The Seudah of a Bris

Question #1: Fleishig bris

“Must a bris meal be fleishig? I am between jobs, and even a bagel and tuna salad bris is really, at the moment, beyond my means.”

Question #2: How many people?

How many attendees does a bris seudah require?

Question #3: Day later?

Can you make the meal for a bris a day later?

Answer:

It is a well-established practice that when someone celebrates a bris milah, they make a seudah in honor of the occasion. The common, but not universal, custom in Eretz Yisroel is that the meal served in honor of a bris is fleishig, whereas, in the United States, the meal served is often milchig. This article will explore the origins of the practice of having a seudah in honor of the bris, discuss the parameters of chiyuv involved, and, at the same time, discover some interesting customs, cases and piskei halacha that we find in the halachic literature. As always, this column is to provide general background, but not meant to provide halachic ruling, which is the role of each individual’s rav or posek.

The first question is whether the bris meal is required min haTorah, miderabbanan or whether it is simply a common practice. This author found different midrashim on the subject with slightly variant implications regarding this issue.

“Someone who brought his son to a bris milah is required to make a celebration and a party for the occasion” (Pirkei Derabbi Eliezer, Chapter 29; Midrash Tehillim to Chapter 112). The basis for this celebration is that Avraham made a large party beyom higameil es Yitzchak,“on the day of the higameil of Yitzchok,” assuming that the word higameil refers to the day of his bris. Tosafos (Shabbos 130a s.v. Sas) quotes a midrash that this is derived by taking the four letters of the word הגמל and dividing them into הג, which is the gematriya of eight, and מל, meaning that Avraham made his big celebration on the eighth day after Yitzchak’s birth, the day of his milah.

Another midrash adds that the reward for a father making a “big mishteh” (party) on the day of his son’s bris is that he will have a child who will be a gibbor aretz, which could be translated as a “hero of the earth.” The examples in the midrash are “like Yitzchak, whose prayer allowed a barren woman to give birth” or “like Yaakov, who defeated an angel” (Midrash Tehillim to Chapter 112).

On the other hand, a different midrash describes the celebration of the bris as something highly praiseworthy, referring to it as something that people do out of joy – something performed notwithstanding that there is requirement to do so (Midrash Tanchuma, parshas Tetzaveh #1). This midrash implies that, unlike the Pirkei derabbi Eliezer quoted above, making a bris seudah is a commendable act, but not required. This last midrash then emphasizes, “not only do they make a massive celebration, but people even borrow money and collateralize themselves in order to make this celebration.” A possible way to explain what seems to be a dispute between midrashim is that the Torah never required making a huge celebration in honor of bris milah, but Chazal later made it into a chiyuv.

Other Biblical sources

Another posuk frequently quoted as a source for a celebration on the day of the bris is in Tehillim (119:162), sas anochi al imrasecha kemotzei shalal rav, “I rejoice about your utterances as he who finds a huge treasure.” The word imrasecha is interpreted to mean the mitzvah of bris milah, thus rendering the posuk: I rejoice when I have the opportunity of bris milah.

In this context, the Maharshal states that the seudah, itself, is a simchas mitzvah, on the same level as a wedding or sheva brachos, and it is therefore a big mitzvah to participate in it (Yam shel Shlomoh, Bava Kama 7:37).

Upon the eighth

Another midrash mentions a different posuk in Tehillim as the source for celebrating a bris: the opening words of the 12th Chapter, La’me’natzei’ach al hasheminis, usually translated as, “For the musician, upon the eight-stringed instrument.” This midrash explains that the posuk refers not to an instrument of eight strings, but to the celebration of bris milah on the eighth day after birth (Yalkut Shim’oni, Beshalach #250 and Va’eschanan #844; Midrash Tehillim 6:1, and others).

A difference that might potentially result between these various midrashic sources is whether we should make a festive meal when the bris needed to be delayed, for example, when the baby was not fully healthy on the eighth day. Another possibility is when the baby is born on Friday evening after sunset and before nightfall, in which case the bris cannot be made the next Friday, because it might be the seventh day, nor on Shabbos, since it might be the ninth day from the birth, and only a bris on the eighth day supersedes Shabbos. In these instances, is there still a mitzvah to have a bris seudah? If the source for this celebration is the posuk sas anochi al imrasecha, there should be no difference whether the bris falls on the eighth day or is postponed. On the other hand, if the source is from the words of the 12th chapter of Tehillim that refer to the eighth, or from the words הגמל meaning the eighth day, it is possible that the mitzvah of celebrating the bris with a festive mealis only when the bris falls on the eighth day.

Indeed, we find some halachic authorities who make such a distinction, but in a different context. Concerning a bris that takes place during the Nine Days, where eating fleishig is permitted, at least in certain situations (see Maharil, laws of Tisha Be’Av; Rema, Orach Chayim 551:10; Elya Rabbah 249:2; cf. Taz, Orach Chayim 551:12), there are authorities who contend that permission to eat meat during the nine days is limited to a bris on the eighth day after birth, but not when the bris is delayed (see Shaarei Teshuvah 551:33, quoting Shu”t Or Olam #9), notwithstanding that this is when it is the correct time to perform the bris.

Shulchan Aruch

Thus far, we have noted several midrashim as sources for the practice of a festive celebration in honor of a bris milah, and we noted a discrepancy whether this meal is required or only customary. The wording of the Shulchan Aruch is “nohagim,” which implies that the seudah is required because of Jewish practice (Yoreh Deah 265:12).

We should note that a minority opinion contends that a seudas bris is required min haTorah (Or Ne’elam, based on Rashi, Niddah 31b, quoted by Shaarei Teshuvah, 551:33).

Invite your enemies!

One early source emphasizes that the person making a bris should make peace with his enemies and invite them to the seudah (Orchos Chayim). The poor should also be invited, so that they can participate in a meal that is beyond their means. The custom of bringing home treats from the bris is also mentioned in early sources (Yalkut Mei’am Lo’eiz, parshas Lech Lecha).

Bris on the eighth

We all realize that a bris should take place on the eighth day after birth, unless it cannot, such as when the baby is not fully healthy.

Rescheduling bris to a legal holiday

While researching this article, I found an interesting responsum from the Divrei Malkiel, one of the leading Litvishe poskim of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The question was sent to him from the rav of Bucharest, Rumania, deploring the progressive attitudes towards shemiras mitzvos that existed among many wealthier members of his community. One issue was that they would postpone a bris milah from the eighth day to a secular legal holiday, to make it easier for people to attend. The Divrei Malkiel found this practice extremely abhorrent – the seudas bris is to celebrate that a mitzvah involving mesiras nefesh was observed to its fullest. By postponing the bris to accommodate the seudah, the baalei simcha are inverting the importance — making, quite literally, the tafeil into the ikar and the ikar into the tafeil. The Divrei Malkiel suggests that, under these circumstances, there would be no mitzvah accomplished with the seudas bris. Since the entire bris was delayed against halacha, it now becomes the celebration of an aveirah – the non-fulfillment of a bris on the eighth day, rather than the celebration of a mitzvah!

The Divrei Malkiel notes that this not only confuses the ikar (performing the bris at the first opportunity, and the mitzvah of performing it on the eighth day) with the tafeil (the seudah celebration), but that, if indeed the bris was delayed because of convenience, there is no mitzvah of having a celebratory meal. His rationale is simple: The purpose of the celebratory meal is to demonstrate our scrupulous observance of this mitzvah that involves sacrifice. But, in this instance, it is a declaration that the father did not want to perform the mitzvah properly. Therefore, any celebration becomes a farce and is not a simchas mitzvah(Shu”t Divrei Malkiel 4:86)!

The exact question asked of the Divrei Malkiel was asked many hundreds of years ago of the Tashbeitz, who ruled the same way. The case in this instance was that the eighth day after the birth fell on Sunday, the tenth of Av – in other words, Tisha Be’Av nidche, the day that the ninth of Av isobserved in practice. The family wanted to push off the bris to Monday in order to have it on a day when there would be a seudah. Similar to the Divrei Malkiel, the Tashbeitz writes that pushing off the bris to accommodate amore convenient seudah confuses the ikar with the tafeil and is sinful, for it violates performing the bris on the eighth day. He concludes, similarly to the Divrei Malkiel, that in this situation there is no mitzvah to have a seudah (Shu”t Tashbeitz 3:8).

Milchig or fleishig?

At this point, we are ready to discuss the first of our opening questions: “Must a bris be fleishig? I am between jobs, and even a bagel and tuna salad bris is really, at the moment, beyond my means.”

The early authorities discuss whether it is preferred to have a fleishig meal at a bris. The Shelah Hakadosh quotes a dispute that he had with his rebbe, the Maharash, who contended that a bris should be a fleishig meal, whereas the Shlah himself, at least prior to his rebbe voicing a disputing opinion, held that a milchig meal is fine (Mesechta Shabbos, Ner Mitzvah #7, quoted by Elya Zuta 249:2). The opinion of the Maharash is viewed as the primary halachic opinion by the Machatzis Hashekel (Orach Chayim 249:6). On the other hand, the Chasam Sofer notes that the accepted practice in his day was to serve a dairy meal (Shu”t Chasam Sofer Orach Chayim #69), and this practice is similarly quoted approvingly by others (Shaarei Teshuvah 551:33, quoting Shu”t Or Olam #9).

In this context, the Chochmas Odom states that having a bris seudah is a custom to demonstrate the simcha that Jews feel when we observe bris milah. To quote him, “Someone who could make a seudah, and pinches pennies to serve only coffee, schnapps and sweets, is not doing the right thing (149:24). In other words, if someone cannot afford an expensive meal, it is perfectly acceptable that he serve a snack, rather than a full meal. But someone who can afford to serve a nice meal should make a proper celebration.

At the same time, we must be careful that the expenses associated with a bris not become so lavish that it embarrasses someone who is unable to make such a nice bris. In many communities, over the ages, when this became a problem, takanos were established, limiting how many people could be invited to a bris seudah and what was served.

Minyan?

At this point, let us examine the second of our opening questions: “How many attendees does a bris seudah require?”

The Rema (Yoreh Deah 265:12) writes that the minhag is to have a minyan at a seudas bris. This is the earliest authority I know of who discusses this, and he does not cite either a source or a reason. Later authorities endeavor to understand what the source is for this Rema. Several options are mentioned, including the statement of the Gemara (Kesubos 8a) that the brocha of shehasimcha bi’me’ono, “that joy is in His abode”would be recited at a bris – just as we do at a wedding or sheva brachos – except for tzara leyanuka, the discomfort caused to the baby by the bris. This brocha, shehasimcha bi’me’ono, is never recited without a minyan. (However, this source does not demonstrate a requirement to have a minyan; rather, that even if a minyan is present, not to recite shehasimcha bi’me’ono.)

It is possible that the reason the bris seudah should have a minyan is to spread the happy tidings that the mitzvah was performed, pirsumei mitzvah, and pirsum usually requires at least a minyan. (These and other approaches are discussed in Sefer Habris by the late Rav Moshe Bunim Pirutinsky, 265:166, page 329.)

Bris seudah before Musaf?

In a responsum, the Chasam Sofer discusses the following situation. The rav of a certain town had succeeded in changing the davening time for the local shul on Shabbos, so that they would now daven Shacharis before zman kerias Shema. In order to accommodate this change, the people insisted that there should be a break before they davened Musaf, during which they would eat a milchig meal as their morning seudah of Shabbos. After Musaf, they had the fleishig meal of the day, with which they fulfilled the mitzvah of seudah shelishis. When they would celebrate a bris on Shabbos, they would perform the bris immediately after Shacharis, and then celebrate the bris seudah before Musaf. The rav was concerned, because it is prohibited to have a seudas gedolah before davening Musaf.

In his reply, the Chasam Sofer commends the rav for getting the community to daven Shacharis before the time of reciting kerias Shma. He then discusses whether it is permitted to eat the Shabbos seudah before davening Musaf, and whether it will be halachically worse if the morning seudah is also a bris seudah. Based on a psak of the Bach (Orach Chayim 286), the Chasam Sofer concludes that there is halachic basis to permit them to have a milchig seudah for the bris, since they do not want to have the added expense of a fleishig bris seudah, which is what would be involved if they held the seudah after Musaf. He then notes that a seudas bris is usually considered a seudah gedolah, which is prohibited to eat before Musaf. However, since the seudas bris would be milchig, and not a lot of wine drunk, although it would be preferred to have the seudas bris after Musaf, the rav is not required to correct them for having a milchig, non-intoxicating seudah before Musaf (Shu”t Chasam Sofer, Orach Chayim #69).

Bris on Friday

Although it is generally prohibited to make a large meal on Friday, in order not to infringe on the appetite one brings with him to his Shabbos meal, exception is made for a seudas mitzvah that should not be delayed. There are two instances of this: A pidyon haben and a bris milah (Rema, Orach Chayim 249:2). In these instances, the Bach rules that the seudah should be made before the “tenth” hour, which is usually understood to mean in the afternoon, halfway between midday and sunset.

The Levush contends that if you cannot have both seudos, Shabbos and bris, the bris seudah should be done even at the expense of the Shabbos seudah, because both are seudos mitzvah, and you should perform whichever one comes first, without concern that as a result the second will not take place (Orach Chayim249:2). The Bach appears to disagree with this Levush.

Postponing the Seudah until after Shabbos

Common practice for a Shabbos bris is to make the celebratory meal on Shabbos.

Apparently, however, this approach was not always universal. The Magen Avraham (131:11) quotes from the Hagahos Minhagim that there were places in which the custom was that the seudah for a Shabbos bris was postponed until after Shabbos. I did not find any commentaries who explain the source for this custom, but I suspect that the basis is that a seudas bris on Shabbos would not be apparent that the meal was in celebration of the bris; therefore, they made a special meal on motza’ei Shabbos in honor of the bris. This can be compared to the accepted practice today that when Purim falls on Shabbos (which happens in our calendar only in Yerushalayim and other walled cities) the seudah is postponed to Sunday, in order to assure that the special Purim meal be noticeable. Since this year Purim falls on Shabbos in Yerushalayim, I hope to discuss this topic with our readership prior to Purim.

Day later

At this point, let us discuss the last of our opening questions: Can you make the meal for a bris a day later?

Although some halachic authorities assume that the bris seudah should be celebrated on the day that the bris occurred (Yaavetz in Migdal Oz, quoted by Sefer Habris 255:170 [pg 329]; Yalkut Mei’am Lo’eiz, quoting Shlah), severalauthorities rule that when the seudah could not or did not take place on the day of the bris, that it can take place afterward (Tashbeitz 3:8; Pischei Teshuvah, Yoreh Deah 265:16 quoting Chamudei Daniel). The Tashbeitz proves this from the fact that, as mentioned above, the Purim seudah is postponed from Shabbos to Sunday, as well as a custom that he records of postponing the seudah of a bris celebrated on Friday to Shabbos (Shu”t Tashbeitz 3:8).

Conclusion

The Midrash tells us that Avraham Avinu’s bris took place on Yom Kippur, on the site where the mizbei’ach of the Beis Hamikdash was later built. Thus, the atonement both of Yom Kippur and of korbanos is combined in the observance of bris milah. In the words of the Midrash, “Every year, HaKodosh Boruch Hu sees the blood of the bris of Avrohom Avinu and He atones for all our sins.” Thus, bris milah guarantees the future redemption of the Jewish people and the atonement from all sins (Pirkei Derabbi Eliezer, Chapter 29; see also Rabbeinu Bachya commentary to Bereishis 17:13). This is certainly a major reason not to shortchange its celebration!




Meet the Adams Family

The Man

Today, I will be meeting someone who is extremely concerned and knowledgeable about halacha, yet doesn’t even keep a kosher home. Neither has he ever observed Shabbos. On the other hand, he is meticulous to observe every detail of Choshen Mishpat.

Who is this individual?

Allow me to introduce you to John Adams, who is a practicing Noahide, or, as he prefers to call himself, an Adamite.

Adams asserts that he descends from the two famous presidents, a claim that I have never verified and have no reason to question. Raised in New England and a graduate of Harvard Law School, John rejected the tenets of the major Westernreligions, but retained a very strong sense of G-d’s presence and the difference betweenright and wrong. Study and introspection led him to believe that G-d probably had detailed instructions for mankind, and sincere questioning led him to discover that, of the Western religions, only Judaism does not claim a monopoly on heaven. A non-Jew who observes the Seven Laws taught to Noah and believes that G-d commanded them at Har Sinai has an excellent place reserved for him in Olam Haba.

And so, John began the practice of these laws.John is quick to point out that, with only one exception, these laws were all commanded originally to Adam. Since John is proud of his family name and lineage, he likes calling himself an Adamite.

What are the basics of Noahide practice?

A gentile is required to observe seven mitzvos, six of them prohibitions: idolatry, incest, murder, blasphemy, theft, and eiver min hachai (which we will soon discuss).  The seventh mitzvah is to have dinim, the nature of which is controversial.The Sefer Hachinuch (Mitzvah #416) and others note that these seven mitzvos are really seven categories, and a non-Jew is really required to observe several dozen mitzvos.

Kosher, Noah style

I asked John if eating meat presents any religious problems for him.

“Well, you know that Noah was prohibited from eating meat or an organ that was severed before the animal died, a prohibition you call eiver min hachai,” said John, obviously proud that he could pronounce the expression correctly.“So, sometimes I come across meat that I may not eat. The following question once came up: Moslem slaughter, called halal, involves killing the animal in a way that many of its internal organs are technically severed from the animal before it is dead. Because of this, we are very careful where we purchase our organ meats.”

May a Noahide Eat Out?

“This problem went even further,” John continued. “Could we eat in a restaurant whereforbidden meats may have contaminated their equipment?”

I admit that I had never thought of this question before. Must a gentile be concerned that a restaurant’s equipment absorbed eiver min hachai? Does a Noahide need to “kasher” a treif restaurant before he can eat there? Shver tzu zein a goy! Oy, the difficulty of beinga goy!

“How did you resolve this dilemma?” I asked curiously.

“Well, for a short time our family stopped eating out,” he replied. “You could say that we ate treif only at home. My wife found the situation intolerable – no MacDonald’s or Wendy’s? Although I know that observant Jews do not understand why this is such a serious predicament, bear in mind that we made a conscious decision not to become Jewish. One of our reasons was that we enjoy eating out wherever we can.

“So, I decided to ask some rabbis I know, but, even then, the end of the road was not clearly in sight.”

“Why was that?”

“I had difficulty finding a rabbi who could answer the question. From what I understand, a rabbi’s ordination teaches him the basics necessary to answer questions that apply to kosher kitchens. But I don’t have a kosher house – we observe Adamite laws. As one rabbi told me, ‘I don’t know if Noahides need to be concerned about what was previously cooked in their pots.’”

“How did you resolve the predicament?”

How treif is treif?

“Eventually, we found a rabbi who contended that we need not be concerned about how pots and grills were previously used. He explained that we could assume that they had not been used for eiver min hachai in the past 24 hours, which certainly sounds like a viable assumption, and that, therefore, using them would only involve the possibility of a rabbinic prohibition, which we gentiles are not required to observe. The last part makes a lot of sense, since there is nothing in the Seven Laws about listening to the rabbis, although I agree that they are smart and sincere people. [Note: I am not certain who it was that John asked. According to Shu”t Chasam Sofer, Yoreh Deah #19 (at end), there is no heter for a non-Jew to use pots that once absorbed eiver min hachai. There are poskim who disagree with the Chasam Sofer (see Darchei Teshuvah 62:5), many of these holding that there is no prohibition altogether with a gentile using pots that had absorbed the taste of eiver min hachai.]

“The result is that we now go out to eat frequently, which makes my wife very happy. It was a good decision for our marital bliss, what you call shalom bayis. Although I understand that this is another idea we are not required to observe, it is good, common sense.”

Milah in the Adams Family

When John’s son was born, he raised an interesting shaylah. To quote him: “Circumcision as a religious practice originates with G-d’s covenant with Abraham, the first Jew. But my covenant with G-d predates Abraham and does not include circumcision. However, even though there was no religious reason for my son to be circumcised, my wife and I thought it was a good idea for health reasons. On the other hand, I know that many authorities forbid a gentile, which I technically am, from observing any commandments that he is not specifically commanded (see Rambam, Hilchos Melachim 10:9).”

John is a very gregarious type, and loves to explain things fully. “We actually had another concern about whether we could circ John Jr. The second one was that many authorities contend that the seventh mitzvah of establishing ‘Laws,’ which you call ‘Dinim,’ includes a prohibition against injuring someone (Ramban, Genesis, oops, I mean Bereishis, 34:13). According to this opinion, a non-Jew who strikes someone during a street protest may lose his world to come for violating one of the seven laws. I have come too far to risk losing my share in the world to come, so I try very hard not to violate any of the laws. I called some rabbi I know to ask whether there was any problem with circumcising my son for health reasons. The rabbis I asked felt that since we are doing this for medical reasons, it issimilar to donating blood or undergoing surgery, both of which are permitted. The upshot was that we did what no self-respecting Jew should ever do: We had a pediatrician circumcise John Jr. on the third day after his birth, to emphasize that we were not performing any mitzvah.”

No Bris

Proud to show off his Hebrew, John finished by saying: “So we had a milah, but no bris. We also decided to skip the bagels and lox. Instead, my wife and I thought it was more appropriate to celebrate with shrimp cocktails, even though primordial Adam didn’t eat shrimp. All types of meat were permitted to Noah only after the Deluge, which you call the mabul. I believe that some authorities rule that Adam was permitted road-kill and was only prohibited from slaughtering, while others understand he had to be strictly vegetarian. My wife and I discussed whether to go vegetarian and keep up the Adams tradition, but decided that if meat was ‘kosher’ enough for Noah, it is kosher enough for us. We decided we weren’t keeping any stringent practices,even if they become stylish.”

Earning a Living

“Have you experienced any other serious dilemmas due to your being an ‘Adamite’?”

“Oh, yes. I almost had to change my career.”

I found this very curious. As John Adams seemed like an honest individual, it was unlikely that he had made his living by stealing or any similar dishonest activity.

Non-Jews are forbidden to perform abortions, which might affect how a Noahide gynecologist earns a living, but John is a lawyer, not a doctor. Even if John used to worship idols or had the bad habit of blaspheming, how would that affect his career?

May a Gentile Practice Law?

John’s research into Noahide law led him to the very interesting conclusion that his job as an assistant district attorney was halachically problematic. Here is what led him to this conclusion.

One of the mitzvos, or probably more accurately, categories of mitzvos,in which a Noahide is commanded is the mitzvah of dinim, literally, laws. The authorities dispute the exact definition and nature of this mitzvah. It definitely includes a requirement that gentile societies establish courts and prosecute those who violate the Noahide laws (Tosefta, Avodah Zarah 9:4; Rambam, Hilchos Melachim 9:14). Some authorities contend that the mitzvah of dinim prohibits injuring or abusing others or damaging their property (Ramban, Breishis 34:13).

However, this dispute leads to another issue that was more germane to John’s case. The halachic authorities dispute whether Noahides are governed by the Torah’s rules of property laws, which we refer to as Choshen Mishpat (Shu”t Rama #10), or whether the Torah left it to non-Jews to formulate their own property and other civil laws. If the former is true, a non-Jew may not sue in a civil court that uses any system of law other than the Torah. Instead, he must litigate in a beis din or in a court of non-Jewish judges who follow halachic guidelines. Following this approach, if a gentile accepts money based on civil litigation, he is considered as stealing, just as a Jew is. This approach is accepted by many early poskim (e.g., Tumim 110:3). Some authorities extend this mitzvah further, contending that the mitzvos governing proper functioning of courts and civil laws apply to Noahides (Minchas Chinuch #414; 415).According to this view, enforcing a criminal code that does not follow the Torah rules violates the mitzvah of dinim.

As John discovered, some authorities extend this idea quite far. For example, one of the mitzvos of the Torah prohibits a beis din from convicting or punishing on the basis of circumstantial evidence (Rambam, Sefer Hamitzvos, Lo Saaseh #290; Sefer Hachinuch #82). If the same rule applies to the laws of dinim, a gentile court is prohibited from using circumstantial evidence in litigation (Minchas Chinuch #82, #409). Thus, John was faced with a predicament. According to these opinions, a gentile who prosecutes on the basis of circumstantial evidence may be violating the mitzvos of Noah, even if the accused party appears to be guilty. It is understood that, according to these opinions, one may not prosecute for the violation of a crime that the Torah does not consider to be criminal, or to sue for damages for a claim that has no halachic basis.

Napoleonic Code and Halacha

On the other hand, other authorities contend that non-Jews are not obligated to observe the laws of Choshen Mishpat; rather, the Torah requires them to create their own legal rules and procedures (Ha’eimek She’eilah, 2:3; Chazon Ish, Bava Kamma 10:1). These authorities rule that gentiles perform a mitzvah when creating a legal system for themselves such as the Napoleonic Code, English Common Law, or any other commercial code. Following this approach, a non-Jew may use secular courts to resolve his litigation and even fulfills a mitzvah by doing so. Thus, John could certainly continue his work as a D.A., and it would be a mitzvah for him to do so.

It is interesting to note that following the stricter ruling in this case also creates a leniency. According to those who rule that a gentile is not required to observe the laws of Choshen Mishpat, a gentile may not study these laws, since the Torah prohibits a gentile from studying Torah (see Tosafos, Bava Kamma 38a s.v. karu; cf., however, the Meiri, Sanhedrin 59a, who rules that a gentile who decides to observe a certain mitzvah may study the laws of that mitzvah in order to fulfill it correctly.)On the other hand, according to those who contend that the mitzvos of dinim follow the laws of Choshen Mishpat, a gentile is required to study these laws in order to observe his mitzvos properly (Shu”t Rama #10)).

John’s Dilemma

The rabbis with whom John consulted felt that a gentile could work as a district attorney. However, John had difficulty with this approach. He found it hard to imagine that G-d would allow man to decide the law for himself, and felt it more likely that mankind was expected to observe the Torah’s civil code. He therefore gravitated to the opinion of those who held that gentiles are required to observe the laws of Choshen Mishpat. As a result, he felt that he should no longer work in the D.A.’s office, since his job is to prosecute based on laws and a criminal justice system that the Torah does not accept.

“What did you do?”

“I decided to ‘switch sides’ and become a defense attorney, which has a practical advantage, because I make a lot more money.”

“How do you handle a case where you know that your client is guilty?”

“Firstly, is he guilty according to halachah? Did he perform a crime? Is there halachically acceptable evidence? If there is no halachically acceptable evidence, he is not required to plead guilty. Furthermore, since none of my clients are Noahides or observant Jews, they can’t make it to heaven anyway, so let them enjoy themselves here. Even if my client is guilty, the punishment determined by the court is not halachically acceptable. It is very unclear whether jail terms are halachically acceptable punishment for gentiles.

“Philosophically, I was always opposed to jail time. I think that there are better ways to teach someone to right their ways than by incarceration, which is a big expense for society.”

Interesting Noahide Laws

“Have you come across any other curious issues?”

“Here is a really unusual question I once raised,” John responded. “Am I permitted to vote in the elections for a local judge? According to some authorities, the Torah’s prohibition against appointing a judge who is halachically incompetent applies equally to gentiles (Minchas Chinuch #414). Thus, one may not appoint someone to the bench who does not know the appropriate Torah laws, which excludes all the candidates. When I vote, I am actively choosing a candidate who is halachically unqualified to judge. I therefore decided that, although there are authorities who permit such judging and therefore this voting is permitted, I wanted to be   consistent in my position. As a result, I vote religiously, but not for judgeships.

Becoming Jewish

“John, did you ever consider becoming Jewish?”

“First of all, I know that the rabbis will discourage me from becoming Jewish, particularly since I don’t really want to. I know exactly what I am required to keep and I keep that properly. I have no interest in being restricted to where and what I eat, and I have no interest in observing Shabbos, which, at present, I may not observe anyway, and that is fine with me (Sanhedrin 58b). I am very willing to be a ‘Shabbos goy’— and I understand well what the Jews need –but it is rare that I find myself in this role. Remember, I do not live anywhere near a Jewish community.

“Although I have never learned how to read Hebrew – why bother, I am not supposed to study Torah anyway – I ask enough questions from enough rabbis to find out all I need to know.”

In Conclusion

Although it seems strange for a non-Jew to ask a rav a shaylah, this should actually be commonplace. Indeed, many non-Jews are concerned about their future place in Olam Haba and, had the nations not been deceived by spurious religions, many thousands more would observe the mitzvos that they are commanded. When we meet sincere non-Jews, we should direct them correctly in their quest for truth. Gentiles who observe these mitzvos because Hashem commanded them through Moshe Rabbeinu are called “Chassidei Umos HaOlam” and merit a place in Olam Haba.




Carding, Combing and Disentangling

Photo by Melissa Ramirez from FreeImages

Question #1: Shabbos Prohibitions

“Does every av melacha of Shabbos have tolados?”

Question #2: Sinews

“How are sinews like wool?”

Question #3: Dog Grooming

“Is it prohibited min haTorah to comb out my dog’s hair on Shabbos?”

Introduction:

The Mishnah in the seventh chapter of Mesechta Shabbos lists the 39 avos melachos, or major categories of work, prohibited on Shabbos. These melachos were all involved in the building of the Mishkan, which is a major factor in determining whether something is prohibited on Shabbos min haTorah.

There is another rule that each av melacha has at least one toladah (see Bava Kama 2a). A toladah is an activity that is prohibited min haTorah, and is derived from one of the avos melachos.

The Talmud Yerushalmi (Shabbos 7:2) tells us a fascinating story how the great amora’im,Rabbi Yochanan and Reish Lakeish, studied diligently this one chapter of Mishnah, the seventh chapter of Mesechta Shabbos, for three and a half years! As a result of their studies, they discovered 39 tolados for each av melacha. We find this incredible, since, for some of the avos melacha, finding more than one or two tolados is difficult. Several of the rishonim, particularly the Rambam, the Sefer Yerei’im and the Semag, endeavor to find tolados for the melachos. Yet, even with all their considerable efforts, we often find no more than one or two tolados for a particular av melacha.

There are a few reasons why it is important to know how many melachos there are and how to categorize them. One reason is because a person who negligently violated one of the melacha categories on Shabbos is required to offer a korban chatos as atonement. Of course, we have no way of fulfilling this today, but, soon, when the Beis Hamikdash is rebuilt, this mitzvah will again become incumbent upon us.

This requirement to offer a korban chatos is only if the violation was min haTorah. There are many conditions that need to be met for a melacha activity to be a Torah prohibition. For example, someone who performed a melacha activity, but did so in an unusual way, does not violate Torah law. This is sometimes referred to as ein darko bekach, not the usual way of performing the particular activity. At other times the Gemara calls this, batlah da’atan eitzel kol odom, since most people do not consider this the normal way (Shabbos 92b).

Here is an example of this rule. Rabbah bar bar Channah, quoting Rabbi Yochanan, said, “One who twists wool into thread on Shabbos while it is still on the back of an animal is in violation of three melachos, one for shearing, one for menapeitz (I will explain this melacha shortly), and one for spinning thread.” Rav Kahana disagreed with Rabbah bar bar Channah, explaining that performing these activities while the wool is still attached to the animal is an atypical way of performing them. The Gemara then questioned Rav Kahana on the basis of a statement of an earlier authority, the tanna Rabbi Nechemyah, who noted that the women who spun the goat hair used for the Mishkan indeed spun the hair while it was still attached to the goats. Thus, if this was the way the melacha was performed when the Mishkan was built, it should automatically qualify as a melacha min haTorah! The Gemara retorts that, notwithstanding that the Mishkan was indeed constructed this way, Rav Kahana is correct that this is an atypical way to spin thread and therefore exempt from being a Torah violation of melacha. Since this method involves an unusually high level of skill, and, other than for the Mishkan, was certainly not the typical manner in which the melacha was performed, the way it was done in the Mishkan does not define what is a Torah violation of performing this melacha (Shabbos 74b).

Disentangling

The rest of this article will discuss the melacha called menapeitz, often translated as disentangling, combing or carding, but none of these terms explains the melachah adequately. When the Mishnah inventories the 39 melachos, it lists menapeitz in between melabein, which means either laundering or bleaching, and toveh, which is spinning fiber into thread.

As we see from several places in the Gemara, after wool and similar fibers were shorn from the animal and cleaned, they were combed or untangled in order to be able to continue processing them into cloth. The wool shorn from a sheep cannot be used immediately because it is filthy and very tangled. Cleaning it involves the melacha of melabein, which we will not discuss in this article. Menapeitz includes untangling the wool. Yet, as we will soon see, some authorities describe menapeitz in other ways, and, certainly, not all disentangling is menapeitz.

Tzadi or samach?

There is even a question as to whether the correct name for the melacha is menapeitz, with a tzadi at the end, or menafeis, with a samach, which is the way it is spelled by the Aruch. Rav Nosson ben Yechiel ben Avraham, was an early rishon who lived in Rome in the eleventh century. He was the head of a yeshivah located there, and authored a work called the Aruch, which is probably the earliest dictionary of Aramaic. In it, he quotes, at times extensively, various sources in the Gemara in which a term is used, translates the word into Hebrew and often explains the Gemara and other halachic concepts. The work, which is quoted by his contemporary, Rashi (see Shabbos 13b), and many times by Tosafos, had several addenda added to it in the centuries following, by such prominent poskim as the sixteenth-century Yerushalayim gadol Rav Menachem di Lunzano, and the nineteenth-century German dayan Rav Aharon Fuld. At times, only a seasoned reader can figure out which comments are from the original Aruch and which are additions from these latter figures. Other additions are from the seventeenth-century physician and philologist Binyomin Musafia, whose work was called originally Musaf Ha’Aruch, and from the renowned eighteenth-century Talmud chacham and editor Rav Yeshayah Pik.

Menapeitz in Tanach

Let us examine the root meaning of the word menapeitz in Tanach, and then see how the word is used in the context of the laws of Shabbos. The earliest use of the word is in parshas Noach (Bereishis 9:19), where the posuk says, “sheloshah eileh bnei Noach, umei’eileh noftzah chol ha’aretz, These are the three sons of Noach, and from them spread (the population) of the world.” We also find the word meaning to shatter, such as in the pasuk, “ki’chli yotzeir tenapetzeim, You will shatter them like a potter’s vessel” (Tehillim 2:9). The word conveys the same idea in Shoftim (7:19), “venafotz hakadim asher biyadam, They smashed the jugs that were in their hands,” and in Yirmiyohu (48:12) “venivleihem yenapeitzu, They will smash their barrels.” We find it used in a more figurative sense in Yeshayohu (33:3), “mei’romemusecha noftzu goyim, From Your loftiness, nations have dispersed.”

Furthermore, the Aruch provides three Talmudic references for the root nofatz: Shabbos 140, Avodah Zarah 7, and Chullin 72.

We now have a question on the Aruch. If the melacha on Shabbos is spelled with a samach, and there is clearly a word, both in Tanach and in Chazal, spelled with a tzadi,. why does the Aruch spell it with a samach? Are the letters samach and tzadi interchangeable, as we find occasionally? One could explain the variant spellings this way, although it is clear from the Talmudic references above that the Aruch himself understood that there are two roots with similar meanings. The root with a tzadi means to shatter, smash or disperse, whereas that with a samach means to disentangle.

Rishonim on the melacha

In his commentary to the Mishnah discussing the melacha of menapeitz, the Rambam (Shabbos 7:2) describes the melacha as beating wool with a stick. In the monumental recent work, Ma’aseh Oreg, which elucidates the various processes used in the days of Chazal to make cloth, Dayan Yisroel Gukovitski explains that after wool was washed and bleached, it was placed on a table and beaten with rods, which loosened the fibers and crushed any matter that prevented the wool from disentangling. This was an important stage in preparing the wool to be spun into thread or pressed into felt.

Rishonim other than the Rambam explain menapeitz in other ways. For example, in the context of the law of a nazir combing his hair, Rashi explains the word menapeitz to mean disentangling hair (see Rashi, Shabbos 50b; see Mishnah, Nazir 42a). In the context of the melacha menapeitz, Rashi understands this to mean picking apart and separating the clumped wool into fibers that can be properly spun.

Other authorities explain the melacha to mean combing the wool out with an iron comb (Meiri, Shabbos 73b; Chayei Odom 23:1). This is a later step in the processing of the fibers to make them ready for spinning into thread. By the way, Rashi (Bava Basra 19a s.v. Tzipei) also describes the act of menapeitz as combing, although that context is not discussing the laws of Shabbos.

It is unclear that there is any halachic dispute among these different approaches. They may simply be describing different stages in the melacha, and that the melacha includes any or all of these processes.

Carding

Some late commentators translate menapeitz as carding,because the word card as a verb

means to disentangle fibers. (The word card can also mean the specific brush used to disentangle fibers prior to spinning them.) This seems to fit Rashi’s old French word, carpir (Shabbos 73a, see Avnei Neizer 170:8 and Targum Hala’az #1618).

However, at this stage we are faced with a question asked by one of the great late acharonim, the Avnei Neizer (170:9). There are two steps involved in preparing clean fibers so that they can be spun into thread. First, one disentangles the wool; then, one combs the fibers together evenly so that they can be spun. Since we now know that menapeitz means disentangling, why isn’t the second step, combing it into a form that can be spun, a separate melacha? In other words, there should be two melachos – one called menapeitz and another called soreik, combing – between the melacha of melabein, which is laundering or bleaching, and the next melacha, toveh, spinning.

The Avnei Neizer (170:9) answers that since this is all one process, it is all included as one melacha, notwithstanding that it can be subdivided into two steps. He then asks why the melacha is called menapeitz and not soreik, combing, which is the final stage? To this he answers that combing is performed with an implement, whereas the disentangling can be performed either with an implement or by hand. The Mishnah called the melacha menapeitz so that we would realize that disentangling by hand is also considered the primary melacha.

Menapeitz times two

Now that we understand the basics of this melacha, we will discuss some of its details.

According to some authorities, one can violate the melacha of menapeitz twice on the same material. Certain methods of processing wool involve combing out the material and then soaking it in a special solution, so that it will absorb dye better. This soaking causes the wool to clump again, and one needs to comb it out a second time. According to the Maasei Rokei’ach, if both of these actions were performed on Shabbos, this second combing would be another Torah violation of the melacha of menapeitz (Hilchos Shabbos 9:12).

Sheep and other animals

Although the prohibition of shatnez applies min haTorah exclusively to the wool of sheep and not to the hair or wool of other animals, such as goats, camels, llamas and rabbits (see Kel’ayim 9:1), all opinions agree that menapeitz applies to the wool of all animals that may be used for clothing. By the way, the difference between wool and hair, the two English words that describe what grows on an animal, is that wool is hair that is soft and therefore suitable for clothing. Some goats, such as cashmere and angora varieties, produce soft wool, whereas others produce coarser hair, suitable for making into burlap sacks but not into clothing.

Carding coarser material unsuitable for cloth manufacture, but usable as burlap, also violates menapeitz.

Linen and cotton

There appears to be a dispute among rishonim whether the melacha of menapeitz applies min haTorah to textile materials that grow from the ground (plant-based), such as cotton, jute, or flax (which is processed into linen). Rashi seems to hold that menapeitz applies only to materials that do not grow from the ground (Rashi, Shabbos 73b; see also Meiri ad locum), whereas the Rambam (Hilchos Shabbos 9:12) and the Semag rule expressly that menapeitz applies to all materials. The Chayei Odom rules that menapeitz applies also to plant-based textiles.

Even according to those who accept the Rambam’s opinion that menapeitz applies to plant-based textiles, there is a further dispute whether beating a flax plant to soften and loosen its fibers violates menapeitz or tochein, grinding. In his commentary on the Semag, the fifteenth-century posek, Rav Isaac Stein, rules that beating flax violates the melacha of menapeitz. On the other hand, the Maharshal, in his comments on the Semag, disagrees, contending that menapeitz must involve disentangling and not simply beating.

Cottonseed

According to several rishonim, combing out cotton, which removes the seeds, violates a different melacha, dosh, threshing, because it separates the usable textile material from the seeds, which are unusable as clothing (Rashi, Shabbos 73b, Ran and Meiri ad locum). (Cottonseed is crushed for its oil. At the time of the Gemara, cottonseed oil was used as inferior kindling oil [see Rashi, Shabbos 21a s.v. Mish’cha]. Today, it is a source of cooking oil, used, for example, in the production of potato chips.) The melacha of dosh is violated when one breaks the natural, physical connection between two items that are dissimilar in their use, thus creating a product that can be used easily. For example, threshing breaks the connection between the kernels and the chaff, thus making the kernels usable; squeezing separates the juice or oil from the fruit. Since the Chayei Odom ruled like the Rambam that menapeitz is applicable to plant-based textiles, he concludes that combing out cotton or similar textiles, thereby removing the seeds while preparing the fibers for spinning into cloth, violates two melachos, dosh and menapeitz. However, the Bris Moshe disagrees (Commentary to Semag 65:134). It is beyond the topic of this article to explain the significance of an action violating two different melachos.

Sinews

Let us return to our second question, “How are sinews like wool?”

The halacha requires that Sifrei Torah and tefillin be sewn by a strong, very special type of “thread” made of sinew. The processing of these sinews so that they can be used as thread is also considered an act of menapeitz (Rambam, Hilchos Shabbos 9:15). The way these “threads” are processed is as follows: The thick sinews of an animal are dried and then smashed with a hammer, which makes them form a mushy mass, somewhat similar to the way wool appears after it has been carded. The beaten sinew can then be spun into thread, which constitutes the melacha of toveh.

The Avnei Neizer (170:6) asks why the hammering process that precedes the spinning of the giddin (sinews) is not a violation of a different melacha, tochein, grinding, since one is thereby pulverizing the dried sinew. He concludes that, indeed, both melachos are violated, tochein and menapeitz. The Rambam simply told us that the spinning is a toladah of menapeitz, but did not discuss the fact that one violated Shabbos already when hammering the sinew.

Combing hair

While showering, many people use hair conditioner to facilitate combing the tangles and knots out of their hair. Realize how much more difficult this is for a sheep, whose hair is much curlier, and it has been quite a while since it last brushed its hair! And it certainly didn’t use conditioner!

The halachic authorities discuss whether a woman can disentangle her hair on Shabbos, all ruling that this is permitted provided she does not do it in a way that will be a psik reisha whereby she definitely pulls out hair (end of Orach Chayim, 303). Pulling out hair is forbidden because of a different melacha, gozeiz, shearing. However, if, as we explained, any type of disentangling involves the melacha of menapeitz, why is disentangling hair not forbidden as menapeitz?

The answer is that the melacha of menapeitz is preparing material so that it can be spun into thread or made into cloth (Avnei Neizer, Orach Chayim 170:2, 171; Chayei Odom). Unless a woman is planning to spin her hair into cloth, it will not be prohibited as menapeitz.

Dog grooming

Thus, we can now address the third of our opening questions: “Is it prohibited min haTorah to comb out my dog’s hair on Shabbos?”

Unless one intends to use its hair as a textile, there is no melacha of menapeitz involved. It is presumably still prohibited because of muktzah,and because of a concern that someone will likely pull out hairs while combing.

In conclusion

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch (Shemos 20:10) notes that people mistakenly think that work is prohibited min Hatorah on Shabbos so that it be a day of rest. He points out that the Torah does not prohibit doing avodah, which connotes hard work, but melacha, activities or actions which bring purpose and accomplishment. Shabbos is a day that we refrain from constructing and altering the world for our own purposes. By refraining from our own creative acts on Shabbos, we allow Hashem’s rule to be the focus of creation (Shemos 20:11).




The Basics of Birkas Hagomeil

Since parsha Eikev includes many references to brochos thanking Hashem for all His kindness, it is certainly an appropriate week to study:

Question #1: “I recently underwent some surgery. At what point in my recovery do I recite birkas hagomeil?”

Question #2: “May I recite birkas hagomeil if I will not be able to get to shul for kri’as haTorah?”

Answer:

There are two mitzvos related to thanking Hashem for deliverance from perilous circumstances. In Parshas Tzav, the Torah describes an offering brought in the Mishkan, or the Beis Hamikdash, called the korban todah.

There is also a brocha, called birkas hagomeil, which is recited when someone has been saved from a dangerous situation. The Rosh (Brachos 9:3) and the Tur (Orach Chayim 219) explain that this brocha was instituted as a replacement for the korban todah that we can no longer bring, since, unfortunately, our Beis Hamikdash lies in ruin. Thus, understanding the circumstances and the laws of the korban todah and of birkas hagomeil is really one combined topic.

Tehillim on Salvation

The Gemara derives many of the laws of birkas hagomeil from a chapter of Tehillim, Psalm 107. There, Dovid Hamelech describes four different types of treacherous predicaments in which a person would pray to Hashem for salvation. Several times, the Psalm repeats the following passage, Vayitzaku el Hashem batzar lahem, mimetzukoseihem yatzileim, when they were in distress, they cried out to Hashem asking Him to deliver them from their straits. Hashem hears the supplicants’ prayers and redeems them from calamity, whereupon they recognize Hashem’s role and sing shira to acknowledge His deliverance. The passage reflecting this thanks, Yodu lashem chasdo venifle’osav livnei adam, they give thanks to Hashem for His kindness and His wondrous deeds for mankind, is recited four times in the Psalm, each time expressing the emotions of someone desiring to tell others of his appreciation. The four types of salvation mentioned in the verse are: a wayfarer who traversed a desert, a captive who was freed, someone who recovered from illness, and a seafarer who returned safely to land.

Based on this chapter of Tehillim, the Gemara declares, arba’ah tzerichim lehodos: yordei hayam, holchei midbaros, umi shehayah choleh venisra’pe, umi shehayah chavush beveis ha’asurim veyatza — four people are required to recite birkas hagomeil: those who traveled by sea, those who journeyed through the desert, someone who was ill and recovered and someone who was captured and gained release (Brachos 54b). (Several commentators provide reasons why the Gemara lists the four in a different order than does the verse, a topic that we will forgo due to limited space.) The Tur (Orach Chayim 219) mentions an interesting method for remembering the four cases, taken from our daily shmoneh esrei prayer: vechol hachayim yoducha selah, explaining that the word chayim has four letters, ches, yud, yud and mem, which allude to chavush, yissurim, yam and midbar, meaning captive, the sufferings of illness, sea, and desert — the four types of travail mentioned by the verse and the Gemara. (It is noteworthy that when the Aruch Hashulchan [219:5] quotes this, he has the ches represent “choli,” illness [rather than chavush, captive], which means that he would explain the yud of yissurim to mean the sufferings of captivity.)

Rav Hai Gaon notes that these four calamities fall under two categories: two of them, traveling by sea and through the desert, are situations to which a person voluntarily subjected himself, whereas the other two, illness and captivity, are involuntary (quoted by Shu”t Chasam Sofer, Orach Chayim #51). Thus, we see that one bensches gomeil after surviving either of these types of dangers, regardless of whether it was within his control or not.

Some commentaries note that the Rambam cites the Gemara passage, arbaah tzerichim lehodos, four people are required to thank Hashem, only in the context of birkas hagomeil and not regarding the laws of korban todah. This implies that, in his opinion, korban todah is always a voluntary offering, notwithstanding the fact that Chazal required those who were saved to recite birkas hagomeil (Sefer Hamafteiach). However, both Rashi and the Rashbam, in their respective commentaries to Vayikra 7:12, explain that the “four people” are all required to bring a korban todah upon being saved. As I noted above, the Rosh states that since, unfortunately, we cannot offer a korban todah, birkas hagomeil was substituted.

A Minyan

When the Gemara (Brachos 54b) teaches the laws of birkas hagomeil, it records two interesting details: (1) that birkas hagomeil should be recited in the presence of a minyan and (2) that it should be recited in the presence of two talmidei chachamim.

No Minyan

Is a minyan essential for birkas hagomeil, as it is for some other brachos, such as sheva brachos? In other words, must someone who cannot join a minyan to recite birkas hagomeil forgo the brocha?

The Tur contends that the presence of a minyan and two talmidei chachamim is not a requirement to recite birkas hagomeil, but only the preferred way. In other words, someone who cannot easily assemble a minyan or talmidei chachamim may, nevertheless, recite birkas hagomeil. The Beis Yosef disagrees regarding the requirement of a minyan, feeling that one should not recite birkas hagomeil without a minyan present. However, he rules that if someone errantly recited birkas hagomeil without a minyan, he should not recite it again, but should try to find a minyan and recite the text of the brocha without Hashem’s Name, to avoid a brocha levatalah, reciting a blessing in vain (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 219:3). The Mishnah Berurah follows an approach closer to that of the Tur, ruling that someone unable to assemble a minyan may recite birkas hagomeil without a minyan. However, he adds that someone in a place where there is no minyan should wait up to thirty days to see if he will have the opportunity to bensch gomeil in the presence of a minyan. If he has already waited thirty days, he should recite the birkas hagomeil without a minyan and not wait longer.

When Do We Recite Birkas Hagomeil?

The prevalent custom is to recite birkas hagomeil during or after kri’as haTorah (Hagahos Maimaniyos 10:6). The Orchos Chayim understands that this custom is based on convenience, because kri’as haTorah also requires a minyan (quoted by Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 219). The Chasam Sofer presents an alternative reason for reciting birkas hagomeil during or after kri’as haTorah. He cites sources that explain that kri’as haTorah serves as a substitute for offering korbanos, and therefore reciting birkas hagomeil at the time of kri’as hatorah is a better substitute for the korban todah that we cannot offer (Shu”t Chasam Sofer, Orach Chayim #51).

Do We Count the Talmidei Chachamim?

I quoted above the Gemara that states that one should recite birkas hagomeil in the presence of a minyan and two talmidei chachamim The Gemara discusses whether this means that birkas hagomeil should be recited in the presence of a minyan plus two talmidei chachamim, for a total of twelve people, or whether the minyan should include two talmidei chachamim. The Rambam (Hilchos Brachos 10:8) and the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 219:3) rule that the minyan includes the talmidei chachamim, whereas the Pri Megadim rules that the requirement is a minyan plus the talmidei chachamim. Notwithstanding the Pri Megadim’s objections, the Biur Halacha concludes, according to the Shulchan Aruch, that one needs only a minyan including the talmidei chachamim.

No Talmid Chacham to be Found

The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 219:3) then adds that if someone is in a place where it is uncommon to find talmidei chachamim, he may recite birkas hagomeil in the presence of a minyan, even without any talmidei chachamim present.

Time Limits

Is there a time limit within which one must recite birkas hagomeil? Indeed, many early authorities contend that one must recite birkas hagomeil within a certain number of days after surviving the calamity. The Beis Yosef (Orach Chayim 219) quotes a dispute among rishonim, the Ramban holding that one should recite birkas hagomeil within three days, the Rashba, five days, and the Tur implying that there is no time limit. The Shulchan Aruch (219:6) concludes that one should preferably not wait more than three days to recite birkas hagomeil, but someone who waited longer may still recite it, and there is no time limit. Based on this conclusion, the Magen Avraham (219:6) rules that someone released from captivity after kri’as haTorah on Monday should not wait until Thursday, the next kri’as haTorah, to recite birkas hagomeil, since this is already the fourth day from when he was saved. It is preferred that he bensch gomeil earlier, even though he will do so without kri’as haTorah. As I mentioned above, the Mishnah Berurah permits bensching gomeil even after thirty days, although he prefers a delay of no longer than three days.

What about at night?

May one bensch gomeil at night? If bensching gomeil is a replacement for the korban todah, and all korbanos in the Beis Hamikdash could be offered only during the day, may we recite the birkas hagomeil at night? This question is addressed by the Chasam Sofer in an interesting responsum (Shu”t Chasam Sofer Orach Chayim #51). The Chasam Sofer’s case concerned Chacham Shabtei Elchanan, who was the rov of the community of Trieste. This city is currently in northeastern Italy, but, at the time of the Chasam Sofer, it was part of the Austrian Empire, which also ruled the Chasam Sofer’s city of Pressburg. (Today, Pressburg is called Bratislava and is the capital of Slovakia.)

Rav Elchanan had returned from a sea voyage, and his community, grateful for their rav’s safe arrival, greeted him with a joyous celebration on the evening of his homecoming. At this gathering, Rav Elchanan recited the birkas hagomeil in front of the large congregation.

One well-known local scholar, Rav Yitzchak Goiten, took issue with Rav Elchanan’s reciting the birkas hagomeil at night, contending that since the mitzvah of birkas hagomeil is a substitute for the korban todah, it cannot be performed at night, as korbanos cannot be offered at night. Furthermore, he was upset that Rav Elchanan had not followed the accepted practice of reciting birkas hagomeil at kri’as haTorah.

This question was then addressed to the Chasam Sofer: which of the eminent scholars of Trieste was correct?

The Chasam Sofer explains that although birkas hagomeil substitutes for the korban todah, this does not mean that it shares all the laws of the korban. The idea is that since we cannot offer a korban todah today, our best option is to substitute the public recital of birkas hagomeil.

The Chasam Sofer noted that the gathering of the the people to celebrate their rav’s safereturn was indeed the appropriate time to recite birkas hagomeil. In this situation, the Chasam Sofer would have recited birkas hagomeil in front of the assembled community, but he would have explained why he did so in order that people would continue to recite birkas hagomeil at kri’as haTorah, as is the minhag klal Yisroel.

Ten or Ten plus One?

There is a dispute among the authorities whether the individual reciting the brocha is counted as part of the minyan or if we require a minyan besides him (Raanach, quoted by Rabbi Akiva Eiger to 219:3). Most authorities rule that we can count the person reciting the brocha as one of the minyan (Mishnah Berurah 219:6). Shaar Hatziyun rallies proof to this conclusion, since it says that one should recite the brocha during kri’as haTorah, and no one says that one can do this only when there is an eleventh person attending the kri’as haTorah.

Stand up and Thank

The Rambam (Hilchos Tefillah, 10:8) requires that a person stand up when he recites birkas hagomeil. The Kesef Mishneh, the commentary on the Rambam written by Rav Yosef Karo — the author of the Beis Yosef and the Shulchan Aruch — notes that he is unaware of any source that requires one to stand when reciting this brocha, and he therefore omits this halacha in Shulchan Aruch.

The Bach disagrees, feeling that there is an allusion to this practice in Tehillim 107, the chapter that includes the sources for this brocha, but other commentators dispute this allusion (Elyah Rabbah 219:3). The Elyah Rabbah then presents a different reason why one should stand, explaining that birkas hagomeil is a form of Hallel, which must be recited standing.

Still other authorities present different reasons for the Rambam’s ruling that one must stand for birkas hagomeil. The Chasam Sofer explains that this is because of kavod hatzibur, the respect due an assembled community of at least ten people. Yet another approach  (Nahar Shalom 219:1) is that since birkas hagomeil replaces the korban todah, it is similar to shmoneh esrei, which is said standing and which is similarly bimkom korban (Brachos 26b).

The Rama does not mention any requirement that birkas hagomeil be recited while standing, implying that he agrees with the Shulchan Aruch’s decision, but the Bach and other later authorities require one to stand when reciting the brocha. The later authorities conclude that one should recite the brocha while standing, but that bedei’evid, after the fact, one who recited the brocha while sitting fulfilled his obligation and should not repeat the brocha (Mishnah Berurah 219:4).

Only these four?

If someone survived a different type of danger, such as an accident or armed robbery, does he recite birkas hagomeil? Or was birkas hagomeil instituted only for the four specific dangers mentioned by the pasuk and the Gemara?

We find a dispute among rishonim regarding this question. The Orchos Chayim quotes an opinion that one should bensch gomeil after going beneath a leaning wall or over a dangerous bridge, but he disagrees, contending that one recites birkas hagomeil only after surviving one of the four calamitous situations mentioned in the Gemara. On the other hand, others conclude that one should recite birkas hagomeil after surviving any dangerous situation (Shu”t Rivash # 337). The Rivash contends that the four circumstances mentioned by Tehillim and the Gemara are instances in which it is common to be exposed to life-threatening danger and, therefore, they automatically generate a requirement to recite birkas hagomeil. However, someone who survived an attacked by a wild ox or bandits certainly should recite birkas hagomeil, although it is not one of the four cases. Furthermore, the Rivash notes, since Chazal instituted that the person who was saved and his children and grandchildren recite a brocha (she’oso li/le’avi neis bamokom hazeh, see Brochos 54a and Brachos Maharam) when seeing the place where the miracle occurred, certainly one should recite a brocha of thanks over the salvation itself!

The Shulchan Aruch quotes both sides of the dispute, but implies that one should follow the Rivash, and this is also the conclusion of the Taz and the later authorities (Mishnah Berurah; Aruch Hashulchan). Therefore, contemporary custom is to recite birkas hagomeil after surviving any potentially life-threatening situation.

Before going on to the next subtopic, I want to note that a different rishon presents a diametrically opposed position from that of the Rivash, contending that even one who traveled by sea or desert does not recite birkas hagomeil unless he experienced a miracle. This approach is based on the words of the pesukim in Tehillim 107 that form the basis for birkas hagomeil (Rabbeinu Manoach, Hilchos Tefillah 10:8, quoting Raavad). (In halachic conclusion, the Biur Halacha writes that one recites birkas hagomeil even if there was no difficulty on the sea voyage or the desert journey, notwithstanding the verses of Tehillim.)

How Sick?

How ill must a person have been to require that he recite birkas hagomeil upon his recovery? I am aware of three opinions among the rishonim concerning this question.

(1) Some hold that one recites birkas hagomeil even for an ailment as minor as a headache or stomachache (Aruch).

(2) Others contend that one recites birkas hagomeil only if he was ill enough to be bedridden, even when he was not dangerously ill (Ramban, Toras Ha’adam, page 49; Hagahos Maimoniyus, Brachos 10:6, quoting Rabbeinu Yosef).

(3) A third approach holds that one should recite birkas hagomeil only if the illness was potentially life threatening (Rama).

The prevalent practice of Sefardim, following the Shulchan Aruch, is according to the second approach — reciting birkas hagomeil after recovery from any illness that made the person bedridden. The prevalent Ashkenazic practice is to recite birkas hagomeil only when the illness was life threatening, notwithstanding the fact that the Bach, who was a well-respected Ashkenazic authority, concurs with the second approach.

How Recuperated?

At what point do we assume that the person is recuperated enough that he can recite the birkas hagomeil for surviving his travail? The poskim rule that he does not recite birkas hagomeil until he is able to walk well on his own (Elyah Rabbah; Mishnah Berurah).

Chronic illness

The halachic authorities rule that someone suffering from a chronic ailment who had a life threatening flareup recites birkas hagomeil upon recovery from the flareup, even though he still needs to deal with the ailment that caused the serious problem (Tur).

Conclusion

Rav Hirsch (Commentary to Tehillim 100:1) notes that the root of the word for thanks is the same as that for viduy, confession and admitting wrongdoing. All kinds of salvation should elicit in us deep feelings of gratitude for what Hashem has done for us in the past and does in the present. This is why it can be both an acknowledgement of guilt and thanks.

We often cry out to Hashem in crisis, sigh in relief when the crisis passes, but fail to thank Him adequately for the salvation. Our thanks to Hashem should match the intensity of our pleas. Birkas hagomeil gives us a concrete brocha to awaken our thanks for deliverance. And even in our daily lives, when, hopefully, we do not encounter dangers that meet the criteria of saying birkas hagomeil, we should still fill our hearts with thanks, focus these thoughts during our recital of mizmor lesodah, az yashir, modim or at some other appropriate point in our prayer.




Some Contemporary Bishul Akum Curiosities

Photo by melodi2 from FreeImages

Situation #1: THE GREAT CRANBERRY DEBATE

Avrumie calls me with the following question: “We are presently studying the laws of bishul akum in kollel, and someone asked how we can buy canned cranberries that are not bishul Yisrael, that is, not cooked by Jews. They seem to have all the characteristics of bishul akum.

Situation #2: THE BISHUL YISRAEL QUIZZER

A different member of Avrumie’s kollel raised another question:

Is there a legitimate halachic reason why a hechsher would require the same product to be bishul Yisrael in one factory and not in another?

Situation #3: DRAMA IN REAL LIFE

Many years ago, I substituted for the mashgiach at a vegetable cannery that was producing products for a kosher manufacturer who claimed that his products were bishul Yisrael. After arriving at the factory first thing in the morning as instructed, a foreman directed me to push a certain button, which, I assumed, initiated the cooking process. Upon examining the equipment, however, I realized that this button simply directed the cans to enter the cooker. This would probably make only the first cans bishul Yisrael, but not the rest of the day’s production. A different solution was necessary, such as momentarily lowering the temperature of the cooker and then resetting it; this would accomplish that I had added fuel to the cooking process when I reset the temperature and thereby had participated in the cooking of the vegetables. When I notified the foreman of this requirement, he firmly asserted: “This is the only button the rabbis ever push.”

Having no connections at the factory, I called the rabbi responsible for the hechsher; he did not answer his phone at that time of the morning.

What was I to do? Let Jews eat non-kosher veggies?

INTRODUCTION TO BISHUL AKUM CUISINE

Modern food production and distribution affects us in many ways, including kashrus. One aspect of kashrus with many new and interesting applications is bishul akum, the prohibition against eating food cooked by a gentile. Chazal instituted this law to guarantee uncompromised kashrus and to discourage inappropriate social interaction, which, in turn, may lead to idolatry (Rashi, Avodah Zarah 38a s.v. miderabbanan and Tosafos ad loc.; Rashi, Avodah Zarah 35b s. v. vehashelakos; see also Avodah Zarah 36b). This law has numerous ramifications for caterers and restaurants that need to guarantee that a Jew is involved in the cooking of their product. It also prohibits Jewish households from allowing a gentile to cook without making appropriate arrangements.

SICHON’S FOLLY

The Gemara tries to find a source for the prohibition of bishul akum in the Torah, itself. When the Bnei Yisrael offered to purchase all their victuals from Sichon and his nation, Emori, they could purchase only food that was unchanged through gentile cooking (see Devarim 2:26-28; and Bamidbar 21:21-25). Any food altered by Emori cooking was prohibited, because of bishul akum (Avodah Zarah 37b).

Although the Gemara rejects this Biblical source and concludes that bishul akum is an injunction of the Sages, early authorities theorize that this proscription was enacted very early in Jewish history; otherwise, how could the Gemara even suggest that its origins are Biblical (see Tosafos s.v. vehashelakos)?

Please note that throughout the article, whenever I say that something does not involve bishul akum, it might still be forbidden for a variety of other reasons. Also, the purpose of our column is not to furnish definitive halachic ruling, but to provide background in order to know when and what to ask one’s rav.

BASIC HALACHIC BACKGROUND

When Chazal prohibited bishul akum, they did not prohibit all gentile-cooked foods, but only foods where the gentile’s cooking provides significant benefit to the consumer. For example, there are three major categories of gentile-cooked foods that are permitted. We can remember them through the acronym: YUM, Yehudi, Uncooked, Monarch.

I. Yehudi

If a Jew participated in the cooking, the food is permitted, even when a gentile did most of the cooking.

II. Uncooked

A food that could be eaten raw is exempt from the prohibition of bishul akum, even when a non-Jew cooked it completely. This is because cooking such an item is not considered a significant enhancement (Rashi, Beitzah 16a).

III. Monarch

Bishul akum applies only to food that one would serve on a king’s table. Chazal did not prohibit bishul akum when the food is less important, because one would not invite a guest for such a meal, and, therefore, there is no concern that inappropriate social interaction may result (Rambam, Hil. Maachalos Asuros 17:15). Because of space considerations, I will leave further discussion of this important sub-topic for a future article. (Other aspects of the laws of bishul akum, such as the fact that smoked food is exempt from this prohibition, will also be left for future discussion.)

Let us explain some of these rules a bit more extensively.

I. Yehudi

WHAT IS CONSIDERED COOKED BY A JEW?

Much halachic discussion is devoted to defining how much of the cooking must be done by a Jew to avoid bishul akum. In practical terms, the Rama permits the food if a Jew lit the fire or increased the flame used to cook the food, even if he was not actually involved in cooking the food in any other way. On the other hand, the Shulchan Aruch requires that a Jew must actually cook the food until it is edible (Yoreh Deah 113:7).

II. Uncooked

A cooked food that can be eaten raw is exempt from the prohibition of bishul akum. For example, one may eat apple sauce or canned pineapple cooked by a gentile, since both apples and pineapples are eaten raw. Similarly, if the concerns of chalav akum and gevinas akum are addressed, one may eat cheese cooked by a gentile since its raw material, milk, is consumable raw.

Understanding this rule leads to several key questions. When is a raw food called “inedible?” Must it be completely inedible prior to cooking? Assuming that this is so; would the definition of “completely inedible” be contingent on whether no one eats it uncooked, or whether most people do not eat it uncooked, although some individuals do?

BUDDY’S SPUDS

An example will clarify my question. My friend, Buddy, enjoys eating raw potatoes, contrary to general preference. Do Buddy’s unusual taste buds mean that spuds are not a bishul akum concern?

The halachic authorities reject this approach, most concluding that we follow what most people would actually eat raw, even if they prefer eating it cooked (see, for example, Ritva, Avodah Zarah 38a; Pri Chodosh, Yoreh Deah 113:3; Birkei Yosef ad loc: 1, 9; Darkei Teshuvah 113:3, 4). In practice, different hechsherim and rabbanim follow divergent criteria to determine exactly which foods are prohibited because they are considered inedible raw.

BOGGED DOWN WITH THE CRANBERRIES.

Avrumie’s kollel’s question involves this very issue: “Someone asked how we can buy canned cranberries that are not bishul Yisrael. They seem to have all the characteristics of bishul akum.

Here is a highly practical result of the debate regarding what is considered suitable for eating uncooked. Are cranberries considered edible when they are raw? Someone who attempts to pop raw cranberries will keep his dentist well supported, since the rock-hard berries defy chewing. Thus, there is a strong argument that cranberries require cooking to become edible, and consequently are a bishul akum concern.

On the other hand, the deeply revered Cranberry Council provides recipes for eating raw cranberries by slicing or grinding them. Does the opinion of the sagacious Council categorize this fruit as an item that one can eat without cooking, so that we can remove from it the stigma of bishul akum? The advantage of this approach is a savings for a concerned hechsher, since it can now approve the esteemed berry as kosher, even when no mashgiach is present to push the buttons that cook the fruit.

GEOGRAPHIC INFLUENCES

What happens if a particular vegetable is commonly consumed uncooked in one country, but not in another? For example: I have been told that artichokes are commonly eaten raw in Egypt, but not in Spain, although they are grown for export in both countries. (Not being much of an artichoke connoisseur, we will assume for the purpose of our discussion that these facts are accurate.) Do we prohibit Spanish artichokes as bishul akum, whereas the Egyptian ones are permitted? Assuming that this boon to Egypt is true, what happens if you shipped the Spanish ones to Egypt? Do they now become permitted? And do Egyptian artichokes become prohibited upon being shipped to Spain? Indeed, I have heard that some rabbanim prohibit those cooked in Spain but permit those cooked in Egypt, depending, as we said, on whether local palates consider them edible at the time and place of production. The subsequent shipping overseas does not cause them to become prohibited, since it is cooking that creates bishul akum, not transportation. On the other hand, some contemporary poskim contend that shipping a cooked product to a place where it is not eaten raw makes it prohibited as bishul akum (Kaf Hachayim, Yoreh Deah 113:20).

CULINARY INFLUENCES

We have recently witnessed changes in the consumption of several vegetables that affect their bishul akum status. Not long ago, it was unheard of to serve raw broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms, or zucchini, and therefore all these vegetables presented bishul akum concerns. Today, these vegetables are commonly eaten raw; for this reason, many rabbanim permit these vegetables cooked and do not prohibit them anymore as bishul akum.

A similar change might occur because of sushi consumption. When fish was not eaten raw, cooked fish was a bishul akum issue. Once it becomes accepted that certain varieties of fish are food even when served uncooked, those fish varieties will not be prohibited as bishul akum even if a gentile cooked them. I therefore refer you to your local rav to determine whether a raw fish suitable for sushi is still a bishul akum concern. Similarly, when it becomes accepted to eat raw beef liver, there will no longer be a prohibition of bishul akum to eat it broiled by a gentile – provided, of course, that a mashgiach guarantees that it is kosher liver and was prepared in accordance with halachah.

KOSHER CANNING

We are now in a far better position to analyze the issues that faced me that morning many years ago. I had been instructed to supervise a bishul Yisrael production, but I was not permitted to adjust the heat. Were the vegetables kosher or not?

The basic question is: Must a mashgiach participate in the cooking process in a modern cannery?

In the mid-80’s, when I was the Rabbinic Administrator of a local kashrus organization, I participated in a meeting of kashrus organizations and prominent rabbanim. At this meeting, one well-respected talmid chacham voiced concern at the then-prevalent assumption that canned vegetables do not present any bishul akum problem. At the time, virtually no kashrus organizations made any arrangement for canned vegetables to be bishul Yisrael, even when such foods were inedible unless cooked and of a type one would serve at a royal feast. Was all of klal Yisrael negligent, G-d forbid, in the prohibition of bishul akum?

STEAMING OUR VEGGIES

Indeed, many prominent authorities contend that contemporary commercial canning is exempt from bishul akum for several reasons.For example, in most canning operations, vegetables are cooked, not in boiling water, but by high temperature steam. Some authorities contend that Chazal never included steamed products under the prohibition of bishul akum, because they categorize steaming as smoking, an atypical form of cooking which Chazal exempted from this prohibition (Darkei Teshuvah 113:16).

Others permit bishul akum in a production facility, where there is no concern that social interactions between the producer and the consumer may result (see Birkei Yosef 112:9, quoting Maharit Tzalon). The Minchas Yitzchak (Shu”t 3:26:6) rules that one may combine these two above reasons to permit most canned vegetables today. Still others maintain that since a modern facility uses a cooking system that cannot be replicated in a household, Chazal never created bishul akum under such circumstances.

HONEST KASHRUS

Of course, someone marketing a product as bishul Yisrael is advertising that he is not relying on these heterim for his product; therefore, it would be strictly prohibited to sell these vegetables as bishul Yisrael, although whether they are kosher or not would depend on your rav’s individual pesak.

SO, WHAT HAPPENED IN THE CANNERY?

I presume that my readers have been patiently waiting to find out what happened to our ill-fated cannery.

A bit later in the morning, I was finally able to reach the rabbi responsible for the hechsher. He agreed that the production was not bishul Yisrael.

One would think that the hechsher would reward an alert mashgiach for correcting a kashrus error. Well, for those eager to develop a better world, let me tell you what ultimately resulted. A different rabbi was assigned to the job, someone less likely to call the overseeing rabbi so early in the morning. I guess that’s what happens when you don’t have the right connections.




Pouring While It’s Hot

Photo by Adam Davis from FreeImages

The end of the article answers the question: “Why are we discussing this topic the week of Parshas Matos?”

Question #1: Warming bottles

“On Shabbos, may I pour hot water onto a baby bottle containing milk or formula?”

Question #2: Sinks

“May I use my sink for both milchig and fleishig?”

Question #3: Iruy into liquids

“Does iruy cook when it falls into a liquid?”

Question #4:

“Why are we discussing this topic the week of Parshas Matos?”

Introduction:

Although our opening questions may appear unconnected, they all relate to a halachic topic called iruy kli rishon. This term refers to the halachic status of food or vessels that were heated by having hot liquid poured on them. For example, preparing a cup of tea by pouring hot water from a kettle or urn into a cup containing a tea bag is a typical case of cooking by use of iruy. Pouring hot chicken soup directly from the pot into a milchig bowl is another situation of iruy kli rishon. The word iruy means pouring,and the term iruy kli rishon means that the liquid was poured from a pot or pan that was heated directly by the heat of a fire. This article will discuss the background and the basic rules of iruy kli rishon and some halachic ramifications. As usual, our purpose is not to paskin everyone’s halachic queries. That is the role of each individual’s rav or posek.

Iruy kli rishon affects many common situations, including, for example:

The status of milchig and fleishig items in your kitchen.

How one may warm food on Shabbos.

Whether a food or utensil became non-kosher.

How to kasher utensils that became non-kosher.

Kashrus Jargon

To make this presentation clearer, let us clarify four relevant terms:

Yad soledes bo

Whenever in this article we mention something is hot, it means that it is at least yad soledes bo, meaning that it is hot enough that a person pulls his hand back, instinctively, when he touches it. There is much dispute among halachic authorities how we measure this in degrees, which is a subtopic that we will leave for a different time.

Kdei kelipah

At times, we will refer to something being cooked or absorbed kdei kelipah. For the purposes of this article, this means that, at the point of contact of the heat, some cooking or flavor absorption transpires, but does not extend further.

Kli rishon

A kli rishon is a pot, pan or other vessel that was heated directly from a source of heat, such as on a stove, inside an oven, or any other way.

Kli sheini

A kli sheini is the platter or bowl into which food is poured from a kli rishon.

An anecdote from the Gemara will clarify the status of a kli sheini.

Although most forms of hot bathing are prohibited on Shabbos, it is permitted to bathe in hot natural springs, such as those found in Iceland, Teverya, and Hot Springs, Arkansas. The Gemara (Shabbos 40b) records that Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi, also known as Rebbe, was bathing in the hotsprings of Teverya on Shabbos and was being waited on by his disciple, Rav Yitzchak bar Avdimi. Rav Yitzchak bar Avdimi had a flask of oil for Rebbe to use for anointing after he finished bathing, and Rav Yitzchak wanted to warm the flask so that the oil would be more comfortable. Rav Yitzchak asked Rebbe whether he could warm the oil in the hot spring; Rebbe replied that he may not. Then Rebbe suggested a different approach: Rav Yitzchak bar Avdimi could fill a container with hot spring water, then place the container of oil inside the larger container of hot water.

Tosafos (ad loc.) asks why the latter procedure is permitted, whereas placing the flask of oil directly in the hot spring is prohibited. In both instances, the oil is heated by water from a natural hot spring. Tosafos answers that when the vessel itself is on the fire or inside the oven, the heat of the liquid is maintained by the hot walls of the vessel, and that is why bishul occurs. However, when the container itself was never directly warmed – what we call a kli sheini – the walls of the vessel diminish the heat. As a result, the oil will not cook from the heat of the water. In other words, cooking in a vessel requires not only sufficient heat, but that the walls of the pot or vessel maintain the heat. Therefore, cooking can occur in a kli rishon but not in a kli sheini.

The Mishnah

Here is another distinction between kli rishon and kli sheini: The Mishnah (Shabbos 42a) teaches that if a pot was removed from the fire on Shabbos, one may not add spices, because this constitutes bishul. However, one may add spices to a platter containing food that was poured out of the original pot. The second case is a kli sheini, meaning that the platter itself was never on the fire. Again, the indication is that cooking requires the walls themselves to have been heated.

Iruy kli rishon

We see that whereas a kli rishon is capable of cooking, a kli sheini is not. What about pouring from a kli rishon, which is an in-between level? The hot stream coming from iruy kli rishon has no vessel walls to maintain its heat – but it also has no walls cooling down the heated product.  Do the heated walls of the kli rishon cause the cooking, in which case iruy kli rishon would not be considered cooking, or is it the cooling kli sheini’s walls that prevents cooking from transpiring, in which case iruy kli rishon would be considered cooking? This question is debated extensively by the rishonim and early poskim.

Sibling rivalry

Among the main players who weigh in on the discussion are two of Rashi’s illustrious grandsons, the Rashbam and Rabbeinu Tam (Tosafos, Zevachim 95b). The Rashbam maintained that iruy does not cook, just as a kli sheini does not. His younger brother, Rabbeinu Tam, disputed this, and contended that iruy kli rishon can cook, at least to a certain extent.

Among the Baalei Tosafos, we find a further dispute regarding whether Rabbeinu Tam held that iruy kli rishon cooks and causes absorption of flavor through the entire product or only kdei kelipah. We will be assuming the second of these approaches, which is held by the majority of authorities.

The background behind this discussion takes us to a different passage of Gemara.

Who wins?

Within the context of a hot substance falling on a cold one, or vice versa, we find a dispute in the Gemara (Pesachim 75b-76a) between the great amora’im, Rav and Shmuel, as to who “wins” – the one on top or the one on the bottom. As explained by Rashi, the Gemara teaches:

If hot food fell into hot food, such as hot meat fell into hot milk, or when one item was kosher and the other not, everyone agrees that the resultant mixture is non-kosher. The flavors of the two products became mixed because of the heat, and the result is no longer kosher.

If both food items were cold, and one can separate the two products, that which was originally permitted remains so.

The dispute between Rav and Shmuel is when one food is hot and the other cold. Rav contends that when the upper one is hot, the flavor of one food mixes into the other, rendering them both non-kosher; however, when the lower one is hot and the upper is cold, the flavors do not mix. Therefore, if the foods did not become mixed, the kosher one remains kosher. This is referred to as ila’ah gavar, literally, the upper one is stronger.

Shmuel rules that when the lower item is hot, we rule that the flavors mix, and everything becomes non-kosher. However, when only the upper one is hot, it cools off when it mixes into the lower one. This is referred to as tata’ah gavar, meaning, “the lower one is stronger.” The Gemara concludes that, according to Shmuel, when a hot substance falls into a cold substance, there is a mixing of flavors on a thin layer of the food, which is called kdei kelipah. Therefore, a thin layer is sliced off the food at the point of contact, since that layer absorbed non-kosher flavor. The rest of the food remains kosher. This ruling will be a major factor in our discussion.

Rashi notes that, although in matters of kashrus and other laws called issur veheter we usually rule according to Rav and against Shmuel, in this particular debate we rule according to Shmuel. The reason is because the Gemara notes that two different beraisos, teachings from the tanna’im, ruled like Shmuel. Thus, most of the rest of our discussions assume that tata’ah gavar.

Let us now return to the dispute between Rabbeinu Tam and his older brother, the Rashbam, concerning whether iruy is considered to have cooked something. Some authorities, following the approach of Rabbeinu Tam, contend that just as Shmuel ruled that when one pours a hot food onto a cold one, we assume that kdei kelipah became absorbed, when pouring hot water onto a cold food (such as a teabag) on Shabbos; we must assume that a kdei kelipah becomes cooked. Thus, it is forbidden, according to Rabbeinu Tam, to pour hot water onto cold, uncooked food on Shabbos. The consensus of halachic authority is to accept this ruling and to prohibit pouring hot water from a kli rishon onto cold, uncooked food on Shabbos.

Kdei kelipah

Above, we noted that when a hot substance falls into something cold, the hot substance is absorbed into the cold one to a depth of a thin layer of food. One question to resolve is whether this ruling is min haTorah oronly miderabbanan. A prominent early acharon, the Magen Avraham (467:33), contends that this ruling (that a layer of the cold food becomes prohibited) is only a chumra be’alma, meaning that min haTorah no absorption takes place, but that Chazal prohibited kdei kelipah.

Despite the Magen Avraham’s position, it is evident from many rishonim that they understood that kdei kelipah is prohibited min haTorah.

Baby bottle

At this point, let us examine our opening question:

“On Shabbos, may I pour hot water onto a baby bottle full of milk?”

We have learned that when pouring hot water from a kli rishon, the outer surface of the food may become cooked.

However, let us think for a moment about our question. Iruy potentially can cook only the outer surface, which, in this case, is the bottle itself. Observation tells us that, even assuming that vessels can become “cooked,” bottles do not become cooked by pouring boiling water on them, since they are too hard to become changed, either physically or chemically, by this amount of heat. Furthermore, the milk inside the bottle is not in the surface kdei kelipah, and, therefore, although the milk inside the bottle will become warm or even hot, it is not being cooked. Consequently, it is permitted to warm baby’s bottle on Shabbos by pouring hot water onto the outside of the bottle.

Iruy into liquids

Let us move on to the next of our opening questions: “Does iruy cook when it falls into a liquid?”

We learned that iruy kli rishon causes a small degree of absorption, and, according to Rabbeinu Tam, it also cooks. At this point, I raise a question: Perhaps this is true only when the hot water is poured onto a solid food or a vessel? Could one argue that no cooking takes place when one pours from a kli rishon into a bowl of liquid?

Why should there be a difference between a solid and a liquid? When one pours directly into a liquid, what one pours immediately disperses into the liquid into which it falls. Perhaps all the heat that would cause absorption kdei kelipah dissipates throughout the liquid and, consequently, no cooking takes place. Indeed, we find rishonim who espouse this position (Tosafos, Pesachim 40b s.v. Ha’ilpeis). Nevertheless, this is not a universally held position, and the consensus of later authorities is that we do not differentiate between liquids and solids: In all instances, we conclude that iruy kli rishon does cause some cooking (Pri Megadim, Mishbetzos Zahav, Yoreh Deah 68:9 s.v. Hadin Hashelishi).

Hot potato

At this point, we can explain a different halachic question: A hot potato is on my plate, which is a kli sheini since it was not on the fire. May I place uncooked seasoning onto the potato on Shabbos?

We learned above that I am permitted to put uncooked spices into a kli sheini. It would appear, then, that I am permitted to add raw spices to my hot potato, which is sitting in a kli sheini. Indeed, we find major authorities who seem to agree that this is considered a case of a kli sheini (see, for example, Rema, Yoreh Deah 94:7).

Nevertheless, many authorities disagree with this conclusion (Maharshal, Yam shel Shelomoh, Chullin 8:71). They note the following: Tosafos explained that the difference between a kli rishon and a kli sheini is that the cooler walls of the kli sheini are reducing the heat; this prevents cooking from taking place.

However, a hot potato on a plate is not being cooled down by the plate. Since it touches the plate on only a minimal amount of its area, perhaps the potato itself retains the halachic status of a kli rishon. This is referred to as davar gush, a solid food not having the halachic advantages of a kli sheini. Most of the commentaries on the Shulchan Aruch rule that, generally, we should be concerned about both approaches: that of the Rema,who considers this a kli sheini; and that of the Maharshal, who considers this a kli rishon. As a practical matter, this means that one usually treats a davar gush not as a kli sheini but as a kli rishon (Shach, Yoreh Deah 105:8; Taz, Yoreh Deah105:4; Magen Avrohom, Orach Chayim 318:45).

Sinks

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

“May I use my sink for both milchig and fleishig?”

The question here is as follows: A sink does not have its own heating element. As such, it is never a kli rishon, but qualifies either as an iruy situation or as a kli sheini. We learned above that iruy can cause cooking and absorption, at least kdei kelipah. For these reasons, many authorities contend that someone who has only one sink in the kitchen should treat it as treif and use either dishpans or something similar and avoid putting dishes directly onto the sink surface (see, for example, Shu”t Minchas Yitzchok 2:100). On the other hand, based on an extensive analysis of the halachic sources, one major authority concludes that using a sink for both milchig and fleishig does not meet the characteristics of iruy kli rishon and is permitted (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 1:42). I refer our readers to their own halachic authority for a practical ruling.

Koshering

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

Why are we discussing this topic the week of Parshas Matos?

After the Bnei Yisroel’s miraculous victory over the nation of Midyan, they were commanded regarding the spoils that they had now acquired: Concerning the gold and the silver; the copper, the iron, the tin and the lead: any item that was used in fire needs to be placed in fire to become pure – yet, it must also be purified in mikveh water. And that which was not used in fire must pass through water (Bamidbar 31:22-23). Here the Torah introduces the concept of kashering vessels that have absorbed non-kosher foods. In this instance, the vessels of Midyan had been used for non-kosher; could the Jews use them? The answer is that they could kasher each item in a way that expunges the non-kosher absorption, and the vessel would become kosher. As Rashi explains the posuk, any item that was used directly in fire needs to be placed directly in fire to become kosher. And that which was not used in fire directly, but was used to cook with hot water on top of the fire must pass through water that was heated directly by a fire, to kasher it.

Does something that absorbed non-kosher via iruy require kashering? According to the conclusion above, it does – since we assume that iruy kli rishon causes some absorption into the walls of the vessel. But it can be kashered through iruy kli rishon (Tosafos, Shabbos 42b s.v. Aval).

Conclusion

We now have some understanding of a complicated halachic issue with all sorts of ramifications. It provides an appreciation how much one’s rav or posek must keep in mind every time he answers one of our questions. Certainly, this is a time to value his scholarship and his making himself available when we need him.




Bringing Bikkurim

When our parsha mentions Shavuos it calls it Beyom Habikkurim.

Question #1- Where?

“Is there an obligation to bring bikkurim from the Golan?”

Question #2: What?

“Must I separate bikkurim from my lemon tree?”

Question #3: When?

“I know people separate terumah and maasros and keep shevi’is, but why do I never hear about anyone separating bikkurim?”

Introduction

The opening words of parshas Ki Savo describe the mitzvah of bikkurim. Although most of us are familiar with some of the basics of this beautiful mitzvah, many are unaware of a lot of its details. Since we pray three times a day that Hashem rebuild the Beis Hamikdash where we will again be able to fulfill this mitzvah, we should be fully prepared and know all about the observance of bikkurim. In addition, we want to comprehend the parsha thoroughly, fulfill the mitzvah of Talmud Torah by understanding this mitzvah, and grow from internalizing the hashkafos associated with it. So, our task for today’s article is clearly defined.

According to the Rambam and the Sefer Hachinuch, there are actually three different mitzvos involved in performing bikkurim. The first is the mitzvah of separating the bikkurim and bringing them to the Beis Hamikdash. The second is reciting parshas bikkurim, the special reading that the Torah records at the beginning of parshas Ki Savo, and the third is a lo saaseh, a negative commandment, that the kohein may not eat bikkurim outside Yerushalayim. In the course of this article, we will discuss some of the details of all three of these mitzvos.

Here are the basics: When the first produce of the seven fruits — wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates — begins ripening, the owner/farmer marks the ripening fruit.  (I know that someone is going to criticize my calling wheat and barley “fruits,” since you will not find them in the produce department of your local supermarket. However, if you check your dictionary, you will see that wheat and barley kernels are indeed “fruits.” This explains why the Mishnah frequently refers to them as peiros.) This applies only if the farmer is working his inherited land in Eretz Yisroel, the land that his ancestors received when the land was divided among the tribes under the rule of Yehoshua.

Marking the bikkurim

The Mishnah describes how the farmer ties a ribbon or other marker around the first blossoming fruits, so that he can later ascertain which ones are his bikkurim. When the farmer marks these young, immature fruits, he declares them to be bikkurim. This declaration creates the fruit’s sanctity, its kedusha, and we will soon explain the ramifications of this kedusha. Rather than tie a ribbon around the bikkurim, the farmer may mark them in a different way, if he prefers (Peirush Hamishnayos of Rambam) — tying something to it is merely a suggestion, so that he will know which fruit he declared as bikkurim.

On to Yerushalayim!!

When the bikkurim complete ripening, the farmer places them in a basket, and, as the Torah states, he takes them to “the Place where Hashem chose to associate His Name.” Until the building of the Beis Hamikdash, the farmer brought the fruits to the Mishkan. Afterwards, he brought them to the Beis Hamikdash, as our farmers will again do when the Moshiach comes. As we will soon see, to execute this mitzvah fully, the farmer must be completely tahor, something that, unfortunately, we cannot achieve today, until we again have ashes of the parah adumah available.

The Mishnah describes the bringing of the bikkurim as a very elaborate procession, beginning at the farmer’s home village and continuing all the way to the Beis Hamikdash. “How did they bring the bikkurim? All the towns that were part of the same ma’amad (a type of district) would gather to the capital of the ma’amad.”

What is the ma’amad? In the Beis Hamikdash, there were regular shifts, not only of kohanim to perform the service, and Levi’im to serve as honor guards and doormen and to sing while the korbanos were offered, but also shifts of Yisroelim, who were called the men of the ma’amad, whose job was to pray on behalf of the rest of the Jewish people while the korbanos were being offered.

The Mishnah (Bikkurim 3:2) describes the pilgrims gathering together in the capital city of their ma’amad so that they would collectively bring their bikkurim together. During their trip to Yerushalayim, they did not enter anyone’s house, to make sure that they not become tamei, which would adversely affect their plans to bring the bikkurim. To quote the Mishnah, “They would sleep in the city street, and not enter any house. Early the next morning, the appointed head would announce: ‘Rise, and let us head towards Tziyon, to the House of Hashem, our G-d!’” paraphrasing a posuk in Yirmiyohu (31:5). For their entire journey to Yerushalayim, which might take weeks, the pilgrims bringing the bikkurim would sleep in the streets or parks of the towns they visited along the way.

The Mishnah continues: “Those people who brought their bikkurim from nearby brought fresh figs and grapes, whereas those who lived at a distance…” processed these two species into dried figs and raisins and brought them as bikkurim that way. Otherwise, by the time they arrived the fruit would not look nice, which would diminish the beauty of the mitzvah. For a similar reason, the Mishnah (Bikkurim 1:3) reports that bikkurim were not brought from areas in which the fruit is inferior, such as from date trees that grow in the mountains or inferior olive orchards.

The procession continues…

“An ox led the way, its horns overlaid with gold and a diadem of olive branches on its head, with a flutist playing ahead of the pilgrims’ procession.” This parade continued until they neared Yerushalayim. When the procession reached the outskirts of Yerushalayim, they halted temporarily, and the flute stopped playing (Mishnah Rishonah). The pilgrims sent a message ahead of them that they were about to arrive, and then decorated their bikkurim. Once the message of the pilgrims’ imminent arrival was received in the Beis Hamikdash, the officers, associates and treasurers of the Beis Hamikdash went out to greet them, at which time, the procession, with the flutist leading the way, continued towards the Holy City. When they entered the city of Yerushalayim, all the craftsmen working in the city would stand up for them as the Bikkurim-laden pilgrims passed through the city, and greet them: “Our brothers, from such-and-such a place, Come in Peace!” (Bikkurim 3:3).

“The flute continued to play until they reached the Har Habayis (the Temple Mount). When they reached the Har Habayis, even King Agrippas (should he have been one of the pilgrims, and certainly everyone else) placed his basket on his own shoulder and continued walking until they reached the Azarah, the courtyard of the Beis Hamikdash. When they reached the Azarah, the Levi’im began singing the words of Tehillim 30:2, Aromimcha Hashem, I praise you Hashem…” (Bikkurim 3:4).

Upon bringing the bikkurim to the Beis Hamikdash, the farmer makes a lengthy declaration, which is stated verbatim in the Torah. The recital of this declaration fulfills a separate mitzvah of the Torah, and is one of the ritual recitations that must be stated in the original Hebrew words of the Torah, as ruled by the Mishnah (Sotah 32a).

We are very familiar with the declaration of the pilgrim bringing his bikkurim, since the Sifrei on it forms the basic structure of our haggadah on Pesach, as required by the Mishnah. At the seder, after the son asks the four questions, “the father exposits from the words, Arami oveid avi, an Aramean wanted to destroy my father, until he completes explaining midrashically the entire passage” (Mishnah, Pesachim 116a).

The kohein and the owner perform some acts of avodah with the bikkurim in the Beis Hamikdash. After these are performed, the bikkurim are divided among the kohanim who are on duty that day.

Bikkurim have the halachic status of terumah

Because the Torah, in parshas Re’eih (Devorim 12:17), refers to bikkurim as terumas yadecha, the terumah in your hand, they have the same halachic status as terumah (Bikkurim 2:1). Like terumah, bikkurim are the property of the kohein. They are given to him as one of the 24 gifts of the kohanim, called matanos kehunah, that the Torah awards him for this service in the Beis Hamikdash and to the Jewish people. It should be noted that the primary purpose of these 24 gifts seems more for the Yisroel who is donating than for the kohein. It requires the Yisroel to have a regular, ongoing relationship with kohanim, which thereby helps to foster a rebbe-talmid relationship between a farmer, wherever he lives and works, and someone who can be totally committed to learning and teaching Torah.

Terumah and bikkurim may not be eaten by anyone except a kohein and his immediate family, that is, his wife and children, with the exception of his daughters who have married non-kohanim who may no longer eat them. In addition, bikkurim and terumah may also be eaten by the non-Jewish slaves of a kohein who have the halachic status of eved Cana’ani, which means that they accepted upon themselves that they will observe most mitzvos of the Torah and immersed in a mikveh to achieve the sanctity that this status entails.

Prior to eating terumah or bikkurim, the kohein recites a brocha, Boruch Atta Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam, asher kideshanu bikedushaso shel Aharon, vetzivanu al achilas terumah. (Some have the text vetzivanu le’echol terumah.) Blessed are You Hashem, our G-d, King of the Universe, Who sanctified us with holiness of Aharon and commanded us concerning the eating of terumah (see Rambam, Hilchos Bikkurim, 1:2). The beginning of this brocha sounds somewhat familiar to us because it is identical to the beginning of the brocha that the kohanim recite prior to duchening. Unfortunately, duchening is the only mitzvah that a kohein performs today in his special role. (The mitzvah of pidyon haben is not performed by the kohein, but by the father.) However, when we are again tahor and the Beis Hamikdash is rebuilt, this style of brocha will again be recited frequently, since brochos that begin with asher kideshanu bikedushaso shel Aharon will be recited by kohanim prior to eating terumah, bikkurim and korbanos. According to some authorities, these brochos are also recited prior to a kohein donning the bigdei kehunah, the special vestments that he wears when performing the service in the Beis Hamikdash (Artzos Hachayim, Eretz Yehudah 18:1, page 81b).

There is a dispute among halachic authorities whether a kohein’s wife recites this brocha before she eats terumah or bikkurim. The Mishnah Rishonah (Terumos 8:1) and others rule that she recites the brocha (Kovetz He’aros #47; Imrei Moshe 13:3), the Yeshuos Malko (Hilchos Bikkurim 1:2)is inclined that she does not, and the Derech Emunah (Terumos 15:145, 7:18 Biur Hahalacha, Bikkurim 1:8; see also Tzelach, beginning of Brochos) rules definitely that she does not, unless she herself is the daughter of a kohein.

Inedible bikkurim

Bikkurim share with several other agricultural mitzvah products — including terumah, shevi’is, and maaser sheini — many halachos concerning how they may be eaten and that it is forbidden to ruin them. Nevertheless, should they become inedible, they lose their special sanctity. For this reason, there is no halachic problem with using hair shampoo that includes oats or wheat germ that were originally terumah, shevi’is, or maaser sheini, since the mixing of the other ingredients makes them unappealing to the human palate, notwithstanding that it is prohibited to use terumah, shevi’is, or maaser sheini as an ingredient in shampoo.

More than terumah

Bikkurim actually have greater sanctity than does terumah, since terumah may be eaten anywhere, whereas bikkurim, similar to korbanos, may be eaten only within the walls of the halachic old city of Yerushalayim (Rambam, Hilchos Bikkurim 1:3, based on Tosefta, Challah 2:8). (The current walls of Yerushalayim have little to do with where the halachic old city was, but include areas that are outside the halachic old city and exclude areas that are halachically considered to be inside Yerushalayim for purposes of korbanos and bikkurim, such as the area today called Silwan or Ir David.)

Bikkurim are more stringent than terumah in that an onein, someone who has just lost a close relative, is not permitted to eat bikkurim, although he may eat terumah (Bikkurim 2:2).

Like terumah, bikkurim may be eaten only when the person eating them is completely tahor. If the bikkurim become tamei by contact with someone or something that is tamei, they are invalidated, just like terumah, and may not be eaten. If bikkurim or terumah become tamei min haTorah, they must be burnt, and not destroyed or disposed of in a different way. After they are burnt, there is no remaining sanctity to the ashes, and they can be used for fertilizer or any other purpose (Mishnah Temurah 33b).

Bikkurim leniencies

There are several leniencies that apply to bikkurim. For example, the responsibility of separating bikkurim rests only when the farmer owns the land, but not to a sharecropper, tenant, or squatter (Bikkurim 2:3).

If the farmer/owner fails to separate or declare product as bikkurim, the crop remains perfectly kosher for anyone to consume, including its first fruits. This halacha is quite different from terumah, in which the crop may not be eaten until terumos and maasros have been separated.

As mentioned above, bikkurim applies only to the seven fruits for which Eretz Yisroel is praised, unlike terumos and maasros, which apply to all produce grown in Eretz Yisroel.

The requirement to separate bikkurim applies only to the land that was promised to Avraham Avinu, and does not apply min haTorah to the part of Eretz Yisroel east of the Jordan River, nor to the area called Syria that Dovid Hamelech conquered (Rambam, Hilchos Bikkurim 2:1). Miderabbanan it was applied to these two areas, but Chazal did not extend the mitzvah to the areas outside Eretz Yisroel. This is different from the mitzvos of terumos and maasros, which apply miderabbanan not only to all these areas but also to the border countries near Eretz Yisroel, such as Egypt, Amon and Moav (Rambam, Hilchos Terumos 1:1).

Thus, at this point, we can answer our opening question: “Is there an obligation to bring bikkurim from the Golan?”

The answer is that min haTorah, there is an obligation to bring bikkurim only from the “Promised Land” areas of Eretz Yisroel, which are those west of the Jordan River. However, miderabbanan there is a requirement to bring them from the eastern side of the Jordan, but only when the land there produces quality fruit.

Bikkurim on lemons?

At this point, we can address the second of our opening questions: “Must I separate bikkurim from my lemon tree?”

The answer is that the mitzvah of bikkurim, applies only to the seven fruits for which the posuk praises Eretz Yisroel, which does not include lemons.

Other differences between bikkurim and terumah

The Mishnah (Bikkurim 2:4) records several other halachic differences between bikkurim and terumah: For example, there is no minimal requirement concerning how much to set aside for bikkurim, whereas maaser must be a tenth of the produce, and terumas maaser, which is taken from maaser, must be one hundredth of the produce.

Here are several other distinctions between terumah and bikkurim. Whereas one cannot declare his entire field to be terumah, there is no such law regarding bikkurim. Should a farmer want to, he could declare his entire field to be bikkurim.

Another difference is that the sanctity of terumah cannot be created until the produce is harvested. This is different from bikkurim, where the sanctity is created when the farmer declares the blossoming fruit to be bikkurim, even though it is still growing!

There are several laws that must be observed when the bikkurim are offered, which do not exist regarding terumah. For example, there is a requirement to offer a korban shelamim upon arriving in the Beis Hamikdash with bikkurim. There is a mitzvah to accompany the bringing of the bikkurim with song. The pilgrims who bring the bikkurim to the Beis Hamikdash are required to remain in Yerushalayim overnight, after offering them. None of these requirements exists in regard to terumah, which is not even brought to Yerushalayim, but given to the local kohein of the farmer’s choice.

Conclusion

Obviously, one reason for bringing bikkurim is to express our gratitude to Hashem that not only did He give us Eretz Yisrael, but He also provided us with delicious fruits, as evidenced in the viduy bikkurim, the declaration that the Torah puts in the mouth of the grateful pilgrim. Yet, the parsha extends the declaration of thanks to include praising Hashem for foiling Lavan’s evil plans to destroy Yaakov when he pursued him (Rashi, Devorim 26:5). The declaration continues recapping the history of Klal Yisrael in Mitzrayim, and the miracles that He performed for us.

The Sefer Hachinuch (#606) adds another element to the mitzvah of bikkurim. He observes that there are two positive mitzvos, one of declaring the fruits to be bikkurim and bringing them to the Beis Hamikdash, and a separate mitzvah of declaring the viduy bikkurim. In explaining the reason for the second mitzvah, the Chinuch notes that there is a special requirement on the pilgrim to verbalize his thanks. It is through the power of speech that a person can awaken himself. When a person states how much Hashem blesses him, it awakens his heart to remember that everything comes from the Master of the world.




Blemished in Our Day

Since parshas Balak mentions that Balak and Bil’am offered korbanos, it is appropriate to discuss the details of these mitzvos.

Question #1: Not Politically Correct?

“Why does the Torah ban ‘blemished’ people and animals from the service in the Beis Hamikdash? Does this not convey the incorrect message that people with disabilities are inferior in Hashem’s Eyes?”

Question #2: Are We Affected by Blemishes?

“Do the halachos defining which animals are blemished affect us before the Beis Hamikdash is rebuilt?”

Question #3: Selling a Bechor that is Treif

“May I sell a bechor that is treif to a non-Jew?”

Question #4: In the Midst of Calf-Birth

“May I sell an animal that is in the process of calving?”

Foreword

In parshas Emor, the Torah discusses the laws of blemishes mumim (singular, mum) that affect both kohanim performing the service in the Beis Hamikdash and animals that can be brought for korbanos. Notwithstanding that we daven three times a day for the Beis Hamikdash to be rebuilt, most people do not focus on the laws of korbanos, assuming that they have no need to know these laws. Yet, if we truly want the Beis Hamikdash to be rebuilt, we should familiarize ourselves with the relevant halachos. Doing so demonstrates that we indeed anticipate the reinstating of the korbanos every minute. In addition, there are applications of these halachos that affect us even when the Beis Hamikdash lies in ruin.

Here is an example: What is the halacha if someone has an animal that has the sanctity of a korban? Although many people assume that this cannot happen in today’s world, this is a mistake – it can happen with any kosher beheimah. The question is even more germane to the laws of bechor, a firstborn animal (Shulchan Aruch Yorah Deah, 306:1).

Torah farm

Many years ago, I was asked about the following situation: A couple, whom we will call the Brauns, purchased a farm. They planned to use it to develop a Torah educational museum to teach about many less-known or less-understood mitzvos – such as the laws of mixing species (kelayim) of plants, mesorah of kosher bird species, orlah, different varieties of wool and plants that will and will not constitute shatnez, reishis hageiz — the mitzvah of giving to the kohen a percentage of the shearing — and so on. (I strongly encourage anyone who would like to entertain such an educational process to do so, since people learn much more from seeing and experiencing than from textbooks.)

A question came up when one of the Brauns’ heifers became pregnant for her first time. If this heifer would give birth to a male offspring, the calf would be a bechor, which has the halachic status of a korban. When the Beis Hamikdash is rebuilt, the bechor of a kosher animal is given to a kohen, who brings it as a korban and then eats its meat. Someone who ignores the sanctity of this bechor and uses, slaughters or sells it violates a serious Torah prohibition.

Today’s bechor

When there is no Beis Hamikdash, what do you do with a kosher beheimah that is a bechor?

It is strictly forbidden to use the animal in any way while it is still alive. The custom is to avoid any contact with the bechor animal, in order to make sure that no one mistakenly uses it.

Regarding using the animal, the only solution is to wait until the animal injures itself to the point that it becomes permanently blemished. At that point, the bechor that now has a mum may be shechted and eaten; however, it is still prohibited min haTorah to use it in any other way.

It is prohibited to place impediments in the animal’s way or to cause the bechor to injure itself (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 313:1). The halacha is that should the owner tell a non-Jewish employee that the animal cannot be shechted until it becomes injured, and the non-Jew then chops off its ear, knowing that this benefits his employer, one may not shecht the animal on this basis. This is considered as if you instructed your employee to damage the bechor (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah (313:3).

Ruling it permitted

Assuming the bechor “successfully” injured itself, whose authority can be used to permit shechting it? In other words, how do we know that the injury it has sustained is indeed permanent, and meets the halachic status of a mum?

In this context, we have a fascinating passage of Gemara (Sanhedrin 5a-b): Rabbah bar Channah was planning to return to Bavel, his birthplace, after attending Rebbe’s yeshivah in Eretz Yisroel for many years. Rav Chiya, Rabbah bar Channah’s uncle, asked Rebbe to give his nephew semicha covering three distinct areas of halacha: the most basic level, the laws of kashrus (subsequently called yoreh yoreh); a more advanced semicha on money matters (subsequently called yadin yadin); and the highest level, to rule that firstborn animals are blemished sufficiently and permanently to permit their slaughter, called yatir bechoros. Rebbe granted Rabbah bar Channah all three levels of semicha. Subsequently, Rav, who was also a nephew of Rav Chiya and a first cousin of Rabbah bar Channah, and who was known for being a much bigger talmid chacham than Rabbah bar Channah (which does not detract from Rabbah bar Channah’s greatness in Torah learning), applied for the same levels of semicha. Rebbe granted him only the lower two levels, yoreh yoreh and yadin yadin, but did not grant him authorization to permit blemished firstborn animals. When asked why Rav was not granted the highest level, Rebbe answered because Rav was so experienced with the subject that he would permit blemishes in cases where other people would not understand how he was able to be so lenient!

We see from this Gemara that only a properly authorized expert may rule that an animal is permanently blemished. Today, when we lack this expertise, three scholars may rule a blemish to be very obviously permanent, and, on this basis, permit shechting and eating the bechor (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 309:1). Even if it has an obviously permanent blemish, we do not allow it to be shechted until a ruling to this effect has been issued (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 310:1).

Once the animal is blemished, the owner gives it as a gift to a kohen, who arranges for the animal to be shechted. Anyone may eat the meat of this bechor, which the Gemara (Temurah 8b) mentions is very nutritious.

Tereifah

Our firstborn calf, lamb or kid has successfully injured itself so that it is now a baal mum, which permits its shechitah. We are not yet finished with its saga. After it is shechted, it is permitted to be eaten only if it completely kosher and is not a tereifah¸which means that it has internal damage that prohibits it from being eaten. There is a stringency that applies to bechor that does not apply to other animals. Any other animal that is a tereifah may be sold to non-Jews as non-kosher, or may be given to animals to eat, since they are not required to keep kosher. A bechor is different. It is prohibited for any benefit until it becomes permitted for a Jew to eat, by having a blemish and yet still being kesheirah. However, if it became a tereifah, and therefore cannot be eaten by a Jew, it remains prohibited for benefit (Yam shel Shelomoh, Chullin 4:4).

Selling a Bechor that is Treif

At this point, we can begin to discuss the third of our opening questions. “May I sell a bechor that is treif to a non-Jew?”

Since the heter to shecht the bechor is only to allow it to be eaten, slaughtering this bechor is not permitted. If it found to be a tereifah after shechitah, as is usually the case, the meat may not be given or sold to a non-Jew, nor given to an animal to eat.

Avoiding the problem

Having figured out what to do with a bechor after it damages itself permanently, we are faced with a new question: Is there a simpler and safer method to avoid having a firstborn animal running around on your property?

Leg of lamb

There is a simple solution to the problem. The halacha is that, as long as a non-Jew owns some part of the mother at the time that it gives birth, its firstborn has no sanctity whatsoever. Therefore, we arrange a sale, similar to the mechiras chometz we perform before Pesach, in which the Jewish owner sells part of the mother, such as a leg, to a non-Jew. (When the Beis Hamikdash exists and we have a mitzvah of offering korbanos, such a sale would constitute an attempt to evade the performance of a mitzvah, and would be forbidden. However, when we cannot offer the korban, and the bechor becomes a potential michshol –  a stumbling block that might cause people to sin — we avoid creating the sanctity of bechor by selling part of the mother to a non-Jew.)

In the midst of calf-birth

In this context, we can now address another of our opening questions: “May I sell an animal that is in the process of calving?”

Your cow is in labor, and you realize that you have not yet sold it to a non-Jew. The Gemara (Chullin 69b) discusses this case where the calf is in the process of being born, to the point in which one third of it has already emerged, and at the moment there is a transaction that makes the mother the property of a non-Jew. When the rest of the calf is born, do we say that it has sanctity or not? The Gemara (Chullin 69b) quotes a dispute among amora’im. Rav Huna rules that the calf is holy, because once its birth begins, it is already considered a bechor. Rabbah disagrees, ruling that it is not considered a bechor until the birth is complete (or, more technically, when more than half has emerged), at which point its mother was already sold. It is unclear what the halachic conclusion is (Maharit Algazi, Bechoros 3:33).

In the situation at hand, the Braun family asked a local rabbi to take care of the sale, so that it would be performed correctly according to halacha. However, Nellie, the cow, had no interest in waiting for either the rabbi or the vet to show up, nor did she inquire who owned her leg. Nellie and her newborn son were both doing fine, notwithstanding the unattended farm birth. Thus, we now had a bechor to deal with. Unlike the mitzvos of pidyon haben, peter chamor, maaser sheini and reva’i,whose sanctity can be redeemed, the sanctity of a bechor cannot.

Not politically correct

At this point, let us discuss the opening question: “Why does the Torah ban ‘blemished’ people and animals from the service in the Beis Hamikdash? Does this not convey the incorrect message that people with disabilities are inferior in Hashem’s Eyes?”

Certainly, Hashem and His Torah do not look down on someone whose abilities or appearances are irregular. Rav Hirsch explains that non-Torah religions thrive on people who suffer, and on fears of the unknown. Their temples become gathering points for those whom life appears to have treated unfairly, or who suffer from illness, injury or worse. Religion, for them, becomes something to comfort the pained and the oppressed.

Torah’s purpose, on the other hand, is to be a guide to teach every person how to use their limited years on this world to grow. Serving Hashem, whether in His Mikdash or outside, demands that man is completely devoted to serving Hashem and to growing.

With this introduction, Rav Hirsch explains many concepts of the Torah, including such diverse ideas as tumah, baalei mum and kehunah. The only reason that those with blemishes cannot perform the service is to demonstrate that all people, certainly even the healthy, have their place in serving Hashem.




Writing on Shabbos

Question #1: Writing with my mouth!?

Is writing with a pen in my mouth considered writing?

Question #2: Disappearing ink

May I use disappearing ink on Shabbos?

Introduction:

Writing was one of the 39 melachos performed in the construction of the mishkan. According to most opinions, writing was performed when the boards of the mishkan were marked (see Shabbos 103a,b; Rashi 73a). The Mishnah (103a) mentions that the boards were marked in order to remember exactly in which location each board was placed.

Why mark?

The question is: Since the mishkan’s boards were identical, what difference should it make where each board is placed? This question is already raised by the Talmud Yerushalmi (Shabbos 12:3), which explains that there is halachic importance that each board be in the exact same place whenever the mishkan was reassembled.

Recordkeeping

There is a minority opinion that contends that the melacha of writing is derived from the recordkeeping performed for the mishkan (see Shu’t Avnei Neizer, Orach Chayim 199:10).  Since the Mishnah already mentions the marking of the boards as a source for the melacha, how and why can any commentary suggest a different reason?

The answer is that this approach was suggested in order to resolve a conundrum. There are rishonim who clearly did not use the Mishnah’s example of marking the mishkan boards as the source of the melacha of writing. The acharonim who discuss this question note the following:

When the Mishnah states that the melacha of writing is derived from the labeling of the boards, it is explaining the opinion of a minority tanna, Rabbi Yosi, who holds that there is a melacha called rosheim, or marking. The Avnei Neizer demonstrates that there are rishonim who definitely hold that the tanna kamma who disagrees with Rabbi Yosi did not derive the melacha of writing from the boards; therefore, these rishonim must have another option from which the melacha of writing is derived. The Avnei Neizer suggests that the melacha was derived from the necessity of keeping good records regarding the contributions donated to the construction of the mishkan.

Minimum shiur

In general, there are two levels for violating any of the melachos of Shabbos. There is a greater degree of violation, called chayov, which includes performing a melacha with the minimum amount necessary, called the shiur. There is also a lesser degree of violation, called patur, which includes performing the melacha activity but in a quantitatively smaller way, called pachus mi’keshiur, literally, less than the minimal amount. Patur also includes activities that are forbidden to perform because of rabbinic injunction.

What difference does it make whether something is chayov, punishable, or patur, non-punishable? There are several halachic differences that result. Here are three:

1. At the time that the Sanhedrin existed, a special beis din, composed of 23 judges, would take forceful legal action against someone who desecrated Shabbos in a punishable way, but they would not take action if the act was non-punishable.

2. Is someone who violates Shabbos negligently required to offer a korban chatos as atonement? If the act is chayov, the perpetrator is obligated to offer a korban chatos. If not, it did not cross the threshold required to offer a korban chatos, notwithstanding that it violated a Torah law.

3. Under certain circumstances, it might be permitted to ask a gentile to perform the act.

Two letters

Regarding the melacha of writing, the violation of the higher degree is when someone writes two letters of the alphabet. Someone who writes only one letter has performed a non-punishable offense, unless his one letter completed a work, such as it was the last letter of a sefer Torah (Shabbos 104b).

Someone who writes one letter is not chayov for violating the melacha even when it is an abbreviation of a word. For example, in the time of the Mishnah, someone might mark a bin containing maaser produce with a single letter mem מ. Despite the fact that everyone seeing this single מ on a bin will realize that this is a code for an entire word, someone who marked the bin with a letter מ is not chayov for Shabbos desecration, but is guilty of a lesser prohibition, that of writing pachus mi’keshiur.

Notwithstanding that writing less than the shiur is deemed non-punishable, it is forbidden, and its violation should not be treated lightly.

Writing with my mouth!?

At this point, we can discuss our opening question: Is writing with a pen in my mouth considered writing?

The Mishnah (Shabbos 103b) mentions other instances in which the act is not chayov; for example, someone wrote two letters in different places in a way that they cannot be read together, or he wrote in a way that people usually do not write, such as by holding the pen in his mouth.

Writing with your mouth

We have all heard of extremely talented artists who succeed in doing things that we would consider well-nigh impossible, such as drawing paintings with their toes or with a quill held between their teeth.

Actually, this incredible skill is not new. In the days of the Rama of Fanu, an early- seventeenth century Italian gadol, mekubal, and posek, there was a scribe who wrote sifrei Torah, tefillin and mezuzos by holding the quill in his mouth. He wrote gorgeous sifrei Torah, tefillin and mezuzos, but the halachic question was whether they were kosher. Some background to the issue is necessary:

Write right

The Mishnah (103b) lists many cases that are not prohibited min haTorah, including writing by holding the pen between the toes, with one’s mouth, by holding it in the joint between his forearm and upper arm (the opposite side of the elbow), or by holding a pen upside-down (thus, writing by twisting your arm backwards – don’t try it, it is a rather uncomfortable way to write). The Gemara adds that someone who writes with his weaker hand, such as a right-handed person who writes with his left hand, is patur from performing a punishable melacha.

Our opening question is now clearer. The poskim rule that just as writing in an unusual fashion does not qualify as an act of writing to desecrate Shabbos (min haTorah), sifrei Torah, tefillin and mezuzos written this way are not written correctly and are invalid. Similarly, the Rama of Fanu ruled that the beautiful sifrei Torah, tefillin and mezuzos written by holding the quill in the sofer’s mouth are not kosher.

Can you write by erasing?

There are circumstances in which a letter is created by erasing. For example, the Hebrew letter reish needs to be written, and at the moment its place is taken by a dalet or a tav. If you erase the extra piece and thus create a reish, have you desecrated Shabbos?

Let me explain this question in more detail: There is a principle germane to the laws of sifrei Torah, tefillin and mezuzos that the letters must be written and cannot be scraped into existence. This case shows a perfect example: someone wrote a dalet where a reish is required, then scraped off the extension and point of the dalet to construct a reish. This is referred to as chok tochos and, unfortunately, sifrei Torah, tefillin and mezuzos so made are invalid.

The question is: Does the creation of a letter on Shabbos by chok tochos constitute writing germane to the laws of Shabbos, or does it constitute only a rabbinic violation?

The answer:

Several authorities, both rishonim and acharonim, rule that a letter written by erasing violates the melacha of writing on Shabbos min haTorah (Ran, Or Zarua, Shu’t Avnei Neizer, Orach Chayim #207).

How were the boards marked?

I mentioned above the Mishnah that teaches that the boards were marked to be able to tell where each board should be placed when the mishkan was reassembled.

There is an interesting dispute between Rashi and the Rambam regarding how the boards of the mishkan were marked. According to Rashi (Shabbos 73a), each board was marked with a letter or symbol, with the two boards that were to be inserted into the same silver socket carrying the same symbol. The melacha is derived from the juxtaposition of two letters providing knowledge how to place the two boards.

The Rambam’s opinion is that the boards were numbered consecutively, using the same system we would use today to write numbers using Hebrew letters. Thus the eleventh board was mark יא and the nineteenth יט (Commentary to Mishnah Shabbos 12:3). He does not explain why we cannot derive that writing even one letter is chayov, since the first ten boards were identified with only one letter. It seems that, in his opinion, Chazal understood that one letter, which does not form a word in Hebrew, cannot be enough writing to be chayov. According to Rashi, the requirement to write two letters to be chayov is itself derived from the construction of the mishkan.

Writing other than Hebrew

Some rishonim contend that the prohibition against writing on Shabbos is violated min haTorah only when using Hebrew characters (Rabbeinu Yoel Halevi, quoted by Or Zarua, Hilchos Shabbos #76, and Hagahos Maimoniyos, Hilchos Sefer Torah 7:40 and Hilchos Tefillin, 1:70). According to these rishonim, writing in other alphabets is prohibited only because of a rabbinic injunction. Although most rishonim, including both Rashi (Shabbos 103a) and the Rambam (Hilchos Shabbos 11:10), clearly dispute this, contending that writing in any alphabet is prohibited min haTorah, the Rema (Orach Chayim 306:11) rules according to the Or Zarua that writing in other alphabets is prohibited only because of a rabbinic injunction (cf. Beis Shmuel 126:1 and Magen Avraham 340:10). Upon this basis, some later poskim permit having a non-Jew use a western alphabet on Shabbos for the benefit of a Jew (See Shu’t Noda Biyehudah, Orach Chayim 2:29).

Permanence

A requirement of most melachos is that the act involved must have a lasting result. For example, tying a knot that can last for only a matter of hours is not prohibited on Shabbos.

Germane to the melacha of writing, the Mishnah (Shabbos 104b) discusses this topic:

Someone who writes with ink, with a paint pigment, with sikra (a red dye), with tree-exudate gum, or with ferrous sulfate, or anything else that makes a permanent impression (is chayov).

The Tosefta (Shabbos 12:6) and other authorities add several other instances that are considered permanent: writing with pencil, coal, paint, shoe polish, tree sap, pomegranate peels, or congealed blood. (It is perhaps significant that the Rambam omits the case of congealed blood, a point raised by the Biur Halacha [340:4 s. v. bamashkin]. Biur Halacha leaves this issue unresolved.)

Temporary writing:

On the other hand, the Mishnah also mentions several types of writing that are deemed temporary and therefore only rabbinic violations of Shabbos. The Mishnah (103b) records the following instances of writing that qualify as temporary: “Someone who wrote with liquids (Rashi explains this to mean a berry juice with a black color), with fruit juices, with mud (or, alternatively, he used his finger to mark lettering in dust [Rashi]), with the residue left in an inkwell, or with any other substance that does not last is patur.”

How permanent?

Two great recent authorities apparently were involved in debating this exact question. Sometime in 1977, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach paid a house visit to the posek of the eidah hachareidis, Rav Yitzchak Yaakov Weiss, and the two great authorities began discussing the question concerning how long a period of time must writing last to be considered permanent. Notwithstanding that both great leaders viewed one another with utmost respect, they disagreed very strongly over the halachic conclusions to be drawn from the evidence.

In a previous article discussing the laws of dyeing, we discussed how permanent you must color something to violate the laws of Shabbos min haTorah. Most authorities contend that violating the law min haTorah requires that the color last only to the end of Shabbos. Germane to the laws of writing, many authorities rule that the definition of permanent is the same: Any writing that will last until Shabbos is over is prohibited (see Shu’t Minchas Yitzchok 7:13-15). However, other authorities rule that writing is more lenient than dyeing, which means that the length of time that a written message needs to last to violate a Torah prohibition is longer than the length of time required for a dye (Minchas Shlomoh 1:91:11; Rashba, Shabbos 115b; Biur Halacha, 340:4 s. v. Bemashkin).

Why should writing require a longer amount of time to be prohibited min haTorah than dyeing?

In writing, the goal is to provide communication, either to yourself as a reminder, or to someone else. If a person is writing a reminder, he probably needs the information to last for a few days, and therefore writing in a way that will not last this long does not violate the Torah prohibition.

The Shab-eit

I have in my possession a pen called a Shab-eit. This product was manufactured to assist security or medical personnel who are required to write on Shabbos because of pikuach nefesh situations. The instructions on the pen quote the words of the Mishnah, “Someone who wrote with liquids, with fruit juices, with mud, with the residue left in an inkwell, or with any other substance that does not last is patur,” with the notation that usage of the Shab-eit is prohibited miderabbanan on Shabbos. The package insert explains that state that anything written with the pen will become hard to read and will completely disappear within a few days, depending on the type of paper on which it is written. They note that, based on the company’s experience, the writing will remain on regular writing paper for about three days, and therefore use of the Shab-eit is advised for medical and security personnel required to write things on Shabbos because of life-threatening emergencies. The recommendations are to write on Shabbos in as limited a way as one can using this marker, and after Shabbos to rewrite or photograph what was written. They also suggest checking before Shabbos to see how long it lasts on the type of paper that will be used. As I discovered, on some types of paper this ink will disappear within hours, potentially rendering it useless.

The package includes a note that using this pen on Shabbos in the above-mentioned circumstances is based on piskei halacha of Rav Shlomoh Zalman Auerbach and Rav Mordechai Eliyahu, whose responsa on the subject they reference.

Prickly writer

The Mishnah (104b) teaches: “Someone who writes on his own skin is chayov. Someone who scratches on his skin: Rabbi Eliezer rules that he is chayov, whereas the Sages rule that he is patur.”

What is the dispute between Rabbi Eliezer and the Sages?

According to most opinions (Rashi on Rif, Ran, Reshash), they are discussing someone who took a pin or thorn and “wrote” by scratching some letters or a brief message into his skin. Rabbi Eliezer considers this to be an act of writing, whereas the Sages rule that he is exempt from a Torah violation for writing since this is not considered a normal way to write (Rambam, Ran). The halacha follows the Sages that he is exempt from a Torah violation (Rambam), although this is prohibited on Shabbos as a rabbinic injunction. It is also a valid question why this is not chayov for the Shabbos violation of drawing blood. I hope to answer this question in a future article.

Conclusion

The Torah commanded us concerning the halachos of Shabbos by giving us the basic categories that are prohibited. Shabbos is a day that we refrain from altering the world for our own purposes, but instead allow Hashem’s rule to be the focus of creation by refraining from our own creative acts (Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch’s Commentary to Shemos 20:10). By demonstrating Hashem’s rule even over non-exertive activities such as writing, we demonstrate and acknowledge the true Creator of the world and all it contains.




The Twentieth of Sivan

Question:

“I noticed that the back of my siddur contains a large section devoted to selichos for the 20th of Sivan, yet I have never davened in a shul that observed this day. What does this date commemorate?”

Answer:

The Twentieth of Sivan was established in Ashkenazi communities as a day of fasting and teshuvah to remember two major tragedies of Jewish history. Let us begin by discussing the halachic basis for the observance of commemorative fasts.

Biblical Source

When the two sons of Aharon — Nadav and Avihu — died, the Torah says, “And Moshe said to Aharon and to Elazar and Isamar, his sons, ‘You shall not allow your heads to remain unshorn nor shall you rend your clothes — so you shall not die and cause that He become angry with the entire community. Rather, your brethren, the household of Israel, will weep for the inferno that Hashem ignited’” (Vayikra 10:6). From this description, we see that the entire Jewish community bears responsibility to mourn the loss of great tzadikim.

Communal Teshuvah Observances

The Rambam (Hilchos Taanis 1:1-3) explains: “It is a positive mitzvah of the Torah to cry out and to blow the trumpets whenever any danger afflicts a Jewish community, as the Torah says, ‘When you go to war… against an adversary who creates troubles for you, you shall blow the trumpets (Bamidbar 10:9).’ On any matter that afflicts you, such as food shortages, plague, locusts or anything similar, you should cry out in prayer and blow the trumpets. This is part of the procedure of doing teshuvah, for when difficulties occur and people come to pray, they realize that these happenings befell them because of their misdeeds, and doing teshuvah will remove the troubles.

“However, if they do not pray, but instead attribute the difficulties to normal worldly cycles — this is a cruel approach to life that causes people to maintain their evil ways.

“Furthermore, the Sages required a fast on the occasion of any menace that afflicts the community, until Heaven has mercy” (Rambam, Hilchos Taanis 1:4).

The History of the 20th of Sivan

This date is associated with two major tragedies that befell European Jewry. The earlier catastrophe, which occurred in the 12th Century, was recorded in a contemporary chronicle entitled Emek Habacha, and also in a selicha entitled Emunei Shelumei Yisrael, from which I have drawn most of the information regarding this tragic event.

One night in the city of Blois, which is in central France, a Jew watering his horse happened upon a murder scene in which a gentile adult had drowned a gentile child. The murderer, not wanting to be executed for his crime, fled to the local ruler, telling him that he had just caught a Jew murdering a child!

The tyrant arrested 31 Jewish leaders, men and women, including some of the baalei Tosafos who were disciples of the Rashbam, Rashi’s grandson. The tyrant accused his prisoners, several of whom are mentioned by name in Emunei Shelumei Yisroel, of killing the gentile child to obtain blood for producing matzah.

After locking his captives in a tower, the despot insisted that they be baptized. He told them that if they accept baptism, he would forgive them, but if they refused, he would execute them in a painful way. None of them considered turning traitor to Hashem’s Torah. On the 20th of Sivan 4931 (1171), they were tied up and placed on a pyre to be burned alive. At the fateful moment, the Jews sang in unison: Aleinu leshabayach la’adon hakol, “it is incumbent upon us to praise the Lord of all.”

The fires did not consume them! The undeterred tyrant commanded his troops to beat them to death and then burn their bodies. However, the fires were still unable to consume their bodies, which remained intact!

Banishment from France

This libel was a major factor in the banishing of Jews from France that occurred ten years later. (Although the King of France declared that they must be exiled from the country, he did not, in fact, have sufficient control to force them out completely. This transpired only a century later.)

As a commemoration of the sacrifice of these great Jews and as a day of teshuvah, Rabbeinu Tam and the other gedolei Baalei Tosafos of France declared the 20th of Sivan a fast day. Special selichos and piyutim were composed to memorialize the incident, and a seder selichos was compiled that included selichos written by earlier paytanim, most notably Rav Shlomoh (ben Yehudah) Habavli, Rabbeinu Gershom, and Rabbi Meir ben Rabbi Yitzchak, the author of the Akdamus poem that we recite on Shevuos. Each of these gedolim lived in Europe well before the time of Rashi. Since most people know little about the earliest of this trio, Rav Shlomoh Habavli, I will devote a paragraph to what is known about this talmid chacham who lived in Europe at the time of the Geonim.

Rav Shlomoh Habavli, who lived around the year 4750 (990), was descended from a family that originated in Bavel, today Iraq (hence, he is called Habavli after his ancestral homeland, similar to the way people have the family name Ashkenazi or Pollack although they themselves were born in Flatbush). He lived in Italy, probably in Rome, and authored piyutim for the Yomim Tovim, particularly for Yom Kippur and Shevuos, and many selichos, about twenty of which have survived to this day. The rishonim refer to him and his writings with great veneration, and the Rosh (Yoma 8:19) quotes reverently from the piyut for the seder avodah in musaf of Yom Kippur, written by “Rabbeinu Shlomoh Habavli.” The Maharshal says that Rabbeinu Gershom, the teacher of Rashi’s rabbei’im and the rebbe of all Ashkenazic Jewry, learned Torah and received his mesorah on Torah and Yiddishkeit from Rav Shlomoh Habavli (Shu’t Maharshal #29). (Rav Shlomoh Habavli’s works are sometimes confused with a more famous Spanish talmid chacham and poet who was also “Shlomoh ben Yehudah,” Rav Shlomoh ibn Gabirol, who lived shortly after Rav Shlomoh Habavli.)

Instituting the Fast

When Rabbeinu Tam instituted the fast of the 20th of Sivan, the selichos recited on that day included one that was written specifically to commemorate the tragedy of Blois. The selicha that begins with the words Emunei Shelomei Yisroel actually mentions the date of the 20th of Sivan 4931 in the selicha and describes the tragedy.

The Crusades

Since this tragedy took place during the general period of the Crusades, the 20th of Sivan was often viewed as the mourning day for the murders and other excesses that were committed during that era, since each of the early Crusades resulted in the horrible destruction of hundreds of communities in central and western Europe and the killing of thousands of Jews. In actuality, the blood libel of Blois occurred between the Second Crusade, which occurred in 4907-9/1147-49 and the Third Crusade, which was forty years later, in 4949/1189.

Gezeiros Tach veTat

The fast of the 20th of Sivan memorializes an additional Jewish calamity. Almost five hundred years later, most of the Jewish communities of eastern Europe suffered the unspeakable massacres that are referred to as the Gezeiros Tach veTat, which refer to the years of 5408 (Tach) and 5409 (Tat), corresponding to the secular years 1648 and 1649. Although this title implies that these excesses lasted for at most two years, the calamities of this period actually raged on, sporadically, for the next twelve years.

First, the historical background: Bogdan Chmielnitzky was a charismatic, capable, and nefariously anti-Semitic Cossack leader in the Ukraine, which at the time was part of the Kingdom of Poland. Chmielnitzky led a rebellion of Ukrainians against their Polish overlords. Aside from nationalistic and economic reasons for the Ukrainians revolt against Polish rule, there were also religious reasons, since the Ukrainians were Greek Orthodox, whereas the Poles were Roman Catholic. Chmielnitzky led the Ukrainians through a succession of alliances, first creating an alliance with the Crimean Tatars against the Polish king. The Cossacks’ stated goal was to wipe out the Polish aristocracy and the Jews.

When the Tatars turned against Chmielnitzky, he allied himself with Sweden, and eventually with the Czar of Russia, which enabled the Ukrainians to revolt successfully against Polish rule.

The Cossack hordes swarmed throughout Ukraine, Poland and Lithuania in the course of a series of wars, wreaking havoc in their path and putting entire Jewish communities to the sword. Hundreds of Jewish communities in Poland and Ukraine were destroyed by the massacres. The Cossacks murdered unknown thousands of Jews, including instances in which they buried people alive, cut them to pieces and perpetrated far more horrible cruelties. In sheer cruelty, many of their heinous deeds surpassed even those performed later by the Nazis.

These events were chronicled in several Torah works, including the Shach’s Megillas Eifa, and Rav Nosson Nota Hanover’s Yevein Metzulah. The title, Yevein Metzulah, is a play on words. These words are quoted from Tehillim 69:3, where the passage reads, tavati biyevein metzulah, “I am drowning in the mire of the depths,” which certainly conveys the emotion of living in such a turbulent era. In addition, the author used these words to allude to Yavan (Greece), indicating the Greek Orthodox religion of the Cossack murderers.

Chmielnitzky, the National Hero

By the way, although Chmielnitzky was a bloodthirsty murderer and as nefarious an anti-Semite as Adolf Hitler, to this day he is a national hero in the Ukraine, on a level similar to the respect accorded George Washington in the United States. The Ukrainians revere him as the father of Ukrainian nationalist aspirations, notwithstanding the fact that he was a mass murderer.

The cataclysmic effect on Jewish life caused by the Gezeiros Tach Vetat was completely unparalleled in Jewish history. Before the Cossacks, Poland and its neighboring areas had become the citadels of Ashkenazic Jewish life. As a result of the Cossack excesses, not only were the Jewish communities destroyed, with the Jews fleeing en mass from place to place, but virtually all the gedolei Yisrael were on the run during this horrifying era of Jewish history. Such great Torah leaders as the Shach, the Taz, the Tosafos Yom Tov, the Kikayon Deyonah, the Magen Avraham, the Nachalas Shivah, and the Be’er Hagolah were all in almost constant flight to avoid the Cossack hordes.

Among the many gedolei Yisrael who were murdered during these excesses were two sons of the Taz; the father of the Magen Avraham; Rav Yechiel Michel of Nemirov, and Rav Shimshon MeiOstropolia.

Rav Shimshon MeiOstropolia

Rav Shimshon MeiOstropolia was a great talmid chacham, mekubal and writer of many seforim, whose Torah ideas are quoted by such respected thinkers as the Ramchal and the Bnei Yisaschar. It was said that he was so holy that he was regularly visited by an angel, a magid, who would study the deep ideas of kabbalah with him. (Whether one accepts this as having actually happened or not, it is definitely indicative of the level of holiness that his contemporaries attributed to him.)

Rav Nosson Nota Hanover writes in Yevein Metzulah that, during the bleak days of the Cossack uprising, the magid who studied with Rav Shimshon forewarned him of the impending disaster that was to befall klal Yisrael. When the Cossacks laid siege to the city, Rav Shimshon went with 300 chachamim, all of them dressed in tachrichim (burial shrouds) and taleisim to the nearby shul to pray that Hashem save the Jewish people. While they were in the midst of their prayers, the Cossacks entered the city and slaughtered them all.

Rules of the Vaad Arba Ha’aratzos

After this tragic period passed and the Jewish communities began the tremendous work of rebuilding, the Vaad Arba Ha’aratzos, which at the time was the halachic and legislative body of all Polish and Lithuanian Jewry, banned certain types of entertainment. Strict limits were set on the types of entertainment allowed at weddings, similar to the takanos that the Gemara reports were established after the churban of the Beis Hamikdash. Selichos were composed by the Tosafos Yom Tov, the Shach, and other gedolim to commemorate the tragedies.

The Vaad Arba Ha’aratzos further declared that the 20th of Sivan should be established forever as a fast day (Shaarei Teshuvah 580:9). The fast was declared binding on all males over the age of 18 and females over the age of 15. (I have not seen any reason to explain the disparity in age.)

Why the 20th of Sivan?

Why was this date chosen to commemorate the atrocities of the era? On the 20th of Sivan, the Jewish community of Nemirov, Ukraine, which was populated by many thousands of Jews, was destroyed by the Cossacks. The rav of the city, Rav Yechiel Michel, passionately implored the people to keep their faith and die Al Kiddush Hashem.  The Shach reports that, for three days, the Cossacks rampaged through the town, murdering thousands of Jews, including Rav Yechiel Michel.  The shul was destroyed and all the Sifrei Torah were torn to pieces and trampled. Their parchment was used for shoes and clothing.

Merely five years before, the community of Nemirov had been proud to have as its rav the gadol hador of the time, the Tosafos Yom Tov, who had previously served as the rav of Nikolsburg, Vienna and Prague. At the time of the Gezeiros Tach veTat, the Tosafos Yom Tov was the rav and rosh yeshivah of Cracow, having succeeded the Bach as rav and the Meginei Shlomoh as rosh yeshivah after they passed away.

An Additional Reason

The Shaarei Teshuvah (580:9) quotes the Shach as citing an additional reason why the Vaad Arba Ha’aratzos established the day of commemoration for the gezeiros Tach veTat on the 20th of Sivan: this date never falls on Shabbos and, therefore, would be observed every year.

The Selichos

The style of the selichos prayers recited on the 20th of Sivan resemble the selichos recited by Eastern European Jewry for the fasts of Tzom Gedalyah, Asarah beTeiveis, Shiva Asar BeTamuz (these three fasts are actually all mentioned in Tanach), Taanis Esther and Behab (the three days of selichos and fasting observed on Mondays and Thursdays during the months of Marcheshvan and Iyar). The selichos begin with the recital of selach lanu avinu, and the prayer Keil erech apayim leads into the first time that the thirteen midos of Hashem are recited. This sequence is the standard structure of our selichos.

However, the selichos for the 20th of Sivan are lengthier than those of the other fast days. Whereas on the other fast days (including behab) there are four selichos, each followed by a recitation of the thirteen midos of Hashem, the selichos for the 20th of Sivan consist of seven passages and seven recitations of the thirteen midos of Hashem, which is comparable to what we do at neilah on Yom Kippur. Thus, in some aspects, the 20th of Sivan was treated with more reverence than were the fast days mentioned in Tanach!

In addition, one of the selichos recited on the 20th of Sivan is of the style called akeidah, recalling the akeidah of Yitzchak. The incorporation of the akeidah is significant, since these selichos were included to commemorate the martyrdom of Jews who were sacrificed for their refusal to be baptized. To the best of my knowledge, these selichos are recited only on the 20th of Sivan, during the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah, and on Erev Rosh Hashanah.

The Prayers for 20th of Sivan

During the repetition of shemoneh esrei at both shacharis and mincha, the aneinu prayer was recited, as is the practice on any public fast day. For Shacharis, selichos were recited, Avinu Malkeinu and tachanun were said, and then a sefer Torah was taken out and the passage of Vayechal Moshe that we read on fast days was read (Shaarei Teshuvah, 580:9).

At mincha, a sefer Torah was taken out and Vayechal Moshe was read again. Each individual who was fasting recited aneinu in his quiet shemoneh esrei.

Bris on the 20th of Sivan

The halachic authorities discuss how to celebrate a bris that falls on the 20th of Sivan. The Magen Avraham (568:10) concludes that the seudah should be held at night after the fast is over, so that it does not conflict with the fast. Thus, we see how seriously this fast was viewed.

Why don’t we observe this?

“It is customary in the entire Kingdom of Poland to fast on the 20th of Sivan.” These are the words of the Magen Avraham (580:9). I do not know when the custom to observe this fast ended, but the Mishnah Berurah quotes it as common practice in his day in Poland (580:16). Perhaps it was assumed that the custom was only required as long as there were communities in Poland, but that their descendants who moved elsewhere were not required to observe it. Most contemporary siddurim do not include the selichos for the 20th of Sivan, which implies that it is already some time since it was observed by most communities.

Conclusion

We now understand both the halachic basis for why and how we commemorate such sad events in Jewish history. We also have a glimpse of how we should react to other calamities whenever they occur, be they pandemics, riots, or financial chaos. May Hakadosh Baruch Hu save us and all of klal Yisrael from further difficulties!