Maaser Sheini

Photo by david Kadosh from FreeImages

Question #1: Where?

Many mitzvos can be performed only between the “walls” of Yerushalayim. Do these laws apply to everywhere within the walls of today’s “Old City”?

Question #2: What?

“What may I not remove from Yerushalayim?”

Question #3: When?

“When am I permitted to eat maaser sheini?”

Introduction:

This week’s parsha includes the mitzvah of maaser sheini. Although people currently living in chutz la’aretz often feel that they do not need to know the laws applicable to the agricultural mitzvos of the Torah, everyone must know the basic laws of this mitzvah for many reasons, including:

1. When in Eretz Yisroel, to which we all aspire, we need to be sure that all terumos and maasros are properly separated. Someone living outside of Eretz Yisroel also needs to know the details of the laws on produce that grows in Eretz Yisroel.

2. We daven three times daily for Moshiach to come so that we can live in Eretz Yisroel and observe the mitzvos that apply there. Although most of the laws of maaser sheini do not apply today even in Eretz Yisroel, they will all apply again, iy’H, when the Beis Hamikdash is rebuilt and we can achieve a state of taharah by virtue of the ashes of the parah adumah.

3. Fruits of chutz la’aretz may have the status of neta reva’ie, which shares the laws of maaser sheini.

The basics

Produce grown in Eretz Yisroel and the lands nearby must have several small portions separated from it before it may be consumed. These are:

Terumah

First, a small amount is separated as terumah, which is property of the kohen. When we are all tahor, the owner gives the terumah to a kohen of his choice. Terumah may be eaten by any close member of the kohen’s family – including his wife, sons, and unmarried daughters — as long as they are completely tahor.

Since no kohen is tahor today, terumah may not be eaten. If the terumah is itself tamei, it is destroyed, preferably by burning it. If the terumah is tahor, we are not permitted to eat it, nor to destroy it. What does one do with it?

We put it in a place where no one will mistakenly eat it, and leave it there until it decomposes to the point that people will not eat it. At that point, it is disposed of. We will soon explain why decomposition permits one to destroy terumah.

Maaser rishon

After terumah has been separated, a tenth of the remaining produce is separated as maaser rishon, which is the property of the Levi. The Levi is required to separate one tenth of what he receives, which is called terumas maaser and has all the laws of terumah as explained above. The remaining maaser rishon has no sanctity, and therefore may be eaten by anyone, even when tamei. Therefore, maaser rishon can be eaten today, even though we are all tamei, and the Levi can sell it or give it away to whomever he chooses. Furthermore, none of the restrictions we will discuss shortly regarding redemption or use applies to maaser rishon.

Maaser sheini/maaser ani

After maaser rishon is separated, there is an obligation to set aside a tenth of what is left. Depending which year it is relative to the shemittah cycle, either maaser sheini or maaser ani is separated.

These two types of maaser are halachically very different. Maaser ani is the property of the poor and has no sanctity, similar to maaser rishon. The owner of the field decides to which poor person or persons he gives the maaser ani. There is detailed halacha defining who qualifies as “poor” for the purposes of this mitzvah, but since the theme of this article is maaser sheini and not maaser ani, we will leave this question for a different time.

When is one required to separate maaser sheini, and when is one required to separate maaser ani? The halacha is that Eretz Yisroel follows a seven year shemittah cycle. In the first, second, fourth and fifth years, the second tithe is maaser sheini, and in the third and sixth years it is maaser ani. Since shemittah produce is ownerless, there are usually no terumah and maasros separations that year. In the unusual instances where there is, which is a topic for a different time, there is extensive halachic discussion whether the second tithe is maaser sheini or maaser ani.

Maaser sheini, the topic of our article, must be eaten in Yerushalayim by people who are tahor. Any tahor Jew is permitted to eat it, but it must be eaten within the walls of the ancient city of Yerushalayim. We will soon discuss what that means and we will also see that there are many other laws that apply to it. We will also discuss what can be done if it is impractical to transport all of one’s maaser sheini to Yerushalayim.

Which maaser?

We should note that the term maaser, without specifying which one, is used sometimes to refer to maaser rishon and sometimes to refer to maaser sheini, notwithstanding that their laws are very different from one another. Usually, one can understand from context which maaser is intended. If the context alludes to maaser owned by a Levi, or to the first maaser being separated, maaser rishon is intended. If it refers to something that has sanctity, usually maaser sheini is intended. Since the rest of this article will be discussing the specific and unusual sanctity of maaser sheini, I will henceforth use the term maaser to mean only maaser sheini.

The parsha

At this point, let us examine the appropriate pesukim in this week’s parsha: “And you shall eat the maaser of your grain, your wine, and your olive oil… before Hashem your G-d, in the place that He will choose to rest His Name — so that you will thereby learn to be in awe of Hashem at all times. However, when you are blessed by Hashem, your G-d, such that you are unable to carry [the maaser sheini] to a place as distant as the one that Hashem chooses, then you may exchange it for money that you bring with you on your visit to that place that Hashem has chosen. Once you are there, you shall exchange the money for cattle, sheep, wine or anything else you desire, which you shall eat there, before Hashem, your G-d. In this way, you and your family will celebrate” (Devarim 14:23-26).

Obviously, the place that He will choose to rest His Name refers to the city of Yerushalayim. Thus, we are told the following halachos: Maaser should be brought with you when you travel to Yerushalayim. However, if you have more produce than you can easily carry to Yerushalayim, you may redeem the maaser produce, a process that removes the sanctity and special laws from the maaser produce and places it on coins. The Torah shebe’al peh teaches that this redemption can be performed only onto minted coins. When the owner is redeeming his own maaser produce, he must redeem it for coinage that is worth 25% more than its value. Then he brings this money to Yerushalayim, where it is used to purchase food to be eaten within the confines of the city. This acquisition transfers the maaser sheini sanctity from the money to the food, which means that this newly acquired food can be eaten only within the walls of Yerushalayim and must be eaten while tahor.

Vacation fund

Whether one transports one’s maaser sheini produce itself to Yerushalayim, or purchases food with the money to which the sanctity has been transferred, the farmer remains with a lot of maaser sheini that may be consumed only in Yerushalayim, a city bursting with sanctity and special, holy people. The beauty of this mitzvah is that it entices the farmer to ascend to the Holy City and be part of the spiritual growth attainable only there.

One can even look at the maaser sheini as “vacation fund” money that the Torah provides. Although the farmer may not be wealthy, when he arrives in Yerushalayim, he can eat and drink like a king!

Sanctity and purity

As mentioned above, the original maaser sheini that was separated and brought to Yerushalayim, and the food purchased in Yerushalayim with the redemption money are holy and may be eaten only within the walls of the old Yerushalayim and only when both the food and the individual eating it are tahor, ritually pure.

In addition, there is another halacha pertaining to Yerushalayim. Once maaser produce has been brought within the Holy City’s walls, it may not be removed or redeemed.

O’ my Jerusalem!

By the way, the current “Old City” walls of Yerushalayim, constructed by the Ottoman Turks almost 1500 years after the churban, are not the borders that define the halachic sanctity of the city. The Turkish walls encompass areas that were not part of the city at the times of Tanach and Chazal, and therefore do not have the sanctity of Yerushalayim; and, without question, parts endowed with the sanctity of the Holy City are outside these walls. Thus, it will be necessary when Moshiach comes to determine exactly where are the borders of the halachic “old city of Yerushalayim.”

What food?

What food may one purchase with maaser sheini money? There are many laws regarding what one may purchase. The Torah specifies that, once in Yerushalayim, one may exchange maaser sheini money for cattle, sheep, wine or anything else you desire, which seems both wordy and unusual. The Torah sheba’al peh explains this to mean that one may not purchase any food with maaser sheini money, but only those that grow either from the ground or meat and poultry, that grow “on the ground.” Therefore, one may use maaser sheini money to purchase fruit, vegetables, breads, pastry, meat or poultry; but not fish, which do not grow on the ground; not salt or water, which do not grow; nor mushrooms, which are fungi and are therefore not considered as growing from or on the ground.

The pasuk’s reference to purchasing cattle or sheep teaches a new law. It is considered exemplary to purchase animals that will then be offered in the Beis Hamikdash as korbanos shelamim. The owner takes home most of the meat of these korbanos to eat with whomever he chooses to invite. Of course, this must be eaten following all the laws of korbanos shelamim, which includes that everyone eating it must be tahor and that the meat is eaten only within the walls of the city, as explained above. Among many other laws, the meat may be eaten only until nightfall of the day following the offering of the korban. Whatever is not eaten by that time must be burned.

There is an interesting halacha germane to those who purchase animals for korbanos shelamim with maaser funds. One may use maaser funds to purchase an animal as a korban, even though it is not completely eaten. Parts of the animal are burned on the mizbei’ach, and the hide and bones are not consumed by anyone. Notwithstanding the strict rules governing the consumption of maaser, the hide, which was purchased as part of the animal with maaser funds, has no sanctity and belongs to the owner!

Sanctity of maaser sheini

Although any tahor Jew is permitted to consume maaser, there are many detailed rules governing how one must consume maaser. For example, one may not cook foods that are usually eaten raw, nor may one eat raw produce that is usually cooked. Therefore, one may not eat raw maaser sheini potatoes, nor may one cook maaser sheini cucumbers or oranges.

Similarly, juicing vegetables and most kinds of fruit is considered “ruining” maaser sheini produce and it is therefore prohibited, although one may press grapes, olives and lemons, since the juice and oil of these fruits are considered more valuable than the fruit itself.

How do we determine whether processing a food “ruins” it or not? Some poskim contend that one may not process maaser in such a way that its brocha is changed (Shu”t Mishpat Cohen #85, based on Brachos 38a and Rambam, Hilchos Shevi’is 5:3). Others contend that it is permitted when this is the most common use of this fruit (Minchas Shelomoh, Shvi’is pg. 185). A practical difference in halacha between these two positions is whether one is permitted to squeeze oranges and grapefruits.

One must certainly be careful not to actively destroy maaser sheini. Therefore, one may not destroy it when it could still be eaten. Similarly, peels that are commonly eaten, such as those of cucumber or apple, still have kedusha and may not simply be disposed of. One is required to place them in a plastic bag and then place the bag in a small bin or box called a pach maaser, where it remains until the food is inedible. When it decomposes to this extent, one may dispose of it in the regular garbage.

Sanctity until spoilage

This leads us to a question: If indeed one may not throw maaser sheini produce in the garbage because it has sanctity, why may one do so after the produce decomposes? Does decomposition remove kedusha?

Indeed it does. Kedushas maaser sheini means that as long as the food is still edible, one may not make it inedible or use it atypically. This is because maaser sheini food is meant to be eaten. However, once the maaser sheini is inedible, it loses its special status and may be disposed of as trash.

This sounds very strange. Where do we find that something holy loses its special status when it becomes inedible?

Although the concept that decay eliminates sanctity seems unusual, this is only because we are unfamiliar with most of the mitzvos where this principle applies. Other mitzvos where this concept exists are shevi’is, terumah, challah, bikkurim, and reva’ie (Rambam, Hilchos Terumos Chapter 11; Hilchos Maaser Sheini 3:11; Hilchos Shevi’is 5:3). Of these types of produce that are holy, but meant to be eaten, only shevi’is may be eaten by someone tamei. Even though someone tamei may not consume tahor terumah, challah, or maaser sheini, one also may not dispose of them or even burn them. Instead, one must place them in a secure place until they decay and only then dispose of them (Tur, Yoreh Deah 331).  We burn the special challah portion after separating it, only because it has become tamei. If it did not become tamei, one may not destroy the challah portion, but must place it somewhere until it decays on its own.

Contemporary maaser sheini

The fact that one must be tahor to consume maaser sheini changes the way one observes this mitzvah today, since we cannot become tahor. Without the ashes of a parah adumah with which to purify ourselves of certain types of tumah, we cannot eat maaser produce, nor the food purchased with the redeeming coins. Because we cannot eat maaser food, it is pointless to purchase food with these coins; instead, maaser coins remain unused and are eventually destroyed. To avoid excessive loss, one is permitted to redeem large quantities of maaser sheini onto a very small value within a coin, and this is the way we redeem maaser sheini today. Of course, we are missing the main spiritual gain of consuming the foods in Yerushalayim, but this is one of the many reasons for which we mourn the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash and pray many times daily for its restoration.

There is another law that is different because of our unfortunate circumstances. Since the maaser will not be consumed, it is permitted to redeem tamei maaser produce onto coins, even within the boundaries of the Holy City. Otherwise, one is permitted to redeem maaser produce only in a place where it cannot be eaten.

In conclusion, when we buy produce that grew in Israel, either we should check that there is a good hechsher that attended to all the maaser needs or we should make sure to separate all the terumos and maasros ourselves and redeem the maaser sheini.

Neta reva’ie

I mentioned above that all the laws that apply to maaser sheini also apply to reva’ie. Reva’ie is the fruit that grows in the fourth year of a tree’s life. In a different article, I have explained how we calculate the years of a tree’s life. There is also an article titled Could the Fruit of My Tree Be Orlah? where I discussed whether and when the laws of reva’ie apply to trees planted in chutz la’aretz or only to those in Eretz Yisroel.

Conclusion

A prominent talmid of Rav Moshe Feinstein once related to me the following story. A female calf was born that was completely red. Of course, conversations were abuzz: Could this possibly be a hint that Moshiach will be coming soon, and that we would soon have a parah adumah to use in removing our tumah?

Some of the talmidim in Rav Moshe’s yeshivah approached him with this information, expecting to see his reaction to the great news. Much to their astonishment, Rav Moshe did not react at all. Surprised, one of them asked Rav Moshe: “Does not the Rosh Yeshivah think that this might be a sign that Moshiach will be coming soon?” To this, Rav Moshe answered: “A parah adumah is not kosher until it is three years old. I daven that Moshiach should come today, not in three years.”

We should all have Rav Moshe’s desire for Moshiach to be here, today, and, to demonstrate this desire, be as knowledgeable as we can in all the halachos that will then be germane. May we soon see the day when we can bring our maaser sheini and our reva’ie and eat them betaharah within the rebuilt walls of Yerushalayim!

It’s for the Birds

The Mitzvah of Shiluach Hakein

Photo by MojtabaT from FreeImages

Question #1: Required???

“Must I physically send away the mother bird? I am squeamish!”

Question #2: Keep the Babies

“Must I take the young to fulfill the mitzvah?”

Question #3: Educated!

“I am so excited about the opportunity to fulfill this special mitzvah, with all its rewards, but I want to make sure I do it properly. Can you please enlighten me?”

Well known and poorly understood

This week’s parsha includes the laws of a mitzvah, or more accurately, two mitzvos that are both well-known and yet poorly understood. The Torah teaches that when we happen to find a nest of birds, we are to send away the mother and keep the young; that is, either the baby birds or the eggs. An entire chapter of Mishnah and Gemara, the twelfth and last perek of Chullin, is devoted to understanding this mitzvah, which actually involves two mitzvos, a lo saaseh, a prohibition against taking the mother, and a mitzvas aseih, a positive mitzvah to send away the mother. At the same time, the Torah itself teaches of a very specific reward gained by someone who observes this mitzvah. We will therefore begin the study of this fascinating mitzvah in this article.

Let us rephrase briefly the first two of our opening questions:

1. Should I find such a nest, may I simply ignore it and continue on my way, or is doing so ignoring a requirement to fulfill a mitzvah?

2. “Must I take the young to fulfill the mitzvah?” When I send away the mother bird, am I required to keep the young, or, at least, to physically lift up the eggs or baby birds, thereby taking possession of them? Or have I completed the performance of the mitzvah simply by sending away the mother?

Introduction

At this point, we should read the words of the Torah very carefully, because answering some of our questions will depend on properly understanding these words.

Ki yikarei kan tzipor lefanecha baderech, bechol eitz oh al ha’aretz, efrochim oh beitzim, veha’eim rovetzes al ha’efrochim oh al habeitzim, lo sikach ha’eim al habanim. Shalei’ach teshalach es ha’eim, ve’es habanim tikach loch, lemaan yitav loch veha’archata yamim.“If a bird’s nest, containing either chicks or eggs, happens to be before you on the road, whether it (the nest) is in a tree or on the ground, and the mother is nesting upon the chicks or upon the eggs, you shall not take the mother from/with the offspring. (I will explain shortly why I left the translation this way.) You shall certainly send away the mother and take the young for yourself, so that it will be good for you, and you shall lengthen your days” (Devorim 22:6-7).

Off the derech

Several points in these pesukim are uncertain. The Torah states that the nest must be on the derech, which means on the way or road. Why does the Torah need to tell you that it was on the road? Does this mitzvah not apply if the mother bird is off the derech?

The Gemara first suggests that the Torah is teaching that there is no mitzvah of shiluach hakein if the bird built her nest on the water. However, the Gemara demonstrates that this halacha is inaccurate — a waterway is also called a derech, and, should one find a nest on a waterway, the mitzvah of shiluach hakein applies.

So, what case is exempt, because mommy bird is “off the derech”? The Gemara concludes that there is no mitzvah of shiluach hakein should the nest be on your property, since this is not called “on the way,” which implies an ownerless area (Chullin 139b). The Mishnah states that geese or chickens that set up their nests in an orchard are included in the mitzvah of shiluach hakein, whereas there is no requirement to send away the mother goose or hen if she set up her nest in the house. The Mishnah’s term “chickens that set up their nests in an orchard” means that they have run away from the owner’s jurisdiction. However, if the chickens or geese are “rebellious,” occasionally wandering beyond the confines of their usual home, but still returning to the owner’s barn for nesting, they are still considered “owned.” Similarly, the laws of shiluach hakein apply to an ownerless bird that nests on your property (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 292:2).

Late poskim explain that you are exempt from performing the mitzvah on birds that could easily become yours, even if at the moment they are not your property. Without delving into the halachic analysis entailed, they conclude that the mitzvah of shiluach hakein does not apply to chickens and similar domesticated species, unless this particular bird refuses to be domesticated (Shu”t Imrei Yosher #158; Minchas Shelomoh 2:97:26).

On the other hand, the mitzvah does apply, in general, to doves and pigeons, which, even when kept in dovecotes, are not as domesticated as chickens. However, one is exempt from performing the mitzvah of shiluach hakein in the case of homing pigeons, which accept human domination. This means that someone can remove chickens or homing pigeons roosting on a nest and bring them to the shocheit.

Mommy or daddy

There are species of birds in which the father roosts on the nest, or the two parents take turns. In this instance, does the mitzvah apply, regardless as to which parent is on the nest, or is the mitzvah gender-specific, applying only if the mother bird is on the nest? This question is debated in the Mishnah and discussed in the Gemara. Normative halacha rules that the mitzvah applies only if mother bird is on the nest. This conclusion is implied by the posuk when it says veha’eim rovetzes, “and the mother is nesting.”

Therefore, in order to fulfill the mitzvah of shiluach hakein, one must first determine that the nesting bird is, indeed, the mother. One does not require a DNA test to verify these facts – usually a bit of observation will show you whether one bird or two are nesting.

This question is germane to pigeons, who present the most common contemporary application of shiluach hakein, since non-domesticated ones often create their nests near or in human habitation. Pigeons, which are loyal to their mates for life, take turns roosting on the nest. Usually, the daddy bird takes day shift and mommy does the night shift. (During their time off, each parent goes out to earn a living. Not many social-life options in a full nest.)

There are several halachic ramifications to this social knowledge of pigeon family structure, of which I will share two. Should someone be interested in harvesting both a pigeon parent and its eggs or young, he can determine which parent is male, and then, at the appropriate time, seize daddy bird and the young at the same time without violating any prohibition of the Torah.

A second ramification applies to someone eager to fulfill the mitzvah of shiluach hakein. Before sending away the nesting bird, one should determine whether, at the moment, mommy or daddy is roosting there. If it is daddy, no mitzvah is fulfilled by sending him away, even if you are a father’s rights activist.

From or with?

Allow me to return to the laws that we derive from understanding the posuk. The Torah writes, lo sikach ha’eim al habanim, which can be translated and explained in more than one way. It could mean that you should not take the mommy from the young, which would mean that the prohibition is taking the mother, even should you leave the offspring, which is the way Rashi explains the verse (as explained by Maharal; note that Mizrachi seems to have understood Rashi differently). On the other hand, the Rambam (Sefer Hamitzvos, Lo Saaseh #306) translates the phrase ha’eim al habanim as with the young, meaning that one violates the lo saaseh prohibition only if one takes both mother and offspring. Should someone take the mother and not the offspring, in the Rambam’s opinion, he violated the mitzvas aseih commanding him to send away the mother, but not the lo saaseh. According to Rashi, this person also violated the lo saaseh. Thus, we see that a halachic difference can hinge on how you translate the preposition al.

Earlier in this article, I translated this passage as “You shall not take the mother from/with the young.” This was in order to avoid biasing someone from translating the posuk in a way that supports either side of the dispute between rishonim.

Required???

Our opening question was: “Must I physically send away the mother bird? I am squeamish!” Or, as I explained it: Should I find such a nest, may I simply ignore it and continue on my way, or would I thereby be ignoring a requirement to fulfill a mitzvah?

To explain this a bit better: The Torah includes mitzvos that I am required to observe, such asputting on tefillin and eating matzoh on Pesach. Shiluach hakein is certainly not such a mitzvah, since it depends upon circumstance and applies only when I find a nest. However, among mitzvos of the Torah that are non-obligatory, there are different levels of requirement. Some mitzvos are simply a matir, they permit me to do something, but I have no obligation to do them, whereas others become obligatory when certain circumstances apply.

Some examples will make our explanation clearer. Here is an example of a mitzvah that is not required: shechitah. I am not required to walk down the street looking for animals to shecht. Even if I am a shocheit and someone asks me to shecht for them, it is not a requirement. The mitzvah is simply: If you want to eat meat, the animal must be shechted in a specific way. If one does not shecht it correctly, one may not eat the meat.

This type of mitzvah is a matir. There is no requirement to observe the mitzvah, but if I want to gain a certain benefit, the Torah provides me with specific instruction how to permit it.

If we understand shiluach hakein to be a matir, then what the Torah instructed is that if I find a nesting bird, I may not take both the young and their mother for my purposes. If I want to take the young, I must first send away the mother. (By the way, it is forbidden to take the mother, even if I do not want to take the young.)

Required

There is another way to understand shiluach hakein, which holds that this mitzvah is not a matir, but a requirement, should I encounter the appropriate situation. I will explain the second approach by comparison to a different mitzvah.

One of the Torah’s mitzvos is to return lost objects. There is no requirement for me to try to find lost objects in order to return them to their owner. However, once I see a lost object, I am required to retrieve the item and return it. If one understands that the mitzvah of shiluach hakein is comparable to hashavas aveidah, then, although I am not required to go looking for nesting birds, should I find one, I am required to send away the mother.

Based on Talmudic sources, early acharonim discuss whether shiluach hakein should be considered a matir or a requirement. If it is a matir, then our squeamish questioner is not required to fulfill the mitzvah. However, if it is a requirement, then it is a mitzvah that must be fulfilled. Halachically, it will be approximately equivalent to living in a house and not putting mezuzos on the doors.

Shalei’ach

The question is how one explains the words of the posuk, which says Shalei’ach teshalach es ha’eim, “You shall certainly send away the mother.” Here are two ways:

There is no requirement to send away the mother, but should I happen upon a nest and want to eat the mother bird, the young, or both, I may not take the mother, but must send her away. The act of sending away the mother permits me to keep the young, should I want to take them. According to this approach, the mitzvah of shiluach hakein is similar to shechitah. There is no requirement to shecht, but should I want to eat meat, this is the way to do so.

On the other hand, perhaps the mitzvah of shiluach hakein is similar to the mitzvah of hashavas aveidah. This would mean that should I find a nest, I am now required to send away the mother.

Among the early acharonim, we find a responsum from the Chavos Ya’ir (#67) discussing this issue. To quote the Chavos Yair: “I was asked: if someone comes across a nest while he is walking through a field, is he required to send away the mother, or may he just continue on his way without doing anything?”

The Chavos Yair analyzes several passages of the Gemara in his attempt to prove which approach is correct. Based on his analysis of several texts of Chazal, he concludes that shiluach hakein is like hashavas aveidah, and, should one find a nest that meets the halachic requirements, there is an obligation to send away the mother, even though one has no interest in the young. This position is also accepted by several other prominent, later poskim (Shu”t Chacham Zvi #83; Rabbi Akiva Eiger to Yoreh Deah 292:1; Aruch Hashulchan, Yoreh De’ah 292:1-2).

On the other hand, there are several prominent poskim who dispute this ruling, concluding that shiluach hakein is a matir, like shechitah (Sefer Hamitzvos Hakatzar [of the Chofetz Chayim] Mitzvos Aseh #74; Chazon Ish (Yoreh De’ah 175:2); Shu”t Avnei  Neizer, Orach Chayim #48; Minchas Shelomoh 2:5:4 [5760 edition].

Keep the babies

Our second question that I quoted above was: “Must I take the young to fulfill the mitzvah?” I explained that the question is: When I send away the mother bird, am I required to keep the young, or, at least, to physically lift up the eggs or baby birds, thereby taking possession of them? Or have I completed the performance of the mitzvah simply by sending away the mother?

This is another halachic question that is dependent on the translation of a word of the posuk: The Torah says “You shall certainly send away the mother and take the young for yourself.” Does the Torah mean that you may take the young for yourself or that you are required to take the young? According to the second approach, the mitzvah is fulfilled only if one picks up the eggs or baby birds. If one does not pick them up, one has not fulfilled the mitzvah. According to the first approach, the mitzvah is fulfilled by sending away the mother. Once one has sent her away and fulfilled the mitzvah, one may pick up the eggs, should one want them, or leave them as is.

Again, the correct interpretation depends on a proper understanding of the posuk.

The Torah states, ve’es habanim tikach loch, “And take the young for yourself.” Is this part of the requirement of the mitzvah? In other words, did the Torah command that we perform two steps, send away the mother and take the young? Or, more simply, the Torah instructed that once you sent away the mother, you are permitted to keep the young for yourself.

This question is discussed by a prominent, early acharon, the Chacham Tzvi (Shu”t Chacham Tzvi #83). To quote him: “That which you asked me: One who sends away both the mother and the offspring, did he fulfill the mitzvah of shiluach hakein? Do we say that the words of the Torah, send away the mother and keep the young, must be fulfilled literally to fulfill the mitzvah, or not? You wrote me that the great scholars of Lublin were uncertain about this.”

The Chacham Tzvi rallies source material from the Gemara that the mitzvah is to send away the mother, and one fulfills the mitzvah, even if one does not take the young. Therefore, taking the young is not a requirement for the fulfillment of the mitzvah, but presents an option for the individual performing the mitzvah.  He compares this to the words of the Torah, “Six days shall you work, and do all your melacha.” Clearly, the Torah is not requiring one to work, but limiting one’s work time to six days of the seven-day week. Similarly, shiluach hakein should be understood that should you want to take the young, you may do so only after sending away the mother, but there is no requirement to take the young. Put in other terms, sending away the mother is a matir that permits taking the young, similar to shechitah being the matir permitting one to consume the meat. Just as shechitah does not require that someone eat the meat, so too, it is not required to take the young, and one fulfills the mitzvah without taking them.

Other acharonim disagree, demonstrating from the Zohar that one is supposed to take the offspring (Beis Lechem Yehudah). The Aruch Hashulchan (Yoreh Deah 292:3-4) concludes, like the Chacham Tzvi, that there is no requirement to take the offspring. Nevertheless, since the posuk implies that one should, and there is evidence of this approach from some rishonim, the Aruch Hashulchan concludes that the proper approach is to make a kinyan on the young, such as by lifting them up. Furthermore, he notes that, according to the reason for the mitzvah of shiluach hakein proposed by many early authorities, which I hope to discuss in a future article, one should take the young.

Conclusion

The mitzvah we have just studied teaches that although we may eat kosher birds, we are prohibited to take a mother bird when she is in her nest tending to her young. In explanation of the reason for this mitzvah, Rav Hirsch sees a lesson to be learned regarding the sacred role of motherhood. To quote him: “The respect that a nation accords to the woman’s calling is a reliable barometer of that nation’s moral level… the paramount importance the Torah attaches to the woman’s activities… traces even into the sphere of animal life. It assures protection for a mother bird while she is engaged in her activity as a mother and it demands that everyone… should demonstrate through his actions this appreciation of the female as she carries out her task.”

Tefillin Retzuos, Maintenance, and Purchasing Instructions

Question #1: How are tefillin retzuos made?

Question #2: My tefillin did not come with an “owner’s manual.” What should I do to maintain them in good condition?

Question #3: How can I make sure I get “quality” tefillin?

Introduction:

This week’s parsha has a very indirect allusion to the mitzvah of tefillin, since it refers to the mitzvah of zakein mamrei, the rebellious elder. The details of zakein mamrei are rather extensive and will not be discussed in this article. However, the example chosen for establishing a person as a zakein mamrei is someone who declares that tefillin are supposed to contain five parshios rather than four (Rambam, Hilchos Mamrim 4:3).

As I sent out two articles on the topic of tefillin manufacture only weeks ago, this article will be our “wrap-up” of the topic, and will discuss the halachos of tefillin straps, what one should ask when purchasing them and how to maintain your tefillin in perfect “operating” order.

For the sake of tefillin!

Tefillin must be manufactured lishmah – for the sake of the mitzvah. In practical terms, this means that an observant Jew begins each process and declares that the production is for the sake of the mitzvah of tefillin (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 32:8).

The contemporary process of tanning hide for parchment, batim and straps is a multi-stage process, similar to the method used to tan leather for mundane uses, such as belts, shoes and handbags. However, as I mentioned above, the parchment, batim and straps for tefillin must be tanned lishmah, for the sake of the mitzvah (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 32:37 and 33:3). For this reason, it is preferable that each step be performed, or at least begun, by an observant Jew, lishmah. Therefore, one of the questions to be ascertained when purchasing tefillin is to what extent an observant Jew was involved in the processing of the hide. This issue impacts on the question of machine-made vs. handmade retzuos.

Is there a halachic preference for handmade retzuos?

In earlier days, tanning retzuos and other leather items involved salting the hide and then soaking it in lime wash. Today, although both salt and lime are still used in the tanning process, most of the tanning of retzuos is usually accomplished by the gradual, automated adding of other chemicals to the soaking leather after the salt and lime have been rinsed out. Thus, although many early poskim ruled that placing the hide into the water lishmah (after the salt and lime have been added) is sufficient to make retzuos lishmah, this may not be true today. The hide must be processed in a way that it meets the requirements of lishmah, which, in today’s world, probably requires that the other chemicals were added to the water lishmah by a Torah-observant person (Zichron Eliyahu).

Most Torah-observant Jews use hand matzos for the seder, because of concern that machine matzos are not considered lishmah. (I am not ruling that machine matzos are a problem for seder use. The majority of poskim contend that they are fine.) In all likelihood, the manufacture and painting of machine-made retzuos has greater halachic concerns than the shaylos involved in machine matzos, for several reasons, including the fact that the processing of retzuos is not one continuous process, as I explained above. In addition, there are and were halachic authorities who preferred the use of machine matzos because they are baked much faster, and therefore might reduce the chance of chometz. This is not a factor in the manufacture of tefillin retzuos. It is clearly advantageous to use handmade retzuos, and, to the best of my knowledge, no disadvantage. When one realizes that the mitzvah of eating matzoh is only once a year, yet most people use only hand matzos rather than machine-made, whereas the tefillin will iy”h be worn daily for decades, I believe the choice is obvious.

An additional question is whether lishmah can be created by pushing the buttons that start the electric process. Although most, but not all, halachic authorities accept that this is considered lishmah, it is easier to comprehend that this works for matzoh than for retzuos.  The lishmah for matzoh is to make sure it does not become chometz and therefore an observant Jew supervising the process to make sure everything is kosher lepesach who starts the machine’s operation lishmah is sufficient.However, germane to retzuos and the like, the goal of tanning the leather lishmah is to create kedusha on the leather so that it can be used for a sacred purpose. It might follow that pushing buttons cannot be considered an act that creates kedusha.

Painting

After the tanning of the retzuos is completed, they are painted jet-black lishmah (Mishnah Berurah 33:18).

Must the side of the retzua be black?

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

Thoroughly black

Some manufacturers of tefillin retzuos soak the entire leather in a kosher black solution, so that the entire thickness of the strap is now black. Although I see no halachic requirement in this additional process, there is a practical advantage that is up to the consumer to decide. As the retzuos age, they develop cracks. If the retzua was originally soaked in black solution, when the leather cracks, the retzua may still be black and not require painting. However, if the retzua is not soaked, the now-showing cracked area is light colored and requires painting. I have found it annoying to constantly check to see whether my retzuos are still black, and therefore, when I purchase retzuos, I ask for those that have been soaked black to avoid this issue. (Although from my own observation, how black the inner part of the retzua gets when this is done varies tremendously from batch to batch, I still usually find it worthwhile.) From a consumer perspective, I think the additional cost is worthwhile, because it is probable that these retzuos can be used for a longer period of time before they become so difficult to paint constantly that one replaces them. Again, I note that this is not a halachic consideration.

How wide are my retzuos?

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

How to maintain your tefillin

What should I do to maintain my tefillin in good, kosher condition?

Maintaining the batim and parshios of your tefillin is fairly easy. Never leave your tefillin in direct sunlight, in a very hot place, or inside your car during the daytime. As much as possible, your hair should be dry while wearing your tefillin. When going to mikvah before weekday davening, make sure to dry your hair well before putting on your tefillin.

Protect the corners of the batim by leaving the cover on the shel yad. (It should be noted that some poskim contend that one should not place these covers on the shel yad while one is wearing them, or while making the brocha. However, since most poskim permit leaving these covers on, one may be lenient.)

Checking retzuos

It is important to check periodically that the retzuos on one’s tefillin are still completely black and are not cracked or faded. Although a good quality pair of tefillin should last a lifetime, the straps on the tefillin do wear out and periodically need to be replaced.

The Mishnah Berurah, whom many people consider the finalauthority in these areas of halacha, implies that the entire length of the retzua must always be black (Biur Halacha 33:3 s.v. haretzuos). (There are authorities who disagree, most notably Rav Yosef Chayim Sonnenfeld, who contends that it is adequate for most of the retzua to be black.) Check that the retzuos are black all the way to their tip. Be particular to check that they are black near where the retzua is tightened daily, because at that point the paint often rubs off. One should also check that the retzua is still wide enough where it is tightened near the knot and that the yud of the shel yad is touching the ketzitzah of the tefillin. If it is not, this can be corrected by a knowledgeable sofer or a batim macher (a trained tefillin manufacturer).

If the retzuos are no longer fully black, blacken them with kosher tefillin paint. Everyone who wears tefillin should have access to kosher tefillin paint or kosher tefillin markers.

Depending on where you live, this might be an easy item to purchase; it usually comes either as a pen-looking marker or in a small container reminiscent of correction fluid.

Before painting the retzuos, one must state that he is doing it lesheim kedushas tefillin. I once wrote a halachic teshuvah (in Hebrew) in which I concluded that someone who painted the faded parts of their retzuos, but forgot to say that they were doing it lishmah, has not invalidated the tefillin, and they may be worn as they are. Still, one should lechatchilah (the preferred way) be careful to say that one is blackening them lesheim kedushas tefillin.

If someone’s retzuos are cracking in several places, he should consider replacing them.

While checking the retzuos, check that the batim, titura, and stitches are all perfectly square. This means that, to the naked eye, the width and the length appear to be the same, and that there are no dents, nicks, or projections along the sides or in the corners of the bayis. The back corners of the batim often become rounded because of hats or taleisim that are constantly rubbing against them.  By the way, the edges of the ma’avarta (the part of the tefillin bayis  through which the straps (retzuos) are inserted) do not need to be square.

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

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

Where should I buy my tefillin?

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

Where not to buy your tefillin!

I’ll share with you one frightening story of my personal experience. I was once “tipped off” by someone about a manufacturer of tefillin batim who was personally not observant. Shortly thereafter, I realized that an errand would require me to be in the same city in which this manufacturer was located. I presented myself to the owner, who was clearly not observant, as a rabbi from America looking for a supplier of tefillin for his congregation, but who would like to familiarize himself with the process of how tefillin are made. One would think that the manufacturer might be interested in the possibility of making some sales, but, indeed, he would not even let me past his front door! When one realizes the myriad details involved in tefillin manufacture that require yiras shamayim, one grasps how unlikely it is that these tefillin were kosher. We will never know how many pairs of tefillin this manufacturer produces annually, but clearly, lots of people are, unfortunately, purchasing these tefillin.

The price of tefillin

Considering how much time, labor and trained skill are required to produce a kosher pair of tefillin, it amazes me how inexpensive tefillin are. Imagine purchasing an item that requires tens of hours of skilled, expert workmanship! What would you expect to pay for such an item? Probably thousands of dollars! And note that one wears tefillin every weekday of one’s life, without exception. The tefillin are certainly hundreds of times more valuable than a top-quality suit! Remember that a top-quality pair of tefillin should last many decades. A pair of tefillin that costs $1,500 and lasts for sixty years is worn approximately 300 times a year, or a total of 18,000 times. Thus, this pair of tefillin cost about 8½ cents a day. Compare this to the cost per wearing of a nice suit!

Ask for what you want

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

What to ask when ordering tefillin?

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

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

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

From which manufacturer are the batim being ordered? Why did the seller choose this batim macher? Do the batim carry a hechsher? Order batim that are kosher lemehadrin. Clarify that the batim macher cuts between the compartments of the shel rosh after painting to guarantee that they are properly separated.

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

None of the items above should cost anything additional, and therefore one should always ask for them, even if one’s budget is limited. These questions also make your seller aware that you are looking for tefillin that are kosher lemehadrin, just as you shop for food that is kosher lemehadrin.

What extra items should I ask for when ordering tefillin?

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

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

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

If you are ordering tefillin that are perudos ad hatefer legamrei, ask for batim that were made originally this way, from the beginning of their manufacture. Sometimes a batim macher receiving an order for “perudos ad hatefer legamrei” will take a knife and attempt to cut through the glue that is holding the compartments of the bayis together, in order to separate them. If you are purchasing perudos ad hatefer legamrei, then you should ask not to have these batim. Firstly, the cutting could damage the batim. Secondly, if you are paying for tefillin that are mehudar, why settle for second best? Furthermore, the batim macher may have made his batim assuming that they will hold together with glue, and without glue in the middle, they will quickly separate and become posul.

2. Order batim, parshios, gidin, and retzuos that are avodas yad. Discuss with the sofer whether the parshios should be written on extra-thin parchment.

3. Order tefillin where the shin was pulled out by hand, and the mold was used only to enhance an existing shin.

What should I check when the tefillin arrive?

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

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

What should I be checking on my own tefillin?

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

Check that the retzuos and batim are completely black and are not rubbed out, cracked or faded. Are the retzuos black all the way to their tip? Be particular to check that they are black near where the retzua is tightened daily, because at that point the paint often rubs off. One should also check that the retzua is still wide enough near the knot. If they are not fully black, blacken them with kosher tefillin paint.

The yud of the shel yad should be connected in such a way that it touches the ketzitzah of the tefillin.

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

A Tefillin Shoppers Guide, Part II

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

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

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

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

In last week’s article, I discussed the manufacturing of the batim. Several steps of tefillin manufacture were not described last week, including painting, making the retzuos, and placing the parshios in the bayis and sealing it. We also did not discuss at all the writing of the parshios, which is where we will begin this week’s article.

Writing the parshios

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

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

Here are some examples of mistakes that can occur while writing tefillin. If two letters touch one another, the tefillin are posul (Menachos 34a; Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 32:4).

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

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

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

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

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

Why not fix it?

Why can’t this mistake be corrected?

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

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

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

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

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

A modern innovation

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

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

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

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

Painting

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

On inferior batim, non-scrupulous batim machers may merely scratch the outside of the bayis to mark where the four compartments actually are. This is invalid; there must be four separate compartments, both inside and outside. Alternatively, sometimes a deep groove is mistakenly scratched in the wrong place and does not demonstrate the actual separation between the compartments. This is also invalid. A responsible batim macher cuts between the compartments, to guarantee that they are indeed fully separate, even after the painting.

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

Rolling up the parshios

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

According to Rashi’s opinion, which is the halacha, the parshios are now inserted according to the order that they appear in the Torah. Thus, the first parsha, Kadeish li kol bechor (Shemos 13:1-10), fills the leftmost compartment (from the perspective of the wearer), with Vehayah ki yeviacha  (Shemos 13:11-16) next to it. Shema (Devorim 6:4-9) is placed next; and Vehayah im shamo’a  (Devorim 11:13-21) is inserted inside the rightmost compartment. However, according to Rabbeinu Tam, the last two parshios are reversed, with Shema in the rightmost compartment and Vehayah im shamo’a next to it. (There are, also, at least two other opinions concerning the correct order of the parshios.)

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

Big parshios

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

Sewing the titura

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

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

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

We have now completed our lessons on the manufacture of the batim and the parshios. In our next and last installment, in two weeks, we will discuss the manufacture of the retzuos, proper maintenance of kosher tefillin, and how to purchase them.

A Tefillin Shoppers Guide

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

Answer: Your questions are all very valid, and I am very glad that you have provided me the opportunity to explain these issues. Your quest is also complicated by the fact that because most tefillin are made in Eretz Yisroel, it is sometimes difficult for someone who lives elsewhere to find out all the details about their manufacture. However, I hope to present you with enough halachic and practical basics to assist you in your search.

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

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

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

COMPONENTS OF THE TEFILLIN

Tefillin have three major components:

  1. The parshios (singular, parsha). These are the parchments on which the sofer painstakingly and carefully writes the four sections of the Torah mentioned above. For the tefillin shel yad (arm tefillin), all four parshios are written on one piece of parchment, whereas for the tefillin shel rosh (head tefillin), each parsha is written on a separate piece of parchment.
  2. The batim (singular, bayis). These are the housing of the parshios. The bayis itself has three subcomponents: (a) the ketzitzah, the cube-shaped box inside which the parshios are placed; (b) the titura, the base on which the ketzitzah rests; (c) the ma’avarta (Aramaic for “bridge”), the extension of the titura through which the straps are inserted. In good quality tefillin, the entire bayis — that is the ketzitzah, titura, and ma’avarta — are all made from one piece of hide.
  3.  The retzuos, the straps.

Processing of the hide

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

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

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

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

Manufacture of the batim

At this point, we will investigate the complicated process of making proper tefillin batim. The manufacturer of batim is generally referred to by the Yiddish term, “batim macher.”

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

A modern innovation

In fact, gasos batim are a relatively new development, made possible through the invention of the hydraulic press. Until this invention, the tough gasos hide could not be worked into the form required for the shaping of tefillin. Today, a huge amount of pressure can be applied to the leather with a hydraulic press to produce the finest tefillin from the thick hide of gasos animals.

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

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

The shin of the shel rosh

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

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

The dispute whether the shin may be molded takes us to a different discussion. Creating the shin through a mold is an act of “chok tochos,” indirectly creating a letter. Letters written for a sefer Torah, tefillin, mezuzos or a get, are invalid when written as chok tochos, but must be created “directly,” by forming the letter, not by scraping away around the letter. If so, why do so many poskim rule that the shin of the shel rosh may be created through a mold?

The answer is that the Torah never states that one must “write” a shin on the side of the tefillin. The halacha leMoshe miSinai merely states that there must be a shin on the side of the tefillin, without specifying that the shin must be written there. Therefore, the lenient opinions contend that there is no requirement to “write” a shin on the tefillin, and it is sufficient for the shin to be made in any way, even through chok tochos. As mentioned above, we paskin that the shin should be formed in a direct way first.

Tefillin must be square

There is another halacha leMoshe miSinai that the tefillin must be perfectly square (Menachos 35a). The rishonim dispute whether min haTorah both the bayis and the titura must be square, or only one of them. Since this matter is a controversy, and, furthermore, since some opinions require that they must both be square, accepted practice is that both the bayis and the titura be perfectly square.

The width of the bayis must be the exact same measurement as its length, and there may be no nicks, indentations, or bulges that ruin its perfect squareness. The height of the tefillin does not need to be the same as the width and length (Rambam, Hilchos Tefillin 3:1). As a matter of fact, some batim machers deliberately make tefillin that are taller than they are wide. This is so that the tefillin will fit properly on the arm, without requiring that the parshios be made very small.

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

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

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

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

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

Why not glue?

What is wrong with gluing the compartments together?

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

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

The titura

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

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

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

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

At this point, the batim are almost ready, except that they need painting and the parshios have not yet been inserted. But we have not yet discussed the writing of the parshios. We also need to talk about the processing of the retzuos, the finishing and sewing of the titura, and various other hiddurim of tefillin. See part II of this article for more on this topic.

Must I Toivel This?

Photo by Thomas Picard from FreeImages

Question #1: The Vanilla Cruet

“We received a gift of a glass cruet, a salad oil dispenser, that we doubt we will ever use for that purpose. We decided, instead, to use it is a flower vase and were told that we do not need to toivel it. Subsequently, we decided that we might use it for soaking vanilla beans and alcohol to make our own natural vanilla extract. Do we need to toivel it?”

Question #2: Restaurant Silverware

“I have always assumed that caterers and restaurants toivel their silverware and glasses. Recently, I was told that some hechsherim do not require this. Is this true? Am I permitted to use their silverware and glasses?”

Question #3: The Salami Slicer

“I have a knife that I use for my work, which is not food-related. May I occasionally slice a salami with the knife that I have never immersed in a mikveh?”

Question #4: The Box Cutter

“Before I toivel my new steak knife, may I use it to open a box?

Answer:

After the Bnei Yisroel’s miraculous victory over the nation of Midyan, they were commanded regarding the booty that they had now acquired: Concerning 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 pure – yet, it must also be purified in mikveh water. And that which was not used in fire must pass through water (Bamidbar 31:22-23). From these verses, our Sages derive the mitzvah of tevilas keilim — the requirement to immerse metal implements used for food in a spring or kosher mikveh prior to use. According to the Talmud Yerushalmi (Avodah Zarah 5:15), the immersion of the implement elevates it to the sanctity of Jewish ownership, similar to the requirement that a non-Jew converting to Judaism submerges in a mikveh (Issur Vaheter 58:76; see also Ritva, Avodah Zarah 75b).

The Gemara (Avodah Zarah 75b) rules that, in addition to metal items, we are also required to immerse glass utensils, because both metal and glass are similar: they are recyclable. When they break, one can melt or weld the broken parts to create new utensils or to repair old ones. As a matter of fact, in the time of the Gemara, people kept broken pieces of metal and brought them to the blacksmith when they needed to manufacture new items (see Shabbos 123a). It is also interesting to note that this function is the basis of the Hebrew word for metal, mateches, which means meltable or dissolvable (see Yechezkel 22:22; Rashi, Shemos 9:33). In this characteristic, metal ware and glassware are different from items made of stone, wood or earthenware, which cannot be recycled in this manner.

Prior to dipping the metal ware or glassware, one recites a brocha, Asher ki’deshanu bemitzvosav vetzivanu al tevilas keilim. As we will soon see, this brocha is recited only when there is a definite requirement to toivel (immerse) an item.

Used without immersing

If, in violation of the Law, someone used an item that was not immersed, may one eat the food that came in contact with it? According to many authorities, this is the subject of a dispute between two opinions in the Gemara. Some early authorities (Baal Halachos Gedolos, Chapter 55; Or Zarua, Piskei Avodah Zarah #293) conclude that, indeed, this food is prohibited. However, the consensus of halachic authority is that it is permitted to eat food that was prepared using non-toiveled equipment (Tosafos, Avodah Zarah 75b s.v. Vechulan; Ritva, ad locum; Rema, Yoreh Deah 120:16). This is useful information when visiting someone who, unfortunately, does not perform the mitzvah of tevilas keilim. Although one may not use non-toiveled utensils to eat or drink, the food prepared in them remains kosher. According to most authorities, if the food is served in non-toiveled utensils, one should transfer it to utensils that do not require immersion or were properly immersed.

The halachah is that when I know that someone will use pots and other equipment that were not immersed, I may not ask him to cook for me, since I am causing him to violate the Torah (lifnei iveir).

A matir or a takkanah?

Why is it forbidden to use a utensil that has not been toiveled? There are two different ways to understand this halachah.

A matir

The first approach explains that min HaTorah one may not use a utensil that has not been immersed, similar to the halachah that one may not eat meat without first shechting the animal. This logic holds that when the Torah created the mitzvah of tevilas keilim, it prohibited use of any food utensils that require immersion, and the immersion is what permits me to use the utensils. I will refer to this approach as holding that tevilas keilim is a matir.

A takkanah

Alternatively, one can explain that, although the requirement to immerse food utensils is min HaTorah, the prohibition to use non-toiveled utensils is a takkanah, a rabbinic prohibition. The reason for this prohibition is to encourage people to immerse their utensils in a timely fashion. Chazal were concerned that if it is permitted to use utensils without immersing them, people would postpone, indefinitely, fulfilling the mitzvah.

This second approach appears to be how the Mishnah Berurah understood this mitzvah, since he states that although most authorities contend that the mitzvah to immerse utensils is min HaTorah, the prohibition to use them if they were not immersed is only rabbinic (Biur Halachah 323:7 s.v. Mutar). This exact idea is expressed by Rav Shlomoh Zalman Auerbach (Minchas Shlomoh 2:66:13, 14).

Notwithstanding the Mishnah Berurah’s understanding of this mitzvah, the Or Zarua,a rishon, writes that the prohibition to use non-immersed equipment is min HaTorah (Or Zarua, Piskei Avodah Zarah #293; A careful reading of Shaagas Aryeh #56 will demonstrate that he was of the same opinion.) This implies that the mitzvah is indeed a matir, its purpose is to permit the use of the utensil. If not, where do we have any evidence that the Torah prohibited use of a non-immersed vessel?

Rushing to immerse

Is there a halachic requirement to immerse a utensil as soon as I purchase it, or may I wait for a convenient time to immerse it, as long as I do not use the utensil in the interim?

We find a dispute among the poskim concerning this. Some rule that there is no requirement to immerse a utensil as soon as possible (Levush, as explained by Pri Megadim, Mishbetzos Zahav, Orach Chayim 323:5),whereas the Maharshal (Yam shel Shelomoh, Beitzah 2:19) explains that this question is dependent on a dispute in the Gemara (Beitzah 17b-18a). The Maharshal concludes that one is required to immerse the utensil as soon as possible, out of concern that one will mistakenly use it before it was immersed. The latter ruling is quoted by other authorities (Elyah Rabbah 323:12).

Better to borrow?

The Gemara (Avodah Zarah 75b) explains that the mitzvah of tevilas keilim does not apply to utensils that a Jew borrowed or rented from a non-Jew (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 120:8). The Torah taught that utensils that a Jew acquires require immersing, but not items that are not owned by a Jew. Furthermore, whether a utensil requires immersion is determined by who its owner is and not by who is using it. We will soon see another ramification of this ruling.

The poskim rule that, under circumstances when one cannot immerse utensils, one may transfer ownership of a utensil from a Jew to a non-Jew to avoid immersing it. Therefore, should a Jew own a utensil and have nowhere to immerse it, or if he does not have time before Shabbos or Yom Tov to immerse it, he may give it to a gentile and then borrow it back from the gentile (Mordechai, Beitzah #677; Shulchan Aruch and Rema, Yoreh Deah 120:16). Since the utensil is now owned by a gentile, there is no requirement to immerse it. Consequently, borrowing it from the gentile does not present any problem.

This ruling applies only to utensils that are owned by a non-Jew and borrowed from him by a Jew. However, if a Jew owns a utensil that he has not immersed, another Jew may not borrow or use it without immersing it (Tosafos and Rosh ad loc., both quoting Rashbam). Once the owner is required to immerse the utensil, no other Jew may use it without immersing it first.

Only klei seudah

The Gemara concludes that the mitzvah of tevilas keilim applies only to klei seudah — literally, implements used for a meal. This includes items used to prepare food or to eat. As we will soon discuss, there are some interesting ramifications of this law.

“Rav Nachman said in the name of Rabbah bar Avuha: ‘One can derive from the verse that one must immerse even brand-new items, because used vessels that were purged in fire have the same kashrus status as 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 kashering 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! However, the conclusion is that the mitzvah is limited to items used for food.

Kitchen or Leather?

Reuven is a leather worker who purchases a brand-new kitchen knife that he intends to use exclusively for this leather work. Does this knife require immersion in a mikveh?

Although this utensil was manufactured for food use, since Reuven is now the owner and he purchased it for leather work, it is no longer a food utensil.

The early authorities dispute whether someone who borrows the knife from the owner to use it for food is required to immerse it. The primary position contends that the borrower is not required to immerse the knife (Hagahos Ashri, Avodah Zarah, 5:35; Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 120:8). This approach understands that the halachic status of a utensil is determined by its owner and not by the person borrowing it. There is, however, a dissenting opinion that contends that since the owner himself would not be allowed to use the knife for food, even temporarily, someone else may not either (Issur Vaheter 58:89, quoted by Shach, Yoreh Deah 120:16). Thus, the latter approach requires that the borrower immerse this knife before using it for food. As a compromise position, some authorities conclude that one should immerse this utensil, but should not recite a brocha before doing so (Shach, Yoreh Deah 120:16).

However…

All this holds true as long as the owner, our leather worker, uses the knife exclusively for non-food use. The owner may not use it for food, even temporarily (Rema, Yoreh Deah 120:8). Furthermore, later authorities note that the Shach implies that, should Reuven decide to use the knife for food, albeit only once, he may not use the knife even for non-food use without first immersing it (Darchei Teshuvah 120:39, quoting Ginzei Elimelech; Sefer TevilaskKeilim, page 104, quoting Pri Eliyahu).

We see from this Shach a very interesting ruling. The halachah is not that food use requires that the vessel be immersed. The halachah is that a food utensil must be immersed before use – no matter what type of use.

This last ruling means that someone who purchased a knife that he intends to immerse, may not use it, even to open a package, before it has been immersed.

We can therefore answer one of our opening questions:

“I have a knife that I use for my work, which is not food related. May I occasionally slice a salami with the knife that I have never immersed in a mikveh?”

Although many people may find this ruling to be surprising, according to the Shach, you may not.

The vanilla cruet

At this point, I would like to discuss one of our opening questions, an actual shaylah that I was asked: “We received a gift of a glass cruet, a salad oil dispenser, that we doubt we will ever use for that purpose. We decided, instead, to use it is a flower vase and were told that we do not need to toivel it. Subsequently, we decided that we might use it for soaking vanilla beans and alcohol to make our own natural vanilla extract. Do we need to toivel it?”

This is an interesting question. I agree that if someone receives a vessel that is usually klei seudah, but one does not intend to use it for this purpose, there is no requirement to immerse it. Subsequently, the individual decides that he might use the cruet to process vanilla flavor, a use that would require immersing. (For reasons beyond the scope of this article, I would suggest not reciting a brocha, when immersing the cruet.) According to the Shach, once they decide to use the cruet for making vanilla flavor, not only do they now need to immerse it, but they can no longer use it for anything else. This is because a cruet is inherently a vessel that should require immersion. The only reason they were not required to immerse it until now was because they had decided not to use it for food. But once they decide to use it for food, they may not use it for anything without immersing it.

The salami knife

We can also now address a different question that was asked above: “I have a knife that I use for my work, which is not food related. May I occasionally slice a salami with the knife that I have never immersed in a mikveh?”

The answer is that, if this is a knife that was made for food use, one would not be allowed to use it for food without immersing it. On the other hand, if it is a box cutter, which is clearly not meant for food use, we have no evidence that one is required to immerse it. There are sources in halachah that state that an item that is not meant as klei seudah may be used occasionally for food, even by the owner, without requiring tevilah (see, for example, Darchei Teshuvah 120:70, 88).

Klei sechorah — “merchandise”

The halachic authorities note that a storekeeper does not toivel vessels he is planning to sell, since for him they are not klei seudah, but merchandise. Later authorities therefore coined a term “klei sechorah,” utensils used as merchandise, ruling that these items do not require immersion until they are purchased by the person intending to use them (based on Taz, Yoreh Deah 120:10).

In the nineteenth century, a question was raised concerning the definition of klei sechorah. When rail travel became commonplace, enterprising entrepreneurs began selling refreshments at train stations. (No club car on those trains!) A common occurrence was that Jewish vendors would sell beer or other beverages at the stations, which they would serve to their customers by the glassful. The question was raised whether these glasses required immersion and whether one was permitted to drink from them when the vendor presumably had not immersed them. Although it would seem that one may not use them without tevilah, there are authorities who rule that these vessels are considered klei sechorah for the merchant and that, therefore, the customer may use them (Darchei Teshuvah 120:70, 88; Shu”t Minchas Yitzchak #1:44).

According to this approach, a restaurateur or caterer is not required to immerse the utensils with which he serves his guests. Although most authorities reject this approach (Minchas Shlomoh 2:66:14), I have found many places where, based on this heter, hechsherim do not require the owner to toivel his glassware, flatware and other items.

Conclusion

According to Rav Hirsch, metal vessels, which require mankind’s mining, extracting and processing, represent man’s mastery over the earth and its materials. Whereas vessels made of earthenware or wood involve man merely shaping the world’s materials to fit his needs, the manufacture of metal 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 hereby 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, the product of one’s creative power must first be sanctified in order that we focus on the spiritual.

Taking Care of the Ill — The Mitzvah of Bikur Cholim Part II

Question #1: Not a doctor

“If the mitzvah of bikur cholim is to see that the patient’s needs are taken care of, what am I accomplishing by visiting him in the hospital? I am not a physician, and my inquiring about the patient’s medical care is probably intrusive and counter-productive.”

Question #2: Is there a rabbi in the house?

“Why do people ask tzaddikim to pray on behalf of someone who is ill?”

Question #3: Visiting alone

“I was told not to visit a sick person by myself. Is there a halachic basis for this practice?”

Introduction

The Gemara (Sotah 14a) teaches that we have a mitzvah to follow in Hashem’s ways, and that this mitzvah includes the requirement to take care of the needs of the ill. “Rabbi Chama the son of Rabbi Chanina said, ‘How are we to understand the words of the Torah: “You should follow Hashem, your G-d.” How is it possible for a human being to follow the Holy One, blessed is He, when the verse states that ‘Hashem, your G-d, is a consuming fire?’ Rather, it means that we are to emulate Hashem’s attributes – just as he dresses the naked… takes care of the sick… consoles the mourners, and buries the dead, so should we.

Based on a pasuk in parshas Korach, the Gemara (Nedarim 39b) teaches: “There is an allusion to the mitzvah of bikur cholim in the Torah: When Moshe declares ‘If these people (Korach’s party) will die like most people do, and the destiny of most people will happen to them, then Hashem did not send me.’ How do we see an allusion to the mitzvah of bikur cholim in the pasuk? Moshe declared: If these people will die like most people do – if they will become ill and bedridden and people will come to inquire about their needs – the people will say ‘Hashem did not send me.’” Thus, the Gemara cites this week’s parsha as one of the direct sources in the Torah for the mitzvah of bikur cholim.

Last week, our article was on the topic of bikur cholim and discussed many of its basic halachos. This article includes a review of some of the basic laws and concepts of this very special mitzvah, but will primarily cover details that were not discussed in the previous article.

Every community should have an organization devoted to the needs of the sick, and it is a tremendous merit to be involved in organizing and participating in such a wonderful chesed project (Ahavas Chesed 3:3).

What does the word bikur mean?

Although the word “bikur” means “visit” in modern Hebrew, the original meaning of “bikur” is not “visit” but “examine” or “check.” The primary responsibility of the mitzvah of bikur cholim is to check and see what the ill person needs and to do whatever one can to meet those needs (Toras Ha’adam). Thus, a physician, nurse, nurse’s aide, or medical clown performs the mitzvah of bikur cholim all day long. If they regularly have in mind that they are fulfilling what Hashem wants us to do, they are rewarded for each and every time that they stop in to inquire about the ill and assist in his care. Each time a person visits an ill person, he fulfills an additional act of the mitzvah of bikur cholim, provided that the ill person appreciates the visit. However, one who performs the same activities while looking at it exclusively as a job, but not as an opportunity to imitate Hashem’s wondrous deeds, misses the opportunity to receive all this reward. In addition, constantly recognizing that I am acting like Hashem and fulfilling His mitzvos makes a tremendous impression on one’s neshamah.

There are two main aspects of this mitzvah:

I. Taking care of the physical and emotional needs of ill people.

II. Praying for their recovery (Toras Ha’adam, based on Nedarim 40a).

Taking care of needs

In addition to raising the sick person’s spirits by showing one’s concern, the visitor should also ascertain that the physical, financial, and medical needs are properly cared for, as well as other logistical concerns that may be troubling the patient. Often, well- meaning people make the effort to visit the sick, but fail to fulfill the mitzvah of bikur cholim fully, because they fail to check if the choleh needs something (Gesher Hachayim).

Visiting a child

The mitzvah of bikur cholim includes visiting a child who is ill (Yalkut Yosef, Volume 7,page 27). If the child is accompanied by a parent, one can accomplish all aspects of the mitzvah by visiting the parent and child in the hospital, seeing that their needs are being met and praying for the recovery of the child.

Praying

The Beis Yosef (Yoreh Deah 335) writes, “It is a great mitzvah to visit the ill, since this causes the visitor to pray on the sick person’s behalf, which revitalizes him. Furthermore, since the visitor sees the ill person, the visitor checks to see what the ill person needs.” We see that the Beis Yosef considers praying for the ill an even greater part of the mitzvah than attending to his needs, since he first mentions praying and then refers to attending to the other needs as “furthermore.”

The authorities note that someone who visits a sick person without praying for his recovery fails to fulfill all the requirements of the mitzvah (Toras Ha’adam; Rema, Yoreh Deah 335:4). Therefore, physicians, nurses, aides and medical clowns should accustom themselves to pray for their sick patients in order to fulfill the complete mitzvah of bikur cholim. A simple method of accomplishing this is to discreetly recite a quick prayer (such as “Hashem, please heal this person among the other ill Jewish people [besoch she’ar cholei Yisroel]”) as one leaves the person’s room. (A doctor in his office can recite the same quick prayer.) When wishing someone refuah sheleimah, what one is doing is praying on his behalf.

When praying for someone ill, always include a request that he get well together with the rest of the Jewish ill (Shabbos 12b).

Small illness

The Gemara (Yerushalmi, Brochos 4:4) implies that one should pray for the healing of even a relatively minor illness. To quote: “We should assume that any illness carries with it the potential to become dangerous.”

Just pray?

At this point, let us look at the first of our opening questions: “If the mitzvah of bikur cholim is to see that the patient’s needs are taken care of, what am I accomplishing by visiting him in the hospital? I am not a physician, and my inquiring about the patient’s medical care is probably intrusive and counter-productive.”

Aside from the advantage in cheering them up, which can certainly help in their medical care, visiting the patient and seeing him motivates one to daven harder for his recovery and that Hashem should give the medical personnel the wisdom to provide the proper treatment (Shu”t Yechaveh Daas 3:83).

Is there a rabbi in the house?

At this point, let us address the second of our opening questions: “Why do people ask tzaddikim to pray on behalf of an ill person?”

Anyone can daven on behalf of an ill person, and should do so; of course, this includes the ill person himself. The Gemara teaches that King Chizkiyahu was healed exclusively in the merit of his own prayer.

Notwithstanding that everyone can and should pray for the sick, the prayers of a great tzaddik have additional merit and can accomplish what the prayers of others cannot. The Gemara (Bava Basra 116a) teaches this lesson in the following way: “Whoever has an ill person in his house should go to a wise man, so that he can pray for mercy on his behalf, as the verse states, ‘The angels of death are the fury of the King, but a wise man will atone for it’ (Mishlei 16:14).”

Ben gilo

The Gemara (Nedarim 39b; Bava Metzia 30b) teaches that the most effective person to visit someone ill is one who qualifies as a ben gilo. The Gemara states that when a ben gilo visits someone ill he takes with him 1/60 of the illness. This means that the ill person is better, but the ben gilo may be affected. What is the definition of a ben gilo?

Among the authorities, I found three interpretations of the term.

(1) One approach I found is that a ben gilo shares a common mazel, meaning that he and the ill person were born under the same astrological sign (Rosh and Ran, Nedarim 39b; Taz, Yoreh Deah 335:2).

(2) The Meforeish (Nedarim 39b) defines ben gilo as a young person visiting someone young, or an older person visiting someone in his age range.

(3) The Meiri (Nedarim 39b) defines ben gilo as someone whose company the ill person enjoys. The company of someone the patient enjoys eases the illness, but it also affects the health of the friend seeing him so ill.

The probable source for the Meiri is a Midrash Rabbah (Vayikra 34:1), where it states the following: “Rav Huna said: ‘Whoever visits the ill removes one sixtieth of his illness.’ They then asked Rav Huna, ‘Then let sixty people come and visit him, and he’ll leave with them afterwards for the marketplace, completely cured!’ To this Rav Huna answered: ‘Sixty people can indeed accomplish this, but only if they love him as they love themselves!’”

Thus, we see the tremendous value of feeling empathy for the pain of the ill. (We should note that the Gemara supplies an answer to the question that was asked of Rav Huna that disputes the answer provided by the Midrash.)

Brocha for bikur cholim

One of the interesting aspects of the mitzvah of bikur cholim is that we do not recite a brocha prior to performing it. Why not?

There are many approaches to answer this question. I will here share some approaches mentioned by the early commentaries.

Patient may not want

1. One recites a brocha only prior to fulfilling a mitzvah which one knows is within his ability to perform. The patient may not want someone to take care of matters for him, or may not want to be visited. If indeed, he does not want visitors, someone who visits him does not fulfill any mitzvah (Shu”t Harashba #18).

Let me explain this approach in a bit more detail. There is a mitzvah that the ill be treated medically and properly. This is included under the mitzvah of the Torah of venishmarta me’od lenafshoseichem, you should be very careful to take care of your lives (Devorim 4:15). One would perhaps think that, therefore, I should recite a brocha on visiting the sick, since my goal is to help cure the ill person, and he is required to seek a cure for his illness. However, this is not sufficient reason to recite a brocha, since the patient is under no obligation to accept my offer to help. He may seek his relief elsewhere.

Not uniquely Jewish

2. Some authorities explain why we do not recite a brocha because the text that we say for birchos hamitzvos is: Asher kideshanu bemitzvosav, that He sanctified us with His mitzvos. They contend that we recite a brocha only when a mitzvah is uniquely Jewish (see Rokei’ach, quoted in Encyclopedia Talmudis,Volume IV, column 525). However, non-Jews also take care of the ill, so this mitzvah does not reflect anything special about the relationship of Hashem to the Jewish people.

This answer is reinforced by the fact that when fulfilling a mitzvah that is uniquely theirs, the kohanim recite a brocha that begins with the words Asher kideshanu bikedushaso shel Aharon, that He sanctified us with the sanctity of Aharon. This demonstrates that the text of brochos for mitzvos is because of the unique ability we have to perform specific commandments that we, as Jewish people or part of the Jewish people, can perform.

3. Prefer not

Yet another reason cited why we do not recite a brocha on bikur cholim is because reciting a brocha prior to observing this mitzvah sounds like we want the situation to exist (Raavad, quoted by Yalkut Yosef, page 24). We certainly would prefer that there be no ill people who require medical attention. This reason also explains why we do not recite a brocha on mitzvos such as nichum aveilim, consoling the mourners,and tearing keriyah upon hearing of the passing of a loved one.

4. Not time bound

Some rishonim note that all mitzvos upon which we recite brochos are those bound by time – meaning that there are times when we are obligated to observe the mitzvah and times when no obligation exists (Or Zarua, Birchas Hamotzi #140). Obviously, the mitzvah of bikur cholim can be fulfilled at any time.

How to visit

The Gemara states that the shechinah rests above the head of a sick person (Shabbos 12b; Nedarim 40a). For this reason, it states that someone who visits a sick person should not sit on a bed, a stool or a chair, but should wrap himself in his talis and sit on the floor. (The Gemara is referring to the time in history when a talis was the standard outer garment that a man wore. It does not mean to imply that one should put on a talis in order to fulfill the mitzvah of visiting the ill.) Alternatively, he can remain standing during his visit.

However, the Rema (Yoreh Deah 335:3) rules that when the Gemara prohibits sitting on a bed, a stool or a chair when visiting someone ill, it was referring to a situation where the patient is lying on the floor – in such a situation, one should not sit in a position higher than the shechinah. When the ill person is in a bed, one can sit on a chair that is no higher than the bed (see Yalkut Yosef, pg 28, quoting Rav Eliezer Yehudah Valdenberg).

Visiting alone

At this point, let us address the last of our opening questions: “I was told not to visit a sick person by myself. Is there any halachic basis for this practice?”

Before answering this question, I will provide a bit of historical background. Most of the earlier halachic compendia we have date to the time of the rishonim, about 700-1000 years ago. However, one of the major halachic works dates back earlier, to the era of the geonim, who were the roshei yeshiva of the yeshivos in Bavel (Mesopotomia, in today’s Iraq) and the poskim of all of klal Yisroel for a period of approximately 400 years prior to the times of the rishonim.

One of the geonim, Rav Acha’i, authored a halachic work, called the She’iltos, probably the earliest post-Talmudic halachic compendium. In one of his essays there, he discusses the mitzvah of bikur cholim as follows:

“The Jewish people are required to inquire about the wellbeing of the ill, as Rav Chanina said, ‘How are we to understand the words of the Torah: “You should follow Hashem, your G-d.” How is it possible for a human being to follow the Holy One, blessed is He, when the verse declares that Hashem, your G-d, is a consuming fire?’”

Rav Acha’i continues: “Therefore, one is obligated to go and inquire about the needs of the ill. And when one goes, one should not go alone, but with someone else.”

Thus, there is a halachic source for the practice not to visit the ill alone.

Notwithstanding this ruling of the She’iltos, normative halachic practice does not follow the opinion of Rav Acha’i.

The Netziv, a Hebrew acronym of Rav Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin, was the Rosh Yeshiva of the Volozhin Yeshiva in the late nineteenth century, at the time that it was the preeminent yeshiva in the world. He authored several monumental works, including highly original commentaries on the Torah, and on several halachic midrashim: the Sifrei, the Mechilta, and the Sifra. He also wrote what has become the standard commentary on the She’iltos of Rav Acha’i. There the Netziv writes that he is unaware of the source for the She’iltos ruling that one should not visit the ill by himself, and he is unaware of any other halachic authority who mentions this.

Among late compendia on the laws of bikur cholim, I found this question discussed in the Yalkut Yosef, written by the current Sefardic chief rabbi of Israel, Rav Yitzchak Yosef. Rav Yosef concludes that, since no other halachic authorities, including the Shulchan Aruch, mention a halacha that one should not go alone to visit the ill, one should observe it only when it will not prevent someone from fulfilling the mitzvah. In other words, if it will be inconvenient to visit the ill person with someone else, or the ill person would prefer to be visited by one individual at a time, or the only other person available may make the ill person uncomfortable, one should certainly not take along another person when visiting the sick.

Conclusion

People who fulfill the mitzvah of bikur cholim are promised tremendous reward in Olam Haba, in addition to many rewards in this world (Shabbos 127a). In addition to all the obvious reasons for the mitzvah of bikur cholim, the Kli Yakar, in his commentary to this week’s parsha (Bamidbar 16:29), offers an additional reason for fulfilling bikur cholim – to benefit the visitor. This influences the visitor to think of the importance of doing teshuvah. And this provides extra merit for the sick person, since he caused someone else to do teshuvah, even if it was unintentional. May Hashem senda speedy recovery to all the ill!

Nu, so, what is new?

The laws of Chodosh

By Rabbi Yirmiyohu Kaganoff

Question #1: New mitzvah?!

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

Question #2: New\Old Visitor

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

The Basics

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

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

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

What Permits the New Grain?

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

Will It be Brought?

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

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

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

“New” Grain versus “Old” Grain

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

How Do We Know That It Is Newly Rooted?

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

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

What’s New in Chutz La’aretz?

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

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

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

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

The New Planting

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

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

What is New in Agriculture?

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

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

Doubly Doubtful

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

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

Another Heter

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

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

The Bach’s Heter

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

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

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

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

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

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

North American Hechsherim

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

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

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

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

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

Visitors from Abroad

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

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

In Conclusion

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

Do We Really Want to Be Tahor?

Question #1: Tanner Training

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

Question #2: Amorphous Amphibians

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

Introduction:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(1) Neveilah

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

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

Tanner training

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

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

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

(2) Sheretz

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

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

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

Amorphous amphibians

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

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

Laws of sheratzim

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

Toad vs. frog

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

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

Utensils that become tamei

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

(3) Wooden utensils

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

(4-5) Garments and leather

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

(6) Sacks

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

(7) From slingshots to tefillin

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

What do slingshots have in common with tefillin and envelopes?

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

(8) Earthenware

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

All other utensils fall under one of two categories:

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

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

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

How is earthenware different?

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

Contaminate from outside

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

Immersion does not help

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

Airspace

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

Contaminating from the inside

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

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

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

(11) Ovens and stoves

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

* This translation follows Malbim.

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

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

Is It a Red Heifer?

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

Question #1: Cow or Heifer?

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

Question # 2: How to?

How does a parah adumah make you tahor?

Introduction

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

Three topics

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

History of the parah adumah

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

Cow or heifer?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Processing the parah adumah

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

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

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

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

Making someone tahor

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

Milui, kidush, and haza’ah

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

Milui — drawing spring water

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

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

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

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

Kidush

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

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

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

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

May a woman?

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

Haza’ah

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

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

Eizov

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

Intent

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

Direct impact

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

Minimum contact – substantive impact

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

May a woman II

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

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

Conclusion

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

Afterword

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

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

image_print