Cutting Corners

Question #1: Idolatrous shavers

What does my style of haircut have to do with idolatry?

Question #2: Women shaving

Are women included in the prohibition of shaving?

Question #3: Tweezing my beard

May I tweeze out my facial hairs?

Question #4: Am I square-headed?

Where are my head’s corners? My head is round!

Introduction

In two places in the Torah, the mitzvos not to shave the “corners” or “edges” of one’s head and beard are discussed. In parshas Kedoshim, the Torah states, “Lo sakifu pe’as roshechem velo sashchis eis pe’as zekanecha, “Do not round the corners of your head, and do not destroy the corners of your beard” (Vayikra 19:27). We should note that the first part of the posuk states sakifu and roshechem, both plural, whereas the latter part of the posuk states tashchis and zekanecha, which are both singular and masculine. This observation will be significant in our forthcoming discussion.

The other place where the Torah discusses the prohibition not to shave is in parshas Emor,where the Torah states, “They should not shave the corners of their beard” (Vayikra 21:5). Just reading these two pesukim already raises questions: What does the Torah mean in referring to the “corners” of your head and beard. I, like most people, have an oval-shaped head that has no straight lines or corners! My barber tells me that my beard is roundish also, so, pray tell, where are the corners of my beard?

Even should we explain the posuk to mean “edges” rather than “corners,” it is still unclear. Where are the “edges” of my head, or those of my beard? We will return to these questions shortly.

Shaving and avodah zarah

The Rambam discusses these laws in a place that we might find somewhat unusual — at the end of Hilchos Avodah Zarah, the laws of idol worship. As he explains himself: “It is prohibited to shave the edges of the head, as the idol worshippers and their priests used to do.” Clearly, he understands that this prohibition is linked to the general laws prohibiting idol worship, notwithstanding that these laws apply only to Jews and not to non-Jews, whose responsibility not to worship idols is the same as that of a Jew.

Similarly, when the Rambam introduces the lo saaseh not to shave, he states as follows: “The approach of the priests of idolatry was to shave their beards. Therefore, the Torah forbade shaving the beard.” It is also interesting to note that, although I translated the Rambam as “shaving,” he actually here uses the word hashchasah, which, as in the translation of the posuk in parshas Kedoshim above, means “destroying” the beard.

Both of these statements of the Rambam are unusual. Although he often quotes reasons for mitzvos before concluding the laws of that mitzvah, he rarely introduces a mitzvah with an explanation of the reason for the mitzvah. Here, he obviously felt that there was a reason to do so, which provoked other rishonim to take issue with him, as we will soon see. It is fascinating to note that today there are idolatrous practices that involve shaving the sides of the head in a way somewhat reminiscent of the Rambam’s description. It is also interesting to note that the Yiddish word for a priest, “galach,” is derived from the word giluach, shaving.

Women and hair corners

The two mitzvos, “rounding” the head and “destroying” the edges of the beard, apply only to men and not to women, but where does the Torah teach this? The question is even stronger, since neither of these mitzvos is timebound, and they are both mitzvos lo saaseh, prohibitions of the Torah. The general rule is that women are exempt only from time-bound positive mitzvos (mitzvos aseih) and not from mitzvos lo saaseh, nor from mitzvos that are not time-bound!

To answer this last question, let us quote the Mishnah, which states, “Men are obligated and women are exempt from positive time-bound mitzvos (mitzvas aseih shehazeman grama). Men and women are equally obligated to observe positive mitzvos that are not timebound (mitzvas aseih shelo hazeman grama). Men and women are equally obligated to observe all prohibitions (lo saaseh), except for “Don’t round (bal takif),” “Don’t destroy (bal tashchis),” and “Don’t become tamei to the dead (bal tetamei lameisim)” (Kiddushin 29a).

Thus, we are taught that there are three mitzvos lo saaseh that are discriminatory – they apply only to men, but not to women. In other words, male kohanim may not become tamei to a human corpse, but women who are wives or daughters of a kohein (called kohanos in numerous places) may become tamei. Male Jews are prohibited from “rounding out” the “edges” of their heads, but women are exempt from any prohibition of “rounding out” the “edges” of their heads. And male Jews are prohibited from “destroying” the “edges” of their beards, whereas women are exempt from any prohibition of “destroying” the “edges” of their unwanted facial hairs.

We do not yet know why these mitzvos should be exceptions and not apply to women. The Gemara asks (Kiddushin 35b), “What is the hermeneutic basis for these rulings?” In other words, how do we see in the Written Torah that this is true, based on the thirteen midos of Rabbi Yishmael.

I will note that the Gemara is not questioning why these three mitzvos are exceptions. This we know via our mesorah, the Torah she’be’al peh. The Gemara’s question is how are these laws derived from the Torah shebiksav (see Rambam, Introduction to Commentary on the Mishnah).

The relevant passage of Gemara explains that the law that a kohein may not become tamei through contact with the dead applies only to men and not to women is clearly implied in the posuk (in parshas Emor), where it states: “Speak to the kohanim who are the sons of Aharon,” implying that the prohibition applies only to the male descendants of Aharon, but not to his female progeny. However, from where in the verse would we know that the two prohibitions of rounding the head and destroying the beard apply only to men? The Gemara first explains how we know that the prohibition against destroying the beard applies only to men. The proof for this returns us to the observation we made above: When the Torah states, Lo sakifu pe’as roshechem velo tashchis eis pe’as zekanecha, “Do not round the corners of your head, and do not destroy the corners of your beard,” the beginning of the posuk is plural, whereas the latter part is masculine singular. This change and emphasis implies that lo tashchis eis pe’as zekanecha, which translates, “You (male, singular) are not to destroy the corners of your beard” applies only to men. (This is not the only approach mentioned in the Gemara, but it is the clearest.) The Gemara also demonstrates the hermeneutic source why the lo saaseh of Lo sakifu pe’as roshechem,“Do not round the corners of your head,” also applies only to men, but not to women.

Tweezing my beard

At this point, let us examine one of our opening questions: “May I tweeze out my facial hairs?” We have already learned that a woman is permitted to do this, but we do not know what the halacha is regarding a man. In this context, we should study the Mishnah in Makkos (20a), in which the tanna kamma rules that the prohibition is violated min haTorah only by shaving with a razor, whereas Rabbi Eliezer prohibits min haTorah using either a malkeit or a rehitni. What are these two instruments? According to many rishonim, a malkeit is a pair of tweezers, and the word’s root lelakeit indeed can be translated as “to tweeze” (Bartenura, Makkos 3:5; however, cf. Rashi, Shabbos 97a). Rehitni is understood by most rishonim to mean a plane or similar implement, which has a single blade as sharp as a razor, but is meant for purposes other than shaving (Rashi, Shabbos 48b, 58b, 97a; Rambam Commentary and Bartenura, Makkos 3:5). Notwithstanding that the rishonim differ regarding the correct identification of malkeit and rehitni, they appear to agree regarding the halachic issues that result.

At the beginning of this article, we noted that there are two pesukim banning shaving, one in parshas Kedoshim, which prohibits “destroying” your beard, and the other in parshas Emor, which prohibits shaving. The Gemara (Makkos 21a) explains the tanna kamma to mean that the two pesukim, together, mean that the lo saaseh applies only when someone uses an implement that is both a normal way of shaving and destroys. Although both tweezers and planes will “destroy” the beard, the Gemara explains that neither is commonly used to shave, and, therefore, they are excluded from this prohibition, at least min haTorah. Rabbi Eliezer contends that although they are not the most common shaving instruments, it is still called shaving when they are used and, therefore, it is forbidden min haTorah to shave with them (Rivan ad loc.). Although Rabbi Eliezer disagrees with the tanna kamma, since the majority opinion rules that these two instruments are permitted, this is the halachic conclusion.

The Gemara then makes a distinction between scissors, on the one hand, and tweezers and planes on the other, explaining that even Rabbi Eliezer rules that this prohibition of the Torah does not include cutting the beard with scissors, since this does not “destroy” your beard. Since Rabbi Eliezer rules that scissors do not violate the prohibition of shaving the beard, certainly the tanna kamma agrees. Therefore, this lo saaseh is not violated when cutting beard hairs with tweezers, planes or scissors. We should note that many authorities, nevertheless, prohibit shaving using these items, for a variety of different reasons, which we will explain in a future article.=

One blade

Even when using scissors or a beard trimmer, one must be extremely careful not to shave the beard only with the lower blade of the scissors, since this is halachically the same as cutting with a razor and prohibited min haTorah (Rema, Yoreh Deah 181:10). In other words, scissors’ action is not a razor only because the cutting uses both blades. Should one blade of the scissors be used by itself, it is functioning as a razor – the upper blade may be hanging on for the ride, but the lower blade is shaving as a razor does.

Similarly, it is prohibited min haTorah to shave using a flintstone (which was apparently common at one time in history), since this is equivalent to shaving with a razor (Shu’t Noda Biyehudah, Yoreh Deah 2:81).

Powders and Creams

Several halachic authorities rule that, just as a scissors may be used to shave the beard, so can depilatory powders and creams be used to remove the beard (Shu’t Noda Biyehudah, Yoreh Deah 2:81; Shu’t Shemesh Tzedakah Yoreh Deah #61; Birkei Yosef, to Yoreh Deah 181:10; Tiferes Yisroel, Makkos 3:5 #34). They caution against using a knife or other sharp implement to scrape off the powder or cream, since this may result in using a razor-type instrument to remove the hair, if the powder or cream did not yet separate the hair from the face. Instead, they recommend using an implement made of wood or a smooth piece of bone to wipe off the powder or cream.

We will continue this topic in a future article.

The Halachos of Book, Wine, and Restaurant Reviews

The entire story of Yosef being sold to Egypt was a result of a “critical review…”

Photo by EmZed from FreeImages

Someone once sent me the following email with the following series of shaylos:

Dear Rabbi Kaganoff,

1. Is a person allowed to write balanced reviews of books? This question concerns hashkafah-type works, halachic works, self-help books, as well as novels.

Obviously, there are many halachic ramifications, including lashon hora, etc. I would specifically like to know if one is allowed to review unfavorably a work that the reviewer finds seriously lacking.

2. May one write reviews of other products, such as wine or restaurants?

3. If a person asks my opinion of a book, a wine, or a restaurant, may I answer truthfully, even if my personal negative opinion may result in the person choosing another product?

With much thanks in advance, Aaron Bernstein

Before I answer Aaron’s question, I must first present the halachos of lashon hora that apply here.

Saying something true that may damage someone’s professional or business reputation, or causes him financial harm, constitutes lashon hora, even when nothing negative is intended.[1] Thus, random schmoozing about the quality of different workmen’s skills, the halachic prowess of different talmidei chachomim, or the quality of education provided by a certain school constitutes lashon hora.

However, when I need certain information, I may ask people who might know. For example, if I need to have some home repairs performed, I may “ask around” what experience other people have had with various professionals. I should tell them why I need to know, and they should tell me only what is relevant to my needs.

Examples:

1. Gilah hired a home-improvement contractor who was skilled and efficient, but inexperienced in certain plumbing work. Ahuva asks Gilah whether the contractor was good. Gilah should reply that he was skilled and efficient, but does Ahuva intend to include any plumbing? If the reply is negative, Gilah should say nothing, since Ahuva understands that if she changes her mind and decides to include plumbing, she should discuss it with Gilah first. If the reply is that there is plumbing to be done, Gilah should tell her that the contractor’s work was excellent and efficient, but that he seemed somewhat inexperienced in plumbing. Gilah should suggest that, perhaps, by now he has the experience, and Ahuva also has the option to ask him to subcontract the plumbing.

2. Yaakov moves to a new neighborhood and asks Michael who the local poskim are. Michael can mention one, some, or all of the local available poskim, but should not mention any disqualifying factors about them, such as, Rabbi X is curt, Rabbi Y is very machmir, or Rabbi Z’s shiurim are unclear. Michael may ask Yaakov what qualities he is looking for in a rav and then make recommendations, based on Yaakov’s answer.

What if I know that the mechanic is dishonest?

Yitzchok and Esther just moved to my neighborhood and mention to me that they are planning to bring their car, which is making an unusual noise, to Gonif’s Service Station. I have found the proprietor of Gonif’s to be very dishonest. May I say something to Yitzchok and Esther?

The halacha is that not only may I say something to them, but I am obligated to do so.[2] This is because I am responsible to make sure that Yitzchok and Esther are not hurt financially by the crooked repair shop. This is included in the mitzvah of lo saamod al dam rei’echa, do not stand by idly while your friend becomes injured.[3]

However, exactly how I impart this information to Yitzchok and Esther depends on the circumstances.

Why is this so?

In any situation where I must protect someone from harm, whether it is a potentially harmful shidduch, damaging chinuch or a bad business deal, there are five rules that govern what I may say:

1. Is it bad?

Be certain that what may transpire (if I do not intercede) is, indeed, bad. Often, one assumes that something is worse than it really is. Later in this article, I will describe a case that appears bad, while halachically it is not considered so. In the case at hand, I am responsible to see that Yitzchok and Esther are not deceived by the repair shop. By warning them, I have fulfilled the first rule.

2. No exaggerating

Do not exaggerate, describing the situation as worse than it is. In this case, even if I need to describe Gonif’s dishonesty (which I can probably avoid, as we will explain later), I should describe only what I personally know, and I must be careful not to embellish or include hearsay.

3. Appropriate motivation

One’s motivation must be to protect the innocent person from harm, not to bring retribution on the person responsible for causing the harm. In our case, this means that my goal is to protect Yitzchok and Esther from harm, not to “get back” at Gonif’s. The reason for this condition is that one violates the prohibition of saying lashon hora if one has evil intent, even in a case when one may otherwise transmit the information.[4]

4. No other choice

Can I accomplish what I need to without saying lashon hora? The answer to this question depends on the situation. What do I need to accomplish? In the case of the crooked repair shop, my goal is that Yitzchok and Esther not be victimized by the shop. I can accomplish this in several different ways, some of which do not require tarnishing the repair shop’s reputation. For example, if Yitzchok and Esther will heed my advice to take their car to “Careful and Honest Repairs” instead, I have no need to tell them that Gonif’s is a dishonest shop. In this instance, I have accomplished my purpose, without mentioning the dishonest acts I have witnessed.

5. Too damaging

Will the result of my sharing the negative information be more harmful to the perpetrator than what he should suffer according to halacha? For example, I know that Reuven’s professional work is sometimes substandard, and I discover that Shimon, who is known to back out on deals he has committed to, contracted Reuven to do work. Although under other circumstances I would not only be permitted, but even required, to notify someone of Reuven’s lack of professional skill, in this situation, I may not notify Shimon, because he may back out on Reuven in a way that contravenes halacha.

When is something not really bad?

In condition #1 above, I mentioned that there are situations that someone considers bad, but which are not considered bad, according to halacha. The background behind this shaylah will impact directly on our original shaylah about reviewing books, wines, and restaurants.

What is an example of this situation?

Chani sees Miriam, who is new in the neighborhood, about to enter a grocery store that Chani knows is expensive. May Chani tell Miriam that groceries in this store might cost more than at the competition? The Chafetz Chayim rules that one may not reveal this information.[5]

Why is it not permitted to save Miriam from overpaying?

The Chafetz Chayim rules that overpaying slightly for an item is not considered a “bad thing,” provided the storekeeper is within the halachic range of what he may charge. (A full explanation of how much the storekeeper may charge is beyond the focus of this article.)

Why is being overcharged not considered being harmed?

Since the storekeeper who charges higher prices is not doing anything halachically wrong, one may not hurt his livelihood by encouraging someone to purchase elsewhere. And if one does, this is lashon hora, which includes hurting someone’s livelihood.

Thus, there is a major difference between a dishonest repair shop and one that is more expensive. It is a mitzvah to steer someone away from a dishonest store, but it is forbidden to steer him away from a Jewish store that charges more, when the store is halachically permitted to do so.

What happens if someone moves to town and asks me where he can find kosher groceries?

You should tell him which local groceries sell kosher products that have the hechsherim he wants. You do not need to supply a complete list of the stores in the neighborhood, but it is permissible to mention only the stores that are less expensive. However, you may not tell him which stores are more expensive.

If someone knows that a third party plans to purchase an item from a store that tends to be expensive, do not say anything. Even though the purchaser could save money by buying elsewhere, the storekeeper is losing from your actions. One should not get involved in saving one person’s money at someone else’s expense.[6] However, if the proprietor of the store is not an observant Jew or not Jewish, you may tell the purchaser that there is a less expensive place to make his purchase.

On the other hand, if the storekeeper is doing something that is halachically prohibited, such as selling defective or misrepresented products, you should warn a person intending to make a purchase there.

Book reviews

With this background, we can now discuss Aaron Bernstein’s first shaylah: “Is a person allowed to write balanced reviews of books?”

What does the review accomplish?

This depends on the type of book being reviewed. Let us begin with one category: Jewish novels.

Why do secular sources review books?

So that people can decide whether they will enjoy the book, and whether they should spend the money to purchase it.

May I do this? What “harm” am I protecting someone from by telling him to avoid purchasing this book? On the other hand, by warning people away from the book, I am hurting the livelihood of those who have invested time and money, intending that this book will provide them parnasah.

This is parallel to the case where one Jewish storeowner, in his desire to make a living, charges a bit more than his competitors. The halacha there is that I may not tell someone to avoid his store, since I am harming the storekeeper. Similarly, I may not tell people to save money by avoiding the purchase of a book. One may, however, publish a review that describes the positive aspects of a book.

Of course, this means that the most standard book reviews and other reviews common in secular circles contravene halachic guidelines. One may include a book review column only if it merely informs people of new publications, but does not provide negative critical review.

However, if a work contains flaws in hashkafah, one is required to refute the author’s mistakes.

Similarly, if a halacha work is flawed, one should write a review to clarify that the work contains errors.

Example:

Many years ago, I was asked by a well-known Jewish publication to review a particular halachic work. When I read the work, I felt it sorely lacking in certain areas — particularly hashkafah, and that it could easily be used as a resource for someone who would then behave in a questionable or non-halachic fashion. I pointed out these concerns of mine in the review, because, in this situation, it was very important to avoid serious halachic mishaps.

If the work reflects an approach to halacha different from one’s own, then it depends: if the halacha quoted is reliable, one may draw the reader’s attention to the fact that it reflects a different halachic approach.

Now we can look at the second question:

“2. May one write reviews of other products, such as wine or restaurants?”

We already know the answer to this question. If the purpose of the review is to discourage people from buying a product or eating in a restaurant, one may not write the review. But one may publish a review that contains the positive aspects of the product.

What if someone asks me my opinion of a certain wine or restaurant?

If you have a poor opinion of the wine, restaurant or book, you should inquire, “What are you looking for?” Then, when the questioner clarifies what he wants, direct him to the product that most satisfies his needs and interests. If the wine or restaurant in question may not be what he wants, explain to him what aspects would meet his needs, and what might not. This is permitted, because they have come to you to ask for information about the item. However, one may not simply put this information in the media for everyone, including readers who have no need of, or interest in, the information.

For example, you do not have a positive opinion of a restaurant. Why? You think the service is poor. Would that be a factor to this person? If you are not certain, but you think there are other redeeming reasons why this person may want to eat there anyway, say it in a way that does not reflect too negatively upon the restaurant, such as, “Once, when I was there, the service was a bit slow. But I don’t dine there very often.”

One of the rabbonim to whom I sent this article for his opinion wrote me the following: “I don’t agree with what you wrote about restaurants. If one has a criticism that doesn’t necessarily make it an undesirable place for the one asking, I think that it is better to just say that ‘I don’t go there too often.’ The person won’t suffer by trying, and he will decide if he is happy with it.”

Could there be a frum kosher wine review?

Possibly, but only if its readership was limited to people who are shopping for wines and looking for advice.

Consumer Reports

According to halacha, may one publish a magazine like Consumer Reports?

Although the editors of this magazine have not sought my opinion, I think that they may publish the results of their research, if it is read only by people interested in purchasing these items and not by a general audience.

In conclusion, we see that the halachic approach to this entire issue is very different from that of contemporary society. We must remember that we examine our behavior through the prism of halacha and not from that of society.


[1] Rambam, Hilchos Dei’os 7:5

[2] Chofetz Chayim, Hilchos Rechilus 9:1

[3] See Be’er Mayim Chayim ad loc.

[4] See Be’er Mayim Chayim, Hilchos Rechilus 9:3

[5] Be’er Mayim Chayim, Hilchos Rechilus, 9:27

[6] See Be’er Mayim Chayim, Hilchos Rechilus 9:27 and commentaries

Using Hashem’s Name

The posuk in parshas Vayeishev (Bereishis 39:3) says that Yosef’s master, Potifar, recognized that Hashem was with Yosef. Rashi, quoting the Bereishis Rabbah, explains that this means that Yosef frequently referred to Hashem, thus introducing our topic for this week.

Question #1: Nasty Neighbor

Mrs. Goodhearted asks: “I have a disturbed neighbor who often spews out abusive invective. I am concerned that her cursing may bring evil things upon me. What should I do?”

Question #2: A Friend in Vain

Mr. Closefriend inquires: “A close friend of mine often makes comments like ‘for G-d’s sake,’ which I know are things that we should avoid saying. I wanted my friend to be one of the witnesses at my wedding, but an acquaintance mentioned that my friend may not be a kosher witness because he uses G-d’s name in vain. Is this really true?”

Introduction

Although both words “swear” and “curse” are often used to mean “speaking vulgar language,” for this entire article, I will not be using these words in this sense, but “swear” in the sense of “taking an oath,” and “curse” to mean “expressing desire that misfortune befall someone.”

Ten prohibitions

The Rambam counts a total of thirteen different mitzvos, ten mitzvos Lo Sa’aseh and three mitzvos Aseh, which are included within the context of our discussion. The ten Lo Sa’aseh prohibitions are:

  1. Not to break an oath or commitment that one has made. The Torah’s commandment concerning this law is located at the beginning of parshas Matos. It is counted and discussed in the Rambam’s Sefer Hamitzvos as Lo Sa’aseh #157 and in the Sefer Hachinuch as Mitzvah #407.
  2. Not to swear falsely (Sefer Hamitzvos, Lo Sa’aseh #61; Sefer Hachinuch, Mitzvah #227). This is derived from the words, lo sishav’u bishmi lashaker, “you shall not swear falsely in My Name,” which appear in parshas Kedoshim.
  3. Not to deny, with an oath, that one owes money. This mitzvah is also located in parshas Kedoshim and is derived from the words lo seshakru ish ba’amiso, “do not lie to your fellowman,” which Chazal interpret as a prohibition against swearing a false oath denying that one owes money (Bava Kama 105b; Sefer Hamitzvos, Lo Sa’aseh #249; Sefer Hachinuch, Mitzvah #226).
  4. Not to swear an oath that has no purpose (Sefer Hamitzvos, Lo Sa’aseh #62; Sefer Hachinuch, Mitzvah #30). This mitzvah is derived from the words of the Aseres Hadibros: You shall not take the Name of Hashem, your G-d, in vain.
  5. Not to cause someone to swear in the name of an idol (Sefer Hamitzvos, Lo Sa’aseh #14; Sefer Hachinuch, Mitzvah #86). This mitzvah is derived from the words, vesheim elohim acheirim… lo yishama al picha, “You should not cause the names of other gods to be used in an oath” in parshas Mishpatim (23:13; see Sanhedrin 63b).
  6. Not to curse Hashem (Sefer Hamitzvos, Lo Sa’aseh #60; Sefer Hachinuch, Mitzvah #70).
  7. Not to curse one’s parents (Sefer Hamitzvos, Lo Sa’aseh #318).
  8. Not to curse the king of the Jewish people or the head of the Sanhedrin, who is called the Nasi (Rambam, Hilchos Sanhedrin 26:1; Sefer Hamitzvos 316; Sefer Hachinuch, Mitzvah #71). This mitzvah is derived from the words, venasi be’amecha lo sa’or in parshas Mishpatim.
  9. Not to curse a dayan, a judge presiding over a beis din proceeding (Sefer Hamitzvos, Lo Sa’aseh #315; Sefer Hachinuch, Mitzvah #69; Rambam, Hilchos Sanhedrin 26:1). This mitzvah is derived from the words, Elohim lo sekaleil in parshas Mishpatim.
  10. Not to curse any Jew (Rambam, Hilchos Sanhedrin 26:1; Sefer Hamitzvos 317; Sefer Hachinuch, Mitzvah #231). This mitzvah is also derived from a verse in parshas Kedoshim, since it is included under the Torah prohibition do not curse someone deaf. As the Sefer Hachinuch explains the mitzvah, “do not curse any Jewish man or woman, even one who cannot hear the curse.”

Four in one

We should note that the above-mentioned mitzvos are not mutually exclusive, and one could violate several of them at the same time. For example, the son of the Nasi of the Sanhedrin who curses his father violates four different Lo Sa’aseh prohibitions: for cursing (1) a Jew, (2) his father, (3) a dayan, (4) the head of the Sanhedrin (Sefer Hachinuch, Mitzvah #231).

As we will see shortly, violating most of these prohibitions is punishable by 39 malkus, lashes (Temurah 3b). This is highly surprising, since usually violating a Torah mitzvah through speech does not lead to this sentence (Temurah 3a). However, these laws are exceptions to the usual rule, which demonstrates the severity of these prohibitions.

Three positive mitzvos

In addition to the ten Lo Sa’aseh mitzvos that this topic covers, there are also three positive mitzvos involved:

1. A mitzvah to fulfill something that one has accepted to do, located at the beginning of parshas Matos (Sefer Hamitzvos, Mitzvas Aseh #94; Sefer Hachinuch, Mitzvah # 406).

2. Fearing Hashem, which includes treating His Name with respect (see Temurah 4a).

3. The Rambam counts a positive mitzvah of taking an oath (Sefer Hamitzvos #7).

What does a curse accomplish?

At this point, I would like to explain a very important and often misunderstood concept. When someone curses an innocent person, the curse causes no harm. To quote Rav Moshe Feinstein, “when someone curses his fellowman, the prohibition is not because it causes harm to the other person. First of all, Heaven will ignore a curse that was performed in violation of the Torah. Second of all, a curse without basis does not bring harm.” Rav Moshe refers to the verse in Mishlei (26:2): an unjustified curse affects only the one who uttered it. a curse of this nature causes no harm.”

Furthermore, even the curses and evil intended by sorcerers (kishuf) do not affect Jews, since we are directly connected to Hashem, and therefore not affected by kishuf (Ramban, Bamidbar 24:23).

Rav Moshe concludes that although a curse of this nature does no harm to its intended target, the one who cursed a fellow Jew is punished because he embarrassed someone, and because he acted with disdain for Hashem’s Holy Name.

Based on this, Rav Moshe explains that there is a difference in halacha between cursing someone else and cursing oneself. When the Gemara (Shavuos 35a) states that cursing oneself is prohibited min HaTorah, Rav Moshe explains that, in this instance, the sinful act of cursing will bring upon himself punishment and harm (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 3:78).

Based on Rav Moshe’s analysis of the mitzvah, we can now understand several other halachos of cursing. Cursing a child old enough to understand what was said is liable to the same level of punishment as cursing an adult. This is because it is prohibited to hurt a child’s feelings, just as it is forbidden to insult an adult. However, cursing a dead person is exemptfrom the punishment of malkus (Toras Kohanim on Parshas Kedoshim; Rambam, Hilchos Sanhedrin 26:1-2). This is because the dead feel no pain when someone curses them.

In one situation, cursing a dead person is indeed punished — cursing one’s parents after their demise is a fully culpable crime (Sanhedrin 85b, quoted by Kesef Mishneh, Hilchos Sanhedrin 26:2).

Cursing without using Hashem’s Name

Cursing a person without using G-d’s Name does not incur the punishment of malkus. However, the beis din has the halachic right and responsibility to punish the offender in a way that they feel is appropriate (Rambam, Hilchos Sanhedrin 26:5).

Having seen Rav Moshe’s explanation of the mitzvah, we can now explain why someone who curses without using Hashem’s name is not liable. The most severe violation, which incurs the punishment of malkus, is violated only if one committed both aspects of the sin – he demonstrated total disregard both for G-d and for man, by desecrating G-d’s Name and by offending someone. However, one who cursed without desecrating Hashem’s Name is spared from receiving corporeal chastisement, because his infringement was not of the highest level.  This is similar to cursing a dead person, as explained above.  Although Hashem’s Name has been desecrated, no living person is offended; hence, there is no malkus.

At this point, we can address our first question above. Mrs. Goodhearted asks: “I have a disturbed neighbor who often spews out abusive invective. I am concerned that her cursing may bring evil things upon me. What should I do?”

I would advise her to avoid her neighbor when she can, but for a different reason. Mrs. Goodhearted is concerned that she will be damaged by the neighbor’s curses – but according to Rav Moshe, there is no cause for concern. However, if her neighbor is sane enough to be responsible for her actions, the neighbor will be punished for cursing and for hurting people’s feelings. Mrs. Goodhearted should try to avoid giving her neighbor an opportunity to sin.

Cursing in English

Does cursing using G-d’s Name in a language other than Hebrew violate this prohibition? The Rambam rules that cursing someone using a vernacular Name of G-d is also prohibited min haTorah and is chayov malkus (Hilchos Sanhedrin 26:3; see also Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 27:1).

What type of oath?

Having discussed the prohibitions against cursing one’s fellow Jew, let us now discuss the prohibitions against swearing in vain. What type of oath did the Torah prohibit taking?

In general, the Torah prohibits taking any type of oath, even when the oath is true, because it is an oath that has no purpose (Temurah 3b). For example, someone who swears truthfully that he did not eat anything today violates the Lo Sa’aseh, You shall not take Hashem’s Name in vain, since this oath accomplishes nothing.

Someone who swears an oath that is false, such as one who falsely swears that he did not eat breakfast that day, violates both the proscription for swearing a false oath and also for swearing a vain oath, since it serves no purpose.

Two exceptions

There are two instances when the Torah permits someone to swear a truthful oath (Temurah 3b). This is derived from the fact that the Torah says in two different places (Devarim 6:13; 10:20), uvishmo tishavei’a. We will see shortly that the halachic authorities dispute whether the words uvishmo tishavei’a should be translated as “in His Name you shall swear” or as “in His Name you may swear.”

Encouraging mitzvah observance

What are the two exceptional instances in which the Torah permits swearing?

(1) The first is when someone swears an oath as an incentive to support his efforts at growth and self-improvement. One may take an oath to encourage himself to perform a mitzvah that he might otherwise not perform (Temurah 3b). For example, one may swear to donate to tzedakah or to say a chapter of Tehillim every day.

Bear in mind that in general, although permitted, it is not a good idea to create oaths or vows upon oneself (see Nedarim 22a). Someone who takes an oath or a vow is now bound to observe it, and failure to do so is a grievous sin. Therefore, although reciting such an oath (that has a purpose) does not violate the Torah’s prohibition against taking Hashem’s Name in vain, it is usually recommended not to do so.

A better approach is to accept the new practice bli neder, which means that one is hoping and planning on it, but without the obligation and inherent problem of making it an obligation on the level of a shavua or a neder, a vow.

When required in litigation

(2) The second situation in which the Torah permits swearing an oath is within the framework of halachic litigation. There are instances in which the psak halacha, the final ruling of a beis din, requires a litigant to take an oath in order to avoid paying or to receive payment. When the beis din rules that one is required to take an oath, the Gemara (Temurah 3b) concludes that the person swearing does not violate the Torah’s prohibition against swearing unnecessarily.

Permitted or a mitzvah?

It is important to note that in this last situation, the authorities dispute whether the halacha is that one may take an oath, but there is no mitzvah to do so, and we would discourage the oath, or whether, in this situation, it is a mitzvah to swear an oath. The Rambam (Hilchos Shavuos 11:1 and Sefer Hamitzvos, Positive Mitzvah #7) contends that someone who swears because of a din Torah fulfills a positive mitzvah of the Torah, uvishmo tishavei’a, “in His Name you shall swear.” Others contend that this verse means simply “in His Name you may swear,” but that there is never a mitzvah of taking an oath (Ramban, Sefer Hamitzvos, Positive Mitzvah #7). Still others contend that even though the verse says, “in His Name you may swear,” this does not mean it is permitted to swear, but that one who swears is not punished for taking an oath (Shu”t Chasam Sofer, Choshen Mishpat #90). However, this last authority contends that one should avoid taking an oath even under these circumstances, and thereby explains why the custom is to pay large fees or fines rather than swear an oath that is fully truthful.

Testimony without oaths

It is worthwhile to note that testimony in halacha does not require one to swear an oath. This can be juxtaposed to the secular legal system, in which one must take an oath or pledge; otherwise, one’s testimony cannot be considered perjury. This is not true in halacha. A Jew’s word is sacrosanct, and any time he testifies or makes a claim in court, whether as a litigant, a witness or an attorney, he is halachically bound to tell only the truth. It is therefore a serious infraction of the Torah for someone to file a legal brief that includes false statements. In addition, filing these statements may involve many other violations, including loshon hora, rechilus, motzi shem ra, machlokes and arka’os.

Oath without G-d

Does swearing an oath without mentioning Hashem’s Name qualify as an oath? This question is discussed extensively by the rishonim, who conclude that someone who commits himself to doing (or refraining from doing) something, using terminology that implies an oath, is now bound to observe the pledge, whether or not he mentioned Hashem’s Name (Rambam, Hilchos Shavuos 2:4; Rashba, Shavuos 36a; Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 137:1). Nevertheless, according to most authorities, swearing an oath that mentions Hashem’s Name is a more serious Torah violation (Rambam, Hilchos Shavuos 2:4).

Taking Hashem’s Name in vain

It is also prohibited min haTorah to use Hashem’s Name unnecessarily, even when one is not taking an oath. This is prohibited as a mitzvas Aseh, since it violates the words of the Torah, es Hashem Elokecha tira, “You shall fear Hashem your G-d” (Devarim 6:13). Thus, it is prohibited min haTorah for someone to say as an expletive, “For G-d’s sake,” “Oh, my G-d in Heaven” or similar exclamations.

In this context, the following halachic question is raised:

“Is there anything wrong with saying: ‘Just as G-d is True, so this is true!’ Does halacha consider this to be an oath?”

This question is discussed almost five hundred years ago by the Radbaz (Shu”t #17), who writes that these types of declarations are serious infractions of the Torah and are considered blasphemous. Anyone who makes such statements should be severely reprimanded and punished, so that he realizes how sinful this is and will take it upon himself to do teshuvah on his crime. The Radbaz states that it is very wrong to compare the existence and truth of anything else to Hashem’s existence and truth. Furthermore, someone who makes such a declaration about a falsehood denies the Creator and forfeits his share in the World to Come.

A friend in vain

At this point, we have enough information to examine Mr. Closefriend’s question posed above:

“A close friend of mine often makes comments like ‘for G-d’s sake,’ which I know are things we should avoid saying. I wanted my friend to be one of the witnesses at my wedding, but an acquaintance mentioned that my friend may not be a kosher witness, because he uses G-d’s name in vain. Is this really true?”

Although Mr. Closefriend should convince his close friend that this irreverent referring to Hashem and His holy Name is prohibited, this use does not qualify as making an oath in vain, but as a violation of the mitzvas Aseh of fearing Hashem (Temurah 4a). As such, there is a difference in halacha:

Two categories of people are disqualified as witnesses because they are sinners.

One is someone who has demonstrated that he will compromise halacha for monetary benefit (Rambam, Hilchos Edus 10:4).

The other category is someone who violates a sin so severe that, during the time of the Sanhedrin, he could be punished with malkus (Rambam, Hilchos Edus 10:1-3; Sefer Hamitzvos, Lo Sa’aseh 286; Sefer Hachinuch, Mitzvah 75). Therefore, someone who curses people using G-d’s Name or one who swears is not a valid witness at a wedding ceremony. However, although it is highly sinful to violate mitzvos Aseh, one who violates them is not invalidated as a witness.

Conclusion

In addition to the above-mentioned reasons why one should be careful how and when one uses Hashem’s Name, the Sefer Hachinuch (Mitzvah 231) mentions other reasons not to curse people. Cursing creates conflict, something we certainly want to avoid.  Furthermore, we want to learn to develop our self-control.

The Paw, the Jaw and the Maw

When Yaakov sent Eisav all those animals, he did not include instructions that the kosher ones required giving certain parts to a kohein. So, we need to fill in the rest of the picture.

Question #1: Four leg or foreleg?

Why does the kohein receive the femur, if, in any instance, we are accustomed not to eat the hindquarters?

Question #2: Tongue in cheek!

Can the kohanim really corner the market on kosher tongue?

Question #3: The jaw and the maw!

How many of a cow’s stomachs does a kohein receive?

Introduction:

There are a total of 24 different gifts that the Torah requires be given to the kohein (Chullin 132b). Many of these, such as bikkurim and the meat and hides from various korbanos, are applicable only when we have the Beis Hamikdash. Others, such as terumah, pertain only to produce that grows in Eretz Yisroel, or, because of a rabbinic requirement, on lands near Eretz Yisroel, such as Egypt and Jordan. On the other hand, other mitzvos, such as pidyon haben, challah, petter chamor (the redemption of a firstborn donkey) and the firstborn kosher animal, are relevant everywhere and at all times. Although challah is applicable everywhere today, since a kohein may eat challah only when he is tahor, prevalent practice is that it is burnt or allowed to spoil, rather than given to a kohein. Therefore, in the contemporary world, the kohein does not end up benefiting from this mitzvah.

Among the gifts the kohein receives are three parts of every slaughtered animal. (As we shall see later, whether this mitzvah applies only in Eretz Yisroel or also in chutz la’aretz is the subject of a dispute between Tanna’im.) The pasuk states: “And this shall be the allocation to which the kohanim are entitled of the people, from those who slaughter animals, whether species of cattle or of flock: they must give the kohein the zero’a (the arm), the lecha’ya’yim (the cheeks or jaws) and the keivah (the fourth of an animal’s stomachs, called the abomasum)” [Devorim 18:3]. We will discuss shortly exactly what parts are included in “the arm, the cheeks and the abomasum.”

Of the people

The pasuk leads us to several questions that we will address. Why does it emphasize that the kohanim receive these gifts because they “are of the people”? It would be highly unusual for the animals themselves to give these portions to the kohein, or for anyone other than “people” to do so!

I will answer this question shortly, but will first present a different, but related, issue. Does the mitzvah of giving away the zero’a, lecha’ya’yim and keivah apply to a kohein’s own animal? In other words, must a kohein give the zero’a, lecha’ya’yim and keivah to another kohein?

The Tosefta (Peah 2:13) states that not only may a kohein keep the zero’a, lecha’ya’yim and keivah for himself, but a Levi, also, may keep them for himself. The Gemara (Chullin 131a) cites that the great amora,Rav, was uncertain as to whether the Levi is obligated to give zero’a, lecha’ya’yim and keivah or not.

Why does the Tosefta exempt a Levi from giving zero’a, lecha’ya’yim and keivah?

In true Jewish style, we are going to answer this question with a question: Why does it emphasize that the kohanim receive these because they “are of the people”?

The answer is that the word the Torah uses for “of the people”, העם, am, implies “the common people,” not the top echelons of the Jewish people, who are always called Bnei Yisroel.The pasuk implies that the mitzvah to give zero’a, lecha’ya’yim and keivah applies only to the “commoners.” A Levi may contend that he is not part of the “ordinary” people, but of special stock. Thus, the word עם, in this pasuk, should probably not be translated as “the people,” but the “common people.”

By the people

Who is obligated to perform this mitzvah?

The pasuk states that the mitzvah is observed by “those who slaughter animals,” implying that it is the shocheit who is obligated to perform the mitzvah. But, is it not the owner of the animal who is obligated to give away part of his animal to a kohein, and not the person he hired to shecht it for him?

The Gemara rules that the obligation of the mitzvah falls on the shocheit, even when someone else owns the animal (Chullin 132a). On the other hand, the owner of the animal, not the shocheit, has the right to choose which kohein or kohanim receive the zero’a, lecha’ya’yim and keivah (Tosefta, Peah 2:13; Rema, Yoreh Deah 61:28). In other words, whereas the owner may decide which kohein receives the matanos, the shocheit is the one who actually presents them. He asks the owner to which kohein he should give them (Taz, Yoreh Deah 61:29 and Pri Megadim ad loc.).

If the owner of the animal has a grandson who is a kohein, he may instruct the shocheit to give the zero’a, lecha’ya’yim and keivah to his grandson.

For the people

What if there is no kohein nearby when I shecht the animal? This question was a more acute problem in the era before refrigeration, particularly in hot climates where meat will spoil if it is not consumed immediately after slaughter (unless salted heavily). The Tosefta explains that if no kohein is available, the Yisroel should evaluate what the zero’a, lecha’ya’yim and keivah of this animal are worth and keep them for himself, and then compensate a kohein, when he locates one, the value of the three pieces of meat (Chullin 9:7).

Share the wealth!

Although the Torah mentions giving three different parts of the animal, the act is counted as only one mitzvah — by the Rambam as mitzvas aseih #143 and by the Sefer Hachinuch as mitzvah #506. Notwithstanding that giving the three parts constitutes one mitzvah, they may be given to more than one kohein, as the Gemara states: Rav Chisda says, “The zero’a to one, the lecha’ya’yim to two and the keivah to one,” which means that the zero’a, lecha’ya’yim and keivah are divided to be given to a total of four different kohanim.

The Gemara then challenges Rav Chisda: “Is this really true? Did not Rav Yitzchak bar Yosef teach that, in Eretz Yisroel, the practice is to divide the zero’a into its two component bones,” giving each one (with its attached meat) to a different kohein! Thus, the custom in Eretz Yisroel was to divide the zero’a between two different kohanim, unlike Rav Chisda’s ruling.

The Gemara answers that when giving the zero’a from a bull, each bone and the meat on that bone may be given to a different kohein – thus, you are splitting the zero’a between two kohanim. Rav Chisda was discussing a sheep, goat or calf, which are much smaller, where splitting the zero’a between two kohanim would provide each kohein with a portion too small to be a meaningful gift (Chullin 132b; Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 61:9). Thus, when donating matanos of a bull, they can be given to five different kohanim, and when donating those of a smaller animal, they can be given to four kohanim.

Dividing the matanos

The Rambam permits giving all three matanos to the same kohein (Hilchos Bikkurim 9:17). Although, in general, the Gemara discourages giving all of one’s matanos to the same kohein, preferring that one “spread the wealth” among the kohanim, this applies only when all of one’s matnos kehunah are provided to the same individual. However, giving the zero’a, lecha’ya’yim and keivah to one kohein, while giving terumah to a different kohein, is certainly not a problem, even should one always give the zero’a, lecha’ya’yim and keivah to the same kohein (Pri Chadash, Yoreh Deah 61:15), and certainly not a concern if done on an occasional basis.

Fowl play!

Does this mitzvah apply to fowl?

The Mishnah (Chullin 11:1) indicates that it does not. The wording of the Mishnah is that “the mitzvah of zero’a, lecha’ya’yim and keivah has a stringency over the mitzvah of reishis hageiz, in that zero’a, lecha’ya’yim and keivah apply to cattle and flock… whereas reishis hageiz applies only to sheep.” This is implied by the pasuk when it rules that the mitzvah applies to “species of cattle or of flock.” In other words, when shechting a bird, there is no mitzvah to give away part of it, and all a kohein can do is “cry fowl!”

What’s gnu?

The inference of the Gemara (Chullin 132a, 135a; see also, Rashi, Devorim 18:3) and the conclusion of the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 61:17) is that the mitzvah of zero’a, lecha’ya’yim and keivah does not apply to chayos, including, for example, deer, giraffe, pronghorn and wildebeest. Again, this is implied by the pasuk, when it states that the mitzvah applies to species of cattle or of flock. So, now you know that the next time you shecht a giraffe, you can keep and pickle that long tongue for yourself!

Barbecued and with mustard!

The kohein is supposed to eat these parts as would a wealthy man. The Gemara suggests that he “barbecue them and eat them with mustard” (Bechoros 27a). These are not requirements, but suggestions: they should be eaten in a royal, honorable manner.

One or two?

Why is the word zero’a, foreleg, in the Torah singular and lecha’ya’yim plural? Obviously, since an animal has only one keivah, this word must be singular – but an animal has two forelegs and four jaw bones, an upper one and a lower one on each side. So why does the Torah teach that the kohein receives zero’a (singular) and lecha’ya’yim (plural)?

The answer is that the kohein receives only one of the two forelegs, and the conclusion is that he receives the right foreleg, which corresponds to the human right arm (Tosefta, Chullin 9:12; Chullin 134b). We will discuss shortly how much of this foreleg he receives. But the kohein receives both jaws, right and left, and everything included, as we will soon see.

Four leg or foreleg?

At this point, let us examine our opening question: “Why does the kohein receive the femur, if, in any instance, we are accustomed not to eat the hindquarters?”

Our questioner has erred, not realizing that although animals have four legs, they are not equivalent. The femur is the extension of the hind leg, corresponding to the human thigh bone. Just as we have no femur in our anterior appendages, which we refer to as our hands and arms, neither do animals. Thus, the answer to this question is that the zero’a is a foreleg and not in the hindquarters, and, in fact, has no femur.

An arm and a leg?

How much of the animal’s foreleg does the kohein get? The Mishnah (Chullin 134b) teaches that it includes from the “joint of the arkuvah until the palm of the foreleg.” From the Mishnah’s description, we know that one border is a joint; but which joint? If you look at the foreleg of an animal, you will notice that it has several joints. Cattle have no fingers, but, from the ground up, the bones of an animal’s joint can be described as the phalanges (corresponding to the human fingers), the metacarpus (the hand), the carpus (the wrist), the radius and ulna (which together form the lower arm), the humerus (the upper arm) and the shoulder blade. The bones at the very bottom have no meat (“muscle” and “meat” are two ways of referring to the same thing) attached to them; as we go up the leg, the meat increases, both in quality and quantity.

What is the joint of the arkuvah?

The Gemara (Chullin 76a, 122b) uses an expression arkuvah hanimkeres im harosh, which literally means “the joint sold with the head.” This market term meant that parts of the animal that contain little in the way of edible meat were sold together. Just as the head contains little muscle, the bones beyond this joint contain little meat and were sold “together with the head.”

The early authorities dispute what is included in this gift to the kohein; in other words, what is meant by the Mishnah’s words: From the joint of the arkuvah until the palm of the foreleg. There are three basic opinions:

1. According to the Rambam, the kohein receives the metacarpus and the radius/ulna bones and the meat attached to them. Unless you are a veterinarian or a butcher, you are not familiar with these as cuts of meat. Even in large cattle, there is no meat to speak of on the metacarpus, and little meat on the radius/ulna; what is there is usually thrown into the butcher’s ground beef pile.

2. According to the Shulchan Aruch, the two parts are the humerus and the radius/ulna. The metacarpus is considered beyond the palm of the foreleg, and the the perek shel arkuvah is the shoulder blade. The muscle on the humerus does include some quality meat that is considered shoulder roast or shoulder steak – not as good as ribeye or brisket, but certainly quality meat cuts.

Both opinions we have quoted above contend that the zero’a includes two bones and the meat on those bones, and the Tosefta (Chullin 9:3) adds also the joint above the bone.

3. According to the disciples of the Vilna Gaon, he held that the mitzvah included only one bone and the meat on that bone.

The halacha is that the kohein receives the bone, plus the meat attached to it.

JAWS!

The pasuk said “jaws” plural, which could mean two jaw bones, or all four. This is the subject of an ancient dispute among halachic authorities, since the Targum Yonasan explains that the kohein receives both the upper and lower jaw, an approach to which the Vilna Gaon concurs, maintaining that this is the correct girsa in the Sifrei (Shoftim #165). Those who rule this way, which include the Gra and the Aruch Hashulchan (Yoreh Deah 61:12), conclude that the kohein receives both sides of the upper jaw in addition to the lower jaw. This approach means that the kohein receives all of the “cheek meats” of the animal.

However, most poskim (Rashi, Chullin 134b, s.v. haperek shel lechi; Pri Chadash, Yoreh Deah 61:5; Yad Efrayim to Yoreh Deah 61:3) rule that the kohein receives only the lower jaw, and this is the girsa that we have in the Sifrei. According to this approach, the kohein receives only the meat attached to the lower jaw, but not what is attached to the upper jaw.

Jawed down

How much is included with the lecha’ya’yim? The Mishnah states that it includes from “the joint of the jaw until the pikah of the throat” (Chullin 134b). The “pikah” is the top of the trachea (see Pri Chadash, Yoreh Deah 61:5). The lecha’ya’yim includes, therefore, the tongue, some meat, hide, bone, hair, and, on sheep, a small amount of wool (Chullin 134b).

Since the lower jaw includes the tongue (Rashi; Rav), this means that, indeed, where these mitzvos are observed, the kohanim have a virtual monopoly on the tongues.

Why did I write “in places where these mitzvos are observed?” The answer is that there is a dispute among tanna’im whether this mitzvah applies in chutz la’aretz, notwithstanding that it is not one of the mitzvos ha’teluyos ba’aretz, a mitzvah dependent on the land. There is a major discussion among halachic authorities how we rule in this dispute.

The maw?

What is the keivah? Several of the chumashim I have seen translate the word as “maw,” but this translation is neither professional nor accurate, since the word maw simply means a stomach, mouth or other opening. (The origin of the word maw is a “bag” or other receptacle, and it later came to mean “mouth” or “stomach,” since these are “bag” functions of the body — areas that receive food.) To translate keivah as maw is, therefore, inaccurate, because the word “maw” does not refer to a specific stomach or compartment of the stomach, and, if it did, it would refer to the first stomach of cattle, the rumen or paunch. The keivah, however, is the fourth, and last, stomach.

Can’t stomach it!

At this point, we can examine the last of our opening questions: How many of a cow’s stomachs does a kohein get?

All kosher beheimos are ruminants, and all of them have several stomachs, or more technically accurate, a four-chambered stomach. The four parts are called the rumen, reticulum, obasum, and the abomasum. As I mentioned above, the keivah is the abomasum. Although today the keivah has limited value, in earlier days, it was the natural source of the enzyme called rennet, which is used to curd milk into cheese. How kosher rennet, which is halachically meat, may be used to curd milk into kosher cheese is beyond today’s topic, but rennet can be used, and, in earlier times, had much commercial value.

There are several questions germane to this mitzvah that we have not yet discussed; we will leave them for a future article.

Conclusion

Why does the Torah give the kohein these three, unusual parts of the animal?

The Gemara (Chullin 134b), quoted by Rashi (Devorim 18:3), explains that these three remind us of Pinchas’s courageous and zealous act, when he sanctified Hashem’s Name during the Midyan debacle – he grabbed his spear with his hand, he prayed with his mouth (Tehillim 106:30), and he plunged his weapon into the stomach of the dishonorable woman Kozbi, who brought Zimri to sin (see Bamidbar 25:8). Thus, every kohein is rewarded in Pinchas’s merit, or, more accurately, all the Bnei Yisroel are constantly reminded of what Pinchas did to save the Jewish people.

Do I Have to Tell the Truth?‎

Question #1: The Truth

May I take credit for something that I did not do myself?

Question #2: The Whole Truth

Must I make a full disclosure when it may cause a negative outcome?

Question #3: Nothing but the Truth!

Is it permitted to “add” to the truth?

Introduction:

A person must maintain total integrity in all his dealings – after all, we are commanded to act as Hashem does in all our deeds, and Hashem’s seal is truth (Shabbos 55a). Furthermore, someone meticulously honest and truthful will merit receiving the presence of the Shechinah.

Conversely, the Gemara (Sanhedrin 103a) teaches that habitual liars will not merit to receive the Shechinah’s presence. This is derived from the pasuk, Dover shekarim lo yikon leneged einai, “He who speaks lies will not be established in My sight” (Tehillim 101:7). A person who gains nothing from his lies and simply has no regard for telling the truth is included in the “kat shakranim” (pack of liars) who will not merit to meet Hashem (Shaarei Teshuvah 3:181, 186). This category also includes people who fail to keep their word (Shaarei Teshuvah 3:183).

Truth is so important that the Gemara teaches, Hafoch bineveilasa velo seifoch bemilei, “Turn over a carcass and do not turn over your words” (Pesachim 113a). This means that it is preferable to do unpleasant, malodorous work rather than talk deceitfully.

Therefore, the Torah warns, Midevar sheker tirchak, “Keep distant from a false matter” (Shemos 23:7). Nowhere else does the Torah command that we must “keep distant” from an activity (Sefer Hachinuch #74), which emphasizes how far we must keep from falsehood (Mesilas Yesharim, Chapter 11). Even taking credit for something that one did not do is considered a falsehood (Shaarei Teshuvah 3:184).

Truth in education

Regarding chinuch, we are taught, “Do not promise something to a child without giving it to him, because this teaches him to lie” (Sukkah 46b).

In addition to the halachic requirement of being meticulously honest, there is also a tangible benefit in being known as someone who always tells the truth. As the Gemara notes: “Someone who lies is not believed even when he tells the truth” (Sanhedrin 89b).

The whole truth

Despite the importance of telling the truth, there are situations where the Torah allows one to be imprecise because of a greater good. It is of paramount importance not to hurt people’s feelings, harm their reputation, embarrass them or create machlokes (Bava Metzia 23b with Rif and Tosafos). When placed in a situation in which full disclosure will cause one of these negative outcomes, one should avoid fabricating a story, but should omit the harmful information (see Chofetz Chayim, Hilchos Rechilus 1:8). However, if machlokes may result if one answers truthfully, one must modify the truth, rather than create ill feeling.

Why?

Why is it permitted to alter the facts in order to avoid hurting someone’s feelings?

In general, the Torah does not accept that the end justifies the means. Thus, one is generally not permitted to do something halachically wrong in order to accomplish a positive result. However, altering the truth to avoid machlokes or to save someone from hurt is an exception to this rule.

Even in these situations, changing the truth should be a last resort. When the situation can be resolved without resorting to untruth, one must do so. Furthermore, it is preferable to give a truthful answer that omits the harmful information, rather than modify the truth (see Chofetz Chayim, Hilchos Rechilus 1:8). However, when there is no choice other than modifying the truth, one is required to do so.

When should the truth be modified?

There are five categories of cases when modifying the truth is permitted. They are:

1. Shalom

One is required to avoid dispute or ill feeling even if it requires distorting the truth. This also includes situations where telling the truth will result in loshon hara. Therefore, if someone is asked, “What did so-and-so say about me?” and the true answer to this question will result in loshon hara or ill feeling, one may not give a complete answer. As mentioned above, it is preferable to answer in a way that is not an outright untruth, such as telling part of the story that has no negative ramifications. If there is no choice, one should resort to fabrication rather than telling the truth that includes loshon hara or creates machlokes (Chofetz Chayim, Hilchos Rechilus 1:8).

It should be noted that when there is no way to avoid modifying the truth for the sake of shalom, it is not only permitted but obligatory in order to avoid machlokes or hurting someone’s feelings (Rif, Bava Metzia 23b).

Here is an example: Reuven refused to lend Shimon money, because he felt that Shimon was a credit risk.Shimon discovered that Reuven loaned money to someone else, whereupon Shimon asked Reuven why his (Shimon’s) request was turned down. To avoid hurting Shimon’s feelings or creating machlokes, Reuven may tell him that, at the time, he had no money available to lend. As mentioned above, this approach should be used only as a last resort. It is preferable for Reuven to change the subject or respond to the answer in a different, inoffensive way that is not a fabrication.

For the same reason (to avoid hurting a person’s feelings), it is permitted to praise a person’s performance to make him feel good, even if the performance was actually mediocre (Kesubos 17a). Similarly, one should tell the purchaser of a new garment that it looks great, even if he thinks the opposite.

What is the halacha when a woman who values your judgment asks you how her new dress looks? If the dress does not look nice, and the situation can be modified (such as, the dress can be tailored or exchanged), you should give the appropriate advice. However, if there is no option to do anything with the dress, you should remark that it looks nice. After all, there are certainly some people who will think it looks nice on her.

2. Modesty

It is advisable to act humbly and to answer questions modestly. For example, a Torah scholar who is asked how much he knows of Shas (the entire Talmud) is permitted to say that he is familiar with a few mesechtos, even when he knows the entire Shas thoroughly (Rashi, Bava Metzia 23b). This statement is permitted, even though it is technically not true. It should be noted that modifying the truth in this situation is not required (Rif, Bava Metzia 23b). For example, Sefer Hassidim (#1061) states that it is preferable not to say a lie in order to be modest, but instead to change the subject.

Likewise, one should be careful not to boast or advertise the chesed that one performs. A person who is asked about his chesed activities should downplay his role and understate his involvement.

If a posek (halachic authority) is asked whether he is qualified to pasken a certain shaylah, he should answer truthfully, but not boastfully. He can say something like, “There are people who ask me shaylos,” or “Rav so-and-so told me that I may pasken,” which, if said in a humble tone of voice, is informative and not boastful. In this situation, underplaying his knowledge is counterproductive, since the person who has a shaylah will not feel comfortable that he can ask (Tosafos, Bava Metzia 23b s.v. bemesechta).

A person heavily involved in chesed projects is permitted to describe his full role, in order to encourage other people to be involved in chesed.

Someone who observes a halachic stringency must try to keep it a secret. One is even permitted to give a false reason for his behavior, rather than explain that he observes a chumrah (see Brachos 53b). For example, while attending a simcha where one’s chumrah is not observed, he should hide the fact that he is not eating. If someone notices that he is not eating, he may say that he already attended another simcha and ate there. He may say this, even if he did not attend a simcha that night and ate at home, since his statement is true (he has attended other smachos previously). This is better than saying that one’s stomach is upset (when it is not), which is an outright untruth. However, if he feels that the only excuse he can use is that he has an upset stomach, he may say so, even if he is feeling fine.

It should be noted that, in such cases as well, modifying the truth to act modestly is not required, but merely permitted (Rif to Bava Metzia 23b; Sefer Hassidim #1061).

3. To save embarrassment

If necessary, one may modify the truth to save from an embarrassing situation or to protect privacy. Therefore, if someone asks me a question that infringes on my privacy, I may give him an untrue answer, if there is no other way to avoid the situation without being offensive (Bava Metzia 23b). It is usually better to give an untrue answer than to point out that the question was inappropriate, which might embarrass the person asking the question. Similarly, if asked about someone’s personal habits, I may modify my answer, if the truth reveals private information that the person does not want divulged (Maharal, Bava Metzia 23b).

It is permitted to modify the truth to save someone from embarrassment, even if it is myself that I am saving and I also created the uncomfortable situation. For the same reason, if asked a question on a Gemara to which I do not know the answer but should, I may reply that I have not learned that Gemara recently, even if I have (see Rambam, Hilchos Aveidah 14:13and Lechem Mishneh).

Although it is permitted to modify the truth to save oneself from embarrassment, it is not preferred behavior (Orach Meisharim). Of course, the best thing is to know the Gemara adequately enough to answer the question (Kiddushin 30a).

It is forbidden to be untruthful if it causes financial harm. For example, it is prohibited to deny having damaged someone’s property — even if the goal is to avoid embarrassment — if this may exempt him from compensating the owner. Similarly, it is prohibited to tell the boss that one is late to work because of a fictitious traffic tie-up.

Similarly, one may not deceive someone about a shidduch by providing misinformation that might affect the other party.

Truth in litigation

There is no heter, whatsoever, to mislead a Beis Din, even if I know that the other side is misrepresenting the facts. I may set the record straight and say that information is being fabricated.

Money received through a din Torah because of misrepresentation is considered stolen. Furthermore, a lawyer or to’en rabbani (rabbinic legal adviser) who suggests withholding relevant information in order to win a case violates several serious prohibitions.

4. Protecting someone

One may modify the truth to protect a person from harm or to prevent him from sinning. Again, the halachic principle is that, in this instance, the ends (avoiding sin) justify the means (altering the facts).

A few examples will clarify what we mean. An unsavory or untrustworthy person asks you where you were a guest last Shabbos, because he wants to invite himself to the same host. Since the results may be detrimental, you may tell the untrustworthy person that you ate at home, even if this is not true. Early poskim describe the following situation: “Someone who is asked how he was received as a guest may lie, to protect the host from becoming inundated with more guests than he can afford” (Rashi, Bava Metzia 24a).

Similarly, if I am asked by someone who is a poor credit risk where he can borrow money, I may tell him that I don’t know, rather than putting potential lenders in an uncomfortable position or placing them at risk.

It is permitted to modify the truth to prevent someone from sinning. In this context, there is a halacha that many people find surprising. Someone thinks that what he is doing is permitted, but you know that it is forbidden. You know that the perpetrator will not accept your halachic opinion, unless you quote it in the name of a well-known posek. It is permitted (but not required) to quote the psak in the name of a well-known posek, even if you have no basis to say that he said this, so that the person accepts the halacha and, therefore, does not sin (Shabbos 115a).

The Gemara records several instances of this ruling (Eruvin 51a; Pesachim 27a; see Magen Avraham,Chapter 156). Here is one example: In pre-refrigeration days, vegetables cut up before Yom Kippur would spoil before the fast ended. Rav Yehudah noticed that the vegetables were being cut up on Yom Kippur in a way that violated the halacha, but was uncertain whether he would be obeyed if he told them to stop. To put an end to the practice, he told the perpetrators that he had received a letter from Rabbi Yochanan prohibiting it.

Under the category of protecting people from undesirable situations, the Gemara tells us a very interesting story about the great tzaddik, Iyov. When he heard about a widow who wanted to remarry but was not receiving any shidduch suggestions, Iyov would invent a family relationship with the woman, in order to improve her shidduch prospects (Bava Basra 16a).

If I am asked questions that will lead in an undesirable direction, it is permitted to modify the truth in order to politely cut off the questioning. The Gemara tells us the following story: Alexander the Great once met the Talmudic scholars of the Negev and asked them several philosophic questions. When he asked them whether light was created first or darkness, they responded that this question cannot be answered. The Gemara points out that it states clearly that darkness existed before light(Bereishis 1:2-3). Nevertheless, the scholars refrained from answering Alexander, to forestall his asking other questions that might lead to blasphemy (Tamid 32a). Therefore, when you suspect someone may turn the conversation into a topic that you do not wish to discuss, you may change the subject or say that you do not know the answer to the question.

5. Exaggeration

It is permitted to exaggerate, even though the literal meaning of one’s words is inaccurate. So long as one’s intent is clear, this is neither deceptive nor dishonest, but simply idiomatic. Therefore, it is permitted to say that something has happened “millions of times,” since everyone understands that this is an exaggeration. Similarly, it is permitted to call a fellow Jew “my brother,” since all Jews are related and, furthermore, we are all brothers in mitzvos. It is also permitted to call a student “my son,” since the pasuk refers to our students this way (Shabbos 31a).

Some contemporary poskim justify the widespread practice of printing wedding invitations knowing that the time on the invitation is earlier than the simcha will take place. Since this is intended to give people a sense of when the simcha will actually transpire, it does not violate the mitzvah of being truthful.

There are a few other instances where one is permitted to say something, even though the literal meaning of one’s words is not exactly true. Following a halachic discussion with his disciples, Rabbi Akiva said that the halacha accorded with the opinion of one of his students, although it was obvious that the halacha was otherwise. Stating that the halacha was like this student meant that the student’s reasoning was very solid, and the compliment would encourage the students to study with more enthusiasm (Eruvin 13a).

An opposite pedagogic usage is found in a different passage of Gemara (Moed Katan 16a). Bar Kappara, one of Rebbe’s disciples, once said something disrespectful about Rebbe. Realizing that he had a halachic responsibility to reprimand Bar Kappara, the next time Bar Kappara came to visit Rebbe, Rebbe told him eini makircha mei’olam, “I have never met you.” Bar Kappara understood that Rebbe meant that he did not want to have anything to do with Bar Kappara. Bar Kappara repented and Rebbe befriended him once again.

However, how could Rebbe make an untruthful statement? Because Bar Kappara understood Rebbe’s intent, this was not regarded as an untruth. Furthermore, Rebbe’s words, eini makircha mei’olam, could also mean “I do not truly know who you are,” words that are actually very truthful — does one human being ever really know another? (Orach Meisharim 9:ftn 2) Incidentally, we see that even a statement like this, which was fully understood, should preferably be expressed in a way that has a truthful meaning, as well.

From the foregoing, it is apparent that the halachos of telling the truth are far more complex than most people realize. Those who tell the truth will receive the presence of the Shechinah. Many special blessings are bestowed on someone who is meticulous about telling only the truth, as required by halacha.

The Gemara tells about the community of Kishuta where everyone was very careful never to lie. In reward for this, none of them ever died prematurely (Sanhedrin 97a).

Conclusion

Rav Yaakov Kamenetski was once asked why he lived so long. (Several Gemara discussions imply that it is proper to try to answer this question accurately.) After contemplating the question for a while, Rav Yaakov reluctantly answered, “Probably in the merit of the fact that I have never told a lie.”

Why is telling the truth a merit for longevity?

As mentioned earlier, someone who is meticulously honest and truthful will merit receiving the Shechinah’s presence (Orach Meisharim 9:ftn 3). The pasuk in Mishlei (16:15) teaches, be’or pnei Melech chayim, “Those who are in the light of the King will live.” Furthermore, Hashem’s brachos rest on those who imitate His ways, and His essence is truth (Sefer Hachinuch #74). Therefore, those who live with meticulous honesty are rewarded with long, productive lives. May we all merit this reward!

The Words of the Prophets

Question #1: Just This Once

“Obviously, I never met either the Chofeitz Chayim or Rav Aryeh Levin, but there is a great tzadik in our neighborhood, a big talmid chacham and a mekubal, who is never involved in what is going on. Today, he came to me, quietly, and told me that Hashem appeared to him in a vision and instructed him to tell me that this coming Shabbos, but only this Shabbos, I am supposed to drive him somewhere in my car. Am I supposed to listen to him?”

Question #2: Untruthful Prophets?

The brocha we recite prior to reading the haftarah states ve’rotzeh be’divreihem ha’ne’emarim be’emes, that Hashem “desired the words of the prophets that are said in truth.” This brocha requires explanation: Of course, Hashem desires the words of the prophets – He was the One Who sent them the message in the first place! What does this brocha mean?

Answer:

To answer the above questions thoroughly and correctly, we need to study the entire halachic issue of prophets, beginning from the Chumash, through the Gemara, rishonim and poskim. Even if we do not happen to have a neighbor in shul who meets all the requirements of a navi, we should know these laws:

(1) From a perspective of mitzvas Talmud Torah.

(2) So that we can observe them properly when we again have the opportunity.

(3) So that we can understand the verses that are germane.

(4) A proper understanding of the thirteen ikarei emunah of the Rambam is contingent on comprehending these laws.

How prophetable?

We will start with the Torah’s discussion in parshas Shoftim about the topic:

 “You shall be wholehearted with Hashem, your G-d… A prophet from among you, from your brothers, like me (Moshe), will Hashem, your G-d, establish for you. You shall listen to him…. Then, Hashem said to me… ‘I will establish for you a prophet from among your brothers, like you, and I will put My words in his mouth – everything that I will command him. Whoever will not listen to My words that the prophet will speak in My name – I will exact punishment from him. However, any prophet who will have the audacity to speak in My name that which I did not command him to say, or any prophet who will speak in the name of foreign gods – that prophet shall surely be put to death.’ And should you ask in your heart, ‘How am I to know which statement was not said by Hashem?’ (The answer is): That which the prophet says in the name of Hashem (that it will miraculously happen) and the matter does not transpire, this is, for certain, something that Hashem never said. This prophet has violated the Torah intentionally: Do not be afraid of him.” (Devorim 18: 13, 15, 18-22).

We see in these pesukim the following laws:

A.    If a prophet demonstrates that he is, indeed, a prophet that Hashem sent, we are required to obey whatever he tells us that Hashem commanded. Based on the pesukim and some relevant passages of Gemara and halachic midrash, the Rambam (Sefer Hamitzvos) explains as follows: “Mitzvah #172 is that we were commanded to listen to every prophet and to obey what he commands, even if it contradicts a mitzvah… as long as it is temporary, not a permanent change either to add or subtract… The words of the Sifrei are ‘to him shall you listen’; even if he tells you to violate temporarily one of the mitzvos that are written in the Torah, listen to him.”

B.     Someone who does not follow the commandment of the prophet – Hashem will exact punishment from him. Chazal tell us that the punishment is quite severe.

C.     If the prophet claims to speak in Hashem’s Name and he had received no such commandment – such a “prophet” should be executed.

D.    Someone who meets all the requirements of a true prophet, but relates a prophetic vision in the name of an idol or other foreign god (anything that qualifies as avodah zarah) — this “prophet” should also be executed.

In the Rambam’s opinion, there is also another place in the Torah where this mitzvah is discussed. At the end of parshas Va’eschanan, the Torah writes, “Lo senasu es Hashem Elokeichem, do not test Hashem your G-d” (Devorim 6:16), which the Rambam explains to mean: Do not test the promises or warnings that Hashem sent to us via His prophets, by casting doubt on the veracity of a prophet after he has proven his authenticity. This mitzvah is similarly quoted by the Sefer Hachinuch, who calls this mitzvah (#424 in his count): “Not to test a true prophet more than necessary.”

This leads us to the following question: What are we to do when someone seems to have the right qualifications for a prophet, and he tells us that he received a prophetic vision? The prohibition just described is only after he has demonstrated adequately that he is, indeed, a navi. How does he prove that he is an authentic navi?

Who is prophetable?

First, we need to establish that there are pre-requisite qualifications that must be met by a navi. The Gemara (Nedarim 38a) states: “Hashem places his presence only on someone who is physically powerful, wealthy, wise and humble.” The Gemara proceeds to prove that we know these factors from the fact that Moshe Rabbeinu was physically strong enough to assemble the Mishkan on his own, and that he was extremely wealthy from the trimmings of precious stone that he collected when he chiseled out the second luchos.

The Rambam adds a few other qualities that a prophet must always exhibit: “Among the most basic concepts of religion is to know that Hashem communicates with people. Prophecy happens only to a very wise talmid chacham who is in total control of his personality traits, whose yetzer hora never controls him – rather, he is in control of his yetzer hora, always. He must also be someone with tremendous and correct understanding. Someone filled with all these qualities, who is physically complete and healthy, when he begins studying the deeper aspects of Torah and is drawn into these great topics, develops great understanding, becomes sanctified and continues to grow spiritually, separates himself from the ways of common people who follow the darkness of the time, and instead, he is constantly growing and spurring himself onward. He teaches himself to control his thoughts so as not to think of things that have no value. Rather, his thoughts should always be engaged with the ‘Throne of Hashem’, in his attempts to understand holy and pure ideas.… When the spirit of Hashem rests upon him, his soul becomes mixed with that of the angels… and he becomes a new person who understands that he is no longer the same as he was before, but that he has become elevated beyond the level of other talmidei chachamim” (Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah 7:1).

Net prophets

When the prophet reveals his first prophecy, the posuk that we quoted above teaches: “How am I to know which word was not said by Hashem?” (The answer is): “That which the prophet says in the name of Hashem (that it will miraculously happen) and the matter does not transpire, this is for certain something that Hashem never said.”

This posuk teaches that, in addition to having all the requisite personal qualities, a navi must foretell the future in the Name of Hashem in order to qualify as a navi. There is a dispute between Rav Sa’adiyah Gaon and the Rambam what type of “prophecy” must be demonstrated to prove that he is a prophet. According to Rav Sa’adiyah, the prophet must perform something that is supernatural, such as Moshe did when he turned water into blood, or the stick into a snake. This is because the navi, functioning as a messenger of Hashem, would have been provided by Him with a sign that only Hashem could accomplish, such as preventing water from running downhill, or stopping a heavenly body in its course (Emunos Udei’os 3:4). (This is also the opinion of the Abarbanel in parshas Shoftim.)

On the other hand, the Rambam (Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah 10:2) disagrees, stating:

“Any prophet who arises and says that Hashem sent him does not need to produce a sign on the level of what Moshe Rabbeinu did, or Eliyahu or Elisha, which was completely supernatural. It is sufficient that he prophesy, saying that something will happen in the future, and his words come true.… Therefore, when a man appropriate to being a navi comes… we do not tell him, ‘Let us see you split the sea, or bring the dead back to life, or anything similar, in order that we can believe you’. Rather, we tell him: ‘If you are indeed a prophet, foretell something that will happen.’ When he foretells, we then wait to see if it happens. If it does not happen, even if something small of his prophecy does not happen, we know for certain that he is a false prophet. If his words are entirely fulfilled, you should consider him to be truthful. We then proceed to check him several times; if each time his words are exactly fulfilled, we consider him a true prophet.”

According to some acharonim (Arba’ah Turei Aven), we test him three times, just as Moshe Rabbeinu was given three signs. If he meets all the requirements of a navi and foretells the future, perfectly and accurately, three times, we are required to follow what he tells us to do, and, when we do so, we accomplish the mitzvah of the Torah.

If he predicts that something will happen and it does not, we know that he is a false prophet. In any of these cases where we are not permitted to obey his words, the Sanhedrin would subject him to capital punishment as a false prophet.

Prophets on prophets

There is another way that a navi can be verified as such, without his producing a miracle or foretelling the future. If someone we already know to be a prophet testifies that an individual who meets the personal requirements of a prophet is indeed a navi, the second individual should be accepted immediately as a prophet (Rambam, Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah 10:5). The proof for this is that Yehoshua became accepted as a prophet on Moshe Rabbeinu’s say-so, without producing any miracles or foretelling the future. (The miracles he performed were done later, after he already had been accepted as a navi.)

Gross prophet

What is the halacha if someone who clearly does not meet the personal requirements that we have described tells us that Hashem spoke to him. Let us even assume that he foretells the future successfully, or that he performs miracles. What is the halacha?

The halacha is that he is considered a false prophet. When the batei din had the ability to carry out capital punishment, he would be executed by them. Since our batei din do not have this ability today, we can excommunicate him or banish him, to mitigate the harm he causes. This was done many times in our past, when we were confronted by false prophets. In other words, it is non-prophetable to have him among the Jewish people.

Highly prophetable

The halacha is that once he proved he is a prophet, we are required to obey him, even if he tells us to do something that is counter to a mitzvah or is usually prohibited. The two exceptions are if he tells us that he is changing something of the Torah permanently, or if tells us to violate the prohibition of avodah zarah. In either of these two situations, the Torah tells us that he is a false prophet, even if his tests were true.

Is this a prophetable venture?

At this point, we can analyze our opening question: “Obviously, I never met either the Chofeitz Chayim or Rav Aryeh Levin, but there is a great tzadik in our neighborhood, a big talmid chacham and a mekubal, who is never involved in what is going on. Today, he came to me, quietly, and told me that Hashem appeared to him in a vision and instructed him to tell me that this coming Shabbos, but only this Shabbos, I am supposed to drive him somewhere in my car. Am I supposed to listen to him?”

Let us assume that this talmid chacham/mekubal meets all the requirements that the halacha requires, as quoted above. He now needs to meet the next challenge: According to Rav Sa’adiyah and the Abarbanel, he must perform a miracle that defies nature as we know it. According to the Rambam, he must successfully predict future events several times, without a single detail varying from his description and without any incorrect prediction. If his prophecy is inaccurate even in a slight detail, he is subject to the death penalty, if Sanhedrin can carry out this ruling. Since we have no Sanhedrin today, he would be ruled as a rosho, notwithstanding his other fine qualities.

Personally, I would think that he is probably suffering from some mental illness, and I would recommend that he have a full psychiatric evaluation. I do not think that he is evil; I think that he is ill.

Prophetable brochos

At this point, let us examine our second opening question: The brocha we recite prior to reading the haftarah states that Hashem “desired the words of the prophets that are said in truth.” This brocha requires explanation: Of course, Hashem desires the words of the prophets – He was the One Who sent them the message in the first place! What does this brocha mean?

We can answer this question by realizing the following: With the exception of Moshe Rabbeinu, Hashem communicated to the prophets in a vision, not in words. The prophet, himself, put the ideas he had seen, heard and understood into his own words. It is for this reason that the Midrash teaches that ein shenei nevi’im misnabe’im besignon echad, it will never happen that two prophets recite the exact same words of prophecy (Pesikta and Midrash Seichel Tov, Parshas Va’eira 9:14). Each prophet still maintains some of his own personality and upbringing that will reflect itself in the way he describes what he saw. Yet, the final words, which are the words of the prophet, “their words,” are still “said in truth” – meaning that notwithstanding the personal imprint of the prophet on what he said, the words all convey Hashem’s absolute intent.

Conclusion

In the Sefer Hachinuch, mitzvah #424 is: “Not to test a true prophet too much.” He explains that, if we test the navi after he has adequately proved his veracity, those jealous of him or pained by his success may use excessive testing as an excuse not to listen to his commandments. In other words, they will deny his authenticity unjustifiably, by claiming that he has as yet not been tested sufficiently. Thus, we see that even something so obvious as the ability of a great tzadik to foretell the future can be denied by people, when they don’t want to accept the truth!

The Talis Exchange and Other Lost Stories

Chazal teach us that in the merit of Avraham saying to the king of Sodom that he would not accept even a thread from him, his descendants received the mitzvah of tzitzis.

Question #1: THE TALIS EXCHANGE

Dovid asked me the following shaylah: “I put down my talis in shul and, upon returning, discovered that it had been replaced with a similar-looking talis. I left the talis undisturbed, and hung up a sign noting the exchange. Unfortunately, no one responded, and, indeed, the owner may not even realize that he has my talis. Should I take his talis home? May I use it, or must I purchase a new one and leave his until he claims it, which may never happen?”

Question #2: THE LAUNDRY EXCHANGE

A laundry returned the correct quantity of items that had been brought originally; however, the customer, Reuvein, later realized that one sheet was not his. A different customer, Shimon, picked up his laundry and was missing some items; however the laundry insisted that it had returned whatever was brought. Shimon subsequently discovered that Reuvein had one of Shimon’s missing sheets and he clearly identified his missing sheet. Reuvein claimed that the sheet was a replacement for his sheet that was lost and that he is therefore not required to return it. Must he return the sheet?

Question #3: THE WEDDING EXCHANGE

Someone went to a wedding wearing one coat and mistakenly returned home with a different one. May he use this coat and assume that the other party is agreeable to the exchange? Does this depend on which coat is more valuable?

Question #4: AN UMBRELLA ON THE SUBWAY

On the subway you see a frum, unfamiliar person rush off the car, forgetting her umbrella. May you keep or use the umbrella, knowing that the owner will soon realize her loss?

SHO’EL SHELO MIDAAS

The concern in all these situations is that one is using someone else’s property without permission. This is called sho’el shelo midaas, borrowing without the owner’s knowledge, which is usually halachically equivalent to stealing(Bava Metzia 41a; 43b)! In general, one may not use an item until one receives permission from the owner.

CAN’T I JUST ACCEPT THE TRADE OF THE TWO ITEMS?

Since the loser is wearing my talis, why can’t I simply assume that we have traded taleisim; I’ll keep his talis and allow him to keep mine? (Although the correct Hebrew plural is taliyos or talisos, I will use the colloquial taleisim.)

Although Dovid may grant permission to the other person to use his talis,can he assume that he has permission to use the other person’s talis? Let us examine a relevant discussion:

EXCHANGED ITEMS AT THE TAILOR

Someone whose clothes were replaced with someone else’s at a tailor may use what he received until his garment is returned. However, if the exchange transpired at a shiva house or a simcha, he may not use the garment he received but must hold it until the owner claims his property. What is the difference between the two cases? Rav answered: “I was sitting with my uncle, and he explained to me, ‘Sometimes people tell the tailor to sell the item for them’” (Bava Basra 46a).

We see from this case that if I exchanged a coat with someone else at a simcha or at a shiva, I may not wear the coat,since I am “borrowing” it without permission. The fact that the other person is using my garment, knowingly or unknowingly, does not permit me to use his. I may have to purchase a replacement, even though a perfectly nice garment is sitting unused in my closet, since the garment is not mine.

However, if the exchange happened in a tailor shop, I may use the replacement.

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A TAILOR AND A WEDDING?

Why is the tailor shop different? The Gemara presents a rather cryptic answer to this question: “Sometimes people tell the tailor to sell the item for them.” What does this mean?

The early poskim explain that when the exchange transpired in a repair shop, one may assume that the following situation occurred:

Someone brought a garment to the tailor, asking him to sell it for him. The tailor erred and sold your garment instead and then paid the money received (minus his sales commission) to the original owner of that garment. When you came to claim your garment, the tailor realized his error, and also realized that he must compensate you for your item, since he probably has no way to retrieve it. However, he had no cash available,so he gave you a replacement instead – the garment that he was supposed to sell (Tur and Sma, Choshen Mishpat 136:1). Since the tailor already paid the original owner for his garment, he now owns it and he is fully authorized to give it to you as a replacement for your lost garment. This case is referred to as nischalfu keilim beveis ha’uman (items that were exchanged in a craftsman’s shop).

The next passage in the Gemara’s discussion is now almost self-explanatory:

Rav Chiya the son of Rav Nachman explained that the ruling of nischalfu keilim beveis ha’uman applies only if the repairman himself gave you the different garment, but not if his wife or children gave them to you.

Obviously, if the tailor’s wife or child gave you the wrong garment, you cannot assume that this was because of the tailor’s earlier error. It is more likely that they simply mistakenly gave you the wrong garment, which needs to be returned.

Similarly, the following concluding passage of this discussion is clear.

Rav Chiya the son of Rav Nachman continued: The halacha of nischalfu keilim beveis ha’uman applies only if the repairman told you, “Here is a garment.” However if he said “Here is your garment,” we assume that he erred, since he is not giving you your garment.

If the tailor had sold your garment in error and is now sheepishly providing you with a replacement, he would not tell you, here is your garment. Therefore, if he says here is your garment, we assume he must have mistakenly given you the wrong garment, and you must return it.

We see clearly that the ruling of nischalfu keilim beveis ha’uman applies only when I can assume that a tailor or other repairman inadvertently sold or disposed of my item and can legitimately offer me the replacement. Otherwise the situation is comparable to the case of garments exchanged at a simcha, where one may not use the received garment without permission.

At this point we can analyze Question #2.

A laundry returned to Reuvein the same number of items he had brought originally; however, one sheet is not his. Shimon claims to be missing some items, which the laundry denies. Shimon proves that the sheet is his, yet Reuvein claims that the laundry gave it to him as a replacement for what they lost and that he is therefore not required to return it. Must he return the sheet?

Answer: Shimon did not give the sheet to the laundry to sell. Therefore, the laundry gave Shimon’s sheet to Reuven without authorization and he must return it to its rightful owner, even if Reuven has no other way of being compensated for his loss (Terumas Hadeshen #319; one of the interesting and surprising aspects of this shaylah is that this actual case was asked over 600 years ago!!).

The reason for this is obvious: Laundries do not usually act as agents to sell people’s clothing, and in any case, Shimon clearly denies ever making any such arrangement.

SO, WHAT IS THE STATUS OF THE TALIS?

Let us return to our original question. Someone took Dovid’s talis and left behind a similar-looking one. The owner has not responded to any of his notices, and Dovid suspects that he does not even realize that an exchange transpired.

Based on the above discussion, it would seem that Dovid has no choice but to consider purchasing a new talis. However, there is another Gemara discussion that affects our case, so don’t run to the store just yet. Let us examine the following passage:

Shmuel said, “Someone who finds tefillin in the street should estimate their worth and may wear them himself” (Bava Metzia 29b). If the finder has no need for a pair of tefillin, he may sell them and put the money aside for the owner. The Rosh (Bava Metzia 2:16) rules that the finder may even use the money in the interim.

Shmuel’s statement presents some obvious questions:

His ruling seems to contradict the principle that borrowing an item without permission is tantamount to theft. Why can the finder wear (or sell) these tefillin? As we are all aware, one of the Torah’s mitzvos is to return a lost object to its owner (Devorim 22:1-3; Shemos 23:4). How does the Gemara permit the tefillin finder to wear them and not return them to the owner? And even if we correctly assume that “estimating their worth” means that he is responsible to return the value of the tefillin to its owner if and when he locates him, why is this case different from the normal obligation of returning the actual lost item itself to its owner? Obviously, there must be something about tefillin that permits the finder to keep them and simply repay their estimated value.

Some poskim contend that this ruling applies only to a mitzvah object, where the owner wants someone else to use his tefillin rather than have them sit unused (Shach 267:16, in explanation of the Rambam, Hilchos Gezeilah 13:14). However, most authorities imply that this ruling also applies to non-mitzvah items, in cases where the owner is satisfied with simply receiving back their value (see Tur and Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 267:21). The basis for this second opinion is the continuation of the Gemara’s discussion:

TEFILLIN VERSUS SEFORIM

The Gemara asks why someone finding tefillin may wear them, since this ruling appears to contradict a statement that someone who found books may not use them, but must hold them for the owner. Why are tefillin different from seforim? The Gemara answers that a person wants to receive back his own books, whereas he can always purchase new tefillin. This implies that people have no strong attachment to any specific pair of tefillin, whereas they have tremendous interest in seforim that are difficult to replace. From this one could infer that there is a difference between finding an item that the owner does not mind replacing and finding an item that he does not want to replace, and this would seem to have ramifications for someone who finds a talis, an umbrella, or some other easy to replace item.

Although this seems to be the obvious point of this Gemara, elsewhere the Gemara seems to rule otherwise. If someone found coins placed in a deliberate fashion, the finder may not spend this money and replace it with other coins, but must hold these very coins and return them to their owner (Bava Metzia 29b). Obviously, the owner is not concerned about receiving back these specific coins, and would be very satisfied with receiving replacement money. Why is it not sufficient to simply return coins of the same value? We see that returning replacement value is not satisfactory, even when the owner does not care.

The answer is that in the case of lost tefillin, two factors must be met before one may use them. In addition to the point mentioned above, another consideration is that someone who finds tefillin must occasionally air them out and ensure that they are kept dry (Rosh, Bava Metzia 2:18). (When a person wears tefillin daily, he automatically airs them out at the same time, which benefits them.) Thus, the owner of the tefillin actually benefits more if the finder sets aside money, since the tefillin will become ruined if no one takes proper care of them. This is qualitatively different from finding lost coins, which require no care other than storing them in a secure place.

We can therefore derive the following principles:

If taking care of a lost item requires some effort, and the owner does not care whether he receives back the original item, the finder may estimate the value of the lost item and plan to repay the owner this amount. Otherwise, the finder should hold the lost item and await the owner’s return.

Having established the rule, let us see which cases fit the rule and which do not. Clothing does not usually fit this rule, since people are interested in receiving back the same garment. A person is comfortable with his own clothes, and often purchasing something to one’s taste is not a simple matter. Therefore, someone finding a lost garment may not sell it and hold the money for the owner.

ARE UMBRELLAS AND TALEISIM LIKE TEFILLIN?

On the other hand, the average person does not develop a personal attachment to his umbrella and is perfectly satisfied to have a usable replacement umbrella. Similarly, a man is usually not that concerned about his specific talis and is satisfied with a replacement. In addition, both of these items are comparable to tefillin and not to coins, since if they are never used they become musty. (Normal use of an umbrella airs it out.) Therefore, someone who locates a lost umbrella may use it after estimating its value.

We are now prepared to answer Question #1 and also Question #4. I will answer Question #4 first: On the subway you see a frum but unfamiliar person rush off the car, forgetting her umbrella. May you keep or use the umbrella, knowing that the owner will soon realize her loss?

Clearly, she will despair of recovering her umbrella as soon as she realizes her loss (yi’ush), and if pick it up after she realizes that she left it on the subway, you are not responsible to return it or its value. Nevertheless, in this subway scenario, you will be picking up the umbrella before she realizes her loss.  In that case,  the umbrella is still the property of the person who lost it and someone picking it up is responsible to return it.

However, a person is usually not concerned about owning a specific umbrella, but is satisfied with money to purchase a replacement. (Indeed, if the umbrella that was lost appears to be a designer umbrella, the halacha will be different.) Therefore, even though the owner still owned the umbrella when you found it, you may claim the umbrella as your own, and simply make a mental note how much it is worth. Should you ever meet its owner and she proves that the umbrella was hers, you must compensate her.

And now our analysis of our opening question, The Talis Exchange

Dovid had put down his talis in shul, and it was replaced by a similar-looking talis. His attempts to alert the owner were unsuccessful, and, indeed, the owner may not even notice the exchange. May Dovid use the other talis or must he purchase a new one?

I believe that most men do not feel attached to their particular taleisim, and this case is therefore comparable to the tefillin case of the Gemara. Assuming this to be true, someone who finds a lost talis may estimate its value and then either wear it or sell it. Either way, he should record the value of the talis and intend to return it to the owner, should the owner ever return for it. When I first published this article, I received several responses disagreeing with me, contending that most people are more possessive of their taleisim than I felt.

PECULIARITIES

The careful reader may have noted that our discussion is heading to an unusual conclusion.Although the Gemara’s rules that the owner is less concerned about retrieving his tefillin than retrieving his seforim, today the opposite is generally true – an owner is usually not concerned about receiving backthe same sefer since one can usually purchase it again in a bookstore. (However, the Gemara’s halacha would remain true if he had written notes in the sefer, or it is a special edition that the owner would not be able to readily replace.)

On the other hand, many people own hand-picked tefillin and want their specific pair back (Minchas Elazar 4:9; see Pischei Choshen, Aveidah 6:ftn23). They may have purchased tefillin whose parshi’os were written by a specific sofer who no longer writes, or made by a specific batim macher who has a long waiting list. After analyzing the principles of the above-mentioned Gemara, the Minchas Elazar decides that the original owner gets his tefillin back. Thus, although the principles of the Gemara are infinite, the specific cases that match them change with society.

Returning lost items is a beautiful and important mitzvah. As we now see, the details of observing this mitzvah are often very complicated – and can vary from item to item.

May a Non-Jew Own a Nectarine Tree?

Photo by Philipp Pilz from FreeImages

For that matter, may a Jew?

I once received the following query:

“I am not Jewish, but I observe the laws of Noahides as recorded in the writings of Maimonides, which I have read in the Yale University translation. I am aware that a gentile may not graft one species of tree onto another. Does owning a nectarine tree violate this prohibition? I would be greatly appreciative if you could answer this question, since I have just purchased a house with a nectarine tree in the yard.

Sincerely,

Jacqueline Baker

250 Washington Blvd.

Asheville, NC” (name and address have been changed)

Many of us reading the title of this article may have wondered, “If I am permitted to eat nectarines, why shouldn’t I own a nectarine tree?” Although the answer to this question is fairly straightforward, there are many other issues that need clarification, before we can answer Jacqueline’s shaylah.

First, let us explain the halachos of tree-grafting applicable to Jews. Sadly, because many Jews are unfamiliar with these halachos and unaware of the prevalence of grafted trees, they often, unwittingly, violate these laws.

Also, most people misunderstand the prohibition against kelayim, which is often translated as “mixed species.” People often understand this to mean a prohibition against hybridization or cross-breeding. Although it is true that the Torah prohibits crossbreeding different species of animal, virtually all other types of forbidden mixtures have nothing at all to do with hybridization. We list here the six types of prohibited mixtures, called kelayim.

1. Wearing shatnez, which is a mix of wool and linen.

2. Cross-breeding two animal species.

3. Using two animal species to haul or work together. This mitzvah is usually called lo sacharosh, do not plow with an ox and a donkey together.

4. Grafting different tree species. A sub-category of this prohibition is planting one species on top of or inside another species, a process that is virtually non-existent in contemporary agricultural practice.

5. Planting other crop species in a vineyard. For this purpose, “crop” refers to an annual (grows for only one year and then dies) edible plant. Examples are: seeds that are eaten, like beans, wheat, and sesame; root vegetables, like radish; leaves, such as lettuce; or fruit, such as tomatoes or melons.

6. Planting two crop species together or near one another. This prohibition applies only to species that are eaten.

Although we usually assume that the word kelayim means “mixture,” some commentaries explain that this word originates from the same Hebrew root as the word “prison,” beis ke’le. Thus, Rav Hirsch (Vayikra 19:19) explains that the root word כלא means to keep or hold something back, and that the plural form kelayim is similar to yadayim or raglayim and means a pair. Therefore, the word kelayim means to pair together two items that should be kept apart.

In order to explain the prohibition against grafting trees, the subject of our article, I will first provide some scientific background for city dwellers like myself, who know almost nothing about gardening and horticulture. Having been a city slicker almost my whole life, I freely admit that I knew little about this subject until I did some research in order to understand the halacha.

Hybridization (cross-breeding) of plants occurs when one pollinates the flower of one species with pollen from a different species. However, most of the prohibitions of kelayim have nothing to do with cross-breeding species. In the case of “herbaceous plants,” that is, plants other than perennial (live for many years) trees and shrubs, kelayim is a prohibition against planting two crop species close together. Halacha prohibits planting a crop species inside a vineyard, planting one species too close to another already planted species (distances vary according to how many plants are growing together), planting one species on top of or inside another species, and sowing the seeds of two species together. Incidentally, these prohibitions apply only in Eretz Yisrael, with the exception of planting a crop species in a vineyard (Kiddushin 39a) and, possibly, of planting one species inside another (see Gemara and Tosafos, Chullin 60a; Rambam, Hilchos  Kelayim 1:5 and Radbaz). Thus, someone in chutz la’aretz may plant his backyard garden with a wide variety of vegetables and other edibles without any halachic concern, whereas in Eretz Yisrael, someone planting a garden patch must be very careful to keep the different species separate. The complicated question of how far apart to plant them, and what qualifies as a valid separation if one plants them close together, is beyond the scope of this article (see Chazon Ish, Hilchos Kelayim 6:1).

(By the way, the halachic definition of a species often differs from scientific definition. For example, although some scientists consider wolves and dogs to be the same species, halacha does not; therefore, one may not crossbreed them or use them to haul a load together [Mishnah, Kelayim 1:6]. On the other hand, the Chazon Ish [3:7] discusses whether all citrus fruits are the same species regarding the laws of kelayim, which would permit grafting a grapefruit branch onto a lemon rootstock, whereas scientists consider them to be two distinct species.)

HARKAVAS ILAN – CROSS-GRAFTING

The laws of kelayim also prohibit grafting a branch of one species of tree onto the root stock, or lower trunk, of another species. Although a town dweller may feel that this is a rare occurrence, in fact, contemporary plant nurseries and tree farmers usually graft branches of a species that produces delicious fruit onto the hardier stock of a different species.

For example, most modern peach and nectarine trees are produced by grafting a peach or nectarine branch onto the stock of a hardier, botanically-related tree, such as an almond. As I will explain, someone who performs this, either in Eretz Yisrael or in chutz la’aretz, violates a Torah prohibition. According to many authorities, a non-Jew is also commanded regarding this mitzvah. This latter opinion contends that a Jew who causes a non-Jew to graft such a tree, or even to prune or water it after grafting was done, contravenes lifnei iveir, causing someone else to violate a prohibition.

Because so many trees are grafted nowadays, someone who owns a peach tree should have a horticultural expert check whether its rootstock is also a peach tree, or whether it is of a different species. If the stock is peach, even of a different variety, he may keep the tree; if the stock is of a different species, he should chop off the tree below the point of the graft. (Nobody has suggested that George Washington chopped down his father’s cherry tree because it was grafted onto a different species. Since George always strove for truth, however, this was, nonetheless, an additional good deed, at least according to some opinions.) As we will see shortly, there is no violation of bal tashchis in cutting down a grafted tree.

Often, even a non-expert can detect if a tree was grafted onto a different species by simply scrutinizing the tree. If the bark somewhere near the bottom of the tree looks very different from the upper part of the tree, this indicates that the upper part of the tree was grafted, possibly onto a different species. Before purchasing a new tree at a nursery, examine the trunk carefully for signs of grafting. If, indeed, this tree is the product of a graft onto a different species, then watering or pruning it violates a Torah law, as I will explain. Furthermore, one may not use a sprinkler to irrigate the rest of the lawn on which the tree stands, if this tree will benefit.

NECTARINE TREES

Nectarine trees are susceptible to a host of plant diseases, and, as a result, are usually grafted onto the stock of peach, plum, almond or other trees. It is unclear whether peach and nectarine are halachically considered the same species, but the other species are not the same, according to halacha. Therefore, watering a nectarine tree grafted onto a different species stock probably violates halacha.

By the way, according to halacha, one may plant or maintain different species of trees in close proximity, presumably because grown trees do not look mixed together but stand distinct.

DOES THE PROHIBITION AGAINST GRAFTING APPLY IN CHUTZ LA’ARETZ?

Although most agricultural mitzvos (mitzvos hateluyos ba’aretz), such as terumah, maaser, and shmittah apply only in Eretz Yisrael, some of these mitzvos apply also in chutz la’aretz, such as the mitzvah of orlah, which prohibits using fruit that grows on a tree before it is three years old.

Although the laws of orlah differ when the tree grows in chutz la’aretz, the fruit produced before the tree is three years old is nevertheless prohibited.

Where does kelayim fit into this picture? Of course, some kelayim prohibitions, such as shatnez, cross-breeding animals and lo sacharosh are not agricultural and, therefore, apply equally in Eretz Yisrael and in chutz la’aretz. Among the agricultural prohibitions of kelayim, some apply in chutz la’aretz also, whereas others apply only in Eretz Yisrael.

Planting vegetables and other edible crops together applies only in Eretz Yisrael, grafting trees applies equally in chutz la’aretz and in Eretz Yisrael min hatorah, while planting in a vineyard applies in chutz la’aretz, but only miderabbanan (Kiddushin 39a).

MAY I OWN KELAYIM?

The Gemara (Moed Katan 2b) cites a dispute whether maintaining kelayim in a vineyard (in Eretz Yisrael) is prohibited min hatorah. Rabbi Akiva contends that building a fence to assist the growth of the two different species together violates a Torah law, whereas the Sages contend that it does not (Rashi to Avodah Zarah 64a).

Most poskim conclude that one may not own kelayim in a vineyard, but must remove the plant that is causing kelayim (Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 297:2). The Rambam (Hilchos  Kelayim 1:2) paskins that owning kelayim is prohibited only miderabbanan, whereas the Rosh (Hilchos  Kelayim #3) prohibits this min hatorah. (We should note that Shu’t Chasam Sofer [Yoreh Deah #282] contends that Tosafos [to Avodah Zarah 64a s.v. Rabbi Akiva] permits owning kelayim.)

WHAT ABOUT OWNING A GRAFTED TREE?

Most poskim assume that one may not own a kelayim tree, just as one may not own kelayim in a vineyard. Furthermore, they contend that this halacha applies, whether the tree is in Eretz Yisrael or in chutz la’aretz (Rosh, Hilchos  Kelayim Chapters 1& 3; Pischei Teshuvah, Yoreh Deah 295:2, quoting many poskim).

However, in times past, many observant Jews purchased agricultural properties that contained kelayim trees, and they did not cut down those trees. Was there any justification for their actions? Many halachic responsa discuss what was, apparently, a widespread practice in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Whereas most poskim rule that these Jews violated the halacha, some authorities justify the practice of owning grafted trees, at least in chutz la’aretz (Shu’t Chasam Sofer, Yoreh Deah #288; cf. Aruch Hashulchan, Yoreh Deah 295:17-18). Even these opinions agree that it is preferred to follow the stricter approach and cut down the grafted part of the tree.

I THOUGHT THAT ONE MAY NOT CUT DOWN A FRUIT-BEARING TREE?

Although it is usually prohibited to chop down a tree that bears enough fruit to be profitable, this prohibition does not exist when owning the tree involves a prohibition. Furthermore, bal tashchis, generally, does not exist when one is trying to enhance one’s observance of mitzvos.

Nevertheless, it is preferred to have a non-Jew chop down the tree, since he has no mitzvah of bal tashchis.

DOES THE MITZVAH OF KELAYIM APPLY TO NON-JEWS?

In general, a non-Jew is required to observe only seven mitzvos. However, there are many opinions that require non-Jews to observe certain other mitzvos. The Gemara (Sanhedrin 56b) quotes a dispute concerning whether a non-Jew must observe certain of the kelayim mitzvos. According to the Sages, no aspect of the prohibition of kelayim applies to bnei Noach, whereas Rabbi Elazar contends that they are included in some of the kelayim prohibitions, but not others. Specifically, they are prohibited from mating different animal species and from grafting one species of fruit tree onto another, but they may plant different species together or in a vineyard, and they may wear shatnez.

Why are they included in some prohibitions but not others?

Describing the creation of plants, the Torah says: “And G-d said, ‘The earth shall sprout forth vegetation, herbage that produces seed; edible trees that produce fruit of their own species…’ And the earth produced vegetation, herbage that produces seed of its own species and trees that bear seed-bearing fruit of their own species” (Bereishis 1:11-12).

Reading the pasuk carefully, we see that Hashem ordered only the trees, and not the herbaceous plants, to “produce fruit of their own species.”

Even though the herbage did, in the end, produce “seed of its own species,” this was not because it was commanded. The Gemara derives from other sources that, just as the earth was commanded to keep tree species distinct, so, too, Adam harishon and all his descendants were commanded to keep these species distinct. But since the herbaceous world was never commanded to keep its species distinct, Adam was not commanded concerning this halacha. Therefore, although Jews may not plant different species together, bnei Noach may (Yerushalmi Kelayim 1:7, quoted by Gra, Yoreh Deah 295:2).

WHICH OPINION DO WE FOLLOW?

Do we rule like the Sages that a non-Jew is not included in the prohibition of harkavas ilan, or like Rabbi Elazar, that he is? The Rambam (Hilchos Melachim 10:6) rules like Rabbi Elazar, that a non-Jew may not graft one species of tree onto another, whereas the Ritva (Kiddushin 39a s.v. amar Rabbi Yochanan) and the Shach (Yoreh Deah 297:3) are lenient.

Although we usually follow the Rambam’s opinion, some poskim suggest that we might be able to rule leniently, if only a rabbinic prohibition is involved, such as where the grafted tree exists already and one is not watering or pruning it (Chazon Ish, Kelayim 1:1).

MS. BAKER’S SHAYLAH

I mentioned earlier that a Jew who prunes or waters a kelayim tree violates the Torah prohibition, whether in Eretz Yisrael or in chutz la’aretz. According to most authorities, one may not even own this tree, and one is required to cut down the grafted part. However, since this last prohibition is only miderabbanan, according to most poskim, non-Jews may allow a grafted tree to survive and may even build a fence around it, since they are not required to observe rabbinic prohibitions. (Compare, however, Shu’t Mahari Asad, Yoreh Deah #350 and Shu’t Maharsham 1:179.) Ms. Baker may not water or prune a grafted tree, because that is halachically equivalent to planting it, which is prohibited according to most opinions. In my opinion, she may also not operate her sprinkler system to irrigate her lawn, if the kelayim tree will benefit as a result.

May Ms. Baker ask another non-Jew to water her tree? The poskim dispute whether a non-Jew may ask or hire someone else to violate a mitzvah. Most contend that this is permissible, because the mitzvah of lifnei iveir, causing someone else to violate a mitzvah, does not apply to non-Jews (Tosafos, Avodah Zarah 16b s.v. lenachri). Other authorities (Ginas Veradim, Klal 43) prohibit this, basing themselves on earlier sources that prohibit a ben Noach from violating a transgression that logic tells us to avoid (Rabbeinu Nissim, Introduction to Shas).

MAY WE EAT THE FRUITS OF A GRAFTED TREE?

One may eat the fruits of a grafted tree (Rambam, Hilchos  Kelayim 1:7, based on Yerushalmi). One may even take the shoot of a grafted tree and plant it, after it has been severed from the original tree.

SEPARATION OF SPECIES

In all six types of kelayim mentioned above, the general criterion is to avoid the appearance of different species being intermingled.

Concerning this, Rav Hirsch (Vayikra 19:19) writes, “The Great Lawgiver of the world separates the countless numbers of His creations in all their manifold diversity, and assigns to each one of them a separate purpose and a separate form for its purpose.”

In addition, observing the laws of kelayim helps us remember how various species obeyed Hashem’s instructions to remain separate during their creation (the source for some halachos of kelayim, as we saw above). This reminds the contemplative Jew that if the plants heeded Hashem’s word during the Creation, how much more are we obligated to obey all His instructions.

The author thanks Dr. Joshua Klein of the Volcani Institute and Rabbi Shmuel Silinsky for their tremendous assistance in providing horticultural information for this article.

The Heter Mechirah Controversy

In a few short weeks, we will begin shmittah year. In preparation, I present this article.

Photo by Rodolfo Belloli from FreeImagesOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Several shmittah cycles ago, I was working as a mashgiach for a properly run American hechsher. One factory that I supervised manufactured breading and muffin mixes. This company was extremely careful about checking its incoming ingredients: George, the receiving clerk who also managed the warehouse, kept a careful list of what products he was to allow into the plant and what kosher symbols were acceptable.

On one visit to the plant, I noticed a problem, due to no fault of the company. For years, the company had been purchasing Israeli-produced, freeze-dried carrots with a reliable hechsher. The carrots always arrived in bulk boxes, with the Israeli hechsher prominently stamped in Hebrew and the word KOSHER prominently displayed, in English. George, who always supervised incoming raw materials, proudly showed me through “his warehouse” and noted how he carefully marked the arrival date of each new shipment. I saw crates of the newest shipment of Israeli carrots, from the same manufacturer, and the same prominently displayed English word KOSHER on the box. However, the Hebrew stamp on the box was from a different supervisory agency, one without the same sterling reputation. The reason for the sudden change in supervisory agency was rather obvious, when I noted that the Hebrew label stated very clearly “Heter Mechirah.”

Let me explain the halachic issues that this product entails.

The Torah (Vayikra 25:1-7) teaches that every seventh year is shmittah and prohibits working the land of Eretz Yisroel. During that year, one may not plough, plant or work the field in any way. Furthermore, the farmer must treat whatever grows on his land as ownerless, allowing others to pick and keep his fruit. Many laws apply to the produce that grows during shmittah, including, for example, that one may not sell the produce in a business manner, nor may one export it outside Eretz Yisroel.

For the modern farmer, observing shmittah is indeed true mesiras nefesh, since, among the many other concerns that he has, he also risks losing customers who have been purchasing his products for years. For example, a farmer may be selling his citrus or avocado crop to a distributor in Europe who sells his produce throughout the European Community. If he informs his customer that he cannot export his produce during shmittah year, he risks losing the customer in the future.

Of course, a Jew realizes that Hashem provides parnasah and that observing a mitzvah will never hurt anyone. Therefore, a sincerely observant farmer obeys the Torah dictates, knowing that Hashem attends to all his needs. Indeed, recent shmittos have each had numerous miracles by which observant farmers were rewarded in this world for their halachic diligence. Who can possibly imagine what reward awaits them in Olam Haba!

Unfortunately, the carrot farmer here was not committed to this level of bitachon and, instead, explored other options, deciding to rely on heter mechirah. He soon discovered that his regular, top-of-the line hechsher would not allow this, so he found an alternative hechsher that allowed him to be lenient, albeit by clearly forewarning customers who may consider this product non-kosher. Although he realized that sales would suffer without his regular hechsher, he figured that selling some product is better than selling none.

WHAT IS HETER MECHIRAH?

The basic concept of heter mechirah is that the farmer sells his land to a gentile, who is not required to observe shmittah. Since a gentile now owns the land, the gentile may farm the land, sell its produce and make a profit. The poskim dispute whether a Jew may work land owned by a gentile during shmittah (Tosafos, Gittin 62a s.v. ein odrin, prohibits; Rashi, Sanhedrin 26a s.v. agiston, permits).

IS THIS ANY DIFFERENT FROM SELLING ONE’S CHOMETZ FOR PESACH?

Although some poskim make this comparison (Shu’t Yeshuos Malko, Yoreh Deah #53), many point out differences between selling chometz to a gentile and selling him land in Eretz Yisroel. Indeed, although the Mishnah (Pesachim 21a) and other early halachic sources (Tosefta, Pesachim 2:6) mention selling chometz to a non-Jew before Pesach, no early source mentions selling land in Eretz Yisroel to avoid shmittah (Sefer Hashmittah pg. 71). The earliest source I found discussing this possibility was an eighteenth-century responsum penned by Rav Mordechai Rubyou, the Rosh Yeshivah in Hebron at the time, who discusses the tribulations of a Jew owning a vineyard in Eretz Yisroel in that era (Shu’t Shemen Hamor, Yoreh Deah #4; this sefer was published posthumously in 1793).

HISTORY OF MODERN HETER MECHIRAH

Before explaining the halachic background to the heter mechirah question, I think it is important to understand the historical context of the shaylah.

Rav Yechiel Michel Tukachinski, one of the great twentieth-century poskim of Eretz Yisroel, describes the history and development of the use of heter mechirah. (My source for most of the forthcoming historical material is his work, Sefer Hashmittah.)

The first modern shmittah was in the year 5642 (1882), when there was a mere handful of Jewish farmers in Israel, located in Petach Tikvah, Motza and Mikveh Yisroel. The highly observant farmers in these communities were uncompromising in their commitment to keep shmittah in full halachic detail. [Apparently, at the same time, there were some Sefardi farmers in Israel whose rabbonim did allow them to sell their fields to a gentile for the duration of shmittah (see Shu’t Yeshuos Malko, Yoreh Deah #53; Shu’t Yabia Omer 3:Yoreh Deah #19:7).]

By the next shmittah, 5649 (1889), there was already a much larger Jewish agricultural presence in Eretz Yisroel. Prior to that shmittah year, representatives of the developing Israeli agricultural communities approached several prominent Eastern European gedolim, claiming that the new yishuv could not survive financially if shmittah was observed fully, and that mass starvation would result. Could they sell their land to a gentile for the duration of shmittah and then plant the land and sell its produce?

THE BEGINNINGS OF A CONTROVERSY

Rav Naftali Hertz, the rav of Yaffo, who also served as the rav of most of the agricultural communities involved, directed the shaylah to the gedolei haposkim of the time, both in Israel and in Europe. The rabbonim in Europe were divided, with many prominent poskim, including Rav Yehoshua Kutno, Rav Yosef Engel and Rav Shmuel Mahliver, approving the sale of the land to non-Jews as a hora’as sha’ah, a ruling necessitated by the emergency circumstances prevailing, but not necessarily permitted in the future. They permitted the heter mechirah, but only with many provisos, including that only non-Jews perform most agricultural work. On the other hand, many great European poskim prohibited this heter mechirah, including such luminaries as the Netziv (Rav Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin, the Rosh Yeshivah of the preeminent yeshiva of the era in Volozhin, Lithuania), the Beis Halevi (3:1; Rav Yosef Dov Halevi Soloveichek), the Aruch HaShulchan (Rav Yechiel Michel Epstein) and Rav Dovid Karliner.

Rav Yitzchak Elchanan Spector, the rav of Kovno, Lithuania, whom many viewed as the posek hador, ruled that Rav Hertz could perform the sale and instructed him to have the great poskim of Yerushalayim actuate the sale.

This complicated matters, since the Ashkenazi rabbonei Yerushalayim universally opposed the heter mechirah and published a letter decrying it stridently. This letter, signed by the two rabbonim of Yerushalayim, Rav Yehoshua Leib Diskin and Rav Shmuel Salant, and over twenty other gedolim and talmidei chachamim, implored the farmers in the new yishuv to keep shmittah steadfastly and expounded on the Divine blessings guaranteed them for observing shmittah. The letter also noted that Klal Yisroel was punished severely in earlier eras for abrogating shmittah (see Avos Chapter 5). As Rashi (Vayikra 26:35) points out, the seventy years of Jewish exile between the two batei hamikdash correspond to the exact number of shmittos that were not observed from when the Jews entered Eretz Yisroel until the exile. The great leaders of Yerushalayim hoped that if Klal Yisroel observed shmittah correctly, this would constitute a collective teshuvah for the sins of Klal Yisroel and would usher in the geulah.

Rav Hertz, who had originally asked the shaylah, was torn as to what to do. Although he had received letters from some of the greatest poskim of Europe permitting the mechirah, the poskei Yerushalayim adamantly opposed it. He decided not to sell the land himself, but arranged mechirah for those who wanted it through the Sefardi rabbonim in Yerushalayim, who had apparently performed this mechirah in previous years.

What happened? Did the Jewish farmers observe the shmittah as instructed by the rabbonei Yerushalayim, or did they rely on heter mechirah? Although the very committed farmers observed shmittah according to the dictates of the gedolei Yerushalayim, many of the more marginally observant farmers acceded to the pressure and relied on heter mechirah. Apparently, many farmers were subjected to considerable financial and social pressure to evade observance of shmittah.

Prior to shmittah year 5656 (1896), Rav Hertz again considered what to do in the coming shmittah and approached the rabbonei Yerushalayim. This time, both Rav Shmuel Salant and Rav Yehoshua Leib Diskin approved the mechirah and even suggested to Rav Hertz how to arrange this mechirah in a halachically approved fashion.

WHAT CHANGED?

Why were the very same rabbonim who vehemently opposed the mechirah seven years earlier not opposed to it this time? Initially, these rabbonim felt that since we had now merited returning to Eretz Yisroel, we should make sure to observe all the mitzvos of Eretz Yisroel without compromise, and evading shmittah with heter mechirah runs totally counter to this spirit. However, upon realizing that few farmers had observed the previous shmittah properly, the feeling of these great gedolim was that without the option of heter mechirah, most farmers would simply conduct business as usual and ignore shmittah completely. Therefore, it was better to permit heter mechirah, while at the same time encourage farmers not to rely on it.

Prior to the next shmittah, in 5663 (1903), Rav Hertz re-asked his shaylah from the rabbonim of Yerushalayim, Rav Shmuel Salant and the Aderes, Rav Eliyahu Dovid Rabinowitz Teumim (Rav Diskin had passed on in the meantime), since the original approval stipulated only that shmittah. These rabbonim felt that there was still a need for heter mechirah in 5663. Rav Hertz, himself, passed away before the heter mechirah was finalized, and his son-in-law, Rav Yosef Halevi, a talmid chacham of note, finalized the mechirah in his stead, following the instructions of the rabbonei Yerushalayim.

Seven years later (5670/1910), Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook was the rav of Yaffo and continued the practice of the mechirah, while at the same time encouraging those who would observe shmittah correctly to do so. He continued this practice of performing the heter mechirah for the several subsequent shmittos of his life.

In addition, Rav Kook instituted a new aspect to heter mechirah. Prior to his time, the heter mechirah involved that the owner of the farm appointed a rav as his agent to sell the land, similar to what we usually do to arrange selling the chometz. Rav Kook added that a farmer who was not going to observe shmittah but did not appoint a rav to sell his land was included in the mechirah, since it is in his best interest to have some heter when he works his field, rather than totally desecrating the Holy Land in the holy year. Although there is merit in protecting the farmer from his sin, now, a practical question results that affects a consumer purchasing this farmer’s produce. If the farmer did not authorize the sale, perhaps the produce indeed has the sanctity of shmittah. For this latter reason, many individuals who might otherwise accept heter mechirah produce do not rely on this heter.

By the way, although the original heter mechirah specified that gentiles must perform all plowing, planting and harvesting, this provision is no longer observed by some farmers who rely on heter mechirah. Many farmers who rely on heter mechirah follow a “business as usual” attitude once they have dutifully signed the paperwork authorizing the sale. Indeed, who keeps the profits from the shmittah produce, the Jew or the non-Jew to whom he sold his land? One can ask — is this considered a sale?

Another point raised is that, although Chazal also contended with much laxity in observing the laws of shmittah, they did not mention selling the land to evade the mitzvah. This is underscored by the fact that there are indeed precedents where Chazal mention ways to avoid observing mitzvos. For example, the Gemara mentions methods whereby one could avoid separating maaser, for those who want to evade this mitzvah, although Chazal did not approve doing so. Furthermore, when Hillel realized that people were violating the halachos of shmittas kesafim, he instituted the pruzbul. Yet, no hint of avoiding shmittah by selling land to a gentile is ever mentioned, thus implying that there is halachic or hashkafic difficulty with this approach (Sefer Hashmittah pg. 82).

SELLING ERETZ YISROEL

In addition to the question of whether one should evade performing a mitzvah of the Torah, the issue of heter mechirah involves another tremendous halachic difficulty. How can one sell any land of Eretz Yisroel, when the Torah prohibits selling it to a non-Jew (Avodah Zarah 20a), and Chazal prohibit even renting the land (Mishnah, Avodah Zarah 20b)?

Different poskim have suggested various approaches to avoid this prohibition. Some contend that selling land temporarily, with an expressed condition that it return to the owner, preempts the violation (Shu’t Shemen Hamor, Yoreh Deah #4), while others permit the sale since its purpose is to assist the Jewish presence in Eretz Yisroel (Shu’t Yeshuos Malko, Yoreh Deah #55; Yalkut Yosef pg. 666, quoting Rav Reuven Katz, the late rav of Petach Tikvah). Others contend that the prohibition extends only to selling land to an idol-worshipper, but not to a gentile who does not worship idols (Sefer Hashmittah, pg. 74; Yalkut Yosef pg. 665, quoting Mizbei’ach Adamah), whereas still others maintain that one may sell land to a gentile who already owns land in Israel (Shabbas Ha’aretz, Mavo 12). The original contracts approved by the rabbonei Yerushalayim designed that sale to incorporate many aspects to avoid this concern (Sefer Hashemittah, pg. 75). However, each of these approaches is halachically controversial. In fact, the problem of selling the land to a gentile is so controversial that many poskim consider such a sale invalid because of the principle of ein shaliach lidvar aveirah, that transacting property through agency in a halachically unacceptable manner is invalid (Chazon Ish, Shvi’is 24:4).

Among contemporary poskim there is wide disagreement whether one may eat produce on the basis of heter mechirah. Some contend that one may, whereas others rule that both the produce and the pots used to cook this produce become non-kosher. Others follow a compromise position, accepting that the pots should not be considered non-kosher, although one should carefully avoid eating heter mechirah produce. Because of the halachic controversies involved, none of the major hechsherim in North America approve heter mechirah produce. Someone visiting Eretz Yisroel during shmittah who wants to maintain this standard should clarify his circumstances in advance.

FRUITS VERSUS VEGETABLES

Some rabbonim ruled that the fruits produced under heter mechirah may be treated as kosher, but not the vegetables. The reason for this distinction is as follows:

SEFICHIM

The Torah permitted the use of any produce that grew on its own in a field that was not worked during shmittah. Unfortunately, though, even in the days of Chazal, it was common to find Jews who deceitfully ignored shmittah laws. One practice of unscrupulous farmers was to plant grain or vegetables and market them as produce that grew on its own. To make certain that these farmers did not benefit from their misdeeds, Chazal forbade all grains and vegetables, even those that grew on their own, a prohibition called sefichim, or plants that sprouted.

Several exceptions were made, including that produce of a non-Jew’s field is not prohibited as sefichim. Thus, if the heter mechirah is considered a charade and not a valid sale, the grain and vegetables growing in a heter mechirah field are prohibited as sefichim.

WHY NOT FRUIT?

Chazal did not extend the prohibition of sefichim to fruit, because there was less incentive for a cheating farmer. Although trees definitely thrive when pruned and attended to, they will produce even if left unattended for a year. Thus, the farmer has less incentive to tend his trees.

PERENNIALS

Similarly, perennials that do not require planting every year are not included in the prohibition of sefichin. Although perennials benefit when pruned and cared for, most will produce, even if left unattended for a year, and the farmer has less incentive to violate shmittah by caring for such plants.

Thus, tree fruits, nuts, strawberries and bananas do not involve the prohibition of sefichin. If they grew in a field whose owner was not observing shmittah, they might involve the prohibition of shamur, as explained below.)

“GUARDED PRODUCE”

I mentioned above that a farmer must allow others to help themselves to the produce that grows on his trees and fields during shmittah. What is the halacha if a farmer refused to allow others access to his produce during shmittah?

The rishonim dispute whether this fruit is forbidden. Some contemporary poskim prohibit the use of heter mechirah fruit on the basis that since heter mechirah is invalid, this fruit is now considered shamur, “guarded,” and therefore forbidden. Other poskim permit the fruit, because they rule that working an orchard or treating it as private property does not prohibit its fruit (see Shu’t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 1:186).

BACK TO OUR CARROT MUFFINS

What about our carrot muffins? If we remember our original story, the company had unwittingly purchased heter mechirah carrots. The hechsher required the company to return all unopened boxes of carrots to the supplier and to find an alternative source. However, by the time I discovered the problem, muffin mix using these carrots had been produced bearing the hechsher’s kashrus symbol and had already been distributed. The hechsher referred the shaylah to its posek, askingwhether they were required to recall the product from the stores as non-kosher, or whether it was sufficient to advertise that an error occurred and allow the customer to ask his individual rav for halachic guidance.

What would you advise?

How Much Must I Bensch?

Question:

I mistakenly recited al hamichyah, when I was required to bensch. Am I now required to bensch?

Introduction

Prior to answering our opening question, we need to review many of the basic laws of brachos after eating, and their sources, which will help us understand the topic at hand. Parshas Eikev opens by teaching that when we observe all of Hashem’s mitzvos, we will be rewarded with a beautiful land. Shortly afterwards, the Torah continues: Ki Hashem Elokecha me’viacha el eretz tovah… eretz chitah u’se’orah vegefen u’se’einah verimon eretz zeis shemen u’devash. Eretz asher lo bemiskeinus tochal bah lechem, lo sechsar kol bah.“For Hashem, your G-d, is bringing you to a good land… a land of wheat and barley, grape vines, figs and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey. A land where you will eat bread without poverty; you will be missing nothing” (Devorim 8:7-9).

Bensching in the Torah

The Torah then continues: Ve’achalta ve’savata uveirachta es Hashem Elokecha al ha’aretz hatovah asher nosan loch, “And when you eat and are satisfied, you shall bless Hashem, your G-d, for the good land that He gave you.” This wording implies that we are required to bensch min haTorah only when a person has eaten enough to be fully satisfied, and this is the halachic opinion of most, but not all, rishonim. This law has halachic ramifications for someone who is uncertain whether he has a requirement to recite bensching. This uncertainty might be due to the fact that he does not remember if he bensched, or he was delayed and does not know if he has missed the time in which he can still bensch. When his doubt involves a possible Torah requirement, the rule is safeik de’oraysa lechumra, and he should recite bensching. However, if his question is regarding a rabbinic requirement, then the rule is safeik brachos lehakeil, and he does not recite the bracha acharonah. According to most rishonim, someone who ate a full meal and now is uncertain whether he is required to bensch should do so. If he ate less than a full meal, he does not bensch in case of doubt.

The requirement to recite a bracha acharonah after eating a snack is only miderabbanan. Therefore, if someone has a doubt whether he is required to recite this bracha, he does not, because of the rule of safeik brachos lehakeil.

Three aspects

The wording of the posuk that we should bless Hashem al ha’aretz hatovah asher nosan loch, “for the good land that He gave you,” implies that, in addition to thanking Hashem for providing us with sustenance, our bensching must include a reference to Hashem granting us Eretz Yisroel. Furthermore, the Gemara (Brachos 48b) derives that bensching must include reference to Yerushalayim and the Beis Hamikdash. These three aspects are represented in the first three brachos that we recite in our bensching. The first bracha is thanks for the fact that Hashem provides us, and the entire world, with food and sustenance. The second bracha praises Him for having given us Eretz Yisroel; and the third bracha is for the special gift of Yerushalayim and the Beis Hamikdash. Since, unfortunately, the Beis Hamikdash is now destroyed, the third bracha emphasizes our plea that Hashem have mercy on the land and rebuild it.

The Gemara explains that Moshe established the first bracha of bensching when the man first fell in the desert, Yehoshua established the second bracha of bensching when the Jews entered Eretz Yisroel, and Dovid Hamelech and Shelomoh Hamelech established the third bracha of bensching – Dovid establishing the reference to Yisroel and Yerushalayim, and Shelomoh adding the reference to the Beis Hamikdash (Brachos 48b).

Borei Nefashos

As we are all aware, other than the full bensching, there are two forms of bracha acharonah that we recite after we eat. One is a short bracha that begins with the words borei nefashos, which we recite after eating foods not mentioned in the above pesukim, including, but not exclusively, items upon which we recite the brachos of shehakol and ha’adamah. According to all opinions, this bracha is required only because of a takkanas chachomim, but is not included under the Torah’s mitzvah.

Bracha mei’ein shalosh

The other bracha, colloquially referred to as al hamichyah, is called in halachic sources bracha mei’ein shalosh, literally, a bracha that abbreviates three. This is because this bracha acharonah includes all three of the themes that are included in the posuk, similar to the full bensching. The difference is that in al hamichya, each theme does not have its own separate bracha, whereas in the full bensching that we recite after eating bread, each theme does.

There are three types of bracha mei’ein shalosh. We recite most frequently al hamichyah, the version that is said after eating grain products other than bread. This bracha is derived from the fact that the Torah praises Eretz Yisroel as “a land of wheat and barley.” Although there are also three other grains upon which we recite al hamichyah, namely spelt, rye and oats, these three are considered halachically as sub-categories of wheat and barley.

The second version of bracha mei’ein shalosh, al ha’eitz, is recited after eating olives, dates, grapes, figs, and pomegranates, all of which are also included in these pesukim. The order I chose, which has halachic significance, is not the order of the posuk, but reflects the proximity of each fruit to the word eretz in the posuk.

Although dates are not mentioned explicitly, the honey referred to in the posuk is date honey, not bee honey. (Silan, or date syrup, often used today as a natural, although not dietetic, sweetener, is similar to date honey. Silan is usually produced by cooking dates into syrup, whereas date honey in earlier days was produced simply by crushing dates.)

The third version of the bracha mei’ein shalosh is recited after drinking wine or grape juice, also alluded to in the posuk as the product of grapes. This is the only instance in which we recite bracha mei’ein shalosh after consuming a beverage. It is a reflection of the prominence we give wine, also evidenced by such mitzvos as kiddush and havdalah, and the fact that wine is used for such ceremonies as weddings, sheva brachos, brissin and pidyon haben.

These three versions are not mutually exclusive. Someone who ate grain products and fruit includes both texts in his bracha, as does someone who ate grain products and wine. Someone who ate all three “special” foods recites a bracha that includes all three references.

We should note that, since the Torah mentions all these varieties of food, there are rishonim who contend that the requirement to recite a bracha after consuming them is min haTorah. There are many halachic ramifications that result from this issue; however, that sub-topic requires its own article.

Fourth bracha

Our full bensching also has a fourth bracha, which is usually referred to as Hatov vehameitiv, which was added to the bensching by Chazal after the destruction that took place in Beitar, two generations after the churban (Brachos 48b). We will leave discussing the details of that topic for a different time, but I want to point out that this explains why this theme is not mentioned in the bracha of al hamichyah. When Chazal added this bracha, they added it only to the full bensching and not to the abbreviated version that is al hamichyah.

Harachaman

Common custom is to add a long list of general requests (Avudraham, Seder Birchas Hamazon) followed by a recital of several pesukim, after the fourth bracha of bensching. The origin for this practice is a passage of Gemara (Brachos 46a) that quotes a text that a guest should recite to bless his host. There, the Gemara quotes a basic bracha and then notes that others added to it. Based on this background, the Rambam (Hilchos Brachos 2:7) teaches that a guest can freely add to this blessing, and this has generated various additional texts to this bracha.

In his monumental work, Even Ha’azel, Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer notes that, according to the Rambam, the prayer of the guest for the host is an addendum to the fourth bracha of bensching. It would appear that, in the Rambam’s opinion, a person should not answer “amen” when a guest recites the words leolam al yechasreinu, since he has not yet completed his bracha until he blesses the host. This approach is not accepted, practically. The opinion of other halachic authorities (Avudraham, Seder Birchas Hamazon) as well as prevailing custom is to recite the blessing for the host a bit later in the bensching, after other prayers beginning with word Harachaman have already been expressed.

With time, many other requests were added to the bensching. Some individuals follow the practice of the Gra and recite these prayers only on weekdays, but not on Shabbos and Yom Tov when we generally do not make personal prayer requests, although theaccepted halachic practice is to recite these prayers and blessings on Shabbos, also.

Three brachos or one?

We noted above that the Torah requires the mention of three topics in our bensching, (1) thanks for sustenance, (2) thanks for the Land of Israel, and (3) a prayer for Yerushalayim and the Beis Hamikdash. However, it is disputed whether the Torah requires that each of these three themes have its own bracha, and that bensching min haTorah must contain at least three different brachos, or whether the Torah requirement is fulfilled by reciting one bracha that emphasizes the three different themes, and reciting three different brachos is only a rabbinic requirement.

There are several differences in practical halacha that result from this dispute.  One obvious difference is that, although one is certainly required to recite all the brachos of bensching, according to one approach, this requirement is only miderabbanan,whereas, according to the other approach, reciting three brachos is required min haTorah. We will soon see other halachic differences that result from this dispute.

This question, whether bensching min haTorah must contain at least three different brachos, or whether the Torah requirement is fulfilled by reciting one bracha, is the subject of a dispute between Tosafos and the Rambam. The opinion of Tosafos is stated in his comments germane to the following topic, to which I provide an introduction:

There is a general Talmudic assumption that a worker who is hired for a day is required to work a full day, and that taking time to check his personal email or to make a phone call violates his contractual obligation to his employer. (In today’s world, when it is assumed that a worker may take an occasional coffee break, presumably one may take time off that is assumed to be included in one’s work schedule. However, doing anything else at the time that a person is obligated to work for someone is certainly forbidden.)

In this context, the Gemara (Brachos 16a) quotes the following beraisa:

“Hired workers are required to read the Shema and to pray. When they eat bread, they are not required to recite a bracha before eating, but after eating they are required to recite two brachos. Which two brachos do they recite? The first bracha of bensching is recited in its usual fashion. The second bracha begins the way it usually begins, but includes the third bracha.” In other words, the Gemara assumes that the worker’s responsibility to his employer is more important than his requirement to recite the full bensching!

Tosafos, there, notes: “Although reciting both the second and third bracha is required min haTorah, the Sages have the ability to uproot a Torah requirement for the benefit of these workers, who are occupied with performing the work of their employer.” In order to explain how a worker is permitted to omit a bracha of the bensching, Tosafos utilizes a halachic principle called yeish koach be’yad chachomim la’akor davar min haTorah, that the Sages have the ability to “uproot” a law of the Torah, when deemed necessary. It is clear that Tosafos assumes that the requirement to recite three brachos is min haTorah.

In his monumental anthology, in which he gathers all the earlier halachic opinions, the Beis Yosef (Orach Chayim 191) indeed quotes Tosafos’ approach, but then disagrees, contending that there is no need to apply the principle of yeish koach be’yad chachomim la’akor davar min haTorah in this case. To quote the Beis Yosef: “It appears to me that there is no need for this answer, since there is no requirement min haTorah to recite several brachos to fulfill the mitzvah of birchas hamazon. This can be demonstrated from the words of the Rambam in his Sefer Hamitzvos, in which he writes: ‘The nineteenth mitzvah is that we are commanded to bless Him after eating.’ The Rambam makes no mention that there is a Torah requirement to recite several brachos. Notwithstanding that the Gemara derives the requirement of three brachos from verses, these derivations are only asmachta (which means that the requirement to do so is only rabbinic).”

In other words, although one is required min haTorah to mention all three themes, there is no Torah requirement that each theme have its own bracha. That requirement is only rabbinic. Since Chazal were the source of the requirement to recite three brachos for bensching, they had the ability to dispense with the requirement to recite all three brachos in the case of the hired worker. Thus, in the Beis Yosef’s opinion, whether three brachos are required min haTorah is a dispute between Tosafos and the Rambam, and the halacha follows the Rambam’s approach,that the requirement to recite three brachos is only miderabbanan. Those who disagree with the Rambam and contend that all three brachos are required min haTorah will be forced to find a way of explaining why the workers are exempt from reciting a full bensching, and will probably have to follow Tosafos’ difficult approach to resolve the conundrum.

It is significant that the Bach, in his commentary on the same chapter of Tur Orach Chayim,agrees that the Rambam rules that the requirement to recite three brachos for bensching is not min haTorah, but contends that his opinion is the minority. The Bach concludes that Tosafos’ approach is the primary one. In other words, both the Beis Yosef and the Bach recognize that there is a dispute among the rishonim whether we are required min haTorah to recite three brachos for bensching; they dispute regarding which of these approaches is considered the normative halacha.

Al hamichyah

Here is another practical difference that results from this dispute: According to the Beis Yosef, someone who recited al hamichyah when he was required to recite the full bensching has fulfilled his requirement min haTorah, although he has not fulfilled his requirement miderabbanan. A ramification of this will be that if he recited al hamichyah and he has a safeik whether he is required to recite the entire bensching, he will neither be required nor permitted to recite the full bensching. Since he has fulfilled his Torah requirement and what remains is an unresolved question regarding a rabbinic requirement, the rule of safeik brachos lehakeil applies.

However, according to the Bach, someone who recited al hamichyah when he was required to recite the full bensching may be missing a Torah requirement to recite three brachos.  This could mean that the rule of safeik de’oraysa lechumra applies, and he is required to repeat the bensching.

Uncertain identity

This analysis may explain exactly such a dispute between the Beis Yosef and the Bach that appears in a different context (Orach Chayim 168). The question concerns a food about which there is an unresolved question whether it is considered regular bread, requiring full bensching, or whether its bracha is mezonos, after which one should recite al hamichyah. The Beis Yosef appears to hold that one may eat the food and recite al hamichyah afterwards, whereas the Bach does not permit this approach, insisting that such a food should be eaten only as part of a regular bread meal in which hamotzi and full bensching were recited for the regular bread. Apparently, the Beis Yosef considers al hamichyah to be a type of bensching, whereas the Bach rejects this approach, which implies that they are consistently following the positions that each advocated in chapter 191.

Before we close, let us return to our opening question, which we can now resolve:

“I mistakenly recited al hamichyah, when I was required to bensch. Am I now required to bensch?”

The answer is that in this instance, one is required to bensch to fulfill the recitation of the three brachos that Chazal instituted. However, if there is a safeik whether there is a requirement to bensch, then, according to the Beis Yosef, since one has already fulfilled his Torah obligation by reciting al hamichyah, there is neither a requirement, nor should one bensch.

Conclusion

According to the Gemara (Bava Kamma 30a), someone who desires to become exemplary in his spiritual behavior should toil in understanding the laws of brachos. By investing energy in understanding the details of how we praise Hashem, we realize the importance of each aspect of that praise, and how we must recognize that everything we have is a gift from Him.

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