Toiveling Keilim

Question #1:

“Last time I went to immersesome cutlery, a lady immersing some aluminum bowls asked me to include her with my beracha. When I asked her whether she wanted me to help her recite her own beracha on the mitzvah, she responded softly that she received a psak not to recite a beracha when toiveling aluminum, although she did not know the reason. Why would she not recite the beracha?”

Question #2:

“I have a gift business in which I sell candy dishes with candies, fruits, and nuts already in the glass dishes. Must I toivel these dishes before I fill them?”

Introduction:

In Parshas Matos, the Torah teaches: Only the gold and the silver; the copper, the iron, the tin and the lead: any item that was used in fire needs to be placed in fire to become pure [meaning “kosher”], yet it must also be purified in mikveh water. And that which was not used in fire must pass through water” (Bamidbar 31:22-23). These verses serve as the basis for teaching three different sets of laws:

  1. Absorbing Concepts

How to kasher vessels that were used to cook non-kosher foods. An item that was used directly in fire, such as a spit or grate that broiled non-kosher, is kashered only by burning it directly in fire; an item used to cook on top of a fire, such as a pot that cooked non-kosher, may be kashered via a process similar to the way it was used, etc.

  1. Tainted Metal

Which items are susceptible to tumah. The Torah here teaches that implements made of metal become tamei (spiritually impure) through contact with a tamei item (such as an animal carcass), and that immersing them in a mikveh restores them to tahor status. An item is susceptible to tumah only when the Torah informs us of this fact – if the Torah never taught that an item can become tamei,it does not, and therefore most items in the world are not susceptible to tumah. (Unfortunately, these laws have limited practical application until Moshiach comes and we again have the parah adumah. At that time, we will be able to live according to the tahor status necessary to observe the mitzvos related to the Beis Hamikdash, terumah and maaser sheini.)

  1. Immersed in Holiness

The mitzvah to immerse implements in a mikveh or spring prior to using them for food. The Gemara (Avodah Zarah 75b) notes that this immersion is required even if the vessel has never been used. In other words, this mitzvah is unrelated to the requirement of kashering equipment that was used to prepare non-kosher food and to the laws related to purifying implements that became tamei.

Materials that require tevilah

The Torah teaches that utensils owned by a non-Jew that are made of gold, silver, copper, iron, tin or lead require immersion in a kosher mikveh or spring when they are transferred to Jewish ownership. According to most authorities, this mitzvah is a Torah requirement, although there is a minority opinion that this mitzvah is required only miderabbanan (Rambam, as understood by Pri Chadash). We will assume that the requirement to immerse gold, silver, copper, iron, tin and lead implements is Torah-ordained. (Bear in mind that, although we would not use lead as an ingredient because of valid concerns about lead poisoning, this medical problem was not discovered until the nineteenth century. Therefore, we find much earlier halachic literature discussing immersion of lead or lead-lined utensils.)

There is no requirement to immerse food utensils made of wood, earthenware, ivory, bone, leather, stone or most other materials. We will soon discuss glass and plastic.

Mechiras Chometz and Tevilas Keilim

As we all know, before Pesach one is required to rid one’s house and all one’s possessions of chometz. However, some items, such as toasters, mixers, wooden kneading bowls, and flour bins are difficult, if not impossible, to clean. Shulchan Aruch and Rema (Orach Chayim 442:11) recommend giving wooden kneading bowls and flour bins and the chometz they contain as a gift to a non-Jew before Pesach, with the understanding that the gentile will return them after the holiday. Today, the standard mechiras chometz that we perform includes selling this chometz and these appliances in the sale. However, what do I do if I have metal appliances that may be full of chometz, such as mixers and toasters? If I sell these appliances to a gentile and then purchase the appliance back from him, will I now need to immerse the appliance in a mikveh?

The halachic authorities note that someone selling his or her chometz to a gentile before Pesach should be careful not to sell utensils that require tevilas keilim. Instead, one should rent the appliances to a gentile and sell the chometz they contain (Chachmas Odom; Noda Beyudah, cited in Pischei Teshuvah, Yoreh Deah 120:13). An item rented to a gentile does not require immersion when it is returned to the Jewish owner.

Cleavers versus Graters!

The Gemara (Avodah Zarah 75b) quotes Rav Sheishes as suggesting that anything purchased from a gentile, even a clothing shears, should require immersion. Rav Nachman responded that the mitzvah of tevilas keilim applies only to kelei seudah — literally, implements used for a meal, which includes both utensils used to prepare food, such as pots and knives, and those utilized to eat or drink, such as drinking cups and tableware (Avodah Zarah 75b).

Grates and Grills

One is required to immerse only those items that usually touch the food directly. Therefore, stove grates, blechs, hotplates, knife sharpeners, trivets, can openers and corkscrews do not require tevilah (see Yoreh Deah 120:4), but grills, peelers, funnels, strainers, salt shakers, pepper mills and tongs do require tevilah, since they all touch food.

What about storage vessels?

Is one required to immerse a metal container or glass jar used to store foodstuffs, but that is not suitable for preparing or consuming food?

Rabbi Akiva Eiger (on Yoreh Deah 120:1, quoting Keneses Hagedolah [Beis Yosef 18]) discusses whether storage vessels require tevilah, and concludes that it is unclear whether they should be immersed. Therefore one should immerse them without reciting a beracha, because in case there is no mitzvah to immerse them, reciting a beracha al tevilas keilim before immersing them is reciting a beracha levatalah, a beracha in vain. A better solution is to immerse them at the same time that one immerses an item that definitely requires a beracha.

Kelei Sechorah — “Merchandise”

The halachic authorities note that a storekeeper does not toivel vessels he is planning to sell, since for him they are not kelei seudah, but items he intends to sell. Later authorities therefore coined a term “kelei sechorah,” utensils used as merchandise, ruling that these items do not require immersion until they are purchased by the person intending to use them (based on Taz, Yoreh Deah 120:10). Furthermore, several halachic authorities contend that the storekeeper cannot immerse the vessels prior to sale, since there is as yet no requirement to immerse them (Shu’t Minchas Yitzchak 8:70). This is based on a statement of the Rema that implies that a tevilah performed before one is obligated to immerse a vessel, such as while it is still owned by the gentile, does not fulfill the mitzvah and must be repeated after it becomes the property of a Jew (Rema Yoreh Deah 120:9).

Based on this discussion, we can now address one of our above-mentioned questions:

“I have a gift business in which I sell candy dishes with candies, fruits, and nuts already in the glass dishes. Must I toivel these dishes before I fill them?”

This question is a modification of a situation in which I was involved. I once received a glass candy dish from someone, with a note from the business stating that the dish has already been toiveled. I called the proprietor of the business to inform him that, in my opinion, not only is he not required to toivel the dish, but I suspect that it does not help. My reasoning is that, although the proprietor fills his dishes with nuts and candies, from his perspective this is still merchandise that he is selling. The dish therefore qualifies as kelei sechorah which one need not immerse, and, therefore, immersing them does not fulfill the mitzvah. As a result, not only is the proprietor not obligated to immerse the dishes, but doing so fulfills no mitzvah, and it is a beracha levatalah for him to recite a beracha on this immersion. Including a note that the dish was toiveled is detrimental, since the recipient will assume that he has no requirement to toivel this dish, whereas, in fact, the end-user is required to immerse it. For these reasons, I felt it incumbent on myself to bring this to the attention of the owner of the business.

The proprietor was very appreciative. He told me that, in truth, it was a big hassle for him to toivel the dishes, but he had been assuming that halacha required him to do so before he could fill the dishes.

Some Immersing Details

When immersing the utensil, one should not hold it very tightly in one’s hand, since this will cause the part of the utensil he is holding to not be immersed properly. Instead, one should either hold the utensil somewhat loosely, or alternatively, one should dip one’s hand into the mikveh water before holding the utensil that will be immersed (Rema, Yoreh Deah 120:2; see Taz and Shach).

Prior to immersing a utensil, one must remove all rust and dirt from the utensil. If one immersed the utensil and it had rust or dirt that most people would not want on the appliance, one must clean it, and then re-immerse it (Yoreh Deah 120:13).

When one is immersing an item that definitely requires tevilah, immediately prior to dipping it, one should recite the beracha, Asher kideshanu bemitzvosav vetzivanu al tevilas keili. If one immerses more than one vessel he should conclude instead al tevilas keilim (Yoreh Deah 120:3). Although some authorities mention alternative texts to the beracha, I have quoted the commonly used text, which follows the majority opinion.

If it is uncertain whether the item requires tevilah, one should not recite a beracha. It is preferable, if possible, to immerse it at the same time that one immerses a different utensil that definitely requires tevilah, so that both items are included in the beracha.

May a child toivel keilim?

If a child tells you that he immersed a vessel in a kosher mikveh, may you rely that this indeed happened?

The halacha is that if an adult supervised the child immerse the vessel correctly, one may use the utensil, but one may not rely on the child attesting that he or she immersed the utensil properly (Yoreh Deah 120:14; see also Gr”a ad locum and Pri Megadim, Orach Chayim, Mishbetzos Zahav 451:6). Apparently, this is not a well-known halacha, since one often finds children being used as agents to immerse utensils for their parents.

People eating from glass dishes…

The Gemara teaches that food utensils made of glass must be immersed prior to use, since glassware is similar to metalware in that when it becomes broken it can be melted and repaired, what we usually call recyclable.One recites a beracha prior to immersing glassware, just as one recites a beracha prior to immersing metalware.

Of course, this leads us to a question about plasticware, since many forms of plastic are recyclable in ways very similar to metal and glass. Does repairable plasticware require tevilah just as glassware does? Most people assume that plasticware is not included in the mitzvah of tevilas keilim, but why?

This takes us to an earlier discussion between 19th-century poskim concerning a type of boneware, which, when broken or cracked, could be repaired by melting and melding it. (I personally have no experience with this material, but I imagine that one could probably melt and repair bone, just as one can repair horn by melting and melding. There is much halachic discussion about the repair of a damaged shofar by melting and melding the crack.) Rav Avraham Shaag, the rebbe of Rav Yosef Chayim Sonnenfeld (later the Rav of the old Yishuv of Yerushalayim and Eretz Yisrael), concluded that just as one is required to immerse glassware because it is repairable, one is required to immerse boneware (Shu’t Ohel Avraham #24, quoted by Darkei Teshuvah). This position was disputed by Rav David Zvi Hoffman, the preeminent posek of Germany in his day, who contended that since the immersion of glassware is required only miderabbanan, one need immerse only those items that Chazal specifically required, but a newly developed material, albeit similar to glassware, would not require immersion (Shu’t Melamed Leho’il, Yoreh Deah #49).

The late authorities debate whether plastic items require immersion prior to use. Indeed, some authorities (Shu’t Minchas Yitzchak 3:76) require the immersion of reusable plastic plates and the like, because they follow the logic of Rav Avraham Shaag — although without a beracha, since perhaps Rav Dovid Hoffman is halachically correct. Nevertheless, most authorities conclude that one is not required to immerse plasticware (Shu’t Yabia Omer 4: Yoreh Deah: 8; Tevilas Keilim page 226).

Other Metals

When teaching that metal implements become tamei and that one must immerse food utensils before use, the Torah specifies the six metals that were available in ancient times: gold, silver, copper, iron, tin and lead. (Bronze and brass are both alloys whose main component is copper; in bronze, the most significant minority element is tin, and in brass it is zinc.) However, over the last two hundred years, mankind developed the means to extract and process several other metals, including platinum, chromium, aluminum, and titanium. Do these “new” metals have the same halachic status as the six mentioned in the Torah? Are platinum rings, aluminum urns and titanium airplanes susceptible to tumah?  Do chrome pots and aluminum trays require tevilas keilim?

The Tiferes Yisrael, in his extensive introduction to the Order of Taharos, rules that the newly discovered metals have the same halachic status as the six mentioned explicitly by the Torah, and they are all capable of becoming tamei (Yevakeish Daas #44). It follows from his line of reasoning that one is required min haTorah to immerse food vessels made of the new types of metal, and indeed this is how many authorities rule (Tevilas Keilim page 225). Many authorities contend that, although one is required to immerse aluminum pots, one is not required to immerse aluminum items that are disposable. Since they are meant to be disposed after use, they are not considered “keilim” that require immersion.

On the other hand, other poskim dispute the Tiferes Yisrael’s conclusion that all types of metal become tamei, contending that since the Torah mentions six specific metals (and the Torah could certainly have used a generic term for all metal items that would have been much briefer), choosing a lengthy way of listing six types of metal demonstrates that these are the only types of metal that become tamei, and that any newly developed metals are not susceptible to tumah (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 2:164; letter from Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky published at end of the sefer Tevilas Keilim).

According to the latter approach, one can argue that chrome pots and aluminum implements do not require tevilas keilim. The prevalent accepted practice is to assume that they do require tevilas keilim, although some authorities consider this a sufficient enough doubt to omit the beracha prior to immersing these items.

Conclusion

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

The Numbers Game

Question #1: Pie r Squared

Yanki is supposed to be watching his weight and therefore needs to figure out how many calories are in the pie he beholds. To figure out how big the pie is, he measures the diameter of the pie, and divides in it half to get the length of its radius. He then multiplies the length of the radius by itself to get “r squared,” and multiplies the result by three so that he knows the area of the pie’s surface. Is there anything wrong with his calculation?

Question #2: Puzzled by the Pasuk

“How can the pesukim tell us that the relationship between the circumference of a circle and its diameter is three to one, when simply taking a string and measuring around a circle demonstrates that the circumference is noticeably longer than three times the diameter?”

Question #3: Performing Mitzvos Accurately

“How accurate a calculation must I make when determining the size of an item to be used for a mitzvah?”

Introduction

In numerous places, both Tanach and Chazal approximate certain mathematical values, such as evaluating the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter as three to one. The problem is that we can demonstrate mathematically that the ratio is greater than three and is almost 3 1/7. This leads to the following questions:

(1) Why would Chazal calculate using inaccurate approximations?

(2) When making halachic calculations, may we rely on these estimates, or do we need to be mathematically more accurate?

(3) A corollary question is: When providing an estimate, one must allow for a margin of error. Does halachah require a margin of error, and, if so, how much?

The Slide Rule versus the Calculator

Let me begin our discussion with a modern analogy, if something I remember can still be considered “modern.” When I first studied sophisticated mathematical estimates, I learned to use a slide rule, which today is as valuable to an engineer as his abacus. Relative to the calculator, a slide rule does not provide accurate measurements, and someone using a slide rule must allow for a fairly significant margin of error.

Today, complex computations are made with calculators, which provide far more accurate results that can be rounded off, as necessary, to the nearest tenth, millionth, quadrillionth or smaller. Of course, using a calculator still requires one to round upward or downward, but because it is much more precise, the margin of error is greatly reduced.

How Irrational Are You?

Numerous halachic questions require mathematical calculations that involve what we call “irrational numbers.” An irrational number means one that cannot be expressed in fractional notation. Another way of explaining an irrational number is that its value can never be calculated totally accurately, but can only be estimated. The two most common examples of irrational numbers that show up in Chazal are:

Pi

(1) The ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter, which we are used to calling by the Greek letter ∏ (pronounced like the word “pie,” and spelled in English “pi”). Since the 19th century, the letter pi has been used to represent this number, because the Greek word for periphery is peripherion, which begins with the letter ∏. Hundreds of years earlier, the Rambam (Commentary to the Mishnah, Eruvin 1:5) noted that the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter is an irrational number that can only be approximated, and that the scientists of his era used an estimate of 3 and 1/7, which is actually slightly greater than the value of ∏. The Rambam explains that since there is no accurate ratio, Chazal used a round number, three, for this calculation.

The Diagonal of a Square

(2) The length of a diagonal of a square, which is equal to the side of the square multiplied by the square root of two (√2). Chazal calculated the length of a diagonal of a square to be 1 and 2/5 times its side, which is slightly smaller than the value of the √2. (Another way of expressing this idea is that the ratio between the diagonal and the side is 7:5.) The fact that Chazal’s figuring is somewhat smaller than the mathematical reality is already proved by Tosafos (to Sukkah 8a s.v. kol).

Since both pi and the square root of two are irrational numbers, they can only be estimated but can never be calculated with absolute accuracy.

Based on the above-quoted statement of the Rambam, we can already address one of our earlier questions: “Why would Chazal have used inaccurate evaluations for calculation?” The answer is that any computation of the correlation of the circumference of a circle to its diameter will be an estimate. The only question is how accurate must this estimate be for the purpose at hand.

Chazal or Tanach?

Although the Rambam attributes the rounding of pi to Chazal, in actuality, there are sources in Tanach that calculate the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter as three-to-one. Both in Melachim (I 7:23) and again in Divrei Hayamim (II 4:2), Tanach teaches that the Yam shel Shelomoh, the large, round pool or mikveh that was built in the first Beis Hamikdash, was thirty amos in circumference and ten amos in diameter, which provides a ratio of circumference to diameter of three-to-one. Thus, we can ask a question of the Rambam: Why does he attribute this ratio to Chazal, rather than the source for Chazal’s calculation, the pesukim?

The commentaries there, however, already ask how the verse can make a calculation that we know is not accurate. The Ralbag suggests two options: either that the numbers used are intended to be a very broad estimate, or, alternatively, that the diameter is measured from the external dimensions of the mikveh, whereas the circumference is measured from its inside, which makes the estimate closer to mathematical reality. According to the second approach, we have no Biblical source that uses an estimate of three-to-one as a substitute for pi.

This will explain why the Rambam attributed the estimation of pi as three to Chazal, rather than to the Tanach. The Rambam was fully aware that one could interpret the verses according to the second approach of the Ralbag, in which case, there is no proof from the verse. He, therefore, attributed this estimate to Chazal.

Gemara Eruvin

However, the Ralbag’s approach seems to conflict with a passage of Gemara. The Mishnah in Eruvin states that if the circumference of a pole is three tefachim, its diameter is one tefach, which means that the Mishnah assumes a ratio of three-to-one.

The Gemara questions how the Mishnah knows that the ratio is three-to-one, and then draws proof from the above-quoted verse that the Yam shel Shelomoh was thirty amos around and ten amos across. The Gemara then debates whether the calculations of the Yam shel Shelomoh indeed result in a ratio of three-to-one, because one must also include the thickness of the poolitself, which offsets the computation. The Gemara eventually concludes that the verse was calculating from the inside of the pool, not its outside, and therefore the thickness of the pool’s containing wall is not included in the calculation (Eruvin 14a).

However, this Gemara’s discussion leaves the mathematician dissatisfied, a question already noted by Tosafos. If the internal diameter of the Yam shel Shelomoh was ten amos, its circumference must have been greater than thirty amos, and if its circumference was thirty amos, then its internal diameter must have been less than ten amos.

A Different Question

The Rosh, in his responsa, is bothered by a different question, based on Talmudic logic rather than on mathematical calculation. He finds the Gemara’s question — requesting proof for the ratio between a circle’s circumference and its diameter — to be odd. The ratio between a circle’s circumference and its diameter is a value that one should calculate. By its nature, this is not a question that requires a Biblical proof or source.

In the literature that we have received from the Rosh, he asks this question in two different places. In his responsa (Shu”t Harosh 2:19), we find a letter that he wrote to the Rashba, in which he asked a series of questions that the Rosh notes bother him tremendously and to whom he has no one else to turn for an answer. One of the questions the Rosh asks is: “Why does the Gemara ask for a Biblical source for a mathematical calculation?”

It is curious to note that a later commentary mentions that, in all the considerable literature that we have received from the Rashba, we have no recorded answer of the Rashba to this question of the Rosh (Cheishek Shelomoh to Eruvin 14a).

Another Rosh

As I mentioned above, there is another place where the Rosh asks why the Gemara wanted a Biblical source for a mathematical calculation, but in this second place the Rosh provides an answer to the question. In his Tosafos Harosh commentary on Eruvin, which was published for the first time fairly recently, the Rosh provides the following answer: Since the calculation of three-to-one is not accurate, the Gemara wanted a biblical source as proof that we are permitted to rely on this estimate.

(It is curious to note that the Cheishek Shelomoh whom I quoted above provided the same answer to this question as did the Rosh in his Tosafos. The Cheishek Shelomoh never saw the Tosafos Harosh, which had not yet been printed in his day.)

Curiousity about the Tosafos Harosh

There is an interesting historical point that can presumably be derived from this statement of the Rosh. As I mentioned, in the Tosafos Harosh, the Rosh does answer the question that he raised, and accredits this answer to himself. This should be able to prove which work the Rosh had written earlier, and also whether he ever received an answer to his question from the Rashba. This analysis is based on the following question: Why did the Rosh cite an answer in his Tosafos¸but not in his responsum, which was addressed as a question to the Rashba. There are three obvious possibilities:

(1) Although the Rosh wrote this answer in his Tosafos, he was dissatisfied with it, and therefore wrote a question to the Rashba. I would reject this possibility because, if it is true, then, in his correspondence to the Rashba, the Rosh would have mentioned this answer and his reason for rejecting it.

(2) The Rosh indeed received an answer, either this one or a different answer, from the Rashba. I reject this approach also, because, were it true, the Rosh would have quoted the Rashba’s answer in his Tosafos and, if need be, discussed it.

(3) Therefore, I conclude that the Rosh, indeed, never received an answer to the question he asked of the Rashba and subsequently reached his own conclusion as to how to answer the question, which he then recorded in the Tosafos Harosh. This would lead us to conclude that the Tosafos Harosh were written later in his life than his responsa, or, at least, than this responsum.

Mathematical Accuracy

At this point, we can address one of earlier questions.When making halachic calculations, may we rely on these estimates, or do we need to be mathematically more accurate?” We might be able to prove this point by noting something in the Mishnah in Eruvin. The Mishnah there ruled that, under certain circumstances, an area that is fully enclosed on three of its sides and has a beam, a tefach wide, above the fourth side, is considered halachically fully enclosed, and one may carry inside it. The Mishnah then proceeds to explain that if the beam is round and has a circumference of three tefachim, one may carry inside the area because, based on the calculation that the relationship of its circumference to its diameter is three-to-one, the beam is considered to be a tefach wide. However, as the Rambam notes, the beam is actually less than a tefach in diameter, and therefore, one should not be permitted to carry in this area!

The Aruch Hashulchan (Orach Chayim 363:22; Yoreh Deah 30:13) notes this problem and concludes that one may carry in this area. He contends that this is exactly what the Gemara was asking when it requested Scriptural proof for a mathematical calculation. “Upon what halachic basis may we be lenient in using this estimate of three-to-one, when this will permit carrying in an area in which the beam is less than a tefach wide? The answer is that this is a halachah that we derive from the verse.”

To clarify this concept, the Chazon Ish notes that the purpose of mitzvos is to draw us nearer to Hashem, to accept His reign, and to be meticulously careful in observing His laws. However, none of this is conflicted when the Torah teaches that we may use certain calculations, even if they are not completely mathematically accurate. In this instance, relying on these estimates is exactly what the Torah requires (Chazon Ish, Orach Chayim 138:4). As expressed by a different author, the Gemara (Eruvin 4a; Sukkah 5b) teaches that the measurements, the shiurim, required to fulfill mitzvos are all halachah leMoshe miSinai, laws that Moshe Rabbeinu received as a mesorah in Har Sinai. Similarly, these estimates of irrational numbers mentioned above are all halachah leMoshe miSinai that one may rely upon to fulfill mitzvos, whether or not they are mathematically accurate. The same Torah takes these calculations into consideration when instructing us which dimensions are required in order to fulfill these specific mitzvos (Shu”t Tashbeitz 1:165).

In the context of a different halachah in the laws of Eruvin, the Mishnah Berurah makes a similar statement, contending that we can rely on Chazal’s estimates, even when the result is lenient. However, the Mishnah Berurah there vacillates a bit in his conclusion, ruling that one can certainly rely on this when the issue is a rabbinic concern (Shaar Hatziyun 372:18). In a responsum, Rav Moshe Feinstein questions why the Mishnah Berurah limits relying on this approach, and Rav Moshe rules unequivocally that the rule permitting one to rely on these estimates holds true even germane to de’oraysa laws and even leniently (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah Volume3 #120:5).

How Straight Are My Tefillin?

Personally, I find the context of Rav Moshe’s teshuvah very interesting. There is a halachah leMoshe miSinai that requires that the boxes of the tefillin, the batim, must be perfectly square. In a responsum dated 21 Adar II, 5736, Rav Moshe was asked whether there is a halachic preference to use scientific measuring equipment to determine that one’s tefillin are perfectly square. Rav Moshe rules that there is neither a reason nor a hiddur to measure the tefillin squareness this accurately. Since Chazal have used the calculation of 1.4 or a ratio of 7:5, which we know is an estimate, to determine the correct diagonal of a square, there is no requirement to make one’s tefillin squarer than this, and it is perfectly fine simply to measure the length of each of the sides of one’s tefillin and its two diagonals to ascertain that the ratio between the diagonal and the side is 7:5.

In the above-cited responsum, Rav Moshe notes that he had heard that the Brisker Rav, Rav Yitzchak Ze’ev Soloveitchik, had ruled that it was preferable to check one’s tefillin in the most scientific method available. Rav Moshe writes that he finds this suggestion very strange and disputes its being halachically correct (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah Volume3 #120:5).

Thus, according to these authorities, we have answered our previous question regarding the halachic significance of estimated values: Indeed, the purpose of Chazal‘s making these estimates was that observing halachah does not require that these calculations be mathematically precise, provided they meet the criteria that the halachah established.

An Alternate Approach

Although the majority of late authorities conclude that the calculations of Chazal are indeed part of the halachos of shiurim, this is not a universally held position. The Tashbeitz, a rishon, wrote a lengthy responsum on the topic, in which he presents two ways to explain why Chazal used estimates that are not precisely accurate. His first approach reaches the same conclusion as we have already found in the later poskim, that these measurements are included within the halachos of shiurim that are part of the halachah leMoshe miSinai.

The second approach of the Tashbeitz, however, differs with the above-mentioned halachic conclusion. In his second approach, he contends that all the above estimates were meant for pedagogic, but not halachic reasons. The rounding of pi to three and the diagonal of a square to 1.4 were provided to make the material easily comprehensible to all students, since every individual is required to know the entire Torah. Thus, when Chazal used these estimates in calculating the laws, their intent was to enable the average student to comprehend the halachic material, not to provide the most accurate interpretation. When an actual halachic calculation is made, it must be totally accurate, and any halachic authority involved would realize that he must use a highly accurate mathematical computation and then round either upward or downward as necessary for the specific application. (A similar position is held by Chiddushim Uviurim, Ohalos 5:6.)

Conclusion

Certainly, the majority of late halachic opinions conclude that the estimates of Chazal are meant to be halachically definitive, and not simply pedagogic in nature. However, I leave it to the individual reader to ask his or her posek what to do when a practical question presents itself.

Miscellaneous Mitzvah Matters

The midrash at the beginning of this week’s parsha mentions that the details of all mitzvos were taught at Sinai, making this topic extremely timely…

Question #1: Choosing your Mitzvos

“I don’t have enough money for all the mitzvah objects that I need. Which should I purchase?”

Question #2: Extra Mezuzos

“I have extra mezuzos. May I use them for tefillin?”

Question #3: When Do We Recite a brocha?

“Why don’t we recite a brocha when we put tzitzis onto a garment, yet we recite a brocha when we affix a mezuzah to a door?”

Introduction

The first two of our opening questions deal with a very interesting issue: Are there hierarchies among our mitzvos? In other words, are some mitzvos more important than others?

We do not usually attempt to judge which mitzvah is more important, since it is our obligation to observe all the mitzvos to the best of our ability. Nevertheless, there are occasional circumstances when we must decide which mitzvah is more “valuable.” One example when this could happen is when we must choose between observing one mitzvah and another. The Gemara (Rosh Hashanah 34b) discusses a situation in which one has to choose whether to spend Rosh Hashanah in a place where there is someone to blow shofar, but no Rosh Hashanah davening, or in another place where there is Rosh Hashanah davening, but no shofar. The Gemara concludes that it is more important to spend Rosh Hashanah in a place where there might be an opportunity to fulfill the mitzvah of shofar, than to go somewhere else where there will definitely be davening but no shofar blowing. This is because safek d’oraysa, a possibility of fulfilling a mitzvah min haTorah,carries more weight than definitively fulfilling that which is required only miderabbanan.

Yerushalmi

A more revealing and detailed discussion is in the Talmud Yerushalmi, at the very end of Mesechta Megillah, which quotes a dispute between Shmuel and Rav Huna concerning someone who has only sufficient money to purchase either tefillin or mezuzah, but not both. The question debated in the passage of the Yerushalmi is: Which mitzvah is it more important to fulfill? The explanations provided in this passage of the Yerushalmi provide insight into other mitzvos, should these rules need to be applied. For example, should someone have to choose between purchasing the four species for Sukkos or materials for a sukkah, which takes precedence? (For simplicity’s sake throughout the rest of this article, I will refer to the purchasing of the four species for Sukkos as simply the mitzvah of “lulav.”) Or, should one have to choose between purchasing a lulav or purchasing tefillin, which takes precedence? This passage of Yerushalmi provides foundation for subsequent halachic discussion on these issues.

Let us quote the passage of the Yerushalmi:

Tefillin and mezuzah, which comes first? Shmuel said, “Mezuzah comes first.” Rav Huna said, “Tefillin comes first.” What is Shmuel’s reason? Because mezuzah applies on Shabbos and Yom Tov. What is Rav Huna’s reason? Because tefillin applies to people traveling on the seas and in deserts. A beraisa (teaching of the era of the Mishnah, but not included in the Mishnah) supports Shmuel, which says that if tefillin have worn out, one may use its parshiyos (written parchments) for mezuzah, but one may not use a mezuzah for tefillin, since we have a general rule that one increases but does not decrease sanctity.

To explain the Yerushalmi’s conclusion: The mitzvah of tefillin requires use of four sections of the Torah, two in parshas Bo, and two others, the first two of the three parshiyos of kerias shma, which are from parshas Va’eschanan and parshas Eikev. A mezuzah includes only these last two sections of the Torah. May one take the pieces of parchment that were used as a mezuzah and use them for tefillin, or vice versa — if they were used for tefillin can they be used for a mezuzah?

Understanding Shmuel

Shmuel contends that since mezuzah applies every day of the year, it is a greater and holier mitzvah than tefillin. The Gemara quotes two ramifications of this ruling:

(1) Should one be able to fulfill only one of these two mitzvos, mezuzah is preferred.

(2) Parshiyos once used for tefillin may be used for a mezuzah, but a mezuzah may not be used for parshiyos in tefillin. Since mezuzah is a holier mitzvah, using a mezuzah for tefillin decreases its sanctity, which is not permitted. This is because of a general halachic rule, maalin bekodesh velo moridim:something may be elevated to a use that is of greater sanctity, but it may not be reduced to a lower level of sanctity. For example, a kohein gadol can never return to being a kohein hedyot, a regular kohein. Since the beraisa quoted by the Yerushalmi states that one may not use mezuzah parshiyos for tefillin, the conclusion is, like Shmuel, that mezuzah is more important.

There is a question on Shmuel’s explanation. In what way does mezuzah apply on Shabbos and Yom Tov, when one is not permitted to put a mezuzah on a door on either of these holidays, because of the melacha involved? The answer is that, if someone is required to affix a mezuzah but did not, he is not permitted to spend Shabbos in that house unless he has nowhere else to live (see Pri Megadim, Orach Chaim, Eishel Avraham 38:15; Aruch Hashulchan, Yoreh Deah 285:5). In other words, although one may not install a mezuzah on Shabbos or Yom Tov, the mitzvah still applies on those days.

Understanding Rav Huna

Rav Huna explains that on days that one is obligated to wear tefillin, there are no exemptions from that responsibility. On the other hand, someone who has no residence is not obligated in mezuzah. In theory, one can exempt oneself from the mitzvah of mezuzah by avoiding living in a residence. Therefore, tefillin is a greater mitzvah than mezuzah.

This has two ramifications:

(1) Should one be able to fulfill only one of these two mitzvos, tefillin is preferred.

(2) A mezuzah may be used for parshiyos in a pair of tefillin, but parshiyos used for tefillin may not be used for mezuzah. Since tefillin is a holier mitzvah, using parshiyos of tefillin for a mezuzah decreases their sanctity, which is not permitted.

How do we rule?

The Rosh (Hilchos Tefillin, Chapter 30) rules that the mitzvah of tefillin is more important, and this approach is followed by the Tur, the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 38:12), the Rema (Yoreh Deah 285:1) and the later authorities. The Rosh explains that tefillin is more important because a mitzvah de’gufei adif, literally “a mitzvah of your body is more important.” What does this mean?

One early acharon, the Beis Hillel (Yoreh Deah 285), understood the Rosh to mean that the mitzvah of tefillin is more important because one puts tefillin on his body, as opposed to mezuzah, which is on one’s house, not body. Based on his reason, the Beis Hillel concludes that tefillin is more important than sukkah or lulav, since neither of these mitzvos is performed on one’s body to the extent that tefillin is. Once the Beis Hillel is discussing which mitzvos are “more important,” he discusses whether tefillin is more important than tzitzis or vice versa, concluding that tefillin are more important, since the name of Hashem is in the tefillin.

However, most authorities understand that the Rosh means something else. They explain that the mitzvah of tefillin is inherently obligatory, whereas the mitzvah of mezuzah is circumstantial. Every weekday there is an obligation for every adult Jewish male to don tefillin. The mitzvah of mezuzah is not inherently obligatory, but is dependent on one’s living arrangements, and can be avoided completely (Gra; Rabbi Akiva Eiger, in his notes to Shulchan Aruch and Responsum 1:9; Aruch Hashulchan, Yoreh Deah 285:5). Furthermore, according to most authorities, mezuzah is obligatory min haTorah only if one owns the house in which he lives.

A big difference between these two approaches is germane to the mitzvos of lulav and sukkah. According to the Beis Hillel, these mitzvos carry less weight than tefillin. However, according to those who disagree with him, both of these mitzvos are inherently obligatory, just as tefillin. This would mean that, regarding the Rosh’s criterion, all three of these mitzvos should be treated on an equal footing, and we would need to find other criteria to decide which of them is more important.

Tefillin or Sukkah?

Rabbi Akiva Eiger notes that the above-discussed passage of Yerushalmi provides an answer to this question. There it stated that a mitzvah that occurs more frequently should be prioritized over one that occurs less frequently. Tefillin is far more frequently observed than either sukkah or lulav, and, therefore, should be treated with more priority than they are.

However, notes Rabbi Akiva Eiger, this question is usually moot for the following reason: When one has a mitzvah that he is obligated to observe immediately, he does not wait to fulfill it. Therefore, any time other than erev Sukkos, one who needs to choose between these mitzvos should use the funds to acquire tefillin, since he has that responsibility immediately, and the mitzvos of Sukkos will wait. If the situation occurs during chol hamoed Sukkos, the priority will be: sukkah, tefillin, lulav. This is because the mitzvah of sukkah is, at the moment, definitely min haTorah, whereas even those who wear tefillin on chol hamoed accept that it is disputed whether there is a mitzvah to wear them on chol hamoed. Therefore, sukkah, which is definitely a requirement min haTorah on all seven days of Sukkos, takes precedence over tefillin. Since the mitzvah of taking lulav is min haTorah only on the first day of Sukkos, but afterwards is required only miderabbanan (unless one is in or near the Beis Hamikdash grounds), tefillin will have precedence over lulav for those who wear tefillin on chol hamoed, which is the assumption that Rabbi Akiva Eiger makes.

Tefillin versus tzitzis

Rabbi Akiva Eiger agrees that tefillin is more important than tzitzis, but for a different reason than that provided by the Beis Hillel. Tzitzis is like mezuzah – there is only an obligation if he has a four-cornered garment, but it is not an automatic requirement. Although one is obligated to place tzitzis on any four-cornered garment that one owns and wears, one can avoid wearing four-cornered garments more easily than one can avoid living in a house that one owns. On the other hand, a man is required to wear tefillin every weekday.

Difficulty with the Rosh

Notwithstanding that all later authorities conclude that tefillin is considered a more “important” mitzvah than mezuzah, a difficulty is presented by the Rosh’s conclusion. Why would he rule according to Rav Huna, when the Yerushalmi’s conclusion is, like Shmuel, that mezuzah is a more important mitzvah?

The answer is that the Talmud Bavli (Menachos 32a) states the following: “A sefer Torah that wore out, or tefillin that wore out, cannot be used for a mezuzah, because one is not permitted to reduce something from a greater sanctity to a lower one.” Thus, we see that the Bavli ruled according to Rav Huna, that tefillin is a greater mitzvah than mezuzah, and the halacha follows the Bavli over the Yerushalmi (Beis Yosef, end of Orach Chayim, Chapter 38).

Practically speaking

The Magen Avraham (38:15), one of the major halachic authorities, notes that, although the mitzvah of tefillin is more important than mezuzah, in practice it might be better for someone to purchase mezuzos. Someone might be able to coordinate his schedule such that he can borrow tefillin from other people when he needs them for davening every day, something impractical to do with mezuzos. Thus, if he can thereby observe both mitzvos, he should purchase the mezuzos to allow this. This ruling is followed by the later authorities (Shulchan Aruch Harav; Mishnah Berurah; Aruch Hashulchan).

Nevertheless, the rule has not changed: Someone who will be unable to observe the mitzvah of tefillin should purchase tefillin first and wait until he has more resources before he purchases mezuzos (Shulchan Aruch Harav; Mishnah Berurah; Aruch Hashulchan).

Choosing your mitzvos

At this point, we can now address our opening question: “I don’t have enough money for all the mitzvah objects that I need. Which should I purchase?”

The halachic conclusion is:

He should first see which mitzvos he can fulfill without purchasing them. For example, he might be able to borrow tefillin, and he also might be able to use someone else’s sukkah. If he lives near someone else who is observant, he should be able to fulfill the mitzvah of lulav with someone else’s lulav. In earlier generations, it was common for an entire community to purchase only one set of four minim, and everyone used that set to fulfill the mitzvah. Mezuzah is more difficult to observe with borrowed items, and, therefore, he might need to purchase mezuzos ahead of tefillin, lulav, or sukkah, notwithstanding that they are obligatory mitzvos to a greater extent than mezuzah is.

Furthermore, which mitzvah he will need to observe first might be a factor, as we saw from Rabbi Akiva Eiger’s discussion about someone who needs to purchase tefillin, sukkah and lulav.

When Do We Recite a Brocha?

At this point, we can discuss the third of our opening questions: “Why don’t we recite a brocha when we put tzitzis onto a garment, yet we recite a brocha when we place a mezuzah on a door?”

This question is raised by the Magen Avraham, in his commentary on the following words of the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 19:1): “Until one dons the garment, one is exempt from putting tzitzis on it. For this reason, one does not recite a brocha when one places the tzitzis on the garment, since the mitzvah is only when you wear it.”

The Magen Avraham (19:1) asks why we do not recite a brocha when putting tzitzis onto a garment, yet we recite a brocha when we affix a mezuzah to a door? The Magen Avraham answers that the reason is practical. Usually, one moves into the house first, before he installs the mezuzah, and, since he already lives in the house, he is responsible to have a mezuzah on the door. Thus, placing the mezuzah on the door is the fulfillment of the mitzvah and warrants a brocha. On the other hand, one does not usually place tzitzis on a garment while wearing it, but before he puts it on, when there is no obligation yet to fulfill a mitzvah.

Based on his analysis, the Magen Avraham rules that should any of the tzitzis tear off a garment while someone is wearing it, and he attaches replacement tzitzis while he is still wearing it, he should recite a brocha prior to attaching the replacement. The brocha he would recite in this instance is Asher kideshanu bemitzvosav vetzivanu la’asos tzitzis, which translates as a brocha “to make tzitzis,” a text that we do not have recorded by any earlier authority.

Notwithstanding his conclusion, the Magen Avraham rules that this is not the preferable way to act, but, rather, he should remove the tzitzis once they become invalid and attach replacement tzitzis without a brocha. On the other hand, the Magen Avraham contends that if a mezuzah falls off or becomes invalid, the occupant is not required to relocate until he can replace the mezuzah. The difference between the two cases is how much tircha the person is required to undergo – one is required to remove a pair of tzitzis, which is a simple act, but not required to relocate himself and his family until he has a chance to replace or reaffix the mezuzah.

The Magen Avraham then suggests that if someone affixed a mezuzah before he moved into a house, he should not recite the brocha when he affixes the mezuzah, but when he moves in he should recite the brocha, Asher kideshanu bemitzvosav vetzivanu ladur babayis sheyeish bo mezuzah, “to live in a house that has a mezuzah,” again, a new text of a brocha not recorded by any earlier authority.

The Birkei Yosef (Orach Chayim 19:2) disagrees with the Magen Avraham, contending that we should not create texts of brochos that we do not find in early sources. In regard to the Magen Avraham’s question, why do we recite a brocha upon affixing a mezuzah but not upon placing tzitzis, the Birkei Yosef provides a different answer: Chazal required a brocha on the last act that you do to fulfill a mitzvah. In the case of tzitzis, it is when you put on the garment. In the case of mezuzah, it is when you affix it. However, if there is a mezuzah on the door already, one does not recite a brocha upon moving into a house, since one did not perform any act to fulfill the mitzvah.

Conclusion

A famous quotation from a non-Jewish source is: “Is G-d more concerned about what comes into our mouth or what comes out?” This question assumes that some of Hashem’s mitzvos are more “important” for us to observe than others. The Torah’s answer is that it is not for us to decide which of the mitzvos is more important. One grows in one’s relationship with Hashem through each opportunity to perform a mitzvah.

Hybrid or Kil’ayim?

Parshas Kedoshim contains one of the two places in the Torah where the mitzvos of kil’ayim are taught.

Question #1: Kil’ei beheimah

May one attempt to crossbreed a mule with a stallion?

Question #2: Kil’ei zera’im

May I plant the vegetables in my garden close together?

Question #3: Kil’ei hakerem

Is there any way that I can plant vegetables near my vineyard?

Question #4: Harkavas ilan

Must I be careful before I purchase a fruit tree?

Many people assume that the halachic definition of the mitzvah of kil’ayim is the crossbreeding of different species of plants or animals, but, as we will soon see, not all of the laws of kil’ayim have to do with what a farmer or a scientist would call crossbreeding or hybridization.

My desktop dictionary defines hybrid as “the offspring produced by breeding plants or animals of different varieties, species, or races.” Thousands of years ago, mankind crossbred horses and donkeys to create mules and hinnies. This hybrid, called a pered (female pirdah) is already mentioned many times in Tanach. As a pack animal, the mule — produced from a male donkey, called a “jack” and a mare (female horse) — has many advantages over either of its parents. It is usually as strong as a horse, sturdy, sure-footed, and, notwithstanding its reputation for being “stubborn as a mule,” is more reliable for hauling than draft horses. (A hinney, which has less commercial value, is produced from a stallion (male horse) and a female donkey, called a “jenny.” The word “hinney” comes from its parents – a horse and a jenny.)

Other crossbred animals

Artificial insemination has been used to crossbreed camels and llamas with the goal of producing a larger quantity of quality llama wool. Mankind has created such interesting creatures as ligers, crossbreeds of male lions and tigresses, tiglons (sometimes called tigons) from male tigers and lionesses, leopons (male leopards and lionesses), wholpins (whales and dolphins) and geeps (goats and sheep). Most of these have resulted in limited, if any, commercial value, although it was thought by some that they might.

Crossbreeding animal species is one of the prohibitions of the Torah when it declares behemtecha lo sarbia kil’ayim (Vayikra 19:19). It is one of the unusual mitzvos that even a non-Jew is required to observe (Rambam, Hilchos Melachim 10:6).

The prohibition is only to create the crossbreed; one may use a mule or any other crossbred animal. However, not only is it prohibited to crossbreed a horse with a donkey, it is even forbidden to attempt to breed a mule or hinney with either a donkey or a horse (Mishnah, Kil’ayim 1:6). In fact, it is rare that such an attempt will produce offspring, although it is claimed anecdotally that this can happen upon occasion. Nevertheless, someone who attempts to crossbreed them violates a Torah prohibition.

Crossbreeding of plants

Crossbreeding of plants, or, as it is usually called, cross-fertilization or cross-pollination, is when one pollinates the flower of one species with pollen from a different species, to produce offspring with some characteristics of each. Many fruits have been developed this way, although I want to share that a nectarine is not a crossbreed of a peach and a plum, as often mistakenly thought. A nectarine is an ancient variety of peach (Prunus persica) that has a smooth skin. Botanists consider it to be the same species as peaches.

What is interesting is that, in the discussions about kil’ayim in the Torah, the Mishnah and the writings of Chazal, nowhere does it say that it is prohibited to cross-pollinate from one plant species to another. This does not mean to say that there is no prohibition of kil’ayim germane to trees or plants. Quite the contrary, there are three such prohibitions min haTorah. They are referred to as kil’ei zera’im, kil’ayim in plants; kil’ei hakerem, kil’ayim in vineyards; and kil’ayim in trees, usually referred to as harkavas ilan. But, as we will soon see, none of these three prohibitions has anything to do with crossbreeding.

Kil’ei zera’im

Kil’ei zera’im is planting two or more different species of grains, vegetables or other edible herbaceous plants in close proximity. Exactly what defines “close proximity” is a very complicated halachic topic, and depends on factors such as the shape and size of the vegetable patch, and what variety of produce one is planting. We should note that, from a botanical point of view, planting two species in close proximity will not cause hybridization because it does not affect the genetic makeup.

This mitzvah applies only in Eretz Yisroel. Thus, someone in chutz la’aretz may plant his backyard garden with a wide variety of vegetables without any halachic concern, whereas in Eretz Yisroel someone planting a garden patch must be very careful to keep the different species separate.

Kil’ayim in a vineyard, kil’ei hakerem

Kil’ei hakerem is the prohibition against planting grains or vegetables in, near, above or below a vineyard. Again, this forbidden planting will not affect the genetic makeup of any of the plants involved. It is also clear that this was not the concern in halacha as we see from many of the halachic details. Here is one example: Although it is prohibited to plant grains or vegetables near a vineyard, there is a way to permit it by separating the vegetable patch from the vineyard with a halachic wall between them. For example, if one places two poles and a wire across the top, a tzuras hapesach, between the vegetable patch and the vineyard, it is permitted to plant vegetables right next to the vineyard (Eruvin 11a). This is similar to what we do when we construct an eruv to permit carrying on Shabbos. It is quite clear that, botanically, the tzuras hapesach does not accomplish anything to prevent the mingling of the species. Yet, with the tzuras hapesach, it is permitted to plant the crop; without the tzuras hapesach, it is a Torah prohibition to do so! This certainly cannot be explained on a scientific basis.

Even one grapevine is problematic near a crop plant, so care must be taken even in the home garden. For example, a pot with herbs or a vegetable under a trellised grapevine could forbid the grapes and the produce of the pot!

Unlike other forms of kil’ayim, the produce of kil’ei hakerem is forbidden to use.

The prohibition of planting grains or vegetables in a vineyard applies in chutz la’aretz, but only miderabbanan (Kiddushin 39a).

Harkavas ilan – grafting trees

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

For example, most peach and nectarine trees are produced by grafting a peach or nectarine branch onto the stock of a hardier tree, such as an almond. Someone who performs this, either in Eretz Yisroel or in chutz la’aretz, violates a Torah prohibition whether he is Jewish or not (Rambam, Hilchos Melachim 10:6). Most authorities rule that one may not own, water or prune a kil’ayim tree, whether or not it is in Eretz Yisroel or in chutz la’aretz (Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 295:7 and Piskei Teshuvah).

However, many observant Jews purchased agricultural properties that contained kil’ayim trees and did not cut down those trees. Was there any justification for their actions? Numerous halachic responsa discuss what was apparently a widespread practice in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. Whereas most poskim rule that these Jews violated the halacha, some authorities justify the practice of owning these trees, at least in chutz la’aretz (Shu’t Chasam Sofer, Yoreh Deah #288; Aruch Hashulchan, Yoreh Deah 295:17-18).

Because so many trees are grafted nowadays, someone who owns a fruit tree should have a horticultural expert check whether its stock is from the same species or not. Often, even a non-expert can detect if a tree was grafted onto a different species by simply scrutinizing the tree. If the bark somewhere near the bottom of the tree looks different from the upper part of the tree, this indicates that the upper part of the tree was grafted. Often one can see a line separating the grafted scion from the rootstock, or a difference in thickness between the top and bottom. Before purchasing a new tree at a nursery, examine the trunk carefully for signs of grafting.

The prohibition of planting vegetables and other edible crops together applies only in Eretz Yisroel, whereas grafting trees applies equally min hatorah in chutz la’aretz and in Eretz Yisroel.

Although planting and caring for a kil’ayim tree is forbidden, the fruit from such a tree is permitted. Thus, one may purchase fruit in a market without worrying about kil’ayim.

Esrogim

Although space does not allow us to discuss this fascinating topic, there is a huge amount of halachic literature discussing the very common instance of using an esrog from a tree that was grafted onto a non-esrog tree. Most authorities rule that this esrog may not be used to fulfill the mitzvah on Sukkos.

Conclusion

Rav Hirsch (Vayikra 19:19) explains that the root word ke’le means to keep or hold something back, and that the plural form kil’ayim is similar to yadayim or raglayim and means a pair. Therefore, the word kil’ayim means to pair together two items that should be kept apart. This is to teach us that although we are given the world to develop, we must follow the rules that Hashem established for us to do so.

Blended and Synthetic Tzitzis

According to Chazal, as reward for Avraham turning down the king of Sodom’s offer, and declining to take even a chut, a thread, his descendants were rewarded with the mitzvah of tzitzis.

Question #1: Silk Talis

“I grew up in a conservative home, and, prior to my bar mitzvah, I was given a ‘bar mitzvah set,’ which included tefillin and a silk talis. I have since discovered that the tefillin were completely non-kosher. Must I assume that there is a problem with the talis also, since it is made from silk?”

Question #2: Prefers Rayon

“What is the basis of the halachic controversy whether one may have a talis koton made of rayon?”

Question #3: Blended Tzitzis

“I have a talis koton that says that it is made of a cotton-polyester blend. Do I recite a brocha when I put it on?”

Answer

Twice each day, we recite the passage that obligates Jewish men to tie tzitzis to the four corners of their garments. The Torah states (Bamidbar 15:38): Dabeir el benei Yisrael ve’amarta aleihem ve’asu lahem tzitzis al kanfei vigdeihem, Speak to the children of Israel and say to them that they should make tzitzis on the corners of their garments.

The topic for today’s discussion is: What type of material are we obligated to use in the mitzvah of tzitzis? Do the corners of all garments require one to place tzitzis? As we will see, the question involves both an issue of Torah law and of rabbinic law.

Only wool or linen?

The Gemara (Menachos 39b) records an early dispute whether the Torah’s mitzvah of tzitzis applies only to garments made of sheep’s wool or of linen. According to Rav Nachman, a four-cornered garment made of silk, cotton, or any other material that is neither sheep’s wool nor linen is not included, min hatorah, in the mitzvah of tzitzis. (For the balance of this article, “wool” will mean specifically wool of sheep. The word tzemer in the Torah means the wool of sheep. Therefore, a blend of linen and wool processed from camels, llamas, rabbits, goats [such as cashmere or mohair] or other animals is not shatnez min hatorah [Kelayim 9:1]. A garment made of a woolen blend containing no sheep’s wool is shatnez only because of rabbinic injunction.) According to Rav Nachman, there is a requirement to attach tzitzis to four-cornered garments made from other cloth, but it is only miderabbanan, so that people should be careful to wear tzitzis (Rambam, Hilchos Tzitzis 3:2).

All fibers are min hatorah

Rav Yehudah and Rava disagree with Rav Nachman, contending that, min hatorah, silk and all other fibers are obligated in mitzvas tzitzis (Menachos 39b). The Gemara notes that this dispute originates among the tanna’im, and that the dispute also affects whether other materials, such as silk, cashmere and mohair, are subject to the tumah of nega’im. According to Rav Nachman and the tanna with whom he sides, the telltale red or green blemishes of tzaraas only make garments made of either wool or linen tamei. Should a garment made of silk, cotton, cashmere, mohair, or other cloth display inexplicable red or green blemishes reminiscent of tzaraas, the garment remains tahor, since these materials are not susceptible to nega’im. However, according to Rav Yehudah and Rava, silk, cotton and other cloth are susceptible to the laws of tzaraas.

What is the halachah?

The Rambam (Hilchos Tzitzis 3:1,2) and the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 9:1) rule that only linen and wool require tzitzis min hatorah, and the Rambam (Hilchos Tumas Tzaraas 13:1,3) rules that only cloth made of linen and wool are affected by the laws of tzaraas. On the other hand, other authorities rule that all materials require tzitzis min hatorah, and this is the way the Rema rules (Orach Chayim 9:1). (These authorities would also hold that all garments are susceptible to tumas nega’im, but they do not discuss the laws of tumah and taharah because, unfortunately, they are not germane in our day.)

Is there any difference in halachah? After all, both approaches rule that one is required to put tzitzis on four-cornered garments made of cotton, silk or cashmere. What difference does it make whether the garment is obligated in the mitzvah min hatorah or miderabbanan?

There can be several practical differences that result. The most obvious is that, since it is exemplary for someone to fulfill a mitzvah min hatorah when he can, is it preferable to wear a garment made of wool over one made of cotton. For this reason, Rav Moshe Feinstein rules that one should wear a talis koton made of wool, even though it is more comfortable to wear a cotton talis koton in the summer, since one who wears a woolen talis koton thereby fulfills a mitzvah min hatorah, according to all opinions (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 2:1). On the other hand, other prominent authorities followed the approach of the Rema, contending that an Ashkenazi who is uncomfortable wearing woolen tzitzis in the summer may wear a talis koton made of cotton.

Silk talis

At this point, we can address the first question asked above: “I grew up in a conservative home, and, prior to my bar mitzvah, I was given a ‘bar mitzvah set,’ which included tefillin and a silk talis. I have since discovered that the tefillin were completely non-kosher. Must I assume that there is a problem with the talis also, since it is made of silk?”

The answer is that the fact that the garment or its tzitzis are made from silk does not present any halachic problem. However, there is another potential concern:.

Special strings

The tzitzis threads must be spun with the intent that they will be used to fulfill the mitzvah of tzitzis. After completing the spinning, one takes several of these specially-spun threads and twists them together into a thicker string. This twisting is also performed lishmah. The authorities dispute whether attaching the tzitzis strings to the garment and tying them must also be performed lishmah. In practice we are stringent (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 14:2 and commentaries).

Many authorities contend that, when manufacturing an item lishmah, one must articulate this intent (Rosh, Hilchos Sefer Torah Chapter 3). This means that the person spinning or twisting the tzitzis must say that he is doing so in order to make tzitzis for the sake of the mitzvah (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 11:1 and Mishnah Berurah, ad locum).

The concern about the silk talis koton, then, is that we need to determine that the tzitzis tied to them were indeed made properly lishmah.

Polyester, rayon or nylon?

At this point, we can discuss whether the mitzvah of tzitzis applies to synthetic materials. Within the last century, mankind has successfully developed numerous fabrics that are lighter than cotton, and which some people find more comfortable to wear. The question is whether a four-cornered garment made from these materials is obligated in the mitzvah of tzitzis. Obviously, according to those who hold that only wool and linen are obligated in tzitzis min hatorah, these garments are not obligated min hatorah, and the question is whether there is an obligation miderabbanan. According to the Rema, who rules that all materials are obligated in tzitzis, the question might even be whether rayon, nylon or other polyester materials are obligated in tzitzis min hatorah.

Why should they not be? Answering this question requires its own introduction.

Tzitzis on leather ponchos

Notwithstanding the conclusion that silk and other materials require tzitzis, a different passage of Gemara (Menachos 40b) assumes that leather garments are exempt from the mitzvah of tzitzis. The Gemara cites a dispute among amora’im regarding whether a garment made of material obligated in tzitzis, but whose corners are made of leather, is obligated in tzitzis. It also cites a dispute whether a garment made of leather whose corners are made of cloth is obligated in tzitzis. Rav and Rav Zeira contend that, in both instances, the main part of the garment is the determinant — a cloth garment with leather corners is obligated to have tzitzis tied to its corners, whereas a leather garment with cloth corners is absolved from the mitzvah of tzitzis. Rav Acha’i disputes with Rav and Rav Zeira, contending that the material comprising the corner determines whether the garment requires tzitzis. Clearly, all the amora’im are in agreement that a garment made completely from leather is exempt from tzitzis.

Why is hide outside?

Why is leather different from all the other materials mentioned that are obligated in tzitzis? We will need to answer this question and then see whether synthetic materials are treated like leather and absolved from the mitzvah of tzitzis, or whether they are like silk and the other materials that are obligated in the mitzvah of tzitzis.

I found two basic approaches to explain why leather is treated differently from other materials. One approach is that leather is not woven, but is cut to size, and that the mitzvah of tzitzis applies only to woven material. This approach is implied by several acharonim (Levush, Orach Chayim 10:4; Graz 10:7).

Nylon and tzitzis

I found several responsa which discuss whether synthetic materials are obligated in the mitzvah of tzitzis. In each case, the questioner “preferred” that the synthetic garment be obligated in the mitzvah. In other words, since one is rewarded for wearing tzitzis daily, the questioner was interested in fulfilling the mitzvah by wearing tzitzis that are on a four-cornered garment made of polyester, nylon or rayon, desiring to wear a cooler material than wool or cotton.

One responsum on the subject is authored by Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank (Shu”t Har Tzvi, Orach Chayim 1:9). He understands that leather is exempt from the mitzvah of tzitzis because it is not woven, and that any four-cornered garment that is not woven is exempt from tzitzis, whereas a woven four-cornered garment is obligated in tzitzis. He then notes that there are two types of nylon garments, one made from woven nylon thread, which he rules would be required to have tzitzis, and one made from sheets of nylon, which are not woven and therefore absolved from the mitzvah of tzitzis, just as leather is.

Disputing approaches

Other authorities reach a different conclusion, for the following reason. In another context, several earlier authorities explain the distinction between leather and other materials in a different way. While discussing the minimum size  for a garment to contract tumah, the Mishnah (Keilim 27:1) teaches that leather clothing is not susceptible to become tamei unless it is larger than the halachic category called arig, which refers to woven material. In their commentaries on that Mishnah, the Rash and the Bartenura both explain that, were one to slice leather into very thin slices and weave them into a garment, the garment thereby produced would still have the halachah of leather and not that of a woven garment. These authorities recognize that the distinction between leather and woven materials is not the process of weaving, but something more basic.

Rav Moshe Feinstein explains that “woven cloth” means material that is a natural fiber that is spun into thread and then woven into cloth. Neither leather nor synthetics meet this definition. Rav Moshe contends that a fiber that can be woven into material is included under the category of arig for tumah purposes and for the obligation of tzitzis. Therefore, Rav Moshe concludes that a four-cornered garment made from synthetic material is exempt from the mitzvah of tzitzis. Wearing tzitzis tied onto such a garment does not accomplish any mitzvah, and reciting a brocha prior to donning this garment is a brocha levatalah, one recited in vain. Furthermore, according to Rav Moshe, wearing such a garment on Shabbos might violate carrying, since the tzitzis are not part of the garment. (The details of this topic are beyond the scope of this article, but see the correspondence and dispute of the Shu”t Meishiv Davar 1:2 with the Mishnah Berurah.)

The Rambam’s commentary

In his commentary to the Mishnah in Keilim, the Rambam seems to explain the Mishnah differently than do the Rash and the Bartenura. Nevertheless, Rav Moshe understands that all three of these authorities understand this aspect of the topic in the same way, but that the Rambam was emphasizing a different point. Thus, Rav Moshe concludes that all early authorities would exempt these synthetic materials from the mitzvah of tzitzis and that this is the halachah.

Tzitz Eliezer and tzitzis

Rav Moshe’s approach is disputed by Rav Eliezer Yehudah Valdenberg (Shu”t Tzitz Eliezer 12:3), who disagrees with Rav Moshe’s understanding of the Rambam. Whereas Rav Moshe understands that the Rambam is explaining the difference between leather and woven materials the same way that the Rash and the Bartenura do, the Tzitz Eliezer explains the Rambam to be making the same distinction as do the Levush, the Graz and the Har Tzvi, i.e.,that leather is not considered arig because it is not woven. As we mentioned above, in the opinion of these latter authorities, anything woven is obligated in the mitzvah of tzitzis. The Tzitz Eliezer understands that the Rambam is making the same distinction germane to what is considered arig for the laws of tumah. Since the later authorities accept this distinction, Rav Valdenberg concludes that four-cornered synthetic garments, which are woven, are obligated in tzitzis, and that those who are uncomfortable wearing other cloth may fulfill the mitzvah by wearing rayon or polyester tzitzis. Because there are early authorities who dispute this conclusion, namely the Rash and the Bartenura, Rav Valdenberg rules that those who wear these tzitzis should not recite a brocha when putting them on.

Prefers rayon

At this point, we can address one of our opening questions: “What is the basis of the halachic controversy whether one may have a talis koton made of rayon?”

The answer is that it depends on why leather is exempt from tzitzis. If leather is exempt because only woven fabrics are obligated in the mitzvah of tzitzis, then a rayon four-cornered garment is obligated in the mitzvah, and one fulfills the mitzvah by wearing it. On the other hand, if leather is exempt because only naturally fibrous materials are obligated in tzitzis, then rayon is exempt from tzitzis, and nothing is accomplished by tying tzitzis to a four-cornered rayon garment.

Metal clothing

This author would like to note another situation, although today uncommon, which should result from the dispute between Rav Pesach Frank and Rav Moshe. According to both approaches, if someone makes a four-cornered garment from metal plating, the garment is exempt from the mitzvah of tzitzis. According to Rav Moshe, it would be exempt because it is not made from material that is naturally fibrous, whereas according to Rav Frank, it would be exempt because it was not woven. However, already in the time of chumash, metal was sliced into filaments which were woven into clothing. Is a four-cornered garment woven from metal filament obligated in tzitzis? According to Rav Frank, this garment should be obligated in tzitzis since it is woven, whereas, according to Rav Moshe, it should not, since this material is not naturally fibrous.

Blends

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

“I have a talis koton that says that it is made of a cotton-polyester blend. Do I recite a brocha when I put it on?”

When a thread is spun from a blend of fibers, the halachic status of the thread is determined by what composes most of the thread’s fiber content and ignores the existence of other fibers inside the thread (Mishnah Kelayim 9:1). The minority of fiber is halachically bateil, or nullified, to the majority fiber content in the thread. Thus, threads spun from a mixture that is mostly cotton fiber with some linen fiber are considered cotton and may be woven in a woolen garment without creating a prohibition of shatnez. Similarly, a garment consisting of threads made of a blend of mostly mohair, but including some sheep’s wool fiber, that is woven or sewn with linen threads is not shatnez and may be worn.

The same law is true regarding the mitzvah of tzitzis. A garment made of threads that are a blend that is mostly rayon or polyester fiber and includes cotton fiber will have the halachic status of a rayon garment and be exempt from tzitzis, according to Rav Moshe’s ruling. Of course, according to Rav Frank, this garment is obligated in the mitzvah of tzitzis.

Conclusion

Rav Hirsch notes that the root of the word tzitzis is to “sprout” or “blossom,” a strange concept to associate with garments, which do not grow. He explains that the message of our clothing is extended, that is, sprouts and blossoms, by virtue of our tzitzis. The introduction of clothing to Adam and Chavah was to teach man that his destiny is greater than an animal’s, and that his responsibility is to make all his decisions according to Hashem’s laws, and not his own desires. Introducing tzitzis onto a Jew’s garments reinforces this idea; we must act according to what Hashem expects. Thus, whether we are wearing, shopping for, examining or laundering tzitzis, we must remember our life’s goal: fulfilling Hashem’s instructions, not our own desires.

This week’s parsha teaches the prohibition against having one witness testify against someone, which is a violation of loshon hora.

What constitutes talebearing?

Question #1: Talebearing — Rechilus

“What is the legal definition of rechilus?”

Question #2: Loshon hora

“May I listen to someone say inappropriate things about a second person, in order to calm the speaker down?”

Question #3: Motzi shem ra

“I found out that a smear campaign is being planned against someone I know. Whom may I tell about it?”

Introduction

In parshas Kedoshim, the Torah teaches lo seileich rachil be’amecha (Vayikra 19:16), which Rashi and most authorities translate as:“You shall not go as a talebearer among your people.” Rashi explains that the three-letter root of the word rachil, the letters reish, kof, lamid,is related to the root reish, gimel, lamid, which is the root of the word meaning “spy,” since the kof and the gimel sounds are created by the same parts of the mouth. They are both palatals, meaning that both are pronounced by pressing the back of the tongue against the soft part of the palate. Thus, the pasuk means someone who seeks gossip. This mitzvah is counted as one of the 365 lo sa’aseh prohibitions of the Torah. We will soon clarify what is included in this prohibition.

Broader definitions

Several other prohibitions are also included under the general heading of lo seileich rachil be’amecha. According to many authorities, this also includes the lo sa’aseh not to say loshon hora. According to the Gemara and other rishonim, this lo sa’aseh also applies to a judge who does not treat the two parties before him in an equal way, but acts harshly to one and softly to the other. The latter prohibition is derived from a different translation of the word rachil, explaining that its root is related to the word rach, soft.

Let us examine the passage of Gemara (Kesubos 46a) that derives both of these prohibitions from this pasuk: “Which source teaches that spreading falsehood about someone else violates a lo sa’aseh of the Torah? Rabbi Elazar says ‘lo seileich rachil,’ whereas Rabbi Nosson says that he violates a different pasuk, in parshas Ki Seitzei (Devorim 23:10) ‘and you should guard yourself from any evil matter.’ Why did Rabbi Nosson not use Rabbi Elazar’s verse? Because he considers this verse (lo seileich rachil) to teach us a lo sa’aseh that applies only to beis din – that they should not be soft to one of the two litigants and harsh to the other. Rashi explains that this is derived in the following way: lo seileich rachil means, ‘you shall not be soft to me’ when you dealt more harshly with the other litigant. This latter law is mentioned by both the Semag (Lo Sa’aseh 9) and the Sefer Hachinuch (Mitzvah #236).

Hurting feelings, Betraying a secret

There are other prohibitions that are included under the heading of lo seileich rachil. According to the Sefer Hachinuch, the mitzvah of lo seileich rachil also includes saying something that might hurt someone’s feelings.

The prohibition of lo seileich rachil be’amecha also includes revealing information that someone wants kept confidential (Semag). This ruling is codified by later halachic authorities on the topic (Orach Meisharim 8:2). If the information is negative, the teller also violates speaking loshon hora.

Ask your Rabbi

Rav Naftali Amsterdam, one of the primary disciples of Rav Yisroel Salanter, was famous for saying that he found it quite astonishing that people spend so much time and money to effect a heter mei’ah rabbonim, a program which releases someone from a prohibition that has the status of only a cherem established by Rabbeinu Gershom, and yet they freely violate a prohibition to speak loshon hora or to spread gossip, both of which involve violations of Torah laws, without asking any rabbonim what they are permitted to say (retold in Torah Lada’as, Volume V, page 56).

What is talebearing?

At this point, we are ready to discuss our first question: “What is the legal definition of rechilus?”

Thanks to the Chofetz Chayim’s efforts, the laws of loshon hora are much better known and more carefully observed today than they were in earlier days. Nevertheless, there is still much confusion regarding what is considered spreading gossip, and therefore prohibited, and what is not.

To begin our elucidation of the mitzvah, let us quote the words of the Rambam (Hilchos Dei’os 7:1-2) on the topic:

“Someone who tells tales about his fellow violates the proscription of lo seileich rachil be’amecha, ‘You shall not go as a talebearer among your people.’Even though the violator of this prohibition does not receive lashes for this, it is a major sin and has caused much loss of life among the people of Israel. For this reason, the continuation of the pasuk reads, lo sa’amod al dam rei’echa Do not stand aside, ignoring the blood of another.’ Go see what happened to Do’eig the Edomite.

“Who is a talebearer? Someone who carries stories and goes from one person to another, saying, ‘This is what so-and-so said; I heard such-and-such about someone.’ Even if what he says is true, he destroys the world.

“There is a greater sin than this, which is included in this lo sa’aseh, and that is loshon hora, which means that he tells over embarrassing things about his fellow, notwithstanding that it is the truth.”

It is quite clear from the Rambam that, whereas loshon hora is saying over something that is embarrassing about someone else, the prohibition of lo seileich rachil be’amecha is violated even if the story is not embarrassing. Does this mean that the Torah has prohibited saying nice things about your fellowman?

We can prove from later comments of the Rambam that he cannot possibly mean this, since he writes as follows: “Someone who talks about another person’s qualities in front of that person’s enemies is engaging in avak loshon hora (literally, the ‘dust’ of loshon hora, meaning a rabbinic violation of this prohibition) since it causes them to begin to talk disparagingly about him. In this context, Shelomoh said, Mevoreich rei’eihu bekol gadol baboker hashkeim, kelalah teichasheiv lo, ‘He who blesses his neighbor in a loud voice early in the morning, is considered that he cursed him (Mishlei 27, 14), because a result of the good that he (the talker) did caused him (his neighbor) harm” (Hilchos Dei’os 7:4).

Obviously, there is nothing wrong with talking about another person’s qualities, if it is not in front of that person’s enemies or will not cause him any harm. So, what then is the Torah prohibition of lo seileich rachil be’amecha?

Two excellent works on the topic of the laws of loshon hora discuss this question and reach the same conclusion. The Orach Meisharim (8:2 in biurim), authored by Rav Menachem Troish, who was the rav of Salzburg, a village in the Austrian Alps, in the late nineteenth century, and the Nesiv Chayim (Hilchos Rechilus 1:1), authored by Rav Moshe Kaufman, a contemporary author in Bnei Braq, both explain that the prohibition of lo seileich rachil be’amecha applies when the information will ultimately cause harm to the person about whom it is said or when it will lead to some type of machlokes. The person who recounts the “tale” intends to spread gossip, to harm someone, or to create machlokes. This is prohibited even when the person who did the act is not embarrassed by what he did or said; the gossiper is in violation since his goal is to create harm, he violates lo seileich rachil be’amecha.

For example, if the decision of a beis din was not unanimous, the ruling should not be recorded as a split decision, since this may easily create ill feeling between the losing party and those dayanim who sided against him (see Sanhedrin 30a). Instead, you simply write the halachic conclusion. Furthermore, the dayan who disagreed is prohibited from telling this to others (Sanhedrin 31a) since this may cause that those who lost will be upset or angry at the other dayanim.

Another example is when Reuven said something non-complimentary to Shimon about Levi, and Shimon tells Levi what was said. Since this certainly leads to ill feeling among people, it violates lo seileich rachil be’amecha.

Among the types of harm that are included under lo seileich rachil be’amecha is to inform a person that someone helped his enemy. The person who did the act may be unaware that this individual is an enemy of the person he helped, but the rochil is aware of this and wants to spread the machlokes.

Let us for a moment review the story of Do’eig to understand this prohibition better. David he sought refuge in Nov, a city of kohanim, in his flight from Shaul. The residents of Nov were unaware that David was a wanted man, and they provided him with food and a sword. Do’eig told Shaul that the city of Nov had provided for David. Although Shaul was told that the people of Nov were completely unaware that Shaul was pursuing David, Shaul ordered the entire city wiped out.

The Mishnah (Sanhedrin 10:2) mentions Do’eig as one of the individuals who forfeited his right to olam haba.

Lo sa’amod

At this point, we can discuss the third of our opening questions: “I found out that a smear campaign is being planned against someone I know. Whom may I tell about it?”

When talker (T) plans something that may harm V (the victim), listener (L) is required to tell victim (V), so that V can protect himself. This is an example of lo sa’amod al dam rei’echa and is true even if the threat is not life-threatening, but concerns only V’s reputation or his finances. The Torah teaches that there are instances in which telling over what you know is not only permitted, but required.

However, if L (listener) knows that the T (talker) is halachically correct — “person V” is not a victim but actually did harm the talker, and talker is justified to respond — lo sa’amod al dam rei’echa does not apply. In this latter situation, it is prohibited for L to tell over T’s plans, and, if L does so, he violateslo seileich rachil (Be’eir Mayim Chayim, Hilchos Rechilus 1:3).

More on lo seileich rachil, which includes loshon hora

To continue the quotation of the Rambam (Hilchos Dei’os 7:3): “Chazal said, ‘Three sins are punished in this world and deprive a person of the next world — idolatry, adultery, and murder — and loshon hora is equivalent to all three of them. Furthermore, Chazal (Arachin 15b) said that speaking loshon hora is tantamount to denying that there is a G-d, as the pasuk says, Asher amru lil’shoneinu nagbir sefaseinu itanu mi adon lanu, ‘Those who say: “We will make our tongue powerful! Our lips are ours! Who is lord over us?”’ Tehillim 12:5). In addition, Chazal said, ‘Loshon hora kills three people: The one who said it, the one who believes it, and the person about whom it is said. And the one who is hurt most is he who believed it.’”

To quote the Gemara (Arachin 15a), “Rav Elazar ben Parta said, ‘Come and see how serious is the power of loshon hora. How do we see this? From the meraglim, where we see that someone saying loshon hora only about wood and stones could cause such a calamity — how much worse is someone who says loshon hora about another person!’” The Mishnah (Arachin 15a) states that the decree on our forefathers in the desert was sealed because of the loshon hora that they reported.

Continuing the Rambam (Hilchos Dei’os 7:2, 4, 5): “The person who says loshon hora sits around, saying, ‘So-and-so did this,’ ‘His parents were no better and did this,’ ‘I heard these stories about him,’ and repeats embarrassing things. About this, the pasuk says, yachreis Hashem kol sifsei chalokus loshon medaberes gedolos,‘Hashem will cut off all smooth-talking lips, the tongue that talks boastfully’ (Tehillim 12:4).

“There are things that are prohibited as avak loshon hora the ‘dust’ of loshon hora. For example, ‘Who would have believed that so-and-so would end up where he is now,’ or someone who says, ‘Don’t talk about so-and-so, I don’t want to tell you what he did,’ or anything similar. Someone who talks about another person’s qualities in front of that person’s enemies is engaging in avak loshon hora, since it causes them to begin to talk disparagingly about him. In this context, Shelomoh said, Mevoreich rei’eihu bekol gadol baboker hashkeim, kelalah teichasheiv lo, ‘Someone who praises another loudly from early in the morning, is considered a curse to him’ (Mishlei, 27:14), because a result of the good that he did caused him harmbad. Similarly, someone who says loshon hora as a joke or with levity, as if he is not speaking out of hatred, is also engaging in avak loshon hora. This is what Shelomoh intended when he said, in his wisdom, kemislah’lei’ah hayoreh zikim chitzim vamaves, kein ish rimah es rei’eihu ve’amar halo mesacheik ani, ‘Just as a person who exhausts himself by throwing burning wood, arrows and death, so is someone who tricks his fellow, saying, “I was only joking” (Mishlei, 26:18-19). A similar prohibition is violated by someone who says loshon hora, pretending that he does not realize that what he said is negative.

“Something qualifies as loshon hora whether it is said in front of the aggrieved party or not. Furthermore, something that is not inherently negative about the person, but, if spread, will cause him harm either to his body or to his financial situation, it is loshon hora.” An example of the latter might be that a potential investor may decide not to assist someone who is a good risk to start a business because, based on the information he has received, the investor is led to believe that the business will not succeed.

Calming someone down

At this point, let us discuss the second of our opening questions: “May I listen to someone say inappropriate things about a second person, in order to calm the speaker down?”

Accepting loshon hora violates the lo sa’aseh of lo sisa sheima shav, “Do not listen to a purposeless rumor” (Shemos 23:1). However, the Sefer Hasidim rules that if someone comes to you very upset and angry, and you realize that by hearing him out you may be able to calm him down so that he does not tell anyone else, it is a mitzvah to listen to him and then convince him that the person he is upset about really cares about him. Either way, you are not to believe the story, and you are not to share it with others, because of concern that they will share it with the person about whom it is said and it will create a machlokes (Sefer Hasidim #64).

Conclusion

The Talmud Yerushalmi (Peah 1:1) relates the following: In the days of the evil king Achav, the Jews were victorious in their wars, notwithstanding that both idol worship and murder were, unfortunately, prevalent. The Gemara attributes this to the fact that they were extremely meticulous about avoiding loshon hora, as can be demonstrated from the fact that Ovadyah was a member of Achav’s household at the very same time that he was sustaining a hundred prophets who were hiding from Achav (Melachim I 18:13). Obviously, Ovadyah could not hide this information without many people knowing about it, yet Achav never found out. On the other hand, in the days of Shaul, when they were meticulous about refraining from idol worship, they lost the battle with the Pelishtim, because there was loshon hora among the Jews.

It has been said that one time, a yeshivah bochur came to the Chofetz Chayim, complaining that many times he had given long sermons in different communities, and he had as yet not noticed that he had achieved any success in drawing these people closer to the level of observance of mitzvos for which he was striving. The Chofetz Chayim answered that he disagrees with the bchur’s attitude. The midrash states that for every moment that someone keeps his mouth closed and is careful not to say anything that is prohibited, he merits a heavenly light in the next world that no angel or any other creature can even imagine what it accomplishes. This, noted the Chofetz Chayim, is the reward for being quiet for a few seconds, and perhaps even less. How much reward have you gained for yourself and for the people who are listening to you that for all the hours you have spoken, they have not said anything inappropriate? Do you have any idea how much reward you have brought to them and to yourself? (This story is quoted in the biography of the Chofetz Chayimchayav upoalo, Volume I, page 77).

Mezuzah on a Rental

Question #1: Tenancy

“We rented a new apartment but did not put up mezuzos immediately, assuming that we had thirty days to do so. Someone told me that Rav Moshe held that we should put up mezuzos immediately. Is that true?”

Question #2: Temporary Dwelling

“When we went to visit our children in Ramat Beit Shemesh for two weeks, they had borrowed for us a brand-new apartment that the owners themselves had as yet not used. I was surprised to see mezuzos on the doors already. My son-in-law explained that he put up mezuzos in the entire apartment so that we could use it. Was he required to do so? I thought that one is not required to have mezuzos unless one lives somewhere for at least a month.”

Question #3: Mezuzah in a Rehab

“My mother unfortunately fell and broke her femur and will be staying for an extensive period of time in a rehabilitation hospital. Are we required to make sure that there is a kosher mezuzah on the door of her room?”

Basic information:

The Torah requires that a mezuzah be placed on the doorposts of “your” house, beisecha. What is the definition of beisecha? Does the mitzvah apply even when I live in a house that I do not own? Does it apply to a property I own, even if I do not live there? These questions are addressed by the Gemara and its major early commentaries.

The Gemara (Pesachim 4a; Bava Metzia 101b; Avodah Zarah 21a) teaches that the obligation to put up a mezuzah devolves upon the person living in a house and not upon a non-resident owner. Thus, a Jew who rents his home from a gentile is obligated to have mezuzos on the doors (Rambam, Hilchos Mezuzah 5:11; Beis Yosef, end of Yoreh Deah 286; however, cf. Hagahos Maimonis 5:7 who quotes a disputing opinion), whereas a Jewish landlord who owns residential properties that he rents out is not obligated to place mezuzos on them.

When one Jew rents his house or apartment to a second Jew, the requirement to place a mezuzah rests with the tenant.

The Gemara’s statement

There is another Talmudic passage that expands upon the previously-quoted rulings:

“One who lives in an inn in Eretz Yisrael, or one who rents a house in chutz la’aretz is exempt from the mitzvah of mezuzah for thirty days. [If he rents] for longer, he is required to put up a mezuzah. However, one who rents a house in Eretz Yisrael must put up a mezuzah immediately, because this assists in the settling of Eretz Yisrael” (Menachos 44a).

This passage of Gemara mentions three halachos:

1. Someone who lives in an inn, hotel, or other temporary residence is, in general, not obligated to put up a mezuzah. The Gemara states that someone who dwells in an inn in Eretz Yisrael for thirty days becomes obligated in mezuzah.

2. Someone who rents a house or apartment for thirty days or more must put up a mezuzah.

3. However, someone who rents or borrows a house or apartment in Eretz Yisrael must put up a mezuzah immediately.

More details

In order to answer our opening questions, we will need to clarify each of these halachos in more detail. I am first going to explain the rules governing a tenant in chutz la’aretz, who is required to put up a mezuzah when he lives thirty days in a rented or borrowed residence.

I mentioned above that the Torah requires placing a mezuzah on beisecha, your house. One may ask: If a rented residence qualifies as “your” house, then a tenant should be obligated to place a mezuzah there immediately, and if a rented residence does not qualify as “your” house, then the tenant should not be obligated in the mitzvah, even if he lives there longer.

What difference does thirty days make?

As we can imagine, we are not the first to raise this question. Tosafos (Menachos 44a s.v. Talis) does and, to answer it, presents two very different approaches:

I. The person dwelling in a residence is the one who requires the shemirah that the mezuzah provides. For this reason, the mezuzah is the tenant’s responsibility. However, someone living in a dwelling for less than thirty days is not yet considered to be a resident.

This answer contends that installing a mezuzah on a rented dwelling in which one lives for thirty days is min haTorah.

II. The second approach understands that min haTorah a tenant is never required to have a mezuzah on his door, since the word beisecha, your house, implies that the owner of a residence (who also dwells there) is required to install a mezuzah. A tenant is required to have a mezuzah as a takkanas chachamim instituted by the Sages, because the house appears to be his.

Several later authorities conclude that the second approach, that a tenant’s obligation to put up a mezuzah is only miderabbanan, is the approach that we follow in practical halachah (Shu”t Rabbi Akiva Eiger, 1:66; Shu”t Avnei Nezer, Yoreh Deah, #380).

What if I borrow?

The halachic authorities rule that just as someone who rents a residence for thirty days is obligated to have a mezuzah, so, too, someone who borrows a residence for thirty days or more, without paying any rent, is obligated to have a mezuzah (Rabbeinu Manoach, quoted by Beis Yosef, Yoreh Deah, end of 286).

Is the requirement for a mezuzah immediate?

At this point, I want to address our opening question:

“We rented a new apartment but did not put up mezuzos immediately, figuring that we had thirty days to do so. Someone told me that Rav Moshe held that we should put up mezuzos immediately. Is that true?”

The question here is: When someone knows that he will be living in a house or apartment for more than thirty days, is he exempt from mezuzah until the thirtieth day, or since he will be living there for thirty days obligate him immediately?

This matter is disputed. Some authorities contend that the requirement to install a mezuzah is immediate when you intend to rent or borrow the residence for thirty days (Derech Hachayim; Shu”t Harei Besamim 2:219, quoted by Shu”t Minchas Yitzchak 2:82). This approach is implied by Rashi (Menachos 44a), who writes that a tenant is not obligated in mezuzah for thirty days because he might back out of the rental, implying that, when he is committed to renting it for thirty days, he is required to put up a mezuzah immediately.

Some derive support for this position from the halachah that someone who moves into a community is not obligated in local taxes until he lives there for thirty days. However, should he demonstrate his intention to live in the community for thirty days or more, he becomes obligated to pay taxes immediately. Thus, someone’s intention to live somewhere for thirty days may determine permanent dwelling status.

However, other authorities contend that a tenant’s obligation to put up a mezuzah is because it looks as if he is living there permanently, and this does not happen until he is actually there for thirty days. They maintain that even someone who signed a multi-year lease is not obligated to put up a mezuzah until he lives in the rental home for thirty days (Nachalas Zvi to Yoreh Deah 286:22; Pischei Teshuvah, Yoreh Deah 286:18).

Although some later authorities prefer that a long-term tenant put up the mezuzah immediately, in deference to the Derech Hachayim’s position (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 1:179), common practice is to follow the second approach, that of the Nachalas Zvi, that one is not obligated to put up the mezuzah immediately.

When should I actually put it up?

Assuming that a tenant is not required to put up a mezuzah until thirty days have passed, may one put up the mezuzah earlier and already recite a brocha, or should one wait until the thirtieth day? The question is: since the Nachalas Zvi rules that a tenant is not obligated to put up a mezuzah until he is living there for thirty days, perhaps one cannot recite a brocha upon installing the mezuzah until one is obligated to do so?

We find a dispute in this matter. The Nachalas Zvi and the Halachos Ketanos (quoted by Birkei Yosef, Yoreh Deah 286:7) conclude that although it may be a bigger mitzvah to wait until the thirtieth day, so that one performs the mitzvah at a time that one is required to do so, one may put up the mezuzah any time during the thirty-day period with a brocha. Others rule that one should not recite a brocha until the thirtieth day (Toras Chesed, quoted by Birkei Yosef, Yoreh Deah 286:7; and others quoted by Chovas Hadar, page 29, ftn. 8).

Thus, we have three approaches as to what to do:

1. Put up the mezuzah immediately.

2. Put up the mezuzah any time during the thirty days.

3. Put up the mezuzah specifically on the thirtieth day.

I advise each individual to ask his own posek which approach to follow.

Temporary dwelling in Eretz Yisrael

At this point, let us discuss the third point made by the Gemara I quoted above – that someone who rents or borrows a house or apartment in Eretz Yisrael must put up a mezuzah immediately.

How does putting up a mezuzah assist the settling of Eretz Yisrael?

To explain this idea, we need to cite a different law. The halachah is that, when vacating a residence, one is usually required to leave the mezuzos in place. To quote the Gemara, “when a Jew rents a house to a fellow Jew, the tenant is responsible to affix the mezuzos. However, when the tenant vacates, he may not remove them. On the other hand, a Jew who rents a residence from a gentile removes the mezuzos when he leaves” (Bava Metzia 102a).

Based on this halachah, Rashi (Menachos 44a) explains why Chazal required someone renting in Eretz Yisrael to put up a mezuzah immediately. Since the tenant may not take the mezuzos with him, he will be reticent to move. And even if he does move, since the mezuzos are left behind, a different Jew will be eager to rent it, since he spares himself the expense of purchasing mezuzos. Either way, the dwelling will remain with a Jewish resident, which accomplishes that “this assists in the settling of Eretz Yisrael.”

Borrowing in Eretz Yisrael

At this point, we will the second of our opening questions:

“When we went to visit our children in Ramat Beit Shemesh for two weeks, they had borrowed for us a brand-new apartment that the owners themselves had not as yet used. I was surprised to see mezuzos on the doors already. My son-in-law explained that he put up mezuzos in the entire apartment so that we could use it. Was he required to do so? I thought that one is not required to have mezuzos unless one lives somewhere for at least a month.”

As I mentioned above, the Gemara rules that someone who rents a house in Eretz Yisrael must put up a mezuzah immediately, because this assists in the settling of Eretz Yisrael. And, since borrowing a house is the same as renting it (Rema, Yoreh Deah 286:22), someone who borrows someone’s house even for just one night is required to install mezuzos on the entire house.

The “inn” thing

As I mentioned above, someone who lives in an inn, hotel, or other temporary residence is, in general, not obligated to put up a mezuzah. Since it is generally assumed that an inn is not a place in which one lives permanently, it is not considered a “dwelling” (Shach, Yoreh Deah 286:28). Rashi (Menachos 32b s.v. Hayu) implies that someone living temporarily in a residence that is clearly not intended to be permanent is not required to have a mezuzah, even if he owns the “residence.”

Thus, someone staying in a hotel in Eretz Yisrael is not required to have a mezuzah, and one is certainly not required to ascertain if the mezuzos on one’s hotel room door are kosher.

Inn chutz la’aretz

However, the Gemara states that someone who dwells in an inn in Eretz Yisrael for thirty days becomes obligated in mezuzah. What about a chutz la’aretz resident who lives permanently in an inn – is he obligated to put up a mezuzah?

Most authorities explain that someone who lives permanently in an inn in chutz la’aretz is not obligated to put up a mezuzah, because this is not considered having a house (see Chovas Hadar, page 31, ftn. 16). Only in Eretz Yisrael did Chazal require putting up a mezuzah when living permanently in a place usually meant for temporary dwelling. (Perhaps this explains why so many people in Eretz Yisrael live permanently in temporary housing, such as caravans and caravillas.)

However, the Aruch Hashulchan (Yoreh Deah 286:48) implies that living in an inn in chutz la’aretz for thirty days requires installing a mezuzah, and I believe that this is the more common practice.

A hut?

Later authorities discuss whether someone who lives in a hut or similar accommodation for longer than thirty days must put up a mezuzah. The Sedei Chemed concludes that if someone moves into a hut, bungalow or similar accommodation for more than thirty days, he is obligated in mezuzah, whereas someone living in a hut as a refugee is not obligated to put up a mezuzah (Volume 4 page 245). Others rule that one should put up a mezuzah without a brocha, even if he is a refugee (Chazon Nachum, quoted by Birkei Yosef, Yoreh Deah 286:9)

A mobile home?

The Minchas Yitzchak (2: 82) discusses whether someone who lives permanently in a mobile home is required to put up a mezuzah, concluding that he is required to do so, although the Minchas Yitzchak is uncertain whether he should recite a brocha.

A boarding house

The Aruch Hashulchan (Yoreh Deah 286:46) rules that, although someone staying temporarily in an inn is exempt from the mitzvah of mezuzah, this is true only when the room or the inn is not a part of someone’s house. However, a Jewish person who takes in boarders into his house is required to have mezuzos on all the doors. This is not a requirement because of the tenants, but because of the owner – this is considered a residential use of his own property that requires him to have a mezuzah, just as all other rooms in his house must have one.

A similar situation would exist if someone has gentile help living in his house or if he rents out rooms in his house to gentiles. Even though a gentile has no obligation to put up a mezuzah, since this is a room in your house, you are required to put up a mezuzah.

A guest house

Chovas Hador (page 20, ftn. 1) explains that this obligation exists only when the guest rooms are in your house. However, if you have a separate structure that you use as a guesthouse, the owner has no responsibility to place mezuzos there.

Similarly, if hired help lives in a separate building that is on your property, and you do not use that property for your own domestic needs, you have no requirement to put a mezuzah on the help’s residence (Chovas Hador page 20, ftn. 1).

A rehab center

At this point, we should discuss the third of our opening questions:

“My mother unfortunately fell and broke her femur and will be staying for an extensive period of time in a rehabilitation hospital. Are we required to make sure that there is a kosher mezuzah on the door of her room?”

This question is discussed by one of the great nineteenth-century halachic authorities, the Avnei Nezer. He concludes that someone hospitalized for an extensive period of time is not required to place a mezuzah on a hospital room for two reasons:

Even according to those who contend that a long-term tenant is obligated min haTorah to put up a mezuzah, this is true only when he rents a specific room, apartment or house. A patient in a hospital or rehab program is entitled to a bed somewhere in the facility, and the hospital may move him to a different room without his agreement. Thus, he has no ownership that requires having a mezuzah on the door.

In addition, if a tenant’s obligation to put up a mezuzah is a rabbinic requirement, it is because use of the property is similar to that of an owner. Staying in a hospital is never viewed as ownership of your room. Therefore, the Avnei Nezer concludes that a patient in a hospital has no requirement to have a mezuzah on the door. (See also Shu”t Chayim Sha’al #22, who reaches the same conclusion.)

Mezuzah rewards

Aside from fulfilling a mitzvah commanded by Hashem, the mitzvah of mezuzah serves to remind us constantly of His presence, every time we enter and exit our houses. In addition, the Gemara teaches that someone who is meticulous in his observance of the laws of mezuzah will merit acquiring a nice home (Shabbos 23b). Thus, observing this mitzvah not only protects one’s family against calamity, but also rewards one with a beautiful domicile. May we all merit being careful always in our observance of the laws of mezuzah and the other mitzvos, and reaping all the rewards, both material and spiritual, for doing so!

Must I Immerse a Candy Dish?

Both parshiyos Balak (read this week in Eretz Yisrael) and Chukas (read in chutz la’aretz) discuss relationships with non-Jews, and therefore are appropriate parshiyos to discuss the mitzvah of tevilas keilim.

Question: A Sweet Saga

Avraham Sweet, the proprietor of Candy Andy, wants to know.

“I have a gift business in which I sell glass candy bowls filled with candies, fruits, and nuts. Must I toivel these dishes before I fill them?”

Introduction:

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

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

What types of dishes must be immersed?

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

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

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

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

Rav Sheishes suggested that if immersing utensils has nothing to do with kosherizing utensils used for non-kosher, perhaps this mitzvah applies to all paraphernalia — even cameras, cellphones and clothing shears!

To this, Rav Nachman retorted that since the Torah mentions only implements used for a meal, the mitzvah of tevilas keilim applies only to utensils used for preparing and consuming food, not those intended for other purposes.

Klei seudah – appliances used for meals

Rav Nachman did not require that all food preparation utensils be immersed, only klei seudah, items used for meals. Soon, we will see how this detail affects many of the halachos of tevilas keilim. But, what exactly are considered klei seudah, and how is this different from simply saying that all food preparation utensils must be immersed?

Klei sechorah — “merchandise”

The halachic authorities note that a storekeeper is not required to immerse vessels he has for sale, since for him they are not utensils with which he intends to prepare food or eat. Later authorities coin a term “klei sechorah,” utensils used as merchandise, ruling that these items do not require immersion until they are purchased by the end user (see Taz, Yoreh Deah 120:10). Furthermore, several halachic authorities contend that not only is the storekeeper not required to immerse the utensils prior to sale, if he immerses them, it is not valid, since there is, as yet, no requirement to immerse them (Shu”t Minchas Yitzchak 8:70). This is based on a comment of the Rama implying that tevilah performed before the obligation to immerse a utensil exists, such as while it is still owned by the non-Jew, does not fulfill the mitzvah, but must be repeated after the utensil becomes the property of a Jew (Rama 9). Thus, reciting a beracha on this too-early tevilah would be a beracha levatalah.

Based on this discussion, we can now address one of our above-mentioned questions:

“I have a gift business in which I sell candy bowls filled with candies, fruits, and nuts. Must I toivel these dishes before I fill them?”

This question is a modification of a situation in which I was once involved. We received a glass candy bowl as a gift from someone with a note that the proprietor had already toiveled the bowl. I called the owner of the business to inform him that, in my opinion, not only is he not required to toivel the dish, but I suspect that the tevilah does not help. My reasoning is that, although the proprietor fills the bowls with nuts and candies, from his perspective this is merchandise that he is selling. The dish therefore qualifies as klei sechorah that one need not immerse, and immersing them does not fulfill the mitzvah. As a result, not only is the proprietor not obligated to immerse the dishes, but doing so fulfills no mitzvah, and it is a beracha levatalah for him to recite a beracha on this tevilah. Including a note that the dish was toiveled is detrimental, since the recipient will assume that he has no requirement to toivel this dish, when the end-user is required to immerse it. For these reasons, I felt it incumbent on myself to bring this to the attention of the owner of the business.

The proprietor was very appreciative. He told me that, in truth, it was a big hassle for him to toivel the dishes, but he had been assuming that halacha required him to do so before he could fill them.

Shortly after writing these words, I received the following shaylah:

“I want to ask you whether one must toivel an item that is being given away as a present. When I studied the topic, I concluded that, even if I purchase a utensil that requires tevilah, but I am planning on giving it to someone, it does not have a chiyuv tevilah until it reaches the recipient’s hands. Only then does it become kli seudah. This would also apply, for example, if someone gave a shalach manos bowl filled with candy, etc; the utensil wouldn’t require tevilah until the person receives it. What do you think?”

To which I answered:

“It seems to me that since one is purchasing the item for someone’s personal use, and not to sell, that it should have a chiyuv tevilah at this point. Only items meant to be merchandise are absolved from tevilah.”

I received the following response:

“Who says that the recipient is going to use the utensil at his table? Indeed, I had the very same shaylah tonight. My wife took a small receptacle that was holding a plant, filled it with nuts and dried fruit, and brought it to someone as a present. Who said that the recipient will use it afterwards for food? Maybe it will be a candle holder, a decorative piece, etc. It doesn’t become kli seudah until she decides what she will use it for.”

The point the correspondent is making is that it may indeed be that this item will never be a food utensil, and therefore never be required to be immersed. Only the end user determines whether the item is indeed a food utensil, and therefore until he decides what to do with it, there is no requirement to immerse it.

Conclusion

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

Cutting Corners

Question #1: Idolatrous shavers

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

Question #2: Women shaving

Are women included in the prohibition of shaving?

Question #3: Tweezing my beard

May I tweeze out my facial hairs?

Question #4: Am I square-headed?

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

Introduction

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

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

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

Shaving and avodah zarah

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

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

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

Women and hair corners

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tweezing my beard

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

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

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

One blade

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

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

Powders and Creams

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

We will continue this topic in a future article.

The Halachos of Book, Wine, and Restaurant Reviews

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

Photo by EmZed from FreeImages

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

Dear Rabbi Kaganoff,

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

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

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

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

With much thanks in advance, Aaron Bernstein

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

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

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

Examples:

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

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

What if I know that the mechanic is dishonest?

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

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

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

Why is this so?

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

1. Is it bad?

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

2. No exaggerating

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

3. Appropriate motivation

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

4. No other choice

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

5. Too damaging

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

When is something not really bad?

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

What is an example of this situation?

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

Why is it not permitted to save Miriam from overpaying?

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

Why is being overcharged not considered being harmed?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book reviews

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

What does the review accomplish?

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

Why do secular sources review books?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Example:

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

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

Now we can look at the second question:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Could there be a frum kosher wine review?

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

Consumer Reports

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

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

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


[1] Rambam, Hilchos Dei’os 7:5

[2] Chofetz Chayim, Hilchos Rechilus 9:1

[3] See Be’er Mayim Chayim ad loc.

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

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

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

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