Post-Shmittah Awareness for the Eretz Yisroel and Chutz La’Aretz Consumer

If you are in Eretz Yisroel, you should be receiving this article on Parshas Behar. If you are in chutz la’aretz, you are receiving it the same week, but a parshah earlier.

 

How can we pass Parshas Behar immediately following a shmittah year without discussing the laws of shmittah? Yet many chutz la’aretz residents see no need to learn these laws, assuming that locally available produce is never affected.

Well — guess again. Although, according to the halacha, one may not export shmittah produce outside Israel (Mishnah Shvi’is 6:5), much produce finds its way there. And, even in chutz la’aretz, we must treat fruit of Eretz Yisroel with kedushas shvi’is, according to all of the laws we will now discuss.

Situation #1: WHAT A ROAST!!

Traditional English Sunday roast with Yorkshire pudding and summer vegetables macro close up isolated on white

When I was a rav in America, a knowledgeable housewife cooked a delectable roast, using wine whose label indicated that it had kedushas shvi’is. Although she had no idea what this term meant, her son pointed out that they needed to ask a shaylah what to do with the roast. To make a long story short, the entire roast had to be treated with kedushas shvi’is; I will soon explain what this means.

Situation #2: WHAT ARE SEFICHIN?

“I noticed a sign in shul that the fruits and vegetables in the local supermarket are from Israel and must be treated appropriately. Someone told me that the vegetables are prohibited because they are sefichin. What does that mean?”

Situation #3: WHAT WOULD YOU RULE?

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.”

First, let us discuss the basics:

LAWS OF THE LAND

In this week’s parsha, the Torah (VaYikra 25:1-7) teaches that every seventh year is shmittah; we are prohibited from working the land of Eretz Yisroel and must leave our land fallow (Avodah Zarah 15b). Just as observing the seventh day, Shabbos, demonstrates our belief in the Creator, so too, observing every seventh year as shmittah demonstrates this faith. The landowner must treat whatever grows as ownerless, allowing others to enter his field or orchard to pick and take its produce. The picker may take as much as his family will eat, and the landowner himself also may take this amount (see Rambam, Hil. Shmittah 4:1).

LAWS OF THE FRUIT

Although shmittah observance today is mandated only miderabbanan (see Moed Katan 2b; Chazon Ish, Shvi’is 3:8), nevertheless, most of its laws are the same as they will be when observing shmittah will again become a mitzvah min hatorah. The Torah imbues shmittah produce with special sanctity, called kedushas shvi’is, declaring vihaysa shabbas ha’aretz lochem le’ochlah, “the produce of the shmittah should be used only for food” (VaYikra 25:6). According to accepted opinion, one is not obligated to eat shmittah food – rather, the Torah grants us permission to eat it, and we must treat it accordingly (Chazon Ish, Hil. Shvi’is 14:10). There is much halachic detail involved in correct use of shmittah produce. For example:

  1. One may not sell shmittah produce in a business manner (Rambam, Hil. Shmittah 6:1). Although one may pick shmittah produce for one’s personal consumption, one may not harvest it to sell commercially (Tosefta, Shvi’is 5:7).
  2. One may not export shmittah produce outside Eretz Yisroel (Mishnah Shvi’is 6:5). There are opinions that allow exporting shmittah wine and esrogim; however, the rationales permitting this are beyond the scope of this article (Beis Ridbaz 5:18; Tzitz HaKodesh, Volume 1 #15:4).

III. Shmittah produce is intended for Jewish consumption; you may not give or sell kedushas shvi’is produce to a gentile, although you may allow him to join you for your meal (Rambam, Hil. Shmittah 5:13 and Mahari Korkos ad loc.).

  1. If one trades or sells the shmittah produce, the food or money received in exchange also has kedushas shvi’is (Sukkah 40b). (Because of space constraints, I will leave details of these halachos for another time.)
  2. One may not ruin shmittah produce (Gemara Pesachim 52b).

What types of “ruining” did the Torah prohibit? One may not cook foods that are usually eaten raw, nor may one eat raw produce that is usually cooked (Yerushalmi, Shvi’is 8:2; Rambam, Hil. Shvi’is 5:3). Therefore, one may not eat raw shmittah potatoes, nor may one cook shmittah cucumbers or oranges. Contemporary authorities dispute whether one may add shmittah orange or apricot to a recipe for roast or cake. Even though the roast or cake is delicious because of the added fruit, many poskim prohibit this cooking or baking, since these fruit are usually eaten raw (Shu”t Mishpat Cohen #85). Others permit this, if it is a usual way of eating these fruits (Mishpetei Aretz page 172, footnote 10).

One may feed shmittah produce to animals only if it is not considered fit for human consumption. This includes varieties grown for fodder, as well as peels and seeds that people do not usually eat (Rambam, Hilchos Shmittah 5:5). A neighbor of mine, whose finicky pet turtle prefers to eat lettuce, had a problem what to feed it. Before shmittah he was trying to get it to eat grass, but the turtle preferred lettuce. Oi, is shver tzu zein a turtle!

Similarly, juicing vegetables and most kinds of fruit is considered “ruining” the shmittah produce and prohibited, although one may press grapes, olives and lemons, since the juice and oil of these fruits are considered improvements. Many contemporary authorities permit pressing oranges and grapefruits, provided one treats the remaining pulp with kedushas shvi’is. Even these authorities prohibit juicing most other fruit, such as apples and pears (Minchas Shelomoh, Shvi’is pg. 185).

RUINING VERSUS EATING

How do we determine whether processing a food “ruins” it or not? Many poskim contend that if the processing changes the food’s preferred bracha, one may not perform such processing on shvi’is produce (Shu”t Mishpat Cohen #85, based on Gemara Brachos 38a and Rambam, Hilchos Shvi’is 5:3). Since turning apples to juice reduces their bracha from ha’eitz to shehakol, this would be considered “ruining” the apples. Similarly, the fact that one recites the bracha of shehakol prior to eating a raw potato or cooked cucumbers or oranges demonstrates that treating them this way ruins the produce. According to this approach, one may not press oranges or grapefruits either, since one recites shehakol and not ha’eitz on the juice (Shu”t Mishpat Cohen #85).

Those who permit squeezing oranges and grapefruits apply a different criterion, contending that since this is the most common use of these fruit, it is permitted (Minchas Shelomoh, Shvi’is pg. 185).

One must certainly be careful not to actively destroy shmittah produce. Therefore, one who has excess shvi’is produce may not trash it in the usual way. Similarly, peels that are commonly eaten, such as cucumber or apple, still have shmittah kedusha and may not simply be discarded. Instead, contemporary practice is to place these peels in a plastic bag and then place the bag in a small bin or box called a pach shvi’is, where it remains until the food is inedible. When it decomposes to this extent, one may dispose of the shmittah produce in the regular garbage.

When eating shmittah food, one need not be concerned about the remaining bits stuck to a pot or an adult’s plate that one usually just washes off; one may wash these pots and plates without concern that one is destroying shmittah produce. However, the larger amounts left behind by children, or leftovers that people might save should not be disposed in the garbage, but should be scraped into the shmittah bin.

WHY DECOMPOSE?

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

Indeed it does. Kedushas shvi’is means that as long as the food is still edible, one may not make it inedible or use it atypically. This is because shmittah food is meant to be eaten, even though there is no requirement to do so. However, once the shmittah food is inedible, it loses its special status, and may be disposed of as trash.

SANCTITY UNTIL SPOILAGE

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

Although the concept that decay eliminates sanctity seems unusual, this is only because we are unfamiliar with the mitzvos where this principle applies. Other mitzvos where this concept exists are terumah, challah, bikkurim, revai’i and maaser sheini, all cases where, in today’s world, we, unfortunately, cannot consume the produce because we are tamei (Rambam, Hilchos Terumos Chapter 11; Hilchos Maaser Sheini 3:11). Of these types of produce that are holy, but meant to be eaten, only shvi’is may be eaten by someone tamei. Even though someone tamei may not consume tahor terumah, challah, or maaser sheini, in these cases, as well, one may not dispose of or burn them. Instead, one must place them in a secure place until they decay and only then dispose of them (Tur, Yoreh Deah 331). (We burn the special challah portion after separating it only because it has become tamei. If it did not become tamei, we could not destroy the challah portion, but we would place it somewhere until it decays on its own, just as we do with unused shvi’is produce.)

A SHMITTAH ROAST IN AMERICA

We can now explore the first question I mentioned:

1a: May one use shmittah wine to season a roast?

Although one improves the roast by adding the wine, the wine itself is ruined. Thus, some poskim prohibit using the wine in this way, whereas others permit it, since this is a normal use for wine (see commentaries to Yerushalmi, Terumos 11:1).

1b: What does our American housewife do with her shmittah wine-flavored roast?

If one uses shmittah food as an ingredient, one must treat everything that absorbs its taste according to the laws of kedushas shvi’is (see Mishnah Shvi’is 7:7). Therefore, one who used shmittah potatoes in cholent or shmittah onions or bay leaves in soup must treat the entire cholent or soup according to shvi’is rules. One may not actively waste this food, nor may one feed any of it to animals, until the food is spoiled to the point that people would not eat it.

Therefore, our housewife who added shmittah wine to her roast must now consider the entire roast, even the gravy and vegetables cooked with it, to have kedushas shvi’is. One serves the roast in the regular way. As mentioned above, the small scrapings left on an adult’s plate may be washed off; but the larger amounts left behind by children should not be disposed of in the garbage, nor should the leftovers in the pot or on the platter.

Although one may not dispose of the leftover kedushas shvi’is roast in the garbage, it is unclear whether one may remove these leftovers from the refrigerator in order to hasten their decay, even to place them in a shmittah bin (see Chazon Ish, Shvi’is 14:10). However, if one removed leftover roast to serve, one is not required to return the leftovers to the refrigerator. Instead, one may simply place the leftovers somewhere until they have spoiled. To avoid the malodor that this may cause, one may place them in a plastic bag until they decay and then dispose of them.

SEFICHIN

At this point, we should address the second question I mentioned:

“I noticed a sign in shul that the some fruits and vegetables in the local supermarket are from Israel and must be treated appropriately. Someone told me that the vegetables are prohibited, because they are sefichin. What does that mean?”

The Torah permits the use of any produce that grew during shmittah by itself, without anyone working the field. However, an unfortunate fact is that, even in the days of Chazal, one could find Jews who deceitfully ignored shmittah laws. One practice of unscrupulous farmers was to plant grain or vegetables, and then 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 by themselves, a prohibition called sefichin, or plants that sprouted. Sefichin are treated as non-kosher food and forbidden to eat, even requiring one to kasher the equipment if they were cooked!

Chazal made several exceptions to this rule, including that produce of a non-Jew’s field is not prohibited as sefichin.

Since Shmittah fruits and vegetables may be sold only to someone who will properly observe the laws, and, also, there is a prohibition of shipping this produce outside Eretz Yisroel, the growers of the Shmittah produce being sold in an American grocery presumably ignored the prohibition of Shmittah. There is also the possibility that they relied on heter mechirah, a topic that I dealt with extensively in a different article.

As a practical matter, few contemporary chareidi poskim permit heter mechirah, and, even among non-chareidi authorities, support for its use is waning. 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 sefichin.

WHY NOT FRUIT?

Chazal included in the prohibition of sefichin only crops that could be planted and yield a harvest in one year. They did not extend the prohibition of sefichin to tree fruits and other perennial crops, such as bananas and strawberries, because there was less incentive for a cheating farmer. Although trees definitely thrive when pruned and cared for, they will produce, even if left unattended for a year. Thus, the farmer has less incentive to tend his trees.

“GUARDED PRODUCE”

I mentioned above that a farmer must allow others free access to help themselves to any produce that grows on his trees and fields during shmittah. What is the halacha if a farmer treats this produce as his own and refuses access to it during shmittah?

The Rishonim dispute whether this will make the fruit forbidden. Some late poskim permit the fruit, because they rule that the forbidden working of an orchard or treating it as private property does not prohibit its fruit (see Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 1:186). Others rule that one should prohibit “guarded fruit.”

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 the problem was discovered, muffin mix using these carrots had already been produced and distributed, bearing the hechsher’s kashrus symbol. The hechsher referred the shaylah to its posek, asking whether they were required to recall the product from the stores as non-kosher, or whether it was sufficient to advertise that an error had occurred, advising the customer to ask his individual rav for halachic guidance. The posek asked permitted them to follow the latter procedure.

For someone living in Eretz Yisroel, observing shmittah properly involves assuming much halachic responsibility, education and often great commitment, since shmittah-permitted produce is often many times more expensive than its alternative. Those living in chutz la’aretz should be aware of the halachos of shvi’is and identify with this demonstration that the Ribbono Shel Olam created the world in seven days, and that the seventh year is holy.

 

Mixed Breeds

muleQuestion: Mule Inventors

“Who invented, or should I say ‘discovered,’ the mule?”

Question: The Hybrid or the Hybridization?

“Is it permitted to use the product of a prohibited hybridization (crossbreeding) of animals?”

Question: Buy me a Mule!

“May I purchase a mule from a gentile? May I hire him to produce it for me?”

Question: Crossbreeding Pro

“Before I became frum, I was well experienced at hybridizing and raising crossbred birds. Is there any way that I can use this skill to earn a livelihood, now that I have become a baal teshuvah?”

Question: Roommates

“Is the zoo permitted to house different species together?”

Introduction:

Two mitzvos of the Torah deal with the mixing of animal species. In parshas Kedoshim, the Torah teaches: Behemtecha lo sarbia kil’ayim, “Do not crossbreed your animal” (Vayikra 19:19). This prohibition applies to beheimah, usually translated as domesticated species; chayah, usually but somewhat inaccurately translated as wild or non-domesticated* species; birds; and sea chayos, such as sea mammals (Mishnah, Baba Kama 54b and Gemara 55a). Violating this proscription is punishable by malkus, as is true for most lo saaseh violations of the Torah, but only if one mates them physically. Encouraging the mating process less directly is prohibited and is the source of a dispute between early authorities whether it is prohibited min haTorah (Drishah, Yoreh Deah 297:1) or only miderabbanan (Taz, ad locum). It is permitted to house two species together, and one has no requirement to separate them if they mate on their own (Yerushalmi Kelayim 8:2, quoted by Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 297:3). (Those checking the references should note that there are two chapters in Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah numbered 297, and the laws we are discussing are in the second of those chapters.)

Lo Sacharosh

There is also another mitzvah of the Torah, mentioned in the context of Kelayim prohibitions in parshas Ki Seitzei: Lo sacharosh beshor uvachamor yachdav, You may not plough with an ox and a donkey together (Devorim 22:10). This mitzvah prohibits working two species of animals together. According to the opinion of the Rambam, the Torah prohibition of this law is violated only when one species is kosher and the other is non-kosher – other circumstances are prohibited, only because of a rabbinic injunction. Other authorities dispute this ruling of the Rambam, contending that working two species together is prohibited min haTorah, even when both are kosher or both are non-kosher. There is much to discuss about this topic, but we will leave it for a different article.

Which species?

The Mishnah (Kelayim 1:6) lists several combinations of species that one may not crossbreed, such as wolves and dogs, or mules and donkeys, and the Gemara (Bava Kama 55a) notes several other examples, including two varieties of geese where some physical differences determine that they are different species for halachic purposes. On the other hand, the Gemara (Bava Kama 55a) mentions that Persian camels and Arabian camels are not Kelayim together, even though the length of the neck of the two breeds are noticeably different. Furthermore, the Rambam rules that a species with wild and domesticated varieties, such as wild and domesticated oxen or horses, may be crossbred, even when the domesticated variety has some obvious differences from the wild variety (Rambam, Hilchos Kelayim 9:5).

We are left with a question: how does halachah define what is considered a variety of a species versus what is considered a different species? One may crossbreed or work together two animals that are considered two different varieties, but one may not crossbreed or work together two animals that halachah considers different species. However, the Mishnah never provides defining characteristics that we can use. It is also interesting to note that the Gemara (Bava Kama 55a) states that even two species that freely mate together in the wild may not be hybridized. Thus, an animal’s social life, also, does not determine what is considered its species.

Rashi on the mule

At the end of parshas Vayishlach, the Torah recounts how Anah, Sei’ir Hachori’s grandson, shepherded donkeys for his father, and, while doing so, discovered yeimim (Bereishis 36:24), which Rav Saadia Gaon, Rashi and others translate as mules. Rashi and the Ibn Ezra explain that Anah’s “discovery” means he developed the science of crossbreeding a male donkey (called a jackass) and a mare (a female horse) which produces a mule. (See the Targum Onkelos and the Ramban, who explain the verse very differently.) Rashi explains that Anah, who himself descended from a scandalous relationship, was the first to crossbreed two different species, also a scandalous act.

This statement of Rashi presents two questions:

  1. What is wrong with Anah having crossbred donkeys and horses? This is not one of the seven Noahide laws.
  2. Rashi’s comment that Anah was the first to create a mule implies that this was a newfangled “invention” and not yet commonly used. Yet Rashi himself, in parshas Tolados, mentions that when Yitzchak became well respected, people said that “the manure of Yitzchak’s mules is more valuable than Avimelech’s gold and silver” (Bereishis 26:13). Obviously, this means that mules were commonplace in the days of Yitzchak. Can both of these statements of Rashi be accurate?

Furthermore, the statement of Rashi in parshas Tolados presents yet another question, since it implies that it is not considered unbecoming to mention that Yitzchak owned mules, notwithstanding the fact that the Torah prohibits a Jew from producing them. Why, then, are Anah’s mules considered to be so scandalous?

To answer the question why Rashi criticizes Anah for creating mules, when a ben Noach is permitted to crossbreed animals, we need some broader Talmudic background.

Bnei Noach and crossbreeding

Although the seven mitzvos are the most basic mitzvah requirements that apply to bnei Noach, there are other mitzvos that apply to them, at least according to some opinions. Some tanna’im rule that the laws prohibiting sorcery apply to them, and others understand that they are prohibited from grafting one species onto the rootstock of a different species.

There is a tanna, Rabbi Elazar, who contends that bnei Noach are forbidden to crossbreed animals of different species, even though this prohibition is not treated as severely as are the seven mitzvos (Sanhedrin 56b). The Gemara (Sanhedrin 60a) explains that Rabbi Elazar derives that bnei Noach are forbidden to crossbreed animals from  the pasuk (partially quoted above), Es chukosai tishmoru behemtecha lo sarbia kil’ayim (Vayikra 19:19), which Rabbi Elazar interprets to mean, “You should be careful to observe the laws that I previously prohibited: Do not breed your animals — one species with another!” However, there is no previous place in the Torah where we are commanded not to crossbreed animals. Rabbi Elazar reasons that this must mean that when Noach left the teivah and was commanded concerning other laws, he was also told that he may not crossbreed animals. Thus, it would appear that when Rashi, in our parshah, bemoans Anah’s activities, he is assuming the halachah is as understood by Rabbi Elazar that all of mankind is prohibited from crossbreeding two species.

Halachic conclusion

The Rambam rules that a ben Noach is prohibited from crossbreeding animals (Hilchos Melachim 10:6). According to his approach, Rashi’s comments about Anah introducing something forbidden into the world are halachically accurate.

Asking a gentile

May one ask or hire a gentile to create hybrid animals? According to the Rambam, who rules according to Rabbi Elazar, this is certainly prohibited, because one is thereby causing a gentile to violate the Torah (Drishah).

The authorities conclude that asking or hiring a non-Jew to crossbreed is prohibited, even according to those who disagree with Rabbi Elazar and contend that a gentile is permitted to crossbreed. The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 297:4), as understood by most authorities, prohibits having a gentile crossbreed for a Jew, because of the prohibition of having a gentile perform something that a Jew is not permitted to do myself, which is called amirah lenachri (Rema, Shach and others, based on Bava Metzia 90a).

There is a difference in halachah that results from the dispute why one may not hire a gentile to crossbreed for you. May one teach a gentile how to crossbreed animals for the gentile’s benefit (see Shach, Yoreh Deah 297:4)? According to the Rambam, this is prohibited, since one will be teaching him to do something that he may not do. However, according to those who contend that a gentile may crossbreed animals, it is permitted to advise or instruct the gentile how to do so, even if he uses a Jew’s animals, since he is not doing so in order to benefit a Jew.

Crossbreeding pro

At this point, we can address another one of our opening questions: “Before I became frum, I was well experienced at hybridizing and raising crossbred birds. Is there any way that I can use this skill to earn a livelihood, now that I have become a baal teshuvah?”

The answer is that one can practice breeding of the same species, assuming one can figure out what is considered the same species according to halachah. Whether one can be paid to train a gentile how to crossbreed two different species will depend on the above-quoted dispute. It would appear that the Shach rules that one may, whereas the Derishah and others prohibit. I refer an individual with this question to his own rav or posek.

Using a hybrid

Whether we rule according to Rabbi Elazar or the differing tanna, the halachah remains that even when an animal is created by prohibited hybridization, one may benefit from the crossbred animal (Taz, Yoreh Deah 297:2). Even according to Rabbi Elazar, one may purchase a mule, once it has been produced, and use it, and even a person who violated the halachah and created a mule may use it. Thus, Yitzchak may have purchased many mules to assist him, and the fact that people praised the quality of Yitzchak’s mules is not disturbing.

The beefalo

Relatively recently, a new hybrid was developed, which is a cross between the ordinary beef cattle and a North American bison, which Americans colloquially call a buffalo. Is it permitted to make this crossbreed? One major authority contends that whether one may crossbreed buffalo and cattle depends on whether one is required to perform kisuy hadam, the mitzvah of covering the blood of shechitah, after slaughtering a buffalo. Kisuy hadam is required only on fowl and chayos but not on beheimos, such as cattle. If there is no requirement to perform kisuy hadam on buffalo, this demonstrates that it is considered a beheimah. Since there are only three species of beheimah — sheep, goats, and cattle, then ruling that a buffalo does not require kisuy hadam means that halachah considers it to be a beheimah, and, if it is a beheimah, the process of elimination proves that it must be considered a variety of cattle, since it is certainly not a sheep or a goat.

Sefardim, Ashkenazim and buffalos

Is kisuy hadam required on a buffalo? This is a dispute between the Shulchan Aruch and the Rema, the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 28:4) concluding that there is no requirement to perform kisuy hadam, whereas the Rema rules that one should do so without a brocha  since we are uncertain whether it is considered a chayah. The Aruch Hashulchan (Yoreh Deah 297:8) notes that this dispute between the Shulchan Aruch and the Rema will also affect whether one is permitted to crossbreed buffalo with ordinary cattle, since the Shulchan Aruch, by concluding that it is a beheimah, must hold that they are halachically considered to be the same species. On the other hand, since the Rema is concerned that buffalo might be a variety of chayah, one would not be permitted to crossbreed it with cattle.

Halachic conclusion: According to the Aruch Hashulchan, a Sefardi would be permitted to crossbreed buffalo with cattle, and an Ashkenazi would not.

Who invented the mule?

Was Anah the first one to create a mule, or did it precede him?

The Gemara (Pesachim 54a) cites a dispute among three tanna’im regarding who created the first mule. According to Rabbi Yosi, Adam created the first mule on the first motza’ei Shabbos of Creation. Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel disagrees, contending that Anah created the first mule. In a different beraisa, the Gemara quotes Rabbi Nechemiah, who contended that mules were created by Hashem at the very end of the Six Days of Creation. The passage Rashi quotes in parshas Vayishlach is indeed originally from Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel, in the Gemara. However, when Rashi in parshas Tolados quotes the Bereishis Rabbah about Yitzchok’s mules, presumably that passage accords with one of the other opinions among the tanna’im, who date the creation of the mule much earlier.

By the way, it is possible that Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel accepts the essence of the statement about Yitzchok, but simply does not include the word mules in his version. Tosafos (Bava Metzia 85a) quotes the Midrash Rabbah that Rashi quotes in parshas Tolados, but with one change: In his version, people complimented the manure of Yitzchok’s animals, rather than specifically his mules. This approach would reflect the opinion of Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel.

Meet the mule

Although most people use the term mule to refer both to the offspring of a stallion (male horse) and a jenny (female donkey) and to the offspring of a jackass (male donkey) and a mare (female horse), this is technically inaccurate. A mule is the offspring of a jackass and a mare. The offspring of a stallion and a jenny is called a hinny. However, Chazal use the word pered to describe either a mule or a hinny; a mule is called pered ben susya, the offspring of a mare (see Chullin 114b) and a hinny is called pered ben chamorah, the offspring of a jenny. (The word pered, itself, is of Tanachic origin — for example, Avshalom rode on a pered — but there is no indication in Tanach regarding its specific parental origin.)

There are visible differences between a mule and a hinny, particularly in the appearance of their ears, tail and voice (Chullin 79a). Mankind has found mules useful, because they are very strong and often easier to train and work with than horses, and withstand difficult hardships better than do horses.

On the other hand, hinnies are sometimes no more useful than donkeys, and sometimes have a reputation for being of difficult temperament. In size and strength, they usually approximate donkeys. Since they are usually no more useful than donkeys, and they are virtually always sterile, it is far less common for farmers to breed them. In general, neither mules nor hinnies produce offspring, although there are anecdotal instances of female mules reproducing after mating with stallions or jackasses.

One is permitted to mate a male mule with a female one (Rambam, Hilchos Kelayim 9:6). However, whether one may mate a mule and a hinny is the subject of a dispute among tanna’im (Chullin 79a). The Rambam (Hilchos Kelayim 9:6) and the Shulchan Aruch rule that this is prohibited, just as it is prohibited to breed animals of different species. This is prohibited, even though it is almost certain that this match will not produce offspring.

Difference between pered and mule

Now that we are well educated about the difference between a mule and a hinny, we can answer another of our opening questions: “What is the difference between the Hebrew pered and the mule?” The answer is that the word pered is used by Chazal to mean either a mule or a hinny. Rashi, on the verse in parshas Vayishlach, says clearly that Anah crossbred a male donkey with a female horse, which means that he created a mule.

Conclusion

Speaking of mules reminds me of the passage of Gemara (Bechoros 8b) that recounts a puzzling conversation that transpired between the scholars of Athens and the tanna Rabbi Yehoshua. The Athenians asked Rabbi Yehoshua: “When salt spoils, with what do you salt it?” To this, Rabbi Yehoshua answered, “With the afterbirth of a mule.” They then asked him, “Does a mule have an afterbirth?” To this he replied, “Does salt spoil?”

What is meant by this short but very enigmatic debate?

The Athenian scholars were challenging the fact that the Jews maintain that we will eventually be redeemed. The scholars claimed: “You Jews did not keep your end of the deal with G-d, and therefore your deal is abrogated. Indeed, it was to have been a covenant forever, like salt, but your salt spoiled!”

To this, Rabbi Yehoshua replied: “Our children (our afterbirth) continue to study Torah, and that is our guarantee.”

The Athenians retorted: “But you are a mule. You do not have a future that will have a relationship with G-d.”

Rabbi Yehoshua responded: “You are mistaken. You claim that our covenant with Hashem is abrogated. This is not true. Salt does not spoil, and our covenant with Hashem is forever!” (See Commentary of the Vilna Geon to Aggados Hashas.)

* The Gemara (Chullin 59b) mentions several characteristics that distinguish beheimos from chayos, mostly dependent on the animal’s horns. Reindeer, although domesticated, are clearly chayos since they have branched antlers, whereas there are non-domesticated species that are almost certainly categorized as beheimah.

 

Bnei Noach and Korbanos

Question #1: Rite or Wrong?

“My neighbor is not Jewish and believes in G-d, but she has rejected any of the existent organized religions. She often burns incense, which she learned about in Eastern religions, and she says that she does this to feel G-d’s presence in her life. May I enter her house while the incense is burning?”

Question #2: Joining the Sprinklers

“This must be the strangest question that I have ever asked. While camping, I met a group of sincere non-Jews who told me that they believe in one G-d and have regular getaways to discuss how they can live more in His image. While I was with them, they sprinkled some wine and oil on a campfire in commemoration of the Biblical sacrifices. They invited me to join them, which I did not, but I am curious to know whether I could have sprinkled with them.”

Question #3: The Doubting Moslem

“My coworker, who still considers herself a Moslem, confides in me a lot of her doubts about her religion. Should I be encouraging her away from Islam, or is it not necessary to do so, since they do not worship idols?”

Answer: Mitzvos Bnei Noach

All the questions asked above were by Jews about non-Jews. Indeed, although it may seem strange for a non-Jew to ask a rav a shaylah, it should actually be commonplace. After all, there are hundreds of gentiles for every Jew in the world, and each one of them should be concerned about his or her halachic responsibility. As a matter of fact, there are many non-Jews who are indeed concerned about their future place in Olam Haba and, had the nations not been deceived by spurious religions, thousands and perhaps millions more would observe the mitzvos of Bnei Noach that they are commanded. It is tragic that they have been misled into false beliefs and practices.

Fortunately, there is a revival of interest among gentiles to observe the requirements given them in the Torah. There are now many groups and publications devoted to educating non-Jews about their halachic responsibilities. The mitzvah requirements of non-Jews are usually referred to as the “Seven Mitzvos of the Bnei Noach,” although in actuality, these “Seven Mitzvos” are really categories. A gentile is required to accept that these commandments were commanded by Hashem to Moshe Rabbeinu (Rambam, Hilchos Melachim 8:11). A non-Jew who follows these instructions qualifies to be a “righteous gentile,” one of the Chassidei Umos Ha’olam who merits a place in Olam Haba.

Jews should be familiar with the halachos that apply to a non-Jew, since it is forbidden to cause a gentile to transgress his mitzvos. This is included under the Torah’s violation of lifnei iver lo sitein michshol, “Do not place a stumbling block before a blind person.” In this context, the verse means: Do not cause someone to sin if he is blind to — that is, unaware of — the seriousness of his violation (Avodah Zarah 6b). For example, a Jew may not sell an item to a gentile that he will use for idol worship, or an item that is designed for criminal activity.

Gentiles and the Beis Hamikdash

May a gentile pray in the Beis Hamikdash?

The Beis Hamikdash was meant to serve gentiles as well as Jews, as the pasuk states: Ki beisi beis tefila yikarei lechol ha’amim; My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations (Yeshaya 56:7). This sentiment was expressed by Shlomoh Hamelech in his public prayer whereby he dedicated the Beis Hamikdash, “…and also to the gentile who is not from Your people Israel, and who comes for the sake of Your name from a distant land. When they will hear of Your great Name, Your powerful hand and Your outstretched arm and come to pray in this house, You will hear from Heaven, the place of Your abode, and do whatever the gentile requests of You, so that all the nations of the Earth will know Your Name and fear You (Melachim I 8:41- 43).

Gentiles and Sacrifices

Not only was the Beis Hamikdash a place where gentiles could pray and serve Hashem, it was also a place where they could offer korbanos (Zevachim 116b). A gentile who desired to bring a korban in the Beis Hamikdash could do so, and, when it is rebuilt, their offerings will be welcome. The laws governing how these korbanos are offered are fairly similar to what governs voluntary korbanos offered by a Jew. Allow me to explain.

A Jew may voluntarily offer several types of korbanos in the Beis Hamikdash. He may offer a korban shelomim (sometimes called a “peace-offering”), in which case the owner receives most of the meat to eat in Yerushalayim when he is in a state of purity (taharah). A Jew may also offer a korban olah, which is offered in its entirety on the mizbei’ach, the altar, in a specifically prescribed fashion.

A gentile may offer a korban olah in the Beis Hamikdash, but he may not offer a korban shelomim. When this olah is offered, the procedure of its offering is virtually identical to that of a Yisrael. This means that any Jewish shochet may slaughter the korban, but it may not be slaughtered by a gentile, since a gentile’s slaughtering is, by definition, invalid as shechitah. The Kohanim then proceed to offer the korban of the gentile, just as they would offer the korban of a Jew, following all the halachos of a korban olah.

Gentiles and Imperfections

The animal that a gentile offers in the Beis Hamikdash must be completely unblemished (Vayikra 22:25). An animal suffering from visible impairments or injuries is called a baal mum and is invalid. Some examples of this are an animal with a broken limb, one that cannot walk in a normal way, one whose limbs are noticeably disproportionate to one another or relative to its species, or a blind animal. All told, there are 73 different imperfections that invalidate a korban as a baal mum (Sefer Hachinuch). Were a kohen to offer the imperfect offering of a gentile, he would be violating the Torah’s express prohibition and be liable for the resultant punishments. For an in-depth discussion of this topic, the intrepid reader is referred to Minchas Chinuch, Mitzvah 292. The same author mentions that the laws governing a gentile’s korban may, in one situation, actually be more stringent that those governing a Jew’s korban. The details of how this could happen are beyond the scope of this article.

Treatment of Holy Bulls and Sheep

There are a few differences in halachah between the korban olah offering of a Jew and that of a gentile. Prior to a Jew offering a korban, he rests his hands on the head of the animal and presses down on the animal’s head. This procedure is called semichah, and, while doing so, the owner of the korban recites viduy, confessing his sins. However, when a gentile’s offering is brought, no semichah is performed (Temurah 2a).

There is another curious difference between the olah offered by a gentile and that offered by a Jew. When a Jew consecrates an animal as a korban olah, someone who subsequently uses the consecrated animal, such as one who sheared the wool of a consecrated ram or worked a consecrated bull, violates a serious prohibition of the Torah called me’ilah. The individual who committed this prohibition negligently must offer a special korban called an asham as atonement. However, when a gentile donates an olah there is no prohibition min haTorah to use the animal and there is no violation of the prohibition of me’ilah. The Gemara concludes that using the consecrated animal is prohibited only miderabbanan (Temurah 3a).

Gentile Exceptions

A Jew may also offer wine to the Beis Hamikdash, which is then poured onto the mizbei’ach. However, a gentile may not offer wine or other similar offerings (Temurah 2b, as explained by Rashi). On the other hand, a gentile may donate any item of value or cash to the Beis Hamikdash to assist in its upkeep (Bedek Habayis). This leads to a very surprising halachah. Although, as I mentioned above, there is no prohibition of me’ilah should one use the korban of a gentile, property that he donates to the Beis Hamikdash is subject to this prohibition in the same way that a Jew’s donation is (Temurah 3a).

Outside the Beis Hamikdash

Once the Beis Hamikdash was constructed, the Torah prohibited a Jew from offering korbanos anywhere else in the world (Devarim 12: 13, 14, 26, 27). Someone who sanctifies an animal to be a korban and then offers it on an altar outside the Beis Hamikdash violates two grave prohibitions of the Torah called shechutei chutz, slaughtering a korban outside the approved area, and ha’ala’ah bachutz, offering a korban outside its approved area. As a result, since our Beis Hamikdash unfortunately still lies in ruins, we cannot offer any korbanos to Hashem, and we must await its rebuilding to offer them.

A gentile is not required to observe these mitzvos, and, consequently, he may offer korbanos anywhere he chooses: in his backyard, on his camping trip or even in a shul! A Jew, however, may not assist in this endeavor, since this violates his mitzvos shechutei chutz and ha’ala’ah bachutz, notwithstanding the fact that the korbanos were sanctified by a gentile (Zevachim 45a; Rambam, Hilchos Maasei Hakorbanos 19:16).

Although a Jew may not offer these korbanos for the gentile, he may instruct the gentile how to offer them correctly. To quote the Rambam, “A gentile is permitted to offer korbanos olah to Hashem anywhere he would like, provided that he offers them on an altar that he constructed. A Jew may not help him, since a Jew is prohibited from offering korbanos outside the Beis Hamikdash. Nevertheless, a Jew may teach him how to bring the korban to Hashem properly” (Rambam, Hilchos Maaseh Hakorbanos 19:15).

The Rambam adds a requirement to this halachah — this korban must be offered on some type of constructed altar.

Blemished Offerings

Whereas the korban of a gentile offered in the Beis Hamikdash must be performed by kohanim, a gentile who offers a korban outside the Beis Hamikdash may perform the procedures himself, and actually must have the procedures performed by a non-Jew. In addition, he may offer from any kosher species (Bereishis 8:20 with Bereishis Rabbah and Rashi), whereas in the Beis Hamikdash one may offer only sheep, goats, bovines, turtledoves and pigeons. Furthermore, most of the 73 blemishes that invalidate a korban as a baal mum do not apply to what a gentile offers outside the Beis Hamikdash. The only such restriction that applies outside the Beis Hamikdash is a missing limb, but any other injury or physical impediment does not invalidate the korban (Temurah 7a; Avodah Zarah 5b).

Gentile Mitzvos

We need to address one more point before we can answer our opening questions: May a gentile observe mitzvos of the Torah, and may he create his own observances?

A gentile may not keep Shabbos or a day of rest (meaning, a day that he refrains from doing any activity that is forbidden on Shabbos, melachah) on any day of the week (Sanhedrin 58b). This is considered a very grievous violation of the Torah. I am aware of three approaches provided by the Rishonim to explain this law.

Rashi’s Reason

Rashi explains that a non-Jew is obligated to work every day, because the Torah writes, “Yom valayla lo yishbosu,” which can be interpreted to mean, “Day and night they (i.e., the non-Jews) may not rest.” According to his understanding, this prohibition has nothing to do with any ban against a gentile performing religious practices to Hashem. There is a specific requirement for gentiles to work every day – or, at least, to perform melachah.

Meiri’s Reason

The Meiri presents a different reason why a gentile may not observe a day of rest — that a Jew may mistakenly learn from him that it is acceptable to create his own mitzvos. Of course, creating one’s own mitzvos, which is a very popular idea among contemporary religions, defeats the entire reason of observing the Torah and keeping mitzvos. The purpose of the Torah is for us to become close to Hashem by following what He instructs us to do. Creating one’s own mitzvos implies that I can somehow bribe G-d to do what I want. Although we realize the foolishness of this approach, this idea underlies all of idolatry and greatly influences the way most of mankind views religion.

Rambam’s Reason

The Rambam’s approach is similar to the Meiri’s, in that he explains that a gentile is prohibited from making his own holiday or any other religious observance, because the Torah is opposed to the creation of man-made religions (Hilchos Melachim 10:9). In the words of the Rambam, “A non-Jew is not permitted to create his own religion or mitzvah. Either he becomes a righteous convert (a ger tzedek) and accepts the observance of all the mitzvos or he remains with the laws that he has without adding or subtracting.” Any attempt to create a mitzvah other than that of the Torah runs counter to Hashem’s goals for mankind, as I will soon explain.

Contradiction in Rambam

However, many authorities ask if the Rambam seems to be contradicting himself. The Mishnah states that the terumah or maaser separated by a gentile from his own crops is halachically valid, and his declaring his property to belong to the Beis Hamikdash (hekdesh) is similarly valid (Terumos 3:9). In his Commentary, the Rambam states that even though a gentile is not obligated to keep mitzvos, observing them allows him a small degree of reward. This statement implies that a gentile can receive reward for fulfilling mitzvos of the Torah.

There are several approaches to answer this seeming contradiction. According to Rav Moshe Feinstein, there are a few very specific mitzvos that a gentile is permitted to observe, and only in these instances will he reap any reward for observing them. Those are mitzvos where we find that a gentile was specifically included, such as tzedakah, prayer, offering korbanos and separating terumos and maasros (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 2:7). In Rav Moshe’s opinion, a gentile who observes any other mitzvah receives no reward. However, should he perform these mitzvos knowing that he is not commanded to do so, we do not stop him. On the other hand, if he performs these activities because he wants to consider himself obligated to keep them, we should prevent him from doing so if we can, and we should certainly discourage his observing them.

Others contend there are ways whereby a gentile can become obligated in Torah mitzvos (Biur Halachah, end of 304, in explanation of the Magen Avraham), and there are others who feel that a gentile who observes mitzvos, knowing that he is not required to do so, receives reward for his endeavor (see Sefer Hamafteiach, Melachim 10:10). Among those authorities who follow the last approach, some exclude a gentile from observing certain mitzvos. For example, the Radbaz (Hilchos Melachim 10:10) prohibits a gentile from wearing tefillin or placing a mezuzah on his door, and the Taz (Yoreh Deah 263:3) and the Levush prohibit him from performing bris milah (but see the Shulchan Aruch 268:9, Nekudos Hakesef ad locum, and the Shach, Yoreh Deah 263:8 and 268:19 who disagree).

Answering our Questions

At this point, we are equipped to examine the opening questions. The first question was:

“My neighbor is not Jewish and believes in G-d, but she has rejected any of the existent organized religions. She often burns incense, which she learned about in Eastern religions, and she says that she does this to feel G-d’s presence in her life. May I enter her house while the incense is burning?”

Is the neighbor doing something idolatrous? It may be, depending on what her understanding is of G-d. If, indeed, her acts comprise avodah zarah, then one should not be in her house when the incense is kindled, because one is benefiting from idol worship.

On the other hand, if she understands G-d similar to the way a Jew does, there is no idolatry in her act. Assuming that this is true, then there is nothing wrong with enjoying the fragrance of her incense.

Joining the Sprinklers

The second question was: “This must be the strangest question that I have ever asked. While camping, I met a group of sincere non-Jews who told me that they believe in one G-d and have regular getaways to discuss how they can live more in His image. While I was with them, they sprinkled some wine and oil on a campfire in commemoration of the Biblical sacrifices. They invited me to join them, which I did not, but I am curious to know whether I could have sprinkled with them.”

It is good that you did not join them. For a Jew to effect any type of korban outside the Beis Hamikdash is prohibited, although, because of certain halachic details, this situation would not have involved the severe violation of ha’ala’ah bachutz. Similarly, these individuals did not fulfill a gentile’s mitzvah of offering korbanos, because their fireplace did not meet the halachic requirements of an altar.

The Doubting Moslem

“My coworker, who still considers herself a Moslem, confides in me a lot of her doubts about her religion. Should I be encouraging her away from Islam, or is it not necessary to do so, since they do not worship idols?”

Without question, observing Islam is a grievous sin, even for a gentile, despite the fact that there is no idolatry involved (see also fRitva, Pesachim 25b). Hashem gave very specific instructions of how He wants mankind to worship Him, and any other attempt is prohibited. Therefore, if your coworker is asking you for direction in her life, you should explain to her the fallacies of Islam and how she could indeed fulfill Hashem’s wishes by becoming a proper bas Noach.

Conclusion

We are meant to be “a light unto the nations,” which charges us with the responsibility to act in a manner that we create a kiddush Hashem. If we have the opportunity to educate non-Jews how to live their lives as proper, G-d-fearing Bnei Noach, that is surely within the scope of our directives.

Shidduchim and Lashon Hara

cell phone in handThis week’s parsha teaches about Miriam speaking loshon hora about her brother, thus providing an opportunity to discuss the questions about Shidduchim and Loshon Hora.

How should one ask and answer shidduch-related questions?

Question #1: “Someone called me inquiring about a neighbor for shidduchim purposes. From years of dealing with this boy, I know that his midos could use some polishing. What should I say?”

Question #2: Yaakov* calls to find out about a neighborhood girl, Rochel. She is one of the most wonderful people walking the face of the earth, and you would love to see her happily married; Yaakov sounds like a real mensch. However, her father, Mr. Weiss, is one of the most dishonest people you have ever met. Do you say anything to Yaakov about Rochel’s father?

* All stories in this article are actual situations, but the names have been changed.

Deciding what information to share about shidduchim often requires the wisdom of Solomon and the halachic prowess of Rav Moshe Feinstein. On the one hand, we want to assist people to find their proper zivug, while at the same time, we need to avoid transgressing any laws of speech, and imparting information that harms someone constitutes loshon hora (Rambam, Hilchos Dei’os 7:5). This is true, even if the information does not imply that he/she did anything wrong, such as mentioning that someone is in debt. While there is nothing evil about owing money, it is loshon hora to share this information, since the debtor may now find it difficult to borrow a necessary business loan, or have difficulty finding a partner for a commercial endeavor (Chofetz Chayim, end of Hilchos Rechilus, tziyur 2).

Similarly, telling people that one store tends to be expensive often involves the prohibition of loshon hora (Nesiv Chayim, Hilchos Rechilus, 9:8). A storekeeper is permitted to charge a little more than his competitor does, simply because his overhead costs are greater. Therefore, I may be affecting his halachically-permitted livelihood when I report to others that they can get a better deal elsewhere. Although my motivation to save someone money is noble, it is misplaced to do so at the expense of the other Jew, who needs to make a living. (There are circumstances when I may tell someone that he/she can get a better deal elsewhere, such as when the person I am advising is a family member or close friend, or the overcharge is unreasonable; I will need to discuss this subject at a different time.)

If someone asks me for advice, I am required to advise him/her to the best of my ability (Rambam, Hil. Rotzei’ach 12:14; Shaarei Teshuvah 3:54). Providing good advice fulfills two different mitzvahs: First, it is a positive implementation of the mitzvah of lifnei iveir, not to place a stumbling block before the blind. Just as the Torah prohibits giving bad advice and terms it misleading someone who is “blind” in this matter, providing good advice fulfills this mitzvah, since I am helping someone in a matter in which he lacks clarity (see Sefer Hamitzvos, Lo Saaseh #299). In addition, providing good advice fulfills the mitzvah of ve’ahavta le’rei’acha kamocha, love your neighbor as yourself.

Translating these issues as they relate to shidduchim, someone who shares information inappropriately and nixes a potentially good shidduch could violate the laws of loshon hora, because it causes someone harm. On the other hand, providing accurate and appropriate information about shidduchim fulfills the mitzvahs of giving good advice, and covering up negative information that one should tell may violate lo saamod al dam rei’echa, Do not stand by idly when your neighbor is endangered (Vayikra 19:16). Furthermore, not only is it permitted to investigate a potential shidduch, but one is required to research the background of the potential partner to ascertain that he/she has no issues that could disrupt married life (see Rabbeinu Yonah, Avos 1:7; Chofetz Chayim, Hil. Loshon Hora 4:11, based on Rashi to Shavuos 39b). Thus, I fulfill a third mitzvah by providing halachically appropriate information for a potential shidduch, since I am assisting someone to perform his or her necessary research.

So, when may I provide negative information, and when may I not? Answering shidduch inquiries is a difficult balancing act. One is responsible to see that someone entertaining making a shidduch has all the information that he or she needs, while, on the other hand, one must be careful not to provide superfluous negative information.

The answers to these questions vary according to circumstances and this article does not substitute for asking a rav a specific shaylah. Nevertheless, it will provide basic guidelines. As a starting point, we need to clarify several important details:

  1. Do you know the parties involved? Do you know whether this is an appropriate shidduch for this person?
  2. Would everyone consider the negative information to be important, or would it depend on the individual?

III. Do you know the caller? Do you know what his/her standards are?

Let us analyze these possibilities and see how the halacha applies in each situation. Again, the major rule is: Am I supplying information that they will use to decide whether to pursue this shidduch, or am I supplying negative information that has no purpose?

NO TACHLIS

Do you know whether this is an appropriate shidduch?

Consider the following case:

Leah’s parents, who are looking for a working man, ask you about Levi, who wants to study in kollel for several years. Before sharing any personal information, first find out whether this shidduch would be considered by both sides. Otherwise, one may be sharing loshon hora without any purpose, since the shidduch is, in any case, out of the question. Instead of giving information, simply point out that their life plans are very different. If the two sides want to consider the shidduch anyway, then proceed by providing important information, even if it is potentially negative, as I will explain.

The same is true if the two families would not be interested in a match because of radically different family backgrounds, styles of Yiddishkeit, or age.

Example: You are called to provide information about a neighbor, a fine family, but with some negatives. Before providing this information, first see if the shidduch makes sense: For example, if the caller is looking only for a litvisha family, and the neighbor is chassidish and would only entertain a chassidisha shidduch, then the shidduch would not be considered anyway, and you have told loshon hora without any purpose.

HIGHLY NEGATIVE FACTS

When the negative information will certainly cause the other party to reject this shidduch, it is better to simply convince the caller that the match is inappropriate, without being more specific. This is a situation in which one should perhaps be vague and say that you just do not think the shidduch will work. Many specific cases require further rabbinic guidance to clarify whether or not one is required to reveal the information.

If you cannot derail the shidduch without being specific, and you are aware of negative information that would concern most people, then you must reveal it, because of the halacha of lo saamod al dam rei’echa. Examples of such situations include: knowledge that someone cannot have children (Shu’t Tzitz Eliezer 16:4), of a medical condition that would concern most people, or of a history of violent behavior. This information can and should be shared. Similarly, one must reveal information about someone whose observance level is not what it is purported to be (see Sefer Chassidim #507; Shu’t Panim Meiros 1:35).

When the halacha requires or permits revealing negative information, several other factors must be kept in mind. One should share only information that one knows first-hand and not repeat what one has heard from others. (If one has strong evidence of a serious problem, one can suggest that they contact someone who has first-hand knowledge of the situation.) In addition, one must be careful not to exaggerate. Furthermore, one’s sole purpose in sharing the information must be out of motivation to advise the inquirers and not because one is angry or dislikes the person. In addition, one should only say the negatives if there is no other way to accomplish what one needs to (Chofetz Chayim, Hilchos Loshon Hora 10:2).

WHAT NOT TO TELL

Must one reveal every liability? No! The Chofetz Chayim distinguishes between someone who is ill and someone who is weak; the former being information one should reveal and the latter being information that one should not (Be’er Mayim Chayim, Hilchos Rechilus 9:8). Contemporary authors discuss which medical conditions are concerned “illnesses” or merely “weaknesses.” For example, poskim consider diabetes to be an illness, whereas hay fever would usually qualify as a “weakness.”

In an article entitled May I Keep my Skeletons in the Closet (available on RabbiKaganoff.com) I noted that someone considering a shidduch is required to reveal his having a serious medical issue, but does not need to do so before the two parties have become well acquainted. He certainly has no requirement to tell a shadchan. A third party being asked may also be governed by the same rules and should discuss this question and its details with a halachic authority.

KNOW NOTHING

At this stage, let us examine the first question I raised above: “Someone called me inquiring about a neighbor for shidduchim purposes. From years of dealing with this boy, I know that his midos could use some polishing. What should I say?”

Let us assume you receive a cold call inquiring about a neighbor about whom you have both positive and negative information and observations. In most instances, the liabilities one knows about a neighbor are relative: Even if you know that he has a temper that makes you uncomfortable, or that he is not particularly reliable or punctual, you have no idea what the standards of the caller or the party for whom he is researching are concerning these issues. Before sharing information, you need to know the standards of the caller. If you do not know the person who is calling, and are unable to quickly ascertain their standards, you should say only positive things about the neighbor.

A neighbor’s unbecoming details may be detrimental to one person and advantageous to another. It might indeed be that the caller or the potential bashert would consider your neighbor to be very reliable or would not be concerned about the degree of anger that your neighbor possesses. You might be nixing what could have been a potentially good shidduch. Therefore, if the neighbor does not have an anger problem that would alarm anyone considering a shidduch with him, one should not reveal this information without knowing the calling party. After all, it may be that your neighbor is a very appropriate shidduch choice for the caller.

An example is in order: Zahavah follows an approach to tzniyus that is common in many frum circles, but does not conform to how Sheina thinks one should dress. If someone Sheina does not know asks her about Zahavah, she should refrain from commenting on Zahavah’s mode of dress. If the caller asks her directly whether Zahavah dresses tzniyusly, Sheina should answer that she does, since she has no idea what the caller means by that question.

I personally know of a proposed shidduch where the couple did not meet because someone did not know this halacha. Daniella told the caller that she felt her former classmate’s standard was not that of a model Beis Yaakov girl. Although the classmate’s dress code did not meet Daniella’s, it was probably adequate for the family and young man who asked. However, because of the answer they received, the family assumed that the girl’s standards were way below theirs and would not consider the shidduch, notwithstanding that the standards on both sides were the same. To the best of my knowledge, both parties are still single, and several people who know both of them feel that their personalities are unusually well suited. However, his family will not consider this girl for their yarei shamayim son, and no one can convince them otherwise. As the expression goes, you do not get a second chance to make a first impression.

In this instance, Daniella violated the laws of both loshon hora and of motzi shem ra, relating disparaging, false information. She violated loshon hora, because she supplied unnecessary information that is harmful to the other person, and motzi shem ra because they were left with a false, negative impression.

A LITTLE KNOWLEDGE

All of this changes if the caller clarifies what standard of tzniyus she meant in her question, and it is a standard that Zahavah or the classmate does not follow. In this instance, the question should be answered fully and correctly, since one now comprehends clearly what the caller meant.

DOES HE “KNOW HOW TO LEARN?”

Similarly, if someone you do not know asks whether a person you are acquainted with “knows how to learn,” you should answer affirmatively, unless the person has little or no learning background. The rule here is, does he have enough learning background that someone would say that he “knows how to learn”? As long as he meets this minimal standard, one should answer affirmatively, until one knows what the caller’s definition and frame of reference is.

SELF-DEPRECATING

There is one other situation where personal or potentially negative information can be told: one may relate any information that you have heard the person say about himself or herself in public (Rashi, Arachin 16a). Similarly, it is permitted to relate something about a person that he/she does publicly. Thus, one may tell whether someone dresses stylishly or not, or that someone does or does not wear a hat when walking through the street. In all of these instances, one’s motivation should be pure – that is, simply to clarify to the person whether this is an appropriate shidduch or not.

A very common case is someone who is not of an observant background. If the person freely says in public that he/she is a baal teshuvah or of a non-observant family, one may tell a potential shidduch this information. However, if the information is not readily known, in most situations, one should not reveal this information.

HOW TO ASK

At this point, it is appropriate to explain how to ask about shidduch information when you need to call someone that you do not know. First, tell the other person who you are and for what type of person you are inquiring, before asking them for specific information. This way, the other party has some background to understand the context of the questions. Usually, the more specific your questions, the more accurately the other person will understand your standards and thereby be able to provide the information you seek.

KABBALAS LOSHON HORA

It is important to realize that although one may ask whatever is needed  about a potential shidduch, and may decide to pass up a shidduch based on the information received, one should not assume that any negative information received is absolutely true. The halacha of kabbalas loshon hora, accepting loshon hora, requires one to assume that there may have been a misunderstanding, or to interpret some other justification for the person’s actions or attributes.

As mentioned earlier, answering shidduch inquiries is a difficult balancing act. We should all daven for Hashem’s help to fulfill this tremendous mitzvah correctly and to be able to assist those who need shidduchim to swiftly find their bashert.

 

Do People Live in the Zoo, Part II

PENTACON DIGITAL CAMERALast week, I raised the following questions:

Question #1: Checking inside the eruv

“Can the eruv fences, walls, and wires be checked religiously every week, yet the eruv is invalid?”

Question #2: Shabbos in a warehouse

“May one carry in a warehouse on Shabbos?”

Question #3: Do people live in the zoo?

What do the previous two questions have to do with the title of this article?

One may carry inside such an area only when it is no larger than 5000 square amos (Mishnah Eruvin 23a), which equals approximately 1000* square meters or 10,000-11,000 square feet. For the balance of this article, I will refer to an area larger than a beis sasayim, that is, one that contains more than 5000 square amos, as a large area, and any area smaller than this as a small area. There is another factor that must be met to permit carrying in a small area that is not enclosed for residential use – its length may not exceed twice its width by more than one amoh (Mishnah, Eruvin 23a).

We will now continue our topic from where we left it last week.

Water sources

If a body of water, such as a lake or stream, is within an enclosed area, is the area still considered mukaf ledirah? Similarly, if an area was mukaf ledirah and then became flooded, may one still carry there (Eruvin 24a-b)?

On the one hand, since people do not live under water one could argue that any area covered by water is, by definition, not suitable for human habitation. On the other hand, mankind cannot survive without water; a nearby source of potable water is definitely a residential need.

The halachah is that water covering the ground does not usually create a problem, but there are three factors to be considered:

The quality of the water – can people use it?

How large an area is covered by water?

How deep is the water?

If the water is deep, not usable and covers a large area (more than 2500 square amos), that area is not mukaf ledirah, and the enclosures surrounding it do not permit one to carry there.

How deep?

According to most authorities, one need be concerned only when the water is ten tefachim deep, which is about 80 centimeters or about 2.5 feet (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 358:11). Others are more stringent and are concerned when the water is only three tefachim deep (quoted in Biur Halachah ad loc.).

Water quality

What is meant when we say that the water is usable? This issue is a subject of dispute among both early and late halachic authorities. There are two basic approaches, a stricter approach, which defines usable water as being drinkable (Rashi, Eruvin 24b s.v. Dechazi), and a more lenient approach, which rules that water suitable for laundry and similar uses is considered usable (Rashba, Avodas Hakodesh, Beis Nesivos 1:14:90 and 3:3:144; Ritva, Eruvin 24a).

In today’s world, this dispute would, seemingly, have a very common application. The run-off from rainstorms in suburbia crosses fertilized and pesticide-treated lawns. This water is definitely unsafe to drink. As a result, water accumulating to an appreciable depth over a large area could invalidate an eruv. However, when the water looks clear and is therefore suitable for laundry use, the Rashba would rule that it would not invalidate the eruv, even if it is deep and covers a large area. Thus, whether this water invalidates the eruv should be dependent on the dispute between Rashi and the Rasha.

How do we rule?

There is an interesting halachic curiousity that results here. Two of the most respected late halachic authorities are the Aruch Hashulchan and the Mishnah Berurah. In the vast majority of halachic issues, the Aruch Hashulchan rules more leniently than does the Mishnah Berurah. However, this is one of the instances in which the Mishnah Berurah (Shaar Hatziyun 358:81) rules more leniently, permitting carrying within an enclosed area that contains non-potable water that may be used for laundry or for animals to drink. The Aruch Hashulchan (358:23) requires that the water be potable.

Water seclusion

What does one do if there is an area of land covered by water in a way that it has the halachic status of a carmelis? The halachah is that, as in the instance of other areas that are not mukaf ledirah, carrying is prohibited in the adjacent residential area only when the area covered by water is not separated by a mechitzah. For example, a stream that contains unusable water runs through an area surrounded by an eruv. Does this render the entire eruv pasul?

One possible solution: To construct a tzuras hapesach that separates the prohibited area from the permitted.

A second possible solution: If the banks of the stream are sufficiently steep, these banks themselves serve to divide the water area from the eruv area and no further adaptation is necessary.

The city eruv

At this point, let us examine the first question I noted above:

“Can the eruv fences, walls, and wires be checked religiously every week, yet the eruv is invalid?”

We now are equipped to answer this question. Indeed, if the area within the eruv includes a large area that is planted or contains non-usable water, that area must be cordoned off from the eruv area in a halachically acceptable fashion. This requires essentially creating some type of halachically-approved divider. Otherwise, the eruv is invalid, and one may not carry there.

Thus, even if an eruv’s perimeters somehow, miraculously, survived the onslaught of a hurricane of the magnitude of Sandy, one will still not be permitted to carry within the eruv if there are areas of deep, unusable water that are more than ~5500 square feet.

Planting and the city eruv

Some authorities rule that planting an area is less of a problem in a city eruv than it is in someone’s private area. This is based on the reasoning, mentioned in the Gemara, that planting in a karpif invalidates an individual’s residential “wall.” However, if an entire city was enclosed, the planting of one individual cannot invalidate the enclosure. (Shu’t Dvar Shmuel #259, who introduces this approach, described planting which, by its nature is temporary, inside a city wall. It may not follow that this can be compared to a modern city and its eruv.) There are authorities who dispute this approach and rule that planting invalidates any type of enclosure (Maamar Mordechai 358:14; Chazon Ish, Orach Chayim 88:25).

Does an overgrown area invalidate an eruv?

Thus far, we have learned how planting or water can invalidate an eruv. What is the halachah if an area becomes overgrown with weeds or other shrubbery? Will this invalidate an eruv?

The late authorities debate whether only a planted area invalidates an eruv, or even an area that becomes overgrown on its own. I leave this question for the local eruv committee to discuss with its halachic authorities.

Do people live in the zoo?

The preceding discussion about mukad ledirah serves as an introduction to understanding the question, “Do people live in the zoo?” a practical question that was raised as early as the eighteenth century. The author of a series of scholarly Torah works, the Ohr Chodosh, Rabbi Elazar ben Elazar, sent a halachic inquiry to his mechutan, the Noda Biyehudah, Rav Yechezkel Landau, the chief rabbi of Prague. Where the Ohr Chodosh was then rav, in Cologne, there was a menagerie of wild animals within the area that they wanted to include within the town’s eruv. Based on his analysis of the dfference between the cases that are considered mukaf ledirah and those that are not, the Ohr Chodosh wanted to permit the zoo area as mukaf ledirah. He begins his analysis with the question:

Why is a vegetable garden or wood storage area considered non-residential, and yet an area in which animals are penned (a dir) is treated as residential?

The Ohr Chodosh, himself, felt that the dwelling of an animal is considered a residential use, and that this is true even regarding the dwellings of wild animals. Therefore, if someone builds a zoo with enclosures for the tigers, lions, bears and other species, each enclosure has the status of mukaf ledirah and can be more than a beis sasayim without prohibiting carrying.

A different scholar, identified in the responsum simply as Rabbi Nissan, disagreed with the Ohr Chodosh, contending that animal pens are considered mukaf ledirah only when they include a hut or other type of residence where the shepherd lives. He notes that Rabbeinu Yonasan, the major commentary on the Rif on Eruvin, mentions this distinction. The Ohr Chodosh retorted that he found this restriction, that a dir is considered mukaf ledirah only when it contains a residence of sorts for the shepherd, in no other halachic source, and therefore concluded that Rabbeinu Yonasan’s ruling is a minority opinion. The Ohr Chodosh contended that most authorities would accept his analysis.

On Rosh Chodesh Nisan 5548 (1788), the Noda Biyehudah answered the letter of the Ohr Chodosh, siding with Rabbi Nissan. Although the Noda Biyehudah agrees that the other authorities may not accept Rabbeinu Yonasan’s requirement of a guard hut, the key difference between a dir and a vegetable patch is that a dir requires a human presence, whereas a vegetable patch does not require a human presence. The Noda Biyehudah contends that an enclosure for wild animals will not be considered mukaf ledirah, and will be prohibited if the area is more than a beis sasayim, since people do not dwell among wild animals.

In his responsum, the Noda Biyehudah does not discuss what is the exact difference between a dir and a ginah, but other authorities do. The Tosafos Shabbos explains the difference to be that a dir is used by people at night, whereas a ginah is used only during the daytime. The Biur Halachah explains the dissimilarity in a different way, contending that a dir is adjacent to the house, and includes milking and other uses that are domestic. Therefore, its use is incorporated with the use of the residence.

Roofed

From the case of burgenin and some others, it appears that even a roofed area can be considered not mukaf ledirah. This is the opinion of most halachic authorities, although one major authority feels that burgenin is an exception, and that most roofed areas can be considered mukaf ledirah.

Based on this discussion, one can ask whether a warehouse, larger than a beis sasayim, that does not contain any type of residence, is considered mukaf ledirah. The use of a warehouse is not domestic and therefore could be conceived as not mukaf ledirah.

This question involved a dispute between the Mishnah Berurah and the Chazon Ish. The Mishnah Berurah holds that since a warehouse is a strongly constructed building, it qualifies as mukaf ledirah, regardless as to why it was constructed and how it is currently used. The Chazon Ish challenges this position, insisting that unless a structure includes some place to be used for sleeping, it is not considered mukaf ledirah, unless it meets one of the categories that the Mishnah or Gemara qualify as mukaf ledirah.

The dispute between the Mishnah Berurah and the Chazon Ish should affect only the status of the warehouse itself, and that only if it is larger than a beis sasayim. However, since a warehouse is completely enclosed its status will not prohibit an adjacent area. Thus, the area within the eruv surrounding the warehouse will remain unaffected by its status.

Shuls, batei medrash and bathhouses

The Aruch Hashulchan notes that shuls, batei medrash and bathhouses are all buildings whose purpose is not for residential purpose. One is not permitted to use a shul or a beis medrash for personal use, and a bathhouse is also not used for typical residential use. The Aruch Hashulchan therefore concludes that all of these areas do not qualify as mukaf ledirah, unless they include some type of residence for the building’s caretaker.

Conclusion

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch (Shemos 20:10) notes that people mistakenly think that work is prohibited on Shabbos in order to provide a day of rest. This is incorrect, he points out, because the Torah does not prohibit doing avodah, which connotes hard work, but melachah, which implies purpose and accomplishment. Certainly no more calories are expended when carrying from a reshus hayachid to a reshus harabim than when carrying a heavier item a greater distance within a reshus hayachid; yet, the first activity desecrates Shabbos and the second is permitted.

The goal of Shabbos is to emphasize Hashem’s rule as the focus of creation by refraining from our own creative acts (Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch Commentary to Shemos 20:11). Creating a beautiful Shabbos entails much planning and organization, realizing that preparation for Shabbos includes studying all the melachos of Shabbos. This helps us have a greater appreciation of Shabbos, and to get the maximum joy out of this special day.

* The measurements used in this article are meant only for rough calculation.

 

Do People Live in the Zoo?

PENTACON DIGITAL CAMERAQuestion #1: Checking inside the eruv

“Can the eruv fences, walls, and wires be checked religiously every week, yet the eruv is invalid?”

Question #2: Shabbos in a warehouse

“May one carry in a warehouse on Shabbos?”

Question #3: Do people live in the zoo?

What do the previous two questions have to do with the title of this article?

Answer: Invalidating an eruv from inside

With the direction of his rav, Yankel has joined the committee of makers and shakers working on building an eruv in his hometown. He now knows that the area in which he currently lives has the halachic status of a karmelis, an Aramaic word meaning an area in which one may not carry, but which can be enclosed to permit carrying. Creating the enclosure in a halachically approved way is what one does when building an eruv.

One of the benefits of his new project is that Yankel learns much about the laws of eruv. Among the laws he discovers is an entire area of halachah with which he was not familiar – that enclosing an area does not always permit carrying. Often, there is an area within the eruv that precludes carrying there. These areas are often called karpif, although Yankel discovers that this term is also not really accurate. As a result of his curiosity, he studies the relevant source material in the second chapter of Mesechta Eruvin, a topic that he, like most people, had never studied during his years in yeshivah.

What is a karpif?

Although min hatorah one may carry within any enclosed area, Chazal permitted carrying in a large area only when the enclosing of the area serves a residential purpose, which is called mukaf ledirah. If the enclosure was not mukaf ledirah, the area inside is also considered a karmelis in which one may not carry.

Technically, the word karpif means an enclosure outside the city in which one stores felled wood (Rashi, Eruvin 18a). However, the term is generally used to mean an enclosed area that is not mukaf ledirah.

Yankel learned that if an enclosure does not serve a residential purpose, one may carry within it only when it encloses an area that is no larger than the size of the courtyard of the mishkan, which was 50 amos (cubits) wide and 100 amos long, the size of 5000 square amos (Mishnah Eruvin 23a). An area this size is called a beis sasayim, an old farmers’ term based on how much seed they would plant there, and equals approximately 1000* square meters or 10,000-11,000 square feet. For the balance of this article, I will refer to an area larger than a beis sasayim, that is, one that contains more than 5000 square amos, as a large area, and any area smaller than this as a small area.

There is another factor that must be met to permit carrying in a small area that is not enclosed for residential use – its length may not exceed twice its width by more than one amoh (Mishnah, Eruvin 23a).

Why is a small karpif permitted?

Why may one carry in an area that is not mukaf ledirah when it is 5000 square amos or smaller? Was this size chosen arbitrarily?

Chazal permitted carrying in a small area, even when it is not mukaf ledirah, for the following reason: Since no one is permitted to live in the courtyard of the mishkan, the curtains that surround it do not make it mukaf ledirah. This would mean that carrying within the mishkan would be under the heading of a rabbinic prohibition. Yet this carrying was necessary on Shabbos for the regular functioning of the mishkan. Rather than treat the mishkan as an exception to the halachah, Chazal permitted carrying in any area that is this small, even when it is not mukaf ledirah (see Graz, Orach Chayim 358:3).

What is mukaf ledirah?

The definition of what qualifies as mukaf ledirah and what does not is, at times, not obvious. The Gemara (Eruvin 22a) itself states that there are instances when an enclosed area is roofed and resembles a building, yet it is considered not mukaf ledirah, and there are places that are open-air and yet have the status of mukaf ledirah. The Mishnah (Eruvin 18a) mentions four cases that qualify as mukaf ledirah, even though (according to Rashi) there is no roof over them. They are:

(1) Dir — a corralled area that one intends to plant eventually. At the moment, it is fallow, and one is grazing one’s livestock there, so that they naturally fertilize the field.

(2) Sohar, which is, according to Rashi, an area where the townspeople graze their animals, and, according to the Rambam, a prison.

(3) Muktzah — a backyard area.

(4) Chatzeir, a front yard.

The Ritva (Eruvin 22a) explains that the list is progressively more obvious; meaning that the first case, that of dir, is the least obvious “residential” area. Indeed, much halachic literature is devoted to explaining why an area enclosed for animals is considered residential, when, as we will soon see, areas enclosed for trees or vegetation are not.

Non-residential enclosures

Our next objective is to define what is considered a non-residential enclosure, eino mukaf ledirah, in which one may not carry unless it is small, as defined above. The Mishnah and the Gemara teach that several different types of enclosed areas are not mukafim ledirah. As I mentioned above, one of these is a karpif, an enclosure outside the city in which one stores felled wood (Rashi, Eruvin 18a). Similarly, a fenced-in orchard (Rambam, Hilchos Shabbos 16:1, based on Eruvin 25b), a vegetable patch or a grain field (Mishnah Eruvin 18a; Eruvin 23b) are not mukaf ledirah, even when they contain huts, called burgenin, for the watchmen (Eruvin 22a). In all of these instances, the fence built around the perimeter does not serve a residential need. Even the watchman’s hut is there not to serve as a residence, but to allow the watchman to remain nearby (Rashi, Eruvin 15a). (We should note that some authorities [Tosafos Shabbos, 358:1; Pri Megadim, Eishel Avraham 358:1] contend that if the watchman sleeps overnight in the hut, it is considered a residence. In their opinion, a burgenin is considered not mukaf ledirah because one uses it only in the daytime.)

We need to understand exactly why certain uses are considered residential, and others are not. However, prior to explaining these ideas, we need to clarify another aspect of this discussion.

Mixed neighborhoods

What is the halachah if an enclosure comprises both an area considered residential and an area that is not? For example, Yankel’s neighbor, Shmerel, has a large fenced-in backyard, which his family uses predominantly for barbecues and other recreation. It sounds as if this area should be treated as mukaf ledirah, even if it is larger than 5000 square amos. Indeed, its proximity to the house and its use would make this backyard mukaf ledirah.

However, this yard also includes a section planted with various spices and vegetables. As we learned above, a planted area is not mukaf ledirah. Do we consider the entire yard mukaf ledirah or not? May Shmerel’s family carry in the backyard? In the course of Yankel’s studying the laws of Eruvin, he discovered that carrying in his neighbor’s fenced-in yard might be prohibited!

A breached eruvNifratz bemilu’oh

To answer these questions, we need to explain a principle, called nifratz bemilu’oh, literally, breached in its entirety. Whenever an area in which one would otherwise be permitted to carry is open to an area where carrying is forbidden, the halachic result is that one may not carry in the otherwise permitted area (see Eruvin 25b). Thus, if it is prohibited to carry in the planted area, and the recreational part of Shmerel’s yard is nifratz bemilu’oh to the planted area, one cannot carry in any part of Shmerel’s yard (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 358:10). As we will soon see, this law has major ramifications for city eruvin also.

What is called “breached?”

Our next question, germane both to Shmerel’s yard and to our city eruv, is: How big a breach prohibits carrying?

There are two ways that a breach forbids carrying. One is when it is greater than ten amos, approximately seventeen feet or five meters. The other way is when the breach is smaller than ten amos but it comprises an entire side of the otherwise-permitted mukaf ledirah area. For example, if an otherwise-permitted rectangularly-shaped area is mukaf ledirah on three of its sides, but the remaining unwalled side opens to an area in which carrying is forbidden, even if the unwalled side is less than 10 amos wide one may not carry in the mukaf ledirah area.

In terms of Shmerel’s yard, this means that if the recreational part is not isolated from the garden, and the garden is large enough to prohibit carrying, the entire yard is prohibited. The same concept is true in a city eruv, as we will soon see.

How large a garden?

Before we can issue a ruling regarding Shmerel’s garden, we need one more piece of information. How large a garden will prohibit carrying?

The Gemara (Eruvin 23b-24a) states that if a planted area is larger than 5000 square amos, one may not carry in any part of the backyard. Even when the planted area is smaller than 5000 square amos, if the planted part is larger than the rest of the yard and the entire yard is larger than 5000 square amos, one may not carry in any part of it.

Healing a breach

Yankel and Shmerel measure the vegetable garden and the yard and discover that, lo and behold, one may not carry in Shmerel’s yard. Is there any way to fix the above problem to permit carrying within the recreational part of the yard?

Yes, there are at least two ways that one can do this. The first is to separate the recreational area from the planted area, and the second is to subdivide the planted area until it is small enough not to create a halachic issue. There are several ways of implementing either of these methods, but discussing them is beyond the scope of this article.

A flower garden

What is the halachah if Shmerel’s garden consists of a flower garden, rather than a vegetable patch? Does his flower garden invalidate the area for carrying, just as the vegetable garden did?

The halachic issue here is the following: People do not live in vegetable patches, but they do enjoy looking and smelling pretty and fragrant flowers. Is this a sufficient reason to consider a flower garden mukaf ledirah?

This matter is a subject of dispute, with different authorities on, shall we say, different sides of the fence. Although most authorities rule that a flower garden does not present a problem (see also Meiri, Eruvin 24a), the Divrei Chayim of Sanz (Shu’t Divrei Chayim, Orach Chayim 2:28) and the Sha’ul Umeishiv (Shu’t 3:131) were among the authorities who ruled that a flower garden will prohibit an eruv. Someone with a similar shaylah should refer it to his own rav or posek.

Fair lawn

As I mentioned above, the Gemara rules that a large, planted area for vegetables or grains will invalidate the eruv. Several halachic authorities say that a grass cover does not invalidate an eruv, since people relax by sitting or lying on the grass. However, can this logic apply when someone does not permit anyone to walk across their expensively tended lawn? This phenomenon, not uncommon in a modern suburban setting, implies that the contemporary lawn of this nature may not be considered mukaf ledirah and can therefore create a problem, if it is larger than a beis sasayim. I leave this question for the eruv movers and shakers to discuss with their posek.

Fenced first

Another halachic factor is that mukaf ledirah requires that the enclosure must have been constructed initially for residential use. This is called pasach u’le’besof hukaf, literally, he opened the entrance first and then afterwards enclosed the area (Eruvin 24a). However, if the area was enclosed when it did not yet have a residential use, providing it with a residential purpose later will not render the area one in which carrying is permitted.

For example, if Shmerel had originally decided to fence in his large yard because he wanted to plant vegetables, and only later decided to use it for domestic purposes, one may not carry in the yard, since its enclosure was originally not for domestic use. (There are ways to rectify such a situation, but this is a topic that we need to leave for a different time.)

Bitul mechitzos

We have yet to discuss another related question: What is the halachah if an area was originally mukaf ledirah, and then someone planted within the mukaf ledirah area? Does this now render the area a karmelis and prohibit carrying? As an example, let us imagine the following scenario: When Shmerel built the fence around his yard, his intention was for residential purposes, and it therefore had a status of mukaf ledirah. At this point, one could carry in the yard. Later, Shmerel decided to plant a large vegetable garden in the yard. Do we say that the yard remains permitted?

The halachah is that planting grain or vegetables invalidates the enclosure, and it is prohibited to carry in his yard.

However, there is an interesting halachah here. Not all planting invalidates the external walls. For example, the Gemara (Eruvin 23b) states explicitly that if one plants a large area of trees, one may continue carrying in the area. This ruling is very interesting, especially in light of the fact that a fence surrounding an orchard is not considered mukaf ledirah.

Trees versus veggies

What is the different between trees, which do not invalidate the eruv, and grain and vegetables, which do?

Rashi (Eruvin 23b) explains that people do not live in a vegetable patch; however, people will walk through an orchard to enjoy the shade. Thus, the planting of trees does not remove the designation of mukaf ledirah from the area.

As I noted above, the latter halachah applies only when one planted trees in an area that was already mukaf ledirah. In other words, there is a difference between enclosing the area, which requires that it initially is mukaf ledirah, and changing its status once it was mukaf ledirah. Enclosing an orchard is not considered mukaf ledirah.

We will continue this article next week…

* The measurements used in this article are meant only for rough calculation.

 

Who Is the True Redeemer?

Discussing the mitzvah of pidyon haben is certainly appropriate to this week’s parsha—I therefore bring you…

Who is the True Redeemer?

Ìàøóëå 1 ìåñÿöQuestion #1: Deadbeat dad

Mrs. Gerusha* calls me with the following question:

“I am a divorced baalas teshuvah with two young children, a son and a daughter. My son never had a pidyon haben, and my ex-husband is an agnostic who is not interested in participating. Am I required to perform the pidyon haben for my twelve-year-old son, and what is the procedure if I do?”

Question #2: Who’s on first?

Mrs. Gerusha’s son asks: “May I perform my pidyon haben at my bar mitzvah?”

Question #3: Late bloomer

The Schwartz family discovered observant Judaism sometime after their oldest son was born some twenty years ago. Recently, they realized that they have never fulfilled the mitzvah of pidyon haben. The question is: Who should perform the mitzvah now, Mr. Schwartz or his yeshivah-bachur oldest son? In other words, if a father did not redeem his firstborn son who is now an adult, may he still fulfill the mitzvah?

Answer

This week’s parshah includes one of the places where the Torah mentions the mitzvah of pidyon haben, the redeeming of a firstborn son. This mitzvah is usually fulfilled by a father giving to a kohen five silver coins, each of which is worth a sela (plural sela’im), the cost established by the Torah to fulfill this mitzvah. This mitzvah is required only if the firstborn is not a kohen or a levi, his mother is not the daughter of either a kohen or a levi, and his delivery was a natural birth, in which case he is called a petter rechem.

The Gemara (Kiddushin 29a) derives that a father is required to fulfill the mitzvah of redeeming his firstborn son.

There are three obvious situations in which the father would not perform this mitzvah:

  1. The father died before he performed the mitzvah.
  2. The father is not Jewish or is unknown.
  3. The father did not fulfill the mitzvah, although he could have.

Regardless as to why the father does not perform the mitzvah, the mother has no responsibility to do so. Rather, upon becoming bar mitzvah, the firstborn son himself becomes obligated in the mitzvah.

Thus, we can already examine Mrs. Gerusha’s question concerning her son who never had a pidyon haben, and whose father is unwilling to perform the mitzvah. She asked whether she is required to perform the pidyon haben.

Certainly, Mrs. Gerusha is not required to redeem her son.

May she?

When Mrs. Gerusha was told that she is not required to perform pidyon haben, she immediately asked whether she may perform the mitzvah. Answering this question requires an introduction.

Pidyon haben vs. bris

Pidyon haben is similar to the mitzvah of bris milah in that the father is the individual primarily responsible to fulfill it. However, there is a major difference between the two mitzvos: Should the father not fulfill the mitzvah of bris milah, the rest of the Jewish people become obligated to perform the bris milah on the uncircumsized child. The Gemara calls this “beis din being obligated in the mitzvah,” since they are the representative of the Jewish people.

On the other hand, in the case of pidyon haben, the community is not obligated to redeem this child. Should there be no father or should he fail to redeem his son, the mitzvah becomes the child’s to perform upon his becoming old enough to do so.

May they redeem?

Granted that no one is obligated to perform pidyon haben other than a father of the firstborn or, upon becoming of age, the firstborn son himself, may someone else give money to a kohen for the purposes of pidyon haben and thereby redeem the firstborn?

This question is discussed by several halachic authorities, the Taz (Yoreh Deah 305:11) concluding that someone other than the father cannot perform the redemption on behalf of a minor, whereas most authorities rule that a third party may redeem the firstborn (Nekudas Hakesef and Gra ad loc; Machaneh Efrayim, Hilchos Zechiyah #7; see also Ketzos Hachoshen 243:7 and Milu’ei Choshen ad locum). Thus, although Mrs. Gerusha is not required to redeem her son, according to most authorities, should she choose to do so, the redemption is effective.

When the bechor redeems himself, he recites a different version of the text than a father does when he redeems his son. When a father redeems his son, he recites Asher kideshanu bemitzvosav vetzivanu al pidyon haben [He Who commanded us in His commandments concerning redeeming the son] (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 305:10). According to the Shulchan Aruch and the prevalent practice among Sefardim, when the bechor redeems himself, since he is not redeeming his son he closes the brocha with the words lifdos habechor (to redeem the firstborn). According to the Rema and the prevalent Ashkenazic custom, he concludes with the words al pidyon habechor (concerning redeeming the firstborn).

Early responsum

One of our opening questions asked whether a father is still responsible to observe the mitzvah of pidyon haben after his son becomes old enough to fulfill the mitzvah himself. This very question is discussed by the Rashba (Shu’t Harashba 2:321). The rabbonim of the city of Toledo, Spain, asked the Rashba (who lived his entire life in Barcelona) to rule on a situation in which a father had not redeemed his son shortly after the latter’s birth. Many years have passed, and the son is an adult who is interested in performing the mitzvah himself. The father has decided that he would like now to do the mitzvah, and contends that it is his mitzvah to perform. On the other hand, the son feels that once he became an adult the mitzvah is entirely his and no longer his father’s. Does the father still have a requirement to perform the mitzvah? Assuming that he does, is there a preference which of the two, the father or the son, performs the mitzvah?

The Toledo contention

The rabbonim of Toledo were unsure what to do, and therefore decided to have both the father and the son give the required amount for pidyon haben to the kohen, to be certain that the mitzvah was performed correctly. Since they were undecided as to whether the father or the son was observing the mitzvah, they ruled that neither one should recite the brocha prior to giving the kohen the redemption money. Since the kohen had now received more money than he was entitled to according to the halachah, he was required to return the difference. (The responsum does not say to whom the money was returned.)

Rashba’s ruling

Although the pidyon had already been performed according to their ruling, the rabbonim of Toledo asked the Rashba whether their decision was accurate. The Rashba explained that the rabbonim of Toledo had not ruled correctly. The mitzvah of a father to redeem his son never ends, even when the son becomes old enough to be required to perform his own redemption. Since both father and son are now required to perform the redemption, yet only one pidyon is required, whoever performs it first fulfills the mitzvah and should recite the brocha prior to giving the kohen the redemption money. The Rashba concludes that if the father and son ask which of them should preferably perform the mitzvah, the answer is the father. Therefore, in the case of Toledo, the son could have performed the mitzvah and recited the brochos (including shehecheyanu, see below), but, preferably, the father should have performed the mitzvah, in which case he would recite the brochos.

At this point, we can return to our opening question #3: The Schwartz family joined observant Judaism some time after their oldest son was born, some twenty years ago. Recently, they realized that they had never fulfilled the mitzvah of pidyon haben. The question is: Who should perform the mitzvah now, Mr. Schwartz, or his yeshivah-bachur oldest son? In other words, if a father did not redeem his firstborn son who is now an adult, may he still fulfill the mitzvah?

The answer is that either the father or the son can perform the mitzvah, and whoever does so recites the brochos. If they ask who should preferably perform the mitzvah, the answer is that it should be Mr. Schwartz.

Coercion

Should a father fail to perform the mitzvah of pidyon haben, the beis din has the halachic right and responsibility to coerce him to perform his mitzvah. What is the law if the father did not perform the mitzvah when his son was young, and now the son is old enough to perform the mitzvah himself? Does beis din coerce one of them to perform the mitzvah, and if it does, which one, the father or the son?

The Rashba rules that if the son is in a financial position to perform the mitzvah, we coerce the son, rather than the father, to do so. If the son is not in a financial position to perform the mitzvah himself, beis din should force the father.

Redeeming yourself

What is the procedure for performing pidyon haben when the adult son redeems himself?

Let us first review the basic steps of a regular pidyon haben performed by a father to redeem his recently born son.

A festive meal is celebrated in honor of the pidyon haben, in order to call attention to the mitzvah. After hamotzi has been recited, the father brings the bechor to the kohen, who is seated at a place of honor. The father declares to the kohen that the baby is a firstborn son, whom he is required to redeem.

The kohen then responds with the famous and enigmatic thousand-year old question: “Mai ba’is tefei?” “Which do you prefer? Would you rather have your child or the five silver coins, sela’im, of pidyon?”

The father responds that he would prefer his son, and that he has the money on hand with which to redeem his son. The father then recites two brochos: Asher kideshanu bemitzvosav vetzivanu al pidyon haben for the mitzvah of pidyon haben, and Shehecheyanu (Rema, Yoreh Deah 305:10). He then places the silver coins in the kohen’s hand. The kohen recites the verses of the birchas Kohanim and other words of blessing over the head of the bechor. The procedure is completed by the kohen reciting a brocha on a cup of wine and drinking it.

Redeeming oneself

An early halachic authority, the Maharshal, adapts the choreography of a standard pidyon haben to the situation in which a firstborn is redeeming himself because his father died before fulfilling the mitzvah:

The adult firstborn begins the proceedings by reciting the following declaration: “I am a firstborn petter rechem (see above) and Hashem commanded us to redeem the firstborn. Unfortunately, my father died before he redeemed me, and I remain with the responsibility to redeem myself… I am now prepared to fulfill the mitzvah of Hashem.”

The kohen then tells the firstborn, “Would you prefer your own body or the five sela’im that you are required to pay as your redemption money?” To which the firstborn answers: “I want to keep myself, and here are the five sela’im coins.” The firstborn then recites two brochos, the brocha on the mitzvah of pidyon haben and the brocha of Shehecheyanu (Yam shel Shlomoh, Kiddushin 1:53).

At this point, we can complete our answer to Mrs. Gerusha’s opening inquiry: “I am a divorced baalas teshuvah with two young children, a son and a daughter. My son never had a pidyon haben, and my ex-husband is an agnostic who is not interested in participating. Am I required to perform the pidyon haben for my twelve-year-old son, and what is the procedure if I do?”

As we mentioned above, the halachah is that a mother is not required to perform the mitzvah of pidyon haben. If the father refuses to perform the mitzvah, the mitzvah will devolve upon the firstborn son, upon his becoming obligated in mitzvos. In this latter case, the choreography would follow the Maharshal’s approach, making a slight modification in the text to accommodate the difference in circumstances – the firstborn’s father is alive.

Should the mother perform the pidyon on behalf of her son, as we mentioned above, most authorities consider the redemption valid, and the son will not be obligated in this mitzvah upon his becoming an adult. If she followed this approach, she should modify the pidyon haben choreography to note that she is redeeming her son. Personally, if I were asked what to do, I would advise them to wait until the son is old enough to perform his own pidyon, and to follow the text mentioned by the Maharshal, with the appropriate change reflecting the fact that the father is still alive.

When to redeem himself?

If the son is performing his own pidyon haben, when should he do it?

Since he becomes obligated in this mitzvah upon his bar mitzvah, he should perform the pidyon haben as soon as he has money with which to perform it. He is not required to beg or borrow money in order to do so, but may wait until he has earned the money or received it as a present. Other people may give him money so that he can perform the pidyon haben. Anyone may pay for the festive pidyon haben seudah.

This leads us to a new question: Since they would be celebrating a special meal on the occasion of his turning bar mitzvah, should they make the pidyon haben at that meal, or have two separate festive meals, one for the pidyon and the other for the bar mitzvah?

Combining semachos

Is it permitted for the firstborn bar mitzvah to combine his bar mitzvah celebration party with the pidyon haben? The background to this question is as follows:

The Mishnah (Moed Katan 8b) prohibits getting married on Chol Hamoed. The Gemara presents several disputing reasons for this ruling. One approach is that one should not overlap two festivities. Does this concern apply should the firstborn son celebrate his pidyon haben and his bar mitzvah at the same banquet – that this joint celebration deters from the celebration of one of the mitzvos?

Pidyon haben on Chol Hamoed

Tosafos (Moed Katan 8b s.v. Mipenei) discusses whether the prohibition against marrying on Chol Hamoed extends to other celebrations, such as a pidyon haben. At first, he considers that this might be prohibited, but he concludes that the Mishnah’s prohibition includes only getting married on Chol Hamoed, but not pidyon haben and other celebrations that are not as festive as is a wedding. This decision is followed by the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 546:4) and others (Birchei Yosef, Yoreh Deah 305:18), but not by all authorities (see Rema, Yoreh Deah, 305:11). Similarly, we rule that a bris, a sheva brachos or a bar mitzvah may be celebrated on Chol Hamoed (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 546:3, 4), and that the only combined celebration prohibited is a wedding on Chol Hamoed.

Thus, it is perfectly fine for the son to do his pidyon haben at his bar mitzvah celebration. As a matter of fact, I would strongly encourage that he do so if he has the money with which to fulfill the mitzvah, since this accomplishes that fulfilling the mitzvah of pidyon haben is not delayed, and that it is observed at a festive occasion.

Thus we can now answer Mrs. Gerusha’s son’s question that we quoted at the beginning of this article: “May I perform my pidyon haben at my bar mitzvah?”

The answer is that he certainly may, and, since it is the first opportunity for the son to do so, it is, indeed, an exemplary time to perform the mitzvah.

Conclusion

Since the time of makas bechoros, all first-born males have a certain kedusha. This special sanctity should have resulted in their taking a special role in the service in the Beis Hamikdash. However, because the bechorim were involved in worshipping the eigel hazahav, they lost their unique status and could no longer perform any special role there. As a result, the bechor must undergo a redemption ceremony to make amends – which is accomplished by giving money to a kohen as a means of “redeeming” his kedusha.

* All names have been changed to protect people’s privacy.

 

What Is an Otzar Beis Din?

veggies in binWhat do the words “Otzar Beis Din” mean? And, as an old friend of mine would ask, “Is an Otzar Beis Din good for the Jews or bad for the Jews?”

Literally, the words mean “a storehouse operated by Beis Din.” Why would Beis Din operate a warehouse? Is this some type of gmach or warehouse for impounded goods? Or a place where Beis Din stores people who are recalcitrant to follow its rulings? Although these might be good ideas, they have nothing to do with an Otzar Beis Din, which is a halachically approved method of distributing shmittah produce.

Before explaining what is an Otzar Beis Din, we must first review briefly the halachos of shmittah. These rules fall under two general categories:

(1) Laws of the Land

(2) Laws of the Fruit.

LAWS OF THE LAND

The Torah (VaYikra 25:1-7) teaches that every seventh year is shmittah, and we are prohibited from working the land of Eretz Yisroel. One may not plow, plant, prune, or harvest one’s grapevines or perform most other agricultural work. Furthermore, one may not allow one’s land to be worked during shmittah, even by a gentile (Gemara Avodah Zarah 15b). Since we follow the opinion that shmittah today is only miderabbanan, we have one leniency — one may perform activities whose purpose is to prevent loss (see Gemara Moed Katan 3b). For example, one may water plants and trees so that they do not die (Gemara Moed Katan 3b; Rambam, Hil. Shmittah 1:10; cf. Chazon Ish, Shvi’is 16:4, 21:14, who is more lenient).

The landowner may not treat what grows during shmittah as his own; rather he must allow others to enter his field or orchard and help themselves. If his field is fenced, the owner must leave the gate unlocked and should remove any impediments that discourage people from helping themselves to the produce (Rambam, Hil. Shmittah 4:24). They may take only as much as their family will eat, and the landowner himself may also take this amount (see Rambam, Hil. Shmittah 4:1). According to many poskim, the owner has a special mitzvah to declare that his produce is hefker, ownerless (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Yorah Deah 3:90 s.v. vihataam).

One must not pick shmittah produce the way one usually would, but with a shinuy, some variation from the usual (Sifra). One may not sell shmittah produce in a business manner (Rambam, Hil. Shmittah 6:1).

LAWS OF THE FRUIT

Shmittah produce is imbued with special sanctity, called kedushas shvi’is. The Torah provides specific rules that govern how one treats shmittah produce. These laws fall under the following categories:

THE WAY IT IS EATEN

The Torah teaches that shmittah produce may be eaten, but it may not be ruined. What types of “ruining” did the Torah prohibit? Foods that are usually only eaten cooked should not be eaten raw, and those that are not cooked should not be cooked. For example, one may not eat shmittah potatoes raw, nor cook shmittah cucumbers or oranges, even as part of a recipe. Similarly, one may not squeeze a fruit into juice, since this is considered “ruining” the fruit, although one may squeeze grapes, olives or lemons that have kedushas shvi’is since in these cases the fruit is not ruined, but improved, when squeezed. However, one may not squeeze apples or carrots, even if one usually does so, since one is ruining the fruit in the process of extracting its juice. Similarly, one may not add slices of shmittah orange to a recipe for a roast since the orange is ruined in the process even though the roast is improved (Shu’t Mishpat Kohen, #85).

If someone errantly squeezed a shmittah fruit, or cooked produce that should have been eaten raw, the finished product is permitted. It goes without saying that one must be careful not to actively destroy shmittah produce.

If one uses a shmittah product as an ingredient, one must treat everything that absorbs the taste of the shmittah product with the laws of kedushas shvi’is. Therefore, if someone used shmittah potatoes in a cholent, or shmittah onions or bay leaves in a soup, one must treat the entire cholent or soup with the laws of kedushas shvi’is.

One may not feed animals shmittah produce that is usually eaten by people. However, one may feed animals shmittah product that is typically used as feed, such as peels and seeds that people do not consume, or if they are no longer considered fit for human consumption.

COMMERCE WITH SHMITTAH PRODUCE

One must be careful not to sell shmittah produce in a way that implies that one is its true owner. For this reason, shmittah produce may not be sold by weight or measure (Mishnah Shvi’is 8:3), nor sold in a regular store (Yerushalmi Shvi’is 7:1). Instead, it should be distributed in a way that implies that this is a division of produce rather than a sale.

One may not export shmittah produce to chutz la’aretz (Mishnah Shvi’is 6:5). There is a halachic controversy whether one may ship esrogim to chutz la’aretz for people to fulfill the mitzvah (Beis Ridbaz 5:18; Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 1:186).

SANCTIFIES ITS EXCHANGE

Shmittah produce has an unusual halacha in that it is tofes damav, transfers its special laws onto the money or other item that is exchanged for it (Sukkah 40b). For this reason, if one sells or trades shmittah produce, the money or other item received in exchange also has kedushas shmittah and must be treated with all the laws mentioned above. Even so, the original produce maintains its kedushas shvi’is.

TERUMOS AND MAASROS

An interesting leniency applies to shmittah produce. Since it is halachically ownerless, there is no requirement to separate terumos and maasros from shmittah produce. The poskim dispute whether one must separate terumos and maasros from produce taken from the field of an owner who did not observe shmittah and did not allow people to help themselves (Shu’t Avkas Rocheil #24; Shu’t Mabit #11).

SEFICHIM

The Torah permits eating produce that grew by itself without working the field during shmittah. However, Chazal felt it necessary to prohibit grains and most vegetables that happened to grow on their own during shmittah year or were planted in violation of the laws of shmittah. The reason for this was that, even in the days of Chazal, it was unfortunately common to find Jews who deceitfully ignored shmittah laws. One practice of enterprising, unscrupulous farmers was to plant grain or vegetables and market them as produce that grew on its own! To discourage this illegal business, Chazal forbade even grains and vegetables that did grow on their own, a prohibition called sefichim, literally, “plants that sprouted.” Several exceptions were made, including that the produce of a non-Jew’s field is not prohibited as sefichim. Since a gentile is not obligated to observe shmittah, Chazal saw no reason to ban produce grown during shmittah in his field (Rambam, Hil. Shmittah 4:29).

OWNERLESS

Since all shmittah produce is halachically ownerless, every consumer has the halachic right to “help himself” to whatever his family might eat. (The poskim dispute whether one has the right to do this if the owner refuses entry. Even if it may be permitted, I do not recommend helping yourself to shmittah produce if the owner is not observing the laws of shmittah.) If my neighbor owns fruit trees, I have the right to enter his field and help myself. Similarly, if he has a vineyard, I may enter his vineyard and take as many grapes as my family can eat as table grapes or drink as wine. The field and tree are not ownerless, but the produce is.

WHAT IS AN OTZAR BEIS DIN?

With this introduction, we can now discuss what an Otzar Beis Din is. The owner of a vineyard is not required to produce wine for me, to allow me to harvest the grapes only for myself. If I do not have the equipment or expertise to press and process grapes into wine or olives into oil, I will be unable to utilize my rights to these fruits. Similarly, although I have a right to travel from Yerushalayim to pick citrus, mangos and bananas grown along the coast or in the northern part of the country, it is not that convenient for me to do so. How then can I possibly utilize the benefit of shmittah?

Enter the Otzar Beis Din to help out! Beis Din represents the consumer and hires people to gather the fruit, crush the grapes and olives into juice and oil, ferment the juice into wine, package the product, and then distribute it to the consumer. The Otzar Beis Din acts as the consumer’s agent and hires pickers, truckers, and other laborers; rents wine production equipment; purchases the bottles; produces shmittah fruits, wines and oils; and delivers them to a convenient distribution center near my house.

 

Obviously, the Otzar Beis Din cannot expect the pickers, truckers, and other laborers to work as unpaid volunteers, nor can they use the production equipment without paying rent. Similarly, the managers who coordinate this project are also entitled to a wage for their efforts. The Otzar Beis Din divides these costs among the consumers. However, no charge is made whatsoever for the fruit, since it is hefker, only for the labor and other costs involved. Thus, Otzar Beis Din products should cost less than regular retail prices for the same items.

 

Similarly, the farmer is required to allow anyone to enter his field and help himself to his crops. However, since it is inconvenient for a resident of Yerushalayim to travel to an orchard in the northern part of Israel or along its coast to pick oranges and bananas, the Otzar Beis Din picks and transports them to the consumer. All the other halachos of shmittah apply to this produce.

A “MODERN” OTZAR BEIS DIN

The Rabbonim and Beis Din of Yerushalayim organized the first modern Otzar Beis Din in 5670 (1910). Rav Tzvi Hirsch Cohen, a talmid chacham from Rechovot who owned vineyards and orchards, came to the Rabbonim of Yerushalayim requesting that they function as his Beis Din to distribute the wine and fruit from his orchards for the coming shmittah. The written contract, extant to this day, was signed by Rav Chayim Berlin, Rav of Yerushalayim at the time; Rav Yosef Chayim Zonnenfeld and Rav Pesach Frank, both of whom were later rabbonim of the city of Yerushalayim; and by two other prominent dayanim, Rav Yisroel Yaakov Yaavetz and Rav Moshe Nachum Wallenstein. To enable Yerushalayim residents to receive wine and fruit from Rav Cohen’s orchards, someone had to arrange to harvest the fruit, process the grapes into wine, and transport the products to Yerushalayim. Since Rav Cohen was the most qualified person to take care of these arrangements, the Beis Din appointed him to be their representative on behalf of the general public to harvest and process the produce and transport it to Yerushalayim. As an agent he was entitled to a wage for his work, as were the other employees who harvested, crushed, packaged, and transported the crop, but no one was entitled to any profits on the produce.

The Beis Din established several rules to maintain that the laws of shmittah were scrupulously kept in this arrangement, and to guarantee that Rav Cohen was paid as a manager and not as an owner of the product. For one thing, they predetermined the price that the consumer would pay for the wine, guaranteeing that it be significantly lower than its usual market price (Sefer Minchas Yerushalayim pg. 161).

Because of the laws governing the harvest and use of shmittah products, the Beis Din also insisted on the following rules:

1) The wine and fruits could be distributed only to people who would observe the shmittah sanctity of the products (see Tosefta Shvi’is 6:11).

2) The vineyards and orchards had to be available for any shmittah observant person to enter and harvest for his own needs (Sefer Minchas Yerushalayim pg. 181).

3) The products were not distributed through stores, but were divided as a communal division of bulk product. The products were not weighed or measured. Each individual who participated in dividing the shmittah produce paid Rav Cohen as Beis Din’s agent, for which the consumer was entitled to “shares” of wine and produce that were delivered in bulk containers without an exact weight.

4) The actual harvest of the product was performed by gentiles and in an atypical way (Katif Shvi’is pg. 125).

In his analysis of the procedure of an Otzar Beis Din, the Chazon Ish (Shvi’is 11:7 s.v. bemashekasavti) follows a more lenient approach than that of the Beis Din of Yerushalayim. He ruled that representatives of an Otzar Beis Din may harvest in the normal way and use Jewish labor. Thus the Otzar Beis Din of a modern farm following the Chazon Ish’s ruling allows Jewish staff to use combines to harvest and process the shmittah produce (Sefer HaShmittah pg. 21).

In addition, the Chazon Ish permitted weighing and measuring produce sold through Otzar Beis Din. In his opinion, the prohibition against weighing and measuring shmittah produce is only because this indicates that I am the owner of the produce. However, weighing and measuring Otzar Beis Din produce is to determine a fair division of costs involved in supplying the produce, and not to demonstrate ownership.

The 1910 Otzar Beis Din of Yerushalayim was stricter than this approach and did not allow any weighing or measuring of produce. Each participating household received “units” of wine and/or fruit which were deliberately approximate and not measured or weighed.

In a modern Otzar Beis Din, the grower plants everything before shmittah and is given extremely detailed instructions regarding what he may and may not do during shmittah (Katif Shvi’is pg. 126). The grower must allow any shmittah observant person to enter the field or orchard and help himself to the produce (Mishpetei Aretz pg. 103).

Usually, the grower has agreed in advance to a price for his produce which he will receive regardless of the quality of the produce. The grower must understand that this price is not a purchase of the produce, but compensation for his out-of-pocket expenses, including compensation for his own time.

“HETER OTZAR BEIS DIN”

Now is the time to approach our second question: “Is an Otzar Beis Din good or bad for the Jews?” The modern term “heter Otzar Beis Din” is used pejoratively. The purpose of an Otzar Beis Din is to service the consumer, not the producer, as I explained above. Unfortunately, unscrupulous individuals sometimes manipulate the rubric of Otzar Beis Din to allow a “business as usual” attitude and violate both the spirit and the halacha of shmittah. If the farmer is operating with a true Otzar Beis Din, he will allow a shmittah observant person to enter his field and help himself to the produce. (If he is concerned that the individual may damage the field or the trees, then he can make other arrangements.) However, if the field owner treats the produce as completely his own and charges accordingly, this contradicts the meaning of Otzar Beis Din. Cases like these are called heter Otzar Beis Din; meaning a permissibility based on an abuse of the concept of Otzar Beis Din. Because of these concerns, some hechsherim discourage the use of Otzar Beis Din. (See extensive discussion of this question in Minchas Yerushalayim Chapter 9.)

Thus in answer to our question whether Otzar Beis Din is good for the Jews or bad for the Jews, the answer is that although it is good for the Jews in theory, in practice Otzar Beis Din becomes bad for the Jews when it degenerates into a heter Otzar Beis Din. I certainly encourage use of a properly run Otzar Beis Din, which also includes that the produce must be treated with all the rules of kedushas shevi’is.

For the modern farmer, observing shmittah is true mesiras nefesh, since among many other concerns he also risks losing customers who have been purchasing his products for years. Of course, since a Jew realizes that Hashem provides parnasah and that observing a mitzvah will never hurt anyone, a sincerely observant farmer obeys the Torah dictates knowing that Hashem attends to all his needs. Indeed, all recent shmittos have had numerous miracles rewarding observant farmers in this world for their halachic diligence. Who can possibly imagine what reward awaits them in Olam Haba!

 

The Heter Mechirah Controversy

carotsThe Heter Mechirah Controversy

Several shmittah cycles ago I was working as a mashgiach for a properly run American hechsher. One factory that I supervised used to manufacture 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. They may only take as much as their family will be eating, and the farmer also may take this amount. Many other 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 product 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 rewarding observant farmers 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. ayn odrin, prohibits; whereas 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 of 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), although at that time there were 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 observe shmittah in full halachic detail. Apparently, at the same time there were some Sefardic 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 of 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,laiming that the new yishuv could not survive financially if shmittah were to be 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 horaas shaah, 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, who 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 steadfast and expounded on the divine blessings guaranteed them for observing shmittah. The letter also noted that Klal Yisroel was punished severely in  earlier times 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 were adamant in their opposition. He decided not to sell the land himself, but arranged mechirah for those who wanted it through the Sefardic rabbonim in Yerushalayim, who had apparently performed this mechirah in previous years.

What happened? Did the Jewish farmers observe the shmittah as cajoled 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 succumbed to the pressure and relied on heter mechirah. Apparently, many farmers were subjected to considerable financial and social pressure not to observe 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 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 upon 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 the 1896 shmittah year. These rabbonim felt that the circumstances had not changed and that there was still a need for heter mechirah. Rav Hertz himself passed away before the heter mechirah was finalized, and his son-in-law, Rav Yosef HaLevi, apparently 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. As Rav 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 appointing an agent to sell the land for the years of shmittah. Rav Kook improvised a facet of the mechira enabling even a farmer who did not avail himself of the mechirah to be included since it would be 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, a practical question now results that affects a consumer purchasing this farmer’s produce. If the farmer did not authorize the sale, does the produce indeed not have the sanctity of shmittah produce? For this latter reason, many individuals who might otherwise accept heter mechirah produce do not.

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 most 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 of 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 returns to the owner preempts the violation (Shu’t Shemen Hamor, Yoreh Deah #4), while others permit this since the sale 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 a gentile who does not worship idols (Sefer Hashmittah pg. 74; Yalkut Yosef pg. 665, quoting Mizbayach 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 incorporate some other aspects of the way the sale transpires to avoid this problem (Sefer Hashemittah pg. 75). 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 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 manufactured through heter mechirah; some contending that one may, others ruling that both the produce and the pots are non-kosher, whereas others accept 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 in advance what he intends to do.

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 follows:

SEFICHIM

The Torah permitted the use of any produce that grew on its own without working the field during shmittah. Unfortunately though, even in the days of Chazal, it was common to find Jews who deceitfully ignored shmittah laws. One practice of enterprising, 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.

“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 “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.

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 were already distributed. The hechsher referred the shaylah to its posek, asking whether they were required to recall the product from the stores as non-kosher, or whether it was sufficient to advertise that an error had occurred and allow the customer to ask his individual rav for halachic guidance.

What would you advise?

May an Ashkenazi Eat Sirloin?

meat“And Yaakov was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man realized that he was unable to defeat Yaakov, he struck the “kaf” of Yaakov’s thigh, which became dislocated as a result of the wrestling. And the sun rose as Yaakov passed Penuel, and he was limping because of his injured thigh. Therefore, the descendants of Yisroel do not eat the sciatic sinew to this very day, for the man struck Yaakov on that sinew, dislocating it” (Breishis 32:25-26, 32-33).

With these words, the Torah introduces us to the mitzvah of gid hanosheh, which forbids us from eating the sciatic nerve, a sinew that runs from the lower back over the top of the hip and down the leg, at which point it divides into other nerves. The Hebrew word gid describes stringy body parts whose texture is too tough to chew comfortably, and may refer to nerves, tendons, ligaments, or even blood vessels (see Rambam, Peirush Hamishnayos, Zevachim 3:4). It is noteworthy that the Chinese word for the Kai Feng Jewish community was “the people who remove the sinew,” referring to the gid hanosheh; thus the observance of this mitzvah became the identifying description of the Jews.

An entire chapter of Mishnah and Gemara (the seventh chapter of Chullin) is devoted to the halachic discussion of this mitzvah, which is the third mitzvah mentioned in the Torah. The Gemara (Chullin 91a) there teaches that there is an inner gid that lies along the bone which is prohibited min hatorah, and an outer gid that lies along the meat, which is prohibited only miderabbanan. In addition, a layer of protective fat that surrounds the gid is also prohibited miderabbanan.

The Mishnah (Chullin 96a) records a dispute regarding how much of the nerve must be removed: the Tanna Kamma rules that one must remove the entire gid, whereas Rabbi Yehudah rules that one need remove only the main part of the gid. Both opinions agree that the Torah forbade only that part of the gid that lies on the top of the hip (the “kaf” of Yaakov’s thigh). According to the Tanna Kamma, the rest of the nerve is prohibited as a rabbinic injunction. Rabbi Yehudah contended that the rest of the nerve is not prohibited even miderabbanan, and therefore he did not require its removal (Chullin 96a). (The Ritva, Chullin 92b, contends that, according to some opinions, the entire main nerve and its branches are forbidden min hatorah.)

The Mishnah teaches that the mitzvah of gid hanosheh applies to all kosher mammals. This includes species of beheimah, i.e., domesticated kosher species such as cattle and sheep, and species of chayah, i.e., kosher species that are usually (but inaccurately) categorized as wild or non-domesticated species. (I discuss this inaccuracy more extensively in a different article.) Gid hanosheh does not apply to poultry, since the thigh of a bird is shaped differently and therefore has no “kaf.” Therefore, there is no need to remove this sinew from kosher birds.

There is a major difference between the prohibitions of gid hanosheh and cheilev. Whereas gid hanosheh applies to beheimah and chaya species, the Torah’s prohibition of consuming certain fats – predominantly those attached to the stomachs and the kidneys – applies only to species of beheimah, but not to chayah species (Mishnah Chullin 89b).

Another mitzvah that is affected by whether a species is a chayah or a beheimah: the mitzvah of kisuy hadam, covering the blood immediately following shechitah. This mitzvah applies only to fowl and chayah species, but not to beheimah species (Mishnah Chullin 83b). We therefore have three different types of meat species that have variant halachos pertaining to three different mitzvos: Gid hanosheh applies to beheimah and chayah, but not to birds; Cheilev applies to beheimah, but not to chayah and birds. Kisuy hadam applies only to chayah and birds, but not to beheimah.

It is important to note that the halachic definitions of beheimah and chayah are unclear. Since we are uncertain which species are considered beheimah and which are considered chayah, we are stringent and treat any species of which we are uncertain as both beheimah and chayah lechumrah, unless we have a mesorah, an oral tradition, about the halachic status of this specific species (see Shach, Yoreh Deah 80:1 as explained by Pri Megadim). Thus, we forbid the cheilev for any such species, because it might be a beheimah, yet its blood is covered after slaughter, because it might be a chayah. Since we are uncertain whether or not it is a chayah, the blood is covered without reciting the bracha one usually recites before performing this mitzvah.

The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 28:4) rules that one does not perform kisuy hadam for a buffalo; this determines it to be a beheimah. (He is presumably referring to the Asian water buffalo, which was domesticated in Southern Europe hundreds of years before the Shulchan Aruch.) The Rama (ad loc.) however rules that the status of the buffalo is uncertain. According to both opinions, the cheilev is forbidden — according to the Shulchan Aruch, definitely forbidden as the cheilev of a beheimah, and according to the Rama, out of doubt. There are, also, several other bovine type species such as the yak, the African Cape buffalo, and both the American and the European bison, all of which should probably be considered a safek if they are a chayah or a beheimah, and therefore their cheilev is prohibited misafek and their blood must be covered without a bracha. (See Chullin 59b and 80a; Gra and Pri Chodosh to Yoreh Deah 80; Ohr Somayach, Ma’achalos Asuros, Chapter 1).

TRABERING

Since the Torah prohibits consuming both cheilev and the gid hanosheh, these forbidden parts must be removed from an animal before its meat can be eaten. This process is called “trabering,” a Yiddish word that derives from tarba, the Aramaic word for cheilev. The Hebrew word for the process is “nikur,” excising, and the artisan who possesses the skill to properly remove it is called a menakeir (pl. menakerim). In truth, both the words traber and the word nikur are also used to describe the kosher butchering performed in the front part of the animal, called the forequarters, to remove blood vessels and some fat; however, I will be using the words traber and nikur to mean the more difficult task of trimming the hindquarters from the gid hanosheh and the cheilev. Although there is no absolute delineating point defining where the forequarters end and the hindquarters begin, the butcher usually counts the ribs, of which there are thirteen, and slices around the twelfth, considering the area below it to be part of the hindquarters. (The first rib is the one closest to the neck.) As we will discover shortly, not all halachic authorities accept that the meat above the twelfth rib should be treated as part of the forequarters.

Removing the gid hanosheh and forbidden fats from the hindquarters is an extremely arduous process that requires much skill and patience. It is interesting to note that the Rama (Yoreh Deah 64:7 and 65:8) points out twice that nikur cannot be learned from a text, only through apprenticeship. The Mishnah refers to a dispute among Tanna’im whether observant butchers can be trusted to remove the gid hanosheh and the non-kosher fats, Rabbi Meir contending that we cannot trust them, since removing them is highly tedious (Chullin 93b). In Rabbi Meir’s opinion, someone else must double check after the menakeir is finished, to see that the trabering was performed correctly. The halacha does not follow Rabbi Meir, and technically one may rely on a trained yarei shamayim menakeir to do the job properly. However, in many places the custom was more stringent.

SIXTEENTH CENTURY POLAND

The Maharshal reports that most of the menakerim in his day did not perform an adequate job — when they had a heavy workload, one would find that they failed to remove all the cheilev. The Maharshal notes that the menakeir must be not only well trained in his practice, but also a yarei shamayim who is meticulous in the work, and that one should not rely on just any typical menakeir. He also quotes an earlier authority, the Maharam Mintz, who did not eat meat after nikur until it was checked by a second menakeir. Since he had this policy all the time, he was able to avoid implying that any particular menakeir was careless or incompetent. The Maharshal praises this practice highly, noting that the original menakeir is more careful knowing that someone else will discover if he is sloppy. He reports that, after observing much inadequate nikur, he himself followed this approach of the Maharam Mintz not to eat meat unless a second menakeir had checked the first one’s work (Yam Shel Shelomoh, Chullin 1:2, 7:19; Be’er Heiteiv, Yoreh Deah 65:6).

NOT USING HINDQUARTERS

Since most of the forbidden fats and the entire gid hanosheh and all its tributaries are in the hindquarters, in many places the custom developed for Jews to eat only the meat of the forequarters, thus considerably simplifying the trabering process. The earliest source I have located that mentions this practice is a responsum from the Radbaz (Shu’t #162), who was the Chief Rabbi of Egypt almost five hundred years ago – and a Sefardi. (This is itself an interesting observation, since the practice of nikur of hindquarters is far more common today among Sefardim than among Ashkenazim.) The Radbaz had been asked about a local custom to slaughter on the eastern side of a building, apparently a Moslem custom of the time: The question was whether this practice violates halacha, since it is a Moslem practice. The Radbaz rules that one may slaughter on the eastern side, since there was nothing idolatrous about this practice. The reason a Jew would slaughter on the eastern side was because the Jews used only the forequarters and left the hindquarters plus the non-kosher slaughtered animals (neveilos utreifos, those found to be halachically imperfect or where an error occurred during the shechitah). These were then sold to Moslems, who would not eat them unless they were slaughtered on the eastern side. Radbaz approved the practice not to traber the hindquarters, since expert menakerim are hard to find.

ASHKENAZIC 18TH AND 19TH CENTURY PRACTICES

In central Europe of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, we find that local need determined whether trabering was performed on the hindquarters. Someone asked the Noda BiYehudah (Yoreh Deah II #31) whether he should be concerned about the meat located on the forequarters. The Noda BiYehudah contended that some of the fat located between the 11th and the 12th rib is cheilev that requires removal by an expert menakeir. The Noda BiYehudah notes that in Prague, where he was the Rav, the area past the 11th rib was trabered by the menakerim who were expert in trabering the hindquarters. In his opinion, if there are no menakerim in town who know how to traber the hindquarters, then one should use only the meat above the eleventh rib.

The Chasam Sofer (Shu’t Yoreh Deah #68) disagreed with the Noda BiYehudah, contending that any fat located above the 13th rib is not cheilev and is removed only because of custom. If the place has expert menakerim available, then they should trim the area beyond the 12th rib. However, if there are no experts available, it is acceptable to have regular butchers trim the area between the 12th and the 13th ribs.

Thus, one sees from both of these responsa that in their day, whether a community used meat of the hindquarters meat depended on local custom and the expertise of the local butchers. Many communities did not use the hindquarters meat at all, but sold it as non-kosher, because they lacked skilled menakerim. However, communities that had skilled menakerim utilized their talents and enjoyed kosher hindquarters meat. Clearly, neither the Noda BiYehudah nor the Chasam Sofer was concerned about using the hindquarters, as long as expert menakerim are involved.

On the other hand, about this period of time we see that in some places it was becoming accepted practice not to traber the hindquarters. In a teshuvah dated the day after Tisha B’Av 5625 (1865), Rav Shamshon Rephael Hirsch wrote to Rav Yissochor Berish Bernstein, the Av Beis Din and Rosh Yeshiva of the Hague, that one should not relax the custom “already established by our fathers and grandfathers” to refrain from the practice of trabering (Shemesh Marpei #34).

Although nikur continued to be practiced in the 20th century, in Ashkenazic communities it became the exception rather than the norm. The Aruch Hashulchan notes (Yoreh Deah 64:54, 65:31) that most places did not perform nikur on the hindquarters and instead sold them to non-Jews, although there were still places where it was practiced, including his own city, where very tight controls were kept to insure that it was performed properly.

POLAND, 1936

The practice not to use the hindquarters was, apparently, universally accepted in Poland by the first third of the twentieth century. Because of a very sad turn of events, this practice created a very unfortunate shaylah. In 1936, the Polish Parliament, influenced by anti-Semitism from neighboring Nazi Germany, banned shechitah and permitted it only for Jewish consumption. The law specified that non-Jews could eat no part of the kosher slaughtered meat. Although they officially claimed that this was in order to recognize the Jews’ freedom of religion, in reality, this law implied that the Judaic practice of shechitah is inhumane.

This created a shaylah, since the custom existed not to traber and eat from the hindquarters. In essence, the accepted practice treated the entire hindquarters as non-kosher. However, being stringent under the new circumstances would make the price of meat prohibitively expensive, since the entire cost of the animal would have to be absorbed by the sale of its forequarters.

A halachic issue now came to the forefront. Once a custom has been established as accepted practice, it has the status of a vow that may not be rescinded (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 214:2). Did the practice of refraining from eating the meat of the hindquarters have the status of a minhag that could not be rescinded?

Rav Chayim Ozer Grodzenski, the posek of the generation, ruled that it was permitted to reintroduce the practice of trabering the hindquarters by experienced, G-d-fearing experts. In his opinion, the practice not to traber the hindquarters did not have the status of a vow that may not be rescinded, nor of a minhag that requires hataras nedarim. He ruled that it was simply more practical not to traber, since there was an ample supply of meat without resorting to trabering the hindquarters, and it was simply not worthwhile to bother. Certainly, the practice did not begin at a time when there was compelling reason to traber the hindquarters, and this would serve as adequate reason to reintroduce the practice. Rav Chayim Ozer added that the government’s intent in this evil decree was to forcibly close down shechitah by making it financially non-viable. Thus, he felt that it was a mitzvah to permit the hindquarter meat, in order to demonstrate that the decree would not prevent the Jews from having kosher meat. Furthermore, if it were officially accepted that the hindquarters were permitted, there would be proper supervision of the trabering to guarantee that it was performed properly (Shu’t Achiezer 3:84).

Initially, several Chassidic rabbayim opposed permitting the practice, concerned both about minhag and whether all the people performing nikur would be trained and work with the necessary yiras shamayim. Rav Chayim Ozer then wrote to several of the great rebbes living in Poland at the time, notably the Bobover Rebbe and the Lubavitcher Rebbe, to elicit their support. Both of these rebbes eventually agreed that the needs of the generation called for permitting nikur of the hindquarters, provided it was performed by trained, yirei shamayim menakerim. Thus, all segments of Polish Jewry accepted the decision of Rav Chayim Ozer.

THREE MODERN SHAYLOS

BRUSSELS, 1964

In 1964, Rav Shmaryahu Karelitz, the Rav of Brussels, Belgium, sent Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l a shaylah whether they could reinstitute the practice of trabering the hindquarters in Belgium, since they found themselves short of kosher meat. Rav Moshe ruled that as long as a proficient menakeir, licensed by an expert Rav, performed the trabering, there was no reason to prohibit this meat. Rav Moshe writes that refraining from using the hindquarters does not have the status of a minhag; simply, it resulted from the fact that butchers did not bother, either because they were easily able to sell the hindquarters as non-kosher, or because the butchers lacked the expertise. However, should it become worthwhile to traber the hindquarters, there is no halachic problem with reintroducing the practice, provided the menakeir is a yarei shamayim and properly trained and licensed (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 2:42).

SOUTH AFRICA, 1990

A dissenting position is found in the responsa of Rav Moshe Sternbuch, shlit”a, currently Av Beis Din of the Eidah HaChareidis in Yerushalayim, and formerly rav of a kehillah in Johannesburg, South Africa. During his tenure in South Africa, he was asked about renewing the practice of trabering there, utilizing the skills of an expert menakeir. Rav Sternbuch prohibited the practice, contending that not trabering the hindquarters has the status of a minhag that may not be altered (Teshuvos VeHanhagos 1:418, 419).

UNITED STATES, 21st CENTURY

Within the last few years, the kosher market has begun regular production of shechitah of animals such as buffalo and deer, species in which removing the gid hanosheh and the cheilev might be financially advisable. I inquired from the OU what their policy is regarding nikur of these hindquarters, and they responded that they permit removing the gid hanosheh, but do not remove the cheilev. This translates into the following: If it is questionable whether a species is a chayah or a beheimah, the hindquarters are not trabered and are sold as non-kosher. However, if the species is one concerning which we have a mesorah to treat it as a chayah, there is no halachic requirement to remove any cheilev from the hindquarters, as we learned in the beginning of this article. The only halachic requirement is to remove the gid hanosheh. Thus, on species such as deer, where there is a halachic mesorah that it is a chayah, the hindquarters are trabered and the gid hanosheh is removed. However, on species such as bison (American buffalo), where there is no mesorah whether it is a chayah or a beheimah, the hindquarters are left untrabered and are sold as non-kosher.

WHY DISTINGUISH BETWEEN CHEILEV AND GID HANOSHEH?

I asked this same question and this is the response they sent me:

“Removing cheilev is difficult and time-consuming, even for those who know how. Removing the gid hanosheh and its subordinate parts is no more difficult than removing veins: one is removing a gid that separates easily from the surrounding meat. Therefore, when we know that an animal is a chayah, we allow the removal of the gid hanosheh. Any animal for which we do not have a mesorah whether it is a beheimah or a chayah, such as buffalo, will be treated as a sofek, and kisuy hadam will be performed, and the hindquarters will not be used for kosher.”

Rav Shamshon Rephael Hirsch explains the mitzvah of gid hanosheh as a message that although the spirit of Eisav will never conquer Yaakov and his descendants, Eisav will be able to hamstring Yaakov and prevent him from standing firmly on two feet. Thus, Yaakov goes through history with an unfirm physical posture and gait. By having to remove the gid hanasheh, whenever Yaakov’s descendants sit down to eat meat, they realize that their continued existence is not dependent on their physical strength and stamina, but on spiritual factors which can never be weakened by Eisav’s might.

 

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