which has come to be called challah, although this is, technically, a misnomer.)

Separating challah

We will begin our discussion with the laws of challah taking, since this will make it easier to present the halachic literature on the other topics.

The Torah describes the mitzvah of challah in the following passage:

When you enter the land to which I am bringing you, it will be that, when you eat from the bread of the land, you shall separate a terumah offering for G-d. The first dough of your kneading troughs shall be separated as challah, like the terumah of your grain shall you separate it (Bamidbar 15:18-20).

The Torah requires challah to be taken from your kneading troughs, from which we derive that there is no requirement to separate challah unless there is as much dough as the amount of manna eaten daily by each member of the Jewish people in the desert. Chazal explain that this amount, called ke’shiur isas midbar, was equal to the volume of 43.2 eggs. In contemporary measure, we usually assume that this is approximately three to five pounds of flour. (For our purposes, it will suffice to use these round figures. I encourage each reader to ask his own rav or posek for exact quantities.)

The requirement to separate challah depends on the ownership of the dough at the time it is mixed, not on who mixes it. In other words, if a Jew owns a bakery, there is a requirement to separate challah, even if his workers are not Jewish. Similarly, if a gentile does the kneading in a Jewish-owned household, nursing home or school, one must separate challah. And, conversely, there is no requirement to separate challah at a bakery owned by non-Jews, even if the employees are Jewish.

When there is a definite requirement to separate challah, one recites a brochah prior to fulfilling the mitzvah. As with all blessings on mitzvos, the brochah begins Baruch atoh Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam asher kideshanu bemitzvosav vetzivanu. There are different opinions and customs as to the exact text used in concluding this brochah. Among the versions I have seen: Some conclude lehafrish terumah, others lehafrish challah, and still others lehafrish challah min ha’isa.

Getting battered

Is there a requirement to separate challah when one is mixing a batter, as opposed to dough? The answer to this question is that it depends on how the batter is baked. When the finished product is baked in an oven, there is a requirement to separate challah, whether or not it was originally dough or a batter (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 329:2). Similarly, dough or a batter baked in a frying pan or a “wonder pot” (a pot meant for baking cakes on top of the stove) is also chayov in challah (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 329:2). (Again — bear in mind that there is a requirement to separate challah only when there are at least three pounds of flour in the batter, a circumstance that is unusual when baking on a household stovetop.)

Waffles, when baked from batter poured into molds, are chayov in challah (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 329:5). However, pancakes, which are made by pouring dough directly onto a stovetop or a frying pan, are exempt from challah (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 329:5), even if one makes a large quantity. Why are waffles included in the requirement to take challah, but not pancakes? After all, both are made from loose batters.

The rishonim explain that when processing a thin batter without an oven, the finished product requires challah only when it has a bread-like appearance, what the Gemara calls turisa denahama, which it receives when baked in a mold (Tosafos, Brochos 37b s.v. Lechem). When a batter is neither baked in an oven nor poured into a mold prior to being baked, it does not form a turisa denahama. Therefore, pancakes, which are made from a batter, are not baked in an oven and are not poured into a mold, never form a turisa denahama, which is a requirement for them to become chayov in challah.

The waffle factory

At this point, we can address the fifth question that was asked above: “A friend of mine just purchased a factory that manufactures waffles. Does he need to have challah taken? The factory is located in a rural area where there is no Jewish population.”

The Shulchan Aruch rules that one is required to separate challah from waffles that are baked in a mold and therefore form a shape. Since a factory uses more than five pounds of flour in each batch of waffle mix, one should separate challah with a brochah, even though there are no Jews involved in the production. Ideally, arrangements should be made to have a frum person present during production to separate challah. Alternatively, there are methods whereby challah can be separated by appointing a frum person who is elsewhere as an agent for separating challah, but the logistics that this requires are beyond the scope of this article.

Sunny dough

All opinions agree that dough baked in the sun is not obligated in challah (Pesachim 37a). Also, a batter prepared in a frying pan that has some water in the bottom of the pan is patur from challah (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 329:2), since this is considered to be cooked batter rather than baked bread.

Holy donuts

At this point, we can begin to explain whether donuts require the separation of challah. Donuts are made of dough with a reasonably thick consistency that is then deep-fried, or cooked in oil (these are two ways of saying the same thing). Cooking is not usually considered a process that creates bread. The question is whether the requirement to take challah exists already because it is mixed into dough, or that there is no requirement to take challah unless one intends to bake the dough.

According to one approach in the rishonim, one is obligated to separate challah from any dough that meets the size (43.2 eggs) and ownership (Jewish) requirements mentioned above, regardless of whether one intends to bake, cook or fry the dough afterwards (Rabbeinu Tam, as understood by Tosafos, Brochos 37b s.v. Lechem and Pesachim 37b s.v. Dekulei alma). Since the Torah requires separating challah from dough, it is possible to contend that there is a requirement to separate challah from dough even when there is no intention to bake it into bread, but cook it as pasta, kreplach, or donuts. According to this approach, a Jewish-owned pasta factory is required to separate challah for the macaroni, spaghetti and noodles that it produces. (Note that some authorities who accept Rabbeinu Tam’s basic approach, that any dough is obligated in challah, nevertheless exempt dough manufactured for pasta because of other reasons that are beyond the scope of our topic [see Tosafos, Brochos 37b, s.v. Lechem, quoting Rabbeinu Yechiel].)

The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 329:3) concludes that dough that one intends to cook or fry is exempt from the requirement to take challah, ruling against Rabbeinu Tam. However, the Shach contends that one should separate challah without a brochah. Again, this would be required only if someone prepared a dough containing at least three pounds of flour. The Shach would hold this way also regarding other products that involve cooked or fried dough, such as kreplach. Thus, a caterer, restaurant or hotel cooking a large quantity of kreplach for a communal Purim seudah should have challah taken from the dough, in order to take into consideration the Shach’s position.

So, the simple answer to the question, “Is there a requirement to separate challah from donuts?” is that, according to the Shach, there is such a requirement, if more than three pounds of flour are being used. However, no brochah should be recited when separating challah, even when using a large amount of flour, since most authorities exempt dough that one intends to cook or fry from the requirement of taking challah.

Hamotzi

Having established some of the rules germane to the requirement to separate challah, do the same rules apply when determining what items require hamotzi before eating them? This is, itself, a subject that is disputed (see Tosafos, Pesachim and Brochos 37b s.v. Lechem). Some authorities contend that the rules for brochos are identical to those applied to the separation of challah, whereas others rule that one does not recite hamotzi unless another requirement is met – that the finished product has a bread-like appearance (turisa denahama). The halachic basis for drawing a distinction between the mitzvah of challah and the brochah to be recited is that the requirement to separate challah is established at the time the dough is mixed, whereas the halachic determination of which brochah to recite is created when the food is completed (Rabbeinu Yonah, Brochos; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 168:13).

Most authorities conclude that the correct brochah prior to eating a dough product that is cooked or fried is mezonos. According to this opinion, the correct brochah to recite before eating donuts or cooked kreplach is mezonos. (Sometimes kreplach are baked, which might change the halacha.) However, there is a second opinion that the correct brochah on these items is hamotzi, because they are all made from dough. According to this latter opinion, one is required to wash netilas yadayim prior to eating these items and to recite the full birchas hamazon (bensching) afterwards.

How do we rule?

The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 168:13) and the Rema (ibid.) both follow the majority opinion that the correct brochah prior to eating a dough product that is cooked or fried is mezonos. However, the Shulchan Aruch also cites the minority opinion, that one should recite hamotzi prior to eating a cooked dough product. He concludes that, to avoid any question, someone who is a yarei shamayim should eat a cooked dough product only after making hamotzi and eating a different item that is definitely bread. This way, the G-d fearing person avoids all halachic issues.

Some authorities question this solution, since a snack food requires a brochah even when consumed in the middle of a meal. A snack that is made out of dough is included under the halachic heading called pas habaah bekisnin, a topic I have written about in other articles, including one entitled Pizza, Pretzels and Pastry that can be found on the website RabbiKaganoff.com. (Those eager to pursue this question are also referred to the Magen Avraham [168:35] and the Machatzis Hashekel [ad loc.])

We now have enough information to answer the second of our opening questions: “I have discovered that a cousin of mine eats donuts only as part of a meal. Is there a halachic basis for his practice?”

Indeed, there is. According to the Shulchan Aruch’s recommendation that a yarei shamayim eat cooked dough foods only after reciting hamotzi on a different food that is definitely bread, your cousin is following the approach advised by the Shulchan Aruch to cover all the bases. However, this practice is not halachically required.

Holy bagels

At this point, let us return to the third of our original questions:

“May I use bagels for lechem mishneh on Shabbos?”

To answer this question, let us spend a moment researching how bagels are made. The old-fashioned method of making bagels was by shaping dough into the well-known bagel with-a-hole circle, boiling them very briefly and then baking the boiled dough.

Modern bagel factories do not boil the dough, but instead steam the shaped bagels prior to baking them, which produces the same texture and taste one expects when eating a bagel, creates a more consistent product and lends itself more easily to a mass production process. In either way of producing bagels, the halacha is that their proper brochah is hamotzi, because they are basically baked products (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 168:14). Since halacha treats them as regular bread, they may be used for lechem mishneh on Shabbos and Yom Tov. So, although bagels and donuts often share a common shape, they do not, in this case, share a common halachic destiny.

Top of the grill

At this point, let us examine the fourth of our original questions: “If I bake small loaves of bread on top of the grill, do they qualify as hamotzi, and may I use them for the seudos of Shabbos?” Does bread baked on top of a grill qualify as bread for hamotzi and lechem mishneh?

We can prove what the halacha is in this case from a passage of Talmud. The Gemara (Pesachim 37a) quotes a dispute between Rabbi Yochanan and Reish Lakeish whether bread baked in a pan or pot is chayov in challah or not. According to Rabbi Yochanan, all such bread is chayov in challah, whereas according to Reish Lakeish, it is chayov in challah only if the pan is preheated, and then the dough is placed inside; however, if the dough is placed into a cold pan which is then heated, there is no chiyuv challah.

Although Rabbeinu Chananel rules according to Reish Lakeish in this instance, most rishonim rule according to Rabbi Yochanan, and this is the conclusion of the Shulchan Aruch. The halachic conclusion is, also, that this bread requires the brochah of hamotzi (Rema, Orach Chayim 168:14). Furthermore, most authorities understand that the dispute between Rabbi Yochanan and Reish Lakeish is when one is attempting to make bread out of a batter by baking it in a pan on top of the fire, but that all opinions agree that dough baked on top of the fire is definitely treated as bread. Therefore, we can answer this question positively: Bread produced this way may be used for the Shabbos meals, including lechem mishneh.

Conclusion

We have discovered that there are a variety of regulations that define whether something is chayov in challah, requires hamotzi and may be used for lechem mishneh. Dough or batter that is baked in an oven or other baking process and looks and services like bread, is bread for all these mitzvos.

On the other hand, a batter that is subsequently cooked or fried is not considered bread for any of these purposes.

In between, we have our donuts, which, although made from dough, are cooked. One should take challah from them without a brochah, assuming that there is sufficient quantity to create a chiyuv. For brochos purposes, we usually consider them mezonos, although there is a basis to be more stringent and to eat them, always, within a meal, to avoid getting involved in a halachic dispute.

Since we have spent most of our article discussing the mitzvah of challah, we should note the following Medrash that underscores its vast spiritual significance: “In the merit of the following three mitzvos, the world was created – in the merit of challah, in the merit of maasros, and in the merit of bikkurim” (Bereishis Rabbah 1:4).

 

Symphony of the Soul

Question #1: Trumpets

“Can there be a mitzvah in the Torah of blowing trumpets if this instrument was not invented until relatively recently?”

Question #2: Bugles

“Someone told me that the correct translation of chatzotzeres is “bugle.” Can that possibly be true?”

Introduction:

The association between music and Torah is not usually explored in halachic articles, which is an oversight, since several mitzvos demonstrate this relationship. Among those mitzvos are the singing of select chapters of Tehillim by the levi’im that accompanies the korbanos in the Beis Hamikdash, and the rendition of Hallel on joyous days and occasions. There are also the mitzvos of blowing shofar and of blowing the chatzotzeros, which will be the focus of this week’s article.

The Sefer Hachinuch counts five mitzvos in parshas Beha’alos’cha, Mitzvos #380–384, four of them related to the offering of the korban Pesach on Pesach sheini. The offering of korban Pesach was accompanied with a joyous rendition of Hallel. The fifth mitzvah mentioned by the Sefer Hachinuch is that of blowing trumpets, and can function as a commentary on the following verses:

“And Hashem spoke to Moshe saying, ‘Make for yourself two trumpets of silver; make them (out of silver) by hammering them. And their purpose shall be for calling the community and having the camps embark on their journey. When they are blown a continuous blast, all the community shall gather to the entrance of the ohel mo’eid. But if one trumpet is sounded, then the leaders, the heads of the thousands of Yisraelites, shall gather to you. Upon blowing a staccato sound, then the camps that are easternmost shall embark. Upon blowing a second staccato sound, then the southernmost camps shall begin the journey. They shall blow a staccato sound to begin their journey. And when you gather the congregation, blow a continuous sound and not a staccato one. The sons of Aharon, the kohanim, shall blow the horns, and this should be for them a law for all generations. Furthermore, when you enter into a war in your land against an oppressor who afflicts you, you shall blow a staccato sound on the trumpets. Thereby, you will be remembered before Hashem, your G-d, and you will be saved from your enemies. And on the days that you celebrate — your festivals and your new moons — you shall blow a continuous sound on the trumpets upon your ascent offerings and your peace offerings and it will be a remembrance for you before your G-d, for I am Hashem, your G-d” (Bamidbar 10 1-10).

What does the Torah mean in the last verse we quoted: “You shall blow a continuous sound on the trumpets upon your ascent offerings and your peace offerings?” This means that when these korbanos are offered, they are accompanied by the tekiah blasts (the continuous sounds) of the two silver trumpets.

The Sifrei adds that, when the staccato teruah was sounded, it was accompanied by a tekiah sound before and after, and that this is done three times, similar to the order that we blow on Rosh Hashanah. (We blow more than nine sounds on Rosh Hashanah, but that is not the topic of this article.) However, this is only when blowing the teruah sounds that announce the traveling of the camps. When the trumpet blows a tekiah to beckon the elders or the people to come, it is sounded alone (Sifrei).

Horn or trumpet?

Above, I translated the word chatzotzeres as trumpet, as does every translator that I have seen, although it is not fully accurate. The modern trumpet contains valves that allow it a range of pitch which the chatzotzeres does not have. The modern instrument that resembles the chatzotzeres most closely is probably a bugle, which has no keys or valves. However, since most people associate the bugle with such melodious pieces as taps and reveille, neither of which has halachic significance, translating chatzotzeres as bugle will raise a lot of eyebrows. Instead, I decided to use the word trumpet, and we will assume that we are referring to the ancient version of this instrument, not its modern update.

At this point, let us spend a few minutes discussing some of the technical halachos of this mitzvah of blowing trumpets.

Identical

Although I have found no halacha describing the size or the appearance of the trumpets, the halacha is that the two trumpets should be manufactured in such a way that they appear identical – they should have the same exterior form, size, height, and beauty (Sifrei).

Hammered from silver

The mitzvah of the Torah is that each chatzotzeres be hammered from a solid piece of silver. It may not be manufactured the easy way – by melting the silver and pouring it into a mold – which would also make it quite easy to have identical instruments. By comparison, no two handcrafted Stradivarius violins are identical, whereas standard, commercially-made instruments, including the Chinese-made, full-sized, plastic shofaros ubiquitously sold in the Arab shuk in Yerushalayim in Elul, are identical, down to their natural-looking scratch marks, except for their color and whether they are curved towards the right or towards the left.

The chatzotzeres could not be made of copper, brass (a copper-zinc alloy often used for the manufacture of musical instruments), or any other metal, but only of silver (Menachos 28a). If fashioned from any metal other than silver, it is not kosher for fulfilling the mitzvah.

How many trumpets?

In addition to the function of the trumpets mentioned in this week’s parsha, they were also played as part of the orchestra that joined the levi’im’s singing when korbanos were offered. The Mishnah (Arachin 13a) teaches that this orchestra had many instruments, including at least two trumpets, but it could have as many as 120 trumpets. Based on the report (Divrei Hayamim II 5:12) that when Shelomoh Hamelech dedicated the Beis Hamikdash, the orchestra included 120 chatzotzeros as well as many other instruments, the Gemara (Arachin 13b) rules that the orchestra performing with the levi’im singing the shira could add as desired, as many as 120 trumpets! Tosafos (Arachin 13a) discusses whether one could actually have more, but that the Gemara means that once one’s orchestra has 120, there is no need to seek more.

However, germane to the mitzvah of blowing the chatzotzeros, the Sifrei writes explicitly that one may use only two trumpets.

Who blows?

The posuk that we quoted above states explicitly that “the sons of Aharon, the kohanim, shall blow the horns” and this point is noted by several authorities (Sefer Hachinuch; Turei Even, Rosh Hashanah 26b s.v. ushetei; Maharam Shik Mitzvah #385). The Rambam (Hilchos Klei Hamikdash 3:4-5, as explained by Sefer Hachinuch) draws a distinction between the blowing of the trumpets that was a special mitzvah performed on the festivals, when they were blown only by kohanim, and the orchestra that accompanied the daily korbanos, when the trumpets were blown by levi’im.

The tana’im dispute whether a kohein who is a baal mum, blemished and therefore not permitted to perform the avodah in the Beis Hamikdash, may blow the chatzotzeres when it is required to be blown by a kohein. Rabbi Akiva rules that he may not, and that it must be blown by a kohein who may perform the avodah, whereas Rabbi Tarfon permits it (Sifrei).

A master blaster

In this context, the Sifrei quotes an interesting anecdote. After Rabbi Tarfon and Rabbi Akiva each demonstrated the halachic source for his position, Rabbi Tarfon exclaimed: “I can no longer take this! You keep gathering and creating new laws! I know that I saw my mother’s brother, Shimon, who was a kohein with a severe blemish in his leg, blow the chatzotzeres in the Beis Hamikdash!” To this Rabbi Akiva calmly answered, “Perhaps he was blowing the trumpet on Rosh Hashanah or on Yom Kippur of the yoveil year,” when the blowing of the trumpet could be performed even by a Yisroel and certainly by a blemished kohein. Rabbi Tarfon then replied, “You are correct! How fortunate are you, Avraham Avinu, that you produced a descendant, Akiva! Tarfon sees things and misunderstands them, whereas Akiva figures out what is the correct halacha! One who separates himself from you, Akiva, is separating himself from life!”

(Although Rabbi Akiva’s father was a geir tzedek, he was descended from Avraham Avinu on his mother’s side, since she was born of a Jewish family.)

Two mitzvos of shofar

Thus far we have been discussing the mitzvah of blowing the trumpets. There is also a different mitzvah of the Torah, or actually two, to blow the shofar, which is, of course, an animal horn. Most people are surprised to discover that the 613 mitzvos include two mitzvos of shofar. In addition to blowing shofar on Rosh Hashanah, there is a mitzvah to blow the shofar on Yom Kippur of the yoveil year, the fiftieth year of the calendar cycle. This is to fulfill what the Torah teaches in parshas Behar, Veha’avarta shofar teruah bachodesh hashevi’i be’asor lachodesh beyom hakippurim, “And you shall blow a staccato sound on the shofar in the seventh month on the tenth of the month – on Yom Kippur” (Vayikra 25:9).

This blowing of the shofar announces that the Jewish slave, the eved ivri, now goes free, and that the land returns to the ownership of its previous inhabitants. It is, of course, made famous to non-Jewish inhabitants of the United States by its use on the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, where the end of this posuk in parshas Behar (Vayikra 25:10) is quoted, “And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.”

The shofar is blown on Yom Kippur of the yoveil year the exact same way that it is blown on Rosh Hashanah (Rambam, Hilchos Shemittah Vayoveil 10:10-11). This mitzvah, which the Rambam counts as mitzvas aseih #137 and the Sefer Hachinuch counts as mitzvah #331, applies only when each sheivet of the Jewish people lives in Eretz Yisroel on its own land (Rambam, Hilchos Shemittah Vayoveil 10:8). The custom of blowing the shofar at the close of Yom Kippur is so that we remember the mitzvah of blowing shofar on Yom Kippur of the yoveil year.

Bell versus shofar

It is interesting that the founders of the American republic decided to proclaim liberty with a bell, albeit one that cracked the first time it was used, rather than with a shofar, as the Torah states. However, this does not mean that bells were never used in the Beis Hamikdash. As a matter of fact, a bell was used as part of the orchestra in the Beis Hamikdash (see Mishnah, Arachin 13a).

Trumpets with shofar

The Mishnah (Rosh Hashanah 26b) and Gemara (ibid. 27a) record that, in the Beis Hamikdash, the trumpets were accompanied by the shofar, and, vice versa, when there was a mitzvah to blow shofar, the trumpets accompanied the shofar. Whichever was the primary mitzvah on that day was blown in the middle, and the other instrument was blown alongside (Mishnah Rosh Hashanah 26b). Thus, on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur of the yoveil year, the shofar was in the middle with two trumpets, one on each side, whereas on a fast day, the trumpets were in the middle and two shofaros were blown, one on each side (Rashi ad locum).

This practice of blowing the shofar and the trumpets simultaneously is derived from the posuk in Tehillim (98:6): Bachatzotzaros vekol shofar heiri’u lifnei hamelech, Hashem, “With trumpets and the sound of the shofar, call out before The King, Hashem.” The Gemara explains that only “before The King,” that is, in the Beis Hamikdash, should one blow both trumpets and shofar at the same time. Outside the Beis Hamikdash, one should blow either a shofar or the trumpets, but they were never both blown on the same occasion (Rosh Hashanah 27a).

Celebration or fast?

All of this important discussion also serves as an introduction to the following. When the Rambam counts blowing the chatzotzeros as one of the 613 mitzvos, he includes as one mitzvah both blowing them on the festivals and blowing them during times of travail. Let me quote his words in the Sefer Hamitzvos:

Mitzvah #59 is that He commanded us to blow the trumpets in the Mikdash when we offer the korbanos on the festivals… Similarly, we are commanded to blow the trumpets during times of necessity and difficulty.” We see that the Rambam extends the Torah’s requirement to blow the trumpets when an enemy threatens to include any communal difficulty.

The Rambam explains the law at greater length in the Mishneh Torah, where he writes:

“One of the mitzvos of the Torah is to cry out and to blow the trumpets for any travail that comes on the community… whether it is drought, plague, locusts, or anything similar… This is one of the steps whereby one does teshuvah. When a difficulty occurs, they should cry out…. They must all realize that the difficulties are a result of their misdeeds… and that teshuvah is what will relieve the difficulty. However, should they not cry out nor blow the trumpets, and, instead, attribute the malady to happenstance and coincidence — this is a cruel way to live one’s life that causes one to entrench himself in his evil ways. This results in increased strife. This is precisely what the Torah describes when it refers to vahalachtem imi bakeri... The Rabbis extended this idea to include fasting on every malady that happens to the community, until Heaven has mercy. During these fast days, one cries out in prayer and beseeches and blows the trumpets. In the Beis Hamikdash, one also blows shofar… Blowing trumpets and shofar together take place only in the Beis Hamikdash…” (Rambam, Hilchos Taanis 1:1-4)

Thus, we see that the Rambam understands that the mitzvah of blowing trumpets is not simply a specific single act of blowing the horns, but it is a mitzvah used to create days which the community devotes to collective teshuvah.

Altogether, the Rambam counts three different mitzvos that involve sounding instruments: Blowing shofar on Rosh Hashanah, blowing shofar on yoveil, and blowing the trumpets on festivals and fast days.

The Rambam (Sefer Hamitzvos #137) explains why he counts the mitzvos of shofar as two separate mitzvos.  “It is known that this shofar blowing, which is in yoveil, is intended to publicize the freedom. It is a type of a declaration, as said, ‘And you shall call out freedom in the land to all the inhabitants of the designated land.’ And it is a different theme from the blowing on Rosh Hashanah, which is to provide a commemoration of ourselves before Hashem, whereas this one (of yoveil) is to free the slaves” (See Pri Megadim, Orach Chayim, Mishbetzos Zahav 576:2.)

One mitzvah or two?

A very basic question is raised by the primary commentary on the Rambam, the Magid Mishnah: Why does the Rambam count shofar as two mitzvos, one on Rosh Hashanah, and one in the yoveil year Yom Kippur, yet he counts the blowing of the trumpets for the festivals and for the fast days as one mitzvah? Several answers are provided to this question; I will share with you some of them:

Tooting a different mitzvah

The Maharam Shik, who wrote a book on the 613 mitzvos, explains that the Rambam, indeed, did not combine the two types of horn blowing as one mitzvah. Rather, the Rambam considered blowing trumpets as a detail that would be included as part of the laws of offering each korban. In other words, the offering of each type of korban is counted as a mitzvah of the Torah. However, the specific details and steps involved in offering each korban are not counted as separate mitzvos. Similarly, explains the Maharam Shik, blowing the trumpets to accompany the offerings is included as a detail in the offering of that particular korban, rather than as a separate mitzvah (Maharam Shik, Mitzvah #385).

A similar approach is suggested by a different commentary (Mirkeves Hamishneh, Hilchos Taanis 1:1), which explains that blowing the trumpet is not counted as a separate mitzvah but is included under the mitzvah that the levi is responsible for his tasks in the Mikdash, which includes also singing the psalms, guarding the Mikdash and opening the gates (see Rambam, Hilchos Klei Hamikdash 3:2).

These two approaches can be used to explain how a different rishon, the Semag, understood these mitzvos. When in parshas Beha’aloscha he quotes the mitzvah of blowing the trumpets, he limits it to the blowing that transpires when the offerings are brought on the festivals (Semag, Mitzvas Aseih #170). He counts as a separate mitzvah the levi’im carrying out their responsibility in the Mikdash, and includes the laws of their blowing of the trumpets there (Semag, Mitzvas Aseih #169). Furthermore, he counts a different mitzvas aseih (#17), which the Rambam does not, that might include the observance of days of public teshuvah. He defines mitzvas aseih #17 as a positive mitzvah of the Torah to recognize that everything that happens is divinely controlled, and to understand that when difficult situations arise it is Hashem’s admonition to us to return to Him. This would seemingly include the same mitzvah as the Rambam’s extended responsibility to the community that they cry out “rather than attribute the malady to happenstance and coincidence.”

Although we have rallied support for such an approach to the organization of these mitzvos, the Rambam himself did not explain the organization of the mitzvos this way, since he states very clearly that mitzvah #59 includes blowing the trumpets both for the festivals and for the fast days. Allow me to quote him again, “Mitzvah 59 is that He commanded us to blow the trumpets in the Mikdash when we offer the korbanos of the festivals… We are also commanded to blow the trumpets in times of difficulty and trouble, when we cry out to Hashem.” Thus, we see that the Rambam felt that these two aspects of trumpet blowing count as one mitzvah, notwithstanding his position that the two mitzvos of blowing shofar should be counted as two different mitzvos. Thus we revert to the Magid Mishnah’s question: Why did the Rambam count the two occasions that we blow shofar, Rosh Hashanah and yoveil, as two different mitzvos, yet he counted the two occasions that we blow the trumpets, for korbanos and in times of travail, as one?

Difference between shofar and trumpets

The Sefer Hachinuch explains that blowing the trumpets, whether to accompany the korbanos on the festivals or on the days of travail, has the same purpose: To get people to focus on why they are offering korbanos or fasting – they serve as a wake-up call.

Conclusion

Rav Hirsch explains that, notwithstanding the doubled letter tzadi, the root of the word chatzotzeres is the same as the word chatzeir, which means court or courtyard. The verb chatzeir means to form a court around oneself. The word chatzotzeres means an instrument whose purpose is to draw together people to form a court. Thus, the entire meaning of the Hebrew word for trumpet is its use to bring Klal Yisroel together. As we now understand, this function might be because it is a time of difficulty, but it might also be in a time of joy to celebrate as a community.  May Hashem help us come together to celebrate, as an entire community, ultimate happiness!

 

To Repeat or not to Repeat?

Question #1: Shul Feud

“There is an ongoing dispute in my shul between the baal keri’ah, who is not particularly careful how he accents words, and the gabbai, who periodically insists that the baal keri’ah reread a word because it was accented wrongly. Who is correct?”

Question #2: Reading, Righting…

“Since the Torah prohibits humiliating someone, and particularly in public, why do we correct a baal keri’ah who errs during the reading? Isn’t this embarrassing someone in public?”

Question #3: Monday Morning Quarterback

“We finished the keri’as haTorah and now realize that the baal keri’ah misread a word. What do we do?”

Answer:

Anyone who is the shaliach tzibur for the public, either to fulfill the mitzvah of reading the Torah (the baal keri’ah) or to lead services as the chazzan or baal tefilah, must be alert to recite everything correctly. This includes reading and accenting each word properly, being careful not to run words together, reading the passages so that their implication is correct, and understanding their connotation. A person unable to prepare the reading properly should decline the honor and defer to someone who can recite it acceptably. The only excuse for a chazzan or baal keri’ah not being appropriately prepared is that there is no one else available to read the Torah and he does not have the ability to prepare it properly (Terumas Hadeshen 2:181). The halachic discussion germane to the last circumstance is a topic for a different time.

Correcting errors

What is the halachah if a baal keri’ah misread part of the reading? Are we required to correct him so that we hear an accurate rendition? On the one hand, the Torah is very adamant about not embarrassing a person, and more particularly so in public. On the other hand, distorting a passage of the Torah is a serious offense. (See Yam shel Shlomoh, Bava Kama 4:9, who explains how strict we must be.) Thus, if someone read inaccurately, the entire tzibur failed to observe the mitzvah of reading the Torah.

Indeed, whether one should correct an errant baal keri’ah is a dispute among the rishonim, some contending that one is required to ignore the error, because correcting the baal keri’ah embarrasses him in public. Tosafos (Avodah Zarah 22b s.v. Rigla) quotes a midrash that someone reading the Torah who skipped a syllable, thereby saying ‘Haron’ instead of ‘Aharon,’ has fulfilled his requirement to read the Torah — we do not correct the misreading, even though the letter aleph was skipped. This midrash is quoted also by several other rishonim (Hagahos Ashri, Shabbos 6:13; Sefer Hamanhig, Laws of Shabbos). (I was unable to locate this midrash as the rishonim quote it. Presumably, the manuscript source of this Chazal has been lost or distorted during the intervening centuries.)

On the other hand, the Talmud Yerushalmi (Megillah 4:5) states that one is required to correct a baal keri’ah who errs in his reading: “Rabbi Chinina, the son of Andrei, quoted Rabbi Zakai of Kabul: ‘If someone erred and read the wrong word during the reading of the Torah, we have him reread the passage correctly.’ Rabbi Yirmiya said to Rabbi Zeira: ‘Do we indeed follow this practice [despite the fact that it involves embarrassing a person in public]?’ Rabbi Zeira replied: ‘We correct even a more minor error, such as if he had omitted the letter vav.’”

We see that it was an early dispute among Chazal whether the community’s hearing a meticulously accurate reading is more essential, or whether embarrassing the baal keri’ah is more of a concern. (However, we will soon see an alternative way to resolve the seemingly incompatible passages of the midrash and the Yerushalmi.)

Among the rishonim, we find that Tosafos and the Baal Hamanhig quote the midrash that one should not correct an error, notwithstanding the fact that the Talmud Yerushalmi disagrees. On the other hand, the Rambam (Hilchos Tefillah 12:6) rules in accordance with the Yerushalmi, that a reader’s error cannot be left uncorrected.

Is there a resolution?

Can we possibly resolve the two statements, the midrash and the Yerushalmi, so that they do not clash?

The Beis Yosef, quoting the Mahari ibn Chabib, provides an answer to resolve the conflict: The midrash is discussing a case where the inaccuracy does not affect the sense of the passage, whereas the Yerushalmi refers to a situation in which the error does change its meaning. According to this approach, all agree that one must correct any inaccurate reading in which the meaning of the passage is distorted.

How do we rule?

When the author of Beis Yosef records his decision in the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 142:1), he states very succinctly: “One who read and erred, even in a detail regarding only one letter, must repeat the reading.” The early acharonim dispute to what extent the Shulchan Aruch ruled this way: The Rema contends that the Shulchan Aruch’s conclusion requires rereading only when the error changed the meaning of the passage, whereas the Pri Chodosh rules that one must reread, even when the blunder did not alter the meaning (Chayei Odom 31:31). According to the latter opinion, although the Beis Yosef had quoted the Mahari ibn Chabib’s resolution of the conflict between the midrash and the Yerushalmi, in Shulchan Aruch he agreed with the more obvious way of understanding the Rambam and the Yerushalmi, which concluded that any inaccuracy must be corrected.

Most late authorities rule, in agreement with the Rema, that we reread only when the meaning was changed by the error (Mishnah Berurah 142:4; Bi’ur Halachah 142:1 s.v. Ein). We also correct someone who skipped an entire word, even if the passage’s meaning does not change as a result (Bi’ur Halachah 142:1 s.v. Aval).

Common error

I have heard people assume that certain types of errors, such as where one accents the word and how one chants a passage of the reading (called the taamei hamikra or the trop), never require repeating. This assumption is halachically inaccurate. Many times these errors affect the meaning of the verse. An error in the “trop” or in accenting the wrong syllable may change the meaning of the passage and invalidate the reading, as I will now explain.

Taamei hamikra

The Torah is read with a specific tune, determined by certain note symbols on each word. In Yiddish, these notes are called the trop and in Hebrew they are usually called either taamei hamikra or taam hanikud. Which notes apply to each word in Tanach is a halachah leMoshe miSinai (Chayei Odom  31:31). Although most people think that these notes affect only how the Torah reading is chanted, this is not accurate, since the meaning of the Torah is often affected by the taamei hamikra.

One can divide all the taamei hamikra into two general categories, called in Hebrew mesharsim, servants, and mafsikim, stops. Just as in English, the meaning of a sentence depends on where one puts commas and the period, so, too, in Tanach, the meaning of a passage depends on the punctuation, which, in this case, are the mafsikim. The mesharsim are on words where one should not stop. The Mishnah Berurah (142:4), quoting the Shulchan Atzei Shittim, rules that misreading the taamei hamikra in a way that changes the meaning requires that the passage be reread acceptably.

Here is an example. When Pharaoh instructed Yosef about his family’s accommodations, he told Yosef to settle them in the best area of Egypt — Goshen. However, understanding Pharaoh’s instructions to Yosef depends on how you read the pasuk. Reading the verse according to the taamei hamikra, it states: “In the best of the land settle your father and your brothers. They should live in the land of Goshen (Bereishis 47:6).” This means that the land of Goshen is, indeed, the best part of Mitzrayim, and that all of Yosef’s family should move there. However, reading the verse without concern about the taamei hamikra could result in the following: “In the best of the land settle your father. And your brothers should live in the land of Goshen.” This would mean that Yaakov was directed to choose the best part of Mitzrayim, whereas the brothers were assigned Goshen, which may not have been the best part. This misreading is a falsification of Torah. According to halachah, if the passage was read without proper respect for the taamim, such that it would now be “stopped,” or punctuated this way, the passage must be reread.

Stop sign

It is important to note that not only should one be careful to read according to the taamei hamikra, but that one must also be careful to follow the rules of mafsikim and mesharsim, meaning to pause slightly at all mafsikim and not to pause at mesharsim. In some well-meaning communities, it is rather common that baalei keri’ah read as quickly as they can and not make any noticeable stops, until they need to pause for breath. It is possible that this approach does not fulfill the mitzvah of keri’as haTorah, because the reader may stop for breath at inappropriate places and not pause at the correct ones.

Wrongly accented

As I mentioned above, many people are under the mistaken impression that how one accents the words while reciting the Torah or the prayers is not a serious concern. However, emphasizing the wrong syllable may change the meaning of a word, with the result that one does not fulfill the mitzvah of keri’as haTorah. This requires a brief explanation of some of the rules of correct Hebrew diction.

Accenting the wrong syllable

In correctly pronounced Hebrew, all words are accented either on the last syllable of the word, called mi’lera¸ or on the next to last syllable, called mi’le’eil. The word mi’lera is the Aramaic translation of the Hebrew mitachas, meaning below or later (see, for example, Targum Onkelos, Bereishis 35:8, 49:25 and Shemos 2:3), whereas mi’le’eil means above.

In most instances, accenting the wrong syllable does not create a word that changes the intended meaning. Although the word was mispronounced, since the error does not create a new meaning, one does not need to reread the word. However, there are occasions in which a word has two distinctly different meanings, depending on whether it is pronounced mi’lera or mi’le’eil. In these instances, accenting the wrong syllable changes the meaning, and, as a result, one has not fulfilled the mitzvah in his reading. In such cases, the baal keri’ah has prevented the entire tzibur from fulfilling the mitzvah of reading the Torah.

For example, the word ba’ah changes its meaning depending on which syllable is accented. Accented on the first syllable, the word is past tense, meaning she has come, whereas, inflected on the second syllable it is present tense, meaning she is coming. Thus, the meaning of the two pesukim in parshas Vayeitzei, Perek 29, pesukim 6 and 9, changes, if one accents the words incorrectly, as Rashi notes there.

Here is a far more common error. In the mitzvah that we fulfill twice each day, reading the Shma, we read a sentence, ve’ahavta es Hashem elokecha bechol levavcha uvechol nafshecha uvechol me’odecha. Following the rules of Hebrew grammar, the word ve’ahavta has two different meanings, depending on whether it is accented on the last syllable, ta, or on the previous syllable, hav. When accented on ta, as is required when reciting Shma and reading keri’as haTorah, the passage means “and you shall love Hashem, your G-d, with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your abilities.” However, accenting the word on hav distorts its meaning to “you have loved Hashem your G-d with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your abilities.”

Similarly, the word vedibarta, two pesukim later in Shma, changes meaning when not accented on the last syllable. Accenting the word on the middle syllable, bar, changes its meaning to “and you spoke to them [the words of Torah],” rather than “and you shall speak it to them.” Again, one wrong accent, and one does not fulfill the mitzvah.

Shul feud

At this point, we can address our opening question:

“There is an ongoing dispute in my shul between the baal keri’ah, who is not particularly careful how he accents words, and the gabbai, who periodically insists that the baal keri’ah reread a word because it was accented wrongly. Who is correct?”

The halachah is that the baal keri’ah is required to learn the rules for properly accenting Hebrew, and he must also be careful how he reads the passages. There are certainly places where accenting the word on the wrong syllable changes its meaning. In these instances, one who misread the passage must read it over correctly.

Taking out the Torah again

At this point, let us examine the third question above:

“We finished the keri’as haTorah and now realize that the baal keri’ah misread a word. What do we do?”

If the reader misread a word in a way that one did not fulfill the mitzvah, we noted above that one is required to reread the passage. Does this halachah change if one has already completed the Torah reading and returned the sefer Torah to the aron kodesh?

Let us examine some background to this question.

Mesechta Sofrim (11:6) teaches the following: Someone who skipped a pasuk during keri’as haTorah, but nevertheless read ten pesukim correctly does not return to keri’as haTorah. If the original keri’as haTorah was exactly ten pesukim, then he is required to return. When do we follow this approach? On weekdays and mincha of Shabbos… However, if he forgot a pasuk during the main Shabbos reading, he must return to the keri’as haTorah, even if, in the interim, they recited the haftarah and davened Musaf.”

We see that one who missed part of keri’as haTorah on Shabbos morning must take out the sefer Torah again to read the missing passage. One is not required to do so if one missed part of the reading on Monday, Thursday or at Shabbos mincha, provided that one read enough to fulfill the minimum mitzvah on those days, which is to call up three people, each of whom reads at least three pesukim, and to read in total at least ten pesukim.

How much must I reread?

In a situation where one is required to take out the sefer Torah again, how much of the reading must be repeated? Again, Mesechta Sofrim comes to our rescue, where it says (21:7): If he skipped a pasuk and said kaddish, he must reopen the sefer Torah, recite a brochah, read [a pasuk] and two others.” Based on this quotation of Mesechta Sofrim, the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 137:3; 282:7) rules that if, on Shabbos, the baal keri’ah skipped a pasuk of the reading, and now the reading has been completed, the sefer Torah returned to its place, and musaf has been davened, one must take out the sefer Torah again to read the omitted verse. Since Chazal required that one may not read an aliyah of less than three pesukim, this means that the requirement will be to read three pesukim, including the previously omitted pasuk. The Mishnah Berurah (282:35) notes that this same halachah is true if one omitted a word of the reading. Since one has missed an essential part of the reading, one must take out a sefer Torah and read three consecutive pesukim, one of which includes the word that was previously missed. The Mishnah Berurah rules this way, also, if one misread part of a word or the taamei hamikra in a way that changes the meaning. However, in the last instance, he concludes that although one should take the sefer Torah out of the aron kodesh again and reread three pesukim, one should not recite a brochah prior to the reading (Bi’ur Halachah 142:1 s.v. Machzirin). Furthermore, the requirement to repeat what one missed is only at the Shabbos morning reading, but on weekday readings or Shabbos mincha, one does repeat the reading for a missed word or even a missed pasuk (Bi’ur Halachah 142:1 s.v. Machzirin).

Conclusion:

The Gemara (Brachos 15b) teaches that whoever reads Shma and is meticulously careful about enunciating the words merits that Gehenom is cooled for him. What is meant by this very strange passage of Gemara? In what way is cooling the fires of Gehenom a reward for reciting Shma slowly?

This could be explained in the following way. Often, we are in a rush to finish davening – there is so much to do, I need to get to work. We know too well the yeitzer hora’s methods of encouraging us to rush through our davening. In order to daven and read the Torah properly, one needs to do these mitzvos slowly and carefully.

Now, at the end of a person’s days on earth, he is called for his final judgment. We are all aware, ein tzadik ba’aretz asher yaaseh tov velo yecheta; everyone has done some aveiros that will require punishment. The Satan, who operates Gehenom, has measured out his cauldron according to the punishment deserved, particularly if the person performed aveiros for which he did not do teshuvah. At this point, the mitzvos of having read the Shma slowly and carefully rise to the forefront. After all, this individual slowed down for the sake of Hashem’s honor, and the Satan has to admit that attempts to get him to rush were, at times, not fruitful. These mitzvos force the Satan to wait until his boiling cauldron is cooled off and is only a bit uncomfortably warm, barely enough to be considered a punishment for the aveiros committed (see Iyun Yaakov).

Eat Kosher! Part 2

 Question #1: How many mitzvos?

“Is keeping kosher more than one mitzvah?”

Question #2: Food for thought

“Am I required to eat each of the kosher species?”

Question #3: Check your scales

“Must I check fish for scales each time I purchase one?”

Introduction:

Two weeks ago, in part I of this article, we discovered that when the Torah discusses which species are kosher, it says (in parshas Shemini), “These are the living things from which you may eat,” which the midrashei halacha and the Rambam count as mitzvos aseih. We noted that the Rambam considers these as lav haba miklal aseih, a prohibition verbalized as a mitzvas aseih, which is sometimes called an issur aseih. We also noted that the Rambam counts four different mitzvos aseih, one to eat only kosher animals, one to eat only kosher fish, one to eat only kosher fowl, and one to eat only kosher grasshoppers. We also learned that the Rambam explains that he wrote the Sefer Hamitzvos to explain the rules that govern what is included in the listing of the 613 mitzvos. We now continue with part two of our article.

What type of positive mitzvah?

The first half of Sefer Hamitzvos consists of fourteen rules, called sherashim, that the Rambam established to determine whether something is counted as one of the 613 mitzvos or not. In the sixth shoresh, the Rambam rules that if a mitzvah is commanded in the Torah both as a positive commandment and as a negative prohibition, then it is counted as two of the 613 mitzvos — both as a positive mitzvah and a negative one. The Rambam explains that there are three types of mitzvos aseih in which this occurs.

  1. In some instances, there is a positive mitzvah that is a flipside of the negative prohibition. For example, someone who observes Shabbos or Yom Tov fulfills a positive mitzvah (Pesachim 84a). There is also a negative prohibition which one violates by performing prohibited activity on Shabbos or Yom Tov.

Similarly, there is a positive mitzvah to observe shemittah, and negative ones involving performing prohibited activity during shemittah. Another example is fasting on Yom Kippur, which involves both a positive mitzvah of afflicting oneself and a lo sa’aseh.

  1. A second type of positive mitzvah that accompanies a lo sa’aseh is what is called a lav shekadmo aseih — there is a mitzvah to do something, but one who violates the intent of the positive mitzvah will, at that time, also violate a lo sa’aseh. Two examples of this rule are the cases of the oneis and the motzi shem ra, both of whom are required by a mitzvas aseih to marry and remain married to the wronged woman (should she agree). Should he subsequently divorce her, he will violate a lo sa’aseh.
  2. A third type of positive mitzvah that accompanies a lo sa’aseh is called lav hanitak le’aseih, in which the mitzvas aseih is the instruction that the Torah provided if someone violates the lo sa’aseh. Here are two examples of this situation: The mitzvas lo sa’aseh of nosar is to make sure not to leave over edible parts of a korban past the time that the Torah established for that particular korban. One who does leave over and violates the lo sa’aseh now becomes commanded to observe a mitzvah aseih of burning the leftovers.

A second example is the mitzvah of shiluach hakein, in which one is prohibited from taking the mother bird while she is fulfilling her motherly duties to her eggs or young. One who violates this prohibition by seizing the mother bird is now required to observe the positive mitzvah of setting her free.

We are now faced with a question: If the word tocheilu is a positive mitzvah, what is the Torah commanding us to do? It certainly does not fit the second or third of the three categories mentioned above. The second category would mean that there is a positive mitzvah that one is required to perform whose result one now wishes to abrogate. The mitzvah of tocheilu certainly does not fit this category. Similarly, tocheilu cannot fit the third category, because this mitzvah is not correcting an error.

If tocheilu is included in the first category, it would mean that one who eats non-kosher violates an aseih, also. Whether we can look at the mitzvah this way appears to be the point of departure between the Rambam and the Ramban. The Ramban wrote the earliest commentary to the Rambam’s Sefer Hamitzvos, with a goal of explaining the Behag’s approach and answering the questions that the Rambam asks on the Behag. At times, the Ramban takes issue with some of the Rambam’s 14 rules. However, the Ramban accepts the Rambam’s sixth rule that a mitzvah, such as Shabbos or Yom Tov, when expressed by the Torah both in a positive way and a negative one, is counted twice, both as a mitzvas aseih and as a mitzvas lo sa’aseh. The Ramban disagrees with the Rambam regarding these four mitzvos of identifying kosher species.

To quote the Ramban, “I see in this matter a major dispute (between the Behag and the Rambam) and, without any question, one of the opinions is erroneous. There are instances in which there is both a lo sa’aseh and an aseih in the same topic; however, both are not counted as mitzvos. An example is the permitted and forbidden animals, fish and fowl, where the Torah includes a positive statement, ‘this is the animal that you may eat,’ and Chazal interpret this to be a mitzvas aseih. Similarly, when it says, ‘you may eat any pure bird’ and it is counted as a positive mitzvah. And again, when it says, ‘this you may eat, from whatever is in the water.’ It is obvious that the intent of the Torah is not to say that when one eats an animal or a fish with the proper kosher signs that one fulfills a mitzvah, and that someone who traps them and then does not eat them is in violation of his observance of a positive mitzvah. The intent, clearly, is that one may eat only these species and not the non-kosher ones. This is called a lo sa’aseh that is derived from a positive statement (in Hebrew, this is called a lav haba miklal aseih), whose purpose is to establish that someone who violates the lo sa’aseh also violates an aseih.”

The Ramban then notes that in all of these instances, the Rambam counts as positive mitzvos that one check whether a species of animal, bird, fish or grasshopper is kosher. However, concludes the Ramban, “The Behag did not count them, because they do not include a positive activity, whereas avoiding eating the prohibited is already included in the lo sa’aseh. Consequently, referring to the prohibition in a positive way does not add to the mitzvah count in these instances, just as repeating the lo sa’aseh several times does not add an extra lo sa’aseh to the mitzvah count.”

The last point raised by the Ramban is mentioned by the Rambam and others. The Torah often repeats a prohibition many times. When the additional pasuk does not add any new halachic information, the additional reference does not constitute an additional mitzvah.

Be positive!

Many authorities rally to address the final point of the Ramban, that the Rambam’s inclusion of these four positive mitzvos must include some additional component or ruling to the halacha. Additional support for this approach can be brought from the way the Rambam, himself, mentions these mitzvos. In all four instances, the Rambam writes that we are commanded to check for the signs that the particular species is kosher. And he writes this in two places, once in the Mishneh Torah and another time in the Sefer Hamitzvos. There is also one time in the Mishneh Torah where the Rambam writes that the mitzvah is to “know” the kosher signs. What exactly does this mitzvah of checking or knowing entail?

What does a mitzvah add?

Many approaches are suggested to explain what the positive mitzvah might be including, according to the Rambam. Some understand that the mitzvah requires that one be completely familiar with the simanim of the kosher species and have hands-on experience. Book knowledge that split hooves and chewing cud are kosher signs, without knowing what these two terms mean, does not fulfill the mitzvah (Darchei Teshuvah 79:1, quoting Korban Aharon and Yad David). It is somewhat implied by them that the mitzvah of studying Torah is fulfilled by knowing the laws, without necessarily knowing what one is to look for; but, without hands-on experience, there is no fulfillment of the mitzvas aseih.

A second approach is that someone who consumes food from a certain species, not knowing if it is kosher or not, who then discovers that he indeed ate a kosher animal, violates the mitzvas aseih for not checking the indicative factors first (Sefer Hachinuch; Pri To’ar, Yoreh Deah 79:1; Kinas Sofrim; see also Darchei Teshuvah 79:1). To quote the Sefer Hachinuch (Mitzvah #153) “One who violates this mitzvah because he checked only one siman and relied on that without checking for the other siman, even though it turns out that he ate from the kosher species, has neglected his observance of this mitzvah of checking simanim.”

What’s in a horn?

When the Sefer Hachinuch mentions this approach to explain the Rambam’s position, he adds a further comment that appears somewhat strange. He writes that there is also a requirement to know the simanim that identify whether a particular species is a beheimah or whether it is a chayah. There are several laws that are affected by this distinction, and the Gemara provides criteria, depending on the appearance of the animal’s horns, whereby one can identify whether a particular kosher species is a beheimah or a chayah.

However, this comment of the Sefer Hachinuch is very surprising. The Torah, as explained by the above-quoted comments of the Sifrei and the Sifra, includes a mitzvah that we identify whether a species is kosher or not. No matter how we understand this mitzvah of the Torah, and I will soon provide several other approaches, the mitzvah applies only to places where the Torah states that we may eat a certain variety of creature and then provides a defining characteristic or nomenclature. However, where do we see any mitzvah requiring one to identify whether a specific kosher species is a beheimah or a chayah?

The Minchas Chinuch answers that this is true, because horns function as a secondary siman to determine whether a beheimah is kosher, although they do not function as a siman to determine whether a chayah is kosher. In other words, there are no non-kosher beheimos that bear horns, although there are non-kosher chayos that do. Thus, having kosher beheimah horns can be used to determine whether a species is kosher.

This explanation of the Minchas Chinuch also includes a very novel interpretation. The Torah provides two criteria to determine whether a mammal is of a kosher species: does it ruminate, and does it have completely split hooves. Granted that horns are a secondary characteristic, where do we see that this is included in the Torah’s mitzvah?

More positive attitudes

There are also numerous technical answers why the Rambam counted these as separate mitzvos. Some authorities explain that one who checks the simanim on an unfamiliar species that he would like to eat to see if it is kosher fulfills a mitzvas aseih. This author is inclined to think that, according to this opinion, he should recite a brocha before checking, because that is what the Torah commanded one to do. We do not recite a brocha because of the machlokes haposkim as to whether this act indeed fulfills a mitzvas aseih.

We should note that the halachic authorities accept that once one recognizes a particular species as kosher, there is no further requirement to continue checking the kosher signs of this species (Minchas Chinuch 153; Darchei Teshuvah 79:1). Thus, there is no mitzvah to check for the scales of an obviously identifiable salmon.

Other positive approaches

Still others explain that the requirement of the Rambam’s mitzvas aseih is that one may not rely on the fact that a specific species is probably kosher. In general, there is a halacha that one may rely on rov. Upon this basis, someone not knowing whether a certain variety of bird or fish is kosher could rely on the fact that most fishes with a certain appearance are kosher, or that most birds are kosher. Although, in general, the halachic rule is that one may assume that what is before you is from the majority that are kosher, one may not consume an unfamiliar species, based on the information that there is a rov that this species is kosher (Shu”t HaRivosh #192).

There are other answers, which are basically technical, to explain the Rambam’s position. Some explain that one violates the mitzvas aseih by eating less than a kezayis, even though this is too small an amount to be culpable for violating the lo sa’aseh (Pri Megadim, quoted by Minchas Chinuch, Mitzvah #470 and by Maharam Shik, Mitzvah #154). The Minchas Chinuch (ad loc.), himself, suggests an alternative approach. One who consumes a non-kosher specias in an unusual manner will not violate the lo sa’aseh. The Minchas Chinuch suggests that he will violate the mitzvas aseih min haTorah, if one eats something that is not edible. This would be a very novel and stringent idea in halacha, which has ramifications regarding the consumption of medicines and vitamins, a topic we have discussed in the past.

Conclusion

At this point, we see that there are halachic ramifications to the dispute between the Rambam and the Ramban as to whether there is a positive mitzvah to keep kosher, or at least, to eat only from kosher species. We should always hope and pray that the food we eat fulfills all the halachos that the Torah commands us.